lunes, 28 de junio de 2010

Reflections on Inconceivable, Unexplainable, Senseless Violence

Last Sunday, now a week and a half ago, a public microbus was taken hostage by alleged gang members and diverted from its route. As he pulled to a stop, the driver was shot and killed. All those aboard were threatened—“no one moves”—as the bus was doused with gasoline, the door was locked, and a match was lit. The bus, with over thirty passengers inside, was quickly in flames, those trapped inside literally burning to death. Anyone who tried to escape by breaking through a window was shot. Sixteen people have died, the remaining fifteen hospitalized with varying degrees of burns, some in comas.

I read today about a mother who was on the bus with her two children, ages eight and eleven. The three were returning home from a day in el centro, enjoying their Sunday together as a family, when the bus was lit on fire. To save her daughters from burning alive, she tried to break open a bus window with her elbow. The glass wouldn’t give, and in her desperate attempt, she completely shattered her elbow, and, as she kept trying, her arm. She finally broke through, throwing her girls out of the bus one by one. But the threat—no one moves—was serious: the girls were immediately shot at with a 9mm and M16s by assailants surrounding the bus. Miraculously, both girls survived their gunshot wounds, albeit with scars that will last a lifetime. Their mother is in the hospital in a coma; she went unconscious soon after launching her children from the window and was rescued when police arrived at the scene ten minutes after that attack. Her arm was amputated, sacrificed in an attempt to save her loved ones.

sábado, 5 de junio de 2010

How can we walk with love in a place that all too often responds by bringing us to our knees?

It has been over four years since I packed my bags and moved my life to El Salvador. As I sit down to write something to send to friends and loved ones about how I am and where I am, one thing consistently comes to mind. Life here is deeply exhausting, in many senses.
El Salvador is like a petri dish of all social ills, six million people crowded into a tiny country where justice and oppression abound in place of opportunities and dignity. The reality is life-draining and easily leads to feelings of complete impotence and desperation. Is there anything that can be done to create change? Is there anything I can do to create change? Is this all hopeless? On the best days, we believe that the arc of justice is long, but bends towards justice. On the worst days, the healthiest response seems to be running as far away as possible, far, far away from the world.
There are moments where the levels of violence make you sick, and perhaps more, your response to them. How is it that you, too, have come to accept the twelve murdered people per day; how is it that those people came to represent a number that you, too, throw around and talk about abstractly, without thinking, feeling, caring for the names, families, stories behind the numbers? One of my own biggest internal struggles has been the mistrust, distrust, suspicion of fellow human beings, especially men, and more especially young men, that I have been encouraged, nearly forced, to develop. Everyone is approached with caution, and instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt, we are encouraged to assume the worst in everyone. Instead of being able to offer my smile and hello to the people that inhabit the streets and sidewalks, the people that work the stoplights for change, eye contact is avoided, windows are rolled up and car doors are locked, greetings from strangers are ignored and the street is used as barrier between oneself and suspicious looking characters.
The walls that we are subtly and outright told to put up go absolutely and irrefutably against our feelings of humanity, our desire to offer love to all that we encounter. And against the dignity of all beings, even those that sniff glue on the corner or treat us as sexual objects.