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War Doodle

I’ve lived in an unstable country. I was nine years old. My father was a pastor of an English speaking church for expatriates in San Salvador, El Salvador. It was not a very stable country to begin with. There was an imitation Burger King we went to once that some guerilla blew up with a car bomb. To be fair there were really no good guys, the El Salvadorian government fighting these guerillas would kidnap, kill and torture dissidents and even sympathetic clergy and intellectuals. But once the Soviet backed guerillas saw the Berlin wall fall they knew their funding was going to dry up soon so this was their last chance to try to take the capital.

We lived in a walled complex that included the church my father pastored, a gift shop, and a parsonage we lived in. The day of the first night of the offensive we had been warned by a church member high up in the military to stay home and cancel all church activities. We were nervous. I was playing a space invaders clone on a Commodore 64 with a green monitor. Then the shooting started. At first it was far away but as the night drew on it got closer. You are probably familiar with how you have to go to a certain part of the house in the event of a tornado. It’s similar for a war and the place furthest away from stray bullets was the hallway that ran through the center of the house. Our family dragged our mattresses out to the hall way and tried to sleep there. We kids were told that we were Americans and guerillas wouldn’t dare kill us because of the repercussions for their movement (as Americans funded the El Salvadorian government). This argument doesn’t make any sense to me now but I accepted it then and kept me from being as scared as I probably should have been.

My drawing book changed from surfers and T&C Surf designs to more serious imagery very quickly.

Our church had a large window facing a mountain (I think it was a dormant volcano) where the guerillas were holed up. You couldn’t really see the fighting but you could see flares that would go up sometime

 

November 16, 1989 (lines in pencil)

Guns went off Saturday night. From then on we’ve been sleeping in the hall.
We got a color TV.
Nobody can go on the street from 6pm to 6am

Yeah we were under marshal law. From the start of the war until we left only one parent at a time would leave the compound we lived in. That was because having them both killed would be a lot worse than just one of them. The seemingly innocuous line “we got a color TV” is darker than it sounds because we got that TV because the guy we knew was killed by a stray shell while closing the gate to his compound. It was either his or his friend’s (who left the country quickly) TV.

November 18, 1989

It’s a little eerie the seemingly trivial statements in colorful marker like “I like Monopoly” interspersed with bits about the war zone all around us. But I was nine and probably on the autistic spectrum so was immature for my age. But the statements remind us all that even in a war zone the seemingly trivial things of life go on. It was also amazing that the power stayed on most of the time (I have always slept with a fan and was particularly overjoyed about it during that period of my journal). Running water also continued to work though it was never safe to drink.

Nov 20, 1989

I got a radio clock and guns went off again. By now some nights we would sleep in our rooms and then move to the hall way if the gunfire got bad. Also our new color TV worked great with our Commodore 64 so we’d the kid’s favorite video game, California Games.

November 22. 1989 (in pencil)

Guns went off a lot Tuesday.
I saw a flare!
We went in the gift shop Tuesday
We’re moving
We took today off.

The day before this entry was perhaps the scariest part of the whole experience of instability. We lived less than a mile away from the presidential palace which was often under attack. Someone was launching mortars. We all lined up and then went down to the gift shop which had the most reinforced concrete over it. For some reason I remember watching cartoons there, but I don’t know if this is a false memory.

Another drawing from the time, not sure if it’s supposed to be a bullet or not.

This is from the drawing book after we moved to Costa Rica. It shows the dates when there was the most fighting.

This is the passport stamp of our leaving El Salvador.  We got out of there to our grandparent’s house in Costa Rica as soon as the airport opened though my dad stayed another 3 weeks.

We were lucky that we were American citizens and had relatives in Costa Rica which was a lot easier to fly to then the U.S.