It’s been another long but wonderful day. We left around 8am to go to mass in Alejandría. The mass was honoring the 30th anniversary of Oscar Romero’s death, which is March 24th. Romero was a Catholic archbishop in El Salvador during the beginning of the civil war here. He was a defender of the poor and the victims of the civil war. He was closely associated with Liberation Theology and vehemently spoke out against human rights violations committed by the government during the war.
Many of the things he did and said were dangerous, even for a priest. Romero said that if he died his voice would live on in the Salvadoran people. He was assassinated in 1980 while he was giving mass in San Salvador. Romero is considered a hero to many Salvadorans and is often compared to Jesus. There are few homes and churches in El Salvador that do not bear a photo of Romero. There are celebrations all across the country on March 24.
Kathy and Cecilia had left early this morning to pick up 50 pounds of chicken for after the mass. We stopped off at the church to pick up the priest and then headed to Alejandría. Everything was set up outside next to Blanca’s parent’s house when we arrived. It was absolutely beautiful. There were many photos of Romero, fresh flowers, and an alter at the front. Dozens of chairs were set up for people in the community. I was excited to be a part of such a special celebration, especially one that was held outside.
The mass didn’t begin until 10am so we had plenty of time to get things ready. Kathy and Kimberly prepared the song they planned to perform at the end of mass. The women set to work cooking the food for the 100 people that would be eating after the mass. Chicken need to be cleaned and cooked, vegetables cut and cooked, juice made, atole served, etc. I went from place to place trying to help out where I could and take pictures.
I’d never had atole before so I tried some. Atole is a masa based drink. It’s made of corn flour, water, and unrefined sugar. The Salvadoran variety of atole we had today is called atole shuco, which means “dirty” atole because of its darker color. This atole had the consistency of gravy and was not very tasty. They were putting some green stuff on top that was unfamiliar to me. It’s hard to describe what it tasted like. I got some bread and reluctantly drank the rest of it, washing it all down with water.
Before the mass started Balmore and Jesús spoke for almost an hour about Romero. I didn’t get to hear most of it because I was helping and chatting with some of the ladies. Then the mass started. The priest spoke about Romero, death, holy week, and more. I could understand much more of the mass than I usually can at the church. I think it was because he wasn’t over the loudspeaker inside the big church in Berlín.
When the mass was over everyone got a plate of food with chicken, rice, salad, and two tortillas. Lunch was tasty and it was fun to talk with other people from the community of Alejandría. I love getting to know people and have a chance to hear about their lives. I know I say this a lot, but I was very grateful for the opportunity to practice my Spanish. It really helps to talk with a lot of different people so I can get used to the way a variety of people speak. When lunch was over and people started to leave 13 of us piled into the back of the pickup headed for Berlín.
"If they kill me, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people"
~Oscar Romero, weeks before his death
Cecilia carrying 50 pounds of chicken
Pictures of Romero
Where the mass was held
Cleaning the chicken
The priest's vestments
Giant pots of atole
Cutting up melon for juice
Waiting for the mass to start
Cleaning the chicken some more
Mmmmm, 50 pounds of raw chicken
Cannibal chickens eating the leftover chicken scraps
The bathroom. It's a double.
The outside view of the bathroom
Flowers growing in old containers
Getting his vestments on
She's got band-aid pieces on her fingertips to play the guitar
Cooking up the food
Lots of potatoes
Putting the juice into bags
During the homily
Many people stood during the mass
Walking up to the road
After returning home I did a little bit of laundry and downloaded my photos. Then Kimberly and I went to downtown to get a few things. Kimberly needed to get a phone here and to do that you have to have government issued ID. Alejandro went with us so we could use his ID. First we made a stop as Casa Mia, which is where Kimberly will be staying starting next week. It’s a gorgeous hostel with lots of space and friendly staff. I may need to drop by to say ‘hi’ sometime next week. I asked a woman there about the bullet holes on the outside wall of the hostel. They told us it was from the civil war. During the war the Guardia (Salvadoran military) had taken over the house. The house was attacked by the guerillas and has over 70 bullet holes in it.
Then we all went to a store to get a phone. It was an interesting process and much different than getting a phone in the states. First of all, you had the woman selling us the phone who only spoke Spanish. There’s Alejandro who was using his ID to get the phone who speaks only Spanish but knows how to speak slow for us gringos. Kimberly was picking out and buying the phone. She speaks some Spanish but asked me to interpret some things for her. It was a fun process: the four of us all trying to communicate. But in the end she got the phone and all was well.
We thanked Alejandro for his service with ice cream at La Neveria. It was delicious as always. After finishing our ice cream we walked out of the store and I saw someone standing guard in front of another store with a gun. Again, this is very common. I see men holding rifles and machine guns every day either to and from school or downtown. I really wanted my picture taken with a person holding a gun. Not sure why, I guess because it’s a novelty to me. So I politely asked if I could have my picture taken with him to which he immediately agreed. Yay!! I got my picture!
We headed to a pharmacy to get some mouthwash then on to another store so Ale could get a notebook for Cecilia. Poor Alejandro had to put up with a lot today. We dragged him all over the place and he patiently put up with our insanity and broken Spanish. What a guy (Red Dwarf reference). When we got to the store across the street from the house we “released” Alejandro from any further duty. That was probably good because we ended up going back downtown to get a phone card for Kathy and to look at some jewelry. Kathy joined us and we all looked around for almost an hour.
When we got back home we all sat around chatting at the table for quite a while. We had tea, coffee, and some snacks. This is one of my favorite times of day. We talk and laugh and make jokes. I feel very close to the women here during those moments. I was showing everyone pictures from today and yesterday on my computer. I have a picture from yesterday of Cecilia’s son at school because he’s in my third grade class so I showed that to everyone.
Later that night I talked to Alejandro for quite a while about his English class and exam he has tomorrow. When he told me he had an exam tomorrow I was curious what he was studying. He let me look through his notebook and ask questions. It’s good for me to get the perspective of someone trying to learn English. It helps me understand what things people struggle with and what’s confusing for them. I think it helps me as a teacher and as a person trying to increase my Spanish language skills. And as always, it’s good Spanish practice.
I have a big day ahead of me tomorrow. Lots of school and then we’re walking to Otilia’s house in San Lorenzo. I can’t wait!!
A guy with a gun and me
More than 70 bullet impacts
Bullet holes in the wall
All the holes are circled with black marker
Houses across the street were set on fire
Otilia's birthday present
"Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty" ~Oscar Romero