Posted by: Douglas Bailey | November 1, 2010

What I CAN get a photo of

What I can get a photo of…, originally uploaded by Douglas Bailey.

Since I couldn’t take the camera down the street and was even reluctant to take my iPhone out of my pocket for pictures, I took a photo from the second floor landing at my hotel. You can see that Burger King is within range (about 400 meters) and also that San Salvador is not a flat city. There are hills and mountains everywhere.

On my walk up to Burger King I first noticed 3 burnt out cars on the side of what is a busy four lane road. After walking past one car I noticed a dog chained to the second car and then movement on my left from people who were sitting in the shade of a tree. I couldn’t see them until they moved and they were only about 3 meters away. Needless to say I crossed the road. (If you are in a similar situation please remember that in El Salvador people drive on the right, i.e. ensure you look to the left before crossing the road!)

I chose Burger King because for my first meal I only wanted to fight the language battle and not the ‘what on earth am I eating’ battle. I found what is effectively a BK Chicken and ordered that… with some difficultly. The counter staff knew little English – and that’s perfectly fine, I have no expectation that every nation should learn English. So, when I tried to explain that my meal should be 5.89 and not 4.89 I started with ‘cinco’ (five) but I couldn’t say .89. She certainly understood the word cinco but alas, not its context. And so she believed I was trying to order 5 BK Chicken meals. If she hadn’t sounded so shocked at that idea I would have been slightly offended! I started to use the word ‘King’ (size) which I now realised she missed earlier. Mission accomplished.

On exiting Burger King I noticed the second person of the day that was hiding in the shadows. What I actually saw first was his shotgun. I then realised he was in a guard uniform and was in the shadow of the Burger King fence. I knew there would be armed guards outside shops in El Salvador but to see it in person is a somewhat significant event which triggers some rather urgent brain to eyeball messages: ‘Ok, look away now… It’s not nice to stare you know. Blink at least… ok kiss yourselves goodbye and don’t say I didn’t warn you!’

And on to the supermarket with a ‘thanks’ to God that its air-con was in great working order. I feel bad for the extremely friendly staff whose effort to serve me was all but lost on my extremely limited English. The first was a young lad who stood out the front of his checkout and encouraged me to come and be served by him. I managed to convey that I wasn’t finished shopping – mostly by walking away! I had to wonder if he was working on commission since he was so proactive in drawing in the customers. The second young lady who tried to serve me was holding Special K. I pretty much said, ‘Ingles’ (English) to which she thought for a second and then said ‘Special K’ which a much more english sounding accent. At which point I had calculated that with a 6am start tomorrow I wasn’t going to need cereal and I said ‘no, gracias’ which rescued her from having to try to come up with more English. I wonder if her original spiel in español may have mentioned the shape of my legs. I guess now we’ll never know.

And on my way out of the supermarket I found persons 3 and 4 hiding in the shade and I think I’ve finally locked it in: Salvadorans like to hide in the shade. (They probably don’t call it this, they probably call it logic).



  1. Douglas, I’m tracking you in El Salvador. I enjoy your witty writing style. Also, it was a pleasure to meet you at the Gibson’s event Saturday. I hope it won’t be my last opportunity for conversation with you.

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