Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Few thoughts about Privilege and Hope

Once again, apologies for the late posting.  I have been out of the office Tuesday and Wednesday and so today (Thursday)  is my first chance to write my blog.   Before I get into the story I want to share, I am hoping that you will be able to help me with something.  I am often asked about what typical Canadian food is and I have to admit I have a hard time answering that question.  Here, there are about 10 things that would be found in every kitchen all the time (beans, rice, potatoes, eggs, tomatoes, green peppers, onion, garlic, cheese and tortillas). I am interested in knowing what are your 10 basic staples?  Please post a comment on my blog or send me an e-mail ( with your answer or thoughts on Canadian cuisine.  

As some of you know, one of my motivations for coming to El Salvador was a response to an my overwhelming feelings of white privilege and guilt about this fact.  In training in Toronto, one of the other participants commented that many of us are partly doing this as response to white guilt, but that this experience will likely only deepen these feelings.  I had honestly never thought about it that way, I have hoped that this time away would help to resolve not strengthen these feelings.  Our training leader challenged us to focus not on the guilt, but the responsibility.  Truly, I really didn't understand that comment but this week I feel like I have had a glimpse of what this might mean.

Tuesday I had the opportunity to accompany two staff from ADES  to Criminal Court- a lawyer doing human rights work and another staff member who is a highly skilled and competent advocate and spokesperson on issues related to mineral mining.   There was a case against a group of 6 campesinos (peasant farmers)  that ADES has been very interested in and in fact paid for the lawyer for these people.    Ultimately after the proceeding today the charges were dropped essentially because there was no evidence.  This case is the result of charges laid in March, 2006.  This has been going on for 5 years!  On Tuesday, I learned that  unlike in Canada, the courtroom is not open to the public here.  The Judge literally stood at the door and decided who came in and who didn't.  It all happened very quickly.  In the end the Human Rights Lawyer and I were allowed in and the other staff person wasn't.    It was explained to me that "observers" are very important in a Salvadorian Court and can influence the outcome simply by their presence.  I was asked to go because I am a white Canadian.    I was okay with that.  I even figured out that I needed to not say anything to anyone while we were waiting because it was important that they think I understand Spanish.  The Human Rights Lawyer from ADES, who did the talking to the Judge at the door, explained to me later that the Judge didn't want any observers but didn't feel like he could exclude him, a well known Human Rights Lawyer in the area and me a representative of the United Church of Canada.  However, there was no reason to include the other staff person.  As a result, the white Canadian with little knowledge of the case, no connection to the defendants and limited understanding in Spanish was inside the court room while the other staff person, a bright, educated Salvadoreno who knows the case and is well connected to the defendants was excluded.

I know that my skin colour and my passport create a huge amount of privilege for me.  I am acutely aware of that in just about everything I do here.  However, this is the first time that I have experienced discrimination that was this blatant.  I feel very badly for the staff member who was not permitted in the court room.  He has been in meetings outside of the office for the past few days, so I have not had the opportunity to connect with him, but I will.  I think it is important for me to say, I understand what happened, I don't think it is fair or right and I'm sorry. 

However, this is not enough.

I have been asked to write about this situation to my Canadian friends and Church.  This whole situation is particularly disturbing to me because at the centre of this case and many other issues here, is a Canadian company.  I am still gathering some information, as I want to make sure that I understand the issues before sharing it all with you, but that will be next week's blog.

I talked to a salvadoreno friend about this situation the day it happened when I was feeling quite sad about it all.  He reminded me of two things, one is that by the work that we do every day we try to make the world a bit more just and secondly, the final kingdom of God will be just and our hope comes from our belief in our Salvation.  It is so easy to understand why Archbishop Romero is such a hero here.  He preached the radical idea that God is with the poor and that in God's ultimate kingdom there would be peace and justice for the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized.
On the weekend Jenny, Jonathan, Nelson (Jenny's boyfriend) and Jorge (Jenny's Uncle) and I went to Lago Ilopongo.  It is a beautiful small lake near San Salvador, as you can see in this photo!
This is the entrance to the main building at the ADES compound.  You will notice Gus and Negro, the two agency dogs who both provide security (although generally they like to lay around) and company for ADES staff and visitors.  You'll notice the Christmas garland is still the agency for me or what?!

Twice a month, the "economia local" team organizes a "feria" (a market) in our agency parking lot,  where the people that they work with to increase local food production come and sell their goods.  In the blow up pool are live tilapia (fish) that you can buy and take home for dinner.  Behind the pool, in the white crates are live chickens.  I asked a colleague how people take the live chickens home (as the fish get put in a plastic bag, but they are relatively small) and apparently people just put them under their arm!

This is the dish washing area at our office.  In the white and blue barrels are water.  Dirty dishes are placed on the tree stump, washed using a solid cake of soap and a sponge and then rinsed using water from the barrels.  In the blue barrel, you will notice a small plastic basin floating.  This is used to pour the rinse water over the clean dishes.  I have learned that the secret to washing dishes in cold water is to use lots of soap!

This is our favourite lunch spot.  Everyone in the picture is staff at ADES.  You'll notice Alonzo front and center and  that is Jenny's back in the front.    The "restaurant" is in Morena's house and the tables are on her front porch.  Everyday she makes 2 different entrees and generally rice, potatoes, beans and a salad of some type.  The "private dining room" is literally the dining room of her house. 

4 of my teammates in the "Area de Organizacion" office - from left to right -
Edith, Gilma, Rosa and Tita.    


  1. Hi Lynn:
    I must say, I wait diligently every week to read your blog. It is always most interesting to *read* what you are *living*.

    As for your comment and question about staples in the house; here at our home; the staples are, potatoes, red meat, fish, chicken, vegetables, peanut butter, brown bread, cereal, canned soups, pasta, and for frivalous items, chips, chocolate, yogurt, ice cream.
    Hope this is of some help to you!
    Take care dear friend and bless you always
    J.R, Paul, & Bryce

  2. Here is the stuff we would always have on hand: potatoes, rice, cheese, pasta (including Kraft dinner), canned tomatoes, canned baked beans, chicken, [peanut butter, jam, bread (7 grain or whole wheat) = PBJ sandwich], apples and bananas,
    I want to say something about the things you are writing about vs. the shallow rhetoric of our federal election. But I can hardly connect the two - they seem to be happening on different planets.
    Go well. Jill.

  3. Hi Lynn, 10 staples: milk, eggs, bread, cheese, peanut butter, jam, apples, soup, potatoes & rice. Can't believe you're missing the election! I'll vote twice for you :)

  4. hey lynn, currently, i am slogging through a detox diet to hopefully determine why i'm still getting migraines. needless to say, my current limited list of supplies are: rice crackers, brown rice, an array of vegetables, hummus, legumes of all sorts, oatmeal, raisins and rice milk! i am loving your blog! a friend was visiting the school, on leave from her work with MCC in the sudan. she was feeling a little overwhelmed by her two week 'dip' into north american culture and white privilege. bravo and cheers, m