Saturday, December 31, 2011

Feliz Año Nuevo

Andrea and Judith and I have spent the morning wandering happily through the streets and markets of Antigua Guatemala, delighting in the cool weather and getting ready to join the crowd in wishing everyone a Feliz Año Nuevo. And now I'm sitting somewhat less happily in the beautiful courtyard of the Hotel Aurora, where we're staying, trying to figure out how to upload a photo of the courtyard into the post via the iPad. It's right here in front of me, and I can't get to it. Grrr! Ah well - this may have to wait until I'm back in El Salvador, but just let me tell you: this is a beautiful city - full of tourists, catering to us, and in that sense a bit artificial like all good tourist cities, but a place full of history, color, delights. I'm posting this mostly to say that as we celebrate the New Year with the Antigüeños I will be praying for the peace that we long for in 2012, peace in our hearts and in our world. May we be blessed with the desire to work for peace.

And here's the photo at last:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Feliz Navidad a tod@s

Christmas this year was a quiet retreat time for me - as quiet as a retreat can be when all of the boyz in town are setting off firecrackers until 3 AM! Very different and very valuable to have this as a time for meditation and prayer - with a fair bit of church interspersed. I wouldn't want to celebrate this way every year, but I'm glad I did find that solitude of spirit amidst the firecrackers. Speaking of the firecrackers: my wonderful landlady said that yes, she would get the front of the house painted before my guests arrived on the 26th, and yes, her husband and a helper showed up on the 23rd to put a bright and fresh blue coat of paint on the house. I rejoiced until I got up on Christmas day and discovered that the kids setting off the firecrackers on Christmas eve had been unable to resist the lovely fresh blue canvas my house represented, and had put a fair bit of inoffensive graffiti on the wall. Happily, it all washed off fairly easily, leaving the paint job just smudged enough to (maybe) make it less interesting on New Year's Eve. Quiet time is now officially over: I met Andrea Nenzel and her sister Judith Knight at the airport on Monday. They're here for a couple of weeks of sightseeing and relaxation and - in Andrea's case - time to see a few old friends from her days here in 1985-87 at the Calle Real Refugee Center. Today we visited with Dina Duvon, one of the wisest women I'll ever know, and explored Suchitoto. Tomorrow, another visit, more exploration, all at a quiet pace with great companions - what more could one ask?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reading the signs

This morning I was peacefully praying in the patio, sitting under the lemon tree.  I came to a moment of clarity and peace in an area that's been a challenge to me and my moment was punctuated by a kind of thump - ah, I thought, a falling lemon, a greeting from Spirit, how wonderful - and continued my prayer.

A little later, as I was sweeping leaves, I saw that what had fallen was indeed a lemon - but a rotten lemon, and it had fallen squishily right in front of the chair I'd been sitting in.  Punctuation indeed!  Perhaps it was fortunate that by this time I couldn't remember exactly what brilliant insight or spiritual awakening had been greeted by a rotten lemon.

It reminds me, though, to read signs lightly.  I do believe we are all connected, the lemon tree and my prayer and the Spirit and the drunk man having a loud conversation in the street outside - but I also believe those connections are deep and strange and subtle, beyond my reading.  Taking that falling lemon as applause - or as disapprobation - is harmless as long as I take it lightly and remember to rejoice in the unimaginable life of the lemon tree which has nothing and everything to do with me.

Monday, December 19, 2011


I had a couple of missions today.  The first and easiest was delivering a Christmas basket to Rosita and her daughters and taking them to El Paraiso, the nearest town, for a little shopping.  Then came the serious mission.  When I was in the Northwest in November I sat down for coffee with Theresa Edwards, daughter of my friends Lisa Dennison and Karl Edwards.  Theresa was with the youth delegation from Seattle's St. Patrick Church that visited Nueva Trinidad in July,   When she returned, full of energy for continuing to study Spanish and planning for her next visits to Central America, she painted a picture of St. Patrick's as a gift for the people she'd met and loved in Nueva Trinidad.  And would I take the picture to them?  Oh yes, I said, nothing to it.

And that was today's second mission.  I headed toward the town of Chalatenango from El Paraiso, thinking that it wouldn't take me long to get to Nueva Trinidad, perhaps 30 kilometers further up the road from Chalatenango.  Sounded simple.  Wasn't.  The map shows the road proceeding smoothly through Chalatenango, but Chalatenango is a frustrating grid of very neatly laid out narrow streets that somehow do not get you where you want to go.  On my first try, I followed a bus that said "Chalatenango - San José" knowing that San José las Flores was on the same road as Nueva Trinidad.  I followed the bus as it twisted and turned through the streets, and I almost followed it into - alas - its parking area.  And then I returned, sheepishly, to the Texaco at the entrance to the town, filled up on gas (this was a brilliant move) and asked them how to get to Nueva Trinidad.  Clearly the guy at the gas pump had never heard of it.  "Arcatao?" I asked, knowing Arcatao is the last town on that very same road.  Oh, he said, you mean Arcatao?  - giving it, I swear, almost the identical pronunciation - yes, yes, Arcatao.  Well, you just go up this street and keep going up.....

I've learned to ask women for directions, and so when I thought I might be headed for the road out of Chalatenango (deeply desired after about 1/2 hour of threading through narrow streets full of trucks unloading and Christmas shoppers) I asked a woman selling fruit.  Ah, she said, you're on the right road, but just give a ride to this woman, she wants to go to las Flores (it's the first of the three towns), and she'll show you the way.  Great idea!  So I invited Roxana into my car and she asked if she could take a few minutes to get some lunch.  A few minutes later she came back with lunch and three other women who needed rides to San José las Flores, and we were off.

Shortly after we left Chalatenango the road got pretty bad - big potholes and crumbled pavement.  I remarked on how "feo" - ugly - the road was.  Wish I'd listened more carefully, because I'm sure I could have learned the Salvadoran version of "You ain't seen nothing yet."  Soon I was shifting into 4-wheel drive and negotiating a road in the process of being built.  I'd heard about the new highway that was being constructed in Chalatenango, but it hadn't occurred to me that it went through Arcatao, Nueva Trinidad and San José las Flores and that it was being constructed under us.  We bumped through gravel, dirt, dirt interspersed with big rocks, work sites with flagwomen directing traffic, patches of pavement, patches of wandering trail, surrounded on all sides by steep hills and steep slopes.  It seemed to take forever, but we did arrive at San José las Flores, where I left my helpful guides (who told me to take the left at the first Y and the right at the second, or was it the other way around?).  The next stretch of road was finished highway, smooth and new and beautiful, but still a mountain road with impressive curves.  And then, abruptly, I was on dirt again, and then on a semi-paved road, and then - milagro - at Nueva Trinidad. 

Theresa told me to ask for Julio Rivera, so I stopped at the Alcaldia and asked a young woman where I could find him.  Oh yes, she said, he's over there at the biblioteca (library), and there he was, blessedly, delighted to receive Theresa's painting, which he said will be placed in just the right spot.  Meanwhile the young woman, Karina, and her cousin Kenia (or that might be spelled Carina and Quenia) asked if they could have a ride back to Chalatenango with me, and I said of course.  We had a grand conversation going back  - I learned how much they appreciated the help that St. Pat's has sent over the years - and they saved me from a couple of wrong turns. 

When I finally got back on the familiar road to the Troncal, the northern trunk road, I felt as if I'd been gone for a couple of weeks, but the journey only took about 3 hours, and it was great fun. And now Nueva Trinidad has a picture of St. Pat's and I have a picture of the path to Nueva Trinidad.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


The title can be Amigos/as, but I like the use of the @ (called the aroba here) to indicate both masculine and feminine.  I visited amig@s today and had the delight of meeting a very brand new friend, Sofia, the tiny (4 day old) granddaughter of Rosa Aguiar in Comasagua.  Sofia came almost four weeks early, but she's healthy and beautiful, delighting Vanessa, her mom, and Rosa and her daddy, who I haven't met yet, but who is reported to be head over heels in love with both Sofi and her mama. 

Then I drove over to Panchimalco, where I brought a gift basket of foods (a very good custom here) to Walther (one of our scholarship students) and his family.  I got there just before Walther and his band were about to go play for a quinceañera (celebration of a girl's 15th birthday, a very big deal), so the photo includes Walther's family, and some of the band members.  I had the honor of transporting all the drums (and they have quite a set!) to the party location - it wasn't far from Walther's house, but would have seemed a long way if you had the drums on your back.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Viva Santa Lucia! Viva Suchitoto!

First and most important, I'm happy to say that my neighbor made it through surgery after being shot, and is now out of danger.  I don't know much more, but that is good news. 

And then today is the vigil of the feastday of Santa Lucia, Suchitoto's patron saint, and it has been wildly full of events.  The Barrio Santa Lucia started the day with loud firecrackers and their morning procession to church.  In the afternoon I went to the Mass honoring Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (her procession, with all the children dressed in traditional outfits, happened yesterday).  Today's Mass was followed by another procession - yes, it does get a bit confusing - this one honoring Santa Lucia.  Down my street they came, first the altar boys with cross and candle, then the brass band, then the priest and a fiesta princess, then a statue of Santa Lucia (not the one in the church which is very old and very beautiful) carried by women, then about 75 people in the procession and finally, bringing up the rear, the Barrio Santa Lucia float, with its waving princess.

What could be better than that?  Fireworks, that's what.  After the procession and Santa Lucia make their way back into the church, it's time for the fiesta to begin.  They'd been set up in advance, both ranks of rockets and a number of figures (there's a representative one here) lavishly dressed in fireworks.  I found what seemed like a great place in the crowded plaza to watch, trying to avoid the hot pupusa stands and not stand too near to the works (it's a scene that would give U.S. fire marshalls instant anxiety attacks).  I hadn't paid enough attention to the wind, though, and the first barrage of fireworks came right in my direction - and CLOSE, so I was brushing cinders off my shirt and out of my eyes.  Then came the toros - men who put on "bull" frames that have been wired with firecrackers and run through the center of the plaza in an explosion of flames and small rockets.  They lit up various figures - a butterfly, a woman, a campesino - each of which had its own drama of sparks and flames and rockets.  And finally, they touched a match to the stage center and it went in a whoosh of colors.  More rockets.  And now there's a big dance going on next to the Alcaldia (City Hall) - just far enough away so I probably can get to sleep.

¡Que viva la fiesta!  ¡Que viva Santa Lucia!  ¡Que viva Suchitoto!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The best of times, the worst of times

Today began so beautifully, with the firecrackers at 4 AM giving notice that it was time for our neighborhood, el Barrio Calvario, to gather for our procession to the church to make our "ofrenda" to Santa Lucia.  We gathered outside the home of my next-door neighbor, Dinora, and drank coffee and ate pan dulce while we waited to begin.  I talked with Martha about how beautiful these celebrations are, how I wish we had such fiestas in my own country.  We walked and sang and carried our candles into the church, where we placed them below one of the santos or at the entrance to the santísimo (the sanctuary).  We participated in the Mass that began at 5:45, and afterwards I walked home, thinking about the possibility of a nap.

Just as I was about to turn the corner onto my street, the peaceful scene was shattered.  I didn't hear a bullet, but I saw my neighbor Dinora come running, crying out that "they killed the Niña Julia."  (Niña is in this case a respectful way to name an older woman).  Julia runs a little restaurant on the corner that's part of the mercado building; her son owns the disco behind our house.  We quickly learned that she wasn't dead, but was seriously wounded; the police arrived to carry her to the local hospital, where her wounds were beyond their capabilities; she was sent on to Hospital Rosales, an hour away in the capital.  I am praying for her to live.

How could such a horror happen in the middle of our fiesta, in the middle of this little town that's usually an oasis from the violence that seems worse every day in El Salvador?  No one knows exactly; there's speculation that she didn't pay the renta (protection money).  It's said that the shooter was an adolescent boy.  I don't know if the bystanders knew who he was, and if they did know, I don't know whether they'll tell the police.

With little trust in the police and even less in the courts, ordinary Salvadorans have no solution to the violence that has become so everyday here.  And they have reason not to trust the police and the courts: just this past week, a judge refused to let a witness appear in a facial mask and refused to have him use voice distorting equipment.  The next day two of the witness' relatives were killed.

My Salvadoran friends will go on, living their lives as best they can in as much peace as they can find, fearing for the future of their sons and daughters, and I will go on accompanying them.  And praying for the life of the Niña Julia.  And praying for peace.

Friday, December 9, 2011


It's fiesta time in Suchitoto, 12 days of daily processions, celebrations, parades, floats, bands, fireworks, dances that lead up to the grand patronal feast of Santa Lucia on December 13th (though I suppose it really should be a matronal feast).  Each neighborhood has its day to get up at 4 in the morning and process to church by candlelight for the 5:45 am mass - ours is tomorrow, and I won't need to set my alarm clock- the firecrackers will let me know it's time.  Each neighborhood also creates a carroza - we'd call it a float - that circulates throughout Suchitoto, visiting each of the neighborhoods, in the evening.  Here's yesterday's offering, from Barrio Concepción - they outdid themselves by creating TWO carrozas.  During the day there are special activities - today Barrio San José offered a celebration for the old folk, which I missed, and a kid's fiesta, and later fireworks and finally a dance.  Their carroza was preceded by Alcides who carried the long forked stick used to hold up the electricity lines so they wouldn't topple the display and followed by a small but marvellous brass band (clarinet, horn, trombone, tuba and a couple of drums). 

I especially enjoyed today's festivities because today we heard one of my favorite Gospel passages, where Jesus says that John the Baptist came fasting and we called him crazy, while the Son of Man came eating and drinking and we called him a glutton and drunkard....(Mt.11, 16-19).  I'm pretty sure that Jesus would love the way people celebrate here in Suchitoto.  I surely do.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Getting around

After almost three years here I'm almost used to the wild and various means of transportation in El Salvador.  Any truck comes with at least two muchachos riding - and often sleeping - on top of the load.  Sometimes the muchachos really have to work, as in the bottom photo of a refrigerator being perilously delivered.  Pickups fill in all the holes in the transportation system, packing in crowds of standing-room-only passengers.  And the buses are many and various, often dangerous - bus drivers and cobradores (the guys who cram yet two more people into overcrowded buses) are often the targets of shootings when the owners of a bus line are late in paying the renta.  Still, they are inescapable, the only way most people here have to get to work or to school or to the doctor. 

I love the names and mottos and icons on our buses.  There's one called "Love and Jope" which doesn't quite work in Spanish or English, but you get the idea.  I recently drove behind a bus that proclaimed in big type, No es culpa mia, it's not my fault.  Decided to pass him quickly before he could live up to the slogan.  And my all-time favorite is a bus with Jesus on the back mirror, in his crown of thorns, like the 2nd photo here.  Underneath a motto: Salí con tu mujer, I went out with your woman.  That reverence and cheeky irreverence, cheerfully combined - muy Salvadoreño.