Monday, January 2, 2012

Go big or go home

At dinner last night, Lynnette introduced the three worksites that were available for us to work at: a really hard one, a medium paced one, and a painting job (put simply, of course). All 39 of us were split evenly between the three places and I thought it would be a great idea to start strong with the really hard one that had no shade, lots of physical labor, and a deformed goat. There was really no selling point, so I guess that appealed to me personally. Did I mention that we had to wake up earlier because the job site was 1.5 hours away and Joaquin (our driver) loves to drive crazy? The journey there was quite the experience itself. Above the constant stopping and going and the crazy curves to avoid potholes, the scenes we saw were breathtaking. At one point, Lynnette pointed out the stark difference of wealth illustrated by a cemetery to our right and shacks to our left. The cemetery had perfect grass spotted with beautiful flower arrangements and working sprinklers, whereas the shacks were completely littered with car parts and papers and seemed to be homes for people. They were literally 200 feet away from each other across the highway.

When we got to the site, we were all excited to get straight to work. Our work mostly consisted of using picks, hoes and shovels to dig out a space for a new classroom. We worked with a handful of natives and their children and dug until lunch. After lunch, Lynnette took us for a walk and we visited Santiago’s house that was built during AFLV’s visit last year. His new home stands right next to his old house and it’s a wonder how his family was able to survive in the conditions they used to be in. His old house has one wall and a roof. It now serves as a hang out area and dining room for the family. His new home has three small bedrooms and one equally small living room. Santiago harvests corn to feed his family and is constantly on the look-out for jobs. We then walked up the hill to visit Don Manuel’s house. His wife had graciously cut up papaya for us, which we all hesitantly ate as we sat and relaxed. (It’s been about 4 hours since I ate some and I feel fine!). Lynnette talked to Don Manuel and Santiago about the war and we learned that Santiago had actually been captured by the guerillas when he was 15 years old. Santiago was hiding in the woods and mistakenly shot a guerilla with his slingshot because he thought he was a coyote. Santiago was interrogated all night and accused of being a member of the government military. His shirt and shoes were taken and 4 men surrounded him with guns as he pleaded his case. Eventually they released him and said he had 5-seconds until they started shooting.  He dived into a ditch and crawled the entire way home. For 12 years, families like Santiago’s and Don Miguel’s had to spend their nights camping in the woods because guerillas would invade their homes and take boys to join their regime. Needless to say, they had a rough childhood. As we were leaving, Don Miguel said he was our new family in El Salvador and thanked us for visiting his home. It’s moments like that that make the hard work really worth it.

We returned to the worksite and worked another hour before returning to San Salvador. We all passed out on the ride home and speeded for the showers. I’m really glad that I went to Ilobasco today. I will never forget the stories of Santiago and Don Miguel. I’m so proud of the work we did and all we were able to accomplish in just one day. It was a precocious-kind of day.

Jena Miller is a 3rd year at Cal Poly, SLO and a member of Gamma Phi Beta.

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