The first thing then was the omniscient volcano looming over the city. There was something so wonderfully alien about it. It was beautiful. The jumping colours and the life out on the streets – jugglers dressed in rags and creatures on stilts performing on the road to waiting traffic.
There were walls. Nine feet of concrete or rubble, topped with barbed wire and broken glass.
Over the week we learnt a lot of the injustice and violence the country has been witness to. It’s a country that’s been torn in two. The resolution – the peace accord stopped the war, but didn’t stop the mistrust.
The walling up of the city speaks of the psychology and corruption of its people.
The list of names- there is no official record of everyone who died in the war. Only 130-something massacres are accounted for on the list. The names are split up into the missing and the dead. Sometimes only a single name was there to represent an entire massacre they had been victim to.
When I was younger my grandparents took me strawberry picking. Today we went watermelon picking. Different in several ways, for one we didn’t use punnets. The entire watermelon crop (which grows on the ground… obviously) was on a hill that was easily 45 degrees steep. Picking the largest of our groups I sauntered lopsidedly down the hill. The farmers were dancing about the crop like they were on flat ground and carrying down huge sacks full of them.
On the way back we stopped off at an abandoned house and ate one of the watermelons as they were too heavy to carry them all, and quite frankly we were thirsty and wanted watermelon. A thunderstorm came; the hill opposite exhibited thunderbolts either side, showing off the deafening lightning. Sitting watching the crimped roof drip with boasting droplets of rainfall, our mouths and hands dripping from the watery fruit, we used the weather to wash ourselves as we walked back in our t-shirts, sandals sucked by mud.
It was gorgeous and real.
We dumped, stripped, and ran full pelt. We played with the waves, forgot about sun cream and burning. Dried off and dived in again. There was rum at 9.30am. I got to know some local boys with bumbling, disjointed Spanish. I didn’t care. Pedro wanted to dance, Rafael wanted a tattoo of the Mayan calendar on his back. Ben and I turned lobster pink- everyone noticed.
Walking Shopping Malls
Trucks overflowed with passengers hanging out of doors. People walk past stunning landscapes like it’s normal. They serve drinks in plastic bags. Their bottles say 1.000l. The animals (dogs, chickens, horses, cows) roam free, visiting houses as if on urgent business. A constant subtle burning spell is treated as completely normal.
El Guerrillero – The Guerrilla Fighter
He spoke with such deliberate animation; his role as part of the Guerrillero’s was to supply food, medicine and artillery to the fighters. Travelling through, he found a man with a concaved face who died before he could give him the food from his pack. Not able to explain what had happened to the man’s wife, Maria, he put down the tortilla and went on his way.
He pointed to a disturbed piece of ground that made up the choppy landscape of the mountain we were standing on. A bomb had fallen there, an attempt to hit Guerrillero’s who were occupying. The crater in which he pointed to had not meant to fall where it did. The Americans supplied the Salvadoran government with untrained army personnel, who hit random pieces of landscape, or innocent villages, instead of the men in front of us.
The Guerrillero pointed to a small scar next to his right eye where piece of shrapnel had entered his eye socket. Too close to an artery to operate, not close enough to eradicate sight, the metal is enough to remind him of what he has seen and what could have been lost to him.
Contentment is a Hammock
I’ve found myself content here, though in a different way to what I’ve experienced before. ‘Content’ means something different.
When I first came here I thought how boring life must be for some – lying in a hammock and observing life’s slow trudge onwards. Seeing the same faces and hearing the same news.
Maybe time doesn’t go as fast as I think.
‘Content’ is knowing your family are well looked after even if you can’t be the one to do it. It’s having enough water to live in a clean house with a clean body. It’s a really good tortilla.
Helping family out; hunting down work in a fertile a country where exportation steals the wealth; turning down scholarships because your family can only afford for one child to go to university. That’s what stays for my friends here whom I’ve shared these months with. Contentment is a concept put on the back burner while their country continues to lose their youth to America or to gangs. If it can’t be found through a career or education, it comes through breeze and sunlight on your face whilst you swing in a hammock of your own.
Words by Debbie Luxon