27 January 2006

Companeros - Day 8

Walter needed to be at CIS by 8:30 or so and Kathy wasn’t flying back with us so they rode to San Salvador with Bob earlier than we needed to leave. We said our goodbyes to them then had breakfast, loaded up the van and said our goodbyes to the Pastoral Team then headed to the airport.

On the way, Alej called to me (sitting directly behind him in the van) to point out where his house was. I waved to it (Muevo a tu casa!). He also pointed out a maximum security prison he’d told me about in one of our previous discussions. The prison is Zacatecaluca (or something like that) but they call it Zacatraz after the US’ Alcatraz. And he asked me to write down my home address. All week, I’d been bugging him about a photo of his family. He’d promised me that on Friday (today) he’d have it but apparently didn’t. He wanted to mail it to me.

We arrived at the airport a little before 10:00 and it wasn’t open yet (!?!?) so we waited outside until they let us in. We checked bags, got tickets, paid the exit fee (up to $32 from $27.35 as in the past) and headed up to the gate to wait. And wait. Our plane wasn’t due to leave until 1:20 giving us LOTS of time to wander up and down the terminal, looking in the duty-free shops, reading, etc. We could tell when time was getting closer as the smell of Camperos chicken started to build.

The flight back to the US was without incident. The movie on the way back was even worse than the one on the way down…Roller Bounce or some such. I watched about 5 minutes of it and decided to read instead. The meal was every bit as awful as the movie seemed to be. The choice was beef burrito or chicken sandwich. I decided to try the burrito. Marcia, sitting next to me, had chicken. Neither of us ate much of either. The rest of the meal was a small Greek salad, bag of potato chips and packet of Oreos. The salad was good. I’m not normally much of a potato chip- or Oreo-eater but I ate these because there wasn’t anything else.

In Houston, we had the quickest processing I’ve EVER had. The lines were non-existent at Immigration, our bags came up right away on the carousel, and there weren’t any lines at Customs, either. I did get stopped a couple times (just before Customs and again just after) by people asking me if I had all my bags…apparently it looks a little odd to be coming from an international flight with only one duffle and a day pack. Everyone else checked the bags they needed to and we trammed to our next gate.

About the time we got to the domestic terminal, Blair realized that he was missing the bag of stuff he’d bought at the airport in San Salvador…a book on the national parks of El Sal and a bottle of some type of alcohol. We figured it must have been mislaid at the security checkpoint back at the other terminal. He came to the gate with us and left his carry-on then went back to see if he could find his bag. He couldn’t. But that was the only glitch to the trip home.

26 January 2006

Companeros - Day 7

It wasn’t. When the psychologist arrived this morning she showed me the problem with the printer. Unfortunately, about that time they were calling ‘all aboard’ for another round of canton and house visits so I had to leave. But I told her (Yolbeth) that I’d work on it later that day, now that I understood the problem.

We were supposed to visit a couple houses this morning then a couple more cantones and La Quisera (the massacre site on the edge of the Berlin municipality that is a fairly recent discovery and excavation) in the afternoon. But last night Milagro suggested that was probably a bit too ambitious and that we should think about skipping La Quisera. We all agreed!

I put on sunscreen today. I’ll probably be black with dust sticking to it, but hey, that’s even better sun protection, right?

First we went to María Elena’s house. Her mom was such fun…very animated and joyous. Bob was in a hammock and she started rocking him and singing him a lullaby in Spanish. He snored theatrically.

Then we went to Otilia’s house. She lives pretty far out on the edge of town. Her mom wanted us to see the church on the corner so we walked down there and she opened it up for us. For a small barrio church, it had an impressive altar…all glass and icons and carved wood. And bats…lots of bats flitting about the alcove.

We went back to the Casa for a bit before lunch. I spent it mostly working on Bob’s PC or the Yolbeth’s printer. I fixed the latter but Bob’s PC is still not working right.
We had lunch then loaded up the pickup for the trip to El Corazol (Ankeny Presbyterian’s community – Marcia), the farthest canton in Berlin. This was also one of the hardest hit by the flooding, as it has the river as one of its borders. I think the entire community turned out to meet with us. They were quite excited to see Marcia again.

On the way back, we stopped in Casa de Zinc (Trinity’s community – Blair), a casarillo of San Isidro. They have a very impressive water tank and collection system. While Blair was meeting with the people and taking pictures of each family group, I picked up some reddish, puce-colored seeds from the ground under the big, gnarled tree by the tank. I asked Alejandro what they were and he didn’t know. He showed them to Cecilia who didn’t know either but showed them to a woman from the community. That woman pointed to a tree on the other side of the tank grounds that had long pods hanging from the branches. Cecilia and Otilia got very excited and led me over there. They said that the pods are used to make a fruity sort of drink and they started looking for long sticks to knock some down. At first I thought they were just doing that because I’d asked about them and I didn’t want them to go to all that trouble. But they wanted several to take back to the Casa.

The pods are probably 2 feet long and as big around as a half-dollar. They’re really hard, too…it took bashing them with one rock on another rock to break them open. Once open, Cecilia showed me how the seeds are packed in there surrounded by a clear, hard, red substance that reminded me of the melted sugar of stained glass cookies. That is, apparently, the part used to make the drink. Cecilia plucked the creamy-pale seeds (Cecilia said they change color as they dry) from their red-encased homes and gave them to me then picked some of the red stuff out and put it in her mouth. The rest of the pods they’d knocked down, they gathered up to take with them.

Back to the Casa for the rest of our last day in Berlin. I took a shower…scrubbing this time, with a bandana I’d brought from home (one of the items I never travel without!). We had supper then took photos of the Pastoral Team with Compañeros. We gave Alejandro and Walter their propinas (tips) and I gave them each a tatted heart I’d made on the trip.
We packed up and got ready to leave for the airport in the morning

25 January 2006

Companeros - Day 6

Today was a canton (small dirt-floor community) visit day. Our first stop was San Francisco, to Miguel’s brand new house with his wife and 9-month old son. 6 months ago, when I was there last, they were living in a very small room in his parents’ house. Now they have a place of their own. Since San Francisco is Westminster’s sister canton, I spent a lot of time talking with him about the solar project and the community and how things were going. The solar project is still short about $6,000 from the Self Development for People grant money. About half the homes now have the transformers that will allow them to plug in regular AC appliances. And some people have discovered problems with the panel installation…they were installed in a prime location for the sun at the time of installation but didn’t take into account how the sun moves to a different part of the sky the other half of the year. Most of them don’t have enough cable to be able to move the panel to a better location so some people are not making much use of the power part of the year until they can get the cable work done. And there are some homes that don’t have panels at all…those who decided not to participate in the original project or, as in Miguel’s case, new houses that have been built since the project was completed.

From San Francisco, we went to Heartland’s new community, a casarillo (a subset of a canton) of El Tablon (Kathy), then Virginia (Dallas Center’s community – Nancy) and Las Delicias (Wakonda Christian’s community – Randy).

Virginia is having some internal issues. The community is somewhat divided on what sort of projects should be done and who should be doing what.

Las Delicias (where we had lunch in one of the homes) has a great water project going. They had some issues with the tank cracking during the deluge last fall and Randy spent a bit of time discussing causes and options with the community leaders that met with us.

After that, it was back to the Casa. It had been a very long, hot, dusty day riding in the back of the pickup. We’re all pretty exhausted. I’m sunburned. Everybody makes a beeline to the nearest shower. I decide it’s the best opportunity I’m going to get to take the tubes of thread to Sonia at the prison so Walter and I head that way. He talks through the gate to the guards and they let us in. Then someone goes to get Sonia who gets searched in a room just off of where we wait for her. She shows me what she completed since I left the day before and gives me back the bracelet I left with her as a model. I give her the tubes of thread and thank her profusely with a hug. The hug was spontaneous but I thought afterward that I probably shouldn’t have done that. As cool and reserved as she was, I’m guessing she’s probably not a hugger. She said she’d make a bunch of bracelets from the thread I gave her and get them to the Pastoral Team to give to me.

Walter and I walked back to the Casa and found that the meeting with the Pastoral Team was scheduled for about 10 minutes. I’m the only one who hasn’t showered yet and I feel incredibly grubby after a day in the cantones. I went up to the women’s room and said I was going to take a shower but everyone said I didn’t have time. I said I was going to MAKE time. As soon as Nancy got out of the shower I was in for the quickest shower of my life. I felt infinitely better and was not the last person to arrive for the meeting. However, after the meeting, when I went back to the room, I discovered that I really hadn’t done all that good a job of showering as the white towel I’d used and then hung at the foot of my bed looked positively filthy. But hey, it was the best I could do in the time I had and without a washcloth to scrub with.

After the meeting, the Pastoral Team took us to a restaurant in Alegría, a slightly-larger than Berlin community just up the mountain, for supper. I had camarones (shrimp)…huge ones, grilled with onions and green pepper. Everyone had sides of rice/beans, a type of pico de gallo, spicy grilled veggies and ensalada (salad) with a piece of queso fresco (fresh cheese) on top. It was seriously good, even though the head, eyes, antennae and legs on the shrimp Kathy and I had creeped out a couple of our group.

Back at the Casa, Bob talked to us a bit about the relief efforts after all the flooding with the hurricanes last fall. On our canton visits, he’d pointed out some of the places where the roads to the cantones had washed out or where “end of the line” was when they were trying to deliver emergency food packets to those who lost pretty much everything. Even having been to the cantones, knowing how they live and hearing Bob talk about it, I’m sure we still don’t really have an idea of what it was like to live through that.

Earlier, Milagro had asked me to take a look at the psychologist’s printer…it wasn’t working, she said…so I took a look at it. I booted everything up and created a document in Word that printed fine so I told Milagro that it looked like it was working ok.

24 January 2006

Companeros - Day 5

I waited too long to write this day down. I don’t have much in the way of detail. I do know that we visited a number of the Pastoral Team members’ homes and the women’s prison. We also heard that Shafik Handal (FMLN presidential candidate during the last election) had died. At first, Bob thought he’d been killed and was really nervous about those of us who were out wandering around town but then we found that he’d died of a heart attack, not been assassinated, which changed things completely.

Ever since I’d arrived, I’d been asking around, trying to find someone who knew how to make the nylon bracelets I always buy when I’m there. Blanca was my best bet but she didn’t know. She wanted to, though. When we were at the prison looking at all the crochet and embroidery that the women there do, it occurred to me that maybe one of them would know how to make the bracelets. I discussed it with Milagro, because I didn’t want to ask if there wouldn’t be any time to do anything about it or if she thought it wasn’t a good idea for any reason. She said it was ok so I talked to Walter and explained to him what I was after. He got everyone’s attention then held up my braceleted wrist to ask if anyone knew how to make them. Quite a few of the women shouted out, “Sonia!!” so Sonia came forward to check it out and we discussed it as I took off the bracelet so she could get a better look at how it was made. She said she hadn’t actually made one like it but thought she could figure it out. So then I went back to Milagro to try to figure out when I could have Sonia teach me. Milagro went to talk to the prison director then came back with the word that we could do it right then (and only then) on the conditions that 1) I stay alone (the rest of the delegation, the Pastoral Team and Walter all leave), 2) I get a maximum of one hour, and 3) I’m on my own, responsibility-wise. I asked Milagro if she thought all that was ok and she reassured me that it was. So everyone left and I stayed in communal area with all the prisoners while Sonia and another woman named Jaclin and I worked with the threads.

I had a few moments of nerves as I watched everyone else leave and I was left alone with the women in the concrete and iron-bar “yard.” One or two of them didn’t look more than 14. One very quiet and slight girl looked more like she should be walking a middle-school hallway, hugging a notebook to her chest with a cascade of hair hiding her face and trying not to be noticed. The rest were probably in their late teens or early 20s. The majority of them had gang tattoos…from the more subtle trio of tiny dots between the eyebrows or a tiny black teardrop at the outer corner of one eye to a blocky “18” covering the whole chin or “Eighteen” (yes, in English) flowing in big, fancy script all the way across the upper chest or covering the arms. Except for the “18” gang tattoos and what they mean, they mostly looked like regular young women in regular clothes and makeup who should be working in a shop or going to school or doing almost anything other than time in prison.

There were just a couple of them that looked like really tough characters…burly, cold, hard and old beyond their years. Sonia was one of these.

She was a barrel of a woman…not quite my height, maybe 5’-6” or 5’-7” but stocky. She had a blue and white stocking cap pulled down to just below her eyebrows and covering all her hair, the turned-up cuff spelling out ‘EIGHTEEN’ in blocky capitals circling the hat. Her eyes were shaded and hiding in a closed-off face that didn’t look like it smiled much.

I introduced myself and helped her prepare the lengths of thread she wanted to start working on the bracelet. My vocabulary in Spanish was pretty pitiful for discussing the task at hand, but luckily it was easy to use the “demonstrate and practice” technique. Sonia got it going after a few false starts and re-dos then turned the threads over to me to repeat what she’d just done. We’d gotten successfully through one section and were puzzling over how to make the turn for the next section when a guard came to tell me time was up. I told Sonia I’d be back the next day with more thread for her, said goodbye, walked out of the prison and back to the Casa.

At the Casa, I discovered that the rest of the group hadn’t done the hike to La Cruz…a large cross that is perched on the peak above town. They’d spent the time relaxing or walking around town as they chose. I had a shower before supper and then we started our evening.

After supper, Randy and I spent a LOT of time on Bob’s PC. I gave up in the evening sometime to leave him to it and came back to the house where the rest of the gang was laughing like crazy people in the dining room. I sat down and joined the “strange pet/animal tales” conversation that ranged from the merely odd (a ‘family plot’ of pet cremains kept in the dining room china hutch) to the strange (bats flying in through the doggie door flap) to downright bizarre (unless everyone poses the kids with their dead pet rat for a photo before storing it in the freezer) and back again…all of which, in the time-honored tradition of “location jokes” (i.e. “You had to be there.”), just don’t carry on paper. We were all laughing and giggling to the point that we had tears streaming down our faces. About the time we’d think the Pastoral Team in the next room must think we’re completely insane, we’d try to stifle it down a bit. This, of course, only made us laugh all the harder.Randy missed out on pretty much all of the hilarity. He kept plugging away on Bob’s PC. And for the rest of the trip, whenever one of us would say something about “frozen rat” or something “on a stick” and then start giggling, he couldn’t do anything but look at us as if were a bit “tetched” in the head.

23 January 2006

Companeros - Day 4

Today was coffee day. After breakfast we went to Cerro Verde, the finca (coffee farm/plantation) where the Don Justo – Coffee with Dignity coffee is grown and processed. There was nobody there and nothing really going on as the harvest is over for the year. There was one guy spreading coffee-pulp compost around some of the coffee plants (organic fertilizer). They collect the pulp off the coffee ‘cherries’ when they’re harvested and the pulp composts in a ground silo to be spread in the off season.

On the way back to Berlin, we stopped just past Alegría to take pictures of the valley. It was slightly hazy but still much clearer than I’d ever seen it before. You could actually see the Rio Lempa and volcanoes across the valley.

Back in Berlin, Bob took his car to the mechanic and Randy/me to the place where he got his cell phone purse that Randy and I both admired a great deal. We had been commenting on his because it was so compact, yet easy to use and it keeps the phone from flipping open all the time…which annoys me no end with the cell phone holder I currently have. They didn’t have one to fit Randy’s phone but I got one just like Bob’s that I thought should work with mine fine.
We met up with the other gringos in the street and all walked together from there so that Kathy and Marcia could get notebooks.

Back at the Casa we had a coffee meeting with the Pastoral Team. We had a version of a contract that no one was sure was ever actually used but we thought it would be a good place to start in finalizing one with Stella (the woman from the finca). We decided it needed modification and translation into Spanish so we broke off into a smaller group to make those changes…Kathy and me for Compañeros, Blanca for the Team and Walter to translate. It was basically lunch time when we finished the larger group meeting and Stella was coming at 2:30 so it was a bit of a rush to get through lunch and finish the contract before she got there. And, in an extremely un-Salvadoran-like manner, she arrived early.

She came with 2 of her sons…Justo (30, maybe? His wife is just weeks away from delivering their baby.) and Emilio (15, we guessed). We started to go through the contract but Stella kept bringing up money owed for this, getting more for her coffee, etc. We tabled the financial stuff to talk about between her and the Pastoral Team, to try to keep the focus on the contract.

Eventually, we got through it and took a 20-minute break so they could meet amongst themselves, the Pastoral Team could meet to talk over their situation and Compañeros met in a third location to discuss our role in all this. We decided all we had to do was support what the Pastoral Team decides. I did some quick Googling on the internet to confirm some information about Fair Trade standards and current prices, which I passed on to Blanca.

When Stella and sons returned, we started the small group meeting with just them, the Pastoral Team and Kathy/me. Walter sat between Kathy and me to let us know what was going on, but we were not there to be part of the negotiations…just represent Compañeros and support the Team. Gauntlets were dropped on both sides and it got kind of tense. They decided to take another break to have sidebar discussions again. Negotiations would continue later in the week.
The Pastoral Team is tough…

22 January 2006

Companeros - Day 3

Pack up and load out to Berlin day. Walter (our interpreter) joined us shortly after breakfast and then we were off to Ilobosco, the pottery community.

We started out at the pottery shop Bob likes to frequent. They have unique stuff and also help ex-gang members learn a trade and find a way to make a living outside the gang. The pottery everywhere tends to be terra cotta but they do something to it at this shop that blackens it. It’s the only shop that has it. Most of the other shops have ceramics that must come from a mold…you see the exact same designs in most of the shops, only with different painting. This shop has hand-made designs that you won’t see in any of the other shops. I absolutely loved some…I don’t know for sure what they were, vases, maybe?...things they had that were basically large cylinders made of the dark pottery with leaf or branch impressions in the surface. I’m not sure if they were actual impressions or hand made designs that just looked like it but there were a couple that really, really wanted to come home with me. I just couldn’t see how I’d get them home all in one piece, though. So I left them there. I got a couple pair of earrings and another Mayan flask sort of thing to go with the two I’d bought in La Palma ($6).

In another shop, I got a trio of tiny, vase-shaped pots that fit the color scheme of my living room (another $6).

We loaded up in the van again and headed for Berlin. It took a good long while to get the van unloaded once we arrived at the Casa Pastoral where we’d be staying as everyone had to hug and greet everyone else. The women of the delegation moved into the room above the chapel and the men into the room across from the office, inside the house. Walter got the room adjacent to Bob’s house.

Randy and I spent most of the rest of the evening working on Bob’s PC. He’d been having internet woes and was also unable to log into his bank’s web site. We didn’t really get very far, other than to determine that they really were 2 separate problems.

21 January 2006

Companeros - Day 2

Up, and a breakfast of cereal, fruit and juice then off to La Palma in the northernmost state of Chalatenango. Just outside of San Salvador, we got stopped at a police checkpoint. It was just a random stop to check the driver for a valid license and the vehicle to make sure it wasn’t stolen.
In La Palma, we split into 2 shopping groups. Marcia, Randy and I were in charge of finding cross necklaces, ojo de venado (deer’s eye…a type of seed that is kind of like a very small, slightly flattened, oval-shaped buckeye. It’s considered lucky.) earrings and bracelets (if we found any we liked). Nancy, Kathy and Blair were looking for painted wooden things…boxes, nativities, crosses. We went store-to-store buying the various things and trying to spread out the purchases over all the shops in the little area where we were. We also picked up a Salvadoran flag that we thought would be good to have in our booth when we sell this stuff and the various festivals. Along the way I (personally, not for the group) got some of the nylon bracelets I like. They were $1 pretty much everywhere but no one had more than a few of them. I also got a couple of flask-shaped pottery things with Mayan images on them in bas relief and a hammock.
We loaded up in the van to leave and I realized that my seat buddy, Blair, wasn’t there. Alej was rolling, almost to the gate when I finally figured out how to say in Spanish that someone was missing. We backed up and Bob/Alej went looking for Blair. By the time we were all together again, we’d decided to eat at the restaurant in the little place where we’d shopped. All 8 of us had a nice lunch for $14.

I finished eating and wanted to walk for a bit. Bob was engrossed in a conversation and I didn’t want to interrupt so I asked Alejandro if it would be ok if I went for a little walk…5 minutes. I went up the street to try to get some street scenes, then back. Alej was at the gate looking for me but I was less than half a block away.

Back at Daniela’s, we had an hour or two to chill before heading to El Puerto del Diablo (Door of the Devil). We had pop/beer and sorted through all the tub-o-stuff goodies we bought in La Palma; repacking it more compactly for getting home. During this time we practiced a Wicked Spanish phrase that we decided to all learn and then use appropriately whenever Bob took off his shoes or something. The phrase being: ¿Acaso huelo una enchilada vieja? (Do I smell an old enchilada?)

Back in the van, we headed toward Door of the Devil. Bob left in his car to go home; we’d meet up with him there later for supper. And speaking of supper, on the way out of town, we detoured through a Camperos chicken place to pick up supper for Bob and Alejandro…who were not excited about the pupusas (the quintessential Salvadoran food…something like a quesadilla except that the filling is put inside the dough before the tortilla is cooked) that were on the menu for the rest of us.

Camperos is the McDonalds of El Salvador. It’s a chicken place…much like a KFC here in the US, except that they’re everywhere. And where you don’t see a Camperos, you see their delivery drivers. You can’t miss them. They’re the guys on small motorcycles with blaze-orange helmets, zipping insanely in and out of traffic. Of course, it also helps that there’s a large, plastic chicken-in-a-hat waving jauntily from atop an insulated box on the back of the bike.

Apparently, Salvadorans have an incredible attachment to Camperos chicken. Every time I’ve returned to the US from El Salvador, the plane has been filled with Salvadorans carrying large shopping-size bags overflowing with boxes of Camperos chicken. I don’t know whether they’re trying to lay in a “taste of home” to last them for a good long while or if they’re bringing it to homesick friends and family in the States, where Camperos doesn’t exist. Either way, a flight out of El Salvador inevitably smells (sometimes quite heavily) of fried chicken and fixin’s.
Since Bob wasn’t with us on this leg of the trip, I took escopeta (shotgun seat) and rode up front with Alejandro. He’s very patient with my Spanish and it was good practice for me. Besides, he’s a lot of fun to talk to. He’s got a great sense of humor and joyous spirit.

At Door of the Devil, Marcia and Nancy didn’t want to do the hike up the escarpment so they stayed down below. Kathy was pretty nervous about the height and precarious trail, but went anyway. Alejandro and I kept her between us for moral support.

It was much clearer than the last time I was there. We could actually see the lake (Lago de Ilopango, the largest lake in El Salvador), all the volcano peaks (including the one that holds Berlin) and the little village of Panchimalca nestled down in the valley below…home to the oldest structure in Central America; a 400+ year-old church. It was very windy at the top and I took care not to stray too close to the edge. It was hard enough to hold a camera steady enough for pictures. I wasn’t going to take the chance of a gust of wind knocking me off balance and over the edge. Kathy spent a lot the time at the top squatting close to the rock.

We climbed back down then went to the Door itself. I, of course, climbed on all the boulders and the little shelf at the back of the cave that makes up the Door. The views are fantastic but the history of the place is disturbing. It’s called Door of the Devil because, during the war, the army and death squads would bring people here to ‘dispose’ of them by dropping them over the steep and jagged precipices…maybe they were already dead, maybe they weren’t. The actual number of people who died there will never be known.

After the Door, we stopped at the pupseria to get pupusas for those in the group who didn’t get chicken. I had opted for chicken just because I’d never had Camperos before and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Then I saw that the pupuseria also had arroz (rice) pupusas so I decided to try one of those. Alejandro and I went up to place the order then walked around back to the other window to pick it up when it was ready. We wandered around the gardens below the restaurant terrace. There were cages with peacocks, pheasants, and ducks; a small, concrete pond without fish in it; lots of beautiful flowers and plants and a nicely laid-out path. We went back up to the terrace to check on our order and it wasn’t ready. Alejandro went to the bathroom and came back and it wasn’t ready. We stood around chatting about his wife and 3 kids, 9 dogs (all boxers), and several milk cows and it still wasn’t ready. Finally! The food was ready and we headed back to the van where Blair was heading toward us to see what was keeping us.

Bob’s place is way off the main road, up and down some very steep hills. His place is a palace!! He’s very proud of the garden and green space behind his house, too, but we couldn’t really appreciate that in the dark. It’s still a bit sparsely appointed, as he just moved in December, but it’s fantastic. We ate on his veranda then talked and lounged in hammocks until Alej said he needed to go. It had been a really long day for him and he lives outside the city so he not only had to take us back to Daniela’s but get home to his. And we also found out that no matter how long his day is, he gets paid $20/day whenever he drives.

Back at Daniela’s, some of us took showers in shifts around/between games of “5,000” until all were ready for bed.

20 January 2006

Companeros - day 1

Up and at the airport by 6 a.m. I was the first to arrive but Kathy was right behind me. The rest (Marcia, Nancy, Randy, and Blair) arrived shortly and we all checked in and began our wait at the gate without incident. The plane to Houston was a smaller jet…one of those where the announcement to board “1st class passengers and those traveling with small children” is followed almost immediately with “boarding all rows.” I had a window seat next to Randy. I was feeling really, really tired and pretty much spent the first half of the trip dozing/resting…I don’t know that I actually went to sleep. Somewhere over Texas, I started feeling more alert and began tatting a green heart. I was about 4 picots, a 6-knot chain and the final tie-off from finishing it when they called for all seats and tray tables to be stowed. I kept going until I finished then complied.

In Houston, we deplaned then headed to our gate to wait. And wait. And wait through our 6-hour layover. Randy, Kathy and I took a stroll around the terminal from one end to the other and back again. I stopped on the way back for lunch at a pizza place then picked up dessert at a Coca Moca, a chocolaterie (mmmm…turtles) and tried to make a few phone calls from my cell.
Back at the gate, Marcia, Kathy and I played Yahtzee and “5,000” (a dice game I’d just learned from a friend) on the floor while Nancy watched and Randy and Blair snoozed sitting up (we have photos to prove it…). Somewhere along the way we decided that if we were going to have our committee pow-wow before we got to El Salvador, we should probably get to it so we put away the dice and started talking about the things we wanted to make sure to discuss with the Pastoral Team when we got there. We got that mostly done before they called boarding for our flight to San Salvador.

Somewhere in there, Kathy pulled out a copy of Wicked Spanish…a diabolical little book filled with the sorts of Spanish phrases you will never learn in school. Such useful taxi-ride gems as “Yo no sabía que la tela metálica tenía tantos usos.” (I never knew chicken wire had so many uses.) or “Por favor dénos cascos.” (Please give us helmets.). And, ever-useful in dealing with policemen, “Tienen que estar tan apretadas las esposas?” (Do the handcuffs have to be so tight? …As a cultural sidebar, note that the Spanish term for ‘handcuffs’ is esposas, meaning ‘wives’ and, parenthetically, an endearment for ‘the little woman’ meaning a wife or girlfriend is bruja, which is the word for ‘witch’). All of this had us laughing hysterically and we decided to start our own list of phrases that we would have our translator render into Spanish. We didn’t get much past, “The flashlight is very cold in my bra.” (don’t ask…) which, I don’t think anyone ever actually got around to asking Walter to translate for us.

The San Sal leg of our flight was uneventful. The movie, contrary to what we read in the in-flight magazine, was NOT Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was, instead, The Man starring Samuel L Jackson as a hardened and jaded cop and some other guy I’d never heard of as a small town salesman-type guy just in town to give a speech at a convention who got sucked into a high-stakes, covert gun-running deal. It was not a particularly good movie. The movie contained an incredible amount of swearing…even one of the characters in it commented on the amount of swearing. The most diverting part of the whole movie was some of the inventive dubbing used to cover up the swear words…to hear things like “bull sweat!” coming out of the tough guy’s mouth added an unintentionally comic tone to the movie. There was one obvious dub-over, but I couldn’t figure out WHAT it was dubbing out. We even talked about it later, as some of the others in the group noticed it, too. None of us knew what the dub was replacing…something crude and scatological rather than common swearing is all we could figure. I could rent the movie some day to find out but it’s just not worth it.

Dinner was airline food. That’s already giving it more notice than it deserved.

Bob met us at the airport and we had to wait a bit for Alejandro to pick us up with the van. We loaded up then Bob went to get his car from the parking lot while we waited for him. Kathy tried to talk Alejandro into giving her the keys but Alej very nervously resisted until we remembered the word for “joke” in Spanish is chiste so that he understood Kathy didn’t really intend to drive, only to freak out Bob a little. So Kathy got in the driver seat and Alej on the passenger side and we waited for Bob to come by. And waited. And waited. Finally, he came by and waved to the van and we all waved back. Then he jerked to a stop in the middle of the intersection as it registered that Kathy was in the driver seat. He started moving again to get out of traffic but pulled over just ahead of us as Kathy and Alej traded placed. We pulled up beside him as he was getting out of his car, clutching his chest and saying (in Spanish) “I thought, ‘Alejandro is crazy!’”
We rode the rest of the way to Daniela’s House without incident. We settled in then walked to the Super Selectos grocery store for cervezas (beer…for most of the rest of the gang) and pop (for me and Marcia). I also got a couple packets of powdered milk. We all chatted for a bit then Bob left and we went to bed.

Kathy, Marcia and I had the large room that Daniela and the kids had when they lived there. We had our own shower (cold, no pressure), an anteroom, and bathroom whereas the rest of the crew shared a bathroom.