I encountered all three of these things today. I got an email Friday from Kathy saying that people from the University of Central America (UCA) were coming to Berlín today with students to go see the cooperative in the canton of El Tablón Cerna. Kathy often accompanies them when they come but since she isn’t here she thought it’d be fun if I could go (she’s in the States). The cooperative in El Tablón Cerna was formed with help from the UCA and the Pastoral Team. They’ve been involved in getting this project started for several years and last year they finally got it up and running.
At 9am today the group arrived from San Salvador. There were 15 students and the leader of the group, Mario. I’d met Mario briefly last year when I was here. The Pastoral Team ladies had other things to do so I went alone with the group. We hopped into the two pickup trucks they brought and were off. I was chatting with the people in the back of the truck and learned that one of the girls, Pamela, speaks English. Yay! That was very exciting for me. We talked about language, food, places, and all other sorts of things. She learned to speak English at her work and in the States. She’s definitely one of the better English speakers I’ve met here and is very easy to understand which is not an easy task to accomplish.
I learned that this was most of the group’s first time visiting a canton. A lot of times people who live in the big cities don’t really get out to the cantons. This is true of people in smaller cities as well. Many times when I tell people in Berlín that I know the surrounding cantons pretty well there are surprised. I’d kind of compare it to people in Des Moines not knowing what a farm in the country is like. However, there are some major differences between people in Des Moines not knowing the country and people in the big cities here not knowing the cantons.
One big difference is transportation. People who live in the country in Iowa have their own cars and are able to get to bigger cities with relative ease. Most people in the cantons do not have cars of their own. There are occasional trucks that drive by but it costs money to ride in them; money that people often do not have. Most people have to walk if they want to get to Berlín. In many cases, they walk for several hours carrying everything they need.
Lack of transportation is a major barrier to kids in the cantons being able to go to school. Most cantons only have grades K-6th grade and some cantons only have K-2nd grade. If you want to go further then you have to walk to Berlín. The only high school in the area is in Berlín. If you’re lucky you might be able to catch a truck but it’s not something you can always count on. This prevents many kids from going to school.
Unlike living in the country in Iowa, life in the cantons here is usually associated with poverty, and oftentimes with extreme poverty. For example, when you live in the country in Iowa you still get to use toilet paper. That is often not the case in the cantons and I can personally testify to that. The bathrooms in the cantons are always outhouses. Sometimes you get a “proper” toilet seat in the cantons but many times the toilet is just a cement slab with a hole in it. Again, I’ve seen many a canton toilet.
Access to running water is a difference between living in the cantons and living in the city. Most people in the cantons still do not have running water. They often have to walk an hour or more to get to a water source during the dry season. They scoop up the water in cántaros (plastic jugs) and carry it on their heads back to their home. A few cantons have running water but it was installed very recently.
Also recently installed was electricity in a couple cantons. However, electricity is expensive and most of the time people do not use it during the day. A lot of people have a light bulb and sometimes a radio. A few families have TVs which I can understand because there’s not a whole lot to do out there except work and make babies. But no one has access to the internet there. I’m sure a lot people from the cantons have never used the internet let alone a computer.
Pamela thought this was a good experience for herself and for the other students. I really commend them for going out to the cantons and seeing what life is like there. Many people here who live in the cities don’t do that. It’s easy to get caught up in city life and forget the other life that is beyond the city limits. I love my electricity, toilet paper, tile floor, and ease of transportation that I have here in Berlín. And I admit that I probably spend too much time on the internet. We don’t get running water every day but it does run every other day for which I am thankful. Every trip to the cantons is a good reminder of how lucky I am.
We arrived in Cerna around 9:40am. I forgot what a crazy driver Mario is!! It only took us about 40 minutes to get there. It usually takes almost an hour. We were all, of course, completely covered in dust. I told one of the guys that he could write “wash me” on his arm (wonder where I got that idea- Scott!) The first place we visited was some of the bee hives. I remembered them from when I was here in early March with the Heartland delegation. We looked briefly at the first set of hives and then got back into the car to see the main area. It’s located close to the school in Cerna.
Several members of the cooperative met us when we arrived. The co-op is raising hens for eggs, hens for frying, and bees for honey. We immediately walked down to see the chicken coops. The additional building that was being built when I was here in March was almost finished. The only thing missing was the floor. It is divided into three rooms: office, storage, and slaughterhouse. They are also building two additional hen houses further down the hill. They should be complete and ready to use soon.
The members of the co-op go into the hen houses twice a day to collect eggs. They have 425 chickens in one area and 450 chickens in another area. The chickens were $7 to purchase. They will lay eggs for about 80 weeks after which they will be sold for food. They eat about 50 pounds of food a day and always have water available. The eggs are harder to transport than the honey. And if they get a sick chicken they have to quarantine it to prevent the others from getting sick.
Next we went to visit see some more of the bee boxes. There are 20 bee boxes in each of the five locations. You can distinguish somewhat a difference in the taste depending on where the honey is collected. They are able to collect 55 gallons of honey about two or three times a year from the hives. Everyone has been stung at least once by the bees and many like the bees more because they can see the results immediately. This is the first time anyone has ever raised bees and it was difficult to learn.
At 10:40am we all walked back up to the school to have a meeting. The members of the cooperative introduced themselves and then the students from the UCA. Mario talked for a while about the students and about the co-op itself. Then the members of the co-op spent some time talking about how everything was going. They said it was a long and difficult process to get it up and running. This had been a project in the making for several years that they worked on with the help of the Pastoral Team and the UCA. The project is moving forward with more people from the community thinking about joining the co-op.
The meeting only lasted an hour. Afterwards the students surveyed the members of the co-op about their age and if they could read, write, sign their name, and do basic math. They also asked what level of education they attained in school. When they students were finished everyone chatted for a while and then we went across the road to buy some honey. Last time I was here I got to taste it fresh from the hive. It was delicious! I decided that the Pastoral House needed some more honey so I bought some. Soon it was time to load up the pickups again.
We got back to Berlín a little after 1pm. I said goodbye to the students from the UCA and went to take a long shower. It was a dump shower but it was very refreshing and I was glad to get the dust off me. I don’t think I’ve actually taken a shower using the actual shower head with running water more than twice since I’ve been here. I’ve gotten use to the dump showers and have them down to a fine art now.
After my shower Cecilia fixed me some lunch which was great because I was very hungry. She had some computer problems so I went into the team’s office area to run a virus scan and restart the computer. Thanks to Matt I’m much better now a trouble-shooting when it comes to computers and am able to resist the urge to throw them out the window. I eventually fixed it. I also spent some time doing laundry. It seemed like I had a lot of dirty laundry. I’d washed some in the morning as well before the group from the UCA so when I finished this afternoon I was ready to be done.
The rest of my day was spent working on school things. Cecilia and I went to mass around 5:30 and went to get pupusas afterwards for dinner. It’s just she, Alejandro, and I here on Sunday nights. We were all being kind of goofy tonight. They were watching some Spanish reality TV show that’s similar to Dancing with the Stars (I think). I recognized a lot of the songs they danced to and was singing along. All in all it was a good day. I think I’m ready for the week ahead.
Dust gets in your eyes
She did not look this panicked the whole trip
Mystery berries. I did not eat them.
Clean, white shoes
She rode in the back of the truck
Ohhhh, they burned down the cool, dead tree
Walking down to the chicken area
The new building for office, storage, and slaughter
Checking out the chickens
No more white shoes
The new building
Lots of eggs
Checking the eggs and cleaning them
Inside the three room building
Meeting with the co-op
The quick survey the students did
Questions about age, literacy, math, and education
The co-op was happy to help
(I've seen much, much worse)