Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Escape from the flies   2 comments

A plague of flies has fallen upon us.  I wonder if it was like this for the Egyptians during Biblical times.  I blamed the food remains at the front of the house in the AM, but still they kept coming.  As clean as our back patio/kitchen area is kept, there had to be at least 30, 40, 50 flies.  Hanging out on the hammock, resting on the chair, dancing on the countertop, and tap dancing on the bathroom floor.  Arrrg!  DISGUSTING!

I did what I could:   alternate attacks with the flyswatter or the Baygon (like Raid), but my cockroach Baygon did nothing more than make the bastards dizzy for a few moments and off again they buzzed.  By late afternoon, flight was a better choice than fight, and I went where the car could take me – FAR away.

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I always make friends at the gas station in Amayo (pronounce “uh-mai-oh”).  Vendors approach me every time (gringa face), selling their wares.  I kick in a few coins or bucks if I can use what they sell, as their lives are a scrape-by existence relying on people like me more fortunate than them.

Today the hammock people and the boy with nuts were there.  The nut boy remembered me from last time.  He was there when the cookie ladies were, on my last visit; I’ve known them for a few months now.   They take Sundays off, I was glad to hear that.   They are a mother and daughter pair, with a huge age spread between them.  The mother is somewhere in her 50’s although she looks like 60+ from all the weathering her skin has gotten from walking everywhere in the sun.  Her daughter is 15, and her mother and I always joke about how you ‘have to keep an eye on them’ with the boys.  Of course, I helped her daughter be all the more devilish one day myself when I let her take a couple slugs off my Smirnoff ice.  It was in a can, and as her mother can’t read, we told her it was a power drink, like red bull.  We weren’t very convincing.  The mom asked me for $5 once for something urgent, which I gave her, but when she asked for $10 the next time I was at the station, I felt that was going too far.  But I will buy their cookies loyally each time I see them.

I’ve urged  the nut boy more than once never to quit going to school.  He is in “Quinto” or 5th grade.   This sounds about right for his age, so hopefully he keeps up without being held back or dropping out.   Many, many, many kids in rural areas drop out in grade school as early as the 5th grade.  A lot of kids make it to say, 7th grade, but if they’re held back once or twice they give up out of shame, not wanting to sit in class with kids 2 or 3 years younger.

I will remind you that today is Sunday, and the boy with nuts, 11 or 12 years old, is working.  I will buy nuts from him every time I see him.

Diary entry, April 25, 2010

Priority for Education in El Salvador (or lack thereof)   2 comments

It was a morning of indecision, centered around when to go to church, for which service and why. The neighbors and I agreed yesterday to go in the morning, but then we learned kids were getting confirmed in a special afternoon service. My niece Carmen had her heart set on the AM mass (methinks she made plans with the boyfriend to meet up there).

Our neighbor Laura came by and asked if I planned to go to the morning or afternoon service.
Carmen and I wanted to go in the morning.  “OK, yeah, well, err..” says Laura (in Spanish words), “You see, Heidi (her sister) is busy right now, because…” After a few turns in the conversation, I learned my neighbors not so devout issue was: they didn’t want to go twice today.

If Heidi goes in the morning the priest will ask (really, remind her) if she plans to come to the  “confirmation” service. She will be obliged to go because she has a special relationship with the church

So we all decided on the afternoon to see the neighborhood youth get confirmed, more special anyway.

Heidi’s relationship with the church is special and rather extraordinary. Heidi, now 20, is the only child in her family over the age of 13 still attending school. During the week she goes to a school in San Salvador that is run by the church and stays in quarters there. On weekends, she returns home to Jicaron to stay with her family. She is learning English there, along with other subjects, and practices with me when I visit their home.

(months pass after January 27th…)

More…(updated info).
All this time I thought my neighbor Heidi* was going to an “after” high school or finishing type school, but I learned differently. She explained to me frankly that she had dropped out of grade school when she was around 13 (and in 5th or 6th grade). She went back, thanks to the church, years later at 18.

She is attending a grade school sponsored by the church, to finish her schooling  through the 9th grade.  After that, she would like to complete her “Bachillerato,” or 10th-12th grade, equivalent to American “high school,” and from there, maybe University or a technical school.   I applaud her efforts and think she will make it as she is a bright, attractive, and confident.

She told me that her father, who has been living in the United States for several years, does not think school is important.  This is not uncommon in the country in El Salvador, I even see it in my husband’s family.  The family’s mother and children Margie, Heidi, Geremy, Chris, and Laura all live in the family home, which fits everyone comfortably, though some sleep 2+ to a room.  Margie (about the same age as Heidi) and Geremy (around 16) also dropped out of grade school some time ago.  Geremy tells me the issue is money.  My husband explains it may also be about shame; Geremy did not get further than “quinto” or fifth grade, and it’s very embarrassing to sit in a classroom of kids 3-5 years younger than you.  OK, now get this: there was not enough money to pay for the textbooks and other expenses for Margie and Geremy to finish “grade” school, but…a new cinder block home was built next to their family home, with money from the father’s USA income, in which one of his sons, all of 22 years old, is now living with his wife.  By Salvadoran standards, that’s living quite comfortably. Meanwhile, no one next door except for Heidi, who was miraculously saved by the church, is finishing even grade school.       ???????

The church school is funded in large part by American “padrinos” who donate money.  Thank God for padrinos, we need more of them. When I go back to the states and start working again, I’d like to become a padrino for kids in El Salvador, they need all the help they can get.

* to protect the identify of my neighbors, their names have been changed.

A Juant to “El Pueblo” and “El Ranchon”   Leave a comment

a common sight in the country in El Salvador

I went out for a jaunt to Agua Caliente, or “El Pueblo” as they call it here. The trip is literally “a drive in the country”. There we pay our light bill, send items in the mail, and go to church.

I am reminded of an obstacle course, slowing down and diverting the car around giant potholes and ‘lumps’ in the road, caused by tropical rains and faulty roadwork. Some stretches remind me of skiing through moguls on the mountainside, but then I grin to myself, happily reminded that while I drive in 80 degree crossing through them, it is anywhere form 10-25 degrees Fahrenheit in Boston right now. I sure don’t miss it! While in the car, a group of cows stroll into the roadway (you’ll encounter this almost once a day while driving), and wont part, so I give a quick horn toot; the bus driver behind me is less sympathetic, he lays on his horn. They shuffle out of the way, and we continue on to El Pueblo, driving through pastoral farm scenes, with mountains up ahead as a backdrop.

I enter the village, driving under the archway welcoming all with “Bienvenido a Agua Caliente” and passing the school on the right, painted in blue and white as are all public schools in El Salvador. I also pass houses made of cinder block, and other older ones made of adobe brick, and a few tiny bodegas, which go by a different name in El Salvador, “chalet” (nothing to do with the French word I know, curious to find out where that naming derived from).  Then I cross the one-car bridge with the tiny store where they sell fresh cream and various Salvadoran hard and dry cheeses, and turn at the corner where I always buy French Fries from the lady who sells them on Thursdays and Sundays. Then drive a half block down the street to park in front of the small town hall, and run my mail errand first.

The post office is a tiny hut the size of a closet in the front right corner of the town hall. To receive or pick up mail, you go to a window at chest level at the side of the building, just like you would order a cone at a small ice cream stand. Some time between 12 and 2pm the window is closed while the mail lady goes to lunch. When mail comes for us, she calls the phone number she has on file, to inform us a letter or package arrived. My letter cost $1.60 to mail to Boston. No need for a cashier with so little traffic, she opened a magazine where she had bills stored to give me change back from my ten.  By the way, the currency here in El Salvador is the United States dollar. The conversion from the “colon” to the dollar took place in 2001. Many people here blame rising prices on the change, but I think its better than having some quack president print away on the presses and devalue the currency (stop giggling, I know some of you are thinking this IS happening in the U.S. right now).

After the mail was off, I crossed the town square to the bank on the opposite side to pay the light bill for our one bedroom apartment sized house. $33 and change this month, which by Salvadoran standards is high. Before leaving Boston I was paying $40 a month to run about the same number of lights and appliances as we do here in non-winter months. So electricity is not cheap in El Salvador, considering what most people make here for a living.

On the way out of town, on the corner opposite the French Fry lady, a small group of vendors sell vegetables on the sidewalk (and on market days, sugar cane juice). Behind them, on the cement wall a sign has been painted by citizens speaking out against El Salvador’sw hydro-electric company, CEL (Comisión Ejecutiva Hidroeléctrica del Río Lempa). It translates to English as: ‘Say no to CEL, protect our environment, lands, and say no to mining’. There is much controversy in the country regarding the creation of hydroelectric plants, and even more when it comes to mining.

Continuing out of town, I slowed down to let a man walking with two horses get them safely out of the way of traffic. Each horse was loaded up with maizillo, a grain used her to feed poultry. Not sure about cattle or other livestock. The maizillo plant looks like corn when it’s growing, but produces clusters of tiny grains that look like couscous, at the top of the stalk, instead of ears of corn. I stopped on the way home at “El Ranchon,” a restaurant not far from home for a couple of beers. It’s in the middle of the cow pastures and pastoral scenery, but a great ‘hot spot’ for teenagers because a soccer field (“cancha” in Spanish) sits on the property, and teen boys from neighborhoods all around play against each other in uniformed soccer teams. The other odd attraction here is the turkey. Every time I have come here, he’s walking around the open-air restaurant, strutting his stuff. He’s rather big, and almost intimidating, because he struts right up to you, real close, as if trying to flirt. I chatted for awhile with a girl who works there. She was around 16 years old, and her mother, who also works there, was full-throttle pregnant, about the drop the baby at any moment. I asked the girl if she was going to school, and she mentioned she had stopped, because the school in Agua Caliente was too far to walk from the neighborhood where they live, and bus fare runs expensive for her to go back and forth. There are no public school buses in El Salvador that I know of. But ironically, the “collective bus system” as it’s called, runs primarily on old American school buses, repainted and dolled up for service. The car drive to Agua Caliente from “El Ranchon” is about 15 minutes, so it would be a long walk, although stoic people in tough situations have been known to walk to school for over an hour, like an ex-boyfriend of mine from Argentina once had to do, but that’s not the way of the world here. I have witnessed school having a “lesser” priority by many people here, and wonder where that comes from. This family exemplifies two things that help perpetuate poverty in El Salvador, having many children, often more than one can afford (teenage daughter, and now…a baby?), and early school drop-out, often before the 9th grade, which is the typical grade level for graduation in El Salvador.

Preferential Treatment for US Citizens, Birthdays, the infamous DUI   Leave a comment

It was Rosa’s birthday, and the highlight of her day was driving to Nueva Concepcion with me and her daughters to get her “DUI”.

First, I’ll explain birthdays.  Apparently no one here makes a hoot or holler when an adult makes it through another year of life.  Children get parties, with cake, friends, and usually a piñata; mothers get cake and often flowers on Mothers Day.  But birthdays, forget it.  No cake, no happy birthday song, usually not even a card.  I felt sad for Rosa and wanted to do something special; my husband said don’t make a big tah-doo so I left it be.

We renewed Rosa’s DUI, the National ID card of El Salvador (Documento Unico de Identidad) on her birthday because she thought it would cost less to renew, or maybe even be free. We learned later this was not the case, but we enjoyed our trip to Nueva Concepcion anyway.

The Infamous DUI renewal Campaign
Tremendous confusion and misinformation has been circulating about the DUI, as a result of the massive government campaign to renew, with numerous radio and television Ads.

El Salvador basically set a policy of forced renewal of the DUI card, which many are opposed to, including the ARENA political party, who wanted the DUI to never expire.  Banks and other agencies who provide services like bill payment and remittances ($ sent from the States by relatives) now REQUIRE Salvadorans to provide an active, unexpired DUI.  Big money must have been spent on the ads, as they are well put together; even I started mimicking the comical horror movie refrain played repeatedly in the Ads when someone presents an expired DUI.  Money well spent for the government, I’m sure, with $10 collected for every Salvadoran that renews their DUI.  To give some perspective:  that’s like shelling out $50 or more in the United States.

Here’s a Thought: If the government spent just 10% of the budget for the infamous DUI Campaign on Educational Ads to PREVENT GRADE SCHOOL DROP OUTS and PROMOTE ATTENDING the 10th-12th GRADE SCHOOLS, you could see a decent increase in matriculation country-wide.   To date, in the over one year I have been here (updated as of October 2010) I have ONLY SEEN TWO ADS PROMOTING EDUCATION IN  EL SALVADOR.  Do they reeaally want to help their poor?

PREFERENTIAL Treatment for Americans
While in Nueva Concepcion I drove the wrong way up a one-way street upon my niece’s directing me where to go (thank you!).  Only a few month’s back it was a two way, it seems they rearranged directions on a few streets there.  A policeman stopped me, and I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.  Uh-ohhhh.  He asked for my ID and I gave him my passport, apologizing in Spanish.  After seeing I was an American, all was forgiven!  In fact, I wasn’t just pardoned, I was treated like royalty.  He halted traffic, and forced a car to move out of the way to give me clearance so I could drive the wrong way up the street, to our intended intersection a half block up.  I was relieved and red face embarrassed all in the same breath.

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