Friday, June 3, 2011

Río de los Bueyes war testimony & Alegría goodbye

Friday, 6-3-11

Today was a great day but definitely draining. We had breakfast at the house at 7:30 and left around 8:15 to visit the community of Río de los Bueyes. There we were going to listen to testimony of several people who were guerillas during the war. It takes almost an hour to get to the community and we rode in the back of the pickup. It’s much further down the mountain than Berlín so you could feel it getting hotter as we drove. But it was a pretty drive and my family got to see several other cantons along the way. Once we started getting closer there were a lot more branches hanging low on the roads. Several times we had to duck out of the way so as not to get hit. My dad decided it could be a game and we’d call it, “Duck, Duck, Smack.” We all played but everybody lost; we all got hit by at least one branch along the way. I think that’s inevitable, especially if you’re trying to take pictures or watching the scenery at the same time

Holding little Chiquita

Very serious

Riding in the truck

There is much more green now!

A carao tree

Duck, Duck, Smack!!

The road ahead

Baby sugarcane

Testimony from the community
When we arrived we were greeted by most of the Directiva of Río de los Bueyes. A couple people joined the group as we sat down and soon everyone was there. The president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, síndico (legal person), and several other members had shown up. The president of the Directiva, Manuel Rivas, started by greeting us and thanking us for our visit. He asked us how we wanted to start out and we agreed that he could give us a quick overview and then people could give their personal testimony.

Manual explained to us that where we were, Río de los Bueyes, was an FMLN controlled area during the war and was considered a war zone. The FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional) was formed in 1980 at the beginning of the war. It was a coalition of five left-wing guerillas organizations: the Fuerzas Populares de Liberación Farabundo Martí (FPL), Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP), the Resistencia Nacional (RN), the Partido Comunista Salvadoreño (PCS) and the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores Centroamericanos (PRTC).

The FMLN was fighting against the Salvadoran government and army. Part of the government included 5 special battalions trained in the US at the School of the Americas. The Salvadoran soldiers weren’t well-trained and were more disorganized before they attended training in the US. The most famous of those battalions trained by the US was the Atlacatl Battalion who committed some of the worst atrocities during the war including the massacre at El Mozote and the murder of the 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeep, and her daughter.

He explained that the memorial celebration held every April 30th and May 1st (which I attended) is in memory of those who were killed from their area during the war. Everyone from the community lost someone during the war. Right now the community is constructing a memorial wall in memory of those who were killed. He said that they will take us to see the wall after their testimony. Manuel also told us that many other people in the community had stories about the war but it was just too painful. He reminded everyone there that they did not have to talk if they didn’t want to.

An FMLN sign as you enter the community:
Red territory. Outside the propaganda campaigns of the right
Standing or dead but never kneeling
Rio de los Bueyes FMLN territory against the capitalistic right

Community area

First, Blanca, a member of the Directiva, began to tell her story. Blanca was 18 years old when the war started in 1980. Everyone was poor at the beginning of the war and things were too expensive. She decided to join because she was poor and had nowhere to work. She worked as a cook for the guerillas. On March 12 of that year the army killed her grandmother and her two sisters. Family members killed was one reason people joined. Many youth joined the guerillas and went to live up in the mountains. They often survived on 1 tortilla a day and maybe some roots.

In 1982 her mother and two other sisters disappeared from their home. Blanca searched for them but never found them. [Side note- Thousands people disappeared during the war. When this happened it usually meant that they had been killed and their bodies not found]. Blanca said that the army killed thousands of innocent children and older people during the war. She says the Salvadoran people need to remember those that gave them life and who struggled to help them have a better life.

Paula also joined the war in 1980. She spend a lot of time talking about what the guerillas would eat to survive. At one point they had to stay hidden in a ravine and couldn’t leave. They were there for 24 days. They cut away the bark from the tree and ate the inside parts. They also ate mangoes they found on the ground. During this time she gave birth to one of her children. The baby had breast milk and also little bits of mango. She fed her other children hard tortillas so they wouldn’t cry. If they cried then the army would find them. At other times during the war they would eat the roots of plants to stay alive. There was also a specific kind of flower that they would eat. Paula also lost family during the war. Two of her nephews died in combat in 1988. She also mentioned that people she knew were burned to death in 1980. That was all she wanted to say.

Manuel Chaves
Manuel is the vice-president of the Directiva and I’ve met him a few times before this trip. Manuel was 6 years old when the war started in 1980. He wanted to continue school but wasn’t able to because of the war. When the war started the army would go house to house killing people. They’d burn clothes, houses, food, animals, and anything else they could find. He and his family joined the guerillas for protection. One day his family knew the army was coming so they left. When they went back to their house to see if anything was left all they found was a hole in the ground; the army had dropped a bomb on their home. Shortly after that they all ran away for good.

When they were hiding they didn’t have any food so their mom would give them harina (corn flour) mixed together with water so they wouldn’t cry. Manuel said that they were just little kids and didn’t fully understand what was going on. In 1981 during the nearby La Quesera massacre his mother gave birth. He remembered that it was raining a lot and as soon as the baby had come out they had to start running again. They would see dead people along the way that had died from lack of food and water. They also saw dying people but couldn’t stop or they would be dead too.

Manuel said it was important to have the celebration on April 30th and May 1st because many people died on those days. He said that people in the community have many stories to tell and the stories need to be told so they aren’t lost. People need to remember these stories.

Manuel Virgilio
Manuel said that he had the opportunity to study but wasn’t interested in school but in what was happening in the war and to his people. He can’t read or write because he never learned. He said he will tell some of what he remembers. He fought in the war for 12 years and needs to remember what happened. Manuel said the army was killing defenseless people. He said that the guerillas would walk during the days but that they would also walk at night so as not to be seen. This was difficult because they didn’t use any lights. He said the people became part of the mountains. The guerillas would give money to people to buy food for them but they had to be careful. If the army found out people were buying food for the guerillas then they would be killed. He said they would take the food and hide it so the army wouldn’t find it. That was all he wanted to say.

Rosa was 3 years old when the war started in 1980. Throughout the war 4 of her brothers were killed. In 1985 two of her brothers were killed in combat. The first one was only 13 years old. The second brother was 18 years old. Her 18-year old brother was killed very close to home. But they couldn’t bury him or take him to the cemetery. He was buried in a mass pit by the soldiers. Rosa said people suffered a lot during the war. They were often hungry and sleepy. They moved around a lot and sometimes there was no food or water. If they were lucky they’d get a tortilla. They would cut it up in little slices and put it in water to soften it up to eat. Rosa never had the opportunity to go to school so she doesn’t know how to read or write.

Manuel Rivas
Manuel is the president of the Directiva and I could tell he’d told his story before. Manuel was 4 years old when the war began in 1980. He lived with his parents and brothers and sister. They had to run away when the war started. In 1984 they were with the guerillas and had to move somewhere else to be safe. Two of his brothers and his sister left to go fight. One of his brothers who left was 14 years old. One day he stepped on a land mine which tore off one of his legs and severely burned the other leg. He was still alive so his older brother picked him up and carried him because they were being chased by the army. The younger brother told the older one to put him down and leave him there. He said if his brother carried him then they’d both die. The older brother set down his younger brother and put a small backpack under his head. Then the older brother left. When he returned to look for his younger brother all he found was bones.

In 1986, when Manuel was 10 years old, another brother of his was captured. He soon heard that his father and that brother had been killed in the department of Morazán. There were just two of them left now, Manuel and another brother. So they went to go join the guerillas in fighting. They spent 6 months preparing and training before they got their weapons. They fought little by little and fought to the end.

They’d heard about people who were captured and had been tortured. When people were caught the army would cut off their ears, fingers, nose, and breasts (if you were a woman). They’d shove needles under your nails and into your eyes. The leader of the group told them that if they got badly hurt but were still alive that they should kill themselves. If a friend got badly hurt and couldn’t move on then you should kill your friend. This was done so people wouldn’t get tortured. You knew that you couldn’t be taken alive.

During the war you’d see people being killed or you’d have to run around your dead or dying friend who was lying on the ground. Manuel said that you can’t erase these things from your memory. Unfortunately, even though the war has ended and the Peace Accords were signed, there are still a lot of problems in the country. The heads of the ARENA and FMLN parties are trying but they just aren’t helping. With this he ended his testimony.

A couple of people there had declined to talk about their experiences so Manuel’s was the final testimony. The group asked if we had any questions for them or wanted to say anything. My mom, dad, Matt, and Kathy all had something they wanted to say or ask. But I just kind of sat there in silence. I was surprised because being the verbose person I am I almost always have something I want to say; I’m very opinionated. But I just didn’t know what to say or what to ask. I sat there thinking about all that they’d told us. I kept thinking over and over again in my mind about the Salvadoran army soldiers trained in the US and the millions of dollars that the US government poured into the Salvadoran government’s pockets every year to help fight the “communist” guerillas. What do you say about that? Do you say, “I’m sorry.” Do you say, “I’m sorry my country played a major role in ruthlessly slaughtering innocent people in your country for 12 years.” Somehow that just didn’t cut it for me.

Amazingly, the people of Río de los Bueyes, though many are uneducated and illiterate, are very wise people. They have no bad thoughts about Americans nor do they believe the people of the US were responsible. They are able to differentiate between the US government that gave the Salvadoran army money during the war and the civilians who were never told the truth about what was happening. They told us not worry and not to feel bad about what happened; they said they knew it wasn’t our fault. Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

The president, Manuel Rivas

The vice-president, Manuel Chaves

Manuel Virgilio

From left to right:
Maria, Maria, Rosa, Blanca, Paula

Listening to their testimonies

Memorial Wall
After everyone was finished talking we went to go see the memorial wall. The wall is fairly new and hasn’t been completely finished yet. When it’s done they want to carve names in the wall of every person from the area that died during the war. On the wall now is a banner that reads “Honor y gloria a nuestros heroes y martires por la paz con con justicia social” (Honor and glory to our heroes and martyrs for peace with social justice). On another part of the wall is a mural. The skull and bone on it represent death. The butterfly and dove represent peace. The people holding hands and the corn represent hope for a better future.

Hay que recordar para no repetir.
One must remember in order not to repeat.

Walking to see the wall

The memorial wall

Manuel talking about the wall

Mural on the wall

Maria's son, Bryan

Manuel and Maria chatting

The Pool
We said goodbye to everyone and headed to the nearby “pools” with Manuel Chaves (the vice-president). We’d never been to the pools before so I had no idea what to expect. They were about 20 minutes away and the road to get there was pretty crazy. We again played “Duck, duck, smack” in the back of the pickup. This time we dodged even more branches that were even bigger than the ones on the way to the community. At one point Matt’s hat was knocked off so we stopped the truck so he could go retrieve it.

Soon we arrived at the pools. Now, even though everyone called them pools (piscinas), I knew they weren’t going to be like pools in the US. But it was close. They were big concrete structures that were filled with water flowing into them from a nearby stream. I guess the pools had been constructed many, many years ago (even before the war) by the person who owned the property. There used to be a guard who made sure no one else used the pools but now anyone can use them.

There was another group cooking next to one of the pools so we picked out a spot behind the pool area. Manuel went down to the water and immediately found a little crab in it. He picked it up and showed it to us. It reminded me of when we were all at the beach and he found a crab there which pinched him and wouldn’t let go. Thankfully, this one didn’t pinch us. The water was fairly clear and looked very refreshing especially since it was such a warm day.

Before checking out the water we ate lunch. We had sandwiches, apples, bananas, chips, and pop. It was all very tasty. After finishing we went to check out the water. Cecilia said there were lots of little fish in the water. We gave them some bread and they immediately began eating. We played around with the fish for a while and then went over to see the pool. Now, none of us had brought anything to swim in since we hadn’t planned on getting in the water. Of course, people here swim in their clothes so we actually all did have swimming clothes.

There were also little fish in the big pool as well. Pedro, our translator, was trying to catch one while Kathy discovered that if you stood in the water they would nibble your toes! Soon I had my toes in the water as well. It tickled a lot at first but then I got used to it. It reminded of people who pay to have fish nibble away the dead skin on their toes and fingers. I wonder how much people pay to do that. We were getting it done for free! We couldn’t convince Cecilia or Blanca to come in but Idalia eventually came over. She thought it was fun too. Eventually we all sat down and chatted while the fish nibbled. My pants were a little dirty from the ground so I just wadded in the water and washed them off.

After a while we had to leave. We gathered up our things and piled back into the truck. Now I was completely wet from the waist down and playing “Duck, duck, smack” again with the branches. But I was having fun. I noticed on the way out that a certain kind of berry I learned about before was growing on the trees. Someone told me that it was called papaturro but today the ladies said it was called tiguilote. So I’m not sure which it is. It got some good pictures and even convinced my entire family to try a berry. I was also told it was edible and no one died so I assume that’s true. Idalia grabbed a handful for me and the whole way home we kept rolling them down the front of the truck. We also threw a couple in the windows. We are such trouble makers! Idalia and I decided we were going to tell Kathy that a bunch of monkeys did it but I don’t think she believed us when we told her.

Driving to the pool

Another round of "Duck, duck, smack"

Hello mom!

That's a road?

Get your hat!

Just a little water in the road


The pool

The spring that is the source

A crab!

It looks refreshing

Eating lunch

Time to eat

Lunch time

The fish are hungry too

Inspecting the fish with Cecilia

Hello up there

Hola Ceci!

Water flowing into the pool

Trying to catch a fish

He actually catch a really tiny one

Are there fish down there?

Nibbling Kathy's toes

Nibbling my toes

Idalia's toes are also yummy

Discussing how best to catch the fish

Idalia and I decided to wade in the water

The pool from the other side

She's got fish!


I found some berries

We had quite a bit of down time before dinner so my family could get things packed. Then around 5:00pm we headed to Alegría for our goodbye dinner with my family. As we rolled into town we parked and then went to look at a couple flower shops. This has become tradition for us whenever we eat dinner in Alegría. There are two we usually go to that we checked out this time. Both had tons of beautiful flowers at amazing prices. Too bad you can’t bring flowers back with you to the US! I especially loved all the hydrangea and the orchids. There are also lots of flowers that I’m not familiar with. One of the places we visit even has a pomegranate tree. How cool!

After the ladies purchased a few plants we went to have dinner at our normal restaurant, Mi Pueblito. I was hoping they had shrimp tonight and was in luck! I love the shrimp at the restaurant but they don’t always have it. Both my parents and Matt ordered the shrimp. Matt also got some chicharrones with his shrimp. Chicharrones are fried pork bits and are delicious. We all talked and ate until we were stuffed. I polished off all my shrimp and some of Matt’s chicharrones. Then we got back in the truck and headed home. We talked for a while, did some more organizing, and then got ready for bed. It had been a great week and went by way too fast. I tried to prepare myself for tomorrow which I knew would be a hard day.

Walking pinky and pinky

A very pretty flower that I do not know


Inside the flower store




Eating dinner

Something was funny

Yum, yum, yum

Cheers! Salud!

The whole gang

Riding back home

Hello mom!

Matt had sunglasses on to protect his eyes (don't ask)

Matt holding Chiquita as she plays with a flower


Anonymous said...

It was very difficult to listen to the testimonies of the ex-combatants and people who lived through the war. They have such an amazing attitude towards Americans; who could learn a few things from these people. Going to the restaurant in Alegria was a great way to finish off the week.

Anonymous said...

el salvador is a beautiful place, unfortunally my grandparents were murdered in 1981. i wasnt born yet but towards the end when i was about 6 i remember a lot of soldiers coming to our house and camping out.