24 January 2006

Companeros - Day 5

I waited too long to write this day down. I don’t have much in the way of detail. I do know that we visited a number of the Pastoral Team members’ homes and the women’s prison. We also heard that Shafik Handal (FMLN presidential candidate during the last election) had died. At first, Bob thought he’d been killed and was really nervous about those of us who were out wandering around town but then we found that he’d died of a heart attack, not been assassinated, which changed things completely.

Ever since I’d arrived, I’d been asking around, trying to find someone who knew how to make the nylon bracelets I always buy when I’m there. Blanca was my best bet but she didn’t know. She wanted to, though. When we were at the prison looking at all the crochet and embroidery that the women there do, it occurred to me that maybe one of them would know how to make the bracelets. I discussed it with Milagro, because I didn’t want to ask if there wouldn’t be any time to do anything about it or if she thought it wasn’t a good idea for any reason. She said it was ok so I talked to Walter and explained to him what I was after. He got everyone’s attention then held up my braceleted wrist to ask if anyone knew how to make them. Quite a few of the women shouted out, “Sonia!!” so Sonia came forward to check it out and we discussed it as I took off the bracelet so she could get a better look at how it was made. She said she hadn’t actually made one like it but thought she could figure it out. So then I went back to Milagro to try to figure out when I could have Sonia teach me. Milagro went to talk to the prison director then came back with the word that we could do it right then (and only then) on the conditions that 1) I stay alone (the rest of the delegation, the Pastoral Team and Walter all leave), 2) I get a maximum of one hour, and 3) I’m on my own, responsibility-wise. I asked Milagro if she thought all that was ok and she reassured me that it was. So everyone left and I stayed in communal area with all the prisoners while Sonia and another woman named Jaclin and I worked with the threads.

I had a few moments of nerves as I watched everyone else leave and I was left alone with the women in the concrete and iron-bar “yard.” One or two of them didn’t look more than 14. One very quiet and slight girl looked more like she should be walking a middle-school hallway, hugging a notebook to her chest with a cascade of hair hiding her face and trying not to be noticed. The rest were probably in their late teens or early 20s. The majority of them had gang tattoos…from the more subtle trio of tiny dots between the eyebrows or a tiny black teardrop at the outer corner of one eye to a blocky “18” covering the whole chin or “Eighteen” (yes, in English) flowing in big, fancy script all the way across the upper chest or covering the arms. Except for the “18” gang tattoos and what they mean, they mostly looked like regular young women in regular clothes and makeup who should be working in a shop or going to school or doing almost anything other than time in prison.

There were just a couple of them that looked like really tough characters…burly, cold, hard and old beyond their years. Sonia was one of these.

She was a barrel of a woman…not quite my height, maybe 5’-6” or 5’-7” but stocky. She had a blue and white stocking cap pulled down to just below her eyebrows and covering all her hair, the turned-up cuff spelling out ‘EIGHTEEN’ in blocky capitals circling the hat. Her eyes were shaded and hiding in a closed-off face that didn’t look like it smiled much.

I introduced myself and helped her prepare the lengths of thread she wanted to start working on the bracelet. My vocabulary in Spanish was pretty pitiful for discussing the task at hand, but luckily it was easy to use the “demonstrate and practice” technique. Sonia got it going after a few false starts and re-dos then turned the threads over to me to repeat what she’d just done. We’d gotten successfully through one section and were puzzling over how to make the turn for the next section when a guard came to tell me time was up. I told Sonia I’d be back the next day with more thread for her, said goodbye, walked out of the prison and back to the Casa.

At the Casa, I discovered that the rest of the group hadn’t done the hike to La Cruz…a large cross that is perched on the peak above town. They’d spent the time relaxing or walking around town as they chose. I had a shower before supper and then we started our evening.

After supper, Randy and I spent a LOT of time on Bob’s PC. I gave up in the evening sometime to leave him to it and came back to the house where the rest of the gang was laughing like crazy people in the dining room. I sat down and joined the “strange pet/animal tales” conversation that ranged from the merely odd (a ‘family plot’ of pet cremains kept in the dining room china hutch) to the strange (bats flying in through the doggie door flap) to downright bizarre (unless everyone poses the kids with their dead pet rat for a photo before storing it in the freezer) and back again…all of which, in the time-honored tradition of “location jokes” (i.e. “You had to be there.”), just don’t carry on paper. We were all laughing and giggling to the point that we had tears streaming down our faces. About the time we’d think the Pastoral Team in the next room must think we’re completely insane, we’d try to stifle it down a bit. This, of course, only made us laugh all the harder.Randy missed out on pretty much all of the hilarity. He kept plugging away on Bob’s PC. And for the rest of the trip, whenever one of us would say something about “frozen rat” or something “on a stick” and then start giggling, he couldn’t do anything but look at us as if were a bit “tetched” in the head.