Travels without a Donkey: El Salvador (3)

WE’VE been interviewing ex-guerrilla fighters as I plan to write an article about the experiences of these men and what became of them after the war. It intrigues me how these men dealt with adjusting to ‘peace’ after twelve years of war. Some of them were children when the war started. I imagine one of the hardest things would be going back to a life of poverty wondering if any of the things you had fought for would actually be achieved. The peace accord didn’t solve the problem of extreme economic inequality, but it did plant the seed of democracy and so began what has been a very slow growth.

The men I have spoken with have had to adjust their struggle and find different paths to change. Most of the ex-guerrillas we have interviewed are still very poor. One of them, Cherito (Little Mate) lives in abject poverty – another old man whose family cannot afford to feed. One good thing about interviewing him was that it brought his situation to the attention of community leaders who are now trying to pull together some support, fund medicine and speak with his family. They were adamant that these men who fought for everyone’s freedom should not be left starving. In fact, a small chicken project funded by tastimes readers has agreed to put 50 per cent of their profit into providing chicken meat for the elderly of the community.
Interviewing Cherito at his house
It has been a very interesting experience meeting these men and I admire the courage they must have had to fight from the disadvantaged position of poverty against a government army and death squads who were assisted with over $7 billion from the US in the form of training, weapons and propaganda. Fighting tanks, helicopters and planes with rifles and pistols is a tall ask. They all lost dearly and all still believe as strongly as ever in their struggle. They also all express optimism in the new Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) government. The FMLN was the guerrilla coalition and transformed into a political party after the 1992 peace accord.
Former hacienda gates and my mate Fernando
Monday the 8th of March was a big day for us. I woke up to the news that my dear Gran had passed away. I had thought I was ready for this, but when it came I was quite upset. I was very sad too not to be able to be with the family at this time, not just to support and be supported through mourning, but because in these times we tend to forget all the bullshit that rules our routine, we open up and focus on the important things. In this sense they are priceless times.

Shortly after the sad news I checked the fundraising account that we set up to receive money for projects, from information that has been up on tastimes for a few weeks. We found that we had enough money to fund the establishment of a plant nursery co-operative to be run by five local women. We realised too that it was International women’s day and it all seemed like fate. We met with the women and told them. We all decided to name the nursery after my Gran, which took the sting off my sadness. They’ve named it “Compañera Joyce” (Comrade Joyce). At the time of the funeral (9pm for us) Anna and I went for a walk, sat on the warm road that is sticky and stained with sugar cane and talked about Gran and felt a solidarity with those at the funeral.

People here don’t quite let go of the dead the way we do, they continue to honour them regularly. In fact, up the road in Mexico, they have a national day of the dead when people even leave food out for them.

Victor, the fourteen year old we live with caught an iguana with his sling shot the other day. Victor is a born hunter, in fact he reminds me of a good friend who has written on tastimes under the pseudonym ‘Redneck Ecologist’, who is probably reading this at the tax-payers expense right now. So I have now tried iguana soup. It turned out the iguana was pregnant so I have also tried iguana eggs. As you might expect the meat tasted like chicken. As for the eggs, I can’t describe them, other than to say I still feel ill when I think about their texture.

Victor is half boy, half man. Around the house he acts like a child and is very sheltered in many ways compared to an Australian fourteen year old. He is so immature he even enthusiastically engaged in a farting competition with me the other night after a large meal of kidney beans and tortillas. Yet, the other side of him is a man, hunting for food and taking weeks off school to work for an adult’s wage cutting sugar cane. It takes 33 sugar cane workers cutting with machetes in brutal heat and dust to work for an hour to earn what my hourly rate was when I left Tasmania, and I wasn’t on Labor spin-doctor wages!

We’ve been catching the bus to Zacatecoluca once a week lately to use the internet. The buses appear to have been brought from wreckers in North America. Many still have regulatory stickers in English and they generally have holes in the floor and are basically falling apart. The buses from the villages are social places and in some ways you don’t actually need to get off the bus in town to buy what you need, as sellers of almost everything constantly jump on and off the bus.

One of the things I find strange here is that you can get fined for not wearing a seat belt, but not for having 12 people on the back of your ute. Almost every car is a severely beaten up old ute and it is very rare that there are not people on the back.

We spent the weekend visiting another former guerrilla, Canales, in a village called Nuevo Gualcho, which was created as a refugee camp. It is now a nice little place, albeit pretty hard to get to. The highlight was the swimming hole. After walking past a ruined hacienda and being showed the room where peasants were tortured by government troops, we followed a path through a lush forest then followed a river up to a little waterfall. To be cool and wet never felt so good.
Jumoing into the swiming hole
We also went to a town dance that night as it was the anniversary of the creation of the village. We still can’t get over the fact that everyone from toddlers to the ancient here seems to listen to ‘regaeton’, which basically sounds like hardcore hip hop crossed with some kind of afrobeat. It is always louder than a club in Australia too. We were expecting traditional dances likes meringue, salsa and cumbia.
Canales’ daughter during the war
They call this part of the world the ‘hamacas’ (hammocks) because apparently it’s always moving due to earthquakes. I had thought this to be silly name as earth quakes wouldn’t feel like being in a hammock. However, the other morning we were woken by one and it felt just like swinging in a hammock. There were no rumbling noises it just felt like we were swinging from side to side for about ten seconds.

Right, I’m off to pour bowls of water over myself, point the fan at the bed and go to sleep. Buenas noches.