Dunlaps in San Salvador

Online journal of the Dunlaps' adventures in San Salvador.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Oh My!

How could it be that I haven't written since Thanksgiving? Turns out writing, giving and grading 91 exams was a lot of work. I salute teachers everywhere - this job takes a lot of time. Then we tried to Christmas shop before heading home for almost three weeks. Seems like a long vacation till we actually got there. I felt like we tried to cram six months of lost time into a few weeks. And we didn't get to see everyone and we didn't get to do everything. But we sure did try.

We're back in S.S. now. School starts tomorrow. My apologies to all our friends back home who use our school email address - it hasn't worked since January 1, and could be down for two more weeks. We promise to catch up after that, though! I'm including the beginning of a well intentioned article I started for the Herald Journal that never got finished (surprise!). So sorry, Jose Franco, I promise I'll try again! The second thing to add is a photo - because blogs without pictures are boring. This picture was taken right before we left. James and I won a limo ride to the EA faculty Christmas party - what a hoot.

Happy New Year to everyone! Oh, and if you heard a rumor that we fed 48 friends here grits once we got home, it is true. Who knows, they might start importing them to El Salvador?

Newspaper article that was never finished...

One of my favorite songs has always been Kenny Loggins’ "Celebrate Me Home." I loved the lyrics long before I ever had the nerve to leave Spartanburg and move our family to El Salvador. But as we landed in the Charlotte at midnight after being out of the country for six months, all I could hear were the first two lines of the song running through my head. "Home for the holidays," sings Loggins. "I believe I’ve missed each and every face." For me, it’s not just friends and family I have come home to see. I have missed everyone in Spartanburg, from Nick the pharmacist to the shoe-shine man in the Marriott lobby. Spartanburg is special that way.

Getting home from El Salvador for the holidays turned out to be a challenge. First off, I had to finish the semester at Escuela Americana. Because of all the American teachers on staff who travel over the break, the school makes sure all exam grades are in before anyone gets to leave the country. James and I both had 90 exams to grade before we could begin to think about heading home. And the airline we fly on is down to one flight a day to Atlanta, so we were lucky to get four seats for our family.

As we waited to board the plane, James was one of the only people in the terminal to recognize the American Ambassador. We tried to guess what dignitary might be receiving a distinguished welcome to El Salvador. After the plane had almost emptied, we saw a ten-year old girl with a Barbie doll in one hand running full speed up the ramp. Only then did we realize that Ambassador Barclay was welcoming his own family to Central America for the holidays. Seeing their reunion set a happy tone for our trip as well.

One of the best travel tips we have learned is to introduce ourselves to the entire flight staff when we board the plane. It certainly blows our cover as seasoned international travelers (because we aren’t), but it always helps us on the flight. Invariably we leave an item behind on the plane and twice we have had flight attendants come and find us in the immigration line to give us back our belongings. On this trip it was a favorite travel pillow, hand-delivered back to me by the co-pilot.

Customs is another adventure, especially when entering the U.S. from El Salvador. Almost all the locals travel with a box of rotisserie-style chicken. You can smell the hot Pollo Campero chicken throughout the cabin as soon as you board the plane. No one ever breaks down and eats any on the flight - it is the gift to present to your Salvadoran friends when you arrive at your destination. When the customs official asked if we had food or plants to declare, for our flight he added "Do you have any chicken?" Because we were poultry free, and we decided not to mention the pineapple-filled Salvadoran cookies in my carry-on, we sailed right through with a friendly "Welcome Home" from the agent.

Yes. Yes. And no muy bein. Those are the answers to the three questions we hear as we make the rounds to visit everyone during our vacation (an impossibility).The questions seem to come in this order. "Do you like Central America?" and "Is it safe?" and "How’s your Spanish?" We love living in San Salvador first and foremost for the weather. We’re in the dry season right now, almost six months straight of sunny skies and absolutely no rain. The volcano above the city is turning brown (it’s prettier than it sounds). The school waters every acre of the campus, keeping all the vegetation alive till the rains return. I’ve walked into a number of sprinklers on my way to and from class - an occupational hazard during this time of year. Our Spanish teacher Sergio gave us the vocabulary for the four seasons, but I argued that we shouldn’t have to learn words that the culture doesn’t use. There is no winter, summer, spring or fall. The locals divide the year into simply wet and dry, period. It has been nice to hear rain again while we’re home, but we’re thankful we missed the ice and the cold.

Safety in any big city is an issue. We’re careful wherever we go, just as we would be traveling in the U.S. What caught us off guard was the attitude of the Salvadorans. We expected stares on the city streets. We didn’t expect anyone to welcome an American. But the opposite is true. Everyone is friendly and helpful, especially when we make our miserable attempts to speak Spanish. Taking Will out is another story - his blonde hair never fails to illicit stares wherever we go. But I find myself now staring at blondes as well - they are such a rare site in this country.

The language will continue to be a challenge for us. James and I take Spanish classes twice a week. We laugh about how often the wrong word comes out. Our brains are trying to say something that’s not English. I revert to French, and James to Italian. I’ve even spoken a few words of Portugese. Our daughter Maggie is the one whose Spanish has come together beautifully. She takes has three classes taught only in Spanish.

That's as far as I got...


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