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Choosing to Stay Behind


Berta explains her decision not to go to Honduras as a refugee, and the difficulties of living alone in El Salvador during wartime.


And where were you?

You see, but it wasn’t like I was in my own home, with my own clothes. When my daughter-in-law was about to have her baby, she left to go to Las Mesas I think she was right because with her big belly, she could barely walk. So they left me behind. No, I lied, she had her baby here, in Aguacayo. And they left me a piece of fabric, because I didn’t have anything to cover myself with. Paco was leaving, and over there they were going to give them clothes and everything. And he took my blanket, I didn't have anything to cover myself with. So he left and stayed there for a year. Look, Paco left to go to Las Mesas. His dad went. Alexander went, Roxana’s dad. So they all ended up there together. My uncle Toño and Paco’s dad. They would give them everything there, even those black tarps. No one was even considerate enough to send me a blanket. Ana María was my sister who used to live with my Aunt Toya before. They would send her skirts, they would send her these big pieces of black plastic, while I was there with my daughter-in-law who had the baby out in the field, out there by Nueva Trinidad. She just had her baby there, without anything, not even any diapers. That day they were sending my son Saúl to Cabañas. But he said, “No, my mom is out there all by herself.” He didn’t want to go to Cabañas to guard the FMLN, because I was all by myself.

And why did you decide to stay?

Do you know why I didn’t want to leave? Paco would tell me, “Berta, let’s go. We're a burden to the young men who are trying to fight.” “I don’t think we are a burden,” I said. I didn’t want to leave, but he left. Alexander, Roxana’s dad, went too. His mom, Arminda, too. All of them left but I didn’t want to.

Because of your sons?

Yes. This is what I said to them. “Look, Paco. I’m not leaving. You know why? Something could happen to my sons and I am going to have to live with it, that I didn’t get to see them.” I didn’t want to go. Paco was there for a year. And look, they had so many extra things that were given to them. They weren’t capable, not even my Uncle Toño, of sending me even some rags or a piece of nylon to cover myself with.