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Published: April 23rd 2008
(courtesy of fellow volunteer Jillian Baker)
It is easy to talk about the first performances of this year in quantitative terms. The youth from Nueva Esperanza performed their play "Juntos podemos" (from a quote from the community--"Juntos podemos, pero solo no podemos nada": Together we can, but alone we can´t at all) on the night of March 28th. The play "Que no se vuelva a repetir!" was presented the morning of March 29th for an audience of representatives from the Committee of Victims, people from various organizations around the country and Central America that are working on re-constructing historic memory. The jóvenes from Ciudad Romero performed their play "Mi Gente Sufrió la Guerra" (My people suffered the war) in the afternoon of March 29th in the newly built community center/flood shelter.
The details that aren´t included in these facts are: the electricity was down the night that Nueva Esperanza performed their play illuminated by two floodlights--and in between acts of a professional Mariachi singer, who sucessfully stared off a pack of fighting stray dogs on the "stage" of the basketball court with his shiny white shoes. The next day, Javier (one of the participants) gave his first public speech to announce the performance of the play
The one picture I have of Nueva Esperanza´s performance
...the two flood lamps didn´t really provide that much light...
a second time. When I was facilitating a question-and-answer session after "Que no se vuelva a repetir!" I could not control myself from shedding tears, waved away by the wind at the top of the hill where victims of the massacre are buried beneath a mural and a sculptured dove. For the majority of the youth of Ciudad Romero, it was their first play, and they carried it off in front of about 100 members of the community who had themselves lived the stories that the teenagers were re-enacting onstage.
After realizing the insane goal of performing three plays in three different communities in two days, I felt raw, subdued, and alert, welcoming anything. That same Saturday night was the celebration of the 27th anniversary of Ciudad Romero, complete with live cumbia music, dancing, fried food and ice cream, shooting galleries, and a ferris wheel. I walked around in a daze, remembering the other times I had been at community gatherings and felt isolated, preferring to glue myself to a shred of an aquaintance I might have had. But this time was different. I couldn´t help but bounce around from group to group to express my congratulations and respect
"Declaramos que tenemos una voz...y vamos a usarla!"
We declare that we have a voice...and we´re going to use it!
to the teens and community members that gathered around watching the ferris wheel--most of the participants in all three theatre groups were there, and I hugged each one, savoring the moment of pride and release, usually accompanied by giggles and laughter.
Nelson, one of the kids in the Nueva Esperanza group, cordially invited me to a turn on the ferris wheel, and I invited Dora, in the La Quesera Group, to join us. This Salvadoran ferris wheel (or "Rueda") was completely different than its American cousin (I´m not even sure if they´re related). The rickety, primary colored beast spun at an ungodly rate, accompanied by the murmur and then the overwhelming puttering explosion of a diesel engine, as well as the screams of its victims. I looked up in what I would politely call "apprehension" but which was something probably closer to horror.
Nelson stood stolidly by us, with a mischeivious smile. He paid for all of us and settled his heavy body decisively in the middle of us, the two ladies. As the Rueda started to move, the man who was perching in the shuddering contraption that controlled the Thing decided to say some words to me
in English, which didn´t help to settle my nerves as I noticed he managed the Rueda in the same way one might drive an enormous tractor or Caterpillar. We climbed higher, and I clutched onto Nelson, who put his arms around his two chicas in wordless smiling satisfaction, and I felt the first bout of terror as we descended and whirled up again faster and faster and I screamed. I decided that my ride on this Wheel was probably scarier than the time I went skydiving and jumped out of a plane at 18,000 feet. Somehow, it seemed more real.
However, with Nelson´s silent reassuredness and Dora´s laughing and constant stream of excited commentary, my screams and tensed body eventually relaxed to laughter and a sense near to peaceful euphoria. I looked down at the scattered styrofoam plates and scavenging dogs, the flourescent booths, the fresh sound of live cumbia minor chords rattling with accordion, and the gathered groups of conversing people whose faces and personalities I suddenly recognized and respected, and saw Roberto and Addiel giddily taking pictures of my fright. With my two companions, and a sense of acheivement and support, I felt on top of the
I only thought about how that ride could be compared to the journey of putting together a community-based play later. Although the final product may not be perfect, and the process sometimes overwhelming (although probably not as terrifying!), eventually we realize that what makes the "ride" so exhilirating is the profound sense of trust and relationships, and a closer understanding of the community around us. And then we´re crazy enough to get back on "the wheel" and do it all over again!
Afterwards, I was sweating profusely in the compact heat inside the red and white casa comunal, after convincing (at the prodding of the youth) Nohé to allow the theatre partipants into the dance for free, in return for their services to their communities that day. We shuffled to cumbia, waltzed to ranchera, bumped to reggaeton, and in the early morning the youth jumped on to a mix of popular latin american rock and punk songs. As I watched their glistening, smiling faces shout out the words enthusiastically (I had by that time sat out, panting with exhaustion), I thought that there was no other group of people I´d rather have worked with. These adolescents and
teenagers, with their awkwardness and their surprising strength, their giggles and their beliefs, their sometimes shy and sometimes extravagant dreams, are some of the most inspiring human beings I have ever encountered.
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