Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What I know, what I think I know and what I don't know

Several weeks ago I asked you about what are the 10 "staples" that you always had in your kitchen cupboard.  Thank you to all of you who took the time to respond.  What I learned is that there is a vast variety of foods that people like to eat in Canada and in general most of us have more than 10 staple foods.  The top foods that were several on people's lists are:
*tomatoes (canned or fresh)
*fruit (apples were popular)
*vegetables (carrots, onions and celery were popular)
*peanut butter

Only one person admitted to having "beef" in the fridge, while someone else listed "vodka and beer" and in response to things found frequently in your kitchen, one person listed their husband!

Some of my week day house mates discussed my Salvadoreno list at length and decided that  I left off avocados, mangos, and limes.  They also thought that tamales (ground corn meal surrounding a filling such as chicken or potatoes, steamed in a palm leaf...yummy) and pupusas (fried patties of ground rice or corn patties stuffed with a variety of fillings --my new favourite is grated zucchini and cheese, but beans and cheese are the most popular -- topped with something like an oil/vinegar coleslaw and tomato sauce) needed to be mentioned in any discussion of Salvadoreno cuisine.

Okay, so this is a bit embarrassing to talk about, but I'm going to talk about it anyway because from this I have learned some important things.  I have been having huge hair issues since I got to El Salvador.  Particularly in rural El Salvador where I spend the week, there is really only one hair style for women, pulled back in a pony tail or a bun of some type.  I have been trying to grow my hair so that it would be long enough.  I thought that having "longer hair"would help me to fit in here.  Finally last week it was long enough for a teeny, tiny pony tail.     In all seriousness it looked stupid.  As well as trying to "fit in" my other reason for not wanting to get my hair cut was fear that it would look even worse   Since women in general don't have short hair, in my vanity and arrogance, I was concerned that a hair stylist here wouldn't know what to do with my hair and with my limited Spanish I'd end up with a really awful hair cut.

On Saturday I was at the big mall in El Salvador and it was really hot and my hair was sticking out everywhere and I just decided I needed to do something about it.  I got brave and walked into a hair place.  My stylist opened up a magazine to a really great hair cut for me and we were off.  On Monday I arrived at the office and everyone noticed my new short hair and were very positive about it.  By the end of the day my  female house mates told me that everyone thought I looked very "guapa" (pretty) and much younger.  Turns out having "Salvadorena" hair is not one of the ways I need to show respect for the culture here.

I have to laugh it all because I was trying so hard to "adapt" to the Salvadorian way of doing things and in this case it didn't matter at all.  It led me to thinking about how many times in my life I do things because I think it is what other people want.  I remember being very surprised when I quietly brought up the subject with my Mom once of not coming home for a "minor" vacation day (it might have been Victoria Day).  Turns out she was glad not to feel obligated to cook a big meal.  We were both locked in our expectations of what we thought the other person wanted.  Interesting...

One of the things that I clearly know nothing about is water.  Until this year it is fair to say that I have given it very little thought.  However, that is all changing.  I think about whether when we turn on the tap in Guaco there will be water to fill the pila.  Since that one Monday night a few weeks ago where there was limited water, there has been enough water at that house.  We are having some problems with the water pump at the house in San Salvador. This meant that on Saturday we had no running water (another reason my hair was awful!).  Hopefully this will soon be fixed.   Even when there is water, there is no "hot" water.  There is only one tap on sinks and the water is tepid to cold (the only place I have found in the country with hot water is the Hilton hotel).

This week I have been spending time with the "water" team.  They are working on a project with "Engineers without Boarders" to bring potable water to rural areas here.  The project is in the planning stages and members of the water team are working with communities to understand their needs, determine the options and eventually to create a strategy.  Water issues are complicated here because there is very little uncontaminated surface or ground water.  In addition to pumping water places it all has to be filtered as well.  The technical aspects of all of this are so beyond my realm at the moment, but the process of engaging communities is fascinating.  Once again, I am in awe of the skill level of the staff here.  I am learning a lot about community development and engagement.   I am looking forward to being able to share some of this with my colleagues when I return to Canada.

Thank you for your prayers and thoughts about the staff at Radio Victoria who received threats.  Although there is still fear and security precautions are place, everyone continues to be safe.   This is part to a strong response from the international community, including the United Church of Canada.  Many groups, organizations and individuals contacted authorities in the Salvadoreno government.  A strong international response helps to keep people safe here.  Thank you for being  apart of that response.

 There is a process going on called a Strategic Environmental Assessment which is being conducted by the Ministry of the Economy.  This process will look at the environmental impact of mining and make a recommendation at to whether mining should be allowed here.  Not surprisingly there are huge issues with who is and who isn't allowed to provide information to the consultants, what the scope is and in fact if there is any legitimacy at all to the process.  It appears to me (even with limited Spanish and limited knowledge of process here) that Ministry of the Economy would really like this document to support mining.   This issue will continue to unfold here...it is far from over.

Martha and I enjoy peanut butter toast ( peanut butter was part of the care packages that I have received from home).  Martha is also working on English and so appreciated the easy reading books in English that were sent by friends and family.

Hilda (in purple) and Francisca (in brown) are two of the staff  leading the planning workshop on water .  In this case, the workshop was held on the road and everyone had to pick up their chairs when people riding horses needed to pass through or for the occasional car.  

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