Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reading & food

Today hasn’t been a terribly eventful day though I did get in some reading and tasty food. Plantains for breakfast always makes the morning a little bit more welcoming. Kathy and I went to church this morning and then to the market afterward. We didn’t need to buy anything but walking around on market day is always fun. Kathy delivered some pictures she’d printed off for people. We also saw a delicious-looking, sugary, pink treat. It was like unbaked meringue with a slight coconut flavor. Kathy said she’d just try some of mine. I said “nope” and bought one for each of us. Though I must confess, I bought her one because I didn’t want to share, not because I’m a generous person. Shame on me. She took a few bites and decided it was way too sweet. Being the sugar queen I decided to eat both of them. I figured that ought to ward off my sugar cravings till the afternoon.

Lunch today was several shrimp that Cecilia had bought fresh from the market. She put some kind of seasoning on it which I liked. As usual, the shrimp came in its shell with legs, tail, and eyes. I was still a bit hungry after lunch so I ate one of the guavas that I bought at the market. It was white inside and Cecilia told me it wasn’t quite as good as the pink ones, but I was just excited to be eating fresh guava. They smelled delicious and tasted pretty good too. I love eating fresh fruit. I ate a fresh banana today as well.

Later on I did some laundry: a couple shirts and a pair of pants. I need to explain here that when I say I’m doing laundry it’s usually just a couple pieces of clothing. Since all clothes are washed by hand it makes no sense to wait until the end of the week to do all the laundry. Pretty much no one here does laundry that way. It would take too long and there wouldn’t be enough room on the lines for it all to dry. It’s best to do laundry a little bit at a time. Also remember that we’ve got limited water from day to day. We can only refill the pila (which is where the laundry water comes from) every other day when the water is running from about 6-9am. If we did all the laundry in one day, it wouldn’t leave us with much water which we need to do dishes.

I finished up the second book Kathy had loaned me call “From Grandmother to Granddaughter: Salvadoran Women’s Stories” by Michael Gorkin, Marta Pineda, and Gloria Leal. Definitely a must read for those interested in El Salvador. The book is based on intimate interviews of nine Salvadoran women from different generations. The authors interviewed three different families, each of a different social class (lower, middle, upper). Included in the life histories is information about their childhood, family life, education, marriage, having children, politics, religion, and the civil war in El Salvador. Reading about their lives has given more meaning to all that I have learned about the country. The caliche (Salvadoran slang) that’s used in daily life here is used in the book as well. Their personal stories give more context to events such as Archbishop Romero’s death, the civil war, and the Peace Accords. It has also given me a much better feel for what life is like here for the different social classes and the logic behind their attitudes.

It has been great to spend time reading about El Salvador while I’m here. I think the books are helping me to make a stronger connection to the people and culture. Through reading books about El Salvador, talking to people here, asking Kathy endless questions, and spending 6 weeks in Berlín has easily more than tripled what I know. I have started another book Kathy loaned me called, “The Massacre at El Mozote” by Mark Danner. I know this will be a powerful, heartbreaking read. I think having visited the massacre site twice and watching Rufina Amaya’s testimony will make the book even more meaningful. I’m debating whether or not I should read it before going to bed at night. I like reading before bed, but I think it may be a bit much to handle at night. I guess we’ll see. I’ll let you know tomorrow. To read about the El Mozote massacre that occurred in 1981 and my experiences there go to my blog from 2-15-10 entitled El Mozote & Perquin.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Alejandría & lessons learned

Saturday, 2-27-10

It’s been a long day. Around 10am today Kathy, Cecilia, and I left the Casa for the walk to Alejandría, where Cecilia lives. The walk is about 35 minutes downhill. It was a skinny little trail surrounded most of the time by coffee plants and trees. The walk there wasn’t bad since it was downhill, but I knew the walk back would be hard. I tried to concentrate on the present. When we arrived in Alejandría we stopped off at Blanca’s parent’s house. Blanca’s mom and sister were there. We chatted for a while and then went to Cecilia’s house.

Cecilia (34) lives with her mother, Rosa, sister Idalia (32), brother Alejandro (25), sister Paty (22), brother Javier (21), brother Mauricio (19), son Elmer (14), and son Marvin (10). Her mother looks pretty young; we’re guessing she’s in her fifties. Alejandro goes to technical school in Usulután to learn about cars and mechanics. Paty works in San Salvador during the week as a nanny/housekeeper. Mauricio is finishing up high school in Berlín down the street from the Casa. Elmer is in 8th grade and Marvin is in 3rd grade, both at the boy’s school I teach at in Berlín.

Lesson learned: If you think 4 or 5 people living together is hard, think about 9 people from 3 generations. Stop thinking about the nuisances of relatives visiting you. Be grateful for the time you have with them.

The family has three dogs, several chickens, and a bird named Lila, who is a blue-crowned conure (native to El Salvador). I played with the dogs and talked to the bird. The dogs were pretty cute and liked having their bellies rubbed. I was speaking “conure” to the bird and I think she understood me because she was squawking. She was a little crazy though; she kept sharpening her beak on some wood.

We chatted for a while with everyone and then went to see Jesús’s mom, Lola, at her house down the road. She had some beautiful flowers growing by her house that Cecilia told us were golondrina. In English I think they’re either wild plantains or lobster claw (Heliconia wagneriana). We went inside to talk with her a while. She’s one of the cutest little old ladies ever, and she’s very sweet. Lola has a little dog named Foca who I think is adorable. However, she doesn’t like to eat so she’s pretty skinny. After chatting a while we took off for Cecilia’s house.

All the family was at Cecilia’s house, except for Idalia, who was at the Pastoral House, and Javier. Kathy helped Mauricio with a homework assignment for his English class. He had to read aloud the lyrics of a song in English. Kathy had given him Norah Jone’s song "Lonestar" to recite. It was helpful to see how Kathy helped him with pronunciation of the lyrics since that’s something I work with when I’m teaching English at school.

Rosa, Cecilia, and Paty were making tortillas in the kitchen area so I went in to see if I could try my hand at making some. I had attempted to make tortillas once before in Mexico but they didn’t turn out very well. This time I had teachers Cecilia and Paty to help me out. I made a pupusa and three tortillas. They turned out pretty well. They’re not too hard to make but I can’t imagine making them every day like many people here do. That’s a ton of work. And tortillas don’t sell for much.

After we finished making the tortillas we sat down to lunch. Actually, Kathy and I were offered seats at the small table in the kitchen and they served us two pupusas each with some salsa. They also gave us some avocado and one fish each. We both ate two pupusas and the avocado but were too full to eat the fish. Then Rosa gave us both a fresh mango drink that she made. It was the best mango juice I’d ever had. She sliced the small green mangos very thinly and put them in water. She added a little sugar and stirred it up. Delicious!!

Lesson learned: Don’t complain if it takes too long to make food at home or if the server loses your order at a restaurant. You could be eating tortillas and beans every single day. Thank God for the food you have. At least you have food on the table. You probably know where your next meal is coming from too.

There’s not a whole lot to do out in the country when there’s no work to be done. We all relaxed after lunch. Kathy and I laid in the hammocks for a while. Then we took a walk down to a "road" to see the new retaining wall they’d built. It was built to prevent the road from being washed away as a result of erosion. There we saw a water source that Cecilia told us was fairly clean (different standards of "clean" here). We also saw tons of little tadpoles in the water. I’ve never seen so many at once.

We briefly returned to the house before we walked back to Berlín. Before we left Kathy and I used the bathroom at the house. Here is the conversation about our bathroom experience-

Alisha: Do they have toilet paper?
Kathy: They have newspaper.
Alisha: That works.

Lesson learned: Be grateful for the bathroom, toilet, and toilet paper you have. Stop whining if the bathroom is "dirty" or the toilet paper isn’t "soft". Not only are there worse things in life, there are worse bathrooms.

**Note: I use the terms kitchen" and "bathroom" pretty loosely here. They are not what people in the US would think of when talking about rooms in a house. I also use the term "house" loosely. The "house" is made up of several small structures where the family lives.

As we started back toward the house we came upon the "river". I put the word in parentheses because it’s not an actual river, that’s just what they call it. It is a little bit of water that comes out the side of the hill. It funnels down to a large pila where people get their drinking water, wash clothes, and wash themselves. On the way down to Cecilia’s house I saw a man soaping up near the river. I didn’t want to look too close just in case. I later asked Kathy if he was wearing clothes. She told me she thought she saw skivvies out of the corner of her eyes.

Cecilia had walked to the river with us to fill up a large cántaro (huge jug) to take water home with her. Having never carried water on my head before I decided it was good time to try it out. Cecilia filled up the cántaro with water and set it on a large rock. First she let me try to lift it. It was very heavy. Then she helped me get it onto my head. Now, I want to preface this next part by saying that I take pride in being in good shape. I have great balance thanks to dance and yoga. I do pilates, swim, play racquetball, lift weights, kayak, backpack, bike, etc. I love it all.

Now let me tell you about the cántaro on my head experience: Words cannot describe how incredibly challenging it was standing in one spot with the cántaro on my head. I could barely stand up holding onto both handles of the cántaro without falling over. You could see my arms and body swaying. I could maybe have taken two steps before dropping the cántaro and possibly breaking my neck in the process. The typical method of transporting water from a source to your house is to fill up a large cántaro, put it on your head, then walk a long distance over rocky terrain. You then use this water to drink, cook, wash dishes, wash clothes, and more. By the way, the water came from a hole in the hill and may contain bacteria and parasites.

Lesson learned: Be grateful for the water in your house that runs whenever you want. Be grateful for the water in your toilet, bathroom sink, shower, washing machine, and kitchen. The water you use to brush your teeth, cook your food, wash your clothes, water your plants, and wash yourself with is clean, parasite free, and easily accessible.

The walk back to the Casa from the river was a killer. It was pretty much uphill the whole way. And not an easy uphill trek like on a smooth, gradually ascending hill. This was a beast of a hike. The sun was beating down on us from what seemed like all directions as we walked over dirt and rocks. We stopped often to catch our breath. Of course, it’s the dry season so as soon you open your mouth to get more air it fills up with dust. On the hand, I couldn’t imagine walking it in the rainy season. Heat + rain + mud + steep ascent = misery. As Kathy and I made it back to the road that was about a ½ mile from the house, we were exhausted, sweaty, and parched. Cecilia, on the other hand, had not broken a sweat. This is the way she walks to and from the house. This is the way her sons, Marvin and Elmer, walk to and from school five days a week.

Lesson learned: Stop complaining when you can’t find a closer parking space. Stop whining when you have to wait in a long line. Don’t grumble about getting caught in rush hour traffic. Don’t moan about walking in malls, grocery stores, or anywhere else.

Kathy and I were drained of energy as we walked back into the house. We were tired, sweaty, dirty, and probably a little smelly too. We chatted briefly with Blanca and Idalia then went to clean up. No running water today so I took a pila shower (buckets of cold water). The whole time I was thinking how grateful I was to have water to clean up with. The water was clean and I didn’t have to haul it from a river. I had shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. I was standing on a clean tiled floor. I had a nice towel to dry off with.

Lesson learned: Thank your lucky stars for a non-dirt floor bathroom, bathtub, shower, running water, warm running water. You are blessed with luxuries other people will never have.

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.” Psalm 30:11-12

We begin walking down the road

Let the descent begin

Hello up there

Jogging down the hill

Disappearing amongst the coffee plants

I never knew bamboo grew in El Salvador

Little place in Alejandría where the Celebration of the Word is sometimes held

With Blanca's mom

Holding a puppy at Cecilia's house

Lila, the conure


Playing with Foca

I had to hold the dog

With Jesús’s mom, Lola

Teacher Kathy with her pupils

Marvin peeking out from behind the hammock

Pupusas & tortillas (you can't even tell which ones are mine because they're so good!)

Showing off my artwork

Wet bird: Lila took a bath

Marvin is such a cutie

Resting in the hammock

Cecilia's neighbor's house

The retaining wall

Sitting on the wall

Checking out the water source

All those little black things are tadpoles

Inspecting the tadpoles

Kicking the soccer ball back up the hill

Rosa doing dishes

Several cántaros at the house

The bathroom

A horse at the "river"

Where the water comes from

I can pick up the jug

Quick! Take the picture!

Congregating around the pila

Really dirty feet

We made it!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Life's little joys

I got a warm breakfast this morning which was very exciting. Usually I’m up and leave before Cecilia starts breakfast. She does a lot in the morning before she makes breakfast beginning the minutes she wakes up. Most days I grab a tamale or bread on my way to school. That holds me until lunch, which is the main meal of the day. Today I got warm beans and plantains with bread. Delicious!

My first class this morning was third grade. When I arrived a woman and her little girl were there to talk to the teacher and give a little boy something. After a few minutes the little girl waved to me and starting talking to her mom. Then she came over and gave me a hug. She was so sweet!! I knelt down to say hi to her and thank her for the hug. She gave me another hug and a big grin. Little things like that melt my heart. I think it is God’s way of reminding me how important the little things in life are, and that they are not little at all, but great joys that I can draw strength from.

The kids have really started to use the English we’ve been learning. I think they feel more comfortable saying “hello”, “good morning”, and “goodbye” to me when they see me. They ask “how are you”, say “see you later”, and even say “bless you” when someone sneezes. One boy today asked me to “please repeat” what I had said. We’re able to have mini conversations in English which are wonderful. Very impressive. I’m glad they’re retaining what they’re learning. Two different classes today asked me what time it was in English in addition to the date. Their eagerness makes teaching so more enjoyable and rewarding.

While I was walking around the classroom today in my fourth grade class to see how they were doing writing in their notebooks, one little boy said, “I love you” in English. I immediately told him I loved him too. He sat there beaming and continued writing in his notebook. When class was over and I was escorted to my next class another 4th grader followed suit and told me he loved me too. Of course, I responded in kind, and he smiled when he handed me the water bottle he’d been carrying for me.

Back at the house around noon Otilia walked in with a little bundle. I heard chirping coming from the bag and asked her what was inside. She pulled out two tiny parakeets. They were just babies and didn’t have all their feathers yet. Too adorable for words!! I called to Kathy to come see the little birds. Otilia let us hold them. I, of course, had to get some pictures with them. After we finished lunch Otilia mashed up some watermelon in a bowl and fed the babies with a spoon. When the phone rang she answered it and I got to feed the babies. They hungrily slurped down the juice. They are going to be pets at her mom’s house.

My afternoon was spent checking email, going through photos, reading, and napping. I crashed pretty hard sometime around 3:30. I was lying on my bed reading my book when I laid my head down and fell asleep. Kathy and Otilia came back from a meeting to see me out like a light. I was lying face down with my hands under my stomach and my feet hanging off the bed, shoes still on. The door to my room was open and apparently there was some loud discussion going on in the dining room. I heard nothing and actually remembering dreaming. I guess I needed the sleep.

I heard some music coming from outside in the evening around 6pm. Kathy told me that there was a processional every Friday after mass around the town. We went out to catch the end of it. There were a lot of people following a big cross that appeared to be lit up with light sabers. “No, Alisha, those aren’t light sabers,” Kathy told me. Those were lights to help people see the way since it was dark. She told me about the time she went on Good Friday when they were carrying Jesus in the giant casket. I guess the whole thing took about two and a half hours because the casket is really heavy so people move very slowly. We’re planning to go to mass this Friday and the processional afterward. I’m looking forward to it.

Back at the house Kathy saw a ton of ants carrying away bits of fruit that had fallen earlier (probably dropped from a bat). I love watching little ants carry things away to their homes. There were a couple mutant ants with giant heads. I got a few pictures of them. At one point I accidentally breathed hard near the ants and they all scattered. Eventually they went back to the fruit and I decided to call it a night.

"If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive."
~Eleonora Duse

Baby parakeets!

They only have a few feathers

Holding the babies

Otilia feeding the babies watermelon

I took over the feeding

Saying hi to the baby

Snuggle time

She fits nicely in my hand

"Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn't people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them?" ~Rose F. Kennedy

Birdie kisses!

"Show me a person who cannot bother to do little things and I'll show you a person who cannot be trusted to do big things." ~Lawrence Bell

Giant ant with the little ants

Another giant ant

The ants eating fruit

**NOTE: Yes, I realize there a lot of pictures of me with the birds. By now I'm sure you figured out how much I love animals, all animals. They always make me feel better when I'm sad or angry.