Saturday, February 27, 2010

Alejandría & lessons learned

Saturday, 2-27-10

It’s been a long day. Around 10am today Kathy, Cecilia, and I left the Casa for the walk to Alejandría, where Cecilia lives. The walk is about 35 minutes downhill. It was a skinny little trail surrounded most of the time by coffee plants and trees. The walk there wasn’t bad since it was downhill, but I knew the walk back would be hard. I tried to concentrate on the present. When we arrived in Alejandría we stopped off at Blanca’s parent’s house. Blanca’s mom and sister were there. We chatted for a while and then went to Cecilia’s house.

Cecilia (34) lives with her mother, Rosa, sister Idalia (32), brother Alejandro (25), sister Paty (22), brother Javier (21), brother Mauricio (19), son Elmer (14), and son Marvin (10). Her mother looks pretty young; we’re guessing she’s in her fifties. Alejandro goes to technical school in Usulután to learn about cars and mechanics. Paty works in San Salvador during the week as a nanny/housekeeper. Mauricio is finishing up high school in Berlín down the street from the Casa. Elmer is in 8th grade and Marvin is in 3rd grade, both at the boy’s school I teach at in Berlín.

Lesson learned: If you think 4 or 5 people living together is hard, think about 9 people from 3 generations. Stop thinking about the nuisances of relatives visiting you. Be grateful for the time you have with them.

The family has three dogs, several chickens, and a bird named Lila, who is a blue-crowned conure (native to El Salvador). I played with the dogs and talked to the bird. The dogs were pretty cute and liked having their bellies rubbed. I was speaking “conure” to the bird and I think she understood me because she was squawking. She was a little crazy though; she kept sharpening her beak on some wood.

We chatted for a while with everyone and then went to see Jesús’s mom, Lola, at her house down the road. She had some beautiful flowers growing by her house that Cecilia told us were golondrina. In English I think they’re either wild plantains or lobster claw (Heliconia wagneriana). We went inside to talk with her a while. She’s one of the cutest little old ladies ever, and she’s very sweet. Lola has a little dog named Foca who I think is adorable. However, she doesn’t like to eat so she’s pretty skinny. After chatting a while we took off for Cecilia’s house.

All the family was at Cecilia’s house, except for Idalia, who was at the Pastoral House, and Javier. Kathy helped Mauricio with a homework assignment for his English class. He had to read aloud the lyrics of a song in English. Kathy had given him Norah Jone’s song "Lonestar" to recite. It was helpful to see how Kathy helped him with pronunciation of the lyrics since that’s something I work with when I’m teaching English at school.

Rosa, Cecilia, and Paty were making tortillas in the kitchen area so I went in to see if I could try my hand at making some. I had attempted to make tortillas once before in Mexico but they didn’t turn out very well. This time I had teachers Cecilia and Paty to help me out. I made a pupusa and three tortillas. They turned out pretty well. They’re not too hard to make but I can’t imagine making them every day like many people here do. That’s a ton of work. And tortillas don’t sell for much.

After we finished making the tortillas we sat down to lunch. Actually, Kathy and I were offered seats at the small table in the kitchen and they served us two pupusas each with some salsa. They also gave us some avocado and one fish each. We both ate two pupusas and the avocado but were too full to eat the fish. Then Rosa gave us both a fresh mango drink that she made. It was the best mango juice I’d ever had. She sliced the small green mangos very thinly and put them in water. She added a little sugar and stirred it up. Delicious!!

Lesson learned: Don’t complain if it takes too long to make food at home or if the server loses your order at a restaurant. You could be eating tortillas and beans every single day. Thank God for the food you have. At least you have food on the table. You probably know where your next meal is coming from too.

There’s not a whole lot to do out in the country when there’s no work to be done. We all relaxed after lunch. Kathy and I laid in the hammocks for a while. Then we took a walk down to a "road" to see the new retaining wall they’d built. It was built to prevent the road from being washed away as a result of erosion. There we saw a water source that Cecilia told us was fairly clean (different standards of "clean" here). We also saw tons of little tadpoles in the water. I’ve never seen so many at once.

We briefly returned to the house before we walked back to Berlín. Before we left Kathy and I used the bathroom at the house. Here is the conversation about our bathroom experience-

Alisha: Do they have toilet paper?
Kathy: They have newspaper.
Alisha: That works.

Lesson learned: Be grateful for the bathroom, toilet, and toilet paper you have. Stop whining if the bathroom is "dirty" or the toilet paper isn’t "soft". Not only are there worse things in life, there are worse bathrooms.

**Note: I use the terms kitchen" and "bathroom" pretty loosely here. They are not what people in the US would think of when talking about rooms in a house. I also use the term "house" loosely. The "house" is made up of several small structures where the family lives.

As we started back toward the house we came upon the "river". I put the word in parentheses because it’s not an actual river, that’s just what they call it. It is a little bit of water that comes out the side of the hill. It funnels down to a large pila where people get their drinking water, wash clothes, and wash themselves. On the way down to Cecilia’s house I saw a man soaping up near the river. I didn’t want to look too close just in case. I later asked Kathy if he was wearing clothes. She told me she thought she saw skivvies out of the corner of her eyes.

Cecilia had walked to the river with us to fill up a large cántaro (huge jug) to take water home with her. Having never carried water on my head before I decided it was good time to try it out. Cecilia filled up the cántaro with water and set it on a large rock. First she let me try to lift it. It was very heavy. Then she helped me get it onto my head. Now, I want to preface this next part by saying that I take pride in being in good shape. I have great balance thanks to dance and yoga. I do pilates, swim, play racquetball, lift weights, kayak, backpack, bike, etc. I love it all.

Now let me tell you about the cántaro on my head experience: Words cannot describe how incredibly challenging it was standing in one spot with the cántaro on my head. I could barely stand up holding onto both handles of the cántaro without falling over. You could see my arms and body swaying. I could maybe have taken two steps before dropping the cántaro and possibly breaking my neck in the process. The typical method of transporting water from a source to your house is to fill up a large cántaro, put it on your head, then walk a long distance over rocky terrain. You then use this water to drink, cook, wash dishes, wash clothes, and more. By the way, the water came from a hole in the hill and may contain bacteria and parasites.

Lesson learned: Be grateful for the water in your house that runs whenever you want. Be grateful for the water in your toilet, bathroom sink, shower, washing machine, and kitchen. The water you use to brush your teeth, cook your food, wash your clothes, water your plants, and wash yourself with is clean, parasite free, and easily accessible.

The walk back to the Casa from the river was a killer. It was pretty much uphill the whole way. And not an easy uphill trek like on a smooth, gradually ascending hill. This was a beast of a hike. The sun was beating down on us from what seemed like all directions as we walked over dirt and rocks. We stopped often to catch our breath. Of course, it’s the dry season so as soon you open your mouth to get more air it fills up with dust. On the hand, I couldn’t imagine walking it in the rainy season. Heat + rain + mud + steep ascent = misery. As Kathy and I made it back to the road that was about a ½ mile from the house, we were exhausted, sweaty, and parched. Cecilia, on the other hand, had not broken a sweat. This is the way she walks to and from the house. This is the way her sons, Marvin and Elmer, walk to and from school five days a week.

Lesson learned: Stop complaining when you can’t find a closer parking space. Stop whining when you have to wait in a long line. Don’t grumble about getting caught in rush hour traffic. Don’t moan about walking in malls, grocery stores, or anywhere else.

Kathy and I were drained of energy as we walked back into the house. We were tired, sweaty, dirty, and probably a little smelly too. We chatted briefly with Blanca and Idalia then went to clean up. No running water today so I took a pila shower (buckets of cold water). The whole time I was thinking how grateful I was to have water to clean up with. The water was clean and I didn’t have to haul it from a river. I had shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. I was standing on a clean tiled floor. I had a nice towel to dry off with.

Lesson learned: Thank your lucky stars for a non-dirt floor bathroom, bathtub, shower, running water, warm running water. You are blessed with luxuries other people will never have.

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.” Psalm 30:11-12

We begin walking down the road

Let the descent begin

Hello up there

Jogging down the hill

Disappearing amongst the coffee plants

I never knew bamboo grew in El Salvador

Little place in Alejandría where the Celebration of the Word is sometimes held

With Blanca's mom

Holding a puppy at Cecilia's house

Lila, the conure


Playing with Foca

I had to hold the dog

With Jesús’s mom, Lola

Teacher Kathy with her pupils

Marvin peeking out from behind the hammock

Pupusas & tortillas (you can't even tell which ones are mine because they're so good!)

Showing off my artwork

Wet bird: Lila took a bath

Marvin is such a cutie

Resting in the hammock

Cecilia's neighbor's house

The retaining wall

Sitting on the wall

Checking out the water source

All those little black things are tadpoles

Inspecting the tadpoles

Kicking the soccer ball back up the hill

Rosa doing dishes

Several cántaros at the house

The bathroom

A horse at the "river"

Where the water comes from

I can pick up the jug

Quick! Take the picture!

Congregating around the pila

Really dirty feet

We made it!


Anonymous said...

I LOVE your lessons learned. Thanks Alisha. It has been a joy (most of the time haha) to have you here. You are teaching ME a lot.
Love you
mama k

Matt said...

These are great lessons. I'm glad you are learning so much about life in addition to El Salvador.

Mark M said...

Nothing like perspective to humble and educate... wonderful blog... thanks for sharing... Mark

*erynia* said...

I am really far behind in reading your blogs - but had to take the time to say how poignant this one is! We really, really take for granted everything we have. I remember that hitting me hard in El Sal... especially how grateful everyone *there* is for the simple things they have. Such gracious hearts!


gringainelsalvador said...

Hi Alisha, just read this post and can identify with the "cantaro" experience. I tried to carry one 3/4 full up a rocky hill recently - nearly fell, was 1/2 full by the time I got up top. Salvadoran women are strong.

Great lessons learned. So many pp back home have no idea their normal life is really "luxury"!!

If everyone lived in a 3rd world country for one year of their life... I wonder how many things would change.