Sunday, April 29, 2012

Surgery week

Our eye surgery week always brings us into the company of miracles.  It's good hard scientific medical work as our surgeons (Judith Newman and Tony Pisacano), scrub nurses (Sally Nelson and Rosy Melara) and circulator (Sarita Angulo) follow the protocols of any good surgery, maintaining the sterility of the surgical field, having all needed materials on hand and identified, creating an orderly pattern from first incision to closing.  There they are above, hard at work, gowned and gloved, standing over invisible patients.

But we know there's more to it when the patients come in the next day for their first post-op exam and are full of joy and gratitude at the gift of sight.  One woman said to Judith, "You have beautiful hands.  Thank you for using them to let me see again."  It's a joyful moment when the bandages come off.
In this photo one of our patients is testing her new vision while Selene Richardson, Tony, and Steve Scruggs delight in the moment.  There are few privileges greater than participating in a miracle like this one.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

At work, at play

Two days into our eye surgery mission and we are at work and at play - with such a fine team it's sometimes blessedly hard to tell the difference. As is often the case, we lament the patients who were too afraid to show up, and rejoice in giving new sight to those who come to the hospital at 6 AM in the parish bus, driven by Padre Mario. Eye surgery is the focus of this mission, but we also found time to give vision checks (and reading glasses for those who need them) to staff at Hospital San Raphael. This afternoon nurses and janitors and cooks and x-ray techs lined up until we had to cut the line at 35 people. Those 35 waited with Salvadoran patience, laughing and joking and approving the new glasses of each one who emerged from the consulting room. It was a little fiesta. And we came back from the hospital to talk and laugh and play cards and share stories and eat mangoes and have our own fiesta here at the Centro Loyola. And now it's time to head for bed, to sleep until the little green parrots come flying and calling in the morning sky - and then back to work.

Friday, April 20, 2012

This week

In so many ways, I'm in the usual "day before" state - slacks and shirts ironed, customs permissions and paperwork in hand, the to-do list and the to-bring list checked over.  I'm just about ready to go meet our eye surgery mission group at the airport tomorrow night.

And at the same time I'm feeling - along with a lot of U.S Catholic Sisters - like I've been punched in the stomach (to paraphrase the elegant words of Simone Campbell, SSS, poet and director of NETWORK, the Catholic Social Justice Lobby).  The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), to which my Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace belongs,  has been ordered to reform its statutes and is being put under the direction of Archbishop Peter Sartain for five years

It's personal to me because I was a member of LCWR when I was on the Leadership Team of what was then our Province.  And it's even more personal because Pat Farrell, OSF, the current President of LCWR, lived here in Suchitoto for many years, and is a friend to Peggy, Margaret Jane and me.  I've been going about the daily work and the extra work of getting ready for a mission, and I've been feeling kicked in the gut and I've been praying for peace, a prayer that feels necessary right now. 

I'm glad to have a week ahead that will keep me running all day, glad I have a mission to do and work that will help some people to see more clearly.  And I pray to see clearly myself, and to be peace-filled.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


It's been raining occasionally for a few weeks, and daily for the last few days.  The weather prophets tell us this isn't yet the start of the reliable once-a-day rainy season, but an anticipation.  Sure feels rainy enough here, and there are other signs: the salt shaker is clogged, the grass on the side of the roads is purest green, the leak in one of the bedrooms began again, and an astonishing variety of insects has emerged.  Maybe we still have some dry days ahead, but still: it feels like el invierno, the winter.  Which prompted a poem -

The rain comes
announced by trumpets,
the rain comes
a solid liquid
searching out every hole
every crack in the roof
every corner,
the rain comes
carrying away stale smells,
bags of boquitas Diana,
banana peels,
dog droppings,
the rain comes
grass is green again
scrawny cattle go grazing
on the roadside.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The leaf player

Patti and I had an amazing meeting yesterday.  We were visiting Santa Ana to see the grand neo-Gothic Cathedral and the other handsome buildings - theater and city hall - surrounding the parque central.  Seemed the cathedral wasn't going to be open for another half hour, so we sat in the parque, enjoying the people and the trees.  Along came this señor, clearly a Barcelona fan, who began to make some pretty amazing sounds with the aid of nothing more than a single leaf that he held in his mouth and breath and no doubt some years of practice.  Sounded a bit like a soprano saxophone, said Patti, and he was definitely tuneful.  Sadly my iPod Touch needed recharging or I might have tried to capture the sound. 

A few minutes later the doors of the cathedral opened and we all went in to pray (and in our case, to look about as well).  Our leaf player went in too, to say the rosary.  There's one man who knows how to make a joyful sound to the Lord!  Alleluia!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The curious case of the grackle

Some time ago, I blogged about a grackle (a female grackle, brown where this male is glossy black) who had adopted our handwashing sink as a toilet and was leaving heaps of grackle-poop there on a daily basis.  We set up various keep-aways, including a mosquito net which was quickly pooped through and plastic bowls which were a bit more successful.  She abandoned us for a while, but returned to old habits from time to time. 

A couple of weeks ago, she came roaring back, up to her usual tricks.  And Patti Moore noticed that she was cleaning odd streaks and scratches off the mirror over the sink and theorized that our grackle had seen her reflection, attacked it, and pooped in triumph or sullen defeat (hard to guess whether she'd have thought she won). 

This was an easy theory to test.  We covered the sink and mirror in black plastic for a couple of days: no poop.  Then we just covered the mirror: no poop.  Then we took the mirror away and have been poop-free for many days now. 

Brilliant deduction, Patti!  Thank you for freeing our grackle from her rivalry and for freeing us from the results.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Signs of stress and distress

I get a Google alert on El Salvador each day - basically an updated clipping service, with links to news items in English that mention El Salvador.  Usually it's mainly soccer news and stories about Salvadoran immigrants living in the U.S.   Today's alert, though, led to two startling and disquieting stories.  First, a story in reported a poll of how people in countries all across the world rated their lives.  Participants were asked to rate their current lives and what they thought their lives would be like five years from now on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best life that person could imagine.  Those who rated their current lives and prospective lives at 4 or below were classified as "suffering": the other possibilities were "thriving" and "struggling."  I was shocked to learn that El Salvador followed Bulgaria, Yemen and Armenia as the country with the 4th highest level of "suffering" with 33% of the respondents reporting that level of pessimism.  What was even more surprising was that the other Central America countries, where violence, impunity, and lack of opportunity are just as strong, registered much lower levels of "suffering," and that no other Central American country was among the 20 with the highest level of suffering.

On the other hand, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras all registered steep increases in the level of suffering over the past year - in Salvador, 24% more responded as suffering than a year ago.  That makes more sense: the drug trafficking and gang violence that has struck all three countries in Central America, the level of murder, extortion, and unchecked criminal activity coupled with lack of trust of the police and judicial systems, means that people live with constant fear, stress and uncertainty about their own most basic safety.

That was the other disquieting article in today's clutch of stories: an article by Hannah Stone in In Sight - Organized Crime in the Americas about El Salvador's failure to move on police reform.  While the murder rate has dropped significantly since a gang truce that was apparently mediated by the Catholic Church, the government has taken no significant steps to really reform or police the police.  I know from my Salvadoran friends that many do not trust the police, that they will not take extorsion attempts to the police, and that they believe many police are allied with the gangs.  As the In Sight article details, police members have been credibly accused of beating people up, torture and even murder.  I also know some policemen and women who are good and decent people.  They deserve, as do all Salvadorans, a real effort to curb violence and intimidation.  And then hope could grow.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Living in a village

One of the very good things about living in a village - well, really a small town - is that it's pretty clear who can do what.  Need an electrician, un electrista?  Felix would be your man.  For minor plumbing problems and any other small things that crop up, Alcides can handle it.  Chamba is the guy to call for car trouble.  And when the refrigerator goes on the blink, as ours did, quite predictably, on Good Friday?  It's time to call the other Chamba, Martha's cousin Chamba Rivera.  Here he is, at work (and as you can see by his striped shirt, he is a Barçelona football fan, like just about every other Salvadoran):

He spent about two hours, repaired the motor driving the fan that sends cold air down to the refrigerator from the freezer, cleaned out the refrigerator from top to bottom, and charged us all of $25.  Priceless!  The ice cream and roast for Sunday even stayed frozen in our ice chest. 

And, as a special bonus, I learned that Chamba is a nickname for Salvador - go figure!  I have no idea how anyone gets to Chamba from Salvador, but I'm glad to know the connection.  Nicknames here are often surprising to the anglo ear, like Chepe from José or Chui (Chewy) from Jesús.  But then Chuck from Charles or Jack from John aren't so obvious either. 

I'm just glad that Chamba, Señor Salvador Rivera, is so very good at his work, and glad to live in a village where it's easy to find out just who to call for any likely disaster.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Viernes Santo

Viernes Santo, Good Friday, is the holiest of days here in El Salvador.  In Suchitoto, we began the day with the Stations of the Cross at 10 am, walking from the Capilla de la Cruz, about a mile to la iglesia Santa Lucia.  The heat was punishing, but that didn't stop the Suchitotense: we were a goodly crowd, walking slowly from station to station, each lovingly set up in front of a house or store and carefully decorated, following the image of Jesus carrying his cross.  The high point for me was the time - at stations IV, V, and VI - when St. John (on his own platform) comes to bow before Jesus, goes back to a side street and returns with Mary who bows before her son as he bows to her.  A little later, Veronica comes with her towel to wipe the face of Jesus, and the three of them become part of the procession, following Jesus on the way of the cross.

When I read the accounts of the crucifixion, it's the terrible aloneness of Jesus after he has been arrested that strikes my heart.  Here, following the stations, we become his friends along the lonely way to death, with his mother and his friend and a woman who reaches out to comfort him.

Later, after the Viernes Santo service and Adoration of the Cross, another procession left the church, this one for the Santo Entierro, carrying the dead Jesus to his resting place.  The Santo Entierro procession walks over alfombras, carpets, that have been specially created just a few hours or even minutes before, created to be destroyed by the feet of the men carrying the body of Jesus.  Last year the alfombras were all swept away in a rainstorm before the procession arrived.  This year, happily, they were completed, the procession passed, and then the blessed rain came down, cutting the heat of a day as hot as any I can remember.  

Tomorrow we celebrate the rising.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Tonight I left Margaret Jane (who returned to El Salvador on Tuesday - hurrah!) and Patti sleeping peacefully and walked the three blocks to the parque central where everyone, except Margaret Jane and Patti of course, seemed to be gathered.  In the church we finished the hours of adoration of the eucharist and went out into the parque to wait for the procesion del silencio to begin.  It took a while, but finally Padre Juan Carlos emerged to lead the procession, followed by a man dragging chains, and then by men carrying the image of Jesus, bound and blindfolded.  It took a while, too, for the noisy crowd to quiet down, but by the time we had turned a couple of corners this huge crowd had become completely silent and I could hear the noise of the chains dragging against the cobblestones.  We walked - two rows of men in the middle, two rows of women on the outsides - holding candles, silent, walking with Jesus toward prison and torture and condemnation.

My Salvadoran friends and neighbors must connect this long, silent walk with Jesus and their times of walking with family members and friends who were in danger during the Civil War, who might be picked up and questioned and never seen again.  Perhaps also with the family and friends who've been threatened, extorted, or killed by gangs.