Monday, May 28, 2012

Who owns the land?

I had a lengthy conversation yesterday afternoon with Blanca and Idalia.  I had been called down to share an early supper of pupusas.  We talked about a lot of different things – trivial and then some not so trivial. 

I’m not sure how the conversation started but we managed to segue into a hot topic.    Idalia mentioned that people from La Geo (the Geo Thermal plant here in Berlín) (and their heavily armed security guards) were measuring and staking out the land around their home.  I asked … isn’t that your family land?  Well, yes it is.  It’s been in the family for a very long time (Blanca’s family and Idalia’s family live next to each other – coffee trees and many types of fruit trees in a well-kept bit of land between and around their respective humble dirt floor homes. 

I didn’t think they were planning to sell – they have lived there all their lives and continually work to maintain their homes nicely. 

La Geo owns LOTS of land: in Alegría and Berlín.  They own a lot of the land in Montañita, a lot of the land in El Recreo.  They own a lot of the land in Los Cañales.  They own land in San Francisco … in Alejandria … Hacienda Nueva …

They keep buying up land and on much of it they dig more wells and run their gigantic tubing between the wells and the main parts of the plant.    Ugly eye-sores but that is the least of the problems they create.

 So I asked … why are they measuring if you don’t want to sell?

Here is the frustrating response:

‘If they want it – they will have it.’

La Geo comes in and offers a nice sum of money for your land.  Lots of people accept it – it is a great temptation to have that kind of money in your hand … unfortunately, when that money is gone – the people  are left with nothing.  Most people don’t think to the future here.  (So says Blanca). 

If you don’t want to sell – they can potentially take your land.  They have the cooperation of the government and an individual has (realistically) no recourse for protest.  They say the top several feet of the land belongs to the individual land owner - but beneath that layer, the land belongs to the government. 

So if La Geo wants your land.  One way or another, it is likely to become theirs. 

And they are sneaky … they buy the land that has a section of road on it.  Therefore the use of the road is determined by La Geo.  Roads are not ‘public’ property.  People may or may not be allowed access to said road - even if it is the only way to get 'from here to there' in your canton.

And there seems to be a land feeding-frenzy lately.  There are at least two new wells that are still in the process of being built in the last few months – these we can see from the main road between Berlín and Mercedes Umaña.  They are huge.  Lots of land is cleared around them.  They are noisy and smell horrible at times.  They construct walls around them and they are heavily guarded.  Lately, there are LOTS of people in the La Geo uniform in Berlín.   They are not from here.  They are imported labor from neighboring countries, but also from Spain and Italy. 

There are minimal (no?) restrictions or consequences for the pollutants they expel in the air, the water or the land.  We drive through a large area between Mercedes Umaña and Berlín, and between Berlín and Alegría where we have to hold our breath.  I couldn’t imagine living within that stench.  Below the plant, children come out of their ‘bath’ with what look like burns or extreme rashes because their bathing water has been contaminated. (These have been officially documented).  Fruit trees stop producing.  Animals are sickly and dying off.   The cancer rate is quite high as well as kidney disease (can we blame La Geo for that?  I honestly don’t know but it would be a logical assumption).

The plant itself and many of the wells and perforations are in the municipality of Alegría … so even any tax revenue generated (if any) does not come to Berlín. Berlín also does not receive the electricity from La Geo - as was one of the original promises when they proposed coming here.

Blanca, Idalia and Cecilia have friends who work at La Geo who know things.  They can’t/won’t say anything … they need their jobs.  And ‘accidents’ happen. 

I wonder how those in control (the owners, executives, big stockholders, etc.) can sleep at night. How can they not know of the negative consequences of their companies?  Honestly. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wedding of Walter and Marlene

We were invited to a wedding!  I was excited about being able to attend such a beautiful event for a lovely young couple.  The problem potentially – they live in La Llanes – and the wedding was to take place there.

I’ve written about the road to La Llanes in the past.  And quite a few delegates have actually been to La Llanes so they know the road.  IMost of it isn’t so bad – except about 200 yards of a VERY scary section: with a wall of mountain on one side, and a lovely and deep drop off on the other side.  I don’t mind drop offs any more for the most part.  My fear of heights had no option but to be ‘put on a shelf’ while I’m here.  We do live in the mountains after all.  But this little section of road is very narrow – basically 2 rutted tire tracks with weeds growing through the middle.  It is bad enough when the ruts are dry.  But it is the rainy season. 
These next photos were taken during the dry season.  So it is a nice solid road.

During the rainy season, the weeds between the tire tracks are 1 and 2 feet tall
and the tire truck ruts can be up to a foot deep in mud

Again ... these photos are from the dry season.  Leaving La Llanes there is a slight incline

We were holding off making the decision to go or not based upon the weather.  And it had not rained since the wee hours of the morning on Friday.   The wedding was on Sunday.  I wanted to go.  They said if I felt brave enough to drive it, Cecilia would go with me.  Everyone else had other commitments.  The other alternative was to go with the priest.  But they said his driver ‘flies.’  I can’t imagine ‘flying’ on any of the canton roads.

I had already bought a gift in the name of all of us - so all we needed to do was go.  And so we did.

The cut-off road leading to the community was not TOO bad.  A little squishy in the more shaded parts.  The truck likes to ‘dance’ on those sections.  I was hoping, since the scary section of road faces the west and is not shaded, that it would be mostly dry by now.

Wrong.  It was muddy.  And slippy.  I do have a mantra for such occasions: ‘thankyouGodthankyouGodthankyouGod’ repeated over and over. 

The mantra was well said on the way into the village.

But we made it.

There were at least 100 people there.  Most everyone from the community of course – and lots of people from Berlín, San Felipe, San Francisco, Las Delicias …

There is a coffee drying patio in the middle of the community.  This is where the wedding was to be held.  They had constructed a ‘roof’ – using bamboo stalks, rope and tarp.  The many pieces tarp were not new as they had multiple little (and some not so little) holes in them.  Which was good while the sun was out as it gave a little light to the folks sitting under it …
If you look closely, you can see the holes in the plastic.  And the bamboo framing!

Cloudy day but no rain yet.  We sat in front of where Cecilia is standing

People are very talented when it comes to creating a space with minimal resources!

They had asked a group from Las Delicias to sing and they came with a generator for the electric base and the microphone needed for Father Santos who was to perform the mass and the wedding service. 

Cecilia and I were invited to sit right next to the band and chorus.  This worked out well because it put me in a position where I could get up to take photos without disturbing anyone.  We were also more or less facing the crowd so I had a bird’s eye view of the wedding party who sits in the front row. 

Downside:  we’re right next to the music with the drums at my knees.

Part of the chorus ...

A drum, an electric bass, a guitar, a couple other percussion things I have no idea what they are called ...

Father Santos was ready … the wedding party was ready … the guests were ready … we just had to wait for the couple’s God-parents … (this is the best word I can think of for this honor … a person does not just have one set of God-parents for when you are baptized, but you have another set for confirmation, first communion, weddings). 

The 10 a.m wedding got started a little before 11 a.m.  This is really not such a big deal.  People are patient and waiting is usually the norm.  But I kept looking at the sky.  And it was a cloudy day… some patches of lighter clouds, some darker.  And they were ever changing.  My prayer (selfishly) was please no rain …
Placing the ring on her finger

The lasso signifying their union

Post vow hugs during the passing of the peace

For most of the mass and ceremony, there was no rain.  It sprinkled a couple of times … and the band was ever at the ready to go cover up the generator.  It was almost done – the marriage complete, peace passed, communion served … getting ready for a few announcements and words of love for the newly married couple … and the rains began to fall.  Really fall.  HARD.  The band quickly turned off and covered up the generator … people began standing up to get out from under the many rain drops falling through the holey tarps.  The tarps started getting heavy with collected rain so they had to release the waterfalls every couple of minutes.  No one heard the final blessing of neither the priest nor the final song. 
The sprinkles start to get more intense ... the wedding party is a bit distracted!

The holes leak (obviously) and the weight of the water creates 'smallish' waterfalls ...

... which turn into gushers!!

Cecilia and I went as fast as we could, dodging raindrops and mud puddles, to a nearby house – but we were beckoned to go to the house where they were cooking the meal for the guests.  We were immediately given a plate of food and told to sit.  Fortunately, the rain stopped almost as quickly as it started.  It only lasted about 15 minutes.  Just long enough to get people drenched.  But it at least stopped so when people started lining up for lunch, they were not standing in the rain. 

Looking out from inside the home where the cooking took place - Carmen's house

So gladthe rain stopped!

Father Santos did NOT have to wait in line ... it does look like he is last in line for the food ... but ....
 they had a special table set up for the wedding party - he had a special place of honor!

It was a fiest of chicken, rice, potatoes, salad and tortillas.
I bet everyone in the community pitched in with a chicken or 2

Everyone was fed well

We ate rather quickly so we could leave.  Cecilia said the roads get worse as more cars go over it  ... and there were at least 8 cars that would eventually need to leave.  Everyone else was taking their time eating so we did manage to leave before the rest.  You can imagine my thoughts?  I was thinking about those 200 yards of road.  And as usual, people asked for a lift.  I have a hard time saying no.  I did warn folks that if I felt I needed to drive that section without people in the back, I might ask them to get out for that little bit.  I would wait to decide that till I had a chance to see/feel the road.

As we knew it would be … all of the road was very slippery and there was quite a bit of gentle fish-tailing as we went on.  Most of the road has a little space for a bit of fish-tail action.  Or at least it does not have a steep slope on one side!  So I wasn’t too worried for most of the trip.  And as we approached the scary stretch, I quietly commenced my mantra.  On the way out of town there is a slight (very slight) incline.  So in spite of the mud that resulted from the brief downpour, it didn’t seem as bad.  Obviously I was in 4x4 mode for this part.  And perhaps the weight in the back of the truck helped a bit, too.  And when the drop off is on MY side of the truck, I can better see how much road I really have.  Bottom line is – we made it safely and with minimal fish tail action. 

Unfortunately, that might have been the last trip out to La Llanes till November…

I would like to buy a couple of truckloads of smallish rock to spread over that section.  They would get compacted into the mud and perhaps add some traction.

Cecilia said that is for the owner of the land to provide.  He has trucks that go in and out to collect the coffee that is harvested.  But – since coffee is harvested during the dry season – it isn’t such a big deal for them.  I doubt anything will ever get done about that bit of road.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

God's Moments ...

It seems there are lots of “God moments” in life – pieces of time that you happen to be where you are needed – and you are there not because you purposely went there – but perhaps a delay on the road made you late – but – it was a good thing you were late because you were able to give someone a lift.  Had you been on time, you would have not been able to help.  Or … on the ‘spur of the moment’ you decided to turn here rather than there …

This afternoon, it was the later … we went down to Alejandria to bring the pan dulce to be given to the folks who had been praying and had been in vigil for Elena.  Her 9th day of death is tomorrow and the family is preparing tamales by the thousands (literally) to be given to the faithful attendees.  The Pastoral Team ladies (and their families) don’t just give the tamales to those that attend the 9th day vigil (beginning at 8 p.m. with a mass and not ending till daybreak the next day).  They give the tamales to those who attended the first night vigil, those who attended the mass and interment.  Those who brought flowers … whoever participated received at least a dozen tamales. 

We didn’t stay long in Alejandria.  Cecilia and I had gone down with Misael and Sesi (Margarita’s children).  Margarita had spent the day with Blanca and Idalia and their families helping to make the tamales.  We dropped off the pan dulce, helped disburse tamales then packed up and left - bringing Margarita with us.  On the way back to Berlín, we made some tamale delivery stops.  We went up to Colonia El Jardín to deliver to an aunt.  We went down to Hacienda Nueva in Coyolar (both places not too far from the Pastoral House).  The road down to Hacienda Nueva is bad … very rocky.  But nothing that the truck in 4x4 mode cannot handle.  We delivered to 3 homes down there.  About 2/3 of the way down, we saw a bunch of boys – bike-riding, chatting, hanging out.  On the way back up Cecilia suggested a shortcut so we went a slightly different way back up. We ran into the boys again  They asked us to stop.  One of the boys had broken his arm.  They were hoping we would take him to town.  No doubt about it … his arm was bent between his elbow and wrist and the bone was bulging the skin.  We put him in the front seat and gave him a seat cushion to put on his lap to help cradle his arm. 

I was directed to take him to the Red Cross which is right between the high school and the Berlín Clinic.   I’m not sure why they didn’t take him to the clinic itself.  My guess is, they would not attend to him (past history).  The Red Cross folks could possibly get him to the hospital either in Santiago de María or San Miguel (they would decide).    

Had we not taken the shortcut on Cecilia’s whim, the boy would have had to walk about 2 miles …

The last thing I saw was Cecilia handing some cash to the brother who would stay with the young man.  He would have to pay the gas to cover the trip.  God bless Cecilia.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Random Rainy Day Thoughts

I need a change of scenery.  I want to rearrange my bedroom … but there really IS no other way to create my space … a twin bed, little typewriter table (you remember the old metal two-shelf thingies on wheels?) and one ‘wardrobe’ (as in the Lion, the witch and the…) – all squeezed into a 9’ x 10’ space … and two of the walls have a door (one leads to the office, one leads to my little bathroom) … There really isn’t another way to arrange that space.  Darn. 

Rainy season seems to have started … we already know we cannot go to the wedding in La Llanes tomorrow because that narrow, curved road with the steep drop off is just too slippery.  Another darn.

Good news about the rain: once you get beyond the mud on the ground and the trash that gets pushed around due to the rivers that flow in the streets and walking paths, it is GREEN and clean at knee level and up.  And other than a few hours of humid stickiness every day, it is a bit cooler in the evenings.  Especially when the breeze comes up.

Critters are in force though.  All sorts of critters.  Mosquitos (which will become less so as the rainy season strengthens because (I think) the heavy and consistent (as in daily) rains that fall create too much movement in the breeding places which for the most part are no longer stagnant pools of standing water.  But we have what look like the ‘flying termites’ I used to get once a year in my old Clive house … gnats, moths; big and little, lots of flies, beautiful butterflies, ants (naturally), and I’ve seen more cockroaches in my office (and bedroom, sigh) than I have in ALL the time I’ve been here – 2 of them – one died of natural causes, the other has been evicted and is living somewhere outside in the garden.  Until he finds his way back here anyway.

There was a beautiful 1” spider on my office wall last night – and a lizard about a foot away from it.  They were obviously watching each other.  The lizard would creep a little closer … the spider seemed to play dead – the lizard would creep a little closer still … and the spider made the 6” walk to the door frame.  The lizard moved a little closer (getting within 6” of the spider) and the spider dashed out the door.  Lizard gave up and found its place – where ever that is – in the office where he lives …

I was rooting for the lizard by the way.

Wish I thought to take a photo.

Rainy season also means that clothing takes forever to dry.  I’ve had my laundered shirts hanging for 3 days – they are still damp.  A pair of jeans has been out for 5 days.  And now I have to really watch the clothing in the wardrobe and air them out on occasion.  Last year I had to wash about 2/3 of my clothes because they had gotten moldy.  I think that was God’s way of saying: ‘Kathy, you still have too much clothing if they are in the wardrobe for such long stretches of time that they can actually get moldy.’ 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mass and Burial - or - EIGHT in ONE

The mass was to start at 9 a.m.  The casket would come in the funeral home pick-up truck and the people from Alejandria would follow on foot.  It’s only about 2 miles. 

Since we had to bring things to the house and drop people at the cemetery early (to dig), Blanca and I both had had a chance to clean up and change.  And we were ready to join the procession as it passed.  Blanca asked me to run ahead and keep an eye on her mother till she could catch up.  (María Elena was her sister).  She had to make some other arrangements.  So I trotted close to the truck that she was riding in and walked along side it till we got to the church.

Arriving - in front of the Pastoral House.  The name of the funeral home: Yom Kippur. 

The red truck has a few of the older women in the cab and a few of the men who dug the gravesite hole.

Blanca's mother and her sister in-law were in the cab of this truck.

The men carried the casket inside and opened the lid so people could have one last viewing.  Then Father Santos came down the aisle to serve mass.  Manuel from Las Delicias had been asked to sing for the mass.  He has a lovely voice that needs no chorus and is a close family friend. 

The mass itself was only about 45 minutes.  It was a regular mass, just shortened a bit and with a section specifically in honor of the deceased.  When mass was done, the men carried the casket back out and into the funeral home truck so we could begin the walk to the cemetery.

Most everyone walked behind the casket down the hill.  A couple of older people rode in the 2 pick-ups.  This procession took about 45 minutes. 

At the cemetery, there is a covered ‘salon’ for the casket to be displayed and for the family and friends to gather round for a final look and to hear anyone speak.  A man named Mariano from Loma Alta was asked to say a few words.  A few words always ends up being at least 20 minutes – regardless who is asked to speak.  Balmore then spoke – thanking everyone for their accompaniment.  I was sitting with Blanca’s mother and Margarita away from the crowds.  We made room for the people and the casket to pass. 

The custom here is that people watch the casket lowered into the grave.  There are no fancy machines to do this.  No pulley system.  It is just 4-6 men with rope.  They are more or less evenly spaced on either side of the hole of the grave.  Each with an end of the rope which is looped under the casket. The try to keep the casket level on its way down.  Not always successfully – but today for the most part they did a fine job. 

Then they start filling the hole.  This is when people seem to become most emotional.  It is such a final act. 

Mostly the men with their shovels filled the hole.  But a couple of women scooped dirt in their hands and helped.  That was more of a symbolic gesture.
Elmer and Javier (great nephews of Elena) became quite faint. Normally, immediate family does not have to help lower the casket … but in this case their assistance was needed. Between that very emotionally distressing act and the fact that they had not slept for probably 40 hours, and probably hadn’t eaten much, it is no wonder they were overcome.

When the hole was finally filled – with the temporary wooden cross embedded and a mound of dirt over the grave, people started decorating with the flowers from the night before. They had so many flowers they were able to ‘share’ with many of the other family graves nearby.
Temporary home made wooden cross - Maria Elena Coreas

Almost done - the base of the cross is buried about 2 feet

Women and some of the men help decorate

Blanca said: "she was lucky - she had lots of flowers"
This really translates: she had lots of people who loved her.  She was good to everyone.

Elena's cross cannot be seen anymore for the quantity of flowers

They were able to share some of the flowers with neighboring graves - family members.
Including Elena's mother's nearby grave.

So it was time to leave.  And even though it was overcast and threatened rain all morning, the rain had held off very nicely and people began to pile into the family pick-up truck to go back to Alejandria hoping to get there before the rains finally fell.  The rest of us started the hike up the hill back to the Pastoral House.  Within about a block, the rain started.  And it started hard.  Blanca, Cecilia, Pati, Margaret and her two children Misael and Sesi, and I started to walk faster.  I had an umbrella which I gave to Blanca and 5 year old Misael.  Pati had two plastic scraps she and I used as head coverings.  Relatively quickly, a moto-taxi slowed down for us and all but Cecilia and I got in for the ride up the hill.  Cecilia and I decided we could walk  (we both have the mother-martyr syndrome - we would rather others be comfortable!)  But the driver said there was room for us, too … there were 5 already in the back seat – which is really meant for 2 or 3… so Cecilia and I were invited to climb in and sit on either side of the driver.

How the heck that little moto-taxi made it up that steep hill is beyond me.  But what a blessing.  It was a ‘light-hearted’ way to put closure on the day’s sadness. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rosary and Vigil in Alejandria

I was exhausted. But I’m sure not as tired as my Compañeras were – and all their family members.

I attended the Rosary and vigil Monday night at Elena’s house in Alejandria.  She was still there – in the casket.  She looked beautiful – almost smiling.  Margot, Blanca’s sister, said her face did that ‘spontaneously’ when they put the first injection of preservative liquid in her.  (Yes, the family does that). 
We didn’t get to Alejandria till about 6 p.m.  We had to wait for the pan dulce to finish cooking and also wait for Elida who was coming from Virginia. 
By the time we left the Pastoral House, it was getting dark – and it was very cloudy.  About a third of the way there it started raining – and not just a drizzle – making it quite soggy for the people in the back of the truck.  We had Elida, her daughter Lorena, Margarita and her pregnant sister Reina, and 3 women from Alejandria accompanying us.   Most of them were in the back with the tubs of sweet bread which were covered in plastic. Fortunately, someone thought to bring a tarp so they had me stop driving while they covered themselves. Blanca, Aminta and Reina were in the cab with me along with a bunch of things that for the vigil could not get wet. 
Alejandro was waiting for us at the turnoff to the road that leads to the other side of the ravine where about half the community lives.  He knows I don’t like to drive down into the ravine and then back up.  It is wicked steep and has a couple of scary turns. And it is worse when wet. So I ended up in the back of the truck for the ride down the hill.  He stopped about 30 yards from the bottom to check out how high the water was – it had been rising.  This would determine if we could even go on.  Blanca and I went down to look with him.  It wasn’t so bad: maybe a foot deep and not running too swiftly.  So he went back up for the truck and scooted across the water.  Blanca and I waited for him.  We thought he would stop so we could hop back on but no.  He continued on up the steep hill.  Blanca and I took off our shoes and we crossed the water on foot with Elmer’s helping hand.  So much for the bug spray I doused my feet with!

By the time we got up the hill everyone was soaked.  But it was still warm out so to me, it felt good to be a bit wet.  Blanca and I washed our feet since we walked up the hill barefooted and were quite muddy.

People got settled.  Those who were going to help prepare the snacks stayed behind in Blanca’s mother’s house.  I was told to go up to Elena’s house and be with the people.  There were not too many people yet.  So we waited and chatted a little.  In between chatter, we contemplated the life and death of loved ones (I did anyway – I’m not sure what others were thinking).
I did not want to use the flash ... I felt funny enough taking the photo. 
With the storms, there was also no electricity so all we had were the 4 candles and a gas-type lantern hung from the rafters.

People straggled in.  By 7:30 it was time to start.  Balmore welcomed all and said a few kind words to all that were present to accompany the family in their sadness.  Elida was asked to do the first reflection.  This was followed by the first Rosary which lasts about a half hour.  Then we had about a 10 minute rest.  Then there was another reflection done by Balmore which was followed by another Rosary.  Then another 10 minute rest.  Then Jesús did yet another reflection which was followed by yet another Rosary.
We were done with the prayers by 10:30.  This was the very first vigil I have ever attended so I wasn’t sure if we were done.  But turned out we were.  With the prayer anyway. 

By this time there were at least 40 people standing and sitting outside the house and between 40-50 people jammed inside Elena’s house.  “Walls” had been moved to create one larger room.  (Remember that many walls here are just sheets or tarp separating space).  There was a beautiful altar created – a table with lots of flowers and religious items.  The casket was elevated on stands in front of that.  And there were 4 very tall pillar candles on each side of the casket and an ‘oil’ candle under.  And there were flowers in abundance all around and on top of the altar and casket.  None of the flowers were purchased – all came from people’s homes and arranged in whatever container could be found: 2 liter soda bottles cut in half, old paint cans with newspaper wrapped around them, etc.
At about 12:30 a.m., Cecilia came up to me and asked if I wanted to rest a bit.  I said no at first, but then Elida and Lorena were going to rest so I decided to join them.  We walked down the very slippery and muddy path to Celilia’s mother’s house and we were shown where we could rest.  There were 2 beds in one of the ‘room’s.  We all needed to avail ourselves to the bathroom facilities and we went together to share flashlights.  Idalia had baby wipes so we could clean our feet.  We slept in our clothes.  By the time we got settled in, it was well after 1 a.m.  Elida’s phone kept going off – it rained really strong a couple of times (and is like thunder on the lamina roofs), the roosters sang (loudly), and people were coming and going so it wasn’t a huge sleep we got.  But it was more than some people got.  I was grateful for the rest.  By 4 a.m., Elida decided we needed to go back up to Elena’s house to accompany the family once again.  So up we popped, put on our sandals, made a trip to the bathroom and began the slippery trek back up.

Most of the people had left. People had come from El Recreo, Berlín, Hacienda Nueva, Loma Alta and of course, Alejandria.  Most of the family was still there – and the young men who were going to help get the casket across the ravine to the main road to the funeral truck.  Blanca, Idalia, Cecilia, Margarita, an uncle were inside the room with the casket.  The young men were outside the door playing cards. 

By 6 a.m. it was time for some of us to leave.  Blanca, Margarita, Reina (the pregnant woman) and I took the tubs and a few other things back to the Pastoral House.   We also brought a half dozen young men and dropped them off at the cemetery because they needed to get started digging the hole.

I’ll save the rest of that for the next blog …

Monday, May 14, 2012


Update ... Maria Elena died last night ... I just found out.  I imagine today will be filled with preparation for the interment and the first of the nine days of rosary vigils.

Please add the family to your prayers as they grieve.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Here is another thing about El Salvador - and I imagine many other places where elder care has not been institutionalized.

Maria Elena Coreas - November 2010

An aunt of Cecilia, Idalia and Blanca has been ill. Her name is María Elena Coreas and she is 73.  She has not been healthy for a very long time.  She has always been very thin – she smokes a lot and has for years.  She has had spells of weakness off and on since I’ve known her.  But this past month and a half she has been basically bed-ridden.  She hardly eats – maybe a half a tortilla a day or half a tamale … they buy her Gatorade and juices but she doesn’t consume much of those either. 
For the past month and a half, she has not been able to get out of her bed, hammock or chair without assistance.  She has had a couple of days where she could at least ‘help’ herself get out.  But for about 3 weeks now, she has not even been able to even help her helpers.  So if she needs to use the bathroom (which of course, is outside a ways) she has needed someone to basically carry her.  And the ladies say she is HEAVY.  They wonder how someone so thin can weigh so much. 

She won’t go to a doctor but my guess is she either has cancer or emphysema.   It’s a ‘logical’ assumption but certainly not based on any real knowledge I possess.

So someone is with her 24 hours out of the day.  During the day, it is mostly Cecilia’s father who spends time with her.  Alejandro has spent many days with her.  Blanca’s sisters from San Salvador come.  Other people bring food - which she doesn’t eat for the most part – but the food suppliers make sure whoever is watching over her is fed. 

During the night, it has been Cecilia, Blanca and Idalia taking turns spending the nights: vigilantly watching over her.  This means, that every 3rd night, one of these women does not sleep because María Elena does not sleep.  She cat naps during the day and dozes occasionally at night.  And she talks.  She sometimes talks to people who are not there. 

You might ask if Cecilia, Blanca and Idalia catch up on their sleep during the day.  Short answer: no.  They go about their work as usual: laundry, cooking, doing the books, going out to the communities for whatever task needs to be done on whatever given day. 

I can see it is taking its toll on them.  They have a constant ‘cold’ – bags under their eyes.  They drag a little. 

But no one complains.  They might comment how tired they are.  But it isn’t a complaint.  If María Elena lives in this condition for the next 10 years – they will continue watching over her as they are. 

They talk about her a lot and worry.  As Cecilia said this morning because it seems she is getting worse: “we’ll have to see what God has to say about this.” 

I saw María Elena 3 days ago.  Blanca’s sister from San Salvador was with her.  And she is as thin as anything.  She was in bed – covered up to the neck with several blankets in spite of the heat of the afternoon.  But she did not feel warm to the touch.  She recognized me and we chatted a bit.  I crawled under her mosquito net to sit on the edge of her bed for a bit.  It’s hard to talk through netting.   Mostly I asked her how she was feeling: do you have pain? Are you able to eat? I tried to acknowledge what she was feeling – to try to understand –

She was worried about her own mother’s gravesite.  Did someone go out and put flowers up for Mother’s Day?   We assured her it was done.  And the next day I took a photo and printed it for the family to show her.

Family is a treasure. 

I don’t think I would have it in me to do what Cecilia, Blanca and Idalia are doing.  For that matter, what the rest of the family is doing also.    

But even if there was a nursing home facility anywhere near – I don’t think María Elena would be there.  Family takes on that responsibility. 

God bless them and all care-takers of the elderly and ill.  Whether they are family care-takers or hired care-takers or the loving care-takers in our own elder care facilities.  A special blessing to those at Spurgeon Manor in Dallas Center where my own mother is receiving such good round the clock care. 

And God bless those who are in need of care. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Serenata en la Madrugada

Happy Mother’s Day – May 10th is the date - regardless of the day it falls on.
So apparently there are ‘troupes’ of men who walk the streets in the wee hours of the morning to serenade mothers on Mother’s Day.  They have a drum of some sort and loud atonal voices.

They began sometime around 2 a.m. and stopped about 5:30 a.m. 

If they really loved their mothers, they would let the poor ladies sleep.

Oh wait … they were serenading OTHER mothers … so perhaps their own mothers were peacefully sleeping. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bless the Children

We’ve been monitoring our Bio-Arena slow sand water purification filters this past 8 months … and we are on the final ‘pass-through’ visits – verifying that folks are using them and using them correctly.
 Sadly, not everyone has put ‘value’ on them - meaning that they are not using them.  We cannot force them – but if the filter is fine, we hope to remove them from the home of the family who won’t use it … to a home who will.  The idea is to provide water that won’t do damage to people’s systems! 

About half of the families who received a water filter are using them. 

Most of our communities have had at least two visits – verifying, re-educating, repairing any leaks, etc.  Now we are going a 3rd time to replace the water jugs (cantaros) that receive the water from the filters – and also giving a second cantaro for storage of the filtered water.  Also, many of the lids and diffusors have rusted so we are replacing them as well.  And the tubes where the water exits the filters are gross – almost all of them.  Originally, the PVC parts were glued together.  This just made it harder to clean them because dust and dirt stuck to the glued parts.  So we’ve been replacing those as well.  (the parts will make sense when you see the photos I think.)
The people who use their filters have been happy with the continued support for this project. 
We have been to Corozal, San Isidro, El Recreo, Rio de los Bueyes with cantaros for the ‘final’ verification.

Today we went to Casa de Zacate.  There were only 14 families to whom we needed to deliver cantaros.  We could drive to some.  But there was a problem – there was no way to get the truck down to 7 of the homes using their filters.  We tried to decide if the truck could squeeze between a tree and other obstacles.  Then I noticed a couple of children watching us and I decided that they could help us if they were willing (but I really had no doubts as to that willingness!) 

I asked the two young girls … would you like to help us?  There was no hesitation whatsoever - as is typical -   They followed us to the truck – and almost immediately, 3 young boys came to ‘play’ too.  So between all of us, we were able to make ONE trip with all the goods to the far away homes.  14 cantaros, 7 tops, 7 diffusors and 7 tubes.  None of those things are heavy – just awkward.
This was a wonderful way to work: with the collaboration of the children in the community.

This to me is evidence of a community with good values.  When the children are so helpful – it seems obvious to me – there is unity and collaboration within the adult population as well.  What a beautiful thing.  

And it was fun to boot!!

Young and willing helpers !

Ismael explaining how the extended tube fits into the lid of the cantaro

Demonstrating how the new tubes fit the shorter cantaro

Most of the families really are trying to keep thier water clean! 
A towel over the dripping water helps keep the flies and dust off.  Well done!

The children were really getting into helping!! 
Two cantaros each ... one with a hole in the lid ... one without!

Using some of the 'pita' to tie two cantaros together -

So they could be easily transported by bike!  Clever children!

Even the littlest ones wanted to help! 

It wasn't always easy!  But they persevered!

Ismael giving a new top and diffusor

Ah ... the very cute things one encounters on home visits.  Too bad they don't make those things adult size!!!
He was having SO much fun in his bath!

Caught some children helping each other with their math homework!!

Hanging out just before we left ... chatting and thanking everyone for their help

This is just too cute for words
How beautiful it is to have had such willing and capable helpers!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I don't want to offend you but ...

Blanca said to me … ‘I don’t want to offend you … but your people (the people in the states) have no idea what it is to live in this reality.  You know more or less – but – you don’t REALLY know.  We live this.’ 

She is right.  I do know ‘more or less.’  But I will never truly know the struggles people have here – because I am typing this as I nibble on a mini-snickers bar in my clean and dry office knowing that my lunch will be healthy, plentiful and will undoubtedly be ready sometime between noon and one p.m.   And I can have a glass of pure water as well.  She is right.  And I was not offended. 

We were specifically talking about farming families.  And the fertilizer they need to produce a more or less decent harvest due to the seriously nutritionally depleted ‘soil’ here.  We had just finished delivering a gift of fertilizer to one our communities that has an Iowa church partner; each farming family received a 220# sack of fertilizer.  I was working on their report and also thinking about our last delegation a week ago where they were hearing their partner community members talk about (among other things) loans available for farmers.

And after almost 4 years here, I do know that families cannot afford to buy fertilizer.  Sure, some farmers can afford it.  Those with larger farms, those with family in the states … but many, many families rent their tiny piece of land. So they have to pay a landlord anywhere from $25-50 per manzana (which is about 1.6 acres).  They have to buy the seed if they used a hybrid rather than their ‘ancestral’ seed.  They have to buy the weed deterrent and insecticides.  They have to buy the fertilizer.  Most people do not have ready cash like that!  They have to sell any excess corn they harvested the prior year … or sell a chicken or 10.  Or sell whatever they might have that is marketable.

I was asking about the loans some organizations offer.  I was asking about their interest rates.  Some are in excess of 42%.

Good Lord.

Bank loans are at about 20%.

When people grow their corn and beans literally to be able to put a little food on their plates (and that food may just be a tortilla and a tablespoonful of beans once or twice a day) – at about $40 per sack of Sulfato or $60 per sack of Formula – how the heck can they afford fertilizer?

How would they ever get out of debt with interest rates such as that??  Especially if the weather does not cooperate and there is crop loss?

If a family member has work in someone’s fields they might earn $5 per day.  IF they are lucky enough to even have that kind of steady job, it would take them either 2 or 3 weeks of work for just that one sack of fertilizer.
This year, San Francisco, Virginia, Casa de Zinc, Casa de Zacate, San Isidro, Muñoces, Corozal and La Llanes received fertilizer assistance from their Iowa partner churches.    

We wish we had a ‘fund’ here to help those communities who do not get fertilizer assistance from their partner churches.

Some communities are small – 30 to 50 families.  For those, a purchase of the less expensive Sulfato would be an investment of about $1,200 to $2,000 – prices of fertilizer change weekly.  Some communities are a little larger – 60 to 80 families.  You can do the math.

Small to moderate sized Berlín communities we would love to buy fertilizer for:  San Felipe Abajo, Media Agua, Cerna, San Lorenzo, and Santa Cruz.  And we would love to help some of the other Berlín cantons but they are just too huge – some have in excess of 300 families:  Colón, Loma Alta, Las Delicias …

We have such dreams here to help those in the greatest need.  We are so blessed to have Iowa partner churches who are truly working hard on behalf of their partner communities.  But we feel sad for those without partners.  We do what we can – we help them with little projects with proceeds from the Don Justo Coffee with Dignity project – but those proceeds are minimal.  Definitely not enough to cover the cost of fertilizer.  Unless everyone starts drinking more!!  (hint).

5 San Francisco men came to help load their truck ... 110 sacks of Sulfato - each sack weighs 220#

The first of 3 trucks needed for San Francisco's fertlizer

Mirna - the President of San Francisco's Directiva getting ready to call names

Sign here ... Cecilia making sure no one gets left off the list

We forgot the inkpad for those who can't sign

Thankfully I had a marker in my bag!  I asked him to be in charge of painting pinkies

He helped download 220#  sacks for those who couldn't

Several folks from one of the more distant caserios within San Francisco awaiting a pick up truck

Fertilizer is such a necessary evil ...
without it - very little grows in the nutritionally depleted land. 
People put their hope in the harvest to feed their families all year round.
Blessings to all our Iowa Church partners