Friday, January 23, 2009

At the gates

Our house, like most houses in middle- or upper-class neighborhoods of San Salvador is clearly separated from the street - in our case, by a tall, sturdy and attractive wrought iron fence and gate (topped, as everywhere in the city where there's anything worth stealing, with loops of vicious razor wire). Inside those is our miniscule front yard, and another set of gates (see the photo) leading to the front door. (And just visible inside the gates are the water bottles waiting to be exchanged for new drinking water.)

There's a doorbell at the outer gate, and someone wanting to visit or wanting help rings the door. Today Armando came to visit. He's a friend of Eleanor's from the days when she worked with Jesuit Refugee Services at El Despertar (in the years just before the 1993 peace accords). Armando lives in Bajo Lempa and had come to the city to visit and to ask for help in getting medicine for his seven-year old daughter. While Armando was sharing lunch with us, the door rang again, and it was an ancient man ewith four teeth who had done some gardening for us before a bus accident left him badly injured. He was hoping for una pastilla, a little tylenol for pain, and Eleanor gave him that and a dollar.

So these gates are a place for welcoming visitors, but they are also a stronghold. My key ring now has eight different keys for getting into and out of this house: one for the front gate, one for the front portón, the big gate that opens up for parking, one for the padlock that's put on the inner gate when we are out of town for more than a day, one for the front door deadbolt, one for the front door lock, one for the back door lock, one for the back door padlock, and one for the back portón, where the car is usually parked. Most of these locks need to be double-locked.

There is, of course, a direct connection between the poverty that makes it so hard for most Salvadorans to find the basic necessities of life, let alone health care, and all these gates and locks and guards and razor wire. If there ever came a time when no one needed to knock on our door for help with getting medicine, the razor wire could come down. That day is far off.

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