Sunday, January 21, 2018

What's for Lunch? Yucca.

I walked into the reception area outside of the church administration offices, just to check in and see what everyone's plans were for the day.  The gal that does the cleaning was behind the desk, whacking away at some big pieces of yucca.

"Is it the season for yucca?" I asked.

"Yes," she said, as an accountant looked on.  The accountant was a little worried about the whacking and peeling, suggesting the technique being used was a dangerous.  Well, we all have our own knife techniques, right?

The peeled yucca was placed into a wide aluminum pot.  It needed a good washing, and then it would go over the fire.  "Do you have garlic?" someone asked.  "Garlic and salt - I like my yucca with nothing more than garlic and salt."

When produce is in season, the staff members in the church offices are eager to share the fruits from their trees or the vegetables from their little home gardens with their co-workers.  Yucca is meant to be shared.  It must be prepared shortly after it is harvested.  It is ruined if you try to keep it.

Later, at lunch, everyone was invited to have fresh, hot yucca.  If you like potato, you will like yucca.  You can fry it and serve it with pork rinds and lime.  You can make soup with it.  But yucca purists boil it in salty water with garlic, and eat it just like that.

One time I was with a delegation at one of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church's agricultural sites. The agronomist taught us how to plant, grow and harvest yucca.  The plant can grow from stem cuttings, which are placed horizontally in the ground.  Each nodule produces a stem which grows tall like a tree, sending tubers down into the soil.  The tubers are the part you eat.  When the plants are tall and the tubers are numerous and thick, then it is time for harvesting.

Harvesting yucca is hard work.  First you have to dig deep all around the tubers so that you can lift them up without breaking them.  It is easier to whack off the tall tops of the plants and then to dig.  Once the tubers are pulled free, the stems are cut off and reserved for planting.
After enjoying the delicious yucca at work,  I decided to get some at the store and to make it myself.
 I used a very strong potato peeler and was able to peel my yucca without dangerously wielding a knife.  I did have to put some energy into whacking the long tubers into shorter pieces.   I set the yucca to boil, adding garlic and salt to the water.  It took about 45 minutes for the yucca to get soft

Once the yucca breaks apart, it is ready to eat.  There is a small vein down the center of each tuber which is easy to remove once the yucca is cooked (just pull it and then chew the remaining yucca off, leaving only the skinny vein behind).  I really like plain boiled yucca with salt.  My husband reminded me that I am Norwegian and can easily eat 5 potatoes boiled and mashed with fish (plukfisk, anyone?).  Apparently boiled yucca is a little boring for some people.  To make yucca fries, simply take the boiled yucca, cut it into strips and fry it in oil.

Yucca is a sustaining food.  It is high in fiber, with vitamin C and small levels of potassium and folate.  Mostly, it serves as a good source of carbohydrates - energy to sustain hungry kids and farmers who spend long hours in the hot sun.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Peace Tree

On January 16, 1992, under the supervision of the United Nations, representatives of the Salvadoran government and the FMLN forces came together and signed the Peace Accords, ending the 12-year civil conflict. 

On January 14, 2018, a small congregation gathered for worship on a day dedicated to remembering the peace-work of the past and calling for the young and the old to be "artisans of peace" in the present. 

The congregation and the community long for peace.  Gang boundaries run through the community and orders restrict residents from walking to church, visiting neighbors, and getting together with family who live on "the other side."  In the 1980's, members of this community lived and fought in the mountains, raised their families in hiding, traveled to the city when food ran out, worked, were politically active, and lost their sense of home.  After the Peace Accords were signed, those with weapons laid them down.  Political action replaced the action of the firing pin.  Their struggle for justice continued.  They came from different places and settled together on land which was given to them as a result of the peace agreement, but for which they still do not have legal titles. They struggled to unify themselves as a community.

The gangs moved in shortly after the community formed and took advantage of small divisions and dire poverty.  The community has suffered grave losses.  Young people and older people have been murdered.  Times of stress come and go.  The path to peace is elusive, but the struggle to find it and build it continues.  On Sunday, four war veterans crossed the line.  They gave testimony during worship.  It took guts to rise up against injustice a generation ago.  It took guts to walk across a community on a Sunday morning.

Before the scripture readings, prior to the preaching, the pastor handed each person a wooden medallion.  "God has put it in the heart of our sister to create a symbol of peace today.  Each one of us will add our own medallion to the work, and all together it will be...a tree of peace.  Whether you draw a picture or write some words... you can think about it.  Hold the medallion and don't do anything right away.  Meditate. The word of God and the preaching will speak to you."

Following worship and the testimony, the people in the church created their medallions.  It was silent.  Because the Christmas tree had been put away, the people hung their medallions on a tiny tree at the base of the altar.  Now the Peace Tree stands as testimony to the hopes the dreams and the commitment of the people to be artisans of peace.

Author's Notes:  One day, a woman brought a bunch of craft stuff to my office.  In one of the dusty boxes, I found a zipper bag labeled "65 wood ornaments."  I stuck it in a perpetual "take to El Salvador" bag, noting that 65 of anything crafty has potential for a fun group activity.  Last week we accompanied our Salvadoran pastor on some home visits.  As we met with a few of the community's historic families, the pastor suggested Sunday might be a good time to honor the signing of the Peace Accords and to focus on peace.  I offered to come up with a project (picture my husband giving me an eye-roll at this moment).  As we drove home, I remembered the wood ornaments, and the idea of a Peace Tree popped into my head.  First, I want to thank God for small inspirations.  Second, I thank God for an open-minded pastor who can take a tiny idea and make it into a beautiful experience.  Third, I want to thank whoever donated those wooden ornaments.  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Off the Beaten Path: Peace and Reconciliation Plaza

It might seem a little strange to describe a plaza  with a bright aqua 12-meter high statue located beside a major highway as "off the beaten path," but one year after its inauguration, the Monument to Peace and Reconciliation is still a bit of a hidden treasure for tourists and Salvadorans alike.

Prior to its dedication, Salvadoran opinions on the monument were mixed, and even the artist who came up with the concept design was not exactly happy with the final installation.  During the construction phase, as the bright aqua face of a woman with hair flowing in an imagined breeze peered over the silver construction fence, everyone's curiosity certainly was piqued.  Her completed figure appears as if she is emerging from the ground, and she still sparks curiosity among those who have seen her from the highway shining bright turquoise blue under sun by day and beneath brightly colored lights by night.

The monument is located at the exit from Boulevard Monseñor Romero onto Jerusalem Avenue in Antiguo Cuscatlán.  There are parking places right at the edge of the highway.  A beautifully landscaped path leads from the parking areas up to a tiered plaza.  At the first level, a long, narrow plaque contains the signatures of those who signed the 1992 Peace Accords, including representatives of the government and the FMLN, and UN General Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Steps lead up to the next level which features bronze statues of a female guerrilla fighter and a male soldier walking arm in arm, striding forward toward peace. Their exterior arms are raised as they release a flock of bright aluminum doves.  Behind them, towers the torso of a woman.  She is unclothed except for the leaves vines near her waist, which blend with the live plants that surround her.  Her name is Civis, a Latin word which means citizen. She represents the Salvadoran people, connected to the earth and the sea.  On her right hand she wears a ring, showing her commitment to peace.  Her left index finger points the way to a peaceful future.

The upper tier of the plaza features a mural entitled The Footprints of the Jaguar.  The mural weaves together figures of Salvadoran history and Mayan symbols.  A helpful key identifies each image.

I have visited the site a few times during the past year, with small groups of North Americans and with Salvadorans.  The general consensus is that it is a beautiful, impactful, and educational monument.  I was recently there with a young Salvadoran woman who will soon graduate with a degree in teaching.  "I think all the youth should come here," she said.  "They don't know the reason that this monument exists.  They don't know the story behind the Peace Accords."

The message of the monument is that the past informs the future.  To live in peace we must learn from what has been, reconcile with one another, and walk together toward what will be.

Photos taken by the author from February 2017 - January 2018.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Special Offer

Grocery shopping - one of the first activities one must accomplish upon arrival at one home or another.  We arrived in El Salvador last night.  This morning we went to the Super.

Súper Selectos is a chain grocery store in El Salvador.  Depending on the location, the products and the prices vary a bit, but it's pretty much a one-stop shop for staples, meat, produce, cleaning supplies, household goods, and even underwear.  Savvy shoppers will know which dairy store, which fruit market, which bakery might have things for cheaper prices, but for people without that kind of time or without the inside knowledge of where else to go, the Super is a good choice.

Súper Selectos uses a strategy which is designed to make the shopper feel like he or she is "winning" at shopping.  This highly successful tactic is the Oferta.  

Salvadorans are crazy about special offers.  OK, so admittedly, we are too.  But Salvadorans are famously crazy for the ofertas.  They joke about it all the time.  (Can you believe the Neveria stopped offering 2 for 1 ice cream cones?   Oh wait, that is another story.)

Let's face it:  we are all tempted by the 12-pack of Pilsener beer which has the cool beer mug shrink-wrapped onto the package.  (Did I mention I shop with my husband?)  Shrink-wrap is a staple at the Super.  Want to sell more oatmeal?  Shrink-wrap a plastic cereal bowl with a cow on it to the package.  Want to sell more spaghetti?  Shrink-wrap two packs of spaghetti together with a free can of hot chiles.  (Gosh, that can of hot chiles is still in my cabinet!)

As I was unloading today's purchased ofertas, I decided to snap some pics and write a story.  I should say that we do have a couple of oferta rules:  1) We do not seek out special offers, we let them find us; 2) We do not succumb to offers for things we would not normally purchase (spaghetti is a staple, really); 3) We check prices to make sure oferta especial really is a good offer for the food product; and 4) We check expiration dates.

So, you ask, what special offers found their way into our shopping cart today?

Yes, two boxes shrink-wrapped together for lovely savings.

These are the eggs I like.  I pulled out the box and...

Special bonus:  Free Ketchup!  Who knew?

Needed a few snacks for late afternoon munchies...
Buy 3 and get 4.  Good deal!

In case anyone was curious about the other 2 flavors.
Earlier this year, I was guiding a small delegation and we had to stop at a mall for some reason, and we had extra time.  We decided to to have a Súper Selectos field trip.  The group had fun learning about different foods, comparing prices to US prices, and purchasing treats to take home.  (Súper Selectos actually has a pretty good selection of coffee, chocolate, rosa de jamaica, etc.)  The experience was a springboard for a conversation about global markets and challenges for people who live in poverty (especially in urban settings).

We are very blessed to be able to go to the Super, to chuckle at some of the ofertas and to have some fun while purchasing our food.  Special savings deals and offers are helpful to families, and Súper Selectos publishes daily deals on Facebook and in the papers and offers 10% off fresh produce every Tuesday.  They also place products from small local growers and producers alongside the name brands in an effort to promote the local economy.

The next time you are in El Salvador, you just might want to take a trip to the Super.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Just Click: Christmas Edition

Just a few images from early in the Christmas season, when the focus was clearly a bit more on the shopping and a bit less on the Savior...Feliz Navidad!

Santa Claus even made it to the altar!

Thursday, December 21, 2017


The country was occupied.  Soldiers marched in the streets.  The occupying government ordered the people to report to officials in their home towns.  María and José had no choice.  They had to go.  It didn't matter that they were poor.  It didn't matter that María was pregnant.  The expectant couple  packed up a few belongings for the journey, and they went.  Lots of people were on the move.  When they were close to their destination, Maria went into labor. 

José frantically searched for a room.  He knocked on doors.  No one wanted to let him in.  He was an outsider.  His accent was different.  He was dirty from traveling.  Finally a kind person gave welcome, and guided María and José to an animal stall. 

Was there time to find a midwife?  Maybe José and María were on their own. The baby boy was born and José named Jesús.  There was no crib.  José made a little bed of hay in the feeding trough. 

Emmanuel - God With Us - entered the world as a migrant.

God says, "The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.  I am the Lord your God."  (Leviticus 19:34)
Photo credit:  Tim Muth

Photo credit:  Tim Muth

Monday, December 18, 2017

UN International Migrants Day

Monday, December 18, 2017 has been designated by the United Nations as International Migrants Day.  The following is a litany which I wrote and which we will be using during a vigil and civic action today in front of the ICE office in our city.

Litany for the Vigil

Form a semi-circle.  Each group of 2 can share a page – one person reading Part A and the other person reading Part B. (The idea is to have the people arranged ABABAB…).  Leader A and Leader B will help to guide the group reading.

Group A:  God, bless our feet which have journeyed for so many miles.  Will they take us to a place of safety, a place of welcome, a place to call home?
Group B:  God, give our feet strength to accompany our brothers and sisters who have fled from their homelands, fled from violence, from famine, from persecution.

Group A:  God, bless our legs.  We wait, we stand in lines, we stand beside walls, we stand outside doors. 
Group B:  God, give our legs strength to stand in solidarity, alongside those who wait to find a safe place to rest, a safe place to call home.

Group A:  God, bless our bellies, pregnant with dreams for our families.
Group B:  God, give us courage in our stomachs to defend the rights and dreams of children.

Group A:  God, bless our arms, tired from carrying our children and bundles of few possessions.
Group B:  God, strengthen our arms so we can reach out in welcome.

Group A:  God, bless our hands as we knock on doors, seeking shelter, seeking safety, seeking work.
Group B:  God, give our hands strength to work for justice and to open doors.

Group A:  God, bless our voices as we ask for help, as we ask for refuge, as we ask to be united with our mothers, fathers, sons and daughters
Group B:  God, strengthen our voices to speak words of kindness to newcomers and to defend the rights of families, especially those most in need of care.

Group A:  God, bless our ears to help us understand new languages and new cultures.
Group B:  God, strengthen our ears to help us listen to new stories, new languages and new cultures and to hear and understand words spoken by those who are lost or lonely.

Group A:  God, bless our minds as we struggle to understand new rules, a new bureaucracy, and a new legal system.
Group B:  God, strengthen our minds to help us accompany our new neighbors in their migration journeys.

Together:  God, bless and strengthen our hearts as we work together to support families.  Touch the hearts of law-makers and law-enforcement officials so they make decisions in support of family unity.  Protect mothers and fathers and children, as you protected Mary, Joseph and Jesus who were migrants and refugees in a strange land.