Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A grand weekend

I'm in the Northwest for a couple of weeks - primarily to attend our community's spring Assembly, which took place this past weekend.  It was a joy!  Our presenter, Sr. Tere Maya, had a lot to say about interculturality and the joys and challenges of making community across cultures - a very important message for us, as our recent new members and inquirers come from an amazing background of cultures (Kenyan, Portlandian, South Korean, New Jersey-ite, Nigerian, English, Haitian, Indian).  This is riches, indeed, but also fertile ground for confusion and misunderstanding.  Thanks to Tere for her humor, great stories, and challenging concepts.

In the photo above, Tere is on the left, talking to Srs. Ede Reif (center) and Mary Keough.

The other high points of the weekend were our annual Jubilee dinner (followed by dancing for the hardy ones) and the covenanting of seven new Associates. 
They are, l-r, Laura Trettevik, Bob Scheri, Kathy and Max Lewis, Ken Otto, and Sharon and Lloyd Lewis, a wonderful group (two are friends from PeaceHealth, Laura and Bob; I know Kathy and Max from my days at Rose of Lima House; and Ken, Sharon and Lloyd are new friends).  They're each of them a gift to our community life, and I pray that this new connection will bring them great peace and much joy.

Friday, February 24, 2012


San Salvador's Cathedral is a national gathering place, the site of massacres in the 1980s during the Salvadoran Civil War, the grave of murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero, the center for the Catholic community of El Salvador.  And until recently it was graced with a tile mural by Salvadoran artist Fernando Llort, with vivid and striking images of the people and the country.

In December, right after Christmas, this famous mural was demolished by order of the Cathedral authorities, without notice to the artist or to the people.  The reason given was that pieces of the mosaic were falling off, that tiles had become discolored in the sun and could not be replaced because new pieces would not match the existing ones.  The Archbishop said that an engineering and architectural firm working with the Archdiocese had recommended removing the mural.

To me it is a great sorrow that the church authorities destroyed this mural so quickly, so lightly.  Where Llort's bright tiles once brought life to the cathedral's facade, there's now a blank, whitewashed wall. 

Whitewashing the past, covering up history and art, has been too much the way of life in El Salvador.  The wounds from the Civil War still bleed - you will hear about them early in any conversation with a Salvadoran over 30 - because there has never been the kind of national process of memory and reconciliation that could bring healing.  Now the San Salvador Cathedral has lost its historical memory and imagery: another wound, another whitewashing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Feliz Dia de Amistad

Feliz Dia de Amistad, or Happy Valentine's Day...  I'm more than happy as I look back on our week in San José Villanueva and on the good work of our team.  We saw 1650 patients, most for two or three consults, gave out vitamins and toothbrushes to all, and gave medications and glasses to those who needed them.  We helped five patients in serious conditions, including one pregnant woman in the 9th month who hadn't received any prenatal care, to get to the hospital, and we must have given references for specialized care or further testing to at least 100 others. 

We had a wonderful time together, too - it's amazing that each time our group becomes a living team in about a day, and works together in complete harmony throughout the week.  Of course, as Kathy and I say, it's only the best people who choose to give up a week of their time to work with strangers in a hot and unfamiliar country.  Those strangers - well, long before the end of the week, they felt like friends and family. 

Here are two photos that tell the story of what this week was all about: above a little boy happily wraps himself around a big box of nutritional supplement.  Knowing that malnutrition among children was a major problem in Villanueva, we brought lots and lots of infant formula and supplements.   Below, our volunteer Leann makes friends with a Villanueva family.

Those are great moments to remember on this day celebrating love and friendship.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Villanueva, Wednesday, more photos, a few words

Today we're sharing the work with a travelling clinic - dentistry and general medicine - from Fosalud, the national health program.  And we've been glad to see them, even though it complicates the logistics a bit, because yesterday we stretched to see all the patients who'd come and didn't get away until after 7 PM.  We've seen many people with common complaint - stress, trouble sleeping, muscular aches, headaches - and a few special and difficult cases.  Sister Amalia and I talked with a woman troubled and depressed from childhood sexual abuse - we'll try to connect her with the Cuidad Mujer (woman city) project where psychotherapy is available.  We met some children with very special needs who'll we try to connect with programs in San Salvador. 

Ah but here are the pictures - not the greatest, but still worth many words:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Villanueva, Tuesday

I'd love to give you some of those worth-1000-words pictures, but Í'm using Ayagualo's computer, and can't get to my photos.  Yesterday and today have been full and overflowing - we´ve seen some 650 patients so far, with lots and lots of them needing special attention or a reference into the national health care system.  Our hearts are overflowing with the stories we´ve heard and shared.  And then there´ve been a few cases of just overflowing, as some Salvadoran bacteria tangled with our gringo systems.  It´s been very hot in Villanueva, which makes the return to Ayagualo (not until 7:30 tonight) and the cooler breezes on this hilltop a great joy. 

For another view of our mission week, go to http://wwwpeacehealthorgpaz-salud.blogspot.com/ to read about the experience from the point of view of Barbara, our photo-journalist.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

In San José Villanueva

Our mission team arrived right on schedule Saturday night, at 9 pm, and our only problem in Customs was that one of our tubs had gone missing (it arrived today after spending the night in Houston).  We were on our way to the beautiful Salesian retreat house, Ayagualo, by 11 pm, and arrived at about midnight, still with a little energy available for getting to know each other and talking about the week ahead.
Today we've been getting to know Villanueva and the church/school at the center of the town where we'll be working all week.  Many of us went to Mass and discovered that our host, Padre Mario Adin, is a wonderful homilist and a man deeply committed to the life of his community.  All day there were masses, meetings, study groups, catechism sessions, literacy training taking place in all the corners of the complex.
Our major tasks were setting up the various clinics and the pharmacy, counting out vitamins and bagging them (everyone who comes to our clinics gets a month's supply of vitamins), and having some training sessions with our team and with the local volunteers.
We know from plentiful experience that tomorrow will be a little crazy as everyone tries to figure out her or his job and as the patients flock in to see us.  We also know we're blessed to be here, that we'll be well fed, both at the retreat house (we had pupusas tonight!) and at the parish, where we had a grand lunch today, and that we'll get to return to the beautiful grounds and comfortable rooms (and hot showers) at Ayagualo each night to restock for the work of tomorrow. 
And now it's time for me to catch up on sleep after two very short nights!

Friday, February 3, 2012


That time of year again...

Our medical mission team arrives tomorrow, and at the last possible minute today (4:50 pm, to be exact) I got our franquicia (permission to import our medications and supplies without paying customs duties).  The franquicia is always a nail-biter, the essential part of our process that's pretty much out of our control once the papers have been handed over.  And I have to say that, like the good gringa I am, I really hate having to depend on something that's out of my control.  Illuminating, that.  As if my life or anyone else's was in my control!  But I do love the illusion.

And now, at last, the franquicia is in my hands, I've ironed the necessary shirts and slacks, I've checked my way through the long to-do list, I'm ready to meet the team at the airport tomorrow, and to introduce them to San José Villanueva on Sunday.

Meanwhile I'm enjoying the company of Margaret Gaffney, an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, who's going to be part of the mission team.  Margie's been brushing up her medical Spanish in Guatemala for a few weeks, in preparation for helping with interpretation and came here on Thursday to help with the packing.  I've heard from Pat Clausen, who'll join us tomorrow at our retreat house lodgings and from Silvia Pleitez, who'll meet us at the airport, and from Hernan, our beloved motorist, who will be driving his new beige microbus to the airport tomorrow.

We're ready.