Friday, December 30, 2016

Kits for Girls

The plans for the Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fair are well in place for February 2017.  One new teaching discussion that we will have in the coming year is entitled "Menstruation:  Myths and Facts."  As part of the teaching charla, we hope to offer the girls and women washable hygiene kits.  We are using the patterns and instructions from Days for Girls International and we invited women and women's groups to help create the kits.

The response has been tremendous!  We should have close to 500 kits for the North alone! (depending on how the January sewing events go).

Because the kits are sure to be wildly popular, we encourage continued and increased involvement!  The Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fair model takes us into different rural communities in the Northern region each year.  The Central South Fair is held in the capital city, and people are bused into a central location.  In both settings, women and girls will continue to need kits.  The kits are designed to last for 3 years, but we know that with good care, the women and girls will be able to use the pads and liners for longer than that.  The challenge is that there are literally thousands of girls and women in our sister church communities who need these kits!  With limited supply, we will focus on those who are most in need and have little or no access to traditional feminine hygiene products.

We are working in concert with our Salvadoran partners.  They are busy sewing the drawstring bags which will hold the kits.  During the upcoming Mission of Healing events, we will hold a training day on which Salvadoran women (and men!) will learn how to make the kits for themselves.  This is an important part of making this a sustainable project.

There is so much enthusiasm for this project!  And not just from menstruating girls and women.  We have received requests for the kits from older women who experience urine leakage.  This is another health issue which people do not talk about (in the US too!).  Adult protection for this problem is very expensive and not really available.  In past years, we have often stuffed suitcases full of adult disposable products, but would it not be much better to provide women with a washable option? And, of course, we now have heard from men who also are interested in having some kind of kit like this for their leakage issues.

Creating washable, sanitary products for menstruating women and girls is our primary focus.  Perhaps there will be a time when we are able to provide kits for other purposes, but for now, it is all about Days for Girls!
This is what a suitcase full of 900 pads looks like!
Learn more by visiting the Days for Girls web site.  To send kits or donations in support of the efforts of the Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fairs, please contact me via email or in the comment section.  Share your photos in the comments too!!

(In case you missed the link up top, find the original posting about this project here.)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Unexpected Christmas Images

Whenever I am in El Salvador in November, I marvel at the early abundance and diversity of Christmas decorations which adorn public spaces and homes alike.  Even in the churches, congregations deck their halls and light up the Christmas trees well before the first week of Advent.

Stores advertise their "Black Friday" or "Black Evening" sales.  This is hilarious to me since there is no Thanksgiving celebration nor actual "Black Friday" as a day off from work on which to go shopping.  Giant inflatable Santas are put out in parking lots and reindeer made from straw sit out on sidewalks.  The competition among businesses is stiff as they entice customers to spend their aguinaldo (thirteenth month pay - an early December bonus paid to workers in the formal economy).

Despite the clear commercial element to the early decorating, I think there is truly a great deal of joy which the Salvadoran people have in decorating and lighting things up in anticipation of Christmas.   It's a happy time when everyday cares can be set aside, when the worries over all of the great and serious challenges within Salvadoran society are overcome for a bit by twinkling lights and cheery tunes.

Here are just a few images which I captured this year...enjoy!!

Buy your pre-lit Christmas trees here!  Yes, culturally appropriate palm trees are
available!  And, of course, if you don't have giant poinsettia bushes (pascua) growing outside of
your home in the countryside, you can buy these hot-house potted versions.

Christmas cookies!  Gingerbread boys and girls for dessert at a little pizza place near the UCA.

Your eyes do not deceive you - this is a Christmas tree made from empty beer
bottles!  This tree can be found at the Cadejo Microbrewery in San Salvador.

Merry Christmas from the FMLN!  Their colors of red and white lend
themselves to holiday cheer.  This is the office in Tonaca.

Christmas tree in our sister church community.  The cards on the tree
were made by preschool Sunday School children in the US

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Sea of Flowers

Day after day the green grass grows taller, little by little hiding the roadside landscape such that the San Salvador volcano appears to emerge as an island in a sea of green, and the distant hills of Guazapa seem truncated from their base.

Day by day we drive the well-worn route along the periferico - the peripheral highway that carries us from San Salvador north.  When the grass is short and the air is clear we take photos along the way, catching a quick glimpse of the San Vicente volcano in the distance or the cloud formations over Guazapa.  As the years have gone by, large factories, a trucking corral, and tightly packed rows of houses surrounded by concrete walls have invaded the landscape, yet the grass continues to thrive.

One day, unexpectedly, the grass produced blooms - big, white, feathery blooms that gleam in the sunlight.

Our pastor tells us that this valley has been planted with sugar cane for as long as he can remember, as long as his father can remember.  Before there were trucks or or factories or the highway or even the diesel power plant, this valley held water and was planted with cane.

The sun sank low as we drove back to San Salvador.  Ahead of us, the road seemed to end in a sea of white gold as the sunlight skipped along the tops of the sugar cane blooms.  "It's always like that," our pastor said, "one day there are no blooms, then suddenly the whole valley is a sea of flowers."

Monday, November 21, 2016

This is our King

As we drove down the road to Tonaca, a pick-up truck pulled out in front of us.  "Hey, it's Jesus!" my husband said, as we followed close behind.  The large statue of Jesus stood on a processional platform, with the wooden handles laid across the sides of the bed of the pick-up.  Jesus wore a golden crown and robes of white and crimson red - the traditional colors chosen for Jesus by most Roman Catholic churches for their Christ the King celebrations.  In the back of the truck, a man was practically wrestling with Jesus, as the strong wind tried to lift the statue right out of the truck.  We followed the truck all the way into our sister church community.  They turned off at the Catholic Church, and we climbed up the hill to the Lutheran Church.

Christ the King Sunday is a Lutheran tradition too.  The decorations in the Lutheran Church were already blue for the coming season of Advent.  A little Christmas tree stood in the corner with blinking lights.  The pastor welcomed everyone and made note of the celebration going on at the church down the hill, complete with fireworks, and a procession of prayer and song with a statue of Christ the King.

We sang a song - a song about our King Jesus...

You are the God of the poor,
The human God and simple,
The God that sweats in the street,
The God of the weather-beaten face.

You go with my people by the hand.
You sweat in the countryside and the city
And are standing in line over there at the camp
In order to receive your daily pay.
You eat a little bit over in the park
With Eusebio, Pancho and Juan José,
And you protest about the syrup
when they lie that it doesn't have much honey.

I have seen you in the pupuseria
that's in the community.
I have seen you selling lottery tickets,
And you are not ashamed of this role.
I have seen you in the gas station,
checking the tires on a truck
and repairing the highways
with leather gloves and overalls.

God came to hang out with regular people, with poor people, with people who were sick, with people cast aside by society, with the migrant and the widow.  Our King was born to a poor family.  Our King, the King of Kings went from place to place to be with people.  He was homeless.  The King of Kings was crucified, hanged between two criminals.  The Son of God, our King, was beaten, insulted, and crucified because he loved people, because he healed blind people and deaf people, because he cared about the widow and the outcast, and mostly because he forgave people.  The King of Kings was crucified for doing all this good.

"I would much rather hang out and be friends with this humble king of love who has a heart for the poor, than the rich and fancy kings of this world," said the pastor.  He reminded us that our mission as the church is to continue this work done by the King of Kings.  Each one of us is called to be that person that shows up to share, shows up to love our neighbor and shows up to forgive.  When something happens we cannot just sit on our butts and expect someone else to do the work.  We are the ones who have to be there and carry out this mission of love, or Jesus' church is not going to grow.

We celebrate Christ the King Sunday by recommitting ourselves to be faithful to what God's Word teaches us, that is to love God above all else, and to love each other.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Off the Beaten Path: A Fiesta to Remember in Tonaca

Siguanaba, Headless Priest
and Cipitio
The sun fell low in the sky.  At every turn we were confronted by ghosts and ghouls, devils, screaming women, and headless priests.  She was there...the Siguanaba!  Along with her pitiful little son, Cipitio. 

The legends of Tonacatepeque had come to life as they do every year for the November 1st Fiesta de la Calabiuza.  (Calabiuza is a word which is like the Spanish word calabaza which means "pumpkin" - but in the local vernacular means "skull.")  Characters from imagination and legend wandered the cobbled streets and posed for photos.  Some ran up to us, screaming and acting their roles with great enthusiasm.

As the evening light grew dim, the characters gathered around their hand-drawn carts - some with metal bases, some constructed of wood and bamboo, most with big wooden wheels. Adorned with skulls, coffins, large paper-maché characters, and carved calabiuza skulls, the carts were designed and decorated by different school and community groups.  The competition was stiff.  Who would win the award for most authentic and most frightening?

Preparing to march in the evening parade

Over the years, Salvadoran friends, especially those born and raised in Tonaca, have woven their spooky tales for us late into the night.  These legends hearken back to Nahuat ancestors.  Over the centuries, colonial culture and Christian morality have seeped into some of the stories, but the people of Tonaca proudly claim to have preserved and carried the lore of the indigenous peoples into the modern era.
The Screamer
Despite years of listening to tales, there are many stories we do not fully understand and there always seem to be new characters emerging.  After doing a little digging, I finally learned that the boy with the screaming red face is known as El Gritón (The Screamer) whose cries pierce through the silence of the night out in the countryside and in the mountains.  The tale goes something like this:

As the sun sets and the darkness rises, perhaps some brave souls will venture out beyond Calvary or will remain too late in the hills.  If you are out after dark, beware!  Without your white cadejo (dog) at your side, you will not know where to go.  The heat of the evening will be broken by a rush of cold air, and the leaves above you will rustle violently.  You will turn a corner and it will hit you - a piercing scream like none you have ever heard before!  Suddenly from behind the figure will appear, and then all of a sudden it is in front of you.  You will try to move, but it will be futile.  You will be paralyzed with fright because you have no idea how this gigantic figure was first behind you, and then ahead of you, spreading over you its cold shadow and piercing scream.  For three days you will not know who you are nor whether you are alive or dead as you lie in your bed trembling with fever and fear.  So beware...

It would not be a fiesta
without the light sabers.
Entrepreneurs of all
sorts had a good evening.
We waited in the dark for the parade to begin.  Torches on the sides of the carts were set aflame, and were pulled to and fro along the route as if they were about to crash into the crowd.  Old pieces of corrugated tin dragged along the ground behind the carts, creating an eerie thunder.  The characters screamed and lurched at the spectators.  It was magnificent.

After the parade, we held onto one another and wormed our way through the tight crowd.  "We are headed toward Calvary," Pastor Santiago said.

Calvary after dark.

"Every town has a place called Calvary," he continued.  "It is at the edge of town, and whenever there is a procession or a march, it ends at Calvary."  We passed by a big stage.  The mayor was giving out awards and loud music interspersed with announcements from the local pizza place.  We found friends selling their crafted jewelry.  It was a good night for artisans.

Just before we made it to Calvary, we found friends at the FMLN tent.  The women gave us steaming bowls of ayote (like calabaza or pumpkin) which had been cooked for hours in a sauce made from panela (solid sugar made from boiling cane juice).  Everyone who wanted a big bowl was served.  We sat in plastic chairs, eating our ayote con panela.

At about 8:30 PM we wormed our way back through the crowd.  We wandered through the park.  The statue of Cipitio and the fountain have been enlarged as part of a park beautification project.  We ran into friends from our sister church community along the way, all of whom were pretty surprised to see us.  It was a memorable night of story and fun, in the light and in the dark, with the ghosts and ghouls and families of Tonaca at the Fiesta de la Calabiuza.

A cart - much more scary in person

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Legend of La Llorona - The Moaning Woman

"What is the story of the screaming bride who clenches her dead baby?" we asked.

 Not too many people could tell us the details about this legend, though some of the most convincingly scary figures in the Celebration of the Calabiuza in Tonacatepeque this year were dressed as this tale's ghostly brides.

This girl was legitimately scary.
She ran up behind us
screaming at full force!

The legend may have originated in Mexico, but it is told throughout El Salvador and other Latin American countries.  Like many Salvadoran tales, this one was probably created, adapted or propagated by missionaries and priests in order to teach the native peoples a moral and societal lesson...

There once was a beautiful peasant girl who lived in the countryside near a large hacienda.  When she was old enough, she took a job at the hacienda and attracted the attention of a young man.  He was the son of the owner of the hacienda and was an educated and handsome man.  He and the girl fell in love and together they conceived a child.  Of course the girl wanted to marry her beloved, but he could not tell his parents of the affair.  The girl tried to conceal her pregnancy, but eventually her condition could not be hidden under her apron.  She was fired from her job and left on her own.

In time, the peasant girl gave birth to her baby.  She dreamed that she and her beloved and their child could be a family.  That dream was shattered when the young man married a Spanish woman of his own class and heritage.  Completely distraught, the girl went down to the flooded river and threw her child into the water.  The child was carried away by the current and drowned.  Horrified with what she had done, the young woman threw herself into the raging water, moaning and screaming after her child.

When the young man learned of the fate of his former love and his child, he could hardly live with himself.  In the dark of the night, he haunted by the moans and the screams of the young woman.  To this day, on dark nights when the waters run high, you can hear La Llorona crying for her dead child.

The majority of Las Lloronas at the fiesta were teen boys.  It really was quite impressive to see the great effort put into the costumes and the floats and the acting at this event.  What a great outlet for fun and creativity and connection with the local legends and history.  

Part of the expectation for this cultural celebration is that each young person dressed in costume needs to ACT as the character that he or she is portraying throughout the entirety of the pageant and parade.  Community judges give awards to the most convincing actors.  In a time and place when youth are subject to so many dangers, I believe it is especially important that they have safe times and spaces in which they can be a little wild and goofy and let their Llorona hair down.

Related stories:

Making a Living on the Day of the Dead

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Off the Beaten Path: ¿Donde está el Baño?

It's your first time in El Salvador.  You are excited and a little nervous.  You have done your best to memorize a little bit of Spanish, and you have mastered three very helpful phrases:

  • Mucho gusto - pleased to meet you
  • Con permiso - may I come in, or excuse me
  • ¿Donde está el baño? - where is the bathroom.
You have been well prepared by your trip leader, and you are confident that you can keep these three important rules:
  • Do not use the water to brush your teeth.
  • Never eat lettuce.
  • Never pass up a flush toilet.
Well, first time visitor, have I got great news for you!  Parque Cuscatlán now features brand new bathrooms!  I won't tell you exactly where they are, because, of course, you will want to test out the appropriate Spanish phrase which you worked so hard to memorize.  There are plenty of signs in the park pointing you in the right direction if you can't find anyone on whom to test out your "¿Donde está el baño?"

And you guessed it, there are FLUSH toilets!

Seriously, this is a wonderful development for the park.  The bathrooms are wheelchair accessible with a central entry where both men and women pay 15 cents.  The women's side has a hallway with stalls on both sides.  They are very clean.  The sink area has a couple of faucets and soap.  There was no dryer, but I did not think that was a huge deal since they break all the time.

 Near the sink area, there is a large, private stall big enough for a wheelchair and an attendant.  There is also a nice private shower.  For a small charge, you can get a clean towel, soap, shampoo and even a razor.  The gentleman at the entry desk was very kind, and laughed when I told him I would be writing a blog story about these awesome bathrooms.

There was a special event in the park on the day when I discovered these bathrooms.  Over the course of the event, it appeared that the bathrooms were well-used.  I think it is great that there is a decent place to shower for someone who needs a place to do that, either after a workout in the park or if a person does not have a home.  I think most people would gladly give a few coins to a person in need who could use this bathroom.

I did not take note of who funded these bathrooms, but to whomever did:  THANK YOU!

For anyone who is interested, here is a video with park improvement plans from the Parque Cuscatlán Alliance.  Not sure if these dreams will ever become reality.  For now, I am grateful for the new bathrooms, and if you come and visit, you will be too!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Day After The Election

November 8, 2016.  We hosted an election-returns fiesta in our home in El Salvador for friends from the United States who live here.  We were a like-minded group.  The US Embassy in El Salvador held an online symbolic vote for anyone who wanted to click on the link with results giving 79% of the vote to Secretary Clinton and 21% to Mr. Trump.  That seemed pretty positive.  Our group was 100% for Hillary Clinton.

As the map turned red, the positivity waned and our stress increased.  Never had we hosted a party during which no one could sit down, during which inboxes were exploding with texts and messages, from friends both in the States and El Salvador, expressing worry and dismay.  At one point I received a call from our sister church pastor:  "I don't understand what the media is saying," he said.  I tried to explain our system.  It is difficult for Salvadorans to understand how the media is allowed to predict or report results while citizens in parts of our country are still voting.

Never have we eaten so many M&M's while in El Salvador.  M& M's, wine and beer - comfort food.

As Lutherans and Anglicans whose faith journeys have brought us into ministry with our companion churches here in El Salvador, we the people at our small fiesta are guided by the principles of Liberation Theology (The written Word of God is the story of the liberation of God's people, and the suffering of Christ is present in the suffering of those who are poor, marginalized and oppressed.  Matthew 5:3-12); The Theology of the Cross (God revealed God's self to humanity in Jesus and the ultimate revelation of God's mercy for God's children took place on the cross.  Humanity does not save itself, but in response to God's great love and mercy, we act in love and mercy to one another.);  and The Theology of Life (All of creation is sacred.  All life is sacred.)

Out of these theological perspectives, the historic churches in El Salvador march in the streets, demonstrate before the Supreme Court, advocate with their legislative representatives and work with the executive branch of the government to protect the human rights of those most in need of protection.  For those of us who accompany the Lutheran and Anglican churches here, we tend to find ourselves doing very similar work in the United States:  accompanying victims of violence, standing with those who seek justice, welcoming refugees, protecting children, advocating for dignified wages, and caring for creation.  

A few years ago, the Salvadoran Lutheran Church had as it's year-long theme, "Nobody is illegal in any part of the world." In a country in which thousands of children, youth, and families are fleeing from their homes and communities in order to protect their lives either to escape violence or starvation, the church gives the clear message that each person has value, each life is precious, and no person is illegal.  The Lutheran church in El Salvador and the Lutheran Church in the US do not encourage people to flee to the United States without proper process, but together understand the realities and accompany the migrants using best practices.

So, in this context, you can see that those of us gathered for our election returns fiesta were championing the causes of the Democratic platform.  Beyond the focus on the platforms, none of us gathered were accepting of the racist, anti-Muslim, misogynist, ego-centric behavior and attitude of the Republican candidate.

During the primaries, all of us had had the experience of being asked about the legitimacy of the Trump candidacy by our co-workers and friends in El Salvador.  As many in the United States did at the time, we brushed aside the possibility of a Trump victory as unthinkable and impossible.

After Mr. Trump was nominated, again, we found ourselves scrambling for words to explain how his candidacy had come about.  Each time Mr. Trump denigrated someone in a public manner, each time Mr. Trump adopted the posture or the language of a bully, we found ourselves scrambling.  "How can Christians vote for him?" we were asked.

We ended our fiesta.  We went to bed prior to the concession speech, but the handwriting was on the wall.

November 9, 2016.  Today we joined teen-agers to celebrate their graduation from 9th grade.  The school-yard was filled with beautiful youth, accompanied by parents or grandparents or in one case, a stand-in-dad from the US (that would be my husband).  It was inspiring to hear the speeches from the lips of 15-year olds who talked about all they had learned at the hands of their beloved teachers, the encouragement from their parents, and the bonds of friendship they had built with one another.

This was a beautiful day of celebration.  And this was also a day of questions:  "Did you hear the news?  Trump won!"  "Did you vote?  How does early voting work?"  "What's going to happen next?"

Try explaining the Electoral College, in not your native language.  Try explaining how a candidate wins the popular vote but not the election.  Try explaining how people in the sister churches in the United States, people who know about the impact of climate change in El Salvador, people who know about the plight of migrants, people who love Salvadoran families and who understand the dangers to beautiful ninth graders who are trying to grow up here - try explaining how these hermanos y hermanas en Cristo elected Donald Trump.  In the eyes of our Salvadoran sister churches, millions of people across the United States seem to agree with Donald Trump's xenophobic rhetoric.  "Build a wall" and "deport millions" makes Salvadorans wonder if their sister churches understand what their lives are really like.

As we walked toward the graduation ceremony, the mom of a ninth grade graduate gave the following economic reflection.  "Well, maybe they (the US) will send everybody back.  We will have to build some factories or make some plans so people can work.  How will we take all these people in? Oh my God!  There are a great quantity of Salvadorans up there, you know.  The funny thing is, there will be no one left to do all their work.  There will be no workers up there."

So, maybe in El Salvador and in the US we are all asking:  where do we go from here?

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the President of El Salvador have set the example.  We don't need to agree on much, but we can be civil and congratulate the President-Elect of the United States.  And we can get busy.  Those of us who have knowledge and experience in El Salvador and other Latin American nations can continue to share real stories about real people, and to break down barriers of culture and bias.  We can listen to one another, look for common ground and try to work in good ways to make our world a better place.   Those of us with knowledge and experience in Latin America and with migrants and/or refugees in the Unites States can share information with our representatives in the House and in the Senate - from a humanitarian perspective, an economic perspective and a political perspective.  We cannot know one another's realities if we are not talking to one another.  

Somebody asked us if there would be a civil war in the United States because of the election results.  This was a real question.  The day after the election, in El Salvador, this was a real question.

Please send a note to your sister churches.  Let them know you love them and will continue to hold up the values of the covenant agreements you have signed together.  Let them know that you will continue to hold to the values that all life is sacred and that no matter what borders exist between us, we are one body, working together to love God and love one another.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Off the Beaten Path: Swim Little Turtles, Swim!

A few days ago, we held tiny sea turtles in our hands.  They were only one hour old.  We were taught how to pick them up, gently grasping them by the shell, between thumb and forefinger so their little flippers were free to wiggle through the air.

A few days ago, we gently set little turtles on the sand and watched them scurry, scurry toward the waves.

A few days ago, we were part of a movement which has released 46,000 baby sea turtles so far this year in an effort to preserve these beautiful, ancient sea creatures.

We found out about this opportunity through a friend who saw it on an ex-pat Facebook page (a page where folks from the US and who live in El Salvador post helpful information).  We got up early and headed toward La Libertad, asking at a few points along the way for directions to the specific beach.

Once we arrived, we were greeted by our guide, Francisco, and were seated in plastic chairs under a palm-frond canopy.  First we would receive the charla (educational discussion) and then we would help some new baby turtles to make their first journey to the sea.

Francisco gave a passionate and detailed charla, and we really learned a lot!  We asked Francisco how he got started in this work to save the sea turtles, and he remembered a time when he was 11 or 12 years old.  Francisco's grandfather was a tortuguero (a turtle and egg hunter).  Grandfather, father and young boy Francisco came down to the beach one night to dig up some eggs.  On that night, Francisco saw the mothers digging their nests and laying their eggs.  He had never seen that before, and he realized that each little egg was a future turtle.  From then on, Francisco wanted to help the turtles.  He told us that while he did not graduate with any degree, his experience and multiple training events over the years have helped him to learn about all aspects of sea turtle life in El Salvador.

We could feel the love and respect Francisco has for the turtles.  I took just a few notes during his charla:

The charla complete with turtle diagrams in the sand
  • There are seven species of sea turtles in the world, and four of them navigate the waters off of the Salvadoran coast and lay their eggs on the nearby beaches.
  • Tortugueros (turtle hunters and turtle egg gatherers), fishermen and environmentalists are working together in an NGO (non-governmental organization) named ATOPLOPC (Association of Turtle-Hungers of the beaches of Los Pinos Cangrejera).  The association has started micro-enterprises for turtle-hunters so that they can make money in other ways, such as a bakery, an artisan project and fishing (using an ATOPLOPC fishing boat.)
  • School groups, international tourists and Salvadoran families come to the Los Pinos beach to learn about the turtles.  The entrance fee helps to pay for the turtle recovery programs.  Groups can help to release turtles, like we did, or do beach clean-up projects.
  • The methodology of ATOPLOPC helps to increase the odds of survival for sea turtles.  The turtles come to shore to dig their nests, and then within 24 hours, workers carefully transfer the newly laid eggs to plastic bags and carry them to the nursery.  There the eggs are reburied in the same way in which the mother buried them.  Because global warming has caused Salvadoran beaches to be hotter than in the past, without shade protection, the eggs actually cook (and become like hard-boiled eggs).  Therefore, the nursery is shaded with palm fronds and careful attention is paid to the temperature of each nest.  The nursery is fenced to prevent dogs from digging up eggs and has a net barrier to prevent crabs from sucking the insides out of the eggs.
  • Fencing to keep dogs and crabs out of the nursery
  • Out of 1000 eggs laid in nature, only 1 will successfully produce a baby sea turtle which makes it back to the sea (due to dogs, and crabs, and birds of prey and humans).  The hatch and release program from January through October 2016 has released 46,000 baby turtles into the sea.
The banner posted under the palm frond canopy included photos of each of the 4 species found in El Salvador, along with details about their physiology and nesting habits.  Beyond what the poster says, and beyond what one might find on the internet, Francisco shared details from his years of experience.  Maybe these little facts are not super-exciting to your the person sitting at the computer reading this story, but if you have ever had a pet turtle, if you have ever held a baby turtle, if you have ever loved stories about turtles, or if you are an especially ecologically-minded person, then these details are for you:
    Baby Golfino
  • The Tortuga Prieta (Green Sea Turtle, English common name) in El Salvador is most threatened by toxins in the water.  They return to nest every 2 or 3 years.
  • The Tortuga Carey (Hawksbill Sea Turtle, English common name) is hunted for its beautiful shell which is used to make craft items.  It is the only sea turtle that lays yellow eggs (all others are white).  They hang out near coral reefs and help to keep an equilibrium in the fish population.  Sometimes they become luminescent from eating certain coral species.  There are only 300 adult turtles left.  (I believe this number is how many are known to nest in  El Salvador).
  • The Turtuga Baule (Leatherback Sea Turtle, English common name) weighs in at a whopping 1500 lbs and is about 2 meters long.  It eats medusas (jellyfish).  One of the biggest threats to this giant turtle is plastic bags.  As the bags float and decompose in the water, they look like jellyfish and the Leatherback turtles eat them, which messes with their digestive and reproductive systems and eventually kills them.  An overabundance of jellyfish can be seen in the Salvadoran oceans because there are only 6 of these turtles left in this area.  The jellyfish sting and kill off the fish population, so it is important to try to repopulate the seas with Leatherbacks.  Egg fertilization happens inside the mother, and when she lays eggs some are unfertilized.  The goo (yes, my sophisticated technical term) inside the unfertilized egg evaporates and leaves a shell full of air.  When the baby turtles hatch, they can poke into these pockets to get air during their process of digging through the sand and making it to the surface.
  • The Tortuga Golfina (Olive Ridley Sea Turtle, English common name) is the species which we helped to release.  In the early 2000's there were 120 to 130 females which came to this beach to lay their eggs.  In the last few years, there have only been 10 to 15.  These little guys were pretty cute, and very speedy once they realized they were free to go!
Golfino turtles fresh out of the nest
We took photos.  We cheered them on.  We worried for the ones which were swished away by a big wave.  We were ready to scare off the giant predator birds which were fishing just off shore.

This was a great experience.  I had no idea that El Salvador was a nesting site for four different species of sea turtles.  There is something about holding one of these little guys in your hand, and helping him to take his first little waddles, and cheering him on as the waves come crashing in that makes you really care about these creatures which perhaps you have only seen in picture books or at an aquarium.
Racing toward the waves

Go little guy, go!
This type of eco-tourism is something that El Salvador is building, and is something that delegations or visitors to El Salvador can really help to support.

After we said good-bye to Francisco, and gave one more parting glance in the direction of the babies swimming out to sea, we headed over to the fishing pier in La Libertad.  As we relaxed with some fresh fruit frozens, a little boy came by to sell us some cashews.  We told him we had already bought some from a little girl (truth), and then he quietly patted the bottom of his backpack.  "I have turtle eggs in here, do you want those?"
The tell-tale tracks of the baby sea turtle's first journey
Digging and selling sea turtle eggs is illegal.  All of these species of sea turtles are protected.  Clearly, there is more work to be done.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Making a Living on the Day of the Dead

In El Salvador, the 2nd of November is not a day to go to work or school.  Known as El Día de los Difuntos or the Day of the Dead, it is a quiet day.  It is a day on which families go to the cemetery to spend time with their loved ones who have passed on to the next life.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, November 2nd is All Souls Day - a day dedicated to praying for the departed loved ones who are passing time in Purgatory.  Masses are said and intercessions are made in the hopes of shortening the time loved ones have before entering heaven.  In El Salvador, whatever their faith tradition, families find comfort in observing the Day of the Dead.  Especially for families whose hearts are broken by the loss of young lives due to violence, this day brings a chance to remember with photos, candles, flowers and time at the grave.

On November 1st, we traveled to Tonacatepeque for the Fiesta de Calabiuza.  This is an elaborate celebration of the spooky folk legends of the region, and includes an evening parade that begins near the cemetery outside of town.  Since we were so close to the cemetery, we decided to enter and walk for a bit, and to visit the graves of friends who are buried there.  

On our way into town, Blanca came running with big hugs and smiles.  She had been selling water and soda in the cemetery.  "The sales were not very good today," she said, "but hopefully they will be better's my tradition.  I sell drinks every year."  She was leaving to pick up her little guy, and also as the crowds seemed to be gathering in the streets for the parade.  I wondered who might have been around during the day buying water and soda.

As we wandered into the cemetery, it was clear that there were a whole lot of people there who might buy water or soda.  The place was crowded!  Young men and women with large home-made hoes were busy mounding the thin soil over grave sites.  Old men and little kids with paint brushes were touching up aqua or gold crosses, whitewashed tombs and little black fences.  A few families were gathered together placing plastic flowers over ceramic crypts.  

"Do you want us to paint?" a little boy asked us.  

"Um, no," we said.  

We slowly became aware that most of the people in the cemetery were not family members.  Most were workers.  A loud call of "Cleaning!  Painting!" confirmed our realization.  Like sellers in the street calling out "French bread!" or "Milk" the teams of grave cleaners were making the most of this work day.  Some had been hired by families ahead of time to wash the ceramic, clear away dead leaves, repaint names and even decorate the graves.  Others were taking advantage of the few family visitors to offer help with whatever grave project they had planned.

We spent a little time wandering, and had a hard time navigating through the crowded plots.  Some of the crosses were buried almost to the top.  These are the old graves, with layers of soil added to the original site as people are buried one on top of another.  The people with the hoes had mounded most of the newer dirt graves so that they looked freshly dug.  It was a little creepy to walk among the freshly hoed graves and look for our friends.  It was difficult to find them.  So many graves.  We remember our friends, how we miss them and how we continue to accompany their parents or their children in this life.

"Can we paint something for you?" children asked as we made our way back toward the entrance.

"No, thank you" we said.  A mariachi group played near one of the fancier graves:  a family celebrating their loved one.

We left the cemetery and walked past stands selling plastic flowers, thin fry bread served with honey, coconut water with ice, sweets and pupusas made with chipilin.  The crowds were growing larger - promising for those who were working to make a living on the Day of the Dead.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Smiling, Waving, Friendly Lutherans and The Reformation

I put some thought into my outfit for the day.  Sensible black skirt, sensible black shoes, a white polo shirt with a big Luther Rose embroidered near the right shoulder, and a hand-made wooden cross hanging around my neck.  Just in case we were stopped at the entrance to the community, the clear Lutheran Church identity could be useful.

As we turned into the narrow dirt lane, with our windows rolled down, I waved.  A few people hanging out at the palm-frond-covered bus stop waved back.  A guy smiled.  "Good," we thought.  It was slow going because months of rain had washed away both sides of the road up to the paved area.  Our slow pace gave us the chance to call out "buenos días" to people standing outside their homes and the school.   It's important to let anyone controlling the streets know who you are, and to connect with friends who recognize you.  It's also just more fun to be those crazy, friendly, smiling Lutherans.
The paved area gave way to rocks.  The fine, gray soil flows away during the yearly rainy season, leaving behind a road of helter-skelter big rocks. We bumped along, turned into the open gate, and realized that although we were ten minutes late, we were just about the first to arrive.

Pastor Chemita had set up the tables and chairs in the church.  He is the coordinator for the Northern Micro-Region of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.  Once a month, he convenes a meeting for all of the pastors and lay-leaders of the Lutheran churches in the region.  This day's theme:  The Reformation.  We stood outside the church chatting with Adelmo about the harvest.  A plague had killed all the pepper plants.  The tomato plants had mostly died too.  I asked if Adelmo's tomatoes ever got the powdery fungus disease (something my plants at home had this year).  He said that was exactly what his plants had; it kills the whole plant.  Pastor Chemita talked about the fruit trees in his community.  He knows a lot about different classes of medicine from the trees.  It is always amazing to me how much knowledge the Lutheran pastors and church-folk have about so many things!

A few more people arrived.  The others were late because the bus was super full.  Pastor Chemita said he prefers to ride in the back of a pickup truck whenever he can.  (This is an informal mode of transportation that is used in many rural communities.  A ride usually costs a dime.   "I like to talk to the people and hear about their concerns - their real concerns in their lives.  Then I can make my sermon and preach about the things that are relevant to them."

After a church van arrived with the majority of participants, we got started:  singing, praying,   and scripture reading.  The original plan was to watch a movie about the life and work of Martin Luther, in honor of The Reformation, but the woman with the movie and equipment did not show up.  So Pastor Chemita initiated Plan B.  We started by sharing our thoughts on the scripture:  Ephesians 2:19-22:

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Here are a few of the comments made by those gathered...

"We are none of us strangers who live on this spinning disc surrounded by air.  We are one family.  The difference between us is the way in which we receive the grace of God."

"The important thing is we gather together and whatever we build, we center it on Christ.  Then it is big enough for all; there is room for all."

"Returned people [deported from the US], or foreigners alike, as the called church, WE are called to love them.  We are called to defend life - abundant life.  Last night I received a call to talk with the police regarding a youth who was captured.  This is our life, the pastor life, to come to the defense of those who are innocent."

We shared a review of the life and theology of Martin Luther.  Pastor Chemita asked us to think about the Reformation and what it means to be a prophetic church.  He raised up the example of the first prophet mentioned in the Bible:  Miriam.  Miriam gave a prophecy about God's power of protection for God's people.  Her song was sung in "harmony" which means that the people were in "one accord with her."  Pastor Chemita pointed out that not too many churches talk about Miriam as the first prophet, because she was a woman.  Luther preached about the priesthood of all believers - this concept that God's work is equally in all and done by all was reborn in the Reformation.  Katie Luther is an example - she was out spreading the faith while her husband was holed-up writing all the time.  The women pastors around the table chuckled at this.

At some point in the morning, we broke for our refrigerio or snack - small, pre-packaged quesadilla (a sweet dessert cake) and coffee.  We resumed our discussion about the Reformation, and people were invited to share their ideas about how we experience the Reformation today...

"God sent the Mission of Healing to El Paisnal as a prophetic mission of prevention.  The doctor at the clinic tells me that the people who used to demand medicine now ask for explanations about their problems and want to learn.  In reality, the people would have called for her to be fired had this transformation in their culture not taken place because there are not enough medications for everyone to be taking pills all the time for everything.  God sent the prophetic voice of prevention told at this mission."

"We have learned that we need to respect each person as a prophet because God is using each one of us.  This is the priesthood of all believers that Luther talked about."

"How do we know if the social works that we are doing are pleasing to God?  Luther says, 'Read the 10 Commandments.' We are working on that, studying the Catechism."

"We are not obligated to anyone, but must serve anyone.  Luther taught us to focus on loving our neighbor."

"With or without money, the Reformation continues via our faith and our confession.  The Word of God is from the beginning and will exist until the end, and we, as holy people, need to work with all of our enthusiasm and faith."

"Luther said, 'Laughter is healthy' so this is why pastors should tell funny stories at the start of their sermons."  Well, I wondered where that tradition had started.  Good job, Martin Luther.

The study concluded and Pastor Martina brought out the raffle item.  Everyone who could paid 25 cents for a number.  All of the names and numbers were written on a big piece of paper and taped up onto a door, and then little number papers were put into Adelmo's straw hat.  Numbers were drawn one by one, and with great laughter and anticipation people cheered and names were eliminated until finally the last number was drawn, and that was the winner.  My husband is very lucky at these raffles, and so walked away with a new aluminum pot and coffee mug with red hearts on it, all bundled up in clear cellophane and tied with a yellow ribbon.

Of course the final activity was to share announcements.  This is an important part of the meeting because not everyone has reliable cell service or money to pay for cell service or access to the internet.  The pastors shared information about all of the upcoming workshops and community events.  Training sessions will be held for representatives from each congregation who will learn how to use social media, web sites, and communication tools to better share and promote ministry events.  Pastors were invited to a conversation about how to better accompany victims of domestic abuse.  Church health promoters will meet next week to continue their training.  

We shared a closing prayer.  Lunch was delayed, so Pastor Abelina served up small plates of hot, boiled yucca with lime and salt.  Yum!  Quite a long while later, we were each served a plate of chicken, rice, salad and tortillas.  It was substantial and delicious.

As we left the community, we waved to the women and youth standing outside their homes and in front of the school, calling out buenas tardes along the way.  Some of the people waved back.  Some just gave us a look that seemed to say, "there go those crazy, friendly, smiling Lutherans."   

Yes, there go those crazy, friendly, smiling, waving, grace-filled, reforming, loving, serving Lutherans.  May God continue to bless the work of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Migration Table

It was a beautiful cool night, and a glorious clear morning.  The little, green parrots flocked noisily to their daytime home in a nearby tree at 5:45 am, as they do without fail every single morning.  They are incredibly loud and fun to watch at later hours in the day.

We had to leave early to navigate our way through traffic and out of the city.  We were meeting in Guazapa with the Mesa de Migración  for the northern region of Lutheran Churches.  The Migration Table was formed by the church to better care for families impacted by migration due to violence. The participants in the Mesa are pastors, healthcare workers, police representatives and local government officials.

The meeting began with a review of cases by municipality.  The "cases" consist of internally displaced families and "returned" people - that is, people who were deported from the US or caught and returned while journeying north.  The Mesa keeps track of the cases so they can be recorded and so that the church can accompany the families.  The focus of the Mesa is prevention - working with communities in programs to prevent violence and working with families who have no option but to migrate to find safety as close to home as possible.  The focus of the Mesa is advocacy - working with the police and local authorities to create safe spaces and communities and fighting for justice with families who suffer threats or violence at the hands of gang members or corrupt police officers or military personnel.  The focus of the Mesa is accompaniment - visiting families, listening to their stories, providing them with emergency food or shelter as needed, and working with them to find safe places to live.  In each municipality, the church is taking the lead in accompanying migrant families.

The cases:

  • One municipality is following 10 cases.  As the pastor began to explain the cases, it became clear that this municipality is receiving migrants.  This was unexpected - the opposite of what we usually hear regarding migration.  A healthcare worker from the local clinic described one family:  a woman with children ages 9, 6, 4 and 10 months.  They had escaped a violent situation.  The focus is to get the children registered for school.  The clinic had worked to get the children vaccinated.  
  • A mom with four kids has been moving from place to place in her municipality, staying with different family members.  They thought they could move home after a year and now that it is calmer, but it is still too dangerous.  They are planning to go to the US.
  • A young mom lives in a "hot zone."  She had to leave with her 1 year old baby.  Where are her other kids?  No one is sure.  Maybe with a relative.
  • A family with a long history of gang threats and violence escaped.  With a little help they rented an abandoned house in a nearby town.  Over time, when things were very desperate, strangers came together and helped them.  They used an old church banner for a tarp to cover a broken roof.  Then someone donated metal.  Through the Mesa they received a small loan to open a little perfume shop.  They are living with dignity.  Last Sunday they came to church.  The grandmother always tries to come.  She was threatened.  The pastor said, "Sometimes people with vengeful hearts use the cover of gang violence to make threats against other families."
The pastors continued reviewing all of their cases, and then moved on to upcoming events and strategies.  A variety of events have been scheduled to strengthen local migration committees which are being formed in each municipality.  The idea is that these committees can keep track of their local cases and coordinate local events.  The idea is to build strong communities in which the church, the police, the social agencies, the schools and the health clinics are working together to prevent violence, to reduce migration, to accompany families who must migrate and to channel regional and national resources into the community as needed.  

At one point there was a very lengthy discussion about the ways in which meetings and events are announced.  Apparently phone calls are good, but lots of people don't answer and as one pastor said, "I don't have any saldo (money on her phone) so I didn't call anyone."  Apparently emails are good, but lots of people get tons of email so they don't read them.  Apparently letters are best - not mailed but hand-delivered.  Yes, somehow in El Salvador, communication eventually comes down to letters with signatures and seals, hand-delivered to offices where either you wait or you sign something that says you left a letter.  

The meeting of the Mesa de Migración ended.  We drove to a particular municipality to hand-deliver some letters for an upcoming event.  When we walked in to the local health clinic, one of the doctors did her Moses impression of parting the crowd and called out, "Here come the Lutherans!"  Yup, we Lutherans are pretty well known in these parts.

By the time I was delivered home, the little green parrots were starting to get restless.  At 5:00 pm they start migrating away from their daytime roost to wherever it is they go to find safety for the night. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Off the Beaten Path: Climbing up the Mountain with Super Abuela (Part 2)

Shall we continue up the mountain?

Yes, everyone including the grandmother said yes.

We climbed up and up to the Cocina Vietnamita (the little Vietnam kitchen) - an ingenious design of a kitchen built into the hillside, complete with tunnels lined with clay roof tiles that vented the smoke a long distance away from the cooking site.  This was done so that air reconnaissance could not detect the exact locations of the guerrilla cooking fires.

We continued our climb up to the former FMLN camp.  For a while, the teen boys carried my backpack and the other grandmother's purse.  Eventually they grabbed Super-Grandma under her arms and carried her up the steep, rocky grade so that her feet hovered just above the ground.  This was a very sweet act of kindness by the boys, and not a word was spoken as they scooped her up to fly.  We finally made it to a camp which is named after some kind of snake.  (I did not understand what the guide said as the name of the snake.)  Here the guide shared a story:   Two female guerrilla fighters had made their sleeping spot near to the entrance of the camp.  Huddled under their tarp they heard "hiss, hiss."

"Oh, it's just the boys harassing us," they thought.  They continued to read with a small light under their tarp.

"Hiss, hiss," they heard a second time.  And then a third time!  They jumped up and saw the snake!  This same thing happened to two other women fighters in the camp.  No one knows why it only happened to the females, but the smart women realized that they should cut off the snake's head and save the venom sacks to make anti-venom.  Thus, this place is known as the snake camp.

The guide told us how the medics did surgery on flat bamboo slats that were lined up on a wooden frame.  The slats could be changed between patients to maintain a clean area.  The sterile table was close by, and a metal wire attached to a tree branch held the IV bag.  The field doctors did everything from stitches to amputations, and when it rained, the patient was protected by a tarp which was placed over the tree branch.  The surgical assistant held a small burning stick just above the place on the patient's body where the doctor was working so that no light could be seen by nearby soldiers.

The sense of home was strong in this place.  We could feel the presence of young men and women who found their way here for healing and rest.  We could barely imagine receiving or giving medical treatment as the guide described.
The revolutionaries who fought here, camped here, and survived here want to keep their strong sense of community and their unyielding fight for the human rights of oppressed and marginalized people alive.  I think that the work to preserve and grow this forest carries within it this desire of the community, to be alive again as a community knit together, to preserve the  deeply rooted values of the rebellion, and to grow together into a new and healthy life in this new time.

From the camp, we continued our journey upward.  Our chests were burning from the climb, but we made it all the way up to the look-out.  After climbing the final fight of stairs, we took in the amazing view, and then collapsed on the wooden platform to catch our collective breath. In this beautiful resting place, the super grandmother received her new name.  At age 67, she became La Abuela Mágica (The Magic Grandmother).  There is a famous Salvadoran soccer star who is known as El Mágico - so when the boys among us gave the grandmother the title "Mágica," it was quite a big compliment.

In all her humility, the Abuela Mágica looked at me and said, "No, the magic grandmothers."

We eventually mustered up the energy to make the climb back down the stairs, and down the mountain.  In no time at all we were back at the swimming hole where we found the rest of our delegation.  We had walked for 3 hours, and during the journey the grandmothers had become magic, though I think La Abuela Mágica has been magic for a long, long time.

On our walk back to the micro-bus, the Abuela Mágica laid down her walking stick - a straight branch which she had acquired in the forest.  She thanked her stick for accompanying her on her journey through the forest of Cinquera.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Off the Beaten Path: Climbing Up the Mountain with a Super Grandmother

On October 4, 2012, I wrote a story about a Grandmother.  After a little hiatus away from blogging (with my own grandchildren), today I realized it is October 4th once again.  In memory of the grandmothers who have gone before us and in honor of all of the super-grandmas who climb mountains, crawl around on the floor, bake yummy treats, tell inspirational stories and give fabulous hugs, I am writing today's blog story.  ¡¡Que viva las super abuelas!!

We wandered around the small town of Cinquera, then hopped into our micro-bus and, following the instructions from the town-folk, drove a little ways down the road to the roundabout with the giant ceiba tree.  With more than a little bit of skepticism, we hiked up a gravel and dirt road, hoping eventually to find a small rain forest in which we could do a little hiking and swimming.  We arrived at the Cinquera Ecological Park and were warmly greeted by our guide, Raquel.  The park has not been given any status or protection by the national government, but has been preserved by local citizens and scientists.

We were reminded that the people of Cinquera evacuated in 1980, leaving everything behind, including farm fields of corn, beans and vegetables which were cultivated to feed local families.  Throughout the war, the FMLN forces were strong in this region, and the fighting was intense.  The town was destroyed by bombs, and without cultivation, the fields were quickly overtaken by the natural forest.  The forest provided cover and resources for the guerrilla forces.  (Raquel pointed out that the engine from a downed helicopter on display in the Cinquera museum was evidence that the FMLN forces successfully fought against the military here.)

Today, the people of Cinquera, all of whom lost loved ones during the war, say that the only good thing to have come from the conflict is this forest.   Botanists from the botanical garden in San Salvador assist the locals in identifying the trees of this forest.  Each tree is counted and named, and a few very rare trees have been identified.  Trees known in Nicaragua and Guatemala (but no where else in El Salvador) have been found in this forest, their seeds brought in by bats and birds which migrate exclusively to this place.

We walked to the swimming hole - a beautiful spring-fed pool accessible by a swinging bridge and a few rock-to-rock jumps over a stream.  A couple of people stayed to swim, and the rest of us followed the guide uphill about 20 minutes to the "blue pools."  These pools, made from natural rock and mortar (created with egg white) more than 150 years ago were used to process indigo into blue dye.  Our guide said, "Before the war, poor people wore white and wealthy people wore blue." (There are good examples of traditional clothing at the Museum of Word and Image in San Salvador.) The dye was created by fermenting the indigo plant in the first pool.  Rainwater collected in the pool via a gravity system.  Once fermented, the plant liquid was moved into the next pool by unplugging holes that exist between the two pools.  People then climbed into the pool and stomped on the fermented plants.  This process was repeated in a third pool.  The indigo was ready when it could be formed into a ball in one's hand.  The workers pressed the indigo into little cakes which were shipped throughout El Salvador and across the globe.

After the tutorial on indigo, our guide offered to take us up the mountain.  The less able among us walked back down to the swimming hole, and the braver ones decided to climb despite the heat and humidity.  We followed Raquel up a steep and narrow trail - the route to an old FMLN camp site.  Our first stop was a bunker near a large tree.  We paused here to catch our breath, drink water, and learn about the strategic shape and location of the bunker.  It was designed to hold 2 guerrilla fighters whose job it was to protect small bands of troops as they made their way back to camp with provisions and medicines.  The angle of the bunker drew fire away from the path.

The big tree was planted about 76 years ago.  There are only two trees of this type in the entire forest.  It began its life as a sprout on top of the oven of the Escobar family business.  The oven was used to cook crushed rocks and create a powdered, white paint that was used to paint houses and road markers.  When the sapling appeared someone in the business said, "Let's plant this tree here and it will serve a purpose some day."  During the war, this great tree saved many lives.  It's wide trunk protected guerrilla soldiers.  The trunk is marked with many bullet holes.

Not long ago, a nearby neighborhood petitioned the caretakers of the forest for permission to insert a pipe into a spring in order to bring water to the neighborhood.  Permission was granted, as long as no trees were harmed.  As digging occurred to lay the pipe, workers unearthed an olive green shirt, then a pair of short boots, and then a green bag like that which every guerrilla fighter carried.  Inside the bag were a change of clothes, a carpeta (small blanket), a rolled up hammock and a metal tin of toasted corn mixed with sugar.  If a fighter were without food, one spoonful of the corn and sugar would be used to "kill the hunger."  Nearby to the bag, the workers discovered human bones.  In this place, beside the bunker and near the big tree, an informal burial had been held for a fallen comrade.  "Sadly," Raquel reflected, "the trees of the forest are fertilized by the blood of those who fell here - guerrillas and military alike."  We sat on some benches and felt the presence of those who had lost their lives here, and those who had survived.  People of the corn.  People of the trees.

This was a serious moment, for those from the US walking in the legacy government-funded planes and bombs, for the Salvadoran youth and young adults walking with no war memories of their own but in the shadows of their parent soldiers or guerrillas or refugees, and for the grandmother walking in her story.  We sat for a while, before continuing our climb up the mountain...

the story of the climb up the mountain continues...