“The generosity of the campesinos who gave a banana, some beans or a tortilla, a couple of mangos or a slice of melon, was something that impressed them.” (p. 19 Paying the Price, Teresa Whitfield.) This was written about the early Jesuits’ experience who first came to the country in 1949 and remains true today.
Anyone who is familiar with the warmth of the Salvadorans knows how generous even the poorest of the poor are. Out in the campesino community I was moved to tears when the leader of this marginalized farming community along the side of a mountain stood before our group giving an eloquent speech of appreciation of our visit. He said they were all aware that we are accustomed to different standards of living but hoped they would be able to make our two-day stay comfortable and to let them know of anything we needed. The women cooked non-stop for our group, and we guests were fed first even before their hungry-looking children. And when the priest was ready to begin a worship service and asked if there were local musicians, within minutes a truckload of teenagers all dressed in white shirts and dark pants and skirts appeared from nowhere carrying instruments and religious music.
When we divided up staying in homes in our sister church community, the family of our fellow traveler staying with them required their children to ask HIM if they could be excused from the table. When I didn’t arrive at my host family until close to 11 PM, they fixed me a meal. Another girl in our group was given a family heirloom to bring home with her by her host family. They had only a few material possessions and gave one to her as a thank you gift for spending time with them.
Stopping in at the poorest dwelling I’ve ever seen, made of sticks and palm fronds where they were drying some unidentified birds on the roof for dinner, a place, where the man was dying, he was smiling and welcoming of our stopping in to visit. Regardless of how poor the family, we were always offered a tortilla and coconut to drink from. ALWAYS!
In each guesthouse we stay, the proprietors personally meet us at the gate every time we arrive so we are never left unattended on the street. Our last host even gave us our own key into the triple-locked facility in case she didn’t hear the doorbell ring when we arrived. One does not need to stay in a five star hotel to receive topnotch, beyond concierge treatment in El Salvador. Recently I accompanied our guesthouse owner to the mall to purchase a new carry-on piece of luggage for one of her guests who was in the midst of packing for the airport when she panicked realizing she bought too many souvenirs to fit. This same owner has been known to drive her guests to the doctor, pharmacy for prescriptions, replacement glasses, and yes, even to our interviews in a pinch!
Being given the gift of time by anyone means a great deal to me. Some very high profile Salvadoran people have re-arranged their schedules to accommodate seeing and being interviewed by us. I have been impressed by their willingness to participate. Likewise, the hard working-class people including students who need every waking minute of the day to earn a living, or finish a final term paper have made themselves available to do whatever we have asked, whether it be to act as translators, drivers, arrange us taxis, or make phone calls for us.
One day at the end of the busy semester two theology students graciously agreed to drive us WAY out into a remote campesino community to visit our scholarship students, allow us to interview them, do numerous translations, and take us sightseeing. On the way back into the city we were pulled over by the police who issued a citation for the vehicle windows measuring too thick for the allowed darkening. I felt somehow responsible for this bad stroke of luck because the driver was doing us a favor. I feared our driver would be upset by it especially by the expense it would cost to rectify it. Instead he was completely calm stating it was “no problem; I’m just glad we weren’t inconvenienced by something more serious like engine trouble or a flat tire.” What a lovely attitude. (I could really learn something from this guy.)
Our experience has been filled with such humility in the care the Salvadoran people constantly show us through their genuine concern for our safety, comfort, well-being, and accommodating our interests and project. Is it any wonder when people ask what I like about El Salvador, I respond, “the people; unequivocably it is the people.” They are the ones who we most enjoy, learn from, care about, and hope to model ourselves after.