Sunday, August 26, 2012

Suchitoto – Art, Culture, and Tradition

  Thanks to built up expectations, I wasn’t enamored with the town of Suchitoto on my first visit.  This past week I had the opportunity to go again, with the intention of revisiting Lago Suchitlan.  With limited time, my visiting friend and I found ourselves at the main square.  We were quickly drawn to the Molino on the corner where the women in town bring their corn to be ground.  The owner of the place welcomed us in to watch and was happy to answer our questions.  Afterwards, we walked a few blocks to visit the Centro Arte para la Paz.  We were delighted by the place, impressed by their mission and vision, clearly portrayed throughout the center.  Back on the square we had time for a quick lunch at La Lupita del Portal. I recharged from the heat with a large limonada and a plate of grilled vegetables and pineapple served with baguette and chirmol (a green salsa).  It was the perfect light lunch in a sweet environment.  Upon leaving I felt charmed by “ciudad antigua”, the original San Salvador in the 1500s.  The town has been through many hardships including invading Spaniards and the more recent civil war.  Despite the history, the place has found a way to thrive with their art, culture, and tourism, while still managing to retain their traditions.  On this visit I was reminded that my first impressions aren’t always the best impressions and was thankful to have the chance to re-experience Suchitoto.

El Molino – For over 26 years the owner has been grinding corn, 
rice, wheat, pumpkin, meat, coffee, and hard cheese for the town of Suchitoto.

Centro Arte para la Paz 
A center offering a museum, art shows, garden, hostel, and classes 
of all kinds including music and art. 

“To create a culture of peace through the arts, promoting creativity, imagination, 
and cultural exchange with the participation of all the people of Suchitoto.”

View of the main square from La Lupita del Portal.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Panadería Salvadoreña and learning by doing

  In seeking out ways to improve my Spanish and find interesting things to do with my time, I happily came across Escuela Tecnica Los Angeles.  Run by Lina Perez in her home located near El Salvador’s University, the school offers various pastry classes.  Of all the offerings, Panadería Salvadoreña, or Salvadoran Pastries, got me most excited.  For three hours once a week, I’ve been attending Lina’s classes, listening to her clear instructions, checking with my Salvadoran classmates to make sure I got the details, and watching the transformation of a few recipes move from flour, sugar, eggs, and margarine to delightful goodies we get to take home to share with our families.
  There are stressful moments for me.  If I don’t happen to know what it is we’re making and I’m supposed to create it, I feel uncertain how to proceed.  How can I create something if I don’t even know what it looks like?  Usually once the ingredients have been divided up and laid before me I feel better.  Lina is also there to help and answer questions. There are conversations about our personal lives, general themes, and sometimes incredibly obscure topics.  I do my best to follow and can’t say I always understand.  I do understand that my other classmates have their own moments of stress in the class and that they’re learning too.  We fear making mistakes.  We worry we won’t do it the right way.  We struggle with having some previous experience in baking, doing things differently than the teacher, and none of us are experts.  But we all have the desire to learn. 
  I am enjoying the process of learning through doing.  I know I will leave each class with a new Spanish word or phrase, inspiration to bake more at home, and a little better appreciation of El Salvador’s culture and its people.

  Scenes from last week’s class where we made 
Pan Menudo, Masa de Pichardin, and Masa Chibola:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Anona Fruit, the awesome contrast of pinks and greens, and remembering what you want to

  After days of seeing this unusual looking fruit for sale along the side of the road on the way to the beach and at the local markets I finally tried it tonight with some visiting friends.  I love its striking colors, subdued succulent green on the outside and varying shades of pink on the inside with large dark brown seeds.  I made the mistake of smelling it before eating it.  It doesn’t have the most pleasant smell and that interfered with my experience.  It does taste “pretty”, like strawberries and raspberries with the texture of overripe cantaloupe.  That’s the description we created and agreed upon tonight.  I can imagine that if I grew up eating it and it only came along once a year, I would probably love it.  I didn’t and I don’t, but I’m so glad I took the chance and tried it and shared it with friends for whom it was also new and unfamiliar.  The nice thing about memory is that you can pick and choose what you want to remember.  I choose to remember the awesome contrast of pinks and greens, along with the images of women sitting by the road with rows of Anona placed carefully on their sloping wooden tables awaiting passersby.

A different description…

Tetelque, a personal blog with sweet images of El Salvador, including ANONA

Lea en espanol sobre anonas

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Quetzaltenango a.k.a. Xela - Hospitality, Language Learning, and Memories

  Nine years ago, I left my life in Oakland to study Spanish, work on organic farms, and live somewhere warmer.  I didn’t know how everything would evolve, but I knew I was ready for a change and an adventure.  I began my new life with a four-week stay in Quetzaltenango a.k.a. Xela where I lived with a Guatemalan family and studied Spanish at Juan Sisay.  Within my first week there, one of my greatest fears came true.  On a solo walk back to my new family’s home, I was attacked, pushed to the ground and then groped and thrown again by a man who must have watched me coming from his car with dark tinted windows.  The experience lasted less than three minutes.  It was incredibly scary, but I learned that I CAN yell when I’m in danger, I CAN run, and the instinct to protect myself and my body is incredibly powerful.  The day after, I got very sick, my body sore from the attack and my stomach turned inside out from the new and different food.  I debated…should I return home?  Should I give up this hoped-for journey?  Not only did I have a very bad experience, summer in Xela is like June in Oakland (COLD!), and three months before I left, I’d met a wonderful guy who I was missing terribly.
  I decided to stay; I’d worked so hard to get there.  Crime happens everywhere and I was just unlucky.  I immersed myself in Spanish.  For four hours a day I sat in a cubicle with my teacher, huddled with a blanket wrapped around me to keep warm.  I took salsa-dancing lessons.  I listened to sappy Spanish love songs.  And I exchanged daily emails with my new love where we shared and learned more about each other and crafted the possibilities of a future together.
  That new love is now my husband and there have been many adventures since my time in Xela.  This past week we had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala, and specifically Xela, for my husband’s work.  I was anxious to see how it would feel to be back.  We ended up having incredible hosts who fed us fantastic meals, toured us around, and welcomed us into their home.  I had time to explore and was happy to find great coffee and eclectic restaurants.  It’s the same crumbling colonial town it was nine years ago, with locals, indigenous, and extranjeros sharing the narrow sidewalks, perhaps with a bit more traffic than before.  The trip was a great chance for me to transform my memory of Xela from “the town where I was attacked” to “the town where I ate great food” and from “the town where I learned to speak Spanish” to “the town where I shared rich moments with my husband and his colleagues, with our conversations easily weaving between Spanish and English”.

Here are some highlights:

Mushrooms growing in the attic as a project for finding additional means 
for undernourished communities nearby.  We got to try these cooked in red wine. 

Homemade Spinach Empanadas

Homemade Chile Rellenos - Red Peppers stuffed with Soy, 
“carne de soya”, and Carrots. 

Visit to a local farm just outside of town!  
Rows of peach trees and lots of corn, I was in heaven.

Las Cumbres Eco-Sauna y Gastronomia Sibal Ulew Thermal Spa 
I got really relaxed here.  After a sauna we had some coffee and delicious giant-sized whole-wheat hot cakes (sorry no photo!) served with a papaya smoothie.

Sabor de la India 
There are no Indian restaurants in El Salvador that we know of so this was a thrill.

Café R.E.D. - a cool and revolutionary place. 

Bonifaz Pension - a great hotel right on the main square.

Juan Sisay Spanish School - friendly, welcoming, and right-on.