"Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, shouting and doing things historians usually record. While on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happens on the banks." -Will Durant
Across from the church there is a newly painted cement building with a tin roof. On a plastic sign, very much like you would see in the States, the word "Antel" is printed in blue on white. I think it's the only plastic sign in my town. The Antel is the town phone. From my seat on the curb I watched as Renal, one of the two Antel workers, rode by on his bike. When a call is made into town, a message is taken. Then Renal gets on his bike and rides to the house for whom the message is intended. Usually the message just says to return the call. In other words, someone is at another Antel in another town waiting for a return call. And do you know what? It works. Communication takes place.
I want to let everyone know that I"ve made it here safely and that I'm happy. One the challenges, for me, of writing to the US is finding a starting point to tell anyone what my experience is like. I wanted to have one common theme to write in this, my first newsletter to the States. So for the past few weeks I've been keeping my eyes open for that one thing that somehow represents my experience here so far. But it's getting late. So this morning I sat on the steps of the rectory thinking I'd describe whatever I saw. I saw Renal come out of Antel on his bike. So that's what you heard about.
So what am I doing here? There is a good question. The term (in service language) for what I do is "accompaniment". Accompaniment simply means that I live with the people of El Salvador. I converse with my neighbors and listen to their stories. Everyone knows suffering here. But most of the suffering they know is of the past. The people of El Salvador recognize the incredible blessing peace is. I'm learning to appreciate peace as well. As a citizen of the United States, my listening to their stories authenticates their reality. The people of El Salvador know that they are poor in the eyes of the world. They feel themselves to be of less value. My being here, and the support I have coming from you in the United States, lets the Salvadorians know that their lives are of value.
My being here is a wonderful honor. I'm the only person from the US, or any other non-Latin country, who lives in this town. Everyone knows me and I have felt very welcome. I also feel safe. El Salvador has a reputation for violence and it's rightfully merited. San Salvador, the capital city, is huge and filthy and dangerous. Crime is expected and a part of life. Rape is common. So I avoid the city. San Francisco is two hours from San Salvador. We are in the mountains, though not far enough in the mountains to be where the rebels camped during the war. The way it was described to me was: some rebels might come down here and be seen, so the military would come along and kill some people, to let the rebels know they were serious. Then the rebels would come back and they might hijack a bus and kill some people, to let the army know they weren't really scared. Then the army would come back, rape some women and kill some children, just to make it clear that they weren't going to be controlled. And so went the war for twelve years until the peace accords six years ago. Much has improved. People don't talk about the war unless you ask them. Those with vision focus on improving the roads, getting electricity and running water.
I fear that after only eight weeks here I can't very well make any blanket statements about El Salvador. Language is a barrier to really knowing people, and my cultural perspective is very different from this culture. As I said, I'm honored to be here. I'm truly enjoying myself. I feel very alive.
Please know that your role as a person who cares what I do here is important. Not just to me (though I personally appreciate it greatly) but also to the Salvadorians who know that I have such support in the States. Your interest in me and my work here gives value to people who perceive themselves as valueless. I believe that as I listen to their stories and you listen to mine, we can get somewhere. We can value each other as children of God. Thanks.