Friday, November 30, 2007

Hanging with la Mara

It’s been a bit since I last wrote. I have a good excuse though.. I all of a sudden got a raging social life!!! Yahoo!!! Another big difference between here and Costa Rica.

We inaugurated the house last Saturday night. I invited over a few friends, I had a grad total of four at that point, and made hummus and falafal. Both turned out quite well I might add. One thing led to another and I think there had to have been at least, at least 10 people at my house. Get back! So, the next thing I know, it’s 7:30 am and I am somehow (I’m not completely sure I am awake at this point) getting myself out of bed and heading to the beach. YEA!!!!

We were all going to go to San Blas with Hugo’s family, but it ended up that of the party attendees only Hugo (friend of a friend I met the night before) and I made it up the next morning. I accomplished this huge feat primarily because I didn’t know there was an option to back out and sleep in. So I end up in a mini-van with a group of people, all but one of whom were complete strangers. We went to a rancho, which is a house by the beach, which people generally rent out for the day. The current, pretty much everywhere in El Salvador is “carry you off to sea” strong, so I didn’t swim a whole bunch. The waves however are amazing for watching. They are famed to be great for surfing as well as long as you don’t end up being “carried off to sea.” Not a beginners beach is what I am trying to say. Anyway, had a great day, even if I was a little (ha!) tired. I made ANOTHER new friend, Lupita, who works for the Office of International Labor at the UN. The rest of the group consisted of amazing nice people that welcomed me immediately and acted like my beach party crashing hadn’t imposed on them in the least. In fact, they promised to include me in future excursions. We stopped for pupusas on the way home to round out the day.

The most amazing, and BEST part of the weekend was that Sunday night when I got home, the roomie, Armando, had cleaned up after the party that I threw. AMAZING! He gets the “Best Roommate of the Year Award.” Pretty much blew Necio out of the water on that one. (That cat never cleaned a dish in his life.)

Anyway, the rest of the week has been a rush of work and a little afterwork hanging with la mara. "Mara" in this sense meaning “gang” but not in the “pandilla, lets get tattoos and pillage” sense. Tattoos are completely optional.

In the area of immigration difficulties, my co-worker Erin is being kicked out of the country to renew her visa. Not that unusual, except for the fact that she is married to a Salvadoran for the past 3 years. I only mention this to put to rest any fears that I will be marrying for residency. It really wouldn’t help and I am not all that opposed to getting a vacation every three months.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Land of Plenty

So I thought I would point out some of the bigger differences between El Salvador and Costa Rica. Some personal, some general social observations. The social ones needing to be taken with a grain of salt as I am shamelessly going to make sweeping generalizations.

It is pretty safe to say that Costa Rica is more developed. I have jokingly referred to it as Third World “light”. When I say “more developed”, it is not necessarily just because it is less poor or has more conveniences. It is a little more complicated than that. Costa Rica still hosts some breathtakingly poor populations, they are just better hidden. Tourists don’t want to see that. Also, they have had a peaceful, relatively functional democracy for many years. There is effort being made, granted it is made on Tico Time, but they are getting there.

El Salvador is much more raw and the government barely feigns consideration for the poor masses. Luxury wise, they have everything, if not more than, Costa Rica has. Major shopping centers, better highways, amazingly luxurious restaurants and hotels, made more striking by the contrast of abject poverty. Whereas in Costa Rica, there were often venders selling cell phone covers or fruits at intersections, here there are ALWAYS people in the intersections, selling things, but more often washing windows, pan handling, or (my favorite) spitting fire out of their mouths with gasoline and a flaming baton. There are more children also, young boys, barefooted, old filthy clothes, on a Sunday morning sidewalk squatting in a circle like little crows picking at a piece of bread. The only thing more heartbreaking than seeing them, is when you realize that you don’t notice so much anymore and you wonder what kind of person you are to not see it.

There is also the legacy of the war. Everyday amputees. The violence that has been a staple for so long that most people can’t imagine a place where you can be out after 8pm and not worry about being robbed or killed. It is an interesting mix, life here is precious, yet cheap.

The other big difference is that in Costa Rica, so fewer people emigrate. Many ticos hardly ever travel outside of their city or region. When I told people that I was living there for two years, they couldn’t understand why someone would want to leave their homeland. Although there are definitely exceptions, few people understood that someone would seek out more than what they were born to. I even had people tell me that my parents must not love me for having let me leave. I told them that they wanted me to be happy and they said, “I still wouldn’t let my child leave.” In El Salvador, everyone leaves. Literally, everyone has a member of their immediate family living in US, sometimes Spain or other countries. They never ask me how I could leave, they ask why would I come here?

Personally, I am adjusting to living much more bourgeois. The hardest part is that I am forever away from a grocery store that sells cheap things. It is sometimes a blessing and a curse that I can get nearly everything I could get in the states, in the supermarket next door to my house. The produce is much better when you can buy it in the mercados rather than the grocery stores. I do miss my farmer’s markets. There is also a distinct lack of ocean in the city. It’s only about an hour away by car, but that is significantly further than five minutes walking. Living without running water is an adjustment. I should be thankful that I at least have it in the morning, but there is still a moment of shock and disbelief when I turn the faucet and nothing happens.

All in all though, I like it here. I am learning my way around and finding my place. Yesterday, I still felt like there was plenty to be thankful for even if there wasn’t turkey, family, or football. :)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A place to hang my hammock...

Lots going on lately. I found my house, I think I already mentioned that a few hundred times. :) So the last week has been spent trying to make it habitable. I got the keys officially Thursday night. Generally in Central America, if a house is not furnished, it means that it is really NOT furnished. No stove, no fridge, nothing. So I have been scouring the papers looking for appliances. I am going to have a roommate and he has put himself in charge of providing living furniture and a TV and Playstation. The last two I can really do without... mainly because I will probably become addicted. So I move in for real tonight.

Last week I also attended a retreat for VMM. It is the organization that is sponsoring my volunteership. I gotta say I was a little nervous going into it, truth be told because it is a Christian based organization and it has been a REALLY long time since I have been associated with non-sinners. ;) Granted it is a VERY liberal organization, if it weren't I wouldn't have applied for the position. But there was a moment when I was a little worried that I had misrepresented myself. During the retreat, I met the other volunteers in the area, there are a couple in El Salvador and also in Nicaragua and Guatamala. It turned out that I really enjoyed getting to know them. I also appreciate the diversity that was in the group. I realized also that no matter the language we use what inspires us to do this work comes from the same place.

There are only 12 of us (well 17 if you count the bichos) so the group is much smaller but life story-wise very diverse. There are two families in the group. One has two kids (The Morans) and the other (The Fosters) have three. I have to say, I think that is absolutely gutsy and amazing. I guess the idea of having kids period seems, to me, akin to having my arms ripped off, having kids and trying to navigate Central American buses would then be like being beaten by the freshly removed appendages. There is also a couple serving in Guatamala who are in their 80's. It is amazing how much the age diversity changes the dynamic of the group. In the Peace Corps, most of the volunteers were 22 and fresh out of college. Alicia, is my age and a nurse. We really hit it off which is great and also a bummer because she is serving in Guatamala which is a neighbor, but still a ways away by bus. But, we are already planning to take our visa trips together. (Another BIG change from Peace Corps.... most likely my residency plan will be leaving the country every three months to renew my visa.) I had to chuckle, Alicia said that she became a nurse because her father suggested that she learn a practical skill that she could apply wherever she wanted to go. Good advise. I then thought about it and realized that maybe sociology doesn't fit in that category. I don't know if sitting in a hammock devising abstract social theories can technically be considered a "practical skill." I'll keep working on that.

Anyway, I left the retreat feeling good and appreciative for having a community again. I think I had been mourning the loss of my PC community and didn't realize it til I found another one. So... all is good. All will be great when I get settled in the new house. I will try to send some pics, but my camera has been slowly dying so I will do my best. I have added links on the side to VMM and also to Alicia's website and blog. She is really a much better person than I am so I thought I would include her link in the spirit of diversity. :)

Salvadoran Vocab:

Bicho: insect, pest or child

Thursday, November 08, 2007

So... funny thing happened to me on my way home from work the other day.

The neighborhood I am in is really pretty tranquilo. It's kinda got a distinct feel to it cuz it's close to the University and has all these chill restaurants and bars.. kind of a Che Guevara meets Jack Kerouak ambiance. Anyway, so I was starting to get pretty comfortable and thinking that it's really not all that rough here, at least not where I'm at.

It was about 4p, broad daylight, I turned the corner onto one of the main streets and there were all these cops in front of this barber shop. They had the sidewalk taped off with the yellow crime scene tape. One guy was taking a picture of a shell casing next to one of those little triangular tented number things. They had another little number thing a few yards away near a browning blood stain. I walked past it and followed a blood trail down the street for about 20 feet. I thought someone must have just gotten hurt because I really didn't think that the stain looked big enough for a death, but when I told my friends about it later they said that they don't bother with pictures and crime scene tape if someone just gets injured. But, it wasn't news enough to make the papers. I guess that rates it somewhere between yellow tape and newsprint.

So.... I'm gonna go ahead and keep my guard up a bit.... and go somewhere else if I need a haircut. :)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Con hogar

YEA! I have a home!

I found a house to rent this afternoon. I was getting a little worried because everything that could be a slight possibility in the paper was already rented and I was afraid of getting a little desperate. But, all my days of hitting the streets and asking everyone I saw have finally paid off. I actually ran across this place on accident, I was wandering around, asking all the guards if there were places for rent and this one told me a couple of weeks ago that there was a girl moving out of a house this month and to stop back by. I did on Tuesday and he said that she had left and gave me the name of the owner. So I called her, went by to see it today and now I have a place to hang my hat. Good thing too because she told me that she has already had about four other calls and she hasn't advertised it at all.

It is really, really cute. It's a little bit out of my price-range, so I am going to have to have a roommate. Looks like I will be living with Maria's boyfriend. jajajaja! Now all I have to get is... everything. Houses here are rented with the bare minimum... there is no fridge or stove so I will need to get that. As well as a bed. It does have closets so that is a big plus. That is not standard. Location is great though, it is right next to a supermarket and only a block away from the coffee-shop. And I can walk to work, so that will save me bus fare. AND it comes with hammock hooks.

What more could I really ask?

oh yea... I mentioned earlier that I was looking for a house with a cistern so that I could have water 24/7.. well, everything that I mentioned above won out over having water in the afternoons and evenings.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Gringa Perdida

My explorations got me a bit turned around twice this week. But, not a problem, that's how I get to know new places. The first time, I took a "shortcut" from work and hung an "izzy" when I should have gone right and ended up somewhere that wasn't where I was trying to get to. Although it turned out well because the next day I went to look at an apartment that was in the same area so by then I already knew it. The other funny part about that street, is that when I was looking for the apartment, I had a hard time finding it. But generally the security guards are helpful with directions. There are shotgun armed security guards on nearly every corner, at least in this part of town. Anyway, I was walking down this seemingly normal street and I asked this security guard for directions, he was in front of a plain looking white building, and as I talked to him I realized that there were a lot of really nice cars parked in front. A car pulled up with two business suited guys in it and the security guard called on his walkie-talkie and said "Send two more girls." Just then, I happened to notice that above the door in gold letters was the name Week three and I stumble upon my first high-end brothel. I giggled as I walked away.

So then yesterday, I decided to expand my world and see where the bus would take me. I was trying to get to a mall that has a bookstore. There are various commercial centers and two mega-malls here that are monstrous alters to high-end consumerism. (I think they build malls here so that you can more easily avoid eye-contact with the destitute masses.) Anyway, I couldn't remember the name of the mall with the bookstore but I could picture it in my head, from the little crappy map I had I thought it was called "Metropolis" because they showed a Metroplis commercial center and the thing is so big, it could have it's own zipcode. So I hop on the bus and figure, I'll just get off when I see it.

Fine plan. I am on the bus for a while, one minute I am watching two cops with M-16's shake down some teen-age boys and the next I am pulling into the busbarn at the end of the line. OOoops.... I asked the busdriver about the centro comercial and he tells me that we passed it a while back. So I asked him how to get back there and he was nice enough to walk me down to the busses headed back, explained to the other driver that I was a foolish, lost gringa. The next bus driver didn't even charge me to ride, which was lucky because I was scraping pennies to come up with the 25 cent bus fair and didn't want to be the idiot that tried to pay with a $20 bill. So I made it to the centro and realized that it was not at all mall I was looking for. So... (got some change) hopped another bus and went to the MetroCentro which is Mall 1 that is near where I live and that I know how to get back and forth from. I never made it to the bookstore, but I'm sure another day will come along with time to kill learning new bus routes.

Another funny addition to the story: I was walking down the main road that the MetroCenter is on (I stopped at a convenience store to buy a better map) and while I was waiting for the light to change I heard a honk. I look up and the first bus driver was waving at me. I laughed, he probably thinks I was completely lost. jajajaja!

Anyway, I wandered, I saw some stuff, I didn't stumble into gang lands. All is good.