June 01, 2007

One Month in El Salvador

Tomorrow, June 2, 2007 I will have spent one month in El Salvador. After next week it will be the longest I´ve spent in any one country.

What have I learned so far from my Salvadoran experience?

Welll, I have learned some Spanish. Yo puedo hablar, escribir y leer un poco ahora. However, my reading is probably the best. Listening is a problem if people speak normally, and in El Salvador normally is usually very fast and very low. I was told this is a trait they learned in the civil war, when you never knew who was listening. Speaking gives me the most problems. I speak very slowly, with a lot of ums and ahs and often, regardless of what I think, say the wrong form of the verb, use the wrong verb tense, find myself at a loss for words, have to ask others to speak slowly, and generally make a fool of myself using the wrong word. Like the time I said I was embarassed and actually said I was pregnant. Is it my fault that the word for pregnant in Spanish is embarazada, and that the actual word for embarassed is completely different? Often, When I am at a loss for words, I add an ¨o¨ and it works, or a ¨mente¨ as in ¨actualmente.¨ But sometimes it doesn´t.

A second thing I´ve learned is that non-Salvadorans often don´t learn from the Salvadorans they are mixing with. My experience here has been that Salvadorans are open, inclusive, friendly, kind, and are truly interested in you and your life. From the people I spend a lot of time with to the people I meet on the street when I ask for directions, they ask you where you´re from, why you´re here, and what you think of their country. They tell you a little about themselves, such as a cousin or aunt they have in Virginia or Los Angeles and how they´ve gone to visit there once, or hope to go soon.

The non-Salvadorans, mostly Europeans and Americans and Canadians, seemed to me to be closed, suspicious, exclusive, unhelpful and overwhelmingly young. It seems to me that the point of volunteering or paying for language lessons in a school that has the name ¨inter-cambio¨, or interchange, in it is to learn from the culture you are in. Alas, only one or two of the people that I´ve met here that are non-Salvadoran really seemed to take what they have seen in Salvadoran culture and apply it to their life, and the one person I´m really thinking of is really a Chinese woman from Australia.

I´ve also learned that El Salvador is probably on the way to future struggle, and this time, the United States probably won´t be as invested in the country as it has been. Many conditions here are worse than they were when the civil war was raging. Inequality is more stark, the political system is corrupt, the government is corrupt, the richest families have tightened their control on capital and are making millions and millions while most of the population, especially in the rural areas, manages to scrape by. El Salvador is the largest company store in the world. Whether the economic policies of free trade will help in the long run is hard to say, but that is small comfort to the millions that are having a hard time now.

But the US is still invested in a large way. At least a million of Salvadorans, maybe now closer to two million, live in the United States and send money they earn home to their families. If there is an eruption of conflict in the future, you can bet that we will be hearing from those Salvadorans.

I´ll have a couple more posts in this next week before I return to the states. And, I only have 7 days before I can finally take a hot shower again!


Post a Comment

<< Home