Friday, January 11, 2013 – Perquin and El Mozote, Morazan, El Salvador
After surviving an exhilarating, dusty, and at some points dangerous dance party, we awoke Friday for some delicious breakfast. Acting in the spirit of Romero, a cute kitten, several cows, at least one dog, and one very calm baby relaxing in a hammock pastorally accompanied us in our eating and digesting of breakfast – on the trip, eating and digesting were more of a struggle for some than others. Some – or at least one – of us later mistook a bunched up blanket to be the aforementioned baby, and may or may not have spoken soft baby words to this blanket for a somewhat extended amount of time.
After breakfast we piled onto the bus. Throughout the trip the bus was driven quite expertly by Daniel (sp?), pronounced somewhere in between the way we pronounce the male name “Daniel” and how we pronounce the female name “Danielle.” I felt slightly but consistently self-conscious that I was perhaps mispronouncing his name each time I uttered it, which happened quite often, usually preceded by a heartfelt “muchas gracias.” It is no exaggeration to say that Daniel kept us all alive, as he was the one primarily responsible for hydrating and transporting us.
I found the bus to be a sanctuary of unofficial time. In this itinerary-less world on wheels we were afforded the time to zone into or out of the world. Many stuck headphones into their ears. Others stared seemingly contemplatively out the window. I heard deep probing reflections on our previous encounters and, at least in the back of the bus, what one might call inappropriate conversation. And of course there was singing!
On this day Daniel was taking us from the Bajo Lempa region in the South of El Salvador to the more rural and mountainous Morazan (a territory in NE El Salvador). We arrived at our Hotel in Perquin at the Perkin Lenca Hotel. And yes, Perquin and Perkin are two different and legitimate spellings of the same word. In fact the sign for the Hotel reads “Perkin Lenca Hotel: Perquin, Morazan.” And in the restaurant in the Perkin Lenca hotel each chair has carved into it the word Lenka, with a K!
Believe it or not, to study the cohabitation of different spellings of the same words was not our reason for coming to Perquin. We came to see the site of and accompanying memorials for the Massacre at El Mozote. In 1981, an unimaginable but real series of events took place here and goes something like this: A civil war had been underway between the El Salvadoran army and the resistance guerilla forces. The guerilla forces were partly animated by Liberation Theology, which at the time in El Salvador was an almost exclusively Catholic phenomenon. I note this because El Mozote was primarily a Protestant population and its occupants were well known for their neutrality in the war, siding with neither the guerilla forces nor the army. El Mozote had however, on rare occasion, been the site of weapon pickups by the guerilla forces. The townspeople and surrounding peasant farmers were alerted that the army would be passing through the area. In order to demonstrate their cooperation and neutrality, and not to be mistaken for guerilla forces the townspeople and surrounding farmers met (unarmed) in the town’s center. They were promised that they would not be harmed if they did so.
The military death squads- I can assure you they deserve their name and then some- marched into the town. After searching the townspeople and finding nothing, they separated the men, women and children. They began by interrogating, torturing and murdering the men. Then they raped the women and “older” girls and machine gun-style executed them. If that’s not enough, these U.S. trained forces, (see School of the Americas) also brutally killed all the children by slitting their throats and lynching them.
Nearly every person in the town was inhumanely and unnecessarily killed. The death toll was at about 800 people. One of the only survivors, who recently died, escaped with a herd of cattle, but could recognize the screams of her husband and children being killed.
We visited two memorials that honored this terrible tragedy, which by the way was repeatedly denied by the Reagan Administration and the El Salvadoran government. As a group we did our best to carry ourselves with somber reflection in order to pay proper respect to the kind of suffering that stops you in your tracks. Surprisingly, this didn’t last as long as we would have expected. Three children accompanied us on our ~1km walk to the second, much grander memorial. They rode their bikes joyously and had many of us laughing and playing along with them. Their behavior demonstrated what was a common experience for us in El Salvador: intense heartbreaking tears are shed with full earnestness and then a moment later joy and laughter breaks out without a hint of inappropriateness, irreverence or inconsistency. Just as common is for someone who was a stranger just a minute prior to accompany you with genuine interest and an unselfconscious, simple and beautiful assumption that you both have become real friends, at least for the moment.
We briefly hiked up a hill nearby for a marvelous view. Others found horse friends to ride up. Although, once at the top, we were informed that the initial fee was only for the horse ride up, and that an additional fee equivalent to the initial one would be required to ride back down. Half of the two horse riders agreed to the additional fee.
After this we visited the museum of the Revolution of Perquin. There were about five groups of Guerilla forces that joined forces, forming the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) and made Perquin their headquarters. Here locals proudly provided us a tour of this museum that honored the FMLN’s life and struggle.
We end the night with salsa dancing, showcasing at the very least our enthusiasm for dance. After such a day I felt a bit regretful that we ever had to leave this place. It’s so full of life, and the people possess that unflinching yet humble type of wisdom that only comes from persisting through something terrible. But we are thankful to be alive at all and to have another day to live in beautiful El Salvador.
* I was unsuccessful in uploading photos. I hope they will be forthcoming