Resurrection in El Salvador:
Bugs and Razor Wire
|Salvador's wealthy decorate with razor wire.|
The capital, San Salvador, has nearly two million people. It's been 13 years since the end of the Civil War, a decade since the collapse of the coffee industry, and four years since two huge earthquakes devastated the country. The city has the highest homicide rate of any city in the Western Hemisphere and gangs are on the rise. Any nice home comes with a fenced in and fortified front yard. Rolls of razor wire are advertised in the newspaper for $33. In the wealthy neighborhoods, each street has an armed guard. Every sizable business posts a guard.
And there are lots of bugs. Members of my tour group notice the red bumps pock-marking my hands and a big discussion ensues over just what I have. Bugs are eating everyone in the group. But mine are different. Most think they are scabies. But scabies start in the webs of your toes and fingers and really itch like mad at night. "You want to rip off your skin" a woman who picked them up in Guatemala reported. "They are in you and create a groundhog-like trail of bumps up your fingers and arms."
Pharmacies — all advertising Viagra and Lavitra in their windows and each with an armed guard — seem to be on every corner. I drop into one. The guard — a rifle hanging from his Lavitra tee-shirt — opens the door. I don't know the Spanish word for Scabies and the pharmacist seemed unconcerned, recommending a $9 tube of bug cream.
I figure I'll tough it out without medicine. I draw two rough hands and make an inventory of the red bumps. Twenty-four hours later I count again...no change. I think I'm okay.
Scabies are scary. But my problems pale to El Salvador's. A few years ago, coffee crashed from 50% of the country's export earnings to about 3%. The maquila industry (finishing clothing for the USA) is the big new industry and now 25% of the local economy.
In 2001, two huge earthquakes killed 2,000 people. They destroyed or badly damaged a quarter of the private homes in the country, leaving 1.5 million homeless. Of course, it's the poor whose homes crumble in a shake. An earthquake of the same magnitude hit Seattle and no one died. Seismic safety is a luxury only the privileged can afford.
In the wake of the earthquake devastation, Salvadorans saw compassionate capitalists roll up their sleeves and move right in. Shirt manufactures moved into the earthquake devastated area to provide jobs...on condition that the government allowed them to lower the minimum wage from $144 a month to $85 a month. No problema.
Traveling to countries with populations recovering from war and natural disasters, First World travelers are struck at how people don't despair. Could it be, the poorer you are, the less you lose in a natural disaster. Perhaps poverty leaves you no time to get down...you're too busy surviving.