Sunday, February 26, 2017

Pablo's Tortillas

One day we rode across the lake to visit a place which holds many stories for the Lutheran Church.  After serving as a refuge for frightened and fleeing families, this well-hidden place rested.  Pablo and his friend, Rubén, made a home in the abandoned shelters, watching over the land.  They planted and they gathered.  For seventeen years they took good care to preserve and to encourage the natural beauty of this place.

The Lutheran Church is now in a time of reflection.  Time has healed some of the wounds of war among the people, enough so that they are needing and wanting to share their stories.  The land beside the lake holds some of these stories and has the potential to be a place of healing, telling, listening and learning.  This land also has the potential to produce fruits and vegetables, coffee and herbs, which could help sustain the church.  A new guest house has been constructed from selected trees which accompanied the people when they took shelter beneath their branches.  These same trees now provide a place where people can rest and live for a while as neighbors with Pablo and Rubén.

And so, one day with a little group who came to see the new guest house, we rode across the lake and arrived to find Pablo making breakfast.  He was deftly spinning the masa in his hand, creating a perfectly round tortilla which he then placed on a rectangular piece of banana leaf.  "This is our breakfast," he said.  It's not unusual for people in the countryside to eat twice a day, with breakfast happening in the mid-morning after several hours of chores.  "A woman showed me how to make tortillas bien suavecitas (nicely soft)," Pablo continued.  "We like them this way."

We asked Pablo to teach us how to make nicely soft tortillas, and if it was OK to take photos.  "Of course!" said Pablo.  We watched as Pablo carefully folded one side of the leaf, then folded a triangle over and over until the tortilla was encased in a tight, square package.  He placed each tortilla package into a big pot.  The packages were covered with water, and the pot was placed over the fire.  While we hiked uphill to see the view of the lake, the tortillas simmered inside their little packages.

We shared stories and songs beneath the giant avocado trees.
When it was time for us to leave, Pablo handed a pile of tortilla packages to our pastor, so we could all try the soft tortillas.  This, along with some enormous avocados which suddenly fell from the tree, was an extremely generous and appreciated gift.

Every night, Pablo and Ruben play their guitars and sing praises to God for one hour before they go to sleep.  Their faith and devotion to God, to their little piece of creation and to their neighbors is an inspiration to all who meet them and is imbedded within each bite of nicely soft tortilla.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Trabajar y Orar: Working and Praying for Good

If you are a frequent reader of the stories which are told on this page, you may remember that on the day of the Women's March in Washington DC, there was a small action which was taken here in El Salvador on behalf of a girl who wanted to attend seventh grade.

A few weeks ago, we received the sad news that although all of the prayer and work had been accomplished to register the would-be seventh grader for classes, she had not yet attended.  The reason:  the school prohibits head scarves and the girl's father would not permit her to attend school without her head scarf.  Her faith tradition is Pentecostal, and in this particular Christian sect, women cover their hair with a white mantillita or small head scarf.

The school is a public school.  Many girls and boys from the local Pentecostal church attend classes there, as do children from many other faith traditions (or no faith traditions at all).  All students wear uniforms.  In the past, some of the girls with head scarves have been bullied at school or right outside of school.  The administration met with parents and decided to make a rule that girls remove their headscarves during school.  The girls and their families have agreed with this rule, and the usual practice is for the girls to wear their scarves on the walk and public bus ride to school and then remove them once they enter the school gate.  The father in our story could not accept this rule, so his daughter did not go to school during the first several weeks of classes.

The Lutheran pastors continued to meet with the family and the school officials to look for a compromise.  The girl WANTS to go to school.  She could have defied her father.  She could have even taken legal action to obtain her right to go to school.  How difficult that would have been for her and her family!  The Lutheran team took the slow and steady path of continued conversation.

Yesterday we received the good news that the dream for the girl to attend seventh grade with her friends has come true!  She continues to wear her head scarf along with her school uniform.  The family and the school are working together to make sure she is safe from bullying as she enters and exits the school.

The challenge to control bullying in middle schools is not unique to El Salvador, nor to the United States.  How beautiful and mutually beneficial it is when we can work together as families, as the church, and as social institutions to protect the human rights and religious freedoms of girls and boys and women and men for the benefit of all.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Off the Beaten Path: Block Party in Apopa (Festival Cultural Noé Canjura)

Block by block, street by street.

In my US home city, we talk about strengthening the safety of our city, about growing our city economically and ecologically, about building relationships among people in this way:  block by block, street by street.  This strategy is not unique to the US.  In El Salvador too, people practice this idea of tackling big problems bit by bit with small successes.  "Our phrase we like to use," said our pastor, "is sí se puede."

This weekend, we participated in an event which could best be described as a block party and it was much more than a small success.  It was fun!

In preparation for the block party, neighbors joined workers
sent by the mayor to clean the street and paint the curbs
Off the main road, behind the shopping center, there is a little neighborhood beside a little street which connects other neighborhoods within a city that is anecdotally and statistically unsafe.  Within this little neighborhood, families are rooted.  They built small homes in the 1960's.  They survived the war.  Generations multiplied.  Children grew and left and returned.  Elders share stories.  The children and grandchildren of the elders recently formed an association with an idea to reclaim the little street and to develop a peaceful place along its path where generations could meet and sit on benches beneath the trees.  

Gathering + First Cultural Festival Noé Canjura
Street to the Station, Canjura neighborhood
The group organized itself well and is open to all who wish to contribute.  They chose the name:  Estación Turisticó Noé Canjura which embraces the history of the street as the "route to the station"  (the old railway station is at the end of the road) and the history of their city as the birthplace of artist Noé Canjura.  The committee did all the formal work and began organizing the community to realize their dream of a peaceful place, a historic place, a place for local tourism.

For visitors to El Salvador, Apopa is place where you turn off the bypass out of San Salvador to head up the highway to the north.  Apopa is the place with crazy bus traffic.  Apopa is the place where you meet people at the Puma gas station.  The city struggles with violence and territorial divisions.  Corruption infiltrated the local government to such a level that the mayor and his cronies were arrested and removed from office.  Apopa is home to the famous mastodon remains.  It is a city which has experienced tremendous growth and development over the past 50 years, transitioning from a small city surrounded by forest and mountains to a congested urban environment along the highway connecting with San Salvador.

A Facebook page was created to promote the block party.  Given that the event, and the new tourist area were given the name "Noé Canjura" we decided to learn a little more about his art.  He has several pieces featured at MARTE, the Salvadoran Museum of Modern Art.  We were able to learn a little more about his personal life from a magazine we picked up at the fair.

Noé Canjura has a unique style, influenced by Salvadoran
heritage and culture, and by his education and many years in Paris

Suggestions, Donations and Information

The Facebook page also featured a little video of a train - a way for older folks and children to ride up and down the historic street.  Truthfully, we had doubts about the fun of riding the train, but this little train was seriously one of the highlights of our day!  Yes, we rode more than once!  The train was loaned to the neighborhood by the city of Guazapa, and it carried us up a steep hill to the nearby school, through the dusty schoolyard and back down again.  All along the way the neighbors came out to wave and take pictures.  As the day went on, people caught the train to ride down to the festivities.  We heard that on Sunday, the train actually went through the parking lot of the shopping center to promote the event and to bring people.

This train has an awesome whistle!

In the spirit of an art festival, local artisans were invited to share their gifts (which included a demonstration of the psychological benefits of aquaria) and to sell their artworks and handicrafts.  A neighbor with ample space hosted catered foods in a mini-restaurant, complete with white tablecloths, shade bamboo and a fountain.  (The story of how this land was divided for homes and got the name "Colonia Canjura" is too long for this post - but it is not surprising that it does involve The Grandfather)   We enjoyed a delicious lunch and a rest in the shade.

Although we did not stay for the evening featured events, we heard that the featured drama was well-done and enjoyed by everyone.  It was a story about a family in which the youngest sister was disrespected and treated badly by her siblings and her parents - a story from the indigenous people of long ago which the director re-worked to include modern elements.  The audience participated in encouraging the young girl in the story to value herself and to take her right place in the world.

It will be fun to see how the community continues to develop this project, and if next February will bring another block party.  If so, we would definitely go again!