Today has been a crazy day. I woke up this morning with 9 mysterious red dots on my right forearm and three on my other arm. I asked Cecelia and Blanca what they were and they told me it was from “zancudos” and that they had a nice time eating me. Oh, what love! I asked Kathy what zancudos were and she said they were mosquitoes. But they don’t itch so we don’t think they’re mosquito bites. Maybe bed bugs or fleas. Great. I feel like a dog. A chucho.
Around 8:15am nine of us piled into the truck headed for canton La Noria, about an hour and a half away from here. Chon (the visitor from Spain) knew some people there who’d helped to form a cooperative for the canton. I’ll explain what a canton is: a canton is a small town/village outside a city or town. It’s the more rural part of the area. For example, I am staying in the city of Berlín, which is the urban center of the area with a population of about 8,000 people. There are 17 cantons near Berlín with a population of around 8,000 people. The church I go to works with the canton of San Francisco. The canton I went to today was not part of the municipality of Berlín. I’m not sure if it was in the same department (state). The country of El Salvador is divided into 14 departments. So technically I’m in Berlín, Usulután, El Salvador.
As we arrived at La Noria we saw some people on the side of the road sewing sacks together for beans. We went inside a building for the meeting. The building was air-conditioned!! I would have never guessed that there’d be AC in a canton in El Salvador. It felt kind of weird. The air wasn’t super cool, but it was a change from outside- very hot today. And when the locals keep saying how hot it is, you know it’s warm outside. We talked to Miguel, who works for the co-op, and Oscar, who is the president. The name of the co-op is La Maroma. He told us about the co-op, who was involved, how it was formed, what kinds of things were grown on the land they owned, etc. They own many acres of land where they grow watermelon, sugarcane, papaya, corn, and more. And they use organic fertilizer! I think that should serve as inspiration to us all. Then we were allowed to ask questions for while. Now, I just made that meeting sound very simple and short, but it was actually about 3 hours long. It would have been nice to see some of the land they use and talk to the workers, but they have so acres of land and there just wasn’t enough time to do everything. Only so many hours in a day.
Next we headed out for lunch. Not sure what town we ate in, but the food was good. We walked into a restaurant to eat. Most restaurants have a ceiling but are open air. This one was concrete. They were cooking hot food inside. It was pretty toasty. There were no menus there, we just pointed to what we wanted. I got rice, tortillas, and some shredded beef.
After lunch we drove to see another co-op called Nueva Esperanza (New Hope). Along the way Chon told us about three of the cities in the area. During the beginning of the Civil War in 1980 government troops went to the village and burned it to the ground. The entire community fled. They sought refuge in Nicaragua and lived there for 10 years. When the war ended part of the Peace Accords that were signed entitled parts of the Salvadoran countryside for peasants. The people were able to return home to Nueva Esperanza. A similar situation happened to people in the nearly town of Ciudad Romero (Romero City). They tried to go to Honduras but were forced out. Eventually, the president of Panama declared them refugees and offered to let them live in Panama. When the Civil War ended, they too returned home.
There was also a third city near the other two called Nueva Amanecer (New Sunrise) that was home to ex-military. The problem with the third city being so close to the other two is that the military committed many atrocities against civilians during the war. During the war the soldier soldiers tortured and killed people, burned villages to the ground, dropped bombs, intimidated those who stood up against the violence, and far worse. Upon returning home, many people were very afraid. The ex-soldiers lived only a short distance away. Thus, their mere presence was intimidating.
I’m pretty sure that’s all correct. I was actually sleeping when Chon was explaining this; Kathy gave me the details later. I also found someone’s blog from 2007 who lived in Ciudad Romero and wrote about what happened there. But now, twenty years later, Ciudad Romero has formed a co-op. The gathering we had there was much less formal and more of a conversation about the co-op. We sat outside on someone’s “porch” area and talked. The person we wanted to talk to wasn't there, so we talked to his wife. After a while we walked a block to where cheese was made. We sampled some cheese and several people bought some to take home. The co-op has several other projects, but we didn’t have time to see them. Then we walked back to the woman’s house while Chon talked with people. At the house there was an adorable little kitty there who wanted to play. So of course I had to pick her up. I wanted to take her home but Kathy said no.
We left to go back to Berlín around 3:45pm. We took the scenic route back to the house. We got lost several times and asked for directions a lot. This is very typical of how people navigate down here. We drive a ways and ask someone how to get to where we’re going. Then people riding in the bed of the truck shout directions to Kathy, who’s driving. At one point along the way they told her to go left and we turned onto a “road” that had railroad tracks on it. We realized we were on the train tracks and ahead saw that it led to a bridge. Obviously not the right place. So Kathy had to back of the “road” we were on about 50 meters to get back to the actual road. There was lots of talk about wrong directions and laughing about going on the train tracks. This is a good example of how Salvadorans have a difference sense of navigation and time.
There were a TON of cows in the road on the way home. I mean, cows in the road are definitely not uncommon, but today it seemed like we passed a herd every 5 minutes. We also crossed over water several times. I asked Kathy if the roads would be passable during inveirno (the rainy season). She said there would be times during the day and sometimes the whole day when there would be too much water. But I’m glad we took the backroads. At several points we could see the Río Lempa (Lempa River) and the mountains in the distance. It was absolutely beautiful.
We made it back to the house and shortly after it was time to eat. I learned something new at dinner tonight. We were eating spaghetti, bananas, and bread when Chon put part of her banana between two pieces of bread. She said it was really good. Kathy and I weren’t so sure. But we both tried it and it was actually pretty good. Who’d of thought: banana sandwiches.
After dinner I putzed around for a while. By the time 8pm hit I felt like it was midnight. But I was determined to write this blog and get a few other things done. Right now I’m doing battle with the bar across the street to see which one of us can play our music louder. Okay, not really. There’s no way I could win that one. We’ll see how I sleep tonight. It’s another long day tomorrow. I can’t wait!!
Those who wish to sing always find a song. ~Swedish Proverb