I woke up this morning remembering a weird dream I had last night: Kathy was trying to convince me that I should put my computer in water to get all the “red bits” out. I wasn’t sure what she meant and didn’t know if I wanted to do it. “Everyone’s doing it” she told. Yeah, that sounds like something she’d do in real life.
As I was sitting in Kathy’s office this morning before school there was a low rumbling and everything shook for a second. “Earthquake,” Kathy said. Having grown up in Iowa and never experiencing an earthquake, even a minor one, I was intrigued. If she wouldn’t have told me what it was I wouldn’t have guessed. I asked how strong it was. She told me it depended on where it took place. If it was further away, like in San Salvador, it was a stronger one and we might hear about it on the news. But more likely it was a small one in the area. Kathy told me really small ones like that happened maybe once a month. I checked out the USGS website just in case but there wasn’t anything on it about quakes in El Salvador in the past week, so it was below 4.5 on the Richter Scale. I was pretty thrilled that I had to chance to experience one in real life, even if it was small. Then I thought about the recent earthquake in Chile and all the damage that had been done. So many people were injured and killed. After that I felt a little silly for getting excited about an earthquake.
Nothing terribly eventful happened in school today. The teacher for my fourth period class, fifth grade class B, wasn’t there today. Not sure where she was or if that class was at school today. There has got to be a pattern here that I’m not seeing. One of these days I’ll figure it out. So I went to my next class and asked the teacher if I could teach earlier than usual. It wasn’t a problem and I began my lesson. About halfway through it was time for the daily snack. Today we had rice and a juice drink. I didn’t have the juice because I’m pretty sure it’s not pure water and thus might make me sick. We had our snack and returned to the classroom. I taught a little longer and then the bell rang around 11:15am. Since I’d already taught all my classes I headed out. I guess school was getting out early that day because all the kids left with me.
The day was going reasonably well until lunch was served at the house. I cringed when I saw they were serving torta de pescado again. It’s basically fish cake. Think of the consistency of bread pudding, and then make it taste like salty fish. Not good. The meal that gave me nightmares had returned to haunt me once again. God must be watching out for Kathy because she had conveniently gone to San Salvador. The last time we had torta de pescado she was sick, or so she says, and didn’t have to eat much of it. After Jesús finished eating his portion today he swished water around in his mouth and had a pained expression on his face. I guess he didn’t like it either. It was so bad that he had to go lay in the hammock after lunch. At least I didn’t have to suffer alone.
I putzed around after lunch for a while. Did a little reading, laid in the hammock, and went for a walk downtown. There is a lot being set up downtown for the patron saint festival later this month. It will be taking place in a couple weeks. They’re setting us bumper cars, a small roller coaster, and even a Ferris wheel. I probably won’t be going on any rides. They don’t look too safe. The roller coaster stands on several small pieces of concrete and wood (see picture below). Food stands with French fries, churros, candy, and other snacks line the street. I walked around and watched everything being set up. I ran into Kathy’s little friend, Bryan, and we walked around together for a while.
Bumper car area
Setting up the roller coaster
A ride of some kind
Boys standing by the roller coaster tracks
The Ferris Wheel
Assembling the Ferris Wheel
Kids watching the set up
It's pretty big
It's starting to look like a roller coaster
How the roller coaster is being held up
Cement blocks and wood pieces: That doesn't look safe
Kathy arrived back at the house around 5pm. She remembered that I wanted to walk with the church procession tonight. She looked a little tired, but I figured she owned me since she’d missed out on the torta de pescado. We got to church around 5:30 and found some seats. We sat through the rest of mass and then waited outside for the procession to start. We saw Jesus coming out the door with his cross on a large platform and got ready to leave the church. It was then Kathy realized that tonight we’d be doing the 14 Stations of the Cross. I hoped she was exaggerating when she said it’d take three hours. But we decided to stick it out through the entire procession regardless; it’d be a good experience for me.
The procession is held every Friday during lent. The stations were pretty close together (9 blocks total) and we stayed at each one for about 10 minutes. When we arrived at each station there was some scripture reading, a moment of silence, Our Father was said, then Hail Mary. Kathy and I figured there were at least 400 people walking in the procession. There were babies, young children, teenagers, adults, and older adults walking in the procession. I thought, “I wonder how many teenagers in the states spend their Friday evening at serious church related events for over three hours.” Probably not many.
Several people kneeled during certain prayers. I saw one woman kneeling who was very small and must have been in her seventies. She was walking with a stick to help keep her balance. What incredible devotion and faith this woman must have. I was pleased to be a part of it all. I admit that I did breathe a sigh of relief when we reached the fourteenth station. I needed to use the bathroom and I was pretty hungry. So you can imagine my surprise when we arrived at the fifteenth station. Kathy and I looked at each other with confused expressions. Thankfully, that was the last one. As the procession was nearing an end and everyone turned left to go toward the church we turned right to go home. The procession had been two and a half hours long. Had we walked back to the church and sat through a brief few words inside it would have been a full three hours. All in all I had a good time and it was an enlightening experience for me.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen
My first glimpse of Jesus
Leaving from the church
The procession begins
It took six men to carry him
The fourth station
I finished the book on El Mozote a couple days ago. I’m glad I read it even though it made me sick. One part of the book that made me laugh and want to cry at the same time was a statement by a congressman in the early 1980s: “If there is anything left of the English language in this city…it is gone now, because the President has just certified that up is down and in is out and black is white. I anticipate him telling us that war is peace at any moment” (Danner, 1993, pg. 132). How very sad that some people thought and still do believe this.
In the end the truth about what had happened at El Mozote was confirmed by the experts from the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Unit. “El Mozote could not have been a guerilla graveyard, as some had claimed, especially since all but twelve of the one hundred and forty-three remains indentified turned out to be those of children under twelve years of age… Of the two hundred and forty-five cartridge cases that were studied—all but one from American M-16 rifles—184 had discernable headstamps, identifying the ammunition as having been manufactured for the United States Government at Lake City, Missouri… The Truth Commission would conclude that more than 500 identified victims perished at El Mozote and in the other villages. Many other victims have not been identified” (Danner, 1993, pg. 159).
I was talking to Kathy about the book and told her I still couldn’t understand how events like this happen and how people could be so cruel. I mean, I have the academic knowledge. I comprehend the concepts of dehumanization, depersonalization, stereotyping, self-categorization, group think, scapegoating, ingratiation, rationalization, and cognitive dissonance. I’ve read the research and written papers about war crimes. But as much as I understand, I still don’t understand. I think that’s a good thing. I’m not sure I want to get to a point in my life where I completely understand and can identify with people who commit such atrocities.
Suggested Readings on El Salvador
• From Grandmother to Granddaughter: Salvadoran Women’s Stories – Michael Gorkin, Marta Pineda, & Gloria Leal
• The Massacre at El Mozote – Mark Danner
• Oscar Romero: Memoirs in Mosaic – María López Vigil
• Salvador – Joan Didion
• The Violence of Love – Oscar Romero
• Through the Year with Oscar Romero – translated by Irene Hodgson
• El Salvador: The People and Culture – Greg Nickles
• The Act of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop – Francisco Goldman
• Salvador Witness: The Life and Calling of Jean Donovan – Ana Carrigan
• One Day of Life – Manlio Argueta
• Revolution in El Salvador: From Civil Strife to Civil Peace – Tommie Sue Montgomery
• Insurgent Collective Action and Civil War in El Salvador – Elisabeth Jean Wood
• Witnesses to the Kingdom: The Martyrs of El Salvador and the Crucified People – Jon Sobrino
• Seeing Indians: A Study of Race, Nation, and Power in El Salvador – Virginia Tilley
• Bitter Grounds – Sandra Benítez
• The Weight of All Things – Sandra Benítez
• Remembering a Massacre in El Salvador: The Insurrection of 1932, Roque Dalton, and the Politics of Historical Memory – Hector Lindo-Fuentes
• El Salvador, Testimonies de Guerra – Ariel Romero
• On the Front Line: Guerilla Poems of El Salvador – Claribel Alegría & Darwin Flakoll
• Paying the Price: Ignacio Ellacuria and the Murdered Jesuits of El Salvador – Teresa Whitfield
Suggested Movies on El Salvador
• Romero (1989)
• Salvador (1986)
• Innocent Voices (2004)
• Enemies of war (2001)
• I am Not Afraid: Rufina Amaya’s testimony