Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Some days

Some days, my mother used to say, "you should have stood in bed." Yesterday was one of those. I went off to the capital to get my one-year visa from the estranjeria office and to take our request for permission to do a week of cataract surgeries (along with the required documentation) to the Junta Vigilancia de la Profesión Médica - the Medical Board. I waited an hour and a half at the estranjeria only to be told that my visa wasn't ready yet, though I'd been assured that it would be there right after the Easter holidays. Then I found out that the Junta Vigilancia had a new President - and my letter was addressed to the former President. Not possible to cross out one name and write the other: had to produce a new letter. I drove over to the Archdiocese to check in with Señor Duran, who is working on our customs approval, and - by that time - was not surprised that he was in a meeting and not available.

Then I went home, looking forward to a good shower and a peaceful night, and found that Suchitoto's water was turned off - apparently a pipe broke and had to be fixed. And we discovered that we had forgotten to fill a couple of jugs that we usually keep filled for just such emergencies, so we had only a small barrel of water to meet our needs. And then the electricity went off for about 2 hours. I should have stood in bed.

Today, I'm happy to say, has been much better: I had several good meetings, got the letters in to the Junta Vigilancia with the right person's name, even did a little cooking. And this evening the water came back on. Life looks possible again.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Feliz pascua

Christ is risen, Alleluia!

Yesterday Margaret Jane and I decided, with some misgivings, to go to the vigil mass at Santa Lucia. The misgivings came from the time frame: the vigil began at 10 pm and was set to finish at 5 am with a procession. We weren't sure we could make it, but, fortified by afternoon naps, we decided to try.

It was a glorious experience, beginning with the lighting of the pascal fire. We were waiting for someone to light the woodpile in the plaza when we noticed everyone looking back and up, at the roof of the church. A ball of flame appeared on the roof and vaulted down (there must have been a wire, but I didn't see it) to the woodpile, which it set blazing immediately. Padre Carlos Elias lit the pascal candle, and we all lit our candles (una cora, 25 cents, for a candle) and processed untidily into the church, looking for a seat.

Santa Lucia was beautiful with flowers. To one side of the altar was a paper-mache tomb, with the image of the risen Jesus (the same image used in the crucifixion procession of Good Friday, but liberated from the cross). We moved through the beautiful vigil liturgy - readings, psalms, the Gloria, singing Alleluia for the gospel, litany of the saints, baptisms and renewal of baptismal promises, eucharist. By 2:30 am our vigil was complete. "What do we do now?" I asked Martha, who was sitting next to me. "We sing," she said.

Margaret Jane and I decided to opt for bed at this point, but soon after we got back to the house, we heard the procession approaching. The photo shows the faithful with their candles singing and walking down our street at about 3:30 am. Sleepers awake! The Lord is Risen, Christ is Risen Indeed! Feliz pascua, Easter joy and peace to all.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday, Suchitoto

Good Friday began with the Stations of the Cross, an elaborate walk through the center of Suchitoto that included not only the image of Jesus carrying the cross, but also images of Mary, Veronica and Simon the Cyrenian - each introduced at the appropriate time. Just about everyone in town turned out for the Stations and poured into church at the end to pray.

A few hours later, the church was crammed again for the Good Friday service. We all went slowly and reverently in line to kiss the cross and then to receive communion.

The final act of the day should be the Santo Entierro, the burial procession: a number of alfombras, carpets, were lovingly prepared for the procession and a couple are pictured above, including the offering created by the youth at the Centro Arte para la Paz, the final photo. Just as everyone was putting final touches on the alfombras, alas! the heavens opened and the rain came down in buckets. So these photos may be the only witness to the intentions of the alfombra makers (they are generally made out of bark and colored salt, not very stable items in a thunderstorm).

A thunderstorm that ruins plans seems very appropriate to Good Friday, to a day that turned the world upside down.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Domingo de los ramos

Palm Sunday, domingo de los ramos, in Suchitoto: the church is crammed, packed, overflowing, everyone waving palms in the air as the procession comes down the aisle. Margaret Jane and I decided to get to the church and get a seat rather than walking with the procession (I think that's the wisdom of age), so we got to see Jesus carried up the aisle by two men as we all hosanna'ed and waved our palms. Later, in the middle of the homily, Jesus was carefully positioned near the altar from which he blessed us all through the remainder of the Mass. It was a beautiful start to semana santa, the holy week, a time for church and singing and processions and celebration - and, of course, firecrackers, which got started during this morning's Mass. Hosanna!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bird brains

We've had quite a few interesting animal visitors to our house in Suchitoto, but nothing quite as strange as the latest. When I came back from time in the U.S. earlier this week, I noticed that poop (of a bird or bat or small animal) was appearing regularly on one side of our hand-washing sink.

Our hand-washing sink is out in the patio, but it's covered by an open high roof to give us protection during the rainy season. Naturally I looked up, but saw nowhere where a bird or bat could be perching. The poop kept appearing, each time in exactly the same corner of the sink.

I began to listen for suspicious sounds, and heard some high-pitched whistles and notes that're familiar to me from the San Salvador airport and the capital, but new in Suchitoto. And then, hearing some noise from the patio, I looked out and discovered a female Great-Tailed Grackle perched on the side of the sink (the photo above is not mine, but it does look like our new friend).

Now who would imagine that a bird would choose a pooping place, and choose one where the resultant mess could easily go down the drain? That may not be her motivation, of course: I can't quite imagine what her motivation may be, but I know that this bird is eating all too well - possibly eating the nance berries that are falling in great quantities right now - and producing extravagant amounts of grackle-poop.

The next question was how we might change this behavior (cleaning bird poop out of your sink repeatedly is not fun). I thought I had a brilliant idea, and put a mosquito net over the sink. Woke up this morning to find a very messed-up mosquito net, some of the mess falling through to the sink. Alas.

Any other good ideas?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Two days at Bloom

Hospital Benjamin Bloom is the national pediatric hospital of El Salvador, and I've spent a lot of time there over the last two days. Yesterday I brought Sandra and her grandma in, all of us expecting that she would have surgery for one of her congenital cataracts - but, as it turned out, she has an eye infection, and the surgery was rescheduled for two weeks while she uses antibiotic drops.

Today I gave Richard and his mother Maria a ride to their appointment with the Bloom cardiologist who will perform his valve replacement surgery (that's Maria and Richard in the photo). We met Richard during our General Medical Mission in San Rafael Cedros, and people from our mission team are contributing to a fund to purchase his heart valve. We are what Richard's loving mother has been praying and hoping for: a way for her 3 year old son to be able to run and play and have a normal life.

While I was sitting with Richard and Maria, I got a call from Sonia telling me that she was at the Bloom with her daughter Gema, who was going through a lupus crisis. We connected in the emergency room and spent some time together. And I decided that I would have a hard time working in a pediatric hospital - it's hard to see children in pain, children curled up with no energy, children looking old and worn.

Bloom is an amazing hospital - they do a lot of great work with little money, and the care for kids is visible everywhere. Still, it's hard for someone from the U.S.A. to understand that Richard and Sandra will get their surgeries only because we are able to provide the heart valve and the interocular lens. I thought today about all the children, probably some of them in front of me, who didn't have that kind of help.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April is the hottest month

No, that's not quite as T.S. Eliot had it ("April is the cruelest month..."), but it is certainly true for El Salvador. On Sunday night I left cold, rainy Seattle-in-April and on Monday morning got off the plane in hotter-than-hot Suchitoto-in-April: a shock to the system, that. Roberto Hernandez picked me up at the airport, and by the time we got back to Suchi my ankles had disappeared into puffs of swollen flesh. They're looking a bit more like familiar body parts now, and the rest of me is remembering how to sweat the way through the afternoons. We will all be glad when the rains come and bring some coolness into the afternoons and evenings. Meanwhile, we swelter.

Coming from the Seattle area where the nights are now longer with daylight saving and twilight is a long, slow dance, I was startled to remember how quickly and fully the dark comes here. At 6 pm the sun goes down, and then it is dark. Suchitoto, with its well-lighted streets, is a safe town to walk around in the dark, and the regularity of sunrise and sunset is comforting. But no long summer nights here - and no short winter days - just 12 hours of blazing sun (in April) and 12 hours of warm darkness. It's good to be back!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Time of blessing, time of mystery

Our Spring Assembly was a blessed, full and mysterious time. Blessed in the presence of each of us for Fr. Terry Moran's powerful linking of the creation story and spirit with our Christian, Catholic and CSJP story. It's a perspective that makes all things new, knocks a few openings in our vision, and shows us new possibilities. I know, this doesn't explain much: but some slides Terry used will be uploaded to our CSJP website, and that might give you the idea.

Terry, by the way, is a CSJP Associate, and our Associates contributed enormously to the fullness of this weekend, as did our Jubilarians. On Saturday, we had the traditional Jubilee dinner, honoring Sisters Johanna Vogelsang and Ellen Caldwell for their 75 years in religious life; Sister Zitamarie Poelzer, 70 years; Sisters Ede Reif and Mildred Morrissey, 60 years; and Sisters Judy Tralnes and Andrea Nenzel, 50 years, and we sang and danced and partied joyfully, Sister Johanna happily watching the dancing until what was for her a very late hour.

This morning, Sister Johanna died peacefully in her sleep, having been toasted and honored the night before. At 97, she was more than ready to go to God, and she chose her time beautifully and mysteriously. We all gathered in her room to say prayers of farewell and blessing this morning, and there's no doubt that she has been blessing us all day. I felt Johanna's presence in the chapel this afternoon as Jen Cowan made her first covenant as an Associate, Sue Nies and Annie Welch made lifetime covenants as Associates, and seven Associates renewed their commitments. I wasn't the only one to come away from the chapel with a profound sense of having been blessed.

Johanna was one of the first CSJPs I met; she was on the Wilderness Retreat that turned me into a Catholic, in her middle 70s then, still adventurous after years of teaching and administration, clear, upright, living out of her truth, a holy woman. Now she lives in God's light.

Photos: Sr. Johanna; Susan Dewitt and Susan Francois; Jen Cowan and her foster son Michael.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Prayer partner

When I'm here in the Northwest, I have a room at St. Mary-on-the-Lake, well stocked with my fall-winter-spring clothes and a lot of books and pictures. In the mornings I pray, looking out at my prayer partner, a beautiful western red cedar that sits just outside my room's big window. There's something about the red cedar's combination of strength and gracefulness that makes me rejoice.

I think my prayer partner was watching out for me yesterday. I've been having some tests to figure out the cause for shortness of breath and wheezing I've been experiencing over the past few months, beyond my ordinary level of asthma. Yesterday I was in Swedish Hospital in Seattle for a bronchoscopy under general anesthesia. Came home about 1 pm, had a good afternoon nap, got up still a bit wobbly, and managed to trip, probably over my own feet, and hit my head on the edge of the sink counter, tearing a triangular flap on the top of my head. Like all head wounds it bled dramatically. Luckily Sister Eleanor was just down the hall, and took me down to the ER of Overlake Hospital in Bellevue - where I managed a twofer, getting my head stitched up and a breathing treatment at the same time (lungs feeling tormented, I don't doubt). Could have been much worse. But 10 hours in two hospitals - more than enough for one day!

So this morning I looked out again at my tree waving its gentle green branches in my direction. And I said to the tree, primero Dios, God first. And the tree whispered primero Dios back to me. Glad to have breath and to give breath back.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A delegation

Today I had the joy of meeting with a group of young people from St. Patrick Parish, Seattle - my church when I'm in the Northwest - who will be the delegation to St. Patrick's sister community, Nueva Trinidad in Chalatenango, this June. They range in age, I'd guess, from 13 to 18 - a few adults will be coming as well - and they had great questions about their journey, ranging from the prosaic worries about getting sick to those questions we all harbor - will people like me even if I can't speak Spanish? What if I do something offensive without meaning to?

I hope I was able to reassure them that the kids in Nueva Trinidad will be nervously asking themselves the same questions - will these cool kids from El Norte like me even if I forget all my English? I know that they will like each other and they will learn so much more than they expect.

I'm hoping to get the group to Suchitoto for a day, and maybe for them to have time to explore Guazapa Mountain on horseback. Mostly I know that whatever they see and do, their curiosity, intelligence, and commitment to justice will make this trip a memorable time in their lives.