Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Oda a la Patria

"....Porque me duele si me quedo
Pero me muero si me voy
Por todo y a pesar de todo, mi amor,
Yo quiero vivir en vos..."

(Maria Elena Walsh -
Serenata para la Tierra de Uno)

El Salvador ¿qué no sos vos para mí?

Sos mi familia, mis ancestros: la sangre que corre por mis venas, las viejas historias de genealogías, el viejo dolor que aún se esconde en la calurosa sonrisa de tus paisanos. Sos el seno familiar más íntimo, el calor y el afecto de los padres, la mesa tendida.

Sos mi barrio, el inconfudible vecindario: sos el pasaje donde incontables historias y fantasias infantiles se gestaron, la geografía habitual, el lugar más amado. Sos el Antiguo de mis amores, con sus calles estrechas, con su gente emprendedora, con sus pájaros que anuncian ya el amanecer.

Sos el color de mi piel, que no se avergüenza de llamarse mestiza, la fusión de tres grandes mundos.

Sos mi escuela, artífice de mis conocimientos primarios, de la semilla del saber. De tu mano aprendí a ver el mundo desde una perspectiva única, muy tuya, para hacerla mía. En tu seno aprendí a caminar, aprendí a amar, aprendí a soñar.

Sos mi lengua, el vernacular cuscatleco. Sos mi ortografía, mi gramática, mi dicción, mi fraseo. Sos mis prejuicios y mis testarudeces. Sos mis ideas y mis locuras.

Sos es el sudor de mi frente que lucha, al igual que mis hermanos cuscatlecos, para verte feliz y plena algún día, aún en medio del dolor y la sangre que tiñe injustamente tu histórico semblante.  

Sos vos, a pesar de todo, sos vos. Con tus defectos y tus maravillas. Con tus problemas y tus esperanzas. Pero así te quiero y así seguiré amándote, aún en la distancia que muy pronto nos separará. Aunque mis sueños me lleven lejos, aunque mi derrotero quizás ya no esté geograficamente más con el tuyo, El Salvador, vas conmigo en mi corazón donde quiera que vaya. A fin de cuentas, al fondo de todo sueño mío, estará el azul y el blanco, tan firme como siempre.

El Salvador, aún cuando nos separe la distancia, siempre estaré orgulloso de llamarme tu hijo. No porque seas mejor que las demás, sino porque parte de lo que soy, te lo debo a vos.

¿Quién no ama el lugar, la tierra natal
y donde ha nacido...?
Terruño de amor, El Salvador, donde yo vivo...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Over the Pacific - Part 5

[Exactly two years ago...]

The TACA flight 531 flew southbound into the void. We left the ocean of lights of the city of Los Angeles far behind us.

I spent much of the time on that flight thinking about home and talking to the lady that sat next to me. She was a middle aged Salvadoran woman, who was going to El Salvador for a visit for the very first time in 20 years. Her story was like many others: immigrated illegally into the States during the Salvadoran Civil War and had never returned since, living only with the memories of a place she used to call "home".

During my years in Australia (which I like to call "my exile"), I truly longed for home, just like many other exiled Salvadorans in Australia, the US, Canada, Europe, etc. My "exile" was not a real one, though: it was a self-imposed one and it just lasted a couple of years. Many others have to deal with the idea of never going back. Why would they, anyway? El Salvador can´t offer the quality of life or opportunities that first-world countries can give. The only things that El Salvador can possibly offer to returning exiles are the memories of days long past and a sense of identity deeply rooted in the land of their ancestors, the volcanoes and valleys of Cuscatlán. Nothing else.

I looked through the window: the peaceful darkness of a Mexican night. Down below there were little clusters of light here and there: Mexican towns along the Pacific coastline, I thought.

Again, I tried to sleep, without much success. After a couple of hours thinking and listening to music, I could see the glimpses of dawn. A new day has come! Here it was, Saturday the 24rd of April 2010: the day I would finally reembrace El Salvador.

As we finally descended, I could feel my heart almost jumping out of my chest. There they were again: the volcanoes, the lakes, the green fields... I could even almost see the peasants working the land on a hot Saturday morning! I had dreamt of this moment for months! As the TACA flight landed in Comalapa International Airport on that Saturday morning and I finally entered the main building, rushing through Customs, a brand new chapter of my life was already starting.

It´s a new dawn, it´s a new day, it´s a new life for me...and I am feeling good!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Over The Pacific - Part 4

As soon as we entered the main terminal at LAX, I felt the weight of my weariness. I had been travelling for so long, and had barely slept! I thought I was going to sleep the whole way, but for some reason it didn´t happen. Still, excited of being in Los Angeles International Airport after so many years, I collected my luggage and started to wander around the terminal, looking for the check-in counter of TACA International Airlines.

For those unaware, TACA is the national airline of El Salvador, and holds a monopoly over Central American airspace, having acquired over the years other smaller Central American airlines. My fascination with airplanes started, when I was a child, with the TACA planes I would see landing and taking off at Comalapa, the international airport in El Salvador. Despite TACA´s bad reputation (poor customer service, luggage getting lost, etc), it was a matter of national pride, at least for me, to enter El Salvador on a TACA flight after my 4 year exile in Australia.

My heart started beating faster when I eventually found the TACA counter at the LAX International terminal. As I expected, there were hundreds of people in the reduced allocated space for the counter and waiting lines, all speaking the natural Spanglish, the blend of Salvadoran Spanish and American English. It was here that I experienced, for the very first time in a long time, a glimpse of my culture and my people.

Many Salvadorans live, legally or illegaly, in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area. It has been the city of choice for Salvadoran migrants who sacrifice everything to follow the American dream. Indeed, there are more Salvadorans in Los Angeles than Santa Ana, the second largest city in El Salvador. No wonder that the Los Angeles - San Salvador - Los Angeles flights are always in high demand.

It was there, waiting in line, that I started to feel at home. My heart continued to beat faster, and my mind was full of thoughts and memories, as I tried to eavesdrop the conversations of fellow Salvadorans around me as they shared with one another news and experiences about our country.

Time was running and I had to get going if I wanted to catch this plane. As I said before, I was feeling quite weary, and in my rush to get into the enourmous queue for security screening, I forgot to empty my water bottle. That was indeed a big mistake, which was brought to my attention by the security officer that had just screened my backpack with the water bottle in it. I ought to have put all liquids inside a clear plastic bag, or just empty the bottle and refill it inside. Ohh well, the price to pay was to step aside and wait a good 10 minutes until the officers had inspected all my hand luggage thoroughly.

Nothing to worry, since I had just enough time to board my plane. If the two previous planes were small, this plane was minuscule, or at least that was the impression I got. I figured out that TACA had increased the number of seats available per plane while keeping the same overall dimensions of the aircraft, reducing the legroom drastically. On top of that, the passengers were carrying way too much hand luggage, which was a problem when 3/4 of the passengers had boarded and all the overhead compartments were full. The crew had to send the remaining hand luggage to the checked luggaged compartment underneath.

At around 1AM Saturday local time we departed LAX, starting to experience glimpses of the Salvadoran ideosincrasy in that small TACA plane. A few more hours to go.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Over the Pacific - Part 3

We departed Hawaii at around 1pm Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time. I was started to feel extremely weary, but as before was unable to sleep for too long. I re-read the book of memories and farewells, again feeling so lucky for the years in Australia. My mind started to drift into my memories of El Salvador. How different would it be? Will I be able to reconnect with my old friends? What sort of job will I be having over there? What about church? Will I forget my English?

The memories of home came rushing into my mind, and the excitement of going back was increasing by the minute, now that we were getting closer. I couldn´t possibly wait to see my beloved country again! Indeed, being an exile in Australia made me rethink my Salvadoran identity. From shame and disrespect, I became proud of my blood, of the Indigenous heritage that is undeniable in me. I was so keen to return to El Salvador and re-embrace a culture I somewhat despised 4 years ago, to cultural places and expressions I was previously ashamed of. As I was journeying across the Pacific, I was looking forward to being home. A different Vernon about to see home through a different perspective.

I was not shocked to see that the sunset was rapidly approaching. I was already used to the idea of travelling against the sun, in this madness where the clocks ticked against logic, and the biological cycles had already crashed long time ago. As the darkness swallowed our plane, the blue Pacific fused with the pitch black sky. The flashing light on the wing was the only reminder of our eastward journey into the void.

A few hours later, an ocean of lights started to appear in the horizon in front of us: an unequivocal sign that we were approaching the huge metropolis of Los Angeles. It was around 9pm Pacific Standard Time when we started to descend into continental American soil. I could see the characteristic square grid of a typical Spanish-founded city, and the city lights that had no end. Here I was again, in LAX, just like many other times in the past. A known territory, a gateway to the Americas, the last petrol station before arriving at our destination.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Over the Pacific - Part 2

The airport at Honolulu was quite small, but it had this special cozy atmosphere that is very hard to describe. The buildings were quite old, but very spacious, allowing a constant flow of the maritime breeze that cooled the tropical heat. In some of the waiting rooms there were random miniature planes hanging from the ceiling, which I found exceedingly interesting.

The other thing that hit me was the amount of Japanese people at the terminal. There were endless gates for the exclusive use of Japan Airlines, and the queues were full of happy Japanese tourists, taking the last pictures, and buying the last few memorabilia left in the stores before they returned to Japan. Quite amusing!

Like a tourist in a foreign land, I got somewhat lost looking for the check-in counter for Hawaiian Airlines. The plan was to check in, and then wander around the area. However, I spent almost half an hour looking for the said counter, and the only signs or information I could get was from airlines other than Hawaiian. I eventually found it, and it turned out that I needed to get going if I wanted to catch the plane. After emptying my water bottle, I passed through security and US Dept of Agriculture checkpoints, and proceeded to my gate, which was a bit far away. Interestingly, the hallway that connects the counters with the gates was not indoors, like any other airport I´ve been too. Rather, it was more like a long terrace, and the tropical heat of Hawaii was not helping when you had to carry a big heavy bag and running against time. In the end I made it on time, half way through boarding. I was dissapointed I did not get to see much of Hawaii at all, but I hope I may return some other time.

As we were boarding, I again noticed the demographics around me. As the previous flight, most of them were young caucasian couples and small families, all of them wearing luau motifs, and lots of shopping bags. The way they spoke suggested that they were mostly Americans, an obvious statment given the route (HNL-LAX). I already started to miss the beautiful Australian accent!

As before, the plane was exactly the same: a bit old and small. The leg room was even worse, but that was because someone was sitting next to me. But in the end, it did not matter too much. As we departed Honolulu, I was glued to the window, admiring the beautiful and pristine beaches below me, as we continued our journey to the US mainland.

Over the Pacific - Part 1

Once I passed Australian Immigration at Sydney International, I knew my time had really arrived. It was barely 7pm, and my flight would leave at around 9pm. Two hours to spare! Since I was going to be sitting down for unending hours, I decided to go for a walk around the International terminal. Most importantly, I wanted to buy something for the trip (to get rid off my last Australian spare coins). As I walked up and down the terminal, I finally saw the plane I was catching: a relatively small plane but with the beautiful livery of Hawaiian Airlines.

At around 8:30pm, I was allowed to enter the waiting room just next to the gate. Just before I had to turn my phone off, I texted as many people as I could, to say the final goodbye. I also had to say goodbye to a good friend of mine, with which I had been texting the whole two hours.

The loudspeakers finally made the boarding call for Hawaiian flight HA452. Destination: Honolulu, Hawaii. As we boarded, I could not help but notice the demographics of my fellow travellers. Most of the passengers consisted of couples, some young, some not too young. Because of their accent, I gather that most of them were Australian. Of course, they were wearing T-shirts and board shorts with Hawaiian or tropical motifs. I was one of the few that were wearing jeans and a heavy piece of hand luggage.

The plane was a bit smaller that expected, rather old and the seats were a bit uncomfortable. But it was fine nonetheless! The seat next to me was empty, so that allowed me to stretch a little bit more. As the plane took off, I was glued to the window, admiring the ocean of lights just below me, the last glimpses of Australia. Even though it was dark, I could still recognise the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House at the distance.

And so, the journey began. 21:30 Australian Eastern Standard Time. I felt a bit tired, but did not want to sleep yet. After reading a couple of pages of "The Plague" by Albert Camus, I decided it was time to open the notebook that my friends signed for me. It was all Dave Walker´s idea: for all of my friends to write on this notebook a memory of them with me, and to say a few words of farewell. As I read it, I was more laughing and smiling at what my crazy friends wrote rather than feeling the incredible pain of leaving. I was sad, yes, but deep within me burnt a gratitude to God for allowing me to spend a precious time in Australia, something that I have already written in this blog weeks ago. In a way, I knew that I had to move on, and so the transition over the Pacific, as I read the notebook and remembered the good times, was not as painful as I thought it was going to be.

Between Sydney and Honolulu there are around 10 hours worth of flying. I managed to sleep just over an hour or two, but not too much. In the meantime, I killed time reading or listening to music. And thinking, of course. Due to the fact that we were flying towards the east (and against the sun), the sun rose way earlier than expected. According to my estimations, at around 10:30am Hawaiian time, after breakfast, the plane descended and approached the Hawaiian isles. As we approached the runway at Honolulu International, the captain was explaining to us the locations, beaches, buildings and roads we were looking through our windows. Even from the plane you could see the pristine beaches, the white sand, the different degrees of blue and green in the water, and so on. It was beautiful!

So we landed at Honolulu Airport, at 11:00 Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time on a Friday morning (it was Saturday morning in Australia). Most of the Australian passengers seemed very excited, and with loud voices were telling their fellow travellers what they were going to do in Honolulu and the rest of the islands. As we disembarked and entered US-American soil, we passed through customs quite quickly (compared to previous experiences in LAX) After picking my checked luggage up and putting it in another carrousel for connecting flights, I decided to explore the International Airport at Honolulu.