Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sadness, Joy and Gratitude

These are emotions that often go together – sometimes within moments of each other.

Today started out sad because this was the last day of my delegation. I was to take them to the airport (they were a small group so we all fit – sort of – in the house pick up truck). We left about 8:30 and with minimal issues, and a very quiet ride, we made it by 10:45 for their 1:00 p.m. flight.

Well – we did have one ‘issue’ – I was pulled over by 3 policemen at a regular police check point. These are common and I get stopped often. I just show them the truck’s registration and my Iowa license, answer a few questions about where I’m going and where I’ve come from … depends how ‘chatty’ the policeman is. So I immediately hand him the truck registration and turn to my purse to get my license. It isn’t where it normally is between the two front seats. I just figured it had fallen to the back. I asked the two ladies back there to look for it on the floor.

The policeman asked for my license and I told him we were looking for my bag. It wasn’t there! Uh oh. I told him we couldn’t find my purse – and if I could step out of the truck I could move the front seat and look better. He said that was fine. So I got out, moved the seat a little panicked because it still was not to be found … and I had to explain to the man that yes I DO have a license but I think I left the purse on the table back at the house. Then the questions started: where are you coming from, where are you going? Who are they? Are you leaving too? When are you going back to Berlin? What are you doing here (in general)? What are in the suitcases, etc? They were not ‘threatening’ just stern looking. But as we talked they began to smile a bit. Mostly after I told them there was basically just dirty clothes in the suitcases. I really was not ‘scared’ per se. I was hopeful they would be forgiving and in the end they were. I told them it was a shame I had left my bag on the table because my lunch was in there, too. A little gentle humor and ‘self-chastisement’ normally goes a long way. In the end they let us go on our merry way. But they asked if 2 of them could get a ride somewhere. I even joked with them: “I’m certainly not going to say no!” but I said it with a big smile and an immediate ‘hop on.’ I’m pretty sure the police here are not accustomed to people joking. I think most people who get pulled over are fearful - whether they need to be or not. Or they see these check points as a form of harassment. There is also the not too distant history of police checkpoints where they would just as soon shoot you as look at you. Don’t worry – it isn’t like that anymore! And I don’t always joke with the policemen – I try to read their expressions. I am always polite and respectful.

So we finally got to the airport and said our goodbyes. They were leaving a warm – and by this time – hot climate and on their way to below zero with snow. Poor things.

I stopped at the gas station near the airport on the way home for a potty break and a cup of coffee and a snack. I was a bit sleepy (which is normal after a delegation). I made it back to Berlin by 1:30.

The Team was waiting for me. We had a 2:30 ‘appointment’ in Alejandria. There was a Directiva meeting in progress and we had a surprise for them. The team bought two small piñatas – one for the children and one for the adults and had made 43 little bags (one per family) of cookies and candy for the families to have for Christmas. They wanted to thank their community. It was a fun time. We were only there for about an hour and a half but it was filled with laughter and happiness. It takes very little to bring a moment of joy.

We drove back to Berlin and immediately walked up to the church for mass. Today was the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe: the day that Don Diego saw the vision in Mexico. We were a little late for mass but not by much. Cecilia called Otilia who had said she would be down for that. She had saved us a seat. Cesar, her son, came to get us. It was standing room only. This is a VERY special mass in that all the children dress up in peasant or indigenous clothing. It is VERY cute. Even some of the older people dress up. It is very colorful and festive. The mass lasted till about 5 p.m. – with me trying not to nod off during the homily of our guest priest.

Immediately afterwards was the procession. There was the trailer with the statue of Our Lady and Diego on his knees looking up at her and lots of little children sitting with them for the ride. It was more blocks than normal that we walked. We walked for about two hours. It is slow going, there was some singing but mostly just quiet talk or silence. I saw and got hugs from several of my children friends and I enjoyed just being out in the evening. But I did reach of point where I just wanted to go to sleep. Then I saw something that woke me up and brought me joy. I spotted Father Cándido in the midst of the people. HE was walking the procession!

That was my gratitude moment. And my joy. Last year he was basically bed ridden with extreme arthritis in his legs and back. Little by little they have found and regulated a pain medicine that has enabled him to serve mass and get around a bit better. But he still doesn’t climb the altar all the way to the top – he has a chair brought down for him still. But he was walking this procession!!! I sidled up to him and told him what a joy it was for me to see him walking. And he said this: “It is for gratitude I’m walking tonight.”

What a joy.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Odds and Ends

Casa Pastoral now has a certificate of appreciation from the PNC. (The police!) We supported a two week long youth summer school program. Today was the ‘graduation.’

Think it’ll help if I carry that with me and get stopped by the police??

Prob’ly not.


We had a meeting with 22 high school students who will be getting a Pastoral House scholarship next year. Last year we had 7. We explained the expectations of them bringing their trimester grade reports and writing a letter of gratitude to our donors … and the expectation that they will help other students or members of their community as a form of ‘pay-back’ – and we told them we have some books and a typewriter here they can use to do their work (no one has typewriters but all receive typing homework). And that if they need help in math Mauricio can help (another scholarship student willing to tutor) and I can help on occasion with English.

Smiles all around.

I took all their pictures for our file folder that has their application, grade reports and soon to be signed receipts. The first payout is in January – about a week before the school year begins.


Beans, beans and more beans. It is the staple here. That and corn (mostly for tortilla, pupusa and tamale making). Yesterday I spent a couple hours extracting the red beans from their pods. The donations from the people in Alejandría created lots of work! My fingers feel raw. Cecilia and I spent lots of quality time together doing this yesterday. We left the big bucket on the table overnight and this afternoon we had to take all the little sprouts off. Just over night the bulk of them sprouted.

They are now all bagged and in the fridge.

We do have another clump of beans still on the vine drying on the roof of the Pastoral House though.
  Up on the Pastoral House roof!

Drying beans on the sidewalks -

This man asked me why I don't come to the Alcoholic's Anonymous meetings any more.
Hmmmm.  I had to tell him I was someone's translator ... and that I was not an alcoholic. 
He seemed sad by this news.


There was a big article in the paper the other day about more exhumations of ‘clandestine’ and hidden and illegal graves. Some of them mass graves. These are bodies from the civil war. They found over 300 in one area (28 different gravesites) – about 60% of them women. They are doing this exhumation work slowly – and with experts. They said it takes two days to completely exhume a body. They want to be careful to try to preserve any micro-evidence. I am impressed that they are taking such care. And pleased. Maybe some justice will come for a few.


Big soccer game on here … Barcelona vs Madrid. It’s like New York and New York: VERY fanatic fans. We have some of the kids of the Team and a couple of their friends here watching. 5 young men are enjoying the game! Kinda fun to be able to ‘host’ something just for fun on occasion.

Whoops … cable/internet just went out!! So now NO one gets to watch the game. I wonder if ‘the whole world’ was watching the game and the cable company got over-loaded?? Bummer.

Internet came back on – 3 hours later!! So someone will have to let us know who won the game.

Oh last thing … the 3 chickens that we received from the people of Alejandría … we ate two for Thanksgiving – I actually stuffed one the way my momma used to stuff! (If you want that story you’ll have to ask for it personally because some of that story might not be appropriate for a public blog! Haha – but I did write a story of the day – complete with photos!)

And the one remaining chicken that is still tethered to the tree outside my office door (and whose job did it become to feed and water and untangle each day?? You guessed it. Me).

Well – that one remaining chicken is actually a ROOSTER. He’s young – that is my excuse for not recognizing the fact that he is not a hen. And he is just learning how to crow. And he practices at 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. … and then I think he goes to sleep at 6 a.m. when we all get up for the day.

It’s only about a half crow though. Pretty wimpy. But he’ll learn. When he gets really annoying at all those wee hours of the morning – I’ll suggest soup.

I'm sorry ... but can YOU tell the difference??

He is lonely without his companions though ...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Other Jobs as Needed

I walked out this morning to get my first cup of coffee to start the day.  And Cecilia called up to me from the garage: “Debe maize!”

It took me a moment to figure out what the heck she was talking about: ‘you must corn’  ?  (That is the literal translation).  When I gave here the ‘huh?’ look … she said “tienen hambre.” (They are hungry). 

Ah.  I get it.  I know it’s early – and my Spanish brain takes a while to warm up (even after almost 2 years) … but my first hint should have been that I was standing on the steps leading down to the main house and was saying good morning to the 3 chickens tied to the tree. 

Ok.  I need to give the chickens some corn!  I can do that.  Even before coffee I can do that.

They seemed grateful.  If not a little gluttonous!  If they only knew where they would ultimately end up!

So – are you wondering why we have 3 chickens in the yard?  I could just let you make up your own stories about that.  Maybe have a contest – tell me what you think – the best story will get a prize!  Some eggs perhaps.  I’ll just pop them in the mail! Ha-ha.

Ok.  I’ll tell you.

Yesterday, thanks to a family who has a partnership with two communities, we had the pleasure of going out to deliver roofing lamina to all the families of these two communities.

After finishing in one community, we had a quick bite to eat before getting in the truck to go to the other where the lamina and the people were waiting patiently. 

Balmore said a few words to the crowd to start.  Then Blanca asked if I wanted to say something (and she whispered in my ear to ask them to make sure they attend our bi-monthly meetings!)   So I started out by thanking everyone for working so hard to help out today; especially the men who came up to Berlin to unload 700 metal lamina roofing sheets!  Then I reminded them why we were there – because in the walking door to door last September, their ‘partner’ could see the need.  And what a joy it is to be able to share. 

It was at this point – a woman came up to me and started to hand me one of those colorful plastic grocery baskets …she had a gift for me.  Hmm…  Inside the basket were two live chickens!  She took them out and handed them to me … Cecilia grabbed my camera and started clicking away.  I think she was getting a kick out of this … so I had the two chickens in my arms thanking her … I was a bit embarrassed … when up came another woman – with yet another chicken.  Then came a man with a bundle of freshly picked beans still on the vines.  Then a lady with a bag of corn, then a man with a bag of oranges, then a really old man with some bananas, then someone with 2 apples in a bag, a bag of squash, a bag of pipian squash – whatever people had to share – they shared.  Tears were falling. 

Blanca said I could NOT say no to these gifts … they were being given from their hearts.  So I said thank you to one and all – knowing that these gifts will be shared with those who need!

And I already gifted some of that bag of corn to the chickens!

And I know we’ll probably spend part of the day getting the red beans out of the pods.  We received 5 large bundles of beans when all was said and done.

This was another case of the really poor sharing what they have.  I was reminded of the poor widow woman’s two copper coins.  (Luke 21:1) 

The first gifts ... I LOVE the look on her face!

more chicken!

THIS is truly a gift of life! 

A  bag of platanos!  (banana cousin)

A bag of Pipian (squash)

More beans!  Probably harvested this morning!

Mauricio joking that Jefferson - the little boy - was his gift to me!
Jefferson giggled the whole time!  His sister was a bit worried!

EVERYONE to receive lamina sheets to help keep them dry!

Happy with gramma's lamina! 

Many of the men helped the women and older ones!

A census to make sure no one gets forgotten! 
Note how many cannot sign their names...

Monday, November 22, 2010


done with the census.

115 families with 519 people.

Time to close the books for the night!

Names and Numbers

My eyes are going wonky. I’ve been transferring names, ages, DUI numbers and relationship data from a community census that has come in – written by hand – needing to be ‘passed to clean’ on an excel spreadsheet.

Holy buckets. What did I get myself into when I offered to do that first one a few months ago?
It’s not so bad when there are 45-50 families in a community … that’s only between 250-300 names. But my most current census has 106 families. I started this morning and I’m not done yet – I’m only on family number 81 – and already up to 402 names. This is a very prolific community! Relatively young, too! And many have HUGE families.

A complete census is a really useful tool to have though. It really helps when we go door to door with delegations. Taking the time to write all this information in a quick visit leaves us no time for real questions … like ‘are your children in school?’ – ‘what type work do you do?’ – ‘do you own or rent your land?’ – those are some of the good things to know about a community.
So we’ve been asking each community for a complete census. This also ensures that no one gets left out if there is a community gift being brought by a visiting delegation!

It is a lot of work for whoever assembles the information also! THEY have to go door to door! But when they give me the list – and I ‘make it clean’ – I print out two copies for the community. So any organization needing a census immediately has one. And the Directiva has an accurate list of residents! So it really does benefit the community as well!

And once the original is done, it is easily updated year to year. We only need to alter a few if there are additional children – or if an older child gets ‘accompanied’ and branches out to their own household.

But in the meantime … this is my 6th census. And it is the biggest so far. And my fingers are feeling quite tired. And my eyes need a break. (Whine, whine, whine, ha-ha) I’m lucky the handwriting on this one is pretty good! (Thank you, Elida!!). And names are so interesting here.

Here is one family I got a kick out of. Mom and dad are aged 43 and 50 respectively: Manuel de Jesús and María Ester. They have 11 children. (Goodness!). Here are the names: Elias, Maria, Isais, Esau, Moises, Israel, Isaac, Isai, Danilo, Adonay and Fredi. I guess they ran out of Biblical names …

Most unusual names: Dimas, Jenisis, Azucena, Felicita, Siomara, Isamar, Rigo, Selodonia, Marili, Megrui, Landolino, José, Magrucio, Aldahi, Elvis, Nayeli, Dagoberto, Adilio, Maiyori, Rasa, Dimora.

THIS is why my eyes are having a hard time of it now!

I love my job.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Asian Fest!

Idalia came home from the market this morning and said there was a whole bunch of people from Asia here!  Candies that were really pretty wrapped in pretty paper … kimono clad women …

I had to check it out. 

Sure enough.  There was a group of people singing on the bandshell stage in the park (Christmas songs) – there were a bunch of little centers set up with games, things to sell, origami making, calligraphy … foods including okonomiyaki and sushi.  Amazing.  And a bit surreal.

I got in line for the okonomiyaki (a Japanese pupusa is what they called it - I imagine to make it tempting to people here) … it is a mixture of beaten egg, cabbage, little shrimps, hamburger meat and it is plopped onto a griddle in a heap and when it is flipped and flopped and well cooked, it resembles hash browned potatoes.   Kinda yummy but didn't taste like how I remembered when I’ve had it at Japanese restaurants back in the States.  But – like my Thanksgiving dinner a couple of years back – you gotta work with what you can find in the ‘stores’ on the street here for the right ingredients.  

I bought 10 portions at 50 cents each.  I ran into Manuel and Fermín who were getting one for Father Cándido – I treated them to two each (big spender, me) and bought 6 more to bring back to the Pastoral House for whoever wanted to try them. 

It was a fun morning.  I spent about an hour and a half enjoying talking to people, taking pictures and waiting in a long food line!

I got back to the house just as our truck was being returned.  Cecilia and I had dropped it off down the street beyond the cemetery to get the bed repaired.  It was squeaking and rubbing … the bolts and bushings needed replacing.  So… $20 poorer – we are good to go. 

I’ll be anxious to drive it to see how it sounds.  Poor thing carries a LOT of weight on a semi regular basis.  No wonder it was complaining!

The rest of the day passed slowly.  

I think I’ll pull the guitar out of the case and play a little.  I’d like to toughen up my fingers.  I do find it relaxing.  And thanks to Mike for buying, and the Ankeny group for schlepping – the guitar has all new strings.  It sounds pretty nice.  Unless my fingers get tired and squeak!

Taking a break!

Fishing game

Beautiful attire

Not sure what this game was but the children were having fun

A board game about the environment

All morning this man made the Okonomiyaki

She was a cockroach! But not near the food!  haha

Okonomiyaki in the raw ... and next to it - almost done!

Brave girls trying the "Japanese Pupusa"

Our Japanese visitors

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Need for Happy Thoughts

Confession – Sometimes I get so sad. Sometimes angry. Sometimes frustrated. And I find I have to bring myself back to earth. This past week has been full of frustrating and maddening situations which I won’t get into here.

Of course in between the frustrations there are good moments. Always. But this week has been particularly tough for me personally.

So I’ve been digging deep today to try to find joyful thoughts as a boost to my spirit.
And there really are many things to be joyful about.

Friendship and sisterhood: I feel a connectedness with the ladies of the Pastoral Team that I am treasuring greatly. This brings me great joy. Even in the midst of our mutual sadness and frustration, or maybe because of it, we find space to laugh.

Children: I’ve been reviewing some photos from the last couple of delegations and I can’t help but smile at some of the memories. Unfortunately, reviewing photos also reminds me of the sadness of the realities of life for children here – and their futures – but those realities remind me of why I’m here.

Music: sometimes discordant, usually boisterous. Catarina in Corozal has SUCH a spirit and joy in her praise songs you can’t help but want to dance along! I, of course, do NOT dance but I clap a lot and sing along when I can.

Critters: butterflies especially bring me joy. They are so beautiful here. There is this one type in particular that I usually see on the roads out to the cantons. It has a wingspan of about 5 inches – it is mostly a vibrant blue with darker edges. Stunning.

Delegations: though they wear me out – renew me.

Thoughts of my family: but those thoughts often make me sad, too – because I miss them.

Mike: see above.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Things are so different here.  Sometimes the disparity slaps me in the face.

Today we were in a community for a meeting (a meeting that never happened due to miss-communications – but that is another VERY long story). 

On the way out to the community, the truck started to make some very worrisome noises.  But we continued on – just at a slower pace.  We knew of some folks along the way who have a ‘fleet’ of trucks and we hoped they would be home (a dad and 3 capable sons) so they could take a look and let us know if we were in danger – or if we just needed to get something tweaked.  We figured they MUST have some knowledge of vehicles since they drive constantly.

They weren’t home.  They were uptown at their school’s graduation party.  Darn.

So we continued on to the 'meeting that wasn’t’ – and then made our way back up the hill afterwards – that is when we ran into (not literally) one of the sons and his dad.  They squatted, peered under, poked around a bit and figured out what was up with the truck.  Not sure if I can really describe it properly – but the truck bed’s connections were grating.  They are 12 years old – carry LOTS of weight on a regular basis on some very rough roads.  No wonder they were complaining. 

So our friend Raúl hopped onto the truck and we headed back to their house where he said he could give it a temporary fix. 

Here is where I saw something that made me really sad.  Sad isn’t quite the right word though.

Blanca, Otilia, Cecilia and I were hanging out while Raul fixed the truck (for which he would take no compensation).  We were chit-chatting about the meeting that wasn’t.  Across the street – just at the end of Raúl’s ‘driveway’ was a man passed out on the side of the road.  Drunk.  We were told this was a common thing. 

Ok.  I’ve seen LOTS of men passed out on the sides of the road.  Sometimes dangerously close to the middle of the road.  (Not often thankfully). 

But this time – there was another person.  A little boy.  He was sitting about 2 feet from the man.  Waiting.  Watching over him.  The man was older so I have no idea if he was the dad, or the grandpa or the uncle.  But the little boy – maybe 3 years old – was sitting there patiently.  While we were there, he took off his shoes and socks… played with whatever was close at hand… or just sat. 

I’m thinking – what can we do??  Nothing really.  I was a ‘mandatory reporter’ when I was working in the WDM schools … but here.  Who would I report this to?  There are no social service organizations that protect children.  

Cecilia had a small packet of cookies in her purse and a lollypop.  She walked over and gave the little boy the goodies.  He was very shy … didn’t want to take them – so she ultimately just put them on the boulder next to him. 

We were at Raúl’s house for about 20 minutes.  During this time a few people walked by – barely noting them. 

When it was time for us to leave, Raúl assured us that he would keep an eye on the little one. 

I trust Raúl.  But it didn’t make me feel much better.

This is that little boy’s life.  That was obvious in the way he just sat there.  Waiting.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Meetings and More Meetings

I don’t mind meetings.  And I don’t mind driving an hour or more to get to them.  That is part of my job.  And I always love being with the folks out in the cantons.  That is were real life happens.  The good and the not so good.

Today we had a meeting out in a canton.  One that isn’t TOO far away thankfully.  It only takes about 45 minutes to get to this canton.  But the roads are pretty darned bad once you leave the ‘main street’ (which is actually pretty good right now because the machine went out and smoothed and compacted lots of miles of main canton road after the rains stopped).

So we got there at 1:07 for the 1:00 p.m. meeting.  The place was deserted.  So I parked and went to sit in the sun to warm up (it’s been breezy and downright cold lately).  Otilia went to the house across the street to see where everyone was.  This woman had not heard about a meeting.  But she isn’t part of the Directiva so there was no real reason for her to know …and she said that everyone was at a soccer tournament.   But she gave us the key to the church so we could wait a while inside.  I preferred the sun and the air to the metal lamina walled and roofed church.  Hmmm.  Fresh air or dirt floor oven?  Easy choice.

We waited and waited.  Finally at about 1:40 Otilia went to return the key.  Enough was enough.  Usually at least ONE person would have shown up by this point.

There were 3 men and a young boy on their way to Berlin from the canton further down the road so we offered them a ride.  And then the husband of the lady with the key decided to join us with some things to sell.  And about halfway back to Berlin, we ran into (not literally, but almost) a bunch of people from the community where the meeting was to be held.  They were walking back from the games.  One man didn’t know anything about a meeting.  And he IS a part of the Directiva.  A couple others knew of it but they were told it was to start at 2.  It is the custom here that if a meeting is scheduled for 1, the people show up at 2.  So since they were told it was going to be at 2, most people wouldn’t show up till 3. 


We did NOT turn around and go back.  We told them we would reschedule.  Pass the word please.

Friday, November 5, 2010

5th Grade . . .

Over coffee and pan dulce we had another conversation about education.  Blanca, Cecilia and I had gone to Corozal (a canton of Berlin about 10 miles away – an hour + truck ride).  The purpose of the meeting was to plan the two days that their partner churches’ delegation would be in the community.  It was a great meeting.  The community is waiting with anticipation! 

Part of the conversation we had with them was getting some basic information about the community.  And of course, we always ask about the schools.  This past year, Corozal had 140+ students in kindergarten through 5th grade.  They have 3 teachers.  Do the math!!!  And then thank your lucky stars that you CAN do the math thanks to the wonderful education you received! 

The school in Corozal only goes to 5th grade.  Then that is it for the children.   There are 3 students attending 6th grade in a far away community called Talpetates.  There is one student in 7th grade here in Berlin.  These four are lucky in that they have family they can stay with while they go to school.  They would not logistically be able to go otherwise.  It is a four hour walk to the nearest school that has 6th grade and above.  There just are no closer schools.  What a travesty. 

The community had made a solicitude to the Ministry of Education but have had no response.  

If anyone from the Ministry of Education is out there reading this… my prayer is that MinEd will one day recognize the needs in the rural communities.  I personally know of 8 communities that have been soliciting the ministry for either an extra teacher or increased grade levels.  NONE have been given positive responses.  And I would bet my left arm that for the 6 schools that I personally know about - there are 100 more just like it.  And I would bet that is a conservative number.

I just don’t understand it.  Complain all you want about our (in the States) educational system … but think back or look now at your own children – they are getting a basically free education – and a GOOD one at that – up to 12th grade.  Yes there are expenses – but if you truly have no money for school – there are programs to help families cover the expenses. 

Here … kids are lucky to get to 5th grade.  The have to walk to attend the higher grades and that walk can be anywhere from 45 minutes to over 4 hours each way on lonely dirt roads or paths … 4 months of heavy sun.  6 months of daily rain.  (2 months of summer vacation). 

And the ministry doesn’t seem to care.  I’m sure that is not true.  I hope it is not true. 

They say there are no resources to pay these teachers or increase grade levels at schools.  So … that brings us to the government itself.  I always tell my kids – and we tell the communities – prioritize the most crucial of needs.  That is what you try to resolve first.  The most crucial of needs.

To me – education should be number one.  Or at least in the top three - employment, food/water (but the first would take care of this … if people had jobs they could feed their families) - and education would be to me – the no brainer list to address.       

My two cents.

Disaster Struck!!

I was (impatiently) waiting for the big water pot to finish heating up so I could have my morning cup of Musun (the instant coffee of choice here - very unique flavor but not bad) ... when the plug burst into flames ... and the sweet smell of ozone filled the air!  Fortunately for us ... the water was just about ready! haha

I think this pot has been in constant use here since they started working out of this house.


It's on the short list to buy a new one.

double sigh.

Maybe someone will offer me a cup of coffee in Corozal this a.m. (we're going to plan their delegation visit time that will be next week)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Little Things

I’ve decided that the best way for my tummy to feel is nothing.  Not full.  Not hungry.  I don’t even want to be aware of it.   Maybe that should be everyone’s ideal?

This thought comes after the week of 3 full meals a day (plus the inevitable snacks) while a delegation is here.  I immediately ask to be returned to my smaller portions – or even the skipped meal … it takes a week or so for my clothes to fit better!


I really don’t like driving in San Miguel or San Salvador.  Narrow streets … no parking (but people park anyway) and crazy drivers – lots of them!  And today – our trip to San Miguel was even more unpleasant in that the whole month of November is FESTIVAL TIME!  Normally traveled roads to the places we needed to go were closed off for the parades and bands.  Sigh.


Rain is done.  Dust has begun.


Berlin’s birthday has come and gone … the park is open finally and it looks quite pretty.  There is even some real playground equipment for the children.  Though still nothing like what most U.S. children have become accustomed to!


Excitement is in the air … there are only a couple weeks left of school for most students.  Then they get to go help pick coffee!


I’ve decided I love the noises of the evening and early morning.  Crickets, birds of all song, cats, roosters (of course), dogs, the occasion song from next door…


A man just walked slowly by out front – or maybe he just lives nearby – and he sang a beautiful song.  Solo.  Acapella … a song of faith.  I’ve heard him before.  Not often enough.  

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Day of the Dead

I can’t believe another year has passed and it is time to celebrate Day of the Dead again.  There really is nothing like it in the States except for within a few random Latino communities. 

Cecilia and I had 5 huge garbage bags of brightly colored flowers to carry down to the cemetery.   We walked down because there is no passage for cars.  Mauricio (Ceci’s brother) met us part way to help us carry them.  We got there before the rest of the families did.  But it wasn’t too long of a wait.  Soon Balmore, Rosa, Pilar, Elmer, and 3 others from Alejandria were there.  We divvied up the flowers.  I went with Rosa and Mauricio to find and decorate 3 family crosses: Rosa’s mom Tomasa, her father Juan and an aunt.  By the time we got back to where Ceci and the rest were, they were just about done with their four graves.  We took a bunch of flowers over to Balmore’s aunt’s graves.  The sisters had died within a month of each other.  Then we walked to Balmore’s great-grand father’s grave and decorated.  Then to one of his distant cousins who died alone – he was burned when his little house burned down.  He has no family so they make sure they decorate his grave and remember him every year.  

This is a day that fills the senses.  The bright colors of all the flowers – both real and fake contrast with the freshly painted and mostly bright white or silver crosses and it fills your eyes.  The sounds are of people chatting, laughing, reconnecting, and children selling their painting skills for a penny a letter.  The older boys will paint the the whole cross for as little as a quarter.  Depends upon the size of the job.  There are more children walking through the cemetery selling cut up fruits and veggies and juices as well as men and women walking around trying to sell more flowers and candies.  The sounds are like music.  Your nose is filled with the smells of the fresh paint on the crosses mixed in with the earthy smell of the freshly rearranged earth.  And there is food: pupusas, chicken and meat are being cooked on the streets just outside the walls of the cemetery.  People carry their large flat griddles to be close to the activity and take advantage of all the people that come in to visit their dead.  All those mixed smells are really quite pleasant.  And the tastes: sugar cane cut and ready for us to chew out the sweetness. Papaya, coconut, cucumber, fruits I can't even name are in little baggies ready to add lemon juice and salt and even chile.  Fresh juices are everywhere.  And for our sense of touch – the handshakes and hugs of friends.  And whoops – the accidental touching of still wet paint on a gravesite cross.    

Mauricio and Cecilia walking down to the cemetery - I'm right behind them with my bag!

We bought papaya and jicama from our friend!
The ever present police protection
The walk to and from the cemetery is steep - both ways!
Sugar cane, coconut and a wide assortment of fresh juices

Coming in to decorate the gravesites

Pop and pupusas!
One of the 'fancier' food stalls

Flowers to sell
Simple decorations - clean away the trash and brush

The first step is clearing away the overgrowth

The whole family participates

This man yes - was passed out from a drunk
Painting for a penny a letter

Young entrepreneurs

A little more elaborate


One of the oldest tombs in the Berlin cemetery

A more humble grave

Possibly the most humble I saw today
Balmore and his cousin's grave
Balmore's aunts who died within a month of each other

Cecilia begining the process for Balmore's aunts

Cecilia's aunt

Photo captured before the winds took the confetti away

Cecilia's grandfather (father of Rosa)

Rosa waiting for the fresh paint for her uncle - 25 cents for this cross

Mauricio waiting to start the process of decorating

Mauricio scrubbing his sneakers clean... kind of a futile effort if you ask me...

Lupita hoping to sell all her flowers

People will be going to the cemetery all day long

A very special day