So today was my first border visit to Hachadura (the western border to Guatemala). Basically, our objective was to put up posters, leave some cartillas about human rights and figure out if this new project will work. The new project is for people that are being deported back to El Salvador. The get back to the border, with no money and they have to find their way home. So the idea is that we would have a fund for them to have bus fair back home, some food, and a shelter to stay in overnight. Otherwise, people end up doing desperate things and there also isn’t a whole lot of dignity in being forced to sleep in the street. So Luis asked some people around the are about the feasability of the idea and how we could work out logistics. Easy enough.
The real interesting part about our trip today was the drive, and our encounters with the law. That’s right, we had several encounters!!!
OK...number one...early morning on the Pan American Highway. Luis is driving along, pointed out all the mudslides, sighting statistics....the usual. All of a sudden, we are going down this hill and there are like five military men with big guns on the side of the road, and they end up flagging us down. Great! So we pull over. The guy leans in and holds his gun just so...asks where we are going. We say, Hachadura. Then Luis asks, "why?" You know, I would have let it go, but whatever....the guy explains they are just doing random questions. Ok...blood pressure back to normal....
Later in the day, killing time at the border, sipping a coke...a border patrol truck pulls up in front of us. All these guys get out....with their big guns. This one guy stays behind as he looks for something in his pocket...meanwhile, he’s literally dangling his semi-automatic weapon as he looks for spare change. My God, what if he gets spooked....
Then we go to the beach...no guns there. Just pretty olas (waves) and some shells. The sand is wicked hot (notice the Rhode Island slang...I still have the touch)...and I also find a dead blowfish (a first for me).
Back in the car we get. On the Pan American Highway again. We are almost into the city, not too far from where we were first stopped, and we see the cop and then military guys running the opposite way on the highway with their weapons drawn. The police officer had a shinny silver gun and the military guys had big automatic weapons. Let me also mention that their uniforms are all wrong...a really bad fashion nightmare (with pants that taper to the calf...who wants that?) But besides that, these guys are really scary! Anyway, a little way up the road is another police officer standing next to an abandoned bus, talking to another guy...must have been a robbery or something.
Number four...you heard it correctly! We get back into the Antiguo Cuzcatlan area...where my home is and there is a big accident. Then just down the road we get chosen "randomly" for another vehicle check. It’s like we are wearing a big target. By this time, I already have my memorized statement in Spanish ready just in case (I work with CRS and I need to call this number). You know, your mind wonders to the most random things when in the company of law enforcement. Plus, its hard to get out of my head that these guys have big guns AND might have been in the war at some point...killing people. (Mind you, this is all a little drastic, but is just the beauty of the mind).
Anyway, so we get through the gauntlet and are in the Santa Elena area. I notice that it’s an area for rich people and it seems that we passed places like UNICEF. "Interesting!" I think to myself. Continuing down the street we come across the fortress like place, covering the space of a full block. Plus, this place is really rich looking and has lots of police and military guarding it. We get half way down the block and I ask Luis, "what is this place?"
He says in plain English, "It’s your home!" (My home, meaning the US Embassy). Ya, I saw the huge sign as soon as I finished my question!
So I let out a good laugh, and say to myself, "Of course it is!"
Luis says, "You don’t know your embassy?"
And I say, "No, and I don’t particularly want to either!"
He laughs and pats me on the head (a quirky little child thing that he does to me...which is case and point for this interesting cultural conversation on age that I will talk about at a later date).
We continue down the road and I think to myself, "If that is what my embassy looks like, I don’t want to be anywhere need that place!"
(Now I know that I might be singing a different tune if I have a bullet in my body or I am at serious risk of having a bullet in my body, but for the time being, I think will stay way from at least one of the sources of oppression around here!)
So this is basically just a typical random day in my world!