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…