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No Secrets in Central America

SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- There are no secrets in Central America, the communities are too closely knit for this. If the white baby in town goes to the hospital, everybody knows about it.

“How is your baby?” the girl at the liquor store asked with intention as I tried to buy a beer to wash down the day.

“She is a little sick,” I answered.

“Is it because of the red bites that are on her arms?” she asked.

“No, it is because of the amoebas inside her stomach.”

But the girl was correct, Petra did have a mild allergic reaction to some insect bites, though I do not know how the liquor store girl could know this.

Wait, yes I do: the people here talk to each other.

In the USA it is almost work to talk to your neighbors. I know that the people who live a couple of houses down from my parents could internally combust all over the place one day and we would never know about it. We like things this way out in the countryside of the USA — we value privacy, we don’t want people talking about us, we like our secrets. My father even put up a fence of trees around our property when we first moved in for the purpose of preventing the neighbors from looking in at us.

These trees have now grown to full height, it worked — we live in a community of us alone.

But here in El Salvador everybody knows what you do, there are no secrets. As we walked out of the hospital with Petra there was a man waiting by the gate:

“What did the doctor say?” he asked bluntly.

We did not know this man, have never even noticed him before. But we gave him the talk of the town: the white baby has amoebas.

There are no secrets in Central America. If you bed down with the cute boy down the street you will soon have every other boy knocking on your door wondering if their turn is next. It is also somewhat challenging to lasso a lady here, as she is well aware of the stir it will cause if seen out alone with you.

There are eyes and ears everywhere in Central America, and they are all connected to united network of mouths.

The people here seem to know that they are being watched, that people talk, that what they do will be deposited verbatim into the verbal record of their town.

In Central America, you do not need to go far for your news, the front door of your home will do.

It is my impression that this is a sign of a community that is organized, equipped, and prepared. The term “close knit community” may be a only synonym for nosey neighbors, but this is the perhaps the foundation of any strong society.

A community in Central America can be mobilized at a moments notice — verbal news can travel faster than the speed of radio. Perhaps gossip is a cultural tool which has been instilled into us from our primitive origins? It feels good to spread news — to gossip — and an informed, united community is one ready to defend itself.

Communities in many sectors of the USA tend to be weak in comparison with those in Central America. I do not know the name of the people who live next door to my parents — I do not care enough to know their names. Just so they stay off my land, they are alright by me. “The best neighbor is the one you never have to talk to,” my father would say. The neighbors could be buggering each other for all I care — I don’t care. My family does not care, and we can only hope that our neighbors don’t care about what we do.

And this is what it all comes down to: in Central America people do care. They will talk to you, pass on the word about you, find out what you are doing, and make you a part of their community — whether you like it or not.

A lady who lives in an apartment downstairs from our tries to look up into our apartment every chance she gets all day long. I don’t yet know what she is looking for, but I do know that she mostly just finds me typing quietly on my computer in nothing but a pair of skimpy underwear.

But I know that I live in a safe place. It is safe because I live in an apartment complex with around ten other people. I have 8 vigilant guards watching my room — nothing short of an outright invasion of pistoleros could break through this defense. I am safe because I am a part of a community that cares.

El Salvador Travel Guide — El Salvador Photos

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Filed under: Central America, Culture and Society, El Salvador

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 80 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3170 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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