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

8 responses to “Reflections Upon Re-Entry: life after El Salvador

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  1. Heading there Monday for a 12 day trip. Sooooo can’t wait for all those things you mentioned above. Plus and this may be a salvadorian thing or simply the orphanage I go to, I miss the mindset of the family as a whole and less self centeredness. Something I need more of🙂

  2. My situation is similar, I lived in El Salvador for 5 years and returned to Eastie in September in order to satisfy the visa requirements for my wife who is in El Salvador. While I miss El salvador very much I love having the ability to shop on line here. Nothing like being able to surf the web for the best price on a hard to find item and having it delivered 3 days latter via USPS. While I miss Metro Centro, Plaza Mundo, and the stores of San Salvador I don’t miss the cheap Chinese junk which is sold there.
    Good Luck, Gary

  3. Excellent you will be there soon. It will be a nice break for you, and I hope you enjoy your work with the orphanage there. thanks for stopping by.

  4. Greetings! I’ve been following your site for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the great job!

    • Hi pistol, thanks for the shout out. Apologies for not getting back sooner, I get a lot of spam from crazy places all around the world. So do you have a connection to El Salvador yourself? a lot of my visitors are pp from there, and get nostalgic when reading my posts.

  5. Even though I was only in El Salvador for a couple weeks at a time and then for a year….I understand a little bit about what you’re saying. At first, I was overwhelmed by going to the grocery store. There was just so much STUFF to buy. I actually counted 50+ different kinds of coffee creamers. Why the heck do we need 50+ kinds of coffee creamers!!!! And at the first restaurant I went to, I actually started to cry when I looked at the menu. I had NO IDEA what to order. The options weren’t chicken or beef with rice, beans, and tortillas. I got so frustrated, so scared, that I didn’t know what to order. That was a very eye-opening moment for me.

    Alisha "La Chelita"
    • Alisha, I hear you. Living outside the gringo box gives u a new pair of eyes, no? Your menu experience is really something – too many choices. We are drowning in THINGS here. And many more chemicals and ‘strange food’ here too. Chickens that look like quarterbacks – Eek! My skin is always dry here, but research on municipal water educated me on chloramine, etc. I got a parasito at times in E.S. but I much prefer the normalcy down there to the crazy need to STERILIZE everything in our midst, including our own bodies!

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