Lucky Soap, Chicken Bones & more

The most recent superstitious thing Suegra has brought into the house is this soap. She got this in El Salvador for Carlos.

The soap is supposed to bring you luck in whatever you need luck in, (in our case, dinero.) Carlos said he wasn’t sure he believed in it but proceeded to lather up anyway.

When I laughed at him, Carlos tried rubbing it on me.

“Hey, you better watch where you rub that,” I said.
“Why?”
“Well, I don’t know how it works but what if whichever body part you rub it on is the one that brings in money?” I said.

Carlos stopped rubbing the lucky soap on me after that.

Usually, I try not to laugh at things like this – I try to be respectful of other people’s beliefs, but some of them seem very strange and even silly, (though Suegra and Carlos think I have equally weird beliefs sometimes.)

Here are just a few of the beliefs I’ve encountered over the years while living with two Salvadorans.

Voodoo?

I actually prefer the “silly” beliefs because the alternative is disturbing ones like the time I believe she tried to put a curse on me. I will never forget the time Suegra angrily moved out of our house. During that year that we were “disowned” I was cleaning the house and happened upon something which quite frankly kind of freaked me out.

When I dusted the top of the doorbell box high on the wall, I knocked something down. Whatever it was, it clattered to the floor. I reached down to pick it up and knew immediately that Suegra had something to do with it. It was a chicken bone and I really don’t know why she put it there. She may have put it there as a blessing on the house when we were on good terms – or, more likely, she may have put it there as a curse when she left. I still haven’t asked because I don’t want to stir up anything with her.

The reason I suspect Suegra is the one who put the chicken bone up there is because it’s just too strange for there to be any other explanation. After all, I already know some of her other beliefs, and this wouldn’t even be the strangest. For example, I know that there was a woman Carlos was involved with before he came to the United States. Suegra hated this woman and she told Carlos to stay away from her, but he wouldn’t. This is when Suegra became convinced that this woman had cast a spell on him by putting his photo in her underwear.

Luck & Wealth

Speaking of underwear, I mentioned before that she wears her own underwear inside out for luck.

When one of the children accidentally puts their shirt on inside out, Suegra announces that it’s “Día de San Antonio” and this is also good luck.

Rue plants likewise bring good luck.

A lot of her superstitions revolve around attracting good luck/money and discouraging bad luck/loss of money. She chides me for sweeping in the evening, (the household will lose money.)

Magnets, on the other hand, attract luck/money.

Health

Beliefs that don’t fall into the luck/money category, usually fall into the health category. She avoids quick changes in temperature. If she has been using her sewing machine she says her muscles are “hot” and so she won’t reach into the freezer to retrieve anything – (she has me do it instead.)

Carlos is also this way to some degree though he never explained it. When we first got married he’d come home from work and though he loves to be clean, he would always wait awhile before taking a shower – saying he wanted to rest first. Later I realized that this was part of that same belief. And now that I think about it, I wonder if when Carlos’s Mexican co-workers advised him not to have sex with the ceiling fan on, perhaps the hot/cold thinking is also why they believe that.

Other medical issues – “Empacho” is a gastrointestinal problem which Suegra believes can lead to death. She gets very worried about feeling bloated and will do everything from massaging her stomach to brewing various concoctions to cure it.

Sometimes Suegra also complains of having air trapped in the body. I don’t know if this has scientific merit or not. I don’t know if it has a specific name but she’ll say “Tengo aire” before pounding a fist against her back in an attempt to clear it out.

Other oddities

Suegra believes that if you point at a rainbow, you’ll make it disappear. Also, you should not watch a dog relieving itself or it will cause a sty on your eye.

Have you heard of “Tapa Boca” candles, or “Shut up” candles? If someone is gossiping about you, you light it and by the time it burns out, the person will be forced to stop talking about you. There are dozens of other similar candles for every imaginable problem as well.

In the end, living with Carlos and Suegra all these years has caused some of their creencías to rub off on me.

If the palm of my hand becomes itchy, my first thought is that I will soon come into money. And, if my ears are ringing, I assume someone is talking about me so I bite the tip of my tongue.

No matter how angry I get at someone though, I will not hide a chicken bone in their house.

Links:

A blog post about hot/cold beliefs

Clementino, ya no me quiere

(New to the Clementino saga? Start at the beginning.)


With my supply of Bubu Lubus at dangerously low levels, and my attempts to find another local dealer of my favorite Mexican candy having failed, I swallowed my pride and found myself outside Clementino’s store. Weeks had passed since our last encounter – since the day he had gotten into a shouting match with my husband. Carlos granted me permission to go to the store on the condition that I “act like una mujer casada and not like a school girl.” … Fair enough.

The bells on the door tinkling behind me, I went inside the small dimly lit store. As I got in line behind a little woman wiring money, Clementino looked up and smiled. There on the counter top sat the familiar blue box full of Bubu Lubus – his previous threat to no longer sell them had only been a bluff meant to make me feel badly for not accepting his piropo.

The woman in front of me shuffled out of the store and I approached the counter.
“Buenas tardes,” I said.
“Buenas tardes…¿Qué quieres?” he asked in a friendly way, lifting his chin toward me.
“Cinco dólares en Bubu Lubus,” I said, looking at the box.
“Cinco dólares…en… Bubu Lubus,” he repeated, taking the box down and counting them out on the counter.

I thought about saying something, about asking why he had been so rude to my husband that day – but what acceptable excuse could there be? I asked no questions and he offered no apologies. The unspoken thing sat between us like an unseemly fence between good neighbors.

After a moment passed, Clementino cleared his throat. Breaking the silence, he finally said what was on both our minds.
“Estás enojada conmigo.”
“No, no estoy enojada,” I replied, immediately chastising myself for being too nice.
“Sí, estás enojada,” Clementino insisted, “porque ya no vienes a visitarme como antes.”
“Bueno, estoy un poco enojada,” I said. He lifted his eyes from the counter top and looked at me.
Before he could say anything and before I could lose my courage, I forced myself to say what I knew I should.
“Portaste muy mal con mi esposo,” I said, tsking him.
“No,” he said shaking his head.
“Sí,” Now it is I who insists. “Sí, portaste mal.”

Clementino switches to English as he slides my debit card through the machine.

“Your husband said I sold the phone cards to him but I didn’t,” he said meekly. “You came that day – not your husband. I never saw your husband that day. Maybe he bought the cards from my wife, but he said I sold them to him, and I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. Yo estaba en el carro cuándo él venia a comprarlas. Bien recuerdo que fue tú.”

Clementino shakes his head, puts the receipt and pen on the counter. I sign while he puts the Bubu Lubus into a small, black plastic bag.

He holds the bag hostage as he tells me, “He came with your mother-in-law. Your mother-in-law always has problems with the phone cards – nobody else. If she was a more regular customer, I would care, but she only comes for the phone cards and to cause problems. N’hombre. I don’t care about her.”

I’m not sure what he expects me to say. If he doesn’t like my Suegra, I don’t care either – that didn’t give him the right to yell at my husband that day. I look at Clementino. He doesn’t apologize. Qué terco. He shrugs as he hands me the bag.

“Okay then,” I say, sighing. “Hasta luego.”
He lifts his chin in my direction and mumbles “hasta luego.”

Standing on the sidewalk in front of the store, blinking against the bright afternoon sunlight, I feel a little like a deflated balloon. It’s obvious, Clementino ya no me quiere… this is a good thing… but I was so hoping we could go back to being friends. Maybe that will happen again some day, but we aren’t there yet.

(Image source)

Empacho

Lately Suegra has been suffering from “empacho” … This illness has always confused and amused me – And Suegra is equally confused as to how it’s possible that gringos don’t believe in it, and usually have never even heard of it.

“Empacho” is a gastrointestinal illness that many people in El Salvador and other parts of Latin America believe can kill you. I decided to interview her about it for anthropological reasons because it doesn’t seem well documented.

Interview below, (in Spanish.)

Note: The use of the word “chibolitas” in Salvadoran Caliche means “little round objects” or “little balls.” (The word has other meanings in other parts of Latin America.)

(If interested in a translation to English, let me know in comments and I’ll see about transcribing it.)

Duritos & Fútbol

Reading La Cocina de Leslie the other day, I came upon her blog post about Duritos. I knew I had seen something similar at the Latino Market many times before, but I always passed by without really checking them out, assuming it was some sort of healthy spaghetti.

With Leslie’s post in mind, I bought a bag for less than $2 when I went to the Latino Market. I let the kids watch me cook them so they could witness the magic. It’s neat to watch them puff up when they hit the hot oil, (and I never would have guessed you cook them this way. I would have boiled them if I hadn’t been told otherwise!)

When Suegra saw me preparing to cook them, she tried to act like she knew all about them even though in more than a decade she has never mentioned them, eaten them or cooked them in my presence. She gets jealous when I know something she doesn’t when it comes to cooking.

She asked where I heard about them and I replied “una amiga que vive en México.” Suegra sniffed and then claimed that El Salvador has Duritos too and that she used to cook them “all the time” – (even though she hung over my shoulder and couldn’t hide her surprise as they puffed up in the pan.)

I wasn’t in the mood for her games so I told her, “I don’t believe you ever ate them or cooked them.” Then, just to get her goat I added, “I discovered them first.” She sucked in her breath and finally left the kitchen saying, “I suppose you invented pupusas too!”

Anyway, we ate them while watching the opening game for DC United which was just as good as the Duritos. The boys preferred the Duritos plain while Carlos and I experimented with Valentina hot sauce, salt and lime.

(Thanks, Leslie, for a new favorite snack!)

Spanish I

(English translation in comments.)

Ayer venía los resultados en el correo. Mi hijo que está en grado siete ha tomado un examen para deducir en cuáles clases lo van a poner en el siguiente año. Ya está en clases avanzadas, pero la escuela quieren ver si está listo por algo aún más dificíl. El examen que me interesa más de todo, fue el examen de español.

Desde que eran chiquitos, yo quería poner mis niños en una escuela bilingüe, pero, como es el caso con muchas cosas en la vida, simplemente no tenemos el dinero de hacerlo. Por eso los niños están en la escuela publica – y no tiene nada de malo. Nuestra experiencia con las escuelas publicas ha sido buena. Mis dos hijos han hecho muy bien y casi siempre tuvieron suficiente desafios y buenos maestros. La unica cosa que me falta es que no tienen una clase de español, y me daba mucha tristeza que los niños, (todos los niños, no sólo mis hijos), están perdiendo una gran oportunidad de aprender una idioma con fluidez. Cada año que pasa sin enseñarles, es un gasto y yo creo que nuestro gobierno está cometiendo un gran error de no darle las clases de “lengua extranjera” más importancía.

Los beneficios de aprender un segundo idioma son muchos.

Bueno, y es por eso, (y porque son sus raíces), que yo quería que mi hijo comienze clases de español lo más pronto posible. El problema fue que al entrar a el grado ocho, todavía tenía que endurar otro año más de “Honors Reading.” Lo crees? No están comenzando clases de “lengua extranjera” hasta grado nueve! No – no lo acepto. Ya mucho esperamos.

Gracias a Dios, mi hijo tuvo la oportunidad de tomar un examen, a ver si es capaz de saltarse un grado respecto a ciertas clases. Vinieron los resultados y mira!

Va a saltar “Honors Reading” por grado ocho – y va a comenzar high school Spanish I!

¡Qué orgullo y felicidad siento yo! … Ojalá mi hijo puede escribir un blog post por el “Spanish Friday” un día muy pronto.

___

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Penqueadores

Penquear – (origin Caliche) To spank/hit/slap, golpear

We had finished eating and our youngest son had already run off to play. Carlos, our older son, Suegra and I sat around the table, our plates pushed away, and talked for awhile as we usually do.

Carlos had a small argument with one of the guys at work and was telling us about what happened. The fact that the co-worker was Mexican really didn’t have anything to do with the conversation except to identify which guy Carlos was talking about – but you can’t say “mexicano” around Suegra without her getting started. Like many older people, she has some “preconceived notions” which aren’t malicious so much as misinformed. Of course she pipes up with the usual, “Así son los mexicanos, pues.”

Carlos gives me a look that means I should bite my tongue, but I can’t keep quiet.

“No puedes juzgar a todos los mexicanos así. Tengo un montón de amigos mexicanos y son muy buena gente.” I say.

Suegra shakes her head. We go back and forth a few times. Things are getting a little heated.

“Los hombres mexicanos son muy penqueadores!” she says, as if that settles it.

I start to tell her it’s not true of all Mexican men, and that Salvadoran men have their own reputation as well, but she interrupts, as is her way.

“Y si yo estuviera una joven, jamás me voy a salir con un mexicano!”

This conversation is going no where, so I decide to tease her.

“Y si está bien meloso?”
“De eso miel, no voy a comer!” she says.
“Y si está bien guapo?” I ask.
She looks at me as if I’m an idiot.
“Los mexicanos no son guapos, vos!” she says as if it’s common sense. (Forgetting that I know for a fact she has a crush on Vicente Fernandez.)

I catch Carlos’s eye and decide not to push it further. Insisting that there are plenty of mexicanos guapos will only make him celoso and cause problems for me. The table falls quiet since I fail to return fire, and then our twelve year old, who we had forgotten was sitting there, speaks up.

“Huh,” he says, “I didn’t know Mexicans like to spank people… that’s weird.”

Because he says this in English, Suegra has no idea what’s going on when I start laughing. Carlos also isn’t sure what’s so funny until I explain. Our son managed to pick up on the word “penquear” within the word “penqueadores” – but his only reference for this word is the threat of a spanking, as in, “Te voy a penquear.” Because he doesn’t know the word out of this context, he didn’t realize it could mean “hit” or “slap.”

Of course I set him straight. I explain the word “penquear” and I also tell him you can’t judge people based on stereotypes. My son says, “Of course. I already know that!” …and I knew he did, but I just wanted to make sure. Maybe I won’t convince Suegra, but my children will know better.

Somos Muchos Latinos!

If you watch the Spanish language TV networks then you’ve seen the commercials a million times. Toyota has found a way to build brand loyalty by tapping into Latino pride – genius!

Toyota has been going around giving away free bumper stickers that announce the family’s nationality in a fun way. People put the stickers on the vehicle because, number one, it’s gratis, and number two – Latinos are proud of their roots. Toyota wins because the sticker is incredibly cost effective advertising. (And look, I’m even talking about it for free just because I think it’s chévere. They must know what they’re doing over there.)

After seeing the commercials over and over, I finally went to Toyota’s Facebook page to order a free sticker for myself, (and a second one for Carlos.)

Here’s the problem, we no longer own a Toyota. We made the difficult decision to sell it, though it was in excellent condition, just to get out from under the monthly payment and save money for awhile. The next step of our plan was to buy a car with cash – just something for Carlos to use to commute. With $1,000 cash in hand, we began looking, and soon realized it was slim pickings. After a few weeks we ended up buying the first car we found that wasn’t beaten all to hell and still had some life in it… which happens to be a 1993 Nissan. (A thousand dollars doesn’t buy much these days. You can’t be picky.)

Anyway, Carlos wanted to put the sticker on his Nissan. I told him that didn’t seem quite right. I started calling his car a “wannabe Toyota” – so he didn’t do it.

I ended up putting my sticker on my laptop. Carlos sighed and set his sticker aside… “I need to buy a Toyota,” he said, “so I can use my sticker.”

Talk about effective advertising!

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post.