Friday, September 30, 2011
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
I’ve now traveled to El Salvador and back again 3 times. Each trip I have played the role of cheese smuggler. When news spreads that you’re traveling to the US you start to hear things like, “vas muy encargada?” or “do you have a little space in your suitcase that I could send something small to my family?” I literally told ONE person in the US that I MIGHT be coming home for a short visit and people in El Salvador the next day would say, “I’ve heard you’re going to Estados Unidos…” How in the world…I haven’t even DECIDED yet! Anyway, it is hard to say no. These are family members or family members of people who live with your family members. All year long they receive their remesas and they really want to send something in return. It is ALWAYS CHEESE. I get it, there’s nearly nothing they can send from El Salvador that one can’t buy in the US. I would even say that, one can buy Salvadoran cheese in the US. It doesn’t taste EXACTLY the same, but neither does the cheddar I bought from Super Selectos, so we’re even.
So they show up, the day before you’re scheduled to leave with a small package, wrapped in foil and black plastic bags and masking tape all around declaring PARA LUIS or quien sea. It is 5 lbs of cheese. Plus a few marquesotes and quesadillas (another 5 lbs) and after 5 people do this, you have eaten up your entire 50 lb baggage allowance on cheese. You also must thoroughly interrogate them on what’s in the bags because they will not tell you unless you ask and they will slip other things in. This is important because a) if it’s a liquid it can’t go in carry-on luggage, b) you can face penalties and fines for not declaring stuff at customs, and c) some things are not allowed in.
For example, someone wanted to send eye drops to their loved one in the US. Regardless of the fact that we have eye drops in the US, these weren’t some special eye drops, literally just visine, they need to go in checked luggage. Someone else wanted to send some dried fish. You know those small tilapias they farm everywhere in El Salvador…dried was the only way to describe them. Now, I don’t know if this fish is allowed in or not but it’s going to get questioned. Last time I brought a bunch of little bags of pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds). In general seeds are not allowed and specifically pumpkin seeds because of some beetle. Customs has all kinds of reasons why you’re not allowed to bring stuff in. You aren’t allowed to bring ANY citrus in because of possible citrus diseases. You actually are allowed to bring cheese in, the drier the better. If it’s runny though, it’s probably a no go. So I know I’m allowed to bring in the cheese. I’m not exactly smuggling it. The problem is, if you declare it, they WILL search you. If you say you have cheese, well they need to SEE the cheese and make sure it’s not the kind that’s prohibited. That takes TIME that you might not have when you’re running to make a too tight connection and don’t want to get stuck in Miami, Houston, or Dallas. So, I’ve heard, many many people take their chances and don’t declare their food items. Either one, because they know they’re not supposed to bring them in or two, because they don’t want the hassle and are trying to make a connecting flight.
The other thing is the weight. Cheese is heavy. I thought I had found a great deal on a flight from San Salvador to DC on Spirit Airlines, $65 plus taxes, so $165. I was only going for a short trip so I just brought a few t-shirts and one pair of jeans. I could’ve packed it all in a tote bag as a “personal item” which is the only free bag Spirit allows. Instead I ended up paying $38 to check a suitcase that was literally filled with 70lbs of cheese, marquesotes & quesadillas (dense sweet breads), and tamales de elote (again HEAVY). Since it was over 40lbs I also got hit with an overweight charge of $50 which brings my ticket price closer to $250. Which is not really a deal. The only deal part of it is that it’s a one way ticket and I didn’t know exactly when I was going to return so I wanted a one way.
SO knowing all that, my American friends inevitably ask, why don’t I charge them a fee? I knew the Spirit fees upfront and I thought, well I’m bringing some clothes anyway and a carry-on bag costs nearly the same as a much bigger checked bag so it’s no big deal. The big deal is when they bring 20 lbs vs. 5 and move me into the overweight category. At Spirit it may be $50 but American charges $100 for each overweight bag. Also, I did sorta suggest it once and the look I got was incredulous. It said you are a greedy heartless woman to charge someone for such a *small* package.
All this ranting to say, yes I’ll still smuggle your cheese for you. But I’m going to bitch about it on the internets every step of the way.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
toasted tortillas with cuajada--I actually eat this at home too but it tastes better in El Salvador!
buying a stack of tortillas for a dollar--We eat tortillas when we're in Maryland too but only when family comes over and makes them. In Maryland, M's family always made tortillas and there were always tortillas at the ready so I thought it was so weird when we got here and I learned that his sisters don't make tortillas. They know how to make them, they just find it easier to buy them. You can get a big stack of freshly made tortillas for a dollar.
joey meowing outside our door to let him in--joey is the kitten that wandered into the house one day and never left when he figured out he had hit the jackpot. I am acat lover. I have three cats at home (monica, chandler, and phoebe) and this little kitten made me feel a little less homesick during that first month here. The only problem with joey is I got him too late. He is evil! He doesn't know not to bite and I've tried everything I've read on the internet. He will grab my hand with his paws and pull it to his mouth and gnaw on it. Not biting through the skin, just chewing and then licking. Everytime you try to pet him, he grabs your hand to chew it. He is the most hyper cat I've ever seen and he follows me to the bathroom and runs ahead and climbs up the tree and then swats my head as I enter the bathroom. Malo!
picking limes off the tree when you need one--I never knew I needed a lime tree until I moved here. They call them limones indios but I'm pretty sure they're key limes. When they're fully ripe they're a really yellowish green color.
sweeping mountain vistas--the scenery here is beautiful. No picture I take can do it justice. It helps that it's the rainy season, everything is so GREEN. Verdant!
little kids showing up to play uno--I taught M to play uno just so he could teach the little kids here. Uno is great cause it transcends language. The only English word on the cards is WILD and that's easy enough to explain. Endless hours of fun.
getting to know all my new little nieces & nephews & cousins--I thought I'd want to live in San Salvador, thought I would HATE living in a small town. It's really not that bad and the little kids make a big difference.
Friday, September 23, 2011
frequent brown outs--this is more annoying than anything. The lights will frequently go out, then come back on, or dim and then get bright. If you use the microwave you can literally hear when the voltage drops.
hotdogs in tomato sauce--I eat pretty much anything that my sister in law makes if it means I don't have to cook, but hotdogs in tomato sauce or 'salchichas en salsa' is just wrong.
fridge that was never cold--I put all my drinks in the freezer, 'nough said.
4am trips to the letrina--I cannot make it through the night without having to go to the bathroom. I go right before I go to bed but still, 3-5 hours later I wake up with a need to pee that is like no other. So I have to get up, find my flip flops, grab the flashlight, and make my way there and I slip on the brick path every. single. time. These bricks get covered in moss and are damp from the rain. Even though I step carefully, I always slip. You guys are going to think I'm mean, but because of this, I make M get up too to make sure I don't fall and break my neck. Whatever, he has to pee too.
mosquito larvae in the pila--the pila is supposed to be emptied and cleaned with bleach every two days. We're not always on top of things and sometimes it doesn't get emptied or cleaned. Then these little mosquito larvae show up in the water and, well it's just not good.
dirt in the bed--it's hard to keep dirt out of our room because our bedroom door opens up to an open air area. I'm putting this one squarely on M, he will walk outside barefoot and then come back and hop in bed without cleaning his feet. IT DRIVES ME UP THE WALL. I constantly have to sweep out my bed.
charco (mud)--it obviously rains a lot here during the rainy season. The dirt roads turn to rivers and are so muddy. I have never worn shoes other than flip flops here because I don't want to have to clean my shoes. At least with flip flops I can just pour water over my feet and flip flops and be clean in a minute.