El Salvador is a country rich in vegetation, hospitality and community. Immediately after landing the burst of heat hit the group, with temperatures reaching 85 degrees (give or take 10 depending on the day). I am an avid coffee drinker, so when I saw coffee being sold at the airport it was the first item I bought. This, however, was not the best decision to make. Coffee was El Salvador’s first main export to other countries, so there is a strong sense of justification and respect in regards to it. Not only was the coffee $12 (1lb) but it was not fair trade coffee, which is the coffee type that should be bought instead. Tomorrow my group will visit a fair trade coffee shop, where the coffee is of a better quality and only $3.50.
My first step off the plane also got me smiles, winks and stares from the El Salvadorians who saw me. We drove to lunch via the driver who will take us around for the next few weeks and my first meal here were huge shrimps, chicken breast, and rice. It was delicious and tasted different, more flavorful if I had to describe it. Here I learned that calling myself an “American” is politically (and technically) incorrect. El Salvadorians are Latin Americans, so the term isn’t a good descriptor: “US citizen” is. The meal was so great I inquired about tipping, and was advised not to. While US citizens are typically individualistic, El Salvadorians are more collective, so leaving a tip to a specific server can causes imbalances in their group dynamics, because someone is achieving more than another. It’s about the collective effort, so the tip is added to the overall bill to distribute evenly.
Next, we went to the beach and saw a Pacific Ocean route. It was beautiful and the waves crashed as forceful as the sun shown down. It was refreshing, but not as refreshing as the mangos I bought on the sand. Two adorable little girls were selling mangos; 5 for 25 cent (know that kids as young as 7 and up start working to help support their families). I only had a dollar, so just bought 5 and told them to keep the change (really, I didn’t need 25 of them and a dollar alone isn’t worth much to me–and El Salvador uses the US dollar fyi, since 2009). It took a bit of communicating to let them know they could keep the extra 75 cent, but they were happy when they realized it.
The next stop was to an open market the was such a culture shock. As mentioned before, El Salvadorians are a collective, inclusive community and it show with how all vendors were helping and supporting one another. As expected, when my classmates and I walked by all eyes were on us, with vendors offering wares and wanting photos. I gave my attention to the kids, there were so adorable and kept walking up to us and selling stuff. I bought so many things from them, and will have to work on saying no if needed. We didn’t get carded buying alcohol and they carted to us, making our group the center of attention. We left after drinks and made our way to Hotel Oasis, the place we would be staying for the trip.
When we arrived at Hotel Oasis, the serving staff was outside and waved us in. I’m just in awe at their hospitality. We began with the study abroad orientation and expectations, then had a delicious dinner. After eating with great conversations, the lights went out and everyone thought there was a power outage. To my surprise, the staff came out singing happy birthday and presented me with a delicious carrot cake. This made my night, and further confirmed their hospitality was some of the best I’ve encountered in my life.