Archive for July 2012
Water weirdness and inconveniences are the most pronounced in remote areas of El Salvador, but people in the city, and oftentimes poor urban areas, suffer from interruptions in service that can last for days. The further you go out into the country, the greater chance you have of no running water (and no sewage system). Many communities have a system where the water only runs for a set time each day or sometimes every other day. No one I know in El Salvador has running water coming to their home 24×7. That’s why many houses with modern construction and indoor plumbing fixtures will have either a big black tank to hold a lot of water, sitting somewhere up high to create water pressure (and have running water always), or a cisterna (a cement reserve water tank) to store extra water for when the water is not running from the town or city pipes. Real Estate ads will note if a rental has a ‘cisterna,’ which is important.
Where we lived in Los Planes de Renderos, it was an odd box. There is a big water tank managed by ANDA, located on the main street across the street from “El Mirador”, which residents of the nearby area get their water from. Water ran on a schedule that appeared to accommodate nine-to-fivers (it’s actually 8 to 5 here – a 44 hour workweek). It would start running sometime in the afternoon, say 4:30 or 5:00pm, would run all night, then go off again sometime after 8am. But it varied. Sometimes we’d have water at 11am or 2pm. You never knew. So when I wasn’t working, I had a bucket system I set up in the kitchen and bath so I always had water on hand, since the Pila is outside of the house and a sump pump has to be turned on to get water out of the Cisterna, which is how we took showers if the water wasn’t running. This on and off water schedule was somewhat hazardous in that if a knob or valve was accidentally left open when the tap was dry, later, sometimes even the middle of the night, oops! The water runneth over in the pila, or somewhere else. This did not phase us in the early days of Los Planes because were were in the “fixed rate” water system (more on that later). The other odd thing about the water where we lived was the water pressure when it ran. When it ran during the day, the water pressure seemed normal, but at nighttime, it could come in with the power of a sandblaster. Our neighbor, Doris, would often walk up from her house a block down from us to in front of our house, where her water meter happens to be installed (long story, she did not have running water until a few years ago), and turn off the water because it was spritzing out of her pila valve.
Soapy run-off. In many neighborhoods throughout El Salvador, something to get used to is seeing run-off from sinks poured right onto the street from a PVC pipe. Don’t worry, it’s not raw sewage from anyone’s toilet. It’s water from a sink and may contain either dish or laundry detergent. I know, it’s “not nice” to mother nature, but the number of pollutants and volume of them that the OECD countries have tossed onto their own and neighboring countries soils and air dwarfs all the soap runoff here, so I’m not going to fret about it. It was shocking to me to see people washing clothes into the river or bathing when I first got here, but now it’s normal to me.
Minimum Rate / Cifra Minima – for water / agua. Officially, I don’t know of anyone who is supposed to be on a “fixed” minimum rate plan for water in El Salvador (charged the minimum rate regardless of the cubic meters used), but apparently many people are recipients of this. Either it’s the water meter, or someone has “fixed ‘em” in the billing system, or a little bit of both. I visited a friend in Jayaque a few months ago, and his relatives there told me they’ve never paid more than the minimum. His aunt walked me around her house, proudly showing me her garden, flowers, and hanging baskets, which she devotes two hour a day to watering! They are not rich, but somewhere in the middle to upper middle class zone, and in no need of a minimum rate plan. Even we were recipients of this happy plan for almost a year and a half. I noticed our bill was $2.29 one month. Next month it came in at the same amount, etc. I wasn’t going to question this, since after all, we gave water to our poor neighbors next to us who had no running water going to their house, and it seemed a fair deal that ANDA, notorious for corruption, should help subsidize poor families in El Salvador. Like a Robin Hood / Poetic Justice sort of thing. Well, all that wonderfulness came to an end one day last October when they came to install a new water meter. They charged us for the meter and the labor to install it in a separate bill – close to $35 – this would compare to being charged $100-$150 for the water company in the States, I think. Then the bill went up. I was busy working a lot, so was not watering the garden much, but late February, after I quit, I decided to give the poor lawn and plants much needed water, and was rather liberal.
Around that same time, we had a major user-error take place. Remember what I told you about open valves? Well, hubby took a shower one day around 10pm. The water was not running, so he had to open the valve to the cisterna and run the sump pump to bathe. Then he went to bed. Next morning, around 6:30am I walk onto the patio and see water. Which was odd, since it’s not rainy season. I follow the water up to the cisterna and see…. it’s overflowing from the top. The same valve that lets water out of the cisterna also lets water in, of course. The water came back on sometime during the night, so it’s possible we had water running like a garden hose on full blast, up to seven hours, into the cisterna. Our bill the next month was $38, and it’s normally $9-$15. I know that doesn’t sound like much to you, but women come out on the news here complaining about a $40 water bill. It’s like getting a water bill in the U.S. for $250 for an apartment only (though I hear in places like Georgia this is not too uncommon). Meanwhile, ANDA has also started to charge us for “alcantarillados” (sewage pipe use), even though everyone at the company knows Los Planes does not have sewage pipes, everyone has a septic tank. I went to the water company to straighten this extra charge out, which ranges depending on your water use, about $2 a month for us, and they sent an employee out. Instead of verifying that we have a septic tank and no sewage, he identified ‘leaks’ in valves and toilets and noted them to my husband. I kept going back in the following months, and found it unnerving, because the clerks there would say “Oh yeah, there’s no ‘aguas negras’ (sewage) in Los Planes, I’ll take it off your bill.” And the charge would come up again the next month. Finally, in May the clerks explained they cannot take it off the bill until someone has physically “verified” there are no sewage pipes (like the rep they sent who didn’t do that). Doesn’t ANDA have an infrastructure map to identify who has sewage and who doesn’t, since after all THEY are the people who would install and maintain those pipes, right? But perhaps it’s just easier to slap the charge on everyone’s bill, and force people to call up or got to their office every month and have the charge taken off, which people who have less time and more money will not waste their time with. So between the phantom sewage lines and accidental cisterna overflow, I decided to Boycott ANDA. I shut the water off at the main valve, and said we’d use the bucket system or pila until that darn thing was empty. This was much to my husband’s consternation, but I pay for the water bill, and though it’s not as much money for us as a Salvadoran, it was the point of the matter.
“We paid for that water and we’re gonna use ALL of it,” I said.
We’ve moved back to the country, and the water is much more predictable, even though it does come to the house every day. It runs every other day from 6am – 12pm, a fairly long time window. If I worked milking cows from 4am – noon it would be difficult, but let’s remember the Salvadoran rule for receiving any services: the assumption that there is always someone at home to be able to tend to things. On that morning we have a chance to fill the Pila, our garrafon de agua (big water bottle), buckets, everything. The water system used to be a fixed rate of $5 a house, but there was much bickering going on, and people would often turn their water valves back “on” when they weren’t supposed to, taking more water out after the water guy who turned all the valves on and off closed their valve. Families felt it unjust to pay the same amount when other families used more. So, the problem got solved when they, too, decided to install water meters at everyone’s home. I don’t think they were charged the same as ANDA charged us for the meter install, but I’ll double check. There’s one problem with the new system, however. The new water guy, who now just opens and closes the main valve, is assigned the task of reading the water meters, and he’s illiterate. So, once a month he and a woman named “Lola,” whose isn’t that educated, but can at least read, walks around with him and checks the meters. They sometimes make mistakes, or the billing people sometimes do, but since everyone knows each other, they seem to be able to work out errors and disputes.
Just about everywhere you live in El Salvador, you must get accustomed to weirdness with water, garbage, or both. When we were living in Los Planes, I got used to the sound of the bell ringing the garbage truck riding in. There was no set day for them to come, so when you heard the bell, it was a scramble for the bags and mad dash for the door, and hollering “ya voy” (I’m coming) to they wouldn’t pass me by. I joked to myself that like many things in El Salvador, if you don’t have someone in the house all day, you’re S.O.L., and gee what woul I do if I were working full time? Well that day came, and the garbage bags piled up in the corner for that special moment when the stars were aligned and I happened to be home on a weekend day at the same time they happened to pass by. Of course, our garbage didn’t have the stench it would have from sitting for days like it would back home, because all of the organic material like fruit and veggie peels were gifted to the garden. Meat and bone scraps were saved in a tub int eh freezer of rhet dogs on our visits to the in-laws. Heck, all of the scraps in the garden attracted animals like possums, but I say all the better. Why have a garden when you can have an ecosystem?
What to do with you now that you’re empty?
Now that we’re back in “el campo” (the country) my husband remarks that it’s nice to have the chickens to feed the veggie scraps too. Agreed, I say, what a shame all the food that gets tossed into garbage trucks to go needlessly wasted to the dump. As I’ve mentioened before, at least among the poor and middle class in El Salvador, very little gets wasted. But one downside to garbage collection in the country is there IS NONE! That’s right, no one comes to pick it up. You are left to your own devices, to sort, pile, and burn your own trash and Lord help you if you’re downwind from burning plastic. If it’s made of metal, you can usually get it off your hands by selling it to the “Chatarra” guy who wheels into the hood with his truck and loudspeaker, rattling off the scrap metal items and old TVs and radios he’ll trade you for a handful of coins. Cheaper broken down items like crappy old phones – who knows? My husband got rid of our old phone because my mother-in-law gave it to my sister-in-law as a gag gift. Don’t know what she did with it. The most troublesome item to eliminate from the household is broken glass or non-returnable glass bottles. Anyone have a neat craft idea for this so I don’t have to break and bury broken glass? Or shall I goto Nueva Concepcion and discreetly throw them quickly into a public can?
“Uncle Gito” as I like to call him (my brother-in-law), fumigando el monte in our backyard. Crazy son of a gun planted cornstalks almost up to our door.
Right after the rains begin, all over El Salvador one can see men sporting “fumigación” gear. The “agricultors” wear a big plastic jug like a backpack, with a pump and hose attached, to spray insecticide and kill weeds and growth to prepare their crops for planting.
My father in law explained the process to me, as I did not understand if it was good or bad for it to rain right after the fumigación. He says if it rains right after you fumigate, it helps with the “quemando” (burning) of the “monte” (weeds). He said one chemical is so powerful, it is “criminal” – almost illegal – you have to wear a bandana on your face or it will poison you while you spray it. He said its name, and it was something like alcitran, or alcatran. Sounds almost like Alcatraz. I think I’ll stay away from it if I ever decide to fumigate monte.
After you kill the weeds by “quemando el monte con fumigación” (burning the weeds with the weed killer/planticide) you are ready to plant.
THE ROSE SHIRT ARMY – SIEMBRA
Each year around this time, an army of pink and green shirts marches home from the fields to eat a late lunch at the end of their workday. Yesterday (May 17) and the day before, my husband and the rest of the crew returned home with big rose colored spots on their shirts, rose on their trousers, and all over their hands. They each carried a long stick they were using to pierce the earth before laying the hot pink maize seed in it. It’s colored because it has been pre-treated with chemicals like fertilizer and insect-kill. There are pink seeds and green ones, and I was told they are different treatments. It’s government subsidy maize for planting, and nearly all farmers I know of out here are eligible to receive it. The color also helps people to know, visually that it’s treated seed, so they don’t mix it up with harvested maize and cook it. A couple years back a news story many people in El Salvador will probably remember came out. A family was so poor and hungry they tried to wash the government maize as best they could and used it for food, and sadly, two of their children died. Today’s “siembra” (planting) crew consisted of my husband, two brothers-in-law, my nephew, and 76 year old father-in-law. My father in law Cletro is in better shape than 90% of the office tubbies my own age. He could have given Jack LaLanne* a run for his money.
This is the final part of the start-up cycle for the maize crop. Abono is fertilizer, and farmers here walk around with a sachel on their waist and spread fertilizer onto their crops by hand. Thinking about how so much is mechanized back home with giant machines, it’s amazing to see how much is done here by hand. There are probably farmers here with large fields who do work with large machinery, but since labor is so cheap – around $8 a day for a farm hand, it might be a toss up between the machine and the man.
“Agricultors” will repeat both fumigacion and abono at various points during the growing season, as need sees fit.
Another Spanish word to add to the list: Sequia, which means drought. We too, are having a drought this year in El Salvador, but maybe not as bad as the one they’re having in the United States. From my observation it’s been quite bad (and I’m typing this entry from May in on July 25, so can say it’s been spotty with rain until now). It was raining right around the time of the siembra, but did not stay steady. From there it would go three, sometimes four or five days without raining. That’s not a good way to start a crop. It’s gotten a bit better in the past few weeks, sometimes going two or three days without rain, but it’s still quite dry. Gito, my brother-in-law, planted the milpa (cornfield) with all enthusiasm, but probably a bit too early for the weather conditions. The idea was to be able to have two crops and harvests this year. With two crops, you may end up with dryness at the beginning of the first crop, and soggy wetness towards the end of the second crop. But it’s often a crapshoot, and this year is definitely an anomaly because it should be raining almost every night and it’s not. So the price of maize that went back down to a comfortable place after it skyrocketed in late 2010/early 2011 will probably come back up again this year, too. Many of the crops are already “jodidos” (screwed) but there’s always a chance of a second crop – let’s see what happens for the remainder of the rainy season.
>> Note: this post is from a journal entry written on May 18th, 2012.
* I just read the bio of Jack Lallane on Wiki. An incredible guy, he lived to be 96 years old, and did his regular 2 hour workout routine until one week before he died. It looks like he was practicing a modified version of the raw food diet, which has become popular in the last several years.
Usually, I accompany posts with a picture. Today I will leave it out – I cannot bear the shame. Today I received the worst haircut of my life, ever. Ok, I exaggerate. It’s really the “second” worst haircut. The very worst haircut I’ve ever gotten was this past December, also right here in El Salvador. If you’re a guy, bad haircuts can grow out quick. If you’re a woman, a bad haircut will follow you for months. So I say this to all fellow women with hair:
WARNING: If you are a woman in El Salvador and have hair SHORTER than shoulder length, do NOT go to an unknown hairdresser, EVER. Easier just to grow your hair shoulder length or longer, and have them cut “the ends.” Most hairdressers outsider of San Salvador have NO CLUE how to cut hair shorter than shoulder length, and even then it’s chancy. My worst-ever haircut took place in “Las Cascadas” mall in the metro San Salvador area on he way to Santa Tecla.
If you are a well-do-to woman with good connections or related to a good hairdresser, disregard this warning. If you do not know a good hairdresser, learn from me vicariously.
DO NOT CUT YOUR HAIR WITH AN UNKNOWN HAIRDRESSER IN EL SALVADOR.
IT CAN LEAD TO DISASTER!!!
Here is the English version of the post written for Spanish Friday yesterday, so you can all read it easier. It contains significantly less grammatical errors in English 😉 !!
For days now, Carmen had her “backpack” ready to bring to the hospital with all her necessities while being there, and there we were, getting her read for the big moment.
The good thing is it was not so rushed; though she felt pains, they were not yet so strong. We arrived on time. They directed Carmen to an examination room. The doctor checked and told her it looks like she will start to go into labor in the middle of the night. “Hmmm,” I said to her, “that’s still many hours away.” (it was only two in the afternoon when the doctor said this).
While waiting, a nurse brought me to the information desk at the front of the hospital to get the visiting cards. They give two cards to each family. After, they made me sign a paper to be a witness for her. The moment to bring her to the delivery room arrived. A worker in the hospital walked with us and when we got to the door he said to me, “Only up to here. You cannot go into the delivery room.” I gave Carmen a hug and said, “Good luck!”
There were two men in front of the delivery room. One of them, the poor dear, told me that he had been in the Hospital for three days waiting for his wife to have their baby, and he slept on benches inside the hospital, and only left once. The trip is more than an hour each way, by bus, and even though he cannot be in the delivery room, it looks like he does not want to miss being there the moment the baby is born. What a good husband. He asked me, “Is this her first?” “Yes,” I told him, it’s the first baby she’s going to have. Mine, too, he said.
Wednesday: We called the hospital the next day, and they told me to call back again after 1pm. I spoke with them again, and they told me that she already had the baby and was in recovery. My sister in law and I went to the hospital for the second visiting hour, at 4pm. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see Carmen. They performed a c-section on her, and she was not ready to have a visit.
I stole this picture of her. Sorry Carmen, I couldn’t resist.
Thursday: I went to the hospital again, but alone. My sister in law couldn’t go because she was sick. When I arrived in the recovery area for new mothers, I saw Carmen asleep with her new baby. Carmen was in a big room with give other women, all waiting to give birth. Almost all were very close, except for one woman who was two months pregnant and couldn’t eat without getting sick. I noticed a beautiful moment while there. One woman’s parents were visiting her. The young woman had just bathed, and her mother was combing her hair – she had beautiful hair. Us Americans are so independent you almost never see things like mothers coming their adult daughter’s hair. It was not bad to see. It was very caring and affectionate and I liked it. There was a plate of food on the table near Carmen’s bed. The other women said to me, tell her to eat that food, the milk has to “come down.” I did this, but Carmen did not want to eat much. She was tired, very unlike herself, and looked drugged. I felt it was a shame knowing they had cut her open like that, so young (only 16 years old) that she is.
Well, Carmen explained the story of her birth to me. Like the doctor said on Tuesday, Carmen started to give birth around one in the morning. But they did not attend to her, she told me, and she only had a nurse with her during those hours. She told me she pushed a lot, but the baby didn’t ‘come down.’ There were two doctors, one that wanted to do the birth by c-section, and the other who didn’t. The one who didn’t want the c-section tried to help by pushing the baby down with Carmen, but he couldn’t her her. In the end, Carmen told me, they gave her the c-section at 4 in the afternoon. How strange, I thought, because when I spoke with someone at the hospital after two in the afternoon, they told me that she already had the baby. Maybe they had already decided to give her the c-section.
Anyway, now the mother and her new baby, “Andy”, were well. We moved to another room after, where there were five other women with newborns. I stayed there awhile longer, fascinated with this tiny baby. The good thing is he looks content. Carmen tells me he has grey eyes, but I couldn’t see them – he never opened them while I was there. I think Andy is not going to be a “cryer,” he did not cry much in that hour and a half that I spent with them.
Friday we are going to bring Carmen and Andy home.
It’s Spanish Friday again, readers. I hope you enjoy this post. English version of post here.
Hoy será el cuarto día que vamos al Hospital Nacional de Nueva Concepción. Martes dejé mi sobrina ahí, a las 3 de la tarde, porque ella tenía dolores empezando a las 1 de la mañana, y decidimos a llevarle al hospital mejor.
Hace días la Carmen tenia lista su “mochilla,” para llevar al hospital con todo de sus necesidades mientras estar allí, y allí estábamos, juntándola para el gran momento.
Lo bueno es que no era tan precisa; aunque sentía dolores no eran tan fuertes todavía. Llegamos con tiempo. Le dirigió a la Carmen a un cuarto de examenes. El Doctor le chequeo y le decía que parece empezará a dar luz en la madrugada. “Hmm,” yo le decía a ella, “faltan muchas horas.” (solo eran las 2 de la tarde cuando el doctor le decia eso).
Mientras esperar, una enfermera me llevó a la mesa de información al frente del hospital para buscar las tarjetas de visita. Dan dos tarjetas a cada familia. Luego me hicieron firmar un papel como testigo y de ella. Llegó el momento llevarle ella a la sala de partos. Un trabajador del hospital caminaba con nosotras y cuando llegamos a la puerta el me dijo, “Solo hasta aquí. Ud. No puede entrar en la sala de partos.” Le di un abrazo a Carmen y le dije “Buena Suerte!”
Estaban dos hombres enfrente de la sala de partos. Uno de ellos, pobrecito, me explicó que el había pasado tres días en el Hospital esperando a su esposo tener su bebe, él dormía por bancos dentro del hospital y solo salió una vez. El viaje es mas que una hora por cada lado, en bus, y aunque no puede estar en la sala de partos, parece que él no quiere perder el momento de estar allí cuando nazca el bebe. Que buen esposo. El me preguntó si mi sobrina “Es Primeriza?” “Si,” le conté a EL, es la primer niño va a tener. De la mía también, me decía.
Miercoles: Llamamos al hospital el próximo día, y me dijeron que llame de nuevo después de la una. Hable de nuevo con ellos, y me dijeron que ya tuvo el niño y estaba en recuperación. Mi cuñada y yo anduvimos por el hospital por la segunda hora de visita, a las 4 de la tarde. Lastimosamente, no pudimos ver a la Carmen. La hicieron cesárea, y no estuvo lista tener visita.
Robé esta foto de ella; lo siento Carmen, no podía resistir.
Jueves: Me fui por el hospital de nuevo, pero sola. Mi cuñada no podía ir por estar enferma. Cuando llegue a la área de recuperación de mamas, vi la Carmen dormida con su niño nuevo.
Carmen estaba en un cuarto grande con 5 otras mujeres, todas esperando dar luz. Casi todas estaban muy cerca de dar luz, menos una, que tenia 2 meses de embarazo, y no podía comer sin enfermar cada vez. Me noté un momento muy bonito. Los papas de una mujer joven estaban visitándole a ella. La joven acabó de bañar, y su mama estaba peinándole el pelo de su hija – tiene pelo muy bonito. Yo podía ver que la mama le cuida muy bien de ella, quizás le adora a ella. Como Americanos, somos tan independientes que casi no se ve cosas así, como mamas peinando el pelo de su hija adulta. No era nada de fea. Era bien cariñosa, y me gustó. Había un plato de comida por le mesa a la par de la cama de Carmen. Las otras mujeres me decían, dígale ella que coma su comida, tiene que bajar la leche. Eso hice, pero Carmen no quería mucha comida. Estaba muy cansada, muy fuera de normal, y parecía un poco drogada. Me daba lastima sabiendo que la rajaran así, tan joven (solo tiene 16 años) como es.
Pues, Carmen me explicaba la historia de su parto. Como el doctor decía el martes, Carmen empezó a dar luz alrededor de la una de la mañana. Pero no la atendieron, me decía, y solo había una enfermera con ella durante esas horas. Me decía que empujaba mucho, pero en niño no bajaba. Estaban dos doctores, uno que quería hacer el parto cesárea, y el otro, no. El que no quería cesárea intentó a empujar el niño por abajo, pero no podía ayudarle a ella. En el fin, Carmen me dijo, la hicieron la cesárea a las 4 de la tarde. Que raro, pensé yo, porque cuando hablé con alguien del hospital poco después de las 2 de la tarde, me dijeron que ya tenia el niño. Quizás ya decidieron hacerle la cesárea.
De todas maneras la mama y su niño nuevo, que se llama “Andy” estaban bien. Nos mudamos a otro cuarto después, donde estaban 5 otras mujeres con recién nacidos. Yo pasaba un rato mas allí, fascinada con el bebe tan pequeño. Lo bueno es que parece contento. Carmen me dice que tiene ojos grises, pero no los podía ver – mientra que estuve allí, nunca los abrió. Creo que Andy no va a ser chillón, no lloró mucho dentro aquella hora y media que pasé con ellos.
Viernes la vamos a traer a la Carmen y Andy para la casa.