Thursday, October 23, 2008

Murder, Prison, Masked Guys with Baseball Bats

Pic1: Murder in Soyapango

I promise, the next post, I will have some happy images and stories. I promise. There really is a lot of beauty and wonder in El Salvador. I love the people, and pretty much everything about the country. But when I want information, I don’t want to see what's obvious. I want to see what's under the surface.

Today our tour of El Salvador takes us through a couple of exotic locals. The first was a murder in Soyapango. There was another fairly spectacular murder(s) a couple of days ago, but I don't have the pictures for that handy. Trust me, you're lucky. It's easy enough to describe, however, but instead, I prefer a riddle similar to that the goddess Hera asked of Oedipus (who solved it):
"Which creature in the morning goes on four feet, at noon on two, and in the evening upon three? "
Well, the answer to this classic riddle is "man". There is an El Salvadoran version, however:
"What in the morning walks on two feet, at noon doesn't walk at all, and then in the evening, uh, is missing an appendage?"
The answer to that, of course, is "a woman decapitated by a gang". The other morning, they found a bag containing a body in the city, without the head. Then, a few blocks away, they found a head in another bag. But here's the kicker: they don't match! They're from different bodies. Oops. Still no word on either one.
Anyway, I continue to document my personal problem with parents bringing their kids to murder scenes, like this one in Soyapango. This woman was shot in front of a school in the middle of the day.

Pic2: Josie, Mariona Prison
This was in Mariona prison, locally known as "Miami", at some total bullshit event for the press to show they care about the inmates. Anyway, this inmate, "Josie", wanted to show me his tattoos. He also has three teardrops on his face (he's killed three people, at least). When I asked him about his face tattoos and what they meant, he smiled at me and said "I've been bad". They provided water and refreshments for the press, and many of the inmates asked me for a bag of water (in El Salvador, water is often sold in 500ml sealed bags). They said the water in the prison is very contaminated, and they couldn’t remember what fresh water tasted like. After really seeing the inside of the prison, I am very confident I will never, ever, break the law again.

Pic3: Inmate, Mariona Prison
Here's another inmate at Mariona behind an isolation door.

Pic4: Street Vendor at Protest, San Salvador
Yes, the vendedores are up to their old tricks, and they aren't happy. This time, the city municipal police (CAM), tore down their stalls in the middle of the night in front of the Maternity Hospital. Now, I'm going to be honest here: the press was really, really looking forward to the vendors mixing it up with the police. Things have been boring here (relatively speaking, of course) since the last time they tore things up in El Centro, and nothing makes the news like an old fashioned riot. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and things were calm.

Pic5: Street Vendors destroying police barricades
Well, things weren't totally calm. The police had set up barriers to prevent the vendors from protesting; these barriers were against the law, and city workers helped the vendors destroy them. They burned a few tires afterward, but no one was hurt, and nothing much happened. The city has been pushing hard, however, to clear the vendors out of certain parts of the city, and the vendors are steadily losing patience.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Losing Your Mind In Mejicanos, or: "And I thought my day was bad..."

One great thing about running around El Salvador and taking photos is that, no matter how bad your day is, or how bad your mood, you're bound to see something so colossally fucked up that it makes your situation pale in comparison.

Today was such a day.

Let's dive right in!

Yes, yes, I know, and so does everyone: presidential candidate Rodrigo Avila announced his vice presidential running mate today, blah blah blah, that's all over the news. Here are some things that weren't in the news.
1. (photo above) This was a homicide in Mejicanos, one of the more crime ridden areas of El Salvador. It was, to say the least, weird and gruesome. Yes, the man is naked, yes, that is his entire brain laying by his right knee, yes, there were no witnesses. This did not make the news. And a special shout out to officer Garcia who offered to let us into the crime scene to view the brain. As they say here: Gracias!

2. These photos were part of a story about the rains here, which have been intense. Baby Isaeil, a little over 1 years old, is sitting on the construction waste "donated" (read: dumped) on this poor community so they can rummage through the waste to recycle metal at 13cents a pound. How gracious. His mom, age 14 and not pictured, was laboring below Isaeil looking for the aforementioned metal. The Greek historian Thucydides wrote, in his History of the Pelopennesian War, "the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they have to". 

3. Here a little girl is crossing the river that has sprung up in her front yard from the heavy rains.

4. This woman, Elizabeth Mata, was explaining to me how she lived in San Miguel, but got kicked out of her house after she couldn't pay rent, and now lives in a house of cardboard, bamboo, and plastic bags on the outskirts of San Salvador. I could prattle on about the total and complete lack of social safety net here, but that would be redundant, yeah?

5. This is a sex worker, Reina, who works in a red light district in San Salvador. She told us she has three kids, and works here a few days a week, where she earns about 50$ a day. She was working in the rain, near a sight we were at that was suspected of flooding. It never did flood, but I can't say how lucky Reina felt for it.

So, as you can see, no matter how bad things are, they could always be worse. I think the Irish first said that. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dying For Lack Of Care

A few days ago, I was at the main children's hospital in El Salvador, Benjamin Bloom Children's Hospital, taking another few hundred pictures of sick children that the paper would not print, even though I was on assignment.
After I was finished, some women approached and asked for my help. It turns out that there are a number of children in the hospital who have had intestinal resection surgery, i.e., a large part of their intestines were cut out.

Here are three of the children.

The scars on Daniel's chest are from infections from the IV that he must constantly wear.

The hospital cannot provide even near full time care, even though the children are all under 1 year old, so the mothers have to stay in the hospital. And, of course, the mother's can't work, and………big surprise………. the husbands are out of the picture. The hospital is also threatening to cut off more essential care, i.e., pretty much everything. The children cannot eat solid food, and total liquid nutrition costs a great deal. The hospital has said that only 1 child of these three are eligible for surgery, and unless someone ponies up $300,000 even he won't get the transplant. The likelihood that these three children will live throughout the year, without additional care, is very low. This is why the women approached me, to help get attention for their children's cases.

The bag hanging in this photo contains the liquid total nutrition that she will be fed (by tube, directly into her stomach), for the rest of her life, if she does not receive help. In the background is a bible her mother preys from.

I see the daily headlines here have just come out, and they are all about the ex-president of Guatemala (Alfonso Portillo) being extradited from Mexico back to Guatemala on corruption charges. He embezzled around 16 million dollars (that they know of). There was also some news about Amy Winehouse and drugs, and some cops that were arrested today for helping drug smugglers.
So because of more corruption in Guatemala, some fucked up English singer's drug problem, and dirty cops, these kids have been relegated to the backwaters of the news today.