Wednesday, May 21, 2008

carrera de cinta

my friend eric says that all girls go through a ¨horse¨ phase of their lives, you know where they want a horse and read books about horses and all that stuff. well, i never did (at least that i can remember). i remember going to my friend lisa´s house in grade school and riding horses there which was fun. i remember having a couple of those ¨my little pony¨ toys at some point. i wanted to be a veterinarian, but i didn´t want to focus on just horses, i wanted to treat all animals. growing up, i wanted a goat more than i wanted a horse. i think horses are great, but the closest i´ve ever had to owning a horse is here in apaneca, where a group of five or six of them (and sometimes their offspring) gather right outside my window every night and chomp on the weeds growing in the street and whinny and clop around and then top it off by peeing all over the place. sometimes they come right up to my window and nudge the glass and scare the friggin´crap out of me too. anyway, so i don´t know much about horses or horse competitions or any of that.

here in el salvador, carreras de cinta are very popular. i had no idea what they were when someone first mentioned one to me. i´m sure we have these competitions in the states, it´s just that i´ve never been to one or knew they existed before living here, and i don´t even know what they are called in english. in case you don´t know what they are, i´ll explain. it´s a competition where whoever has a horse and wants to enter the competition pays an entrance fee. the competition includes one thing: charging your horse between two poles with a line hanging across it. from the line hang these small rings, about the size of a quarter or so. when the horse and its rider charge the line, they have to try and get one of the rings on this small piece of wood that the rider holds as they go under the line. the piece of wood is pointed at one end to make it easier to go into the ring.

if a rider is successful in nabbing a ring, he gets a present. girls dress up in their sunday best and each have a present to give to the riders who are successful in grabbing a ring. they do this over and over and over again, trying to accumulate as many rings as possible. at the end of the competition, whoever has the most rings, wins the grand prize which is the sum of the entrance fees to the carrera. and that´s about it. the length of the competition doesn´t depend on how many riders there are or how many rings are depends on how many presents there are to give away.

i attended my first carrera de cinta a couple weeks ago at my school. the teachers are trying to raise money to build a comedor at the school so the kids have somewhere to eat (they currently take their plate of rice and sit on the ground or the brick wall surrounding the garden). so they decided they´d have a carrera de cinta on the fútbol cancha. they got a bunch of moms to come and cook carne and pupusas and we sold beer and soda and cigarettes. i told them i´d help out, so they put me in charge of the ticket booth....people came to me, bought a ticket for whatever they wanted and then presented their ticket to the women making the food and serving the drinks.

it was alright. i liked watching the horses, but couldn´t help but feel sorry for them. people generally don´t care for their animals here like we do in the states. i mean, i know not every single person in the states takes care of his or her animals (hello michael vick), but the majority of us do and it´s hard to see how people here care, or don´t care, for their pets. there are salvadorans that treat their animals with love and affection and what-not, but the general rule of thumb here is that your dog or horse or cat is there to do a job and not for you to have any sort of affection for it. you don´t pet them, you don´t set a bowl of food in front of them every night, you don´t talk to them or anything. it´s ok to kick your dogs around....they´re dirty (people don´t stop to think that the reason they´re dirty is because their owners don´t feed them, leaving them to scrounge around in ditches and in people´s garbage and what-not in order to eat). i´ve seen starved horses tied up on the side of the road so they don´t run off, with no vegetation or anything to eat. i´ve seen more than my fair share of dead dogs laying in the street, people just walking by not fazed in the least that there is a dead dog laying there. i´ve heard puppies yelping and crying because little kids are hitting them. i´ve seen a squirrel locked up in a bird cage (this was at courtney´s site....the squirrel´s name was pancho.)

i guess what i´m saying is the carreras de cinta here aren´t filled with horses that get treated like the horses in the kentucky derby do. if the riders don´t actually ride the horses to the carrera, they get hauled in pickup trucks (a couple of guys brought their horses in pickups and coming down the steep, hole-filled road in front of the school to the cancha was sheer terror for the horses. one almost fell out of the pickup, it´s hind leg fell outside the pickup and was hanging there until it was time to unload the horses). i´m one of those people that feels bad killing spiders...i generally just try and shoo them out of the house. i hate snakes, but would feel bad killing one, unless it was attacking me (which i assume all snakes want to do...ha).

gracias a díos, with the exception of the horse almost falling out of the pickup, all the horses in our carrera looked ok health-wise. they looked tired and worn out, but they didn´t look starving or anything. the carrera was fun for a couple of rounds, but after that i was bored! it was the same thing over and over again for hours. i was out in the blazing sun selling those damn tickets and half the time i couldn´t hear what people wanted because there was a DJ out on the field announcing all the winners and playing music sooooo loud....ranchera music over and over and over. ugh. the same k-paz de la sierra songs over and over and over again. i like k-paz, but after the fiftieth time of the same song, enough already. plus, the DJ was so totally inappropriate for the crowd (a lot of kids) that was there. he was saying stuff about how different women of different religions sound in bed. he talked about how women want their men to come home drunk after a night of drinking and debauchery.....that they´re sexier that way. i was like ¨whaaat?¨ i couldn´t believe it.

but the thing that really just about sent me over the edge was the trash. antonio came for a bit at the beginning and bought a plate of food. he was sitting next to me and when he was done asked me where he should put his plate. i looked around and there was not one bag, trash can, box anywhere to put the trash from the carrera. at the end of the whole thing i asked mirna what we were gonna do about all the trash and she gave me what i call the salvadoran shrug....this patronizing shrug that says ¨i don´t really give a shit.¨ elba and maria laura at least had the sense to clean up some of the plates that were on the ground and put them in an extra box we had which had been holding the presents. but after we took down the tent and had gathered up all the chairs and generally packed everything away and took it up to the school, NOBODY took that box of trash. they just left it sitting there. besides, the cancha was still covered with plastic bags and plates and whatever that hadn´t made it to the trash box.

mirna saw an empty box from one of the prizes and thought there was something in it. she picked it up and seeing that there was nothing in it, threw it back down on the ground. i picked it up in a complete rage and i muttered ¨it´s not that hard to put it in the trash box.¨ finally i picked up the trash box to take it up to the school and i asked mirna why she didn´t have any shame leaving all that trash there and she said ¨these people are uneducated.¨ meaning, that she, a teacher knows better...but all these poor people don´t know any better. i couldn´t help it....i blurted out ¨you´re just as bad as they´re uneducated too.¨ she gave me this look like she couldn´t believe i said that...hell, i couldn´t believe i said that. but i swear to god, i couldn´t help it!

but seriously, THE DAY BEFORE was the day we had had the earth day celebration. she went on and on about how it was so great and the kids did such a great job. we had cleaned up that cancha the day before as part of the project with the 6th grade girls. and when we packed up after the carrera the cancha looked WORSE than it did before we cleaned it up the day before. i was pissed. i couldn´t believe that after my almost 3 years there the teachers had no sense to provide something, ANYTHING, so that the people had somewhere to throw their trash when they were done eating. they made sure there were enough chairs there. they made sure there was enough food. they made sure there were two tents set up. they made sure there was a DJ. everything else they prepared for. but the cleanup was left totally by the wayside, not even a THOUGHT in any of their minds.

i took that box and threw it in the entrance of the school and left without saying anything to anybody. for a couple of days i was just really feeling down, like my whole time here has been a waste. i know that it hasn´t, but it´s all part of that glass half full/half empty thing, you know? see the forest for the trees, blah, blah, blah.

after a few days i was feeling much better. i had time to analyze the situation. mirna´s comment about everyone else being uneducated comes from a general social inequality here. she truly believes she´s better than the poorer people simply because she is a teacher. she doesn´t question HER actions....she placed all the blame on everyone else, simply because they aren´t professionals like she is. she doesn´t think she needs to be educated on the trash thing because she´s already got her teacher´s degree, she´s already as educated as can be. never mind the fact that some of the poorest people here, some of those people here who can´t read or write, are very conscious about their trash and picking it up and not littering. that thought never, ever crosses mirna´s mind. ugh. sometimes it can be so difficult here.

anyway, despite all that, i did take some pictures and so here they are!

one of the competitors charging his horse

kevin and wendy


niña domy´s granddaughter, paola

one of the competitors getting his present for snagging a ring

me and maria laura

here is a small video of what's going on at the carrera