Friday, May 23, 2008

Nun Camp

This week I have been at a retreat for VMM held at the Sienna Center in Racine Wisconsin. The Sienna Center is run by and serves as a retirement center Dominican nuns ("Dominican" referring to the order and not the republic). I arrived Saturday and spent hours trying to transfer my airline voucher (from Christmas) to Betsy, one of the VMM ladies. (From now on, I will be willing to pay double to avoid flying United. Their service, or lack there of, has left me emotionally scarred.) Sunday, Heather, a new friend and belly dance goddess, gave me a tour of the sites of Racine and took me to a great place for lunch including the requisite cheese curds, sand dollars, brat and Spotted Cow Beer. She was amazing kind and went way out of her way for someone who is essentially a complete stranger.
The retreat has been very nice. It is technically an orientation, but since I have been in Central America for nearly three year (whoa!) and in the VMM position for about 7, it has been for me more of a retreat, BUT a very nice one. The sessions have been quite good and renewing and it is nice to meet the new VMs that are headed to South. David and Nancy, a couple from Wisconsin, Jennifer from the Carolinas and Danielle from St.Luis/IA are all looking to head to El Salvador for service. Danielle will be working in the SHARE office with me, (apparently she beat orphans in a past life.)
I am here today to close up and then tomorrow I head to Portland to hang out with MARIA!!!!!
On a side note.... as I have, from time to time, used the blog to specifically condemn some company whose lack of customer service merited my ire (United, Victoria's Secret), I thought I would take the opportunity to heap praise upon the Chaco company. Chaco sandals are not only comfortable, practical and the standard uniform for Peace Corps Volunteers and social justice workers but are also an amazing Colorado company. I wear mine pretty much every day through sand, mud, rain and rainforest, scorching asphalt and buses. I have clocked, easily, hundreds of miles. I have had them for 4 years. I have replaced the sole once due to simple wear and had NO problems getting them exchanged even from Costa Rica. Recently, I noticed that the soles were cracking and I figured that they had finally reached the end of their days. Not bad for four years of daily abuse. I mentioned this to Chaco and Joe Kaputa in Paonia, Colorado told me that it was a warranty issue and had a new pair sent to meet up with me in Portland. So, I am as ever, a walking advertisement for Chaco shoes, sandals or whatever else they would decide to sell. :) Thanks Chaco!!!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tumbler in El Salvador

Last weekend I received a short visit from my friend Constance (aka Tumbler), a fellow PCV in Costa Rica, but who is now living the power-suit life in New York's financial district. She was only here for a few days but we made the most of it.

On Sunday, we went on a day trip "excursion." We hopped in a bussetta with other Salvadorans, guided by don Mario for a tour of the Ruta de las Flores (Route of Flowers). The Ruta de las Flores is a stretch of highway that runs between Sonsonate and Ahuachapan in the western department of Santa Ana. It is so named because of the flowering trees that line the highway. The trees weren't in bloom when we went, but it was still a beautiful drive. Living in the city, which one can accurately describe as a bubble of concrete and pollution, I miss terribly green and living things. So much so, that I didn't mind the rain at all. In fact, it made everything look greener.

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We had breakfast at a restaurant in Apaneca called Jardin de Celeste (Heaven's Garden) and then went for a short hike at to see the Cascadas de don Juan. We had lunch in a town called Concepcion de Ataco, that hosts a Feria Gastronomico (Food Fair) each weekend. They are also known for weaving tapestries, so we were able to see their looms. El Salvador makes beautiful textiles. It is one of my favorite things here. We had lunch, wondered around, checked out the galleries and artesian shops and took some pictures. We rounded out the afternoon with a quick stop in Salcoatitan, which hosts yet another Feria Gastronomico. Constance particularly liked the quesedillas. If you are from Colorado, or probably anywhere in the Southwestern US and ordered a quesedilla in El Salvador, you would probably do so expecting a flour tortilla folded over melted cheese. When you got your quesedilla you would be confused. In El Salvador, a quesedilla is a slightly sweet bread made with cheese. They are pretty good, but example of the phenomena that occurs when one is traveling in a foreign land and orders something that seems familiar but is in fact not familiar at all.

On Monday we headed to the campo in the Bajo Lempa a region Southeast of San Salvador. The area is literally called the "Lower Lempa" and is appropriately named as it is the area surrounding the lower end of the Lempa River. It is a striking contrast to previous day for many reasons. Geographically, Santa Ana is volcano and coffee country. The climate is cool and the terrain is lush and green. The Bajo Lempa is in a flood plain, and is sweat-from-the-exertion-of-blinking-hot, sugarcane is grown and cattle graze. Politically, Santa Ana is pretty conservative. There was an ill-fated indigenous uprising in 1932 that was met with brutal repression. The results have been that many indigenous identifications, such as dress, language, and religious ceremonies were dropped, and assimilation became, literally, a survival skill. The department is predominantly ARENA territory and is privy to national funding. So it has enjoyed infrastructure development that has not been extended to the Bajo Lempa region which hosts many resettlement communities,* is a stronghold for the FMLN, and is NOT privy to national funding or infrastructure development.

We met with La Coordinadora which is another grassroots community development group that works in the area. We also met with a group of Engineers Without Borders students from Clemson University (Shout out to Clemson!) that were visiting the area and working on water projects. As I have mentioned to the point of tedium, water is a HUGE deal in El Salvador. There are a lot of communities that do not have potable and still get their drinking, washing, etc. water from rivers, which are amazingly, fish-killing, grow-a-third-arm kind of polluted. But that's another entry.....

We stayed in a small community called La Isla Mendez, which is not an island at all but is surrounded on only three sides by water. As usual, the families we stayed with were incredibly hospitable and kind. The EWB students are working with La Coordinadora to bring potable water to La Isla. Tuesday a.m. we went to Nuevea Esperanza and Constance gave a short accounting charla to a women's cooperative that SHARE works with. We met up with Carmelina who is one of my coworkers and hands down, one of the coolest people I know. We headed back to San Salvador, and stopped for lunch at Pollo Campero (viva la resistancia), and then Constance left for Honduras on King Quality Wednesday morning. It was a packed couple of days but lots of fun.

*Resettlement communities are communities that are primarily composed of Salvadorans that fled their native communities in other parts of the country during the civil war and were not permitted to return to their original communities and, instead, were placed in the harsh environment of the Bajo Lempa region.