The Towel Market

El Salvador TaxiSo we’re walking down the street. It’s a beautiful day in San Salvador, El Salvador’s capital city. Sharron is eating ice cream from a cup. I’m eating a two scoop ice cream cone.

A taxi pulls up alongside us. I can see a woman in the back seat furiously rolling down the window. She leans out and asks, “You’re American’s aren’t you?” She sounds agitated, maybe afraid. I’m thinking maybe she thinks she’s in danger, or maybe she needs emergency medical care. I’m also wondering why she thinks we’re Americans rather than British or German.

“Yes, we’re from the U.S.” we both say.

Satisfied that she guessed right she asks, “Do you speak Spanish?”

I nod toward Sharron, “She does.” She’s the Peace Corp volunteer. I’m just a visitor, not exactly a tourist, because I didn’t come to El Salvador to see the country, although it is quite beautiful.

Today, we are visiting the city. Sharron works in the campo, in the countryside with the farmers, helping them improve their business skills. Once every couple weeks she takes a bus into the city to check in at Peace Corp headquarters and to visit some of her friends. I’ve been there a month, will eventually find a job in the capital teaching English to Salvadorans and will stay there almost ten months.

“What’s do you need?” Sharron asks the woman.

Instead of the tale of terrible pain or anguish, maybe the dire need of a doctor, that I’m expecting, I hear one that is more American, more that of a tourist.

“It’s almost six o’clock,” the woman moans, “and I was told I had to get there before six. It’s the place where they sell the towels. I keep trying to tell this idiot, but he just keeps saying, “No habla englise.’ But, I know he speaks English.”

“If he says he doesn’t speak English,” Sharron says, “That’s probably because he doesn’t speak English. What makes you think he speaks English?”

“Well everybody at the hotel speaks English and they all speak Spanish too.”

Sharron takes a deep breath. I can tell she’s frustrated with this woman and might say something insulting to her.

The taxi driver looks nervous. He seems to be hoping we will take the irritating thing in the back seat away, but the woman shows no sign of getting out of the taxi and prattles on. “The woman in the gift shop told me in very plain English that I could find a better selection of towels at the Mercada de something or other. But this stupid idiot keeps taking me to grocery stores. Are all the taxi drivers here morons?”

La Plama TowelSharron clenches her teeth and says, “You’re here in a country where the National language is Spanish and you expect everybody to speak English, but you don’t speak any Spanish at all, is that it?”

The woman shakes her head, no. “I had a book, but I lost it someplace?”

“And you didn’t bother to write down the name of the market?”

“No, I thought he’d know where it was. All I know is that it’s out doors and somebody there sells beautiful towels.”

“I know where you want to go,” Sharron says, looking up at the sky.

“Please tell him… and tell him to hurry.”

Sharron turns to the driver, says a few sentences in Spanish, then turns back to the woman and says, “I don’t know if you’ll get there before six, it’s pretty far away, but he said he’ll do his best. Good luck.”

Watching them drive away, I turn to Sharron. She has a big smile on her face.

“What did you do?” I ask.

“Turistas de los estados unidos, they give us such a bad name,” She says. “There’s a market about ten blocks from here where they sell towels, clothing, lots of cloth. I told him to take her there.”

“And what’s funny about that? Is the stuff cheap or made in the U.S. or what?”

“I told the driver that since she was such a bitch he should drive as fast as he could but to take the long way around and to try to get there when they were packing everything up.”

“You’re wicked.”

“She deserved it. I’d love to be there when he drops her off. She’s going to go crazy.”

It’s only ten blocks away, we head in that direction, but half way there we decide we have better things to do.



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