My educational tour group 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 shack with a dirt floor can be. Beatriz sat us down and told of raising a family through a Civil War:
"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 never-ending fear. Mothers feared the forced recruitment of our sons. Finally, we arranged a peace. But the peace accords didn't benefit us poor people." She explained how this "peace" is no more than an acknowledgement of the futility of a continued struggle. To this day people are unhappy. In some regions, there is even talk about taking up arms again. Beatriz said, "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 $144 a month in the city, the minimum in the country is much less — only $70 a month. Nearly half the families in our country are living on $1 a day per person. 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 the war. Before, electricity cost about $1 a month. Water was provided. Today electricity costs $19 and water $14 — that's about one-quarter of my monthly wage. My mother has a tumor in her head. There is no help possible. I have no money."
Beatriz's 22-year-old daughter, Veronica, was as strikingly beautiful as one of the Latina stars so hot on the popular scene. Veronica dreamed of going to the US, but the "coyote" (as the guy who ferries refugees across Mexico and into the US is called) would charge $6,000, and she would probably be raped before reaching the US border as a kind of "extra fee."
As a chicken with a bald neck pecked at my shoe, I surveyed the ingenious mix of mud, battered lumber, and corrugated tin that made up this house. It occurred to me that poverty erodes ethnic distinctions. There's something boring and uniform about desperation.
For me, munching on that tortilla provided a sense of solidarity — wimpy...but still solidarity. I was what locals jokingly call a "round-trip revolutionary" (someone from a stable and wealthy country who cares enough to come down here...but only with a return plane ticket in hand). Still, having had the opportunity to sit and talk with Beatriz and Veronica, even a round-trip revolutionary flies home with an indelible understanding of the human reality of that much-quoted statistic, "Half of humanity is trying to live on $2 a day."
About This Entry
You are reading "Under a Corrugated Tin Roof with Beatriz", an entry posted on 02 October 2009 by Rick Steves.