Dunlaps in San Salvador

Online journal of the Dunlaps' adventures in San Salvador.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sorry for the delay!

Glen Boggs, a dear friend and brilliant architect, reminded me today that I was behind in my blog postings! We've been out and about trying to do things so we would have material for our first Herald Journal article. So... here's a sneak preview of what I sent to SHJ this week Hope you all enjoy it! Susan

Can I explain life in Central America? It’s pretty simple: no Krispy Kreme, no BBQ, and none of my mother’s home cooking. Some days I wonder why we ever left Spartanburg. James, Maggie, Will and I have been in El Salvador for almost five weeks. I think a description of a typical weekend might give everyone back home an idea of what our lives are like now, including what we miss (everything) and what we are enjoying here (pretty much everything as well.)

James and I are teaching high school students at Escuela Americana in San Salvador. Classes end at 3:00 pm, and by then the cars are backed up almost a half mile at both school entrances. The car pool line runs steadily for 45 minutes. It just takes that long to get 1,700 students off campus. The amazing part is that by 5:00 pm the campus is full of students again. The school’s extension program teaches English as a second language to an additional 2,000 students a year.

Around 4:00 on Friday afternoon, I have my classroom back in order and I’m ready to walk home. We live in a small apartment on the far side of campus (low cost housing provided by the school.) El Salvador is known for all its volcanoes. So for us, the walk home is really the "climb" home back up one of the city's steep hills. I’ve yet to make it home without breaking a sweat, unless you count the days I have to run home because it’s raining. We’re in the rainy season now, and it literally rains every day. I don’t carry an umbrella because getting wet is just part of living here.

My Friday treat is coffee out with the girls. I go to a local coffee shop, Shaw’s, with my new friends Letty and Jennifer. Letty drives, which is another treat because I have yet to get behind the wheel in this country. Forget defensive driving - it’s all offensive here. There’s lots of honking, and cars can pass you on the right or the left. There are also a lot of one way streets. You literally take one route to get somewhere and another to get back. I appreciate James’s interest in maps now. He has done a great job of learning his way around the city.

Coffee in El Salvador is cheap and plentiful. (We buy a gourmet blend for around $2 a bag at the grocery store.) However, I am embarrassed to admit how much I have paid for peanut butter. It’s imported from the U.S. solely for "gringos," and stores can charge almost anything they want. We are enjoying all the native dishes that our housekeeper, Mila, cooks for us, but we are not ready to give up peanut butter and jelly.

As I’m enjoying my cup of coffee, I see one of my students walk in with her mother. I’ve been working so hard on learning 90 students’ names. The boys have been easy - they are mostly Diego, Javier and Raul. The girls are more challenging, all different variations of double names: Maria Jose, Maria Irene, Maria Gabriela and Maria Fernanda. Luckily the student who walks in is a "Sofia" (I only have three of those), and I even remember her outstanding grade from Thursday’s test. I ask her, "Did you tell your mother about your test?" Her mother says nothing, so I assume she doesn’t speak English (the students are bi-lingual but many of their parents aren’t.) Instead, her mother kisses me on the cheek. It’s the standard, polite Salvadoran greeting, but I’m still getting used to it. (When I opened a checking account, the bank representative kissed me, too.)

On Saturday morning, we are up and out of the house by 6:30 am to be back at school by 6:45. It’s not as bad as it sounds. The sun comes up at 5:30 and the rooster next door starts crowing, so we might as well get out of bed. James and I join a group of senior high volunteers to work on a Habitat house. We travel with the school’s volunteer coordinator, four students, two drivers and two armed guards. Armed guards sound scary, but they really aren’t. They stay close by all day, even when we stop at an ice cream stand. Guards are just one of the precautions that people take in this country. They make me feel very safe.

We spend the day in an area called Sonza Cata, laying cement block for a family’s new home. Everything here has to be earthquake proof. What we are building looks a lot like a bomb shelter to me. James has a great time helping the masons. We complete three rows around the outside of the house before we leave for the day. The whole project should be finished in two weeks at a cost of around $4,000. The house will have electricity but no running water. As we leave the site, I notice the family’s flower garden. Everything is blooming, from small banana trees to red roses. In the midst of poverty, there is still tremendous beauty here.

Getting off campus and out of the city is a good idea . It’s easy to stay at home every weekend. We have lots of friends in the compound, and the shared swimming pool is right outside our door. But we came here to see the country of El Salvador, so we don’t want to miss an opportunity to do so.

We try to go to a local department store on Saturday evening to buy some clothes. Delta lost James’s luggage on the trip down here, and we are still working on replacing his wardrobe. Because we are walking around campus so much, James has lost about ten pounds. Now his new clothes don’t fit either. What we didn’t know was that the local department store was having its big annual sale. We had to leave because we couldn’t find a parking place in the garage. Salvadorans evidently don’t miss a sale.

The last adventure for the weekend is church. It took some very helpful members of the school staff to find an Episcopal Church for us. Turns out the church is Anglican. It's familiar and foreign at the same time. The church is made of cinder block, and the windows are all wide open. We sing and pray in Spanish, which is difficult because we don’t speak the language (yet.) We use an English/Spanish prayer book. When we look lost, the minister yells back to us, "We’re on page 148!" Everyone is welcoming and encouraging. The sign on the church wall says "Dios te amo," which translates "God loves you." These words I can understand in any language.


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