Story based on the testimony of Sandra Flores, a returnee.
It is all dark, there is no light, and no space. We lack even air to breathe. There is only a small hole, made with a nail, through which a puff of air can pass. And so we keep moving, so that each one can breathe a little for a few minutes: first my daughter, then my son, and finally me. How many hours have we been in this van? It must be more than six, seven or eight. My children offer me food but I don't want to eat. I'm not hungry, and I don't know when I will want to eat again. It's that my stomach hurts so much, it hurts in there. Fear controls me.
What is happening all of a sudden? These contemptuous glances from the people watching us haunt me still today. I could forget the tiredness, the hours spent in the van, but I could never forget these looks. I am afraid and I want to cry, but I have to be brave, lift my head and answer all the questions:
Where do you come from?
Do you have papers?
Are these your children?
"Don't take them away, please!" I managed to say. "I'm not the smuggler, I'm their mother, my name is Sandra." I must have yelled it many times, because my mouth feels dry right away, and the fear that once controlled my stomach now cuts off my voice. Meanwhile my daughter holds out her hand to me in a desperate act, because she knows that I cannot hold it; I'm already too far. I try to scream, I want my children to stay with me. But the more I plead with the police, the more I see them disappear.
My scream wakes me up in the middle of the night. With my sweaty forehead and my breath still gasping, I manage to get up to go to the bathroom and wipe my face. Luckily my cry has not interrupted the sleep of my children, who rest in their beds. I need to stay there for a while, looking at them and trying to calm down. It has been three years since we traveled to the United States and were returned here, to El Salvador, and yet these memories still feed my nightmares.
I could go to bed again, it's very early, but I prefer to keep myself busy. I prepare breakfast for my children. Miguel is 16 years old, Elizabeth is 10. This is my family: I am their strength and they are mine. The agitation that the nightmare had caused is slowly fading; cooking calms me down, it is my peace and my therapy. I prepare some beans and fried plantain and also something for lunch: some pupusas with sauce. My kitchen already smells of homemade food, and with the smell I am immediately transported to bygone times, when I was just a child and I had fun cooking with my grandmother Leonor, or Noy, as I affectionately called her. She is the one who taught me everything I know, her way of cooking, her touch and her taste revive in me today. She would show me what she was preparing and I would stare at her. Our moments together were happy times, and delicious too.
I have to cook one meal at a time because I don't have many pots or plates. But I am not complaining, it is already a luxury for me to have what I have now. When I came back after my journey, in 2015, I didn't even have a kitchen. The community here, in Guazapa, helped me a lot. I still feel moved when I think about everything they did for me: they brought me food, they let me heat the water at their homes and they always had words of comfort for me. They encouraged me after an experience as hard as the one I had and they never, ever discriminated against me.
It is morning already. My children wake up and the whole house is filled with vitality. I dress quickly to go to work, today I have to clean and iron clothes at a neighbor's house. That's my job, although sometimes I also work as a cook and sell the food I prepare. On my way to work, I pass by the mayor's office and I can't help but notice a big announcement: it seems that they are going to offer training for entrepreneurs as part of a project for returnees. Down there was a list that indicated all the workshops and courses. I sign up for every course, I believe that it could be an opportunity to learn, grow and maybe see my life change, improve. A new encouragement and hope is just what I need.
Months go by and the courses offered by the mayor's office together with the IOM keep me very busy, but also excited. My dream of having a stable business of my own, of being a cook, is no longer so unattainable. A small griddle and a table were all I had before, but today I have the opportunity to invest in my business project thanks to the support of the project for returnees. So I'm going to buy a refrigerator, a griddle, a blender, pots, pans; everything I need to finally start my business.
I'm going to open my activity in a week. My business will also employ another woman, who will help me prepare the dishes. My son Miguel will help us distribute them; he wants to be involved, he tells me "Mom, I want to be an entrepreneur too." I'm glad to see him happy now, after all we've been through just three years ago. At home we don't talk about our misadventure to the north very often, but when we do, my son always repeats that he would never try to migrate irregularly again.
One last detail that I have not mentioned: my business already has a name, it will be called 'Mama Noy’s Kitchen and Pupusería', in honor of my grandmother. Her example has guided me since I was a child and I want to dedicate this great achievement in my life to her. She has cultivated my talents, and the mayor's office and IOM have turned my skills into a job opportunity. Today I am going to sleep peacefully, and if I cannot erase the dramatic memories of the past, then I will have to replace them, in the future, with some new happy memories.