Friday, January 11, 2013

Signs of Sustainability


Three of us were guests in the community - a guy from Canada, a guy from Argentina and a gal from the US (that would be me).  We were there as part of an immersion experience during a gathering of international partners of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church - an event that happens every 3 years or so and is known simply as the Encuentro.  This was not my first visit to Cara Sucia, but it was the first time I had been there since the devastating storms of November 2011.  

I kept a journal during the visit, because I knew from the start that I wanted to remember the amazing women of this church community.  Our theme for the Encuentro was Sustainability - of the church, of the land, of the people.  We were to look for signs of sustainability throughout our immersion visits...

In the corner of the room, fruits of the earth had been carefully placed in a beautiful display...pineapple, watermelon, coconut, corn, banana.  A small altar stood in front of the display.  To the side, a bulletin board was decorated with photos of the Sunday School children, the youth group at various fun and camping events, and the men and women of the community at various marches and demonstrations surrounding the topic of flood control.  We gathered in a circle.  I noticed a little cardboard boat, spray-painted silver, near the fruits of the earth.  Of course, in this coastal zone, there are many fruits of the sea!   We sang and prayed.  Then each leader stood up to share the story of the work of his or her group.  I listened...and I watched.  

The woman who played the guitar was old...one of the grandmas.  She did not play in tune, but she played with enthusiasm, with her whole body rocking and digging into that guitar.  Seated next to her were a mother and her daughter; the daughter looked to be about 16 with the cognitive and behavioral aspects of a 3-year old, and was seated cozily on her mom's lap.  (I later learned the daughter was 26.)  The daughter held a life-like baby doll.  The mother was amazingly loving, amazingly patient and showed the daughter her own love as she taught her how to love and care for that baby doll.  

Each leader took a turn to share stories about the work of the church in community...the strong youth group and radio station (which serves as an emergency warning system and a training ground for young DJ's), the community-based agriculture and animal projects, and the advocacy groups which worked for reconstruction and maintenance of the levees along the nearby Rio Paz (Peace River).  We three guests shared our stories too...

Lunch was fish - well, there was chicken or beef or fish - but in the spirit of enjoying the fruits of the sea, I chose fish.  Delicious fried fish - the best kind you get in El Salvador with the head and fins still on it - and veggies and rice and tortilla and coconut milk.  Dessert was a big bowl of fruit, cut from the fruits which had been placed in the corner.  We chatted with a couple of abuelas during lunch.  "Where do you live - how far away?" we asked.  One said, "Oh, about a 45-minute walk."  The older one said, "About 2 hours away, so I should get going now."  She told us she has more than 60 grandchildren and I think she said 15 great-grandchildren.  Amazing.

After lunch we took a trip along the Rio Paz, beginning at the aduanas (customs point on the highway at the Guatemalan border) and stopping at points along the way.  Tropical Storm 12E caused extreme flooding, so much so that the levees broke and water spilled into the nearby communities.  At our first stop, we looked back toward the highway bridge.  "The flood water wiped out that bridge and really caused a mess with the border crossing," the pastor told us.  At our next stop, he said, "When the water receded, the river had changed its course, moving the border of Guatemala and El Salvador."  So close to Guatemala.  There were islands and sad bars in the middle of the river.  "Those are Guatemalans," someone said, pointing to a couple of guys and their ox cart which were parked in the middle of the river.  As we walked out from that location, we came upon a group of young men loading big rocks into a truck.  The rocks were sitting beside the road, I thought they were to be used to build a levee.  One of the women asked the guys what they were doing.  At that point we understood that the rocks had been taken from the levee and put alongside the road for pick-up.  The pastor did a great job of explaining the illegality of what the guys were doing, but also teaching about why the levees are important.  We got photos of the license plates...

We drove to a little town and walked down a private road to get to the river at another spot.  The pastor and the man were talking about how commercial trucks always want to use the road, so he has to keep blocking it off.  All along the river, the pastor and the advocacy team have worked to build a network of farmers who own land along the river as a citizen network of protectors - people who will watch to make sure big trucks don't come in to take away the rocks from the levees and sand from the banks.  
We drove a little further south and drove right up on top of a new rock levee.  So, we had 3 ladies with us on this excursion and one of them is a grandma with 17 grandkids.  OK, she and Flor and the other lady basically built this huge dike.  Seriously!!  Big machines had come in to move dirt and dump rocks, but they had to construct this thing.  Grandma said on some days she was the only one who showed up to work.  These ladies are a force!  They talked about the faith needed to accomplish this – oh I cannot remember the Bible text Flor quoted…when asked how they learned how to build a levee they shared that they had gone to tons of workshops and the church helped them to form connections with the government.  Impressive.

Our last stop was the beach.  The property at the end of the road was abandoned because it had been wiped out by the flood, but remnants were there (pillars and a swimming pool and random concrete tables walls) and it gave us access to where the river hits the ocean.  We walked along the beach and then stepped into the water in a spot where the river had created a little pool.  It was so warm!  A couple of guys had been fishing there, and so the pastor asked if they had fish to sell.  Everyone agreed that the type of fish they had were really good ones and they were fresh.  We scrounged up a couple of plastic bags from the trash that had accumulated in the swimming pool.  The sun was getting a little low in the sky, and we still had one more stop to make...

If you want to learn more about Cara Sucia, here are a couple of past stories...

To be continued...

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