This past week was El Salvador’s celebration of “The Salvador del Mundo,” the patron saint of San Salvador. Many government employees had the whole week off, but everyone had a long weekend to celebrate. I have to admit I did not participate in any of the “official” celebrations. I did, however, partake in the opportunity to get out of town for few days.
I went to Usulután. It is in the Southeast of the country near the ocean. I was invited to stay in the home of a friend’s family who own a funerale, or funeral home, in town. They kept asking me if I was frightened by the presence of coffins everywhere. I really wasn’t bothered which is interesting because I can be kind of wimp about that kind of thing. Perhaps I am adjusting to the reality that everything I encounter here is a bit uncomfortable because it is so unlike any of my prior life experiences. Although one time when two young men were carrying a coffin upstairs, past the kitchen where we were eating lunch, I asked “Hay un cuerpo dentro?” They smiled and assured me there was not a body inside. I did a lot of thinking about how comfortable you have to become with knowledge that life is fleeting and death is inevitable, working in a business like this. The Ibarra’s are warm, hospitable people with a great sense of humor. In my short time spent with them, I think they are people that embrace each day and don’t worry so much about what’s around the corner.
Usulután was bustling with people during the hot, humid day, but dead quiet by 7 p.m. Although one evening we walked to what seemed to be the town square. There was a beautiful church and another very regal looking building that was the Palazo Municipal, or city government building. There was a military band playing outside after the evening church service. My friend Mauricio’s mother told me they play every Thursday.
A drunk man was having a great time dancing in front of the small crowd that had gathered to listen to the music. His fun was soon put to a stop by the police guard. He seemed harmless to me, but was kind of blocking the view of the band I suppose.
My friends and their family took me to a beautiful beach in Usulután called El Espino. Once again the water was so perfect it was unreal to me, warm and salty, but still welcome refreshment from the hot sun.
We were at a private ranch owned by my friend’s family. These “ranches” usually consist of a dining area or at least a kitchen where people are cooking food, sleeping quarters, hammocks and a pool. In this case though, men employed by the owners I suppose, came down to take food orders and bring beer. Our food was prepared down the road somewhere. They cut coconuts out of the trees so we could drink coconut water.
I was fascinated by the process of getting the coconuts out of the tree. I watched as a young man climbed up a tree and with a machete, chopped the coconuts. He also lowered bunches down with a rope. Once on the ground, he prepared them for drinking.
For lunch we each had a whole fried fish, rice and tortillas. Delicious.
I fell into a deep sleep in the hammock, brought on by a full belly, a couple beers and the thick heat.
The heat was significantly more intense in Usulután than in San Salvador. I was always tired in the afternoon. We spent time sitting outside, chatting with people on the streets. Mauricio’s family knows everyone because they have owned the funeral business in town for over 30 years. I tried not to pay attention to the way everyone stared at me. But really I don’t mind too much. I stare at them too. Their beautiful brown skin and dark eyes seemingly immune to the harsh sun. Meanwhile I am pink after just 15 minutes outside.
On this trip I tried a lot of new food. I had anonas, a fig-like fruit with a brown skin like a kiwi. I drank atoll de maiz, which was pink. I prefer atol de elote.
I had salpicon, a diced beef salad with onion, cilantro and oregano to name a few of the ingredients. There are variations of the recipe in different parts of Central America. For breakfast one morning I ate tamales de gallina (chicken). The gallina is free-range chicken, raised in the country. Salvadorans are proud of the gallina. Gallina India (grilled chicken) and Sopa de Gallina (Salvadoran chicken soup) are popular dishes.
On my last day in Usulután there was a festival for a “little miss” pageant in one of the neighborhoods, or barrios. I couldn’t help but think how hot the the kids were marching in the parade, dancing and playing music. Also the contestants of the pageant were riding on top of cars, in frills and lace with shiny make-up on their little faces. I suppose they are more accustomed to the heat than I am.
In my daily attempt in to get better at Spanish I am constantly confused by Salvadoran slang, or caliches. I have had some people tell me, not from El Salvador, “Don’t learn to speak Salvadoran Spanish.” But it is really inevitable that I am going to have to learn some just to follow conversations. Plus, I like it. This is what I am up against though…this is for my Salvadoran friends.
7 words for cerdo, or pig (and there’s probably more):
Some more I like that I learned this past weekend are different words for “huele mal” or “smells bad.”
For “me gusta” or “I like.”
So as you can see I have a lot to remember here. Besides just getting down the fundamental Spanish, I have to learn caliches. I have to speak like a Guanaco, a Salvadoran. That’s ok with me though. Also to all my “proper” Spanish-speaking friends, don’t worry. I’ll keep it as clean as possible.