Selected pictures from our trip are posted on my Facebook page which is linked HERE.
El Carmen is a community of 26 families high in the hills above the Bajo Lempa where Cristosal Foundation also works. Travelling there redefines the meaning of “off” road because at San Marcos you transfer to the back of a pick up truck for a 45 minute ride over rutted roads, continually rising up the slope. One river must be forded (and is impassable in the rainy season) and there are inclines where it is safer to walk than be in the truck. This hill rises from the bridge the people built themselves across a second stream with Cristosal’s help.
In El Carmen the people have created a new enterprise – they are farming chickens and intend to sell them to restaurants and in the market in San Marcos and Jiquilisco. The first “flight” is nearly ready and we had the pleasure of sampling at a fine luncheon they prepared. We continue to marvel at the tenacity and creativity of Salvadorans to try and improve their situation, most often without the support of government. In addition to the pollo, they farm beans, corn, sorghum, sesame and some vegetables in the fertile fields that surround the community. There is a three room school however there are only 4 students and a teacher who drives into the community as the road permits. Missioner Antonio jokes that one of his goals at El Carmen is to encourage population growth!
On the road again we are Suchitoto bound and we take a route that
climbs alongside the eastern flank of Volcan de St. Vicente and then north from San Martin. Suchitoto is a wonderful place to visit – much quieter than the buzz of San Salvador. On the slopes of Cerro Guazapa it was a central focus of the war years as the mountain was a major staging area for the guerillas. In subsequent years efforts are being made to create a culture of peace and one of the leaders of this
movement is Sister Peggy O’Neil with whom we met and also overnighted at her Centre for Art and Peace (http://capsuchitoto.org/en/) hostel. Sr. Peggy came to Suchitoto in the middle of the war years (1987) and continues her work through arts and other media to engage the people. The entire facility is built around a private chapel built by a hacienda owner in the mid 1800s.
Our day began at Caserio Las Mesitas in La Canoa – a public elementary school. We visited the Kindergarten and the 1-2-3 class and enjoyed their company during recess. They teach six basic subjects, math, natural science, arts, social studies, physical education and language, and then add English in grades 7-8-9. High school students travel to Nueva Esperanza to continue in high school. Students here all wear uniforms provided by the government. The hot snack that was to be available was not this day and two classes of students were set home when teachers didn’t come to work.
It was AMAIZING – truly, growing corn in the dry season here is an
innovation and we toured a field where Sanilo and his partner are trying to grow corn in the alternate season. Most grow in the wet season but the recent experience with storms has led them to innovate. With in a week they will be harvesting corn that is more expensive due to the need to irrigate but they will have a crop. They can plant again in the wet season and hopefully have two crops.
Shrimp, los camarones, are a cooperative venture of some of the
people at Los Calix. Near the ocean they have five ponds that grow shrimp, and the odd crocodile. Currently they are not producing because of some bottom issues that are being repaired this week. When this is done they will be filling the ponds and beginning the next crop. While they wait, the 24 people who work on the farm take their shifts to secure the site and to be trained in the latest technology of shrimp farming and the marketing of their products.
All this touring and learning makes one hungry and the community delivered a fine lunch including pipillan (a type of squash) and other vegetables, one of which was stuffed with cheese and then fried.
We then went to see the Rio Lempa (Lempa River) and see if the work was being done on the levees – which last October were not dry. Much work that has been promised to reinforce the damaged levees has not been done and it is only two months until the rains come again. Locals are unhappy with the lack of progress.
Loaves, fishes, sharing, (John 4: 4-15) were the themes of a bible
study at the current Los Calix church. This was a wonderful way to share our faith and our understanding of the importance of faith – not money – in the solving of problems. Antonio, the local missioner who is to be ordained in June, concluded that the miracle may be about multiplying the bread and fish but is more likely about getting those who have more to share with others.
We are very tired, back in San Salvador and unable to say more until the morning. Buenes Noches!
This entry starts with a reflection on the wonderful music of Freddy Granillo who is a local musician who sings El Salvadoran songs from today and the war years. He is a superb musician with the guitar, and he is also an accomplished potter and artist. The music is very moving and expressed the integrity and determination of the people here to build a better El Salvador.
In the morning we had to pack up and prepare to leave San Salvador for the bajo Lempa region in Usulutan. We started with a briefing at
the Cristosal offices about the situation in Los Calix and the region and the project we are supporting through Santa Maria Kerrisdale. After pupusas at Nellies, our driver Kevin pointed the bus south and east and we arrived in Los Calix about 1600 in the afternoon.
These are a gracious and hospitable people. We began our conversation in a large circle with the community leaders and we talked about the project, the election and their lives in general. We were thanked by the community for the solidarity we show by coming to visit. Being Central America the sun sets here more or less at the same time every day, roughly at 1830. Before it went down we were served a wonderful dinner of pupusas. We then made our way to Nueva Esperanza, a community north of Los Calix where we stayed at the community’s guest house.
We spent two nights in Nueva Esperanza and enjoyed breakfasts and
a dinner at the leader of the communities home. Marvin often gets involved in studies going on in the Bajo Lempa including archaeological ones. He is currently touring a Japanese archaeologist who is studying the effects of the circa 400 AD explosion of Ilopango Volcano which is thought to be in the top five eruptions in recorded history.
Political pundits are having a field day here as the entrails of yesterday’s elections are analyzed. A surprise to some, the ARENA party has had a resurgence and now has the largest number of seats
in the new legislature at 34 (out of 84). They are a quite right party formed after the peace accords to represent the wealthy in this country. FMLN dropped some seats to second place at 31. The “Frente” is the political successor to the guerrilla movement that took up arms in 1980. GANA is the third main party – a break away group from ARENA, and they managed 11 seats. ARENA and GANA seem to hate each other (as you might imagine) So it is a hung legislature to some extent. Does this remind you have politics anywhere closer to home?
President Funes (FMLN, elected in 2009) is expected to have nothing but trouble passing legislation, creating budgets, authorizing tax programs to pay back international creditors, etc. as ARENA with it’s 34 seats (more than one-third of 84) would have to be in agreement. Many are saying that the presidential election campaign of 2014 started this morning.
You will not believe the ballot people use here. They vote for party
and can vote for party-selected candidates but no mixing is allowed between actual candidates. The ballot is as big as a tabloid newspaper with part symbols across the top and the pictures and names of the party’s choices in order of preference below.
Tomorrow we are leaving San Salvador for three days in the Bajo Lempa where we will visit our friends in the Parish of Cristo Rey. At Los Calix, we will build the new church and flood refuge centre with gifts from St. Mary’s parishioners. Our group presented some of the nails from the floor in the nave at St. Mary’s to Obispo Martin Barahona at a dinner we had with him on Friday. These nails will be placed in the four corners of the new church foundations to mark our solidarity with the people in the parish.
We also presented a large box of books to help young people in a
rural community (El Pital) to create a small library and learn Spanish. We brought these books from Vancouver and we have some other school supplies we’ll delivery in Los Calix during the week.
During the dinner which was also attended by Noah Bullock, Executive Director of
Cristosal Foundation, and other staff, we had a very traditional Salvadoran meal with pupusas and tamales, etc. The parish hospitality matron, Mercedes spent some time helping Lea Starr to learn how to make a pupusa. It is corn dough flattened and then a filling is added like cheese or beans or vegetables and then it is worked until the filling is entirely inside. It is then grilled. It is a bit like a perogy but flatter and rounder. They are delicious!
Once we leave San Salvador we’ll blog as we are able but it may be next Friday before we have internet access again. Many blessings to you all.
2243 here and the votes are nearly counted. We arose at 0430 to get to the polling stations to watch the set up. Andrew Davis and Saul Geller went with Noah Bullock and Erika to Mejicanos while Lea Starr, Casey Wilson, Tedde Simon and Glen went to Soyapango. Many workers and vigilantes (scrutineers) were already there.
The entire election runs out of a box – one for each JRV or polling station. The ballots (one newspaper size one for deputies and a smaller one for the mayors), the lists of voters, the ink jar for marking fingers, the ballot boxes, the voting booth and all the other paraphernalia needed for counting.
People here vote for the “bandera” or logo of the party and/or also individual candidates on the party list. (It is a really complicated system!). At the Plaza Mundo in Soyopango there were 50+ polling stations in the one location.
Most of us are media rock stars as we’ve been interviewed by El Mundo, La Prensa, the United Nations Peace University in Costa Rica and other media about our perspectives on the process. We’ve also connected with people from Japan, Los Angeles, Chicago, India and lots of other places who are here for the observation role.
The polls in Soyopango opened 40 minutes late, mostly due to late arrivals of some workers. Eventually it all came together and we did not witness any significant incidents during the day as far as voting or identity regularities are concerned.
At 1700 the polls closed on time and the process of counting began. There were some problems with the process as the JRV team and the vigilantes tried to get the counting done. A couple of times, we intervened to help “fix” a process and get them back on track.
The problems they encountered were things like not cancelling and putting away unused ballots before beginning the count. Sometimes vigilantes appeared to be doing the work of the officials and they had to be encouraged to revert to their observer role.
Rum in hand we’re watching the results on Canal 33 and it appears that ARENA will have about 33 and FMLN will have 31 out of 84. These may change tomorrow. About 50% of the population voted despite moving polls closer to residences.
Buenas Noches desde El Salvador.
Buenos noches. We have finally slain the cyperspace dragon and I am online! Andrew, Lea, Saul and I have had a tremendous experience so far in El Salvador. Since arriving late Wednesday we have visited Archbishop Oscar Romero’s home and the chapel where he was murdered at Divina Providencia Hospital (a church run hospital for terminally ill cancer patients). Quite a moving experience.
We have also visited the Museo de la palabra y la imagen which is a museo devoted to images of El Salvador culture and history. You can view much of the collectiona and their videos online at http://museo.com.sv/. The picture shows Lea Starr spinning the world with no problem what so ever!
We also managed to see the International Women’s Day Parade on March 8 here which was a big event, many blocks long. In this patriarchal country, that is a big deal.
We also spent time at the Jesuit University where we saw the rose garden where the Jesuit priests were murdered in 1980. There is so much history here to understand in the context of the continuing struggle to create a democracy which highly values social justice for all.
Tomorrow we are going to be trained as Observadores for the elections being held on Sunday March 11. The legislature and the mayor elections for the entire country are being held. We will be monitoring election booths in San Salvador. Across the country there are 16,000 people doing this important work.
Tonight we had dinner with Obispo Martin Barahona, of the Iglesia Episcopal de El Salvador at the largest Anglican church in San Salvador – San Juan Evangelista. Martin is a man of great hope but in small steps for the future of his country.
We’re taking lots of video and we’ll try to post some election coverage in the next two days. In the meantime, hasta luego!
In less than 24 hours our mission team from St. Mary’s Kerrisdale will be winging its way to El Salvador. Our first task is to prepare for the election observer work we’ll do on Sunday March 11, 2012 when the deputados and alcaldes are elected to the legislature and the municipal mayors jobs for three year terms. After that we’ll spend three days visiting with our friends at Los Calix where St. Mary’s parishioners are generously funding the construction of a new church and multipurpose building that will serve as a community centre and flood refuge. We’ll also spend time in the north learning about the military and economic conditions of the country and visit Cihuatan, a not well-known Mayan temple site. I’ll be posting news of our adventures here as internet access allows during our trip from March 7 to 18.
I am interested in social, political and human rights issues in El Salvador. In 2009 I traveled there to volunteer as an Election Observer. I will do that again in 2012. With three other individuals we will be in El Salvador for 12 days and we will visit important religious, social and economic projects which we are supporting in various parts of the country. In particular we will spend time at Los Calix in the Parish of Cristo Rey. As time permits I’ll be posting information about our experiences.