Archive for May 2011

Fluffy Tail insect looks just like a seed – with legs!   7 comments

Ok, I am an insect gweeb – who knew?   After years of yardless urban living in New England, now that I have a yard/garden, and in El Salvador to boot, I’ve become fascinated with “critters”.  I was sitting at the patio yesterday, and decided to check in on the chile plant.  We planted several types, in hopes of some seeds germinating – Chile Anaheim, Guaco, Chile de Arbol, Ciruela, and this one sprouted – we’re not sure which yet, but I’m thinking Anaheim.While examining the plant, I saw a seed clinging to the chile.   And then it moved.   Hey, that fluffy stuff is attached to… what??No, it’s not a seed, it’s… an insect!   With a fluffy butt.

( Click Pics to see LARGE images..)

After some research, it appears this little guy is a  Passion Vine Hopper Nymph.   I don’t think he’s a woolly aphid.

Multi-Colored aqua and yellow Leaf-hopper El Salvador   3 comments

Moments after I see a passion vine hopper nymph (curious insect with a fluffy white tail), on the same plant I spot a multi-colored leaf-hopper.   I’d seen small green leaf-hoppers in the past.   They have a funny v-shaped physique, with the bulk of their body at their head and shoulders, narrowing out smaller part towards their tail.  They hop off of you when you touch them.

So this leaf hopper was a “tropical colored” one.  And about 2-3 times larger than your typical small, green, northern north american leaf hopper, I’d say 3/4 of an inch long.

The pictures don’t do him as much justice as seeing him live in person.  The greyish-blue areas seen in the pictures were more of a blue-green aqua color, and you can see the yellow of course.  He also sported a reddish color, in the middle of his back, in between the two wings.   CLICK the pic to ENLARGE.    This guy is just g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s.

New Law: Pregnant Students cannot be expelled from School (26 Mayo 2011)   3 comments

A law was passed yesterday, May 26, 2011, by the Legislative Assembly in El Salvador, which gives students who become pregnant the right to continue their studies without being expelled or discriminated against in educational institutions.

The Legislative Assembly approved reforms to the General Law of Education that indicate is it prohibited for public or private educational centers to adopt “measures that impede, limit or disrupt the initiation or normal continuation of studies by students who are pregnant or breastfeeding. (translated from Spanish)

I was happy to hear the news, but surprised that 11 years post-millennium, students are still being expelled from school for pregnancy.  I wanted to see how prevalent this phenomenon was, so did some research.

The first statistic is from the Ministry of Education in El Salvador:  in 2009, 1,191 youth were discriminated against or expelled for pregnancy; of those, 41% could not continue their studies, stated Jaime Valdez of the FMLN.  Datos proporcionados por el Ministerio de Educación, en el año 2009 fueron discriminadas o expulsadas por dicho motivo 1,191 jóvenes; de las cuales el 41% no pudieron continuar con sus estudios posteriormente, señaló el diputado Jaime Valdez, del FMLN.

In an October 2008 report presented to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Salvadoran Attorney General/Ombudsman for Human Rights Defense cited that discrimination against pregnant youth by the educational community was a human rights problem in El Salvador. (Paragraph number 93).

The good news is that some educational institutions have been ahead of this law for a long time:  one such is the National Institute of Santa Ana.  According to a September 2003 article on (Diaro de Occidente / Diaro de Hoy), INSA (Instituto Nacional de Santa Ana) began a program 4 years prior (1999) to help young mothers stay in school. At the article’s date there were 2 pregnant students in their high school program.   However, the article states, in private schools, if a student becomes pregnant, she is expelled immediately for breaking the school’s regulations.  The article stated that the Ministry of Education in Santa Ana gives [educational] institutions the authority to establish their own rules for deciding if it’s an infraction or not.

And here we are today.  Progress is evident by passage of this new law, where 57 Diputados (they are like Senators) voted in favor and 6 against, with 3 absent.

Headlines with links to articles in Spanish reporting the news:

Jóvenes embarazadas podrán continuar sus estudios

La Asamblea Legislativo aprobó reformas a la Ley General de Educación que permitirá que las adolescentes embarazadas puedan continuar con sus estudios.

Alumnas embarazadas no podrán ser expulsadas de Centros Escolares

La Asamblea Legislativa aprobó reformas a la Ley General de Educación que indican que se prohíbe en los centros educativos del país, la adopción de medidas que impidan, limiten o perturben el inicio o continuidad normal de los estudios de las alumnas embarazadas o durante su período de lactancia, las autoridades de dicho centro educativo determinarán según el caso.


Propane Gas Controversy in El Salvador / La Polemica de Gas Propano en El Salvador   1 comment

One of the current administration’s biggest gaffes was changing the propane gas subsidy. “Propane Gas?” you might ask, thinking of your backyard barbecue grill.

Photo by Víctor Peña at La Prensa Grafica

Propane Gas tanks are how most Salvadorans power their stoves and ovens.  It’s also how anyone that runs a food service business heats up anything that is cooked.  In short, it’s a utility.  And for years now, in El Salvador, propane gas has been subsidized to protect the consumer from high costs.

The subsidy, in its previous form, blanketed everybody:  rich, poor and in between.  The subsidy was paid directly to the propane gas distributors, who would sell the gas tanks at the subsidized price to everyone in the populace.

Then someone in the government had an idea – why don’t we find a way to take the subsidy away from the rich or well off, since they don’t need it, and give it only to those who do?

Thus, the subsidy process was changed, and as of April 2011 it is now tied to your electric bill.   It is given only to those who use less than a specific number of Kilowatts (showing as 300 KW on our most recent bill).  Usually, a poor person in El Salvador with a smaller house and less appliances uses less than that KW threshold.

“Subsidio del Gas:  Justo para las grandes mayorias” is their slogan (The Gas Subsidy:  Just for the Great Majority).

In theory, it sounds like the perfect plan.  In practice, it turned into a disaster for many people.

The price of propane gas went up for a lot of people unexpectedly, and as a result the price of many other things went up along with it:  pupusas, tortillas, and fresh baked bread, to name a few.   For example, tortillas went up by 20%:  previously 20 for a dollar, now reduced to 16.   Propane gas for a 25 pound tank was about $5.25 before the change; now a tank is $15.30, the cost after the $9.10 subsidy $6.20.

Why are so many people not getting the subsidy now?   One Reason:  COMMUNITY ELECTRICITY.   It is common for multiple families living in one or more dwellings on the same property to be sharing the same electric meter.  Use of a common electric meter has helped Salvadorans historically, by not having to pay the up front fee to install separate service and an additional meter, and probably helps by sharing the minimum delivery charge.   But all that cost-savings has just gone out the window.  If 2 families share a meter and bill, only 1 gets the subsidy.

There IS a solution, supposedly, for families living on the same meter to continue receiving the subsidy.  They are to visit their closest CENADE, a government organization.   CENADE can send a representative to visit the house/homes using a common meter and verify that separate families live there, so each can receive the subsidy.  According to my husband, people in the neighborhood he grew up in have done that with success.

Another Reason the new subsidy process is failing the poor:    the subsidy only goes towards one “tambo” or tank of gas per month.   Families who use more than one tank a month only get help on one.  And small businesses who do not qualify for the electric subsidy, or who use multiple tanks of gas are in the same boat.

The gas subsidy changed even pissed off the distributors, who even went on strike for a couple of days recently, complaining that their profit margins have been cut, as the price of propane has increased but they are required to sell it at a fixed price.

My husband and I receive the subsidy each month, and we use one tank every 2-3 months, so we’re actually better off than we were before.  We decided to put the money in an envelope and buy something or give the money to my mother in law, who IS poor and needs the subsidy, every few months.

Vandals cut off water to greater San Salvador   Leave a comment

During my travels last Friday to both Santa Tecla, and Miramonte, a neighborhood in San Salvador, I heard complaints in passing conversations that there was no water.   Later on I learned why:  Vandals damaged critical parts of a metallic structure that supports a main water pipe 48 inches in diameter.    The act occurred some time before mid-afternoon on Thursday, May 19th, when the regional manager received a call the pipes were damaged.

It created a water outage in 30 or more neighborhoods.  This adds to the current public pains rooted in the propane gas “polemica” (controversy), and eviction of street vendors from areas like Calle Arce and Ruben Dario.

The water pipe belongs to ANDA, the public water company.  They partially resolved the problem by rerouting water to an older pipe, but cannot deliver the same volume of water, so the city is forced to ration water until repairs finish, a 10+ day job which costs $100,000.   Mauricio Funes, President of El Salvador, has responded by accusing the opposing political party, ARENA, of “Sabatoge” (English translation by Google here).

According to testimony of ‘locals’ in the area, armed men kept watch while the vandals used sophisticated equipment to cut the structure.  Certainly not the work of amateurs looking for scrap metal; nothing was robbed, and it’s clear the intent was to damage the pipe.

Though Funes’ remark is a stretch in assuming exactly who damaged the pipe and what they intended to accomplish with the sabotage, one good turn deserves another:  ARENA seems to have no limit to how far they will go to damage FMLN’s reputation.  Since 2009, after they lost the presidential election, they have paid for billboard and TV ads everywhere calling the  FMLN administration “Incapaces” (incapable/inept).  And what with the former ARENA administration’s association to death squads and massacres such as The Massacre of Mozote (detailed story here by Mark Danner), a little pipe-cutting looks like innocent mischief.

As of Tuesday, 80% of service was re-established.   Repairs should conclude this Saturday and Sunday  to mend the supporting structure and the broken pipe, and on Monday water routed to an older, 42 inch pipe during the outage will be re-routed to the new pipe again.

A Trip to the Finca “Tito”   4 comments

Fruits of the Finca: marañón, mango de coco, maracuya, manzana de agua

Two Sunday’s ago, I was invited to a Finca in Nueva Concepción.  It was a real treat.

Our host was Tito, an older gentleman who was delighted to have us, and chock full of good stories of days-gone-by. Pictures of us, below, with Tito and the famous 5 pound mango.

As always, CLICK on a PICTURE to enlarge – these are fun fruit shots.


Thinking the Finca would be a distance from the center of town, I was surprised to see it was literally “steps away” from the main market.  We turned left onto the street at one end of the market and right there, almost across from the side entrance was a short dirt road we turned onto, which leads to Tito’s Finca and Auto-Hotel.

One thinks of a Finca as being “in the country’ and a fair distance from town, but being so close, this walk-ability turns out to be a very good thing for Tito. Tito had worked in a textile ‘fabrica’ for 34 years.  Straining his eyes every day, often into the night hours, he can no longer see things in the left field of vision of his left eye; this resulted in two accidents within one month, so no more driving for him these days.

Tito told us how he used to fix the machines in the mill, and that he knew them all so well, when he walked into the fabrica and a machine was ‘off’ he could tell, and would say, “something Better check the machines, one of them isn’t working right.”

The Finca was relaxing and a great diversion.  It was extremely hot, as it is in that area of Chalatenango, but we stayed cool in the pool.  It’s a common misconception that Chalatenango has Cooler weather (‘Chalatenango es Frecso’), even among Salvadorans. *

Tito was a great host.  We passed him walking into town to make a few purchases as we drove on the driveway and he told us straightaway to hit the pool, he’d be right back.We spent some time in the pool and the kids had a blast.  I was holding my sister-in-law’s baby, and she being much ‘whiter’ or “chelita” than other kids, I tried my best to shelter her in a small corner of the pool in the shade.  So much for that – later when my sister in law had her, they were all over the place, and I felt so foolish trying to “protect her” from the sun – this is a very American thing, and likely more necessary with people of serious northern-skinned ancestry.  Although little Wendy is on the pale side, her mother’s nickname is “Morena” – which means dark-skinned, and by day’s end little Wendy showed no signs of looking pink or red.

Tito was so generous, I would say almost OVER-generous, with us.  After the pool festivities winded down, and it appeared things were wrapping up, Tito announced “And now we’re going to have a little lunch….”   This little lunch was a GIANT box of Pollo Campero with all the trimmings – fries, slaw, bread, and flan.   He had picked up some horchata as a cool refreshment, and even bought a six-pack of beer for us ‘adult ladies’ to drink.

While we ate lunch, Tito told us stories from when he grew up on this Finca.  His parents had him help keep “watch” for small animals and other intruders, outfitting him with a hunting rifle to keep vigil at the age of nine! Tito showed us the tip of a nail sticking out of a large tree near the patio.  You see this nail, he said, when I was nine I’d hang the rife on it, and would sleep right here, on this root of the tree….at that time the nail, which was about a foot long, was nailed only 3 inches or so into the tree.  Look at now…it shows how much this tree has grown – only 2 inches of it is left sticking out!

Although Tito grew up at the Finca, at the age of 17 he left abruptly.  You see, he explained, I was talking to a young girl my age right here, in the brush – he gestured – when a neighbor saw us, and well, my mom sent me to “work in El Salvador” straightaway to keep me out of trouble.  That’s when I started working at the Fabrica, he said, and he’d worked there ever since, the job he held his whole life.

Living in San Salvador, he married and raised children there, but always longed for the life he remembered back at the Finca.The Finca passed through different hands during those years, first from his father to his brother.  Then his brother sold it to his mother, and his mother ‘willed it’ (I really bought it, Tito explained, having given his mother money almost every weekend as he was working).  Tito moved back to Nueva Concepción to take over the Finca 16 years ago.

Tito’s three children live in and around San Salvador, and make it out here once every 2 or 3 months.  Raised in the city, unlike their father, a Finca in a country town might not have the same appeal to them.  Tito also has three step-children whom he’s in touch with daily.  He says every day before he goes to bed at 9:00, he talks with each of them, all 3 living in the United States; he never goes to bed without doing so.  Tito believes kids who aren’t from your own biology often appreciate you more than your own children.  It appears in this case at least, the relationships you have to ‘work at’ instead of the ones that are automatically set up for you can become ones you treasure.  It also helps that Tito had a lot of practice with the first three before the second set came along.

He told us he is also close with his helper / ayudante; this young man has been with him for ten years, and by now they are like father and son. Even though it is his day off, Anibal stopped by to help clean up the pool to prepare for Tito’s grand-daughter’s visit later in the day.  He really liked Wendy, and asked if he could pick her up.  You could see that he, like many Salvadorans, adores children.  While in many parts of the Western world, children are often partitioned from adults and adult activities, children are seen and cherished everywhere here, and are called “blessings from God” ( Bendiciones de Dios ).

For a Salvadoran coming from a somewhat older generation, I was surprised at some of Tito’s viewpoints, and discovered him to be a bit unique from most:  he seemed to have a libertarian attitude in some respects broke from the religious mores in another. He announced quite firmly at one point:  “I don’t believe in the Devil!”  This is a bold statement here, as nearly everyone in El Salvador is indoctrinated in one main Christian religion, often Roman Catholic or some version of Evangelism. He said humans are always trying to overcontrol each other with all these rules and systems and don’t let people live as they should.  Regarding teenage pregnancy, he said “You know what he problem is when a young girl gets pregnant?”  It’s the “Panza!”  ( her big belly ).  Everyone is ‘ashamed’ because their daughter is walking around with a big belly but soon after the baby is born their the first to go spoiling it with all kinds of things.

After lunch was done, Tito sent us off to pick fruit, even providing large plastic bags to fill up, saying take all we want, there’s plenty.  At his Finca, there are mangos, bananas (guineos), maracuya (passsion fruit), guayaba (guava), limes, and a few orange trees. Morena went crazy picking the “loroco” which was intermingled with the passion fruit vines, a favorite among salvadorans pan-fried and cooked with cream, or most often in pupusas with cheese.  Also, a leafy plant called ‘moro’ I think, which Jessica and Morena grabbed tons of, is used in cooking.

Manzana de Agua (no es marañon japanes)

An odd fruit which I thought was Marañon Japones (Japanese cashew-fruit) is really called watery apple (manzana de agua).

It looks peculiar and does taste watery!

Jessica was a brave fruit soldier. She climbed way up the giant mango tree and pulled these big ones down with a special fruit picker a flexible net basket on a metal ring, attached to a long bamboo pole. She grabbed ’em and I pulled them out the basket.

Check out this GIANT mango.
These are called
Mango de Coco -Coconut Mango, on
account of their large size.

Here’s Jessica, with Guayabas- isn’t she gorgeous?
Jessica, with Guayabas

* In actuality, a few geographic pockets within the department of Chalatenango have a cooler climate, mountainous areas usually  famous for tourism such as La Palma, or mountaintop towns like Las Pilas and El Pital.  San Fernando de Morazan is a mountain town we visited once, driving through Dulce Nombre de Maria to get there.  Many parts of Chalatenango are hot and dry, including where my husband grew up near Agua Caliente. Farms and cows everywhere, hot and dusty during the dry season.

Hair Cut at the Grocery and fresh brewed Coffee from a Backpack   Leave a comment

I’d like to share with you two funny and odd sights I saw today, within 30 minutes of each other.

Coffeewalkers & backpacks here look like the guy on the left

On our way into the grocery store parking lot in San Jacinto, a “coffee walker” crossed the street in front of us.  Usually selling Nescafe brand, coffeewalkers are ambulatory vendors who carry your favorite morning beverage and its accoutrements strapped to them in a square-shaped backpack.  I had not seen this before coming to El Salvador, and it’s a curious site the first time you see it.  Coffeewalkers, or ambulatory coffee vendors, are also often seen in the “colonia medica” where I bought a cup of fresh brewed there once.

After we’d bagged the grocery loot, and were walking out the door, quite literally AT the door – there was a woman sitting in a barbershop stool getting her recently cut hair blown out.  There is no separate room or even a partition – the hairdressers and clients are sitting right there in the open, in the exit area of the grocery store, just outside of the path of exiting customers.  Super Selectos has improvised a small hair salon right at the exit of the store.  It’s hysterical!  I have seen up to two clients attended to at a time, recalling a woman getting makeup put on in the “salon” on a recent grocery trip.

I’m sorry I don’t have pictures, but I hope you can imagine it.   The stuff you see here sometimes is such a hoot!

Semana Santa Leftovers in El Salvador   2 comments

An effigy of Judas hangs from a tree like a lynched man, while schoolchildren play in the background.

These 2011 Semana Santa (Holy Week) leftovers were still hanging the Wednesday after Holy Week ended.  I couldn’t resist taking shots as I drove by.   A Semana Santa tradition in El Salvador that seems mischievous at the same time it’s religious is the tradition of hanging (ahorcando) Judas.  This is a re-enactment of what Judas actually did to himself, after he told the chief priests he had betrayed Jesus.  In many parts of Latin America, people will even burn a life-size rendition of Judas.  In El Salvador this takes place the Saturday (Sabado de Gloria) before Holy Week weeks ends on Easter, also known here as Santo Domingo.

Until I had met my husband,
I never heard of such a thing;
the U.S. tends to be much more
subdued in its religious
celebrations.The first Judas in red was
seen at a major crossroads
in Metayate, El Salvador.

Judas in yellow, down the road
near Amayo, in the
municipality of La Reina.

CLICK a pic to enlarge:

like I said: rather mischievous - underwear on the outside of his pants

Judas hangs on the tree in front of the schoolyard, like a lynched man

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