On May 1, Guernica magazine published my piece, The War of Forgetting, in honor of Eduardo Galeano who passed away a few weeks earlier. Vela Magazine later selected the piece for as part of its Women We Read This Week review.
I began writing the piece on a sweaty afternoon in an apartment in the historic center of Mexico City as a favor for a friend. The friend was assembling an anthology on the Sahrawi of Western Sahara for publication in Latin America and asked if I would write something about my visit to the Sahrawi refugee camps in the Algerian desert. I had waited a long time to write that story and, I suppose, by asking me to write the story the friend had done me a favor. It took a few days to write but nearly ten years to live and for that long I had carried the War of Forgetting within me.
Galeano figures into the story because it was Galeano who first told me about the Sahrawi after he returning from the Sahara Film Festival in the camps.
Maybe it was his voice, but something in his description opened a window in my mind and I knew the Sahara, and the austere beauty of a place far, far away. The Saa-HA-ra. I told the writer that someday, I too, would visit the tent villages and watch movies with the forgotten people. Years later, I made good on my word.
In the piece, I trace the War of Forgetting through the Sahara desert, to El Salvador and into Mexico. It is a war many of us have known. I named this war so that I could define it, rather than continue to have it define me.
Neat divisions of time are largely obliterated in the war of forgetting. The past and present co-mingle, speak to, and inform each other. Anyone who has ever lived through war, with its echoes of regret, knows that a war of forgetting endures after the bodies are buried, the peace accords are signed, and the soldiers remove their uniforms. The war of forgetting is the undocumented legacy of war, often relegated to the psycho-analytic bins of trauma, nostalgia, and remorse. For the next seven years, the war of forgetting would dominate my travels and my attention, but after each experience, I hesitated to write about what I had seen until I could give shape and words to the absence, the missing.
In the War of Forgetting, I explore the issue of truth–factual truth versus truth in spirit. As a journalist, I have found that a collection of facts can easily lack truth in spirit. And, for me, the distinction between factual truth and truth in spirit has taken on greater meaning over the years.
After I returned, the notebooks that contained the written record of my travels occupied the same corner of my bookshelf for three more years. They went neglected in part because I distrusted them, thought them in some way contaminated. The journalist in me had faithfully jotted down observations, quotes, sequences of events. That I trusted, the truth in fact. But the truth of the journey contained in my “reporter’s notes,” I feared, was inherently connected to my own motives: I had desperately wanted to be among them, the forgotten.
Many years later, in 2013, I traveled to Uruguay, the home of Galeano. I was sure I would meet him and I was eager to tell him about my encounter with the forgotten. I won’t spoil the ending but, I will tell you that when I came across a poem by Mario Benedetti in a bookstore, I came to understand forgetting and I was prepared to begin the story.
Hay quienes imaginan el olvido como un depósito desierto
/ una cosecha de la nada y sin embargo el olvido está lleno de memoria
There are those who imagine forgetting like an empty vessel
a harvest of nothingness and yet forgetting is filled with memory.