Leaving for America

What an incredible 24 hours of my life. Probably one of the most surreal 24 hours ever. Yesterday I went down to Miguel’s house ready to leave for San Salvador. I never gave it any thought about how it was going to be…and I’m glad I didn’t.
Adriana wailed and cried as Miguel prepared to leave. Just like any other day Miguel was up early to milk the cows-one last time. He brought his big bag out and hugged his mom. She cried and so did he. Adelmo continued on with the days chores. Get the milk in the jugs and get them on the donkey. Sergio walked up the hill and sat down and secretly teared up. I just took pictures. Without hugging or a hand shake Miguel’s dad said go well, son.
Growing up I always heard about my ancestors coming to America. Coming to America for a better life back in 1800’s blah blah blah…. But here I was today in 2011 watching a family being broken up as their 18-year-old son leaves the family, the mud house, and the small village behind for a better life in the states. He doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t know the culture and he is going by himself. This moment was 10 months in the making. I could not be happier for Miguel.
We walk down the hill, the women at the Molino stare on. No one says anything. It seems eerily quiet to me. No one says goodbye. No one says good luck. They all are aware of what is happening, yet they stay mum. The talk of town for days has been that he is leaving with a visa. He is the first one ever from our village to get a visa to go to the states.
We continue down the dirt road, passing mud houses in absolute silence. There was no talking until we got to the main highway about a half mile from town where the milk man waited for the boys to arrive with the milk.
“Se va para los estados gringo?” (are you going to the states gringo) the milk man asks me after seeing Miguel walking with a huge suitcase. I mean if there is a suitcase obviously it had to be mine… I reply, “No Miguel is”. A look of shock… The milkman is confused. No one would ever go to the states with a suitcase. You wouldn’t be able to travel with it all the way through Guatemala, Mexico and finally the US. The milkman says… se va para el norte Miguel? You going North Miguel?!?! Miguel replies yes. Mojado (illegally)? The milkman replies. Miguel replies no man... I got a visa. Milkman is in shock. NOBODY GETS A VISA!
Milk is done, suitcase is in the truck and we speed off. Until we get to Metapan, no words are spoken. The wind blew in our faces. It was quiet and I just took it all in. I wonder what Miguel was thinking. I think he was worried about his mom and how she was doing more than anything. As we drove to San Salvador in the open air bus, sweating and eager to get there, Miguel asks to see my camera and the pictures I had taken earlier. He looked through them and began to cry. He tried to turn his head so I wouldn’t notice. He took out his handkerchief his grandma gave him the day before and wiped the tears. All I wanted to do was hug him and tell him it was all ok. We arrived in San Sal 2 hours later and checked in to the hotel. This was Miguel’s first time in a hotel. The day would continue with firsts for Miguel. First hot shower, first time at the movies, first time in a nice restaurant.
SAMUEL! QUE VERGON (so fucking awesome) Miguel says to me. The water was hot!!!! He giggles as I say that was your first hot shower wasn’t it? For me it is SO MUCH FUN to experience all of these firsts with him. It makes me smile that I can be part of this experience. I don’t think Miguel understands how much happiness this whole experience brings me. I feel like I’ve won the lottery and I’m showering this kid with gifts and he loves every minute of it. Yet, I am just giving him the everyday experiences we take for granted. He asks me to take a picture of him inside the hotel with the air conditioner in the background so I can show his brothers when I get back to the village. I imitate what they will say and he erupts in laughter. We head out to metro centro- A massive mall with thousands of people. I think it overwhelms Miguel, but he likes it. He has mentally prepared himself for his new life. He begins to realize that this is the world he has not known personally until now. Miguel cautiously asks me if we maybe can go see a movie since we have the entire afternoon. I say of course! You have never been I ask… he says no and asks “Is the screen really as big as they show in the movies?”
The movie was sold out so we bought tickets for the later showing. We head to the food court and I buy us a large pizza. Miguel just looks on as hundreds of people stuff their faces with fast food. He asks me how these people can afford all of this food. I feel like I have taken a kid out of the dark ages and just brought him to 2011.
The movie theater air conditioning was COLD! Miguel couldn’t believe how cold. The bass thumped our seats and Miguel told me he thinks the screen is bigger than the church is in the village. As the movie came to end, Miguel was shaking. I asked him why. He said, Samuel. I’m REALLY NERVOUS for tomorrow.
We left the theater and went to Tony Romas, an American restaurant chain, where I told him he can get anything on the menu and don’t worry about the cost. We sat at the bar and ended up splitting something and getting a couple of beers. We took pictures again so I could show his family he went to a nice restaurant. He says to me, Samuel, you know how lucky I am. Most people in Cuyuiscat will never get to experience a place like this.
There is a guy sitting next to us at the bar speaking in Spanish and English. I guess and tell Miguel he is probably a deportee and works at the call center next door. (The deportees tend to have a similar look… it usually includes a chinstrap beard) We end up striking conversation, and I was right. He was deported and now works at the call center answering questions about Kohl’s credits cards. He hears Miguel’s story and what he is about to do and he says “Miguel you realize the guy sitting next you is your angel don’t you? Miguel looks at me and says I know. He is my brother. The guy continues to give Miguel Advice. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime”, the guy says. “America is a great place. DON’T FUCK THIS UP FOR YOURSELF.”
Throughout the day I can’t stop thinking about how crazy this really is. It is nearly impossible get visas for the states for people like Miguel. This is an email from the Peace Corps country director in El Salvador in response to Miguel’s story.

Just out of curiosity, how did Miguel ever get a visa? For that age group, young unmarried (and often unemployed) males, it is almost impossible to get visas from the US Embassy. Will he go to school too and/or did your family agree to accept financial responsibility? Good for him. Looks like you will have a friend for a long time to come….That is a very kind thing to do for someone.


So there it was… a day 10 months in the making. With tears in his eyes... An 18 year-old boy leaves for America with a suitcase and 280 dollars in his pocket and says to me “Samuel… I never thought this day would come.”

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.