El Policía

One day when we were in El Salvador, my Suegra needed to run an errand to send a fax. So we took the bus to who-knows-where in San Salvador. The store was small and insignificant looking but this is where she went for things such as faxing, wiring money, etc.

What really caught my eye was the police officer on guard outside the establishment. I instinctively took a step back and then stopped dead in my tracks. My Suegra laughed at me and my husband reassured me that there wasn’t a riot or anything crazy going on – he was just a normal, every day, Salvadoran police officer. I tried not to gawk at him as we went past him into the shop. He greeted us with the traditional “Buenas” that all people, friends and complete strangers alike, use on the street.

Inside the store, Suegra took care of business and then said to me, as we walked towards the door, “Want to take a photo of the police officer?”

“No way! He’ll shoot me!” I whispered as we went back out onto the street.
“Just wait a minute,” she said, walking ahead of us.

I watched Suegra walk up to the police officer and gesture in my direction.

“You see that American girl over there? She’s my daughter-in-law.”

The police officer seemed friendly. He nodded and smiled in my direction, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the gun slung across his chest.

My Suegra continued, her voice as sticky sweet as honey.

“My daughter-in-law is very impressed with your gun,” she said smiling. “The police officers in the United States don’t carry guns like that.”

(Think of all the funny euphemisms you want because at this point I was trying not to laugh.)

The police officer’s chest visibly puffed out, like a bird shaking off after a dip in a puddle.

Suegra went in for the kill. “Do you think my daughter-in-law could take your photo? She’d like to show her friends and family what a proud Salvadoran police officer looks like.” She raised her eyebrows in expectation and gave him her best smile.

The police officer nodded his approval and waved me over. As I got my camera ready, he licked his fingers and slicked his hair into place. I took the photo, thanked him, and managed to hold my laughter in until we were down the block and out of earshot, (or gunshot!)

It’s been more than 10 years now since I took that photo. Sometimes I wonder about him and what he’s doing today. I wonder if he remembers the silly gringa that wanted to take his photo.


  1. Yes, that is always a weird thing to see. I’ll never forget hiking the Inca Trail in Peru and seeing four soldiers walk by with huge guns. Was it really necessary to bring giant guns on a hike?

    • @ Grace – I would have thought the same thing until the other day. A friend of ours told us that he knew someone who went to El Salvador recently. They were hiking up to see some of the Mayan ruins and were jumped. They were left in nothing but their underwear. ¡Imaginate!

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