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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Thank you El Salvador

I was one tired, rather dissolute chica when we boarded the first plane on our way to
San Salvador on July 2nd at 6 am. It had been a very long stressful year, personally and
professionally. I had hardly thought of the trip before departure given a host of work and
personal responsibilities.

And then we were in the air, in a crowded vessel full of sleep-deprived, fellow passengers.
There was no turning back. We were on our way. Two flights later and I was still in a drowsy,
half-conscious state, lulled by the drone of the flights and the lack of fresh air.

Breathe in! San Salvador airport at 9:30 at night - vital, hot, humid, teeming with people. Past
Customs with my pitiful Spanish and navy blue Canadian passport. Tropical, fragrant air, people
laughing, patched up suitcases and boxes everywhere. Smell of petrol and sweat. Beaming face
of Miguel, our guide, waiting for us all. Unbelievably, luggage of all 6 passengers intact and we
pack ourselves into a blue passenger van in the dark. On the way to the Capital on dark, tree-
lined roads. How many people have been here before me, I ask myself in the dark, aware of a
dark history and sadness.

Our first blessing. At eleven at night, a lovely snack waiting for us in the heat of the guest house:
guacamole, fresh bread and tall glasses of ice-laden coke. We beam, gulp and slurp happily.
We retire to our rooms, fans slapping the air.

The malaise of the year is dissipating. I drink in the city air of morning in a small courtyard, my
incredibly amiable, new friends sipping coffee around wrought-iron tables, laughing and talking.
The morning is alive, in the flowers and plants, in the concrete walls hinged with barbed wire, in
the city buses wheezing and screeching down the steep streets. Our adventure has begun and
there is no turning back.

Thank you, El Salvador, for returning my sense of gratefulness. Thank you, Miguel, Nelson
and Nixon for caring for us and keeping us safe. Thank you, Donna, Tracey, Anna, Marta and
Nancy for your insatiable curiousity, humour and energy. Thank you, Paul, for your leadership
and quiet enjoyment of our first witnessing of this amazing country. Thank you to the many,
intelligent and committed people who told us their stories. Thank you to all, who unfailingly,
greeted us in the capital and the many towns and villages we visited. Thanks you to all,
including my young Spanish instructor, Beatrix, who suffered our attempts at Spanish and were

Thank you El Salvador for returning my sense of humour and pathos. Stories of horror, outrage
and courage were often told with a smile, the small distance between joy and sorrow. I will
never forget what I heard and I now hold in my memory the lives of the thousands of people lost
in the struggle.

Thank you, El Salvador, for returning my appreciation of beauty. Lung-gasping foliage,
mountains, volcanoes, mango trees and blue skies that pierced the eyes.

Thank you for returning my passion and love of life. I was awakened, in a riot of colour, noise
and emotion, after a long winter. I am grateful for all that I experienced, heard and understood.

May I have the grace and fortitude to carry what I learned into my life here in Ottawa.

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