By Ashley Mendez
Back to El Salvador
I made my way to the hammock that had all of the colors of the rainbow on it. I laid down on it and saw the branches of the coconut trees dancing back and forth from the breeze that moved west. The cows were mooing and the birds were whistling. I felt lighter than a plastic bag because the weight of my daily responsibilities back home weren’t on my shoulders anymore.
I closed my eyes halfway, and thoughts started to roam through my head. “What are my friends doing? Are they going to Mariela’s quince?” All I wanted to do was catch up with my friends. I was desperate to get Wi-Fi and get on social media. I slowly opened my eyes as I stood up to kill my boredom and explore the rest of the area around my grandma’s house. This was my first time back in El Salvador since I was a kid.
The first thing I saw was a man in a green cap and rainboots who blended right in with the corn crops. He pushed his way out of the compact space and walked toward the wired fence to take a sip of water. It was my uncle Milton who worked in weather that felt like 200 degrees. “How does he do it?” I thought. All I wanted to do all morning was to dive into a bucket of ice and now he was out in the heat with long sleeves on. I guessed that it was to protect his arms from the pesticides and beaming sun.
Balls vs. Bottle Caps
I made my way back to the house and smelled the burnt wood coming from my grandma’s kitchen. Grandma didn’t have a stove so she had to use her resources to prepare meals. “Vente a comer, mija,” she demanded in her soft sweet voice. My grandma was always on time with meals and always served more than we could eat. The fried plantains with sour cream satisfied my hunger and attracted flies to the table. I was waving them away when my grandma said, “Vamos a la tienda.” I immediately went back inside to change. I left the tank top that I had on and changed into shorts.
“Should I wear my sandals or my Jordans?” I thought to myself.
I brought five pairs of shoes with me to El Salvador. With this small portion of my collection in front of me, I felt as if picking the right pair was the most crucial decision ever. After going with my white Jordan 4s, I hopped into the back of my Tio’s red pickup truck on our way to the city.
I held on tightly as the hot wind blew my hair away from my face. I awed at the volcanoes. El Salvador was dipped in green. Tall trees, grass and crops. We passed by the monument of San Vicente. The bells from the church were ringing because the clock reached 12pm.
We drove for about a minute or two before the car made a complete stop. We parked in front of a school where I saw kids playing soccer with plastic water bottle caps during recess.
Their celebrations were the same as mine whenever I scored a goal, even though they didn’t have a real soccer ball. The whistle blew near my ears, leaving me deaf for about a minute till I was able to hear properly again. The kids paused to hear the screechy directions given from the megaphone. They ran inside, like birds in a flock.
My uncle helped my grandma down the truck and said he was going to stay and watch the car. My parents’ old stomping grounds were filled with gang violence so I made sure to turn my head and watch my back every once in awhile.
The Boy Without Shoes
After walking through a long line of vendors selling shampoo, vegetables, and soda in plastic bags, we made a short stop. “Me da una libra de queso por favor,” my grandma said. I looked down at my shoes and noticed a small dirt stain on the midsole. I licked my finger and raised my foot to clean them. Even though I scrubbed the living life out of the shoe, the chocolate colored spot remained.
I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder and saw an underfed six year old who held a transparent bag full of tomatoes.
“Compreme una corra,” he pleaded.
I examined him up and down and noticed that he had no shoes on.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Earlier, I couldn’t even enjoy my time to relax, while this minor skipped school to be able to survive. Earlier, I was cleaning my two hundred dollar shoes when somebody else didn’t even own socks. This couldn’t be true.
I was always too materialistic and had not considered that people had it worse. After seeing my blank stare, he walked away and went about his day. I wanted to help the young boy, but I knew that giving him money wasn’t going to better the situation. I also knew that the slim face I saw could have been me.
I still think about this trip a lot. My grandma, my uncle, the little boy with no shoes. I have become more observant. Recently I saw a mom with a little girl selling strawberries and cherries on the street and was reminded of the struggles my people face. Sometimes I lose my motivation, but then I am reminded that this is why I keep going. I have to take advantage of the opportunities I have and to offer a voice for those who are unheard.
About the Author
My name is Ashley Mendez and I am a junior at Lighthouse Community Charter School. I want to attend a prestigious university like UC Berkeley. I have never published my writing before so this is brand new to me. I hope that my writing encourages you to reflect on your personal life and goals. Sometimes we get so caught up in our daily responsibilities that we forget how to enjoy life. Sometimes we are too concerned over materialistic things that we forget that others lack basic necessities. Follow me on the journey that has allowed me to grow as an individual and be centered on my goal of giving back to others.