Carol and Family   10 comments

One thing I like about Spanish is that they have real words for in-laws instead of the English way of doing it, which simply tacks on the “in-law” at the end of the word, almost like an afterthought.  The names for son-in-law and daughter-in-law are nice:  Yerno, and Nuera.  Brother and sister-in-law also have their own word:  Cuñado/a.    My cuñada Carol is married to my husband’s brother “Chaparro”, who is my cuñado.   He gets his nickname from the alcoholic home-made drink made here in the country out of maize, panela, sometimes sugar ( lots of things, often a big secret), which, if you buy the honey colored kind, has many kinds of flavors and spices like cinnamon and anise.  “Carol” and Chaparro have been married for about twenty years now – their oldest child is 18 years old.  They are a typical poor family in the country of El Salvador, with some additional hardships.

Two of their sons were born with what I believe to be “Vietnam Syndrome.”  Their legs did not form well in the womb, so they cannot walk on their feet.  For one son, his legs are in a permanent “pretzel” position, and for the other son; one leg is folded, and the other, which is longer and also malformed, he uses to walk with.  Amazingly, they ambulate well using their hands and strength of their arms to move around, and do not use wheelchairs.

My husband suspects they were born like that because Chaparro worked picking fruit in Guatemala close to that time, and likely was exposed to nasty pesticides that affected his body and passed it on to his unborn children.  Fortunately, the other children, two girls – now in their late teens and early twenties, and a teenage son were not affected by this.

Carol’s oldest daughter “Pam” had her first child, a baby girl almost two years ago in October.  Then last year, on one of my visits to the neighborhood, I learned that Carol was pregnant again.  Carol had her baby almost a year after her daughter had her baby girl.   They live on the same property in two different homes, so their daughters will be raised almost together.  They are  like “primas-hermanas,” which means cousin sisters, since they are raised so closely they’re like sisters.  (When I first wrote this, I called them primas-hermanas, forgetting they are really aunt and niece.  The funny part is, the oldest girl is actually the niece – she was born in October, and her aunt was born in August, 9 months later.  Crazy, huh?!   But in very large families in El Salvador, you see a lot of these funny combinations, and mothers and daughters raising children the same exact age. )

Though they are poor, Carol and Chaparro had the good fortune to be able to build a house made of cinder block, with nice new style roof tiles, a lot more space, and generous size patios with wrought-iron enclosures.  This happened because Chaparro went to the United States and work for a few years.  I remember the summer day in 2007, shortly after he arrived there.   He worked in a restaurant doing food-prep, and had the good fortune of having his room and board paid for, which came with the job.  They have a fair sized Indian restaurant, and put many of their workers up in apartments not far from there.  Chaparro returned to El Salvador just three years later, with eye problems.  He had been cutting so many onions, their powerful acid affected his eyes, and he couldn’t see well.  No health insurance, and unable to speak English, he decided to return home and tend to this serious health problem.  If it weren’t enough his two sons were born with twisted limbs, now he’s got eye problems – he’s an emblem of hazardous working conditions.

Carol stopped by the other day to see the new house, bringing her baby girl with her.  While visiting, she mentioned it was her only day off all month.  I was astonished!  Carol works in the neighborhood for a family whose relatives are in the United States, as a maid and cook, caring for two pre-teen children, and an elderly woman who is so physically and mentally out of it that she also functioning as a nurse.  One advantage Carol has is that her children bring her baby girl to the house where she works where she can nurse, and she can come home for lunch for a one to two hour break during her twelve hour day.  She makes $100 a month doing all this.  The family she cares for is getting a “steal” if you ask me.  But with little other resources, and I believe Carol may be illiterate, this $100 a month job buys them groceries, and is a steady income you don’t find often out here in the country.  Between that and the new house they live in, they have come a long way.  Prior to Chaparro immigrating to the U.S. for a few years, all seven of them were living in an adobe house even smaller than the one Jesus and I are living in, and with no separate kitchen.   This old house has now been adopted by Carol’s oldest daughter, Pam who now lives in it with her husband and one and a half year old daughter.  They come up to visit our ‘pad’ a bit, and enjoy the view and fresh breeze.  Fatima is still learning my name, she calls me “Nyenny”.  She’s a blast, and I pull out the papaya and naranja (orange) when they come up.


10 responses to “Carol and Family

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  1. Every time that I visit El Salvador I am simply astonished at how people survive on such little income and with so few resources and us pigs here in the US complain about not having the latest and greatest phone, TV, gadget, etc. My wife is from El Salvador, and we get back there about once a year for 2 weeks or more, and even though I read El Diario de Hoy and La Prensa Grafica con frecuencia, being so far away in Nebraska, it keeps it out of site and out of mind, at least in the direct sense.

    • Hi Rob, I’m glad my blog helps to remind (or awaken) people of the reality that exists here. Poverty is one of the bad things about El Salvador, but because life is stripped down to its basic elements, people here seem to enjoy life more than the rich “pigs” (I agree with that descriptor) who have so much more, and little reason to complain. Thank you for visiting, and for commenting Rob.

  2. I currently live in Louisiana and I would love to go to El Salvador and work with a medical mission group. Do you know of any reputable mission groups in El Salvador that i could contact?

    • Hi Tirzah, I don’t know personally of medical mission groups, but I did a quick search on Google for – medical mission group “el salvador” – and I found one called “Helping Hands Medical Missions” that has two missions coming here in November. One to Sonsonate (oct 26-nov 3) and another to Santiago Texacuangos (November 2–10). They do surgeries, here is their web page for El Salvador. They appear reputable, as they’ve been doing missions since 1996 – you can read about them here. I found an article about them here in Spanish on the Salvadoran site “half full” (use Google translate to get the gist of what they are saying). Another organization I found is Medical Mission International, which is solely focused on El Salvador. They built a hospital in Jucuapa. Here is their info page. Though I can’t put you in direct contact with a medical mission group I know of personally, I think by investigating and making some calls, you’ll get connected with the right team to come down here and help. I’m very happy to hear you want to help the Salvadoran people. Thanks for visiting and inquiring, Tirzah. Email me at bauerfotoATgmailDOTcom (replace AT and DOT with correct symbols) if you need any more help.

  3. Wow! Sorry to hear about your cuñado, Chaparro’s situation–handicapped children and his vision. Sounds like his wife is not being compensated properly for caring for the children and the elderly lady. What a shame that Salvadorans are taking advantage of a local sister trying to get by in life. I understand that the options, if any, are limited for those living in El Salvador.
    By the way, I am sure your husband has told you that chaparro also means shorty, right?
    I believe someone has compiled a list of unique salvadoran words and their meanings that can be found on the web.
    In addition to chaparro, there is another beverage of the moonshine variety called chicha. In fact, these two drinks may be one and the same; however, I was too young to even try either one when I left the country 31 años ago.

    Guau! Lo siento por la situacion de tu cuñado, Chaparro–impedimento de sus hijos y vision. Me suena de que su esposa no la reconpensan apropiadamente por cuidar a los niños y la anciana. Que lastima que los mismos salvadoreños se aprovechen de una persona que trata de sobrevivir. Se que sus opciones son muy limitadas para los que viven en El Salvador.
    Por cierto, estoy seguro de que tu esposo te a explicado el otro significado de chaparro – bajo de estatura.
    Creo que alguien a creado una lista de palabras muy salvadoreñas con sus significados–se puede encontrar en la web.
    Ademas del chaparro, hay otra bebida de la variedad de “moonshine” llamada chicha. Creo que estas dos bebidas son la misma; no obstante, you estava muy chico para provarlos cuando sali de mi pais hace unos 31 años.

    • Hi Luis, thank you for your commentary, and for responding in both English and Spanish, for Spanish readers. Yes amazingly my cuñada is playing a duo-role and not paid well for it, but I suspect this happens often here, and the going rate for a “muchacha” as the maid is called is somewhere between 100 and 150 bucks a month. But I do know of a Gringa who pays $15 a day for her maid to come twice a week, which great pay for a labor job here. I have tried Chicha! It is a bit different, and I think made with Pineapple, along with maize, etc. I did not like it as much as Chaparro, or at least the batch we drank. I did not know that Chaparro meant shorter stature. Im going to look for that list of Salvadoran words – I found one recently, but it was not very long. Wow you left a long time ago Luis, you missed most of the war – that was a good thing.

  4. Hello Jen.
    Thanks for your quick reply. My family began migrating to the US back in the early seventies. During this time, most left for lack of employment–economic reasons. My uncles left in 1973; my mother in 1975. I left in 1981 when the armed conflict was about to take hold of the entire country. I do remember being caught in fire fights, curfews, seeing dead people on the streets and actually attending funerals of two of my classmates’ dads. It was a horrible situation for everyone. I was happy to obtain a visa to relocate to the US; however, I felt horrible leaving behind my grand-parents who had taken care of me until I left the country. All my family on my mother’s side has actually lived in the US. Two of my aunts actually moved from the US to Canada where one has actually passed away back in 1992 but her body returned to her native land; and the other still resides in Canada. I have cousins living in Canada as well as in the US. Actually, two uncles have retired and moved back to El Salvador. One aunt returned to El Salvador a while back. I think my family was a bit furtunate to escape the war. My hometown actually became a ghost town from what I understand. I only have two cousins who still live there. I believe a nun from Belgium began the task of getting people, natives or from other sorrounding towns to move in to Tenancingo. I’ve only visited once since I left and I did not really recognize anyone, except for my two cousins; therefore, I have no real reason to visit. However, I do hope that some day I can make some type of contribution to the development of my small town. Seeing pictures of my old stomping grounds do make me nostalgic of my days as a young boy living life without a care in the world.

    I would like to translate this in Spanish; however, is bit long.

    Take care!


    • Hi Luis, thank you for sharing your story. So even though you left in 1981, you were still exposed to some horrific things, seeing bodies in the road and friend’s dads dying – awful. It sounds like Tenancingo was quite affected by the war. I am happy to hear it has been getting repopulated. I found a nice page about your town that you might have run into already, I’ll share it with the readers, too: It would be wonderful if you could do something to help your poblanos in Tenancingo. There seem to be a lot of ‘deficits’ to help with – housing, water, education, farming assistance…. I am curious to hear how your uncles and aunt are doing, and how they are enjoying life in El Salvador after having lived in the U.S. and moved back. I always tell people, El Salvador is a wonderful place – if you ALREADY have money before going there!!

  5. Hello Jen.
    Thanks for the link. Yes, I have visited one site called villadetenancingo/ before and is interesting to see photos of my little town. Unfortunately, the war set the country and especially some small towns like mine back at least 30 years. The large cities and some small towns have been revived by the “remesas”–remittances by people living mainly in the US. I wonder what the long term effects this is going to have on the people living in the country. I understand that workers have to be brough in to the country from Honduras and Nicaragua at times since locals refuse to work on some farms mainly sugar plantations. Then you have the problem with young adolescents who are under the care of their grandmothers. I am sure some of these young people enjoy the freedom and the steady flow of money their parents send them to provide for their housing, food, education, etc. However, their economic dependance on their families may not provide them with the incentive of bettering themselves since they see no reason for studying and/or working hard to provide for themselves.
    One of my uncles worked in the construction field and was able to save enough money to purchase three properties in El Salvador. I think he is actually living in Tenancingo and doing fine for someone of his age–74. He and his wife actually are retired in Tenancingo. My other uncle moved back about three years ago. He worked in a factory in Chicago for quite some time. I believe he lives in San Salvador. My aunt, came to states but since she was still young when she came, she could not forget the father of her first child; thefore, decided to return and establish her life with her now husband. Ironically, her oldest daughter chose to move to the US and has been here for a number of years. Yes, as you stated earlier, if you have the means, El Salvador can be a good place to live if you are able to live with some discomforts–infrastructure, security, health, etc. The stark contrast between the haves and the have-nots is quite evident.
    Well, Jen, as always, it is a pleasure communicating with someone who is experiencing my country and culture.

    • Hi Luis, you’re reminding me of a post I am working on which tries to answer the question of why Salvadorans and their country are poor. Remittances are an interesting component of the economy here, and there is no shortage of opinions about them. I see them as 50/50 for good/bad – they are definitely corrupting youth, but at the same time have given relief to families and this country, just compensation for America’s massive financing of the conservative side of the war. I really enjoy your participation on these subjects, so thank you for writing and sharing today. I am happy your uncles can enjoy their retirement here. I think El Salvador is a retirement haven waiting to happen.

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