May 11, 2007

The Buses in San Salvador

Riding the bus in San Salvador is quite an experience. The buses look like old recycled school buses from the U.S., and they appear to having been kept running forever. They are often colorful, though not as colorful as the ones I saw in Bangladesh in the country, but they often contain sayings on them, such as the one I saw this morning reading, in Spanish, ¨Jesus is yesterday, now and always.¨ The numbers on the bus are often hard to read, because they are ¨tricked out¨ in a way, so you have to pay attention if you are on a busy street with many buses. Fortunately, there seems to be no schedule for the buses, and you often have the buses from the same route following right behind one another, so if you miss one there will soon be another. You get on and simply hand a quarter over to the driver.

There is no such thing as a catalytic converter on the buses here. They often belch black smoke which adds to the overall pollution in the air over San Salvador, which is significant. The volcano nearby is often almost shrouded by smog. There is no air conditioning on the bus, so lots of belching buses leads to all that stuff coming in through the open windows of the bus you are riding.

The bus I take in the morning is always crowded, so people are standing in the aisles as well as seated two to a seat. You have to politely but firmly make your way past people, especially when you have to get off. Luckily for me, most of the people empty out at the University, so I usually have a place to sit about halfway through the journey. Getting off is a matter of simply getting up and moving to the door at the back. The driver sees you, and stops at the next available place on the street. If the bus is crowded and the driver can´t see you, or misses where you want to get off, you bang on the wall of the bus so that he can hear you and stop.

But Mike, you are thinking, ¨a quarter?¨ El Salvador has switched over to the dollar, so all transactions are in US currency. The local currency is practically non-existent. The difficulty is that the ATMS give out bills in 10s and 20s, but where you are likely to eat, they usually don´t like to change such large bills. You have to try to have a good supply of dollar bills. It is easier in the city, but in the country, a 10 will not be changed no matter how hard you try. We are going to the country this weekend, and I´m literally going to go to the bank to get 20 ones so I will be able to pay for my food.

So far, I have seen many of the places of violence which occurred during the civil war. A couple of days ago, we went to the University of Central America, where 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were killed by army forces in a raid in 1989 - it was thought by the army that doing so would end the FMLN´s final offensive in the city. Yesterday, we visited the church where Msgr. Oscar Romero was assassinated, widely assumed by agents of the government, in the early 1980s. Our guide said that this was the catalyst for the armed struggle against the government. This weekend, we will visit the site of the El Mozote massacre.

However, it has not all been doom and gloom. I went to a combined performance, totally free, of the El Salvador Symphony, Choir and a ballet company. The choir and symphony performed Carmina Burana, while the ballet company interpreted it through dance. It brought down the house, and the president of El Salvador took a bow onstage with the company.

I´m hoping to get interviews starting next week on my dissertation -- we´ll see, it has been more difficult than I thought. Y mi español is mejor, pero yo hago aprender mucho.

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Blogger Mary B. said...

Thanks for writing about San Salvador. This is the next best thing to being there myself. :)

6:49 AM  
Blogger Claudia said...

Have you had any pupusas yet?

5:58 PM  

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