viernes, 29 de abril de 2011
How many of us actually like our names? My own father, despite scoffing at his parent’s poor taste, always presents himself with his given name of Wayne. Rarely do we stop to consider, what would I choose for myself if I could?
Salvadoran parents give their children more wiggle room with their names. They get four: two first, two last. A given María Elena, for example, can introduce herself as María, Elena, María Elena, Malena or Mari depending on her mood. Moreover, during the civil war (1980-1992) guerrilla fighters and their families invented names for themselves to protect their identities from being discovered by the murderous Salvadoran army. Today these guerillas veterans alternate between their nom de guerre and their given first or second name, all which makes it very difficult to remember the names of twenty people that presented me the first time as Jose or Tomasa and the second as Salvador or Santos.
I’ve always been fascinated with names, ever reading Anne of Green Gables, where the heroine laments her bland name and creates for herself an alternate identity as Cordelia. My name was boring too! Once I started reading poetry and found that Pablo Neruda had actually been born “Neftalí Reyes Basoalto” and Gabriela Mistral’s parents baptized her as Lucila de María del Perpetuo Socorro Godoy Alcayaga (whoa) I decided to take the plunge. I started signing my work Madeleine Breton in honor of the surrealist poet. In El Salvador, jealous of all my friends with their flexible name situations, I christened myself Jennifer Azucena in honor of Monseñor Romero, the Salvadoran martyr born on August 15th, the day of Saint Azucena.
In my first day of the theatre workshop I attend at the University of Central America, our teacher had us go around the circle and say our names . Once we had finished, she said, “Good. That’s the name your parents gave you. Now pick your artist’s name. It can be a childhood name, a name you’ve always loved, something that identifies you with your inner actor. Now present yourselves again.” Brilliant.
I decided to bring this to our workshops ABC (Art, Wellbeing and Creativity) at FUNDAHMER. The first day, I asked them to go around the circle and say their names. Rolled eyes. “ Come on Jenny, “We work together every day!”
“Great.” I said, “That’s your name outside of our ABC workshops. Now pick your artist name.” I was terrified that they all would refuse, but as we went around the circle again, they beamed as they introduced themselves as “Luz(Light), Luna (Moon), Mar (Sea), Libertad (Freedom), Nube Gris (Gray Cloud), Mariposa (Butterfly), Kamila, Charrango (A Peruvian guitar), Campanilla (Morning Glory), Linda (Pretty). We drew portraits of our artist selves, and made colored nametags which we wear each time we meet as a group.
Our recent challenge has been naming our group. We’ve narrowed it down to two: Aroma Natural (Natural Aroma) and Baúl de Los Tesoros (Treasure Trove). Unfortunately, during our Wednesday meeting, 6 voted Aroma and the other 6 Baúl. I’ll keep you posted on which Mar (Sea) chooses once he returns from his conference in Guatemala.
Because our ABC workshops are held in our office, our artist names help us to separate our work space from our art space: the one place where my colleagues can fully detach themselves their grueling non-profit work schedule (6-7 days a week, 9- 10 hours a day), and responsibilities taking care of their kids or aging parents. With each meeting, it becomes easier and easier to incorporate our inner artists into our repertoire of identities, allowing us to live and work more creatively in our fight for social justice in El Salvador.
miércoles, 13 de abril de 2011
miércoles, 16 de febrero de 2011
Anita, the executive director, needs massages. In addition to running our foundation, which includes 10-12 hour days 6 days a week, Anita is a single mother with three kids, and takes care of her sick mother on Sunday. When I sit down with her, and put my hands on her aching back, the tension of her present and past pop out like a cardboard cut-out. That knot: which staff members to cut given the funding crisis? This bump: are the gangs going to infiltrate her children’s’ school and force them to drop out? The longer I rub, the more I feel the tension of her past that she’s repressed for 30 years inside her. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, all 5 of her brothers were murdered by the Salvadoran Army because they were fighting for the liberation of the poor. Anita had to spend 12 years as an internal refugee not knowing where her other family members, who were scattered throughout the country, were alive or dead. Massaging, I try to imagine my fingers as pipelines sucking out some of this pain that Anita harbors inside her veins.
Massage has also been the solution for the difficult question of to give my host families in the communities in exchange for sharing their hammocks and tortillas? Money is inappropriate. Ice cream melts long before dinner. After months of trial and error I have come up with a wellness cocktail that works wonders. Because vegetables and fruits are expensive and not commonly grown in the communities (we’re working on that) I usually stuff my backpack with bags of zucchini, onions, tomatoes, carrots etc and top it with a huge pineapple to make juice with. And after dinner, I sit down with the mother of the house, who has spent the last 14 hours bent over watching her children, washing clothes, feeding the chickens, working in the fields, scrubbing dishes, grinding corn, making tortillas, sweeping the floor, and I massage her back. The knots that riddle the backs of these women in the communities are as hard the bullets they fled from, the bullets that took the lives of their husbands and children throughout the war. The hour we spend together barely strokes the surface of that pain.
Tomorrow, a professional masseuse and meditation expert will give me and my colleagues all a class on how to properly give massages. I’m quite excited about this. Not only will this help me do my “work” better, but it will empower my colleagues to help one another feel better, and to share this cost-free health miracle with the communities for their wellbeing.
She sits down in the hammock
As I dip my hands in aloe vera balm
And place them on her neck.
Her knots are like bullets.
I wish I could pull them out
And eras the days she spent eating weeds
inside the cave,
the days she withered wondering
if her brother, husband, father, nephew, son
had yet been sliced open by the booted men who
buzz in on their helicopters
to kill and rape and kill
until their biceps sting
so bad it aches to button
up their slacks.
Sitting with Dolores in the darkness
With my fingers on her spine.
Untangling the tension strings
Woven together so tight
They form a hammock in
The curve of her back,
A flimsy net struggling to
tuck away reminders
of the death that stayed behind.
martes, 1 de febrero de 2011
At the second llantería closest to my house, the owner Alex generously agrees to pump up my tires twice a week. These three minutes I spend with him dote me with fascinating social commentaries on El Salvador. The topic today: Impunity.
As Alex reached over to grab the air tube, I asked him where he lived, and he pointed to the office in the back of the tire shop. This is my house. “Here?” I asked. On busy San Antonio Abad Street? “Isn’t it dangerous here? You haven’t been robbed?”
“¡Cómo no!” He said. “Of course I have.”
“Oh no! How many times?”
“What did you do? Did you call the police?” I asked.
“Of course not,” Alex smiled, I didn’t want to waste my phone credit.”
I related all too well to what Alex was talking about. Though I haven’t yet been robbed in El Salvador, in 2008, when I lived in Guatemala, I had my phone grabbed from my hand as I was speaking to my parents. I ran to the police station. There, two fat office and a buxom policewomen were loafing on the porch. “Buenas noches.” I panted. “Fíjense that these two guys just came over and grabbed my wrists and stole my phone out from my hands.”
“Ok,” smiled the fattest one. “Let’s go to the supermarket and write up a denouncement. That’s the only way you’ll get your phone back.”
“What? Really?” I asked. “Why? And doesn’t the supermarket close at 8pm?”
“Exactly. He said, that way you’ll have the announcement up by tomorrow morning. Let’s get in the car.”
I didn’t get it, but the policewomen was smiling and nudging me towards the car, and well, I figured women are trustworthy aren’t they? She opened the back door, and told me to wait inside. I sat for 10 eerie minutes before the officer waddled back from the office. He sat in the front seat, put the key in the ignition but didn’t start the car. 2, 4 ,6 silent minutes passed before he turned back and asked me,
“What’s your name?”
“Jennifer.” I said. He smiled, and swiveled his head like a porcine Don Juan.
“Hello Jennifer,” he swooned, “ my name, is Romeo. “ Double wink. I jumped out of the car, ran back to my dark hotel room and cried.
Impunity, meaning that criminals are never prosecuted for their crimes, is what really frightens me about Central America. Not so much in my own case, since as a foreigner any great crime against me would receive media attention in the States, but rather the fact that if any of my friends or colleagues are robbed, raped, or killed, nothing would be done about it!
In the 12 year Civil War in El Salvador, over 70,000 civilians were massacred by the army. The war ended with a set of peace treaties in 1992. While these treaties did grant land to many ex-guerrilla fighters, they also included a nearly blanket amnesty, meant that nearly all of the military men, and the government officials who ordered them to rape, murder, and torture went free. Three weeks ago I spoke with a woman whose brother was “disappeared” by the army in 1985. No investigation has ever been done to recover his body. Tens of thousands of similar stories exist.
Impunity hasn’t lessened much since the war. Now, the “maras,” (gangs) menace the country. Gang members frequently enter businesses like Alex’s tire shop and ask for “rent”. This means that small business owners like Alex has to pay them 200$, 400$ sometimes up to $1000 a month or else the gangs threaten to rape or kill Alex’s wife or children. Considering that a minimum wage salary is 200$, this is too much for most small business owners to afford, and many have to close up shop. The gangs also knock on the doors of families and demand “rent” from them. The rent is usually more than the family earns each month. People have to take out loans to pay the rent, move to another neighborhood, or else grind their teeth praying for the best. Miguel, one of my coworkers told me that in his community, nobody goes outside past 7pm, not even to walk to the store, because gang members prowl the streets demanding a toll for passing. The police do very little or nothing to help the situation.
I don’t want to hate on all policemen. One of my co-workers’ husband is a very friendly officer, and when I go out to the communities in Morazán, a policeman named Solomon gives me a ride to wherever I need to go.
And there has been some improvement in the gang situation in the past 2 years since the left wing FMLN government came to power. President Mauricio Funes began installing military men to patrol gang-ridden urban communities in 2009. Since this initiative, gang presence has significantly reduced in these communities. Funes has also began apologizing for human rights violations committed by the Salvadoran during the civil war, including the assassination of Monseñor Romero in 1980 and the 6 Jesuit priests in 1989. Though this may not be legal prosecution, denouncing these crimes is a significant improvement from denying they ever happened, as characterized the policies of the right wing ARENA government that ruled from 1992-2008.
Perhaps what amazes me most about the Salvadoran people is their vivacity and the humor with which they survive their difficult reality. “Call the police?” says Alex, “Eh, why waste a quarter? Might as well buy a pupusa.”
By Gloria Mindock
Somewhere, someone is mourning
for the body of a brilliant one.
Man or woman, it doesn't matter.
to a void . . . shadows touching skin like frost.
A star fell north of this city.
jueves, 27 de enero de 2011
Whoa poetess step back a bit. Art Corps? FUNDAHMER? Sorry. Let’s begin with a glossary:
Art Corps: A non-profit based in Boston that promotes art for social change by placing artists inside of non-profit organizations in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
FUNDAHMER: A Salvadoran non-profit organization based in San Salvador that accompanies the base communities of El Salvador. FUNDAHMER aids these impoverished communities in their development by promoting programs in nutrition, sustainable agriculture, education/scholarships, pastoral work and international solidarity.
Me (Jenny): A poet from San Francisco, California obsessed with Central America, ice cream and the moon. I graduated in 2007 with a degree in development studies and French literature, and after became a high school teacher in an indigenous community in rural Guatemala. From April to December 2010 I worked as the International Relations Coordinator for FUNDAHMER. This, as the prestigious title suggests, consisted of leading delegations and publishing communications between the sister communities in El Salvador and abroad. I applied to Art Corps last year, was accepted (hooray), and from January 2011-June 2012, I’ll be promoting art/poetry for social change in FUNDAHMER.
Let’s start again. FUNDAHMER office, El Salvador, January woes?
In mid November, about the time I found out I had been accepted and would be funded as the Art Corps artist of 2011 (hooray!!!!) bad news began to infect our little FUNDAHMER office. I learned that our Scottish grant, which funded over 1/3 of our organization including our organic garden project would be terminated in January. And then bad news started pouring in from the campesinos we work with in the rural regions of Morazán and La Libertad. Due to climate change, El Salvador suffered in 2010 from vicious hurricanes during the rainy season (May-September) followed by a severe drought in October and November. The farmers in our communities, most of which live entirely on the corn and beans they grow in their fields, lost over 60% of their corn harvest and almost 100% of their beans.
I went home in early December to fundraise for the farmers, and when I came back, I discovered a ghost office. Because of the funding situation, FUNDAHMER had to cut one third of our staff members and programs. This leaves a staff of about 10 people doing the work that should be done by forty (we were understaffed even before the funding crisis). For the past two months, the board of directors has been meeting almost daily to discuss how FUNDAHMER should proceed given the funding situation. Do they stop working with some of the 30 communities, communities that they’ve been supporting ever since the Salvadoran Civil War? Do they stop working with women’s groups, with youth groups, with the scholarship students? All possibilities are depressing.
Yesterday, I sat down to write my plan of how I would ensure art and creativity would become sustainable in FUNDAHMER. I couldn’t concentrate. A horrible cacophony of sighs was coming from the salon where the directors were once again meeting to resolve the financial troubles. I felt like a prisoner hearing the screams of his comrade being tortured in the next room. What could I do to lighten the mood? The epiphany came to me on the toilet. They needed poetry! But how could I introduce it? Put it in the bathroom! Bathroom poetry, brilliant!
I decided on two relatively light-hearted poems, one titled “The moon rises” by the Spaniard Federico García Lorca, and the other “I don’t love you rather why I love you,” by the Chilean Nobel Laureat Pablo Neruda. I scribbled down the verses and decorated them respectively with images of a glowing moon and an puzzled lover simultaneously carrying a bouquet of flowers and a poster reading, “I hate you!”
The reaction was quite positive. During lunch, I overheard two colleagues say, “Now who do you think put up all those poems in the bathroom?” At 3 o clock, my beloved director Anita came in laughing. “Gracias Jenny,” she said, “Never before had I read a poem in the bathroom!” I sat down to give her a massage, and though her back was still full of knots, my fingers promised me there was hope that someday soon she’ll be able to relax again.
As I write this blog, the directors are once again groaning around the table. Perhaps I should serve them glasses of water so they’ll have to head to the bathroom again soon and see the new poem I put up by the famous Salvadoran revolutionary poet Roque Dalton!