Please enjoy these blogposts, written between 2011 and 2015. Another blog is on the way.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ten Days in El Salvador, a Long Time Ago

I’ve been all over the place in my first month of blogging, but I think I’ll stay put for a few posts now, in the Central America of nine years ago. I want to tell you about a trip I took once to El Salvador.

I run into people occasionally who visited El Salvador during the civil war, or, as I did, in the years after the peace accords. They all get a glazed look in their eyes. One former priest said, “There’s a reason why it’s called El Salvador,” which means the Savior. “It saved my life.”  Others, maybe those of us who didn’t stay very long, say something along these lines: It was a hard trip, but when I got home, first I wanted to throw out everything I owned, and then I wanted to go straight back.

I’ve just finished reading Deb Olin Unferth’s new book, Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War, about traveling and working in Central America in the late eighties. She writes about the aftermath of her trip, too, how she kept going back to rediscover something she couldn’t name and in the end couldn’t locate. It’s a good book, fast and light. I’ll try to do it justice in my review next week on CheekTeeth, the blog of Trachodon magazine.

Let me say first that I was in El Salvador for ten days in March 2002—not exactly a Peace Corps stint, and 50 weeks short of Unferth’s year.  Furthermore, I’ve never been back, not in the flesh. While there I visited only three places--the capitol, San Salvador; Communidad Octavio Ortiz, the village the nonprofit I was traveling with “partnered”; and one spot in between, an educational facility run by nuns for local organizers and people like me—visitors trying hard not to feel like tourists.

I should tell you as well that until this trip I had never been to a developing nation, or a tropical one (except Hawaii), or any country that murdered its own people in huge numbers (not to be confused with countries like the U.S., who murder mainly foreigners). 

I traveled with a few nice people from the Palo Alto area who were interested in solidarity work for reasons of faith. I haven’t written more than a couple hundred thousand pages about it yet, but I used to be a Christian, of the left-wing variety. My trip to El Salvador trip both deepened my aspirations and planted the seeds of my defection. That sounds a little melodramatic, doesn’t it?  I’ll try to think fast and light.

We had a leader—I’ll call her Margaret. And an in-county liaison—I’ll call him Tom—from a nonprofit based in D.C.  that set up trips like ours. I knew Margaret from my church at home. Tom I’d met only briefly, also at home, during a trip-planning meeting.  The rest of us, we students, numbered five, but two of us, Will and Peter, were making return trips. That left three virgins—Greta and Richard, a married couple who both spoke fluent Spanish and had traveled widely, and me.  I did okay if I could stay in the present tense, and get some time alone every day--which turned out to be impossible.

Stay tuned for the first episode, The Red Guitar: Will and I flew together from San Francisco to Houston, then on to San Salvador, the others having gone south early to take in-country Spanish lessons or . . . well, I can’t remember what they were all doing. In any case, Will and I were on our own, and we failed our first test . . .

Un mapa de El Salvador

Addendum 3/3: This post was first titled "Two Weeks in El Salvador," but today I located the two yellows pads I filled with notes while I was there. (Not to worry. I'm going to use about .001% of those notes here.) I found that my trip lasted only ten days. I guess it felt a little like the last ten days of a pregnancy.