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The Lady on Stilts

January 31, 2016

Stepping off the plane in San Salvador was an assault on the senses, a wet blanket of heat wrapped itself around me, amplifying the smells of street food and clamoring crowds.  A woman dressed in a brightly colored dress towered over me, balancing on stilts under her dress. She bent over and handed me a brochure welcoming me to El Salvador.  This gorgeous woman on stilts greeting me became the image that would serve to describe my experience in this country.

El Salvador is an emerald glittering between the azure Caribbean and the turbid Pacific Ocean.  World class surfing beaches and historic Mayan ruins are huge draws to the country’s budding tourism industry.  Since the collapse of the worldwide indigo market, El Salvador has turned to tourism to fill the gaps in its economy.  Yet much like the Stilted Lady, the beauty is built upon an artificial pedestal.  At the mega-mall in San Salvador tourists dine on familiar chains, while just a few feet away the shanty towns of corrugated tin house many of the city’s underprivileged.  High end jewelry and electronics stores are watched by shotgun wielding guards.  There is an sense of apprehension about the country, as if a fearsome monster is lurking just behind the grumbling volcano. Like the Stilted Lady, the gaunt skeletons of huts and hovels are whitewashed with brightly colored paints; bible verses and political slogans belying  the darkness within their walls.

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