Thursday, November 8, 2012

Si Dios Le Permite

Death in El Salvador is, unfortunately common place. The Civil War that started it all started in 1979 and lasted until 1992. Upwards of 80,000 people died. Remember that El Salvador is roughly the size of Massachusetts. So consider if Massachusetts went to war within its self. Here is a brief history of the civil war that took place here:

 In 1980, El Salvador's civil war officially began.  The US government-supported Salvadoran military targeted anyone they suspected of supporting social and economic reform. Over the ensuing twelve years, thousands of victims died.  Some of the most notable were Archbishop Oscar Romero (shot to death 1980), four US church workers (raped and murdered 1980) and six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter (shot to death at home 1989).  The military death squads wiped-out entire villages believed to be assisting the guerrilla efforts.  In 1981, the military killed over 1,000 people in the village of El Mozote. (As a reference my community has about 850 people in it.)  The first reports of the attacks were denied by both El Salvador, but after the mass graves were uncovered, it was hard to deny what had taken place.
 The opposing side was lead by the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a coalition of five left-wing guerrilla groups. As the military defended their stand of killing any alleged rebels, the FMLN also worked to blow-up bridges, cut power lines, destroy coffee plantations and anything else to damage the economy that supported the government.  The FMLN murdered and kidnapped government officials.  The war eventually came to an end in 1990 with the establishment of a new civilian police force, some constitutional amendments and FMLN's was to be allowed to function as a political party in the nation's democratic process. The Peace Accords were not actually signed though until 1992.

During the Civil War here, many Salvadorians sought refuge in the United States. In order to protect themselves from violent gangs in the US, these guerrilla trained Salvadorans created a little gang called MS-13, you may have heard of them. They are quite violent and deal in all of the shady things you would expect them to deal in. As you would expect these violent gang members eventually started to get deported back to El Salvador where they pick thing right back up. There are now several gangs down here, M-13 being one of them. Since the war and then later the development of these gangs, El Salvador has known a lot of death. A few months ago El Salvador was ecstatic to announce its first murder free day in years. This was epic. However although the murder rate here seems to be going down, most people just assume that the murders are still happening, they are just going unreported. 

Ok, so that was a lot of history (most of which was gotten from Wikipedia), but I wanted to make sure you all understood a bit of the background of El Salvador's violent history. I also want to say that El Salvador is full of lovely people. Please do not get the wrong idea about this country, they have just been given the crap end of the stick too many times. Many Salvadorans are so used to this culture of people they love dying that they have developed sayings that are hard to ignore. The most prevalent saying being 'si Dios le permite', meaning 'if God allows it'. If you invite someone to a meeting or to dinner etc, many will respond with 'si Dios le permite'. Basically it is like saying if I don't die before then, I will go. That is some heavy stuff. I will also say that it can also be used as an excuse to get out of doing something or going somewhere, and that is just annoying.

Last Friday was the Day of the Dead in Central America. I went with my host family to a cemetery in the community above mine. We cleaned off and decorated the graves of my host mom, Melida's, father and grandmother. Her father asked to have pine needles sprinkled on his grave every year, so we did that on both of the graves and then decorated the tombstones with multicolored plastic flowers. The graveyard was full of people when we got there, all doing the same thing. There is no groundskeeper for the cemetery's down here, so it can get a bit sloppy looking if the families do not come and keep the area in order. Another interesting fact I learned while there was that you must pay the mayor's office every 5 years to keep your family interred. If you do not pay, they apparently have the right to come in and dig up the body of the family that did not pay so the spot can be used by someone else... Rough stuff right there. There was also a short mass in the cemetery. I was surprised to see that everyone I came across was generally in a happy, social mood. This was not a time for grieving over lost loved ones, it was a time to celebrate their lives and re-connect with friends. 

It amazes me how resilient this culture is. These people have been knocked down again and again, yet they keep moving forward the best they can.  I do not have any photos because I was unsure if it would be appropriate. Looking back I am sure it would have been fine, but I was not trying to be the crazy gringa in the cemetery taking pictures of everything.

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