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San Salvador 12

Wed, 30 Jan 2008

Hello again from San Salvador- It's late but I am determined to record the events of the day before they are gone! So much happens in a day here and every day is so different there isn't a hope of remembering it all if I don't write it down.

Today was not a day of looking at projects but a 'public engagement day of learning about what the war here was really like. We left early for a place called Cinquera....about one and a half hours east of San Salvador. I am not sure what the distance is in kms because it is pretty slow going with heavy traffic getting out of the city, people on the roads, and all the lambadas (speed bumps) when you pass through smaller places. Also, when you get off the main highways, the roads are generally in much poorer condition.

We arrived in Cinquera at about 10:15am. This is the part of the country that some of the most major fighting of the war took place. We met a man by the name of Don Pedro Alvarenga. It was his personal story that we had come to hear. He is now a man of 68, a Catechist in the church and a community leader. He was a man in his 20's when the war began. We met him at the church which is on the town square. This is not a very big place but it was entirely destroyed during the war (1979-92). The only thing that survived was the front facade of the church which was retained as the front wall of the new church. It is pockmarked from artillery shells. There are also several shells that were preserved on the square as well as the tail piece of a helicopter.

We met in the church and listened to the story he had to tell for 3 hours! He wove a passionate tail of what life was like before during and after the war. He wants people on the outside to know the real story of what happened there. I took 10 pages of notes in my diary as he spoke. Some of the stories of the atrocities are so graphic that I will not repeat them here. The man certainly didn't mince any words. The root cause of the war was that the people were landless and very poor (where have we heard this before!) as well as illiterate. They believed what they were told especially by the military, clergy Often it was the clergy who kept them down ('It is God's will that you should be poor') and at other times help them to organize and rise up. There was such a fear of communism at this time and any search for social justice on their part was equated to communism. Lots of propaganda controlled the thinking of the people. They were told that Fidel Castro was half man, half monkey, that he ate human flesh, and that if communism came, their children and elderly would disappear never to be seen again. They didn't have the literary skills to verify anything.....didn't even know what or where Cuba was. As the story went, the more the people resisted control, the more the military cracked down on them....the military supported by the US government. Obviously this is one man's story and I can't even begin to portray the many facets that he spoke of. I was struck by a few things though. How much more easy it is to separate religion and politics and ignore social justice in a land of plenty. That there is just as much politics in the church as out. It is just not as easy to recognize in some places as others. Also, there was propaganda on both sides of the fence when it came to fear of communism at that time. Many of us might even remember it! Anyway, I won't even pretend to retell his story well. The sad part is that all 5 of his children died because of the war. The last one who was alive after the war but was living with some war injuries ended up committing suicide as many others did. This man told his stories so vividly that you really felt what it must have been like. We then went to a local little restaurant, but frankly, I didn't have much of an appetite after hearing what Don Padre had to say.

We next dropped off some donated hospital supplies off at the local hospital and then went for a hike in the nearby ecological park. This is not an old park but was land that was farmed before that war with plots of maize, beans etc. It became too much of a dangerous place to live during the war and so was abandoned. It grew back into a dense tropical deciduous forest. It was a 2 hour loop walk that we did. Lots of up and down climbing in the 35C (at least!) heat with not a breath of wind. It wan an interesting area because it was the center of the most intense fighting during the war and there are locations of camps and trenches that were used by the guerrillas.. There was also a place called the 'Vietnamese kitchen'. It was a kitchen facility set up after one modeled in the Vietnamese war, where the stove pipe is run far away from the cooking area so that the enemy will not be alerted. On the trail there were some indigo vats dating from the early 1800's (where the dye from the indigo plan was processed for sale) , lookout tower with a spectacular panoramic view of the landscape and a waterfall with a swimming pool that some swam in ( a great relief from the heat!). The two young women that were our guides, had a real connection to the resistance movement. Their parents had both been involved. One of the women had been born out there under a rock Ęshe said, in that forest and the other woman's mother had been a nurse in one of the guerrilla camps. Everyone seems to be connected to that war here somehow. We asked these women what they made for was $158.00 per month. They each had a couple of kids but were only in their early 20's....quite common in the countryside

We did the 1-2 hour trip back to the city, cleaned up and went out to the Mayan Cafe for supper.

I had better call it a day......cause there's another one coming tomorrow!

V & C