Archive for November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend   Leave a comment

Dug this photo up from the archives.

Was visiting El Salvador at the time, before I even lived there, and thought it was the funniest thing to see these two turkeys gobbling in unison.   Didn’t know that about them, but that’s something they do.   Most of you ate a distant cousin of theirs a few days ago.  They are quite beautiful in person, with their coloring.

This shot to the right shows the two male turkeys and a female in the middle: 

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Reflections Upon Re-Entry: life after El Salvador   8 comments

It’s been two months since my imminent return to the U.S.  I’d been in El Salvador so long, a number of people asked me “Hey, why did you come BACK?”   Yes, some people thought I was there for good.   And I do miss my dear El Salvador.  The climate, the people, the tempo of life…if I’d had a steady stream of income to live on that could also help save for retirement, and a husband not needing to return to the U.S. , well heck, I’d have STAYED.

Coming back to anyplace you haven’t been to for three years will take some adjusting to.  The first two weeks were downright WEIRD.   When you’re out of the country for several months or more, those initial moments in the airport are like entering a parallel world, or an episode of the twilight zone, and you watch what’s around you like an outside observer because it IS so foreign to you at that moment.    From those first few steps in the airport until now, two months later, I’ll recant my reflections upon re-entry for you, dear readers.

COMPLAINERS.   Americans speak their mind.  Verbal and expressive, they have few qualms about displaying opinions publicly.  I’d gotten off the plane, shuffled through immigration, made it through customs without being inspected, and was ready for a cup of morning Joe.  The reasonable priced breakfast was at Nathans, you could tell from the long line.  Us econo-travelers took our places, waiting stoically together.  But one woman, a few spots ahead of me, was starting to stir.  By the time she got up front, she started ‘stinkin’.  “Look at how long this line is!  Where is the MANAGER?”   And remarking to the waiters in line about the cashier, “She doesn’t know what she’s DOING?”   Apparently a ‘frequent’ traveler, she seemed to know more about how Nathan’s should be run than the employees working there, and of course, had a “special” preparation for her coffee, HAD to have EXTRA ice cubes, which she placed in her special coffee mug, AND the sweetener was not the brand she wanted.  The girl at the register got flustered, which made her move even slower from fumbling.  She’s probably new, I thought, and the second register was noticeably absent a cashier, which would have been a help.  The Complainer got the extra ice she wanted, holding the REST of us up even longer, and I know most of us were relieved when she made her way out the door.   Public displays like this rarely happen in El Salvador.  Number one, people are so accustomed to waiting in line that this would have been nothing to a Salvadoran, and secondly and most importantly, people tend not to chide, denigrate, or complain about service as much down there.  So back to America, home of public complaining loud-mouths.

SPONTANEOUS CONVERSATIONS WITH STRANGERS.  Americans are classic for this.   I was walking with my friend Kai in Eastie, and we suddenly became engaged in conversation with a woman who had been walking a few paces ahead of us, about what I cannot even remember.  It struck me as unusual, since people in El Salvador will greet one another, but tend to be very careful about not talking with strangers, for various reasons.   Then in October, when my sister visited, I noticed how quickly she broke out into conversation with cashiers, clerks, and people waiting in line or seated next to her.  It’s all perfectly natural here, delightful in fact, since you can meet people in so many different ways and places, but certainly not the norm for me anymore.

So many things are different at home in our living space now.

OUTDOOR SPACE?    What outdoor space?  We have none!   Excepting of a tiny ‘balcony’ about 2 feet x 5 feet, we have no outdoor space.   Thankfully there is an asphalted patio down below, where we can sit in if we feel like walking down two flights of stairs, but that’s it.  NO outdoor space.

Instead of looking at blue sky, feeling the sun and a warm breeze on your face, or watching the birds, butterflies, and corn stalks sway in the wind, you look at walls.  And furniture.  Which means, that suddenly, INDOOR SPACE becomes VERY IMPORTANT.

My husband could not understand my new ‘obsession’ with needing to paint the kitchen walls and moldings to make the room ‘tie together’ better.  The nearly neon ultra-white walls and sickeningly pastel pink moldings, intended to match the counter-top were like two sore thumbs needing removal.  It had to happen.  The walls were my new blue sky, and the moldings replaced the clouds, birds, and wind.  They are done, I feel better now.

Americans, unknowingly starved of outdoor space and an outdoor life, will make up for it in various ways, to achieve comfort and perfection within their homes.  So there’s always a project.  And the next one.  And the next.   You could stop all that nonsense by quitting your job and becoming a farmer, but it’s a hard life.

WHAT do I do with VEGGIE CUTTINGS and BONES now?
No dogs, chickens, and creatures to share our scraps with.  What to do?

WHERE ARE THE INSECTS?   Back “home” in El Salvador, at every turn I’d see a spider, a wandering ant or bug of unknown origin, inside of my house.   No sign of any bugs here in old New England.   Even when moving furniture from walls, which often yielded a sly scorpion in El Salvador.  It’s like there’s no ‘life’ in the house here – deadsville.  I did see a potato-bug looking thing in the bathroom once, and a tiny spider – few and far between exciting moments.   I miss the bugs.

HEY WOW,  BLACK PEOPLE !!    Though people in El Salvador range from white as paper European style (not very common), to various shades of tan, to very dark skinned “Indian”, seeing people of African descent is not very common.   This is in part due to geography (no Carribean cost, only Pacific), but primarily bc of racist policies and even laws.   I was surprised to learn a couple years after moving to El Salvador, from my friend Rolando, that there was an actual law which banned black people from moving to the country up until the 1980’s.  A reader on this City Data page also mentions the same:

Originally Posted by gwillyfromphilly
El Salvador once banned blacks from immigrating to their country. This was a law that was tolerated up until the 1980’s.

So when I walked through the Fort Lauderdale airport, I was almost startled to see people of African American origin, not having seen them for so long.

A CONSUMER MECCA.   It describes the United States well.  The first few days, I was insulated from it, wandering from the house to get small items from the grocery or convenience store.  Then, I took the bus to Chelsea, to make a ‘big grocery trip’ to Market basket.   While away, the shopping center had grown, and it now had a number of stores, like TJ Maxx, Radio Shack, Super Cuts, and what’s this?   Hmmm.. I went into Home Goods to check it out – first time we’ve had stores this close to us in this part of the city.     I must have looked like a small child in a large toy store, I stared at everything, which seemed so new and fancy and sparkling.  I almost needed sunglasses for the ‘new stuff glare’.   Home Goods, a “discount” goods store with pricing designed for middle and even lower income people, had more gorgeous items in one place than I’d seen in a long time.   I walked around in awe and said to myself:

“Wow.  This is like a RICH people’s store in El Salvador!”

CONVENIENCE.  Oh how I’ve missed you.  It’s everywhere here.  The world accommodates you in America, even if you have just a little bit of money.  [But you must have money, really].     From the convenience store next door, to the ability to buy almost everything I need, excepting furniture, at the grocery, it is fairly easy to acquire “things” that you need in America. One example of convenience I’ll explain is COCONUT MILK.  In El Salvador, you must go to a larger grocery store to find it.  So you’re not going to get it in the small town grocer or mom and pop ‘tienda’ down the street.  Convenience store next door.  Selling them for $1.70 or so a can.  I remember making a ‘special’ trip to the Selectos to buy them down in El Salvador, and paying up to $2.50 a can for it.  Oh Convenience, how I’ve missed you.

Heeey, no 2 hour time difference to call my family now.  Nice.

TMI?   In El Salvador, they do have radio shows talking about sexual behaviors, often an educational kind about how to avoid STD’s or even (wow, E.S. is moving up in the world) talking about birth control.  But what I heard on the radio last month went beyond this.  It was a call-in radio show, on a Massachusetts station, and not sure if broadcast nationally.  A  girl called in to talk about she and her boyfriends’ sex life.  She mentioned they used to do it like every day.  Now that they’ve been living together, it’s gone downhill.  The radio personality asked to what degree.  “A couple times a month.”   What?  Both hosts were surprised, and the discussion continued.  I clicked the button off and left the car, going into the bar for a drink and happy not to hear the rest.   I’m used to a high level of modesty now in El Salvador.   I can be frank with a few friends about how often hubs and I do certain things.  But the RADIO?   I’ve been away too long for this, its  just Too Much Information for me!

SO MANY TOYS.   I walked into the apartment on the first floor, where cute little Dylan was playing.  With his – oh so many – toys.  Don’t see a pile of toys that big in El Salvador.  Like, ever!    American Kids, be grateful.

Some things, are, well, the same.  CABLE COMPANIES.  Comcast, Tigo, two worlds apart, but how similar they really are.   Different cable company, different country.  Same pinheads.  Some things are the same, wherever you go.

AND SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE (in metro Boston, that is).   Looking out my window, on a Sunday no less, I saw a tow truck, retrieving a car across the street that must have broken a parking rule.  In sympathy for them, my stomach sank, watching the wheels pull up higher, as the crank lifted the car, ready to wheel it out of site.   Parking in the city.   Every day a new set of car owning victims.

Posted November 20, 2012 by El Salvador from the Inside in Living in El Salvador

Going Shopping! Comparing prices, U.S. versus El Salvador   Leave a comment

Here is another cost of living article, noting differences between El Salvador and the U.S.

I’m taking you with me on a “Tour du Store”.  We’ll walk through the aisles together, and I’ll point out things I bought, and saw, and tell you how it compares to  products and pricing in El Salvador.

Our shopping trip takes place in the Market Basket, a fantastic grocery chain in New England, famous for its low prices and international product selection.  They beat the pants off the stupid Publix my mom goes to in Florida, that store would never have my business.  Pics are from late September, 2012.

Mmmm BUTTER. In E.S. it’s $1 (a dollar) a stick,
usually sold a stick at a time.   67 cents a stick in
U.S.   Are Dairy Subsidies helping this?
EGGS.  Same or More $ in El Salvador.
Package of 15 about 2 bucks or 2.25+ in E.S.
Farm fresh at mom-in-laws 8 for a dollar – exact price
as seen here.

There’s a “weird” egg thing I finally figured out in El Salvador.  Eggs are sold in stores at room temperature, which I always thought was, especially when the air temp is 80 or higher in most places there.   Here’s WHY:   if you refrigerate eggs and then stop refrigerating them, they spoil fast.  People in El Salvador usually have smaller fridges or no fridge at all, so stores sell them at room temp to accommodate this.   Eggs will also spoil fast if you get them wet, according to my husband.

Here are the CHICKENS that laid those eggs.   Based on this grocery trip, chicken in El Salvador costs MORE.   At Super Selectos grocery stores in El Salvador, as of August of 2012 and long before that, the cheapest price for “leg quarters” I could find was 1.49 or so.   The picture above shows that here in the U.S. I find them for 20 cents cheaper.    Now, you CAN find cheaper chicken at the MARKET in El Salvador – look for the “Pollo Indio” there, for probably 1.25 or 1.30, so that is one option.  MARKET food in El Salvador is lots cheaper than the grocery store, so make use of it when you can.

I mentioned the Chicken pricing difference to my husband, and he reminded me that in El Salvador the price of chicken feed is probably more, comparatively.    Corn is a big component of chicken feed, and most people know about the corn subsidies we have in the U.S.   Also, farmers in general get a lot of assistance from the government in the U.S.

Personally, I think mega farm factories need not have so many subsidies, but that’s a discussion that belongs on someone elses blog, so I’ll stop there. Ya’ll can watch Food, Inc. and Forks over Knives on your own time.

YOGURT – same price in El Salvador.   It’s not quite mainstream in El Salvador, and I’m not sure it’s produced there if at all, so the Yoplait yogurt pictured here has an exact same price and quality corollary in E.S. called ‘Yes’.   Say yes to yes if you like yogurt, it’s good.    TUNA – wow, what a great price the U.S. has – on sale for 80 cents a can.  I NEVER found Tuna for less than $1 a can, and almost always 1.25 or 1.50, and often “mixed with vegetables” at that price.   The poor man’s best protein option in El Salvador is still, by far, BEANS.

Let’s make a sandwich and have a snack.    PACKAGED HAM  – about the SAME prices as El Salvador.   I used to buy packs of ham down there for around 3 bucks each, and they were ‘higher end’.  “DANI'” brand ham, which is not as good as this Market Basket kind, was 2 dollars and change, about the same as this 8 oz bag of ham, $2.29 at MB.   CHEESES of European or American Style kind, as in hard or sharp tasting, cost MORE there.   This Muenster cheese seen here is cheaper > in E.S. and you’re also getting the “store” brand discount, $2.99 for 10 oz, so about 5 bucks a pound.  El Salvador?  $7-9 a pound, much MORE for Muenster cheese.   Because it’s not made there far as I know so you’re paying for an imported product.   Hard sliceable style cheeses are hardly ever made there, and when so, a niche product.  There’s a store called “Greif” or something like that which makes cheeses and specialty packaged meats.  European food, and European style prices.   The cake on the far right is more of an American-style sweet, I found cakes the same size for around $2.50 or $3.00 in El Salvador.   Most Salvadorans eat “pan dulce” which are bakery-fresh cookies sold at the grocer or often on the back of trucks or bicycled around the neighborhood.

Onions and Potatoes.  SAME price in El Salvador.  American price =  about the same as the “veggie” truck in El Salvador.  Market price in El Salvador would be slightly less.    I was surprised to see I was getting about the same amount of vegetable’s worth for a $1 as I would back in El Salvador.

Bathroom needs.  El Salvador’s pricing is EXACTLY or ALMOST the same!   Shampoo and other GROOMING products offer no 3rd world discount, so be prepared.   Colgate – manufactured in Latin America, and maybe right there in good old Salvy-land, is sold for pretty much the same price as here – I don’t remember seeing regular size tubes of toothpaste for < $1 in El Salvador.    TP – the “Nevax” brand I bought in El Salvador was somewhere between the Quilted Northern and Angel Soft brands here in terms of quality, and cost about $2.50 – 2.70 or so, depending on the store in El Salvador.  Sometimes I’d catch a sale at $2.25 a package, and would buy extra .

And now for the GOOD NEWS:   El Salvador beats the United States HANDS DOWN with tropical fruits and veggies.   I would hope so!

These PLANTAINS at 3 for a buck in Market Basket are much smaller  > their Salvadoran counterparts.   Plantains are about 5 for a dollar in El Salvador, and way bigger.   If you go to the market you get an even better deal > the veggie truck.  AVOCADOS are either 3 for a dollar or 2 for a dollar at the most down there.   Since I was in the great Market Basket food haven, these avocados are a buck each, but in other stores would be $1.29 or 1.50 apiece.   Avocados are considered a pricier vegetable in El Salvador, and not always available, but often grow on people’s trees, along with bananas, oranges and mangos.

This PAPAYA in the U.S. is about $3.25 after weighing it in.   I selected one the same size as I’d find down there for anywhere from $1 to $1.50 total.  Nice to see they’re less than half the cost in El Salvador.

Gee, CABBAGE heads are a wee bit SMALL in the United States.   They grow cabbage in the mountains of El Salvador, way up in places like La Palma, or Las Pilas, or El Pital or San Fernando de Morazan, all mountainous areas of Chalatenango.     We drove by patches around there.    Cabbage heads in el Salvador are MONDO sized compared to the ones here, and cost about $1 each, maybe $1.50, $2 tops for super big mondo size.     This head in the U.S. is about half the size, maybe 2/3 tops of what you’d find down there and cost a total of $1.20.      So like the papaya, the cost for cabbage in El Salvador is half or less > the U.S.

BEANS and SUGAR:   El Salvador wins.  Heck, they better, stuff is grown there, right?   When we left El Salvador, beans were .60-.75 a pound.   They’re about $1.50 a pound here.  I cannot remember the exact price for sugar down there, but it feels like we’re paying twice as much here.  No problem,we make lots more, right?

COFFEE  – a mixed bag.   Coffee SHOULD be cheaper down in El Salvador, but I did not observe that while we were there.  Bags of coffee for a coffee machine range anywhere from $4-$7 a bag there, about the same as here, I think.   Instant coffee seems more expensive here > in El Salvador, and that’s a good thing, bc most poor people I know drink Nescafe Cafe Listo down there – a product you don’t find here.

MANGOS.   El Salvador WINS the mango prize.  In El Salvador, during season, mangos are ubiquitous, and there  a dozen or more varieties.

This type of mango pictured above sells for 3 for $1, sometimes 5 for a dollar in El Salvador in the market and via street vendors.  Super Selectos might be as high as 60-70 cents a mango if not mid-season, but you always pay more for produce there > at the market.   Even so, mangos are half or less than what they cost here.

What’s more, in many places in El Salvador, mangos are FREE!  They grow all over the place so people are picking them off of trees everywhere, and selling them on the roadside, you almost cant get rid of them.

A good mango story for you:  When my husband and his friends get together and talk about hard times between the two countries, they almost always mention mangos.  “Yeah,” one will say, “When I’m out of work in the U.S. I’ve still gotta pay rent, insurance, the whole bit.  But back home I can always live free with family, and if I’m hungry, I can ALWAYS EAT MANGOS OFF THE TREES.”   There’s no free fruits and veggies growing wild (or considered common property) over here.   Prices are cheaper in the U.S., but like they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch!

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Two other Cost of Living in El Salvador (versus the U.S.) that may interest you:

Sticker shock going both ways for a Thanksgiving tribute to American consumerism, and
Some Stuff Costs Less, Some Costs more  with lots of details to help expats living in El Salvador

Sticker shock in reverse, from here to El Salvador   Leave a comment

Being it’s Thanksgiving week, this entry is about being thankful for what I/we Americans have. All you have to do is walk into a store in the U.S. after going to El Salvador to feel grateful, any day of the year.

My first big trip to the grocery after returning from El Salvador was an eye opener.  It showed how much we have as Americans, at least in terms of very low-priced food and easily accessible consumer items.   Until you leave the borders of the U.S., you have no clue what it’s like to live in another country, and vacationing in one just glazes the surface.

Living in El Salvador and being a consumer there, I had to live with what the country provided and offered, except for a few boxes of items I’d sent to El Salvador ahead of time, and whatever I brought with me in my suitcases.   The selection in stores is limited, and prices of many things are comparable to the U.S.    That’s OK if you’re a baby boomer living off social security and 401k distributions, or just making good money down there, but for the general Salvadoran populace, paying about the same price as you would for something in America  – ouch!

Here’s one example.    I’ve mentioned how appliances and electronics seem to cost more in El Salvador, but was reminded of it first hand when I went into Target this past weekend.  Though many a Salvadoran household can happily live without a coffeemaker or a microwave, the blender is an appliance found in every kitchen.  My husband, beaner that he is, cannot live without the beloved veggie.  We’ve eaten them lots since we’ve gotten back, but after two months without frijoles molidos, boy we need a blender.

A price starting with a “2” for this
blender caught my eye.
But wait, there’s more!  A total of THREE different
blenders, all under $30 each.  Woweee!
Yes, the black and decker die-cast blender is on sale.  In El Salvador you’re LUCKY to find one single blender  under $30, if that, and no way is it a black and decker.  It’s some funky brand you’ve never heard of. The nice brands will start at $40, and work their way up. Used blenders start at around $25.  No kidding.

The biggest bargains you will find in El Salvador are with services and labor – honestly it’s almost too cheap.  $100-$150 for a LIVE-IN maid who only goes home one weekend a month (?).  $20 to fill a cavity, $40 tops.  Electricians make $15 a day, and savvy landscapers make $15 too.   Doctor visits are $20-$30.    But consumer goods in El Salvador?  Naaah.

Going back to the United States, I came to realize after being away that we live in a Consumer’s MECCA.   This is probably because we have more money > most other countries, demand a lot of items, and expect a lot of variety.  And because we buy in such large quantities, we have immense power to negotiate prices and get great deals.  At end of the season sales, “everything must go!”   Shelves and racks are cleared out at give-away prices because store owners know that ravenously consumptive Americans will engorge themselves on more, and as soon as shelves are stocked again with shiny, new, colorful items, they’ll “buy! buy! buy!”.  While walking through a Macy’s in Florida with my mother recently, we saw two different very long carts in two different departments full of new stock ready to be loaded onto the floor.   At Charlotte Russe, another rack appeared, full of   shiny and sequined clothing that will soon be donned by buyers at holiday parties.

In El Salvador, there is no Target or Home Depot, but thankfully, there is WalMart.  Stuff doesn’t go on clearance sale like it does here, because the pool of hungry buyers is smaller, and what they can buy is less.  EPA, the Home Depot look-alike in El Salvador is an expensive imposter, selling the same things you’d find at HD, only much pricier.  You can get some foodstuffs cheap at the market in El Salvador, and market clothing is priced about the same as cheapy clothing stores in the U.S. but it LOOKS like you bought it at the market.  Ironically, there is a plethora of malls in El Salvador – more than in the Boston metro area where we live.  The parking lots do fill up, at least in Metro Centro, so I can’t figure it out, cuz there’s lots of poor people in El Salvador, I know many of them.  Do the same people with $ or remittances go to the mall over and over or are they just window-shopping, and/or are the malls a fantastic way to launder money for the narcos?   Who knows.

Oh, and CARS – since arriving, we bought two cheap used cars, each for less than $3000 apiece.   I’ll admit, we got a killer deal on the 2001 Toyota Corolla for $2700 last month, a giveaway at a thousand dollars less than it’s worth.  We owned the same exact car in El Salvador, a 2001 Corolla, but more beaten up looking, and people down there were willing to pay us $4000 for it, as is.

So yeah, food, clothes, small consumer items, and cars in the U.S. – whoopee!   I make five-ten times what I made in El Salvador and yet what I buy here costs waaaaaaay less.  No wonder people are crawling over our borders to get in.

One big ‘sticker shock’ I did feel since coming back was on my visit to the dentist(s) to check my ailing teeth.  $150 was the cheapest quote for a filling – silver ones – in my local town.   So I thought why not give my $ to my good old friendly dentist.   Well, it was that visit which was really the shocker.   I don’t have any medical or dental insurance yet, and you know what I realized?   It’s a GOOD THING to feel the pain of paying out of pocket once in awhile so that you pay attention to HOW MUCH you are actually PAYING for services.  It’s amazing how ignorant one becomes when, “no worries, the insurance is paying for it.”   Take a look at the bill sometime, you might be amazed.  So back to my story:  my friendly dentist knows I’m paying out of pocket.  So, a consultation that was all of 30-40 minutes, including three x-rays, discussing the problem areas (he says there are very few), then checking my bite with the chewing gum waxy stuff and making a tiny adjustment with the drill for 15 seconds – no anasthesia, just a quick shave-off of the white resin to change my bite, and on my way out the door….

“That’ll be $220.”

Does he think he’s a LAWYER or something???

Posted November 19, 2012 by El Salvador from the Inside in Living in El Salvador

My New Pila   2 comments

I miss my Pila  from El Salvador.   This must be hard to believe, considering the hardest part about doing laundry in the U.S. is carrying it to the machines, or to and from the laundromat.

I’m like one of those old people now who shake their head at new inventions.  I’m convinced the washing machine can’t clean clothes as good as  ‘the old fashioned way’.  It shakes and stirs them, makes a lot of bubbles, and ultimately perfumes your clothes about 80-90% clean.   Don’t get me wrong:  the washing machine was a great invention, but chances are your clothes wont hit the 100% clean mark.   That extra 10-20% the machine misses has to be caught by you before getting baked on in the dryer – but how to when you don’t have a Pila?

There’s simply nothing like the Pila for:  just a few items or very small loads, isolating bright dyed items that run (heck, almost all do these days), washing stinky socks separately, etc.

I tried bending over the bathtub, cleaned two very soiled jeans and a few pairs of socks, but my back was not happy with me later.

My new Pila

So…I came up with something:

This table, set near the back door sits at an angle, so the soapy water does down the drain, which runs into the sewage pipe (no, it doesn’t go back into natural waterways or the harbor).

Mind you, this will work 8 months out of the year in New England, tops. After December 1st, fingers will turn into frozen sausages and the back patio a skating rink.    We’ll see what I come up with later.

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