Resurrection in El Salvador:
Behind the Corrugated Tin Gate with Beatriz
|As Cristina translates, Beatriz and her daughter Valerie talk of life in the barrio..|
Across town, we dropped in on Beatriz and her daughter Veronica who live in a shack on El Salvador's minimum wage. The place was as clean and inviting as a tin roofed, mud shack with a dirt floor can be. Beatriz sat us down and told of raising a family through a war and on $140 a month.
"The war moved into the capital, and our little house happened to sit between the police headquarters and the guerillas. At night I hid with my children under the bed as bullets flew. For ten years the war put us in a never-ending labyrinth of fear. Mothers dreaded the forced recruitment of our sons. Finally, we arranged a peace. But the peace accords didn't benefit us poor people. This "peace" is really just the futility of a continued struggle. People are very unhappy. In some regions there is even talk about taking up arms again. If war started again, I think some of us would die from the stress."
About her life, she said, "My house becomes a lake in the rainy season. Still, we are thankful to have this place. Our land was very cheap. We bought it from a man receiving death threats. He fled to America. While we make $140 a month in the city, the minimum in the country is much less — only $70 a month. Nearly half of our country is living on $1 a day. To survive, you need a home that is already in your family. You have one light bulb, corn and beans. That is about all. Living on minimum wage is more difficult now than before. Before, electricity cost about $1 a month. Water was provided. Today electricity costs $19 and water $14 — that's about 25% of a worker's wage. My mother has a tumor in her head. There is no help."
|Visiting Beatriz, our group learns about raising a family on $140 a month.|
Beatriz's 22 year old daughter, Veronica, is as strikingly beautiful as one of the Latin pop stars so hot on MTV these days. She has a dream to go to the USA but the "coyote" (as the guy who ferries refugees across Mexico and into the USA is called) charges $6,000 and she would probably be raped before reaching the US border as an extra kind of fee.
As a chicken with a bald neck pecks at my shoe, I survey the ingenious mix of mud, battered lumber and corrugated tin that makes this house. It occurs to me that poverty erodes ethnic distinctions. There's something boring and uniform about desperation.
For Beatriz and Veronica, the tortilla is their basic meal. And a simple tortilla is my favorite food in El Salvador. Eating a thick corn cake — hot off the griddle — cooked and served by someone for whom this is an entire meal is a kind of communion. In that tortilla are tales of peasants who would bundle up their tortillas and run through the night as US helicopters swept across their skies.
For me, munching on a tortilla is a kind of solidarity — wimpy...but still solidarity. I'm what locals joke is a "round trip" revolutionary (someone who comes down here...but only with a round-trip ticket).