Friday, September 30, 2011

Because it’s September 30th

Things at school often don’t get communicated well. And many times I really don’t think it’s because I’m not understanding the Spanish. Sometimes I feel like people talk in a really convoluted manner. Or they assume that I should know something. Whatever the case, I again missed the part of the conversation where we wouldn’t be having classes today. Yesterday the director explained that some of the teachers weren’t going to have class because they’d be marching. When I asked Cecilia’s son about this he responded that it was because it was September 30th. Okay, I’m not sure what that means.

So I showed up at school today with all my teaching materials and ready to teach. I walked into my 2nd grade class and the teacher told me that we weren’t going to be having class because the whole school was going to the park. When I asked why she said it was because it’s September 30th. She must have seen the confused look on my face because then she went on to explain that it was the last day of Independence month. So we were going to have the closing ceremony of the month.

After the 7:30 bell rang the entire school filed outside to the street and got in formation. Together we marched to the park in the town center where we were joined by the other schools in Berlín. Like the other ceremonies we’ve had this month the Salvadoran flag was marched to the stage and the national anthem was played. Someone spoke for a while about Independence month and then the performances commenced. Four or five different groups danced for everyone. By now I’d seen all the groups except for one that was new to me. But I still enjoyed watching them.

The ceremony ended a little over an hour later. After that people just kind of wandered around for a while. Then the little kindergarten band played out on one of the streets. Following them was the band from the girl’s school and the band from the boy’s school. Finally the band from the high school performed. During this time some of the kids watched while others just ran around the park. No one stayed with their own class, and several kids went to buy food from various vendors around the park.

Eventually it was time to head back to school. Miraculously, all the 2nd grade students I walked to the park with showed up when their teacher and I started walking back. No one from the school walked back in formation but rather in clumps. I’m not even sure if all the students went back to the school. The only reason the 2nd grade students that I walked to the park with went back was to get their things. Then everyone was headed home. That included me. Happy end of Independence month!

Pretty in pink

I love these dresses

Lovely ladies

Haven't seen this group before

Nice bull

Take my picture!

Dancing away

She was adorable

Quite a crowd

Twirling and spinning

A fun group to watch

Toreador and the bull

Marching the flag offstage

Some of the teachers from my school

The girl's school

Photo please!

Having fun

Girl's marching band! Yay!

In front of the church

The street was packed

Playing on a platform in the park


Very cool

Pretty sure they weren't
supposed to be playing on this

I always love my school's band

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Christian's funeral

We got bad news today as we were on our way to the patron saint festival in Alegría. We heard that someone died in a car accident yesterday. It was Christian, someone who works for the Catholic Church and often is the driver for the priests. He was driving Father Cándido’s car when he had the accident. I’m not sure what exactly happened. He was young, probably about my age. And I’d met him a couple times. The mass and the burial were going to be today at 2pm. I wasn’t for sure who was going to do the mass. I know Christian was close with the priests at the church so I’m sure it would be difficult for any of them.

We heard the bells ringing the way they do when someone has died or a funeral mass is about to start. It’s a slow, gloomy ring that everyone in town recognizes. Blanca, Cecilia, and I walked to the church. By the time we got there it was completely packed and there was standing room only. We stood at the back of the church. As we were walking in I saw the gym teacher of the boy’s school where I work standing close to the entrance. He was crying. As I walked by I heard someone ask, “Era su alumno?” (Was he your student?). The gym teacher just nodded his head.

As I looked around the church I recognized several people. There were teachers from my school, students, people from the cantons, and many others. The mass was longer than any of the funeral masses I’d been to before. Father Jacobo said most of the mass, including the homily, but Father Santos also spoke briefly. The usual funeral songs, including “Entre Tus Manos” were sung. When the mass ended people were able to go up to the front to look at the body. Like most caskets here, there was a window at the top so people could see his face. Neither Blanca nor Cecilia wanted to go up.

But I did want to go up to the front. I walked up by myself. There were lots of other people around looking in the casket. I looked inside. He didn’t look like I remembered. Not because they’d made him up differently than in life, but because you could tell his soul had left his body. Also, most of the time here the deceased don’t have on makeup or have their appearances altered after death like in the US. So you could tell that he’d been in an accident of some kind. His right eye was still blue and there were visible cuts on his face. There was also the white cloth in his mouth that’s put in to keep the smell of the formaldehyde injection from seeping into the air.

After about 15 minutes they closed the casket. Several men picked it up and carried it down the aisle to the pickup truck waiting outside. The truck was filled with flowers and music was playing from the speakers on the outside of the truck. The casket was lifted into the truck and it began the slow procession to the cemetery. People from the church followed behind the casket as well as people who’d been waiting outside the church in the park.

As we walked, Blanca and I talked about looking at people’s bodies after they died. Blanca said she does not like to look in the coffin, and she said she prefers not to see dead bodies. She asked if I always looked in the coffin at funerals. I said that I did. I told her that when my grandma died when I was very young I climbed up next to the casket and leaned inside to rearrange my grandmother’s necklace. I feel comfortable looking at people after they’ve died. I guess that’s why I focused on gerontology and end of life care in my grad school program.

As we continued to walk I thought about the funerals I’ve been to in El Salvador. This is the fifth one that I’ve attended. I went to Jesús’ funeral in Río de los Bueyes. I attended the funeral of someone from Santa Cruz who died in a car accident in San Salvador. I went to the funeral of Benigno who was from La Llanes. In August was the funeral of Elmer Antonio from El Recreo who died in a car accident. And today’s funeral made number five.

When we reached the cemetery we stood outside while more songs were sung. Then we passed through the gates and waited until people began to carry the casket to the gravesite. As we were waiting I glanced over toward the entrance and saw someone sitting on the ground crying. He was surrounded by young men who gave him water to drink. I couldn’t tell who it was until he got up to walk to the gravesite. It was Father Santos. He was crying. I was completely taken aback. It was awful seeing him so grief stricken. Blanca gave him a hug as he passed by us.

It was foggy as we walked to the gravesite. We didn’t get really close but could hear when they started to fill the hole. Someone began to cry. We stayed to talk to a few people for a while. It was nearing 5pm when we decided to head back to the house. It started to sprinkle as we walked home. The earth seemed to be sad. It was a difficult day.

Alegría Patron Saint Festival – Saint Michael

Thursday, 9-29-11

Today was the patron saint festival in the nearby town of Alegría. It was a 20 minute bus ride to get to Alegría from Berlín. Along the way I asked the ladies who the patron saint of Alegría was. They told me it was San Miguel Archángel (Saint Michael the Archangel). I will now shamefully admit that I knew didn’t know a lot about Saint Michael until I looked up more info on the internet:

In Hebrew his name means “who is like God?” Saint Michael is an archangel in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic tradition. He is the guardian of the Catholic Church and protector of the Jewish people. He is viewed as the commander of the Army of God. Saint Michael is mentioned by name in the Book of Daniel, the Book of Jude, and in the Book of Revelation, in which he leads God’s armies against the Devil’s forces during his uprising.

Following Scriptural passages, Christian tradition gives to St. Michael four offices: 1) To fight against Satan; 2) To rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death; 3) To be the champion of God’s people, the Jews in the Old Law, the Christians in the New Testament. Therefore he was the patron of the Church, and of the orders of knights during the Middle Ages; 4) To call away from earth and bring men’s souls to judgment.

Saint Michael the Archangel

When we arrived in Alegría we quickly walked over to the church. As we went inside we could see that it was packed with standing room only. We found a place to stand over by the wall. In the main aisle down the center of the church I could see that there was some kind of grass on the ground. I went over to check it out. As I was looking down the aisle a priest walked over to me to ask where I was from. I told him that I lived in Berlín and was from the United States.

So for the next 15 minutes we chatted about religion, teaching English, the Salvadoran culture, and food. I really enjoyed talking to him and was surprised he spent so much time talking to me. I felt very honored. Soon it was time for the mass to start. He asked me to hold his stole while he put on some of his vestments. Before I went back to join the Pastoral Team I asked why the grass was on the floor down the center aisle. He smiled and told me it was just decoration. Then he said, “Es psicológico” (It’s psychological). I laughed. That was the last thing I expected to hear from a priest.

I walked back to where Blanca, Cecilia, and Balmore were standing as the mass started. The bishop from Santiago de Maria was saying mass. I’ve heard him before and he’s often kind of funny during parts of the homily. He was today as well, but today the homily was close to an hour long. I’m not sure I’ve ever listened to that long of a homily before. My legs were definitely getting tired from standing but the mass was still enjoyable. I especially liked the music during the mass. I recognized several of the songs and was able to sing along.

When the mass was over we didn’t stay too long in Alegría. It had started to rain. I got some french fries and water while we waited for the bus. We browsed through a couple shops at the bus stop area. And when the bus arrived we hopped on and headed back for Berlín. I realize that many times I end my blog with something like, “It was a good day” or “It was a good experience.” I guess I think that anytime I come away from an event and have learned something new, I consider it a good thing and a good day. So today was another good day.

Mass about to start

Standing at the back

The place was packed

Saying mass

*I should point out here that the ladies told me it was okay to take this quick picture so long as I didn't use a flash.

The church in Alegria in May

The inside of the church

The front of the church

The side chapel in the church

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bicentennial Artistic Festival

Tuesday, 9-27-11

I taught no classes today because we were having a Bicentennial Artistic Festival at school. I was a little confused as to why this was the “Bicentennial” Festival since El Salvador’s Independence Day was September 15, 1821. So we’ve still got 10 years to go. I asked Cecilia about this and she said it was because the first “cry of independence” was in 1811. Since I’m really interested in Salvadoran history I did a little looking on the internet and here’s what I found:

“Towards the end of 1811, a combination of internal and external factors motivated Central American elites to attempt to gain independence from the Spanish Crown. The most important internal factor was the desire of local elites to control the country’s affairs free of involvement from Spanish authorities. The main external factors motivating the independence movement were the success of the French and American revolutions in the eighteenth century, and the weakening of the Spanish Crown’s military power as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, with the resulting inability to control its colonies effectively.

On the 5th of November 1811, Salvadoran priest José Matías Delgado rang the bells of Iglesia La Merced in San Salvador, calling for insurrection and launching the 1811 Independence Movement. This insurrection was suppressed and many of its leaders were arrested and served sentences in jail. Another insurrection was launched in 1814, and again it was suppressed. Finally, on September 15, 1821, in light of unrest in Guatemala, Spanish authorities capitulated and signed the ‘Acta de Independencia’ (Deed of Independence) which released all of the Captaincy of Guatemala (comprising current territories of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica and the Mexican state of Chiapas) from Spanish rule and declared its Independence.” (Gracias, Wikipedia).

Today I showed up at school not knowing what to expect. I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen during the “artistic events” that they said would be happening. But the day before several of the teachers told me that they were going to be making pupusas and that they’d teach me how to make them. Now, although I’m made pupusas a few times in the past, I still was pretty bad at making them. So when I showed up today I went to go look for the food area. Sure enough, many of the teachers were there preparing to make pupusas.

I rinsed my hands, put a little oil on them, and was ready to begin. Milagro got me some masa (dough) and showed me how to shape it into a disk in my hands. Then you add a little of the filling (beans, cheese, loroco) and close up the masa around the filling. From there you shape the masa into a disk again, like a tortilla, and lay it on the stove. This sounds really easy but somehow it’s a bit more complicated than that. Everyone has their own way of making pupusas so as I was making my own I watched the others hand to see how they were doing it. I could tell one woman made them a lot and I watched in awe as she skillfully and rapidly made one pupusa after another.

I got better as I went along and although I’m nowhere near as good as many of the women in this country are I now feel confident that I too can make pupusas. And I made about 40 of them. But soon I saw that dancers and other bands were beginning to arrive. The teachers told me that I could go watch and take pictures. First I went to go wash my hands because by then my hands were covered in oil and masa. Then I checked out what the other teachers were selling: oranges, jocotes, little sandwiches, enchiladas. All the proceeds were going to help with the computer lab that’s been built at my school. It’s the very first one the school’s had and all the kids are now starting to receive computer classes. I got some pupusas since I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet and then I found a place to sit.

The masa for pupusas

Putting the cheese into a guacal

Adding the filling

Making it into a disk

There's mine

I did it!

Cutting up oranges

More pupusas

The woman in the middle is an expert

Little sandwiches


The man second in charge to the director at my school, Eduardo, made some announcements before everything got started. People from my school, other schools, parents, teachers, and some people from the city came to watch the festival. I chatted with the kids around me until my school’s band came marching down the stairs to play in the cancha (the big, cement area that serves as a gym at my school). The band at the boy’s school is mostly 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. They performed several pieces for the audience. I love listening to the group play. Even though they are a little flat at times they really seem to love playing. And I think that is most important.

After them came several different dance groups from schools around Berlín. The main schools in Berlín are the public boy’s school (Dr. Alonso Reyes Guerra) and public girl’s school (Meardi), which are both 1st to 9th grade, and the public high school (Prof. Gabriel Humberto Rodriguez), which is 2-3 years (like 10th – 12th grade) depending on the track the student takes. There is also a public kindergarten in Berlín. Then there is the private Catholic school which is 1st to 9th grade. Lastly, there are the 4 marginalized schools around Berlín which have significantly less students and money than the other schools and are located farther away in some of the colonias: La Chicharra, Brisas del Sol, El Mono, and Bob Graham. There are also some schools in the cantons, but they have even less resources than the marginalized schools.

Sitting underneath the sign

These girls wanted their picture taken

Waiting for the festival to begin

Here comes the band

Marching onto the cancha

Lookin' good!

The first dance group were 8 girls from the girl’s school. They danced in multicolored dresses holding onto comales with fake tortillas glued to them. A comal is an earthenware plate used for cooking tortillas, pupusas, or other typical food in El Salvador. The dance they did involved a part where they kneeled on the ground and rhythmically moved their hands as if making tortillas and putting them on the comal.

Dancing in a circle

Holding onto their comales

Next came a dance group from the Bob Graham school. I remember seeing them perform on Independence Day. They did the Dance of the Sopilotes. The word sopilote means “vulture.” Several boys were dressed up like vultures and the girls had on bright oranges dresses. At one point during the dance one of the sopilotes died and the others carried him away. The music was quiet and solemn. Then he was suddenly resuscitated and they sang about him being alive again.

Dance of the Sopilotes

Poor sopilote died

He's alive!

Walking back up the stairs

Then marched a group of a little more than 20 little boys from the Kindergarten school dressed in band uniforms and carrying a variety of percussion instruments. I was surprised that they were able to stay in formation as they walked. The group began playing and I was even more surprised how well there were able to play. I could tell that there were playing actual songs. There were two little girls dancing in front of the band that were pretty cute as well. At one point a group of 8 kids put down their instruments and made a line in front of the group to sing. I took a ton of pictures of them.

Here come the little kindergarteners

So adorable!

They did a good job of staying in formation

And they played well!

Singing and dancing

After that was a dance group from the Catholic school. The group included kids that represented coffee farmers, folklore characters, and modern day children. Some of the kids were dressed all in white and I’m not sure who they were supposed to represent. They had a couple props for their dance which included a little “hill” that Cipitío hid behind and a statue of his long-breasted mother, Sihuanaba. Yes, even the Catholic Church here accepts Salvadoran folklore. And at the very beginning of the dance one of the kids actually threw/released a dove into the air. It was fun to watch.

The Catholic school kids are up next

There's Sihuanaba

The modern day kids are sitting on the ground

Coffee dancers

With the boys now

Hula hoop time

Taking a bow

Following them was another group from the Bob Graham School. There were 4 boys and 4 girls doing a dance. The girls had on little blue and white dresses with the shield of El Salvador on them. The boys had white shirts and pants with little colorful patchwork pieces sewn on. They were adorable when they danced. Then came another group from the Catholic school. This time it was older girls all dressed in beautiful blue and white dresses. The skirts of the dresses were very full and the girls held onto them as they twirled. Later, three guys holding lit torches came out to join the girls in their dance.

Waiting their turn

I love their outfits!

Having a lot of fun

Beautiful dresses

The guys with their torches

Twirling here and there

Then three little girls from the Kindergarten School got up in front of everyone to dance. I could tell that one girl was definitely the leader of the group, and the other two girls watched her as they danced. I remember I started thinking that the red and black outfits of the little girls were what I considered kind of sexualized, especially for 5-year olds. For a moment I wondered if this was cultural considering what seems to be a high rate of teen pregnancy and general lack of discussion regarding anything sexual. But then I thought about the outfits I wore for my dance recitals; they weren’t too dissimilar. (My thoughts about the clothing choices of young girls here is going to wait for another blog).

Kindergarten dancers

The girl in the middle is the leader

Up next was the band from the local high school, the Instituto Nacional. Their band is larger than the boy’s school band with more instruments and percussion. I know their songs well since I often hear them practicing late into the night at the high school. There were boys and girls in the band which is always good to see. There were even a few girls playing percussion. Their group played about 15 minutes before marching back up the stairs.

The high school band arrives

Playin' loud

I love the percussion section

All about the brass

I wasn’t sure what school the next group was from. They had on the more traditional dresses that I usually see at these kinds of events. They really seemed to be having a good time as they danced. Following them was a small dance group from the canton of San Francisco. They were the only dance group from one of the cantons to perform at the festival. They only danced one brief number but I was glad they were able to come and perform.

I really want a dress like this

The group from San Francisco

Having a fun time

The dance after that was a more modern dance performed by girls from the Catholic school. They all had on pink shirts and jeans. There was quite a bit of whistling and shouting going on by the boys in the crowd during their dance which always makes me want to start whapping them upside the head and ask where their manners are, but I managed to refrain myself. It probably wouldn’t be good publicity for the school if a white teacher started hitting the students. But in all seriousness, the lack of respect that many young men (and adults) here have for women has always concerned and distressed me. But that too is another blog for another day.

Pretty in pink

They had a more modern dance

The boy’s school band came to perform one more time for the crowd. When they’d finished one of the last groups came to perform. They were seven girls from the girl’s school. The group did a wonderful job and their yellow dresses were very unique. The last group was from the high school and they did a modern dance. It reminded me of the way you see high schoolers dancing at winter formals or proms. What I found even more amusing were the spectators. A small group of guys got up to take pictures of the dancers during their performance.

When they’d finished Eduardo took the microphone once more to thank everyone for coming and all the students for their performances. I went to say goodbye to the teachers and thank them for teaching me how to make pupusas. I had a good time making them and watching the groups perform. It was another fun day at school.

Boy's school band again

Ta da!

Coming down the stairs

What fun dresses!

They did a wonderful job

Dancing together

The high schoolers and their modern dance

Some of the spectators

Oh, this takes me back
(Seriously, it's been 10 years)

Nice. Taking pictures.

Part of the audience

There was quite a crowd

The place was packed