Last week I had the opportunity to spend some time in Carasque, another sistered community located in the cooler mountains of Chalatenango to the north west of Guajoyo. Bangore, Maine is the sister city of Carasque, and a woman who came earlier this year on a delegation came back just 3 months later to bring her son to this beautiful community where hardship and resiliency grow side-by-side like two ears of corn on the same stalk.
We stayed at the house of a woman named Cruz, along with her 4 children who were also our body guards, tour guides, lifeguards, and entertainers throughout the week. Kati, 7 years old, is a bundle of energy who loves dancing and playing cards. We also bonded immediately over our shared name, and she was quite literally attached to my side a good portion of the week. Denis, 14, is quiet and observant, and he bonded with Addison (the son who came with the woman from Bangore) over tossing around a nerf football and laughing at farting noises. Ulises, 18, graduated from high school last year and has dreams of going to the university to study language and become proficient in English and French, both of which he can already speak with surprising clarity. David, the oldest, is tall and lanky and smiles at all moments. He is currently studying in the National university in San Salvador with the assistance of a Sister Cities scholarship.
The week was lovely and low-key; because the community is in the mountains, any excursion even just to the little window store up the street means a significant climb, so we limited our outings in a day. That’s not to say, of course, that the community council, youth committee, womens’ committee, and church didn’t also make themselves 100% available to show us around the community they are so proud of. We enjoyed a lovely welcoming party (complete with dancing, of course) as well as a get together with the youth committee to play games and meet one another, and a going away party that rivaled the welcoming party.
But most of the week was spent chatting away the mornings and afternoons in the shade of Cruz’s 100 year old adobe house, swinging in the hammock or helping slap tortillas and pupusas on the grill. One of the things that is striking about Carasque is that there is a large population gap of 18-28 year olds. Possibilities in Carasque are limited, and for many, the only option after going as far as economically possible with one’s studies is to emigrate to the United States in order to support the family.
David told us that of his group of about 17 that graduated from high school together in 2011, 14 have emigrated to the United States, and he is the only one who has gone on to study in the university. Most of them simply do not have the economic possibility. Ulises had also been considering going to the United States, where his dad has lived for the past 13 years and where there are possibilities to get a job and send money to support his family.
For us as visitors, sitting on the porch looking out into a tropical paradise of banana trees and mango trees and happy chickens clucking away and sturdy men and women greeting each other with a smile and a nod as they pass in the street, it’s hard to imagine choosing the life of an immigrant — one of insecurity, uncertainty, limited rights, limited freedom, and tireless hours of meaningless work — over this Salvadoran paradise. Here the children grow up being cared for by the entire community, roaming the mountains and splashing in the rivers, and generally enjoying the freedom of living on the land. How could it be worth it to risk everything to emigrate?
But I also know that humans come with a built-in need to DO and to GROW and to WORK TOWARDS something. It is the very need that I myself struggle with here sometimes; for all the accompanying I am doing, sometimes I’m desperate for an opportunity to be useful and to do something fruitful. Maybe in Carasque it is possible to survive, to maintain. Maybe those who work really hard can keep their bellies filled and their heads under a roof. But what is there to work towards? Where is the opportunity to grow?
18-28 year olds are full of energy, potential, ideas, maturity, and perhaps it feels wasted on a place where the ost you can hope for is to eek enough corn out of the ground to fill your family’s stomachs. But for those who get even the smallest push, a foothold to step up on, they take off soaring.
It is exciting to see David, dedicated to his studies but even more dedicated to his community. This week he is on vacation between semesters, and is spending his time mowing the community’s soccer field, meeting with other youth, and participating in talks with other young people in the church about what Peace can look like and how to be a part of bringing it about. It is so hugely important to have something to stay for.