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A Win Win Situation

Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2010

Hi! This is Diana in El Salvador and here is my second blog! Thanks!

 Most Salvadorans claim to have pena, or a fear of being known. From what I understand, this translates to reserved modesty and an awareness of your presence in any given social situation. Children have pena when they peek out from behind doors as they first meet you. Women have pena when they hide their opinions for the sake of being gracious. Even street dogs have pena when they sneak under parked buses as you pass. Pena is what controls every person of El Salvador, prohibiting them from expressing themselves and forcing a false air of formality. But...we have yet to experience pena. Perhaps there is a confusion in translation or cultural understanding, but from what we have seen thus far, all it takes is one question as to the number of siblings a Salvadoran has to compel the retelling of their life story--traumatic deaths, life changing moments, political affiliation and all. It's more than just hospitality and openness, it's a full on upchuck of the soul. Add some tears, a couple of chickens, and Spanish, and you've got quite a confusing situation.

 But, I guess this is just another reason why Salvadorans aren't Americans. Despite the fact that they listen to Lady Gaga and scream for cake on birthdays, Salvadoran social rules are so drastically different from ours. While it is impolite to pass someone on the sidewalk without a con permiso or buenas, if you are in the street during rush hour, you are asking to die. In fact, there are barely any rules regarding roads-pedestrians have no rights, you can go any speed you please on any side of the road or sidewalk you find appealing, and there is no expectation that you must actually be in the car. I guess pena is lost once you enter a car. It is also lost at some religious services. The church across the street can be heard ever evening and all hours on Saturday and Sunday, praising God as if he is hard of hearing.

 But, actually, I don't think it has anything to do with social norms at all, but instead, has a lot to do with the fact that we're Americans, or not Salvadorans. We met with Trena tonight, one of the directors of the program, as we were overwhelmed and not quite sure we understood the life story of one of our praxis hosts. We had been taken by surprise on Wednesday when, seemingly out of nowhere, our praxis host divulged her entire past, leaving us wondering why she felt the need to be so open so quickly. The problem is that El Salvador is a place where many of the people have traumatic pasts. And, as these histories are usually bound up with political sentiment or affiliation during the war, it could potentially be dangerous for Salvadorans to expose their back stories to just anyone. Therefore, as Trena was telling us, Salvadorans welcome the opportunity to openly share their stories with people that won't come in with a bias, making our presence a benefit to their livelihood even in a small way. Our naivety gives them an excuse to drop their pena, and simply by listening without judging, we gain their full trust. There aren't too many perks to being a foreigner, but this is definitely one of them.


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Tags: Diana Fitts (El Salvador)

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