El Salvador Update – June 1997

El Salvador Update – June 1997


Try to imagine this scenario:

  1. Begin in your house. Take out the furniture: leave a few old blankets, a kitchen table, maybe a wooden chair.
  2. You’ve never had a bed, remember.
  3. Throw out your clothes. Each person in the family may keep the oldest dress or pants and shirt. The head of the family has the only pair of shoes.
  4. All kitchen appliances vanish. Keep a box of matches, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a handful of onions, a dish of dried beans. Rescue those moldy potatoes from the garbage can: those are tonight’s meal.
  5. Dismantle the bedroom, shut off the running water, take out the wiring, lights, everything that runs by electricity.
  6. Take away the house, move the family into the tool shed.
  7. By now all the other houses in the neighborhood have disappeared. Instead there are shanties, for the fortunate ones.
  8. Cancel all the newspaper and magazines. Throw out the books. You won’t miss them; you are now illiterate. One radio serves the whole shantytown.
  9. No more mail, firefighters, government services. The 2 classroom school is three miles away. Only 2 of your 7 children attend, and they walk.
  10. No hospital, no doctor. The nearest clinic is now 10 miles away with a midwife in charge. You get there by bus, or bicycle, if you’re lucky enough to have one.
  11. Throw out your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans, insurance policies. Your cash hoard is now $5.
  12. Get out and start cultivating the 3 acres. Try hard to raise $400 in cash crops because your landlord wants one-third and your moneylender 10 percent.
  13. Find some way for your children to bring in a little extra money so that you have something to eat most days. It won’t be enough to keep bodies healthy, though, so lop off 25 to 30 years of your life.

– Adapted from the UN Food & Agriculture Organization “Freedom from Hunger”

And welcome to the Majority World. How is it that people and countries like El Salvador get poor? Why do they remain poor? What’s going on in this world anyway? Why is everything so screwed up? I (David) have been asking myself these types of questions over the past months. I use to wonder if this was due to laziness and ignorance by elected officials in the Third World. Why should it be my concern if some basket case government can’t balance their own bank book? Be held accountable for your actions! The voices inside me would reason, validate and pacify. However, I was in for a surprise. Allow me to act like a pedantic banshee, and share with you what I discovered…

In the early 1970’s the oil crisis exploded and momentum gathered for a model of export oriented growth for the Third World. That is to say that developing countries would export their raw materials while the rich world would export manufactured goods. Good model in theory, but it should have been left in the text book. Developing nations couldn’t make enough cash to purchase the high priced manufactured goods offered by their richer neighbors, and countries once food-sufficient suddenly weren’t. Arab sultans deposited major bucks in First World banks, and so what happened was a standard business decision. The Third World needed funds and the banks needed to invest their income. However, the scandals broke out when the banks offered poor countries loans by the wheel-barrow load, most with out-dated statistics in hand, meaning that capital for development was over-estimated by the billions! Loans were often negated by corrupt dictators with deep pockets, rarely batting an eye to consult their citizens. The origins of Third World debt began, in shopping spree fashion, with the loans being wasted on white elephant projects (i.e., mega dams); guns and bombs – often to keep the tyrant’s own population in line; increased oil bills; and “rainy day stashes” by the cronies in Swiss bank accounts.

By the end of the 70’s, many nations were on the verge of bankruptcy so another business decision was made – make more loans to pay off the old loans. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have taken on new careers as “colonial governors” of the South, by coordinating currency exchange rates and promoting “Free Trade.” Their goals have been straight forward ever since – to ensure there is enough cash to repay loans when they come due. And they have complete power to dictate how they do this, as poor countries must increase exports and use these earnings to repay all debts. Usually by making ax hacking cuts in public spending (i.e., health & education), which will make the economy more efficient and “competitive” in the global arena. Yet the core issue remains unchanged, the South pays the North 3 times as much as it receives, as they attempt to repay loans made by past despots. And thus, our Salvadoran neighbors will most likely be economically worse off when we leave than when we arrived…

Changing gears and moving onto our micro level, we continue to gain trust and intimacy with our neighbors in Perquin. I (David), say this, as I’ve returned from more than one bullet hole/shrapnel scar viewing session! We have coloring sessions on our floor for the neighborhood children 3 times a week, which often results in up to a dozen budding Picassos passing through. I have started working in a new colonia, called La Planta, which is a relocated community with people who have been brought together due to their dire situations and are living in new houses, sandwich like. There is a group of 10 mothers who have planted vegetable gardens on their petite plots of back yard rubble and we are now in the process of creating veggie-haven. They just learned the spicier points of onion, garlic, and chili insecticides to control the munching grasshoppers and we’ve been composting, similarly to how a baker would go about making a cake. I have also started supporting a pig biodigestor project. This is the next best thing to bottling farts! The gas from the manure rises into a huge plastic bag which is then connected to one’s kitchen where it can be used for cooking; a great savings on trees and the labor in cutting them. Eugenia, is helping coordinate a rabbit raising economic project in our neighborhood Colonia. Due to a personal conflict of interest , I won’t be barbecuing bunnies and will only be involved in a logistical role, as us rich have the freedom to choose between such moral dilemmas as vegetarianism!

I (Eugenia) am into rediscovering my inner child. Weee! Last month, I had 10 screaming preteen girls over for a ‘slumber party.’ I don’t think of myself as ‘old’ but these girls wore me out in no time as they danced, sang, joked, played, and laughed the night away. It was a rejuvenating experience for all of us. It was a jolting reminder of how much of the freedom and high-spirited emotion we tend to lose as we get older and more ‘mature.’ I was delighted and enchanted as the girls’ infectious laughter and mischief energized the house. I hope to be repeating this experience again this month with a younger group of 8-10 year olds. I’m already starting to rest up for it.

As David mentioned, some of the women and I are getting ready to raise rabbits for meat. We’ve been meeting regularly to discuss how we will work together and have started some training on the more practical aspects of breeding rabbits. For me personally, it will be difficult to see rabbits killed and eaten, only because I find them to be quite cute. My aversion is quickly squelched though when I realize that the rabbits will serve to provide some high value protein meals. Besides if cows or chickens were cute enough, would most people avoid killing them also? Long live the baby seal, right? Otherwise, my knitting get-togethers with the women are continuing to flourish. We’ve moved on from headbands to coin purses to baby shoes to small hats to sweaters. It’s great to see the women improving and showing off what they’ve made. It’s even better to see them actually wearing and using the items. I would like to look and explore other handicrafts for other women so that we can maintain an informal time for getting together and simply enjoying one another as women.

So what are we doing here in Perquin? Well, every so often something happens in our day to day living which cannot be truly explained in words. It may have to do with the fragrant coffee trees flowering, a hand in hand walk along a ravine with one of our miniature neighbors, a passing conversation with a friend, or learning the art of living life to its fullest for these precious moments, which everybody seems to be able to do so naturally here. Yes, we just may “help” a few individuals before leaving, but we still feel we are the ones receiving any “help.” What El Salvador needs most at this moment is friends. I suppose we are here trying to do that. And it seems to keep us going.

SALUT! With Love, Eugenia & David

PS A special “muchas gracias” to David’s folks for buying & licking the stamps, and sending this out. Thanks Mom & Pop!