How Violence Can Become Normal

As I walked to the weekly children’s class I started to ponder to notice the small details the surround the slums. The entranceway to the slums is riddled normal enough, but it starts with a dirt road. There are no paved floors here, or pavements or even running water. The grey water curves through the slums stinking up the air with stale detergent and rancid water. The houses are like tin cans, completely made of metal walls tiny little cupboards one on top of the other. Here they live , one hundred and fifty people in squalor and poverty.

They are given the option to live in apartments but they would have to pay forty bucks a month something they say they cannot afford. Most of the people here do not have jobs, and it’s a microcoosm within the city,  a slum unnoticed by most of us who live here. They are separate, other.

The kids have lighter blonde hair because of malnutrition and walk around with blackened soles on their feet. Does anyone really know when they are poor? These children do not seem to be unhappy with how they live, they don’t know any other way. It is normal for them

What indeed should be the accept concept of what constitutes normalcy in someone’s life?Image

A couple years ago in Madrid I was walking with my salvadorean friend in the mall. All of a sudden a loud noise went off that could have been mistaken for a bomb. Everyone cried and scurried off like ants desperate to get away, some were shaking and crying others ducked under pressure. But us? We didn’t even look twice , we shrugged and kept walking because we knew the real sound of a bomb and we knew that wasn’t it. IN some ways, I don’t even know if we would have reacted shocked if it was a bomb. It would be almost normal for us.

A couple of weeks ago he brought that moment up and asked if somehow what we live through shape our experiences or recollections of the world. I believe it does. The way I see violence, from someone who has seen it firsthand is much different from someone who never has.  The same might go for poverty, it’s only normal if you have lived through it.

After the war in El Salvador, a whole generation has grown up without the sound of bombs. But in other ways, the violence is more prevalent here like rancid wildflowers blooming on every corner. During the war , there was a type of organized chaos to the violence. You knew what time the bombs went off, and where they were. You knew not to stand in tall grass were homemade bombs were. And yet, it was safer than it is now.

Now the gangs fester on the surface, are everywhere and nowhere. You learn to live with fear, to keep your head down and not look at people in the eye on the streets. It’s normal not to walk at night, to see graffiti as a tattoo of violence and marking territory. Your walls in your houses are lined with barbed wires, your streets riddled with guards with huge menacing guns.  And yet, and yet…. we want to see this as normal. We make ourselves believe that everyone goes through this.

The streets are always riddled with car accidents, because we think this is normal the way we drive in the city.  We want to become more than the violence, more than the stereotype the world has painted on us. Yet we are riddled with paranoia, we are stifled by our own news feeds.  The rich put up walls and the poor pay extortion fees to the gangs. And they are allowed to bloom everywhere, their initials like black tarantulas on the walls.

And because we think of this as normal, we continue on with our lives like this. It is only when we leave that we truly realize how dangerous things are. I remember walking at mdinight in London when it hit me : I can walk here at midnight and it it’s o.k. Sure there is always some level of danger, but there is a way for you to not look from the back of your eye at any possible intruder lurking in dark corners.

That’s the thing about living with violence, you are constantly aware alert on your surroundings. You know what might make you a target : Your white skin, the shirt you wear, the telephone you carry. It can come at any moment anywhere.

And yet… I have never been held at gunpoint. My brother has, who fits in better than I do. I have had scarier things happen to me in Madrid at 4 in the morning when some crazy idiot decided to follow me and stalk me. Yet why do I feel much more unsafe here ? Is it because Iit has drilled on me to be constantly tasting fear? Is it because it is more tangible, as the constant threat of violence has held us captive for so long?
And that ‘s the thing : Violence becomes normal. Human beings are amazing adaptable to anything that comes our way, especially if we have experienced it as children. Being rich or poor can become normal.  Living in the suburbs can become normal. Living with millions of people in  a crowded city can become normal. What we don’t realize is that nothing we live through is normal, because that word is such a cop out a quintessential quirk of our daily existence to try to shelve our lives into something we can cope with or understand. But nothing really is ” right” or ” normal”. For every child that lives in wealth there are billions that live in poverty.

For some reason, God placed us on this earth for a reason, and that’s what we have in common. We all love. We all fear. We all hate . We all cry. That’s what normal really is about.

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The concept of opportunity and love

Approximately five minutes away from my house stands a gate of corroded metal which encases metal shacks where presumably people live. I know this because I pass by it everyday , and it stands out like a sore thumb a stark reminder of the poverty that lies beneath the surface.

But ultimately, I chose to walk by. You grow used to do this here. You would go crazy if you don’t. You grow used to seeing but not seeing, of keeping your eyes straight ahead when you walk, in swallowing your fear because if you do if you stop you might be in danger. You might fall back and see something you might not like.  Poverty is evident here, like a large scar but you go through life trying to not see it. It’s a leftover from my preppy school upbringing.  It’s probably what others do when they go on the trains in europe and ignore the romanian woman placing requests for donations . You just can’t humanize it. That’s what people tell themselves… and I guess it’s a coping mechanism because if we really let ourselves feel for them how could we go back ?

At least that’s what you tell yourself. But on Saturday morning, I went into that metal gate, inside a slum that I would have otherwise ignored. I didn’t know the way in so a boy offered to walk with me to go inside.  Inside the shacks were stacked one across the other, nothing I hadn’t seen before but never in such close proximity. The dusty floor, the tiny boxed surfaces of housing which would only be one room otherwise.

And there I stood in quiet contemplation wondering how all of this could exist right beside me, how this life was so different from my own.  They had been there since the war and probably longer, refugees given asylum but essentially were left to a fate of getting used to a land that at any point could be taken from them. Most of the 150 people there did not work, and they were at the moment trying to get them to move away to an apartment complex and convince them to pay forty dollars a month for rent. 

I wonder about this. And one told me how he had once went to the United States, of walking for days and going by bus from mexico and crossing a river to get to the united states. Of living in constant fear of being discovered of the exorbitant costs of rent. And ultimately his deportation back to this area. But he is hopeful, and proud and wants to change the community he cares about. He works with the group who wants to offer an education and give junior youth and children class . 

And I hope these kids are offered a choice, and ability to educate and empower this community. Because a lot of times, people get caught up in making the american dream that they forget on the people they leave behind.

My housekeeper left to Texas after nine years doing paperwork. She is the first of her family going on plane. She hasn’t seen her husband for nine years. Will it be the same? How is she coping when she doesn’t know how to use a microwave ? I wonder about her, and the two boys she is forced to leave behind.

So many broken families separated for years, so many people never looking back and only returning with strong american accents and pinched noses eager to leave just as soon as they can.  And I, the girl who has no real blood ties and two shiny passports in her pocket feel a lingering guilt and sadness over it.

I can’t know that life. Just as others in the united states won’t know what it’s like to live without water for days on end or not have electricity.  I never lived somewhere with dirt floors on my feet, and I never didn’t have a choice. Yet, somehow I am in a situation where my life could be far better. The writing projects I have been getting are erratic, my friends and social life are sparse in between. Yet,it struck me on saturday what a luxury that I have that choice. That I don’t have to worry about water sources, That my future was never limited purely based on money.  These kids, they just came up to me and hugged me. They didn’t know me . They just wanted to be noticed and loved. 

And that is probably something we have to remember. Love is wealth. It really is. We go out of our way to pursue material things, and measure happiness in what we have and be miserable with what we don’t …. yet if we love  and we give love is it not a sign that we are wealthy?

Sometimes we have to lose a lot to know of the opportunities that are still out there. Hope filters through ashes, and sometimes it’s hard to find.  Here’s to better things…

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