Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Right to Eat

The vegetable lady is at the door with her granddaughter. She comes each day. Today the onions are already gone, but she does have 2 nice cucumbers and a tomato. Julia gives her a couple of dimes and off she goes to pick up an older grandchild from school. Earlier in the day, Julia had acquired a bunch of pitos from a local tree. Pitos are flower buds, like little pods, and you harvest them by cutting bundles of small branches from the tree. Today's lunch will be torta de pito.

We sit down together to clean the pitos. Pull the buds off of the branches, pull the protruding stamens out of the flowers, toss the unused parts onto the dirt for the chickens. We chat and struggle to keep our eyes open in the oppressive midday heat. I wonder who first thought to eat these skinny flower pods which taste a lot like green beans.

Julia knows how to make a lot of different foods from leaves, pods, flowers and fruits which grow in the countryside. Soon it is time to make the tortas: chopped onion, chopped pitos, chopped tomato, egg, shredded meat and probably some other secrets go into the bowl and with a little hand mixing and forming, the tortas (like meatballs) are ready to go into the frying pan. Pretty soon we are sitting at the table together, enjoying the most delicious meatball tortas with tomato gravy and tortillas.

Then it is time to feed the dogs. Julia grabs the a big orange plastic bowl and reaches into the plastic food container which she keeps in the middle of the table (so the animals cannot reach it) and pushes aside an egg and half an onion to pull out the last of the chorizo.

Two days before, we had gone to the little corner store by the church before walking Julia's grandson to school. That was when we bought the chorizo. I wondered what new recipe Julia would be making with the chorizo. This was not something she had used in cooking during our many times together. On that day, after we had eaten dinner, she pulled out the big blue plastic bowl and filled it with broken up tortillas, some leftovers and some still-warm coffee water she had heated on the stove. She pulled out the little tube of chorizo and squeezed about a third of it into the bowl. With her hands she mushed it all up, squeezing the water and chorizo and leftovers into the tortillas.

"Some people do not take the time to feed their dogs. They say they don't have enough food. But I believe that all of God's creatures have an equal right to eat, don't they?" She waited for my answer.

Julia put the smaller share of freshly made dog food into a bowl for Pirate, her male watch dog. The big orange bowl went to Princess, the mama dog who is nursing a new litter of puppies. Julia said she will give the puppies away as presents to people who will love them.

I have been with Julia during times when the dogs were fed the only food available: tortillas. During the times when there is more food, when she can buy a little chorizo, Julia often feeds the dogs plain tortillas so that "they don't become accustomed to only rich food and can survive as dogs who live in poverty."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

God's Little Boys

Each Mission of Healing begins with a healing worship - a time of baptism, first communion, confirmation and thanksgiving in anticipation of the week of healing to come. In anticipation of this special week, sometimes parents have asked to have their small babies or children baptized. Sometimes older children or teens have asked to receive their first communion and to be confirmed. Each year, the pastor and the community prepare for this special day of celebration and spiritual healing.

This year babies, elementary school students, younger teens, and older teens were welcomed into a new place in their faith journeys...all boys. A couple of groups of friends; a couple of groups of brothers. Each one had managed to find a white shirt of some kind. One little guy had a decorated candle, and one had white gloves and fancy epaulets on his shirt.

The babies were baptized first. One is a miracle baby, whose mom found out that she was pregnant with him just a few days after her oldest son was murdered by carjackers. The other, a treasured blessing and son of one of the doctors who helps every year with the Mission of Healing.

The next to approach the font, one by one, were a family of three brothers. The oldest one wrote these words in a recent letter:

It was a very joyful day in our family, and now we are new people. Now I feel more committed with the church and I try to be better each day. On that Sunday, after worship, we had the opportunity to get together with the delegation that was visiting us. Now I feel happy to have had this great passage in my life and now I am happy to have my new objective to study more and participate more in the activities of the community, guided by our appreciated pastor.

And then a special family was invited forward. The pastor explained that he had been working with the parents and their son who has special needs. I watched as a shy boy came forward; behind him walked his little brother, all smiles. The little brother walked slowly, leading his mom and dad, both of whom are blind.

Where had they come from, this blind couple who had arrived so unexpectedly, just as they had arrived for dinner in the church eleven years ago? Their son, Walter, was baptized, gazing up wide-eyed and listening carefully to the pastor's words. His little brother looked on with a huge and happy grin. Mom and Dad stood close by, listening.

Walter and his parents stood beside the other families as each boy received light for his candle and salt on his tongue and the charge to be a light for the world and salt for the earth.

Walter and his family went back to their seats, and worship continued with several confirmations, Holy Communion and prayers. After worship, I looked for Walter and his family, but they had gone. As mysteriously as they had come, they had gone.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What Epiphany has to do with President Obama

As we were driving past the San Salvador hotel where President Obama will be staying later this month, our driver said that during the visit, all these streets would be closed. "They're really cleaning up this area and increasing the security. Obama will not get to be close to the people."

We passed by a gentleman who was crossing the street in his wheelchair, and our driver said, "Look at this wheelchair. It is the man's invention. See, he can use it like a bicycle with his hands. People need to see this." Beneath this comment was the heartfelt desire that President Obama and others get to see not only a beautiful street, but the beautiful people of El Salvador.

Earlier in the week, Bishop Gomez had reminded us that we were in the season of Epiphany. This is the time when we are reminded of the Magi, who sought to find the new king who had been born. They first traveled to Jerusalem to speak with King Herod, and the result was the slaughter of innocent babies. They then traveled to Bethlehem, and among the common people they found the child Jesus. "This is a sign for President Obama," stated the Bishop. "When those with wisdom and power speak only with those in power, there is suffering. When those with wisdom and power speak with the people, there is Jesus."

Fellow blogger, Tim, posted a story today which speaks to the hope that President Obama will speak with the people. Perhaps he will. Perhaps he will meet Jesus.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Off the Beaten Path: Museo de Arte

We were trying to get to the Museum of Word and Image. We had a map. We explained the directions. But our driver on that day was just one of those guys who would rather ask for guidance from the kind gentlemen on the street than listen to the ladies beside him with maps and directions.

So, when our delegation arrived at the Museo del Arte we decided to embrace the moment and enjoy the art. We were welcomed into the museum with a blast of cool air, crisp white walls, and quiet. The first gallery space was filled with the blue of indigo and the white of cotton, the juxtaposed beauty of a resurrected craft and the history of agricultural abuse of land and people.

The group dispersed, each individual pausing at different moments, capturing different memories in their cameras, pondering images which both calmed and troubled.

I am certain that when we have compiled the photos from our entire group, the art museum experience will be well documented. As I look through my own photos, the images conjure up the thoughts I had as I walked through the cool and quiet galleries...

The god of corn - our first visit to El Salvador came at the time of the harvest, when every new friend welcomed me into her home with a steaming cup of atol de elote - since then I have read the histories and gathered images of the people of the corn; I looked at this little statue and could hear Julia's laughter and narration in my ears with flashback image of Julia with Bessy Marleni as they demonstrated how to make tamales, from the field to the molina to the pot for a little documentary that I made a few years ago...

A painting depicting agrarian reform done by Pedro Espinoza in 1935 - painted just 3 years after La Mantanza (the massacre of indigenous people and peasant farmers), this painting shows beautiful colors and rural life, with soldiers alongside the people...I thought it must have been the artist's dream; I thought about some of the small farming communities which had existed as cooperatives but are now struggling to find the right path between the rights of the community and the rights of individuals...

A comet-like, Sputnik-inspired sculpture - I thought about what a great inspiration this would be for the kids in our sister community, where there is enough trash in the pathways and on the hills to create a gallery of recycled sculptures...

A painting of two women - friends, maybe neighbors, pausing for a drink of water; in their hands they hold traditional bowls, perhaps made from morro shells. I thought about about my friend, Greasy.. that maybe in our hearts we are these two women...

Although the museum collection includes many pieces which depict struggle and suffering, these images do not appear in my collection. That day, for me, was a day of refreshment, and my eyes and my mind were seeking images of peace and beauty.

The museum has a web site with a video that might inspire you to visit, to walk through the galleries, and to have your own day of pondering ...

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Rains Came Down...

About a year ago, a little group of us visited a community named Guadalupe, which had suffered greatly in the aftermath of tropical storm Ida. I have written a couple of stories about this community which lies near the San Vicente volcano, and every now and then I hear about their continued struggle for permanent housing and recovery.

To get to Guadalupe, we pass through the town of San Vicente, which had also sustained damage during that November 2009 storm when a flood of water came tearing down the Accihuapa River, damaging homes and everything else along the banks and nearly taking out the bridge which carries traffic over the river and into town.

A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to drive through San Vicente on our way to Usulutan. The bridge is still under repair, and it was good to see that big earth-moving equipment was working near the water's edge. I am not sure what the restoration project will bring about, but it was good to see that some kind of plan was being implemented. The damaged homes and debris had all been removed, and the diggers appeared to be making a wider channel for the water. I snapped a couple of photos and felt hopeful that the next rainy season would not bring destruction and loss of life to the people along this part of the river.

A few days after that visit, something very unexpected occurred. It rained. In San Salvador, in February, it rained. We could smell it coming as we drove through Apopa, then came the thunder and lightning, and students were caught unprepared as the rain tumbled down and soaked them to the skin. Buses created waves which over-topped the concrete barriers between lanes of opposing traffic. Cars stopped as they were confronted by lakes too deep to cross.

The next day, everyone was talking about it. One woman in our sister community with a flair for the dramatic, acted out the situation in her home, "The rain came so fast and our little house is down low and the neighbors are high and so the water came running through the house and the chickens were creating a great noise and it was windy and I thought the roof would blow off and the children were screaming and I thought, 'O Dios mio, it's a hurricane!' But after fifteen or twenty minutes it was over and praise the Lord we were fine."

Later, I bumped into one of the youth group leaders. She had a terrible cold. "The rain," she said. She had been caught at the bus stop in her school uniform, unprepared.

After the tales of the storm were told, two words followed: climate change. "The earth is changing. The plants are changing. We have to change too," said an old farmer friend.

March is typically El Salvador's driest month. Maybe the February rains were a freak occurrence. The people say that winter has come already. It is time to prepare for the rains.

And what about the big machines in the river bed in San Vicente, or the recovery plans in the community of Guadalupe, or the repairs to the dikes near Puerto Parada? It is hard not to worry about so many for whom the words "climate change" are more than just words of concern for future generations but are words which bring fear and loss right now.