I’ve been in El Salvador for almost a week already (and I’m not sick yet!!), but I’ve had little time and even less time on the computer. I’ll do what I can to give a not too lengthy update.
We got in last Wednesday at 11:30 am (which should tell you something about how early we left) and got all our tapes and transcriptions and transcriber and computer and scanner through customs no problem (Ruby was worried) because it happens there was no one manning the customs station when we went through. When we went through immigrations there was a woman at the next station over who was already there when we came up. They were asking her why she was visiting, and she, stupidly, said that it was because a friend of hers had been deported from the US and she was here to visit him. Then she tried to pay her $10 entry fee with a $100 bill. She was very distressed and obviously didn’t know a thing about traveling in El Salvador– there’s just no need to divulge information like that (also that $100 bills are virtually worthless because no one can take them). She was still there after we collected our bags and went through customs, and who knows if they let her into the country, or if they did, what kind of trouble they gave her before they did.
Anyway, work is going. Slowly, but it’s going. Ruby and I have had very conflicting schedules which makes it next to impossible to do things like review old interviews and come up with topics/questions for this year, so we’ve been playing catch-up somewhat. Also we’ve been getting help on the spots in the transcriptions I wasn’t sure about. This is of course fairly boring work, but ncessary and helpful. The Madres are wonderful as ever, but I’m having a hard time getting excited about the work, probably in part because we haven’t started really interviewing yet, just reviewing old information. We spent some time reviewing photos to get some we might want to put in the book, but we’re waiting (with some dread) for when the compañera who took them comes back to the office (her family has been sick) so she can help us find them and tell us abut them. I say dread because the majority of their photos are photos they took to document asesinados they found. That means a lot of cut off heads, bodies burned with acid, blood, body parts cut off/cut up, women with their shirts and bras pulled up around their chests, etc. I felt nauseous looking at any one photo for longer than a few seconds.
One of the things Raul (who I mentioned in my last post) does with some people from his church (a program he started) is to give food to people on the streets of San Salvador. Last night we went with him to do this– he and his girlfriend, sister, brother in law, and two other young women from the church. We got to Raul’s sister’s house at about 4 and then left their house not until 8:30, I think. Then we just drove around the city to places they know people are at, from a couple to a dozen. Also any time they saw people on the street, especially digging through the garbage, they would stop and offer them food. We were in a pickup, Ruby and Raul and I squished in front and then the others in the back with the food. One of the first stops we made was at a corner near a gas station where there were about a dozen kids, probably age 12-18 or so, all of them with their glue.
[Parenthetical remark] There’s a huge problem here (and in Nicaragua and, I would imagine, in many many poor countries) with street kids sniffing glue. When they lick it is takes away their hunger pangs, and when they sniff it it gets them stoned. Sometimes mothers with no money give it to their young kids to take away their hunger pangs when the mothers have no food and the kids get into it that way; sometimes the get into it on the street. [End parenthetical remark]
Anyway, before we got there Raul told Ruby and I to roll up our window and lock the door because the kids are manejado (I’m not sure how it would translate– sort of like managed or controlled) by some other people who make them rob people and give them the stuff in exhange for glue. Raul said something about because they’re young it’s hard for them to buy glue straight up, so they do it that way. It was really distressing and kind of scary, just because we had no idea what they would do, if anything. But Raul got out of the car to go talk to them and everything (although he left the car running). He said the kids know them and know if they do anything bad (like rob them or get violent in any way) they’ll never come back to give the food again. The kids were really happy when we showed up, they were clapping and yelling ”La comida! La comida!” (“The food! The food!”), but they were all really messed up (from the glue). There were a few who could barely walk they were so drugged out. Raul said to those kids they just give coffee and bread. They used to give food, but many times the kids threw it out because they’re on the glue which takes away their hunger. More than anything they just want something hot to drink take away the cold.
I was asking him about it later, I asked him if glue was as much a problem with adults or mainly just with kids. He said from what he’s observed, often by the time kids are 15 or so they switch to crack because the glue isn’t hard enough any more and crack is really cheap and really fast acting and intense. Almost all of the people we saw seemed pretty messed up in one way or another, whether it’s from mental health issues or drug issues (or both), I don’t know. But everywhere we went the people were really happy and really grateful. They were always saying “Muy agradecido” and “Que Dios te bendiga” and “Que le vaya bien, muchas gracias” (“I’m very grateful,” “May God bless you” and “May things go well with you, thank you very much”). Ruby and I stayed in the car the whole time except for one stop we made for 4 men who have jobs, they just don’t pay enough for them to be able to rent a house. They were really really nice, very clean and polite. In total, we served food to about 45 and coffee and bread to another 30.
Well, I apologize for this monstrously long post. I’ll try to update more frequently so that I don’t have as much to say. I’ll also try to get some picture up when I’m on Raul’s computer (rather than in a cyber cafe). For now, thanks for reading and thanks for your comments.