Category Archives: kindness
On the border between Guatemala and El Salvador, people use push carts on tracks to travel back and forth. A resident interviewed by Univision who uses the “push carros” says, “Para nosotros, no hay frontera. [Somos] iguales.” (Translation: “For us, there is no border. We are equals.”) … What a beautiful thought.
Click the image below to go to the video on Univision.com:
This button was a regalito from my first Spanish teacher, Señora B. She was known for being pretty strict. I can’t count how many times I swallowed gum that year upon seeing her fists on her hips, her black cat-eye glasses at the tip of her nose, as she asked, “ReNeé, estás masticando chicle en mi clase?”
*gulp* “No, Señora.”
You may be wondering who “ReNée” is – that was me. Some classmates had their names automatically translated to Spanish and assigned by the teacher, having no say in the matter at all, but since there is no real equivalent to “Tracy”, I was allowed to pick from a list hanging up on the chalkboard. I read over the names multiple times but nothing caught my eye until I came to “Renée” … The only problem? I had accidentally drifted over to the “French Names List”.
Señora B informed me that “Renée” when used in Latin America, is for males only, but as a tomboy, that only made me want it more. Señora B relented and let me have it, even turned a blind eye when I insisted on capitalizing the “N” – just because I wanted to. Señora B accepted my need to be different even as she often sighed in exasperation, “Ay, ReNée…”
Other memories from her class: Marching around the perimeter of the room chanting “o! as! a! amos! áis! an!” (The conjugation for “-ar” verbs.) After a few minutes we complained and she told us, “You feel ridiculous, but I promise you’ll never forget it, now keep marching.” … And 20 years later, I haven’t forgotten.
Here is what she wrote in my yearbook, (and at the time I barely understood a word of it):
Señora B was my first Spanish teacher, but she wasn’t my last. The next year, and almost until graduation, I had Señora S, and she liked me just as much as Señora B – she even trusted me to help grade papers and tutor other kids, (though I definitely wasn’t her top student academically speaking.)
In my Junior year of high school, Señora S, petite but with a fierce sparkle in her eyes, is the one who insisted I go on a group trip to Europe, though I was sure I couldn’t afford it. I worked hard at a local restaurant and saved some of the money, but the due date came and I didn’t have enough. As usual, my parents bailed me out. Señora then told me that while in Spain there would be an optional day trip to Toledo that would cost extra. Of course I told Señora S that I was going to have to pass on it – She wouldn’t hear of it and paid my fee for the trip to Toledo because she didn’t want me to miss it.
The trip to Europe included a few cities in Italy, then Vatican City, Monaco, one city in France and then a few cities in Spain, in that order. In Rome, drunk on freedom, I snuck out to a discoteca the first night. While drinking a second Rum & Coke, I chatted with a guy from Mexico.
“¿Tienes una novia?” I asked.
“¿Aquí o en México?” he responded, completely serious. He had no idea why I laughed and found someone else to dance with.
The next day in Florence I got lost and asked a man on the street where my hotel was. It turned out he was quite drunk or crazy, but had an impeccable sense of direction. He escorted me to the hotel but then proceeded to enter the lobby and almost get into a fist fight with the manager. In turn the manager wanted to kick our group out of the hotel. Señora S was not amused. This situation called for much more than a simple “Ay, ReNée.” – I almost got sent home, after only a couple days in Europe. Señora S warned me that I better not step a single toe out of line for the rest of the trip. “And don’t think I don’t know about your fun last night,” she whispered.
I behaved for the rest of the trip, (or at least kept my trouble-making less obvious.) Some of the fun Señora S didn’t find out about, (or pretended not to know of), included, sitting on people’s doorsteps and tricking tourists into thinking I was a local. I bought a scarf at the market and tied it over my head babushka-style. My simple costume paired with pretend broken English, fooled tourists every time. I also got kicked by a palace guard in Monaco for apparently sitting somewhere I wasn’t supposed to sit.
By the time we arrived in Spain, I was out of money and surviving on the stale bread and coffee that was our free continental breakfast, (with the occasional sip of Sangria.) My memories of Spain are mostly memories of hunger.
On the final day of our trip I had the luck to enjoy a cup of thick, rich hot chocolate that a friend bought for me just before we got onto the bus. Unfortunately, this wasn’t instant hot cocoa like we have here at home, made with water and a packet of chocolate-flavored mix. This was real hot chocolate, made with very real milk.
After so many days of not eating much, the Spanish hot chocolate didn’t agree with me. I felt my tummy begin to churn and my cheeks flush. I begged the bus driver to make an unscheduled stop and ran to the restrooms. My moment of relief was fleeting as I entered the actual bathroom and looked at the “toilet”… Here was something even more perplexing than the bidets I had previously encountered – It was a hole in the floor. I was so desperate that I tried to use it, but I had no idea how to do so without making a complete mess. Defeated, I pulled my pants back up, deciding to hold it until we got to our destination and more modern facilities.
Despite all the fun, by the end of our trip, I was definitely ready to go home. All these years later, I reflect back on the impact these teachers had on who I am today, and how profoundly they affected the trajectory of my life, and I smile… en español.
It’s always nice to know someone is thinking of you. I have good kids who think of me often. The younger one, though he’s almost 9, picks a flower for me from the yard almost every day when he gets off the school bus. (Thankfully they are “weeds” such as dandelions, and not a neighbor’s roses.)
Last week he even confessed, “I thought of you while I was at school and I missed you so much I wanted to cry.” He’s a tender-hearted boy who requests cuddles often and unashamedly loves kittens, babies and Silly Bandz, (even the pink ones.)
My older son is 12 now and a little more reserved. He shows his love in more practical ways like washing the dishes after dinner or helping with yard work completely unasked, which is fine since cuddling would be a little awkward. He’s already taller than me and has quite a mustache growing.
That being said, he still thinks of me. I know this because the other day he came home with a little surprise. Apparently he went to the school book fair, and using his own money, he bought me this bookmark.
He said he knew it was perfect for me because it’s in Spanish.
Every time Suegra returns from El Salvador, she comes with a suitcase or two loaded with gifts for us. She’s like a guanaca Santa Claus. Some of the gifts Suegra buys herself, others are sent by in-laws. The in-laws send gifts partly because they love us, and let’s be honest, partly because they’re hoping to score an awesome “thank you” gift from Los Uniteds. (Awesome = Nike shoes, in my experience.)
Over the years we have accumulated a lot of stuff from El Salvador. Some of it is beautiful, adorable, fantastic. Some of it… is not. A Tío sent pirated DVD’s of Pedro Infante movies. I love the films but feel a little naughty owning them… And speaking of naughty, Suegra once brought me panties – but not just any panties. These panties have a heart emblazoned on the front and the words “I Love You”.
On the sweeter side of things, when the boys were little, Suegra always brought them pajamas from “St. Jacks”, (pronounced San Yacks by locals.) Sometimes she brought them shirts with weird random sayings in English like “Deluxe Auto Umbrella Stick!” and “Super Boy King” … I will have to dig through the niños closet one day and find those.
All of the wonderful items she brings usually have the distinct scent of queso, by the way. The dozens of white bricks of cheese in her suitcase look like cocaine and I’m surprised she hasn’t run into trouble… (Of course, security is probably busy with the buckets of Pollo Campero the other passengers are carrying.)
Well, a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are some more of the things we’ve received from El Salvador…
A cross painted in the traditional style from La Palma.
This “God Bless This Home” wall hanging I actually brought back myself. This was at Suegra’s house and I admired it. Suegra took it off the wall and gave it to me. (That was back in the day when she still liked me.)
Capirucho. It’s a toy. You have to catch the ball on the little stick that is attached. We have a few different types but this one is prettiest.
I’m rich! … Oh wait, the dollarization. My colones are worthless.
A little trinket box painted in the traditional style from La Palma. (Though I think this particular artist was a little more exceptional than the others I’ve seen. The detail on this is much more unique than other things I have.)
A miniature clay jar.
These are the shoes my husband wore to the United States. The niños find them hilarious. “Daddy wore THOSE?! They look like elf shoes!”
A peasant blouse with pretty embroidery but I can’t wear it in public because it makes me look like a German barmaid.
Detail on the blouse.
One of many bags we own. They’re especially good for going to the beach.
My very fashionable Mauricio Funes bag. (And for those who don’t know, despite his cool sounding name, Mauricio Funes is not a top designer – he’s the President of El Salvador.)
What Salvadoran household is complete without a machete?
We interrupt these photos for a commercial break…Oh wait, that’s just an apron someone sent me. Caja de Crédito de Chalatenango, you’re getting free advertising on Latinaish.com today.
A cute ratoncito (mouse) wallet which has been personalized, like many gifts we receive, with one of the kid’s names.
Another wallet, for all the money we don’t have.
A necklace I wear almost all the time.
Perhaps the most hideous doll I’ve seen in my entire life – and that includes those Chucky horror movies. I’m sorry to whoever made this doll. It scares me. After I took the photo, I put it back in the box in my closet where it belongs.
This bracelet is supposed to keep the “mal de ojo” (“evil eye”) away from babies, but I rarely let them wear it. I was worried they’d rip it off their wrist and choke on it.
This is a depiction of The Last Supper. I never hung it up because one of the people in attendance is wearing a witch’s hat and a little boy to the left of Jesus is wearing a baseball hat. It’s just weird.
I love these towels by artist Edmundo Otoniel. The scenes they depict are so perfectly Salvadoran. They’re almost too beautiful to use, but we do use them.
One of my favorites – the hammock. My parents also have one – they refer to it as “The Gringo Tipper” because they’ve both fallen out of it. It’s takes some practice to get used to it, but once you do, those flat-style American hammocks can’t compare. I love to lay in there and watch the clouds, think, read … sometimes I just inspect the weaving, imagine the person who made it – all the work that went into it…
I have been receiving a lot of surprising things in my mailbox lately. Today it was a package containing fresh habanero chiles from the garden of my friend Luis, photographer turned gardener! (He also sent me a beautiful photo I had admired on his website.)
These came at a great time because I watched a video of another friend, Juan, making salsa, and I wanted to try one of his techniques. So I assembled everything I needed and put on a pair of gloves, (because I had a bad experience being burned by chiles before. Now preparing such things turns into more of a medical procedure than cooking!)
First, the roma tomatoes, (about six), and one habanero were put on the comal to slightly roast the skin. (It seems silly, one lone habanero, but trust me. One is plenty.)
I think that when they’re done roasting, some people remove the skin, but I left it on. My husband helped me cut open the little habanero and remove the seeds. I wore plastic gloves. Mi macho said he didn’t need gloves and his hands got a little burned.
The tomatoes and the habanero went into the blender, (I’m not as awesome as Juan. I don’t own a molcajete.) Into the blender I also added 1/4 of a large onion, a few spoonfuls of minced fresh garlic, a little handful of fresh cilantro, 1 medium green pepper, 1 tablespoon vinegar and a few dashes of salt. (All very technical measurements, verdad?)
One minute in the blender and ya estuvo! That salsa is so picante pero so good. My husband was the first to taste a spoonful and you would never know he’s Salvadoran by the grito mexicano que salia de su boca.
Yesterday the mail came and I went to the box to retrieve the bills and such, but this time on top of the bills sat a big yellow package. (Have I told you my love for yellow packages before? How I heart them!)
After reading about my love for Bubu Lubus, MJ thoughtfully offered to send me a whole box, and who in their right mind would say no? So I gave her my address and waited (im)patiently. Thankfully it was a little chilly yesterday so the Bubu Lubus made their trip unharmed, (though they taste good no matter what.)
But that’s not all! Inside the package I discovered extra sorpresas!
MJ is super creative and makes the coolest little things. She creates her own rubber ink stamps to look like papel picado and then uses them to make note cards! She sent me a few of these and they’re so pretty I don’t know if I can bear to write in them and give them away. I might frame a couple to hang on the wall here near my desk.
She also makes really funky jewelry. These Día de Los Muertos earrings and the Frida Kahlo bolsita they came in are super chidos!
Thanks so much to MJ for these sweet regalitos :)
One of my favorite things in todo el mundo, is receiving a yellow package in the mail with my name on it. Yesterday, such a package arrived from mi amiga, Claudia.
You see, a few months ago when I came back from Miami, I mentioned some guava cupcakes I had tried while there. I loved those cupcakes, and I don’t consider myself a fan of guava-flavored anything. Claudia told me she had seen guava (guayaba) flavored “semita”. This blew my mind because I love the Salvadoran jam-filled pastry, but I had only ever had semita de piña, (pineapple).
Being a thoughtful friend y una orgullosa salvadoreña, Claudia searched for the semita de guayaba and sent me one! (¡Gracias!)
This is a brand, Panaderia Santa Eduvigis, I never tried before. (I believe Saint Eduvigis cares for those without food or shelter but don’t quote me.) I love the little story on the back of the box that tells the history of Ernestina Castro – the woman who created the recipe and the company.
Finally, after much anticipation, my family tried the famous semita de guayaba.
My husband and I agree – the quality of the brand is excellent, and it is definitely guayaba flavored. We still prefer piña, but this is really good. Best of all, the niños hated it, so it’s all mine!
The other day my youngest son was watching CNN with me. The images were of dead fish washed upon the shore, and birds covered in slick black oil. The story, of course, was about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In all his 8 year old wisdom he said, “It makes me sad because I want to do something, but I really can’t.”
That’s how I often feel about so much I see in the news, but I wanted to show him it wasn’t true. I wanted to show him that you can make a difference, no matter how small you feel.
After a little research, I found out that there’s an organization called “Matter of Trust“. This organization makes booms out of human and animal hair which they stuff into stockings. It sounds crazy, but apparently these booms are very effective at soaking up the oil and are re-usable.
FACT: 1 pound of hair can absorb 1 quart of oil in 1 minute and be reused up to 100 times.
I called our regular hair stylist at Hair Cuttery and said, “I have a weird question…” I fully expected her to have no clue what I was going on about, but she enthusiastically informed me that they do participate in the program and donate all the hair they cut.
When I explained all of this to my son, he was very excited. The next day, we headed over to Hair Cuttery. We signed in and then browsed the books until he found a hair style that he liked.
The stylist put him up on a booster seat, (because even though he’s 8 years old, he’s only in the 5th percentile for height. Puro guanaquito!), and I took his photo before the hair cutting began.
Afterwards, my husband and I paid for the haircut, but our son pulled a few dollars from his own pocket to tip the hair stylist.
When I asked him how he felt he said, “Great! I like my haircut and I helped the animals in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Now that’s a win-win right there :)
Put your fork down. It’s not for you.
There’s a website called FreeRice.com which I’ve been using for about a year. You basically answer vocabulary trivia and for every answer you get correct, they donate rice to the hungry. Today I discovered that you can change the subject you’re being quizzed on. They now have Spanish vocabulary trivia, among other things. (Just click the white “Change Subjects” text in the upper right corner of the game window area to choose something else.)
I encourage everyone to bookmark the website and play whenever you’re bored. You’ll learn something new while helping others. I even let the kids play.