“Que galán ser hombre aquí en Guajoyo…”
“How great it must be to be a man here in Guajoyo…”
I spend most of my time in Guajoyo with other women, in part because the men are generally out working or playing soccer during waking hours, in part because it’s just not quite right for a young lady to be spending time with men. Chungita, my friend and the person I go to with questions about the way things are, tells me I could probably get away with it because I’m a foreigner, so spending time with men could be written off as wanting to experience the culture. But for her, a 22-year-old who is still single and without children, that would make her a hussy, a flirt, a player.
I wrote previously about how beautiful life is for women here, and that is still true. They get to be the social circulatory system of the family and of the community, slapping tortillas while talking about the latest community issues, lounging in hammocks while they share laughs about life’s simple hilarities.
But there is a freedom that women do not get to enjoy.
As girls are growing up, they are taught how to take care of a house, how to be nurturing, how to make pupusas without letting the cheese ooze out, and how to help hatch baby chickens. Little boys run around with machetes by the time they’re 9 or so, climbing trees, playing soccer, hunting iguanas, and walking up and down the main street in gaggles. They start working by the time they are teenagers usually, and while they’re out during the day nobody questions what they are doing, and when they come home at midday and in the evening, they are free to huskily demand their food without further commentary. Any weekend, or weekday afternoon at 5, or holidays, men of all kinds – boys, fathers, students, field workers, etc. – will be gathered wherever there is a flat piece of land and a ball to kick around.
Women have to answer to someone about where they’re going. Most of them have rarely ventured beyond the main stretch of town and the Rio Lempa where people go to bathe, wash clothes, and splash around. But what was most striking to me this week – Holy week, which is sort of like spring break in El Salvador – is that the community of other men is what gives them so much freedom.
That Alexis, the 17-year-old son in the house where I’m living can call up any male over the age of 16 to go romp about in the woods or spend the night at the river or play soccer or go hunt iguana is a massive freedom. Jaquelin, the 15-year-old daughter of the family, can go visit her friends’ houses or call someone up to go to the corn mill with her, but most women are either mothers busy with the charge of maintaining a home, or if they are not yet married/mothers, they are in training to be so, and are rarely allowed to leave behind duties like washing clothes, cooking for the family, and cleaning the house for recreational activities.
Chunga and I are in a unique position, since most young women our age are already acompañadas – moved in with a partner – and/or have children. I spend most of my free time with kids ages 7-12, because for them neither the practices of gender roles nor the duties of age keep them from doing so.
Yesterday Chunga, her 4 nieces, and I went down to the river to spend the day swimming and lounging on the shore. About an hour after we arrived, a group of 15 or so boys ages 10 to 20 something arrived. Carefree and enjoying their vacation, they abandoned their shirts and raced out to the water to play games together and do flips off of logs into the water. The 6 of us ladies sat and watched from the shore.
“I have all the freedom in the world” Chunga told me, “to go where I want, do what I want. But the problem is with who”
I asked her if she thinks she wants to be married someday, and she says she does, but she knows how much that will mean her freedom will be taken away. “It’s still worth it,” she says. “How else are you going to meet your own children, and what else are you going to do when you’re old?”
Mary is the symbol of grief, she was given the great joy of bringing the Son of God into the world, only to watch him suffer and die before her. She is thought to carry the weight of the grief of the people. For women, life is full of suffering and sacrifices, but there is a beauty and a holiness to it, and I don’t hear anyone complaining about giving up their freedom or about being housewives or about being expected to provide food when and how it is demanded. Yet I can’t help but believe there exists a balance that includes equality and the gift of sacrifice.