STORIES OF EL SALVADOR-POST II

Okay, I can’t seem to keep my stories short, but I hope you liked the previous ones anyway, and I hope you will like these few more just as much.

NOTE: Although the photos and videos linked to this blog are random, they all are from our trip to El Salvador.

SINGERS AT JUAJUA FOOD FEST

SANTIAGO DE MARIA
I moved to San Francisco on Feb. 6th, 1987. My sister and her fiance, Jeff, lived in an in-law apartment under Jeff’s Mom, Blanquita’s, house. I had nowhere to live, so I rented a room in Blanquita’s house for cheap.

Blanquita was a small woman, but she carried herself like she was a giant. She kept her house tidy and was every so polite. I became part of Blanquita’s family, attending holidays with them and other activities. At some point, my sister told Blanquita I could speak Spanish (uh, barely at the time), and I just loved how she and her sisters would always look over at me, probably gossiping, at family events to see if I understood. Sometimes I would act like I understood! Pupusas will always remind me of Blanquita, and a crocheted black sweater will as well. She was wearing a sweater one day and I told her how much l liked it, the next thing I knew she gave me two of them!

In her later years she had a stroke and became wheelchair bound. Although she still had a will to live it was hard to see feisty Blanquita in that chair. I chose to remember the “walking up and down a huge hill to church every morning in Daly City” woman instead.

I thought of her a lot on this trip to El Salvador, because that is where Blanquita grew up. I got the name of her town from my brother in-law and her maiden name just in case I would make it to said town. Oddly enough, we figured out that we had to pass through the town, Santiago de Maria, to get to Alegria, a town we planned on visiting from the start.

Alegria

We spent only an hour in Santiago de Maria, but it was more than enough time for me to befriend four young sisters in Parque Central and to find someone who said he knew Blanquita and her sisters. It is a bit hard to believe as they moved to the United States in the 1940’s. When I would come upon an old person I would ask if they lived there all their life and if they said, “Yes,” I would ask if they knew her. I would explain that her family owned a coffee farm, which is not uncommon as coffee is still grown as far as the eyes can see.

From First El Salva Pupusa

Blanquita, this pupusa’s for you!

SINGING ABOUT ALEGRIA

POOR RUNNING COW (but he was okay)

NO HONOR FOR LITTLE PERQUIN
We decided to go to the little town of Perquin because of its significant Civil War history. It was the former headquarters of the resistance, the FMLN, after all. It was the headquarters for the people who fought for 12 years against the U.S. backed El Salvadoran Right-Wing Military and oligarchy. Not an easy thing for a militia that included many kids to do, kids (Click on kids for more info). A lot of the people fighting the war were young, oh so young. The FMLN had to recruit anyone they could and they did. So many of these young people lost their lives for the fight and some lost their lives right there in Perquin.

But has the country, the government, the people, honored what these freedom fighters and the civilians in the area had to endure in the fight to have a voice? No, not entirely. Oh, yes, there is a big, now shabby, monument in San Salvador, but that is not where the FMLN headquarters were located.

The headquarters were in Perquin, a small unkempt, shabby, little town. We had been to a lot of tourist towns in El Salvador and they were clean, shiny and bright, but not poor little Perquin. Even though there was a couple of murals, there was also trash on the ground and a beat down, state of decay feel to the place.

Why has El Salvador forgotten about Perquin? Well, the people of Perquin have not forgotten what they went through, there are daily reminders. A rusted out jeep abandoned on the side of the road now over grown with fauna. A small museum at the headquarters building luring in the adventurous traveler here and there.

We went to the sad little museum and took our time looking at the photos of FMLN soldiers, dead and still alive, Anti USA posters (some printed by US organizations, one even had a 415 area code phone number), FMLN fundraising posters and arms of all size. A radio station, known as the “Voice of the Resistance” was preserved, exhibiting a chilling reminder of the peoples fight against another one of Reagan’s dirty cold war battles. You get the eerie feeling that their ghosts are still there, broadcasting news to their comrades. Beside the building, exhibited like a prize trophy, the downed helicopter that carried an El Salvadoran military commander who led the massacre on the nearby town of El Mozote. We hiked to the to top of Cerro Perquin where former lookouts were established and the decoy radio antenna that attracted the military commander was erected. Bomb holes litter the landscape. Trenches and caves are left as a reminder of the violent past.

I was very touched by this town. It saw the worst of the war, but it has not received the honor it deserves as one of the most significant historical sites for the FMLN. I won’t forget about Perquin. Jim and I talked and thought it could take as little as $5,000 U.S. dollars and sweat equity to spruce up the little town so the people of Perquin can hold their heads up high. A piddly amount compared to the 7 billion the United States poured into El Salvador to fight the ill-equiped freedom fighters. Maybe now, 29 years after their formation, that the FMLN holds the highest seats in government, things will change for Perquin. I hope.

Perquin

THE PICK-UP, CENTRAL AMERICA’S OTHER FORM OF TRANSPORTATION!
We woke at 4:22am one fine morning and decided to take the 6am bus instead of the 1pm bus that day. We readied ourselves, then out we went at 5:30am sharp to wait for the 6am bus to Marcala, Honduras. 6:00am passed, then 7:00 and when hit 7:30am I started to ask questions. After a couple of calls were made, we were told the bus was not coming, but we were still not sure. Getting the wrong info is the norm in Central America. We walked up to the one man police station and found out that the bus often does not show up, and fortunately a guy in the office offered us a lift in his pick-up down the hill to the highway.

So, instead of waiting in the sleepy little town of Perquin, we waited on a corner of the highway and a dirt road; the dusty turnoff to Honduras. Things looked as though we were going to be waiting a long long time as we sat on a log outside the corner pulperia. Jim chatted with one of the fellow waiting passengers and said we should all pitch in and hire a truck to take us. He chuckled in acknowledgement of the idea and yet was content to while away the day waiting for the afternoon bus that might not ever arrive. I think an hour had gone by when one of the waiting women asked if we wanted to share the cost of a ride. We told her we were in on her plan. She went off and found someone to drive us and the others over the border to Marcala, Honduras.

There were nine of us in on her plan, and we all grabbed our stuff and headed off in the direction of our new transportation, a rusted-out 1980’s hoopty Isuzu truck. Once they manually gassed up the old thing, we threw our belongings in the back and jumped in. Mom with baby got the front passenger’s seat. What Jim and I did not know was that this route across borders is a rutted dirt mountain road, which makes for a very bumpy ride. I sat next to two kids, David and Alexandra. David was chatty and he seemed to understand my Spanish very well, so we had a nice chat.

Jim and I were enjoying the ride in the fresh air and our border crossing back into Honduras was even easier than going into El Salvador. Matter of fact, no one but Jim got out of the truck to get checked! We thought after “the long wait for a bus that never came” business earlier, we were getting some luck on our side. But things don’t always go so smoothly.

As we crossed the border into Honduras the sky got darker with each passing kilometer, as the sun ducked behind the thick heavy clouds. It was getting a bit chilly for most in the truck, but Jim and I still enjoyed the fresh misty air. We were rudely smacked out of our pick up truck adventure dreamland when rain drops started to come down. Before it got too hard, the children were moved into the cab as well as a bunch of belongings. Our packs stayed in back with us. At first it was kind of fun, especially since we finally got to use our big ole’ Hondo super umbrellas, 3 huddled under mine and 3 under Jim’s. It was cozy and downright funny when one of the women could not stop laughing as she rolled back and forth loosing her balance with each bump and turn. We all joined in with her laughter. When the wind picked up as well as the rain, the laughter slowed. The umbrellas did not help as much as we needed.

Those of us sitting on the floor of the truck basically started to sit in a puddle of muddy water, those who tried to just squat got knocked around a lot by the bumps and deep ruts in the road. We tried to protect our packs from the rain by throwing a huge plastic bag over them, but that did not help the side that was sitting in the flooded truck bed.

I can’t complain, although my pants were completely soaked in the back, others were way worse. When we arrived in Marcala, we looked like refugees getting off a life raft from Cuba, and there was no ocean in sight aside from the pool in the back of our truck. We said our good-byes and off we went to find a hot shower and a bed to snuggle warmly in. Our anticipated 3 hour bus ride turned into a 6 hour, bumptity bump, wet, hoopty pick up truck experience, but we got there safe and sound.

Marcala

Yet another transportation extravaganza for Dawn and Jim. Will we miss these? I think so, in a sick and twisted kind of way.

WALL OF PAINTED OUT ANTI-COUP GRAFFITI ON THE JOINT USA & HONDURAS MILITARY BASE

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~ by HenderBalz on November 18, 2009.

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