Thursday, July 29, 2010

Light footprints

I'm continuing to think about the difference in carbon footprints for people here vs. those who live in the U.S. Here are some of the reasons footprints are lighter here:
  1. Houses aren't heated, for obvious reasons.
  2. Very, very few people (only the rich) have air conditioning.
  3. Washing machines are rare; dryers are rarer; sunshine is available almost every day.
  4. Most people don't have computers, though everyone has a cell phone.
  5. Most people don't drive a car, instead taking the bus or piling on to a pickup truck.
  6. Most people have never been on an airplane.
The average Salvadoran, because of climate and because of poverty, is contributing far less to global warming than the average North American. Is this the way we should all be living?

And yes, I have the use of a car and a computer, and yes, I fly back to the U.S. a few times a year. It's hard to imagine doing without those comforts, but it's time to begin imagining how I and we might live differently, might leave lighter footprints.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fresh food

In a recent meeting of a group of Sisters and Associates, we talked about our carbon
footprints and what we might be able to do to reduce them. It’s a conversation I’ve had many times in the United States, but the whole subject looks different when you’re living in El Salvador.

When I lived in the U.S. I sometimes tried to eat locally – one summer I talked some friends into buying a farm share with me and we all drowned in greens. Another summer I decided to buy my vegetables only in the farmer’s market. Very satisfying, but costly!

Here, nothing is easier – or cheaper – than buying vegetables in the mercado, which happens to be in the next block. Tomatoes, onions, beans, broccoli, squash, huisquil (a pear-shaped green vegetable), cauliflower, garlic, cabbage, parsley, cilantro, carrots, and much more are available year-round. Mostly these vegetables come from Guatemala or Honduras, not quite local, but close enough. If you want to buy them at their freshest, you go to the market early in the morning, when the trucks have just come in from the Tiendona, the big wholesale market in San Salvador.

The glorious fruits – plantains, bananas, granadillas, oranges, lemons, watermelon, papaya, mango, coconut, nance, arrayan and many, many more - are more often local, I think. So are the local wild greens, mora and chipilín, ginger root, natural medicines. And the cheeses, eggs, chicken, fish and beef I’d guess come mainly from close by. You buy corn and beans, the staples, in the nearby farm stores.

The other possibility is a supermarket, which in the case of Suchitoto is a 40-minute drive away. The Supers have imported vegetables and fruits – like bell peppers, sweet potatoes, apples – that you can’t get at the mercado.

You’d think with such abundance close at hand (and very reasonably priced, by U.S. standards) Salvadorans would have super-healthy diets – but the other things that are available in the block next door pull in the other direction: potato chips and plantain chips, packaged snack foods, deep-fat-fried goodies, sugary confections. Hamburgers and pizza are beloved. Still, fresh local food is abundant here, and it’s easy to eat right.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Maria, Madre de los Pobres

On the feast day of Mary Magdalene, I visited a San Salvador parish, Maria, Madre de los Pobres, (Mary, Mother of the Poor) with Sister Patti, a Sister of Christian Community from Baltimore who has been coming there every summer for 21 years to work/play with the children (she teaches them to draw clowns) and to visit with families in crisis or in need.

It's a good thing I went with Patti, because I could never have found the church - located at the center of the La Chacra community - on my own. We took three buses and then went in by way of the railroad tracks, which like all railroad tracks here have sprouted a community of rundown houses - built of plastic and lamina, tin sheeting - on both sides of the abandoned rails. Patti walked us down the tracks and then down a narrow lane between houses and suddenly we came to the open gateway to Madre de los Pobres.

The church was the last thing to be built, Patti tells me, because Padre Daniel, the Spanish priest whose vision and energy created Madre de Los Pobres, wanted to be sure the basic needs of the people were served first. What he and the community created, with the help of Spain, Germany and U.S. parishes, is amazing: there's a big day-care center and an elementary school, a library with books and computers, a ludoteca (toy library - a great playroom for the kids) a medical clinic, dental clinic, and eye clinic where glasses are made, a natural medicine store, a social worker, a senior center, a scholarship program - and that's only the parts I can remember.

With all this support, the problems of poverty continue to erode life in the community. Gangs are very present; violent deaths are frequent; families are broken. But because of the church and the hope and presence it offers, there are other possibilities for the families of La Chacra. I met -among many wonderful people - Maria, who's studying to be a teacher and speaks excellent English, and Lucas who's going to be a systems engineer. They are the hope that Maria, Madre de los Pobres, makes possible.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Toma de Posesión

We have a new pastor at Santa Lucia, Padre Carlos Elias Echevarria. He introduced himself to us on Sunday July 11th and invited us all to come to his Toma de Posesión yesterday. The phrase Toma de Posesión is used for inaugurations, investitures, swearing-in ceremonies, and I like it because it's so direct: taking posesssion. Padre Carlos' Toma was a grand occasion, with Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas presiding and a formal reading of the Archbishop's declaration (that's probably not the right word) of him as Pastor with reference to the appropriate statutes in canon law. It was a grand liturgical occasion, and everyone in the packed church seemed to be enjoying it thoroughly. I don't know much about Padre Carlos yet, except that he preaches with passion and conviction, and connects with the people of Suchitoto warmly and easily: that's a very good beginning of his time here.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I recently received a "Blog with Substance" award from Susan Francois, my favorite blogger and fellow Sister of St. Joseph of Peace (thank you, Susan). As a condition of this estimable award, I'm supposed to describe my blogging philosophy in five words (easier said than done, let me tell you):


Of course writing is itself an action, but that string of verbs describes what I hope I'm up to here as I use this blog to share some of my experience of the people and life of El Salvador.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In the midst of danger

In looking through the photos taken during our missions this year I came across this amazing image, a photograph by Mitch Costin of a dove nesting in razor wire.

Razor wire is used all over San Salvador to keep out thieves, and perhaps the dove chose that spot because she would be protected from raptors. There she sits, making a nest in the midst of danger, in the midst of wires that say "keep away," that say "mine, not yours." In the midst of all this danger she is creating new life.

An image of peace creating justice.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Happy 152nd birthday, Suchitoto!

When the big firecrackers went off at 6 AM this morning, I knew something was up, and when I heard the marching band tuning up I remembered - this is Suchitoto's birthday, this sweet town is 152 years old today. I turned out in time to watch the majorettes and bands and marchers with the flag and marchers with school banners and little kids dressed in chicken and alligator costumes parade by the market on their way to the big event in the Plaza Central. The photo is from last year, because our project camera has just stopped working and there's going to be a long pause before a new one is found.

If you're a North American reading this, do you know your city's birthday? Does anyone celebrate it? Why not?

As far as Suchitoto is concerned, it's an important day and a wonderful excuse for a fiesta.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


A good retreat always leaves me full of thanks, and this one was no exception. I walked and prayed and journaled and wept my way through the week with Dean Brackley's The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times: New Perspectives on the Transformative Wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola, especially helpful to me because Dean teaches here at the UCA (Universidad de Centro America) and uses his Salvadoran experience throughout. The computer stayed at the Centro Arte para la Paz, and I allowed myself to visit for 1/2 hour each day to check e-mails and post a photo. I was a bit surprised to find how little I missed all those check-ins on e-mail and news. Taking long, slow walks each day, taking photos of the patio (here's an early evening photo), sitting for an hour with the day's gospel, even being present to the occasional interruptions - which always proved to be just the experience I needed - brought me closer to God and closer to El Salvador. Now the challenge is to live out of that inner rhythm, even when the laptop is at hand with all its distractions.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

The view from our house

On this in-house retreat I've spent a lot of time in the patio and on our upper deck. The deck is now used only for drying clothes, but it has great potential for a dry-season sitting spot in the evenings. Here's a view from the deck over the nearby housetops and trees.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Saints and Martyrs

The street I live on, while technically (to the Post Office) 4th Avenue South, is also Avenida Padre Rafael Palacios. Rafael Palacios was the priest in Suchitoto when he was assassinated in 1979; his body is buried in the Sanctuary of Santa Lucia. This mural remembers Palacios and Romero. The worn lettering underneath the mural translates, more or less: "They wanted to kill you, but you are more present in the people than before."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

On the way to the mill

These two women, on the way to the mill with their corn to grind, kindly let me take their photo this morning. I met them on the way back as I walked home, now ready to make the day's tortillas. May they walk with me on prayer as I continue my retreat today!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Thunder in the night.
The lemon tree rains lemons.
I drink lemonade.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A moment from this morning's walk

I'm walking toward the church, in the distant background. A typical Suchitoto street.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

On retreat

This 4th of July, Independence Day, I begin a week of retreat at home. I'm taking the computer and other electronic toys to the Centro Arte para la Paz, unplugging the TV, and settling in for a time of quiet and contemplation. I'm planning on practicing my dependence on God and my interdependence with all creation. I hope to witness creation in the patio, like this glorious butterfly who landed on our ficus one morning after a heavy rain, and stayed there a long time to dry out and get photographed. I hope to witness the presence of the Holy Spirit.

If I blog this week, it will probably be with photographs as a witness of the holiness of creation. I will be mindful of you, my friends, my family, my CSJP community in the prayers of this week. ¡Que Dios nos bendiga con paz y justicia! May God bless us with peace and justice.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


A couple of days ago La Prensa Grafica noted that very possibly there could be four South American teams in the World Cup Semifinals (we're talking about futbol, aka soccer): Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay all made it into the quarterfinals, and it seemed like a dazzling prospect.

Alas, no. Argentina and Brazil, heavy favorites here, lost - Argentina in an astonishing 0 - 4 loss to Germany. Paraguay played well against Spain, but also lost. Only Uruguay - who barely won in overtime in an astonishing game with Ghana - will uphold the honor of Latin America in the next round.

Maybe it's because of this, or maybe it's in spite of this, but the hopeful futbol players of my neighborhood are out in force tonight, kicking the ball up and down the street, shouting "Goooooooooooooooooooool" from time to time with great fervor. And when it comes to registering a goal, the Latino announcers would clearly be first in line for a World Cup. I imagine them spending months doing deep breathing exercises to prepare for the glorious moment when they can draw that "Gooooooooooooooooool" out for moment upon moment upon moment.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Water filter does its job

In early May, we brought a Sawyer Water Filter to the San Juan Opico village of Los Granadillas, where it's been well used. The woman who has housed the filter reports that when she backwashed it to clean it, a lot of mud came out of the filter, and everyone said: we used to drink that! Worse than the mud, of course, were the invisible creatures, bacteria, amoeba, parasites, that are also being filtered out.

This week we got the results of a microbial analysis of the water, comparing the filtered water to the tap water residents used to drink. It was just what we hoped to see: the tap water had 110 coliform bacteria per 100 mililiters, the filter had none. And the community is enjoying their clean water, finding the system easy to use.

We've now ordered another 30 filters, and are going to be fund-raising to purchase more for Salvador communities - be forewarned!