I’ve just come from the town health clinic where I saw my first human birth! After twelve hours of labor, Carmen – with whom I became acquainted as I entered her delivery room – pushed a beautiful baby girl out into the world and I witnessed the climactic finish. She didn’t seem to mind my presence amidst all that huffing and puffing, and besides privacy is a rarity for Salvadorans. Though much the same as videotaped births on the Discovery Channel and in my fifth-grade sex-ed class, this was exciting! And gross, but very exciting. And as the doctor reached for the waning supply of gauze and sterilized scissors, the experience was very much a reminder that I live in a third world village.
In a similar exposure to medicine in the campo, a month ago I joined one doctor and two dentists on a medical brigade just over the border of Honduras. More than 200 people waited patiently in one or both of the two lines: the first line offered a three-minute check-up with the doctor and resulted in a prescription of some sort, which I filled from the medicine we brought with us; the second line was a quick dental examination behind a blue plastic tarp which usually resulted in one to several on-the-spot tooth extractions. That was interesting to watch but very gruesome, I won’t lie. The other PC volunteer and I gave impromptu lessons to the waiting throng of people on treating diarrhea and sexually transmitted diseases.
Things that do not remind me that I live in El Salvador are the malls for the rich, of which there are several and they are very beautifully done. Yes, I go there often for retail therapy and to feel normal for a few hours with a latte and an air-conditioned movie. Then I hop onto two different busses filled with chickens and very poor Salvadorans for a cumulative seven hours of travel to come home. The contrast is stark and fantastic. Thank goodness for capitalism and globalization, I don’t know what I’d do without good sushi and a decent makeup counter.
As for American fiestas, I am spending Thanksgiving at the residence of the great American Ambassador to El Salvador. I think we’re to watch football with his marine detail then indulge in tryptophan the good ol’ American way and with as much stuffing as I can possibly…stuff…in my mouth. I like pupusas a lot, but a break ain’t bad. I will dutifully relate all the fabulous hobnobbing in the capital once the affair is over, though I am always sad to be missing my favorite holiday – the only one I celebrate with gusto – with my favorite family. I have much to be thankful for this year and my own happiness tops the list. I have become conscious of Joy and Stimulation several times a day, and Adventure and Challenge always meet me at the doorstep; I’m glad to have them as companions in a strange and wonderful place. I’ll put a door to my room on my Christmas list, though, as I’d love to renew my friendship with Privacy and Quiet.
Aside from the seemingly plentiful extracurricular adventures in medicine and cuisine, Joateca is all a´bustle with the coming festivals: recently passed is the celebration of the land and the plentiful crops we (well, they) reap, and the festival celebrating Mary’s divine conception comes next and promises bullfighting and lots and lots of good food. Then Christmas comes, which obviously celebrates Jesus and the many presents he received at his famous birth. We continue that tradition faithfully today. As for the weather, the rainy winter season has been replaced by dry and windy summer. The rains that used to dependably undo all the work that went into hanging my drying clothes on the roof have gone. The permanent sinkholes and mudpools have dried to reveal that there actually is earth beneath, and I’ve stopped carrying my umbrella with me everywhere. But as the air dried it was replaced by an astonishingly strong and cold wind reminiscent of Chicago. Bundled in two sweaters, long pants and a jacket, who knew El Salvador gets cold! My PC recruiter certainly didn't mention it. If I can suffer from tropical skin rashes, where are the tropics?
Besides partaking in the festivities and the many imaginative incarnations of the single corn plant, I’ve been quite busy with work. I helped organized the first open town hall meeting of the year (there should have been three already), I am soliciting the municipality to repair the ambulance that has been out of commission for more than a year; I am helping a community group become legalized, learn how to administrate projects, and am getting my hands dirty with the construction of a two-room schoolhouse; I am working with a government program that deals in ‘conditional cash-transfers’ to the most impoverished to provide warm clothing to kids under ten; I am teaching beginning English to two sixth grade classes (forty-five rugrats in all) and tutor a bright sixteen-year-old; I am working with the health inspector to create a presentation on sanitary trash removal and composting to the town council and the urban population who will soon have to become conscious of their trash disposal methods and, well, pay for them. It ain’t free. I’d like to: help a group of women create a small business, spruce up the park, and help five communities gain access to potable water. I’m getting ahead of myself, but The Moral of the Story: don’t believe those who say one person can’t effect change.
*Continuation of wage comparisons:
- A local construction worker earns about $260/month.
- The pastor of Evangelical Church earn about $160/month in donations from his members to support his family of five.
- The paid helper who lives in my house earns $100/month for cooking, cleaning, caring for the 3-year-old, and washing all laundry by hand.
-A low level government employee makes about $250/month after taxes.
*The Millennium Challenge Account, to which the US is donating about $460 million aid dollars to El Salvador. Out of 262 municipalities across the country, 92 will benefit from a border-to-border (Guatemala to Honduras) highway the will be built across the mountainous northern zone beginning next year. Joateca’s horrible earthen road will be paved! I feel like most people here prayed for that at least once, so thanks to Jesus and to the US of A.