Thursday, September 20, 2007

someone PLEASE let the cat out of the bag!

picture it. el salvador. you´ve just returned from your three-day medical exam in dirty, stinky, hot and humid san salvador, where you´ve been getting on and off buses to various doctor´s offices and labs, getting lost, and carrying around stool samples in your bag (yeah, it´s gross....i´ll explain more later). you´ve finally arrived in ahuachapán, relieved that you made it because you thought the bus wasn´t going to make it because it spent 45 minutes in a traffic jam outside of san salvador, cutting short your arrival and departure time from ahuachapán. you climb aboard the microbus (code for american, hand-me-down ¨short bus¨) that has capacity for 16 people (that´s what was printed on the inside front of the bus), and find a seat. you wait and wait, and over the course of 15 minutes, approximatley 40 people have stuffed themselves into the seats and aisles. yes, 40 people, and a couple sacks of maíz. then you start to hear a cat meowing over and over and over again. meow. meow. meow. meow. meow. meOW! MEOW! you look over and see that a woman has a big market bag and it´s moving around and she´s just sitting there staring at it like it´s the most normal thing in the world. and the cat keeps meowing, rightfully so. and finally, the bus gets moving, rather slowly, i´d assume from it´s weight, which is dangerously high. the cat continues meowing and the woman continues to ignore it. the bus stops along the mountain road to pick up more people. it´s not even possible, yet the cobredor thinks it is, and manages to push the people on board.

what do you do? do you go out of your mind? do you secretly wish that the bus swerves off the road and into the oblivion of the cafetales so everyone on board will be put out of their misery...the cat included? or do you take a deep breath and remember that you will be returning to your mountain town within 40 minutes (if the bus doesn´t break down by then) and you´ll be able to break free and eat pan dulce? what if that deep breath you decide to take, in lieu of the bus crash or insanity options, is filled with thick, black diesel smoke which just happens to be spewing from the exhaust pipe right below your window? do you still choose to not go crazy and pull a michael douglas in the movie ¨falling down?¨ what if you finally make it to the outskirts of apaneca and it starts pouring down rain - we´re talking buckets and buckets of rain - and you have no umbrella with you? what then?

while this may seem like no day in the park for most, it´s actually a pretty routine thing here. i didn´t go crazy or cry or scream or wish the bus off the road. i sat there and thought ¨this is completely normal¨ and wondered what it would be like to come back to the united states for good and have this not happen. there are so many things that you come to expect while living here that seem so ridiculous. like remembering to carry a roll or plastic bag with toilet paper in it wherever you go. you have to carry it everywhere. or like not leaving the house without an umbrella during the rainy season because it could be completely sunny outside with no clouds in the sky and it´ll for sure dump two inches of rain as soon as you think you´re safe. or carrying around friggin´ stool samples in your bag and delivering them to the lab. what the hell? seriously, this is what we have to do when we have medical exams (or if we´re sick with parasites or something). we have to give a ¨sample¨ and carry it ourselves to the lab. where else is this the norm? can you imagine in the states if you went to the doctor complaining of an upset stomach or diahrrea or something and he said, ¨well, here´s a cup. take a crap in it and then take it over to the lab across town.¨ but here, that´s basically what they tell us to do, and we do it. no questions asked. because we´re here, and not there.

anyway, it can be quite an adventure living down here, if you haven´t already figured that out. every day something different happens, something unexpected and i guess as long as not too many of those days are spent crapping in a cup and carrying it the lab, i´m glad i´m living here and expecting the unexpected.

what a difference two years makes! it´s just about exactly two years to the day since i arrived in el salvador and it seems so weird that i had never experienced any of this before i came here. the crazy buses, the reggaeton, the caliche, the yucca frita, latrines, waking up to roosters, the pupusas and curtido, living with mold on a daily basis, eating fresh mangoes and jocotes and mamones and oranges, speaking spanish, traveling through countries that are considered super dangerous and not feeling scared, dancing the cumbia, washing clothes by hand and having to wait for two or three days before they are completely dry during the rainy season, using a trapeador, singing another country´s national anthem, living in an area where i can see both palm trees and pine trees in the span of 5 minutes, drinking coffee grown in my backyard, men guarding stores with machine guns....the list goes on.

my request to stay on another year was approved by rolando. now i just need to wait to see if washington approves everything. the peace corps medical officer told me that there should be no problems whatsoever because i had absolutely nothing wrong with me health-wise. so i should be good to go. which means my new COS date is december 30, 2008. i know....what the hell? december 30th, 2008? that sounds like forever, and it probably is, but i´m sure the time will go by fast. and i´ll be glad i stayed another year because i will have that much more time to get my projects done, not to mention more time to live in a world where everything isn´t expected or routine like it is in the states. i´m sure i´ll have more to add to the above list by the time december 30, 2008 rolls around!

anyway, that´s it for now. i´ll have some more pictures in the next entry. stay tuned!!