The Astounding Travel Adventures of a Miraculous Fellow

The best thing about digging a latrine is…
June 13, 2008, 6:58 pm
Filed under: The Salvador


 …asking everyone if you can “borrow their hoe.”  Or something along the lines of “Shit, I got my hoe all dirty.”  Or, when they return their hoe to you, say “And what the hell am I supposed to do with this dirty ass hoe?”  The possibilties are endless.
Well, I’m here in El Salvador, which is Spanish for “The Salvador”.  Technically it’s Spanish for “The Savior”…but fuck technically, my Spanish sucks anyway, this is the last of my worries.
Anywho, where was I?  Oh yeah, I’m here in The Savior, and everything is cool.  It’s basically exactly the same as San Diego, with a few small exceptions: trade the large buildings for small shacks, swap the paved streets for dirt roads, switch the beaches for small corn fields, add lots of cows and chickens and pigs to roam the streets freely, and dump the English speakers for…well, for what I think are Spanish speakers, but I’m having a hell of a time understanding anything the locals are saying to me, making me think I could have been dropped into a small pocket of Inuit-speaking Salvadoran (I’ll update you on this theory if it pans out, or if my Spanish starts improving, whichever comes first…my money’s on the Inuit theory).  Oh, and there are no cars in my new home village of Ciudad Romero.  But, there is electricity and running water, so that’s a start.
So, my trip as a whole started out (hopefully) at the lowest of lows, and I hadn’t even left the airplane.  It went something like this:
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking.  We will be landing shortly in San Salvador .  Please put your tray tables up and your seats in a locked and upright position. Also, try to avoid the projectile vomit from the little fat kid sitting behind you…oops.  Let me rephrase that, please wipe the projectile vomit from the little fat kid sitting behind you off the back of your head, and the regurgitated potato chunks off of your shoulders. Welcome to El Salvador.”
I guess it could have been worse.  He could have been one of those kids you read about on the internet that eats his own feces.  I’ll take regurgitated potatoes any day, thank you very much.
So now here I am.  My first week in El Salavdor was spent traveling with a delegation of high schoolers from L.A.  We did a lot of field work, and by “field work” I don’t mean in the cool sense like the FBI, but more like digging latrines and hoeing (heh heh) fields.
The people here are amazingly friendly, even though I can’t understand a thing they say.  I used to think I spoke Spanish fairly well, but I no longer am confounded by that false presumption.  Their accent is ridiculous, so I end every conversation with “como?” (“what?”), and then slowly back away.  They love me here – I’m the pleasant little simpleton that can do no harm.  
As the only white person here, I’ve never felt like such an alien in my life: people stop and stare at me when I walk by like I’ve got lobsters crawling out of my ears.  And, in my own defense, that only happened once, and it was a freak accident.  It could have happened to anyone.
So, a little description of where I am: I live in the poorest area of the country, southeast of the capital, San Salvador, in a department (state) called Usulután.  The poverty is pretty remarkable.  Many families don’t have bathrooms – they just walk outside in the field and take care of their business.  The average family salary is about 120 dollars a month, but I don’t think it ever gets that high. There is no work for
most of the year, so people just chill in their hammocks and chat the day away to friends, family and neighbors. 
I feel so bad for the people because they are so poor, but still so kind; I want to do whatever I can to help them.  The best part about the Salvadoran campesinos is that they never complain or bitch about their problems; instead they just swing in their hammocks and enjoy life.  The pace of life is slow, calming, and perfect.
Also, the hammock strategy is pretty smart, since the heat is virtually unbearable; the other day it was 122 degrees in the sun, and a cool, refreshing 103 in my room.  And don’t forget the humidity!  I basically sweat all day long, and I’ve lost all the water in my cells.  I now weigh 34 pounds.  In not so many words, it’s hot here.
As for the culinary samplings of El Salvador, so far it is pretty good; there’s lots of rice and beans and tortillas.  Oh, and there are 4 billion mango trees, so I just sit there all day and stuff my fat ass with mangoes (not literally, of course; that might be even stranger for the locals than the “Lobster Ear” episode that will take me so many months to shake).
The homes here are mainly just one-bedroom cinder block structures that house the whole family.  There are a few homes with two cinder block rooms, but those are generally for the families that have a relative that illegally emigrated to the US.  A handful of these houses have tiled floors, but almost every one that I’ve been in has packed dirt floors.  Leaning against the cinder block rooms are open, wooden shacks held up by de-branched tree trunks, and roofed with corrugated tin roofs that serve as the kitchen and/or washroom.  Usually found pretty close to the house is a small wooden shower wrapped in black plastic (for some semblance of privacy).  The shower’s operation is not too difficult: throw a bucket into the well, retrieve, fill a small bowl up with water, pour over your head, soap up, and then dump the entire bucket over your head to rinse.  The most succinct and precise way to describe these houses is “basic”.
While this living situation is pretty dire and shocking, it doesn’t come without its charm.  One of the more amusing things about the openness of the homes is that the farm animals can simply wander where they please.  It’s pretty amusing during meals because chickens will just walk right into the house, stop at my feet, and watch me eat their cousin.  Also, it’s rather interesting having a dinnertime conversation with your future dinner:
Me: “Hey chicken”
Chicken: “Cluck.”
Me: “Hey chicken, eat up buddy, maybe try that oregano plant, some of those peppers over there, and maybe a touch of teriyaki sauce if you can scare some up, because I’ll be eating you in a week.  No hard feelings.”
Chicken: “Cluck.”
I can now truly sympathize with the countless awkward conversations cannibals must have with their company while preparing to marinate and cook them.
Alas, the chickens are not the only ones who wander about; all of the animals here just cruise around in the streets, with the pigs being one of the most interesting.  They continually sneak into the garden where I am staying and gorge themselves like…well…pigs, I guess.  I notice them chowing down on the family garden, and will wander over to chase them off and they make a break for it.  So I chase after them for a minute until they give up and head for the exit.  But, they can’t leave the garden because the gate they snuck into has closed, meaning they must patiently wait there while I come over to let them out.  It’s a fun little game enjoyed by both pig and man alike.
While this game passes the hours, the greatest joy I have received form the farm animals is that our acquaintance has led me to the discovery my new favorite sport.  
Move over baseball, here comes Cow Fighting!
What is Cow Fighting, you may be asking?  Well, when the men go out to the field to work on their crops, they bring their cows with them to graze.  At the end of the day, all of the cows are herded back down the same main street.  Hopefully, with some luck and cow spirits and nerves on edge, rival cow gangs will encounter each other on a desolate dirt road intersection then…COW FIGHT!!!!!
The cows charge each other with reckless abandon, and butt heads in an epic brawl while the local children and the gringo (yours truly) run around laughing hysterically.  This continues until the losing cow charges us and chases all of us maniacally away.  What a country!
So, that’s my life in a nutshell.  The Salvador is nowhere near as crazy as the media makes it out to be.  The dangers that are prevalent in the media back home are so far nowhere to be found: the war is over and while there are gangs in the city, if you watch your ass and keep an eye on where you’re wandering, you’ll be fine.  There are guards in front of every corner store with their finger on the trigger of a shotgun, which is interesting.  But, methinks they’re there to keep the raucous cow fight crowds in check.  Because once the sport consumes you, rioting is a generally accepted reaction.



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You are fucking hilarious, I’m literally laughing out loud as I’m reading this…quite the entertainer yeffrey…:)

Comment by J Graham

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