Hi Mom

I love you!

Notice the new link to Photo Album 7

Sun., Nov. 30

- Slept in til 8:30am, washed my clothes and then some ‘mantas’ for a couple hours, then had a nice relaxing Sunday, with the exception of the ‘bolo’ (drunk guy) who wandered into the yard and started talking to me. I sent Monice to go tell Gilma, who yelled at him to go away. She and Paty were laughing, but I was a bit alarmed, especially when he started waving his machete around (although he was out on the street at that point). Gilma and Monica went to go visit Monica’s other grandmother, and I had just put my book down and dozed off in the hammock when Mr. Bolo came back, apparently having no trouble opening the gate. Thankfully, he had no machete, but nor did he leave with I told him to, and I had no idea what he was saying, so I went and got Paty and Tomasita, who again yelled at him until he went away (apparently he was looking for his bicycle, which he’d taken with him when he left the first time). We watched as he flagged down a passing pickup and climbed in the back, heading for who-knows-where. It took me a bit longer than usual to relax in the hammock again, but I did manage a nice nap.

Sat., Nov. 29 The future president comes to lunch

- Ate a good breakfast (feel a little guilty not paying for it, although at least I brought a few things this time), then Crissy and Adam dropped me off near an ATM in town. Walking to where the busses departed, it struck me that SJO seems like a really nice size, and the ‘centro’ is pretty postcard- or movie-worthy, colorful and bustling but clean and friendly-feeling. It was quite a nice visit overall.

- Bus back to San Salvador, #34 to the ‘centro,’ #26 to the terminal in San Jacinto, almost missed the stop in San Nicolas. Everything seemed to be suspiciously calm at the office, seeing as how there had almost been a near panic when the ambassadors came. Erica told me that it was over, that it had been a breakfast instead of a lunch, but then quickly told me she was just joking. It basically just turned out that they’d been preparing for the last two days I’d been away, had already cooked everything, and now didn’t have much else to do until Mauricio & co. arrived. Everyone from the office ate (rice, beef & ‘pelibuey,’ ‘chimol,’ ‘fresco de jamaica,’ and tortillas, all served from giant vats), then sat around and took pictures of each other waiting. Luckily, the caravan wasn’t as late as late as the last “caravan of hope” – ended up arriving at 2pm with a 12pm goal. I thought there were only about 60 people, but apparently they handed out 125 plates of food, so apparently my crowd-estimating skills are pretty off. There was a sizable security contingent, but not near what it would have been in the U.S. I walked right behind Mauricio at one point and could have easily stabbed him in the back if I’d had a knife. Instead, I mostly just wandered around and took pictures, including two of Gilma and Yaneth standing behind Mauricio, which seemed to annoy his wife, hwo was just trying to eat her lunch. He posed for a few group pictures after he was done eating, did a short interview with Wil, and smoked a cigar (also had a beer at lunch – such a cool guy…), but I never quite got up the nerve to go shake his hand. Was sort of afraid he would say something and I wouldn’t understand, and was also in no mood to be in a bunch of pictures, as I was wearing my glasses (another eye infection) and was all sweaty and acne-y. I hope he wins even more now, so I can say I helped serve lunch to the President.

New Words:

pijiado = very busy

Fri., Nov. 28

- Spent most of the day just sort of chatting with Crissy, which was really nice, and some reading. Went for a walk around the looped stret in the evening and ended up playing ‘escondelero’ with two little girls named S and E and then having S pretend-punish all of us for a while (one got the feeling that she was often on the receiving end). Saw B a few more times although she didn’t have permission to wander down to Crissy and Adam’s, and also met an older girl named E who was intrigued by my earrings (she had pierced ears from when she was younger, but Adventists generally don’t wear jewelry, as I learned, so she wasn’t used to seeing them). Earlier to bed tonight, and ended up having several dreams – one about the KKK hanging up some threatening sign outside my bedroom window, then being in a rowing shell (a single) and forgetting that Ihad to look behind me, then Luis helping me put a patch on the shell, which had somehow become inflatable. Interpretations?

Thurs., Nov. 27 Thanksgiving

- Left the house ~10am loaded down with my backpack filled with overnight stuff and the big yellow Panama bag with two pumpkin-ish “ayotes,” cashews, and “tablía” chocolate for Crissy and Adam (having since figured out they don’t drink alcohol – whoops!), and tortillas and a cheese to take to Niña Tomasa. Left my bike at Niña Maura’s house (so much better than having to walk the half hour to the “desvío”), bought some ‘saldo’ for the phone I’d borrowed from Mito, and was on the bus after a short wait. It ended up taking me about 3 hours to drop off the tortillas and cheese, what with having to take several different busses, visiting for a little while with Niña Tomasa (seemed noticeably better, is hoping to come home this weekend. Also met Carlos, who didn’t say much, and apparently the dog already died after getting hit by a motorcycle), and then the bus from the ‘centro’ to the ‘terminal de occidente’ getting stuck in standstill traffic for about an hour. I’m pretty sure I could have walked to the terminal faster, if I’d known how to get there on my own. Crissy had told me that the meal was going to be at about 2pm and I had foolishly thought I’d make it, but didn’t even get on the bus for SJO til about 2:30pm. Got in about an hour later, waited for a bit in front of the blindingly white church (the central plaza being closed for repairs/upkeep as always seemed to be the case in Chile), then Crissy and Adam arrived to take me to the school/orphanage campus. We headed straight over to the Reyes’ house, where the food was. They gave me a plate and I filled it up with glutein burgers (no turkey here!), mashed potatoes (sans gravy), stuffing, sweet corn, and some oat burgers, stuck it in the microwave for a few minutes, then sat there and ate while watching the three kids play with their Lincoln logs and Legos (some toys never go out of style). There was delicious ‘ayote’ pie and ‘ayote’ bread to finish up.

- We then headed outside and I ended up on the swings with the Reyes’ daughter, who at 7 years old doesn’t know when her birthday is or really grasp that the U.S. is made up of many states, but is fluent in English and Spanish. Also met a cute little girl named B who took a liking to me. She was a ball of energy, quite strong, and more than a little mischievous. She told me a story about chasing off some thieves (her uncle and cousin?) which could have been either true or made up, or a mix, and then didn’t want to let me go join the others in Adam and Crissy’s apartment (Crissy’s 18-year-old brother who has been there since about August and another girl named Mandy who does some accounting and complimented me on my Spanish). Adam led a short music-based worship session in the multi-purpose building (actually sweet singing as opposed to the usual half-screaming), then back to the apartment to watch “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” followed by a nice discussion on the nature of politics in general. To bed about 1am after spending a good while in the first-world-style bathroom (hot water, even!)

Wed., Nov. 26

- Short “meeting” in the afternoon where Arístides (first time I’ve seen him in a few weeks) announced that the FMLN presidential ticket would be coming through on Saturday and we’d been hosting them for lunch. So I’m sure that will be exciting – will have to come back from SJO a bit earlier than planned.

Tue., Nov. 25

- In the evening, Gilma cooked me a nice dinner and gave me a pair of jeans (a gift to Loli, but too small for her) that actually fit and looked decent, all of which helped cheer me up after a rough day. I felt like two different people within the span of about 2 hours – life is weird.

New Words:

osadía = boldness, audacity (= audacía)

Sun., Nov. 23

- Morning at a ‘turno’ at the Marta Gonzalez building in Zamorán (also the office of United Communities) with Loli and Gilma and the kids. There were some carnival-type games, a used-clothing sale where they only let people into a big cage thing for 10 minutes, some live music and a dance group, and plenty of traditional foods. Sounds like a lot, but it was actually kind of boring. It was also hotter than it’s been the last week and I couldn’t get my contacts in in the morning, so I was kind of uncomfortable and irritable. Rosi was really fixated on getting a Little Mermaid book from the clothing sale cage, and part of me felt bad for her while the other part of me wanted to just shake her and tell her to let it go. She also got mad at Gilma and me for eating some of her ‘papitas’ later on. Not a big deal, but I probably would have gotten mad too. But she’s like two different people when she’s all sweet and loving and then when she’s got an attitude or pouting about something. We left around 2pm when they still hadn’t raffled off the calf that gilma had been waiting for. Iris and kids were visiting when we got back, but I was Sunday-afternoon sleepy and not feeling very social, so I put no the fan and read some National Geographic in the rocking chair before lying down to not quite sleep. Shower and a couple of tortillas & cheese before some reading with Monica and heading to bed.

- Three weeks until home.

New Words:

to mate = aparearse, copular

tener cría, estar cargada ~ to be pregnant (animals)

Sat., Nov. 22

- Went into San Salvador to visit Niña Tomasa at Lupe’s place. Gilma made a cheese and a bunch of tortillas, so we took those in the big yellow Panama bag. I was reading my Mental_Floss magazine on the way there and at some point looked up and realized I just felt very content – nice blue sky framing the volcanoes, a good breeze coming in through the bus windows, and cheerful music that had been turned down so it no longer hurt my ears. Plus it was nice to be going with Gilma, even if she wasn’t sure where to go once we got there. Lupe had given her some directions, though, and luckily the bus driver told us where to get off to get the next bus, and we eventually got close enough that Gilma recognized where she was.

- Lupe’s place was nice – not luxurious, but she had some solid-looking furniture and there was more room to breathe than in either of the other places I’ve stayed. She has a ground-level apartment in a building that could be from the 70s, 80s, or 90s. Living room, kitchen (good size but not much counter space or storage), bathroom, and two bedrooms (one for her, one for Carlos). Also a small porch and a bit of a garden area where she had a 2-month-old lab/German shepherd puppy named Tila. She also had a little section set aside on the roof where I went to hang laundry with Gilma and Chagua (laundry which, miracle of miracles, had been washed in her washing machine!). Niña Tomasa seemed a little bit better, but not much. She was out of bed and sitting at the table when we got there, but went to go lie down (with Chagua’s help) shortly after. I lay down with her for a little while, but couldn’t really understand much that she said. I also wanted to poke around the pictures and stuff on Carlos’ shelf (a board set across two stacks of cinderblocks). At one end he had a poster of a guerrillera woman that I recognized from another poster at ‘my’ house – Susana, Chana. Lupe lifted it up to reveal another large photo underneath, saying “and this… is me.” And sure enough, there she was as a smiling, chubby-cheeked kid. Wearing a helmet decorated with leaves for camouflage and wielding a large gun. I asked how old she was there and she said about 15. I knew Lupe had fought in the war and that she’s in her early 40s now, but I’d never really done the math. I asked Niña Tomasa, who said Lupe had joined the ‘guerrilla’ when she was 12 or 13. I later confirmed that she’s now 42, which means she was born in 1966 and joined the war in 1978 or 1979. By the time the peace accords were signed in 1992, she had a young son (still trying to work out exactly how old he is) whose father had been killed, and had spent just as much time or more fighting as she had not. I think it was more or less immediately after the war that she joined the PNC (police), and then I’m not sure if that went all the way up until her getting together with a Swiss guy from the Swiss Red Cross and moving to Uruguay in 2004. That lasted til sometime in 2007, when she went to Cuba for about a year, getting back here around the end of February (if I remember correctly), and since working for the ‘alcaldía.’ I’m so curious about her and her life, and she will answer direct questions but never elaborates much. She did say, when I asked her about joining the war so young, that it wasn’t a choice so much as something that the situation demanded. But then Gilma later said that she personally hadn’t ended up joining the ‘guerrilla’ because it scared her and she would start crying, so her father kind of protected her. Her family apparently lived in Las Arañas for a while after leaving the mountains near La Quesera, and the ‘guerrilleros’ would make them go to lots of meetings. At some point they wanted to take her off to Morazán (for what, exactly?), but her father went instead, and then they moved to La Papalota to sort of get away from that. She also said Niña Tomasa hadn’t wanted Lupe to go fight, but Lupe went and liked it, so her father said to let her. So it’s tough to figure out exactly what it was like and what the choices really were.

- Lupe and Gilma and I went to the Despensa de Don Juan to do some grocery shopping before lunch. It is definitely the Christmas season there – they even had some employees dressed up as elves. It gave me the usual “almost back in America/ I want to buy lots of stuff I can’t afford/ I want to live on my own” feeling. I ended up getting a bottle of wine for Thanksgiving. It’s been a while since I’ve bought any and I never can remember the difference between cabernet sauvignon and merlot anyway, so we’ll see how it turns out.

- Back to Lupe’s for lunch, then we toyed around with the idea of spending the night before finally deciding against it (Gilma kept mentioning not wanting Monice to be upset, and neither of us had brought anything for an overnight, not to mention where we’d actually sleep). Semi-sleepy bus ride back to SM, bike back home, etc., etc., to bed.

- Am re-reading Blue Like Jazz. It’s just as good as I remembered.

New Words:

carambola = starfruit

salpora de arroz = thick hard cookie things

Thur., Nov. 20 – Fri., Nov. 21

Nothing much. Wore my hair down again….

Mon. Nov. 17 – Wed., Nov. 19

- Spent Monday and Tuesday evenings up at Ventura’s house, Monday reading through some papers that had come from the U.S. Embassy regarding their dad’s visa (not approved yet, after all). He’s been scheduled for an interview on Dec. 30, so there were all these complicated instructions (all in English) for what he needed to do to prepare and what to bring. Looks like Dora’s got some of the papers submitted already, but they still need birth certificates and court records (what court records?) and a medical exam. So I went on the not-so-user-friendly State Dept. website on Tuesday to get some information about the medical exam (including list of approved doctors) that they conveniently didn’t include in the paper packet. Also pretty much confirmed my suspicion that all o this is part of the application for an immigrant visa, no just a visitor visa. Which seems like a bit of overkill if he’s just going for a month. So I took that information by on Tuesday, and Ventura actually called Dora. She handed me the phone and of course I didn’t understand anything Dora said except for “3 months, 6 months, 10 months.” Turns out that, yes, she knows this visa is for actually immigrating – her goal is to get him a residency, which would involve him living in the U.S. for much more than a month. If they can achieve that, it would open up the path to legalization for the other siblings, I think because parents/children have higher priority (and also because Dora apparently has a different mother than the rest of them). I’m not sure how much they’ve actually discussed this, seeing as how Gilma says “Oh, I don’t understand any of that” as soon as it comes up, Ventura doesn’t seem much better, and their dad says he doesn’t even want to go (although with a good-natured twinkle in his eye). But I guess there’s no rush, seeing as how it would probably take at least ten years for him to become a citizen (and he’s already 67…). In any case, I felt reassured that Dora know what she’s doing, and that my experience getting a temporary residency here really wasn’t all that bad in comparison. I also got to cuddle with Heidi in their new double-wide hammock. On Tuesday we sang “Jingle Bells,” me forgetting some of the words and her just sort of making the sounds as she remembered them from her brief stint in a U.S. school – it was an interesting rendition.

- Gas is down to about $2.60/gallon for regular. It was about $4 when I got here and got to over $5 a few months later. Is this because of the big economic crisis?

- Brooke emailed me to say she’d been thinking, and she really doesn’t want to go traveling any more. Dammit. I was really looking forward to that, not just the traveling, but also the getting out of here for a bit. Maybe I’ll try to go visit Crissy and Adam for Thanksgiving after all…

- Went to a ‘palo encebado’ (greased pole) competition just before leaving the office with Gilma on Wednesday  (photos in Album 6). This is part of the celebrations for the 5th anniversary of the San Nicolás Mercado which have quietly been going on all week. It’s basically just a 30-40 ft. (6-in. diameter?) greased pole with a prize at the top (supposedly $100) that teams try to climb up to get. It was all good fun, and one of the teams got within a few inches of grabbing the bag, until… the pole collapsed, apparently knocking one of the guys unconscious. It looked like it was made of thin aluminum, and just sort of creased near where it was stuck in the ground. They eventually carried the guy to the back of a truck and sped off for a clinic or hospital.

- Weather’s windy and cool again (i.e. 78 F). I wore my hair down for the first time since I’ve been here. They had flurries in D.C.

Sun., Nov. 16

- Stayed up until 2am (combination of pain and just not being sleepy after my 14-hour night last night). My toe and tongue were both a bit numb when I got up around 8:30, but my stomach felt normal again and I had my energy back. Mauricio Funes and his “Caravan of Hope” were supposed to pass through San Marcos around 3pm, so I put on a red shirt (but not my FMLN t-shirt – my temporary residency letter expressly forbids any involvement in politics – ha!) in preparation for that. Most of the afternoon was fairly idyllic – some reading, some looking through old photos that Rosi brought out, almost feeling like part of the family eating lunch with everyone (including Iris & co.) around the hammock, taking turns swinging in the hammock (which made me giggle like a little girl)… Then all of a sudden Tomasita came running out of the house crying, went to go get Iris and the ladies from next door, who rushed over and commenced some rather dramatic sobbing themselves. I stayed outside, hugging the kids and wondering what was going on. Everyone was certainly acting like Niña Tomasa had died (Astrid asked if I would get the house), but while she certainly hasn’t been well recently, it didn’t seem to me that she was quite at the point of death, either. And indeed, when I finally poked my head inside she was awake and looking around. Apparently she had sort of fainted, and either Toma had thought she’d died or was just freaked out. So there were a bunch of phone calls made, then Gilma arrived home (from packaging up cashews) after a while. I finally got up the courage to go in and sit with Niña Tomasa (had planned to go in the morning but felt awkward not being real family) and ended up reading the Bible to her for a while. Then just sitting holding her hand, then a bit more Gospel of Matthew. Other people came in and out, but I got a good chunk of time to be alone with her, which was good for me, if nothing else. Lupe arrived around 6pm with a doctor friend, and they decided to take Niña Tomasa back to San Salvador, where it will be easier to keep an eye on her. I don’t know how much longer she’ll last, but I have a feeling she’s not going to recover. Am (selfishly?) hoping she doesn’t die while I’m not here, as it would be strange to come back and just have her gone.

- Listened to news of the “Caravan of Hope” on the radio – still hadn’t arrived in Usulután from La Unión by 10pm, so Gilma and I gave up going and instead sat on the step talking until bed.

Sat., Nov. 15

- Up one more time around 2am, then slept decently until 8am, for a grand total of 14 hours in bed. Felt much better when I got up but still pretty weak and listless and not quite right in the stomach, so decided not to go in to work in favor or sitting around reading Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha,” which was a nice complement to “A New Earth.” Need to learn how to meditate…

- First big excitement of the day was a ‘temblor’ in the late afternoon – I think they said it was a 5.9 on the Richter scale. I just sat there stupidly (or stood up, rather) while Chagua came running in to get Niña Tomasa out of the house. The fancy quinceañera invitation scroll thing fell off the TV, but I don’t think there were any other damages.

- Second big excitement came in the evening, after helping Gilma make some ‘pupusas de ayote.’ I was reading in the rocking chair when I noticed an ‘alacrán’ walking across the floor. I went to step on it, but not having very good aim, ended up stepping only on its body, while its tail curled up and stung me on my right big toe (thin rubber flip-flops don’t offer much protection). It hurt. A lot. But at least I had stunned it enough that it didn’t scamper off, so I stepped on it again until it was really dead. Then sat down and winced. My ankle felt a bit stiff and I could feel a slight cramping in my calf that eventually went all the way up my leg, but I knew I wasn’t going to die or anything after seeing both Gilma and Paty get stung. It’s now about an hour later and the toe’s still hurting pretty badly (and my tongue has started tingling, as they told me it would) – hopefully I’ll be able to get to sleep.  (Photo in Album 6)

Friday, Nov. 14

- Woke up not feeling right in the stomach, and might have just gone back to bed if I didn’t have some stuff to do with Carmen in SS: picked up my new temporary residence card (good until October 2009 – didn’t feel as much like partying as I thought I would in the thick of all the paperwork), took my phone to the repair center (where they did a ‘diagnóstico’ and told me to take it to the place where I’d bought it for a replacement), small lunch at Mister Donut (where I was unusually not tempted by the pastries behind the counter), some Christmas shopping at the Mercado Ex-Cuartel, then finally back to the bus where I could sort of fall asleep. Biked home from San Nicolas, sat around in a stupor for a few minutes, took a shower, ate two tortillas, and was in bed by 6pm. Up around 8pm and 10pm and made myself vomit one of those times, which helped. Back to sleep despite multiple sources of thumping music from graduation parties.

Thurs., Nov. 13

- Cat died, apparently. Niña Tomasa’s still not doing too well.

Tues., Nov. 11

- Into Zacate in the morning, where I finally got my phone back but… not fixed! The guy told me that the repair center they’d sent it to was no long in operation or something, so I’d have to take it in personally to another repair center in SS. I asked why he couldn’t have let me know about all this a bit sooner and generally tried to convey my displeasure, but I’ve never been a very good pissed-off customer. In hindsight, I wish I’d demanded a new phone right then and there, as he’d told me when I dropped it off that they would either repair it or replace it. I guess I’ll try to take it in to SS, but I’m starting to think I might just have to break down and buy a new one at some point.

- Niña Tomasa was home when I got home, saying she feels the same but looking a bit better to me. I sat and held her hand for a few minutes and she squeezed my hand back nice and strong.

- Am back to sleeping with the fan and the volcanoes are again hidden behind the haze. Think I got a little over-excited about the season change again.

- Weird little sticky biting ants.

Mon., Nov. 10

- Meeting with the San Marcos “grupo local” in the morning. They’re in the process of legalizing all the ADESCOs, so basically Don Luis talked about that and then they elected a ‘junta directive,’ with almost everyone there coming away with an office. Cecy was elected president, Loli treasurer, and Gilma “síndico,” or legal representative, even though she wasn’t sure what that was (they read the job descriptions afterwards…)   (Photos of the swearing-in the next week in Album 6)

- Niña Tomasa’s lab results show she has very low potassium levels (related to kidney problems?) and the doctor in San Marcos recommended she go to the hospital. Instead of that, Don Moncho took her to see some other doctor (a kidney specialist?) in San Salvador, and she’s staying overnight at Lupe’s. It’s strange without her here. I guess we’ll just wait and see…

Sun., Nov. 9

- Niña Tomasa’s still not doing well. Is having a hard time controlling her bladder and needs help moving around, although she’s been spending almost all of her time in bed or in the hammock. She said yesterday she was dying, so I’m not sure if that means she just feels horrible or if she really is. She’s got some exam results due tomorrow, so we’ll see what those say. I want to help but there doesn’t seem to be much I can do, especially not being family.

- Spent much of the day washing, including Stitch and some clothes that had gotten a bit funny-smelling during the rainy season. Watched Gilma kill a chicken to make soup for lunch (Astrid and Manuelito wanted to watch too, but Gilma was afraid they’d try to copy it in play. Contrast with rabbit fiasco at the Ranch), nap in hammock, down the road to cut some cane with the kid (with permission this time). Joalgar and his disabled painting kids had a spot on “Cantando por un sueño,” which also continues to feature astonishingly bad clothes on the contestants.

Sat., Nov. 8

- Into the office, where I was going to finish updating my blog (let it go for over a month there – whoops!), but Carmen had come in and was unusually conscious of the fact that I was there, so I ended up doing more invoicing and then trying to hunt down/add up various sales sheets.

- Gilma bought a giftbag and bow for the blanket and children’s perfume for Maritza’s baby (Daniel Isaac) and we dropped them off on the way home, but she wasn’t at the ‘comedor.’

Fri., Nov. 7

- Up nice and early, ready to go in less than the 1 ½ that has turned into my morning time requirement, then off to drop Hector at school and go to the Migration office. Carmen stopped to get gas on the way but drove off from the first station because she thought the guy there was rude, which made her remind me of Heather that much more. At Migration, got to pay $80 and will have to go back next week to pick up the new ID card. But they didn’t say there had been any problems with the paperwork, so I’m hoping that will go smoothly. Then to the lawyers office to pick up a receipt for BVS reimbursement, to Aristides’ house to pick up a document for me to take to the office, and to the bus station. I stopped in Zacate on the way back to go to the phone office in person (it should be in on Monday) and look for canned pumpkin at the grocery store for a possible Thanksgiving visit with Adam and Crissy (no success there). Then squeezed on another bus back to SN, where I went to lunch and filled out a few ‘facturas’ before heading home.

- Another ‘vela’ in the evening, this one in La Caseta.

Thursday, Nov. 6

- Called the customer service number to see what’s going on with my phone, as it’s now been 4 weeks since Loli and I took it in to Zacate. Got lots of rings, then finally an operator who transferred me to another number that rang some more before disconnecting. So I guess crappy customer service is an international phenomenon.

- Then called the Migration office, where they told me my stuff had been reviewed, gave me a code, and told me to come into window #4. So that was a pleasant surprise. Started making plans with Carmen to meet at the bus terminal tomorrow morning, then she just suggested I come into SS with her in the afternoon and stay overnight at her house. That sounded better to me than getting up early and dealing with unreliable cell phones to meet up. So she drove me to my house in the afternoon, I threw a few things in my backpack, and off we went. Of course, I still want to ask her what the hell is going on with the stores, but it wasn’t a very appropriate time or place (and I’m also pretty sure she doesn’t know), so we found other things to talk about. First stop in the city was to pick up her son Hector (and his friend Carlos, who looked more like her) from his private Christian school “Nuevo Pacto.” Then to a small “librería” to buy some supplies for the two of them to make a poster about Salvadoran culture. So Carmen covered the piece of poster-foam with blue paper and then the boys did the “real” work of cutting up a poster she had bought of El Salvador’s Patrimonio Cultural and gluing the pictures on. Apparently they got a 10. Then Carmen and I took her daughter Jacqueline to a nearby playground/park, where I had a nice conversation with a woman who was happy about Obama. Pupusas for dinner, then I ended up sleeping in a spare room at Carmen’s sister’s place right across the ‘pasaje.’

Wed., Nov. 5

- Said a little prayer on my morning visit to the outhouse, and sure enough, a few minutes later I heard on the radio that Obama had won. It doesn’t even appear that any recounts will be necessary. So I spent all morning on Google News (variations on the theme “Obama won, almost everyone happy about it”), talking to Sarah Bruckler about how happy we both are, and waiting for his acceptance speech to download (I only ever got about 1/3 of the way through it). Maybe it’s just the ‘liberal media,’ but it was striking how much worldwide support there seems to be for him. Not that anyone in the office was all that pumped up, since their either don’t know/care about the differences between the candidates (“they’re both centrist anyway”) or if they do, weren’t especially susprised by the results, as the polls had shown Obama leading for a while. There was also quite a bit of attention given to him being the first black president, which really is pretty amazing. I’m quite happy even as a white person – I can’t imagine what it must feel like for a person of color to see someone who looks more like them be elected to one of the most powerful positions in the world. Amid all the excitement and hope, however, there were also calls for caution, which is something I feel, too. There seems to be a common sentiment that things are really going to change now, and while that might certainly be true (especially with Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, too), it’s not like things are going to 180. In the Latin American context, at least, it’s not like Obama’s going to open up the border and legalize all the immigrants, although it may be true that the FMLN has a better chance of winning with him in office. Nor if Africa going to suddenly turn into a land of peace and prosperity just because there’s a black man in office. But at least it seems like the U.S. has redeemed itself a bit in the world’s eyes, like maybe they’ll be willing to give us another chance now. I feel strangely patriotic.

- Niña Tomasa threw up a bit in the evening – hope she’s okay.

Tue., Nov. 4

- To CR with Carmen to deliver products and collect money, sort of like in the good ole days.

- Back to SN, where I checked Google News every 5 mins. to see if there were any exit polls or projections of anything. Nada. Just that people were voting and there were long lines. So it was a pretty anti-climactic election day, seeing as how I voted over a month ago. Then before I went to bed I heard that Obama only had 44%in VA and under 50% in another swing state (FL?) and thought “Oh shit, not again…”

- Nine months

Mon., Nov. 3

Elections tomorrow. Apparently Barack Obama’s grandma, who played a bit part in raising him, died last night. What timing. The polls show him fairly well ahead, so I’m hoping for no surprises.

Sun., Nov. 2

- Spent a good chunk of today in the cemetery for “Dia de los Difuntos/Finados/Muertos,” which was actually a pretty happy day. Families all get together (Berta and Enrique came) to paint and “enflorecer” the graves of loved ones. I went with Gilma’s family. She and I wandered over to where the padre was holding a mass while Mario cleaned up their mother’s grave and one of a daughter who had died before turning two (dead children face “la claridad” in the east and adults “la oscuridad” in the west, and the cross goes at their feet). I wandered down to the river at some point, then ended up going two more times with Astrid and Heidi (and Oscar and Fabi). Will have to go back for a swim. Then just sort of hung out for a while visiting and observing. We were there from about 10:30am – 2:30pm.

- Then to Río Roldán to tell my “encuestadores” there about the “asamblea” tomorrow and to take some more too-late photos. I walked into some barbed-wire clothesline at one point and got a little bloody spot between my eyes. Very graceful, as always. Then went to check out the old rail bridge with Herbert, where we ended up staying until the sun went down. I’ve been wanting to see both the cemetery and that bridge for a while now, so it was a good day of exploring.

- The rainy season has ended just as suddenly as it began. Not only have the rains stopped, but the temperatures have dropped (all of a sudden I can sleep without the fan), the air has gotten dry (all of a sudden I’m using chapstick and the laundry dries in a few hours), there’s a nice breeze, and the stars and volcanoes seem to have re-appeared after hiding behind low-hanging clouds for the last 6 months. The river has already dropped noticeably, I no longer have to step around and through puddles in the yard, and if the road to El Carmen isn’t passable yet, I imagine it will be in just a few days. It’s glorious. The mosquitoes, however, are still very much alive and well…

Sat., Nov. 1

- Went to a “vela” (wake/vigil) in the evening in La Papalota, not because we knew the person who had died but because Pilar had called to say that she and Israel would be there. Gilma got pretty dressed up. I wore my jeans for I think the third time since I’ve been here – they do seem to have gotten a bit tight. A few people had on thick sweaters an Pilar was wearing a knit hat. It was probably 70 F. Gilma visited and flirted and I got sleepy and we left around 10pm.

- They painted lines on the road (and put in reflectors, many of which have been pulled up by mischievous children) about a month ago, but there are still no streetlamps, which is all the better for seeing the stars.

Fri., Oct. 31

My first Halloween outside the U.S. People know it’s “Día del Brujo” but no one around here seems to celebrate it. I asked if I could try to carve a small watermelon that I’d seen on the table in the morning, but it had disappeared in the evening and I didn’t really feel like pushing it.

Thursday, Oct. 30

Someone had the office camera, so Don Luis and Don Carlos came to see if they could use mine on a trip to Isla Montecristo, and said I could come along. It ended up being a wonderful day – gorgeous ride along the other side of the river (I feel a bit guilty, but I think it’s prettier on that side), where there were only a few muddy parts in the dirt road south of San Carlos, then in a “lancha” (boat) from La Pita to Montecristo. That in itself was lovely, as it’s been quite some time since I’ve been on the water. Once on Montecristo we visited the sea turtle hatchery and got to release the ones that had hatched the night before, which was pretty neat. I couldn’t help but think how idyllic it all seemed, being so off the beaten path with the sound of the waves crashing on the beach and the soft breeze. Although I’m sure it would not be so great out there in the rain of heat or emergency. After the sea turtle project visit, we got back in the ‘lancha’ and headed to the community proper, where Don Carlos settled some bills for the sale of sea turtle eggs and Don Luis talked to some guy about legalizing the ADESCO. Then back in the “lancha,” through a small canal that had been just sand a few hours before at low tide, and back to La Pita on the mainland. Soda and sweet bread, then another nice ride (~45 min.) back to San Nicolas, while I thought how random and lucky a day it was.

Tue., Oct. 28

- My fairy godmother finally wrote me again, saying she hadn’t because I love Monica more and Monica is a devil. Ohhhhh boy.

- There’s a new moon and no clouds, so the stars are gorgeous. It stayed relatively cool all day, apparently because of some cold front that produced winds strong enough to knock over a bunch of trees in San Salvador (the “winds of October”). I’m loving it.

- Paty and I actually had a conversation for almost half an hour. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time that’s happened.

Fri., Oct. 24

- Into SN to upload pictures from yesterday, then to El Carmen with Robyn to take more pictures. That turned out to be quite the adventure, of course, what with it being really hot, Leo not driving all the way there so we had to walk a ways (about half an hour?) in the very-muddy road (part of that barefoot for me, as the flip-flops were more trouble than they were worth), me being pretty sure I was going to slip and fall on my camera. There was even a quick trip down the river (back in the flip-flops by that point) on a path that reminded me of the one on the volcano in Nicaragua. All of which made me realize that maybe I’m not as much of an outdoors person as I like to think, as I spent a good chunk of time worried that I wasn’t going fast enough or about falling and getting muddy. To be fair to myself, though, I hadn’t known in the morning that I was going to be tromping around in the muck, in which case I usually wouldn’t have my nice camera and wear flip-flops.

- Jenny (Robyn’s Art Corps friend) decided to head out when we got back to San Marcos. She has a one-way ticket to India in January, not really sure how long she’s going to stay. The wandered/adventure-seeker part of me wants to be just like her (she’s also worked as a whitewater rafting guide, which I once daydreamed about), but I’ve got to admit that the part of me that just wants a stable job and my own apartment has been getting stronger and stronger. Still, she was just fun to be around and I wish we’d gotten to hang out more.

- Wasn’t feeling all that great when we got back to SN, possibly from not drinking enough water in all that heat. Spent the whole weekend sleeping and taking Tylenol and Immodium and even one of my prescription migraine pills. Tomasa seems to think my showering in the evening is to blame…

Thurs., Oct. 23

- Ended up waiting at the house until 1pm after some communication mix-ups, then went to Los Cálix to take pictures for the Patrimonio Cultural catalog, which I enjoyed – David did all the talking and list-handling and I just took the pictures.

Wed., Oct. 22

- My “fairy godmother” seems to have lost interest. Not sure how much longer we would have been able to keep that up anyway

Sun., Oct. 19 – Tue., Oct. 21

- Have spent Monday and Tuesday typing up ‘fichas’ (questionnaires) for the Patrimonio Cultural project. The goal was to be completely finished with them by Tuesday, but of course we got backed up and behind. So I actually brought my computer home on Monday and stayed in San Nicolas until 7:30pm (having gotten there at 8am for the first time in a while) on Tuesday and am still not quite finished. But I guess a few days of hard work isn’t so bad, considering that I often have barely enough to keep my occupied. And the ‘fichas’ are actually quite interesting in between the hard-to-read handwriting and creative spelling. And there was one ‘ficha’ in particular about the group of survivors of the massacre at La Quesera (copied from a professionally-written article of some sort, it seemed) that finally moved me almost to tears, the way normal people react to war stories. It talked about one man in particular named Salvador who lost his wife and several children. His 9-year-old daughter was one of the children rounded up onto a government helicopter and then dropped into the Rio Lempa. Except she didn’t fall into the river, but into a tree, where he found her body some time later, recognizable by a string on her finger. He found his wife’s body tied to a tree, where she’d been forced to watch as soldiers raped another daughter. He buried his family in a cornfield and made a small cross out of sticks and wire, then didn’t talk about it again for 20 years. I can barely imagine living through something like that, never mind living with afterwards. Eckhart Tolle (author whose book I’m currently reading) says it pretty well when he talks about our collective human insanity – I just don’t understand how people can do such horrible things to other people. Yet it’s happened time and time again throughout history. Yet we also have such a capacity for love and compassion – what a weird species.

Sat., Oct. 18

- Had a nice talk with Robyn yesterday. Apparently she’s also having some “What am I doing here? Am I any good at what I do?” feelings. So at least I’m not the only one, and it was nice to have someone to talk to who understands. She still at least seems like she knows what she’s doing a whole lot more than me, however, working so closely with Tania on the Patrimonio Cultural project and the whole youth program.

Mon., Oct 13 – Wed. Oct. 15

- Made an appointment with the WM Career Center for Dec. 18 and took a little online career-finder quiz/ profile. So I’m feeling like the quarter-life crisis is a little more under control.

- I met Maritza’s new baby on Monday. Apparently she had him on Thursday and he doesn’t have a name yet. He cried when I held him on Monday but was asleep when I held him on Tuesday. She didn’t say anything about me being hid godmother, so I’ll just keep assuming she wasn’t really serious. Unless she actually does say something, in which case I’ll have to gently refuse. Guess it’s time to finish up that blanket…

- Two months til home.

Three new photo albums

see links to “Isla Montecristo,” “Dia de los Difuntos,” and “Patrimonio Cultural” to the right

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