Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sopa de Gallina India

I said that yesterday was a day of lights and shadows. The lights, most of the day, came from a visit to some of the campo villages of San Juan Opico with Gabina (Dina) Dubón. After the drive to Opico, by now familiar, we took a dirt and stone road to Chantusnene, where Doña Carmen Orellana welcomed us to her house. Here, as always in the country, all the visiting and eating happens on the deep front porch. On Carmen's front porch a hen, tied to the table leg, looked up at us. A pot of water was boiling away on the outside hearth, and I understood that the hen was destined to be dinner, perhaps the best loved dinner in El Salvador, sopa de gallina india, Country Hen Soup. Here's a photo of Carmen with the hen.

We didn't stay to watch the beheading and de-feathering of the gallina india, but continued up the road to San Antonio, where we found Don Erasmo talking to a large group of local people about our coming jornada medica. Then Erasmo climbed into the car and we bucketed off on what's probably about the worst road I've ever driven on to visit an extraordinary pair of farms where he and his family are trying new ways of growing food in Central America. They have tomatoes and huisquil and basil and pepián and many herbal remedies growing in pots that are watered from a wastewater pond being cleaned by water hyacinth and fish. They have an orchard of bananas and mangos and papaya and oranges and lemons, and they have a poultry pen and a rabbit hutch built from the bamboo in their bamboo grove. The chicken and rabbit droppings go to fertilize the crops. There's a pig and a goat as well. It's part organic farming, part permaculture, and all very, very impressive, an excellent model to show other Salvadorans what the possibilities are - and part of the Pastoral de la Tierra, teaching people to honor the spiritual reality of our earth. Don Erasmo's daughter sent me off with a bottle of shampoo made from their herbs and two lumps of a very strange smelling brown soap that's supposed to be excellent for the skin.

Then we went back to Carmen's, and to the sopa de gallina india, now ready and glorious. It's probably the first time that I've ever looked my dinner in the eye before eating it, and I will confess that it didn't slow me down at all. The soup was served with large chunks of pepián (a local squash) and carrot, with grilled gallina india on the side and, of course, tortillas. Dina and I ate every bite, along with Carmen and her fellow health promoters, Carmen Galdámez and Fátima Cruz. Carmen sent us off with with bulging bags of oranges and with pepiáns; her neighbor Fátima added bulging bags of mandarin oranges.

The car was getting full, but we bumped on down the road to San Juan Opico, and then headed south to meet with the third Carmen of the day, Maria del Carmen Aviles. Carmen and I talked menus, as she will be doing the cooking for our medical mission group. She asked whether the local volunteers would be eating separately from our group, and was happy when I said no, that the highlight of the week for our group would be getting to know them.

Menus set, we settled in for coffee and quesadillas (totally unlike Mexican quesadillas, this is a cake made with cheese, and it's rich and delicious) with Gumersindo and Felicita, two other health promoters who will be volunteers for our week. And Carmen Aviles sent us off on our way back to the highway and our homes in Apopa and Suchitoto with a quesadilla each, and a loaf cake, and cookies.

Experiencing the overflowing generosity and warmth of these health promoters, being welcomed to their homes and sent home with their bounty gave me a way to balance the terrible news of the massacre at Milingo with what I know of the joyous and generous spirit that is the true reality of El Salvador. Thank you, Carmen and Carmen and Carmen, Erasmo and Gumersindo and Felicita and Fátima, for your welcome, your gifts, your presence and your grace.

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