Today was not as full as our previous days. This morning was relaxed and we didn’t eat breakfast until 7:30. It was a leisurely breakfast and afterwards we spent some time playing with Chiquita. She is a very popular bird. Around 9am we walked to the market to look around. Sundays and Thursdays are market days here in Berlín and 9am is prime shopping time. It’s always fun to go to the market and I wanted my family to see what it was like in comparison to the grocery store in San Salvador. The market is where most people here do clothes and food shopping.
We all had a list of things we wanted to buy at the market. The first thing we hit was the people who sell things on the street. I always like to buy from them and they are the ones that start leaving before the others. The vendors inside the indoor part of the market are always there. Out on the street you can kind food, clothes, shoes, toiletries, and all sorts of other things. Outside we got a couple different kinds of fruit to try: mamones and nances. My dad also bought a machete that he wants to use for weeds in the backyard. My mom had seen all the pictures of women here in aprons so she bought herself on as well.
Something kind of funny happened while we were outside. Sometimes people ask for money in Berlín, especially when they see white people. I usually don’t have that problem anymore because people recognize me and know that I don’t give money to people. But I was fairly certain we were going to run into someone asking for money. I told my family ahead of time not to give money to anyone and to tell them “no” in a firm voice. There are several reasons we don’t give money to people on the street. First and foremost, the Pastoral Team recommends against it. That itself is reason enough for me. But there are also a lot of people here that use the money they get to buy alcohol. I see people sleeping it off on the streets all the time. Finally, Berlín is a small town and people here know that if they need food or medicine they can come to the Pastoral House for help.
Well, sure enough, someone came up to us asking for money. I recognized the woman because she and her brother and sister often ask for money. They’re probably in their late 50s and have turned down food offered to them in the past. She opened her hand to us and asked for a “quarter.” We all told her “no” but she can be relentless. She knew I wouldn’t give her money so she moved closer to my parents. So I positioned myself in between her and my family and told in a strong voice that we were not going to give her money. I must have ticked her off because she gave me a dirty look and said, “gringa mala” (bad white person). I immediately responded, “Sí, soy una gringa muy mala (Yes, I am a very bad white person). Some people nearby overheard our exchange and started laughing which made me start laughing. I explained to my family that I just told someone I was a bad white person. Though people who beg for money tend to be bothersome they are far from harmful, especially in a crowd of people.
After that we stopped off to see Haydee. I told her I’d bring my parents and husband by when they were in Berlín. My mom really wanted to buy chocolate from her. I always take it back to the US and she loves it. The chocolate is home ground cocoa beans that are then mixed with something and formed into a disk for hot chocolate. Haydee was happy to see us and got chocolate for everyone. Then she got them all some hot coffee. She put a little bit of cocoa inside each cup. They said it was delicious! We said goodbye and headed indoors.
Inside the indoor part of the market you can find almost everything you can find outside plus more. There is fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, cheese, and bread. You can find all sorts of clothes for all sizes. The clothes aren’t organized like you’d find clothes in a mall with the same style in different sizes and colors. It’s more like a consignment store. So where do the clothes come from? People used to own them, they bought a bunch from someone else, they were made in Central America in a sweat shop, who knows. There are also a lot of random things to purchase like hygiene products, candles, spices, tool, batteries, etc. But things aren’t organized like stores in the US. It’s a lot of haphazardness.
We also went to get some food for Chelita and looked inside a couple of actual stores in Berlín just to see what they were like. We went to a clothing store that I had never been to before. My mom and I both found a shirt ($3 each) and Matt got a shirt for work (Calvin Klein- $3.50). Then we headed back to the house to drop off our things. We got Kathy and made a quick stop to the store of Niña Luz who sells various crafts made by women’s groups. They sell earrings, necklaces, bracelets, candle holders, lamps, and other things made from natural materials. After that we went home and had a delicious fish lunch.
Matt carrying Chelita to the yard
Chelita (she's actually a rooster)
Chiquita eating a treat Matt brought for her
Mom loves Chiquita
So does Dad
Chiquita inspecting the fruit
Working with Chiquita
A small parade going through town
Parade from the girl's school
Oh no! They painted the baby chicks!
Enjoying some chocolate in coffee
Dad with his new machete
Fruit at the market
The indoor area of the market
Lots of clothes for sale
Walking back to the house
Around 1:00pm we started walking to San Francisco. We were going there to visit with the families of a few high school students who are being sponsored by my church in the US. My church provides financial assistance (scholarships) to 12 high school students in their sister canton of San Francisco. The money can be used for school shoes, notebooks, pens, pencil, etc. I really wanted to chat with some of their families and I wanted my family to meet them as well since we go to the same church. Kathy and I thought it’d be fun to walk to San Francisco since it’s not too far away and it would give us a chance to become familiar with the walk that the students in San Francisco do every day to get to school. Kathy and I did it last year when I was here but thought it’d be good to do again.
Before leaving town we stopped off at the ice cream store. I’d told Sonia that I was going to bring my family by to meet her and have ice cream. Everyone got something except Kathy who doesn’t really like ice cream (crazy!) and I got a double scoop even though I was the only one. The mango and blackberry ice cream were calling to me. Then we were back on the road to San Francisco. It takes about 45 minutes to get there but with our ice cream stop and stopping along the way for photos it took us an hour.
When we arrived in San Francisco a small group of kids from the local school greeted us. They were the unofficial welcoming committee. Kathy got them all to say “Bienvenidos” (welcome) to us. Then we taught them to say it in English. We had stopped near Migdalia’s house and she climbed up the steep hill to take us around to the houses we’d be visiting. She a member of the Directiva (community board) and I’m glad she was able to come with us.
We walked for about 20 minutes to get to the first house. There we met with María whose daughters, Xenia and Aida, are two scholarship students. Xenia is 18 and in her last year of high school and Aida is 16 and is in her second year. The girls weren’t able to be at the house because they live in Berlín during the week with an aunt. Many high school students do this for several reasons. One is that it’s a long way to walk. It’s not easy to walk an hour in this climate on those roads with your school supplies and then try to pay attention in class all day and then walk back home. A second reason is that it’s not safe for young ladies to be walking alone on the canton roads to school. Thus, is easier and safer to stay in Berlín during the week and return home on the weekends.
María told us that her daughters were doing well in school which we know for a fact since we have their grades. They are both struggling with the information and technology classes which are hard for almost all high school students. This is reflected in the grades of all the students receiving scholarships. Both girls wish they had a computer but it’s too expensive. A lot of work for high school is done on the computer which means kids have to pay to use a computer at a cyber café.
Both girls have dreams of going to college but don’t know if it will be possible. Unfortunately, many high school students have hopes of going to college but aren’t able to due to lack of financial resources. Or they may be able to afford tuition but the school is too far away. For kids here in the Berlín area going to college costs $2000 a year (that amount includes tuition and transportation expenses). The closest colleges are in Usulután and San Miguel which are about an hour away driving in the truck. Of course, these kids don’t have cars nor do their parents so they would have to take the bus. Those cities are about 1½ to 2 hours by bus.
Example: Alejandro, Cecilia’s brother, is in college right now has to travel about 1½ to 2 hours every day by bus to and from school. Including transportation, tuitions, exam fees, and other costs he has to pay about $2000 a year. Thankfully, he is supported by a special scholarship from people in the US. He also lives at the Pastoral House during the week so he doesn’t have to walk an additional 30 minutes every morning and night to get to and from the bus stop from his home in Alejandría.
After spending time chatting with María we had to be off to the next home. We each gave her a hug and she gave us some mangoes to eat and izote flowers. The izote flower is the national flower of El Salvador and is used in cooking here. As we left her house and were walking to the next home I saw an izote flower blooming on the tree and got a picture of it. Though I’ve seen them in bloom before I never got a picture of one. We also ran into some people we knew and chatted with them for a few minutes.
Next we arrived at the home of Roxana. She was there with her mother Flor and other siblings. She had been grinding corn when we arrived so we asked if we could go into the kitchen area to help. We all took turns grinding the corn. It’s definitely not an easy thing to do and it gets tiring fast. After we all ground some corn and got photos Flor told us to sit back down so we could talk. Flor was holding her 7-month old baby daughter, Fátima, who is absolutely adorable. And she’s not afraid to be held by gringos which is great.
Roxana lives a little closer to Berlín than Aida and Xenia and she’s able to walk every morning with a group of students that go to school together; there’s safety in numbers. Plus I think the two male high school scholarship recipients walk with them. Roxana is shy but we were able to get a few answers from her about school. She said she really likes math. I told her I thought that was great. We need more women in mathematics. But she is struggling with the technology class. We let her know that everyone has problems with it. She’s also having a hard time with English. But she’s been coming to my community English classes that I teach at the Pastoral House on Sundays so hopefully I can help her a little bit. I told her to bring questions or homework if she needed help with anything in particular.
It was 4pm and we needed to visit the last house so we hugged everyone goodbye. Our final home that we were visiting was Migdalia’s, whose daughter is Glenda. Glenda was still at school as many high school students also have classes in the afternoon (it’s only 1st – 9th grade that go half day). But we chatted with her mom for a while. Glenda is in her 2nd year of high school and doing okay but, like everyone else, struggles with the technology and information classes. She has a sister in 8th grade and a brother in 9th grade who want to go to high school so they will probably need scholarships as well in the future.
After chatting about Glenda, Migdalia brought out coffee and pan dulce for everyone. I turned down the coffee since I’m not a coffee drinker. Kathy got me to take one sip of coffee and my parents got a picture of me drinking it. She said that if I take a sip every time she has coffee then she’ll make a coffee drinker out of me. I don’t think it’s going to happen but we’ll see (we’ll probably forget to do it). I did enjoy the pan dulce. You can’t ever turn down pan dulce.
It was getting close to 5pm and since it’s completely dark by 6:30pm here we needed to start walking home. We said goodbye to everyone and headed back. The walk back wasn’t too bad. When we reached the cemetery we were going to take a motor taxi home so my family could have that experience but the guy was going to charge us $2 per person. That’s the gringo price; it’s usually only $1.75 total for the whole trip from cemetery to the house. We recognized the rip off and decided to walk the rest of the way. We could do it. We made it home safe and sound before 6pm.
Dad loves his ice cream
Walking to San Francisco
Trying to act natural
Here I'm showing how hard it is to walk to San Francisco
A close up of Berlin through the trees
The Welcoming Committee
The main part of San Francisco
Looking up the road to the school and church
Talking to Maria at the first house
They are so cute!
Turkeys in front of the oven used to make bread
Holding the izote flower and a mango from Maria
The family with Maria
Along the way we ran into Amanda and her cousin
The izote tree and flower at the top
More people along the way that we knew
Climbing the mango tree
For some perspective, this is the mango tree the girls are in
in the previous picture. That's the roof of the church
Walking to the second home
Roxana and her sister Fatima
Grinding some corn
You can do it, Mom!
Matt is very domestic
Doing women's work is not easy
Flor (Roxana's mom) in front of her home
Kathy asked this girl, "Are you afraid of me?"
and the girl nodded her head yes
He is not a coffee drinker
Yes, I will try one sip of coffee
Walking back up the hill to the street
Everyone here eats tortillas, even the dogs
Walking back through the cemetery
Very different than cemeteries in the US
Later that night we opened up a bottle of champagne that we’d bought in San Salvador. I really love champagne and wanted to get some to celebrate Matt and my 3-year anniversary that was back on May 17. We opened the bottle, poured out a little bit for everyone, and then called in the ladies. We toasted for our anniversary and also to say “thank you” to the ladies for all they’ve done for us. Then we gave some gifts to the ladies that I’d asked my parents to bring from the US. We just wanted to tell them thank you for everything. In each bag was nail polish, pretty napkins, chocolate, and a princess crown. There was also a present for all the ladies with a paper cutter and some bobble-head Chihuahua dogs (we joke about Chihuahuas a lot). It was fun watching them put on the crowns. Idalia also painted her nails later in the night. Another great end to a great day.
Champagne and the gifts
The ladies were a little taken aback
Opening their gifts
It's a crown!
Idalia with a Chihuahua
One of them lost their head!
But Cecilia was able to fix it
Mom putting Chelita in her little area for the night
(Yes, I know Chelita is a boy)
Barbara laying on her eggs