Wednesday, November 30, 2011

La Vida Llena, La Casa Llena

My life here is full of comings and goings.  Margaret Jane goes home to New Jersey this Saturday, a week earlier than she had planned, to help her sister Roberta recover from hip surgery.  Walther arrived today, a guest for a few weeks as he finishes his classes.  Life in his home community got too dangerous, and we're happy to offer him a safe place here.  Hilda will arrive tomorrow for a few days - she has been to Suchitoto often, working with La Concertación de Mujeres in her development work with Mary's Pence.  She usually stays with Peggy, but Peggy's house is full, so we get to enjoy her.  Andrea Nenzel and her sister Judith will be coming at the end of December.

There's something wonderful about having all the bedrooms full, about giving this house a little more company - we surely have the room!  La vida llena, a full life, a full house. 

And one more wonderful thing: it was actually cold, well chilly, this morning - probably about 65.  Everyone's wearing sweaters and caps to protect them from that dangerous cold air.  And the norteamericanas are enjoying it thoroughly.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Getting to Know You

This Sunday and last Sunday I traveled to San José Villanueva, the site of our February Medical Mission, to meet with the volunteers who will be inviting patients to our mission.  Sunday turns out to be the best meeting time, after the early morning mass.  Today there were about 30 people gathered in a big classroom, lots of questions about the mission and about who should be invited.  If only we could see everyone in the community!  But our limit, we've found out over the years, is about 325 people per day, many of them going to two or more clinics.

Today they did the hard work of deciding which communities would come to the clinic on each day.  This is always the point where it begins to seem real and possible to me, so I rejoiced to watch these community leaders at work.  Already we have enough volunteers signed up to work with us throughout the week, which is amazing at this early point.

We're going to be using one wing of the parish school, which includes the meeting room shown in the photo.  It's great space, with a covered area when patients can wait, separate rooms for each clinic, a good pharmacy space and even a break room.  For all the great space, our work will not be easy; this week a report from the World Food Program shows San José Villanueva as having one of the highest levels of malnutrition in the country among children under five years - an estimated 38% of the youngest children in this rural town are small for their age.  What we can do to help in a week of clinics is really limited; our vitamins will do some good, but don't change the poverty that leads to such hunger among children.  And yet, we will be there as witnesses, and witnessing has value.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

So much to give thanks for!  Friends and family and community, work that I love, health that lets me do it, God's daily gifts and blessings.

Today we shared Thanksgiving dinner with Peggy O'Neill, four delightful norteamericanas (Diana, Laura, Molly and Millie) who volunteer at the Centro Arte para la Paz, and Xiomara, a young Salvadoran staying with Peggy while she goes to high school.  Thanks to a store that knows about gringo necessities, I was able to find a frozen turkey and cranberries; my favorite bakery provided pumpkin pie; and I spent a glorious day cooking (Margaret Jane spent a day perhaps somewhat less gloriously, but infinitely more usefully, cleaning up after me). 

We ate and talked and remembered our families in the United States and prayed together the beautiful Thanksgiving prayer that Carmel Little sent out for all the Sisters and Associates of St. Joseph of Peace.  I sent everyone home with bags of turkey and there's still more leftover turkey (and roast vegetables, mashed potates, etc.) than I can imagine using.  Thank goodness for freezers!  I can't imagine cooking like this on any other day - and I can't imagine not creating a Thanksgiving feast.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gracias, Hermana Paquita

It's been a very long week - I've been restocking groceries, getting the car serviced, working on arrangements for our February health mission, and visiting people who get scholarships or family support from PeaceHealth staff. Every errand means a couple of hours of driving time, so the days have been long.

Today the driving time was even longer, but for a couple of very good reasons. In the morning I went to San José Villanueva - our February mission site - with Clelia Estrada from the Caritas office in the Archdiocese. We had a good meeting with Padre Mario Adin, parish staff and volunteers, then stood in the back of the church, standing room only, while lots of beautiful girls and boys made their first communion.

Then I went on to the Bajo Lempa area where a very special Despedida (farewell) was in progress. Providence Sister Fran Stacey, known to her community in the Bajo Lempa as Hermana Paquita, was getting a full-hearted Salvadoran thank you and farewell. Fran retired to Seattle about six months ago, but has returned for a few weeks to visit her many friends, and they - being Salvadoran - decided to put on a full-scale despedida. There were speeches and proclamations and thanks for the remarkable work Fran did during her 16 years in El Salvador, which included founding the Fundación Tierra y Esperanza para el Campesino (Earth and Hope for the Farmer Foundation), working to provide scholarships for local students, and helping raise funds for health emergencies. It seems like she's been a key part of much that's happened in the coastal zone for all those years, and now it was time to say "thank you!"

I had to leave while the thanks were still being spoken, so just got a chance to talk briefly with Fran and tell her thanks also from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. I didn't manage to get a photo of her, but here's one of the dancers getting ready to delight everybody.

Just for the enlightenment of you norteamericanos who may be reading this: the despedida began at 1 PM (more or less, I think it was really just getting under way when I arrived at 2) and was scheduled to go on until 4 PM, with pretty much all that time filled by speeches and presentations. Now that's a serious thank you! Gracias, Hermana Paquita!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I woke up in Suchitoto this morning and it felt natural. The only things that kept waking me from time to time during the night were lemons dropping from the lemon tree onto the tin roof over my tiny bathroom (sounds VERY alarming) and a cricket that sounds all too much like my alarm clock - by tonight, I'll be tuning him? her? out. Didn't hear the cocks crowing or the morning buses going by, woke up to the sounds of the doves (and roosters).

I talked to a lot of friends this morning, and so far have found only one, our friend Armando, whose home and crops were seriously damaged in the torrential rains and floods of October. Suchitoto was spared the worst of these rains, though I'm sure all the roofs were leaking after ten days of rainfall. The damage is very visible in the roads here, and I would expect that they are far worse in parts of the country where the rains were heavier.

I also learned that one friend from this area is on her way to the United States, and I am praying that she will get safely through the grave dangers that migrants face in Guatemala and Mexico and will make it through the border, though I'm also very sad to think of the damage and loss her going causes for the family she left here. I wonder if people who get angry about illegal immigration into the United States ever think about how desperate people become because of lack of money and lack of opportunity in their own countries. I wonder what they would do in similar circumstances?

Saturday, November 12, 2011


My days in the north are drawing to a close with memorable celebrations and life-giving conversations. After several trips when my timing was just wrong, I was able to join the monthly lunch with other women from Queen Anne High School's class of 1959, and, bless their hearts, they brought me lots of vitamins which we'll be giving out to people in San José Villanueva in February. Here's a photo of Marlene and Sue, looking good, looking lively, as aren't we all, even though the class of 1959 is busily turning 70...

Then yesterday, 11/11/11, we celebrated five birthdays with brunch at Prospect House on Capitol Hill in Seattle, where I used to live and am still part of a group that meets for dinner on Wednesday evenings (on those rare Wednesday evenings when I'm in the Seattle area). Eight women celebrating five birthdays meant lots of presents and lots of laughter and an elegant fritatta and three of us taking photos at the same time, which meant that I have lots of photos of folk taking photos (see the bottom photo).

Along the way, I've had time for some wonderful, long, heart-to-heart talks with old and new friends (you know who you are) that replenish me and fill me with joy. I have friends I cherish in El Salvador, but my Spanish, while workable, doesn't have the subtlety and flexibility and shared reference points you need for a great heart-to-heart talk.

Finally, last night was the best celebration of all, as Susan Francois made her final vows as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace. What a joy to celebrate this friend and sister who has been walking with us for seven years now! It was a beautiful eucharistic celebration - Father Terry Moran, CSSR and CSJP Associate, was our presider; Margaret Byrne, our Congregation Leader, received Susan's vows; and I was very honored by being asked to give a reflection on the readings. Our chapel at St. Mary on the Lake was filled with Susan's family and many friends, and the celebration continued into the evening with cookies, wine and dancing. Check out our CSJP website for photos and story to come.

So tomorrow I head back to El Salvador, with the memory of all those feasts and conversations going with me, very concerned to learn how my Salvadoran friends have come through the floods.

Friday, November 4, 2011

For the past three weeks I've been selling crafts from El Salvador with Kathy Garcia and Cindy Hellerstedt. It's our annual fall round that takes us to the PeaceHealth hospitals and to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace Fall Assembly with 2012 calendars, Christmas ornaments, crosses and bookmarks and small purses and - for each place - a raffle item. It's not just a chance to raise some money for our program, though that's certainly an aim: what matters more is the opportunity to connect with people who've been on one of our health missions or are interested in signing up or are just interested in what we do. We get to talk about El Salvador and the people who've had their lives so damaged by the recent floods, about the water filters we hope to provide for each community we visit and about the essential extras - a replacement heart valve, medications, scholarships, even travel to schools - that are made possible by our donors' generosity. We get to advertise our new website, where, at long last, we can accept donations on-line.

This photo comes from St. John Hospital in Longview, Washington: Kathy is at right, Cindy next to her.