The Astounding Travel Adventures of a Miraculous Fellow


Adios Amigos
June 14, 2008, 10:42 pm
Filed under: The Salvador

 

Well, the time has come for me to leave the comforts of home and the USofA.  

 

Off to El Salvador I go.

 

You’re probably thinking: “El Salvador?  Kiss your powerful, muscular, shapely gringo ass goodbye!”  Well, I’m heading there in a full-body Kevlar suit, armed to the teeth, so I should be fine for, at the very least, 45 seconds.

 

I’m heading out to a remote little village in southeastern El Salvador (which roughly translates to “The Salvador”) for four months to teach English and computer skills to whoever will listen (which will probably end up being my kidnappers who are yearning to be able to relate to their victims a little better).  Pretty much the only way I’ll be able to keep in contact will be through email or through your local Salvadoran drug runner.  But, emails may be infrequent so if you don’t hear from me for awhile, don’t: 1) feel bad, 2) become disconsolate, and 3) do something drastic like hurl yourself in front of the nearest passing Geo Metro, thereby severely twisting your ankle.  Furthermore, if you don’t hear from me, please don’t fly down to The Salvador looking for me, as I should be in the busy in the process of becoming the new benevolent, yet formidable, blond haired dictator, El Guapo Fuerte.

 

Oh, before I forget, if anyone needs a Salvadoran wife, all I need is 48 postage stamps, a plastic bottle of whiskey, and a burlap sack.  I’ll take care of the rest.  Oh yeah, and a plane ticket for your new wife, plus a promise to love and cherish her until her heart is content…yada yada yada.

 

Um…where was I?  Oh yeah, adios muchachos!  Have a swell summer! 

 

 

 

See you on the other side.  Godspeed.

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

 

4/25/2005
 
 …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.

 



Scorpions are NOT cool.
June 12, 2008, 7:58 pm
Filed under: The Salvador

5/2/2005

 

I am still in El Salvador; still alive and kicking.  Alas, the main thing I kick is scorpions; but that’s because they like to crawl up the walls and attempt to kill me to death.  But I get the jump on them and give them a taste of their own medicine – the medicine of death!  

 

I moved from the community where I was initially living, Ciudad Romero, to a tiny one called Salinas del Potrero which, I believe, in my still-developing Spanish, roughly translates to  “Steal everything from the Gringo, then feed him to the crocodiles.” Actually, nothing like that has happened, and the locals are super cool. They still stare at me whenever I walk by, but I utilize my magnificent Spanish and say something stunning like “Hola” or possibly (if I have my Spanish/English dictionary handy) “Buenos…umm…d…d….d…ah here it is…días!  Buenos días, yes!”

 

The first place I stayed in Salinas was with Luis, one of the agricultural technicians who works here.  His house is an old church, but I think the reason it’s an old church is that only the Devil himself would enjoy residing there now. There are no lights, there is a latrine out back, but I have to leap over a barbed wire fence, then past 4000 squawking ducks to get there.   Once I’ve finally reached the latrine and climbed the broken stairs, sitting down becomes a questionable feat, because there are about ten four-inch long spiders in the toilet, just waiting to eat my ass (literally speaking).  After this ordeal to simply use the bathroom, I decided the next time it would just be easier to soil myself. 

 

Back inside the house, things get worse.  The bed seems like it was used to rest the cows back in medieval times, but now its mine and mine alone.  This actually doesn’t bother me that much – what does bother me is that the scorpions start creeping around at night, so I just lay awake and cry and cry and cry.  I guess it’s not that bad, because the crocodiles haven’t moved into the outdoor shower yet, but once word travels of me being at this place, I’m sure they’ll be lurking around waiting to pounce on a healthy snack of gringo a la mode.

 

Luckily Luis is really cool.  He speaks very limited English and loves to try to tell me jokes in Spanish.  This doesn’t work.  So he tries to translate them to English – this works even worse.  Generally I chuckle at the jokes and try to change the subject, but he has a nasty habit of making me retranslate them back to him in Spanish.  After fumbling around with the translation of a joke I really didn’t understand, I generally end this rambling retranslation by saying “Good night sweet prince” and delivering a well-placed karate kick.

After a week with Luis, I moved in with a local family.  They are very nice – Concha is the grandmother, Evaristo is the grandfather, and at my latest count, they have 475 children.  They may have had one more when I wasn’t looking.  Their daughter emigrated to the US and left her children with them, so not all 475 are their children.  So the family breakdown is as follows: Fernando is 12 years old, and is the son of Concha and Evaristo.  Frankie is 8 and is the grandchild of Concha and Evaristo, and the nephew of Fernando.  Esmeralda is 6, has Down’s syndrome, is Frankie’s aunt, and Fernando’s little sister.  Kevin is a complete lunatic, is 4 years old, and is Esmeralda and Fernando’s nephew.  Jefferson is 2, has never worn pants in his life, and is the final grandchild/nephew in the family.  So if that’s not confusing, I don’t know what is.  I have a room in the little house next door, but I share it with Frankie and Fernando. Yep, just me and my two little buddies.  But, I know what you sick freaks are thinking, and it’s nothing like Neverland Ranch.  Sickos, all of you!

The reason why there is such a crazy familial set up in their house is one of millions of sad stories that are commonplace in the third world.  Concha and Evaristo’s daughter illegally emigrated to the U.S. a year ago to find some kind of job to give her children and younger siblings a chance to pull themselves out of the endless cycle of poverty that is ubiquitous in this part of El Salvador and Latin America.  She left her children and family behind to make the long, dangerous trek to the United States where she found a job washing dishes in a restaurant making about $6 an hour.  While this job would be considered horrible by most Americans’ standards, for her it was a golden opportunity – and it paid off for her family.  With the money she made, she was able to send home enough money to send her children and siblings to school (although it is a relatively meager cost of $8 a year for schooling, this is exorbitant for a family making less than $100 a month), fund the construction of a new one bedroom cinder block house next door, and greatly improve the life of her loved ones.  So, keep this in mind before entering your float into the local anti-immigration parade.

Anywho, I taught my first English classes last weekend in Ciudad Romero, which was pretty fun.  There were four students in the first class and five in the second.  None of them spoke English, and with the wonderful combination of my miserable Spanish, it was truly interesting.  When they came into the class, I said “Hello” in English; one hour of uncomfortable silence and staring at one another later, I looked at my watch and said “Goodbye!”  I think the class really connected and learned a lot.  Actually, it was pretty fun.  I taught them numbers, letters, and colors, as well as important phrases like “where do you keep your women who have ingested illegal narcotics?” and also, “sometimes a cow can be better than a woman, because it does not want to talk after sexual intercourse.”  The basics, pretty much.

As for my Spanish, it is still about as good as the local village buffoon, but at least they don’t throw cabbage at me when I walk down the street like poor, misunderstood Juan Carlos.  Here’s an example of my proficiency in Spanish: the other day I was eating with the President of the Coordinadora (the local nonprofit organization I’m working with) and I ordered way too much food.  So, I decided to utilize a clever phrase from English and translate it into Spanish to explain my situation.  What I attempted to say was “my eyes are bigger than my stomach.”  Unfortunately, instead of this I said “Mis osos estan mas grande que mi estomago” – which translates to “My bears are bigger than my stomach.” Hmm.  He politely smiled at me, stood up from the table, walked to the payphone, called the police, and informed them that a mental patient had obviously escaped from the loony bin…and he had stomach-sized bears with him, so approach him with caution.

Well, that’s about it from here: just another week in the life of the only blond-haired person in the whole of El Salvador.  While I may be a strange-looking, inarticulate, foreigner with long way to go to start fitting in…at least I have cow fights.  

Sweet glorious cow fights.



Don’t ride your bike at night, and other useful information.
June 11, 2008, 8:26 pm
Filed under: The Salvador

5/9/2005

 

Welcome to El Salvador.

 

·       Don’t drink the water.

·       Don’t walk barefoot in the cow shit.

·       Make sure the food is boiled, peeled, and cooked.

·       Don’t make love in the puterias.

·       Don’t walk alone at night.

·       Don’t use the ATM by yourself (but…there are no ATMs so it doesn’t really matter).

·       Be sure to move across the street when someone approaches you with a machete (something that occurs far too frequently).

·       Don’t go near the water unless you feel like becoming crocodile food.

·       If you must cross the street, do it in a dead sprint, because cars clearly have the right of way.

·       And, finally, when you contract malaria don’t go on a groping spree.  

 

Follow these simple rules, and you will find El Salvador a most agreeable place.

 

At least that’s what I thought – until last night.  What I didn’t realize previously is that there was one caveat missing from my list:

 

Don’t ride your bike at night.

 

“Why?” you may ask.  (Or, you may simply be asking, “When will this story ever end?”)

 

The answer is simple: chuchos.  Dogs.  Mangy, filthy, flea-infested, muddy, smelly, lovable dogs.  They are the reason you don’t ride a bike at night.

 

I left my friend’s house last night with a peaceful, tranquil 30 second bike ride on my mind.  What actually transpired was basically how I imagine it will be once I pass through the Gates of hell when I finally die after a 150 year- life as a celebrated Hall of Fame NFL punter, Grammy-winning love song artist, break-dance champion, and Canadian Prime Minister (cool, eh?).

 

So I started to ride down the dark streets with just a flashlight, minding my own business when I heard a soft growl, followed by a jet-propelled canine swiftly approaching at mach 14, bearing his mangy, filthy, lovable teeth.  Not being fully accustomed to the culture of El Salvador, I mistook this gesture as one of friendly salutation.

 

Wrong.  Incorrecto.

 

As he quickly gained ground with the intention of lending me some of his rabies, I started to pedal much, much faster.  Luckily for me, this particular dog was literally all bark and no bite (hmm, I always wondered where that saying came from, but I never knew the utter terror that it implied).  As I frantically pedaled on, I realized that this evil Cujo-reincarnate’s friends probably heard the ruckus and were gearing up to dine on the other white meat – me.

 

This time I was right.  Correcto.

 

As I passed shanty after shanty, dogs were coming out of the woodworks snarling and snapping at me and my bike.  So, I did what any tough, burly man of my age would do: whimper like an injured squirrel and pedal my ass off.  The first dog reached me very quickly, and was going for my ankle, so from the seat of my bike I attempted an acrobatic ninja kick at his face while moving at 150 mph.  I missed, but that little bitch (female dog) got the hint and backed off.

 

As I was about to say something clever like Will Smith in one of his marvelous epic films, (possibly “Welcome to Earf” or “Step off Sucka”) another mangy little bastard flanked me.  Making a sharp, well-maneuvered, wildly flailing turn to my right, I narrowly averted a disastrous fall, and resumed whimpering.  This mutt got close to me but by the time I got over a little bridge, he backed off too.

 

Then came the onslaught.

 

Four dogs came out of the shanties, and like any good survivalist I took out my flashlight and shined it on one of the little buggers.  He stopped in his tracks, frozen.  Pussy.  At the next one I simply shrieked at the top of my lungs “Chucho!” and he stopped as well.  I guess he spoke Spanish, and took offense at being called a filthy mangy stray dog by a terrified gringo.  As the last two devil hounds approached, I simply flexed my biceps at them, whereupon they turned around transfixed, and killed all of the other dogs in the village, and then brought me some cold beer.

 

Thirty seconds of hell.  I was lucky to survive.  

  

Chuchos putos.
 
Anywho, other than this horrifying experience, all else is well in El Salvador.  I started teaching English classes twice on Saturdays in Cuidad Romero.  I have now truly reached the level of “gifted teacher” – as my students are now cursing at the level of a drunken pirate.  Sadly, the slow learners are only cursing like a 17th century Portuguese deck swabber.  Not bad though for a few classes though. 
 
As for entertainment, aside from running in death-defying Chucho Races, there are plenty of other things to occupy my time.  I went fishing with Luis and a few guys on the Bay of Jiquilisco the other day and caught five fish, and probably the Black Plague from touching the water.  It’s really beautiful in the Bay of Jiquilisco, just mangrove forests and water.  And crocodiles, of course.  Upon mangling one of the fish I caught by poorly attempting to remove a hook, I walked over to the water to wash the fish goo off my hands.  Immediately Luis said “Jeff, what are you doing?  Cocodrilos.”  I said, “come on, there’s no cocodrilos here.”  He nodded to Juan Jose, one of the local kids who lived nearby, and he ran off.  Two minutes later he returned bearing a two foot long crocodile skull.  I don’t go near the water anymore. 

 

I also play soccer with the locals a couple of times a week.  My scoring output is rather impressive.  I tallied two magnificent goals while floating along the field like a gazelle playing forward.  Unfortunately, I allowed 16 goals while playing goalkeeper like a paraplegic, mentally-challenged howler monkey whose only concern was the protection of his genitals.  But let’s just focus on the goals I scored, shall we?

 

Other than that, I’m still working on the project building stoves and latrines in my village of Salinas and teaching English in Cuidad Romero on the weekends.   The situation here has yet to cease to shock me every day; these people live in extreme poverty, without the basic necessities such as a place to go the bathroom and something other than an open fire to cook their food.  No matter how bad their situation though, these amazing people never even think of complaining; they just live their lives the best they can, and enjoy the good things they do have.

 

While I have a damn busy schedule, I’m hopefully doing some good.  Whatever I can do to help these people, I will do.  But, alas, if I’m not doing any good, I can try to live up to my personal life motto: “it’s not what good you do, but how good you look while doing it.”

 

And, for my final words of advice, for those of you who take him for granted: don’t forget to shake the hand of Gus, your local dogcatcher.

 



Hurricane (but you can call me Slurricane) Adrian
June 10, 2008, 9:35 pm
Filed under: The Salvador

 

5/23/2005

I’m writing this chapter from the top of a tree, which is keeping me out of fourteen feet of water.  It’s not as bad as it sounds, but the cow in the branch above me just shat on my computer. 

 

For those of you who did not hear, El Salvador got walloped by the first hurricane in history to come from the Pacific.  Yo Adrián!  

 

While there was another hurricane in 1998 that came from the Caribbean, it wasn’t quite as strong, and passed over Honduras first, and still everything in Bajo Lempa was under 7 feet of water.  When Hurricane Adrián was offshore, it was listed as a Class 4 hurricane and was headed straight for us.  So I was a little nervous. 

 

The big problem with our location is that we live a mile from the Rio Lempa, the largest river in El Salvador, and like poop in a greased plastic diaper, that shit has a tendency to slide right out of its banks. So, at 3pm I got the call that I was to be evacuated to the high ground of the offices of our nonprofit, La Coordinadora.  This was good, because the village I live in ended up flooding under a few feet of water.  Yikes.  The people here were incredibly organized and got evacuations going early, because a lot of people lived in areas that were guaranteed to flood — and flood they did. 

 

Understandably, while waiting for Adrián’s landfall everyone was a bit on edge.  So to take the nerves away I donned my water wings and ran around in the rain flapping my arms, screeching “Mira, mira, soy un pato!  Qack, qack!”  (Look, look, I’m a duck!  Quack, quack!).  Well, needless to say, after this hilarious display of jolliness, I found out that water wings aren’t machete proof.  Neither are my biceps of steel.

 

So we sat around most of the day playing cards and waiting for the hurricane to rear its ugly head.  Now, thanks to such cinematic masterpieces as “The Perfect Storm”, “Stormchasers” and…um…”Ernest Saves the Hurricane”, I was imagining that there would be cows flying through the air, chickens riding said cows through the air, mangoes smashing through cars, and machetes doing…what machetes do best in a hurricane…which is to say…ahem…that they usually…um…just…lay there…dormant…cough.  Anywho, it was nothing like that.

 

The rain started at 8am, lasted all day long, and it wasn’t until about 10pm when the wind started swirling about.  At this point I tried my Duck routine again, but my other water wing was sucked off my arm by the wind, so I ran back inside screeching like a howler monkey on PCP.  (Luckily, they had supplied PCP earlier in the day, so I know this simile is apt). Well, by the time the hurricane hit full tilt, we pretty much knew that the river was going to hold its banks.  Last time, the morons working at the dam had apparently been playing drinking games and after their fourteenth round decided to just open the dam without telling anyone, so the whole region was flooded seven feet within minutes, and most families had no clue until their living room was remodeled as a swimming pool.  The folks at La Coordinadora were prepared for these assholes to be working again, so the river was monitored the whole time, and it appeared that it would hold.  So, I did what any normal, red-blooded gringo would do in the face of a hurricane situation: I went to bed.  I was all tuckered out from all of my flapping duck impersonations, so I called it in early.  I woke up occasionally when the wind felt like it was going to huff, puff, and bury me in a heaping pile of smoking debris, but for the most part I slept like a really tired duck. 

 

The next day we surveyed the damage with the radio station workers who interviewed the local refugees.  Hurricane Adrián still did some serious damage without the Rio Lempa overflowing.  In my community of Salinas del Potrero, a couple of houses were under water, and most of the fields were covered as well.  These poor people had a lot of work to do.  Unfortunately, the loss of their crops was the biggest problem.  This is the main, if not only, means of income for these families, and they were all but destroyed.  But, as these people tend to do, they maintained their good attitude on life, and looked at the bright side of things: at least my family and machete are okay.

 

We could all learn something from the campesino farmers of El Salvador: focus on the good stuff, because the bad is going to happen anyway. 

The problem in this community is that they have this amazing system of drainage that seems to take all of the runoff water and deposit it directly into people’s homes.  If you spill a Coke near this thing, you’re guaranteed to flood someone’s radish crop.  (Mmmm…coke radishes).

 

There’s going to be a lot of work to do in the near future to make sure everyone has clean drinking water, access to food, and a way to clean up the mess left behind by Adrían.  But that’s what La Coordinadora (and their trusty, somewhat useless, gringo volunteer) is here to do.  And, it could have been a lot worse: the roads, the cows, or the cows’ spirits could have been damaged, and we could have had a drastic shortage in Cow Fights.

 

This idea terrifies me to no end.

 

So that’s another natural disaster I can knock off my list.  Tornado?  Check.  Earthquake?  Check.  Hurricane?   Check.  Flying mongoose attacks?  No, but maybe I’ll start monitoring the skies a little more regularly.  If I wasn’t convinced otherwise, I’d think someone up there is trying to get me.  Maybe it’s that whole constant sinning thing that I’ve been doing.  My bad, God. My bad.  That counts as repentance, right?  Cool.

 

Just another day in the life of a Salvadoran gringo.  All else is well, the puddles are drying, I’m mending my water wings for yet another day, and the miserable heat has come back again to make my armpits smell like dying mushrooms.  And, now there are more mosquitoes than ever.  I’ll probably have the black plague, dengue fever and malaria by the end of this sentence.  Barf.  Yep.  

  

 



Don’t eat the cheese.
June 10, 2008, 8:52 pm
Filed under: The Salvador

 

5/19/2005

I ate the cheese. 

 

Good Lord in heaven why did I eat the cheese? 

 

It was just a normal meal, not too unlike all the others (beans and tortillas, tortillas and beans), but this one had a special hard white lump of queso duro – hard cheese.  Now I understand that the “hard” in “hard cheese” is being used in the colloquial sense, as one would use to describe Tupac, Fiddy Cent, and, depending what neighborhood you’re from, Ricky Martin (when he was in Menudo, of course).  (Ooh, and that kid from “You Got Served” (the one who says “you suckas got served”)).

 

Anywho, I fought the cheese and the cheese won.  The next morning I awoke and my stomach felt a little off.  An hour later the largest of my face holes was erupting with vomit. And every 30 minutes following, there occurred yet another eruption. Water; food; nothing could escape the wrath of the God of Queso Duro.  Thankfully, he is a merciful God, and only the North Pole on Planet Wheeland was erupting, the South Pole remained dormant. 

 

After a good few hours of this fun, Luis came over and I told him I was sick.  His reply: “Welcome to El Salvador.”  I threw up again. 

 

He decided to get the car and take me to the doctor.  Salvador, one of the workers from the radio station drove over, picked me and Concha up, and we cruised 30 minutes to the nearest clinic in Tierra Blanca with my head out the window so I wouldn’t barf in the car.

 

Alas, there was no doctor there, because he was doing his mango shopping at the market across the street.  So the friendly neighborhood drunk told me he could perform most surgeries for a can of Coors (any brain surgeries would require a Tall Boy, though).  As attractive as this offer was, I decided to wait for the real doctor, and took a seat.  I wasn’t quite sure if I was first in line, or if the cockroaches that were running around were going to get preferential treatment because they were locals.  

 

Once the doctor arrived, he let me right in and asked what I ate.  “Queso duro,” I replied.  “Ah” he said, apparently, this was all he needed to hear.  He gave me a shot in the nether regions, and sent me on my merry way.  I guess the cheese does this often, so they have some kind of magical antidote for the unfortunate gringo who makes the mistake of eating it.  

 

So, all in all, my first experience with Salvadoran health care was interesting, but I survived…so far.  Hopefully the Queso Duro will decide not to rear its ugly head again.  While the hospitals were not as luxurious as their American counterparts, they did a quick, efficient job, and the total bill for the visit, shot, and drugs to keep the vomit inside of my body came to a whopping three dollars.

Other than that, there haven’t been too many other exciting occurrences.  I’m living with a family that has 1400 children, all of whom thoroughly love staring at me.  No matter what I do, they stare at me.  I can just sit there, and they stare.  So, I just curse at them in English, which is one of my favorite pastimes.  ”What are you staring at shit eater?” I say in the nicest possible tones, like loving mother speaking to her newborn infant.  They continue staring.

 

There are some other things about El Salvador that are different than home.  The water here is strange to say the least.  It comes from a well, is dark brown, and I fear it with all my heart.  When I want to bathe, I have to tell the water to take a bath first (da dum dum, ching…take my wife please!).  The bugs here are f’ing ridiculous too.  The most obnoxious species on the face of the planet is called the carapacho.  It is a big, loud, shitty beetle that, as far as I have witnessed, has a lifespan like this:

 

  1. birth;
  2. repeatedly flying into the nearest person’s face;
  3. flying into a wall to its death;
  4. being eaten by a nearby cat.

 

The whole process takes 13 seconds.  So, if you do something really bad in your life, like cursing at Spanish-speaking children in English, you’ll be reincarnated as a carapacho. But, fret not, after 13 seconds you’ll move along to the next phase – maybe a duckbilled platypus or maybe even one of the devil hounds that runs amok in my village.  They seem to enjoy themselves when I ride by.

 

What else?  Oh, my new favorite TV show is called “Mujer con Pantalones” – “Woman with Pants.”  It is nowhere near as cool as its sister show, “Mujer sin Pantalones” – “Woman without Pants” – but the network goons repeatedly refuse my daily letters to put that on in its place.  “Mujer con Pantalones” is a glorious show about a woman who speaks Spanish to all of her Spanish speaking friends, and they cry and cry about stuff.  They live in a very sad place.  On “Woman without Pants” everyone is always happy.

 

The rainy season finally started here and the storms are unbelievable.  It’s like God himself ate the Queso Duro, and, unfortunately for him, he began vomiting electricity directly over my village.  The lightning and thunder are like nothing I’ve seen before.  It starts at one end of the sky and rolls, booms, and crashes all the way to the other.  It’s really impressive.  Then the rain pours in through the roof of my house directly onto my bed, and it’s not so fun anymore.  Apparently some dude got hit by lightning and died in a nearby village while taking a leak at night, so I should add that to the list of “Things Not to Do in El Salvador.”  So now instead of relieving myself outside to face certain doom, I just wet myself.  I’m too afraid of dogs, crocodiles, cheese, bugs, the water, lightning, machetes, scorpions, and whatever else I haven’t learned about yet.  So, it’s easier to just soil myself.  It’s far too risky to unzip my fly; that’s one package that needs not be damaged.

 

Well, that’s it from here, just another week in the life of a gringo in the Land of One Gringo.  



The Things that are Different about The Salvador
June 9, 2008, 10:33 pm
Filed under: The Salvador

 

5/26/2005

Hello, my name is Yex.  At least, that’s how my name is pronounced here. Sometimes it’s Jess; other times Yess; but for the most part, it is simply Yex.  

 

I rather like this nickname, because it sounds like a futurized robot hell-bent on world domination, which coincides terrifically with my own life goals.  The strange thing about this name is many people here are named Jefferson, which is pronounced more or less the same as in the US; but when I try to tell them to just use the first part of the name Jefferson to pronounce my name, they decide either to call me Yex, or Jefferson (And, just so you know, I’d rather be called Yex any day than be named after that blowhard scalawag Thomas Jefferson.  What did he ever do that was so great?  Or…was he the one who invented the electric toothbrush and had numerous “hemp” crops in his backyard?  I stand corrected.  Any fresh-breathed, highly stoned President is a President I can call my own.  My apologies, Tommy).

  

Anywho, where was I?  Ah yes: a fact that may be surprising to some, The Salvador is rather different than the USofA, or wherever you may reside.

 

“No!?” you may ask.  “Sí!” I will reply.

 

Despite the beloved devil-dogs in the streets, and rampant cow fighting, there are things that may not be as normal as one would imagine of a developing country.  Those things shall, henceforth, be listed here:

 

1) Garbage disposal – When you are finished using something, quickly pitch the garbage over your left (or possibly right) shoulder into the nearest street.  If there is a garbage can nearby, wait until you are further away, then proceed to throw it in the street. This is a fine sustainable practice, because someone will eventually come by, sweep the waste into a pile, and light all of the trash on fire.  Nothing like a killer plastic bottle buzz to start off the morning – just sit back, and feel the brain cells melt away.  Ahhh……………………………sorry, I passed out for 14 hours because someone lit the waste basket on fire in the Cyber Café as it was nearly full.  Luckily, they didn’t open a window to kill the party.  Hmm…now I can’t remember how to spell my name.  Oh, there it is – Yex.

 

2) Showers – Running water?  Only for freaks and weirdos.  Here the plan is simple: take your nearest bucket, drop said bucket in the well, pull it out after it fills (hopefully the color is only a slight tint of brown, and the frogs and disease-transmitting worms are absent) and enjoy!  Maybe this explains why my skin is covered in a strange red rash that has taken control of the left side of my body.

 

3) Toilets – This took some time to get used to.  Most of the families have latrines here thanks to our first project that we finished.  Blessed be the Lord that this project happened, or else I would have had to squat and work my magic in a field.  I can only imagine what would crawl into my nether regions in a Salvadoran shit field.  Plus, in case those little critters weren’t aware, my cornhole is a strictly enforced “exit only.” Alas, we have latrines.  You climb the stairs, open the door, and break up the fly convention.  Lift the lid, then plop your buns on a strange, cement, toilet-like structure, or if shy, just pull the old hover move.  I prefer the hover, because then the spiders can’t dine on my gluteus maximus.  Upon finishing, if you were fortunate enough to bring toilet paper, toss it in the hole.  If you had a momentary memory lapse and forgot the TP, that newspaper you were reading takes on a whole new function.  (Added bonus: if you didn’t have a chance to finish the article you were reading, wipe backwards, so you can read it off your ass in the mirror later).  Now, dump some dirt on the pile of dump in the hole, sprint from the latrine, and resume breathing.

 

4) Transportation – A death defying experience and possibly the newest extreme sport.  For me to go three miles, it takes a good hour and a half.  I would walk, but then would have to fight off community after community of dogs, drunks asking for money, and legions of adoring she-fans.  So, I take the pickup. The pickup is simply a pickup truck…packed completely full of people, chickens, foodstuffs, and machetes.  You’re lucky if you can get a hold on something to anchor yourself other than a bag of radishes or someone’s goiter.  Once moving, it is important to remember that there are no two lane roads in El Salvador.  Driving involves weaving in and out of cows, pigs, dogs, other cars heading directly at you; and often one of the two lanes have been taken over for hundred yards to dry out corn.  My favorite tactic upon beginning my trip in the pickup is to linger around a garbage fire, breathe in some fumes to stoke your plastic high, then hop in and pretend it’s a video game (“Dodge the Cow” or maybe “Nightmare on Dirt Street”).  Upon arrival, I change my underpants, and go to my destination.  It’s actually not that bad, but some it takes some serious getting used to.  Unfortunately, my toupee never looks the same afterwards.

 

5)  Mirrors – There are none.  I glanced into a stagnant puddle the other day and was greeted by a second head.  His name is Yess.  He’s nowhere near as attractive as the original.

 

6)  Food – Beans and tortillas; tortillas and beans.  I’ve finally lost that impossible-to-burn post-pregnancy fat, as well as all of the muscle mass in my body (I know, its sounds far-fetched due to the copious amounts of muscle mass, but I’m only eating beans and tortillas, and the tapeworm in my small intestine consumes way more than what he provides, the greedy little scamp!).  So you people out there enjoy your pizza, hamburgers, sushi (there is sushi here, but they generally attach it to a hook), and other delicacies.  Laugh it for now up jerks, ‘cause when I get home, I’m giving all of you malaria with a chaser of Dengue fever.

 

So, those are just some of the differences of this crazy little place called El Salvador. There’s other stuff, but Yess, my other head, is sleeping and he’s in charge of remembering that kind of stuff.  I’d wake him up, but he’s a righteous bastard after he naps.