Friday, May 27, 2011

Here Comes the Rain, Doo Doo Doo Doooo!!!!

Today, a welcome sound swept through Suchitoto - the ear-splitting sound of a crack of thunder. Shortly after, came sheets of rain, falling so rapidly that one could barely see. Now, for some, this might sound like the beginnings of a huge storm, a disaster gearing up. Not so here. We have been waiting for the rain for a month or so, and to have it FINALLY arrive, cutting the heat, was amazing. As it started, people ran outside from their office spaces, huge grins on their faces. High-fives and hugs were given out, and people literally jumped for joy... okay, so maybe only I was jumping for joy, but it was still extremely exciting. So here's to the start of the rainy season!!! =)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Day My Students Got Stoned

The other day, my students for choir were late to class because they were getting stoned. In the Biblical sense.

Usually I have class on Thursdays in El Grupo, the school next door to Centro Arte para la Paz. However, on this particular day, El Grupo was closed due to a staff meeting. Therefore, my students (smart children that they are) decided to walk to Centro Arte and find me for rehearsal. Unfortunately, they had to pass Yanira, a woman with many mental issues who lives in the streets of Suchitoto. Normally, Yanira is very sweet – she always smiles and says hello, and warns you if there is a car about to pass. Believe it or not, there are so few cars in Suchitoto, the warnings are greatly appreciated, as a passing (which in El Salvador is roughly synonymous with “break neck pace speeding”) car is not always expected. However, like everyone, Yanira has her good days and bad days. And good days very quickly turn to bad days if anything should happen to provoke her.

I do not know if this day in particular started out as a good day or a bad day. Unfortunately, a member of this group walking (because as smart as they may be, they are still pre-teen boys) yelled out a name as passing Yanira, and then quickly ducked behind a car. Yanira, turning, saw only my boys passing. She quickly turned from a helpful sweet lady into a whirling dervish of rage. Hissing and screaming, she chased after my students, throwing stones at them. Suchitoto happens to be almost completely cobblestone roads. As charming as this might be, it also gave Yanira a surprisingly large selection for her arsenal. Which included many a large rock; some so large that I was mildly surprised that Yanira (a very small woman) could pick them up, much less throw them with impressive accuracy.

My students sprinted towards Centro Arte, seeking sanctuary, Yanira close on their heels. “Seño, Seño, Seño!!!” (a cross between señora and señorita, what children call teachers here) they screamed Once in Centro Arte, Yanira was quickly banished to outside. Or so I thought. As I spoke to my students (still wide eyed and sweaty from both running in May humidity and extreme fear), I realized that a group of them had been chased away – actually, all of my girls in the group, along with some of the boys. Sighing, I told the boys to wait in the classroom, while I went in search of the other half of the class. They were more than happy to comply, and sat slumped in varying degrees of terror.

I walked out of the museum to the front area of Centro Arte, only to be surprised when a familiar voice close to my left said, “Oh. Hola!” I quickly turned. There was Yanira, waiting in a place were no one from the inside could see her before passing by, with a smile on her face and what can only be described as a small boulder raised over her head.  “Hola, Yanira.” However, all I could think was, What a way to die. I always thought if I died in El Salvador, it would be the result of being shot or some sort of malfunction in a bus or being eaten alive by feral dogs. But getting my head smashed in by a rock? Nope, never really put that on the list of probable ways to die. We had a lovely conversation, while the boulder remained poised to be lobbed at some small child. Eventually, Yanira seemed to tire of the niceties. The smile turned into a small straight line, and her eyes hardened. “Y los bichos?” (And the boys?) she asked coldly. “Oh. They already went home, Yanira. Maybe you should leave, too…” And perhaps put down that skull crushing stone of death, I silently thought. Slowly, she lowered the rock, and muttering to herself, went to wait on the corner of the street immediately across from Centro Arte.

I searched for a bit for my other students, but finally concluded that no one else would be coming back. I returned to my classroom to find my boys had rediscovered their boyish swagger and were now pretending that they had not been afraid at all. After we had a talk about the need to respect everyone, and how name-calling is a form of disrespecting others, we began rehearsal.

And so, for once, my students actually had a good excuse for being late – “But Seño! We were getting stoned!”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Beach - Take 2

A couple of weekends ago, the volunteers decided to take a trip together. As we are now in the “dry season” in El Salvador (dry, dusty, intense heat without respite), we decided to go to the beach. After our Saturday morning classes, we had a quick snack and headed out on the first leg of the trip. We hopped on the bus to San Salvador, got on a city bus to get on to the bus to La Libertad, and then jumped on the bus to la playa San Diego. So, three hours and four buses later, we finally arrived at our destination.

Of course, no despedida in El Salvador can go completely smoothly. We began to look along the shore for a hostel, finding that they were not so readily available as we had first believed. We turned into a rancho that had direct access to the beach. “Hey, do you have rooms to let?” The older man looked us up and down, and slowly nodded.  “Si… for two dollars each.” We looked at each other happily. Two dollars? We could do that, even on the slightly non-existent budget available to volunteers. However, the news got slightly worse by increments as we shuffled up the stairs. Shuffle shuffle, “Oh, by the way, there are no lights.” Shuffle shuffle. “And no beds. If you want a hammock, that is extra.” Shuffle. “And the doors don’t really lock.” Shuffle shuffle. By this time we had reached the room we were going to stay in,  and saw that also all the windows were cracked or falling out. However, although this room was missing electricity, beds, locks, and any form of security whatsoever, there was the not so welcome addition of signs of rodents.

Leaving the newly dubbed “Margarita’s Crack House,” we continued in our search for a place to stay. We decided to stop and ask some locals where we should go. This was, in terms of expediency, not our wisest plan. Not only were we given a round about answer (along with complicated and, for non locals, incomprehensible directions), but then neighbors had to be asked, and friends of neighbors, and all opinions had to be given before they decided that, yes, probably the first place was the best because only gringos went there.

Failing to find this so called “gringo hostel,” we continued our quest. Finally, we came upon a place called El Aguila. Exhausted, hot, sweaty, we stepped into a place that seemed almost like paradise – there was shade provided by abundant trees, a covered plaza area, and a pool. As soon as we were done staring, slack jawed, we flagged down an employee to talk about the possibility of us staying there for the night. The room was clean, and not only had a number of beds, but also had a shower and a bathroom! Unfortunately, the price was out of our range. As we met in a “group huddle,” we decided to ask if it was possible to get a “volunteer” discount.

Korla and I approached the nice employee we had met at the beginning; after a few minutes of discussion (and after talking to management higher up), we managed to secure a rate that was slightly diminished, putting this pleasanter, and certainly cleaner, into our price range. Settling into our AIR CONDITIONED room, we were ready to stay for the night.
Of course, later that night there was a wind storm, which killed all the electricity in the area, coming back on at 4:30 in the morning (at which time we were awoken by lights and by the surprisingly jet-like boom of the air conditioner), and our toilet ended up having problems and not being able to flush. But we were able to thoroughly enjoy our time at the beach, and hey – would it have been as memorable an adventure without the setbacks? No lo creo.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Day the First Ladies Came to Town

Yesterday, the volunteers of Centro Arte para la Paz received incredible news - that all the presidents of Central America were currently in San Salvador, and their wives were to come and visit Suchitoto. Which, of course, meant a visit to the Center. The volunteers barely had time to express our excitement when the beginnings of the entourage started to trickle in - policemen with bomb sniffing dogs. Of course, this visit following true Salvadoran style, the time of the arrival of the first ladies was still TBD – totally beyond discernment.
         Finally, after a number of security members had been waiting about for an hour and a half, the first ladies arrived – along with more secret service members, a number of SUVs, and a handful of soldiers, completely decked out with several pistols to complement their rather large automatic weapons. Sister Peggy, after greeting the first ladies at the entrance, turned to the soldiers. “I think you can wait out here.” The soldiers, wisely realizing that Sister Peg could wither them with a look before they shot off the first round of their M-16s, stayed outside of the peace center.
         I was lucky enough to be working the front desk of the museum in the afternoon. As a result, I was able to greet all the first ladies when they came in and when they left. Which means that the first ladies of Central America kissed my cheek not once, but twice.

You may take a moment to marvel.

As the ladies toured the Center, the soldiers remained outside and children continued to come in and out. One of the children happened to be a rather squirrely boy named Freddy, who also happens to be in the harp class. This combination proved to be one that made the soldados outside increasingly nervous; as a result of his involvement in the harp class, Freddy had a large, oddly shaped black bag; his squirrely nature found him coming in and out of the Center the first ladies had recently entered, taking his harp on and off. I could see the soldiers becoming more and more uncomfortable, as the spread-out, relaxed line soon became a clump. Of course, I would understand their anxiety much more if the oddly shaped bag had not also had the large rainbow colored word “ARPA” (harp in Spanish) written across it, accompanied by the sounds of the rest of the harp class coming from the corridor. All this happened while Freddy remained blissfully unaware of all the tension he was creating, finally leaving about forty minutes after he meant to go home.
         After an hour or so tour, the first ladies took their leave. Waving good-bye, taking pictures, they soon loaded into their motorcade and roared away. After five minutes, all that remained of the entourage was the mildly tramped down grass in the front.

And that was the day the first ladies came to town.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Man Who Whistles

Reading the title in the context of the experiences of a woman in Central America, one might expect this to be an entry full of negativity, lamenting over the objectification of women.

This is not that entry.

Rather, this is an entry about the man who sweeps the plaza and streets every single morning in the town of Suchitoto; or, as I like to call him, "the man who whistles." I love to begin my morning listening to the tuneful songs he whistles, walking through the plaza on my way to Centro Arte para la Paz. Each song is accompanied by the rhythmic swish of the tied reeds against the cobblestones; he always sweeps in time to his song. Most days, the plaza already has people out and about by the time I cross it, so the beautiful tune is sometimes lost in the sounds of the odd car driving by, the shouted salutations, and the general hubbub of everyday life. But sometimes, it is only me and the man who whistles, his beautiful song filling the silent air, floating across the way to descend upon the ears of a grateful listener. With the morning sun at my back, I often stop for a few moments to enjoy the joy this man unconsciously gives me.

Once, a few months ago during the weekly spirituality night the volunteers have, we were asked to fill a page with what we believe. Amidst a flurry of words, I wrote one sentence in the upper right hand corner that comes back to me whenever I pass through the plaza - "I believe that mundane, everyday actions can create great moments of grace." Though I very much doubt he is aware of it, this man creates a moment of grace for me every single morning - a moment of quiet filled with the strains of his song that accompanies his work.

So here is in thanksgiving for all those mundane moments that turn to moments of grace; especially for my man who sweeps Suchitoto's streets, the man who whistles.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

And We're Back!!!

I have now been back in Suchitoto for a complete two weeks, and already many things have happened. My first weekend back we celebrated the anniversary of the Peace Accords, signed in 1992 to officially end the Civil War. On Saturday night, the volunteers and Peggy went to Mango Mocho, one of the communities surrounding Suchitoto, for a dance/concert to celebrate both the Peace Accords and the heroes of Guazapa, the mountains near Suchitoto that were a major rebel stronghold. A band called Los Torogoces de Morazán played; this band actually played during the civil war, traveling to areas of fighting and playing for the guerillas. It was absolutely amazing to be able to share in the enjoyment of their music with people from the communities - and oh how we did enjoy it!!! We danced the cumbia, merengue, banda; you name it. Such moments of pure enjoyment - even Sister Peggy joined in! Adults and children, estadounidenses and salvadoreños - all danced together to celebrate a moment of peace in this constantly violence-stricken country.

It has been wonderful, as always, living with Rosa. We usually come home around the same time, make dinner together, and are able to talk (and usually laugh) about our days. It is so incredibly life-giving to share a home with someone I both trust and enjoy thoroughly. Just this past weekend, Rosa took me to Copapayo to visit her family. Since I have told Niña Cruz that my pupusas inflated over break, she has decided that since I am apparently ready to wed (when your pupusas inflate, it means you are ready to be married), I need to prepare - ultimately, learning how to cook Salvadoran meals and how to prepare a chicken.

The day we went to Copapayo, unfortunately, we got there to late to learn how to prepare a chicken - darn. The chicken soup was already made and waiting for us. However, Niña Cruz had some river crabs to prepare. "First rule - do not be afraid of the crab." Sure, Niña Cruz. However, in order to test my ability to not be afraid of the crab, she took one and put it on my lap. Chuckling, she said "See how it runs!" Yes, very funny; so long as you are not the one with the spiky legs of a crab running all over your lap. I was supposed to follow her into the kitchen to help prepare the crab - however, a sudden squabble between Rosa's nieces and nephews demanded my immediate attention. As soon as everything was sorted out, the crab had already been cooked - oh well. Maybe next time?

And so I am back in Suchi - ¡qué suerte!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Santa Lucia

Now, I have never had any particular connection to Saint Lucy; to me, she was yet another early saint who chose torture/death (in this case, having her eyes plucked out) over losing her virtue - no offense, Santa Lucia. However, spending time in Suchitoto, I think I may have significantly increased affection for this particular saint.

Santa Lucia is the patron saint of Suchitoto; a neighborhood is named after her, the local church is named after her, and her feast day is a BIG deal. When I say a BIG deal (notice the capitalized letters), I really do mean a BIG deal. The feast day of Santa Lucia is on the twelfth of December. The entire week before this date, there are celebrations every single day. The festivities began yesterday, with a big parade full of drums, mascaras (men dressed up with masks and sometimes dressed as women, who chase children out of the way of the parade route... which would terrify me as a child, but seems to be all fun and games to the children of Suchitoto), and the queens. Each barrio in the actual city of Suchitoto and almost every community surrounding Suchitoto elects a queen to represent them; then, there is one girl elected as the Queen of Suchitoto for the year. After the parade, each queen stood up and spoke a bit about their community - as there are almost 80 communities or so in Suchitoto, one can imagine that this took awhile. After all of the queens spoke, and the mayor and other members of the alcalde's office spoke, the Celebration of the Feast of Santa Lucia was declared officially begun.

For the entire week of the celebration, each barrio has a night to host the festivities. This begins with waking up the neighborhood with cohetes - firecrackers - or polvoras - fireworks. I got used to the cohetes eventually (they go off at all hours of the day or night), but the festivities begin at 3:30 or 4 in the morning. This is followed by an oferenda, in which anyone who decides to come is given pan dulce and café. After the oferenda, there is a procession to the church from whatever barrio you happen to be in; this includes music, everyone with candles, and four people carrying the statue of Santa Lucia through the streets. The procession ends at the church, where mass is offered. During the day, there are games in the barrio hosting the festival for the day; at night, there is a parade, and then there is a dance or a concert. Phew. An entire week of this.

It is absolutely beautiful, though. Everyone shows up to celebrate together, as a community. The Centro Arte para la Paz was able to host the oferenda for the day of festivities in Barrio San José. We had over 300 people show up, more joining the procession as we made our way to the church. We processed in two lines, our candles lighting the pre-dawn darkness, walking towards the dawn. As we entered the church, the sun was only just coming up behind the church, adding rosy tones to the whitewashed walls and candlelight.

I truly think that such events as the feast day of Santa Lucia truly show off the strengths of the community of Suchitoto, truly show off many of the reasons why I have absolutely fallen in love with this country, this town, these people. My experience has shown the people of Suchitoto to be extremely generous, filled with the utmost cariñoso for neighbors and strangers alike. As a community, they exude strength, and I feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to spend time with them, to be invited into homes, to be given the gift of personal stories.

Tonight, I head home for San Francisco, California. Yet, as incredibly, EXTREMELY, excited I am to see my family, I find myself looking forward to returning to the community I now count as one of my own - returning to Centro Arte, my students, my friends, and, of course, Santa Lucia.

Next blog - when I return to Suchi in a month!!!