Microcredit in El Salvador

La Capital

Día 77, 10/18/2010
San Salvador

Yesterday afternoon, I arrived in the Capital. San Salvador is unlike any city I´ve ever been in. It´s more modern, developed, and diverse than I expected. It´s also extremely crowded, polluted, and disorganized. A lot of the city reminds me of places I visited in the Middle East – some of the chaos of Cairo, sprinkled with the modernity of Tel Aviv, flattened into the layout and flat profile of Los Angeles, with dense single-story concrete and brick homes that look similar at first glance but are actually extremely different, and all painted a variety of tropical colors as if you were in the Rainforest Café and sprinkled with European-style parks in the middle of street islands and rebuilt war-torn blocks.

The City is a top-3 hub for Latin American business and has strong cultural and practical ties to the United States. For a variety of reasons, it is not a hub for gringos. Rule #1, unfortunately, is to not take my camera anywhere, which puts a lot of pressure on my figurative writing abilities. The best part of my day was realizing that my much improved Spanish and developed skill of acquiring and wearing old American printed t-shirts lets me blend in better than I would have guessed. Taxistas bothered other people, lost travelers asked me directions on the street, and best of all, the checker at the supermarket asked me “What part of Colombia are you from?” and a bartender told me that he doesn´t serve “arrogant Spaniards like you until they apologize for all of their bullshit” (both interesting results of a leftover Madrileño-spanish accent). Both of these occurrences made me extremely happy.

I spent the afternoon walking around a middle-class neighborhood near a major University and playing basketball with a bunch of middle schoolers. The neighborhood where I´m staying is fun – there are a ton of bars, restaurants, and parks. There´s also the nicest supermarket I´ve even seen in Central America, with someone cooking filet mignon grilled cheese sandwiches on a griddle and giving samples. The meat section included calf heart, lots of feet and bones that were very expensive, and massive tongues. I didn´t try any. On my way home, I ran into the San Salvador Shiite Muslim Organization Headquarters, and as I was looking in the window a security guard asked me if I wanted a tour, and I ended up drinking tea with a bunch of old guys with no teeth and talking about the different parts of the capital and if the mosque should be built in downtown New York.

This morning I´m sitting in the gigantic offices of the site of my new project, waiting to get clearance for the internet, which has to go through at least four people. I´m wearing a tie for the first time, shaved last night, and just met like 20 people in charge of different departments of whom I don´t remember any names. The last bank I worked with had a portfolio of almost $4 million and 20 total people in my office, they self-titled themselves “cowboys like Clint Eastwood.” This one has a $60 million portfolio and people flying to Europe every few weeks to meet with funders; there´s a little more nuance going on all around. Navigating the city in the next few weeks will be an adventure, but so far it´s a lot of fun to be somewhere with a lot of energy and a little bit of an attitude from my more relaxed, turn-the-streetlights-off-at-7PM prior digs.


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