March 2008

Last week, while hanging out with Nana in Detroit –

Me: May I drive the car for you, Nana?

Nana: No, you’re not familiar with my car.

Me: I know how to drive, Nana.

Nana: You really should practice driving in the parking lot first.


Hi there! Been a while, hasn’t it?

El Salvador was great! I had a good time with my students, co-workers, and the folks from Voices across Borders, the group which facilitated the trip. When we left here, there was so much snow. As I turned onto Chris’ street (I was hitching a ride with her to the airport), I found myself sharing the road with a snowmobile. Just look at the contrast between frozen Erie and San Salvador.

The bulk of this trip was spent traveling around rural areas, meeting with the community, and doing health and physical therapy workshops in collaboration with students from the University of El Salvador. I came back tired, very tan and filled with respect for the Salvadorans’ warmth and resiliency. My Spanish though, is still mediocre. A few highlights and random observations from the trip:

– There’s a lot of things in El Salvador that remind me of the Philippines. The people are hospitable and slightly fatalistic (as in, God will provide, even if we’re in deep doodoo). The pollution in the city is really bad, but the pollution makes for spectacular sunsets.

No one knows how to drive well, traffic signs (and traffic lights) are mere decoration and pedestrians put their lives on the line when they cross the street. Also, politics is a really, really popular topic – many of the locals I spoke to seemed to be more well versed on the US presidential primaries than some of the people I was on the trip with. Disparaging the government seems an equally popular pasttime as well.

– The disparity between rich and poor is pretty astounding. One day, on our way home from a planning session, we drove by this…I can only describe it as a shanty town…. The bus driver told us that the houses (more like giant boxes, really) sprang up overnight after someone printed an ad in the local paper that you could stake a claim on this piece of land. Of course, the landowner denies he ever authorized it, but the people refused to move. It’s been over a year since this started, and there’s still a lot of shacks. Without running water or electricity.

– You will get fried and crispy if you spend 15 hours in the back of an open pick-up truck. Especially if you miss a spot/s while slathering on the sunblock. The irony of this whole thing? While I’m trying to find some shade, Pat, who’s sharing the back of the truck with me, is busily slathering on suntan OIL. Because “we all have to die of something, and I’d like to die warm.” Heh.

When the wind hits you just right though, as you’re careening down the highway, it feels like you’re flying.

– We managed to take out the power of an entire village one night. Because someone needed to bring a hair dryer (and a curling iron) while we were out in the middle of nowhere rural El Salvador. This understandably caused a lot of consternation among the townspeople, especially since we didn’t tell the village chief that someone from our group caused the power outage because she JUST HAD TO HAVE good hair.

– I have a newfound appreciation for running water and a flushing toilet. Staying with families in the countryside meant living in places without running water. Or a toilet. This was the outhouse for the family I stayed with. The door to the outhouse was a garbage bag taped to one side of the structure. There’s also a pig on the premises. To help with the umm….composting. Now, I pride myself on being a super laid back traveler, able to adapt to almost anything. The pig was a bit much though.

To be continued. In the meantime, some more stories and pictures here.