Two scraggly dogs bark a welcome as we make our way down the narrow, rocky path through lemon and banana trees to Rosa’s home. It is small, made of earth, found materials, corrugated tin. Rosa lives with her four daughters and grandson, whom she raises as if he were hers. Grandson and a nephew watch the interview with great curiosity from behind the bushes, then proudly show off their bike tricks for us and laughing, learn to use the digital camera -- while posing for it, of course.
Rosa is making a hammock, which she will sell at a small artisan store up the road. She shows us her work and her daughter’s work, whom Rosa taught to embroider typical clothing. This is common in rural El Salvador: every family has a handful of different ways of making a little bit of cash, and somehow, they get by.
In her photograph, Rosa is joined by two large sacks. These are bags of corn husks. Hundreds of them. Rosa and a few members of the women’s committee woke up before the roosters to prepare and make 400 tamales. This process is labor intensive; husking, cooking and grinding the corn by hand. The tamales were sold to make a little extra income, but Rosa had saved a handful for her visitors, two of whom were complete strangers until that day.
Rosa talks about her life: before the war, during the war, and after the war. She tells us about the violence and repression they lived before the war, and the violence and repression they continued to suffer at the hands of the Honduran military in the refugee camp. But the suffering isn’t the point of her story: her story is about resilience, about making decisions of conscience and following through on them, no matter the cost. It’s about family, about caring for and taking care of one another.
Rosa’s oldest daughter was born in 1980 at the height of violence in El Salvador. Rosa was in guinda, hiding in the mountains during the day and running from the military at night. Maria Flora has epilepsy, and Rosa believes it is because of the trauma of her birth. But Rosa, a single mother, put her other three daughters through high school -- no small feat in a country where the average rural resident only completes the 4th grade.
Rosa ends her interview talking about her work. “Today, I’m an associate of the cooperative Sueños de Jocoaitique. We began the cooperative in ‘93, and that was a struggle, too. To stay organized. Because if we’re not organized, we’re not involved in anything.”
Rosa is one of the rural, organized Salvadoran women interviewed for the project Mujeres de la Guerra, Historias de El Salvador, which documents the lives, stories and work of twenty-eight women leaders in El Salvador. Through a documentary film, photography exhibits in both the US and El Salvador, and a photo essay book, we hope to provide these women with the opportunity to tell their inspiring stories and share their hope, wisdom and dedication with the world. To read more about this project, please visit Mujeres de la Guerra.