Monday, June 30, 2008

then and now

this past saturday, antonio and i decided to visit panchimalco, one of the oldest towns in el salvador. unlike the majority of the rest of el salvador, panchimalco is one of those quiet little pueblos that has managed to hang on to a few of it´s indigenous roots. panchimalco, nahuizalco, izalco, santo domingo de guzmán, and other pueblos scattered throughout the country are welcome sites sometimes. it´s easy to forget that el salvador was once filled with nahuat-speaking peoples dressed in colorful clothes and carrying on their lives without cars, cell phones and roads. while these pueblos have moved forward with technology and modern-day conveniences just like the rest of the world, they´ve also managed to preserve the almost extinct antiguan salvadoran culture.

we didn´t stay for long as it was quite a bus ride from apaneca to panchimalco, which lies to the south of san salvador, hidden away in the hills. it was very quiet, a few women selling fruits and vegetables on the street, and even a few movie pirates, selling their peliculas for $2 a piece. the main attraction in panchimalco is it´s 250+ year old church which is the oldest standing colonial structure in el salvador. antonio mentioned to me after walking through the church that apaneca´s catholic church was of similar antiquity before it was destroyed in the 2001 earthquake. (believe it or not, they are STILL not finished with the church in apaneca. in fact, it doesn´t look that much different than how it did when i arrived in december 2005. i don´t know what´s taking so long, but i mentioned before in a previous post how the father of the church has refused to accept any money from the government in repairing the church, so it is taking longer than if it were a government-sponsered repair.)

it´s floor was a mixture of bricks and dirt and the adornos were sparse and very, very distressed. but that´s what made the church so interesting. to think that this church was standing that long ago was something to think about. it´s transformation over the years, while physically probably hasn´t been much, the people that have congregated there have changed so much. whenever i´m traveling through el salvador on the bus (bus travel gives you lots and lots of time to ponder things) i sometimes think about what it was like here 200 years ago, or more. a lot of people here talk about how things were better ¨before,¨ the country was safer, the colón was still the national currency and things were much easier to buy. i can imagine for some nahuat-speaking indian who was living here all those years ago, they must have thought they were living in a paradise. i´m not talking so much about things like the fact that thousands upon thousands of indigenous peoples were murdered in the 30´s by el salvador´s then-president, but just in terms of the environment and daily life here. women ground their corn and made tortillas and spent a lot of time cooking food and taking care of the children - often breast-feeding one while the other sat and played in the dirt. the men went off to the forest to hunt or grow corn, using machetes. the only difference between then and now is that the forests have all but disappeared here, so men who do go out are finding less and less leña to start cooking fires with, families are preoccupied with how much ¨saldo¨ they have on their cell phones while they also try to come up with enough bus fare to get themselves to one of the bigger cities to take advantage of cheaper vegetable prices. everything seems to be such a struggle here, now, in the present. they essentially are doing the same things they did all those years ago, yet things are just so much more different. of course i´m speculating because i have no idea what it was like emotionally to live here 200 or 500 years ago; just the daily tasks that we know to have existed, through archaeological evidence made available to us.

i´ve just felt so pensativo lately with the fact that everywhere i turn in this world, what it all comes down to is money. i´ll have conversations with people here and inevitably, the topic turns to money....lack of it, price of food, bus fares, how someone in their family is in the states making more money. all this business with my´s all about how much money companies can get you to spend. you can spend much of your life without a computer, but once you make that leap to start using one, you can´t live without one, no matter how hard you try. and with that, comes the need for money. and companies know that and they prey on that fact. education is almost entirely grounded in money nowadays. tuitions are sky high, books for classes are some of the most outrageously priced items i have ever seen. i thought education was supposed to be about learning. it´s sad to see poor people be suckered, and i see my fair share of it here. vendors sell some of the shittiest products (batteries, clothes, shoes, toothbrushes, you name it) in the markets here, and these people who are struggling to clothe their kids or put batteries in their flashlights in order to see at night because there is no electricity in their house end up buying these crap items over and over and over again because the products are so shoddily made. i´m not even going to go into health care. i´ll just say what everybody knows - it´s all about money. most people here are willing to risk their lives to cross the u.s./mexico border, not because they want to be americans and celebrate 4th of july or see the grand canyon. they do it for the jobs that net more money than they´ll ever make here.

recently there was a news article on that showed photos of these indigenous indians in brazil, who those taking the photos believe have never been contacted by ¨outsiders¨ before. the photos showed the indians waving things at the airplane as it swooped down over their village. apparently those taking the photos are part of a group that tries to protect the rights of these indians as their way of life is in jeopardy as a result of the destruction of the amazon. i didn´t know what to make of those photos. on one hand, i understand the mission of the group trying to protect them. on the other hand, i felt sad that those indians had to look up and see such a spectacle: the strange airplane flying over while a photographer leaned out and snapped photos of they were animals on a safari in africa or something.

with that being said, sometimes i just think it´s nice to sit back and imagine what it was like in the past. a past without all these things that cost so much money that cause us to create our own obstacles to overcome. i´m not saying things were always so much more fabulous in the past or that progression is a bad thing, but i think somewhere along the way our societies have become somewhat misguided. i wish there was a way we could get back on track where we focus more on the good things like health and education and those things that, at their core, make a society a great one. money isn´t everything, we all know that, so i don´t know why it has to dictate our lives so much.

oh, and germany lost to spain in the euro copa final! antonio and i made a harmless bet of ice cream, and so i had to buy ice cream for antonio on sunday. what did i buy it with? yep, more money.

here are some photos of panchimalco. adios for now!

el salvador has the most amazing trees. the trees here are something i will remember forever.