17 April 2006

On Distant Shores


ARCO El ESPINO--Somewhere, far to the south, the Pacific crashes ashore onto black sands. Underneath long roofs of thatch supported by lashed poles old men lie in rows of hammocks and stare out to sea. On the beach your feet sink into the fine sand, driven deeper each time the surf recedes and after so much time spent on the other side of the isthmus absorbing the rhythms of the Carribean, bewitched by its crystalline depths, you have forgotten the majesty and power of the far Pacific. Having looked east and imagined Utila, Jamaica, Cuba and Hispaniola you have forgotten how it is to look west and think that those waves contain Hawaii, Rapa Nui, Fatu Hiva, The Solomons, Malekula, Australia, Japan...
Here on the coast of El Salvador the mountains descend almost to the sea. There are brief flats with their houses and salt-water mangrove swamps, a line of palms and then black sand and surf. The setting sun explodes the sky into fractured lines of pink and orange which fade to blues and black until suddenly the palms are silloueted against a spray of stars.
As the sun set the children gathered. Several approached and, to my surprise, wrapped their arms around me and gently hugged the tall blonde stranger. This night is a party for them, an after-work-event for these three to thirteen-year-olds. They are a major part of the local economy, these curileros as they are called. In the morning small boats and canoes take them out into the mangroves where they claim small plots of root-twined mud to dig for clams. They cover their copper-colored skins with the black mud and learn to smoke to keep the mosqitoes at bay. For each five clams they dig they are paid 25 cents and if they dig enough sometimes they can go to school.
But tonight they are children not mud-encrusted hunters crawling through malarial swamps. They play soccar in the dust and jump rope and politely line up for care packages. When the sun's light is completely gone we go down to the beach's edge and fireworks are sent aloft. Some burst on the ground sending fire and sparks onto the spectators, others go askew and burst right overhead and some do become spectacular lights in the sky. No one knows whether to hold hands, ooh and ahh or dive for cover but somehow no one is seriously damaged.
When the explosions stop the crash of the Pacific waves almost drowns out the merengue played on worn old speakers, mutes the children's cries and on the wind there is the faintest hint of far off shores.

3 Comments:

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5:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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5:39 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Hi Andrew, Thanks for the look at another world. The children in words and photos are beautiful and look joyous. Where did the kids care packages come from? Keep on writing and photographing and experiencing.

6:16 PM  

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