VIEW: Appreciating all the radishes El Salvador has to offer

Ben Wolford

I guess I just don’t like radishes. The fresh ones I ate in El Salvador were, I think, the first I’ve ever had because the spiciness caught me by surprise. So after the first radish, I didn’t want more.

But I had already dropped three in my chicken soup, next to four semi-attached, unlayed eggs (the chicken’s heart was already in my stomach). I couldn’t put them back, and I couldn’t not eat them.

As the other 12 Americans from the Newman Center were comparing the chicken organs they discovered in their bowls (nothing goes to waste), I was putting on the air of a National Geographic reporter and forcing down the radishes I didn’t like and the eggs that weren’t as bad as I expected.

What a change from one week earlier when I was flirting with high society at a cocktail reception for the inauguration of Congressman Tim Ryan in Washington, D.C. You’d really have to be Carrie Nation not to appreciate the open bar, and the gathering of powerful people was humbling.

But looking back, I’d rather eat developing chicken eggs with Central Americans any day. It’s nothing against Ryan, but people in suits are so boring, so painfully insincere.

People with few possessions have such comforting warmth of character. They’re so genuine. They even seem – and it’s hard to believe – happier.

Granted, not all the El Salvadorians I met over winter break were happy. Especially not the woman who sold us radishes.

The day I met her was a little more than four years from the day her husband killed himself with poison, leaving her with no money, no income and eight children. Two children still live there; the other six are drunks and thieves.

The woman sustains herself by selling radishes in the town and growing corn and mangos for food. I felt obligated to finish my radishes, the source of her being.

But what was it that kept this woman from joining her husband, whose picture still hung next to Jesus’ on the wall in her stone house? I have a feeling it has to do with her sense of belonging to her community.

As we toured shacks and gave clothes to the poorest families of each village, I noticed an absence of shame among the people. Once, after Mass, the priest read a list of names aloud to the congregation and told them to stay after to receive some provisions we brought for them. To be in need isn’t a big deal there.

But here in the land of cocktail parties, poverty is a private matter. How embarrassing to admit you can’t support yourself or your family. It’s an American notion that everyone can improve his or her position with application, a pulling of the bootstraps.

And the notion has created a rift. American individualism has eliminated any hope of fraternity across income classes. And even in housing developments, community is a meaningless word.

There’s a Spanish word, “convivir,” which literally translates to “co-live.” But it’s better translated to something like, “to share life.” We don’t have a word for it.

Unless this recession gets very bad, and the possibility of going to bed hungry becomes real, we never will have a word for it. And that’s too bad.

Clean water and paved roads are great, but poisonous water and potholes somehow make you feel more human and force you to recognize the humanity around you.

As soon as I can, I’m going back to El Salvador, where convivir is a word and where human bonds are stronger.

Ben Wolford is a sophomore newspaper journalism major and campus editor for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].