I wake up early and open my eyes; I look out of my window and see the pink clouds floating above the volcano of San Salvador. The sky quickly turns bright blue with puffy white clouds floating by as the sun grows brighter as if it was calling everyone to come out and dance in its rays. I roll out of bed. It’s Saturday but, I’m going to go to work this morning.
I take a quick shower, eat a piece of toast, and walk out of my building to the corner where I get on the bus every morning. As I walk to my bus stop, I pass the women making pupusas on the corner and smile at all the people I see every day except that they look at me with a bit of confusion because I don’t usually come to the bus stop on Saturday morning. The girl that sells newspapers smiles at me “El Mundo!” she cried out as everyone was walking by.
The girl that sells bread looks at me inquisitively and keeps on chatting with the newspaper girl as the bus pulled up. The Asian looking man with his newspaper, the girl from KingQuality returning from her overnight trip from Guatemala, and a couple other people who are always at the bus stop at the same time that I am get on with me as most people pile off the bus. We are at the end of the route and the loop starts all over again from there.
We drive down past the Military Complex, by the Salvador del Mundo Monument, to the Boulevard de los Heroes, past MetroCentro, down into the Colonia Medica. On a good day it is a fast ride, it takes about 20 minutes to get from my house to the bus stop by the old American Embassy. Which is, by the way, an absolutely hideous structure, one of those Embassies built in the 80’s just to illustrate the prominence and lack of gracefulness of the US at the time. Now, the building has been turned into a bank and the Embassy I hop off at the bus stop. I pass by the women making pupusas, the women selling fruit –papaya, jicama, pineapple, down two blocks; I cross by the traffic circle with the fountain towards my friend in the wheelchair who sells jewelry that he has made.
Today, I pause to say hello. “Good morning Hannah” I get a warm greeting and we have a brief conversation. Today I learned why he is in a wheelchair; he was shot in his back on Christmas 10 years ago. Here is another testimony to the danger of weapons and the actual impact that they have on people’s lives. I admire his diligence. He lives in a home with 18 other people who also are in wheelchairs. He did broach on the topic of how hard it was getting himself a wheelchair, and how he had to check out the newest guide on many sites before considering to take it. “I leave the city and go to the beach on Christmas,” he says, “I still cannot get over the sound of explosives.” His whole family lives in the United States and he lives and makes his living here. “I have to get going…” I walk a couple more blocks past the Pedagogical University to the door at Cemujer.
I am a couple minutes later than usual because I stopped to chat along the way. I ring the buzzer and the police officer who guards the door lets me in. We were having an event with the students from a distance learning program, the Instituto of Quetzaltepeque. The main meeting room is packed. We were expecting about 25 and we had 54 people in the room. The students’ ages range from adolescents to adults. The program was designed to give people the opportunity to finish high school if they didn’t have the opportunity to finish it earlier for whatever reason. I start to take pictures and listen to the conversation that they students are having with one of the Cemujer staff people leading the discussion.
“What are some of the jobs that are usually thought of as men’s work?” She asks a question that makes sense when you’re having a conversation about gender and power relations. What stood out to me was not that they had deeply ingrained gendered stereotypes about what is “men’s work” and “women’s work” but the kinds of jobs that they mentioned in general. “Mechanics” “Carpenters” “Construction Worker” these students all come from the lower middle class or from a lower class than that. No one even thought to mention “financial analyst”, “investment banker”, or “doctor”. We get used to imagining what our possibilities are in terms of what surrounds us and we are limited to what we know.
The conversation brought out many of the common stereotypes about men and women, shed light on the reality that violence against women does occur, discussed some of the causes and possible solutions to the problem of violence, and discussed some of the ways that Cemujer helps women trapped in a violence cycle. It was an interesting conversation and discussion. When all the students had left we put away all the chairs and cleaned up the trash that was left behind. Once we had done all the clean up, we were free to go for the day.
Walking down the street back to the bus stop I walked by the photocopy and “cyber” where we get most of our copies made. The owner is a friend of the organization so; I’ve gotten to know him some. “Hello” he says and asks me how much longer I’m going to be in the country. “Are you going to come back?” Everyone asks me the same question and I feel the beauty of growing fond of people and the pain of being temporary all at once. “I’ll probably come back for a visit sometime,” I say with a smile. We chat about the weather and then I keep walking back up towards the ex-Embassy, across the street and up to the Boulevard de los Heroes across the street in front of the FleaMarket where my bus stop is.
There are three young men dressed up as clowns sitting by the food vendor’s shack, taking a break from their clowning –one of them is smoking a cigarette. Two weeks ago, one of these clowns was murdered, he was shot multiple times. Witnesses say that they don’t feel sorry for him because he was part of a gang and he helped organize robberies on buses. Someone’s parrot is hanging from the tree and music is blaring loudly out of the speakers in front of the clothing shop. The music starts with a vulgar reggaeton and then moves to a romantic bachata.
I don’t make eye-contact with the people on the street. I’ve practiced my “I don’t have many friends” face well enough that I don’t start conversations with random strangers on a regular basis. I ignore cat calls and can usually avoid making any sign of recognition when people start to whistle or hiss to get my attention. I hate the fact that I ignore most people on the street but, I can probably attribute my relative safety on the streets of El Salvador to that well practiced skill.
The bus comes and I run to get on because it went further ahead that usual before it stopped. I get on the bus and find an empty seat. Sigh. I like the moment that I get on the bus. A little boy gets on the bus and without a word he hands a little piece of paper to each person on the bus. It reads “Please forgive me for the intrusion but, my family is very poor and we need help. If you could help us, may God repay you.” He never says a word and at the next stop he walks back through and picks up his papers again and gets off the bus.
My mind slips into thoughts about the place I work, the danger of the city, the poverty that so many millions of people have to face every day, the resilience of many . . . we take the long way around, we drive by Gallerias, up and around the corner, down by the big church, past the gas station, past the Embassy of Brazil, around the traffic circle below the Art Museum, and we stop in front of Pizza Hut. I get off at my stop and walk home.
Posted By Hannah McKeeth
Posted Dec 8th, 2008