Brenna’s Blog

Keep Off the Lawn, Por Favor September 27, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — brenna @ 7:30 pm

It turns out that home-owner’s associations are a cultural universal. I just got back from our neighborhood meeting where the following issues were discussed:

  • Dogs pooping on other peoples’ lawns. After deliberation, it was decided that a strongly worded letter would be sent to house 22. We all know that little white fluff ball is trouble. It’s time someone took action.
  • Teenage hooligans hanging out in the park at night drinking and smoking. The neighborhood park will now close at 7 pm–if you are a teenager and/or a hooligan, that is. Otherwise, you are free to visit the park at any hour.
  • People playing their music too loud late at night. Now, don’t misunderstand, the woman bringing up the issue has no problem with the occasional loud birthday party. But loud music until 4 am many nights is excessive. Her solution was to send the guards to the house on behalf of the neighborhood. To which another man responded that perhaps knocking on the door and asking that the music be turned down would be a good first step. It kind of cracks me up that we even have guards to send to the houses of non-compliant neighbors.
  • The number of cars parked on the street. Yesterday there were at least four cars parked on one street in such a way that made it difficult for other cars to pass through quickly. Strongly worded notes might be sent to the owners of these cars as well.
  • The purchasing of a large sign for the neighborhood entrance. Should it be made out of ceramic? Wood? Some kind of laminate material? Decisions.
  • Raising the salary of the guards. This one nearly came to blows. The woman running the meeting, clearly the woman who runs the whole neighborhood, was clearly in favor of a wage increase. She would like us to consider the numerous responsibilities of the guards. Also, she would like us to consider that she has lived in this neighborhood 20 years. The man doesn’t believe in using the guards to reprimand individual residents piped up that he failed to see the relevance of that comment. We all live here now. Also, what are guards in other neighborhoods getting paid? More? Less? Shouldn’t we consider that a wage increase might put an undue burden on many of the neighbors who couldn’t make it to the meeting? At which point Neighborhood Boss rose from her chair and stabbed at the paper in her hand while uttering a long string of very fast Spanish. Someone else jumped in and moved the conversation back to “friendly neighbor” level.

We also discussed painting the playground equipment, installing an intercom system, painting a wall, and installing electricity in the guard station. Little kids ran around the park. A sixteen-year-old came by after an hour or so to see what was taking so long. He wanted his mom to drive him to hang out with friends. We chatted about lightly about jobs, gossipped about neighbors who weren’t in attendance, and sipped coffee.

I followed along with the meeting as best I could with my limited Spanish knowledge, but in the end I was outed. Neighborhood Boss closed out the discussion part of the meeting with a hand wave in my direction. “These girls are from California. And this one doesn’t speak Spanish. We’ll give her the first tamale.” That’s not an exact translation, but there were sympathetic smiles, and then somebody gave me a tamale.

 

20 Things About My House in San Salvador September 20, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — brenna @ 10:25 am
  1. Our house is on a hillside, the base of a volcano actually, and it overlooks all of San Salvador.
  2. My sheets are from Pottery Barn Kids.
  3. Our neighbor across the street is “important,” and therefore no one is allowed to park next to her house. I speculated that this was due to the risk of car bombings. The truth is, she is probably just important enough to force people to park on the other side of the street.
  4. We don’t have large outside trash cans. We just set our trash on the curb. It is very important that there be some trash on the curb when the trash man comes at 7 am three days a week. Otherwise, the trash man will knock on our door and inquire about our lack of trash, waiting at the door while we grab whatever trash we have.
  5. We essentially live at the end of a cul-de-sac, at the top of a hill, in a very private neighborhood with few people coming in and out. Still, there is a constant stream of noise. Roosters, jackhammers, men drunkedly singing, that one bird that sounds alternately like a crying child and a goat being strangled.
  6. Despite the fact that no one had asked for permission, our landlord was insistent that it was perfectly  and totally fine for us to light candles, incense, blow torches, etc. Okay, not the blow torches, but from Kristen’s notes (our house translator) it would seem that he went to extra lengths to flame-proof the house and he is just dying for us to test it out. Or something.
  7. Also, good thing he’s down with the flame throwing, because our oven/range runs on propane. Meaning that to cook we have to flip the opening on our hideous, bright yellow propane tank, and light the burners with matches. I haven’t quite…mastered this just yet. In fact, the first week we were here, three of the six of us sported small burns on our arms.
  8. Still, I’m in love with our 6-burner range. And our oven heats in about two seconds flat.
  9. From our balcony, I could reach out and grab the power line running into our house.
  10. Despite being quite tastefully decorated, with a few notable exceptions, the paint in our house looks like it was slapped on by a three-year-old. There are sprays of paint on the tile floor, a loose interpretation of where the wall stops and the ceiling begins, and a random streak of white paint on a certain red wall.
  11. There is a bird’s nest above the air conditioner outside my bedroom window.
  12. The streets in our neighborhood are fake cobblestone. I like it.
  13. Our entire house can be enclosed in metal bars. All the windows have decorative metal bar covering. Our downstairs patio and front carport have rolling metal gates that can be pulled across all openings and locked.
  14. The gardeners sweep with brooms made out of vines and cut the grass with machetes.
  15. We have housekeeping corridors, but no housekeeper. This area consists of a hallway connected to the kitchen with a bedroom and bathroom off of the hallway. The washer and dryer are at the end of the hallway opposite the opening to the kitchen. We call this area the dungeon. We keep the doors to it locked at night, despite the fact that it is just another hallway inside the house and has no doors leading outside.
  16. We’re not supposed to flush our toilet paper. We follow this rule haphazardly at best.
  17. It is abundantly clear that the homeowner has two little girls. There is a giant pink bookshelf in the upstairs loft packed with toys. My room used to contain two very whimsically shaped twin beds, a framed “Guess How Much I Love You” print, and, oddly, a children’s hamper containing little girl clothes. I still sleep on one of the whimsical beds. I took down the “Guess How Much I Love You” bunnies two weeks ago.
  18. Our neighborhood has a private park with swings, a little basketball court, and a picnic area. I’ve never seen children play there.
  19. We have a cistern in our driveway in case the water ever shuts off.
  20. Despite being able to run around with matches inside our own home, we are not allowed to light off fireworks because someone in our neighborhood has a heart condition. This was also made clear to us several times. I’m quite obliged to follow this rule, especially considering that the kind of fireworks to which they are referring are the kind that I am certain I would never, ever choose to detonate. Still, it seems to be a rather pointless rule considering the neighborhoods on either side of us seem to have no such restriction.
 

Soda Galletas and Sprite September 18, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — brenna @ 3:13 pm

I will not subject you to the details of the past two days. Let me say that any day that involves laying on the bathroom floor cannot be counted a success. Ahem.

Looking back, it is mind boggling that I even tried to go to campus two days ago. In the morning, signs were pointing to mild but very manageable symptoms of illness. Things did not progress to “praying for death” level until much later in the day. When Manuel, a staff member, came to pick us up in the morning, I was all ready with my lunch packed. We got into the car and told him we were short one girl because she was feeling sick, and to be honest, we were a teeny, tiny bit sick, too. And that was it. He basically pushed us back into our house. We were going nowhere. We needed rest. It turns out that he was very right.

Group sickness really is a bonding experience. The guys were finally well enough to hang out at our house today. We talked illness for over an hour, recounting symptoms and referencing WedMD. As it turns out, as far as food sickness is concerned, WebMD only cares that you stay hydrated. Unless there is blood or paralysis, you should suck it up and drink some Pedialyte*. This was something of a relief, since it meant I wouldn’t need to leave my bed or explain my symptoms–in Spanish–to a health professional. But it was also slightly disappointing, because…really? I’m not dying? I kind of feel like I’m dying.

At this very moment, the conversation downstairs is pondering whether the whole team would go home if one of us died. Which should give you a sense of how we’ve fared in the past two days. I think it also gives a sense of where we’re at now. We’ve been in the trenches. We can still joke about death, meaning that none of us were actually very close to it at all. We’re happy. We’re marginally healthy. We’re speculative about what did us in. My money is on the cilantro. Seriously, it’s like lettuce but with more crevices. We’re telling war stories and feeling so unbelievably grateful for one another. And indoor plumbing. I’m so grateful for indoor plumbing.

*How is it possible that Pedialyte tastes so bad? I mean, kids drink it. With that audience I guess I just thought it would be a less offensive beverage. I will never force Pedialyte on my children.

 

My Heart Will Go On September 8, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — brenna @ 6:22 pm

The other night some girls we’d met texted us to see if we wanted to watch “The Game.” It was clear that we should know about “The Game” to which they were referring. We declined the invitation, very much needing a night at home. But we didn’t even need to turn on the TV to find out the score of the Haiti/El Salvador futbol match. The fireworks and screaming across the city were quite clear.

The boys on our team, who technically live in a different city, went out to dinner at a restaurant that was showing “The Game.” When they got home from the restaurant, they noticed that the guard station lacked a television. They made the guards night by filling him in on the score. They discussed the possibility of buying him a TV. He works such a long shift, and it must be excruciatingly boring. They vetoed the idea quickly, though, recognizing that the person they pay to protect them probably has no TV for a reason.

As the boys discussed the danger of a distracted guard, Lauren offered, “I lost all confidence in our guards when I heard them listening to Celine Dion.”

Yes, it’s true. The men at our front gate in uniforms, with giant guns slung across their shoulders, listen to Celine Dion.

 

What Wealth Feels Like September 7, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — brenna @ 5:24 pm

The other day, throwing away that chicken was actually really difficult. I hate wasting food at home, especially after reading an article a couple of months ago about people eating mud cakes in Haiti to keep from starving to death. But living here in El Salvador, it’s hard knowing that I could practically throw that chicken far enough to feed a person who is hungry. And here I am putting it in the trash. I know, the chicken was bad. It wouldn’t have helped anyone. But just the thought of wasting food, or living in excess here of all places, is just a little bit…bothersome. 

The reality of our ministry focus, wealthy college students, means that we live our lives here in the top 1%. Safety issues also necessitate a lifestyle that separates us from so much of the very impoverished country we live in. 

Mostly, the class differences just fascinate me. The maids here actually wear little maid outfits. Grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, they always wear the outfit. The boys on our team actually have a live-in maid. It feels so odd to eat at their house, and then just leave the dishes out on the table for the maid to clean. But the reality is that she has been working for the family that owns this house for years and years. She is 80 years old and has no other way to support herself. In fact, her life is much more comfortable than many, many people in this country. She has food, shelter, a good salary. She gets time off every week to go visit with family in the countryside. Also, she adores the boys, who call her their “abuelita.” 

We don’t have a live-in maid. I’m happy about that. I like to cook. I like my space. I don’t really mind cleaning. I don’t want a maid. But even without a maid, it’s perfectly clear where we stand on the socioeconomic ladder. Our gated neighborhood has a 24 hour patrol. Meaning, a man with a very large gun is constantly strolling around the three streets, keeping watch. The guards are all really nice. In our neighborhood the houses are gorgeous, the people are private, and the dogs are as frou frou as they come. The dogs of the wealthy are all curly haired, delicate, frilly. They are practically a different species from the street dogs roving outside the neighborhood gates. 

The gardeners cut the grass with machetes. It looks like back breaking work, as they swish the knives across the overgrown patches.

Men dressed like clowns stand in the intersections, begging for change in possibly the most creepy way possible. 

There are more malls per capita than any city I’ve ever been to. Belying the fact that there aren’t a lot of safe places to hang out at night. 

These things are really just the hints of the extremes of where I live now. Really, almost all of the time my life looks so very American. I shop at Costco, Payless, even…gasp…Wal-Mart. The only difference between the way I live my life in America and the way I live my life here, is that life here just feels more surreal. Shopping at a beautiful mall in the US is what I would consider a normal activity. Here, it feels odd.

 

File Under: A Really Bad Idea September 6, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — brenna @ 7:28 pm

Yesterday I bought two big packs of chicken for our house of six girls, expecting to freeze them as soon as I got the chance. Then I turned the temperature on the fridge down, because it didn’t seem very cold. This morning, I drank a sip of milk, and spit it out, quickly realizing I had misunderstood which direction to turn the temperature knob. Goodbye half a gallon of milk that we can’t replace for another week because we have no car and no way to get to the grocery store.

Today, Jenna and I decided to get the chicken into the freezer before it spoiled, too. I cut open one pack, sniffed it, and pulled away.

Me: “Jenna, come smell this. Is that rotten?”

Jenna: “Um, I’m not sure. It doesn’t smell very good. Maybe if we cook it and it still smells we won’t use it.”

Me: “Ya, but what if we just froze it right now? How do we know if it’s spoiled? Maybe if I google ‘rotten chicken.'”

Jenna stared at me for a moment. Then we both started laughing.

Me: “Ya, if the chicken smells rank enough to google ‘rotten chicken’ that should probably be reason enough to throw it out.”

Here we are carefully avoiding all vegetables, sketchy beef, and ice cubes while we’re around town. Then at home, we contemplate eating rotten meat.