Central American Journey

El Salvador and beyond…


Our week in El Rodeo, part 3 (of 3)

For the last two posts we’ve written about the history of El Rodeo and what it was like to live there. For this post we’ll write more about why we were there and what we did. The reason we were in El Rodeo was because we were part of a delegation from the Washington Ethical Society (a humanistic non-theistic religious congregation that explores what it means to be good human beings, and does a lot of things that religions might do, such as sending a delegation to do solidarity work in El Salvador). We have to admit that before coming to El Rodeo we did not have a strong sense of what the situation was between this community and our delegation.

El Salvador 006

A typical breakfast-time view with most of the delegation.

The work of the delegation involved a lot of meetings, a lot of planning, and some ongoing projects. The discussions we had were mainly focused on two community goals. 1. to develop a reliable source of clean water and 2. to fund scholarships for youth. We discussed two proposals that could help provide the water. For the scholarships the issue was a little more new and a little more complicated.

The ongoing projects included a dental clinic. People in El Rodeo do not ordinarily have access to dental care so once a year the delegation provides cleanings, extractions, and instruction about oral hygiene. One member of the community has also been trained to provide fluoride treatments, which he does six months after our delegation leaves. Another project is called the Historic Memory Project. This involves filming and documenting the histories of people in the village.

Karen's photo Clinica Dental Susana

Here is la Clinica Dental Susana (Susan’s Dental Clinic). Susan at her regular post with Justin assisting. We made the sign for the clinic. Thanks to Karen for this photo.

Last year the delegation found that a lot of people are suffering from trauma after the war. This year there was a psychologist in our group who talked with people about their experience and demonstrated some self-hypnosis techniques which could help create calm and deal with the effects of trauma. Those instructions were translated into Spanish by Maya, so they can be taught to more members of the community. This year some of the delegation did a book making project in the school in which students told their own stories. Some of the older students, who are members of the Ecological Committee, came with us to El Mozote, the town we wrote about in our last post that had the most destructive massacre during El Salvador’s brutal civil war.

bill el salvador photo

This shows some of the children working on the book project with Karen and Maya from our delegation. The books were laminated to protect them from the humidity. For some of the children, their finished masterpiece would be the only book in their house. Thanks to Bill for this photo.

For us (Danna and Andrew), the biggest challenge was not being certain about the culture, and struggling with the language. We came to El Salvador with a sense that we were somewhere in the middle of the group in terms of Spanish ability. Certainly we were able to survive and to feel as though we could contribute something. However, conversations with Salvadorans often involved us standing in shock as a wall of rapid Spanish overcame us. It was hard enough to distinguish words from each other let alone understand them.

For all meetings there was a translator, although it still felt as though much was missing. Conversations through a translator are not fluid but choppy, very long, and the translation never captures the entirety of what someone means. We also knew there was a culture barrier, and even if we fully understood each other’s words we would not necessarily understand what those words signified within the context of this village in El Salvador.

El Salvador 015

During our visit, some of us spoke on the air, thanking our host families and the people of El Rodeo for their hospitality. That’s Danna and Bill with Christina again, who is the in-country coordinator for the delegation and frequent translator for us.

El Salvador 003

During our week in El Rodeo, we also visited Radio Victoria. We met with some of the people who collectively run the Radio. That’s Christina, who helped to found the station during the war. And Elvis, who has been working at the station for more than 15 years and is also the current head of the ADESCO (the community council) in El Rodeo.

Our trip still had meaningful connections. One experience that sticks strongly in our minds came from the father in our host family, Sebastian, who was frequently outside working from maybe 5AM to 9PM (with regular breaks throughout the day). One day Danna slipped on the small muddy hill which led from the house to the main path. Sebastian saw this and then decided to spend a portion of his work day clearing out the mud on the path and replacing it with rocks that were much more stable to walk on. It was a kind and supportive act. Danna didn’t have the Spanish vocabulary to express the gratitude she felt for this meaningful gesture which was solely to help us, since the family and other residents of El Rodeo didn‘t seem to have any trouble with the slippery paths. Sebastian did many kind and supportive acts during our stay. When we got up before dawn to prepare to leave the village, he was there to say farewell and to help us take down our hammocks/insect netting. It was an emotional goodbye, even though we had great troubles understanding each other (our difficulty in understanding Sebastian’s Spanish was harder because he had very few teeth).

El Salvador 009

Here are the insect net/hammocks that Sebastian helped us set up with a ladder. We slept inside them on top of the beds, just like regular bug nets, but they could also function as hammocks if there were a place to hang them.

Also we had fun and began making connections with people as we struggled with communicating, ate meals together, made tortillas, peeled potatoes, and learned how to wash our clothes. We were very grateful for the women we spent a lot of time with at Esperanza’s house, who would speak veeeeery slooooowly for us so that we had a chance to understand them. They also seemed entertained by our attempts to understand them and respond in Spanish. So many people were accommodating. When one person in our delegation got sick she commented about how it was like she had 7 mothers with all the people who came to take care of her.

All in all El Rodeo was an experience that we are still processing. We would like to go back with a greater mastery of the language. Because of the communication challenges we experienced, we decided we had to focus more deeply on learning Spanish. In our next post we’ll write about how that’s going.

El Salvador 001

A final picture of cute inter-species napping.


Leave a comment

Our week in El Rodeo, part 2

We want to go a little deeper into describing the history of El Rodeo, the small sister community of the Washington Ethical Society where we spent our first week in El Salvador.  It is a very interesting history, with great significance for our lives in the United States as well.  Although we will warn that in many ways this is a very heartbreaking and disturbing history, and could be triggering.

El Rodeo is a small village just outside of the larger community of Santa Marta, neither of which appear on maps of the country.  The people of El Rodeo and Santa Marta share the same history during the time of El Salvador’s bloody civil war which lasted from 1980 to 1992 (with much government repression occurring prior to 1980 as well).  Some of the major issues which led to the war included land reform (with most land being in the hands of very few people, and many people not having rights to the land they have lived on, sometimes for generations), economic inequity, and severe repression targeting those who spoke out against the economic situation and in favor of land reform.

El Salvador 001

A mural depicting some massacres in El Salvador. “To not forget”

In the Santa Marta area there were people who spoke out and the community was targeted for repression.  People were harassed by the government, tortured, raped, and murdered.  Eventually the government destroyed the entire area using “scorched Earth tactics,” which basically means to kill everyone you can (to leave zero witnesses), burn down the houses and fields, kill the livestock, destroy all property, and leave nothing behind.  The Salvadoran military was greatly supported by the US government who sent weapons and also provided military training at the School of the Americas (which has trained many repressive Latin American regimes).

El Salvador 038

“The Faceless Repression
The Naked Innocent”

El Salvador 042

These two photos are from the Museo de la Revolución Salvadoreña in Perquin, Morazán, E.S. These posters are from during the war. The black and white one is from CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) which is headquartered in Washington DC.

The destruction of whole villages and other massacres are often discussed in El Salvador as people remember the civil war.  During our week in El Rodeo we actually took a trip with many of the youth to the village of El Mozote, which was the site of the bloodiest massacre in Latin American history.  The El Mozote Massacre saw over 1,200 people killed (the majority children).  Only one survivor, Rufina Amaya, lived to tell a tremendously heart-wrenching tale of what had happened as she witnessed every person in the village, including her husband and children, being tortured and murdered.

El Salvador 034

One of the memorials at El Mazote. The blocks on the wall list the names of the adults killed during the massacre.

El Salvador 024

This plaque is found in the memorial garden for the children.

During one meeting people talking about how Santa Marta (and El Rodeo) would have been another El Mozote had the people not been prepared for the government’s attack, and practiced in cooperation.  When the people heard news that the government would attack, they left their villages in order to find safety across the Honduran border.  They walked by foot through the mountains.  Many died on the journey.  To get into Honduras they had to cross the Lempa river, most of the people not knowing how to swim.  Those who could swim went first and made a way for others to follow.  Then the government blew up a dam which caused the river to flood, and many more died in that flood.

Those who made it to Honduras settled in a refugee camp.  We spoke to a man a couple of days ago who described the Honduran refugee camps as being like a prison, complete with barbed wire fences around them.  This was a time when there were many repressive Latin American dictatorships which cooperated with each other and disliked the same sorts of people.  For example there was a different massacre where people fled from Salvadoran troops, across the Honduran border, only to find the Honduran troops waiting for them in ambush–thankfully Santa Marta and El Rodeo were spared that fate.

El Salvador 022

An embroidered history of Santa Marta which we took a photo of in Radio Victoria.

The people of Santa Marta and El Rodeo lived as refugees for a number of years before returning to El Salvador, while the war was still going on.  Many of the people then joined the anti-government FMLN guerrilla forces.  The FMLN launched an offensive targeting San Salvador, the capital city where we currently live.  The guerrillas were not able to take the city but were able to force the government into negotiating with the rebels.  In 1992 both sides signed a peace accord, the war ended, and the FMLN transitioned from a military force into a political party.  In 2009 El Salvador elected its first president from the FMLN.

El Salvador 085

Sign for a former guerrilla camp near El Rodeo.

It is an astonishing history that the people of El Rodeo experienced.  It is also a story that has spawned a lot of trauma which people have to deal with as they go about their daily tasks raising children, doing laundry, working in the fields, etc.  We wanted to tell this story so you better know the context of El Salvador because we believe it is an extremely important story, which most of the people here lived through, and it is also very relevant to the United States because we funded and aided the repression.

In our next post we’ll talk a little bit more about the people we met in El Rodeo and the delegation of which we were a part.


Our week in El Rodeo, part 1

We have now spent around 2 weeks in El Salvador.   We spent a week mostly in El Rodeo, the small sister community of the Washington Ethical Society which we are members of.

el salvador with departmentsEl Rodeo is a small village in the hills of El Salvador’s Cabañas department (like a county), very near the Honduran border.  There are around 30 households.   The nearest town that appears on most maps is Victoria, the site of the community radio we visited.  There are no paved roads in El Rodeo.  You travel from building to building along dirt paths that get very slippery due to frequent rainfall during the rainy season (and it is currently the rainy season).   Here are some pictures of us walking down the slippery path.

El Salvador 008 El Salvador 005

The houses have no running water.  Water is gathered in rain barrels or collected in pilas (large concrete containers about the size of a big bathtub).   The local water supply is contaminated, but the extent is unknown because recent water testing hasn’t been done.   Either way, we are gringos who aren’t used to the microorganisms that live in the water, so we had to trek many 5 gallon water bottles down the hill for us to drink (with help from the sure-footed residents).

El Salvador 012

This is the local stream which is contaminated.

El Salvador 011

Andrew standing behind a rain barrel

People cook outside on stoves heated by burning wood.  In the house we stayed in they also had an indoor stove like in the US, but we didn’t see it in use.   In the house where our food was prepared they used the indoor gas stove to make tortillas for every meal as well as other things.  Most of us took turns making tortillas during different meals.  It takes a lot of practice to make them perfectly round.


Ross Wells took this beautiful photo in a previous delegation. This is a tortilla being shaped by hand.

The bathrooms are latrines, located various distances from the houses.

El Salvador 016

A view of the latrine from outside the fence surrounding the property. The white cloth covered the entrance. You can see the back of the house just beyond it.

Every house keeps a retinue of chickens and dogs (which they call chucho, not perro), who are not pets.  Frequently there are also cats and horses.  And there are many insects that scurry and fly along the paths, into the houses, and into the latrines.   Danna, as always, was much loved by the mosquitoes.  Neither of us liked getting bitten by the the various types of biting ants.

El Salvador 007

Leaf cutter ants – keep your distance!

El Salvador 004

Here’s one of the cute kittens to help you forget about the biting insects. Danna partly overheard one of the women explain in Spanish what the kittens like to eat, but she misunderstood and thought the kitten’s name was “Tortilla.”

Before we came, we were under the impression that El Rodeo didn’t have electricity, but we were incorrect.  They do.  They also have many electrical appliances.  The lovely women who cooked for us made our frequent meals of refried beans with the aid of a blender.  Our host family had a flat screen tv which they watched some nights.

El Salvador 038The views were glorious, particularly from atop the hills where farmers grew corn (called milpas).

So here’s a bit of the lay of the land, a brief overview of what it was like to live in El Rodeo for a week.  In our next post(s) we’ll go into a little more detail about the people and history.

El Salvador 016

Leave a comment

Going to El Salvador

danna and andrew

Hello friends, new and old!  We are Danna and Andrew.  We are a married couple interested in the joyous struggle for peace and social justice.  To learn more about the world, be of service, and foster deeper relationships across borders, we are heading to Central America.  We are maintaining this blog to document our journey and also to ask for financial support (click on Donate button).

For the first 10 days of our journey we will be part of the Washington Ethical Society’s (WES) Global Connections trip to WES’ sister village of El Rodeo in El Salvador.  It is a very rural village that has been impoverished and damaged by war, where the only source of water is a contaminated spring.

Visit here for more information about the relationship and the community.
Some of the work we will do in El Rodeo includes:

  • Help provide cleaner potable waterel salvador map
  • Assist in the mobile dental clinic run by a WES member
  • Assist with interviews for the historic memory project
  • Help the teachers in El Rodeo’s elementary school
  • Work with families in their fields  (milpas)
  • Help in the kitchen; assist with the laundry

The US government has been involved in supporting military repression in El Salvador through the training of death squads, directly financing the dictatorship during the civil war, and other means.  These realities do not represent the world we wish to see and so we feel compelled to work for justice.

As part of our goals we plan to stay in El Salvador and other parts of Central America for several months after the rest of the WES delegation leaves.  Our plan is to work with local nonprofits where we can practice our fields of intercultural social justice and conflict transformation.  Through this we can learn more about the world, the legacy of global oppression, and how we can promote justice and peace.

To cover the cost of our trip, we are asking people to support us by donating $50, $100, $150, or any amount you are able to give.  Donations are directly to WES in our name and are tax-deductible.  Use the Paypal “Donate” button below.  Our departure is June 27th and we need to complete the rest of our fundraising really soon.Donate ButtonWith greatest appreciation,

Andrew and Danna