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.