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. :)

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