Tuesday, November 29, 2011


'El Norte' is here.  The strong-ish winds coming from the north blowing it's cold across the country.  It's cold.  I slept with socks on last night - and my jacket.  Under 3 layers of blanket.  I had a hard time crawling out of bed into the cold morning.

"Pobresita la gente dormiendo en la calle"  Cecilia says to me this morning when I jokingly shivered while I walked by her on my way to get a cup of hot coffee.

That put me in my place. 

Lord help me to never forget the "poor people sleeping on the street"

Monday, November 28, 2011

Not my normal blog ...

I don’t understand so many things.  I’m not talking academics.  Although admittedly I’m on the low end of that spectrum as well. 
When I have free minutes I try to find out what is going on in the world.  And the latest deaths in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border just makes me sad.  I grieve for them. 

There is so much I just don’t understand.   Of course I can read about what physically happened.  Who did what and when and to whom and the ‘why’ and the blame is on this one or that one and they are evil and they are …          Good Lord.

In my heart I don’t understand.  Why do we fight and kill in the name of God or religion?  Why do we fight or kill in the name of political ideologies?  Why do we fight and kill for power?  Why do we fight and kill for ‘what is right’ … and who is to say what IS right???? 

I have been blessed with a very … shall we say … eclectic extended family.  I have a Catholic sister (I’m Presbyterian), I have a Muslim brother-in-law, niece and nephews.  I have sons who have explored a variety of faiths, Buddhist nephews and nieces, and Jewish ex-laws. There is probably more variety in that mix that I don’t even know about.   We are Irish, French, Korean, Italian, Pakistani, Philipino, Vietnamese, German/Hungarian/Austrian, and even a wee bit of Native American.  And again – there is probably even more variety than I am aware.  God only knows where our political ideologies are!  I could make some guesses – but you know what?  I don’t care.  It isn’t important.  I love them all.  In spite of – or maybe even in part, because of – all our differences.

Granted, I’m talking family.  But let’s include neighbors.  Again – there is a huge variety. 

Well –not so much here in El Salvador, you are either Catholic or ‘Evangelical’ (or with no faith) and you logistically belong to one of the 4 major political parties … everyone is pretty much Salvadoran so there are no ‘race’ issues here.   But even with those few variables – there is quite a bit of rivalry, hatred and even some violence.

I understand not agreeing with something.  There are many things I object to, don’t agree with, and don’t fully understand (etc.) either regarding our diverse faiths, politics, life-style or whatever.  But who am I to judge other’s beliefs?  Who am I to try to change them?  Who am I to KILL them? 
Good Lord. 
This is a big planet – but a small world.  And the world is getting smaller. 
Our commonality is our humanity. 
Where does all that hatred start? 

It’s become a cliché and almost a joke … buy why CAN’T we all just get along?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One Would Think ...

One would think … after nearly 3 full years of living here – with an additional 7 months prior living here as a ‘temp’ - that I would feel more integrated.  More a part of the culture.  More at home.
Don’t get me wrong – I am well loved here.  I am welcomed and embraced in the communities and especially here at the Pastoral House. 


Still, everyday I’m learning cultural nuances – some large, some very subtle - that remind me that I grew up with a different mind-set.  My whole life revolved around a totally different set of experiences and expectations. 

In some ways humans are all the same.  We all love, find joy, sadness, guilt, hurt, anger, have faith (or not), get jealous, are capable of being hurtful, love, treasure friendship, - I could go on.


How we express or how we cope or deal with all those human emotions and activities can be so distinct. 

And sometimes things that I feel are not important – are hugely important here.

This isn’t to say that ‘my’ way of thinking is better – or worse.  It’s just different.  We are a product of the realities of our own situations: our own social norms, our own political culture, our own value systems, etc.

Sometimes I get impatient and think ‘why is this such a big deal?’ … ‘Why can’t we just do it this way?’

But then I have to rein myself in.

I am a foreigner here still.   And truthfully … I always will be. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rio de los Bueyes

I just spent some time reading Alisha’s blog about our day in Rio de los Bueyes – listening to the testimonies of several people who lived the civil war - and who are still here to talk about it.
She did a beautiful job of capturing their testimonies so I won’t repeat it here – go to her blog:

Thank you Alisha.

Friday, November 18, 2011

2 videos ...

A sampling of a bumpy ride out to a canton - perspective from the back of the truck.  And this is a GOOD road!!!

Tortillas - the staple food of the Salvadoran people.  It is not the very thin Mexican tortilla but a 1/4 inch thick, beautifully rounded disc that has substance.  It is eaten at every meal.  If there are no tortillas, then the meal is not complete.  You can eat them plain with a little salt ... use them as a utensil with your meal - scooping your food with it.  You can put cheese on them or in them.  Normally they are eaten warm and fresh off the comal (the round cooking surface you see in the video) or toasted over a burner on the stove.  One of my favorite meals is a tortilla with a 2" hole cut out of the middle - in a frying pan with a thin layer of hot oil, place the tortilla down and break an egg into it.  It looks a little like a flying saucer.  It is yummy!  Another favorite meal of mine is a tortilla cut in half ... then slice it open like a pita and stuff it with some cheese and fry it up in a thicker layer of oil.  (This is not to be confused with a cheese pupusa!)

As you can see - they take a while to make.  You use the old stone method to make the masa (dough) the proper consistency.  It is time consuming.  And hot work.  And requires some skill to make a beautiful rounded tortilla.

Watch their hands.  It is a talent!!

Getting to know you …

It’s been a very busy couple of weeks.  We hosted a delegation of 5 people from Dallas Center for a week and since they left on the 15th, I’ve been catching up and attending to different obligations and activities.
One highlight of our delegation week:

A thing I particularly enjoy doing is going to our partner churches communities.  And as tiring and exhausting as it can be, I LOVE to go walking door to door to talk to the people.  It is a great way to get to know the community a little better  - this time we asked questions about what grade their children were in (which is always interesting to see a 17 year old in 4th grade).  We also asked if the land on which they had their home theirs or rented or if they were caretakers.  Then we asked about their farmland: owned or rented and how much land they had.

Some delegates worry about being rude but no one finds these types of questions intrusive.   People here like to talk about their lives.  And when the North Americans come and actually take the time and make the effort to walk in those extreme conditions of heat and sun, dust and dirt, steep hills up and down, rocky, slippy, narrow paths and needing to dodge all manner of large animal pooh – as well as the animals themselves (dogs, cats, turkeys, chickens, ducks, cows, horses and pigs) well – suffice it to say – folks here really appreciate the efforts made by their Iowa family members! 

We don’t get to stay as long as we’d like – but in every home we are welcomed in.  And whoever is there – man, woman or child - they try to find a place for some of us to sit be it a worn out and holey hammock, a very tired plastic chair, a tree stump or humble wooden plank bench.  We are hugged and told ‘pase adelante’ (come on in).  We step onto their dirt floors, look THROUGH their walls to the outside, breathe in the oppressive smoke from their cooking fires, try not to trip over the chickens running under foot and smile and talk and love each other.

The best thing is that not only the delegates get to put a face on their Salvadoran family – but the Salvadoran gets to put a face on their new Iowa family.  It makes the partnership real.  It builds a beautiful connection.  Everyone can now say a prayer for and think about each other with a face in mind. 

So our 5 delegates walked to 119 homes in 3 days – also taking the time to meet with the Directiva (the town council) and share a Celebration of the Word.  What a blessed week.

Virginia home

A beautiful family in Virginia

A steep entry to a home site

Ahi no masito!!!  (not far now!!) hahahaha

Making a 20 point turnaround with lots of 'helpers' STOP!!!!

Blanca and Kathy

Walking by the unpredictable horses and cows

and pigs ...

This is what it's all about!  Maria and friend

And what beauty!

No Maria ... you can't take her home!

I think C.J. is in love!

Blind and very emotional about our visit!

New friends

And I can never resist holding a baby

Lots of walking

... and walking

and walking with a helpful hand

and climbing

through the crops

but worth the walk

Tortilla making

peeking in at the visitors

TWINS!  Thanks for coming to the rescue Mitch

Absolute beauty

Very humble home

obstacle courses

Each family received a new hammock!

Shelling red beans

Don't mess with these big boys

17 days old

The Twins

Cecilia either tapping for me to go ... or to stop.

And some people ask why we are here!! 

Monday, November 7, 2011

I'm always learning ... never make assumptions ...

I had a 5 year old visitor yesterday … he saw a paperclip on my desk and asked me what it was.  He had no idea what it was.  We spent some quality time playing and experimenting what could be done with those clever little items. … He really enjoyed clipping papers together. 

I also showed him how to make a chain.  I think I will put a bunch in a baggie to give him to take home.  I do have a relatively good quantity in my colorful bucket ‘o’ clips.  I could spare a few.

Watercolor trays

I walked into the kitchen this afternoon and Blanca was painting corn husks so she could make flowers.  She had a water color try (the kind you buy for your kindergartener at the beginning of the school year).  This must have been leftover from a delegation.

She had broken off a small chunk of one of the colors and put it in about a cup of water to mix.  It wasn’t doing a very good job of painting the corn husks.

I had to show her (an almost 50 year old) how to get the tip of the brush wet and merely skim the top of the chosen color.  And viola … it’s almost real paint!

“AAHHH” she says.

Oh… and then I had to tell her to clean the brush in between using the different colors  so as to not dirty each one…

There are so many little things we take for granted that EVERYONE knows …

Reality check: not so.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Oskar's Visit

Cecilia spent the night with her family last night and Blanca and Idalia went to the 6 a.m. mass this morning - leaving me alone from about 5:45 a.m. till 7:15 or so (well – not totally alone – Alisha was here but she was still asleep).   I didn’t realize I was home alone till the newspaper man who loudly announces his approach with the song: ‘El Diario … El Diario de Hoy’ had to ring the doorbell twice and I had to go running down to get the paper and pay him.

I love that man.  (Don’t be worried Mike haha).  He is about 300 years old, a bit stooped and is ever faithful.  I miss him when he has a cold and cannot sing his approach.  He always has a sweet smile when I see him. 

Most of my alone time was quiet – so I typed an email regarding our water filter monitoring, and then began to read past sermons from Heartland Presbyterian (Thank you Mark for posting them) while sipping my coffee.

Ah – but then the doorbell rang again.  I ran down the stairs again and opened the little sliding door to see who it was before I opened the door – and there stood Oskar from Santa Cruz.  He often visits us here at the Pastoral House on a Sunday morning.  He is in town for church and he enjoys talking to Blanca and Cecilia and Balmore.  It is almost a tradition.  He sometimes sits and chats for more than an hour. 

So today, I invited him in – it was almost time for Blanca and Idalia to return.  He had in his hands a big bunch of beans freshly harvested.  It is a gift for the Pastoral House.  The immediate thought running through my head was: “Good grief!  People have lost crops due to the rains!  Surely you have, too!  And here you are bringing one of your first harvested bunches as a gift to us!!”  I wanted to cry.  I cannot say no to the beans – that would be extremely ungrateful and disrespectful of me.  But I can inquire about how his family situation is!  I asked him about his crops and how they fared.  He said he lost about 50% of his bean crop: mostly those in the lower areas of his fields.  He said he would have lost more but the beans we gave them were really good.  He said they grew fast but not too tall and that they quickly flowered and produced well.  So in reality, he could have lost even more.  Not only the weather, but also the way the plants grow – and the different varieties of plants that are planted can effect a crop.  Apparently, the tops of the plants are susceptible to different weather elements so if a variety of bean grows really tall – it is more vulnerable. 

And he said the bean seeds we gave were a good variety.  So he said they won’t have much to sell if any – he plans to set aside beans for next year’s planting season in May (there are two bean planting seasons) and they will have enough to eat for most of the year.  He and his family will be fine.  He talked about those who lost not only their crops but their homes.  And he is aware of the fact that he has his family and they are safe.  And they still have their little house and they will be fine.  And they will have enough beans to eat.

I am constantly reminded of the beauty of God.  And that beauty is so evident in the hearts of people such as Oskar. 
First fruits

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Photos of Rio de los Bueyes

Making food packets with the delegation

Everyone out while we hoe up dry road to get beyond the slippy part!

We needed to walk a bit behind the truck

Greeted by horses and their owners!  What a great surprise!

Weldon helping out

Blanca, Idalia and Mauricio

Loading the food bags into larger bags

Loading bags for the horses

Ready for the horse

Easier to carry the boxes in sacks for the horses

Packets ready to load onto the horses
Securing the packets

Teri is a natural on the horse

Marie looks mighty fine atop that steed.

Even I got to ride!  What luck!

MY view - Manuel was my chauffer for the trip down

These men walked so we could ride.  NICE people

Members of the Civil Protection Committee were provided slickers and boots

Everyone pitches in when they can

This wasn't even the worst of it ... for those parts I was holding on for dear life!!

A long way down to Rio de los Bueyes
Almost there ... the walkers were TIRED and a mess

At the school

Planning how to proceed

Kathy and Blanca

Adding the oil to the bags

Directiva president addressing the crowd

Listening and waiting

Directiva President thanking the Team and the delegation

Blanca addressing the crowd

Everyone listening

Me having a good cuddle

Avoiding puddles

With her family's packet

Looking on as others receive their packets

The fingerprint signature
The Directiva helping out

Skirting the muddiest areas to leave the school grounds

Here is is dad ...

We're grateful for the Directiva's work!

Many fingerprint signatures - using the pen to ink the finger

Waiting patiently for her family

Add caption

Waiting for mom

This woman was SO beautiful

A contagious smile

Patient and kind hearted delegates!!

Trying to stay mud free

Helping mom
Whoops.  I stepped in a mud puddle

Idalia accepting the ride back up the road

No words for this cutie!!

Weldon walked down - but gonna ride up!!

Blanca's very FIRST ever ride on a horse.  She was scared.  But not anymore!

Elmer (Cecilia's son) had come along to help and learn about his mom's work

My chauffer for the ride up - but about halfway up he let go of my rope!!

A lovely road.  We all felt very bad for our 'chauffers'

Kindly horse-men

Taking a breather before they head back down

Friendly and helpful horse-men

Manuel - a GREAT voice for his community!

Saying good-bye to us!

Those birds when in this quantity mean that the rains are going to let up for a while.
We can hope.

But ... the next day it did rain ALL day again.  The delegation had to cancel their visit to their partner community.  But this day's experience was priceless.