{1.7.14} Crazy Quilt Part the 1st

It is a beautiful morning in San Ignacio. A cool breeze is blowing, tossing the bamboo back and forth as a slow, somewhat erratic pendulum. The roosters that started at probably 2 or 3 in the morning have been joined by a chorus of dogs from miles around (everything in lower San Ignacio is audible up here… band practices, trucks selling detergent by bullhorn, you name it), little chirpy birds in the trees abutting the deck and the occasional truck gearing up on the highway half a mile below. It’s almost a canon, with repeating motifs and elements entering the melee all throughout. The birds remind me of chickadees and morning doves, although I know that’s got to be my imagination at work. Soon, the cow will chime in. The surviving laundry on clothes hangers dances about, sometimes in time to the bamboo, shirtsleeves flapping like inaudible, kaleidoscopic applause. Tuesday morning! Whoopeeee!
Since I didn’t write about them at the time, many of the mundane (and sometimes colorful) details of the past week have faded a bit. However, every day I think of more and more motifs that keep popping out at me (sometimes at 2 in the morning with the roosters) that I want to share with you all. I am now up to 20 or so, more if I always wrote them down as I thought of them. The topics have changed slightly as I’ve been here. At the beginning, it was all things that struck me as odd or uncomfortable or different from the US. As I’ve at least partially gotten over my culture shock, it has changed to things I love about the people, the place or the culture. In any post with a title about crazy quilts, you know you’ll get a whole bunch of these experiences and observations, sometimes digested, sometimes to be eaten raw, like ripe avocado (by the spoonful) or dripping juicy mango (by the facefull). 
Sexual Harassment
When Laura and I walk around together and when I walk alone (which was actually possible in San Ignacio) and encounter men or teenagers in groups of 3 or more, there are whistles, downright creepy ‘hello’s and ‘i love you’s. Always I feel powerless. Sometimes it makes me scared. And then I get mad. Besides once running shirtless on a Friday night at 10pm during the summer, I’ve never been treated like this before, which I guess means I’m a minority in the world of women. 
I feel powerless because I don’t know how to maintain my personhood without putting myself in some sort of danger. I don’t know how to respond to these situations, and I really don’t know how to respond in Spanish. Silence is complicit, but I worry that the alternative could be worse. And then I worry that I am getting paranoid. But then I also worry that it’ll stop bugging me. Gah! Besides, would confronting them even do any good? Or would they just laugh?
I get mad because whistling at a woman is a cowardly thing to do. It’s only ever men in groups, and it’s worse when it’s dark and faces are hidden. God, I think my worst experience so far was when I walked back and forth from the wake for Lucy’s aunt who had died that morning. It was a wake! I might have punched a couple of them, too, except Danny caught up to us with a flashlight and the keys at that moment and asked why we were walking so fast. 
On Saturday morning, Lucy’s aunt died suddenly of a heart attack while walking to the doctor. It came as a complete surprise to the family, and was a devastating loss to Lucy as the aunt had become a second mother for her after her own mother passed away far too young. Her father was also pretty devastated as she left him one of the last surviving members of his generation. 

I had never been to a wake before, so this one was a completely foreign experience in many ways. It took place in a compound of houses, where an inner chamber (probably a living room normally) housed the casket and gorgeous white flowers. By the time we arrived, it was in full swing. The visiting Guatemalan singer for Family Weekend shared some songs, ending on an upbeat note to remind people that this was a celebration of life more than a time to regret its passing. The visiting Honduran pastor provided a lengthy sermon. Then there were tamales, cookies and lukewarm coffee for the probably 150 or more people spilling out of adjacent rooms and into the street. Here are some snapshots from the experience: 

Youngish boys swinging around poles and playing tag during the sermon with infrequent hushing from adults. 
Women, haggard from grief and exhaustion, carrying huge platters with plates of tamales and coffee, tending fires and finally slumped in chairs after the hustle and bustle had died down. 
The open cooking fire for the tamales not ten feet from a fancy Yamaha speaker from the church  projecting the music for the gathered multitudes outside. 
Jasson (our friend from the extra english classes, 9th grade and overall a wonderful person I will talk more about) standing patiently in the corner for tech support, out of place as a skinny teenager with outstretched ears among a room of somber elders mourning one of the last of her generation. Before having played in the church band that evening. Afterwards talking animatedly with Laura and I about Salvadoran idiomatic expressions until 12:30, to get up 5 hours later to bring the audio equipment back to church before a marathon 3-hour church service and a funeral and other evening classes and programming. 
Me: “This is a ton of people to come to a wake.”
Jasson: “Oh, it’s not nearly as many as came to [other beloved old woman who passed away last year]’s.”
Lucy coming up to me during a break in food prep, eyes red and puffy, for a hug and a shoulder at a convenient height. 
Wake as prime social gathering of the week. Young men and older questionable men up the hill a bit and in the shadows on their phones. Old men perched under a lamppost talking. Teenagers with their forces smiles and scared-to-be-left-behind eyes flitting and finally exiting en masse in a microbus. Close family members with a chair apiece in the casket room, the only ones who can actually see the gorgeous flower arrangements. The little boys who run about and scream now and then in pursuit of one another. Young upstanding men lounging in the light of the house, chatting and positioned to just barely make out the proceedings inside the house. Kids falling asleep in laps and hammocks. 
Making friendship bracelets while talking to Jasson as people leave the room with the casket and peer down interestedly at what I’m up to. 
Esau: “That will be 1 quarter for viewing privileges. I’ll be collecting that for you.” 
I guess humor is acceptable when people die. Maybe it’s part of the healing process, along with the entire church stopping by and eating your tamales and cookies. 

the only picture I could quite bring myself to take of the wake
all the little triangle of light center light is where the singer
is singing


8 Comments Add yours

  1. I'd love to learn your slang 🙂 Yeah, I feel that feeling. And I have thought those same thoughts. I already sometimes feel self-conscious here because I look different, and thinking about what I wear in terms of how others will perceive me (instead of how I will feel wearing it) does suck. Thanks for the validation, and I'm glad you're reading 🙂


  2. ps: this is Hannah 😉


  3. I know there is women who say they don`t feel it`s harassing to them but I feel even it it`s intended to be a piropo (like something positive/appreciative), well I haven`t asked the guy, I don`t need his opinion so, I say something back to them always… either just “no te pedí tu opinión” or “pendejo” or worse…(I can teach you all that slang, don`t worry 😉 but I think almost all women can relate to that feeling, it`s not cool when you always have to think about “will this shirt make them look/whistle/say something?” or “is this short cut okay or should I go through the street that has more light/people”… it`s not just not cool, it so sucks I`d say and I get angry about that… because I feel the whole cat call issue is just a little thing in a much bigger picture of violence against women..


  4. Kat says:

    For what it's worth, I do think some of the attention is intended as positive and appreciative, though some is certainly sleazy. I got so used to hearing it after years in CR that I actually felt sort of ignored and unappreciated when I first came back to the US. (I'm a little embarrassed to admit to this extremely un-PC reality.) It would be worth asking people like Raul what they think of it to put it in better context. My guess is that there are cultural divides within El Salvador, and that somebody like Raul would never whistle at women or approve of doing so, and that many men would say they're being appreciative (without wondering whether the women experience it that way.) I had Heritage Spanish classes that behaved quite differently in this regard — one had a whistler whose attentions were appreciated by at least one woman, but another class never had interactions of that sort at all.
    You might consider asking some local people for help with self-protective and sanity-saving come-backs or responses. My “back off” line to marriage propositions was “I'll get married when I find a guy who can cook, sew and iron better than I can.” That shut them right up! (And I found him!) A friend used to say “Not until I've travelled 10,000 miles.” Something quick, assertive, but not judgmental or angry feels best in my experience — I leave the encounter feeling in control rather than rattled. I also found that older women sometimes enjoyed the task of teaching me assertive (and sometimes rude) verbal responses to bothersome men. A granny taught me “pendejo!”


  5. Yeah, I guess Wellesley has made me into a bit of a militant feminist. Thinking about your comment, I was saying to myself “but how do I know what their intent is? do they want to be appreciative or demeaning?” Maybe, though, for my own sanity, I should take it as the former and get on with my life. Girls also whistle, too, and that is definitely appreciative and supportive. Thanks for giving me another way to think about it. And I appreciate that you were willing to share your perspective.


  6. I will think more about your reflections on sexual harassment. My perspective as an older man is very different, of course; but I wonder if some of the whistles and comments are not meant to be appreciative and even affirmative rather than harassing or abusing. Also, might it be that individual young men are simply too shy individually but feel safer to express themselves in a group. Certainly, their behavior is not unique to men in E.S., as I have witnessed it here in the USA, as well as in other countries abroad. In Chile some young women seemed to appreciate such demonstrations of interest — or at least it seemed that way to me as an older observer.


  7. I love the ways you “capture” images and moments of experience in your blogs. Some of them, like the wake, are new to me; I did not experience those things during our stay last year. Others, like Lucy and the pupuseria bring back found memories of sights, sounds, aromas, and that indescribable something that is El Salvador in the mountains. Thank you for all of those evocative words — yours and Laura's, too — as well as the picture.


  8. Soren Hauge says:

    I'm looking forward to seeing more patches of the quilt.


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