The night in the canton went very well. I only woke up once at 11pm after being asleep for two hours. For a moment I panicked because I couldn’t remember where I was. Eventually I figured it out and went back to sleep. When I opened my eyes a little before 6am I looked down to see some ducks and chickens walking by. I smiled and went back to sleep for a little longer. By then I had gotten nine hours of sleep. And it was good sleep. I was comfortable during the night in the hammock and didn’t hear any of the night noises associated with living in the cantons such as bugs, chickens, dogs, cats, etc. I’m guessing a lot of that was because I was so tired.
Mark and Luke had woken up before me and were starting to pack when I rolled out of the hammock. We gathered our things and walked up to the “home base” house by 7am. At one point before or during breakfast we got to talking about how young the women here have children and/or get married. I told the story of meeting a couple in San Francisco when we were doing the census there. The man was 72 years old and his wife was 19 and their child was almost 2 years old. Kathy told a story about visiting another community where a 43 year old woman was married to a 19 year old man. “Maria Santos ‘Cougar’ Mendez,” Mark replied. That must be her name.
Our breakfast was eggs, bread, beans, plantains, and the tamales we made last night. It was all delicious. There are several different varieties of tamales and this one was a little squishy/more slippery than some of the other kinds. It’s not my favorite type but it went down well as I was very hungry. We left around 8:20 for the meeting. While we waited for people to show up we all sat around and talked. Blanca, Kathy, and I took off our own shoes and tried on each others’ shoes. Kathy liked Blanca’s and I liked Kathy’s but no one was jumping to get mine. I admit they are a bit smelly and not exactly fashionable but they work for me here.
Once everyone showed up we started the final meeting with the Directiva and some of the folks from the community. The members of the Directiva introduced themselves and then we did likewise. Cecilia spoke for a while about our visit yesterday with the school. Then Scott spoke quite a bit about the Pastoral Team and all the work they do. Our theme this week in reflections has been solidarity so it nice for us to hear about how the Pastoral Team works to benefit both the communities in El Salvador and the churches in Iowa. It was helpful even for those who already knew the story of how the Pastoral Team came to work with the churches. If you want to read a little more about the history of the mission and how the churches in Iowa became involved in El Salvador then I’d suggest you visit the following sites:
History of the Mission: http://www.oursisterparish.org/history/
Written September 2006 by Bob Cook
1990-2000 Historical Calendar: http://www.oursisterparish.org/early-history/
“Solidarity starts when we sit together and discuss the greater good”
Mark, Kathy, and Blanca also took a bit of time to talk with the Directiva when Scott had finished. Again, a lot of what is discussed in these kinds of meetings is private, between the church, the community, and the pastoral team. But I think it is worth mentioning that Heartland spent a great deal of time with the community, Directiva, people in the cooperative, and the teacher in El Tablón Cerna. They also spent a lot of time reflecting upon the day’s activities. We closed with prayer and after the meeting was over we said goodbye to everyone.
We went back to our home base one more time for lunch. The ladies had made us soup with chicken, potatoes, and guisquil. It was all delicious, however I ended up with another organ in my soup. Is it considered good luck if you always get chicken organs in your soup? I hope so. We only had about a half hour to eat because we had to get on the road again to head to the canton of Santa Cruz. We said goodbye and thank you to our hosts and piled into the truck.
Please! I need a bird!
Not that bird. That bird was lunch.
Wait a second, that's not right
Why $3 shoes are not the best
The lovely ladies
The Directiva of Cerna
We arrived in Santa Cruz at 1:30pm and drove to the old school building for the meeting. The meeting was to get to know another community and hear about what life is like for them. This is currently a community that does not have a partnership with a church in the US. As per usual, Blanca welcomed and thanked everyone in the community for coming. The Directiva introduced themselves and presented us with a couple watermelons from one of their fruit farms. After Cecilia cut up one of the watermelons for us she introduced herself and we all presented ourselves as well. One of the delegates of the word (like a lay minster) named Oscar spent time telling us about their community. They have several committees in the community including one for civil protection, water projects, health, and a women’s group.
The people who lived in this place at the beginning of the civil war left the area. Many of the same people returned after the war was over in 1992. In 1994 the community began the paperwork to legalize the Directiva of the community. Oscar told us that the place we were meeting was the old school building. In 1998 the community began construction of a new school building. They also began receiving help from an NGO to plant corn and beans. In 2004 an NGO called Intervida began giving the community seeds and fertilizer for their crops. The city hall of Berlín helped created 30 new homes in the community and also installed solar panels in 2009. The Pastoral Team has also helped them with the water filter project and fertilizer donations. The community constructed a small church in 2007 but has dreams to someday build a real church.
There are 45 families and 148 people in the canton of Santa Cruz. The past several years have been economically challenging for the entire country as well as the community. No one in the community has a full-time paying job. There are a few watermelon and grain farms in the area, but most of the families grow corn and beans to live off of. The recent harvest was very poor with people receiving only 20% of what they usually produce. And unfortunately the community doesn’t have any large tanks to collect water during the rainy season. They only have a few water barrels and access to running water about once a month with inconsistent timing. Otherwise they have to walk about 1 hour to get to the river to collect water. There are two teachers teaching 55 students in kindergarten through 3rd grade. If any children want to go to school beyond that they have to walk to El Tablón.
Some good things are happening in the community. They have had thoughts about forming a cooperative similar to the one in El Tablón Cerna. This may not be something in the near future but it gives them something to dream and strive for. Plus they can learn from the Pastoral Team and Cerna about the benefits and difficulties of forming a co-op. The women’s group in the area has 9 members. They attend workshops every eight days to learn about growing vegetables. The entire community might be getting electricity toward the end of the year from city hall. Some of the help the community receives through the Pastoral Team is funded by the Don Justo coffee project.
The old school in Santa Cruz
Waiting for the meeting to start
The Directiva of Santa Cruz
Toilet at the school
The meeting ended around 3pm and we said goodbye to the people. We were home by 4:15 and I immediately headed into the shower. I love being in the cantons and I had a great time sleeping there but I returned home covered in dust and fresh mosquito bites. It felt good to be clean, and yet at the same time I felt guilty about being so quick to rinse off, like washing away the dirt was somehow getting rid of all I’d experienced. I’m not sure what to do with my feelings of guilt so for now I will use them as a reminder of how lucky I am to have clean water to shower with.
Dinner tonight was pupusas, tacos, and empanadas. I wasn’t feeling terribly hungry but managed to force down a pupusa, taco, and two empanadas. We sat around the table and chatted for a while until doing reflections. At 9pm the ladies surprised us by offering to take us out to the celebration going on in town. Tonight was the election for the queen of the Patron Saint Festival that is officially celebrated on March 15. The festivities began before 6pm but the ladies said they didn’t really get started until after 8pm.
We walked around for almost an hour which was quite a treat since we don’t go out much at night. It seemed like the whole city was out. There was lots of music as the different candidates for queen danced on stage. We ran into Margarita, who helps out at the Pastoral House while there are delegations. She was there with her two children who I’ve met several times. Her son, Misael, was eating corn on the cob that was covered with several different sauces. It’s called Elote Loco and didn’t look especially appetizing but he seemed to be enjoying it. After he’d finished what he wanted the music started again and I took his hands so we could dance. He’s pretty adorable and seemed to enjoy dancing. I’m really looking forward to more of the Patron Saint festival celebrations. I just hope the music they play at 4am doesn’t wake me up too often!
Where the celebration was to be held
Watching the queen candidates
Beautiful little girls!