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
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.