Archive for July 2012

Water Weirdness   2 comments

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.

Posted July 27, 2012 by El Salvador from the Inside in ANDA, Water

Garbage Wierdness   4 comments

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?

FUMIGACION, SIEMBRA, ABONO, SEQUIA   1 comment

“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.

FUMIGACION

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.

ABONO

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.

SEQUIA

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.

Real Estate Fraud in El Salvador – in our neighborhood   6 comments

Photo from La Pagina

It happened here, in our innocent rural neighborhood in Chalatenango.  We’d heard about real estate fraud in the papers and on TV news, and not long ago even the mayor in La Palma was accused of being involved in a string of real estate scams.   Television newscasters reported about and warned of real estate fraud in El Salvador, but it was always “someone else.”

Today the problem hits home for us, as a neighbor who is also distant family of ours was defrauded of $50,000, and lost close to that much more in what he invested in a property he bought in our neighborhood.

What we knew up until a few days ago:    Last fall, the family of “Freddy” (I’ll give him this pseudonym) purchased a set of two side-by-side lots that were a “ganga” (bargain).   The owner’s mother-in-law walked around the neighborhood and visited families whom she knew could afford to buy them, and even came to my in-law’s home offering my husband the two lots for $40,000.   “I wish I had that kind of money,” was his response.  She then spoke with Freddy’s family and made the offer, upping the price to $50,000.   They went for it.  This was perfect timing, as Freddy was planning to return to El Salvador soon, and wanted his own home.

The purchase was done quickly, as it was such a steal and they didn’t want to lose the opportunity, not to mention how close the two lots are to Freddy’s parent’s and brother’s house.  It was perfect!

Yesterday, my husband learned that the sale of these two lots was a scam.  Here is the story as he relayed it to me:

A man in our neighborhood who was a cattle/dairy rancher owned or owns a large piece of land – enough for  60 – 70 “ganado” (livestock) to graze on it.    He is a Christian, and so decided to donate a small piece of his land to a church about five years ago.   A church and house for the pastor to live in were built there.  The cattle rancher was a regular parishioner at that church.   About two years ago, he sold all his cattle and moved to the United States when his family petitioned for his residency.  After he moved, the church began to lose attendance.  The pastor had no other form of income than the donations and “diezmo” (tithe) he and his family were living off of.   Things had gotten bad so he decided he better close up shop.    He called up a local attorney and the two of them drafted two “escritura” (deeds) together.

The pastor and his family offered the two plots with those deeds together as a deal – one plot had the pastor’s house on it, and the other had the church.   The two plots are the size of a modest suburban home with a yard around it in the United States.   Considering they had structures already built on them, this was a good deal for both the land and building.    The purchase was ideal for Freddy since he did not have to build a house, but only make renovations.  On the church side, though, he dumped a ton of money into it, to run a business.   He invested probably $40-50,000 after the land/home  purchase between renovations on the house and the major changes to set up his bar/restaurant, which he opened less than two months ago, and is a raving success.

The deeds the pastor and the attorney drafted had one major problem:  they forged the owner’s signature.   Though the owner had donated the land, had NEVER gave them any kind of paperwork or a deed.  He was simply allowing the church to build and hold its masses for the congregation on his property.  Nothing more.  Someone must have called him to ask  what happened to the church, which has become the home of someone else, with a very popular restaurant/bar beside it.

The owner, who was not even present in El Salvador at the time of the sale, said that was not his signature on the deeds.   The pastor and his attorney are now in jail.

Freddy’s family had an attorney look at the documents and said they were legitimate.  I do not know if this was before or after their ‘rushed sale’.  I would like to unearth more information to see how responsible the second attorney may be.   I’m thinking he may have glanced at them after their hasty purchase, but as the story unravels and the ‘chambres’ (gossip) run wild through our neighborhood, we’ll discover more about this, plus we are friends with the family.   Along with following it in the local news, if they decide its worth covering the story.

So, buyer beware:  When buying property in El Salvador make SURE that the deed is legitimate.  I do not know all the ins and outs of buying property, but I learned that an “escritura publica” (public deed) exists here, but that also an escritura privada (private deed) exist.   Where possible, do your own do diligence and get as much public information as possible, even if you’re working with a trusted lawyer.  Never hurts to double-check in case they happen to overlook something.

The agency where property deeds are registered in El Salvador is the Centro Nacional de Registros.  (National Records Center).

I’m hoping there will be some type of a happy ending for Freddy and his family.  I asked my husband if the owner and they know each other.  “Do they get on well?,” I asked.  “No,” my husband said.  Oh boy.

The Worst Haircut, Ever   9 comments

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!!!

My niece had a baby – English version   Leave a comment

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.

Mi Sobrina tuvo un niño   Leave a comment

Spanish FridayIt’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.

Having a Baby in El Salvador – The Fastest Baby Delivery all Week   3 comments

Between nieces and sisters in-law, five babies have been born since I’ve been here, two of whom I’ve brought to the hospital.

I’ll start with my sister-in-law first.  It was October 4, 2010.  I know, I didn’t tell you sooner, I’ve been keeping it from you all this time.  I was visiting my in-laws on that day in fact, so it was lucky for both my sister in law “Morena” and I, since not everyone here has a car like we do, and I was able to participate in the FASTEST BABY DELIVERY in El Salvador for the entire week.     Ok, this is my best guestimate, and I *may* be exaggerating.   But not by much.

I was near the house and someone alerted me it was “about time” for Morena and we’d better make a move in a hospital direction.  She had waited a little while, maybe an hour or so, hoping her husband would get off work to make the drive with us, but he didn’t make it soon enough, so we had to get going.

In the car were me, my mother-in-law Irene, and Morena, in the back seat.  I’m regretting how long she’d waited at this point, because she was saying “Ay!” at every small turn or bump in the road.    There were a lot of “huecos,” or potholes in the road on the way to the National Hospital of Nueva Concepcion (Hospital Nacional de Nueva Concepción), which was not helping her cause.   I did my best to avoid the potholes while still humming along at a faster speed, lest my car become the “spot” for baby to arrive in this new world.

We get to the hospital, finally, and the “vigilante” (security guard) let’s us in with the car, and drive right up to emergency.   They were pretty quick to get her onto the delivery area, and my mother and law and I followed along on foot as they cruised her down the hallway on the mobile-bed.    I was all set to go into the delivery area, us being the “supporting family” and all, but they have “new rules” now at the hospital.    They say it’s to protect the babies against microbes.   Which makes some sense, since this is an agricultural area, and heck knows what people drag in with their boots or have on their person after working around animals, but there are other reasons why it works ‘best’ for hospital staff to keep us divided, which we’ll talk about in the post about my niece’s childbirth.

So, no going into the “Sala de Partos” or delivery room, and my mother-in-law and I sat outside of it.   I wanted to stay in contact with Morena’s husband, to keep him up to date, but my cell phone was almost out of battery.  So I walked up to the nearest receptacle and plugged in.   A woman on the hospital staff passed by and waved her finger at me and said “Oh no, you cannot use the plugs here to charge your phone.”   How could I forget?  We’re at the National Hospital (as in “free care”), so all expenses are monitored and no way can you charge your cell phone and get a “freeby” here.  Cripes, now what to do?   The security guard who was standing near “Missus don’t-you-dare-charge-your-cell-phone” Icicle lady as she passed by, said to me in a hushed tone, “Hey, why don’t you go talk with the security guard at the gate out front, he can help you charge your phone.”

Before I could even charge my phone, a doctor peeped his head out of the “Area Restringida” (restricted area / delivery room) and asked if we were relatives of Maria Irene Chacon, my sister-in-law “Morena’s” real name.  “Yes,” we said.  “She just had a boy”.  My mother and I looked at each other, surprised and excited.

45 minutes had passed since she entered the delivery room.   WOW.  I was impressed.

Ok, she didn’t have a boy in the end.  Because so many women were there having babies at once, there was a bit of confusion and a mixed message.  We found out later it was a girl.  Like the next day, in fact.

QUARANTINED   This is a funny thing they do at the hospital, too.   They let no one in for the delivery, and then keep the mothers and their babies in that area with no visitors allowed for several hours more.  So even though it was still not even 5 in the afternoon, none of us was going to be able to see Morena and her baby until the next day, at visiting hour, which starts at 12pm.   So that’s it.  No father’s in the delivery room wiping the sweat from their wives forehead or caressing their cheek or hearing their wives scream at them “it’s all YOUR FAULT YOU SOB!”   No, none of that sweet stuff.      But we’re in the National Hospital, remember.   The “free” one, and you get what you pay for.   Morena reminded me, during our visit to Carmen’s delivery, now almost two years later, how she was careful not to moan or whine too much in pain.    She was warned by our cousin Elsie, who’d had a baby 1 or 2 years prior to her, not to make too much fuss, because the nurses there say “Oh, you’re crying NOW?  But you weren’t crying when you MADE this baby were you?   No, you were asking for MORE when you opened your legs THEN, so you why you cryin’ now?”      That’s one perk of working at the National Hospital, you see.    Since they’re poor and they don’t pay for their services, you can treat ’em however you like and no one’s gonna make you do any different.   So Morena made sure to be “tough,” she told me, “I bit the blanket, and I didn’t cry or whine, I wasn’t going to give them any reason to make comments like that to ME!”

HOSPITAL DECOR.   While inside the hospital, I made a note of various wall-hangings.  There were many posters about breast feeding to look at, most appeared hand-made, with hand-drawn figures of women and infants, or with cut-out pictures from magazines.  All these posters were talking about the importance of breast-feeding, its nutritional benefits, with some posters strongly advising “solo pecho,” or only breast-feeding, the the first three to six months.   Some people might have found this campy, but I really like it.     It showed a lot of participation,  and humanity by the hospital staff in efforts to affect the lives of their patients and their patient’s children.    It felt really personal.   Other posters, manufactured by some organization or the government hung on walls, illustrating ways to avoid dengue fever, and the importance of hand-washing to avoid illnesses.

We left the hospital, leaving Morena there, and knowing all went well and we’d see her tomorrow at noon.

DAY TWO —

We got to pick up Morena the day after she had her baby.  We arrived at visiting hours, which start at 12:00 noon at the National Hospital in Nueva Concepcion, El Salvador.   Morena’s husband Dulio and me.  Before leaving for the hospital, he had just come back from work.  Oddly, instead of rushing to the hospital with me, he was joking around with my husband and people around the house and cutting coconuts open for everyone that he’d brought back from the boss’s tree.   I didn’t understand that.  Perhaps I missed something.  For me, a man who’s just become a father for the second time and hasn’t seen his wife since she had their baby a day before  should be jumping out of his shoes to get into my car and drive as fast as possible to the hospital to see the new baby.  But I have to recalculate.  We’re in El Salvador, remember?  things work different here.  Take it easy.   So I took it easy.

We get to the hospital and go down a hallway a little way’s from the delivery room where we left Morena yesterday.    Its the last room on the right at the end.  A 20 x 20 foot room with 8 beds in it.    There were eight women there, a full house, all but two were there with newborn babies.   Of the two women still pregnant, one was to give birth in one or two days, and the other was four months pregnant, interned for a serious infection.  The room was very hot; all the mothers were sweating but the babies were all fine.   It really is a small world.  My brother-in-law Dulio knew the husband of the woman in the bed next to Morena.

We got everyone packed up and ready to go, and had to stop by the front desk before leaving.  A nurse made sure to swaddle Morena’s baby girl, Wendy, before we hit the road.    I drove 30 mph the whole way back, slowly swerving to avoid the potholes.

Why Meat in El Salvador sucks   5 comments

My husband and I were eating a steak he prepared yesterday.  It was spiced very well and had sauteed onions. But the meat was so tough it didn’t break down with chewing.  So we talked about it, and I said “I have a theory.  They don’t have a lot of free land here, so maybe the meat we eat is really old dairy cattle that are too old to produce milk, so they kill them and this is what we eat.”  “That’s not theory, Jenny, that’s reality.”

Then I asked my friend Pohl today what he thinks.  He thinks they just aren’t fed well, and said didn’t I notice how skinny they are?   I agreed that most are rather skinny.   Either way, if you want good meat in El Salvador you probably want to buy imported meat.  Go to a meat shop in downtown San Salvador in one of the snooty neighborhoods and find the best butcher.   I’ve never been inside one of them, but I know someone somewhere in El Salvador must be insisting upon the best cuts of meat, so if you’re a tried and true meat lover, you will find it.

As for us, we’ll stick with chicken and pork, just as tender here as back home.

Will you help write history for El Salvador?   2 comments

Readers, can I ask you for help today?

I recently learned of a mother-daughter team who began working over five years ago to document an important part of El Salvador’s history.

They are Inez and Ruby, and they are documenting the stories, as told by the families, of people who disappeared before and during the civil war here.   The organization behind this effort is CoMadres, which stands for the Committee of Mothers, one of the first human rights organizations in El Salvador.

Ruby and Inez have come to El Salvador on numerous trips for this project.  They are in the final stages of the research for this tremendous project, and are fundraising to support this work, which will help pay for airline flights and supplies to complete two trips this year.

They are close to their goal.  Can you help them reach it by making a donation?   They have a few weeks left before their fundraising campaign ends:

www.indiegogo.com/CoMadres

Learn more about the project, Writing the history of CoMadres, at their website.

Co-Madres was initiated by a group of women in the 1970s in response to extreme political repression and violence. They have struggled continuously for human rights for all in El Salvador and internationally.
Ruby visited their office in 2005 to learn about their work. When they suggested that perhaps one day someone would help them write their history, we decided to be that someone — despite having no experience or formal training. This blog chronicles the joys and tribulations of that effort.

You know you’re in the middle of nowhere in El Salvador when…   2 comments

…your trip to the “urban” area of Nueva Concepcion to find Cafe Ataco or similar quality ground coffee goes like this:

Not only do they have coffee, but here’s a hotel and restaurant, and coffee tours. Cafe Ataco gets a free “plug” from me today, just for tasting good.

1. Drive 25 minutes to get there.  The next nearest town is “el pueblo” of Agua Caliente, which does not have a grocery or an ATM machine, but it does have a town hall with mail service, a church, and not one but TWO cyber cafes.   “La Nueva” as we call it is definitely more urban so of course I’ll find some coffee there.

2. Park car at the Dispensa Familiar.   Find ‘coffee’ area within store.  See 3 or 4 brands of instant coffee, including Cafe Listo and Coscafe.  “Coscafe” does have ground coffee on the shelf.   We tried their instant coffee years ago, and didn’t like it.   “What about the other super,” my husband says.

3. Visit the other super, called “El Baratillo.”  Take money out of wallet and check 8 inch size purse at bag check area.  Get to the coffee area.

4.  See an expanded selection of instant coffees, now at least 5 or 6 brands.  Zero bags of ground coffee.  Might they have some bags in “el mercado?”

5.  We passed through the market but did not see any, though I confess we did not do a super-thorough search.  If they’d be anywhere they’d be with the vendors who sell beans, nuts, cocoa beans, and dog food.  But I don’t recall seeing any coffee beans at those stalls, actually, in any of my visits to a market.   The gas station in Guazapa between Amayo and San Salvador use to sell coffee in bags that we bought often.  But we’re not there now.

We opted for the large size glass bottle of Cafe Listo, made by Nescafe, which is “the” coffee drank by a majority of Salvadorans.  We’re OK, though, we’d been drinking it all along anyway.  But our happy diversion with the recent Cafe Ataco purchase will repeat itself on our next trip to San Salvador.   We’ll be sure to pick up a few extra bags while we’re there.

Anderson Cooper would be proud   6 comments

I can’t help but laugh – Anderson Cooper coming out now is perfect timing!   The grand opening of a new bar near our neighborhood happened just a few weeks ago.  The bar is called “El Gato Verde” and it’s the biggest deal to hit this part of rural Chalatenango since the circus came to our little canton/town two years ago.

On opening night, all sorts of people showed up from all over.  Including two men, who came with different groups of friends, who are obviously openly gay by their dress and conversation.  Fairly normal for a bar full of people.

Also among the crowd was a group of four young men, dressed like any other teenage boys would in the area – same type of shirt, jeans, hairstyle, etc.    They were also….openly gay/bi, all dancing together on the dance floor.

This surprised me, because from my experiences with Salvadorans in Boston and the boys in our Salvadoran “hood”, rural male sentiment usually comes in two flavors, “macho” and “machista,” or  “manly” and “chauvinistic manly”.   Seeing these six youth, all demonstrating that they are either openly gay or bi, in a bar in the middle of the country in El Salvador was new and unexpected – at least to me.    I found it funny because it was so in contrast from my long-held ideas about rural living in general, and our rural world here.

I saw no negative reactions, hostility, or discrimination by other people in the bar towards them, and that was a good thing.  My husband is definitely more old school, and he joked about it after we got home.

So there you have it, being openly gay is becoming acceptable in rural El Salvador.  Times are a changin’.

Cost of Living in El Salvador: Some stuff costs less, some costs more   65 comments

People thinking of moving to El Salvador often ask expats here, “What does it cost to live there?”   Just like anywhere else in the world, it depends on many factors like lifestyle, family size, and needs.    Lifestyle is the biggest defining factor, and if you not expecting to change it, expect to pay more.  I like how What’s up El Salvador puts it:

You can also show up expecting the moon for fifty cents, and find your expenses are close to what you left behind, and be miserable.    How?  Don’t really move.

Exactly.  Transport your lifestyle with all its trimmings, and that’s exactly what you’ll get:  an American life, inside of another country, with a hefty price tag.    Why not just move to Cancun!

El Salvador is of course, much cheaper to live in than Western countries, and still cheaper than the country my husband and I love to hate – Costa Riiica ( gotta be rich/rica to live there now).  But buyer beware, some things cost less, and some cost more.

What’s Cheaper?   We can start the list with tropical Fruits and Vegetables.

Sit down before reading this.  The papaya on the right set me back a whole $2 last week.

ALL of the vegetables in the picture below cost me $7 on June 28, 2012.

I bought them off the veggie truck, so if I’d have gone to the market, would have been even cheaper.  Nice huh?  What would this be back home, pushing $20?   The only ‘expensive’ fruits and vegetables I run into are apples, and potatoes aren’t too cheap.  Cabbage is gigantic here compared to the states, and some of the carrots and cucumbers have been very large recently, too.    El Salvador is great for vegetarians and health nuts!

Veggie purchase, itemized:

Cabbage             $1.00
Oranges (7)            .50
Plantains (3)          .50
Cucumbers (30   .50
Chayote (giant)   .35
carrot                     .15
Tomatoes (16)   1.00
Onions (8)           1.00
Potato (1+ lb)    1.00
Avocado (2)       1.00

—  “What else is Barato (a bargain)?,”  you might ask. — 

Cheap or lower-end type products, like ones you can find in the U.S.,  can be found for even better  prices here.   For instance, these “ginas,” or plastic flip-flops, cost me $2 at the Aguilares market the other day, and nearly two years ago a pair identical to them, but in black, cost me $2.5o in Chalatenango.  Geez, I was ripped off of a whole .50 back then.   Other items I can think of,:  I saw tweezers in the store for 50 cents recently, and Super Glue – it’s always the same brand – chimera – is only .25 cents a tube.  You get what you pay for.  I’ve tried to get more than one use out of a glue tube, but once I open and squeeze it, no matter how well I cover or seal it the glue dries out.  Don’t kill yourself to save a quarter, just buy a new one.

Housing.  You’ll find housing costs anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 what you might pay back home, which makes sense since your salary will probably one fourth what you’d make, too.    There are probably 5 or 6 different areas that gring@s like to live in, in or around San Salvador, and outside of the city are pockets in the country that people consider safe and comfortable to live in.  Our house in Los Planes, with 2 small BR on one floor and an ‘open loft’ area on 2nd floor, and 2 baths – one with hot water, one without, on a big lot, was only $350.  It  had some paint and a few shabby issues, but who cares?  We live OUT-side here, right?   That same house and lot in Escalon might have been $1000 or more.   I’ve heard of pp renting a very small place for $150 in Antiguo Cuscatlan, and then you go back up in price again in Santa Elena – very chi-chi.  It’s cheaper to live near the beach than the city, but you won’t get much work out there.

Local Restaurants and Stands.   Operative word = local.   There are numerous local restaurant and “champas” (stands) where you can buy pupusas, sandwiches, tacos, etc.  After you give your stomach a few months to get used to El Salvador, you can be eating off local food stands everywhere.   Pupusas, on the ‘high’ end are .60 apiece, or  .75 for the double-size at Boomwallos in Los Planes de Renderos, and four is a decent adult’s meal.  Plus, the further into the country you get the cheaper things are.  Pasteles – which are deep fried corn-meal pockets, stuffed with chicken and potatoes are yum.  They’re either four for a dollar or eight, depending on if I’m in the “city” or the “country”.    Hmm. did.I hear you say you might want  Wendy’s, Chicken Wings, Indian, Thai, or something else?   Ok, no problem, we can do that.  Just pull out the American dollars from your American wallet and pay the American price.  Same exact price you’d pay there as here.  Pollo Campero is included in that list, though they originated in Guatemala.

Fruit Juices, Shakes, and Hot beverages.    A quart-size bag of fresh-squeezed orange juice was $1 the last time we had it in downtown Chalatenango, “Frescos” ( fresh drinks) made of fruits like tamarind or hibiscus or ‘horchata’ (an orgeat one) are often 25 cents apiece, and large shakes, called “Liquados,” made with fresh fruits are a dollar, or a dollar fifty if you choose a pricier fruit (like strawberry).   The famous “atole de elote,” a sweet, hot  corn-based drink can be found for 60 cents a cup or less.    Drinks “in a bag” are also cheaper, like soda or water.

Market versus Supermarket.   If you can go to a market that’s decent and safe (like one in Merliot for instance) you can find fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheap household products.  Vegetables at the supermarket are often twice the market price.

Food and other products made here.   The more Salvadoran you become, the fatter your wallet will be.  Stick with locally made items, especially at the supermarket.  Yes, there are numerous items Americans are accustomed to that are not locally made.   You can find staples for basic recipes everywhere, and the more Salvadoran you eat, the easier it will be for you.  Salvadoran foods do not contain Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Middle Eastern, or Indian ingredients that we see stocked on shelves in our country everywhere.  You will find soy sauce at almost all stores, but oyster sauce and fish sauce, now you’re pushing it.   A gringa new to El Salvador was just mentioning the other day how hard American or imported food products are to find, and how expensive they are.   ( It seems like we all go through a ‘familiar foods longing’ when we first arrive here).    Things like Classico spaghetti sauce,  or specialty or exotic foods (say Thai curry) will cost more, and even boxed American cereals  made in Latin America cost about the same as in the U.S.   But I can’t help myself – I give in to the occasional splurge, like manchego cheese or those wonderful calamata olives (yum yum).  One thing we never found here, which is funny because you’re up to your ears in oatmeal here, is “Cream of Wheat.”    My husband calls it “spider eggs” and grew to love it back in the U.S.  We had people send it here to us.

Movies.  I have never been here once, but heard it’s just a few bucks to go.  But speaking of…

Pirated DVDs and CDs:  $1 apiece.  Sometimes only fifty cents.  I know, it’s “pirating,” but heck, who’s gonna pay $15 for a CD when they don’t even make that a day?  I feel it’s totally justified, sorry if you don’t like it, let the Westerners pay full price.

— What Costs More? —

The biggest one is gasoline.  It costs about 20% more to fill up your tank in El Salvador than in the U.S. (based on an average nationwide prices I looked at).

Cars –   They cost more here, just like other imports – no Nissan or Toyota factories here.  Sending a car here yourself also includes an import/duty fee you must pay, and depends on how new it is, currently ranging anywhere from several hundred to a couple thousand dollars.  NOTE:  Cars older than eight years cannot be brought into the country.   I recommend our make of car if you buy one here:  Toyota Corolla.  There are tons of them here, often in gray for some reason,  and they are great because they are amazing on gas mileage, and cops seem to pull them over less at road-stops.   It’s a nondescript vehicle, and the ones they usually pull over are big SUVS and chitty-chitty bang bangs.

Road stops in El Salvador, btw are another Salvadoran oddity to get used to – cops can and will pull you over at stops all over the country. So don’t drive drunk and do NOT ever carry an unregistered pistol (Here is a great article on gun registration at  Life in the Armpit). You need a license after being here more than three months, but if you’re nice to the cop, s/he will often let you go.  I’ve been stopped on 3 separate occasions and played ‘dumb gringa’ each time, always off with a warning.

This Salvadoran country style dresser cost $90 in 2008.

Another “hit” is furniture and electronics.   That’s likely due to import costs, and laws against cutting trees (we’re 20 years post-deforestation here).  You can save on furniture by buying the “Salvy” style country-looking wooden dressers and beds and things.  Those items are often sold on the side of the road, or near the “mercado central” (downtown San Salvador) so if you have a car, you’ll probably see them, or go with someone downtown and walk around.

Electronics – they don’t make much here from what I know.  Usually more.  Go to the market and look for second hand.

Appliances – ha ha ha.   Dinky refrigerators for not so small prices.  The $600 low-cost brand in Home Depot is no where to be found here.  And the insult gets better when you read the label:  made in Costa Rica.  Don’t they make enough money off of tourism?  Where is OUR Salvadoran appliance factory!!!!!

American brand” or American style things – like American clothing.  Anything that is imported or designed in such a way to look exactly like something you’d buy in American (which is really made in China anyway) costs more.   You can take a walk through malls and mini-malls in Santa Elena (like near the embassy) and Colonia Escalon and spend to your heart’s content on overpriced furniture and home goods just as you would at a Crate and Barrel or more “chi-chi” kind of place in the U.S.    But if you’re coming to live here or stay for awhile, and have to stick to a budget, you’ll have to let some things go.  “Eddie,” a recently returned Salvadoran after living in the states for eight years, and back in our country ‘hood,  is attached to “Michael Jordan” brand shoes and mentioned he has 15 pairs (he’s caught the gringo consumer-bug I’d say).  He said he went looking for the “Jordan” store in the  mall.  I had to hold back a laugh and keep a straight face.  There ain’t no Jordan store here, babe!

An alternative to buying American clothing here:  second hand clothing stores, selling American discards.  For instance, variedades Genesis is one, and almost every major urban area or large pueblo will have a used American clothing store.  The only issue I’ve seen is they tend to have a lot of XL and XXL sizes, especially mens.  Guys here would swim in those shirts!

Textiles.  What UP with the expensive towels and sheets that are also such poor quality?  And often made in El Salvador – embarrassing.   Is cotton not grown here much?  Tip: buy them at the 2nd hand store.

Tools & Hardware.   More items we’re stuck importing from other places, unless its simple tools like hammer or wrench.  They usually cost the same or more than in the United States.   Don’t even both walking into EPA if you live on a Salvadoran sueldo (salary).  It’s more expensive than Home Depot.  This store chain, from Venezuela is definitely not allied with the socialist ideals from back home.  So, most tools are same or more.  Unless you’re buying a ‘corvo’ – Salvadoran word for machete.  Those can cost as little as $5.   They often sell the blades separate at the market for pp who like to make their own wooden handles, and corvos have these really cool leather holders, often with fringe, which you strap to your belt so you can be a bad *ss walking down the street like that.  I’ve always wanted to get a corvo with a white leather case, so I can strut down main street in el campo with matching white hat and boots.

Tool alternative:  used tools at the market.  Same with small appliances.

PHONES.    I almost forgot, how could I?  Our dear friends at Tigo, who provide us with our beloved cable and internet, are also a cell phone provider in El Salvador.  The rates here are OUT-rageous.   Phone-to-phone calls, if you don’t have a “favorite” number set up are 20 cents a minute, and that’s calling a client on Tigo.   That said, you can save a TON by setting up your favorite number, and paying a regular charge for it.  Also, one money-saver here are “blackberry” plans, which if you are a texter (I’m not), is great.  Talk away with your thumbs, it’s pretty cheap.  In fact, that’s what most pp in El Salvador do with their phones – text messaging.  The other favorite thing they do with their phones is listen to music.

What does it cost YOU to live there? – someone might ask 

When we were renting a house for $350 a month, our entire nut was around $1100 to live on, for two adults, living a very pared down lifestyle.   A thousand on a good month, $1300 on a month with, say a car repair or bigger non-monthly expense.  We have specific goals while here, and have to preserve savings for our return to the U.S., so our cost of living is very much outside of the American “norm.”  We live frugally, so keep that in mind for your own planning.  This $1100 budget includes rent, food, light, water bill, cable/internet bill, groceries, cheap snacks, gas for the car, and minor repairs.  We did not carry health or car insurance. (neither is obligatory here, but car insurance may be soon).  Neither of us has had a cell phone plan since coming here.    No “weekend trips” here & there – but we do visit friends and family and go on day trips.  No eating at restaurants like Tony Roma’s except a blue moon with friends from work, avoiding fast foods  (we do treat ourselves and mother-in-law once a month or so to  Pollo Campero.  Heck, she deserves it for all she does).  No Starbucks or fancy cafes.  We do allow ourselves the luxury of store-bought beer and wine 4+ nights a week or drinking a few at a local ‘chalet’ for .75 – 1.00 a piece.   Our internet/cable bill of $57 is a luxury for El Salvador, but I consider internet here a necessity and would never give it up.

You get the idea.  No splurging.   It’s about living a different type of life.  But don’t get me wrong – we’re not “suffering” from frugality.  We are living what’s  important.  

Living in El Salvador, without many luxuries allows us to enjoy the finer things in life, like the constant sunshine and warm weather we won’t  have outside of El Salvador.  Swimming in the river near our house instead of a weekend trip with hotel stays and restaurants.  Eating pupusas with my in-laws and enjoying that time with them, instead of going to a steakhouse; they’re not getting any younger, and we won’t be in El Salvador forever.  Playing with our nieces and nephews.  Getting to know our neighbors in Los Planes, unlike back home, where so many people don’t get to know their neighbors, because everyone is working all the time (not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just different).

I recommend this pared-down lifestyle to anyone living anywhere in the world, not just people thinking of moving to El Salvador or becoming an expat.   All the money in the world can’t buy you sunshine, or a warm breeze, or the thrill of a tremendous thunderstorm with water gushing buckets off the roof.     ALL THOSE THINGS ARE FREE.

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