Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Picking Flowers" in the back 40

We had one of those ‘charming’ breakfast discussions the other day … topics that seemingly pop out of mid-air.  Oftentimes they are non-consequential … but sometimes they strike a chord in my heart.

This was one of the latter.  And of all the things to talk about at breakfast: latrines! 

This conversation started because when we were shopping for cement fence posts, Cecilia had asked the cost of the piece of molded cement that serves as the base/floor of a latrine as well as the cement structure that serves as the stool.  Apparently they were pretty inexpensive!   People would also need 2 sheets of metal lamina sheeting to serve as a roof.  The families themselves would construct posts and hang towels or sheets or use heavy plastic sheeting to serve as walls.  The families would also be responsible for digging the hole for their latrine.
This is the base and stool made out of cement.  This is a NICE latrine!  Lamina walls!
Many just have heavy plastic or boards, or sheets or towels which serve as walls

The Pastoral Teams sees a latrine project as something quite necessary in the communities.  I thought there was an NGO currently working on a latrine project because I’ve seen some really nice latrines as we have driven through the cantons.

I asked Blanca about that and her answer was – yes.  ProVida and FISDL had latrine projects.  ProVida and FISDL worked in 3 of our cantons.  But not all the families in those 3 cantons received a latrine.  They didn’t provide them to an entire community.  For example: they might have had a latrine project in Loma Alta … but possibly only 24 of the 70+ families received them. 

I’ve been to MANY of the villages.  And I have walked door to door in many of the villages.  I have seen – and used some of the available facilities in the cantons.  When lucky enough to encounter a ‘real’ latrine – it’s humbling enough.  But when one is in need and encounters a ‘home-made’ structure – or worse … none at all – well.  For those of us accustomed to some of the ‘finer’ things in life – it isn’t a pleasant situation to be in.

There apparently are still many families who literally have to go out to the ‘back 40’ to go to the bathroom. 

So I asked the Pastoral Team to write up a budget for me and here is the synopsis:

$32  total cost for the cement base and stool (this cost includes the transportation to make the purchase)
$16  total for the two sheets of metal lamina sheeting
$2    per toilet for transportation to the communities from the Pastoral House.

So for a grand total of $50 – a family can have a clean and hygienic place to go potty.

$500 would take care of 10 families …
$1000 would take care of 20 families (the whole community of La Llanes for example!!)

So I’m writing this blog to see if anyone wants to ‘adopt a toilet’

Or even on a church-wide level – would a church that has been looking for a manner in which to support the Our Sister Parish mission like to support a few hygienic toilets?

Can’t you just see your next Christmastime efforts?  We at Heartland Presbyterian used to have an “Ángel Tree” for the children of people in prison … and we had a “Mitten Tree.”  This could be the year of the “Toilet Tree”

Hmm.   Maybe not.   There is probably a better way to raise funds for this sort of project.  Someone could bring a (clean) porcelain toilet to church, set it in the foyer and make a sign to put on the raised lid:  “place your $50 donation to provide a toilet to a family who has pee in the back yard

I daresay you might have a more eloquent way in which to create your signage!

I sometimes approach these things a bit tongue in cheek – but – this is a serious question that is coming next:

Anyone (or many ones) or any churches want to take this on?   

This sure makes a statement! (Thank you

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Independence Day

My favorite part of this whole day:

The very first song sung in Alejandria – the first song of the Rosary that was being said in honor and gratitude for the birthday of Jesús’ mom Dolores (but we call her Niña Lola).

It is a common song for the Rosary: a blessing to Mary.   And it is repeated often throughout the Rosary.  This song is beautiful when sung by the voices in Alejandria.

Something about the quality of the voices within this group.  There are a couple of people in the community that have incredibly beautiful voices: Balmore, Jesús, Blanca and Idalia for sure.  But there are several whose voices can be … painful to hear. 


Put them together – all those voices – the good and the bad – and they create a beautiful, and I think, unintentional harmony.

It fills me with peace.

The altar at Lola's house is always lush with flowers from around her home
Beautifully arranged by Jesus

Someone once called this a Lobster Claw

Bird of Paradise

A different variety of Lobster Claw

"maracas" -
ALL of these grow wild in Lola's yard.

Angela - Blanca's mother

I like the placement of the Rosary beads
We surprised Lola with a cake!
Freddy and Jeferson

Lola and Jesus dishing up tamales - a birthday tradition!
Pilar helping in the kitchen - serving up coffee and tamales and then cake!
Aminta was gifted a banana tree to plant in her yard

Everyone enjoyed the and cake



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

If a Tree falls ...

So the question of the day is:

If a tree falls over the road and no one is there to see it (thank God) … did it really fall?


WHO will clear it away??

As we were driving out of town to take Blanca and Idalia home, heading towards Alejandria, someone from another truck yelled that a tree had fallen in the road and wasn’t passable.

They didn’t specify which road and there is a fork heading out of town – one road leads to San Francisco and most of the cantons, and the other road leads to Alejandria and a couple other cantons.  They also said it was a huge ‘amate’ tree that had fallen and Blanca said, there are no amate trees on the way to Alejandria. 

We kept going anyway.  I figured I would get them as far as we could go and they could walk from there and Cecilia and I would just turn around and head back.  We made it about ¾ of the way down to Alejandria.

And sure enough, there was a HUGE ceiba tree (like a kapok) laying across the road.  Actually, it wasn’t the whole tree – just ONE branch with lots of huge limbs.  Had the whole tree fallen, it would have wiped out the power pole on the side of the road.

as far as we could get

getting out to take a closer look!

So we stopped ... there was no other choice.  I wanted to get a closer look and take photos.  And Cecilia ran down the road to someone’s house and came back with axes.  Blanca helped out a bit.

We stayed put till the road was passable.  I got lots of photos and a video.  We waited out the cleaning crew. There were a few men from city hall and lots of people from Alejandria with machetes and axes hacking away at these huge limbs.  It was a slow, hot, muscle aching (I imagine) process.

This could have really hurt someone!

the poor tree ... it was a HUGE branch with many limbs. 
Or is that huge limb with many branches?

There were no power tools. Many of the branches were at least 12" wide and all were cut by machete and axe and hauled to the side by strong men. They did this under the hot ... dodging flying wood debris ... dodging everyone else's machetes ... avoiding bees nests ... (one brave man made a torch and burned a nest that was close to the ground after the fall.

This was amazing to watch them clear away the tree.  They had started not too long before we got there, and we were there about an hour.  Considering the tools on hand, I would say they did pretty rapid work.

This is the main reason I carry a machete in the Pastoral House pick-up truck.  Not that I could handle this type of tree fall – but in the past, we have had to clear smaller debris in our path!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Contrasts - part one

September 9 2012 – Quinceanera

Of all the things I could write about … I have to share briefly about this tradition … it is very different depending upon your economic means.

I went to a very humble ‘sweet 15’ party for Blanca’s niece a couple of years ago.  It was a simple affair held outside in the ‘patio’ area of a neighbor’s house.  Dirt floor … tree trunk posts holding up a large blue tarp for shade … plastic chairs placed around borrowed tables covered with simple cloths.  And a cake.  A single layer cake that was purchased from the local ice-cream store.  There were some streamers and a few balloons as decorations and a small ‘band’ from Las Delicias came to play – mostly religious songs.  The birthday girl was in a borrowed dress and was quite beautiful.
Gabriela y Marielas with gramma to the left and Fr. Santos

Special balloons
A lovely cake!

The first dance with grampa!

The cake topper is a special memento
The Las Delicias band

It was a lovely event.   Full of warmth and love and family and friends and neighbors –

Tonight – I got to see a different ‘sweet 15’ party.  I can’t even imagine how much money was spent on this party.    The girl’s dress alone probably cost more than the other party all together … it was quite beautiful though.  This event reminded me a bit of what I imagine a ‘coming of age’ party would look like in the deep south.

It was held at the girl’s school up the street.  And when we arrived it was already standing room only!  There were tables and chairs set up for (my guess) 300 people.  And it looked like they were all full.  But we were escorted by the dad himself to the table up on the stage in the main area of the school courtyard.  We were at the table near the cake and champagne glasses and the chocolate fountain.   We were also seated at the same table as the Department of Usulután’s ‘Diputado’ – (Representative).  Well then.  Didn’t we feel conspicuous?  Yes we did.

Fortunately there were people there we knew and enjoyed talking to.  Blanca talked ‘business’ with someone from one of our cantons most of the time we were there.  Cecilia and I joked and felt uncomfortable with a woman from another canton. 

The young lady was escorted in by at least 20 young men all in black with bright/light blue ties.  They did a dance routine while she and her father watched.  There was a for real emcee who introduced each activity.  She was presented a pair of shoes for the event.  Her mother ceremoniously placed them on her feet.  She gave some words of gratitude.  Her father gave a little speech in her honor.  There was another group dance and a receiving line for hugs for the dancers and her father.  The first real dance was with her father.  The next dance was for all the young (and not so young) men – people close to the family.   Then came the champagne toast (for family and god-parents, etc.  Then came the dinner.  Everyone was served – catered by the restaurant Cartagena from Alegría.  The rice, potato salad and chimol were good … but the beef was tough.  Even by Blanca and Cecilia’s standards!  They joked afterwards that they wanted to eat like polite society but when they looked over and saw the Deputy himself trying to rip apart the meat with his fingers, they felt relieved. 
view from the back.  It really was quite pretty!

The gentlemen escorting her in ... quite a bit of pomp

The cake

SOME of the crowd in the main section

The presentation of the birthday girl

The Usulutan Diputado

A dance number

We stayed a bit longer to be polite but we were all antsy to leave.  When a couple of other folks took their leave, we decided we could, too.  We said our good-byes and thank you/congratulations and walked back to the Pastoral House.

I’m glad we went … but I would much prefer the more humble celebrations.