Thursday, June 14, 2012


Mosquitos are an issue here… there is Dengue in the country (though not so much in Berlín – last year I think there were only 4 reported cases).
There is some education about how to lower the mosquito population – but it is very hard to actually eliminate all the 'standing water' locations in which they can breed.

Because they don’t need much.

I know I have to keep a close eye on the pila in my bathroom (the water reservoir that everyone has because water does not run every day).  When I come back from a trip to the States I frequently have to douse my pila with bleach.  And then I have to be careful for a few days with how I use that water.  My skin could burn or rash, my clothes could be ruined … but I’d rather do that than have it be a mosquito breeding ground.  There are times when I can see literally hundreds of ‘wigglers’ in my pila after being away for a couple of weeks.

I have taken pains to have a mosquito UN-friendly environment.  Long ago I screened my bathroom window as well as the window between my bedroom and the office.  And I keep my bedroom door closed at all times. 

The bathroom attached to the room next door to my bedroom shares my pila.  On that side, I have put a wooden shelf and screening over the top of the pila – secured with two heavy rocks.  This also prevents rat and lizard poo from falling into my pila.  I bet that was too much information … sorry. 

I always keep a close eye on my pila and scoop out any random ‘wigglers’ that I see.  I have mosquito netting over my bed. I find it to be a ‘necessary adornment.’ If I see a mosquito has snuck into my room … I go after it with a vengeance.  I have what looks like a tennis racket … it is ‘electrified’ by battery and serves as a portable mosquito zapper.  It’s quite effective actually.  And I confess I feel great satisfaction at the roasting of a mosquito.   

There is so much standing water in town.  I can do what I can in the spaces near me – but I have no control over my neighbors. 

There is a group of people (Civil Protection Committee) which takes it upon themselves to go door to door to fumigate.  They borrow from the town of Alegría (10 minutes up the road) a device that looks like a leaf blower on steroids.  They wear a surgical mask and bandana over their noses and mouths  but no other protection. 

Armed for bear ... or in this case ... mosquito

And they knock on your door – if you are home and want the service – they will enter your home and fumigate at no charge.  They do go door to door prior and ask for donations – we gave them $10 towards the gas for the machine.  Some people could only give a quarter – but as they said … every little bit helps to get the job done. 
They had a set date and time but they got rained out.  And we had no idea when they would reschedule. 

Turns out it was yesterday afternoon.  I thought I heard the machine next door – it is rather loud.  Then I saw a fog coming over the wall.  I warned the ladies but they didn’t believe me.  I decided to prepare  just in case what I saw was really what was happening.  I put all my toothpaste/toothbrush paraphernalia in a zip lock bag.  I also covered my electronics.  I actually put my laptop in a huge plastic bag and put it inside my wardrobe.  I put any bottles of medicines in a drawer (I don’t have much in that department).  I made sure I had no food lying around and my coffee cup was securely covered.

Sure enough, within about 10 minutes they rang the doorbell.  We needed to leave the house.  So we scooped up the Conures (parakeet type birds) … and stepped outside. 

What a smell. 

We waited about 10 minutes after they were done to go back in.  You have to wait for the fog to settle and the smell to dissipate.
Idalia, the conures, Blanca, Alejandro and fumigator supervisor waiting it out

Frankly, I really don’t think the home by home fumigating does much good.  Perhaps it kills a few larvae … and a few of the flying critters but when we were able to come back in again … and I opened up my bedroom to help the fog leave … I got strafed by a very pissed off mosquito.

And within 10 minutes … I had my usual gang of mosquito activity in my office.  They like to swarm behind me (between me and the back wall) and under my desk where my (sometime smelly) feet reside.  

So I turned on my fan to keep the air moving and continued on.  It took about a half hour for my office to not have a residual odor … and about 3 hours for the odor in my enclosed bedroom to totally clear out.  My headache went away after downing a couple of pure aspirin.

I really worry about the men who are doing the fumigating.  They spend HOURS in the midst of the fog with mosquito poison donated to them by the Berlín Health Clinic.  I hope they at least get free medical consultations!!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Festival of Corpus Christi

“The Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for Body of Christ) is a Latin Rite liturgical solemnity celebrating the tradition and belief in the body and blood of Jesus Christ and his Real Presence in the Eucharist. It emphasizes the joy of the institution of the Eucharist, which was observed on Holy Thursday in the somber atmosphere of the nearness of Good Friday.

For centuries after the celebration was extended to the universal Church, the feast was also celebrated with a Eucharistic procession, in which the Sacred Host was carried throughout the town, accompanied by hymns and litanies. The faithful would venerate the Body of Christ as the procession passed by. In recent years, this practice has almost disappeared, though some parishes still hold a brief procession around the outside of the parish church.

While the Feast of Corpus Christi is one of the ten Holy Days of Obligation in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, in some countries, including the United States, the feast has been transferred to the following Sunday.

Although its observance is optional, where kept, it is typically celebrated as a major holy day.”
(Thank you Wikipedia)

Here in Berlin, El Salvador, this is a highly celebrated holy day.

We celebrated this most holy day on Sunday the 10th of June.  Mass was an hour earlier than normal and Father Cándido presided.  He was in top form – walking amongst the people in the pews, asking questions and bantering in his most amicable manner.  I love this man!  He has such a beautiful way with his flock.  It was standing room only at this mass.  They even had plastic chairs on either side of the pews for extra seating.

After the hour and a half mass which was graced with lots of ‘cojetes’ (the loud rocket-type noise makers), they gathered up the Monstrance (also known as ‘ostensorium’ which is the vessel used to display the consecrated Eucharistic host, during Eucharistic adoration or Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. – thank you again, Wikipedia!)

We all followed.  First came the angels (children in white robes with wings and halos), then the altar boys and girls, a woman holding a Church banner, then the priest holding the Monstrance, surrounded by other lay people.  The priest and the Monstrance were shaded by a canopy held up with poles supported by four men.  After them was a guitar player, a chorus and speakers on a rolling stand.

There were 6 altars set up in the streets – created by individual families – decorated with flowers, fruits and vegetables, cut out images or photos and ornately covered with lovely white cloths.  We slowly processed to each one, singing and praying.  At each, the Monstrance was placed between the candles on a special place in the center of the altar.  The Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary were said: started by Father Santos and completed by the rest of us.  Then there was a prayer lead by Fr. Santos, followed by a reflection and prayer by different lay people.  And of course, singing. 

It took almost 3 hours to complete the procession after the mass. 

The faith traditions here are quite beautiful and always have great significance.  Even though I am not Catholic, and I don’t fully understand every nuance, I try to take the time to learn what each celebration is about.  And I find that I can embrace each tradition – not as my own – but as it is in the hearts of the people I love and who so graciously share with me their customs and traditions.  I am thankful and humbled for their acceptance of me in their midst. 

The first altar

Well attended procession

The second altar

The third altar

Add caption

the last altar

angels with cojetes ... these get lit and shot into the air and create a loud boom.

at the last altar - finding any bit of shade

Yes ... he is selling (or trying to sell) cotton candy during the procession

This woman can barely walk - but she honors this day

Confetti gets thrown

Father Santos

Beginning and ending at the church

Monday, June 11, 2012

The not so cool stuff in the country ...

I recently wrote about some of the cool and beautiful things in the cantons and posted lots of photos in an album on Facebook.  Today I was reminded of some of the uglier and not so cool things. 
You have to remember that I am here in the middle of a poverty ridden country.  And the people we serve live ‘en los campos’ – in the country.  And it is POOR out there. 

Most of you who read this blog have either been here or have heard a lot about the poverty and what we are trying to do here as a mission. 

This past couple of weeks we have been strumbuntzing in the cantons.  We’ve been doing a final verification of the slow sand water filters that people received a couple of years ago.  Making sure those who are using them are using them properly … if any need repair (lots have needed this and those filters have been repaired!).  We have found lots of rusted out diffusors and lids and really gross PVC tubes (the exit point of the purified water) so we have been replacing those.  We’ve been giving cantaros (water jugs) to the families actually using their filters (information obtained from a prior visit by Ismael).  We’ve been re-educating people about using the filter daily and other basic hygiene issues.  It’s been quite a bit of work, but worth the effort when people say that their health has improved … they have less diarrhea, fewer stomach issues … and something rather cool: in two different communities, 3 different families individually said they talked to their doctor about the filtered water … asking them if it was worth it?  Or if the carbon based filter they received from another project (another NGO working with water tanks) was better.  Dr. Vladimir, the director of our Berlín health clinic, said the slow sand water filter was the best!  He highly recommended the people continue to use them!  Hooray!

Entonces … este trabajo vale la pena!  So this work is worth the effort!  But man is it hot work.  We drive out to the communities but often times a home with a filter is well off the beaten path and we cannot get the pick-up anywhere near it.  Such was a case this morning.  Well, actually, 3 homes were well off the beaten path!  We were in Tablón Centro.  There are only 15 families actually using their filters in this community.  We didn’t think it would take us too long to deliver the cantaros.  We were wrong.

This is ok.  I really don’t mind the walking.  It’s good for us!  But Pastor (that is the man’s first name… not his title) lives WAY WAY WAY WAY (and I repeat: WAY) off the road.  First we took a turn off the main road and went down the smaller road in the pick-up to their soccer field.  That is where the truck had to stay.  Knowing how far we had to go, we took all the materials with us.  Normally we scope out the filter in each home to verify its use - then go back to the truck for the goods. 

We had 3 houses on this ‘road’ we had to walk – so we took three sets of material with us: 6 cantaros, 3 lids, 3 diffusors, and 3 exit tubes.  And we walked.  It wasn’t too far UP to the first house - only about a half kilometer.  And the next house was just a couple hundred yards from that.  Then we started the climb to Pastor’s house.  Good Lord.  Blanca, Cecilia, Ismael and I hiked.  And sweat.  And hiked some more.  And it was all UP hill, walking on a rutted and often slippery, muddy, poo-riddled ‘road.’    We finally got there and thankfully someone was home.  And also thankfully, they were indeed using their filter properly!  So we chatted for a few moments, sat in the shade of the house for a spell, gave the new parts to them and started the hike down. 

Photos do NOT do this hike justice

Pastor's home ... the pitted water jug is why we were motivated to give cantaros to our filter families

Now I’ve said before that it is absolutely beautiful in the country.  You’ve seen some photos.  You’ve seen some cool individual things … the countryside … the newly planted corn … the hills … the volcano in the distance … the myriad of flowers … the children … (go see my Facebook album for cool photos).

Well.  The mud is not so nice.  The rutted roads are not so nice as well.  The dirty faces of the children and their filthy bare flat feet with broken toe nails, fungus, cuts and callouses break your heart.  God bless them.  But to me, the children are still beautiful. 

Smells aren’t always very nice – but one ‘overlooks’ that and makes NO mention as to not offend anyone.  There is usually no realistic way to avoid the smells. 

The smells today were horrible.  There were lots of pigs where we were hiking.  Pigs have a peculiar and distinct odor.  There are no huge factory farms here, but even one or two piggies create an ‘interesting’ smell.  Of course you have their excrement mixed in the mud around people’s homes and the walking paths and roads.  And the excrement of the cattle, dogs, chickens, ducks, and whatever else is roaming the same paths people take.  Then you have the mangos and other fruits which have fallen and are rotting on the ground where you walk.  All this brings the flies. 

Piggies do roam freely all around (and often inside) homes

Rain water tank ... used for everything ... washing, cooking and yes... drinking.  But when it is filtered ... it is ok!  Even I can drink it then.  But lots of people chose not to filter.

Somehow the rainy season makes the smells more pungent.  And you always have to watch where you walk.  One house in particular was really bad.  I’m not an overly sensitive person – I can usually ‘weather’ whatever smell comes my way without showing ‘distaste’ – but walking by this one house today reminded me of the ugliness of poverty.

My friend Bob always said – you don’t just see poverty.  It invades your senses: you hear, smell and taste it. 

Walking by this house today really brought that concept home.   

Poverty stinks.  Figuratively and literally.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Yummy times three

Here is a little follow up on the last blog of cool and beautiful things in the cantons ...

1.  The chicken was yummy.  (Sorry ... she is no longer with us).  Jesus came and did the dirty deed of killing her off and Idalia cleaned and cooked her.  The rest of us ate her.  I didn't know that till after the fact.

She was yummy ... but a TOUGH bird. 

2.  Monster mangos are green inside - and not sweet.  But it was still good.  Best with some salt and chili.  Not my favorite though.  I prefer the sweet.  We all shared one ... and sent the other one home with 11 year old Marvin (Cecilia's younger son).  He was thrilled! 

3.  Normal mangos when ripe are YUMMY.  Sweet and juicy - the juice will literally roll down your chin as you eat as well as down your forearms to your elbows.  And it is stringy meat surrounding a large pit.  So if you are lucky and have a knife, you can slice a wedge off and scrape the fruit off the peel with your teeth and letting the juice go all over.  If you are in the middle of nowhere and want to enjoy one - you bite off a piece of the skin and attempt to peel.  You bite the fruit off the peel and the pit.  A lovely MESSY MESS.  And you can't worry about the juicy mess while you eat a mango.  That takes away the fun and would be a waste of napkins. 

I waited till we were at the Pastoral House for my mango treat.  And I sliced it.  But I was still a mess when done.

What was given to us in Virginia the other day.  Two of the larger mangoes and lots of regular ones

My just consumed snack.  I had to clean up before starting this mini blog.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How is it??

How is it I always end up with the chicken?

And since Alejandro was driving, it ended up on my lap for the entire hour ride back to Berlin.  BUMPY ride I might add.  And I am pleased to say it did not poop on my once. 

The following pics are just some beautiful things I saw in Virginia today.  We were doing the 'final' water filter verification, changing lids, diffusors and exit tubes and giving two new cantaros to those who continue to use their filters.  We had 18 family visits today.  Going door to door. 

I know what hard work this is ... it takes a long time and much muscle.  But she is beautiful.

I LOVE this chair. 

These and the following were all in one person's yard. 

Two families up this path ... two water filters in good use! 
And Cecilia has such a lovely grace about her. 
Even in the most rocky, muddy paths - she seems so elegant.

Natural beauty

Elias is holding a MONSTER mango.  Irma is laughing at my disbelief!

A 'normal' mango on the right ... the monster mango on the left. 
Nances are in the guacal in the upper right corner.   All were gifted to us before we left.
Irma said our visit was so special ... she said she spends so much time 'crying' that our presence brought her a great joy.  I don't think there are many visitors that get down to where she lives ... the road is quite bad - and as the winter here contines - it will only get worse and eventually un-passable.

I call these 'lobster claws' - but I daresay they have a real name. 
Absolutely incredibly beautiful and unique.

These also have a THICK petal (or leaf - it might be a 'fake flower'  I know there is a technical term for that ... I just can't think of it - when the leaf is vibrant to attract birds/insects because it really has no flower - someone help me out here!!  haha)

All of these plants are in Irma's yard 

Even "just the green things" are beautiful