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Published: March 10th 2008
It's amazing the things you can learn from animals. I've learned so much from the people here, but two of the most interesting interactions I've had have been with dogs. Human culture affects them as well, just as it impacts food, beliefs, government, and the natural world.
My first experience was with the dog Surdan, who actually technically belongs to Cristina's mother who passed away two years ago. Since he is now left to his own devices, he wanders around to all the houses of the family members, grabbing food when he can. He's actually a sweet, calm dog--which has helped me start to get over my fear of the stray dogs here--so sometimes I give him a few pets when he's around. One morning, I had a hard boiled egg that I figured I could spare and give to him...I fed it to him, and immediately afterwards, Liana told me as kindly and firmly as she could that they never feed eggs to the dogs...otherwise, the dogs will eat the eggs of the chickens...and possibly the chickens as well afterwards. Being used to feeding dogs meat and other animal products in the States (here they give them tortillas
to eat when they can spare them), I felt confused, ashamed, and my knowledge went deeper. How could such a simple action have such devastating repercussions? On this basic level, it's easy to see how this can translate to much greater proportions, for example with international involvement--when something that might work to "give away" in the states can have unforeseen repercussions when the context of culture materializes.
Another day, I was munching on a tortilla, walking on my way to work, when I came across another chucho in the street. I had learned my lesson, but tortillas are safe to give to them...right? Instead of directly approaching the dog, I tossed it near its feet. It immediately sprang back and ran away, glancing to see if I was following. It must have thought I was trying to throw a rock at it, instead of trying to be generous with my safe tortilla. I tried again, but it ran even faster, terror in its eyes. The dogs and other animals here are so accustomed to being pelted with rocks or sticks or yells that when I approached this dog with food, it reacted as if I was about to make
an attack. Take the example again of international "help"--when actions can be easily misinterpreted and people/animals/nature are only reacting in the ways that they know how, based on their own cultural development.
Just when I think I have a hold on things and that I'm immersing myself into my new life here, small lessons like this remind me of how much I still have to learn.
I Get Around
Now that I'm able to call Ciudad Romero a home base, I have ventured out to a couple more places nearby.
One community that I've visited a couple times is Las Mesas, which depends on the catching of "punches", beautiful sunset-colored crabs that live inside the roots of the mangroves. I tagged along on my third day here to see a surveying process of how the system works--who's catching them (punchando), selling them, and buying them. It was impressive how much some people could relate the action of cutting down the mangroves to the decreased size of the punches. However, when I passed through Las Mesas again, I got a chance to actually see the punches after they had been caught. For me, someone's job of
catching these crabs was one of the most disturbing sights I have seen. There must have been at least 70 crabs or more in this purple pile, still alive, crawling over each other and tied together. These gorgeous works of nature reduced to a writhing stack of battered bodies.
However, it just reminded me of how removed we "unitedstatesians" are from our resources and our food. Here, the food grows, walks and cries out in your backyard. There, some kids think that the vegetables grow right in the grocery store, ripe and ready to eat. Things are changing though--with CAFTA (The Central American Free Trade Agreement) and a government that invites in the global market with open arms, its back to its own people, most of the produce here is actually from Guatemala, Mexico, and California. If it's salvadoran (or from anywhere else), it's most likely sown from genetically modified seeds and ripened with chemicals. When CAFTA began, the government gave away free seeds of corn, complete with the necessary chemicals to help the particular kind of GMO corn grow. However, after one year, the corn failed to reproduce new seeds, and as a result, you have to have
money to be a campesino (farmer) to be able to buy the seeds every year, with the price of corn rising as most of it is sold to them from the States. The campesinos become locked in this cycle, and a way to get out of it is to stop working or immigrate to the States.
Isla de Mendez
I also had the opportunity to visit Isla de Mendez, a community that rests right on the Bay of Jiquilisco. The bay is enormous, with beaches stretching towards the silouhette of volcanoes in the distance. Being able to soak my feet in a body of water was so pleasant after breathing in dusty, hot air. Although the bay is nearly hopelessly polluted (they were dumping in chunks of insulation foam while I dug holes in the sand for shells) and the size of the fish and clams are getting smaller (the fishermen use homemade bombs to kill the fish all at once), it was still lovely to look out over this brave and beautiful bay.
The "global" influence on salvadoran culture is especially evident in San Salvador, where the brightly colored, iconic loud signs in english yell
TGI Fridays, Pizza Hut, Tony Roma's, and Office Max (there's much more than McDonald's here)--not to mention the salvadoran companies that have their names in english (like "Biggest"), perhaps to compete with the unitedstatesian companies.
When I went with Jillian and Nathan to San Salvador to get out of the campo for a day, we went to the mall, ate pizza and ice cream, and met up with Laura. She took us to the nearby Universidad de Centro America, a jesuit university, and a place where jesuit priests were murdered during the civil war, provoking international attention to stop the war (I guess thousands more--the numbers of dead aren't exact, 75,000?--of massacred innocent people wasn't enough!). I was so overwhelmed by the glossy overcoat of globalized culture that I was relieved to come back to Ciudad Romero, and for the first time I found the common sight of a campesino in a cowboy hat walking down the road and brandishing a machete comforting.
El bosque (The forest)
The youth had an event in a nearby forest preserve, so I decided to accompany them (not just to see the forest, but also to make some personal connections with some
of them outside of rehearsals and to make future connections for other groups with others). It was comforting to know that there is indeed an effort to preserve some of the wildlife and native plants and trees here, judging by how irrevocably deforested the majority of El Salvador is. We had a relatively boring ranger as our guide--a shame, since the information I caught when my mind wasn't wandering was actually pretty interesting--and he told us about the crocodiles and other native wildlife in the area. Apparently, this section of land near the Rio Lempa is one of the only remaining areas of "dry rainforest" in the country, and the twisting vines and chatter of the birds are reminders of what can be saved among the fields of cow pasture and sugar cane farms.
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