Saturday, November 29, 2008

The "centro" of San Salvador

Last week, I got to do something that I had wanted to do since I arrived in El Salvador two months ago. I went to the "centro" of San Salvador. I had been warned repeatedly that I should NOT go there alone and I had not found anyone who would be willing to take me there. So, finally, I found the perfect people to take me and got the tour of the "centro" that I had wanted for the whole time that I've been here.

Because of how common thievery is in San Salvador but, particularly in the "centro" I didn't get to bring my camera. I'm a little disappointed about that but, I'm going to do my best to paint a picture with words. As we were getting ready to go we realized that someone who had been living in El Salvador for 7 years, had NEVER gone to the "centro". San Salvador is really a small city so, someone living here for such a long time and never going seems crazy to me.

I think, however, that it just goes to show how easy it is to isolate yourself from the reality that most people live in and experience on a daily basis. It is easy to live and move in "safe" circles and never have to encounter the darker side of the places that you live. Anyway, the five of us went down to the city and parked in one of the many guarded parking areas. We got out of the car and started walking. The street had stagnant dirty water in the gutters and there was litter almost everywhere. Not in massive quantities, just enough that it was decidedly dirty.

We walked a block towards a street that had (at one time) been a road for cars but had progressively been taken over by vendors in small little shops set up in tents and other makeshift shelters. We walked into one of the side streets. People were selling everything, hats, shoes, clothes, pirated DVD's "Three for a dollar!" as you walked down people would reach out to you and ask you what you needed, "What size are you?" the woman selling pants asked, ever store had someone begging you to stop and consider buying something from them. Once we got outside we found people selling fruit, vegetables, tortillas, and all kinds of other produce and merchandise.

We walked around in the midst of all the people, in front of city buses with attitude problems, and around little children who were working or playing depending on how old they were. As we walked around I was moved with sadness and happiness all at the same time. I love being in a space that is so decidedly human and yet, it was also somewhat dehumanized at the same time. The space meant survival, existence, THAT is the meaning of life for those people. That busy, dirty, loud, unsafe bustle of activity is life.

As we walked by the National Theatre, a grand old building, we were invited to go inside because there was a free concert! It was unbelievable. A concert that in the US they could have easily charged us a nice sum of money to get in, we just walked in. As we were being explained what the concert was about a young boy of about 11 walked up to us and said, "Will you tell them that you're my parents?" "Why?" we asked him. "They won't let me in without my parents" he said. So, he snuck in with us. "I come here everday" he said. There was something wonderful about that. Even this young child who was probably an orphan and lived with his grandmother was finding a way to fill his life with some of the beauty that is life outside of the chaotic mess that dominated the space where he lives.

We left the theater to go see the National Cathedral and then walked to the Plaza la Libertad which was like a scene from a movie where you have all the older men sitting around talking or playing their guitars singing the songs from the "good old days". I wondered how they were able to afford such leisure and then I decided to ignore the reality that it meant. We stopped and had an ice cream cone before walking back to our car and heading home to the tranquility that seems unreal in light of now near it is to the "centro" that turns out to be like a different dimension, a completely different reality.


Anonymous said...

Having lived here for over five years, I am sad to say that I have been to the cento area less than ten times. You are so correct in your statement that we live very 'small and closed' cirlces. I am happy to hear that you made the effort to visit that area and tell people about... and the National Theater is a Salvadoran Treasure that I wish more people (Salvadoran's and foreigns) would take advantage of.

Angel Rivera said...

I always ask myself..why we as salvadoreans don't appreciate and love our country as the tourists do. Go to el centro of San Salvador is like going to the jungle or to the wild wild west.

live the questions now... R.M. Rilke