Today was our last full day in El Salvador. We did our best to make the most of it. Since we didn’t have too many families left to take census information from in San Francisco we went to a nearby school on the outskirts or Berlín. We got to the school around 9:15am. We went inside one of the classrooms and talked to the kids a little bit. I pointed to several things on the kids’ notebooks and told them what they were in English. The teacher also offered us some delicious rice with warm milk. It was sweetened with a bit of sugar and was much tastier than I thought it would be! I gladly accepted a cup of it.
While Kathy and Lynn went outside to talk to the kids I talked with one of the teachers and Blanca. The teacher asked me what I had studied in college. I told her I had studied psychology, sociology, and social work. I also had taught English in Berlín at the boy’s school for a short period of time in the spring. She knew that I was thinking about returning next year to teach again (I think maybe Blanca told her, but I’m not sure). She asked me if I preferred teaching in Berlín at the boy’s school. I said I enjoyed teaching at the boy’s school, and I had a feeling I knew where the conversation was going. She told me it’d be wonderful if I’d be able to go to their school to teach English and maybe a few other school to teach, rotating days. I said it all depended on whether I was able to return and that if I did I’d need to talk to the Pastoral Team. Of course, that’s all a big IF right now.
After visiting for a while longer we moved on to San Francisco to finish the census. There were 8 of us today doing the census. We arrived at the first house around 10am. We repeated the same process from yesterday and the day before, taking information and handing out gift packages. At one house the mom was gone to Berlín but her 11 year old daughter and 5 year old son were at home. It isn’t unusual for parents to be off working or buying something and leave an older child at home to take care of a younger one. We left the gift package with her and were able to collect most of the information we needed.
When we got to one house a young girl ran up to me and gave me a hug saying, “Alicia!” It took me a second to realize who she was. It was one of the girls, Amanda, from the youth group that I’d met in the spring. It took me by surprise because she was so quiet when I met her before. When I walked up to the cross at the top of the mountain with the youth group she stayed by me the whole time but didn’t say much. It was wonderful to see her again and I gave her the pictures I’d printed out for her. We talked with her grandmother, who gave us all some oranges to eat. Then we said goodbye and that we’d see them at church in the afternoon.
The next house had a very small entrance into the yard area between two poles. Kathy told us it was keep cows out. Lynn said it was to keep large people out. I think I believe Kathy. After that house we went to go see an 88 year old woman living with her 65 year old son. We did our best to explain the packages to them. Daniel opened the package and explain everything that was in there and how to use it. When we said we wanted to take a picture so she combed her hair and told her son to put on a hat. They were pretty sweet!! We were told that the man had OCD and spent a couple hours in the morning washing his hands. This was very interesting to me especially because of my educational background and because I’ve never really heard of psychological disorders such as OCD being very prevalent in Latin America. I may have to do some more reading when I get home.
We visited 9 houses before going back to the church in San Francisco. At 11:30am we arrived at the church. A few families from Santa Rita, a caserio of San Francisco that is very far away, were waiting for us. They had walked from Santa Rita to the church to receive their gift packages. Yesterday it was decided that we wouldn’t have enough time to walk to Santa Rita so they would walk to the church. One woman from Santa Rita came with her small daughter who she was still breastfeeding. She walked a long ways and with a child too! That had to have been difficult.
One 75 year old man walked for 40 minutes barefoot to get to the church. Can you imagine!?!? We told him that if we had made the walk it would have taken us 2 hours because we are much slower. He was very appreciative for the gift and we were very glad he was able to make the walk. It is tough to fathom what that kind of walk must be like for a 75 year old man. Wow!! I am in awe of the people here and the strength they have, not only physical strength but their spiritual, mental, and emotional strength. Life is full of hardships and yet people endure nonetheless. I often feel like a little weakling in comparison.
Around noon we ate lunch inside the church. We invited in the older man and young woman with her daughter to eat with us. Lunch today was sandwiches with some sort of lettuce, sauce, and a little chicken. We also had some wafer cookies for dessert. To pass the time before the meeting with the Directiva (community board) Daniel played the guitar for us and sang. We sang a few songs with him that we knew. I went outside to take a picture of the new retaining wall and water tank outside the church. I talked briefly with Miguel Sr. about possible projects for 2011.
The meeting began around 1pm and lasted for almost two hours. Present at the meeting were Daniel (legal issues and a Delegate of the Word), Miguel (member of the Pastoral Team and Delegate of the Word), Jose Santiago (an alternate), Miguel Sr. (president), Jose Deonicio (treasurer), Mirna (secretary), Migdalia (alternate), Blanca (Pastoral Team), Cecilia (Pastoral Team), Kathy (mission co-worker), Lynn, and myself. They thanked us for all the help we’d provided them and considered all our church has done to be great work. They thanked us for walking the community for the census to learn about the daily life of the people, the roads of the cantons, and to meet the people. They believed it was a great demonstration of giving with our whole heart.
We discussed past projects, such as the solar panels, water filters, the church, and the retaining wall. We talked about possible future projects such as another retaining wall, cement patio area near the church, and a sound system for the church. They will be creating a formal solicitude which they will pass onto the Pastoral Team, who will pass it onto us to discuss back at our church. The meeting ended at 2:45pm, 45 minutes later than expected.
The Celebration of the Word began around 3pm. I saw several members of the community that I’d met as well as many people from the youth group. I gave them all big hugs. I had really missed them! The celebration was lovely with reading of Luke 8:1-3 about women accompanying Jesus and a homily about women in El Salvador. Several girls I got to know in the youth group sang in the small band that played for us.
After the Celebration of the Word was over we talked to as many people as we could for as long as we could. I know so many more people here now I wish I had more time to talk with everyone. I had worn the bracelet that Veronica gave me when I was here earlier this year (I made the mistake of complimenting her bracelet; after I did that she took it off and gave it to me). Suddenly she, her sister, and two other girls came up and put several other bracelets of my wrist. We try not to accept gifts from people other than food but they put them on me so quickly and gave me huge hugs that I thought it’d be rude to give them back. The bracelets will bring me beautiful memories of El Salvador when I am back in Iowa.
I said hello to Maria again and her tiny, beautiful baby girl. I took several pictures of her and her daughter outside the church. I also took pictures of her little boys. Soon it was time to leave San Francisco. I’m going to miss everyone so much! I can’t wait to see everyone again and spend more time with them. I truly feel welcome and at home whenever I visit San Francisco.
We got back to the Pastoral House around 4:30 and took a break before going to dinner. Tito stopped by to say goodbye and give the ladies some bananas. Then at 6pm we were off to the nearby town of Alegría for dinner with Cecilia, Blanca, and Idalia. At dinner we talked about San Francisco, future projects, and our time spent here in Berlín. We were able to relax a little more at dinner and rest from a long week. Lynn and I said we hoped we weren’t too hard for the Pastoral Team to handle. We try to be low maintenance.
Back at the house we gave the ladies their tip and I gave them the photos I’d printed out for them. Lynn gave them the small rosaries and crosses from her friend in Des Moines. Kathy put all our pictures on her computer and I put them all on my flash drive. I’m all finished packing but not ready to leave! I will probably write one more blog about leaving and then put up the pictures I took when I get back to the US so be looking for those. Lynn and I are plotting a way we can stay in El Salvador so maybe you won’t see us for a while :-)