Arriving in San Salvador, the thing that surprised me most was how calm I was. Since getting the position I had been extremely anxious about what it would be like. I imagined every possible situation that could occur and was pretty nervous about many aspects of Salvadoran life. But when as I emerged from the airport it finally sunk in that I would be living here for three months, and that I better start living rather than thinking about the various ways I could die.
It’s still hard for me to say what I was expecting. I had read lots. I knew about the weather, the traffic, the politics, the food, the bathrooms, the landscape, the crime etc. but it was still hard to put together a whole picture about what this place and these people would be like. All I knew was that most of it was stuff to worry about. So I guess it is a surprise that most of what I read turned out to be true, but I’m ok! In fact I’m really enjoying myself!
Ok there’s stuff to adjust to. There are security guards with huge guns everywhere. In fact the security guard for my neighbourhood has his office in a sectioned off part of my house, so I share the deck and my bedroom wall with him… I guess that should make me feel safe? And those noises at night. I was told Salvadorans really like fireworks, so that’s what I convinced myself those echoing bangs are. But I’ve yet to see a firework and those bangs still occur when it’s pouring rain. So if it’s raining it’s gun fire, but if it’s a nice night I can definitely sleep soundly knowing it’s fire works. I play a lot of mind games with myself here.
That seems to be something I’ll have to get used to- mind games- with myself and others. For example who to trust when the guy with the machete gives a smile and an honest ‘buenas tardes’ as you go by but a 9 year old kid sticks his hands in your pocket? How to be cautious without being paranoid? When someone said ‘don’t let you’re head hit the tree branches, they could be hiding weapons’ I thought ‘knives? guns?’ He meant thorns. Maybe I’m a little more on edge than I realize. Most people are genuinely friendly and kind here, but there’s enough stories to make is hard to let your guard down. Although if you do get robbed, you could always ask the thief to leave you with enough change for bus fare home, apparently they’re likely to oblige.
Buses. Buses are an adjustment. I did know that the bus drivers were crazy competitive for passenger and thus will race to get to a stop first. And I did know that they’re the ultimate venue for pickpockets. But I did not know how to get off a bus. I only realized this after getting on a bus for the first time by myself. Where was the string to pull? And do I have to hop over the gate at the front in order to get out? I couldn’t see the back door from where I was sitting plus I was scared to look due to a group of large men inhabiting the back. So I yelled ‘Necesito Salido’. Turns there was a back door and you’re supposed to whistle or knock hard on the ceiling to let the driver know. Then he might stop. Or he might just slow down. Or he just might wait til another stop when there’s people to pick up.
My host family is an enigma in itself. I really have to do a separate blog on them because there’s too much to say now. In a nutshell there’s a whole lot of family and a whole lot of crazy dynamics between each other and between the foreign white girl who’s she’s paying rent. While they’ve mostly just been overwhelmingly welcoming and hospitable… I don’t know, there’s definitely something awkward about the fact that in house where eight people other people are living, I have my own room with a TV and king size bed. I’m quite certain I took over someone’s room.
Ok this blog is looking a bit negative. That’s really not reflective of what my experience has been like so far. I’ve had an amazing week here. I guess I choose to write about these things because they were strong experiences. But let me share some of the super amazing things about San Salvador:
-My job! I’m organizing the fair trade craft business for CIS – a small activist english and spanish school and sort of community centre. I get to go to meet different artisan groups in San Salvador and surrounding the city. For example the first one I went to was a tiny town on top of a mountain where a small group of women have taught themselves to dye using indigo. Its based out of one women’s tiny farm. They were truly inspiring people.
– The food: 17 cent chocobananas (bananas dipped in chocolate and nuts). Pupusas: thick tortillas stuffed with delisious cheesy goodness. Ana Maria, the head of my house makes AWESOME ones. Turns out she used to run a pupuseria. And there’s version of pupusas stuffed with fresh pumpkin. Also today I bought a bright orange lump of sort of crunchy, stringy jelly with pumpkin seeds in it. Pumpkin is my love and my life. Who knew I’d find it in El Salvador? But top prize goes to mushed up plantains boiled with a bit of water and sugar and cinnamon. Why would I ever eat anything else for breakfast again?
– The landscape. I’ve never seen a more beautiful place. Ok in San Salvador its not spectacular, though you can see the big beautiful volcano from almost anywhere. But outside the city is amazing. I have never seen so many beautiful mountains and valleys. Everything is green. Being high up, you’re always close to the clouds.
– The people’s interest in politics: Salvador has it’s share of problems but most people really care about their country. People make politics a very personal thing and its something that’s they really think about. For example, my family has a home made candle on which they put the initials of the political party they support. It is proudly displayed on their mantle.
– $12 cell phones
So this is a little extensive for an arrival blog, but it’s not even a fraction of all there is to take in. I can’t wait to see and learn and puzzle over the rest of it.