Sunday, May 30, 2010

May 30th 2010 - "Agatha"

By JUAN CARLOS LLORCA – Associated Press
“Although no longer even a tropical depression, Agatha still posed trouble for the region: Remnants of the storm were expected to deliver from 10 to 20 inches (25 to 50 centimeters) of rain over southeastern Mexico, Guatemala and parts of El Salvador, creating the possibility of life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,"

I remember being in Iowa and listening to the news during hurricane season … who can forget Katrina? Mitch? Stan? Ida? (You might not remember the last two … but we in El Salvador remember them well!)

And I remember breathing sighs of relief when the meteorologists lowered their status: A hurricane is now a tropical storm … a tropical storm is now a ‘tropical depression’ (whatever that means).

And in far away places we might see a few pictures of a landslide or some flooded areas (like West Des Moines and places all over Iowa during the floods of 1993).

And it IS a relief when the storms lose their potency.

But the dangers are not over just because the status of the storm has changed. Here in El Salvador, our ‘tropical depression’ has hit us pretty hard. And that storm (Agatha is her name – the FIRST of the season, God help us!) was mostly centered on Southern Mexico and Guatemala! Guatemala also, by the way, is suffering this very week with a substantial eruption from a very large volcano just 15 miles from their capital city!

Here in Berlin and most of El Salvador, we’ve had 5 days of pretty solid rain. Sometimes smattering … often very strong. I think all week we have had maybe 2 hours of weak sunshine - and not all at once. And it is still raining. And it doesn’t really matter where you live when you have this much rain. In the lowlands – you have flooding. It is a blessing to live near a river but it can also be deadly. In the mountains, we have valleys that are prone to flooding and hillsides that are prone to landslides. The land is so saturated that trees topple with minimal wind. In all of El Salvador – city, town or country – roads washout, get covered by falling trees or other debris and they form huge ruts which become flooded rivers and therefore impassable by cars, horses and people. People often get stranded in their communities till the waters subside.

And I know I’ve talked about homes in the cantons – and even the city or town for that matter. A roof is often several scraps or a variety of materials patch-worked together. They leak. The walls leak. The dirt floor becomes mud. People are wet. Stuff is wet. If people and things aren’t literally getting rained upon, the dampness in the air permeates everything. I’ve had laundry ‘drying’ in my office for over 5 days … they are still quite wet. I’m not complaining mind you… I KNOW how spoiled rotten I am here in my office and the bedroom I call home which has only a couple of small roof leaks! I have a sweater and warm clothing and an umbrella … if I get soaked I can change clothes … I have electricity most of the time. I have hot coffee to warm me and food to nourish me to help stave off the perpetual bad health that most people suffer – everyone has a cold between May and October.

I just wanted you to know… that even when a big storm is ‘done’ – we still need your prayers here and in many places around the world.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 27th 2010 – Rain

Our Bread lady ... comes to the house every day. Rain or Shine

I woke up to the sound of rain again this morning. This is not unusual – it is the rainy season after all. And whereas the daytime is usually not too full of rainy moments, at night, it usually rains. It’s a beautiful sound really. And it is helping to nourish the fields for the newly sown corn crop.

And as long as it alternates between periods of rain and periods of sun – all is good. And it has been pretty good so far. The rains only began a couple weeks ago.

I like the rain overall. It sounds pretty falling on the tile (gentle) or aluminum (LOUD) roofs. It cleans the 6 months of accumulated dirt off everything. The greens are now much greener. The roads don’t kick up nearly as much dust when we drive. A layer of dirt-dust doesn’t immediately appear as soon as you are done mopping the floor during the rainy season. A huge variety of very beautiful flowers are blooming. They bloom all year, but seem to be more vibrant this time of year.

There is a downside to all the rain… we rely on the sun and heat to dry our laundry. I’ve had shirts hanging in my office for 3 days now and they are almost as wet as when they were first hung up. The paper in my printer is damp – even though I keep it and the machine itself covered when not in use – which is most of the time. Everything is damp.

And then – as I was in my office, puttering and getting things ready for our Pastoral Team meeting this morning – the door bell rang. And then reality hit me (again). But I’m not talking about MY reality. I’m in my office relatively dry and cozy with my sweater on.

The door bell brought an image to my head of the bread lady. She comes every day to our door selling us our daily bread. She carries a huge basket on her head. And this is her work. She goes door to door every day till she runs out of bread. Then goes back home for more to sell. And for the next 6 months – she could likely be getting quite soggy in the process. She has a large light blue plastic bag that she covers the bread basket with to keep her merchandise dry. but she wears a jacket to mostly keep her dry. And she wears a skirt and sandals. She must be soaked by the time she is done. And who knows the condition of her home. Probably a dirt floor home like most people. I bet she never feels totally dry.

And then as I was thinking of her and puttering some more – the doorbell rang again. This time it was Elmer and Marvin. They are Cecilia’s sons aged 15 and 9. They live in Alejandria with their grandma and aunt and uncles. Cecilia lives here at the Pastoral House 6 days a week – night and day - so her extended family takes care of the boys. The boys go to school here in Berlin. It’s about a 30 minute walk for them up a skinny and steep dirt path. They come here on their way to school in their street clothes because Cecilia learned that Marvin gets way too dirty even just walking up the mountain. So they stop by the house, change into their uniforms that Cecilia has washed the night before, have a quick cup of coffee and then head to school.

And today they are soaking! And it made me think of that skinny dirt and very steep path. It must be incredibly muddy and slippery!

So now I’m thinking about all the children who walk into town for school every day. Rain or shine. Some are walking with umbrellas – some with plastic garbage bag ‘jackets’ and some are just getting wet.

And I know there are many of those students who don’t have solid walls or a solid roof. INCLUDING Elmer and Marvin. It’s no wonder that everyone seems to have a perpetual cold during the rainy season

The plants are happy ... (tomatos and green peppers)

Peas ... tended outside my office door. Shielded from the bulk of the rain

Students coming to town for school

Not easy to stay dry. Some children walk 45 minutes or more to school.

Monday, May 24, 2010

May 24, 2010 – There and Back Again

We left the house at 8 a.m. and didn’t get home till 5:15 p.m. It’s been a full day.

We woke up to rain – it had been raining quite hard since about 2 a.m. – and it was still raining strong when we got up at about 5:30 … and I was worried. We had a full day of driving and visiting cantons planned. And the roads can get VERY bad when wet.

This morning we planned to go to El Tablón Cerna with 4 people from the UCA and 3 from the ‘Ministerio de Agricultura y Granaderia’ (MAG).

This was the ministry’s first visit to get a sense of the Cooperative being formed in Cerna. They are the ones who create and enforce the legal requirements of Cooperatives. If they don’t think a group is ready or able to become a co-op, they can deny the petition. So this was to be a very important meeting.

The rain finally stopped about 7:30. The UCA and MAG people arrived at 8 and we were on our way.

Two of the Ministry people spoke for over 3 hours. They explained in more detail what the requirements are and their rights and responsibilities as a co-op. It was really quite interesting. They spoke well and were very clear. They were really good with the members of the co-op. And the few times they asked questions of the community people, they received good responses.

There are now officially 21 members. And it looks like they are good to go

It was a good meeting but long. And hot. The UCA folk did bring a snack. They brought pop for everyone and WONDERFUL pastries. I’m glad they did, because I had forgotten to eat breakfast!

I was so sleepy during this meeting – the heat and sitting for so long does me in. And for as well as these men spoke and as interesting as it was, I had to keep biting the inside of my cheek to keep my eyes open. Mostly it was the heat.

The meeting ended about 12:45 – Otilia and I had driven to Cerna in the Pastoral House truck because we had a mass to go to in Virginia right after our MAG meeting. The UCA people and the MAG people drove in their own vehicles.

Otilia had packed a couple of tamales for us to eat between Cerna and Virginia – and a couple of cheese sandwiches. But – bless their hearts – the UCA folks handed us a Quizno’s bag with two big sandwiches! (Yes… I did say Quizno’s). That was SO nice of them. We were very surprised. They also sent the leftover pastries home with us! YUM

Virginia is a canton very close to Cerna – about 20 minutes or so away from Cerna. We were not planning to go back to the Pastoral House first because the mass was to start at 1:30 and it would have been WAY out of our way to go home and return. We had been invited to attend this special mass for their Patron Saint. They had lunch before and snacks after … they had a band from Alegria come in complete with keyboard and big drum set. They are a good group.

We got there right as the mass started. Father Santos was already there looking very hot in his vestments. It was a regular mass but we also had a baptism.

And the church was crowded. And of course, it was hot. And now I had a full tummy so I was really sleepy. But the music helped. And the frequent changing of posture – standing to sitting to kneeling …

But then the rain began to fall again. And it rained hard. I really hate to drive the muddy roads in the rain. But what to do – no sense worrying. I would just go slowly. So we enjoyed the rest of the mass. We didn’t linger afterwards though. Otilia needed to get back for a 4 p.m. meeting in her community. We left Virginia about 2:45 with bags full of little sandwiches, fruit drink and pan dulce. We made it home within an hour. Not too bad considering the (now lightly) falling rain. And we have a good truck – 4x4 standard shift.

As soon as we got to the Pastoral House, we needed to get Otilia to her community for that meeting. Alejandro was at the house, so we took advantage to give him some driving time in and give me a break from driving.

When we got to San Lorenzo, the meeting had already started. The church (meeting place) was packed. 2 people from InterVida (an NGO that does really good work in the communities) and 2 people from City Hall were leading the meeting. They were talking about being organized. This community needs help in this department. The 2 community leaders (there should be 11 active) are doing it all with no support from the rest of the community. So this was a motivational meeting – and an educational one. The community is in need of more involvement from more people. I wasn’t planning to stay at this meeting, but Otilia asked if I wanted to come in for “a bit” … sure I said. An hour later I was still there … it was a good meeting. Again – GREAT speakers from InterVida. They said that if a community is organized and working together to better the community … with a legal Directiva (city board) then they can come in and work and bring projects to better the community. But without that – they cannot come. Same with City Hall. Same with other institutions. Without a legal Directiva and a community that cares about their own well-being – organizations won’t even consider bringing projects in.

I left before the hand count of people willing to unite to work to better themselves. By then it was beginning to get dark and raining again. And we needed to get back.

I can’t believe I had enough energy to even write this… I’ll save my official Cerna/UCA/MAG report for tomorrow though. I think I’m going to hit the hay!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19th 2010 - just random photos for fun

A sight that is nice to see.

Roberto in our backyard tree searching for avocados. Mom Otilia watching.
Roberto is just above and to the right of where the wires cross in a light blue shirt.

Some of our avocados that dropped thanks to Roberto's efforts

If you look closely, there are 5 PEA sproutlings!!

And about 9 tomato plant sproutlings that will need to be transplanted in not too much time.
Cool. I'll have enough plantlings to send home with the Pastoral Team members!!!

May 19th 2010 – Water and Light

Snippets today … and even though these are somewhat “old” events, I wanted to share them anyway.

One VERY good and special thing happened today - after about 11 days of NO running water - we finally seem to have it back. And this morning I had a nice hot shower for the first time since the 5th of May. It was a little bit of heaven. We DID have about an hour’s worth of slowly running water on the 9th day – but not enough even to fill our pilas. So we’ve been hoarding our laundry – doing just what we absolutely needed – using minimal water to clean up and thanking God that we had no delegation during this ‘drought’ –

Apparently a pump broke at the town reservoir.

So also this morning laundry is getting done. They are doing the big things like sheets, towels and blankets. During our dry time, the Pastoral Team brought their clothes back home to their ‘river’ to wash. And the problem there – since they are relatively close to town (only a 40 minute walk) – LOTS of people from town in the nearby ‘colonias’ (neighborhoods) were taking THEIR clothes to the same river. Those who normally had running water every other day – those who normally would not need to go to a river to wash their clothes (and themselves for that matter) – were creating crowds at the ‘Alejandria Laundromat.’ So the Team was having to get there by 2 or 3 a.m. if they didn’t want to stand in line. Blanca said some people have been going to the river at 1 a.m. And they still had to wait for someone ahead of them.

And the water in the pila system at the river has gotten gross with all the use and with the minimal water flow to wash the stuff away. We are still not getting much rain either to help with that.

There are SO many things I STILL take for granted.

Another story – this one is just for fun.

I was just nodding off to sleep two nights ago. I was almost there. And you know how sometimes you open your eyes a little as you are falling asleep? Maybe not. Well, I do that sometimes. And I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Seemed like a flash. So of course I froze up wondering what the heck it could be. So I opened my eyes wide and tried to see if I could see anything. I was on red alert! And it happened again. A FLASH on the floor near the foot of my bed. It was a FIREFLY! So I turned on my light to get a closer look. Poor thing was on his back, feet up and flashing. I think he must have bonked his head on something because he was just lying there.

I should probably have put him out of his misery. But I went back to bed instead. And I watched him flash for a while. Then again out of the corner of my other eye, I saw a flash outside my bathroom window (which is screened). There was quite the light show between the two of them. I felt sad for my little buddy on the floor. He’ll probably never meet up with his friends again.

I should have taken him outside. But then one of our birds would have eaten him in his weakened state I’m sure.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

May 15th 2010 - MY crop

It's raining cats and dogs at the moment (8:15 p.m.). We've been praying for some rain. It's been dry and people have begun planting. Things are drying up.

I just planted MY tomato and green pepper seeds 2 days ago. I brought some back with me from Iowa. I was given decent dirt from Jesus' mom's house 3 days ago. And we had a big 3' long potting container gathering cobwebs and who knows what kind of critters behind my bedroom. And 2 days ago I got my hands dirty and planted my crop with hopes for good fresh veggies in a couple months.

So now I'm worried my seeds will wash away.

I think I am getting a VERY small taste of what it must be like to worry about your future harvest due to weather.

Me ... my crop is small potatoes ... (well ... tomatos ... haha)
All our farmers in the cantons ... we're talking their very lives could be washing away.

Friday, May 14, 2010

May 11th 2010 – Water Tanks to San Lorenzo and Alejandria

We have had a full week of water tanks. 2 communities received 750 Liter tanks for each household thanks to a community partnership!

On Monday, we went to San Miguel to purchase, pay for and arrange delivery of 88 very large tanks. We were pleasantly surprised when they said they could be delivered the very next day! Well, half of them anyway. The other half would come on Wednesday. This was good because we could not get all 88 delivered in one day and we have NO room to store what we couldn’t deliver!

The San Miguel trip lasted 5 hours which includes the 2 hours of travel. Nothing is ever ‘simple’ nor close by here. ;o)

When we got back to Berlin, I typed up the census of families for the first day’s delivery and the Team arranged the local transportation to the community. The store’s delivery was only from San Salvador to Berlin. We needed to take over from there.

The big truck from San Salvador with 45 tanks arrived about 8:15. This was within 45 minutes of when they said they would be here. We were pleasantly surprised! Then Antonio’s truck arrived within just a couple of minutes and we began transferring them for the drive up to San Lorenzo. Antonio’s truck could only hold 18 per trip. So we made 3 trips up the hill. Luckily it isn’t that far. Each round trip only took about 40 minutes. That included the up-loading, the drive to and then the down-loading in the community. There were several men waiting in San Lorenzo to help unload! I love to see a community so ready to lend a hand!

The third trip up, we followed in the pick up so we would have a way to get back to the Pastoral House. We figured there was no reason for Raul and Antonio to stick around while we did the handing out!

Everyone was ready and waiting by our third and final trip up. Otilia said a few words, Blanca spoke and the Directiva President spoke. A few people spoke their gratitude for people who have a generous heart!

And in no time at all we were able to start the name calling for signatures. Using our census and asking people to sign for their gift, we are ensured that we don’t miss anyone! It’s a pretty good system really.

What a joy. And it was so fun to see the people laughing as they lifted and balanced the tanks to carry them home. Compared to other things, they really don’t weigh much considering how large they are. We even had some women plop them on their heads to walk home. Good Lord. I know people start at a very early age carrying things in this manner, but geesh!

This was one day of tank delivery. We had a total of 3 during the week as well as another trip to San Miguel to purchase the final amount of tanks.

18 per trip -

From one truck to Antonio's truck

The BIG truck with 45 tanks from San Salvador

One lady told Otilia that she could not sleep at all the night before! ‘Why?’ asked Otilia … “Because of happiness! I have never received such a gift. I was so happy!”

Everyone is so grateful. One man standing and waiting his turn commented to me: “Son grandisimo!” They are really large! he said.

Photos of Water Tank Deliveries!

Watching everyone else receive their tanks!

Otilia lending a hand. She carried this about a half mile.
Including a STEEP path down, across a dry river bed and then UP to the house.

Helping mom!

The 3 families who already have a tank, got 3 chairs and a big bucket of goods!
No one got left out nor forgotten!

Didn't want to waste funds for the big truck for the 3 leftover tanks.
You go girl!!!!
Didn't know Jesus was so strong!

Signing for a tank in Alejandria

People listening to the words of the Pastoral Team and Directiva

44 tanks in San Lorenzo

Signing for the tank with a thumb print.

Family photo! The boy was saying: "Hurry and take the picture please!"

Getting the attachments from the President of the Directiva

Team effort

Doing her part to help!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

May 9th 2010 - Sin Nombre's nombre

So we have a name finally!

William Alexander

(The dad's name is William)

This is Fatima's baby's name at this point. It MIGHT change according to Otilia.

Friday, May 7, 2010

April 7th 2010 – Government Fertilizer Give-away!

All week people have been coming in from all the communities to see if their names are on a list to receive the fertilizer that the federal government is giving all the farmers.

They are receiving 100 pounds of fertilizer and 25 pounds of seed corn. This is another good gesture on the part of the government (like the school uniform give-away).

However – and here comes the frustrating part: As lovely a gesture as this is, the PROCESS and methods of dispensing leave a lot to be desired. The Pastoral Team and the people in the communities have been talking about this a lot.

First, the word came out that this was going to happen. Then each community’s Directiva (City Board) was to compile a list of all their people that work the land. These lists then went to City Hall in Berlin.

So far, so good – this seemed a good way to get the names of the farmers for the gov't agency to know how much fertilizer to deliver to Berlin.

City Hall now had the lists, but they started crossing off names. Why? No one is exactly sure. There is speculation.

And now people are coming to town to see if their name is on the list. And all too often, a name is NOT. And there is no good reason for that name to have been omitted.

Many, many people are wondering and complaining … they see that the people working the give-away, all the city hall workers and secretaries, the security people all have THEIR fertilizer … but excuse me… THEY are not farmers. So what’s up with that? (And some of them take their fertilizer home every day). Who is watching the watchers??

Then there are two gentlemen who are working the give-away (which is being held a block from us on the main street in front of the high school). They are saying – “Anyone who gets help from the Pastoral House will not be on the list”. That is the excuse they are giving some people who are not on the list. So even if someone just came here for help to pay for a medical exam (and especially those who have received fertilizer from their sister churches) they can be taken off the list. But they are not being consistent.

And we know that premise is bunk. Many people from Virginia, El Recreo, Corozal, etc, etc have remained on the list of recipients, and they all received fertilizer from their sister churches. We’re not sure what is up with these two gentlemen. Again we speculate … they don’t get help from us perhaps – and actually, we denied one of them once, because what he was asking for was huge (way beyond our means) and not in the spirit of service to the greater community.

Sigh. Sometimes it is like a soap opera here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

May 5th 2010 – A Blog I Cannot Post

Note: I kept the original title even though I AM posting this … after I sent this to a choice few, most of them said I should post this. It is a reality – another glimpse into the culture. Some things are NOT pretty. So here is the blog I sent my closest friends – and now for the world:
This is a hard and sad blog. Not for me personally – well – it is sad for me because my heart hurts for lots of people here. And now I’m talking about the women.

Let me tell you – maybe it’s because I’m a woman – people talk to me. Women talk to me. And over the breakfast table in the morning, or more likely over coffee and sweet bread in the afternoon when we laugh and cry and just talk together – I get an ear full.

We talk about relationships sometimes. Specifically and generically. Sometimes specifically about the women I love and work with (I won’t share those secrets) and then generically about what life is like for women and the men in their lives in general.

What a horrible situation for so many. I know this is a machismo culture. Men are king here. Men can get away with whatever and it is tolerated: drinking, beating, abuses of all kinds, running around with other women – whatever. If women are even thought to be misbehaving, they get beaten or kicked out. If a woman doesn’t ‘tolerate’ her man or dares to complain, he leaves her. Whether there are no children, 1 child or 8. He leaves her alone. And forget any kind of child support.

Cecilia says – it’s better to be alone. Without a man. (How sad is that??)

And the saddest part of this is, it seems to be the norm. Obviously not for everyone: Balmore and Blanca have a relationship that is precious. They seem to be two souls on the same path – with the same desires in their work and service and how they live their lives in general.

To the women in my life: thank your lucky stars or thank God for your family situation. You have choices. And I would bet your spouse/significant other is, for the most part, responsible, respectful, loving and kind. We all have our moments and difficulties – and I know there are women (and men) who are mistreated in the States. But as a CULTURE… at least in theory, we don’t put up with it - those certain attitudes on the part of our men. Here they ‘tsk, tsk, what a shame, poor girl’ but no one does much more than that.

And the young women I talk to already have the attitude that there are NO men worth getting involved with. “They are all the same”

I originally sent this to a few of my women friends who I know I can share this kind of thing with. And I sent it to Mike … the man I love – who treats me so well. Who loves me - seemingly unconditionally - and has the patience of a saint while I’m down here for who knows how long. I am one lucky woman. I would bet that overall, you are, too! I hope so.

Prayers are requested for all the women on this planet.
And ya know… the men need prayers, too.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May 5th 2010 – 21 hours WITHOUT LIGHT

Or computer, or phone, or doorbell. We lost power last night about 8 p.m. It happens a lot here. For goodness sake – we are 3 miles from the 2nd biggest geo thermal plant in the country!! You'd think there would be SOME perks to that proximity.

Usually the power comes back on within a minute. Maybe 10. Rarely more than a half hour. Although sometimes it will be a half hour now and then 20 minutes later, another half hour…

But we waited and waited. We always have our candles near by and we got our candles lit. I had unplugged my computer in case of a power surge upon re-arrival of our energy but I was still puttering away. I had no internet, but I could still write letters and reports, etc.

I finally gave up after an hour and hit the hay. I figured by morning, all would be good.


Power didn’t come back till after 5 p.m.

I had already used some of my computer battery last night and wanted to conserve it just in case anyone really needed something. So I didn’t even turn it on all day. That was very strange.

I read a while. We all sat around the table chatting for a while. I read some more. I watched the rain for a while. I organized all the education folders – putting the grade reports and messages of ‘thank you’ that have been straggling in – in their proper place by the appropriate student’s receipt of scholarship payout. I decided while I was at it to balance the books. All is fine there. We cut the grass and trimmed some trees during a lull in the rain. I read some more.

We had two students and their mothers come today for the May portion of their scholarship. A high school scholarship is $150 per year and is paid out in $50 increments in January, May and August. The first payout helps pay for shoes and uniform, the second payout for shoes that need to be replaced, extra school supplies, etc. The third payout often covers graduation or end of year expenses. Each family decides how they need it the most. We do not micro-manage that. Some students wear out their shoes, others might wear out the uniform. But there are always random expenses for school that need to be covered. 3 partner churches are supporting their communities students and the Pastoral House itself has a fund thanks mostly to a gentleman in Indianola.

After they left, I read some more. Then I was asked to take Blanca and Idalia to Alejandria because they had heavy things to cart. It was a good diversion!! I actually got bored today. I missed being out of communication.

Fortunately, our stove is propane powered and is not dependent upon electricity. So we were able to heat water for coffee. Thank goodness. Not that I'm addicted or anything. But I think I am!

So now I’m back in the loop.
I did have time to ponder how incredibly tethered and ‘dependent’ I am to this computer. Not sure if that is a good thing or not.

How DID people function without them??

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

April 27th and 28th 2010 – La Cosecha

The Harvest. It is the hope of a lot of people in developing countries such as this. About 60% of the people in this country are rural folk. And the bulk of those rural people are subsistence farmers. That is, they grow enough corn and beans to feed themselves and their families (hopefully all year long) and perhaps have a little left over to sell for the things they cannot grow themselves like cooking oil, sugar, a little salt, notebooks for school, or possibly that $1 pair of flip-flops to replace that other $1 pair of flip flops they bought last year that are being held together by a string.

The two dates above were very special. Thanks to 2 Iowa churches, the people of 2 dirt floor very poor communities now have fertilizer. This will nearly double their crop if all goes well.

I mentioned those deliveries a couple of blogs ago.

And I know I’ve talked about this before so I’m not sure how much more I could tell you. Maybe I just want to repeat something about the spirit of love and generosity of the people here.

With the receipt of their fertilizer – people are asked to ‘give back’ about 10 pounds of corn from their last harvest. But please keep in mind; if they cannot do that, they will still get their fertilizer!!

But in both of the communities – Virginia and Corozal – by the time we arrived with our trucks full of fertilizer, the communities had already re-bagged their gift of corn. And it was bountiful! And after all the fertilizer was down-loaded from the big trucks, the community people joyfully hefted the bags of corn up into the same trucks to bring back to the Pastoral House.

So what the heck do we do with all that corn?? LOTS of it gets given away to the poorest of the poor who come to the Pastoral House door. And remember … the poorest of the poor donated this corn. They have the joy of being able to give back to those less fortunate. And for everyone I’ve heard and asked, it IS a joy to be able to give.

Some of the corn gets sold. We cannot keep it here for long because it would get ruined. We have no storage for this. But this money then goes into a fund that purchases basic food stuffs for the people that come to the door needing food. When people come hungry – or they come and say their children have not eaten today, no one leaves here empty handed! If we don’t have something in our cub-boards, we run across the street and buy it.

And we do it in the name of the communities that so kindly gave of THEIR bounty.

The poor of our communities know the meaning of ‘feed the poor’ – and they do just that with their gift of corn given out of their gratitude for their gift of fertilizer.

What a blessing – you in Iowa – that give so generously to your brothers and sisters here in El Salvador. And what blessed people we serve who turn around and bless others with their bounty.

Amen and amen.

Just FYI: The following communities were given fertilizer by their partner/sister church in Iowa this year:
San Francisco, Virginia, Corozal, Muñoces, Casa de Zinc, El Recreo, San Lorenzo and Alejandría.

The following communities have no partner/sister church – and the Pastoral House has no funds to help them to puchase fertilizar:
Las Delicias, Colon, Loma Alta, San Felipe, El Tablón, Santa Cruz, Concepción and Talpetates

Monday, May 3, 2010

May 3rd 2010 – Holy Day of the Cross

I woke up at about 6 - the usual time and headed downstairs for my hot shower because the water was running today. Cecilia met me and said … ‘hurry … we have to go buy flowers.’ (In Spanish of course)

She told me she wanted to buy flowers and fruit this morning but she didn’t say HOW early!!

Sigh. So I rushed and rushed and we were out of the house by 6:30 to go to market.

Today is Holy Day of the Cross. It is the tradition to decorate a cross with flowers and fruit and put it near your door to keep evil away. People come from the country with loads of fruit and flowers and tree parts to sell as decorations. The homemade wooden crosses cost 25¢ each. They are made out of 3” width tree trunks. And most of the other items cost a quarter also. There are mangos, grape like things, papaya, mandarin oranges and a wide variety of delicate flowers. Cecilia and I bought about $2 worth of stuff. There are lots of people who walk away with only 25 cents worth. Maybe they have things growing at their homes…

Cecilia did most of the decorating. She basically covered up the cross. I thought it was maybe a ‘ruse’ to trick the evil spirits … they can’t see the cross till they get really close then they will run away when they finally do. But no. It is just her way to decorate it. Later, she saw some photos in the newspaper of other decorated crosses and commented that their crosses were visible – that the fruit and flowers were at the base of the cross and hanging around it. So maybe next year ours will look a little different.

Later, Cecilia came up to the office to tell me the legendary Sihuanaba and El Cipitio were in town so she was afraid to answer the door. (These are characters from Salvadoran Legends and if anyone wants to read those legends, I have them in a file on my computer. Email me and I will send it to you!).

And so I went down with my camera – knowing more or less what I would see.

There is a troupe of about a dozen people who walk the town all dressed up as these characters and others; devils, witches, etc. They are accompanied by a local band complete with bass, violin, guitars and portable drum. And for $1 they will sing and dance and stop bothering you!

I followed behind them a ways and they stopped to tease and play with one of the local shop keepers. So I started taking photos. It was quite fun. And then one of the characters said my name. Whoa! That was a surprise.

I later found out the guys (and they are ALL guys dressed as both the men and women characters) were from Muñoces and I knew most of them!

They moved on and then I continued my walk to the post office. On my way back, they were ‘harassing’ another local shop and their clients and they must have paid because the troupe started to sing and dance. So lucky us … we have photos!

And then later in the day… at lunchtime, they were walking by so I went out to take more photos. And Mercedes (a friend from City Hall) was walking by with his VERY pregnant wife and asked them to play at their house. So of course I followed. This time I took a video! I’ll give Mercedes and his family a copy to send to their family in the U.S.

Munoces Holy Day of the Cross Troupe

My friends from Munoces. A motly crew ...

Dancing and singing away the evil spirits.

'Harassing' the shop-keepers for pay!
All in fun and a BIG tradition here in El Salvador

May 2nd 2010 – Here it is Sunday

And here it is Sunday. The sun actually peeked out for about an hour so the shirts I washed 3 days ago could dry a little.

I was able to go to my Berlin church today for the first time in over a month. I did attend several churches in Iowa last month, but there is something special about my Berlin church home.

And it was a good mass with a great message. Father Cándido was leading the mass today and it is always a joy to hear him preach. And as he was walking down the aisle to begin the service, I noticed he was walking without his cane! He was wearing regular shoes! (Well Crocs, but close enough to real shoes). And he did not look like he was in pain. What a joy to see. He did not, however, sit at the usual priest’s chair that sits about 3 steps above the altar. They moved a chair down next to the altar for him to sit. And he sat when he did the homily.

The basic scripture text was “love one another.”

It seems a simple message. It seems a simple task. But what does it mean. And why do we have such a difficult time actually following that command?

He said a lot of the problem of the violence in this country is due to the break down of the family. So many people are leaving the country to find work. Families are split. Children are separated from their parents and left with little or no guidance.

He said it was the responsibility of the government to do something about this. They need to find ways to keep families together. Jobs need to be created. Work with a livable wage. Work with dignity – work that will provide what a family needs to survive.

He also spoke a little about the problem of very young people and their promiscuity. And very young people getting ‘ajuntados’ so young. This is getting married but not legally – it is a common law living together arrangement very normal and accepted here. People are looking for love and looking for love wherever they can find it. Usually looking in the wrong places and getting in trouble which creates a difficult future for themselves and the children they bring into the world.

He said we need to stop looking for love in such a selfish way. We should be giving love. Not just any love, but the love of Christ. This is a pure love where we take care of one another. Listen to one another. Protect one another. If we can do this, perhaps more people will feel loved and therefore stop looking in the wrong places. If people feel loved and valued, perhaps they will not feel the need to use violence.

It was a simple but a very strong message.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May 2nd 2010 – The Week in Review

It was a full week. But that is nothing new.

The very first thing that happened was the birth of Otilia’s grand-baby. This was a wonderful start to the week.

And the rest of the week brought lots of activity.

We delivered 220 sacks of fertilizer to Virginia and 116 sacks of fertilizer to Corozal. Those deliveries were thanks to those communities’ partner churches of Dallas Center Presbyterian and Ankeny Presbyterian respectively.

I also got to see the progress of the construction of the new retaining wall in San Francisco. This wall will protect the church that sits on top of the hill. With the new wall, when the heavy rains come – as they do every year - the church will stay put! Landslides, both big and small are common here. Both the church and the new wall are thanks to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Des Moines.

The UCA (University of Central America) visited El Tablón Cerna: 28 students, their teacher and a technician who will live in Cerna for the next 8 or 10 months to train and help develop to self-sustainability, the new co-op that has been formed spent the morning working. 25 families will have a consistent income when this gets going. They will be raising hens – both layers and fryers. And down the line, they hope to add a honey project. The success of this project will be because of the efforts of the UCA, Heartland Presbyterian in Clive (Cerna’s partner church), The Pastoral House and most important: the people of Cerna who are the owners of the Co-op.

We hosted a gentleman representing the New York Rotary Clubs working with us in the Water Filter Project. We spent hours in meetings with both the Pastoral Team members as well as the San Miguel Rotary Club members. We visited a few homes in the communities that have filters, and participated in a celebration to honor the people in the communities who have been and will continue to be committed to working for the success of this project.

We also drove about an hour and a half to attend the 15th anniversary memorial event of the fallen martyrs of the civil war. Not just the famous ones, but all of them. There was a mass, music from a ‘revolutionary group,’ speakers, a horse tournament and lunch. This is a 3 day event. We only were able to attend a smallish portion. There were several other representatives of other institutions working in the municipality.

Saturday finally arrived full of rain and I was able to have another catch up day. I got my over 150 emails down to less than 20. Some just needed filing, many needed smallish responses, some only needed to be deleted. I did 2 community reports (a fertilizer and wall update), a couple smallish water filter reports, my 2 monthly Compañeros reports are now done and I was even able to begin work on an itinerary for one of our June delegations.

I do like a busy week.

One man loading 220 sacks of fertilizer.

Cecilia (Pastoral Team member) and Elida - Community leader,
calling names for signature for receipt of their fertilizer.

Recipients carrying their fertilizer home.

Or waiting for someone to help them!

Hopefully a bountiful harvest in August to feed her tummy all year!