3 Elefantes

My youngest son wanted to buy a little toy and it was 2 for $1. He asked if he could buy 1 for 50 cents and they refused so he bought the toy he wanted and picked a little elephant for Suegra.

He went to Suegra and gave her the elephant and she smiled. “I will have good luck soon because of you,” she said in Spanish. My son smiled and walked away, probably not understanding her words but knowing she was happy.

“Why will you have good luck?” I asked.

She explained that in El Salvador some people believe if you have tres elefantes (three elephants), you will have luck – but the way in which you come to own the elephants is important.

“Uno comprado, uno regalado, y uno robado,” she says with a sly smile.

(One bought, one received as a gift, and one stolen.)

Knowing she has one elephant figurine in her room that she bought years ago, and now this one that my son gave her, I asked about the third.

“Do you have a stolen elephant?” I asked.

“No,” she said… “Not yet.”

Clementino Part 4, 5 & 6

I switched to regular numbers because I suck at Roman numerals and who knows how long this saga will continue. (If you’re new to this story, read Parts I through III first.)

By the way, I learned something new today. I was curious if “regular numbers” had a more formal name – they do. They’re called “Hindu numerals” or “Arabic numerals.”

Pero, you’re not here for a history or mathematics lesson, verdad? You’re here for the chisme. Well, this will be a long one, so get comfortable. Listos? Okay…


So, last week, the whole familia, (including Suegra, of course), piled in the car to run errands. As we passed through downtown close to Clementina’s Market, Carlos asked where else I needed to stop.

“We’re almost out of tortillas,” I said, trying to sound casual.

Carlos narrowed his eyes at me.

“Why do you want to go in there? I don’t like that. They sell tortillas at the other Latino market,” he said as we sat at a red light.

“Yes, but they don’t give away free piropos at the other Latino market,” I said. Carlos didn’t laugh. The light turned green and he pulled up a few car lengths from the large glass windows of Clementina’s Market.

We had been speaking English but Suegra is a metiche and had understood the gist of the conversation. She offered to go in and buy the tortillas herself. Maybe Carlos was embarrassed that his mother knew he was celoso because he said, “No, está bien.”

Before I knew it, I was walking through the familiar door of Clementina’s – the bells clanging against the glass door. My heart pounded in my chest remembering the last time I had been here – how awkward it had been for him to tell me he had fallen in love with me – to have touched my hand the way he did! Clementino looked up, and seeing me, broke into the happiest smile you can imagine.

I blushed despite my efforts to appear nonchalant and greeted him with a “Buenas tardes,” on my way to the back of the store to get a package of tortillas from the fridge. I grabbed two bottles of Jarritos so I could use my debit card, ($5 minimum.) As I made my way back to the front of the store, I became increasingly anxious about how Clementino would act towards me after what had happened. I put the tortillas and Jarritos on the countertop.

Clementino’s face had changed since I came into the store – he looked serious, when only moments before he had looked so happy.

“No Bubu Lubus?” he mumbled when I didn’t reach for the box on the counter.
“No, hoy no,” I said.
“¿Porqué no?” he asked, running my debit card through the machine.
“Es que una amiga me mandó una caja de Bubu Lubus y tengo suficiente ahorita,” I said, trying to sound cheerful.
He looked at me as he put the receipt on the counter.
“Mentirosa,” he said without malice. “No quieres comprarlos de mí…” he said raising an eyebrow.
I signed the receipt, “No, de veras, una amiga me mandó—” I said feeling defensive.
“Mentirosa,” he said again with a small smile.

I told him “Hasta luego” and went out to the car, which was now parked right in front of the big glass windows. I got in and buckled my seatbelt.

“Everything fine?” Carlos asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Did he behave?” Carlos asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Man! Don’t look so disappointed about it!”
“I’m not!”
“Yes you are!”
“Well, I just feel… am I not cute today or something?”

Carlos started laughing.
“What?” I said.
“You know why he behaved?”
“What? Why?”
“Because as soon as you went in, I pulled in front of the store. He looked out the window after you went to the back and I waved to him. He knew I was watching.”

This made me feel a little better and it explained why he’d had such a sudden change in mood. Still, I wondered if things between Clementino and I could return to normal. I would have to wait another week and eat a lot of tortillas before I could try my luck again.


Suegra and I went to Clementina’s Market – Me to buy tortillas and Suegra for phone cards. Before buying her phone cards as usual, Suegra went to the back of the store. I put the tortillas on the counter and looked for the box of Bubu Lubus, but it was no where to be seen.

“Y los Bubu Lubus?” I said, looking at the blank space where they used to be. “¿Dónde están?”
“Bubu Lubus no vendo ahora,” Clementino said.
I grabbed a package of De La Rosa Dulce de Cacahuate, (my other favorite.)
“¿Porqué?” I asked, handing over my debit card.
“Porque no vienes a comprarlos de mí,” he said.
I smiled and raised an eyebrow, unsure of whether he was just out of stock and joking with me, or if he had found a way to take revenge for not accepting his piropo weeks ago.
“Síííí,” he reassured me, “Los Bubu Lubus – no más.” He rubbed his hands together as if cleaning them off and showed them to me empty, with a small smile playing on his lips.

Suegra appeared behind me, “Clementino,” she demanded, interrupting us. “¿A cuántos son?” she asked, holding up an avocado. Clementino quoted her the price and Suegra sighed disgustedly, muttering about how expensive they were as she went to return it to the produce section.

Clementino leaned down and whispered in English, “Do you get along with your mother-in-law?”
“…More or less,” I said translating the Spanish words “más o menos” that I had almost said aloud.
Clementino shook his head. “I don’t know how you do it.”
“She can be… difficult,” I admitted.
“Yes,” Clementino said, “She is a VERY difficult woman.”

We shared a smile as Suegra came back to the counter to buy her phone cards. I left feeling hopeful that our friendship was now back on track.


That same day, later in the evening, Carlos and I ran an errand. Suegra asked Carlos to buy her phone cards. We stopped at Clementina’s Market and since it was late and cold and I was tired, I stayed in the car while Carlos ran in by himself. This was Carlos’s first time facing Clementino since the whole situation began. I watched the store anxiously. I saw Carlos go to the counter, Clementino handed him phone cards, and Carlos came back to the car within 2 minutes – the whole transaction happened without incident. I felt happy. Things were finally getting back to normal.

We brought the phone cards home and Carlos handed them over to Suegra.

“Pero estas tarjetas no sirven, vos!” Suegra said immediately. Despite the late hour and the fact that Clementina’s Market would be closing in 20 minutes, she insisted Carlos bring her back to exchange the phone cards. Carlos put his jacket back on and with car keys jangling in defeat, headed back out with Suegra behind him.

Since all had gone so well earlier, I didn’t worry for a minute about Carlos going back to the market – so I was shocked when he and Suegra returned full of anger.

“What happened?” I asked.

Carlos and Suegra told me the same story – they had gone into the market and Carlos asked to exchange the phone cards because they were the wrong kind. Clementino refused to exchange the cards saying, “You were never here today.”

Carlos told Clementino, “But I was just here, less than an hour ago!” and Clementino continued to insist that Carlos was lying. They both raised their voices to the point that Clementino’s wife, Clementina, came up to the front counter to see what was going on. Carlos explained to Clementina what had happened while Clementino shouted over him that he was a liar, and that “only the muchacha [referring to me] came here earlier today with her,” (indicating Suegra.)

Having had enough and not wanting things to escalate further, Carlos stormed out. Suegra stayed and Clementina exchanged the phone cards while chastising her husband and asking him what in the world had gotten into him.

Carlos and Suegra are now boycotting Clementina’s Market, and I’m just wondering if he was serious about not selling Bubu Lubus anymore. Vamos a ver.

Part 7: Clementino, ya no me quiere

Gringa Invasion

While she passes most of her time in Chalatenango proper where her family lives, and Soyapango where Carlos’s childhood home is – Suegra sometimes goes to visit her childhood home which is in a town in the mountains of Chalatenango called San Luis del Carmen.

I visited there one afternoon when we went to El Salvador. Against all my gringa instincts which screamed that I needed a seat belt, I rode in the back of a Tío’s pickup truck with my then one year old baby. They threw cushions from the sofa in to make the ride more comfortable. We rode up, up, up, stopped for some bony looking cattle to cross the road, and then up, up, up some more. San Luis del Carmen was very quiet. There was a pretty white church, typical Salvadoran-style cement block homes lining the road, the ever present chuchos aguacateros (street dogs), and a small store selling soda en bolsas and snacks.

A typical Salvadoran-style house. “DIOS ES AMOR” means & “God is love”

chucho aguacatero (street dog) that followed us

A little store selling snacks, etc.

Carlos enjoying a bag of orange soda and a snack.

Suegra’s modest childhood home has been kept in good repair despite being over 50 years old, though no one inhabits it. The home sits on a fair amount of land – the trees in the backyard are heavy with coffee beans.

That is how I remember San Luis del Carmen, so I was surprised when Suegra told me there are a lot of gringas there now – “jovenes, chelitas, americanas – como vos!” she says, though I imagine they are younger than me – maybe Peace Corp. volunteers or missionaries. She says they are pairing up with young Salvadoran men, (she emphasizes that they are dark-skinned country boys – “pero puro del campo!” she says, as if this made it more shocking, which to me it isn’t. Country boys have their charm though I married a city boy.)

Suegra went to San Luis during the feast day in December. During the festival, the town traditionally picks a “reina” (queen) … This year, the reina was one of the gringas.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this. I’m fascinated by the idea of an entire village that ten years from now may be made up of families that resemble my own. Part of me wonders if these girls know what they’re getting into. It’s one thing to marry a Salvadoran who has immigrated here – but quite another to marry a Salvadoran in El Salvador. My mind swirls with the compromises, sacrifices, and struggles they will face. Culture shock. Language barriers. Machismo. They are on his turf. They are on their suegra’s turf. As romantic as it appears on the outside, the situation raises many concerns.

Honestly, I do laugh a little imaging the phone calls home. The parents expect information about when to pick their precious daughters up at the airport now that their volunteer assignment has come to an end. Instead, their daughter’s voice sounding farther away than ever says, “Mom, Dad, I met someone here. I’m staying in El Salvador and getting married!” … Those poor gringo parents! …And then imagine when the parents go to El Salvador for the wedding. Will there be tears of joy or tears of sheer terror for what their daughter has done? (Oh wait, I’m just having flashbacks to my own wedding…jiji…)

But what about the relationships that don’t work out? What if they love each other but the girl desperately wishes to return home? It isn’t easy to adjust to a drastically different culture and way of life. It also isn’t that easy to bring your new novio with you thanks to immigration law which splits us all up into these man-made parcels called countries. Will the girls go home with broken hearts or will it be the muchachos who are left con el corazón en pedazos? (Either way, one must make the sacrifice of being away from their own family and culture.) If the girls stay in El Salvador, get married, start a family and then for whatever reason, end up divorcing, what happens with the children?

How do the Salvadoran women of San Luis del Carmen feel about this “invasion” of gringas? Do they feel animosity towards the gringas for “stealing” the men? Was it fair for an outsider to be chosen as the “queen” of the town?

If I were a sociologist, I know where I’d be buying a plane ticket to right now.

Souvenirs from El Salvador 2011

It’s that time again! Suegra has been back for quite awhile now but I’m just now getting a chance to blog about all the things she brought. Besides my super chévere typewriter, queso, frijoles and T-shirts, we received many other gifts – and this isn’t even all of them. She has a fully packed suitcase back in El Salvador which she wasn’t able to bring. A visiting Tía will hopefully deliver it to us soon.

Not pictured below is a special chile spice and achiote which I asked her to buy. Apparently TACA confiscated those from her carry-on luggage. Suegra put up a fight, but it was useless – they wouldn’t allow it, (maybe it looks like powdered explosives?) … I pouted about this and the suitcase full of stuff she left behind and Carlos rightfully chastised me. “Look at all this stuff you got! And what did I get?” he asked, looking around.

I held up a plastic baggy with a little bundle of crusty old gauze inside it, “this?” I said, holding up the bag that contained his umbilical cord which Suegra had brought back with her from El Salvador.

“That’s right,” Carlos said, snatching the baggy. “You got a typewriter and I got my old belly button.”

Here are some more of our souvenirs, (no umbilical cord photos included because that’s icky.)

Carlos can’t complain either. He got a Jesus towel. I’m glad this wasn’t gifted to me. I think I’d feel uncomfortable actually using it.

Carlos also got an image of San Antonio, who was his father’s favorite saint.

…And he got his school I.D. from when he was in middle school. Is it wrong that I find him incredibly guapo despite the Menudo hair and the fact that he’s about 13 years old in that photo?


Our younger son got this little bag which is called a “morralito.” Carlos says fútbol players use them to carry their bottled water to the field.

Cajeta lollipops from our little primos.

More candies from the cousins.

Enough Penicilina to stock our own pharmacy.




Some sort of instant coffee. She used to drink a different kind. I have no idea why she brought this.

A Tía made this for me.

A pan made from clay. I still haven’t tried it yet. Suegra promises it won’t catch fire or explode but I don’t know if I trust her.

Pandillero hat? Why Suegra brought this for my older son, I have no idea. I guess it’s okay as long as he doesn’t get a tattoo on his face.

Want to see more souvenirs?

From El Salvador With Love
From El Salvador With Love (Part 2)

Camisas Guanacas

Suegra nos trajó muchas cosas de El Salvador – bastantes cosas que todavía no he tenido tiempo por compartirlas. Aquí están las camisas que me trajó ella, (Yo pedí especificamente camisas con palabras en Caliche – [palabras regionales salvadoreñas]. Suegra va a recibir una estrella de oro por la misión cumplida!)

Suegra brought back many things from El Salvador – so many things that I still haven’t had time to share them all. Here are the shirts she brought back, (I specifically asked for shirts with Caliche [Salvadoran slang] – Suegra gets a gold star for mission accomplished!)

Bueno, mis hijos no son exactamente 100% – pero me imagino que no hacen camisas que dicen 50% jijiji…

Well, my sons aren’t exactly 100% – but I imagine they don’t make one that says 50% hee hee…

¿Participaste en Spanish Friday? Dejame un comentario con el link a tu blog post!

Did you participate in Spanish Friday? Leave me a link to your blog post in comments!

Queso trafficking

You know those photos you sometimes see en las noticias of drug seizures? Bricks and bricks of confiscated cocaine, weapons and stacks of cash that the police lay out?

This is my freezer…

Before anyone reports me to the authorities, you should know that despite appearances, this is queso duro, (Salvadoran cheese), that my Suegra brought back from El Salvador. If you don’t believe me, you can come smell it for yourself. I’m not sure what cocaine smells like but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t smell like stinky socks.

Una sorpresa de El Salvador

(English translation in italics below!)

Usualmente cuándo viene mi suegra de El Salvador, me trae recuerdos, (ya tú sabes!) Los recuerdos son típicos de El Salvador, y a veces, predecibles – pero esta vez que regreso mi suegra, me trajo una sorpresa. El regalo que me trajo ella no sólo es lo más chévere regalo que he recibido de El Salvador, pero es uno de los regalos más chivo que he recibido en todo mi vida!

Usually when my mother-in-law comes from El Salvador, she brings me souvenirs, (you already know that!) The souvenirs are typical of El Salvador and sometimes predictable – but this time when my mother-in-law returned, she brought me a surprise. The gift she brought me is not only the most awesome gift I’ve received from El Salvador, but one of the coolest gifts I’ve received ever!

¿Puedes adivinar lo que está adentro de la caja?
Can you guess what’s inside the case?

Es una máquina de escribir! A veces siento que mi suegra no entiende exactamente que hago aquí en la computadora escribiendo todo el día – que ella piensa que estoy muy floja, pero tal vez me respeta en su manera.

It’s a typewriter! Sometimes I feel that my mother-in-law doesn’t understand exactly what I do on the computer writing all day – that she thinks I’m really lazy, but maybe she respects me in her way.

Mi hijito estaba más fascinado que yo. Me dijo, “Esto es lo qué usaban cuándo no habian computadoras?”

My youngest son was even more fascinated than I was. He said, “Is this what they used before computers?”

Ay! Pero qué lindo! Tiene la “ñ”!
Oh my gosh! How cute is that? It has the “ñ”!

Quién dijo que las máquinas de escribir son obsoletas? No puedo imaginar usandola por escribir un manuscrito, pero quizás puedo usarla por blogear?

Who said typewriters are obsolete? I can’t imagine using it to write a manuscript, but perhaps I can still use it to blog?


Participaste en Spanish Friday? Dejame un comentario!
Did you participate in Spanish Friday? Leave a comment!

Gorda y más Gorda

We’re sitting at the table, myself, Carlos and Suegra. She is telling us one of her stories – puro chisme, of course. This is what she brings back from El Salvador along with the souvenirs, suitcases full of gossip – usually about who died, who is dying, who is sick but not dying, and who got really fat.

“Recuerda la Nia Marí?” she says. Carlos nods. Yes, he remembers her.
“Tiene dos hijas,” she goes on, “y qué mujeronas!” Suegra says, “Con las panzas así!”

She extends her hands far out in front of her to show how fat they are. She tells us they look pregnant but they’re not pregnant. Then she gestures to me and says, “La Tracy no es nada!”

In previous years, this would have caused me to burst into tears, but I know she doesn’t mean it how it sounds. She isn’t the most tactful person and she probably thought she was giving me a compliment – but saying, “Those women are really fat – Tracy is nothing in comparison!” doesn’t translate well to English, does it?

To make matters worse, Suegra is force feeding me when eating is really the last thing I want to do. (Because although I didn’t cry, it did make me self conscious.) Last night she mixed up a jar of Tiste, poured a glass and forced it into my hands. “Drink it, drink it! You’ll like it!”

I don’t want to drink it-drink it. Tiste is made from corn, sugar, water and cacao, and though that combination sounds horrible, Tiste, full of carbs and sweetness, actually tastes good. I took the smallest sorbito I could, told her it was fantastic, and then handed it off to my older son when she walked away.

Other things she has tried to force feed me the past week: Semita (pineapple cake), Conserva de Coco (sugar coconut candy), and Hot Chocolate – (she had the cocoa specially milled for me in El Salvador.)

To make matters worse, Suegra bragged about how much weight she lost in El Salvador … She does this thing where she sticks her thumb in the waistband of her pants and pulls it out so we can see just how much.

Thankfully, the universe always keeps things in balance – including egos. We went to the Latino market and my favorite cashier (the one who gives me a discount), greeted Suegra enthusiastically. “Where have you been?” he said to Suegra. She beamed, for her absence was noted. “I was in El Salvador,” she said. “Ah,” the cashier responded, “Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen you in so long, but you look much fatter!”

Now Arriving

Last night we made our way to the airport to pick up Suegra. Thanks to taking the wrong toll road, we were running a little late. We finally got turned around in the right direction and the swooping roof of Dulles came into view. Leaving the car in the parking lot, we ran through the freezing cold, into the airport and down the corridor to International Arrivals. As it turned out, Suegra was still in customs, and would be for another hour and a half.

Carlos sighed and resigned himself to wait, but I wasn’t bothered by the delay. I think I could spend all day people watching – and international arrivals is even more magical than any other place to people watch. I like to invent stories about the people in my mind – stories about where they’ve been and where they’re going. Sometimes, if you watch and listen, you can find out what their real story is – at least some of it.

I never got to see who this man was waiting to greet. At first I thought it must be a novia. Qué romantico! He had a bouquet of pink roses and no less than three balloons, one shaped like a heart… but then I remembered, él es un hombre Latino, so those sweet gifts may be for his madre. ¿Quién sabe?

Everyone watched the two big doors to see who would come out next. One little boy ran out the door from customs and yelled “Papi!!!” – A man swept him up in his arms and carried him away with the biggest smile on his face. A hundred hearts melted right there.

Minutes later, a man came out the door from customs. A little boy ran to him and patted the suitcase asking, “¿Qué me trajiste?” This time we all laughed.

A frail but proud old woman was wheeled out of customs in a wheel chair. A group of teenagers exploded in shouts of “Abu!” and ran to greet her. One of the boys hugged her and shouted to his siblings who still hadn’t caught up, “I touched her first!” which made me wonder if they simply had a little competition going between them… A man next to me who probably didn’t speak English said, “Qué amor tienen por su abuela, va?”

A woman stood on my other side and she seemed more nervous than anyone else. I found out why when two little kids, a boy and a girl, came through the customs doors escorted by a flight attendant. The woman ran to her children and hugged them, then held them away from her as if to see if they were really real. She handed the boy the balloon she held in her hands. “¿Qué dice?” she said. The boy pulled the string downwards so he could read the balloon… “Welcome” he said in accented English. The mother nodded, “Bien.” As she zipped them into coats I heard her explain that in a few years, their father would join them and they’d be together as a family again.

Finally Suegra came through the doors. It was everyone else’s turn to watch us, to try to figure out our story, maybe listen in and see if they could capture a word or two to understand where we’d been and where we’re going.

¿Cuál es el vino más amargo?

Vino mi suegra… jajaja. Es chiste!

Tengo unas noticias, (quizás ya puedes adivinar qué son!) … Pero si quieres saber, tienes que mirar el video. Hoy hice mi blog en español para “Spanish Friday” con mi cámara de video en vez de escribirlo. Bueno, es cámara de video, pero sólo sale mi voz. Todavia no estoy lista por enseñar mi cara en video, aunque que no me molesta compartir fotos a veces. Cómo dijé a Carlos el primer día que nos conocimos, “Soy tímida.” Carlos me dijo, “Yeah right!” – pero es verdad. Un día, tal vez.

Bueno, pero aquí esta mi video. ¡Chécalo!

¿Did you play?

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