Saturday, July 28, 2012

Friends in Agua Escondida

Last week Darren Streff and I visited some of our friends in Agua Escondida - Darren's a Maryknoll Lay Missioner who's volunteering with PazSalud, and I wanted to introduce him to a few favorite folk.  We started with Doña Carmen Aviles, who has been a community volunteer, chef extraordinaire, hostess and ranchera singer for our two missions in San Juan Opico (Agua Escondida is a colonia of San Juan Opico).  Carmen gave us a tour of her family's farm, which included a charming young goat and a pelibuey (a tribe that's explained as half-sheep, half-goat and prized for meat) and a very fruitful orchard, where we found some little red peppers.  Were they hot, we asked? Oh yes, said Carmen.  Darren tried a small bite and said they weren't very hot.  I tried a small bite and went up in flames at about the moment that Darren said "oh, on second thought..."  They are extremely hot, and I can't imagine how Salvadorans, generally resistant to anything too picante use these - perhaps on a one part per million basis in a salsa?  I never leave Carmen's without gifts for the kitchen, and this time we left with peppers, ginger root (Darren's going to start a new plant in his patio) and a pineapple.

Then we went with Carmen to visit Gloribel and her mother Hortensia, who live next door.  With Carmen's help, we've been sending the two of them to a special school for the deaf in Santa Ana, where Gloribel has been able to learn both Spanish and sign language for the first time in her 11 years.  Gloribel was delighted to see us and to show off her notebooks, her certificate for completion of the preschool program (she's now in first grade) and some of her new signs.  And Hortensia added a beautiful squash to our stash in the back seat. 
We followed up with a visit to Iris and her family.  Iris, daughter of Gumersindo, another of our great San Juan Opico volunteers, is headed for two years at North Central Technical College in Wausau, Wisconsin, thanks to a U.S. AID scholarship.  It turns out that Darren grew up in Stevens Point, about 30 minutes from Wausau, so he was able to tell Iris what a beautiful place she'll soon be living in.  Iris' mother, who makes the best tamales I've tasted in El Salvador, had tamales ready for us to eat - and a big bag to take home. 

Our next stop was a quick one, to visit Sonia and her family.  They usually live in a different colonia, Arenal, but they'd all been sick the past week - sounded like a flu - and were staying with family near Agua Escondida. 

Then we headed up to Huisisilapa (I'm very proud of being able to spell that!), a colonia of San Pablo Tacachico, where we visited with Ylda, who arrived back from a new security job in the Government Center just a few minutes after we got to her house.  (I was relieved to know that she didn't have to tote a gun.)  She, too, had to feed us - tortillas and beans and cheese, with apologies that there wasn't a real almuerzo (lunch) ready.  A good thing, since we were already full of tamales. 

And so we headed back to San Salvador, where I dropped Darren off, full of tamales and tortillas and beans and cheese, with good things for the kitchen and garden.  Altogether, a day full of gifts.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Clean water in the schools

During our February Medical Mission in San José Villanueva, Padre Mario Adin asked us to consider giving Sawyer water filters to each of the public and private schools in Villanueva.  We were delighted to say yes to his request, and today I went to Villanueva with Clelia Estrada of the Caritas office in the Archdiocese of San Salvador and Darren Streff, Maryknoll Lay Missioner to make good on our word.

We met with representatives from the schools and with Health Inspector Miguel Angel Cruz, who'll be doing follow-up to make sure the filters are being properly used and cleaned.  They were a great and very attentive group, watching carefully as Licendiado Cruz demonstrated how to drill a hole in the bucket for the filter connection:
It's hard work!  When I set up the water filter at our house, I was determined to manage the whole process myself, just to know that even a 70-year-old woman could put the filter and bucket together.  I did manage it - though much more slowly than Licenciado Cruz - at the cost of a sizable blister on my thumb. 

Several people wanted to know if it was possible to buy a water filter in El Salvador.  Not yet, I had to say, though I do hope that Sawyer Products will realize that they have a great untapped market in Central America.  Where did I find them in the U.S., and did people in the U.S. use them?  That question rocked me back on my heels for a moment, as I thought about the health gulf between us.  In the United States, filtering your water isn't necessary, though plenty of people do it.  The only place I've seen Sawyer filters in the U.S. is in sports stores, which feature the smaller filters hikers use.  The gulf is the difference between a country where water is purified and tested regularly, held to the highest standards of sanitation and a country where water is almost always contaminated by parasites, bacteria, amoebae, you name it.  Our few water filters only begin to touch the edges of this huge issue of justice.

Still, it's great to know that the schoolchildren of San José Villanueva will have clean water to drink! 

Pray for us, pray with us, Dorothy

One of our great Sisters and a great friend died last week - Dorothy Vidulich, CSJP, a passionate, engaged woman, writer and journalist, justice seeker.  She wrote a biography of our founder, Margaret Anna Cusack, Peace Pays the Price, that attracted many of us who've since become sisters or associates. 

I will always remember meeting Dorothy at a Call for Action (I think) meeting in Albuquerque - must have been about 1993 - and the way she welcomed me like a friend she'd known for ages.  It was a time when I needed a friend, so her welcome touched me deeply.  I suppose we may have met four or five times since then - not often, as she lived in Washington D.C., and then in New Jersey, while I was in Seattle/Bellevue and then El Salvador.  But each time, it was the amazing experience of stepping into a deep friendship that didn't need any light conversation.  I can only imagine how many friends Dorothy must have left remembering her with love, as I do!

Dorothy led an amazing life - you can find a good summary here from Susan Francois, CSJP, and another, with a sample of her writing, from Arthur Jones, her colleague at the National Catholic Reporter.  She will continue to pray with us from the community of saints, and people who never met her will find two new friends, Margaret Anna Cusack and Dorothy Vidulich, when they pick up Peace Pays the Price. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

On the way

I'm in SeaTac Airport on the way home to Suchitoto from home in Bellevue.  The retreat week was a huge gift - time to slow down and pay attention, to enjoy silence and eagles crooning, to pray and meditate, to pick blueberries in the Mercer Slough, to delight in Alexandra Kovats' insights into our Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace Constitutions (that might sound like a dull subject, but our Constitutions are amazing, a real gift of the spirit.  And then the fun of talking again at the end.  Yesterday, the day after the end of retreat week, we had our annual picnic at St. Mary-on-the-Lake, trees and flowers and people all at their best:

A good northwest summer day - gray, with occasional gleams of sun, a few sprinkles of rain, but nothing serious, temperature somewhere between 65 and 72.

And now I head south and east, back to the rainy season, tropical heat in the Central American season of winter, the corn growing, back to my other home in another world.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Vacation into Retreat

We had a lovely week, my sister Kathy and I, driving down and up the west coast with Robert Caro's Passage to Power on the iPod, visiting cousins, and revisiting our childhood days at the Hahn family vacation home in Dutch Flat, California (it's on the road to Lake Tahoe).  Our cousins Margie and Mike Jager and Dowrene Hahn welcomed us to a home that looked very much as it had when we were all young, right down to the exact shade of dark green paint.  The town hasn't changed much either: the store is still where it's always been, the old hotel, now restored, looks ready for visitors, and the swimming hole, which was really a hole in our days, is now properly concreted and tiled and chlorinated, but it still keeps the old irregular shape.  What a rare satisfaction!  I'm far more used to trying to remember what used to be on a familiar corner that's suddenly sprouted a 10-story building.
Dutch Flat is an old mining town set into a dry Sierra forest of Ponderosa pine, western red cedar and fir, a spare and beautiful landscape that in summer is reliably sunny - a pleasure for northwesterners who'd been going through the usual Seattle soggy June.  Here we are in the forest, visiting the grave of my uncle and aunt, George and Dot Hahn.

We managed to visit other cousins, Margaret Rooker and Emilie Sturges Hance, along the way, and we had a grand family time.

Tomorrow I begin the other much-anticipated week of my U.S. time, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace community retreat here at St. Mary-on-the-Lake.  A week without all my electronic toys will be very good for me, and a week of silence even better.  Even the weather is cooperating, as a sunny wave began on the 4th and will - in theory - last through the retreat week.  I'll be back to blogging afterwards.