El Salvador: Where the Sun Rises in the West and Sets in the East

Bandera de El Salvador

What is he talking about?  He doesn’t live in Panamá, that snake-shaped country where it comes up in the Pacific and sets in the Atlantic.  Alright, I’ll explain…if my thought processes haven’t become as convoluted as “the culture” demands.

Follow me.  According to psychologists, intelligence is the measure of such broad abilities as reasoning, forming concepts, solving problems, short and long-term memory retrieval, sensory processing, quantitative reasoning and more.  Reasoning, to me, is the basis for learning.  We learn not just to increase our knowledge.  Wikipedia will answer all our questions.  We learn to solve life’s problems.  Logic is the key.  I like to think I’m able to examine the variables in a situation and predict outcomes depending on how I manipulate those variables, thereby enabling me to make the optimal decision.  (I guarantee you I have not achieved perfection in this area.)

So, what’s it all about, Alfie?  It’s about this country in which I have chosen to spend the rest of my days and the people I live with and deal with who have had a profound impact on my brain that all Alzheimer’s horses and all Alzheimer’s men could never scramble my egg in such a manner.

Case in point: Banco ProCredito is where I go to pay my rent.  I carry my previous receipt, my $80, and my national ID card.  There are four numbered windows in the bank.  It is spatious, clean, air conditioned with glass doors and windows to the offices.  There is an ample waiting area, a pot of coffee and a water dispenser on a table, and two well-armed vigilantes who don’t smile.  One unlocks the door, checks what you’re carrying, pats your waist, and asks you to turn off your cell phone if you’ve got one.  Does it sound somewhat like your bank?  There is the typical maze of posts and belts to guide you from the tail of the snake to its head before you will be waited on.

Window number 1 bears a sign that says it is special for the incapacitated, senior citizen, and pregnant women.  To me, it is a sign of civility, respect, courtesy, and sound public relations.  Most of the time their is a sign on the counter telling me it is closed and I should go to another window.  When it is open, there is most likely a shorter line and I jump on it.  But I can’t tell pregnant women from fat women who may or may not have ever had a child but look it.  There will be some gray heads.  But also youngsters depositing sacks of coins and bills for their employers.  Brave souls they are to carry cash on the streets of the public market.  Mind you, this is not the business window.  It’s for those who can’t easily stand on line for 45 minutes to an hour waiting to conduct their business.

When I arrived around 11:00 a.m., window 1 was closed with a woman seated who looked like she was counting bills and binding them.  Windows 2 and 4 had cashiers waiting on the 25 to 30 of us on line.  No one was in Window 3 for the first half hour of my journey and she also began counting money.  Within the first five minutes #2 went to take a break leaving #4 to hold down the fort.  When #2 returned there was some progress on the line…for maybe ten minutes when #4 took her break.  I thought of how I was taught in various jobs that customer service is primary.  The super market opens another register when the line gets to a certain point.  Not Banco ProCredito.  Besides the money counters and bundlers, there were several employees meandering the lobby whom I’m sure started their bank careers as tellers.  It took me nearly an hour to get to the head of the snake where I could look left to #4 or right to #2 waiting for one to signal me “pase“.

My thinking: Margarita and Luís are sitting in the doctor’s office six city blocks away waiting for me to come with money to pay him.  But she’s Salvadoran and patient.  I’m American and impatient.  I’m also pissed at the management of Banco ProCredito for not accommodating me and the little ancient lady two bodies in front of me as senior citizens, for not putting tellers in windows 1 and 3 to let us all go home more quickly, and for being so DENSE as to not have learned anything from successful banks around the world with regard to customer service.

When I finally was beckoned by #2 I was not my happiest.  I handed her my old receipt, my $80, and my ID and said, “Eighty dollars.”  She responded, “Eighty dollars?”  I came back, “Eighty dollars”.  She pushed some keys on her computer and looked at both sides of my official El Salvador Permanent Residency Card and asked if I had a DUI (the card that citizens have to use).  I said, “No, I’m a resident but I hope to have a DUI one day.”  She smiled and looked at both sides again to see what she was supposed to punch into the computer.  She finally figured it out and completed the transaction.  She returned my card with my old and new receipts and I left.  Margarita was patiently waiting when I arrived at the doctor’s office like a good Salvadoran.

There are many things that work for Salvadorans that would never fly in the U.S.  They don’t complain about having to travel in very unsafe buses.  They don’t complain about the government not providing jobs.  They don’t complain about poor medical care or poor education.  They don’t complain because it is as it’s always been.  If you haven’t experienced or been told that there’s a better way, perhaps you assume that what you have is just fine.

Would you buy an expensive appliance without a warranty?  Would you buy something large if the vendor couldn’t deliver it and you had to find someone who could?  Would you pay $5 for a gallon of gas for your 1978 Nissan if your income was between $50 and $100 a month?  Would you dig up rocks and lug them down your slippery sloped street to fill pot holes?  It’s different here.

People ride in death traps because they perceive no alternative.  People create jobs by observing the needs and filling them.  People expect to die from lack of care and are satisfied with learning how to read enough and to figure money and measurements so they can work.  They don’t need to know every trivial detail about history because there is only now.  They don’t need to know world geography because they won’t go beyond San Salvador and Guatemala City.  They know enough about government to know that it doesn’t do much for them.  They exist with all the ridiculous, difficult, death-defying conditions of life here because that’s the culture they inherited.  Those who want better are unwilling or unable to change.

This brings us back to intelligence and reasoning.  Those psychologists who have studied the brain and what it does tell us that on the bell-shaped curve, most people fall within the range labeled “average” intelligence.  It doesn’t matter where you come from or who your ancestors were as long as the test isn’t culturally biased.  Therefore, the factors of intelligence should be equal when comparing Americans to Salvadorans to African Pygmies.  Yet these three groups are eons apart on the common measures of successful societies.  I’m sure cultural anthropologists have something to say about this.  I just haven’t read any of their studies since I graduated from Rutgers.  But I know this.  Pygmies have tried to remain isolated from the larger (no pun intended) population surrounding them in the bush.  But Salvadorans are aware of America’s successes in just about every area of endeavor.  Still, they are remiss to emulate American behavior.  At least those activities that made it a great nation.  They take pride in the beauty and love of the land.  They’ve won no great battles nor conquered even a foot of Honduras.  They have few world renowned poets, authors, musicians or athletes.   There are no Nobel winners or top billionaires  here.  No one has invented or discovered anything worth praising.  Why?  Why doesn’t anyone use his brain to create, to discover, to change what keeps this country a land of gypsies looking for support from other countries and waiting for the messiah to descend in a cloud of U.S. dollars?

California, I’ve read, is the third dumbest state in the U.S. although its economy is richer than most of the world’s nations.  That’s the fault of the education system and absentee parents more than mass ignorance caused by marijuana smoke.  Not a lot of creativity to be expected there.  New ways to do dope?  Fer sure, fer sure.  But here, the narcotrafickers are the innovators.  New ways to terrorize and control communities.  New ways to move drugs safely.  New ways to launder money.  Now that’s using the old brain.

So who has a solution?  How do you motivate people to use their God-given abilities collectively in order to advance their society.  Are there just segments of every society that are chronic “victims” and blame others for their weaknesses and who expect them to take care of them?  No, unlike the U.S. this country cries from every church and protest site “We are poor!  We demand YOU fix it!”

If “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” presses  these people to the bottom of the economic barrel, there’s really no hope for them in this life.  If some educated pastors will teach what such verses mean, maybe they’ll understand that the Lord helps those who help themselves.

Escudo de El Salvador



One response to “El Salvador: Where the Sun Rises in the West and Sets in the East

  1. Hey Kountry, You put into words a lot of what I feel after living here for over two years. No one pitches a fit when things don’t work, the line is an entire lunch hour of your time long, or it takes 5 hours to arrive somewhere. Ambition and innovation seem absent, but part of the problem is, if you create a great product, there’s few pp with money here to sell it to! It seems like Ladrones (thieves) and Narcos are the only pp who make money here. Just a handful of white-collar workers in San Salvador. If only El Salvador could export more products instead of people (illegal immigrant labor is probably their biggest export). A lot of Nature here, but very little Nurture in what \Western society considers to be Nurture.

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