Sunday, January 01, 2006

feliz navidad - christmas in el salvador

well peeps, i´ve got three REALLY LONG entries for you all to peruse while you´re back on the job after the holidays. hope everyone had a great christmas and a happy new year!!! read on......the entries are ¨where i´m living,¨ ¨places i´ve visited,¨ and this one, ¨feliz navidad.¨ and when i say they´re long, i really mean it. get yourself a cup of coffee and plan to spend some time here!!

so christmas 2005 was unlike any other....mostly because it was my first christmas without snow, cold, wind, ice, accidents, questions of whether i should come into work or not (like last year at my stupid job where they waited until we WERE ALREADY AT THE OFFICE to tell us we could go home because of the bad weather), crazy christmas commercials, annoying christmas carols (except for feliz navidad), presents and did i mention snow? i awoke friday the 23rd at the early hour of 5:00 a.m. because i needed to leave apaneca by 6:00 a.m. to meet anna in cara sucia which is something like 3 hours from my site. we had been invited to have a somewhat american christmas dinner with emily – a volunteer not in our group whose site is near san francisco menendez/cara sucia. also invited were carly and allie (both from mine and anna’s group) and emily’s girlfriend, kiva, another volunteer from the previous year’s agroforestry/environmental ed group – her site is somewhere in cabanas. anyway, we were all supposed to meet in cara sucia by 9:30 because the only pickup going to emily’s site left at 10:00. so i left apaneca and by the time i got to sonsonate, i was baking in the heat. there were a gazillion people trying to ride the buses for the holidays and it was almost unbearable when i got on the bus headed towards cara sucia. i was sitting next to some dude who definitely had a couple of screws loose, but it was the only seat, and everyone probably thought i was “the crazy gringa” for sitting next to him, but i could have cared less.

cara sucia is exactly what it translates into in english......dirty face. anna agrees, and basically all of the volunteers whose pueblo is cara sucia say the same thing. it’s nothing but a huge market stretched along the main road. it’s loud and dirty and just generally a crazy, crazy place. i had to ask some random woman where the post office was and when i finally got there and saw anna, i was like “seriously, this is your pueblo?” when i say “your pueblo” i’m referring to the fact that all volunteers have a “pueblo” which is the town where they go for most of their stuff. most of us are in caserios or cantones, where there are only tiendas – no real place to buy things or send mail or go on the internet or whatever. i happen to live in my pueblo (for the time being) – apaneca. anyways, kiva and emily finally met us and when we called allie, as usual, she was out of it and was going to have to meet us later. carly’s site is close enough to emily’s that she was just going to walk, so we four headed out on the pickup and rode to emily’s. on the way there in the pickup, these three teenage girls kept staring at me and laughing. well, they had been laughing at me since i had to run to get the pickup – they don’t stop, you just have to run after them and hop on. anyway, finally one of them was pointing to one of the other girl’s hair and i was like “yeah, muy bonita.” and then the one girl kept touching my hair and telling me how pretty it was. FYI – it wasn’t. i had been sitting on the bus for forever, wind blowing it, it was dirty and greasy and gross. but the thing is, here they think anything other than black or dark brown hair is the most beautiful thing ever in the world. my hair could have been in dreads or all ratty (which it was close to) and they would’ve thought it was comments like that aren’t really as flattering as they sound.

so we got to emily’s house and dropped off our stuff and then went to walk to meet carly. emily told us we were going to go swimming, so anna and i had to scrounge up some sort of swimming clothes because we had no idea we were going to be swimming. we walked across this meadow/forest with these two kids from emily’s caserio and met up with carly on the path. then we headed over to another main road that led to san francisco menendez – a larger town near cara sucia. we hopped on a pickup and rode all the way to the entrance of el imposible and started our trek. it was so awesome. there were all these really cool flowers and trees and carly kept picking up seeds and telling us to eat them. at first we’re like “no way,” but then after she kept eating them, we finally tried them. i mean, i knew what seeds these were, but i didn’t know we could just eat them right off the ground – or right out of their pods. anyway, then we continued up this huge ass long hike to the top of one of the cerros in el imposible, and from this one clearing you could see the ocean! it was so cool! we continued through the forest and came upon this little hidden waterfall, that dropped into this deep part of this small river. we had a great time trying to get emily to jump – she must have tried for 20 minutes before she finally jumped when nobody was looking. anyway, we just chilled there for quite a while just swimming and hanging out.

anna getting ready to jump - emily´s waiting for her turn next, which took like 20 mins.

the entrance to el imposible

finally we headed back because emily kept saying she needed three hours to cook this turkey she had killed for us. well, she didn’t kill it – she had it killed. like she “hired” someone to kill it.... a turkey assassin or something. we made it back to her house and i was dead tired, man. but we started getting all the food ready for the dinner and we made the most amazing stuffing i’ve ever had in my life. either that, or it was because i hadn’t had any of this kind of food in so long. i mean, at one point anna and i were just eating the uncooked stuffing and it tasted unbelievable! it was then that emily told us she had poured uncooked turkey juice or whatever into it. after we almost threw up we were so grossed out, we moved on to some other kind of food to pick at....i think mashed potatoes were next.

allie finally made it to emily’s house and she helped us finish up the food. the chicken and turkey were both stuffed and we had put them both into emily’s adobe oven and over the next couple hours we were checking on both of them and finally the chicken was done. there were all these kids that kept coming in and individually, carly, allie, anna and i were thinking – there’s not going to be enough food for us!! which we all felt bad about thinking, because, these people are poor and don’t get to eat food like this ever, and here we were worried that WE weren’t going to get fed. but man, we were starving.....and more and more people that emily had invited kept coming in. so we started serving up plates of food and then we checked on the turkey, and the top was almost black. so we cut into it and checked it to make sure it was done and then started cutting pieces of it when anna suggested we turn it over and when we did, the whole bottom was not EVEN cooked. it looked like defrosted turkey. i guess it was because the way the adobe oven cooks is wierd – there’s no real heat at the bottom or something. i’m not sure. i had never used an adobe oven before that day. it was hilarious because carly took one of the legs and pulled it back and it was literally bleeding and she’s like “oh, that’s not done at all.” you have to know carly to really get how funny that comment was. she’s always really chipper and happy and optimistic and her saying that about the turkey leg, in her enthusiastic voice was just really super funny. anyways, on top of that, all the mashed potatoes we’d given to the salavadorans went uneaten because for some reason they don’t like mashed potatoes. ugh! anyway, in the end, there ended up being enough food for everyone and we ate the rest of the turkey after we cooked it more. we even ate some of the mashed potatoes off other people’s plates. yeah. i’m telling you, i’ve eaten things here in el salvador that i would’ve never dared to eat in the states.....

the not-done turkey and the chicken....neither of them look like real food

anna and allie finishing the last of the chicken

then we made a chocolate cake and while we were waiting for that to bake, allie accidentally poured tea into one of the cups that i had used to measure the oil for the cake mix and drank it. so for the rest of the night we were in hysterics because allie drank “oil tea.” then emily fell out of the hammock and i’m not kidding it was just all around good times laughing all friggin’ night. then i think we all got bit by chinches in the night....i slept in a hammock with no mosquito net and i’m sure i got bit by a million different bugs. but chinche bites are the worst....cause they give you chagas if they have the disease in them. basically they poop on you right by where they bit you and if you scratch it, then you scratch their crap into your blood and if they have the disease then you get it. and really you don’t have any symptoms, but in 30 years your heart explodes! isn’t that the craziest? but you can get a chagas test and if it says you have it you can take some kind of pills that get rid of it. what’s wierd is that i was reading this book a couple weeks ago about this guy who traveled down the orinoco river in venezuela and he was talking about chagas. here’s his description (the author is redmond o´hanlan), from his book “in trouble again:”

there is chagas’ disease, for instance, produced by a protozoan Tripanozoma crusii, and carried by various species of Assasin bugs which bite you on the face or neck and then, gorged, defecate next to the puncture. when you scratch the resulting itch you rub the droppings and their cargo of protozoa into your bloodstream; between one and twenty years later you begin to die from incurable damage to the heart and brain

anyway, so the next morning anna and i were convinced we had chagas....because i had a million bites on me, and i couldn’t tell what they were from because earlier in the week i got attacked by ants and had a gazillion ant bites on my feet, legs and arms. and if you think i wasn’t scratching them, you’re crazy. i scratched them and scratched them until it wasn’t possible to do so any more.

but whatever. anna and i left early the next a.m. for san salvador. anna had to go to the bank to get her new pin # and i wanted to go into the office to check my mail. neither of us had taken a shower or bucket bath or anything, my feet were caked in mud and dirt and did i mention that finally, four of my toenails fell off from my hike to the volcano a month ago. yeah, oh, and only half of the nail on my big toe came off, so picture the both of us wandering around san salvador, dirty, me with 3 ½ toenails missing, hot as all hell because it was like a hundred million degrees.......not a pretty picture. my pants were so dirty – i hadn’t expected we were going to hike el imposible and only brought one pair of pants and a skirt. i had to change at the office into the skirt, but in doing so, revealed the thousand ant and chinche bites i had scratched to bloody pulps on my feet and legs. again, not a pretty picture. by the time anna and i boarded the bus for molineros, we were exhausted and feeling the grossest we had felt in quite some time. i ate a strawberry popsicle on the bus and at one point i told anna that i probably looked like “that kid” who has koolaid mouth and is all dirty from playing outside. the only difference is that i’m 33 years old. and seriously, my family was probably going to think that i can’t take care of myself since leaving them. the bus was packed with people – after all it was christmas eve. anna and i like to say when we’re in crazy situations the phrase.....”a year ago______” (fill in the blank with whatever it is we’re doing). like when we were at her house for her host sister’s birthday and we had to wear party hats and at one point i was pouring us cups of salva cola from one of the 3 liter bottles and anna burst out laughing and was like “a year ago, did you think you’d be wearing a party hat in a house in el salvador pouring cups of salva cola from that huge bottle?” and it’s just really funny to say that whole “a year ago” thing. so when i was on the bus, holding some woman’s cake for her, and anna had two fat ladies’ guts in her face because the bus was so packed, we were both like “a year ago???”

my family did not care that i was a dirty mess. it was like old times and it was so great to be at their house. the whole family was there and it was crazy as ususal. sindy had gripe – the term for all things related to the sniffles, coughing, upset stomach, etc. so she was a bit out of it. but other than that, it was awesome. ana gave me a huge plate of chicken and vegetables and then i took dayana over to visit mama viviana and she was sooooo happy to see me. she made me sit down and she fixed me two huge panes rellanos....which by the way, when she put the chicken on, she put the whole leg – bone and all. how are you supposed to eat that???? anyway – i hung out with her for a while then went back to the house and just chilled out. everyone was there and it was loud and crazy and awesome. ana let off fireworks and they were so obnoxiously cool. sindy did not like them one bit and kept grabbing my hand, trying to make me come back into the house. nobody went to bed until midnight, after they put the baby jesus in the nativity. oh my god, i can’t believe i almost forgot to include because it was the holidays and apparently molineros’s fiesta de patronales coincides with christmas and new year’s, there were all these stands set up around molineros selling carnival type food and there were rides and things like that. typical fair stuff. and when i took dayana over to mama viviana’s, dayana kept going “look laura, chicagua!” and she kept pointing over to the fair rides and there was a big ferris wheel and i’m thinking that chicagua is the word for ferris wheel in spanish. so i’m like “yeah, cool....” so later, i was back at my house and anna, her host family – her mom, monica and kevin – came over to the tienda. they were like “come on, we’re going to ride chicagua.” and i’m like “huh?” so dayana and i went over to the rides with them and i don’t know how or why it happened, but anna and i ended up – willingly – getting on the chicagua. which, by the way, is not the word for ferris wheel in spanish. they were saying “chicago” because on the front of all of the cars was the word “chicago.” big fat “duh” there. anyway, seriously, i cannot think of a more dangerous thing to do than board a ferris wheel in el salvador that was being run by a bunch of teenage kids. we got on this thing and they started it up, and i am not kidding you, this thing was going so fast. ferris wheels are supposed to be the tame slow rides at the fair, right? this thing was whipping us around and i thought my life was honestly going to end in molineros that night. anna and i were freaking out and these kids just kept it going for at least 15 minutes. finally, they slowed it down and let us off and i was dizzy. we stood there and watched it go around more times, and these teenage kids were getting on the cars and hanging from the front of them while it was going around and anna and i were just completely dumbfounded. oh, and the other rides? they were basically merry-go-rounds with little tyke toys bolted to them.....they weren’t mechanical at all. the teenage kids running the ferris wheel had to take breaks to go push the merry go round rides for the little kids. i mean, obviously, it doesn’t matter how high tech anything is because the kids were having a great time, but it was just so funny. there was a limp dog hopping around by the rides, and some crazy dude dancing to reggaeton all by himself in the corner. and the ticket guy for the rides was also the “DJ.” seriously, he had a microphone and everything. it was one of those “a year ago????” moments. so funny.

the next morning i went to church in vera paz with mama viviana and the church was packed because it was the first communion for all these 10 year olds. i don’t know why they have that on christmas day. we saw anna and her family there so we stood by them and died of heat from all the people in the church. after that, mama viviana bought me some pasteles outside of the church – these are nothing more than fried bread with some kind of vegetables in the middle....soooooo good. we then rode in a pickup back to molineros, where some small child lifted up my skirt in front of everyone. yay! when we got back to molineros, anna’s host mom invited me to the first communion lunch of brayan and catherine – two cousins of her family – so i went over there for that and ate so much food i felt sick. later anna and i went back to my family’s and had cafe and pan dulce and champagne. we were acting so crazy and dayana was cracking us up.

i just realized after writing this how much food i ate over those three days.....because later that night i went back over to anna’s house because her mom had invited me over for chilakilas....this unbelievably awesome food creation that defies explanation. anyway, we hung out there and played with the kids and finally i went back to my house and watched “el familion” with my family. i was so upset that night because i had to leave! it’s like everything was so nice and i had my bed (sans mosquito net) all waiting for me. and hearing ana ask me in the morning “quiere pan?” was enough to almost make me burst into tears. i’m not even kidding. i mean, i love my site and all, but i really do feel like ana and mama rosa and all of them are my family here. so it was kind of depressing having to leave. but i did so and promised to be back soon. which i most definitely will.

in the morning i met anna at the bus stop and we were waiting for the bus and saw don orlando – melissa’s host dad – and he was cheerful as ever. our bus came and totally passed us because it was so filled of people going back home from christmas. so don orlando waved down this huge truck leaving molineros and anna and i had to literally climb into the back of it. so we did that and it took us to the desvio #51 where we waited for another bus to take us to santo domingo. we were meeting up with courtney – another volunteer and one of my good friends - to go buy hammocks and blankets in san sebastian. i was so excited to get more blankets for my site because it’s so damn cold at night.

anyway, so we did that and decided not to return to our sites that day, but to spend it in san salvador. we were all pretty wiped out and thought that if we went to see a movie and ate some good food in san sal, we’d be all set to return on tuesday a.m. so that was basically what we did. and when i got back to my site on tuesday afternoon i was less sad then i think i would have been had i returned the previous day.

dayana and mama viviana

ana lighting fireworks on christmas eve

sindy looking sad because she has ¨gripe¨

me, ana, sindy and dayana on christmas day