Monday, March 30, 2015

Chilateada in Izalco - Easter Monday

Is Easter Monday a thing? I don't think it is but I'm making it into a thing. It's certainly treated as one here in Izalco, El Salvador where the Monday of the Easter week is the last day during the whole Easter festivities extravaganza when chilate is made and served to the hungry pilgrims traveling long distances to pay their respects to Christ. If you don't know what chilate is see previous posts. Today, a pick-up load of SS city dwellers, aka myself and some others including my abuela, made the journey to Izalco to observe our pious duties. And there we were, inside this little white and purple church listening to a wailing rendition of Ave María being blasted from some old speakers, stomachs rumbling, mouths watering and eyes burning from the combination of pine incense for the deities and wood fires used to prepare the chilate for us mortals. I think we got the better end of the deal.

It is customary to pay your respects to Christ i.e. make a donation to the church, before approaching the food area. Once this is done and you have received proof of payment in the form of a sticky coconut palm flower, you can casually make your way over to the kitchen area and observe, maybe even participate in, the cooking process. I had never seen this being done so I was intrigued to see the whole process of grinding, pounding, soaking, straining, flavoring and finally cooking. It was impressive to see the sheer quantity of maize flour that was being moved from one station to the next. Once the maize has been ground and pounded, it is soaked in water to produce a milk-like liquid. This is then strained using cheese cloth or muslin and the liquid is cooked in large pots over an open fire. When the liquid is finally of cooked and thick enough, you can exchange your stick coconut palm flower for a portion of delicious goodness. Chilate is served hot in little bowls with a serving of local sweets. You can get an idea of what the preparation process looks like below:

Straining the 'corn milk'

Heating and stirring. These are not a tiny women.
Unfortunately for us the chilate was not ready when we arrived and even after walking around Izalco, we were not patient enough to wait another hour. Attempts at chasing the Easter processions were unsuccessful and a Salvadoran democratic decision was made (interpret this as you like). We made our way to Sonsonate wanderlusting after food and more adventure. It's always nice to visit the little towns and view the sites. It is sometimes very easy to forget the beauty of the changing landscapes, lava fields, sprouting sugar cane, volcanoes and colonial churches given the current social situation, and it is nice to be reminded.

Main Izalco church and the Volcan de Izalco in the background.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Good-bye Manila

According to my sister, the secret to a healthy, illness free life is only a bowl full of fruit and a dram of whiskey-a-day away. I don't know how accurate this theory is, but it certainly does not hurt to try this 21 year, age old adage out. It certainly helps numb the pain in a vitamin rich way.

I hate to say it, but I think this has actually been the worst Christmas and New Years I have ever had, and I do not look forward to any future holidays which hope to challenge this year's end of year events. Unpleasant and aggressive illnesses both at the start and the end of the holiday paired with the heartbreaking death of two beloved members of our family at the hands of incompetent doctors and substandard medicine, it is unfortunate that this has all happened within days of the end of the Manila experience.

Ironically, the city has been at its most pleasant during this visit, or maybe it was just the lesser of many evils. Here's a shot of whiskey to the final chapter of life as an expat.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Piñatas in Santo Domingo de Guzmán - El día de la mujer indígena

Traditional Salvadoran dress - La volcaneña
Santo Domingo de Guzmán is a small village in the department of Sonsonate in western El Salvador. Contrary to popular belief, El Salvador is the home of three separate indigenous groups, descended from the Aztec families of Northern Mexico. These are the Lenca, Cacaopera or Kakahuiles, and the Nahuat-Pipiles. While the language of the Lenca and the Cacaopera is believed to be completely extinct, Nahuat can still be heard in some locales, and might even be undergoing successful revitalization, though it is really too early to tell. One such place where Nahuat can be heard is in Santo Domingo de Guzmán, a small village in the department of Sonsonate in western El Salvador. 

"Dale dale!" - Hit it!
This past weekend, I along with my cousin and some friends from the Tzuntecun Ejecat collective went to Santo Domingo de Guzmán to celebrate indigenous women's day (el día de la mujer indígena) with the people of Santo Domingo. It may not look like much, but this celebration marks a very important event in the history of Santo Domingo, as it is the first time the indigenous women of the village have ever been celebrated in this manner. With the help of a marimba duo from Izalco, some young volcaneñas, generous helpings of horchata sponsored by the mayor of Santo Domingo, a theatrical piece by the Tzuntecun Ejecat Collective, and a good old fashioned piñata 'to help us remember the children we once were', the indigenous women (and men) celebrated their unique cultural heritage as Nahuat speakers. Coincidentally, it was also El Salvador's national independence day weekend, so it was pretty great to see everyone celebrating their individual and collective identities on such a day.

Here's to many more of these celebrations:

Giving the piñata a good whack

The wonderful people of Santo Domingo de Guzmán and Colectivo Tzuntecun Ejecat

Sunday, August 31, 2014


If roads and highways are the veins of city, Manila's main arteries are clogged like those of a man who sits on his squishy throne all day snacking on crackers topped with butter, pate, camembert and roquefort, plus a Glaswegian scooby snack* on the side. For dinner he asks for a 16oz steak, french fries and a liter of diet coke. Outside his golden palace of delicious goodies lies a wasteland of high rise buildings, next to haphazardly built slums with open sewage systems and giant knots of electric wires. There is a constant hum of traffic, punctuated by shouts and blaring horns as individual cells make their way about their busy lives, selfishly pushing, inching forward one creaking minute at time. 

Meet Manila, one of the most densely populated (and one of the most badly planned) cities of Asia. You might think I don't like this giant capital, and you're right, I don't. I find it difficult to summon any kind of enthusiasm for a city which completely disregards much (if not all) of its potential for long term, socially relevant growth, choosing instead to focus on personal and economic gain. Don't get me wrong, the city is physically growing and it does invest in new globally fluid projects like shopping malls with huge international retailers and ultra modern apartment buildings with exquisitely designed interiors. These are blind projects though – less than 5% of the population can actually afford such luxuries.

Anyway, who wants another mall with the same shops and restaurants when schools haven’t been renovated since the 70s and hospitals are largely inaccessible in the heart of the city? Instead of investing in health and education, the city invests in glossy advertising to improve its image, like make-up can be used to create the illusion of high cheekbones and delightfully youthful skin. While Manila is far from being the only city in the world which uses such tactics to mask its skewed priorities, it is probably one of the most transparent. And when you’re stuck in hours of traffic with nothing better to do than to look at the people and buildings around you, decades’ worth of easily fixable mistakes glaring at you, you can’t help but become frustrated and disillusioned with the world around you.

If trees are the lungs of the city, this man has none, opting instead to fill the blackened cavern in his chest with exhaust fumes and airborne by-products of industrial waste. He takes delight in the pockets of combustion smoke which settle in each tunnel, each underpass, as stalled cars, motorcycles, trucks and buses wait like prisoners in line for their execution. Why should they care if their actions negatively affect others? Their own lives are too short.


* A Scooby Snack is a type of hamburger sold in Glasgow. It holds a hamburger patty, square sausage, bacon, potato scone, a fried egg and a slice of processed cheese, served with a hamburger bun, tomato ketchup and brown sauce. Two bites from one of these babies and you're set for the week. Seriously. If you're in Glasgow and interested in trying one out, keep an eye out for The Maggie, a white food van which usually hangs out at the the entrance of the Glasgow Botanics at the top of Byres Road in the West End. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Idanha-a-Nova: Boom Boom

"Ah, you're looking for boom boom", fistpump.
"Er, yes, the festival".
"Sim, o bum bum" fistpump, fistpump, "you have to go back where you came from, back to Idanha-a-Nova where you follow the river, mumble mumble, Barrancos mumble take a left mumble. But whatever you do, do not cross the river. Then you follow that road, mumble mumble mumble mumble and there, you ask for directions again. Ok?"
"O-ok" I have no idea, "muito obrigada e boa noite".

I turn the little Fiat 500 around and leave the thin smiling older lady standing by the road near the border of Spain and Portugal. We are once again driving back towards Idanha-a-Nova, towards a setting sun, towards the policeman who told us to come in this direction in the first place.

"Do you know where you're going?"
"No, but we'll figure it out".
"Well, if we pass that camper van again we can ask them for directions. They looked like Boomers."
"These guys also look like Boomers, and they look just as lost as we are". We pass a car parked on a side lane leading to the middle of a wheat field, interior lights on, a big map held up comically covering the faces of two blonde hunched figures. They could also have been spies.

After about an hour of driving up and down the same 20km stretch of road between Idanha-A-Nova and the Spanish border, asking for directions two more times, once to that same policeman who sent us the wrong way and another to the French group in the camper van who took the time to explain that all policemen are idiots in broken English, we finally found the way to the entrance of Boom Festival. We also found the 2 hour long queue of cars waiting to be let onto the grounds. In fairness, it was another 20 km to the actual entrance from the point where we finally joined the queue. 20 km at a snail's pace. 3 hours later, just after midnight, we were in.

The week that followed was one of the best festival experiences I have ever had. Disregarding the music which is where the festival gets its name from (psy trance = boom boom), this was a gathering of 30,000 like minded, socially, environmentally, and politically conscious individuals who were out to have dance, have fun and share the love. It's hard to talk about the festival without sounding cheesy, but what struck me most was the open-mindedness and genuine kindness of complete strangers towards one another. As an example, even after 7 days of full on party mode, there was very little litter to be seen on the festival grounds. Communal areas such as vegetable and herb gardens, shared kitchens, cafes and tree nests were kept clean by the festival goers themselves. Bending over the mud ovens puzzling over where to get more kindling from, someone suddenly appears beside you with an arms' full of firewood. Suddenly instead of cooking a meal for a small group of friends, you become part of a shared feast exchanging ideas and tips, sharing the workload. If only large cities had more communal spaces like that, as well as the conscious mind to be more respectful towards each other.

Mind you, I am not entirely sure whether such a social system would work for more than a week. The novelty might wear off after a while and you could find yourself searching for a way to escape the crowds and the noise. You could end up in a wheat field surrounded by golden morning light, glad to have found some solitude at last, but wary of the harsh glaring sun which will quickly make its way of the bright blue sky.

For the most part though, the festival was truly educational and eye opening experience. I learned about water treatment systems which use different kinds of grasses and mosses to purify water, without the need of using chemicals. I also learned about midwifery and the fact that it is actually illegal to practice this in some countries. Who knew having a child at home could be so threatening for the medical profession. I learned different theories about the psychology of relationships, models for efficient and self-sustaining communities as well as the role of the individual on the political system. I even met Benny Wenda, the Laani tribe leader from West Papua who talked about the genocide of his people and civil war that is going on there right now. Turns out he's been exiled from his country and now lives in Oxford. There is a recording of him speaking Laani on Language Landscape.

View from a shepherd's house at Idanha-A-Nova

The trip ends with Inti and I camping near an abandoned house on the hillside of Idanha-da-Nova. Nothing obstructs our view, the distant sounds of Boom echo in the valley and mountains, our bellies are full of watermelon and homemade tomato jam given to us by kind, jabbering old ladies dressed in black, ready for Sunday evening mass. Tomorrow we wake up at the crack of dawn and make for Lisbon. We are ready for our next trip: Manila.