Saturday, June 26, 2010

In the Bajo Lempa

Armando Ramirez is a long-time friend of Sister Eleanor Gilmore - he spent a lot of time at El Despertar, a Jesuit Refugee Service center in the late 1980s for people coming in from the country for medical care. Eleanor was in charge of El Despertar, and Armando was one of her favorite patients.

Armando's war wounds still give him trouble, but he's built a good life for himself down in the Bajo Lempa area (the lower part of the Lempa River, just before it reaches the sea) with his wife Blanca Luz and their daughter Erica. I've met Armando many times, but I'd never seen his home or met his family - nor had I been to the Bajo Lempa. So when I had the chance to help him out by giving him a lift with a new desk chair he'd found, I was delighted.

When we got down to the Bajo Lempa area we found it, as I'd expected, hot and humid and still flooded from the downpours of Tropical Storm Agatha. The seacoast and the coastal plain are the hottest areas of the country - and also among the most beautiful. We got there via a road that's in the process of being improved for tourism - and it really needed the improvements, as navigating the road required swaying the car from side to side to avoid the baches, potholes.

Armando and Blanca Luz proudly showed me around the beautiful home they had built for themselves, and then took me out back, where the young trees of their orchard - coconut, mango, lime, orange, papaya, nance, to name just a few - are beginning to bear fruit. And I had my first chance to drink coconut water directly from a coconut (Armando's cutting down some cocos in the photo above). There's got to be an art to that: I was pretty messy, but I loved it all the same. Armando also sets up audio for festivals and dances, and fixes bum electronics - he's a smart and enterprising man - but their orchard and chickens and his nearby milpa mean that he's got that piece of earth that can sustain the family through the ups and downs of his electronic work.

Salvadoran farm/homesteads like Armando's make me happy because he has something we've almost lost (but perhaps are beginning to rediscover) in the United States - the family-sized self-sufficient farm. Food from home.

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