April 20, 2003 - Personal Web Page: An Average Day in El Salvador

Peace Corps Online: Directory: El Salvador: Peace Corps El Salvador : The Peace Corps in El Salvador: April 20, 2003 - Personal Web Page: An Average Day in El Salvador

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, April 20, 2003 - 10:48 am: Edit Post

An Average Day in El Salvador

An Average Day in El Salvador

I woke up this morning with the dusky glow of the early sun through my window. I got dressed in the clothes that I had worn yesterday. I find myself wearing the same shorts for up to three days in a row. I rarely have time to do laundry; the cleanest my get clothes is by taking them into the river on the edge of town and scrubbing them on a borrowed washboard. I brushed my teeth making sure not to swallow the water; it’s not completely safe. I have separate water for drinking and for cleaning my dishes, teeth, hair, and clothes.

I knew it had rained the night before because the dirt floor in my house was more damp than usual and I could hear the wood beams, that hold up my straw roof, creaking from the weight of the soaked straw. I grabbed my bag and opened the door, which was barely hanging on the hinge, to the sight of poverty and desolation. The chickens in the street clucked and pecked at the muddy ground as people started to emerge from their cement houses that dripped with last nights rain. The straw roofs of the houses sagged under the weight of the water. I walked down the road towards the center of town where I would find Hernando Mora, a local farmer and one of the only people in town with an automobile. He was responsible for transporting all of the produce and dairy products produced by the local farmers, to the market for selling. But he didn’t need to that any more, or not as often anyway. La Guardia, the government’s army, discovered some revolutionists in the town and started to bomb and set fires every where, leaving the town in complete ruins. Scared, most of the residents of Chalatenango fled to other towns and refugee camps set up on the border of Honduras and El Salvador, in fear of another attack. The attack happened months before I came, but the fear has not left the people that remain here. This is not the only town in which this has happened. Where ever the communist guerrillas are staying, La Gaurdia is almost sure to track them down and attempt to kill them; even if their efforts do destroy entire towns.

I saw Hernando waiting for me as I greeted him with a “¡Hola!” and a wave. I really enjoy being with the people I work with here. They’re all very supportive of my work and are always willing to help. The ride in his old rusty Datsun was bumpy along the dirt roads, but thankfully only about ten minutes long, a walk that would a taken me two hours out of my day. When we arrived at his house I heard the sounds of laughter and pots clanking as I stepped inside the door of his house. Chickens clucked about in the yard as the dog playfully chased them. Hernando’s home remained untouched by the attack, but he said he had heard of guerillas using remote farms such as his own to hide from the government. He knew that if this happened to him, La Gaurdia would surely destroy his home if they ever found the guerrillas at his farm. Hernando does not support La Gaurdia or the communists. “Both have destroyed lives,” he said. “To end this war, would be a miracle,” he told me; “my main worry is to keep my family and my farm safe from attack. I pray to the la Virgen every day that the war will not touch us, and that this war will end with a victory rewarded to the peasants.” This is the attitude most people around the town have. They all pray that this war end, even though they know that there’s no way they can stop it.

Hernando had a wife and two young sons, one was five and the other was seven years old. Hernando’s wife Maria greeted me with a hug and beckoned me to a wooden table situated under the trees. There she served a breakfast of beans, tortillas and coffee. The chickens clucked around on the ground hoping to find some dropped tortilla. “You’ll have to come back next week, I’ll expect we’ll have eggs then. I’ll make sure to save a few, and when Hernando brings them into town to sell them he can bring you back with him,” Maria said. Eggs were a rarity and they were expensive.

As we were eating breakfast I explained the underlying problem of the soil erosion to Hernando. Soil erosion in El Salvador is such a massive problem, so its not just town wide. The results of soil erosion affect the country in the worst of ways. There is mass starvation because most of the fertile soil is being eroded by the constant downfall of heavy rains. So now there is not enough land to provide food for the country. Also, hundreds of years ago the European farmers used the land to grow indigo. Indigo was grown year after year but it wasn’t rotated with other crops such as beans and corn. This caused mass deforestation and severe erosion. There are so many ways that the soil erosion can be tapered here but the government hasn’t really ever consider the problem. El Salvador has no environmental protection laws, and the few they do have are not enforced. So the government has done absolutely nothing to stem the topsoil erosion and has no laws protecting the severely affected areas. Because I am only one person, here by myself, my plan is to start out by helping this village as much as I can. The main cause of soil erosion here is rainfall; so considering that there is no possible to stop the rain, steps must be taken to stop the rain from washing away the soil. The best way of doing this is to plant vegetation on the hillsides. The roots of the trees, grasses and other plants will keep the soil in place. But, unfortunately it will take years for the plants to develop enough to actually help the problem, so right now I am considering the possibility installing sedimentary traps or diversions. But the problem is there is no way to get the funding for such things, so I’m going to talk to my contacts at the Peace Corps, and hopefully they will help me with getting the supplies and tools needed for this project. Once I have finalized my plans, I am going to start recruiting farmers and other people who care about this problem to help me build the traps and transport and plant the plants.

As soon as breakfast was finished, Hernando retrieved his bucket and fishing pole from the back of the shed, bid us goobye and headed off in the direction of the river. While he was out, I spent the rest of the day helping around the house and playing with the children. And about three hours later, Hernando returned with four fish which were cooked over the fire and served with tortillas for lunch. These are the sunny days that I will remember and the days that I don’t regret joining the Peace Corp. I’m really very excited about how involved every one wants to be, because they really do care about their home. I appreciate how the villagers go out of their way to make me feel at home, by inviting me for dinner and offering to help in any way they can. The transition from Berkeley to here has been really difficult for me and sometimes I wonder what my life could be like at home where I would have hot running water, a warm bed, and take-out food. But, what I am worried about most is hearing about the many uprisings of the FMLN. I can feel the tension in the town whenever news is heard of approaching troops. The townspeople know that one day any political group could come and demand the hospitality of their town. Of course the more welcomed people are the guerrillas fighting for the peasants rights. But even when they come, panic will spread through the town; because if there is a rebel army, it is almost always followed by La Gaurdia. If La Gaurdia finds any trace of evidence that shows the FMLN was there, the entire town would be destroyed, leaving many with out homes and family. The townspeople can’t win this war. Death looms over them from both sides, and the only way they could have a victory is if the FMLN defeats the advanced army of the National Guard. There really isn’t much hope for the people like Hernando and his family.

There are so many different political groups residing in El Salvador, I’m still not completely sure about which group supports what beliefs or who they’re fighting for. During this time of controversy, my Peace Corps instructors have given me the order to stay neutral for my own safety, and because of the fact that I am in El Salvador for humanitarian reasons only. But it is very hard to do this in a place where there are so many different opinions and beliefs clashing, resulting in war and the death of thousands. I have just been wary of who I become friendly with. A group of guerrillas were passing through the town a while ago, they didn’t stay in fear of being found because Chaletenango is one of the larger towns in the area. They only stayed for two nights, but most people tried as hard as they could to help in any way they could. After all, these are the people who are fighting for the residents of Chaletenango, and peasants throughout El Salvador . So far the war has not affected my work here, and hopefully it won’t. Most of the townspeople are really focused on this soil erosion problem. I think that it helps to keep they’re minds off the war and the turmoil that surrounds them. When the people here reach out to me and really try to help me adjust it means so much and I forget about the fears of war, and I remember the reasons I am here and how much I am doing for the villagers, myself, and all of the innocent people whose lives are over shadowed by war.

The FMLN, or the Farabundo Marti National Liberation, is the communist group that is fighting for the rights of the peasants. Most of the guerrillas were farmers like Hernando and his family, others were peasants that felt that they were being oppressed by the government and decided it was time to stop. The government armies spend most of their time training to mainly attack their enemy, as well as defending themselves against any of the guerrilla armies. A few weeks ago a group of guerrillas were stationed at a farm not too far from here. They were there for about three weeks I think. Many people who came here to visit told us about them, and how they spend their time resting and preparing for their next attack, or for a possible attack on them by La Guardia. While they do not have the advanced weapons that the El Salvadoran government has, they are well organized as I saw when they passed through here. It was smaller group of them, about twenty five or so. They had a cook, and a medic. They carried every thing they had with them on their backs, while balancing pots and other things on their heads. Their little children followed behind, none of them older than eight or nine. I couldn’t imagine having a life like them.

Both groups, the government and the communists make an incredible effort to get recruits for their armies. Even children are being trained to shoot a gun and to hate the opposing side. They are the future of this war, if it does not end by the time they are old enough to fight. Like Hernando, many people have a hard time choosing sides in this war. The government is constantly trying to convince the people of El Salvador that the FMLN will be the downfall of their country if communism prevails, and that a person should be patriotic by joining the national guard; but then the FMLN describe themselves as almost the saviors from oppression, or these liberators that have come to promise a better and more prosperous future for the people of El Salvador. Naturally, the peasants support the FMLN. Unlike the national gauard, they do not kill for no reason. They use violence for self defense or for a planned attack, where as La Gaurdia will kill a person even if he or she just suspected of being linked to the FMLN, no trial of any kind, they will just take them to the side of the road and shoot them. The government is ruthless only fighting to stop the prevailing of the peasants, where as the FMLN are fighting for a cause. The government’s fighting is just a result of the rebellion. But there are many who cannot decide whom to support; the people stuck in the middle think, how could the government, which is murdering innocent people, be trust worthy, but then again, how do we know that I future will be okay in the hands of rebellious peasants. There is no place for the innocent bystanders to go, or anything for them to do except wait. Like them I am a bystander, thrown into the chaos that ensues daily, so there is nothing I can do but focus on my mission and the work that I am doing here, as well as trying to be as supportive as I can to the people in this town whose families have been torn or lives harmed because of this war. But I have to constantly remind myself that I am here to do one specific job and that I have to stay neutral and unbiased; but it’s so hard to do. The reason that I even had to come and try to fix the topsoil situation is because of the government. They overworked the land and then did nothing to replenish it, and now they have hurt not only the topsoil but the people of El Salvador. So it’s very difficult for me to be around these oppressed people, whose government does nothing to try and fix their bad situation, and not become more compassionate and drawn closer to the peasants and the FMLN.

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Story Source: Personal Web Page

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - El Salvador; PCVs in the Field - El Salvador



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