Sunday, October 14, 2018

Saint Romero of the Americas

In honor of the canonization of Archbishop Oscar Romero as a recognized Saint in the Roman Catholic faith, I would like to share a few photos from my collection.  Romero's words, actions and faith inspire Christians and advocates of social justice across boundaries of country, culture and denomination. 

Our very first visit with our Lutheran sister church in El Salvador.  Note the
poster of Archbishop Romero on the front wall.  The community is named
Heroes in the Faith.  The first street in the community is named for Monseñor Romero.

A simple painting of Romero in a community named for Rutilio Grande
Lutheran women from a small rural community visiting Romero's home

Rutilio Grande poster, Fernando Llort boxes,
"Flat Martin" (Martin Luther) in a handmade clay
cup commemorating the 500th anniversary of the
Reformation, and a Romero candle.

Can you identify these 4 men?
Palm Sunday 2018 at our Lutheran Church in El Salvador - Don't kill
Prophet of the people, Mons. Oscar Arnulfo Romero
The history wall at the park of the Monument to Truth and Reconciliation.
Archbishop Oscar Romero is centered among those who set the course
of history in El Salvador.
In 2015, we attended the beatification ceremony for Oscar Romero and you might like to revisit that story today.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Tales of The Grandfather: God Sends Angels

It was during the war.  The Grandfather had been detained several times by the military, but thankfully he had always been released.  The military conducted their operations in the zone, and The Grandfather conducted his operations as well.  His work was the work of the church - to accompany the people and defend their human rights.

One day, The Grandfather went to a small town to check on his people.  A military squad had arrived early, while it was still dark.  The soldiers conducted their "operation" of knocking on doors, pulling people out of their homes, rummaging through people's belongings, tossing belongings into the street, and supposedly looking for weapons.  It was "pure harassment," according to The Grandfather. 

When The Grandfather arrived, soldiers detained him at the edge of town.  The Grandfather tried to convince the soldiers that he had a right to be with the people because he was their pastor.  The soldiers refused to let him pass.  Suddenly a man on a horse appeared as if out of nowhere.  He was riding fast up the road toward the town.  The soldiers shot their weapons up into the air and rushed out to stop the rider.  The horse reared back nearly tossing the rider to the ground.  "Why are you riding so fast?" yelled the soldiers.  "You cannot ride like that on this road." 

The soldiers told the rider to get down so they could check his papers.  In the meantime, The Grandfather spoke to the rider.  "When you get back on your horse, don't do what they say.  Don't go slowly. Ride as fast as you can down that side road beyond the far edge of town.  Over the next hill there is an assembly of United Nations trucks.  Tell the people of the United Nations exactly this:  'The Lutheran pastor sent me.  The Lutheran pastor has urgent need of your presence in the next town over.'  Do you understand?" asked The Grandfather.  The horse rider said he understood.

When the soldiers came back, they told the rider he was free to go.  The Grandfather was told to stay where he was.  The rider rode off on the road to the far side of town. 

The soldiers asked The Grandfather, "What were you talking to him [the horseman] about?"

"Oh," chuckled The Grandfather, "He is an old friend - a farmer from the region up the hill.  I haven't seen him for a long time.  We were just catching up on things."  The soldiers continued their operation of harassment, while The Grandfather was kept outside of town.

Not more than one hour later, a convoy of United Nations vehicles pulled into town from the far side.  The military ceased its operation and left.  "We received word that a Lutheran pastor needs our help," said the leader of the United Nations brigade. 

"That's me," said The Grandfather. 

The rider had disappeared as quickly as he had appeared.  No one ever learned who he was or from where he came. 

"God always sends angels when we need them," says The Grandfather, "Eh?"  The Grandfather smiles and slaps my arm.  I smile and agree. 

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
Psalm 91

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Just Click: Flags of September Give Way to Winds of October

There were many sights this past month that did not get captured for posterity.  The reality is that sometimes it is a little too dangerous to pull out a phone to snap a pic.  More often, however, it simply seems too rude to take a photo.  I frequently identify something as odd or funny or extraordinary because it is culturally different from things I identify as "normal" in my native country.  And, there are plenty of times when something stands out as photo-worthy to me and my Salvadoran friends as we travel the roads together...

These little chicken trucks have suddenly appeared on the streets of San Salvador.  The box part is built on the back of one of those 3-wheel taxis.  When itturns a corner it looks like it will just topple over.
The bridge on the longitudinal highway is still under construction, a year
after a flash flood wiped it out.  So, that means...

You have to drive on a dirt path through the river, unless it's raining.  Then you just can't go this way.

Speaking of rain, check out the motorcycle in the middle of this city street
during a typical September downpour.
Aces Hardware and a US Interstate logo advertising what I think is a specialty bakery featuring puddings and other treats.  Borrowing USlogos is not uncommon.
Rice drying on the road.  It is still in its husk.

Once dry, the rice is swept up and put into bags.

The rice is loaded on a truck and taken to the mill where the husks are removed.
There are so many odd things tied to the tops of cars and trucks...
Happy Civic Month!  The torogoz is El Salvador's national bird.
Last patriotic parade...until next September! (Yes, the main road to the north was closed again!)

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Creativity, Technology, Opportunity and Alligators

As the school year begins in the US, students in El Salvador are into their last 6 weeks of classes.  September brings a focus on history and patriotism.  October is the month of the child.  November is graduation month.  For older students, these last months of school are filled with many special celebrations which makes it even more challenging to complete group projects, present graduation projects and theses, pass examinations and secure good evaluations.

The parades and cultural events are super fun.  The students are nervous but love seeing the photos of themselves and their friends in costumes, dancing, making music and marching.  Sometimes I am frustrated by the amount of time these events take away from coursework (at all levels).  As a former teacher, for me, it is a greater honor to receive an invitation to share in special, end-of-school-year scholastic events with Salvadoran families.  Proud parents are truly joyful when guests from their sister church can see first-hand the accomplishments of their children.
Opening assembly for incoming students
Today we went to a Technical Industrial High School with a very proud dad and his son.  It was registration day for next year's incoming class, and the graduating seniors were on sight to share their final projects with the new students and their parents.  We had a great time walking around campus, checking out the different teaching areas, and most of all, talking with students about their projects.

Students in the automotive mechanics course building
small racers for a competition.
The few hours we spent engaged in conversation with tech students was really energizing.  The young people we met were very professional in presenting their projects.  We went from group to group, asking questions (and my husband who is kind of a techno-nerd asked some great questions).  These kids were up for the challenge!  Even when they encountered glitches, the kids handled themselves very well.

Students in this group developed a cool phone app for controlling the car.
Don't want to say too much - this idea has serious marketing potential.
An award-winning project for a sophisticated
security system. 
One word to describe this school visit:  impressive.  We asked the staff and our guide about employment opportunities.  The top students in the classes receive invitations to work at businesses that have relationships with the school.  Several students work half days and study half days (which is not typical of Salvadoran high school students). Given that multiple generations of families have sacrificed much in order for their children to attend this school, it seems like the results for continued education and employment are good.

Industrial arts machines
The school mascot is the alligator.  And, sort of surprisingly, the school keeps 2 live alligators as mascots!  The mascots have lived in the school courtyard since at least 1968.  Apparently the alligators are a big help with discipline at the school.  Normally, they just wallow in the mud or sun themselves in the grass.  However, if a couple of students are disagreeing with one another and tension is heating up, the alligators sense this and they start growling and making a fuss! 

If you look very carefully, you can see an alligator in the
grass near the yellow plant.

The school mascot is very prominently displayed at the entrance.
We observed that while boys still outnumber girls in the school, many of the project groups were led by girls.  In a country in which there is much discrimination against women in the workplace, it was heartening to see boys and girls working well together and girls taking on leadership roles in the work and presentations.

For security reasons, I do not include faces of students.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ecumenical Women for Peace

I was once at a conference during which Sister Joan Chittister made a statement which I remember as:  if women were in charge of war, the tank would be followed by the milk truck.  Sister Joan's point was that women think differently than men. 

Earlier this week, my husband and I participated in a worship service dedicated to the upcoming sanctification of Beato Monseñor Oscar Romero.  The worship was led by women. 

Ecumenical Women for Peace is a grass roots group of female religious leaders in El Salvador.  The group formed a few years ago during a peace conference and the women continue to gather in support of one another, to share Bible Study and to praise God together.   They meet in each other's houses of worship, taking turns preaching and presiding.

The Anglican Church hosted the latest worship.  My husband received the invitation through the election observer network.  I received it from the leader of the women's group.  There were a few men in attendance, including the Anglican Bishop and the Lutheran Bishop.  Four women formed the choir, and they were a force!  The liturgy was blended from the denominations that use liturgy.  The Anglican priest presided. 

The Baptist preacher was awesome. I should have taken notes.  She spoke about the passage in Revelation 22 which describes the vision of people washing clothes, clean and happy.  The pastor posed the question, "Who has to wash their clothes?" -- those who work and get dirty, those who hang out with those who work and get dirty.  Jesus had dirty clothes.  The pastor reflected on the struggles of Jeremiah and the words of Jesus stating that a "prophet is not welcomed in his home town."  God does not send prophets to proclaim "everything's OK."  God sends prophets in troubled times.  Romero was sent by God as a prophet to be a light during dark and troubled times.  What times do we live in now?  Perhaps these are the times when women are called to be prophets, when women are called to wash their clothes, when women are called to shed light in the darkness and work for peace.

The Words of Institution were proclaimed by two women from two faith traditions at one table.  All were invited to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Everyone went forward.  To me, this seemed like a pretty big deal:  Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, Baptist, Baptist Elim, Methodist and Roman Catholic women celebrating at one table.  They take turns preaching.  They take turns presiding.  They take turns hosting.  They pray together.  They study scripture and doctrine together.

I am sure they have their differences, but everyone took communion.  I whispered to my husband:  "This is what it would be like if women ran the church." 

Isaiah 55
 Ho, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
    listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.
See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
    a leader and commander for the peoples.
See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
    and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has glorified you.
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
    and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
    and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12 For you shall go out in joy,
    and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall burst into song,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
    for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Way Off the Beaten Path: The Fishpond of the Wife of Mr. Napo

Are you already laughing at the title?  The English translation of the name of this little gem of a place is not as beautiful as the name in Spanish:  Pecera La Teca de Don Napo.  

Naturally, there is a story about the name.  This somewhat remote property in Chalatenango is the family home of Napoleon, his beloved wife (who he affectionately called "Teca"), and their children. One member of the younger generation is a trained chef, and it was his family's idea to rekindle the spirit of the place in which families can spend time together.  In the middle of the compound you can see the original adobe home and a framed photo of don Napo.  Surrounding the home you will find a first class restaurant, two tilapia ponds, gardens, a resting pier on one of the ponds and a playground for children -- a peaceful retreat where guests can enjoy a little bit of nature and delicious food. 

We went for lunch on a Thursday with a friend and her son.  Our friend had learned about this place from some work colleagues and it was "her dream" to someday experience its beauty and food.  This was a good time to go for a quiet, personal experience.  The sound system and juke box are revved up for the weekend. 

You will not find Pecera La Teca de Don Napo on Google maps, but a phone call to the owners will provide you with good directions.  Once you exit the Longitudinal Highway outside of the City of Chalatenango, you travel some distance down a bumpy gravel road.  You will eventually see a sorry little sign, and after doubting that you are actually on the right road and asking various children and old men if you are headed in the right direction, you veer to the right at the drainage ditch, cross a little concrete bridge and take the right fork in the road and there you are! 

We ate fish...of course!  I have to say, my fried tilapia bathed in onions was the most delicious fish I have ever eaten in El Salvador, and maybe ever.  Expertly seasoned with just a bit of kick.  The prices were very reasonable, and the staff was kind and friendly.  I asked the owners if they have guests from other countries, and surprisingly they rattled off a long list of visits from Spain, Australia, Scandinavia and more.  A large micro or coaster could not make the drive, but a decent car, SUV, pick-up or smaller micro can easily make the drive, even in the rainy season.

So, if you need a little relax time while you are hanging out in Chalate, I highly recommend Pecera La Teca de Don Napo.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Testing the Water

Don't drink the water.  Don't brush your teeth with the water.  Don't open your mouth in the shower.

Perhaps you have been in El Salvador and received these cautions.  Perhaps you have learned that Salvadorans suffer the effects from living in a region in which nearly 100% of the surface water is contaminated with human and animal feces and agro and industrial chemicals.  Perhaps you have experienced a day or more in El Salvador during which the municipal system did not function, and you had no access to water.  Added to the environmental and systemic issues, the interests of private companies which sell water in plastic bottles or use water to make bottled beverages (Coca-Cola) have made it nearly impossible for El Salvador to make progress in cleaning up its water mess.

The fight to pass a holistic water protection bill continues, as do the negative effects contaminated water have on the health of the Salvadoran people.  In the midst of the struggle, there are some signs that community leaders, public health clinics and ANDA (the public water system that many Salvadorans call a private company) are beginning to work together to improve the quality of the water that flows into homes and communities.

We recently had the opportunity to observe the collection and initial testing of water samples from a small community in the northern part of the Department of San Salvador.  The testing team consisted of a community health promoter, and a member of the community water council.  A few (or perhaps several) years ago, the community homes received water from springs and rain water from the nearby mountains.  The mountain water was collected in cisterns so it could be used throughout the year.  The residents say it was tasty and pure, but it is hard to evaluate that anecdotal analysis.  The cisterns were closed and ANDA (the National Association of Aqueducts and Sewers) installed a municipal system.  With that came the metering of water, and water bills, and chlorinating of the water.  The new testing program monitors chlorine levels, chemicals and bacteria in the water.

The heath promoter turned on the tap and let it run for a minute or so.  Then
he filled a small test tube up to the marking line.
Five drops of orthotolidine change the color of the water sample to yellow.

This is the color comparison chart which is used to
visually determine the level of chlorine in the water sample.

The level at this site was 1.0 mg/L (within the normal range of 0.5 and 1.5 mg/L)

The next step was to collect two clean samples of water to test for other
types of contaminants (at a chemical laboratory).  The small jar with the
green lid contains isopropyl alcohol.  The two sample jars are sterile and sealed.

The health promoter carefully cleaned the tap outside and and inside.  

The water council representative ignited a cotton ball which had been soaked in alcohol.

The health promotor passed the fire over and under and inside the brass faucet. 
This is one reason they selected this home as a consistent test site, because
it has a metal faucet.

After running the water for a bit, the promoter carefully
collected the samples

The water council rep assisted by carefully putting the tops
 onto the sample jars.

I took the opportunity to check the pila for mosquito larvae - and
if you look closely you can see the bag of permethrin. (This water
is used for washing clothes, dishes and people, but should not be used for cooking)

All of the paperwork for the testing was completed at the local public health clinic.
The samples will be delivered to the lab for testing. 

Paperwork was completed by 9 AM.  The team from the clinic and members of the community water council headed off to the ANDA training center for a cooperative learning event of some kind. 

Back at the test site, the health promoter told us that studies are being held to determine if above-normal levels of chlorine in drinking water could be a factor in the high level of renal insufficiency in the Salvadoran population.  I am no expert, but I imagine the high levels of chemical use in agriculture and long periods of hard work in the hot sun without access to sufficient amounts of drinking water play a much more significant role in the high incidence of kidney disease in El Salvador than slightly elevated levels of chlorine in the water system.  Still, it is good to see that efforts are being made to provide safe water to families and that small efforts of cooperation are taking place with holistic teams in an effort to ensure Salvadorans right to safe, potable water.