Friday, September 23, 2011

Joy Comes with the Dawn

“Joy comes with the dawn” is the title of one of my favourite hymns in Voices United.  I love being reminded of this truth.  Surrounded by darkness, slivers of hope are hard to see and problems often feel insurmountable.  A good friend of mine told me a story about waking up in the middle of the night and discovering that her child was having a severe asthma attack and needed to go the hospital.  She bundled up her young son and quickly drove to the ER.  Although it was the middle of the night, the lights were on, people were awake and alert and her son had a problem that people there knew how to fix.  The light, the alertness and the knowledge of the place brought a level of reassurance and comfort that had not seemed possible alone and in the dark.  Her son was attended to and with the early light of dawn the two returned home. 

Darkness comes in El Salvador between 6:00-6:30 pm.  Lately, often rain accompanies the darkness.  Lately we have had a number of incredible storms that people tell me are tropical depressions.  On Wednesday night I had the opportunity to watch the rematches of the ADES team and the Radio Victoria team.  While asked to play I declined stating my ankle was still a bit sore.  In all honesty, all I do is take up space on the field…the other women are much more skilled.  Instead I was a loud cheerleader!

The guys played first.  The storm started.  It rained like I have never seen rain.  The street outside the playing field was a fast moving river.  I looked around and thought I am in a climate change commercial!  Unfortunately I don’t have pictures and I don’t think I can adequately describe it in words.   I have never seen this much water come down so quickly or with so much force.  The players continued to play despite being soaked and running in at times ankle deep water.  People here are very serious and hearty when it comes to playing futbol (soccer).  Despite the fact that I don’t think the players liked being cold and wet, they laughed and enjoyed the experience.  Where we play is kind of a high end field, and the spectators sit on concrete steps that have a metal roof over them.  The field is nowhere near regulation size…it is much smaller.  I was sitting behind one goal and at times you could barely see the other side of the field.  We got damp, but nothing like the people on the field.  The storm slowed down to “regular pouring” rain and then stopped.  Somewhere during this the men’s game was over the women’s game began.    In the middle of the rain, there was no point in driving home because some of the roads that some of the people needed would have been impassable and everyone was being transported in one of 3 pick-up trucks, so most people would have been outside and exposed to the rain anyway.   By the end of the women’s game, the rain had stopped and most of the extra water had drained away and everyone went home.   Like my Salvadorian counterparts, I hunkered down, enjoyed the experience and eventually the rain passed. 

As I have shared with many of you, my time in El Salvador has been an incredibly rich learning experience.  However, it has also been without a doubt the most challenging time of my life.  This week a new opportunity has come my way and I feel like perhaps I am metaphorically moving from darkness to dawn.  Starting next week I will be spending Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s at the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS) in San Salvador.  I will be receiving Spanish lessons in the morning and in the afternoons I will be working on the International Election Observer program.  There are National and Municipal elections this coming March.  I will be working on the program and then will be an observer in the area where ADES is.  At the moment the Elections team has people from Denmark, Sweden, USA and El Salvador.  I am very excited about this new opportunity.  I am going to have the chance to deepen my Spanish, work with other foreigners and to work on a project that is concrete and feels meaningful to me. 

I am not sure how my blogging will be impacted.   I think I will probably try to blog on Monday’s so that it will be available on Wed or Thurs when people like to look for it.  However, if there is a power failure or internet issues or other challenges then for sure the blogging won’t happen until Thurs.  I will do my best to keep a regular routine.  Thanks for reading and being part of the journey.  Please don’t panic if there isn’t a new blog at the normal time.  Together we will adjust to this new schedule!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Getting Caught Up

Sorry about missing last week’s blog.  I knew last week was going to busy and my goal was to write my blog and post it on Monday.  However, there was no power for the whole day and most of us ended up going home early.  However, firstly in the morning there was a full out, agency clean-up.  This was not a sort your files at your desk kind of day.  We did heavy cleaning, gardening and washed all of the agency vehicles.   As there was no power for the water pump, guys opened up the cistern (I now know where it is).  They used a bucket on a rope to scoop water into a big rain barrel.  Occasionally the bucket would snag on part of the pump and so someone would need to lay down and lean in to unsnaggle the bucket while others held onto his pants.

My participation was not full out.  On the way to the office on Monday, I fell and twisted my ankle…nothing serious, but it was swollen a bit painful and everything was very wet due to the heavy rains, so I was very cautious.  In all honesty, the fall had reminded me of another level of vulnerability here.  I didn’t want to have to sort out  and cope with a broken ankle in rural El Salvador.   The week before I had been both to a lab and a doctor and discovered I had bacteria in my stomach that aren’t supposed to be there.  Bacteria and parasites are very common here, kind of like strep throat and ear infections in Canada.   With some good drugs, I am gastro-intestinally back on track.  This was my first real illness since I’ve been here and really it wasn’t that bad.  Kudos go out to my friends Hector and Soto.  Hector, the Human Rights lawyer, whose work I really admire, got tasked with taking me to the lab.  Conversations about “pooping” are awkward at any time and while I think he was using more subtle Spanish, I really didn’t understand the words he used and so I just explained that “it is possible for me to produce now”.   In the end, I think that I so flustered the clerk at the lab that she forgot to charge me…something that I rectified later.  Soto, my housemate, took me the Doctor and helped me explain all about my overabundance of production for the past few weeks.    In case you are wondering, a lab analysis of my poop cost $2 and the doctor visit $5.  For sure these are rural rates and in San Salvador it would be more!  However, the medications cost over $30, which was not a problem for me, I can understand how it quickly becomes an overwhelming expense for Salvadorians.  

Tuesday and Wednesday I spent in San Salvador sorting out my Visa extension (I’m good for another 90 days, the maximum time I can receive per extension) and sitting with my foot up.  Thursday was the Independence Day holiday and there was a big festival in San Isidro.  This is the community closest to the proposed Pacific Rim mine.  The Mayor is in favour of the mine, not surprising because the town will receive one percent of the mine’s revenue when it opens.  Many of the residents are anti-mining.   In the town square there were actually two festivals going on – one organized by the Mayor and one organized by the anti-mining groups.  Both rented huge sound systems to try and compete.  I was one of the few who moved and back and forth between the two.  I have to say I think that there were a lot more people at the anti-mining side and the music and entertainment was much better on the anti-mining side!

Edver is a very poised 18 year old who works in the Communications Dept at ADES.  I love this t-shirt it says "Less blah, blah, and more action.   Climate justice already!

This was one of the banners at the rally.  MUFRAS-32 is an anti-mining group named after an indigenous hero who tried to stop the massacre of native people in the 1930's.  The banner says - "The money buys our politicians but our people are not for sale.  El Salvador free of mining."  There is nothing subtle about either the corruption or the resistance. 

Part of the festival included an area where children and adults could paint pictures.    An older woman casually commented to me that it was so nice seeing kids paint happy pictures again because for a long time after the war the children's art was all about soldiers, helicopters and guns.  

A new mural was painted during the festival.  The words in the upper left are "No to mining"

At one point in the afternoon there was a funeral at the Catholic Church that faces the town square.  As soon as the Hurst appeared all the music from both festivals stopped.  As the Hurst drove away at the conclusion of the funeral the music started to blare again. 

The festival went late for here.  Late is any time after dark – 6:30 pm.   I think it was about 9 by the time everything was done and cleaned up.  The ride back to San Salvador in a pick-up truck was slow.  It was very dark as there are few street lights and there was virtually no traffic.  Even on the main Pan American highway there were only a few other cars.  The world, particularly in the country side but also in the city almost stops when the sun sets.  In part I think this is why things start so early in the morning.  There are lots of people up and on the move by 5:30 (when it is light). 

Friday was a comp day for all those who participated in the festival on Thursday.  I spent it in San Salvador.  I worked on the notes from my "editor" for my article that will appear in the United Church Observer in November.  I'll attach a link when it comes out.    While there is likely a way to post my blog through the general internet, I don’t know how to find my “posting page”.  It is set on my computer (which I keep at the office in Guacotecti) and so without it , I can’t blog.  Alas, this post had to wait until the following week!

When I was in Canada, my friend Chris Redmond explained to me that virtually every large city in the world has a church in English for foreigners.  I doubted him, explaining that I didn't think such a thing existed in San Salvador.  Chris is very modest about the breadth of his knowledge, but he is truly the most well-read authority on just about everything, that I know.  Sure enough he found me the Unity Church in San Salvador.  This weekend I decided to check it out.  I discovered that it was about an hour bus ride to the big shopping mall that I know and then about a 10 minute cab ride.  This was all very doable in terms of transport. 

I had tears in my eyes for most of the service.  It was such a gift to be able to worship in English and to really understand what was going on.  The music was upbeat and was helped along by a worship band made up of youth.  All of the words on the hymns and other parts of the service are shown on a screen using power point.  It was not the same as my cherished Westminster, but it felt comfortable.  A few people were very kind to me and I had nice chats with them.  I am really looking forward to getting to know that Church and its people.

We have had a lot of really heavy rain lately.  People warned me that September was tropical depression time here.  That means it rains like I have never experienced rain.  There are huge issues with erosion.  At the ADES office compound a tree has just fallen over.  Basically there was no longer enough soil to support its root structure.  It is a very tall tree.  Today, a youth on the maintenance crew is cutting part of it down with a machete. I thought you would enjoy some photos.  
Wilder chopping down the tree with a machete.

The tree that fell over.  In the background is the new dining room and kitchen.    It is going to operate as a training program for women and youth who will open a restaurant.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sorry, Busy Week

Hi everyone:
I have only a couple of minutes at my computer, so I am writing to say...I am fine, but this week has been different and there have been lots of challenges to blogging.  We had no power on Monday.  Tuesday and Wednesday I was in San Salvador (and I only know how to blog on my computer).  Today is a holiday and I am off to be an international observer at a festival.  I am not sure if I will be in the office tomorrow or not. If I am in the office tomorrow, I'll do a blog -- otherwise next week's will be extra long!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Downtown San Salvador and a Rant

On Sunday I had the opportunity to visit downtown San Salvador. Downtown San Salvador is like a lot of inner cities.  It has a lot of people packed into a small space and there are some very evidently poor areas with inadequate housing and infrastructure.  It is also an area with a high crime rate and so Jenny felt it was important for me to go with a "local".  While I have cruised through on the bus, this was my first time to get out and explore. Sunday was a great day because while everything was open, but there was a lot less people than on a Saturday.

On Sunday, I met up with Ruby, a lovely women from ADES, and she showed me the important places and she bought fruit and vegetables at the market.
The San Salvador Cathedral
The Cathedral was beautiful, inside and out.  It has giant dome on part of it.  This makes this building very visible from all over the city.  It is a good way to keep track of where you are!  Around the building are vendors selling various crafts and religious artifacts.  I bought a  Mons. Romero t-shirt.  Just about everyone in El Salvador has at least one.

If you are in downtown San Salvador and need a bathroom, the one's at the Cathedral are very nice.  You have to pay to use them - 15 cents without toilet paper or 20 cents with toilet paper!  They are lovely, clean and there is running water.
The Crypt in the basement of the Cathedral.  This is where the Bishops and Archbishops are buried.  They also hold masses here.  
It is hard  describe how I felt walking into the Crypt.  It is a place that just feels "Holy".  In part of the crypt is Mons. Romero's tomb.   People in El Salvador believe that he is both a Martyr and a Saint.  There are groups of people pressing the Vatican to have him declared both.  Even without these formal titles, Oscar Romero is an example of the best that the Church can be.  He inspired and gave hope to millions of poor Salvadorians at a time when there was very little to be hopeful about.  He was assassinated on March 24, 1980 while preaching at a hospital in San Salvador.  During his funeral at the Cathedral, a smoke bomb went off and snipers fired in the crowd from nearby rooftops.  I have seen footage of this horrific event.  It actually now feels like a peaceful place all these years later.   
Mons. Romero's tomb

The main sanctuary in the Cathedral

Palace National - The Government Building which contains the Legislature.

So from Downtown San Salvador to Plaza Mundo.  This is a large shopping mall about half way between downtown San Salvador and my home.  Take a look at these pictures from Wendy's and see if you can notice what has got me upset!

If you noticed, that the menu is completely in English, you get an A+.  The discussion about whether these businesses ought to be here, is long over.  Wendys, Burger King, McDonalds, Subway, Kentucky Fried Chicken,  Quisnos, Mister Donut, and Pizza Hut are here.  However, I believe it is a sign of great disrespect to the Salvadorean people that their signage is in a foreign language.  I think if they are going to operate here, then they should translate their corporate material into Spanish.  To their credit, there was some window signage in Spanish and the items on the trays (tray liners, cups, fry cups etc.) were in Spanish.  The fact that their menu is in English just smacks of bad colonialism.  If you are interested I can share more about the state of English in other fast food outlets in El Salvador.  This one is the worst I have found.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

MacGyver, Futbol and Updates

On Wednesday my team organized a big event in order to promote youth involvement.  There were representatives from the government, the police, youth organizations and young people themselves.   Unfortunately, in the morning it was discovered that there was going to be a day long power outage.  I assume that work was being done as this has never happened before and people seemed to know that the power would be back on around 6pm, which it was.  This meant that there was no sound system, a big problem for a big event.  One of staff here came up with a way to run the sound system off of a car battery.   Incedible!!!  When I commented on how amazing I thought this was, Nelson (the person who rigged it) started to explain to me stuff about the voltages being compatible.  Really, I wouldn’t have understood it much in English, so the Spanish was really lost on me.  Clearly the voltages were compatible because nothing blew up and everything worked!  From now on I am going to call Nelson – MacGyver! 

I brought back a DVD player for our house in Guacotecti.  While I can buy one here, my housemates  thought one from Canada would be better.  What we didn’t do was check the TV to see if there was a DVD hook-up.  Turns out our TV is so old there isn’t.  However, Nelson (AKA MacGyver) doesn’t think it is a problem.  He knows how to rig the DVD player through the antenna.  I’ll keep you up to date on this!

Futbol (soccer) is very, very important here.  Everyone plays futbol and team loyalties are very strong.  Last week after work there were two games arranged between staff at our agency and staff at Radio Victoria (a local community radio station).  The first was for the women and the second was for the men.  When I got asked to play, I explained that I had never really played futbol before.  I’m not sure that people actually believed me, as in this culture that defies belief!   They decided that I definitely needed to play.  I got asked what position I played and I repeated that I had never played before.  They put in the centre which was good because there were people on offense in front of me and people on defense behind me.  Mostly I just stood around that watched the ball move.  The play was amazingly fast.  The quiet, shy, introverted women I work with turned into very assertive, tough soccer players.  I did kick the ball a couple of times and people cheered for me!  After about 15 minutes I got substituted and I then just was part of the cheering section.

I got so into cheering for the guys from our agency that part way through I realized that I was cheering in English!  No one seemed to notice or care very much! 
Our women's futbol team!

Last night there was a game with the men from our agency against another team (I’m still unclear who they were exactly).  I went to cheer.  It turns out there wasn’t enough players from the other team for a game, so two teams were made with people from each side and then the game began.  In all honesty, it was likely good for our team that there wasn’t enough of the other players because they were really, really good and two of our best players weren’t playing.   Sorry ADES men!

Afterwards, I was thinking it would be good to go out for beer and wings.  Turns out my Salvadorian friends were thinking the same thing except we went out for pupusas!   Seven of us went to the Mexican restaurant in our little village (which also makes pupusas).   Quien Quiere Ser Millionario (Who wants to be a millionaire?) started while we were there and so the TV got turned to that and we played along as a group - my favorite Wednesday night activity!

  • The ADES staff really, really liked the Reid's chocolates (from Cambridge) I brought back.  They are all very happy to hear that this coming Monday is a holiday in Canada as I will bring more chocolate to the office.  Anne Forler's jelly (a  Lutherwood colleague)  has been a huge hit with my Guaco housemates.  
  • The girls - Nigeli (the older sister) had eye surgery while I was in Canada.  It seems to have gone really well.  Katherine was not able to have surgery because her asthma was too bad.  She has been referred to an asthma specialist but I don't think she has had an appointment yet.  Thanks so much to everyone who has asked about them and offered support.
  • Vinicio - my young "hottie" housemate had a birthday last week and is now 24 years old.  He has a new girlfriend in Guaco.  She doesn't work at ADES so most of us don't know her, but he seems quite smitten with her.  Many of the young women at ADES are quite disappointed.
  • Mining - Thanks to my friend Anneliese, here is a link to a short You Tube clip of a story by Al Jezira English about mining here that includes an interview with my friend Hector.  It was filmed at ADES and there are shots of a meeting going on -  I was there but I'm not on the tape!
  • Mining - A friend in Canada sent me this link.  I didn't know that the RCMP has a small team that investigates the behaviour of Canadian companies overseas.  Although misdeeds are likely almost impossible to prove, I am heartened that there is at least a process in place.