Friday, August 31, 2012

Chepe y Chui y Chincha y Chita y Chana

I love nicknames here.  To my (gringa) ear they have even less relation to the original name than is usual in English.  For example: the nickname for José is Chepe (or Chepito); Jesus is Chui (sounds to the gringa like Chewy); Geovany is Chincha; Felicita is Chita, and I was delighted to learn that Susana is Chana.  You'd notice a preference for the "ch" sound - and somehow that makes sense to me, all those "ch" names sound friendly.  Of course there are nicknames like Rosy and Mari, and if some of the popular English-sounding names, like Marvin and Nelson and Wilson have standard nicknames, I haven't heard them yet.   I'm tempted to try Charvin or Chelson, but that's probably wishful thinking. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012


I was alone in this huge house for a short time after Margaret Jane returned to New Jersey, and I felt like a small marble in a very big box, just rattling around.  Peggy O'Neill introduced me to Maria del Carmen, who wanted to move to Suchitoto and was looking for a place to stay, and I am so glad that she's moved in.  Here she is in the patio, in the shade of the lemon tree:

A Salvadoran, Maria del Carmen was once a Hermanita de Jesus de Carlos de Foucauld (Little Sister of Jesus of Charles de Foucauld), has been a peacemaker and community organizer in Chalatenango, and supports herself by creating beautiful cards with dried flowers and leaves.  She's my new Spanish teacher - and it makes a great difference to be speaking Spanish at home.  She'll also be volunteering with children at the Centro Arte para la Paz.  And she has amazing stories to share. 

We're going to be joined tomorrow by Melinda from the University of Santa Clara, an artist who's also volunteering at the Centro Arte para la Paz over the next couple of months and who will live here.  Happily she speaks Spanish - I understand her parents are from Mexico - so that will be the language of the house.

Que alegría, what happiness, to share the house with Maria del Carmen and (prospectively) Melinda, to create a new community in this beautiful space.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Checking in

I've been too long away from the blog, not because there's nothing to report, but because so much has been going on.  Last week Kathy Garcia was here and she and Darren and I did a lot of visiting, preparing and talking.  The preparations included a good visit to Estanzuelas, where we'll have our 2013 general medical mission, and then a visit to the hospital at Santiago de Maria, where we hope to have our eye surgery mission.  At the hospital, we all put on scrubs and booties to get a tour of the surgery suite - which looks great for our work.  As we got ready to leave, I stuffed my scrubs in my bag and picked up another set, which I assumed were Darren's.  The next day I pulled them out and discovered to my horror that I'd run off with someone else's scrubs, and furthermore that there was $3 in the pocket - someone's lunch money.  I imagine this poor soul cursing the gringos!  So this week I had to make the long trip back to Santiago de Maria (it's more than 2 hours from Suchitoto) to hand in the scrubs and confess.  It was the nun who did it!

Among the pleasures of Kathy's week here were visits with two scholarship students who were outstanding volunteers in earlier missions: Walther from Panchimalco, now in the 4th year of his engineering program:
and Alex from Comasagua, who's in his first year, studying psychology at the Pedagogical University:
They are both great guys, very deserving of the opportunity.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fiesta de Maíz

Here in Suchitoto, and in many other towns in El Salvador, we celebrate the first corn harvest with a Fiesta de Maíz, which is also a celebration of the many farming villages and communities that are part of the Suchitoto municipality.  Kings and Queens of Maíz from the villages and women carrying baskets of fruit on their heads are part of a joyous procession that winds its way through the town to the church for the main Sunday Mass, after which we all pour into the parque central to stuff ourselves with elote, or fresh corn: tamales de elote, atole (hot corn drink), roasted corn-on-the-cob, elote loco (cooked corn-on-the-cob with decorations of, I think, ketchup and mayonnaise (among others), and riguas, my favorite, corn pancakes wrapped in banana leaves and grilled. 

A glorious party, and a festival that speaks to the central importance of corn - hard, white Salvadoran corn - in everyone's life here.   From the daily tortilla, which is the daily bread of every Salvadoran, to these festival foods it's clear that corn is the staff of life, as it was for the Mayan ancestors centuries ago.  ¡Que viva la Fiesta de Maíz!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hasta luego, Margaret Jane

I'm taking Margaret Jane to the airport tomorrow for her plane ride home to New Jersey, and this time I don't expect to see her back here until late November.  She's acquired some new responsibilities on a Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace committee or two, and as a new member of the Board of Directors for PeaceHealth.  These meetings come just a little too often for her to come down to El Salvador for the six-week stays that have been her pattern for the last three years.

It's been three wonderful years of sharing household and community in Suchitoto, while I worked on our PazSalud missions and Margaret Jane taught English at the Centro Arte para la Paz.  Her connection with El Salvador is much longer than mine - she was first here during the civil war in the late 1980s - and she has taught me a lot over the years - what to expect, what's reasonable, how to be prepared for water shut-offs and electricity disappearing, how to survive scorpion bites.  Gracias, Margarita, por su compañerisma, sabiduría y por sus grandes historias - thanks for your companionship, wisdom and for your wonderful stories!  Here she is last Thanksgiving, with Peggy and me:

As she flies home, I'll be getting the house ready for Kathy Garcia, who arrives Sunday night: she and Darren Streff and I will be working together through next week.  After that, I'm anticipating a new housemate, Maria del Carmen, who will be doing some volunteering at the Centro Arte para la Paz and working at the house on some artesania - a connection through Peggy O'Neill.  So I won't be too lonely!

And that reminds me to say that Margaret Jane and I have been praying with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious through this week of meetings, and we have been very proud of the clarity, vision and strength they have shown in their public statement today.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


There's rain and then there's RAIN, the serious, drenching, thunderous, crashing rains of the El Salvador winter season.  Everything here is built to handle RAIN - people who visit during the dry season must wonder at the number of ditches around buildings and on the edges of roads.  During winter you don't wonder, you're just glad that they're carrying the water away from your home or school or town.

Our house - like most here in Suchitoto - is built flush to the narrow sidewalk, but we are about three feet above the grade level, for which I'm grateful on nights like this one.  Water surges down both sides of the cobblestone street, on its way to Lago Suchitlan.  My personal criteria for "this is getting really serious" is when the two streams meet and cover the center of the street.  It's almost happening tonight, but not quite, and the electricity is still on (thus blogging becomes possible): a storm, but not a catastrophe.

Inside the house, it's easy to see the wisdom of building houses with interior courtyards.  All the rain - a decent small river of it - runs down the stairs from our deck, runs off the roofs, drips off the trees, and finds the lowest point - the drain that leads out directly to the street, where our contribution of rain joins the rain of every house along the street, and floods the gutters on the way Lago Suchitlan. 

Most houses have their leaks, and ours did too, until yesterday: a drain pipe that made an L in our kitchen on its way to the main drain dripped every time it rained.  But yesterday Darren - who was building us a great new set of shelves for the tubs in our bodega - attacked the problem from the inside with something resembling tar, and the pipe leaks no more.  Another thing to be grateful for!

Farmers with their milpas of corn and beans rely on rain to keep the crops going and growing.  There's been a serious drought in the eastern districts of El Salvador, several weeks without rain and the loss of a lot of the corn crop that will mean a serious shortage in the country in the year ahead.  So I bless the RAIN in its glory and drama, the lifegiving RAIN of winter.