We live in a mountaintop area not far from San Salvador, El Salvador. Our neighborhood has people of mixed economic class, with no “puerton” (gate) and no “vigilante” (security guard). In most areas in or near the city, living in an un-gated community can be a treacherous proposition, but it is very safe here, “sano” as said in Salvadoran Spanish. On our stretch of the street, three homes owned by upper class or well-to-do people stand in a row. However, just next to us is a family in a “casa de lamina” which is a house of corrugated metal for walls and roof, nailed to wood. They are nice folks, and actually live on the property rent-free, which is owned by another family just down the road in the neighborhood. This may sound like a “great deal” but comes with one caveat: there is no water pipe coming from the water system owned by ANDA, and they are required to pay the electric bill. But their family gets a break and the owners are more secure knowing no undesirable elements or squatters will move into the home.
We give them water from a hose every few days which they fill their barrels with. They holler over the fence where we sometimes talk together. My neighbor was telling me today they’d like to move, and wants to buy a refrigerator. But she is still caring for their 2 year old boy at home, and her husband’s salary is a check for $80 twice a month. A miracle the two of them and their toddler live on that. I thought they were ‘really poor’ but when I talked with another friend in the neighborhood later on, learned this is par for the course: her husband, twenty years older than the neighbor’s husband, only makes $40 more a month. Yikes! So much for a laborer’s career path in El Salvador…
Along a walk today with my pet dog I met another neighbor. A nice old man started chatting me up by commenting on my “bonito” dog. If you want to meet people, buy a dog and start walking, its the perfect ice-breaker! How long has he been living here, I asked. Oh…he had to think for a moment…52 years, he said. “I used to take care of the property here, next door” he showed me, gesturing to the puerton next his house. “One day the owner said he was moving to the United States. He sold that part to a doctor, and this piece which goes all the way over there, to me.” He built the reinforcement wall in front of the now doctor’s property when he was much much younger. His name is Alfonzo, and he also lives in a house made mostly of corrugated metal. His dog and mine made friends while we chatted. He told me he keeps his dog chained because if not, he wanders into the house and sleeps on the furniture. One day when I came back in the house, there he was lying on the bed, Don Alfonzo told me. I decided not to tell him about the time I saw his dog, outside in the street, dragging his chain which had broken off, and a moment later struggling to get back IN the front yard, jumping through a gap between the gate and the wall. Don Alfonzo was doing some yard work and sporting appropriate clothing: his white T-shirt was aging, with small tears forming along the collars. It is not uncommon to see small tears or holes in people’s clothing here, and it is OK. Most people in El Salvador, excepting the upper classes, have a shirt they wear with a rip or a stain. It is quite acceptable to wear it, because everyone else has a rip or stain in something they sport so who really cares anyway?
Further down the road from Alfonzo after we turn left at the bend and walk down a steep hill is another humble home. This one is made out wood and mud. Thin pieces of wood are encased within dried mud, and horizontal layers of mud with wood dividing them make up the walls. It seems a variation of the adobe brick homes still found in the country. Right before the bend in the road is a fantastic vista of the un-housed ravine below it, filled with numerous banana trees, forming a “guerta”, and of the hill on the other side, sporting a few modest sized ‘modern looking’ homes. Turning at the bend and walking down the hill you are greeted by more banana trees, as you continue down the slope, and walk over a small bridge for a small creek. The road reaches a dead end, with a few houses on either side and where is tops you see a ‘pasaje’ which takes you down to a house below, nestled in the trees, near another creek you can hear trickling.
A half dozen little convenience store “chalet” (pronounced like the French word) are peppered throughout the neighborhood, and perhaps a half dozen more I don’t know of are nestled among smaller streets and “pasajes” (passageways).
Our neighborhood also boasts its own Church with a parochial school and Soccer field. No surprise on the field, they’re partial to soccer here (called “futbol” in Spanish and other languages).