Dunlaps in San Salvador

Online journal of the Dunlaps' adventures in San Salvador.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Salvadoran Military

Luis has just returned from a Model UN trip to Egypt. He had talked about writing a blog about that experience, but was instead inspired to write a polittcal history of the Salvadoran military. His point of view is quite interesting. Here is Luis:

As I walk down the streets of my hometown, I can’t help but feel like something is missing. Is it the lack of safety? Maybe. Is it the constant economical change? Maybe. Is it the constant political activity? It could be. All in all, what can a seventeen-year-old boy do to cope with the situation? I don’t know - I’m just a kid. But as a citizen of this wonderful country, I feel the need to demystify the Salvadoran military, and how we arrived at where we are today.

The Salvadoran Armed Forces were instituted back in 1821 when El Salvador had finally achieved its independence from Spain. This institution was created with three goals in mind: 1) defending the Integrity of El Salvador, 2) defending its citizens, and 3) preserving its national institutions. The founding the institution can be attributed to General Manuel Jose Arce, who became quite a figure in Salvadoran History. However, in its beginnings, the Salvadoran military was antiquated, using old, if not outdated, weapons and tactics. This did not seem to matter to the Salvadoran government, as it seemed as if technology did not matter in Central American warfare. As time passed, Mexico and Guatemala got the idea that they could unite Central America into one whole state, again. This had already happened back in 1829 with the Federal Republic of Central America, and it had ended in catastrophe. El Salvador, the only country in Central America to go against this thought, knew that this union would not end up well. El Salvador ended up fighting against two bigger countries. Guatemala and Mexico attacked El Salvador, but EL Salvador managed to put a halt on the combined forces, even though the Salvadoran Army was smaller than that of Mexico and Guatemala. The Mexicans were stopped in a little town which now is called "Mejicanos."

As time passed, the Salvadoran Military remained the same. No real advancement occurred until the turn of the century. With the 1900's at hand, a new age was coming to the Salvadoran Army. As every country in the world began arms racing, El Salvador had to continue this trend. It began to buy Czech rifles, in big quantities, and began bringing military advisors from Europe. The military had been finally "modernized." However, as the 1930’s approached, the Great Depression that had hit the United States and Europe so hard was finally reaching El Salvador. Coffee prices fell so hard internationally that the national economy was devastated. Indeed, the country was in need of a "strong" leader. Therefore, el general Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez became the next "president" of El Salvador. Most commonly known as "General Martinez,” he was a strong advocate for the military. He brought discipline to the army, but his methods of ruling were quiet questionable.

During the 30's, there was this trend to put up dictatorships. El Salvador, following the status quo, put up a "dictatorship.” Due to the fall of coffee prices, thousands of peasants, mostly Indian, marched for better wages. The main mastermind of the march was the communist leader Farabundo Marti. The Salvadoran Government knew this and acted following the status quo of the time. The march was stopped, but thousands of Indians died.

Ironically, when the United States declared war on Germany, so did El Salvador. Thus, El Salvador ratified its power as a Central American nation. During this time, the United States feared a Nazi invasion, and offered to send down some Marines in order to help secure the area. Most Central American countries were glad to get this help. However, El Salvador denied the entry of such troops. El General Martinez believed that by letting foreign troops into the country, he would be not only insulting the armed forces of El Salvador, but letting foreign influence into the country. Furthermore, El Salvador was present in the European Theatre with troops to Europe, even if it was only about two hundred.

When the 1950's and 60's came, thousands of Salvadorans moved to Honduras looking for jobs. In effect they found jobs, but these were not free. They came at a cost. The cost was war. When the many Hondurans realized that their jobs were being taken by Salvadorans, they reacted violently. The Salvadoran government acted against this threat, and in 1969, after a soccer match between El Salvador and Honduras (which El Salvador won giving the name "la guerra del futbol" to the war), El Salvador declared war on Honduras. The War of 100 hours, or "la guerra de las cien horas," had begun. El Salvador’s military penetrated deep inside Honduran territory, causing heavy casualties on the Honduran side. El Salvador was ready to declare this a military victory, when the OEA (Organization of American States) interfered and forced peace down the throats of both El Salvador and Honduras. In the end, El Salvador achieved a military victory, but it had achieved a political loss as it had lost much territory to Honduras as compensation to them. In effect, the Salvadoran Armed forces have demonstrated throughout the years that the number of guns does not matter. It is the spirit and strength of the soldiers that matter. I can’t help but feel proud of my country for most of its achievements.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Blue-White Passion

I let two students write about soccer for the blog. I'm sure there could have been more. But I could not deny Jose the opportunity to write about his favorite sport - he is such a big fan. Here's his play-by-play:

Salvadorians have a left/right political barrier, and that is the main problem right now in our country. But there is one thing that unites us. It's what people follow, feel, and live no matter what is happening. When the match day is announced, people started making plans around it. People don't rest until tickets are sold out. This sport is like the "main religion." It's our "same language" and it's our "beloved obsession." I'm talking about soccer. Soccer is like a seesaw. Sometimes, the national team plays really well and everyone just can't stop talking about that. But there are some times that the team plays badly and it becomes a non-desirable. Win or lose, the whole country follows the adored "Selecta."

To our fortune, and the players too, the Salvadoran team is doing quite well now. There's this blue-white euphoria because we are prevailing against the most competitive adversaries. El Salvador has a respected soccer reputation because we have qualified for two FIFA World Cups. But the catch is that we haven't had a decent team for almost ten years. That's too much time for us - the unconditional fans whose world revolves around soccer.

In the past year or so, we were playing badly. We were underrated in the FIFA rating and had to play two different matches before entering the group stage. The teams that often play these matches are the lesser teams like Anguilla or the Virgin Islands and other small islands in the Caribbean. We, as fans, were furious at the decision made by FIFA. We were worried because at the end of the first match, we would have to play a stronger team, like Panama. Salvadorians started to get worried because Panama knocked us out from the first group stage last time.

The road started when we were paired up in a game versus Anguilla. Nobody knew who that team was or any famous player, or, in other words, any good player from Anguilla. Just days later, the newspapers started doing their job. The whole country was now aware that Anguilla didn't even have a FIFA approved stadium! Imagine that! The newspaper articles asked "what do you think the score of the game will be?" The predictions made were between 4 to 6 goals to 0. One of the people interviewed said 12-0! That would surely be some triumph!

All these speculations continued until the match day finally came. The whole stadium roared. 45 thousand blue-white fans were singing the same anthem, dreaming the impossible, living the same passion: a victory to soothe doubts and critics. The starting whistle was blown and the ball rolled and there was no Salvadorian who wasn't watching the game. We started with a 2-0 in the first 15 minutes. It looked like an easy game. Before the end of the first half, we were already 4-0.

Who would doubt a Salvadoran victory? Anguilla has no professional soccer players. Most of them are firemen, policeman and electricians. The whole stadium was about to explode and it was worse when our home team went in the pitch again. What we didn't know was that the party hadn't even begun. The goals came, one after another, after another, until we reached the final whistle with a fantastic score of 12-0 - just as the fan predicted! Everyone was in a state of something between goose bumps, exaltation, and joy. It is just something you must feel our passion to live, that Blue-White passion that unites us.

A Korean in El Salvador

I asked Sang Uk (known around school as Saggy) to write about what it was like to be a Korean in El Salvador. Saggy has traveled extensively and has a global view of his future in this world. Here is his perspective.

El Salvador is a small country that is nestled in Central America. Civil strife ravaged the country only a small number of years ago. Its political state is constantly landlocked in an indirect battle between left wing and right wing supporters. However, these small setbacks are not preventing the country from quickly raising its once damaged economy.

The above summarized historical definition also applies similarly to another country. All one needs to do is to replace the world ‘El Salvador’ with ‘Korean Peninsula’. Korea shares some historical pains with El Salvador. Korea also takes pride in its rising economy. Korea is as much the small jewel of East Asia as El Salvador is the pearl of Central America. I am a Korean.

Unfortunately, Koreans in El Salvador do not generally fit in. Due to our history, we’re fiercely independent and it doesn't help that Salvadorians are independent, too. El Salvador has a large gap between the upper class and the lower class. Most Korean families set up large factories for cheap quantitative production of materials and, as such, appeal to the lower class, while making enough cash to be considered upper class. This ‘breach’ alienates Koreans in a way comparable to bats. We don't really belong on land, but are not totally comfortable in the air either.

That’s not to say that Koreans totally exclude themselves from Salvadorian life. Spanish is learned rapidly by Koreans in order to communicate with the indigenous people. Communication, however, is limited to necessary talking. Styles of humor and topics of interest are much different between the two peoples. As such, Koreans tend to hang around one another rather than socialize around with Salvadorians.

The world we live in is not a flat one. We live in a spherical world where every inch of the globe is different from any other. It is hardly surprising that Korea, which is thousands of miles away from El Salvador, should have different customs. Koreans in El Salvador, unable to fit in properly, have set up independent churches, restaurants and schools here. I myself have many Salvadorian friends, and I've learned to properly communicate with them. I've lived in El Salvador for two years and have grown accustomed to the Salvadoran cultural heritage. However, I still marvel at how different I act when I’m around Koreans than when I’m around Salvadorians.

What Coffee Means to Me

Andres is one of the deep thinkers in my class. He is also trying to teach me to get his jokes. I am far too literal - but I'm working on it! Andres tries to explain the difference between what the every day meaning of "coffee" and "coffee" here in El Salvador.

Coffee was much more than just a product; it was known to influence our economy in previous years. The two-syllable, six lettered word began to be grown in the beginning of the 19th century. It started to contribute to the economy and immerge as a main export at the beginning of the 20th century. This manufactured good shaped and augmented our economy. It also acted as a catalyst in El Salvador’s exponential growth in the economy during the 1940’s.

Although the economy benefited immensely from this staple crop, coffee’s decline in value, and the monopolization of this crop from a number of companies, affected El Salvador negatively. It radically changed the country’s dependence on coffee as a main source of income, and left numerous “cafetaleros” (coffee plantations owners) unemployed. As a result, the country opted for other sources of profit, in attempt to reshape the country’s economy.

Now that you are “experts” on this topic, I would like to tell you what coffee means to me as a Salvadorian. When I say coffee, much more comes to mind than the delectable hot cappuccinos or cold frappes known to the majority of us. Coffee is much more than just a number or a date in our history. It is much more than a source of income or profit to a variety of people. Coffee is something that has carved our history.

Coffee is everywhere these days. The problem is that when the majority of people hear the word coffee, the universal meaning comes to mind, whether it is a pleasant moment of relaxation or an energy drink. But when I hear this word, I think about how much coffee has helped shaped our country. It has helped us craft our identity into what this country is today. And although I struggle to see beyond superficial meanings, I believe you can also understand coffee’s importance in El Salvador. So wake up people; it’s time to ponder!

Dancing in El Salvador

The junior class recently completed an amazing dance production, a long standing EA tradition. Front and center and loving every minute of the performance was my student, Alex. She is not exaggerating; she is always dancing. Here's Alex.

Once again, I'm late. The show starts in half an hour and Nené de Roeder asked us to be dressed and ready in the camerinos an hour before the performance starts. The line for the entrance looks a mile and a half long, and most of the faces I see are familiar. When you live in a country so small, there is not a day that you don't run into someone you know.

I rush in after a quick kiss on the cheek from my mom and a 'Suerte, ¡baila bonito mona!' (Never in her life has my mother called me the traditional word for girl, 'cipota,' opting instead to refer to me as 'female monkey.') Dashing into the first backstage room, I discover that it's the younger girl's changing room; ours is the other one. I power walk to the Senior's/Junior's room to drop off my things before sneaking a peak into the theatre from the stage. People have not even started to come in. In unadulterated Salvadoran tradition, five o'clock means six o'clock, or maybe even six thirty. God, I love this country.

I hear familiar voices saying 'Niña, you were supposed to be here forty minutes ago!' With quick pecks on the cheek and sincere hugs, I greet my friends from Jazzing. Some of the girls have been dancing for around fourteen years; others have just been there for a couple of months, mostly transfers from other dance studios. I have been dancing on and off for around eleven years. By on and off I mean attending classes; everyone knows I cannot spend more than fifteen minutes without at least getting up on my toes. Ironically, I don't even dance pointe.


After this announcement we all go to pseudo stretch. Eight grand pliés á la seconde will have to do, for the butterflies in our stomachs and adrenaline pulsing in our veins allow us no more. After the quick sweat, we fix our makeup, at least the punctual ones do; my kindred spirits and I begin applying concealer, foundation, blush, bronzer, mascara, eyeliner, so on and so forth.


The mellow male murmur announces the show is starting in around five minutes. A couple of us rush out to the crowded stage to practice the choreographies, counting out loud as to not forget a single step. Chainé derecha, chainé izquierda, dos, tres, cuatro, step, step, open, close, siete y ocho. Paso, paso, up, down, cinco, seis, siete, y ocho. Pasé, stag leap, cinco y seis, out, and in. The euphoria is palpable.

ESTA ES LA TERCERA LLAMADA. COMENZAMOS. ('This is the third and final call. We begin.')

Twice every year, Jazzing Dance Studio holds a show in Teatro Presidente, which is located next to Museo de Arte MARTE. Vivrajazz Studio, Escuela Nacional de Ballet
Morena Celarie, Fundación de Ballet El Salvador and other dance troupes also leave their sweat and hard work in Teatro Presidente's stage. Besides the ballet folklórico, as it is called, there are many genres of dance regularly practiced in this little lost country in Central America. Traditional ballet is taking secondary stage as the hip hop and 'street' music take over the scene. The most renowned of these schools is Fusión, owned by Billy Grimaldi. Fusión teaches street jazz, a hybrid of styles as the name suggests.

Another type of dance studio in El Salvador is the jazz-focused ones. The two main are Jazzing Dance Studio and Vivrajazz Studio. Their main show is jazz, but they teach ballet, pointe, and tap too. These two schools compete internationally in Dance Masters of America and Dance Educators of America competitions. Both these academies normally get at least a silver medal if not high silver or gold.

These relatively large groups of students taking part in the dance scene of El Salvador supported my theory of the international influence on dance, as well as in all other aspects of the Salvadoran culture. Around eighty five percent of the groups danced songs or remixes containing hip hopesque or 'street' American music.

Whether it's the classical elegance of ballet, the sultry sounds of tango, the energy of jazz dancers, or the blood boiling heat of salsa dancers, anything can be found in the petit country I call my home. If you will excuse me, I must now go put on stocking and jazz slippers to practice for our presentation on December the second: One Hundred and One Dalmatians. And I'm a thief, not a pup.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Legends of "el Cipitillo" and "la Siguanaba"

Legends and myths are an important part of El Salvador’s culture and tradition. Grandparents or older relatives usually tell them to young children (or, as we call them, “cipotes”) and they often have a didactic or moral purpose. I remember my aunt loved to tell my cousins and me these legends to scare us and get us to behave when we were at her house. Among the most famous ones, and also the ones I liked the most, are “el Cipitillo” and “la Siguanaba”.

Folklore recounts that Sihuehuet, which means beautiful woman, was having an affair with the son of the Nawat god, Tlaloc. She had a child called Cipitillo, but when Tlaloc found out, both mother and son were punished. She would be called Siguanaba, which meant ugly woman. According to the myth, she appears to be beautiful at first but she turns into a horrible creature after attracting males who travel at night alone near rivers where she washed clothes or bathed. People who swear they have seen her say she has black hair infested with lice, dark wrinkled skin, and long dirty nails. Her victims, who are usually single or unfaithful, came out with fevers, lice in their hair, and scratches all over their backs and arms. It is said that the only way to prevent her attack is to bite a cross or religious medallion, or pull her hair.

Siguanaba’s son, Cipitillo, was neglected and malnurished by his mother, who left him alone most of the time. He is condemned to live forever as a young boy with his feet in a backward position. Cipitillo is portrayed as having a big belly. He has the ability to teletransport. He wears a large pointy hat (like the one I’m modeling in the picture) and likes to eat ashes and bananas. Although according to legend he is not harmful, he likes to bother people (especially pretty ladies) by laughing boisterously, by throwing things, or by whistling.

So whether you believe these legends or not, if you visit El Salavador, stay away from rivers at night. You never know what you could find!


Paulina is a horseback rider. Riding is very competitive here, and a number of my former students have competed. But Paulina did not write about horses. Instead she decribed a Salvadoran tradition that the Dunlaps have "almost" gotten used to: fireworks. Here's Paulina:

Fireworks in El Salvador have been a tradition that goes way back to town celebrations. These celebrations are done in honor of a local saint. To honor this specific saint, people added enthusiasm to the celebration by blowing up colorful fireworks. Subsequently, fireworks became more frequently used in different holidays, such as Christmas and New Year's Eve. Today, fireworks are manufactured in smaller and more varied forms, allowing everyone to join in the fun.

Interestingly enough, fireworks in El Salvador can be purchased legally by any civilian. Big fireworks are bought as spectacles for big parties. These large fireowrks can be found in stores such as “El Dragon Chino” (the Chinese dragon). When Christmas is approaching, firework selling stands are put up in nearly every traffic circle in the city. In these stands you can find other types of firecrackers such as volcancitos, silbadores, fulminantes, estrellitas and morteros.

Volcancitos, as the name proposes, are little volcanoes that when lit release light of all colors, as if it were lava. Fulminantes are little colored balls that have to be thrown hard against the floor in order for them to burst. When they burst, fulminantes release a tiny flame that goes out almost immediately. It is always fun to have fulimante wars by throwing them near to other peoples' shoes. People start jumping all over trying to avoid them. Estrellitas are little sticks that are lit in the tip and burn like stars. These are usually used by little kids because they are said to be the safest.

The most fun are silbadores. Their shape is that of a little thin stick with a tiny string at its tip. You have to fire up that little string and hold the stick until it makes a whistling noise. When you hear the noise, you thrust the stick up into the air and it launches like a rocket. One of the most memorable events of Christmas for kids are silbadores wars. They consist of thrusting silbadores up in the air in the direction of the opposing team. These are harmless since it has very little gunpowder and the only thing that impulses them is air going through a vent they have. Nevertheless, everyone runs at the sight of silbadores. These wars are only for older kids because the running may be a little more dangerous for little kids.

Even though these "battles" might seem a little weird and dangerous, there are very few injuries with these types of firecrackers. The most dangerous are big morteros, and they have already been banned. There are millions of other types of firecrackers, but the ones I’ve mentioned are the most common. Christmas and other celebrations would not be remotely the same without fireworks!

Soccer in San Salvador

Manuel is the quiet one in the class. I am learning more about him through his writing than in class discussions - but I think he is worth getting to know. His love for soccer is unmistakeable. Here is his story:

Thousands of fans are yelling; people are selling sodas and fireworks. There’s a lot happening on a soccer night at the stadium in San Salvador. There’s a party all the time, even if the favorite team is losing. The Estadio Cuscatlan is the biggest soccer stadium in Central America; it has a capacity of over 50,000 people. It is also the most modern stadium in Central America and the Caribbean. The stadium has VIP boxes, a great field for the game, and a LED screen.

I have gone several times to the stadium for different events, but most of them were soccer matches. The teams aren’t that good, but just the fact of being there and the mood of all the people around me makes everything very exciting. You hear screams, you hear curses, you hear drums all around. Huge Salvadoran flags wave majestically. Being there with your friends and family watching an intense match is enough to make your night memorable.

I remember the time I went to see the inauguration of the LED screen. It is huge, 40 meters long and wide. The screen is used to show parts of the game and many, many commercials. There was a special match that night between the Alianza Futbol Club and a team from Puerto Rico. It was a pretty boring game that ended in a tie 0 to 0, but during the half time there was a spectacular show of fireworks that made the whole stadium rumble.

One of my favorite parts of going to the stadium is all the food. There is a burger cart called Mister Burger that sells the greasiest, nasty-looking burgers you will will ever see and love. They are simply great! All of my friends love them, but people say that they can make you sick. I even have friends whose parents don’t let them eat those burgers because they look so nasty.

Going to the stadium is not just about going to see a soccer game. The food, the people, the drums, the flags, the shouts: all of these things make a soccer match more than just a simple show. It is an unforgettable Salvadoran party.

Cantando Por Un Sueño

Pati plays handball with Maggie. I really appreciate how welcome she has made Mags feel on the team. Pati does not write about the sport here (although she could have bragged about the girls coming in second place in the Central American tournament!). Instead she decribes the t.v. show that everyone is watching. Here's the story:

As with many other countries in the world, El Salvador is a great supporter of the arts and a fanatic of music. There is a television show on at the present moment called "Cantando Por Un Sueño" or “Singing for a Dream.” This program consists of couples who sing together in order to achieve a dream. The dream has to be to help someone in need. The singers are raising money either to donate to some hospital or public help center, or to help a specific individual with the costs associated with a health problem that someone may have.

The couples are made up of a national celebrity who can sing, and a regular person who is the one with the "dream." The couples are always made up of a man and a woman. During the program, which is live every Sunday night at 7:00 pm, the couples have to sing two different songs and are evaluated by four judges who are professional singers.

At the end of every episode, there are always two couples who are sentenced, which means that in they are the ones with the lowest scores and that they are at risk of being kicked off of the program. The sentenced couples have to have a challenge or battle between each other on the next episode, and the fans can send text messages in order to save their favorite couple. At the end of the program, one couple will win and that couple will be able to make their dream come true of helping who ever they want to help.

Bienvenus, Bienvenidos

Cristina is a new EA student who just moved to El Salvador from France. She is a quiet thinker, but she really comes to life on paper! I admire Cristina for moving here at the beginning of her junior year. She is making it look so easy:

Imagine two worlds belonging to the same planet, breathing under the same sky. Two worlds that have opened their doors to humanity and have welcomed each one of us into the beauty of its existence. Two worlds that seem to be separated by just miles of ocean but that are, to our great surprise, inevitably distinct. Two words, two worlds.

Bienvenus a Paris. A sophisticated atmosphere seems to have taken control over its people. Immense constructions, elegant boulevards, famous “brasseries” are marking its territory, introducing the advantages of their home. The hot smell of the morning “baguette” fills the city with delicious excitement. The first Taxi has just kidnapped its lucky victim and begins its tour around the streets of Paris. It crosses the bridge Alexandre III, leaving its passenger wordless as he sees the uniqueness of European architecture.

Bienvenidos a San Salvador. Suddenly, the air seems to have changed color. A sign catches my attention. A large panel of wood is holding itself with great balance on a weak iron ramp. A school bus just passed by. Oh no, wait, where have all the children gone? Men and women, holding each other tightly are in search of a hand that will help them stay aboard. Quick, turn around! Did you just miss that scene? A heard of cows, crossing the road as if it were its own, hoping the next car will make a stop. The daily chaos of the streets of San Salvador has just turned off the alarm.

Bienvenus a Paris. A young couple is taking pleasure in a morning nap under the skinny legs of the Eiffel Tower, enjoying an agreeable spring breeze. They later on take a walk on the large sidewalks of the Champs Elysées, admiring the numerous boutiques that dress up the avenue. One o’clock: it is time for a healthy lunch. They look up the choices that are presented to them and finally decide to taste the French specialties. To begin with, a dainty foie gras, followed by a reasonable portion of escalope d’agneau, and for dessert, the French’s favorite, profiterole au chocolat. Lunch seems to be going perfectly until the painful moment arrives. As the waiter approaches the table, the handsome gentleman doubtfully opens his wallet, carefully slipping out his credit card. As he peaks to see the amount written on the miserable piece of paper, the smile suddenly fades away, making place for a more unsatisfied look. Oh well, one more expensive but exquisite meal. I guess people prefer just getting used to the costly way of life.

Bienvenidos al Salvador. A group of friends has just enjoyed an entertaining day at the beach and decides to drive back early in order to make it for lunch at their favorite restaurant, Tipicos Margoth. This suitable “pupuseria” is the ideal place for a low-cost meal and presents a diverse menu that appeals to all kinds of tastes. Pupusas con frijoles, pupusas con queso, pupusas, pupusas, pupusas. On the other side of the road, two young teenagers have just arrived from their soccer match and would kindly accept a portion of “papas fritas de la calle.. What is better than a greasy ration of French fries with ketchup that some may call “junk food”?
- Se vende papapas fritas!
- Elotes! Quien quiere elotes!
- Pupusas! Pupusas! Pupusas!
The cheer of the muchachas echoes through the entire pueblo, inviting all those who would receive a typical Salvadorian snack.

Bienvenus a Paris. A woman steps in her Smart and drives through a red light, causing the orchestra of musical honks that seems to go on forever. On the other side of the street, a young girl walks out of a store, kindly holds the door open for a man rushing out as if he was late for his prom date, and stays behind without even receiving a “merci.” To add up to this bewildering spectacle, a young driver, proud of having earned his license, generously leaves clear the cross road for an elderly man who doesn’t even bother to offer a smile. This is how goes a classic Monday morning on the streets of Paris.

Bienvenidos al Salvador. Now turn the page and begin reading the story of a typical day in the heart of the Latino crowd. It was an early Friday morning and all students were arriving at school. This new girl had just arrived from the other side of the globe and everyone was wondering what she was doing landing in a country so far away and unusual. It was no time for asking such questions though. As the Latino culture requires, everyone got into their positions and welcomed the “French girl” as warmly as she could expect. There was no way that they would abandon a stranger who was entering a whole new experience. And so the days passed by and little by little, they began transforming the new girl into a half French half Salvadorian soul.

There is no way one could describe a place in our world being better than another. Each country has it advantages and drawbacks. Learning about how two very different cultures manage to integrate themselves in our society and bring significant impact to our lives is a way for me to discover what my existence is really about. After recounting my story, I have just a few more words to say: Bienvenus, Bienvenidos, Welcome everyone.

My New Life in El Salvador

Carla is from an embassy family. I love having embassy students in my classroom because they have lived in so many interesting places in the world. Lucky for Carla, she has lots of family in El Salvador to help her make the tranistion. Here is her story:

There are so many things that come to mind when I hear "El Salvador." At first it meant "vacation" or "family" or "beach," but now I guess it means "home."

I was born here in 1992, from a Spanish/Salvadoran mother and an American father. My mom was born in Spain, but she grew up here her whole life, and I have a whole bunch of family who live here. However, when I was 3 months old, I moved to Egypt. I can't say I remember much of what El Salvador was like during that time. All I know is that it was around the time when the civil war had ended and things were just beginning to get better. I would return here every summer-and for the births of my sister and brother. Later, as I moved from place to place, El Salvador was the only place where I felt stability. Even though we moved every 3-5 years, we would always return to El Salvador.

During these years, my family would go to beaches, among them El Zunzal and El Balsamar. These are exclusive beach clubs, but these were the same clubs my mom grew up in when she lived here. The waiters and staff remember seeing her grow up, as well as seeing me grow up. El Zunzal has amazing waves to surf in, and this beach usually attracts American tourists and surfers. El Balsamar is more private, and it is a gorgeous beach. Also, during these years, we would see family almost everyday that we weren't at the beach. El Salvador did feel in a way like home, because I always felt loved and felt like I belonged here. My mom would run into many people she knew when she lived here, so people that I see even today remember me growing up.

There was a time, however, when I was about 9 years old, when we stopped coming here during the summer for about 2 years. That's when El Salvador's change really hit me. When I came here as a small child, most of El Salvador was forest. Many of the highways that I see now weren't even there. I remember driving in the car with my mom, and hearing her complain about how much El Salvador has changed and how she couldn't find her way around. Coming to El Salvador suddenly stopped being the beach vacation I was used to. There was so much more to do! Now, we were able to go out to the movies more, eat at different restaurants, and go bowling. I guess that was partially because my cousins were already driving and had more time to take us around.

Then, in my sophomore year in high school in Virginia, I got the news we were actually going to come and live here. By then, I was used to moving. I almost was waiting for the move to come, but this time it was different. Usually, I started off new, but coming here was a completely different story. My move here was really interesting, it was very different from what I expected. The Salvadoran culture is very different from the American culture, especially in terms of family. Back in Virginia, I had an aunt who lived about 30 minutes away, and we saw her once every two weeks or so. I came here and it was the complete opposite, I see my family every day. There is always someone at my house: whether it be my aunt, cousin, great aunt or grandma. I have also met a whole bunch of people who I didn't know were related to me in any way. Everyone is so outgoing, and so close, so united. There is always something to do every weekend, and there are a lot of parties, too. The atmosphere is so exciting and fun! It has been a culture shock for me in many ways, but I am glad to see how wonderful life in El Salvador actually is.

Fernando Llort: One of the Greatest Salvadorean artists

Andrea is the artist in the class. She decorates her tests with cartoons - they are priceless. I can't wait to see what she does with her talent. Here is her profile of one of her heroes:

When ever I am traveling outside of El Salvador, I meet people who ask me where I’m from. And, as expected, after my answer there comes a “Where is that?” Through the years, I have become used to knowing that many people don’t have any clue as to where El Salvador is located, so I don’t care anymore. W,ell not as much as I used to. Nevertheless, I am still very troubled and annoyed when people give little importance to El Salvador’s art, for it is something that tells a lot about who we are, the changes we as a country are going through, and the culture that we are a part of. One of the best examples if the art of Fernando Llort.

The crib of El Salvador’s art is a town in the north called La Palma, in the department of Chalatenango. La Palma is a serene place surrounded by woods and mountains, which became the birth place of Fernando Llort’s artwork. He was one of the first Salvadorean artists who truly wanted to expand our artistic culture. When he came back from his studies in Germany, Llort went back to La Palma. There he developed his own artistic style which, in my opinion, truly captivates El Salvador’s essence. His inspiration for this style was centered on the seed of the “Copinol” tree. He soon founded an art studio made up himself, his wofe and ten other people. He called the studio “La semilla de Dios” (the seed of God). Later on, he also set up a gallery called “El Arbol de Dios” (the tree of God).

In time, Fernando Llort’s art gained popularity. In March of 1983, he was asked to arrange the altar where Pope John Paul II gave mass on his visit to El Salvador. This was a great honor for him, for he was and still is a very spiritual man. Another religious assignment was given later to him: the decoration of the Metropolitan Cathedral of El Salvador. This assignment took Llort and his team around a year to finish, for he painted the murals on the great Cathedral with a passion that became even greater because of his spirituality. Llort has become one of El Salvador's most known artists, with works displayed in the White House, various museums in New York, and the Vatican.

Images of his work:



Nature in El Salvador

Tonito is an enigma to me. He is the video game fan who wants to be a zoologist? He describes himself as a paradox. I agree. Here is a story about one of his passions:

It doesn’t take too long for anyone walking around the countryside of El Salvador to realize that indeed, this place holds a beauty that is seldom seen. In fact, El Salvador is a nation seldom heard of, but down here in this Central American tiny nation live proud people with a love for their mother country and for Mother Nature. The green, exuberant forests, the warm, sandy beaches, the gorgeous national parks, and the majestic volcanoes of this tiny nation are a great source of its pride and beauty, and they are vastly protected by a small group of people who care for its well-being above many other things.

There is a constant battle, however, to preserve this green beauty that is the Central American forest and the other natural beauties of the land. Unfortunately, some people regard living, arable land in a higher esteem than the beauty that is nature. Indeed, El Salvador is the second most deforested nation in Latin America, after Haiti, and it has a severe problem dealing with species’ decline and dangerous issues such as turtle egg poaching. These problems and the ignorance posted by many people regarding the destruction of nature are what often mark El Salvador as a third world country.

All hope is not lost though; there are many people willing to sacrifice a portion of their own lives to save the lives of many plants and animals. Many scientists working in organizations such as FUNZEL (translating in Spanish to Salvadoran Foundation for Zoology) and hardy volunteers work day and night to preserve the wildlife that exists in this tiny and special nation. National parks like El Imposible (The Impossible) are protected areas secured and cleaned vigorously to ensure that despite human interaction in the environment, the place remains as pure as possible and safe for all the wildlife existing in it.

No matter how long and how hard the battle to preserve nature is, there will always be people here willing to sacrifice much of their lives in exchange for the survival of species. Nature does not depend on mankind; in fact, the truth couldn’t be farther away from that. Nature is a force independent of any human variable; it is composed by an undeniable existence, and we cannot defeat or save nature. We should allow nature to exist just because of its sole right to exist, not because it makes us feel any better or benefits us. Natue is alive and therefore has a right to live. This is true as much in El Salvador as in any other nation on the globe. There should always be a will to help in preserving the current natural life everywhere, so take the valuable example that strong men and women have posed here in El Salvador.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Ups and Downs of a Young Driver in El Salvador

Arianna wrote this piece about the challenges for teenagers driving in a big city. I hope you can see her humor in her essay. She has a knack for making me laugh - even on the dullest assignments! Here's Arianna:

In El Salvador, driving is allowed at the age of 15, but only after rigorous paperwork and insurance money. I am proud to say that I learned to drive at the age of 13 with my dad’s help and despite my mom’s pleas in the heavy Salvadoran traffic. A juvenile license is not so hard to get- you only need to take one month of certified driver’s ed and take a vision test (in this really blurry and overused machine with poor lighting, signaling whether the letter E is upside down or sideways). You also must take a “theory exam” on a computer and, finally, a practical test.

I failed the written part once. I got a 5.8 instead of the passing grade which is a 7. I was devastated because I usually do well on multiple choice questions (for some odd reason, I couldn’t answer what would I do if I saw a dog ahead of me on the left side of the street….go figure). I had to wait 15 days for the retake. After studying, or highlighting, the WHOLE two booklets, I found out that I had to avoid the dog and honk within 50 meters. I passed the test with an 8. Immediately after that I went to SERTRACEN, which is the office in charge of giving you your license. I had my picture taken, and gave them all the necessary information to obtain that glittery blue plastic that would allow me to roam the streets of San Salvador-from 7 to 7- without adult supervision.

In our society, it is very common to encourage your children to drive at a young age. My dad learned to drive when he was 11, and my mom, well she’s an exception since she learned to drive at 20. To be honest I am not overly excited to drive, and I would pay my brother to drive instead of me except for the fact that he just loves driving. He likes to swerve in and out of traffic, honk obnoxiously, rush to get to places, and wait at the long stoplights.

If I’m not thrilled to drive under normal circumstances (7 minutes to get from my house to school), I am less thrilled to drive now that an expressway is being built and my normal school route has been closed. I must say that if in a good mood, I enjoy the urban culture and adventure- the crowded and colorful buses with really complicated names (Maritza Esmeralda, for example), the pedestrians who stubbornly refuse to use the pasarelas, the puzzling traffic circles, and the illuminated streets of San Salvador filled with thousands of headlights. Weird tests with blurry E’s, lots of paperwork, and traffic are just a part of the ride. In my experience, driving here is a roller coaster-fast, uncontrollable, and electrifying.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The First Week of August

Vivian wrote this entry about her favorite part of the summer. I have known Vivian for years through her drama preformances. I think the first time I saw her on stage, she was in 8th grade. Now I have the pleasure of seeing her almost every day. In the photo, Vivian is the second from the right.

Lago de Coatepeque is a small lake that is about 45 minutes away from the capital city of San Salvador. The lake is located in the department of Santa Ana. This is a volcanic lake, which means that it formed in the crater of an extinct volcano. It is very, vrey deep! 20,000 people live at the lake, plus about 5,000 tourists who come monthly. Many local Salvadorians also own lake houses that they use during the weekends and vacations.

I think “Semana de agosto” at the lake could be one of the best weeks of summer. It is the first week of August, and everyone with a lake house will go. If you don’t have a house, you’ll find a friend to go with. Summer is about resting and recovering, but that does not include this week. I’m not sure about the older more adult generation, but we teenagers don’t sleep at all. Everyone is in a happy and cheerful mood, but at night there is also a good deal of drama and gossip to retell later.

During the day we visit all our friends' houses; we also spend a lot of time making new friends. We go on the wave runner and on the boats. If there is a breeze, people also go wind surfing. We go tubing on the lake and try to get a sun tan. We all eat together at different friends’ houses. We have a blast. Each night there is a party at a different house. Everyone goes. There is lots of gossiping, music blasting, and plenty of flirting. This week is full of excitement, but it also symbolizes that the end of summer is near. This is about all I can say about “semana de agosto.” I can’t wait for it to come again!

Foods in El Salvador

This is Bea's description of her favorite Salvadoran foods. I taught Bea's brother two years ago. So many of my students now (around one-third) are siblings of former students. Bea is a happy young lady who puts a lot of effort into her studies. As she told me, "I don't like 80s..."

Pupusas. Elote Loco. Semita. Se me hace agua la boca solo con pensar en ellas. (My mouth waters just thinking about them.) These are just a few of the foods Salvadorans love to eat, whether it’s a Friday night at home with friends or Sunday afternoon with the whole family. These foods can be enjoyed during carnivals or on a daily basis, but the most craved foods are the street foods. Mango. Platanitos. Pastelitos de Chucho. They all have a taste no Salvadoran can resist.

Pupusas are the typical food here in El Salvador. They are made of corn, just like tortillas, except they have an ingredient in them like cheese or frijoles, or sometimes both. They can be eaten with a red sauce made of tomatoes and with “curtido,” which is cabbage with carrots and vinegar and sometimes a spicy condiment. They are typically enjoyed on a Sunday night with the family.

Literally Elote Loco is “crazy corn,” and in a way it is. It is usually sold on the streets during various carnivals. It is a whole corn on a stick with ketchup, mayonnaise, and cheese. As weird as the cobination sounds, it is delicious!! If you ever visit El Salvador you can’t leave without "crazy corn."

Semita is usually enjoyed after any meal with a cup of coffee. It is sweet bread that has some sort of jelly in it, like pineapple or guava.

Every Salvadoran goes crazy for street foods. I have no idea what different ingredient they have in them or what vendors do to prepare them, but they definitely have a different taste than any other foods. Mango is usually sold in a plastic bag. It is cut in long stripes that makes it look like spaghetti. The stripped mango is eaten with lots of lemon, salt, and chili.

Platanitos are fried plantains. As well as mangoes, they are eaten with lemon, salt, and chili. This is no surprise. We Salvadorans love to add lemon to everything we eat, from fruits to tortillas to steaks.

Pastelitos de Chucho mean dog empanadas, but don’t worry. They are not made of dog meat; it’s just a name! They are exactly like chimichangas, but for example in Ahuachapan they are mini chimichangas served with a hot red sauce and “curtido." They are not served on plates, but they are served in plastic bags just like mango or platanitos.

This is just a small example of the kind of foods we love. You can also infer what type of people we are: pupusas on a Sunday night with the family, lemon added to everything we eat, pastelitos de chucho meaning dog empanadas. We Salvadorans are family people. We are also crazy people who can’t eat a single food without adding lemon to it. Pastelitos de chucho, well, that just adds to our craziness. Most importantly, we love our country and we love our craziness.

A Salvadoran Legend

This legend was retold by my student, Raul. So far Raul has been pretty quiet in my class, but I have learned that he really likes to lift weights and he lives to play video games. Enjoy his story!

Salvadoran people are originally of Mayan descent, but eventually they became a mixture of Spanish and Mayan after the Spanish invaded “The New World” and took over Central America. The effect, in relation to culture, was that legends became mixed as well. The result was the incredible stories of the Mayan that related to gods and strange creatures joined with the stories of the Spanish culture that related to supernatural events with ghosts and demons.

That combination created many new myths that are now part of the Salvadoran culture. One example of a myth from El Salvador is La Siguanaba, which tells of this beautiful woman who was punished by a god because she wouldn’t take care of her son. She was too concerned with attracting men, so the god cursed her into becoming this evil, ugly, and disgusting creature. It is said that even to this day, men, when coming late at night to their house, may find a very pretty woman along the way that seduces them. When they get close to her, she turns into a demon. Those taken by her are never seen again. If you listen carefully during the night, near small towns, you can hear her laugh when she gets her next victim.

The legend of La Carreta Chillona began in Spain, direct evidence of the mixture of cultures. A little boy named Terencio was adopted by a priest who taught him how to read and write. The priest always tried to convince the boy to become a priest. Terencio would always say no, although he promised he would be a good man who would help others. Eventually, the priest died of old age, and Terencio moved to another town where he began to work for a doctor. He tagged along more for the urge to learn than to actually help. With time, he learned what he needed to know. A few nights later he took advantage of this group of people that were going to take a ship to go to some distant place. He told him he was a doctor and would offer his services to them if they just took him with them; the people said yes.

Eventually, Terencio appeared in San Salvador. Because no one knew him, he lied and said he was a miraculous doctor. He began to practice his “profession,” and for the people who died in his hands, he said, “It´s God´s will.” Those who were lucky and didn’t die had to pay him in some way. Eventually, he became rich. One night, when Terencio was coming back from a bar, he heard a noise, as if it were footsteps. He began to walk faster and faster, until he heard the voice of the priest that took care of him when he was a child. The priest was disappointed because of all the people he had killed or had made suffer.

Thus, the ghost forced him to pick up the bones of all his victims and told him to build a charriot. When he was done, the priest told Terencio he was already dead, and he was to wander for all eternity until he laid to rest all the bones of his victims in an appropriate cemetary. It is said that around midnight, Terencio wanders in San Salvador near small towns and villages mourning. You can hear the sound of chains and bones cracking in the distance, and there have been several accounts where people have testified to seeing him.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Independence Day at EA

Ceci wrote this article about a recent school celebration. Ceci has been spending a lot of time at our house lately. She and Maggie are physics partners, and they have lots of projects to do together. The catapult and the cannon were big hits. I'm just impressed with how well she and Mags use the power tools! Ceci is the one on the left.

It was the morning of September 12, 2008. Senior students made last adjustments to their outfits, juniors fidgeted with anticipation, fourth graders played with flags of white and blue, and everyone looked forward to one thing, and one thing only: the Escuela Americana annual celebration of the independence of El Salvador.

But this isn't just a ceremony commemorating the freedom of our country. Like almost everything at EA, it is something brimming with tradition and significance. The event is led by the current senior class. The national anthem is sung, the "Oración a la bandera" (the Salvadoran version of the Pledge of Allegiance) is recited, and the flag is brought in by its very own student escort. But there is more. Fourth graders perform marches they have practiced for weeks, two senior students recite essays they have written about their country, and the whole senior class dances in the typical Salvadoran style. Most important of all (to the junior class, at least), the twelfth grade presents the eleventh grade with the right of carrying the Salvadoran flag and the responsibility of honoring it and respecting it. This transaction represents a transfer of power of sorts, a way for the senior class to tell the eleventh graders that things are in their hands now. Of course, this is just taken as an excuse for the juniors to be as loud and obnoxious as humanly possible for about a minute and a half, while they celebrate the thrill of finally being in charge of something. And boy, do they relish it!

For the past eleven years of my life, I have watched this ceremony from the sidelines. I have clapped, sung, and enjoyed the overall high that comes along with an event of this magnitude. But this year was different. I was chosen to represent my class as one of the six students who escort the flag after it is given by the seniors, so I watched everything from a completely different perspective, on a physical and personal level.

As I stood on the stage, I realized just how much I love this tradition. I smiled and clapped as the fourth graders did their best to remember the complicated steps to the intricate marches, and I laughed as the senior girls twirled around in colorful dresses, having a great time. And, as my friend Adri received the flag from the senior representatives, my classmates over on the bleachers screamed like there was no tomorrow. I couldn't have been prouder to call myself a "Guanaca".

I cannot think of a better way to describe this celebration other than to say it is a sensory explosion. Not only is the music incredibly loud and the decorations overwhelmingly vibrant, but one must be careful not to get hit on the head by a rogue candy bar (courtesy of the senior dancers) or to get trampled by the delirious juniors. It is big, loud, and merry, like everything in El Salvador should be. It is one of the things I'll miss the most about home once I'm off at college, because it shows just how good EA can be at school spirit. We excel the one thing Salvadorans do best: celebration.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Volleyball in El Salvador

This post was written by my student, Conchita. She is the smile in my classroom. I'm not sure if anything ever gets her down. As you can guess, she is also an enthusiastic volleyball player.

El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America. However, its size does not limit its passion for sports. The most popular sports in this country are basketball, soccer, and volleyball.

Volleyball is included in most private school programs. Interscholastic volleyball is separated between boys and girls in the following categories: under 12 years old, under 14 years old, under 16 years of age, and under 18. After 18 years of age, students are not allowed to participate in intercollegiate games. There is a main interscholastic championship which includes all local qualifying private schools, called “Colegiales.” This championship is usually held from the beginning of May to early July, because the local school system doesn’t have summer vacation during this time. The winning team gets an all expenses paid trip to Puerto Rico to play against other qualified teams. The funds come from the National Volleyball Federation.

But volleyball isn’t limited by age or educational level. The Volleyball Federation also sponsors an open championship for all ages. The categories in this championship are based on skill: category I being the best and category III being the “newbies.” You choose what category to start in, but if you finish last place twice in the same category, you are moved down to the category below. However, if you win first place in your category, you are moved to the category above. The winning team in category I wins a trophy and a cash prize.

The rules in El Salvador are the international rules plus a little extra strictness. The net height for women is still 2.24 meters, and 2.43 meters for men. However, in El Salvador, players MUST wear long socks (no crew socks), and tuck their shirts in. For local tournaments, players can only have jerseys with numbers one through eighteen. If a team member fails to abide by the dress code, they either can’t play or must pay a five dollar fine (depending on the importance of the game).

Even though El Salvador is a small country, passion is everywhere. There is even passion for volleyball. You can spot single mothers who work all day, using their vacation time to participate on the open championship. These women have no worried expression; they are doing something they love.