Thursday, January 04, 2007

they say a picture´s worth a thousand words......

well, here´s one that´s worth a thousand laughs.

yes, my dad hanging out in the hammock at my house. it kills me!!

my parents came to el salvador.....and went. and now it’s january. is it just me, or was december seriously a flash in the pan? it was one thing after the other for me – as i’m sure it was for all of you with your christmas parties, present buying and family get-togethers. it’s really weird how the setting in which you’re in can affect how you view things like christmas. even though i spent christmas with my mom and dad, it still didn’t really “feel” like christmas. there were christmas carols (albeit in spanish) and decorations and all that kind of stuff, but the weather, the christmas eve church service, the christmas eve dinner at my aunt’s or parents’ house plays such a HUGE part of what i’m used to at christmas time. it was so ingrained in my mind the first 33 years of my life that no amount of christmas carols or christmas trees in el salvador can make me think it’s christmas. this year there was just something about it being 75 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, no last minute present-buying rush, courtney cooking chicken on my three-burner gas stove, my parents sipping red wine, me trying to find a spare burner to cook stove-top stuffing and us listening to the eagles that made christmas not feel like what most of us are used to in the states as “christmas.” that’s not to say that i prefer christmas as i’ve come to know it in the states. not at all.

anyway, so back to my parents´ visit..... the day i was supposed to pick up my parents at the airport was not a good one for me. i had been in courtney’s pueblo for a couple days because we had returned from our excursion to guatemala, the caribbean and honduras a couple days before and it made no sense for me to go all the way back to apaneca and then turn around and come back to go to the airport in san salvador. i have to go through san salvador to get to apaneca from courtney’s pueblo, so it was just much wiser to stay at her house for a couple days and head down to the airport the day i was supposed to pick up my parents. well, the day before i was supposed to go to san salvador, courtney and i were invited to eat at her friend’s sister’s house. veronica (courtney’s friend), veronica’s two kids, veronica’s sister marcia, marcia’s daughter and veronica and marcia’s father were all there. also there was veronica’s husband who’s lived in the states for forever, but has been back here in el sal for a couple months “visiting.” (this is the story of a lot of salvadorans.....their spouses are in the states and come back to visit for a month, then go back for a year, or don’t come back at all, etc.) we go there and this invitation to eat turns into this day-long thing...which courtney has already warned me about. but whatever, i’m thinking....chilling at someone else’s house, hanging with the family, eating a good salvadoran meal is fun! so we get there and we’re sitting around and then their dad climbs this coconut tree and cuts down some coconuts and minutes later we’re drinking from the coconuts and eating the “carne.” i’m not a big fan of the carne...the water’s good though. then around noon we ate this awesome bean and rice soup...sopa de frijoles..mmmmm, one of my favorite foods here. with crema. just perfect. well, it was perfect until veronica told me to look around in the soup for the chili pepper that was in there. i find it and she’s said something about it being strong and so i took it out, opened it up and put it on my tortilla plate so i could use the chili sparingly. i like chilis and spicy food in general, but i’m not a die hard, i’ll-eat-anything-no-matter-how-strong-it-is eater. this thing was no bigger, i swear, than the size of my thumb fingernail. well, i got almost finished with the soup and my mouth, lips, around my lips felt like they were on fire. seriously. i was really thinking maybe i was gonna erupt into flames. veronica’s solution? more soup! she brings me another huge bowl and i’m like “woah...” i can eat a lot of food, but have you ever eaten rice and beans soup? i mean, talk about your stomach filling up. i told them i’d finish my soup later because there was no way i could eat another whole bowl. not to mention i couldn’t even feel my mouth.

so we sit around and at one point drink ice water out of a half-gallon ice cream container, just passing it around (?????). anyway, throughout the afternoon, my stomach is starting to make funny sounds and i’m thinking to myself “damn that chili pepper to hell!” the family doesn’t have a bathroom, nor a latrine. their “bathroom” is pretty much a squat and do your thing behind the house situation. so i opt to wait it out until courtney’s ready to leave. we hang around the house awhile, then veronica wants to take a walk down by the river, so we do that and my stomach’s ready to explode. i tell courtney i should probably use the bathroom and courtney’s ready to go so we finally leave around 4:00...we had been there since like 10:00 or so! i had a great time at their house, really....their family is super nice and we had some very interesting conversations like: what’s your bra size?; veronica’s assessment that her sister is fat, but that she used to have a nice body; the names of all the trees in their yard; and how almost all salvadoran men are jerks.

let’s just say that the rest of the night and on into the next morning i spent in the bathroom wishing i could die to escape the pain my stomach was in. by the time i had to leave courtney’s house to go to the airport i mistakenly thought i had gotten everything out of my system. my bus from courtney’s pueblo to san salvador broke down ½ an hour into my trip and i had to stand out in the blistering sun with a bunch of other salvadorans and wait for another one. once i got on that one, i had to stand because there were no seats and it was then that i started feeling a little gross again. after a while i finally got a seat next to this old man and he kept asking me if i wanted pupusas every time the bus stopped at a stop where a woman selling pupusas got on the bus. i kept thinking “are you kidding me? i can think of nothing more gross right now than pupusas!” finally the bus arrived in san salvador and then traffic around the terminal was backed up, so we just sat there and sat there and sat there and all the while dirty bus fumes were blowing into the bus. i started feeling like i was gonna pass out and i was thinking – what would even happen if i DID pass out? my pupusa-buying old man friend had gotten off the bus an hour ago! the only people that i could’ve relied on to call for help would have been the crusty cobredor and some family with a crying baby that was in the back of the bus. i thought, ¨well at least i have my cell phone, i can just call the office if i am truly seconds away from passing out....good plan.....¨

.....UNTIL two seconds later when my hands started to get numb. what the hell? it was like a cruel joke where someone else was one step ahead of me the entire time. my plan was foiled! i was screaming (to myself and silently, of course) ¨now i won´t even be able to DIAL my friggin´cell phone! or even get it out of my bag!¨ i mean, i know i must have been dehydrated and all, but numb hands? who gets that except people who are frostbitten or having heart attacks or strokes or whatever? seriously? that finally subsided and the bus made it to the terminal and i stumbled off the bus and headed for the nearest stand that had gatorade. i sat down at a table and weighed my options while everyone else stared at me. i had to get to the airport and was planning on bussing it as a taxi costs $20. but in my situation i knew the bus was out of the question, so i “ch-ch’ed” (something people do here to get people’s attention....i try to never do this as i think it’s rude and obnoxious and also because guys do this to women when they are passing in the street and it’s considered a derogatory thing....but in this case, i was desperate!!) a taxi driver who was passing and i told him i needed to go to the airport and that i was sick so he had to help me with my backpack. so i get to his car and we get into the same backed-up traffic and we’re just sitting there and all of a sudden i’m like “voy a vomitar!” and i open the door and barf all over the road in front of all these buses and cars. totally embarrassing. then, not two minutes later, there i am again, hanging out the cab door dispensing all the contents of my stomach. all i kept thinking was “is this seriously my life right now? numb hands?? barfing out the cab door in front of a bus terminal in san fucking salvador?” the cab driver was nice about it though, i mean, i guess as nice as he could be. anyway, we finally got moving and i passed out in the back seat – not passed out like out cold, but i took a little nap and once i woke up we were approaching the airport and all was fine.

whew! so i waited in the arrivals area with a hundred other salvadorans for what seemed like forever. i kept thinking they’d be the next people out, but it’d be somebody else’s family and i started getting impatient. finally they appeared and it was like being in a dream or something. my parents? just flew from detroit to san salvador? who would’ve thought it? anyway, we hugged and got the rental car and made our way out of the airport and on to the west.

you know, it must have been completely mindboggling for my parents, now that i think about it. just seeing everything that i’ve gotten used to in a year, all at once. when we got to la libertad i took a wrong turn and accidentally went through la libertad central instead of continuing along the main road. my parents must have been on the edge of their seats as we drove slowly through the main market area where hundreds of salvadorans were lining the streets, latin music was blaring and there was just stand after stand of clothing, fruits, vegetables and anything else you could imagine. we finally made it out of there and continued on the carretero litoral which is the road that follows the coast. it’s so unbelievably beautiful, the sun was on its way down and the massive expanse of the pacific ocean right there in front of us was just amazing. just thinking that if you were to head straight out from where we were looking, there would be nothing but water for miles and miles and miles and even more miles until you hit somewhere around the south pacific. normally, if you are standing on one of the beaches in el salvador and you were to go straight until you hit land, you’d probably hit something like the antarctic because of el salvador’s hanging position under guatemala and honduras. but the direction we were driving was more like northwest, so definitely going beyond the coastline towards the sun until you hit land again would put you somewhere in the south pacific. cool.

but the road was long and my dad was anxious to just get to my house. my mom was just being muy tranquila watching the scenery from the back seat as my dad continued to freak out because there were just people walking and biking and riding horses along the road, not to mention herds of steers and cows being driven home by ranchers. we kept getting stuck behind these huge trucks carrying gigantic loads of sugar cane (as it’s sugar cane season right now). my parents were seeing el salvador how el salvador is.....lots of houses made of nothing but mud and lamina and people just hanging around because they don’t have anything else to entertain them at the close of the day. but the road was quiet and my mom mentioned that she could tell that life is just a lot slower here. and she’s right, especially down there along the coast. not a lot of the el salvador coast is built up. the la libertad and costa del sol areas are tourist draws but that’s the extent of it. the rest is just made up of quiet villages along the coast with people doing their normal daily things. and that’s nice to see too, and it’s a lot of what el salvador is made of.

we finally made it to sonsonate and after getting provisions at the grocery store there and eating pizza and drinking pilsener (the national beer of el salvador) at a pizza hut (that amazingly had way better pizza than any pizza hut in the states) we headed up to the mountains and my home in apaneca. we arrived at my house and i think my parents were thinking “this isn’t bad and all, but WHAT?” my dad inspected every inch of my house wondering what things were and seemed satisfied with my explanations.

the next day was a lot better as my parents got to see apaneca in the daylight and really liked it. the mountains were beautiful with the sun shining down on the cafe forests and i was really proud to call apaneca my home. we headed over to san jorge and walked through the colonia – which is so much different than where i live in the pueblo. there weren’t many people around because everyone was out cutting coffee but we got to see the school and i showed them where everyone lived and all that. the first house we visited was maribel’s. she’s super nice and one of my good friends in san jorge. she’s only like 35 but has 7 kids and wants more! sheesh! anyway, so we go down there and she’s all beside herself because my parents were there and what not. so she invites us in and she’s got a couple of her kids with her and more keep coming out and my dad’s like “huh?” then she just lifts up her shirt and starts breastfeeding and i was thinking “oh no!” because i forgot to warn my parents that women here will just whip out their breast and start breastfeeding whenever and wherever. which isn’t a problem at all. but coming from the states where everyone seems to have some kind of problem with it and usually women in the states try to do it discreetly, it’s kind of like “woah!” for a second. this was also the first time we’d had a lengthy conversation with anyone and so i was translating for my parents and i kept forgetting i had to speak english to them and my dad would look at me with this confused look and say “you need to speak english to me!” as that week went on, that was really hard! i kept forgetting the whole english thing.

so we visited maribel for a while then onto niña domy’s where she gave us coffee and cookies. then we walked down the road and through the other side of the colonia and onto antonio’s house. we had a great time there and antonio’s mom cooked us lunch and my parents had their first salvadoran meal....and liked it! except for the dad wasn’t a fan of those. my mom helped gloria wash dishes in the pila and my parents got to see their first ever banana tree. we spent the better part of the afternoon there and then walked back to flores de eloisa where we had parked the car. i felt like we should at least eat something there because they let us park the car there so we got cheesecake and were left there stuffed. we went back to apaneca, rested, and then for dinner went to jardin de celeste for some more good food. someone once pointed out that i talk about food all the time and i explained why, but i failed to mention that that’s just life much stuff that you do is in association with food. you visit someone’s house and they inevitably invite you in for cafe and pan dulce or fruit. or if you’re there around mealtime, you’re definitely invited for the meal as well. when peace corps volunteers get together, we eat. when antonio and i are hanging out, we almost ALWAYS go get ice cream and yucca frita. cafe is in there somewhere too. and pupusas.

my dad´s first morning in apaneca (not surprisingly, there are very few pictures of my mom as she was adament about not getting her picture taken...but i´ve managed a few!)

my dad and i in apaneca

the little catholic church in san jorge

my mom helping antonio´s sister gloria wash dishes in the pila

my dad at antonio´s house

my mom and dad with gloria and antonio at jardín de celeste

so my parents had a pretty good first day in el salvador. they got to meet people from my town, eat a salvadoran meal and go to sleep/wake up to dogs barking, loud music playing and cohetes. oh they also got to use my cold water shower and i don’t think they were fans of that. the next day my friend anna came up to apaneca and then we went down to juayua to, guess what? eat. we ate the mexican restaurant that we love and then got ice cream. my parents got to see the church of the black jesus and just some of the interesting liveliness of juayúa. we offered to take anna back to her site, so we then headed back up towards apaneca and took a different road that leads down to the south of ahuachapán (where anna lives). on the way we stopped at this place called “las cascadas” which is, if you haven’t figured it out already, waterfalls. we hiked through this coffee forest to get to the waterfalls and they were so amazing!

my mom, me and anna at la guadulapana in juayúa

mom and dad in front of one of the waterfalls

so we continued on to anna’s site and this was an interesting trip. when we finally got to cara sucia (anna’s pueblo) we had to turn off the road and go down this other road that wasn’t paved or anything – just stones and dirt. my parents were in the back seat and my dad was gritting through his teeth at the trip. of course stones would go flying everytime some other truck would pass and there were potholes all over the place. and the road just kept going and going and going. i’d been down this road before, but in a bus so i guess i didn’t notice how bad the road was. about ½ hour later we finally made it to anna’s cantón and my parents wanted to see the beach, so we turned to go down this other road towards the beach. it was just this one-lane sand road lined with trees on each side. then we got to a place where the road was under water and anna’s like “i’ve seen cars go through it, just go!” so i did, and my mom said later that my dad was in the back seat going “no, don’t do it!” i didn’t pay attention and gunned it and we made it to the other side. and we finally made it to the beach, and it was spectacular!

we dropped anna off at her house and made the trip, once again, down the stone road and finally to the main road and back on up to apaneca.

dad on the beach at anna´s site in elporvenir

so then came christmas eve and more visits with more people. we were invited to elba’s house for lunch so we putzed around my house and apaneca until lunchtime. elba made “gallina en chicha” – which is another salvadoran dish. we chilled with elba’s family for a while then headed for another walk around apaneca. we stopped at my friend niña magadelena’s and her mother, niña sarita’s, house. everyone seemed to be so super happy to meet my parents and it was so nice. niña magdalena was making tortillas and so my parents got to see that and then she gave us avocados from her tree....well after she made me and my dad eat avocados and pan. more food, i know. my mom opted out as i think avocados aren’t high on her list. but i have to give my mom props – she ate almost everything that was offered to her the whole time and was like “que rico” all the time!

my dad and mom with elba

so we walked around some more, my dad bought cigarettes at a tienda and was astounded that they were only $1.34 a pack. ahhh, the wonders of central america. antonio came over that afternoon and hung out and then we all four headed to ataco to see if my mom could buy some material at the artesenia there. i showed them the church in ataco and we walked through the park and some of the streets. then we headed back to apaneca because courtney was coming up to hang with us for christmas. she had like 5 invitations for christmas in her town and didn’t want to offend anyone there so just told everyone that she was coming to my house for christmas. while we waited for her, bessy showed up at my door with her two daughters totally unexpectedly. i was so happy to see her as i hadn’t seen her since she left the school, save for one time i saw her the parking lot of the super selectos in ahuachapán. so she came in and visited with us for a while and then left, and then courtney arrived and antonio left.

one of the looms at the artesenia in ataco

the inside of the catholic church in ataco (they had all the pews lined up in the middle of the church to wax the floor once more before the masses for christmas eve and christmas day)

so that night i made spaghetti and i think my parents were like “what?” because i only have one fork and so three of us had to eat the spaghetti with spoons. and i didn’t have any garlic bread or anything, obviously, so we ate wheat bread with spaghetti (and my dad and i drank pilseners) for christmas eve dinner. my parents decided to stay in the hostal one night because we ended up parking the car there every night because it wouldn’t fit on my patio. you can’t (or shouldn’t) really leave your car parked on the street overnight in el salvador because the chances that someone will steal it or vandalize it are pretty high. and also the hostal has hot water. and also because i think my parents thought i wouldn’t have enough room since courtney was staying too, even though i was like “please! there’s plenty of room!” so courtney and i went with my parents over to the hostal and made it through the enormous amounts of fireworks and cohetes that had already started. it’s like fourth of july around here with the fireworks....just crazy. i think i’ve seen more fireworks here on christmas eves than in the states for fourth of july. courtney and i made it back to my house and read up on south america (plans are changing for what to do after peace corps....we’re thinking south america all the way!).

when it got to be around midnight the REAL fireworks started and so we went outside to watch the ones that my neighbor and his family were setting off. this neighbor is the licenciado ancheta (he’s the director of the public school in apaneca....licenciado is a title for anyone who has a college degree, so technically i could be licenciada vogtsberger...i like señorita laura better). i hadn’t seen him in a while and he wasn’t out there with his family. his wife and daughter came over and gave me and courtney hugs and “felices navidades.” this is the custom here at midnight everyone comes out of their house, fireworks and sparklers and cohetes are let off and everyone gives neighbors and family members hugs with the salutation “feliz navidad.” much better than in the states, don’t you think? there’s no hemming and hawing over what gifts you got and if the clothes you got fit. kids don’t get a bunch of toys that they’ll forget about five minutes later. it’s just food, hugs and felices navidades. good times! anyway, so we were just sitting there on the doorstep of another house and then all the sudden i see the licenciado in the doorway of his house and he’s on crutches! i waved at him and he motions for us to come over so we embarrassingly walk over there. why were we embarassed? we were wearing our pajamas. but whatever i suppose. so we go over and greet him and he invites us in to eat carne asada and chirmol and to drink some wine from chile. we were like “what?” so we sit down and the whole family comes inside and sits around and watches us eat with the licenciado. it was so funny! but i finally got to meet his son who lives in mexico with his japanese wife. they have the cutest little daughter who is the licenciado’s only grandchild. anyway, so we sat there and i think the licenciado was a little looped up on his pain pills for his broken ankle, as well as the wine. he kept asking me questions about antonio and saying antonio was a ladrón (robber) because he stole my heart. i was like “huh?” crazy! then the licenciado’s brother came to sit with us and the licenciado kept accusing his brother of having five women and totally embarrassing him. it was hilarious! so that was an interesting way, to say the least, to ring in christmas.

the next day, christmas, we were invited to ahuachapán for lunch with mirna’s family. that morning i was all preoccupied though because i had taken the chicken i had bought to make for christmas dinner to elba’s house so she could keep it in her refrigerator for me (as i don’t have a fridge). well she was supposed to bring it to me the next day before she went to this rodeo with her family and it was getting pretty late in the morning and she still hadn’t stopped by. but finally she did and i was relieved. so my parents, courtney and i packed up in the car and drove to ahuachapán and met mirna in the parking lot of the super selectos (never in my life have i had so many meetings in a grocery store parking lot). she navigated me to her house and we ate lunch which was so awesome! she made potato salad specifically because i love potatoes and there was cole slaw (i thought we were eating fourth of july barbecue for a minute), turkey and rice. we hung out there for a while and she gave us some nice!

mirna and her two daughters and my mom and dad

we made it back to apaneca with no problems and while my mom took a nap, my dad, courtney and i took another stroll around apaneca...buying ice cream, more cigarettes and salva cola. i took them up to the cemetery and on the way back we ran into this old woman that i know from town. she’s super short and i can barely understand what she’s saying to me ever, but she’s really nice and i always give her my aluminum cans so she can go take them to the recycling place and get money. i introduced her to my dad and she was completely enamored. it was the cutest thing! anyway, we walked around some more and then made it back to my house and decided we could start cooking dinner. we were trying to figure out how to cook the mom had an idea, but then courtney had some other idea and we kept joking that they should have a cook off. my mom sherked the chicken-cooking duties off on courtney, but before we started maria laura (the kindergarten teacher at my school) came over with her husband to meet my parents. it worked out awesomely – because my parents got to meet pretty much everyone i work with and/or hang out with. maria laura brought some gifts for us too which was really nice. after she and her husband left, courtney started cooking the chicken and we just hung around drinking wine and pilsener and listening to music and kept saying “i can’t believe it’s christmas!” at one point I go outside and my dad´s standing in the doorway to the street and there´s a guy and a kid on a horse and the guy was kind of drunk. he´s repeating the same three english words he knows at my dad and my dad keeps saying ¨no hablo español.¨ i went back inside and then my dad comes in my house and goes ¨everytime i open that door, something happens,¨ which was totally true! one day he came in with a t-shirt and a calendar that my neighbor salvador gave him. ????? anyway, my parents stayed at my house that last night and it was relatively noise-free, thank god.

my dad looking out my portón onto the street

dad and i

the cemetery in apaneca

the next day my parents packed up to leave and it was sad! antonio came over because he and i were going to perquín in the department of morazán that day (it’s where the museo de la revolución is – it’s all about the civil war from the perspective of the FMLN [guerilla] side). all five of us stuffed ourselves in the car and headed back down towards sonsonate, dropped courtney off at the bus terminal there, and continued on down the same road we took that first day. the ocean was unbelievably beautiful that day and we even stopped a couple times to take pictures. things went relatively smoothly until we almost got to the airport and the signs ended. we finally found our way and then some truck almost backed into the car and my dad freaked out (cause he wasn’t driving, i was, and my dad likes to criticize my driving all the time!!!! even though the truck almost backing into us wasn’t even my fault!). anyway, we made it to the airport and all was fine (except for the scratch on the hubcap that almost cost my dad $50, but ended up not costing anything). after messing around with the car rental place, we didn’t have time to stay at the airport because antonio and i had to leave san salvador’s eastern bus terminal by like 12:30 p.m. or we weren’t gonna make it to perquín that night. so we bid my parents a quick farewell and that was that.

all in all i think it was a fabulous visit from my parents. nobody got insanely sick or anything and i feel like my parents got a good idea of what life’s like here. we didn’t hit any super touristy spots and we didn’t go to san salvador – which i hate and i know my parents (especially my dad) would abhor. we basically stayed around my area, except for taking anna back to her house. but i feel like it was especially great because my parents got to meet salvadorans who are undeniably some of the nicest people on the planet and i think my parents understood that by the end of the visit. i know my mom feels a whole lot better about me being here just because she got to meet the people that i’m surrounded by living here. sure, there are things that can be worrisome (like the fact that during my parents’ visit a salvadoran couple was killed by robbers on the road between apaneca and san jorge), but for the most part, by taking precautions and all that, things are relatively worry-free. and i think it’s great that now when i talk to my parents about what i did or where i went they can have some sort of idea as to what it is and where it is i’m talking about. yes, things are different down here....way different. but they’re not totally nuts....well, those two chickens we saw in san jorge that were red and blue might have been crazy.......

and i’m happy that everyone who met my parents now understands that i do actually have parents. it’s so weird how people’s minds work down here. i’ve told you about this before, how people will ask me if i have kids and i say “no” and they’re like – “oh, how sad!” and i’m thinking “wait a second, if i did have kids, why would i be down here in the peace corps? i wouldn’t just leave my kids to be in the peace corps.” but then that’s what half the population does here....leaves their kids/spouse and goes to the states illegally. but then they think i’m weird for 1) not having kids; and 2) leaving my family to come down to el salvador. explain the logic of that??? however, families ARE super important here, despite the whole “going mojado to the states thing,” and if a family member ISN’T in the states, he/she is most likely living in the same house or nearby. so by my parents actually making an appearance here, they don’t see me as this girl who has abandoned her family or anything. they know my parents really exist and support what i’m doing.

the bottom line is – my parents made the trip and so can you!! sure, it’s el salvador, land of natural disasters (wait until i tell you about the earthquakes that have been making an almost daily appearance here...more on that later), but it’s also a beautiful country with amazingly nice people, great music and awesome food!!!

so happy new year to you all and hopefully this coming week (or so) i will be able to post all the juicy (not) details of my vacación in december!!!

salú pues...