Sunday, March 8, 2009


Alegría means happiness, and it's also the name of a town in El Salvador, high up in the mountains of the department of Usulutan, east of San Salvador. Ana Lazar and I travelled there yesterday, because her guidebook says it is a gem. Indeed it is, and not just because of its setting, high on a hill overlooking a vast valley, not just because of its beautiful town square, old church, and brightly painted houses. Alegría is a gem most of all because of the warmth and friendliness of the people. We were admiring the view out past the steepest street we'd ever seen, top, and got into conversation with the woman in la tercera edad (Salvadoran term for a senior citizen) who smoothed out her lacy apron to have her photo taken. Then we admired a woman walking down the street with an immense basket of bananas on her head and a melon under one arm. A little while later, as we were climbing up a concrete staircase, some children greeted us and their grandfather asked us to come in and visit. Grandmother turned out to be the same woman, whom I'm happy to salute on this International Day of the Woman. I'll be sending photos of the entire family back to Alegría, that well-named town.

But Alegría has also known tragedy recently. In January, 2008 the young FMLN Mayor, Moises Funes, was shot and killed along with Zulma Rivera, a city official. Political motives were strongly suspected at the time. Now an ex-trustee of Alegría, Carolina Isabel Cortez de Portillo, is on trial with three others for the murder. According to La Prensa Grafica, the motive was control of the municipality's finances.

That dark shadow was not visible to Ana and me as we watched part of a school celebration, walked around the town, and visited the Laguna de Alegría in the crater of the volcano the town is perched on. May this beautiful town have a future of true alegría.

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