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From San Francisco to San Salvador: What's up El Salvador?

22 September, 2011 09:57  Erin Erin

whats up el salvador family We are Andy, Nanelle and Emme Newbom, and we moved from the San Francisco Bay Area of California, To San Salvador, El Salvador. We are chronicling our life as expats living in El Salvador.

1. Why did you move abroad?

We moved abroad because over the years of coffee sourcing trips (Andy was the owner of
Barefoot Coffee Roasters), we fell in love with El Salvador. My career in Law Enforcement was fun, but definitely not going to move forward, and both of us had developed a love for craft beer, and both of us felt Barefoot needed to get a major investment to grow.

We sold the coffee roasting company, along with our house, our furniture, our cars, our clothes, bikes and everything else that wouldn't fit into 4 suitcases, and I quit my very good job, to come here and start a Craft Beer brewery and source Direct Trade coffee for roasters.!

2. How do you make a living?
We don´t have jobs per se. Right now Andy is brewing like a maniac, building, and rebuilding equipment and  learning the country. Of course with his love for coffee he will never leave it behind. Andy is forming cooperatively planned projects with roasters and farmers in an expanded version of facilitated direct trade. Neither of these pursuits could be called jobs at this point. Though he is working his patootie off.

I got a job as an English teacher at a language school. Working in El Salvador is Different! The amount of money considered fair for any given job is disproportionately low for the cost of living, and the hours employers expect of full time workers are long. My experience working here has been fun, because I am learning more than I am teaching, but that is because  am in the lucky position of working only to supplement my income. Having a job in El Salvador is not a good way to earn a good living.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I cyber-stalk my two adult sons obsessively. We are in constant, though indirect contact. When we can trap them into a conversation on Skype, their 5 year old sister goes nuts! Email, facebook, and Skype are our best friends. We call them on cell phones too cause cellphone airtime is dirt cheap in El Salvador.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in El Salvador?
I am learning a new culture, and developing as a human being. The challenges and differences are sometimes uncomfortable, but they payoffs are even greater. I like, that having made my first move outside the country, the world seems more of an open idea. Our daughter will grow up bilingual and with a broad world view! The weather is wonderful, especially in the green/rainy season. The beaches are world famous for surfing and beauty but are virtually deserted. We like it that way. We have made a great number of friends since moving here. Salvadorans are some of the friendliest people in Central America. We love the geography and the landscape. There are a lot of touristy type places but none of them is all that touristy. Basically we get a really great tropical paradise more or less unmolested by rabid packs of tourists.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in El Salvador?
The worst thing about being an expat is the fear of threats and violence that are constantly pounded into our heads. Though they may be true, I find that thinking of what might happen down the road steals a little bit of the pleasure of trying to adapt. It is not the bad roads, and at this point I don´t miss many things about the United States. I miss leaving the house with the feeling confident in my security and my ability to handle whoever and whatever comes my way.

Niether my husband nor I have experienced anything to make us afraid. We have met wonderful people, gone to wonderful places, and will continue to do so. It is the voices telling us to remain fearful, that is the biggest negative about living in El Salvador, in my opinion. And we have only met 2-3 people who have ever experienced violence directly AFTER the war so it seems to be bigger than reality.

6. What do you miss most?
I miss stand up comedy, live original music (great cover bands are everywhere, but I haven't gotten out to see any anything original and unique), but mostly I miss my adult sons, who stayed behind in the States. We used to miss great craft beer but now we brew our own in preparation to opening. We miss friends and family of course but we also have many friends here. We miss the really high end ice cream and crazy food choices of the Bay Area. And Straus Family Creamery Barista milk.

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
Luckily for me, Andy had a good number of friends from the coffee business who live here. It has been great to have some friends here to help ease the transition. We have made a point to go out to the neighborhood park every afternoon with our daughter and try to engage other parents even with our limited Spanish. Having a serious hobby, or budding business idea is also a great context for meeting people. Homebrewers are everywhere, and they seek each other out. We also joined a local church. We have not attended any expat clubs or american society meetings. We agree that we should but have held off to try to keep ourselves from hiding among the other expats. El Salvador is a VERY easy country to get comfortable in for Americans with the currency being the US dollar, so many American brands etc.

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Most of my friends only know the violent history of El Salvador, and have trouble viewing it as a country of enormous beauty, with tremendous resources, that will develop into a jewel. They cannot understand why the bad roads don´t bother me, or why the chaos of driving here has an upside. The calm acceptance of things that are terribly wrong, which Salvadorans use to get through their day, is very strange to most North Americans, who have a near coronary when a car comes anywhere near, or when things don´t happen at their appointed time.

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
I can think of so many! The most obvious is that El Salvador is not a modern version of the wild west where there is a shootout around every corner and lawlessness is the only law. There is violence and there is crime, however I feel as safe in most parts of the country as I would in the states. Another is that this country is poor. This country is not poor. A disturbingly high percentage of the population is poor, but to be clear, money and resources exist here, and all of the friends I have made here are better educated then me, and many are better off financially. The money has historically been concentrated in the hands of a few (just like in the US), but the middle class is growing and wealth is spreading. El Salvador is not safe. But nowhere is safe, you can only be safer. It is safer here than in many sections of major US cities.

10. What advice would you give other expats?
The best advice I can give other expats is:
1) to learn the language as best you can before making the leap.
2) To rent a house for a while before you buy to get a feel for the areas,
3) To avoid other expats for a few months after you settle in.
4) And DON't eat at American restaurants. Eat local, eat better, save money and support the people.

11. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog right as we moved as a way to force myself to do things! I can be quite a homebody, and absent a good reason to talk to someone I would never make a single friend in the world. Blogs require content and content requires me to get out of the house, take pictures, talk to people and so on. I did the blog as way to control my own fears. It's freaky scary to sell everything you own and to jump to another country. Plus it is our little way of giving back to this great country by showing people how wonderful and crazy El Salvador is.

12.  How has the blog been beneficial?
I have made contacts with expats, future expats, past expats, Salvadorans and people interested in El Salvador. whats up el salvador

Without the blog I would never have "met" any of them. I learn more about what I am experiencing after hearing other people's stories and interpretations. Half of what I post is nonsense, but when people comment it helps me make sense out of whatever I was thinking. OH! and my friends back home love to hear updates. It is actually kind of unnerving how many people we meet in El Salvador who say they love the blog and love reading about a foreigner saying good things about El Salvador. They say it makes them rediscover the good things about their home.

Bottom line is El Salvador is going through a great re-discovery both by Salvadorenos and by others. We really like it here.

Blog Link


Newbom blog, What's Up El Salvador?



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