Last night was a great night. I went to a presentation at the Cultural Center of Spain. My friend is finishing her degree in Graphic Design and she attended a workshop in which she had to make a short film. I couldn’t follow the dialogue completely because it was a bit hard to hear. But basically a young man attempts to rob a young woman who is waiting for the bus. She’s an artist and at first he wants to take her portraits too. Then something about her work and the way she cares for it, moves him. He gives her back her quarter for the bus and without words, they form this mutual understanding, almost a friendship in the 5 minutes they are together.
We went to a party to celebrate the completion of the workshop. People of all ages and artistic backgrounds had participated in the workshop, so it was a good crowd. The party was at the home of a young man, a friend of my friend. He is one of those people whose presence is always known. Distracting at times, but very entertaining to watch. We had beer, food, good music, and a beautiful patio: my kind of party scene. Then it got better. A drum group showed up. This is something I have been exposed to a number of times here. I think I’ve written about it before. I love it. I can dance for hours to the rhythms of drummers. It is a sound that reverberates through my whole body and I can just feel it inside. That’s El Salvador for me. A house party with a group of 6 people, drums slung low around their waists, moving side to side while people dance happily, freely, disconnected from everything but the deep, rich beat.
This video is of Samba K-Jah. Some of the members of this group played last night, but it was a different group I believe. There were two young women who played and they were amazing.
I met this gentleman from the African Congo. He is traveling around Central America with another guy from Spain doing these workshops in filmmaking. He is a political refugee living in Barcelona. He spoke at the beginning of the party while everyone was giving speeches about the workshop. He said, [“We are here on earth to learn and love. We should treat each day of life as school, an opportunity to learn something new and to learn how to better love one another.”] I said ‘Amen’ to that.
We spoke later outside, he with his rum and peanuts, me with my beer and a bowl of plantain chips. A young woman joined in on our conversation. She had just moved back to El Salvador after living abroad for most of her life. A Salvadoreña by blood, she felt completely isolated living here. She struggles with Spanish and the way of life. She said she loves the country, but she doesn’t fit in and whenever she would visit El Salvador growing up, in her head she always wanted to be somewhere else. This prompted my friend from the Congo to say something that hit me right in the gut. A mantra I need to remind myself of daily.
He told us one of the biggest problems of the human condition is that we are always living in the past or the future, not the present. Our bodies are always physically in the present, but our minds are always going back to the past or thinking towards the future. “If only I HADN’T done that. If only this WOULD happen I WOULD be happy.”
My dad is always reminding me to live in the present. How much we must miss not being in the moment.
I wake up this morning to the news that the death toll in Oslo, Norway is up to 94 after a bombing and shooting spree. I was reading about it yesterday in the news when only “several people” had been injured from the bombing and they weren’t sure about the numbers from the shooting.
I am thinking about violence in the world. I am in a violent country right now where I cannot go where I want, whenever I want to. I mean honestly, so far, I have not felt unsafe in El Salvador. A little uncomfortable at times, but not unsafe. Although I have also not taken a bus yet or gone into some of the more dangerous “municipios” or cities in San Salvador. Just to clarify, San Salvador is the capital of El Salvador and it is a departamento or state in El Salvador. It’s a little confusing.
My friend, who know lives in Washington, D.C., grew up in one of the most dangerous areas of San Salvador, the city of Soyapango. He told me the San Salvador he grew up in is very different from the San Salvador I have seen so far. I am not in the nicest or wealthiest area, but it’s safe more or less.
In areas like Soyapango the gangs, or Maras, have made it a very scary place to live. People are not out after dark, shopkeepers have to pay off the gangs to stay in business and the “security” of being in a gang is a constant temptation for youth living in extreme poverty, without any other opportunities on the horizon. Another friend of mine from Soyapango, also now in the U.S., does not speak highly of her country. Her mother put her on a plane to the U.S. when gang members were threatening her mother’s business. Another friend’s mother, from El Salvador, looked at me like I was crazy when I said I wanted to come live here. She is from another dangerous area called Apopa.
Last night I was exposed to, not a rougher San Salvador, but an americanized San Salvador. I was in two different neighborhoods with nice restaurants, clubs and American and European brands like Nine West, Northface (winter gear in E.S.?), ZARA, Steve Madden, etc.
The first neighborhood we went to was Centro Comercial or Gran Via. To my surprise our friend Hugo wanted to go to Bennigan’s because he likes their mojitos. You know, the chain restaurant you see around the U.S. “American fare, Irish hospitality.” I almost died. I thought it was funny, bizarre and disturbing all at once. So I was in Bennigan’s having buffalo wings and a mojito, in a room where everyone is speaking Spanish and Latin music is booming through the speakers. I was thinking to the people I spent time with in the country this week, coming into this restaurant would seem as out-of-place to them as it did to me. Lesson: never underestimate the influence of power and money. Also, don’t forget how small the world is. I am only a 4 ½ hour plane ride from D.C. Capitalism has reached much further.
Then it was off to a gay dance club in the area of La Zona Rosa. This area has lots of nice restaurants and bars. When I met Irene’s friend Hugo, a tall, handsome Guatemalan, I was intrigued by what it must be like to be gay in El Salvador, or Guatemala for that reason. He told me he doesn’t like living here all that much, the social scene for gays is definitely lacking. But he has a good job and a nice house. Seeing this club made me happy in a weird way. I guess I felt relieved or something that gay people here have an outlet. El Salvador, like the rest of Central America, does not take kindly to homosexuality. But as much as people want to deny it or abhor it, people are going to find a way to live their lives, be who they want to be and love who they want to love. It’s just the way it is.
Violence and hate is everywhere. You can let fear paralyze you or you can live your life. There are people who have to push that fear away everyday and carry on. The people in Oslo are doing that right now and there people in San Salvador right now doing the same.
P.S. Of course, I forgot my damn camera last night so there are no pictures. I promise I’m going to be better about this.
As promised, I went to the beach yesterday. I was trying to take as many pictures as possible from the car, but it was a little difficult. I was once again just in awe of everything: the trucks full of people riding in the back on the way to church with signs in the window that read “Jesus es el señor,” the little stores alongside the road, women walking with baskets of fruit of their heads, little kids juggling balls at stop lights asking for money.
The beach was absolutely incredible! We pull up this cobblestone road and into Costa Brava. There is a big open tile patio, salsa music, and el dueño (forget his name) there to greet us with kisses. He is from an area of Spain called Costa Brava, and appropriately bestowed his beautiful spot on the coast of El Salvador with the same name.
You walk down stairs and on either side are little coves, open rooms, covered with palm tree leaves, furnished with tables and hammocks. A waitress comes by to check on you often. I had two fresh mango juices, ceviche with dorado (fish), calamari and shrimp. I also had an aguacate relleno (a stuffed avocado). The avocado had been scooped out and made into a guacamole with tomatoes and hard-boiled egg.
But before I ate, I went out for a swim. I was in heaven. It was like stepping into a mild bath. The waves were significant and I was told to be careful because the tide can pull you out. I felt safe though because I was with a group of people. At first the water felt salty and stung my eyes, but I soon adjusted…how could I not when the water felt so perfect. Perfect.
I listened on conversations about Spanish politics, Salvadoran gangs and photography. I was quieter than most people know me to be, trying to keep up with the Spanish takes most of my concentration. But I know I am getting better. Irene is very encouraging and tells me so as well.
Because it is in the tropics, almost all restaurants are open-air or outside here. I love it. On the way home we stop at an outdoor restaurant where women are cooking food around fires and over big, flatiron grills. (My battery ran out so I don’t have pictures of this, but don’t worry, I will take lots of pictures of this.) I ate two pupusas revueltas, one made with arroz and one with maíz. To date, the best pupusas I’ve had.
On the ride back into San Salvador it was pouring! It is the rainy season here. It was difficult to see and there were rivers in the streets. I fell asleep last night listening to the rain.