My mom came to El Salvador with few expectations, not knowing what to expect and using my blog (and Facebook posts about tarantulas) as her guide to life in El Salvador. Her final impression- words and photos can only do so much justice to the life of a PCV and the reality of the communities we work in. I tried to ease her into the impending culture shock; we spent her first night in a hotel, enjoyed take-out with my two PCV soul sisters Aisha and Emily and lounged in the air conditioning. Her first night impression: This isn’t so bad.
We hit the road the next morning, leaving behind the hot water and Wi-Fi for bucket baths and Spanish. Our first stop was 7 de Marzo, the community where I lived during our 10 week training, to see my first host family and the puppy I had left behind. For those of you who have never traveled to Nuevo Cuscatlán let me set the scene. The drive up is lined with gated communities, beautiful houses in the hills guarded by machine guns and barbed wire. Shopping centers, nice cars, and the newly designed, very modern Nuevo Cuscatlán logo line the streets. It is a very deceptive image. My mom later told me, the whole way she was thinking “this isn’t so bad, what was Catherine complaining about”. Then you hit the pueblo, and the view changes dramatically. You are hit with a wave of stray dogs, bollos, street food and barred windows. Graffiti, loud music and trash; tin roofs, adobe houses and dirt roads. Too me, these sites were all a welcome home, I recognized the people, spotted my favorite tienda, but to my mom, the separation between the rich and the rest was immediately apparent. My mom was sitting silently in shock as we pulled up to my training site. Too me it was all the same, the only noticeable difference was that my puppy was now the size of a small horse. With no Spanish language skills, she put on the best Iamnotscaredoutofmymind smile and hugged all the family members and neighbors who were gawking at us, stepped into the compound and just like that her adventure had begun.
If you can remember the stories and pictures from my first months here, you will recall that I was not living in luxury. I was a scared, non-Spanish speaking gringa thrown into a house with a bunch of curious, non-English speaking Salvadorans. My mom was in the same boat. She had me, but, after 7 months, my host mom was not giving me much opportunity to speak English. I wasn’t doing her much good. She sat, smiled and responded to every jumble of Spanish with a smile and “Si”, just as I had done so many months prior. We sat outside and watched the boys play guitar, ate, snacked and ate again (food is love in El Salvador) while Christina and I caught up on all the chambre and she filled me in on all the new merchandise in the tienda. It was if nothing had changed, besides the fact that we could actually communicate. If anyone is looking for a boost in your secondary language ego, I recommend a trip home to your training community, where everyone will “ohhh” and “ahhh” over the fact that you are no longer speaking at a second grade level. It was a strange feeling to be in the house and not be the one completely lost in the translation. My mom had the opportunity to understand what my first weeks in country were like. Christina, being the chatterbox that she is, assumed that the more activities and conversation there was, the faster my mom would learn. I must applaud her efforts, and now understand why I learned so much Spanish in her house. She wants to know where you where, who you saw, what you did, ALL THE TIME. She wants the scoop and she will patiently sit through broken Spanish to get the story. Who knew all those hours spent at her table with pan dulce and coffee was actually Spanish Class Round 2.
Along with the culture shock, 7 de Marzo provided my mom with her introduction to platos tipicos from El Salvador. After her first sleepless night she woke up bright and early to prepare and enjoy pupusas. Pupusas, the pride and joy of Salvadoran cuisine, are, in simple terms, a tortilla filed with cheese, beans, chicken, garlic, etc. Best eaten with cortido and salsa negro, they can be enjoyed morning or night, with a cold beer or a cup of coffee. There is even a song dedicated to the pupusas and how much we all love them. My mom gave them 1.5 out of 5 stars. We were off to a rocky start. That afternoon, while I suffered through a parasite, she was left to fend for herself, and tasted Christina’s chicken soup (3 stars) tortillas (negative 5 stars) and tamales (4 stars). Needless to say, she was looking forward to a change in the menu, and hoping to never see a tortilla again.
My mom was a real trooper, she adopted the attitude that got me through training, which is forcing yourself to laugh at the bad, because you cant change it. Cockroaches covering the latrine, pee outside. Don’t understand anything that is going on, smile and nod. She did a great job pretending to like all the food she was given, and ignore the giant beetles and bird poop.
After her first nights in the campo, the Final Verdict was : I give you all the credit in the world.