• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates •
I’m writing this just after midnight on a Wednesday; the world, from my San Salvador balcony is quiet.
The world, here, is never quiet.
Situated on a cliff hanging over a valley that stretches out beneath a frantic highway, my apartment sits in the heart of the vibrant Antiguo Cuscatlán neighborhood — a place where at any moment one can hear the call of street vendors selling paletas and pan; the clamant broadcast of church services, those pastors speaking in tongues via mics connected to far-reaching amps; the roar of traffic and the groan of heavy loads in trucks that have been on the road a few years too long; the long-extending parties that thrive in the event center just across the street.
I know now that I’ve become accustomed to it, even as it regularly drives me mad.
I know now, because it’s quiet; so quiet I can hear the crickets. As I write this, I hear every key on my computer clack, singularly and with impact. Even the dogs and the geckos, it seems, are taking a moment of pause.
In San Salvador, like the rest of Planet Earth, we are in an unprecedented moment.
Two weeks ago (has it already been two weeks? has it only been two weeks?), life felt somewhat normal. I was making plans to wrap up video production for my docu-series project here in El Salvador. I had booked a trip to Panama. Then, very suddenly, our borders were closed off, most businesses were shuttered and the airport shut down even to outgoing flights, leaving life in limbo. Soon after that came the 30-day, mandatory in-home quarantine that we currently find ourselves in; a martial law enforced by soldiers that check to see if one has a letter to go retrieve groceries or medicine.
Life, like everywhere, has been halted. Plans freeze. Goals hang in the air. I’ve spent more time than I have in the last ten years, at least, sitting on my couch, doing nothing more than staring into space, momentarily lost. As much time as I’ve passed on this balcony, I’m now passing it differently. In the mornings, I push open this door, the glass glowing, to feel something real and fresh; to breathe in, and breathe out. I try to make out vehicles crossing the overpass, curious what authorization papers they have and where they’re headed. I’ve made multiple efforts to touch the nearest tree, one whose tantalizingly close branches are blooming with minuscule, lace-like flowers. I stand at the railing and look across the expanse, peering toward the aluminum-sided homes on the other side of the cliff and think of how my distant neighbors must be managing.
I’ve tried to make out the graffiti on the distant wall. And pondered the identity of the tower, in the midst of construction, beyond. “Mejoramos cualquier cotización,” reads the giant yellow billboard that hangs over the highway, advertising for a local hardware store. “We will improve any quote.” I guess I’d never taken a moment to read it before.
Life before was busy and loud in a different way.
But the chaos, of this moment, can be deafening. The shouting on TV and social media, opinions and mandates and inter-fighting; the anxious shuffle inside stores, the staccato of emptying shelves; the loudness of soundless statistics, numbers ticking rapidly upward. The ring inside your inner ear when you see the photos; the homeless alone on vacant streets; and here, a new, military society; masks, guns, tanks, fear.
Tomorrow, perhaps, the noise will begin again.
But for now, the clatter inside my head has stopped. And from this balcony in San Salvador, all is quiet.