SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- An old frail women with a large bowl of mangos being transported on her head walked up to me as I sat on the streets of Suchitoto.
“My vision is strong,” she told me as she reached for the baby who was sitting in my arms.
I did not move to hand Petra over, the old woman appeared to be more sinew than muscle, flaps of skin doubled up over her grizzled arms. But she was insistent — she said that she needed to hold my baby because her vision was strong. She spoke through a mouth devoid of teeth, she kept saying that she needed to hold the baby.
I did not hand my daughter over. Chaya finally ended the standoff by removing Petra from my arms and handing her over to the old woman.
The old woman smiled as she bounced the baby for a few moments before handing her back.
We thought little of the encounter.
“That woman was telling you that she had the evil eye,” my wife’s cousin explained to me later in the day. He had observed the old woman wanting to hold Petra, he understood what was going on. “Some people here say that their vision is strong to mean that they have the evil eye. Sometimes their vision is so strong that they feel as if they can give the evil eye inadvertently. So the woman wanted to hold the baby as that would cancel out the effect.”
Apparently, if the evil eye is passed on to a baby inadvertently, it can be remedied by holding the baby. The old woman apparently had looked at Petra and feared that she may have accidentally passed on the evil eye to her, so she wanted to hold her in her arms to make sure that this did not happen.
Children and especially babies are apparently extremely susceptible to receiving the evil eye. In cultures where the evil eye is feared many mothers will try to prevent strangers from looking at their children.
Chaya’s grandmother use to spit two times over her shoulder if a stranger gazed directly at her baby sister.
The evil eye is a part of many cultures of the world. From Central America to Eastern Europe, Turkey, and the Middle East, little evil eye beads are sold for protection. Chaya made sure that Petra had one of these beads before leaving the USA. On Petra’s wrist is an orange bracelet with a large grey stone, it is to ward off the evil eye.
Two days ago Petra broke out in red spots, she acted cranky. The spots appeared to be heat rash mixed with insect bites. She looked a little beat up. We got some heat rash cream from a pharmacy, and took added measure to prevent mosquitoes from biting her.
Last night Petra broke out with a bad fever. Chaya was out walking with her and stopped to talk with a group of women friends who also have babies. Chaya felt Petra and she was extremely warm, she asked the other women what they thought. They touched her forehead.
“Maybe someone gave her the evil eye,” one of the women concluded. “She is so pretty that many people look at her.”
The woman was serious. Fevers are thought to be caused by the evil eye in El Salvador. The idea that people with strong vision can advertently or inadvertently pass on inauspicious occurrences to other people by looking at them is a very ingrained belief in this region of the world. If a baby becomes sick, the evil eye is said to be the cause.
Culture runs deep, people will often believe for the rest of their lives the lessons they are taught as a child. It is difficult to shake the world view of your upbringing — many people try, but most end up returning to the source of knowledge they sprung from. In El Salvador — in much of the world — the evil eye is a part of the culture, and this belief holds ground against any barrage of science, medicine, or learning. As does many aspects of a person’s initial aculturation.