El Salvador Day 03: Homemade Soup, Marching for Romero, and El Presidente

Today began for me with a little adventure wandering the streets of El Salvador. Internet access has been spotty at the guest house, which I mention not to complain but rather to give better context for you, dear reader, in those “creature comforts” we find so easily at home only to find them missing abroad. Most of our phones don’t work, either, which is different for me because every time something funny, emotionally compelling, or even annoying, I want to reach for my phone and text my wife, just like at home. It’s a bummer to not have that way of communicating but then I think of how $5 of the average Salvadorian’s $15 is spent on precious cell phone minutes to talk with family members in the US about their remittance and I don’t miss it much anymore.

Adventures in Internet-Seeking

Kathryn and I set out to find internet access and had quite the quest as pedestrians in El Salvador with no Spanish skills whatsoever. First we went to Mister Donut and figured out through broken conversation and hand gestures (the international hand gesture for wifi is pointing to a sensor in the corner of the restaurant’s ceiling and push your hand out several times, opening and closing yoru hand to make “five, five, five” or “wifi waves, wifi waves, wifi waves”) that they indeed had wifi. We logged on… but it didn’t work. And we’d already bought coffee and a donut and everything (Good donut, by the way. An aptly-named restaurant.).

Next we went to Burger King. Nope. But they did have Bart Simpson and Indiana Jones kids’ meal toys. I may have to go back and buy some junk I don’t need.

Our final stop was a coffee house that had wifi and we logged in… but their system was down. Hence, the post about 03.19.2010 showed up halfway through 03.20.2010 as the guest house computer was up and running again. But the internet access was only the McGuffin for Kathryn and me. The true tale lies in our travels. We loved the independence and the chance for surprise. We really didn’t know what would happen. Everyone was so friendly and accommodating to us, too. Salvadorians are a friendly people and they tell us over and over how much they appreciate our coming to learn about their history and issues.

Well, they’re almost all friendly. A guy almost ran us over on our way back to the guest house (I am absolutely not exaggerating, it was mere inches) and then a bicyclist almost clipped Kathryn later in the afternoon so she came close to vehicular injury twice.

Here Romero Lived, Here Romero Died

As if seeing where the Jesuits were slain yesterday wasn’t emotional enough, today we went to the chapel where Romero was assassinated. First we were taken to Romero’s home, a modest one-bedroom apartment-style house which the sisters built for him after they’d said enough is enough, you cannot live in that little room behind the chapel chancel anymore. Everything is as Romero left it, from his book cases (I saw at least one book by Jimmy Carter, mom) to his old school metal desk to his clothes closet. Even his toiletries were on display. Also on display were photos taken immediately after his assassination. Because he was shot in the heart, his valves burst open and blood immediately gushed from all orifices. The pictures were hard to look at, though maybe they felt like a softer blow than the Jesuit photos for two simple reasons: they were in black and white instead of color and there were only three of them and not two albums. I won’t post the photo in the gallery at the end of this post and yet if you truly want to see one of the photos, I took a picture and you can click the link here to see what we saw.

Afterward we went into the chapel and saw the vantage point from where the gunman rolled down his car window in the street and shot straight into Romero’s heart with an exploding .22 caliber bullet. We waited patiently as a Spanish-language church service finished up. You may think you have a welcoming congregation, but I challenge you to be as welcoming as these people were. Visitors walked in and out of the chapel, some talking as they asked questions to learn about the chapel, and most everyone snapped photos – all during the worship service. Does your church understand the value of letting people explore and learn and be themselves as you worship as these people did? Something to ponder…

After the service, Luis, Don, and Chris spoke with the pastor who lead the service and learned he was leading a group of students on an educational tour. I asked Luis if he would ask the pastor to introduce me to the man who played guitar during the service so I could learn the last song they played. He agreed, and after a rough start of Spanglish between the two of us, the guitarist, a wonderful and humble talent, taught me the chords to the song. I don’t know the words, but it goes like this:

Verses:
C – E – F – G x 3 / C – Em – F – G – D

Chorus:
C                 F                G
A – ve Maria A – ve Mariiiii – a

I bid the guitarist a fond farewell and returned to the chapel where I found the UTS group holding hands in a circle on the chancel, sharing emotions, praying, and blessing the site where Romero’s body fell, bleeding, right below the giant, nearly life-sized crucifix. The circle of love was compelling and afterward Kathryn shared with me that before that, another group did a similar circle and because she was standing nearby, they took her hands and welcomed her into their circle. She was so overwhelmed by the sincere generosity in their allowing her to share in their spiritual experience.

Enemy Mine

Our interpreter, Christina, was generous enough to offer us her home as a place to sit and do some processing together. We spoke of many of the feelings which had been invoked in us over the past few days. A few things that stuck out for me included how Romero’s assassination reminded them of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and for those who have visited what it felt like to be in the hotel where he was killed, as well as my asking if anyone else saw the red books yesterday and hearing their perspectives. Jackie’s was especially interesting to hear, as she was a paralegal and used to have to look at some rather devastating photos in her work (think of the worst car accident you can imagine and she probably saw something even worse) and how she dealt with the context in a way that helped her remember she was helping the survivors who loved these people.

Our guest speaker was Jan from Sister Cities, a young American woman who has lived in El Salvador for two years working to help repopulate areas after refugee movements, teaming up with cities in the US to establish communities (the first of these was Madison, WI, by the way). Jan spent a lot of time telling us about how free trade, big business, and the mining situation in El Salvador, which is yet another way the country is suffering.

Where to begin? Well, first it’s nearly impossible for Salvadorians to raise their own corn. International corn, particularly from the US, is so cheap they can no longer raise it and sell it at a competing price. They can’t sell the corn as seed because of patent rights and Salvadorians raise less and less of their food. This was difficult for me to hear because some of the companies mentioned are where wonderful people who I know work. Also, my father works in agriculture and I think I need to have a long talk with him upon my return to get his perspective on how this all plays out. In a way, what I’m writing here is truly oversimplifying the issue and that’s not my intent and that said, I hope getting the story from all sides will help me make more informed choices as a consumer when I get back to the US.

Let’s set aside food for a moment and speak of mining. Presently, there are twenty-nine companies digging around El Salvador looking for gold and silver, as well as one Canadian company suing the Salvadorian government for $100 million because they tried to shut down their mine and, apparently, that goes against CAFTA protocol. Sure, Canada isn’t part of CAFTA and sure they only have one Shell Gas subsidiary owned in the US and sure it’s only a warehouse in the middle of nowhere but hey, who says they can’t get $100 million from a people who have nothing so that they can set a precedent, get bought out by a bigger company, and make a few dozen shareholders rich? So what, eh?

“So what” comes at the price of death. Communities are disrupted by people actively trying to split everyone into two hate-filled sides on the issue and while it is hard to trace these happenings back to the mining companies, the connections are likely there. Many anti-mining community organizers have been disappeared, that is to say they’ve been kidnapped for political reasons, tortured, and killed. Sometimes their body is found, sometimes it’s not. A prominent leader was disappeared in June, 2009, the same month El Presidente Funes was elected, and more recently a husband and wife were assassinated, the wife was pregnant and carrying her two-year old son. The two-year-old son survived with wounds, the unborn child did not.

Jan gave us tangible ways to help in this situation. She said to call for mining companies to show their financial reports for their work in El Salvador to show they aren’t funneling money to assassins and community disruptors. Spread the word that there is no such thing as “green mining” and that “modern mining” is a code word for “mining.” Finally, pray for the people when May 31 rolls around – that’s the date for opening arguments in the case of Canadian Mining vs. El Salvador.

“It all goes in the soup.”

We walked a few blocks to the home of one of Christina’s friends for lunch and she made us a wonderful homemade spread. Sitting around several tables pushed together to make one long table and a hodgepodge of assorted benches and chairs, we broke bread together. Somehow I lucked out and was the first to be served a bowl of her homemade soup. The broth was wonderful and had one whole vegetable the size of a small fist (I forget what it was), a huge slice of another vegetable (I forget this one, too), half a carrot (I remembered that one!), and big ol’ frijoles. Christina told us what else was on the table and that “it all goes in the soup.” Two kinds of cheese, one soft and both pungent, seasoned rice, pita bread, and really delicious avacados. For dessert we had fresh mangos and savored their succulent sweet juice. Sorry, I just had to go for the alliteration.

After breakfast our driver Kitke took us to a supermarket so we could buy snacks and candles for tonight’s parade. I spoke with a security guard named Raoul who told me he got deported from San Francisco and still has four kids living there who he keeps in contact with the send remittance back and forth. Later today I learned Pastor Tim met another security guard with a similar story, being deported from Montana. Raoul mentioned Montana in his list of ten states he knew so perhaps there’s a Salvadorian population there we don’t know about?

Many of us have found it easy to approach or be approached by Salvadorians to learn about their story. They are willing to share and so many have thanked us for coming to learn. These personal moments are likely to be some of the greatest treasures we will take away from this trip.

Free Time?! What?!

This afternoon we had our first scheduled “free time” which people used in various ways. Some sat outside on the porch and talked, some read, some planned their evening worship, I posted the blog, and most of us took a nap. I snuck a nap in there, too, and it was wonderful. We’re expending so much energy that it can be difficult to remember how important it is to make sure we’re drinking our water, getting our rest. That said, I’m typing this at midnight, so whatever, eh?

A March to Remember Romero

I’ve never been in a march before. Some of our group has, though. Donna marched with Reverend King, Richard has marched in local Minnesota demonstrations, and so on.  Know that my writing comes from the perspective of one who has never experienced this before. We arrived in the plaza and said hello to a group of undergrad students from St. Cloud, the leaders of both our and their group having connections. I spoke with two young women on their trip, Sarah and Christina, who explained they were in a globalization class and so far the most compelling thing they’d witnessed was Romero’s tomb.

It was fascinating to be in the presence of other white people in El Salvador. Most everywhere we go, we’re the soul white group of folks and here in the square there were groups from the US and Europe, as well as other persons of color from throughout Central America including Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua. All of these people were gathered together for one thing: to celebrate Romero.

We brought our candles to hold in vigil as we walked and some of us bought handmade candle holders bearing Romero’s picture and/or teachings on the side, too. A wonderful band played on the stage, featuring several singers, guitars, flutes, and – there it is! – a churango like Jean Pablo showed me yesterday! I’ve got to try and get my hands on one of those before I leave, I want to play it so bad. I wanted to get a closer look at the stage so Diane, Sarah, and I left the group to wade through the crowd, ending up a little less than fifty feet from the stage. Good thing, too, it was just in time for President Funes to speak.

That’s right. Diane, Sarah, and I were fifty feet from the president of El Salvador! We didn’t know he was going to be there but it was clear the crowd knew because they surged forward a little, making the sticky congestion of people even thicker. He spoke strongly of Romero for several minutes. At least, that’s my guess; I heard “Romero” several times in his Spanish-language speech and he incited the crowd to cheers and applause several times. You’ll need another website to get the inside scoop better than I can deliver, but I’ve learned he is a young man with a beautiful, intelligent wife who has big ideas and hope for change in his country after a right-wing regime has ruled for a long time and now that it has been over a year into the presidency the people are wanting to know when the change will truly come.

I’m not trying to draw any parallels, here. All I’m sayin’ is I’m sayin’, you know?… ?

We rejoined the group, lit our candles, and proceeded down the street to the cathedral. I asked Luis how far he thought it would be and his guess, for context, would be from downtown St. Paul to the river, so this was not a short walk. The streets were filled with people holding banners, signs, photos, posters, candles, and of course, trinkets to buy. I bought a beautiful headband / scarf / belt commemorating the 30th anniversary of Romero’s death and tied it to my beloved Camelbak water bottle, only to have it slip off my belt near the end of the march and be lost forever. So long, Camelbak water bottle. May your BP-free plastic hold fresh water for some Salvadorian soul.

The march was powerful for all of us. Walking side by side with Salvadorians and so many from other countries, all in solidarity, pulls at one’s heart. As darkness fell, the candles enhanced the mood. Small vans (I really want one!) slowly made their way through the crowd pumping out music about Romero from a rooftop-mounted speaker system. Everywhere we looked, we were literally and figuratively immersed in Salvadorian culture. A beautiful woman with a kind smile gave me her candle holder so I might use it back home. People led us in chants. Most everyone was smiling and so kind and excited. I was, simply put, so overjoyed to take part in the march. I do not want it to be my last.

Oh, and for a moment I walked about five feet from President Funes in the march.

I marched alongside President Funes for a moment, we´re practically hermanos now!

The body guard closest to me saw I had a camera, looked at me, grinned, and pulled his head back a little so I could get a clearer shot. I don’t know how his bodyguard skills are but his hospitality skills are through the roof. I asked Christina if Funes walks the streets with the people at this march with impunity to emulate Romero. She said that’s a possibility as he is the first Salvadorian president to invoke Romero and do so on a regular, positive basis. For him to not show up tonight simply wouldn’t have made sense. As for the photo, I was lucky. I’d gotten a little ahead of the UTS group and by the time Funes passed them it was too late to take a photo. So you see, straying off is a good thing when presidents are nearby.

After all of that, our driver Kitke’s wife’s niece made us a hot batch of papousas which we chowed down on in the bus and headed back to the guest house for worship and to watch a short film presented by Christina about Radio Victoria – the place she works and where we’re heading to tomorrow.

Spanish I Used Today

Forgive my spelling, please. Soy amo en fuego, donde estad wifi?, café negro, Buenos dias / tardes / noches, mucho gusto, de nada, par favor, muchos gracias, seniorita, vominos, musica es bonita, do rei mi fa sol la ti do, mi minor, vive Romero, and el presidente.

Spanish I Learned Today

The spelling is horrific, sorry. “Monsignor” is a term given to priests after they serve for some time, but “Monse,” what the sisters call Romero, is a term of endearment. Moevete is to move it! Viene el carro came in handy, because “a car is coming!” If someone sneezes? You can be a teasing flirt and say “salut” for health the first time, “amore” for love the second time, and “denero” for money the third. This may make you a “picaro,” a sort of teasing flirt. Hey, that’s me! Finally, someone in the group (I forgot who, sorry) explained someone said “fataron” which is to say “you need more rum.”

Final Notes and Highlights

Highlights from today include: the sister who took us to Romero’s home having so much excitement in her voice she spoke for nearly a minute before Christina had to put a hand on her shoulder to imply, “Por favor, I need a moment to translate,” also observing many of us having great get-to-know-you conversations throughout the march and getting to participate in some, too (my conversation with Richard was especially fascinating), watching everyone try to eat mangos in various ways, learning to play a Spanish-language song, Diane, Sarah, and me weaving our way through the crowd to get close to President Funes, being introduced to Phil Ochs during worship by Barbara and Fred, and Tim’s accidentally giving a Salvadorian reporter the impression he was single when she asked if he had a girlfriend and he couldn’t immediately come up with the word for “married” so she gave him her phone number and walked off into the crowd. Maybe he’ll make the local news: “US seminary student snubs bonita news anchor.”

Tonight I read your comments out loud to the group and we wish to say ‘thank you’ so much for all of your kind words, thoughts, and prayers. We hope you’ll continue to write to us so we might hear your reactions to our trip as we continue to have our lives changed.

Enjoy the photos and until next time…

-nm

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4 thoughts on “El Salvador Day 03: Homemade Soup, Marching for Romero, and El Presidente

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective with all of us readers. I can see the wonderful impact this trip is having on you in the beautiful words and feelings you’re sharing with us all.

    K

  2. Thank you for posting all these great photos and commentary!! It’s great to have this connection to what’s going on there. Please let my mother (shelley) know that her husband got home safe and sound from his business trip today, and that we are praying for the safe return of all of you as well!

    Rob, Jon, and Keith

  3. Hey, Toots! Tell your Nebraska contingent that I said “Go Big Red”!

    I don’t know if they have any Mister Donuts in Omaha, but they do in Lincoln; though I’m not sure if WIFI WIFI WIFI WIFI is available there!

    And don’t fret, Natey; we Americans are thought of as imperialists in Europe, too, and they’ll say it to your face there, also. We’re “popular” everywhere!!!

    We miss you here, but we’re happy that you’re learning so much, seeing so much, and writing so much. It’s quite edifying, fascinating, and eloquent, even if you do mistake the contraction for it + is for the possessive pronoun!!! We love ya, Natey!

    L & K, CGS

  4. Saludos de Minnesota!

    Wow, sounds like an amazing trip. We miss you and love your, Richard.

    Rebecca, Nick and Luke

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