I. Am. EXHAUSTED! Today was definitely one of the longer days of the week, filled with adventure & learning. Our agenda was literally back-to-back; I barely had time to breathe! I’m already having such a blast though, learning so much and getting hit with knowledge/understanding… & it’s only Day 2!
After a simple (and meaningful) breakfast of eggs, a slice of bread, and fresh plantains (fried banana.. the first of many! Sooo yummy), we boarded the bus and left for our first official meeting/visit to COMADRES, just a few miles down the road. COMADRES (Committee of the Mothers of the Disappeared – Mothers for Mons. Romero) is a non-profit, Catholic-based women’s group that was started during the Salvadoran civil war (1981), initially as a support center and resource for those mothers who had lost their children/husbands/family members during the war. It eventually turned into a full-time organization dedicated to finding lost loved ones, supported and organized by Archbishop Romero himself. (For more information on the organization, you can visit www.comadres.org) We spoke to one of the co-founders, a small but humble woman named Patti. Patti spoke to us about Madre Alicia, a nun whose deep love and care for those suffering during the war would lead to the founding of COMADRES. Mother Alicia’s story was pretty crazy.. she witnessed a horrific student massacre in the streets of San Salvador, not too far from the government building/former US embassy. Hundreds of students who were marching for freedoms and rights were crushed by machines, stampeded, shot at, and tortured before her very eyes. The students had been peacefully striking against the injustices of the government in front of a building, when the Salvadoran Army came in, shooting when there was absolutely no need to. The remaining bodies were scooped up with a huge dumpster-looking truck, thrown in, and the streets were cleared by the government as if nothing had ever happened. What was left of the strike were hundreds missing or dead, and the rebels thrown into jail, where they were further tortured and/or killed. Mother Alicia went to the jails trying to help these innocent students, giving them food and water, trying to get them out even though she never actually knew any of them. She simply wanted to help. This eventually led her to her organizing COMADRES in the early 1980s, along with a group of other mothers who were looking for their sons and husbands. Their main initiative was to help all those suffering, to find those missing, and to put an end to the injustices being committed. Eventually Mother Alicia met a young priest who gave her further advice and clerical help for the organization.. this priest turned out to be Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was very well-known around the city for his benevolence and kindness, his dedication to the Catholic Church. Monsenor Romero eventually sworn in COMADRES in the late 80’s. Initially, the women’s group faced much resistance, including both Patti and Mother Alicia’s own capture and torture by the government for their involvement in the movement. This was definitely one of the hardest parts to hear, and it was pretty graphic. Patti showed us some pictures collected from the archives of photographers that were around the country. Tortured, mangled bodies; faces blown off; body parts everywhere.. it was pretty disgusting, and really hard to digest. Patti herself had been imprisoned by the Army at some point. She was blindfolded for 22 days, left to listen to her torturers hurt and kill other people around her. She had been lucky to make it out alive. Her friend Mother Alicia had to flee for safety, and immediately she sought national help for the organization. Even Pope John Paul II got her attention, and assisted them for years after Monsenor Romero was killed. Since then, COMADRES has done so much for others around the country, including legal aid, migration to the US, familial assistance, and much more. Today, COMADRES continues to work to have the people’s voices heard, even years after the war. It is a beautiful organization begun by strong, amazing women who saw and endured some of the most brutal hardships. Yet they persevered (“la lucha”), and instead used their own sufferings to bring about change in the world.
Me & Nestor!
Super cool lace & spray paint installation- a portrait of Patti!
The beautiful mural painted on the back wall of the building. Each of the figures represent someone involved in the war: Mons. Oscar Romero (center); Madre Alicia (the nun in the white head bonnet), the guerilla fighters; the student strikers; & the shadowy person (far left) represents those who were left missing after the war; the unidentified, the marginalized, &the voiceless.
After the visit, we headed downtown to Cuscatlan Park, where the Monument to Truth and Memory was built in 2003, in remembrance of all the victims in the tragic Salvadoran civil war. On first glance at the monument (a giant, long stone wall filled with thousands of names), I was utterly astounded.. and not in the good way. This monument is over 50 feet long and 10 feet high, engraved with more than 30,000 names. The first part of the monument was dedicated by the government, but more names had to be added on two years later. I think that was what got to me the most: the fact that more names had to be added on, making the wall almost twice as long as before. There’s even a blank section at the end of the wall commemorating those who went missing, whose names were never identified, and all of those lost after the war. It’s estimated that over 75,000 civilians were killed during this tragic 10-year period. It astounds me that all of this really happened, and for literally no reason but the people’s desire for liberty, for freedom. It was a religious persecution, a civil war, a bloody 10-year battle between the government/Army and its people, but it was also more than that… It was the end of thousands of innocent lives. I’m still in total shock & complete disgust even just thinking about it. Walking down the wall, I reflected and prayed for all of those names–the thousands of innocent men, women, & children, and even the nameless. I hope they are all looking down on us from Heaven with smiles on their faces, knowing their struggle here on Earth was worthy of God’s call, and that they will always be remembered here in this country on this beautiful wall.
The stone installation at the beginning of the wall (with a portrait in remembrance to Monsenor Oscar Romero, who was loved by the Salvadoran people everywhere)
Not even the entire length of the wall. Here’s a bit of history I researched about the Monument to Truth & Memory, taken from SHARE El Salvador.org: “In 1993, the United Nations Truth Commission published its report on the Salvadoran Civil War. One of the recommendations was the construction of a monument containing the names of all those killed during the civil war as a way to remember the tens of thousands of innocent people who lost their lives. When it became apparent that the Salvadoran government had no plans to build such a monument, a committee was formed by groups like CODEFAM entitled the “Pro-Monument for the Civilian Victims of Human Rights Abuses Committee.” On December 6th, 2003, the first phase of the monument bearing over 25,000 names of civilian victims, was inaugurated. In 2005 a second phase was inaugurated that included over 3,000 more names and the list of over 200 massacres that happened during the Civil War.” (Source)
I honestly freaked out at the number of times I saw the name “Escobar” on the wall. At the end of the wall; a list of some of the massacre sites. (There are over 100+, and those are just the registered ones)
1989: Massacre site at the UCA (the University of Central America) in San Salvador, the place where 6 Jesuit priests were shot in their home at the Pastoral Center. “This section is dedicated to those victims whose names we do not know” These are people whose entire families might have been killed off, so no one was able to testify to their death and add their name to the monument. They may be nameless, but they will not be forgotten.
After the haunting visit to the monument, the rest of the day went lighter. We went back to the guesthouse for a quick lunch and siesta, and then at 2:00 we left for the CRISPAZ headquarters, not even a mile from our house. With Tedde translating, we met briefly with some Salvadoran women artisans who make their living from selling beautiful handmade, fair-trade crafts. Some of the products were on display at the CRISPAZ headquarters store. To show our humble support (and because it was one of the only times in our busy schedule when we would actually get to go “shopping”), we had a chance to buy some of the crafts they were selling! It is different from going to an average souvenir shop. These crafts are all completely hand-made, and my were they beautiful. The store had a nice selection of painted/carved wooden crosses of all sizes, hand-sewn traditional clothing, embroidery, rosaries, jewelry, and much more, all for fair-trade prices. Part of the proceeds sold at the CRISPAZ store went to providing these people with basic needs. I wanted to buy everything! Instead I opted to getting gifts for my family, friends, and to those who generously donated to my mission trip. (If you haven’t already, you’ll be getting something soon!) For myself, I got a hand-woven, gorgeous bracelet to add to my collection of bracelets from around the world. (I have a rosary bracelet from the Philippines in 2011!) The artisan store was lovely and I was already looking forward to going back later on in the week. Check out some of the stuff!
A few of my purchases! A hand-carved cross for my mom & Mons. Oscar Romero necklaces (made from copinol wood) for everyone. (I also bought a bag of fresh, organic Salvadoran coffee from El Espino and a bracelet for myself.)
Shortly after our meeting with the artisans, we boarded back on the bus and headed out of town, to a more rural part of the city: the coffee plant Eco-Parque El Espino in Santa Tecla. It was around 3:30pm, and surprisingly I was still feeling pretty energized. Next on our agenda was to go hiking! The Eco-Parque is not only a recreational nature center, it is a coffee cooperative, filled with dozens of coffee trees, plants, and even wildlife. (For more info about the park/coffee cooperative, click here) The coolest part is, the park is located on the foothills of an active VOLCANO! I was really excited; I couldn’t believe we were actually going to hike up a live volcano. First, driving up the mountain, we saw some dramatic changes in the landscape. The first thing I noticed was how drastically the houses were starting to change. Down in the city, the houses are shabbier, more closed-off, and built practically on top of each other. Going higher in altitude, the houses were getting bigger and bigger, more spacious, built with driveways for cars and bigger windows, extravagant doorways, etc. Higher up (away from the dim of the city) is where the upper middle-class lives. It was strange to see houses shifting from poor and shabby, to rich and elegant. Some of these houses were literally right next to each other. How can these people live, knowing you have a poor family residing in a tiny shack right in your backyard? It is astounding and incredibly unjust, realizing and seeing firsthand the drastic economic differences that occur in this country. We even passed by a giant mega-mall, Las Cascadas, just recently built alongside the highway. The mall is ginormous, with a huge marketplace and three levels of brand-name stores, much like a typical mall in the US. What’s most shocking, though, is not in its size but its location. Los Cascadas is located directly across from one of the poorest communities on the outskirts of San Salvador. Literally, a narrow strip of highway separates the two. The residents of the community live in tiny tin shacks, with barely any electricity and no running water. To get to and from their small community, they have to run across the highway, hoping to God they don’t get hit by any passing cars. And most of their original property was taken away when the mega-mall was built in the early 2000’s. The people of this poor community were removed from their lands, squished into one tiny corner along the side of the highway, and because of their situation, can do absolutely nothing about it. Driving along the highway where they run, I felt sick to my stomach. It just goes to show how people in power really have control and can do whatever they want to others, even if it means inflicting horrible injustices.
Finally after a long drive, we made it up the mountain to Santa Tecla. The co-op was pretty big, but we learned quickly that many of the coffee trees planted here are dying of some kind of plant virus that has been going around El Salvador in recent years. The virus is currently killing off many of the plants and trees, and coffee is one of the most in-demand export goods. The country practically depends on its international coffee export trade, and with many of the plants and trees dying… well, it doesn’t look so good. Here are a few pictures from our hike up the volcano (the view at the top was gorgeous!):
One of the remaning thriving coffee plants in Eco-Parque
Some of the steam coming out from a side of the volcano! The wet-looking stuff is all hot, magma-material rock. Geologists come every month to study the volcano’s heat patterns and movements, trying to detect when it could become active again. The volcano hasn’t erupted since the early 1900’s, but… ya never know!
Finally, our last stop after dinner was the 6pm mass at St. Jose Obrero Catholic Church; a nice, humble little parish not too far from our guesthouse. We dressed up (the girls in long maxi skirts, because we all happened to bring them & they are sooo comfortable) and we headed to mass with the community. Despite my not understanding any of the Spanish, it was beautiful! The parish welcomed us with opened arms, welcoming us at the start of mass as “las estudiantes de La Univeridad de Loyola Marymount en Los Angeles.” The priest said some very encouraging words to us later that night, thanking us for coming to their country and visiting their humble church. The weather was perfectly warm, and I felt at ease. All in all, it was the perfect way to end a long, meaningful day.
Allllrighty.. gonna catch some much-needed zZz’s now. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store!