La viajera

stories of my salvadoran travels

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We are made for goodness. We are made for love. We are made for friendliness. We are made for togetherness. We are made for all of the beautiful things that you and I know. We are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders. All are welcome: black, white, red, yellow, rich, poor, educated, not educated, male, female, gay, straight, all, all, all. We all belong to this family, this human family, God’s family.
Desmond Tutu

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For Boston, for Chalatenango: Violence, Healing, Home

            This past long weekend (Sunday-Tuesday) we went on a pilgrimage of communities in Chalatenango, one of the northern provinces of El Salvador and an area that suffered greatly during the war. The majority of the group went up on Saturday, but I was getting over a virus and stayed behind for one day to catch up on sleep. We were able to visit the house and family of Victor, a becario who lives with me in Casa Romero and one of my absolute favorite people here. We got to swim in the Rio Sumpul, but we also heard extremely powerful testimonies of people fleeing their homes in the night and living in the mountains, those who lost family members in the war, communities of repopulated Salvadorans who had been refugees across the border in Honduras during the war, and survivors of the Sumpul Massacre. The power of storytelling was in full affect, and despite not having all of my energies, I was honored to have these stories shared with me.

            The same river where we swam with Victor and his family, in March of 1980, ran red with the blood and bodies of an estimated one thousand victims of the massacre of Sumpul. The stories we heard of the carefully coordinated “baña de sangre” (bloodbath) were chilling, but I am ashamed admit I was kept from being fully engaged at some points due to poor health, extreme heat, and the busy schedule. However, on Monday we were leaving the rural community of Carasque, after getting to meet the beautiful family and hear about the history of Lupita, the director of accompaniment of the Romero Program, when word reached us of the horrifying events that occurred in Boston. Chris, a fellow BC student here, and I had been talking about the Marathon all day and encouraging all of our friends to come visit for the “happiest day of the year” in 2014, missing our beloved Boston on what is a fun, beautiful day of celebration. Boston had been on my mind all day, and to hear that bombs went off at the finish line was not only saddening but terrifying. I don’t only go to school in Boston, but the city is full of friends and family- including my beautiful sister Aileen who often goes to the finish line to cheer on friends and strangers. I had a number of friends running the marathon this year, including my close friend Justin who had been training hard to raise money for Hole in the Wall. There, in rural El Salvador, after a day of war testimonies, I was hearing about an act of terror in my own city.

            I hadn’t brought my tiny Salvadoran cell phone with me to Chalate, and luckily my friend Mal was able to lend me her phone to call my sister. The five minutes where I waited to drive closer to a cell phone tower and gain the tiniest bit of service to call her were some of the most tense and horrifying moments I have ever felt. Gracias a Dios, she and everyone I know and love in Boston were safe. In those five minutes, I understood more about any of the war testimonies I had heard all semester. Despite having lived through 9/11 and other American tragedies, I have been extremely blessed to not have lived through a war on my own soil. I have never known the daily terror that my Salvadoran family has known. As painful as those five minutes were, waiting to talk to Aileen, I cannot imagine the pain of watching the river you have grown up next to turn red with blood and wondering if the bodies of your parents, siblings, and friends are washing past you, not to mention wondering if you will be discovered in your hiding place. This is definitely something I am still processing and marinating on, but experiencing this senseless violence on my own city from a beautiful nation with such a violent history, and such a violent present, has given me a very unique and complicated perspective. I may never be able to understand why or how soldiers were able to commit such horrifying acts of violence against their countrymen. I may never be able to understand how someone could take the happiest day of the Boston-year and turn it into a tragedy. But I have been able to see the strength and beauty that has come from surviving. The beauty of telling your story and knowing that those you lost will not be forgotten. I have already heard of the beauty and healing happening in Boston right now, and as hard as it is to be away at a time like this, I am gaining a new understanding of solidarity as I talk to Victor and my community here about everything.

            When my sister was here on spring break, I remember talking to her about missing Boston, and how I wasn’t sure what to say here when I’m asked where I’m from. Connecticut will always be my home, but Boston has become my home too. Though I arrived freshman year of BC wishing I was in New York and resisting the beauty of the city, I distinctly recall the first time I called my dorm room home: feeling incredibly guilty and incredibly settled at the same time. I think it has taken being away this semester to make me realize how much I love Boston, and I have found myself beaming and bragging about how great my city is several times around the dinner table over the past few months. Boston is strong, and I’ve witnessed it (not just on the T after a sports game), and I know that the spirit of that city is already healing. From here in my third home, El Salvador, I know that healing from tragedy and fear is not a quick process. It is slow, it is hard, and it is still happening. Especially in the absence of justice, some healing has barely just begun. One of the survivors of Sumpul talked to us about the amnesty that was put in place after the Peace Accords, “they said they didn’t want to reopen the wounds, but how can you when they are still open and bleeding? We, the people, want to forgive, but we can’t until our experiences have been acknowledged.” I hope that Boston will be given the justice and truth that has been deprived from many Salvadorans, but I also help that almost thirty years later the power of storytelling continues to help healing continue, both here and there.

            Dear Boston: I miss you, I love you. Keep loving each other. Healing might be slow and hard, but I know you have it in you. I’ll be home soon. As hard as it will be for me to leave my family here in one month, there’s nowhere else I’d rather return.

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Silent Retreat

            The weekend of April 5-7 was a brand new experience for me- a silent retreat! Though it was optional, all sixteen of us embarked on the journey of silence. I’m not going to lie, I was terrified- for anyone who doesn’t know me well/ hasn’t met me, I like to talk. I’m an extrovert and I definitely gain a lot from group reflection. I knew I could be silent, I just was nervous about getting anything out of it, and I was TERRIFIED of being bored. I came equipped with literally half a dozen books (unrealistic), six hours worth of podcasts (I literally just found out was a podcast is, embarrassingly, and I highly recommend “On Being with Krista Tippet), loads of Mary Oliver poems, and my journal. However, I hardly made it through any. I read the poems, listened to a podcast, and reread part of a book, but I spent the majority of my reflection time actually reflecting, thinking, and journaling. Despite all of our group reflections, I hadn’t realized how little time I had dedicated to processing all that I have been experiencing here- usually limiting myself to twenty minutes or so at a time to think about things. It was great to be able to sit with it and with myself and check in. It was also amazing to be able to do that, though silently, with such a strong and supportive community, which I am beyond grateful to have.

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The Search- for self, for wisdom, for love, for truth, for justice, for God—is strenuous and unending. We need good companions in order to persevere in it. In good company, in a community of conviction, the quest never loses its relevance, its urgency, or its savor.
Kaye Ashe-OP

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Spring Break: Pura Vida

            My family’s visit was quickly followed by Semana Santa (Holy Week) aka Spring Break! A group of Casa ladies and I headed on a loooooong bus ride to Costa Rica! Our trip down was super long (roughly 24 hours of travel) but definitely worth the cheap Tikabus fare. I got to return to Nicaragua- although literally just driving through and stopping at a pit stop and the borders, and I can officially say I’ve slept through all of Central America. Waiting for me in La Fortuna, Costa Rica were my beautiful sisters Aileen and Amanda (for those that don’t know, Amanda & Aileen have been friends for life and live together in the North End, and I consider Mands another sister), which was amazing. I love living in Boston and having AA so close, and I’ve definitely been missing her a lot this semester. With them, not only did we get to have some pool time but also we hiked the Arenal Volcano, visited some hot springs, and saw the La Fortuna waterfall! Unfortunately, we only overlapped for two days before Aileen and Amanda’s vacation time ran out, but some time was better than no time!

            For the rest of our time in Arenal, the girls and I had many (touristy) adventures. We went on a four hour nature hike one morning with a man named Yovanni, an absolutely amazing Costa Rican wildlife guide who is working on building a handicapped-accessible nature reserve so that people with disabilities can see all that La Fortuna has to offer. We got to see five sloths (!!!!!!), tucans, baby hummingbirds, and beyond.A red eyed tree frog peed on me! 

We also went on a canopy tour of eleven ziplines, which was incredible. Having only ziplined at camp and a quarry in CT, it was pretty amazing to zip over some insane Costa Rican views. We also went horseback riding- my first time on a horse! Staying in hostels also provided for meeting a lot of new people from all over the world and getting to hear their story. However, it was super bizarre to be around so many other foreigners. We’re very well integrated with Salvadorans here at the Casa, and speaking that much English/being around that many gringos was a different kind of culture shock.

            From La Fortuna we went to Montezuma, a (quirky) beach town on the Pacific Peninsula of the country. The five hour drive and ferry ride from one hostel to the other led to some pretty intense carsickness (okay, it was just me) but it was worth it! We were pretty lethargic in the 100*F heat on the coast, and spent most of hour time applying sunscreen and trying not to fry (limited success- despite three reapplications of 45 SPF I still got sunburnt! The sun is strong down here). On our last day, which was also Easter Sunday, we woke up bright and early and headed to the beach for a sunrise meditation let by Mal. It was beautiful! Luckily, before heading back to El Salvador, I was able to skype in to the fam for the Easter celebrations, but it was pretty hard to be away from home for my first holiday- especially a holiday with a cutthroat egg hunt competition! Having seen my mom, Alfredo, and Aileen recently definitely made that a little easier.

            Costa Rica is a lot different from El Salvador, not just in its more tropical climate, but also its people. The nation is definitely more developed, especially in tourism- they know tourism and they do it well! “Pura Vida” is the most commonly heard phrase, and some of the slang we use in El Salvador is not acceptable or slightly different there. The people were still incredibly friendly, but it was definitely a different context in terms of getting to know locals than it is accompanying our communities here. 

            Spring break in Costa Rica was a change of pace, and it was bizarre to have my first real vacation in a long time, and my first vacation on my own/not with my family. As relaxing and fun as it was, it was a beautiful feeling to return back to the Casas and reunite with the whole Casa family!

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Family Week

            I was incredibly blessed and lucky to have my amazing mother and brother, Alfredo, come visit me for a week in my home turf here in Antiguo! They came just in time for the intense vigil for Monseñor Romero, and then we were able to spend the rest of the week together! They overlapped with the official Casa Family week by two days, and were able to meet some other parents, but it was also awesome to have them spend lots of quality time with me and my friends here. Fun activities included: St Patty’s day at the beach, a visit to the botanical gardens, a full tour of FUNDESO, a trip up the San Salvador volcano to see the crater, and having Alfredo join us for soccer on Thursday! Though sometimes it was stressful to have them here while I was balancing a busy schedule and homework load, I feel incredibly lucky to have had them see my reality and I know that it will be invaluable to have my family having such a deep understanding of my experience. Here are some pictures of the fun!