A Day in the Life

Not a God-Given day goes by when I’m not up by five.

This quote comes from Manlio Argueta’s famous Salvadoran novel Un Día en la Vida or One Day of Life. Banned by the government in the 1980s, this story reflects the dramatic social conditions Salvadorans lived in during the time of its publication.

On a less intense note, this opening also relates to my life in El Salvador today.

Here is, more or less, what a typical day in my life is like in Arcatao, El Salvador.

5:00 a.m. – Wake to roosters.

6:00 a.m. – Wake to Rosa yelling at Karen to get dressed. (Meet the family here).

7:00 a.m. – Actually get out of bed. Karen goes to school. I go for a run with Katie, shower, wash my clothes by hand in the pila, and begin to sweep and mop (I just get in the way on the farm and in the kitchen, so this is my way of convincing myself I am a thoughtful houseguest/family member instead of an oversized gringa in a hammock).

8:30 a.m. – Rosa comes home from work and we eat breakfast. It may look like this:


9 a.m. – ? – Life moves slower here. Midmorning to afternoon I may do things like…

read in the hammock,


observe our growing family,


pester the neighbors, or ponder life’s complexities…

Why did the chicken cross the road? It actually didn’t because it was tied to a tree in a fenced yard.

Afternoon – after re-nourishing myself from this hectic morning with a fried fish and tortilla, I will either go to the CBI (Centro de Bienestar Infantil) or attend a meeting or two with either the Historic Memory Committee, the Junta Directiva (city council), Women’s Association, or Youth Committee.

My late afternoons are then spent reading, writing, playing with Karen, practicing English with Jose, asking Santos what actually happened in the meeting if he was there too, or making tortillas with Cruz. We eat around 6 and I am in bed by 8.

But some days are different.

Santos and I were walking home from a meeting the other day. I asked him to clarify a few muddy points for me, then it somehow got brought up that he never went to school. He grew up in a village far from any school, so he never went. He learned to read when he was fighting in the war. He said it was hard, but he really liked it and wanted to become a veterinarian. However, he also met Cruz during the war, and they soon got married and started their family, putting his vet dream to the back burner.

The following day was going pretty much as the schedule above described. I was walking home during the hot afternoon at a Salvadoran-strolling pace when it began to rain (when it rains here, it pours). I decided to take one of my many shortcuts through town:


I was jogging along in my sandals and skirt when I suddenly had to leap over something that was not a rock… it was a dead dog. Sad, I thought. Then I saw something worse. One of the family dogs was foaming at the mouth and shaking violently.

I hurried up our steps and put my things in my room. When I went back out, I saw neighbors gather around and speculate. Apparently there were more dead dogs up the street. Karen went to investigate and confirmed, “Yup, there are four,” she stated matter-of-factly. People speculated that they had gotten into some poison and suggested milk and lemon to cause her to vomit.

But no one did anything. We just stood there watching.

Then Santos came home. Without hesitation nor any real hurry, he calmly squeezed several limes into a plastic bottle and shoved it down the dog’s throat. He did the same with some milk. Our dog stood there for a bit, then finally vomited.

We sat around and chatted about our day like life was normal (because apparently this happens all the time) when I, being the gringa I am, decided to start talking about the animals again.

She's a survivor.
She’s a survivor.

“The dog is smiling,” I observed.

Everyone laughed, “She better be,” responded Cruz.

“You really are an animal doctor,” I said to Santos. He cracked up because he thinks everything I say is hilarious, especially when I’m actually being serious.

Santos relaxing in the hammock after a long day in the field.
Santos relaxing in the hammock after a long day in the field.

Rosa was persuading Karen to do her homework when Santos chimed in, “Karen,” he said with a slight head tilt and a serious face, “Your mom doesn’t have to do homework because she already graduated. Jacey doesn’t have to do homework because she already graduated. I never graduated, but Jacey says I’m a doctor so I’m off the hook!” Everyone chuckled and began to prepare dinner.

Special thanks to Dr. Molly Todd for lending her copies of Un Día en la Vida to Katie and I.


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