Located on top of a hill overlooking the San Salvador dump is a group of people that has lived in the same place for over 40 years. It started when a wealthy widow offered some of her land the homeless. Those that came never left. They established themselves with typical champa construction: dirt floors, adobe walls, and metal roofs. They found an electric line and put in a community building complete with lights. The nearest champas also took electricity for lights to their houses. The light bulbs were carefully guarded and removed when not in use. This is a very poor community.
One of the ways of determining oneís poverty level in El Salvador is by footwear. Only the newest campesinos wear sandals. Everyone else wears tennis shoes. The condition of the shoes and particularly the show laces is a good estimate of relative poverty. In Soledad, even the working men had broken shoe laces.
Their means of support is pilfering the dump. Their proudest possession is a commercial scale to weigh the scrap iron, plastic, etc. Although there once was a watered garden on top of the hill, these people have never found the water pipe and so are dependent on water is available at the street, about 150 feet away. They run the water continuously into a 55 gallon barrel and use this for bathing and washing clothes as well as food preparation.
Public school is available across the highway. The only government requirement is a school uniform. Many children share hand-me-downs. When they outgrow the largest uniform belonging to that family, it is the end of their education. The girls said they hoped to go as far as 7th or 8th grade. The boys had gone as far as 4th.
School is a big opportunity. Most of the people that had left Soledad had done so by meeting someone at the school and moving into the otherís community. There had never been an official marriage in the memory of the oldest members. "Marriage" occurred when two people fell in love and moved in together.
Most of the "marriages" that occurred in Soledad were between two residents. Since the community was founded with 15 in 1950 and now held around 80 families a lot of inbreeding was occurring.
There were very few new arrivals accepted. Soledad did not have the problems other communities had with campesinos, presumably, because they were too poor. Without water there was little reason for others to try to move in. also their proprietary interest in the dump may have created an exclusionary atmosphere. They really felt the dump was theirs to pillage.
In a marriage occurring through school attendance, if one of the partners was from outside of Soledad, they would opt for the otherís house and essentially move up the social ladder.
The men did not leave the confines of the community except on Easter and perhaps a special holiday. The daily trip for ground maize (made into pan Ė bread) or other subsistence portions was made by the women each morning. A government food program distributes the necessities for making pan at many locations around San Salvador, one of which was the school.
The biggest concern expressed by Soledad residents was not the civil war. They were essentially immune. They didnít participate at all until UNADES (the Union Nacional de Damnificados de El Salvador, colloquially, "Union of the Damned of El Salvador.") requested their aid in a demonstration as a quid pro quo for medical supplies.
Their biggest concern was that the widow who founded Soledad didnít leave a will. Or, if she had, it was destroyed by the caretaker. The caretaker of the property was not a relative. He was a drug addict in his 40s who was attempting to take over the entire estate to support his habit. There would not have been much concern about his chances expect that he had a brother in the Air Force that had been to the United States and therefore was connected to the power structure.