Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I've been meeting this mare and foal in various places in Suchitoto, running freely through the streets - for me, a city-bred gringa who loves horses, an amazing sight. The other day I saw them as I was driving in to Suchi, and for once I had my camera with me. Then last night I heard hooves passing our house and looked out to see a mounted horseman herding the mare and foal down the street. So apparently they do belong to someone, and their days of mooching around in town are over. I'll miss them!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Gloribel hits the books

Last week I had a great visit with Gloribel and her mother. Gloribel and her mother Hortensia have been going to a school for deaf children in Santa Ana since March, and they were delighted to show off Gloribel's learning in a heap of carefully written and beautifully illustrated notebooks - one can be seen in this photo. She's been learning a lot of Salvadoran Sign Language as well, and it was great to watch her signing with her mother and sister (and she taught me a few signs, too). Gloribel's intelligence and ability were so clear, even before she got the opportunity to go to school, that it's no surprise that she's blossoming now.

The trip to school, four days a week, demands a lot from both Gloribel and Hortensia - they have to take three different buses to get there, and it takes about 2 hours each way. But Hortensia is glad to give this time, because she is so eager for her daughter to have the learning and skills she'll need to survive as a deaf woman in El Salvador. And Gloribel: she's just glad to be learning, to be communicating, to be in touch with the world.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fiesta de Maiz

Corn was king today, and queen too, as Suchitoto celebrated the annual Fiesta de Maiz. Truckloads of corn came in from the campo and colonias of Suchi, the church was decorated with corn stalks, and this morning a procession with corn princes and princesses made its way from the Capilla de la Cruz to the church. It's one of the days when the church is crammed with all the side aisles full of folk who stand patiently through the Mass.

Then we all went out into the plaza where food was waiting - elote (corn on the cob) and atol (hot corn drink) and tamales de elote and - my favorite, the thing I wait for all year - riguas, the best fresh corn pancakes imaginable, grilled in banana leaves. They're una cora (a quarter) each, and I restrained myself and bought only two. Wish they were sold every day!

The celebration felt especially good this year because the corn harvest has been excellent - this after two years when the weather interrupted harvests. There's a threat of bad weather coming from hurricanes in the Atlantic, but so far, at least, we've only had the normal pattern of sunny mornings with a downpour in the afternoon or evening. So we celebrated the harvest in bright sunshine.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Home again

Geovany made quick progress once the rods and pins were supplied - his surgery was Thursday, August 11th, and by Sunday he was ready to come home. I volunteered to provide the transportation, and drove into the capital with Geovany's dad, José, and his brother Juan Carlos. At this stage of his journey back from the auto accident Geovany is very thin, with quite a collections of scars, bandages and casts, but he was clearly glad to be going home where he'll get his mama's home cooking and begin to learn to use his legs again. Here he is with his parents on the porch of the family home - getting him there required bouncing down a long dirt road and crossing a rushing brook - fortunately not during a rainstorm. It probably was more than a bit painful for Geovany, but I didn't hear even a squeak.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Richard at home

The last few days have been full of wonderful events and meetings, material for more blog posts than I've had time to write (they'll come along later this week). One of the best times was visiting young Richard Stanley and his mom Mari in their home in San Rafael Cedros. I went with Iris Alas, our San Rafael coordinator, her daughter, and Sergio, one of the community volunteers and Mari's uncle. Richard's new heart valve seems to be behaving well, though getting the medications right has been a challenge. He looks good - more color and more energy than before - and he continues to be a truly squiggly 3-year-old with no interest in having his picture taken. I sneaked in this one when he wasn't looking at me. Mari told me that when all the kids in the hospital were having their pictures taken, Richard was the only one who would have none of it.

Richard and Mari live in the midst of a big Salvadoran family, with Mari's mother and three sisters and a brother and a big bunch of cousins, mostly boys. The family put together the classic almuerzo (luncheon): sopa de gallina india (country hen soup) with a bit of the grilled gallina and salad on the side, with fresh tortillas. It was glorious, and we ate until we could hardly waddle. A great way to celebrate Richard's new life!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Instructions from a master teacher

When we finished our week of clinics in San Rafael Cedros last February, we gave 80 Sawyer Point One water filters to the community, in care of Iris Alas. Last week Iris invited me to a meeting at which she was handing over about 15 of the filters to women who had completed the necessary steps - they'd come to a first meeting where they had learned about the importance of clean water, and about how much it would save the family in medical costs, someone in the family had been tested for parasites and bacteria at the local health center, and they were ready to spend $5 or $10 (depending on means) to defray the cost of the buckets, which the municipality had purchased.

We met at Iris' house, and for the next hour I had the pleasure of watching a master teacher at work. First, Iris went over the details: starting the treatment for parasites once everyone in the family is using the clean water; using the clean water to wash hands and food; keeping the bucket of clean water covered and off the floor; sending the kids to school with bottles of clean water; making refrescos with clean water; backwashing the filter regularly to keep it clean. That's Iris at right in the top photo, and also in that photo, because I couldn't resist, is the family cat, occupying, like every good cat, the exact center of the space. Everyone, I'm here to tell you, carefully walked around the cat, who took this as her due.

Then three CIS volunteers showed how to put the filter and buckets together, and we watched the tap water flow into the bottom bucket, and then each of the women handed over her family member's lab test and the money, and each received two buckets and the filter kit.

It was a joy to see this being done so carefully because, as Iris says, otherwise the filters wouldn't be well used, or they might be sold or be forgotten. These women had to go through some work and pay some money to get their filters, and because of that they're much likelier to use them for the health of their families - and Iris and the local youth who get scholarships from CIS will be checking up in six months.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Buying pins

Last week José knocked on my door and introduced himself. He's a farmer in one of the small communities that are part of the Suchitoto municipality, a former guerrillero and a man with eight children. One of those children, his son Geovany, had been hit by a car in June, and was in Zacamil hospital in San Salvador after being concussed and breaking both legs and an arm. José came to see me, on Sister Peggy's suggestion, because his son's legs needed to be pinned surgically and that could only happen if the family came up with $800 for the pins and rods.

This is a story I've become all too familiar with here: good hospital care and surgery is available without cost, but if healing requires any kind of medical equipment - a heart valve, interocular lenses, surgical pins, special tests, medication the hospital doesn't stock - the family will have to try to find the resources to buy what's needed. For poor families in El Salvador, like José's family, that's often completely impossible.

We were able to help José and Geovany, thanks to some generous donors, so yesterday José and I drove into the capital to make the purchase from Sistemas Biomedicas. We found the address without too much difficulty, but no one answered the doorbell in an office building that was far from the city center. Finally a man came along and explained that the company had moved down into the San Salvador medical center. He called for the address and gave us excellent and clear directions to 124 Boulevard Dr. Hector Silva. Following his directions, we found a likely street, but the street proclaimed that its name was Avenida Maria Elena. And we didn't see #124 anywhere. I drove to the Archdiocese of San Salvador office, not far away, to ask my friends there for some help. They looked up the street on the internet and gave me directions to, yes, the street apparently named Avenida Maria Elena. So we tried again, and this time we rang the bell at the building that seemed most likely to be #124, though it lacked a number, and yes, it was the new home of Sistemas Biomedicas, and yes, they could sell us the rods and pins.

Then we went to visit Geovany in the hospital, and I hoped to take a photo, but that turned out to be against hospital rules. I'll hope to include his photo when he's out of the hospital, working through his physical therapy to get back on his feet. Meanwhile, I'm glad we can help make his recovery possible, and I'm glad to know that Avenida Maria Elena really is Boulevard Dr. Hector Silva.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dog days

In winter, the rainy season (going on right now), we rely on the rain to cut the heat and bring in some natural air cooling, like the swamp coolers I remember from my Albuquerque days. But for the past couple of days, it hasn't rained here in Suchitoto - thunderstorms all around us, but only heat and more heat, humidity and higher humidity here. Over at the Centro Arte para la Paz, Peggy's Luna did what any sensible dog would do in this heat - found the coolest spot on the tile floor and put as much of herself in contact with it as possible. Don't think I haven't considered it!

But I found a better antidote to the heat and humidity of these dog days in the harp music floating out into the courtyard. Wendy is here on one of her regular visits from Ontario, and she was teaching her students a few new songs and techniques. It must be the power of music, but they all look radiant and cooler than cucumbers. A concert's planned for next weekend - Margaret Jane and I will surely be there. Meanwhile, we hope for some rain.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fiesta del Salvador del Mundo

Tomorrow is the feast of the Transfiguration, but here it's celebrated with extra passion and delight as the feast of El Salvador del Mundo, the savior of the world - El Salvador's patronal feast. This is one of three week-long celebrations in El Salvador during which people with government or office jobs get holidays: Christmas/New Year's; Holy Week; and the August vacations on the week that includes August 6th. These are all Christian celebrations, but there's not the separation between church and state here that exists in the U.S.

These three weeks are beautifully scattered through the year, so that every 4th month there's a week-long vacation. Salvadorans take off to other countries, to the beach, to the mountains, and some come to Suchitoto, so we always have extra folk roaming our streets during the vacations. The big celebration, with procession and parades and carnival rides and fireworks is in San Salvador - it's the patronal feast of the city as well as the country, of course.

We had our Suchitoto celebration of the Transfiguration tonight, because Padre Carlos Elias will be concelebrating with the Archbishop in San Salvador tomorrow. Before Margaret Jane and I went out for pupusas, we connected with Ana outside the church, and were happy to see her wearing the gloriously pink shoes Margaret Jane had brought back for her. A great feastday look!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Getting back into connection here in El Salvador, I made a bunch of visits yesterday. I went to Soyapango to see my almost-two-year-old Godson, Alejandro, who has definitely made the move from baby to boy. He's also gotten less shy in the two months I've been away, so I got plenty of smiles, one of them captured here. In the capital I visited with Armando, our Bajo Lempa friend with the fruit orchard and pig farm (he's now added chickens to his mix).

Then I drove to San Juan Opico to visit Sonia and her children. I translated, as best I could, a letter from Dr. Dale Heisinger expressing his sorrow at the death of her daughter Gema, and she gave me a letter she had written for Dr. Dale. You can feel the loss and sadness in the family, especially in Sonia and Julia, now the oldest child, but they've also moved back into the daily rhythms of work and play. Sonia and Julia were working together on making jewelry when I came in; Jarrison was playing in a doctor outfit that Sonia had found in a 2nd hand store, and Kelly was a tiny charmer, as always. The milpa that surrounds their house is full of high-as-an-elephant's-eye corn, the pila is full of water from the rains, and the fruit trees are bearing. Life ongoing.