Thursday, October 04, 2007

keeping up with the drama!

hey, do you remember that phrase ¨what´s up, chicken butt?¨ i do. that´s either dating myself, or proving how immature i am, i´m sure.

¨how YOU doin´?¨ this is one of niña domy´s chickens (his name is muchachito) and he regularly just wanders in the house. i keep telling her not to kill him when he reaches that ¨mmmm juicy pollo¨ stage of his life but who knows if she will listen to me.

anyway, thought i´d throw those two photos in before i got into the whole telenovela bit. i've been watching this really crazy telenovela (spanish for soap opera)'s so hard not to get sucked into it and i'm amazed at every new development. here's a few of the storylines....

a couple who live on the poor side of town have a daughter, who, when she was 14 years old, "slept" with a man twice her age. this guy had (and continues to have) a lot of money, while the girl had (and still has) virtually none. well, the inevitable happened and the girl got pregnant with his child, but he denied it completely. so she had the kid and the guy continued to deny it. the guy's wife, sittin' pretty in her nice house, spreads gossip around town that the poor girl's family is crazy and that her husband would never, and has never, slept with anyone else. the girl had the kid and because his real dad denies that he has a son, the kid doesn't have a father in the sense of someone he can call "papá." the kid is now in first grade. the grandparents of the kid don't want to go and get proof that the guy is the father because they are evangelicals and they say their church "doesn't approve" of them getting involved in matters like this. so apparently it's better that the kid grows up without a father, amongst a bunch of gossip surrounding who his real father is.

after the girl had her illegitimate child with mr. moneybags, she also had an affair with the mayor. he gave her family part of the public land in town to "build" a house, but it's nothing more than a shack, really. as it turns out, the guy who fathered her child doesn't like the mayor, and of course, doesn't like the girl's family because of their "allegations" that he fathered the fatherless child, so he and his clueless wife spread gossip around town that her family is illegally using public land.

meanwhile, on the other side of town, a cousin of two of the teachers in the school was recently picked up and hauled to jail, along with three other men, for assassinating a poor couple almost a year ago, on the main road that goes by the town. there were six killers altogether, but only four of them were caught. they were captured and because it was an arrest for murder, the men were charged and tried within 72 hours. but like something out of the mob, the trial was postponed, because at the last minute, the daughter of the couple that was killed said she didn't think it was those guys after all. rumor has it that she is afraid because the other two guys are on the loose and if she continues to say the other four did it, the two remaining outlaws will take revenge on her.

one of the above-mentioned teachers is also married to a guy who's most certainly cheating on her (she has proof!), but of course, she doesn't want to leave him and what has to be the craziest decision of her life (aside from marrying the guy in the first place), she wants to now have another child with him. she's actually planning it!

this teacher's sister recently got married as well. she and her now-husband got married real quick a few months ago because she found out she was pregnant. they had been dating for nearly seven years – they're both only like 23 or something – and never thought it was the right move to get married until she got knocked up. so they had a quickie wedding, and at first tried to disguise the fact that the reason they got married was because she was pregnant, but everyone in town started gossiping about it. but they somehow, are continuing to "keep the secret" from her father. because if he finds out he will be very angry.

no one mentions the fact that the father has an illegitimate adult son with one of the women he had an affair with. this son was even at the wedding! and also at the wedding was the bride's other sister who's a dentist. her husband has had several affairs, most recently with a sister of one of the girls who goes to his sister-in-law's school. confusing, i know. but what telenovela isn't? stay with me. the teacher (the sister of the bride and of the dentist) has even asked the girl at the school about the girl's sister's "boyfriend" and the girl says that "oh, he's so nice to her and our family." anyway, at the wedding, the cheating guy and his dentist wife were out on the dance floor tearing it up like they were the happiest, most loving couple in the world.....gazing into one another's eyes and holding each other tightly. blech!

let's move on to the family of the girl that the husband is having an affair with. the girl's mother has eleven children. the oldest being a little bit older than the girl that's having the affair with the dentist's husband – something like 23 years old. how young is her youngest, you ask? why not nearly one! that's right, she just had a baby earlier this year. of course, that family is poor as can be.

how about we move to another riveting storyline. there is a woman who has seven children and is only 36 years old or so. she wants more. her oldest, not even 20 yet, just recently got married and had a baby. (this daughter, when she was only 16 years old, with the approval of her mother, "dated" a man who is around 60 years of age. apparently, that relationship didn't go that well, because like i said, now she's with this other guy and has a baby.) back to her mother: her youngest child, a little girl that just turned two, can sometimes be seen wandering the street above her house, alone. sometimes she climbs up into the forest above the school. her mother knows where all her chickens are, but not her own children.

in yet another "it must be a telenovela" moment, last year, the second-oldest daughter of the above woman told her mother that she had found a job in the capital city cleaning houses for rich folks. so she made her way to the big city. a couple of months later, she made her way back to the small town – but not of her own will. she was dragged by her uncle, who happened to randomly run into her in the capital, where he learned that she was working as a prostitute. she's only 17 years old. when she got back to the small town, of course, she was reprimanded....albeit not very seriously. so proving that she learned absolutely nothing, one day, when her mom was at church, she and her older sister "entertained" a couple of guys at the house while they were supposed to watching their five younger siblings. they left the duty of watching to make sure mom wasn't coming home early to their 12 year old sister. the whereabouts of the 10 year old son aren't known. meanwhile, the three youngest children – aged 7, 4 and the above-mentioned two-year old were left to roam the town streets or, basically, wherever they wanted to roam.

i can't leave this story alone without at least giving the father a mention. he, upon learning of this incident at the house, decided that the best way to solve everything was to beat up the mom and two daughters. they then called the police and the father ended up in jail for a few days. but unlike the quick sentencing of the above-mentioned killer, he was let go and now can be seen every now and again in town. in other words, things are much as they were before for this family, only this time, the oldest daughter has a husband and a baby.

then there's the story of the child molester. no, he's not a "convicted" child molester because he's never been convicted. he lives right there in town, under the noses of everyone. he's seemingly invincible because he has money and everyone's afraid of ratting on him because he has a gun, and because they're convinced he can just pay off the police so he won't get into trouble. there are stories here and there of young girls he's been completely inappropriate with – or at least what i think is inappropriate - (one of them being the above-mentioned oldest daughter of the woman with seven children), but everyone simply gossips about it as if it's nothing more than another man having an affair or something. this storyline makes me the saddest of all.

on to a lighter of just simple cheating. there is this one woman who's married and has two young daughters. she found one of the much sought-after jobs cleaning a house of a well-to-do family in the next big town over. so every day she left the small town to go to the bigger town and do her job. well, after her work was done for the day, she started meeting up with the husband of one of her good friends and neighbors in the small town where she lives. they started having a regular secret rendezvous every day after her job. one day, though, she lost her precious job. rumor has it, it was because she was stealing things from the house that she was working. her youngest daughter would show up at school with expensive toys every so often, and apparently she was definitely stealing these from the home. but, that wasn't the worst of her troubles.....her hook-ups with her friend's husband would have to stop. or would they? of course not. now, they pass each other, not so secretively, in the street of the small town. while she makes her way to the forest, he goes home, cleans up and changes clothes, and re-traces his steps down the street to meet her in the forest so they can do their business there. location really isn't a problem in this telenovela.

let's wrap it up with one final story.....that of the principal of the school. (she's one of the cousins of the above-mentioned killer.) well, as it turns out, she didn't actually go to school to receive her teaching certificate. she actually bought it! that's right. she's running the school, "teaching" classes, and she has no actual school training to do so. it's kind of been obvious for a while now that she doesn't really know how to teach, but her husband's on the city council and even though her cousin has kind of made a bad name for the family by participating in the assassination of the couple on the road, her last name still carries weight in town. so she'll probably not ever lose her job or be reprimanded because nobody will ever really question her credentials.

whew! it's so confusing to try and keep everything straight. the sad thing is, this isn't a soap opera on television: these are just a few of the stories of the town where i work, san jorge, el salvador. i would be here all day writing if i told you all the stories of san jorge. it is so overwhelming to be an outsider here....trying to keep up with who hates who, and who backstabbed who. who i should hate (the child molester) and who i should feel sorry for (that poor kid in my school whose father denies him or those little kids who are left to wander the streets). as much as i don't want to be a part of all this, it's hard not to get sucked into the lives of these people. when you're a volunteer, away from your core of friends and family back in the states, you become close to the people in your community. you make dear friends who become closer to you than many of the people back home are. you become part of the community, part of their lives, and they, part of yours. what's very hard is when you learn these little pieces of information about people who you've come to like, or who have been very friendly with you. it's like – what are you supposed to think? should you judge them by what you've heard? i mean, i'm not one to base my opinions of people on how rich or poor they are or what they do for living (if they do anything for a living at all). if they're uneducated or can't read or write doesn't matter to me....i mean, i feel like they're missing out if they can't, but as far as who they are as a person, my feelings don't change about them. i don't care if they're someone who drinks or smokes (things that other people here very much look down on), or is a member of one political party or another. i don't care what religion they are or if they have 15 kids, or have been married three times, or if they don't iron their clothes. while these are all things that other salvadorans would judge them for, i don't. if they have welcomed me into their home and their community, i'm glad to call them my friend and share a part of my day with them.

but what about the things that the above-mentioned people have done? (aside from the story about one of the teacher's sister's getting pregnant and getting married quickly.....that's not something horrible, that's just life!) am i supposed to pretend that i don't know these things? part of me feels stupid, like here i was being friendly with them when they've done these awful things. i mean, how was i supposed to know? that's why it's so hard to integrate yourself into a community, like, as volunteers, we have to do. this is probably a challenge anywhere, not just for peace corps volunteers. it takes time to find out what makes the community tick. who can be counted on, who's a complete louse, who to stay away from, who to make friends with. this takes time...i mean, i only learned of probably 75% of the above things within the past six months. and it seems like it's never gonna stop! it seems like every day, i'm a party to a conversation where i'm hearing some bit of chambre or another. like i said, it's so overwhelming. i find myself with this open-mouthed, wide-eyed expression midway through the conversation because i've just learned something that just sounds so crazy and unbelievable. i attribute the influx of information to two things: the fact that i can speak/understand spanish better now than i ever could; and the fact that i definitely have more confianza (trust) with more people than i ever did before. i can say that i don't want to hear chambre, but do i really not want to hear it? don't i want to know who's an asshole? don't i want to know why we can't ask so and so for help with the committee? i'm not sure i'd be doing myself any favors by NOT knowing any of this stuff.

so, if you have been able to keep up with this post, you'd probably make a great peace corps volunteer. yes, you need to be able to live without many of the things we are accustomed to in the states, but it seems as if that's not nearly as hard as this kind of stuff. volunteers should really judge their comprehension of another language and trust they've gained in their sites by how much gossip they know about the town they are working. i definitely think that's a better test than having official spanish interviews and work reports. but i probably shouldn't mention that to my peace corps bosses, right?

but let me end this post with a bit of good news. earlier this month, antonio's brother, jorge, graduated from university, receiving his licenciatura in educación básica – this means he got his bachelor's degree in primary education. so he's now a full-fledged profesor! he actually graduated last december, but his class wasn't able to actually formally graduate because some of his classmates didn't pay their fees to graduate, so none of them could have the ceremony or receive their diplomas until those students paid up. i know, it's backwards, but it's el salvador. this past year, while he's been waiting to have the ceremony and actually get his diploma, he's been working as a teacher at a school in ataco.

anyway, not only did jorge graduate, but he graduated at the top of his class and was what we would call valedictorian. his family invited me to the ceremony and i was so proud of him. while he was giving his speech i thought i was gonna cry – he did such a great job. he talked about how they should be proud of themselves for graduating and how it was time for them to now go out into the salvadoran workforce and try to make changes and better the lives of the people. a couple weeks after the graduation, he was told that the teachers of the school he's been teaching at had an election and decided (with the actual director of the school) that he should be principal. isn't that great?

it's sad that moments like these are so few and far between here in el salvador. but they do happen, and i couldn't have been happier that day watching jorge graduate.

i have some pictures that i'm posting, only a couple of which have anything to do with the above post. the rest are again, random.....full moon hike to the hot jungles of sonsonate (but with rewards of beautiful waterfalls), today's día del niño festivities, etc. come on, have a look!

jorge on graduation day, in the church in sonsonate where the graduation ceremony was held.

this is kind of a dark picture, i know, but it´s jorge giving his speech at the graduation. the lighting was horrible!

gloria (antonio and jorge´s sister), jorge, antonio and their family friend who came to see jorge graduate.

niña domy making tortillas

antonio and gloria outside of gloria´s classroom where she teaches high school in a pueblo called santa catarina masahuat. it´s one of the few remaining indigenous pueblos left in el salvador (which means there are a couple older women who still speak the nahuat language).

me and gloria. these salvadoran people, i swear! like i need to look any more huge than i already am!!! just about every time i stand next to anyone salvadoran i look like tyranosaurus rex.

the new sign they posted outside of apaneca. the ministry of tourism is really trying to get the area gussied up. they are now painting all the postes (telephone, light poles) with these detailed cultural scenes and flowers. i´ll have to take some photos and post them...they really are cool.

ok, so september´s full moon hike was kind of was during the day (no full moon!) and was this long, watery hike through the jungle. we had to wade through the river half the time (which we later found out was totally unnecessary), but the waterfalls we hiked to were really beautiful...i do have to say. it was such a crazy day though! this was one of the three waterfalls we hiked to.

me and courtney swimming under one of the waterfalls

this photo of a dead snake basically sums up the relationship between salvadorans and animals. we happened across this poor guy on the road down from laguna verde the other day. pobrecito! somebody killed him with a rock. i don´t like snakes, but this was totally´s not even poisonous! salvadorans like to basically kill any wild animals they come across and do a really shitty job of caring for their domestic animals (dogs/cats) as well as their livestock. it´s one of the saddest things to see being down here. in fact, when i went home in august, the first time i saw our dog, i literally thought she was obese. i kept asking my parents what happened, why they let her get so fat. and they were like ¨what are you talking about, she´s actually LOST weight!¨ and my dad said something like that it´s because i´m so used to seeing these poor, skinny chuchos down here that are literally skin and bones - that´s why i thought our dog looked so fat!

i came across this butterfly while walking to school in san jorge the other day. so totally cool!

día del niño in kinder breaking their piñata

first graders waiting their turn

kids are soooo crazy, no matter what country you´re in!

first graders julia and ingrid

kindergarten kids practicing their routine for a kindergarten fiesta tomorrow in apaneca. this is actually is probably the cutest performance i have ever seen! i can´t wait to see it tomorrow. the kids are going to be dressed up in outfits from around the world and they are singing this song about spreading peace and love and friendship and stopping the fighting and killing. it´s so cute! i wish my camera had sound so i could video it....maybe someone else will video it.