10 September 2009

Schools, water filters, restaurant in Alegria

It was a quiet night…no more cat fights outside. Other than the sprinkle last night while we played Loteria, I don’t think it rained…the porch chairs were dry in the morning. I hope that doesn’t mean it will rain on us all day like Tuesday…

I pre-packed a bit while Jane “showered.” I pulled out clothes for today and to travel home in tomorrow then packed everything else except the stuff I’m leaving here. I’ll pack more tonight after dinner in Alegria and do the final pack tomorrow morning before leaving for the airport.

Alejandro and the cross he painted for Companeros.

Alejandro (Cecilia’s brother and one of my English students when I was here teaching in ’04) came by with the painted cross he made for Companeros. I gave him $25 for his work. Kathy said the wood cross cost him $5 and I know a cross of that size at the artisan market would go for probably $20. He signed the back and Kathy put clear packing tape over to keep it from smearing.
Kathy told us at breakfast that Balmore is very sick. He has a high fever. They’re taking him to a clinic later today. He was fine Monday when we went to El Mozote…but he’s not now.
Breakfast was fried eggs with salsa, boiled platanos with cinnamon, and beans.

Some of the homes and trails on the way to the Conception school.

After breakfast we loaded up in the truck with Alejandro riding escopeta (shotgun) because Kathy didn’t know the way to a marginalized school in Concepcion. The road there was very steep, very narrow, and very rough. Good thing we had a 4-wheel drive truck…

The kids were so excited when we arrived…they’d never had visitors like us before. There are 2 teachers there for over 100 students in kindergarten through 6th grade in 2 rooms. In the morning, it’s kindergarten and 1-3 grades. In the afternoon, it’s the rest of them. Since we were there in the morning, it was mostly the younger kids although some of the older ones had come early because they knew we’d be there.

There was a water hydrant at the school and these kids had filled their jugs there and were walking home as we were leaving.

We played with the kids some, they sang songs and we sang Itsy Bitsy Spider for them. Then Kathy took group photos of the grades, we met with the teachers (one of which was the principal) then headed out.

We went back to the Casa to drop off Otilia (who had a meeting to attend) and Alejandro. We also picked up Miguel then went to a San Francisco school that is right on the edge of Berlin.

It was similar to the first school (only more students) and still with 2 teachers. There was a poster on the wall with a bunch of men’s portraits on it and Lynn asked me who the guys were. I didn’t know so I asked Miguel. He said it was a poster about their Independence Day coming up on September 15th. He said the men were the people who signed the declaration that freed El Salvador from Spain. We talked a bit about how they celebrate…it’s a lot like our July 4th…with parades, street carnivals, food and music. Personally, I was just amazed and pleased that I could ask the questions and understood enough of what he was saying to be able to translate it for Lynn (who speaks no Spanish).

The San Francisco school water tank and bathrooms.

We also played and sang with the kids a bit. There was one little girl who was leaning up against the classroom door frame and I knelt down to talk with her. She was asking me the names of everyone in our group and how old they were. She asked my parents’ names and how old they are. She was 5 and in the kindergarten class. Her name is Katarina.

When she finished the interrogation, she ran off with half a dozen of the other little kids and they played some sort of game that involved one child squatting down in the center of the others, who are holding hands and moving in a circle while singing a song about a cucaracha (cockroach). At some point they all run pell-mell screaming and the squatting person tried to catch one to be the next cucaracha. I think. I’m not really sure. I didn’t understand any of the song except the word “cucaracha.” But I saw several rounds of the game to sort of get the pattern.

Earlier, I had asked Miguel if it was going to rain…it looked like some dark clouds coming over the mountain. He said not until afternoon or evening. But as we were loading up in the truck to head back to the Casa for lunch, it started to sprinkle. It was a 10-minute trip and while we didn’t get completely soaked, we got pretty damp. At one point, as we’re all standing in the back getting wet, I say, “Hey Miguel, is it going to rain today?” He laughed and said, “Possibly.” Then we both laughed.
Back at the Casa, Cecilia was frying fish for us for lunch. I went across the street to get a cold diet pop. Alisha made a paper bat to hide in Lynn’s suitcase. Michael wanted to make a box…timing himself after we gave him grief about how long his first one took. I asked Veronica what her favorite color is. She said, “Blue.” Then I asked her what her second favorite color is and she said, “Yellow.” So I made an origami box for her in yellow and blue. I was going to show her the 6 nested boxes I made and gave to Blanca but she must have taken them home.

Grinding stone artifacts at the El Recreo museum.

The rain started to taper off after lunch and we thought it would hold off for a while so we decided to proceed with our trip to El Recreo scheduled for the afternoon. They have a nice little museum there of artifacts…pieces of pottery, little figurines, grinding stones, etc) that were found when they were digging the foundation for their new church.

Afterward, we met with a few members of their directiva…Hector (the president), Francisco (the water filter liaison for the community), Antonio (Delegate of the Word, a lay leader of the church), Patricia (coordinator of the women’s sewing group) and Isabela (another member of the sewing group). We talked about various issues and successes they’re having and then went to Francisco’s house to see his water filter.

Francisco and his mother at the door of their home.

He lives with his mother and they’ve had the filter for about a year. he talked about how they’d had so many fewer illnesses since they got the filter…without the diarrhea caused by contamination and parasites, they’re both much healthier.

A top-down look at the water filter (bottom right of the picture), the clear jug filling with clean water (bottom left) and a cantaro (jug used to carry water) with the water that is dumped into the filter.

We went back to the Casa and stayed just long enough to pick up Miguel, Milagro and Cecilia to go toa restaurant in Alegria. Alegria is a larger community that Berlin that is further up the mountain. We had 12 very nice meals (I had grilled shrimp that were almost as long as my hand), drinks (beer, mixed drinks, pop, bottled water), and 3 meals to-go for the team members that stayed at the Casa. All that plus tip came to $101.

Back at the Casa, we did some packing, settled up with the Pastoral Team and basically got ready to leave in the morning. Balmore is sleeping above the chapel so he doesn’t have to make the 45 minute walk back to his house. He has some sort of inflammation and will need several months of recuperation and medication. He’s supposed to rest…but it’s harvest time.

On the way to the airport. This is travel Salvadoran style.

09 September 2009

Celebration in San Francisco

I slept reasonably well…except for the cats caterwauling in the space outside the bedroom window all night. It rained last night just before bedtime and probably in the night as well, since everything is wet this morning. But, hey, there’s running water today so, Hot Showers, Yay!

Here's a showerhead. There's a heating element inside the head powered by the electric box on the wall. It's on-demand hot water...but it only works if there is water to the shower head.
If there's no running water, you scoop water out of the pila with the plastic pan and pour it over your head. When there is running water, you fill the pila from the wall spigot.

Jane and I were up around 5:30. I turned on the spigot for the main pila (like a cement stock tank, it holds all the water for dishes and the like between running-water days) and the one in our bathroom. I turned on the hot water pot and Jane made real coffee when she got out of the shower.

Cecilia was up and starting breakfast for us around 6. Pancakes today!

We dressed for the celebration and found that we all were wearing stuff we’d bought here. My orange dress, Lynn’s embroidered tunic, Alisha’s pink shirt, Jane (and most of us) in El Sal earrings. Only Michael didn’t have Salvadoran items to wear so I loaned him the leather bracelet I got at Puerto del Diablo, since he didn’t want to let us pierce his ears. The wuss… :-)

The decorated church before the celebration Mass started.

A group of boys at the window by my chair.

The crowd of people inside (and outside) the church waiting for Mass to begin.

The bishop blessing the structure with holy water.

We rode to San Francisco in the back of the pickup and picked up more people en route. At the church, the band started playing around 9:30, welcome was at 10 and the Mass started shortly after. After the mass was a short ceremony and ribbon cutting. Then they cut the ribbon into small pieces and everyone there was given a little piece to pin to their shirt like a miniature Salvadoran flag.

There were these guys with big firework things…cohetes...like bottle rockets only about 4 feet long and home-made of bamboo and paper and whatever the zoom and bang parts were. They blew off a bunch of them when the Bishop arrived and periodically after that. I got some pictures from my seat by the window of them fooshing upward but I wanted a close up picture of the rocket itself to see if it was as home-made as it looked from the window. After the Mass, I tracked down Miguel (the elder) and asked where the fireworks guys went…I wanted a picture. He tracked them down and one came back to the church with a rocket in hand.

Rocket man with a bundle of cohetes.

I have a healthy respect for all fireworks. They’re impressive and fun but I also know they’re very dangerous. These guys were holding the rocket part of the thing with one hand) while lighting the fuse with the other and letting go when it started to lift off. All I could think was, “My God, what if it doesn’t go up before going off…”

We went to the school for lunch with the bishop and various dignitaries then had another meeting with the directiva at 1:30. After the meeting, we went to view the water tank/filter project that Foneas (a local NGO in cooperation with the French government) is piloting in the community.

We went back to the Casa. As we were regrouping, I realized I’d lost the coconut shell part of one of my earrings. Having stood in the back of the pickup on the way home, earrings flapping in the wind, I could have lost it anywhere. On a remote, off-chance I checked the bed of the pickup…and got lucky. It was there! I borrowed Kathy’s needlenose pliers and fixed it.

The pan dulce (sweet bread) lady came around 4:00 (as she does every day) and we hit it hard. We decided that we wanted more of the cookies so Ceci walked us up to the bakery where the pan dulce and cookies come from. Michael bought a bag of the heart cookies…probably at least 2 dozen…for $1.25. Lynn got some chocolate-cookie center things…6 for 60-cents.

Kathy, Jane, Michael and I sat around the table nibbling goodies and talking about filter projects, relations with the Alcaldia (mayor’s office), youth groups, etc. When we sit around talking, there’s just no telling what subject may come up.

Supper was tacos from a restaurant on the corner of the square.

After supper I finished the book I’d started on the plane and got a book from Kathy’s stash. She likes to read and when delegations visit they often leave books with her to read. This was one of those. She’d finished it and liked it and it was on my Books To Read list so I was happy to get it…Friday Night Knitting Club.

Alisha broke out a Loteria game she brought (Mexican word bingo game…in Spanish). We started playing and Otilia’s 14-year-old daughter, Veronica, wanted to play too so we got her set up and started a new game. Eventually it was all of us plus Otilia and Kathy playing. It was great to have a game that everyone, young and old, Spanish and English speaking, could play together.

After Loteria, Kathy brought out a trabalenguas (tongue-twisters in Spanish) book and we took turns reading them aloud. Cecilia didn’t play Loteria or trabalenguas…El Salvador was playing Costa Rica in soccer and she was glued to the TV. However, there was no doubt when El Salvador scored. You could hear the whole barrio cheer.

We had a discussion with Jane, Michael, Kathy and me about the directiva meeting and the new youth group in San Francisco. Lots of exciting stuff going on!

08 September 2009

Painting, rain, rain, rain, and rain

I woke around 11:30 last night and saw light around the bedroom door. All lights are supposed to be off and the doors bolted before we go to bed so I got up to check it out. All the house lights were on and the front door was open. I was momentarily concerned until I heard voices and followed them to find Alisha and Michael out on porch talking.

I went back to bed. I didn’t sleep nearly as well as last night but not bad. I woke up around 5 to a strange noise. I took out an earplug to better identify it and it turned out to be a torrential downpour. I took out the other earplug and lay there listening to the storm. The power went off briefly but that didn’t repeat.

After a while I got up and went to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. Then I “showered”…no running water today. I’m kind of headachy this morning. The bed is still a bit saggy in the middle and uphill on the edges. I should do some yoga…but probably won’t.

Did! And it did help.

After breakfast, we went to San Francisco and cleaned the doors and windows of the church in preparation for painting them. Then we met with the Directiva (town council) while things dried.

We had brought the paint and brushes with us from the Casa…2 gallons of cerulean blue, oil-based paint and 4 or so brushes. We hadn’t, however, brought drop cloths or tarps or paper with us to protect the floor. And since it’s a brand new, tile floor and the celebration is tomorrow, we have to be really, really careful about getting paint on it.

People in the community scrounged around and got some newpapers and paper sheets that we could use. Since the floors were wet from the washing, we also got some boards to put on the floor. Then we could put the paper on the boards and keep it dry so we could move it from spot to spot if we needed to since we were a little short on paper.

Miguel thinned the paint (I don’t know why) and poured it into smaller containers and we started to work in groups. I worked on a window with Jane and a woman named Jesica. Jesica held the paint container for me and Jane kept the window from swinging so that it stayed in place over the papers we’d put down. The thinned paint didn’t cover very well and was extra drippy. It was really hard to do a good job.

I don't have any pictures of this because my hands were all covered with paint.

While we were painting it started raining again. As I may have mentioned, it doesn’t just rain in El Salvador, it POURS. The church has a metal roof and with the torrent hitting it, the sound inside the church was deafening. Pretty much all non-essential conversation ceased for a while.

The original plan was that Blanca would make our lunch and bring it to us in one of the moto-taxis that zip around town. However, they have a really hard time making it up the mountain if the road is wet. After all that rain…it was wet. So we had to go back to Berlin for lunch.

Luckily, about the time we were done painting and it was time to head back to Berlin for lunch (1:00-ish), the rain stopped so we didn’t have to get soaked in the back of the pickup on the way back. We took a couple of women and several children with us. They needed medicine for one of the kids and hitching a ride with us saved them the 45-minute walk.

For lunch, we had hamburgers, macaroni salad, veggies (carrots, green beans, and a couple types of squash-like things…all whatever was available from vendors at the market that day), and watermelon.

After lunch, Kathy and Blanca went to pick up the flowers for the celebration tomorrow. It rained again while they were gone but not quite a torrential downpour this time.

While they were gone, Alisha and I did some yoga. I told her about some of the partner or group poses we’d done in my yoga classes and she was intrigued. I know I’ve seen a book somewhere that was called something like “Yoga for Two” but I don’t remember any specifics. After that, Jane, Lynn, Mily, Alisha and I sat on the porch and chatted while waiting for Kathy and Blanca to come back.

By the time Kathy came back, they decided it was late enough that it was going to be a very quick trip to San Francisco instead of the more-extended, help-decorate trip originally planned. Since they weren’t going to do more than drop off the flowers and return, we decided not to make the trip. Instead, we walked to various stores looking for film for Lynn, earrings from the women’s co-op that Kathy told us about, ice cream at the Nevería and some beer.

While we were walking around town, we suddenly heard Lynn yell, “Get away!!” She had been at the end of our little group so we turned around to see what had happened. Apparently, this guy had touched her butt then tried to stick his hand in her front pocket. He was shirtless, dirty and extremely scruffy…obviously drunk and a very bad pick-pocket. It was my 8th trip here (including one 5-week long trip in 2004) and I’d never had anything like that happen.

We made all our stops and purchases (1/2 gallon each of strawberry and (Oreo) cookie ice cream at the ice cream store, several pairs of earrings between us at the co-op, film from a tienda off the square and beer from the tienda across the street) and were heading back to the Casa when Jane saw a cross-dresser on a balcony up the street from the Casa. Kathy says there are several and the one she knows best is very nice.

Back at the Casa, we were sitting around the table chatting when it started to rain again…3 times today so far.

In the price-check department…of our market purchases that afternoon, the earrings were handmade from coconut shell and $1.50/pr, the ice cream was 2 - ½-gallon containers of hand-packed ice cream for $8, one roll of 24-exposure color film was something over $8, 9 dozen flowers (in Hawaii they’re called ginger flowers, I don’t know what they call them in El Salvador) and 3 potted trees came to $20.

Supper was pupusas (bought, not Cecilia-made), baked platanos stuffed with cheese and cinnamon, and ice cream for dessert.

After supper, Jane, Michael, Alisha and I put the vitamins and ibuprofen we bought into 30-count plastic bags. When people come to the Casa asking for vitamins for their kids, the team can hand them a ready-made bag now. Part of the reason we brought specifically children’s vitamins was because last week a father came to ask for vitamins for his small children and the Team didn’t have any. The last medical delegation had left them a stock but it was all gone. The dad who had asked came back as we were leaving for San Francisco that morning so we actually got to meet him, his wife and their 2 children.

We also put little pads on the bottoms of the dining chairs. Blanca said she had another little job for us for tomorrow but said it was a surprise and wouldn’t tell us what it was.

Alisha has been terrorizing Lynn this week with bats…or at least the threat of. She drew a bat on the white board of the Casa with the message, “I’m watching you, Lynn” and talking about putting on a bat costume in the night.

Well, we were making origami boxes around the dining table with paper squares I’d brought down and Alisha went to the internet and found a bat origami pattern. I didn’t have any black paper so she made a whole family of bats in different sizes in bright red and orange and yellow and blue and green and purple. We gave them all names like Batricia, Battina, Batrum, Batsy and Battiny (for the littlest one).

07 September 2009

El Mozote, Perquin - Sept 7

I went to bed around 10 last night while the card game was still going full tilt. I went right to sleep and didn’t wake when Jane came in for bed. I slept soundly until 5. I must have gotten the earplugs in perfectly because I heard nothing all night.

I heard the water come on about the time I woke up. Hot showers today! Jane got up around 5:45. Apparently, it poured last night around 10-11. Alisha said there was some amazing lighting around 11:30. Jane said it dumped buckets. I slept through it all.

Breakfast was pancakes, beans, fried eggs, left over anonas. We left for El Mozote around 7:40-ish…arrived 10:20-ish.

We toured the site with a guide then had a reflection in the children’s garden. The short story on El Mozote is that it is the site of the largest massacre of the Salvadoran war. Somewhere around 1300 people (mostly women, children and old people) were killed in one day. There were so many people in that small village because the word had gone out that if you came to this village, you’d be safe. So people came from all over the countryside, but it was a trap. Men were taken out to a field and shot. Children were separated from their families and locked up in the church. Women were taken to another building. Older girls and young women were taken to a nearby hilltop and raped. Then everyone was killed.

We know what happened because there was one survivor, Rufina Amaya. The last time I was here, we met her and heard her story from her directly. She has since died and is buried at the monument. We happened to see a DVD at the UCA (University of Central America) when we were there and Kathy bought a copy. It’s a video of Rufina telling her story. She was 42 when the massacre happened and died at 62.

The main monument at El Mozote...the figures in front are cut from sheet metal. The plaques behind them list the names of the adults (as much as is known). You can't see it in this picture but Rufina Amaya's grave is on the ground to the left of the monument.

Part of the mural wall in the children's garden with the names of the children who died listed on plaques across the bottom.

In many cases, the actual names of the children are unknown. With no surviving family members and so many people from other places, sometimes the best that could be done is what you see in the picture..."Nephew of Dionisio Marzuez - 2 days old" or "Daughter of Agustina Perez - 3 days old"

There have been some changes since the last time. The children’s garden is the big one. It’s along one side of the church and there has been a lot of planting and landscaping that’s new. The murals on the church wall with all the names/ages of the children who died are new. Rufina’s grave is new.

The side of the church wall opposite to the childrens garden has this mural.

After we left El Mozote, we went to Perquin, a nearby town that was considered the center of FMLN (the guerillas) during the war. There is now a museum there with photos and artifacts. Since the signing of the peace accords in 1992, the FMLN has become a legitimate political party and, in fact, the current president is of the FMLN party.

We had lunch at a resort/restaurant called Perkin Lenka. It was at the top of a steep embankment and there were a LOT of step going up from the parking lot. But once at the top, the view was spectacular…especially since we could see storm clouds rolling over the mountains across the valley.

Storm rolling in from across the valley, as seen from the restaurant when we arrived.

The resort had really cool little cabins all scattered around. It looked like it would be a great place to spend a long weekend, although other than the museum and El Mozote, there really isn’t anything else in the area. We had a very nice lunch for 11 people for $80 (including tip).

When the storm arrived...

The storm we saw rolling in hit while we were eating. One thing I’ll say for the rain in El Salvador, it doesn’t do anything by halfway measures…when it rains it comes down in massive quantities. On the up-side, it had mostly quit by the time we needed to make the trek down the stairs to the microbus. We joked with Alfredo (the driver) that he was going to have to drive the bus up the stairs to pick us up. Actually, there was a guy at the top of the stairs with umbrellas who offered to walk us down but it wasn’t raining enough for me to worry about it. Although…now that I think about it, I probably deprived him of a substantial portion of his income for the day.

Back at the Casa, we paid Alfredo for his services for the week (including the Monday to come for taking us to the airport). I used Kathy’s PC to burn the photos from my camera’s memory card to a CD and clear the card so I could take some more pictures.

Before supper, conversation around the table was Lynn, Alisha, Michael and me comparing the merits of hairy chests/backs (on men). Ex-hippie Lynn thinks the more the better and Alisha voting for substantially less.

After supper I started to read when Jane asked if I wanted to play Egyptian Rat Screw with them. It’s a pretty simple game and really fun with 4 people…at least until it gets down to 2 and stays there interminably. I gave up after an hour or so and went to the kitchen to refill my water bottle. I surprised a semi-feral adolescent cat that tried to make a mad dash out of the house. It skidded sideways on the turn out of the kitchen and then couldn’t get any purchase on the tiled floor. It was just like a cartoon with its little legs scrabbling wildly on the tile and not getting anywhere. It was the funniest thing I’d ever seen and I laughed until I had tears streaming down my face.

06 September 2009

Market, Mass and Volcano - Sept 6

I slept pretty well last night (earplugs!) but still heard the roosters starting in the wee hours, the dog next door, and the church bell at 5am. When my roomie, Jane, got up around 5:30, I was awake. No running water this morning so it was a dump shower…a very cold dump shower.

I dressed for church and had some coffee. The first cup was instant, then Cecilia broke out the brew pot by my 2nd one. I got nominated to send the email to Westminster to be read at the pulpit for the service there this morning. I borrowed Kathy’s computer to do that. I hope to hit the cyber café across the street later for a bigger catch up at some point.

Breakfast was eggs with green pepper and onion, red beans with onion, fried plantains and orange drink. Jane and Alisha did dishes.

It’s windy and cloudy this morning. We all went to scoop the market before Mass. We ran into Haydee and her daughter Mily in front of the pupuseria. Mily will be our translator later in the week. We also ran into Kathy just outside the church as we headed to Mass…which started pretty much on time (surpise!).

When it was time for communion, Kathy told us that, unlike in the U.S., we were welcome to partake if we wanted. Kathy said that when Father Cándido first arrived she introduced herself and explained a bit about the delegations that come to visit. She asked him about the propriety of her or the delegations taking communion at the church and, at first, he was confused about why she would ask. She explained that in the United States, she would not be allowed (as a non-Catholic) to take communion at a Catholic Mass. He was incredulous. It started a very animated conversation between him and the other father at the church about the theology involved. Kathy couldn’t follow much of it but after it was over, Fr Cándido reiterated that Kathy and any delegation member would be welcome to come forward for communion.

After Mass, we walked the market again. We bought 3 anonas for 50-cents so that we could sample them. I’d never seen them before…they look kind of like artichokes, only less spiky. I also bought a bar of soap for the Casa bathroom I am using, since I didn’t pack any. We stopped at a candy booth on the street and bought some sweets for the house. The women at the house like them but would never buy them for themselves. Kathy said the booth would be there all week since it was part of the early set up for the Independence Day celebration on the 15th.

Back at the Casa, it was lunch time. Cecilia had made cauliflower relleno, salad, rice and a drink made from watermelon, strawberry and apple all chopped up. I changed out of church clothes and into shorts and a tank top. There’s still a bit of a breeze and the sun is playing peek-a-boo with clouds. Sometimes it’s hot and sunny, sometimes it’s not.

After lunch, we had a meeting with Miguel to review the books on the church project. He showed us the receipts and accounting. Lynn, since she’s an accountant by trade, reviewed his work and signed off on it. Then we talked about the next couple of days. We’re scheduled to go to San Francisco tomorrow to help paint the doors and windows of the church prior to the big dedication celebration on Wednesday.

Since we were supposed to be painting (with oil-based paint) and none of us had brought work clothes to paint in, we decided to make another trip to the market to look for cheap clothes. We walked to the cheap end of the market and I scored a T-shirt for $2.50 and a pair of shorts for $1.

Back to the Casa, we decided that the weather was going to hold clear for a while so we headed out to the Laguna de Alegria with the addition of sunscreen. The Laguna is a lake inside a volcano crater. I’d been there before but I’d never seen the water level so high. We went for a walk along the lake, headed for the other side to look for volcanic vents. We didn’t find any vents but we did find a few warm holes. Vents are the holes or fissures where hot air and sulfur-smelling gases vent to the surface and sometimes you can find yellow sulfur crystals growing. Warm holes are where people have dug into the banks in certain spots. When you put your hand into the hole, it’s not hot but it is definitely warmer than the surrounding ground or air temperature.

On the way back to the Casa I rode in the back of the pickup. We stopped at the edge of Alegria to pick up a couple of guys that Cecilia (also in the back of the truck) knew. A little further on, we stopped to pick up a group of 3 adults and 4 small kids (all under 5). The bigger group got out about halfway back to Berlin. The 2 guys got out at the upper edge of Berlin. Kathy says her policy is that if she’s got time and there’s room, she’ll stop to pick up A) people she knows or B) women with loads and/or small children in tow.

Back at the Casa, I asked Blanca and Cecilia if I could help with supper and Blanca trained me on making empanadas…basically a mashed boiled-plantain paste that’s filled with a milk-and-rice-flour mixture then fried. My job was to form the empanadas and hand them to Blanca who fried them. Alisha offered to help too and Cecilia had her making quesadillas. The quesadillas there are not like they are here. There, they’re made from leftover tortillas (which are also not like tortillas here…they’re made of corn flour and a little smaller than a CD, maybe a quarter-inch thick). The tortillas are cut in half so that you end up with half-circle tortillas, then mostly separated through the straight side, like a pita. The slit is stuffed with cheese and then the whole thing is fried until the cheese melts. It’s not a runny kind of cheese so the frying doesn’t cause the cheese to run out when it melts.

Supper was quesadillas, empanadas, rice/beans and some of the sweets we bought for dessert.

After supper, Michael, Jane, Lynn and I talked about hospice work for a while. Michael and Lynn were interested. Jane has worked as a hospice volunteer for a long time. While I didn’t know much from personal experience, I knew a little from Alan having started as a hospice volunteer this summer. He works for a different hospice than Jane so there were some minor differences in how their volunteer gigs go. We priced a bunch of bags that we’ll be carrying back for Companeros. I took a shower, then read some before bed. My feet and ankles have been swelling since I got here. That’s happened one other time on a trip here. I don’t know why. Kathy said maybe the elevation. I know that standing in the back of the pickup for trips definitely makes it worse. Maybe elevating and massaging them will help…

My bed is seriously hammocked in the middle. I’m in the bottom of a bunk bed. I think it’s just been slept in a lot and the caning that supports the mattress has loosened up. I tried the top bunk and it’s better but I don’t really want to be climbing up and down all the time. Jane scouted around and found a piece of plywood in the garage that’s smaller than the bed. We put it under the mattress and it seems to help.

I read some more, lying on the bed with my feet propped up against the bottom of the upper bunk. Michael, Alisha and Jane are in the dining room outside playing “Egyptian Rat Screw”…a card game that sounds like a cross between War and Slap Jack. The most commonly heard phrase: “Dang it!” from Michael.

05 September 2009

San Salvador and Berlin - Sept 5

I slept reasonably well. I got up once in the night and saw lightning. Not too long after that, there was a huge storm. I laid there and listened to the storm for a while then went back to sleep.

After going to bed last night at 8:30pm, Jane and I were up, showered and downstairs by 6:45am. Breakfast was scheduled for 8:00. We spent the intervening time having coffee on the porch in the garden. I had coffee, too. I decided to “go native” this trip and not bring tea with me.

We saw a humming bird visiting the flowers in the garden. We also saw 3 of the garden turtles with their paint jobs.

Breakfast was traditional…scrambled eggs, refried beans, fried plantains, fresh cheese, toast and coffee.

Alfredo came to pick us up around 9 to take us to Divina Providencia, the cancer hospital where Monsignor Romero lived and worked. It also has the chapel where he was delivering a funeral Mass when he was shot. The small house where he lived has been turned into a sort of museum with photos of him and his personal effects that has been set up and maintained by the nuns there. His assassination in 1980 is one of the things that precipitated the start of the war. He’s been beatified within the Catholic Church. He’s in the process of becoming Saint Romero. Even though it hasn’t officially happened yet, the people of El Salvador often refer to him as Saint.

After Divina Providencia, we went to Parque (Park) Cuscatlan to see the memorial wall. This wall lists the names of all the people (that they know of so far) who died during the war. It’s sorted by year and by whether they were killed or disappeared. Other than that, there’s no real organization to the names…they aren’t in alphabetical order or anything. We spent some time and found Rutilio Grande and Oscar Romero. There’s also a listing of the massacres that happened during the war. I found the names of the sites that I’d visited before.

One end of the wall is a 3-dimensional mural showing the history of El Salvador from ancient to modern times.

It’s a nice and rather large park. There was a soccer game going on at one end. There were ice cream vendors walking around with their wheeled carts, ringing their cart bells. There were couples sitting on benches…talking or smooching. Families were picnicking on tables or blankets spread on the ground. At one point a group of kids with Down Syndrome all dressed in blue uniforms (shorts, shirt and a neckerchief) like a Boy Scout troupe gathered into a circle under the trees.

After the park, we went to the artisan market that we usually go to. It contains several outdoor aisles with vendor booths on each side. If you’re looking for anything typically Salvadoran, you’ll find it here. I ended up buying an El Salvador soccer shirt ($12), an orange summery dress ($25) and a pair of silver earrings with amethyst stones ($3). Others got shirts, hand painted wooden crafts, hammock chairs, etc.

We decided to meet at the diner type place at the market for lunch at 11:30. It’s a buffet sort of thing with a half dozen or so main dishes and a few sides. You tell them (or point to) what you want and they put it on a plate for you. They also had cold bottled or canned drinks. Lunch for 7 people came to $27.

After lunch, we loaded up the microbus and Alfredo drove us to Berlin. It’s about an hour and 45 minute drive, most of it on the Pan-American Highway and headed up and away from the coast. It was a mostly uneventful drive. The only curious/interesting thing that happened was that we passed a bus that was stopped along the road. There were police officers, about 6 guys standing in a row and one guy in handcuffs behind him, sitting on the ground with his head down. Don’t know for sure what that was about… There are reports of gangs holding up public transport buses and robbing everyone on them. It may have been something like that here.

We arrived at La Casa Pastoral, greeted everyone, introduced Michael (our only member who had never been here before) and hauled bags to rooms. Then we went for a walk around town and I bought a comb at the tienda (store) across the street from La Casa.

We had a meeting with El Equipo Pastoral (the pastoral team) that was present (Milagro, Miguel, Otilia and Blanca) for the usual welcome and then another meeting with just Miguel to talk about San Francisco, our sister community. This meeting lasted until supper time and dark. It was fully dark by 6:30.

For supper, we had spaghetti with hot dog slices, boiled veggies (carrot, green bean and a couple types of squashy things), and watermelon.

After supper I delivered the kids clothes and vitamins I brought along with the vitamins the others brought. Most of us sent email to people back home. It started to rain. Blanca and I made origami boxes with the paper I’d brought. Then I read some. I’m more than halfway through the book I started on the plane. At this rate, there won’t be enough left for the plane ride home… To bed at 10:00.

04 September 2009

Arrival in San Salvador - Sept 4

Got up at 3:30am, was showered and out the door @3:42. Alan got me to the airport about 4:00 and Lynn was already there. Michael was the next arrival. He’d printed his boarding pass at home and had no checked bags so he was ready to roll. Lynn tried to use the kiosk to check in but it didn’t like her passport…she had a name change amendment stuck in the back so the strip reader wasn’t reading the current (valid) name…only the old one. But the kiosk worked fine for me and Jane, who arrived while we were messing with it. Alisha arrived around 4:30 and we all got checked in and had no problems with security or boarding. The flight to Atlanta was smooth, quiet and mostly dark. I had a window seat but not on the sunrise side of the plane so I didn’t have much of a view. I started (and finished) Where’s My Jetpack?.

On the 2-hour layover in Atlanta I picked up breakfast at the food court and dug my other book (Wyrms, a sci-fi sort of thing by Orson Scott Card). The flight to San Salvador was uneventful. It’s just over 3 hours. On one plane walk-about, Alisha and I were brainstorming yoga stretches we could do in the aisle. It helped.

At Customs, I got pulled over for inspection and everyone else in the group was given a pass. I’d filled out my Customs form to say I had some non-personal luggage stuff because I had one whole suitcase that was full of children’s clothing that some woman had made and donated as well as bottles of children’s vitamins that were also donated. The Customs agent searched all my bags and then chastised me for filling out my form incorrectly and gave me a new blank form to fill out. I completed the new form, which I handed to him, and he sent me on my way.

We met Kathy and Alfredo (driver) outside the airport and loaded up to head to Los Pinos, the guest house where we were going to spend the night. We dropped our bags in our rooms and then headed out to Puerto del Diablo (Door of the Devil).

As always, the heat and humidity of arrival in San Salvador is oppressive. That first step out of the airport is like being wrapped in hot, wet, wool blankets. The first day is just miserable but it gets better after that as you sort of get used to it. It also helps that we generally head to Berlin which is higher up in the mountains and not quite so hot.

So it is in this oppressive heat/humidity soup that we go for a hike. Puerto del Diablo is a natural area…not officially designated as such but the sort of thing that would be a national or state park here in the States. It’s not a huge area but if you hike up to the top on a clear day you can get an amazing view of the ocean off to one side, lake Ilopango to the other and the city of San Salvador behind you.

Today is not a clear day. It’s the wet season so there is a lot of haze/fog in the air (humidity you can see!) but we could just make out breakers on the ocean shore to one side and the lake to the other. Since the last time I was here, they’ve added rappelling from one of the rock outcroppings. For $5 you can strap in and lower yourself over the edge. Also new to me is the cable ‘handrails’ along the route up/down the rock face. I put handrails in quotes because for the most part they were worthless…sagging down to the ground or with the support posts actually lying on the ground. However, up at the top, I saw a guy actually using them to good effect. He was sitting out on the edge of the bluff and had wrapped his arm around the cable. I thought he was being unusually safety-minded for a Salvadoran but then he was joined by a couple of his buddies and they all got on the other side of the cable. I just couldn’t look…I went back down.

There are a number of hiking trails but by the time we’d gotten up and down the big one, in the heat that we weren’t used to, we decided we’d had enough. There were a number of vendors plying their wares around the parking lot. I got a leather bracelet, a couple other people picked up some shirts, and Michael got some food and a bottle of water.

We headed back to Los Pinos to degrunge and regroup for supper. The last food I’d had was a breakfast burrito at the Atlanta airport. Once I cooled off a bit, I was starving.

We walked up the street to a place called El Sopón Típico for supper. Most of us had the pupusas (traditional Salvadoran food) we’d been craving, a few had beer and we also ordered a plate of gorrobo (iguana) because none of us (except Kathy) had ever tasted it.

I can now say I have eaten iguana. I can also say that I don’t have any plans to order it again. It wasn’t bad…very bland (even moreso than chicken), dry and kind of chewy. We had it fried, so maybe there’s another way to prepare it (with flavorings or sauces maybe) that would make it more appealing. But it’s relatively expensive and there are other things I’d rather eat.

On previous trips, I’d seen the people along the Pan-American Highway holding up iguanas for sale. Kathy said that those are wild-caught (and illegal). The ones served in restaurants are farm-raised. We ordered the smallest size they had and it was $9 for the plate. Ones sold along the highway (alive but with toes broken so they can’t get away) would sell for $25.

Checking out at the restaurant, they gave us these wrapped candies made from sugar cane…they looked homemade, not commercially made. They were filling-pulling sticky/chewy and tasted sort of molasses-y. I chewed off small bites with my front teeth and sucked on the bits instead of chewing it. Alisha popped the whole thing into her mouth and then found it vile…she had to step outside to get rid of it. I kind of liked it.

The bill for the entire meal (including 3 bottles of beer, the iguana plate and tip) for the 6 of us came to $50.
We left the restaurant and walked a little further along to Pops for ice cream. Pops is a 31-flavors kind of place with scoops of ice cream, sundaes, banana splits, etc. We all got single cones (I had mango!), some of them dipped in chocolate, for $5.96.

We walked back to Los Pinos and divvied up our kitty money into envelopes for the various things we’d have to pay for during the week…translator, driver, room/board, etc. We chatted briefly then everyone scattered to rooms for the night. It had been a really long day.

I took a shower. There was no hot water but even the cold water isn’t really cold so it felt good. I finished the shower and discovered that I’d somehow managed to not pack either a comb or brush. I had to make do with fingers and put “buy comb” on the list of things to do first thing when we got to Berlin.