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Assignment #2

Written on: Monday June 15th, 2009

A journal entry from: El Salvador

I have been in San Salvador for a bit over two weeks now and sometimes I feel like I've been here for years, other times I can't believe how quickly this trip is progressing.

San Salvador is a rough city. I knew this coming in, but it's fairly impossible to truly understand it until you're immersed in it, feeling it. Like any place, San Salvador is a combination of ''nice and rough''. The neighbourhoods where I live and work easily fit into the ''nice'' category. My neighbourhood is fairly closed off, a small series of streets with a few tiendas, a park and a constant flow of people walking dogs on the sidewalks. This series of streets is tucked away behind a safety gate -- weapon-carrying security guards guard our streets and (loosely) screen everyone who enters the community.

Concepts of personal safety/security are interesting here. Yenny and I have briefly discussed the role that devices placed to increase peoples' sense of security play in a place like San Salvador. There are guards with rifles and guns all over the streets. Who are they protecting? And from whom? These devices are in place to alleviate the fear of those with the privilege to feel afraid. Are they effective? I don't know. Do they serve a concrete purpose? I don't know. The constant presence of guards and mean looking guns is not new to me, having lived in Mexico for a very long time. But here it is different. There's quite a bit more I need to work out in my mind. I don't quite know how to explain.

Downtown, things are different. Yesterday two girls and I trekked downtown to hear mass in the church where Oscar Romero's tomb is located. Mass was quite intense for me. I am not religious. I attended a Catholic elementary school and a Catholic high school, attended countless masses, slept through most. Yesterday's mass was incredible. The priest was extremely engaging, charismatic. Social justice, commitment and solidarity underscored his every word. There was a small live band, the music was beautiful. I'm not normally one for hymns but MAN, it was intense, beautiful. A little like Violeta Parra.

After mass we stopped for a moment to discuss our next move. We, almost reluctantly, decided to walk through the market. The downtown market in San Salvador, everyone says, is a dangerous, dangerous place. Walking through, the three of us stopped speaking. I couldn't let myself think because fear would have probably paralyzed me. There was a man calmly taking a piss in the middle of the street, buses weaving around him. Young vendors touching our arms, squeezing our waists, caressing our backs (groooosssss!) trying to convince us to stop. The smell of meat and smog and pee and food and ridiculously loud music blaring out of every stand, dozens of baby chicks in a milkcrate dyed highliter hues. People staring profusely, some confused, some with little sneers. It's strange. I have walked through plenty of similar markets without feeling the vulnerability I felt yesterday, downtown. I've been trying to figure out if it has to do with an internalization of the fear people keep telling me I need to keep with me at all times or if I was afraid of genuine threats.

Taking the bus is a whole adventure in itself. The busdrivers are unconcerned with other vehicles in the road so weaving, sharp turning, honking and riding sidewalk corners happens a lot. The bus here is 20 cents. I have no problem getting around in general, the nervousness of the first few days has passed. I've learned to catch the driver's attention when I need to get off (either by staring at them in the rearview mirror or by banging on the cieling) and I've figured out the art required to get off a bus that is speeding away before you've fully stepped out of it.

One thing that we discussed while riding in the back of a pick-up truck in the city (so good) the other day was the fact that none of us has seen a McDonald's here yet. Burger King, yes. A plethora of American banks, naturally. KFC, plenty. But no McDonald's. Around my house there are two large supermarkets (Super Selector), a gazillion pupuserias and comedores, an HSBC and a Scotiabank. Further West (I think) one sees far more American companies. All over, actually.

FOOD. I am putting on weight because I cannot stop eating. Everything is so good. My appetite is constantly at it. I have been eating a lot of: plantain, tortillas, avocado, cheese, cream and beans. On Sundays we have made a tradition of going out for ice cream sundaes at Sarita after dinner with Carlos.

Since being here I have been laughing uncontrollably about SOMETHING or other every single day. The combination of friends from home and all the new people I'm coming into contact with has been fantastic. Yenny, you are responsible for most of the belly-ache inducing laughter I have experienced since arriving here. Thank you for that.

I'm happy here. I'm learning not to agonize, not to depend but to be open to becoming close to people, to loving people, to being comfortable with people even if I will probably never see them again. I have been finding it easy to let go of petty worries and annoyances. I'm thinking less and doing more and it's a new and wonderful thing.

PS. On the subject of not thinking/doing I randomly went ziplining over a lake on Saturday! Seeing the mountains was amazing that way. For any of you who know anything about me I AM MORTIFIED OF HEIGHTS and would rather die than be in a high-up place, never mind slide through a precarious looking ziplining contraption for the bargain price of$2.50. This is what I mean.


From Yenny on Jun 17th, 2009

The market can be very daunting specially when they smell fresh meat...always walk with confidence, and tell them politely you are not interested. Remember that here is in ES there is no personal space, people will always "be up in yo bizzness." At least that man was only pissing nonchalantly in the middle of the road instead of "you know what" on a hill. You should not have been surprised men here are constantly adjusting, readjusting, and pinching their members. It was just a matter of time before they whipped it out.

From D on Jun 17th, 2009

In Turkey there's a lot of military prescence and it's never something I've even thought about but there were always men with rifles, plus there were tons of "security" checks like when you drive to the parking lot of a mall your trunk and the bottom of your car is inspected for explosives as well when you enter malls you are screened like at the airport. And until you mentioned the guards in el sal i didn't even remember that part of turkey. Please be safe! You stick out like a sore thumb!