31 August 2011

El Salvador 2011 - Day 5

I slept really well last night. I was up before Nancy. I’d planned to shower before bed last night after the long pickup ride, by the time we got home, I just couldn’t face a dump-shower. I used a wet wipe on my face and got rid of a lot of grime, let me tell you.

This morning is more bean deliveries. This afternoon is another bean delivery and a community meeting in El Recreo.

8 men (plus a driver) arrived in a truck arrived around 8 and began loading truck, carrying 3 of the 40 pound bags at a time. I wanted to take a picture of it…which is when I discovered that my camera battery was dead…and that I hadn’t packed the charger for it. Alisha and Nancy volunteered to take any pictures I wanted. I also checked with the other women to see if anyone had a charger that would work with my battery. They all had Canons and mine is a Sony. However, Kathy’s old camera was a Sony…she dug out the charger for it and I hoped for the best.

The truck left and we followed in the pickup.

We arrived in El Tablón Centro before the truck. Women were sewing school uniforms at the community center. Blanca and Cecilia reviewed the census list with the Directiva president while we waited for the truck to arrive.

In the clearing, all the men were sitting under the shade of  tree on one side…all the women were in the shade of the buildings on the other. Blanca asked the women who were getting seed to move over to where the men were so that everyone could be addressed at the same time. The Directiva president used a bullhorn to talk to everyone. There was some prayer, some applause for the Team, and an explanation of how the process was going to work.

While all that was going on, people from the community wanted the Team and gringas to have some atol. It was really good…not as thick as what we had at the Casa but tasty.

On to Santa Rosa... This is a small community of 48 families. Oscar (Directiva president) really wanted us to have lunch at his house so we ate there instead of going back to the Casa for lunch. We had chicken, veggies in broth, tortillas and frog-egg fresco.

On our way back to the Casa, we had to detour around cemetery construction in Berlín and came at the Casa from a different direction. There was  a place about 3 houses from the Casa that had a dog that looked a lot like Callisto. Alisha and I went back to find it but it had apparently gone inside.

Kathy’s old camera battery charger worked! I have a camera again.

On to El Recreo… everyone gathered at the church and they had a community meeting about the driver that takes people to/from El Recreo/Berlín. The Directiva wanted a vote and there was some discussion Mostly people wanted a posted and reliable schedule.

Then they did the bean giveaway, we had a meeting with the Directiva, walked through the museum and returned to the Casa.

We had pupusas for supper. I knit for a bit but was really tired and my feet and ankles are huge. I went to bed early.

30 August 2011

El Salvador 2011 - Day 4

Happy Birthday, Dad!

We’re off to La Palma today. It’s going to be a really long day. We’re to leave at 7am, drive to San Salvador to get Alfredo who’ll drive us the rest of the way to La Palma…about 5 hours total. We’re also going to El Pital, the highest point in El Salvador. We’ll then retrace our steps back to the Casa and probably get there around 9:30. I like La Palma but that’s a long day…most of it in the back of a pickup.

We noticed an unusual number of dead animals on the road. Idalia counted 4 possum-like things, 4 dogs and a small pig. Some were really hard to identify, but we think we also counted a dead watermelon, sack of cement and pair of pants. After that we kind of gave up on the road-kill bingo. Although at one point I did see  flock of vultures clustered around the end of a bridge. I couldn’t tell what they were collecting over but it was big and dead.

We met Alfredo “at the naked lady”…there’s a round-about with a statue of El Salvador del Mundo (the naked lady) at the center.

On the way out of San Salvador, we stopped at a gas station. I got pop and a Bon o Bon. The Bon o Bon was a chocolate covered sandwich cookie thing. The filling was peanuty and the cookie part was light and kind of bland. It was actually pretty tasty in an innocuous sort of way. The really interesting thing about it was that the label was in Spanish and Arabic.

We also saw something called Bubu Lubu that we decided to get, just because of the name. It had a sort of stiff, marshmallowy layer with a sort of gummy fruit paste layer, all covered in chocolate. Not bad, but not something I’d get again.

We arrived at El Pital around 12:15. El Pital is 2730 meters and about 8 miles from the Honduran border. The park is beautiful with lots of flowers, bromeliads, and picnic areas but it was too cloudy to see a real view down to the valley. The road to the top is very steep and winding but, in general, pretty good. We drove through a couple cloud layers on the way up. The last 3 km are really rough, though.

At the bottom of the mountain was a little community with an ag co-op. They had trucks of tomatoes being sorted through and boxed up to be hauled away. We stopped and the team bought several bags of tomatoes. Kathy took one to eat like an apple and shared it with Nancy and me. It was really good and got us thinking about tomato and cheese sandwiches…
(Alisha's picture...truck load of tomatoes at the co-op)
We went down to La Palma for lunch around 3:00 at a hotel/restaurant place. The waitress suggested we check out the pool, hammocks and river below as it would take about 20 minutes for our order to be ready. I had the pincho mixto (a kabab with chicken, beef and chiorizo in addition to the veggies plus fries…real, fresh from the potato fries).

After lunch, we went to the artisan market. I wasn’t planning to buy anything but found a shirt that I loved (and it fit), a painting and a couple of gifts.

The ride back to Berlín seemed really long…my butt was REALLY tired of sitting. In San Salvador when we dropped off Alfredo, Idalia moved outside so I moved inside. It seemed to take forever to get to Berlín. In the dark, the winding roads, blind corners and sometimes no center line had us going slowly. For a looooong way, we were stuck behind a semi doing 20 miles an hour because it was too hard to pass and you just never know when you’ll round a curve and find people or animals in the road. Slower is safer, if much more frustrating.

Back at the Casa, nobody really wanted much for supper. I had some granadillas and half a piece of pan dulce.

29 August 2011

El Salvador 2011 - Day 3

It had quit raining by bedtime last night and warmed up a bit so I didn’t need an extra blanket. I slept reasonably well, although my neck is still bothering me.

I “read” yesterday’s paper while waiting for breakfast to be ready. There was an article about a puppy in Brazil that was born green…they’re calling it The Hulk. There was a big article about the US presidential elections, the Tea Party and how religion is playing big role.

Breakfast was fried eggs, beans, bread, fried tamales and fried plantains.

Blanca and Balmore arrived after breakfast with flowers…mariposas and red roses.

We started the meeting with the Pastoral Team around 8:15, took a few breaks and finished around 12:15. Lunch was steak, salad, tortillas, and fresca (drink made from one or more fruits).

Around 1:30, Cecilia, Kathy, Blanca and Nancy left to deliver beans to El Corazol. Alisha and I left with Miguel to walk to San Francisco. We took the walking shortcut…which I had never seen because I’d only been there by truck. It took about 40 minutes to walk up the mountain.

While there, we looked at the wall around the church and talked about what is needed yet to avoid erosion and protect the structure. We also talked about the solar panel on the church. Currently, it’s not working because it needs new storage batteries. It’s not critical since the church has been tapped into the power that came to the community. The Directiva needs to decide what to do about it…to decide if it should be moved to another location, new batteries purchased, etc. Miguel isn’t on the Directiva so that’s  decision for someone else.

We walked to a couple of homes getting water tanks from FONEA (an NGO). The FONEAS project includes a water filter that is basically a terra cotta liner in a 5 gallon bucket. The principal is similar to the slow sand filters we installed in most homes. Miguel says that the rain water here has a sour taste that the FONEAS filter doesn’t remove but the sand filters do. He prefers the sand filters.

We also walked to “The River” where people from San Francisco can get water. I put the name in quotes because that’s what they call it but that’s not what it is. It’s basically a place where water seeps out of a rock face. They’ve built a pila to collect the water and put in some plastic shelves to collect and funnel more water. There was about 2 meters of water in the pila…probably room for another couple meters, if that much water is available.

Kathy, et al, were going to pick us up in San Francisco on their way back to the Casa from Corazol. However, we couldn’t get a signal on Alisha’s cell phone so we didn’t know when they would be going through. We started trudging back up from The River thinking that if Kathy came through, we’d just hop on. We’d only gotten about halfway up the mountain when she did pick us up so she saved us a big walk up.

Back at Casa, I took a dump-shower (no water running in the house today so showering is taking water in a container and pouring it over your head) and put on clean clothes. I bought 2 cans of pop at the store across the street. Alisha and Nancy went to get beer. I started the other mitten.

Alisha and Cecilia went to get tacos for supper. We chatted, knitted, and computered the evening away.

28 August 2011

El Salvador 2011 - Day 2

Had a decent sleep. There was some sort of party going on at the high school (a block or so up the street) with loud music and throbbing bass. I put in ear plugs which cut out the music but I could still feel the mattress vibrate.

I’d dozed on the plane some and did something to my neck…the night didn’t make it better. Ibuprofen helped!

Breakfast was pancakes (SoftCake…on previous delegations, people would buy boxes of it to take home), fried plantains, refried beans and bread.

Big news! I made a joke in Spanish. I was so proud. I was heading into the kitchen and met Blanca coming out with a plastic bag of novios (a type of bread with sugar on top…the word ‘novio’ also means boyfriend or fiancé). She asked if I wanted a novio and I replied, “No, gracias. Tengo un esposo.” (No thanks, I have a husband.). Hey, I didn’t say it was a GOOD joke…I take my victories where I can.

Apparently, with earplugs, I missed the big catfight last night. Alisha and Nancy talked about the cats fighting outside our windows. I completely missed it.

I also didn’t hear the avocado bombs. There is a big avocado tree in the back yard. The avocados aren’t very big…but they are hard and when they hit the metal roof of the bodega, it makes a big boom.

Anyway, Kathy has been collecting these little avocados and when the cats fight she tosses an avocado on the roof near wherever they are to distract them. Sometimes it works…

After breakfast, we walked to the market (Sunday is the BIG market day) on a fruit quest. We bought some of any fruit I didn’t know and we’ll have a fruit tasting later. While there, I bought a pair of flip-flops for $1. The only shoes I brought were my Tevas and wanted something to wear around the house and for showering.
Marañones japones (in bags, the fruit of a type of cashew tree), liche (on right, I know them as rambutans)
Papaya and banana across the top. Star fruit on the right. I'm not sure what the ones on the left are, but the bottom left look like peaches or very large apricots.
Red bananas and yellow bananas. We didn't end up buying the red bananas for some reason so I don't know if they taste different from regular yellow bananas.
The produce market in Berlin
Two types of passion fruit, apples on the left. Potatoes at bottom. Broccoli and cabbage on the right.
Around 10, we had a meeting with the Directiva (like a town council, the members are elected by the community) of San Lorenzo which lasted until about 12:30.

We had lunch – chicken, hot potato salad (YUM!), steamed veggies and tortillas.
I helped Kathy with a list of bean deliveries for this afternoon. I read the names from a hand-written list, she typed in to Excel so we'd have a form for people to sign.

We left around 1:30 to deliver beans to a couple of communities. The first stop was San Lorenzo Centro.

We met “Grandma”…a little girl there (Susana) was telling us about all the flowers we were admiring and that her grandma had planted them all. She took us up to meet Grandma Emma. It was entirely appropriate that the sweatshirt she was wearing said “Petal Pusher” on it. She said some of the flowers were planted 20 years ago…the white ginger (‘mariposa’) was incredibly fragrant. I don’t know what most of the others were but Idalia collected some seeds from something with purple flowers that she wanted to plant at her house. The seeds were tiny she said something about needing something to put them in. I had an idea! I had a receipt in my camera pouch and gave it to her to wrap the seeds in.
Susana and Grandma Emma with Kathy
Emma (different one, this one is a member of the directiva) took us behind the house to show us the guatuso (agouti). It’s a rodent. They caught it when it was small…now it probably about the size of a large cat but built like a rat, no tail and the mouth is set way back from the end of its nose. It smells like a big rodent, too.

We went on to Mediagua to deliver the rest of the seed. This is a new casario (very small community) that is just in the process of organizing. As long as everyone was there, the Directiva collected 25-cents from everyone to defray the organization costs. The Directiva made it clear that the 25-cents was separate from the beans...the beans and bean delivery were free to them.

When the Team got the census list from the Directiva, there were 38 names on the list but that wasn’t exact. When we showed up, there were 3 additional families that needed beans. Blanca suggested that, if everyone agreed, they could remove 2 pounds of beans from each of the 38 bags we brought (25 pounds each) to give everyone beans. They agreed, the Directiva measured out the beans, and when we left, all families had beans.

Most people brought their own bags and dumped their beans into their own bag so that the bags we delivered the beans in could be reused. That saves the Team and donors money on the overall project.

Today was the very first round of bean deliveries. When we delivered beans, the people would be running a hand through the beans, pulling out a handful to inspect. Many people commented on the quality of the beans. The harvest from 40 pounds is enough to feed a ‘family’ for a year.

The government is giving away beans too…a program called Family Agriculture Plan. The Plan gives people 25 pounds of seed. According to the interpreter we had today, the government beans are purchased from India, China and other places. The people don’t like the government beans because they aren’t native, in most cases they’re GMO and they’ve been treated so they aren’t edible. The big problem though, is that when the census lists were provided from the communities, many (in some cases, all) names were dropped from the list without explanation. Also, the Plan requires that people go to Usulután to get their beans…not knowing whether they will actually get beans or not. From Berlín, Usulután is about 50 minutes by car. The vast majority of people in the cantons don’t have transportation other than feet or bus.

This week’s bean delivery is delivering 2 different amounts of beans. For people who were dropped from the government list, we’re giving 40 pounds of beans. For people who got the government beans, we’re delivering 15 pounds of beans to make up the difference. This is for communities that have partnerships with groups or churches in Iowa who have donated the money to pay for the beans. Others (individuals, mostly) have also donated to help cover the cantons that don’t have partnerships.

By the time we were done in Mediagua, it was getting chilly and thunder-rumbly. I was cold on the way back so the atol and elote waiting for us at the Casa was most welcome. Aminta made the atol for us. It’s basically corn that’s ‘mooshed’ in a mill or blender then cooked with water, sugar, vanilla and some cinnamon until it’s thick. It was really tasty.

Elote is basically corn-on-the-cob. It’s not sweet corn though. It’s the regular field corn that’s been picked at a certain stage. The elote we had was just corn…nothing on it. But on the street (festivals and suchlike) you can get elote loco where they might put all manner of things on it…ketchup, mayo, cheese, a brown sauce, or combinations thereof. I haven’t had the elote loco.
Elote loco at a street festival in Alegria (later in the week)
Cecilia, Kathy, Alisha and Kristi went to Mass. Nancy stayed home because she can’t see well at night. I stayed with her so she wouldn’t be in the house alone. Ok, it’s also really boring to sit through a long service when you can’t understand any of it…so I wasn’t really excited about going.

Before they left, Kathy gave us stern instructions not to answer the door or phone while they were gone. The doorbell rang, we ignored it. It rang again, we ignored it. It rang a third time a good long while, we ignored it. Not too long after that, Alejandro (Cecilia’s brother) came in soaked to the skin. When we didn’t answer the door, he’d apparently called Cecilia, gone to the church and got the key to let himself in. Poor guy.

Ceclia came back with pupusas for supper. She said Mass was still going on but she left to get us food. Kathy, Alisha and Kristi came back later. It was a really long Mass.

After supper, we had our fruit tasting. Kathy insisted on starting with the nances. They’re tiny little fruits about the size of a large marble with a pit. They smell pretty bad. They don’t taste quite as bad as they smell but I can’t imagine actually eating them by choice. The thing they most reminded me of is old parmesan cheese, but slightly fruity. If I don’t make it sound appetizing, it’s because it wasn’t.

The liches were another story. They looked like the rambutans I’d had in Thailand. If they aren’t exactly the same thing, they’re very closely related. Kristi said that in Guatemala they are called rambutans so maybe they are the same. They’re about the size of a small egg (red) and covered with sort of neon green strings. They’re ridiculously easy to eat. You just put your thumbnails together on the skin and pry. The fruit just pops out like a hard-boiled egg. They’re lightly sweet with a pit in the center that doesn’t separate from the fruit as easily as the fruit separates from the skin.
(Alisha's picture) Me giving Alisha the "hairy eyeball" with an opened liche.
There were two kinds of passion fruit; granadilla and maracuya. We had the granadilla, which Kathy calls ‘frog eggs’. It’s an apt name, cause that’s what the edible part looks like. The taste reminds me of kiwi fruit only a little more tart. The maracuya is more tart yet with bigger, crunchier seeds than the granadilla and generally used for making a drink.

We also had marañon japones (Japanese cashew). There is another kind of marañon but we didn’t find any of those fruits at the market. The marañon japones fruit was kind of bland…edible and completely inoffensive but nothing to write home about. In the non-japones type of marañon, the hard shell that contains the single cashew nut hangs down below the fruit. The marañon japones also has a sort of nut but it’s not eaten.

I finished the first mitten. I’d kind of counted on the pair taking more of the week…oh well.

It’s been raining pretty much continuously since we got back from Mediagua. There was thunder and lightning early on but mostly it’s been a steady, gentle rain. We’re thinking no catfights tonight…

27 August 2011

Heading to El Salvador - Day 1

Got up at 4:45am, showered, dressed and headed to the airport. Nancy was already there and in line to get her boarding pass. I used the kiosk machine to print mine; I'd checked in on-line yesterday and got my seat assignments.

I hugged Al goodbye and headed to security.

The detector beeped as I went through and the security agent told me that wasn't for metal, I'd been selected for additional screening and stepped aside to have my palms wiped with a little piece of fabric that was then analyzed in a machine. Whatever they were looking for, I passed.

In Houston, I got a breakfast burrito, a scone and some hot tea.

At the gate I started my knitting project for the week. After a while, I noticed that the destination posted had changed...and not to San Salvador. Nancy went to check the monitors found our gate had moved so we picked up our stuff and went there. I knitted some more.

When it was closer to boarding, I went to stand by the boarding area...there's only so much sitting I can do at one time. There was a brochure display and a small girl...walking but not talking...and the girl was having a high time pulling the brochures out of their pockets and handing them to her mother and an older women next to her. The mother would get up occasionally and put the brochures back.

Then the girl started handing them to me, smiling hugely. Mom would rush over and apologize and try to distract the girl with something else. I told her there was no problem, the girl was keeping occupied. She was so focused, she just wouldn't be distracted, no matter what the mom tried.

On the plane to El Salvador, I had an aisle seat next to an older woman and a teen aged girl. Not too long after I sat down, the woman started looking for something and got progressively more frantic. I asked what she was looking for and it was her passport and travel documents.

She looked through her purse; I checked the seat pocket in front of her. We were in the process of getting out of our seats to check below when I saw an envelope kind of thing that has slid between her seat and mine. She was SOOOO relieved. I can relate, after having lost my passport on a flight to Germany once.

I started knitting again until lunch was served. By then I'd gotten to the thumb gusset of the mitten and decided to switch to puzzles for a while.

We arrived in San Salvador and Kathy met us outside the airport. On the way to Berlin, we stopped at a gas station for snacks, drinks and gas (for the truck). I got a 600ml bottle of pop for 65 cents, a bag of suspiros (a cookie that’s a lot like a lady finger…very light, crispy and tasty) for $1.85.

Gas in El Salvador is generally 50-cents higher that whatever we're paying here.
In Santiago de María, closer to Berlín, Kathy got cash from an ATM while in company. We also got some special cookie things at a bakery there that can't be gotten anywhere else. They reminded me of the pie crust things my mom used to make…only without cinnamon.
The baker in Santiago de Maria
Baked goods for sale in Santiago de Maria
Cecilia, Blanca and Idalia were at the Casa. We met Chiquita, Alisha's conure, that someone in a community gave her. She makes kissy noises when kissing you and can wolf-whistle.
Getting acquainted with Chiquita the conure