Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Upside of Rural Community Life

I remember a story my friend, Ana, (who is from El Salvador but now lives in Washington State) told me when we worked together at my university. She told me that what she misses most from where she comes from is that if you are going through hard times, your neighbor is going through hard times, too; and so you worked together or suffered together. But in the neighborhood where she is now, your problems are your own and you have to deal with them yourself even though there are people who are so close by who could help.

I know I have already talked about how wonderful it is to be a part of a small community where you are always welcomed into a home and stop to greet everyone you walk by. But one other benefit that comes from living in a small community, I learned about this last week, is safety. A couple of weeks ago, a woman named Graciela and her husband moved into a house near me because Graciela wanted to be closer to her son and daughter, two well-respected people who live in Nueva Esperanza. One day though, the man went and threatened Graciela’s daughter with a knife because she came from another father. With that, the community united in a way that I wish I could see happen in the states. There’s a select group that is dedicated to the security of the community and when they heard of the event and heard that the man was still in Nueva Esperanza at a pulperia (small store from a house), they called the alert. A bunch of phone calls were made not only to the group but to anyone in the community that might be around the area. The pulperia just happens to be right next to my house so I was coming home and stopped to greet four men waiting in the road in front of the pulperia. One of the men was the brother of the woman that was threatened and I thought he was kidding when he told me they were there to detain the man that threatened his sister. No machetes or other weapons were on hand, just the power of numbers. One by one, men came from all directions, some that were called and some that were just passing by and stayed for the support. The four turned into 30 or more who all just stood and watched the offender, making sure he didn’t disappear before the police came to take him away.

My neighbors came out of their house to watch and one of them told me, “Look, Courtney, you’re seeing what happens when someone brings problems to the community.” And then he joked, “But if this guy pulls out a machete, they’ll all scatter.” I guess this happened again the next day when the man was released the next morning from jail and came back to his house. The people united again and pressured him to leave and go back to where he came from. Since then, he hasn’t been heard of since. Peace restored! In these rural areas, anything that threatens the well-being and safety of the community is thought of as everyone’s business and everyone unites to take care of the problem. So for the woman who was threatened, instead of having to stay in her house everyday trying to avoid this man who had no good motive to threaten her, her fear and troubles were divided among the community and together the problem was taken care of immediately. In the states, I think sometimes we try to keep too many of our worries and problems to ourselves or forget to care about other people’s troubles. But here, my house was literally in the middle of this whole ordeal. The man lived 100 meters from me and threatened the woman two houses down on the other side of my house. But I never felt nervous for my own safety because I knew the community was always watching out for one another and wouldn’t let anything else happen. Not to sound na├»ve and not that I’m going to completely let my guard down, but I truthfully don’t think I have ever been safer.

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