Riding into San Salvador; Reflections of a Dumb Gringo.

Unless you’re bored, I don’t suggest reading this; it’s being written from a swinging hammock. I don’t claim it to be more than self indulgent rhetoric, not much more than graffiti. Hey, at least I’m not spray-painting it on your property.

Yesterday I took a ride and noticed that the closer I rode into San Salvador the easier it was to see (within the frame of my visor) extreme wealth and extreme poverty. On a daily basis, I’m not sure what taking it in with one glance does to the mind. Over time, does it nurture critical thinking or willful blindness?

The overwhelming situation here is poverty, and all the suffering poverty brings. The harder I look, the harder it is to romanticize it; smiles and laughter don’t suffice as valid indicators of economic stability. Or for that matter, even happiness.

I have to admit that my knowledge of Central America is limited to a few hours of reading. I do know that everyone my age, who was born and has always lived here, has known unbridled savagery, violent economic upheaval and horrid environmental catastrophe. I wish I knew more about their lives. I wish I’d studied sociology. Maybe then I could look at things through an informed lens.

But, I suspect the clinical environment within which I would have studied sociology wouldn’t have enabled me to do much more than increase my vocabulary and perhaps enhance the quality of my debate. What informs me here and now are the smells and the noises and the grime and grit. . . . and the polish. It’s the shining new $100 000 BMW parked beside the bent up lady (old?) struggling to push a rusty wheelbarrow full of sticks.

I used to think that the redistribution of wealth was a central ideal of democracy. My mind is shifting on that point; now I think it may be a necessary feature of humanity. To survive.

It’s not if the redistribution of wealth will occur, it’s how. And perhaps ironically, at what price. I don’t know much, but I think I do know this: The heavily armed guards outside each and every bank must look very different to the impoverished majority and the wealthy minority.

Here’s another observation. I haven’t taken pictures of any examples of the economic extremes. As for the rich, I can’t get close enough – I tried. As for the extreme poor? I’m too ashamed.

On another note, or perhaps on a similar note of privilege. Today I was sharing with a good friend the similarities between my most recent experience in El Salvador and our experiences a few years back in Costa Rica.

In our element, the lucky and informed leisure class is up in the pre-dawn sipping coffee stirred with a bit of sunlight. Later a fresh breakfast, the planning and doing phase being between 8:00 – noon. Then, there are two paths from which to choose; either the Mad Dogs and Englishmen or the extended siesta phase. Then, the final reward is harvesting the consequences of the decisions made during the day. It appears to me that while the specific content of the day is up for grabs, the structure of the day is as predictable as the phases of the moon.

What it isn’t, or doesn’t have to be, is death by Netflix or shallow ambition. Nice.


 

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