Saturday, August 17, 2013

Fiesta y Festive Farewell

Final day at the worksite today…

We said adios to our friends in Getsemani Community today, and we were sent out in style. We spent the morning working at the two worksites. It was amazing to think about and see how much work had been accomplished during the week. At Santos’ house, we arrived with only dirt trenches dug out. By Friday, we saw the walls were up to the halfway point. At Jose’s house, we started with the walls up to the halfway point, and by Friday they were ready to put the roof on. 

Our work day ended at noon, and right before lunch, Pastor Sue said a blessing at each house. With our team present, our Habitat amigos, the masons and the families present, a beautiful blessing was given to the house, and water poured on the hands of the families and the masons. Peace was shared with all, and we left the houses full of joy, knowing that we left a small footprint in this beautiful place.

At lunchtime, we were treated to a delicious lunch made by Ana Maria, who we first met in Villa Esperanza. She toasted us with thanks and the challenge to continue on the mission of paying this good work forward. And also, to make the promise to return. She thanked us for our time, our financial commitment, and the willingness to come to this country with open hearts and minds. 

Then there was a little bit of a fiesta. Word spreads fast in a small community and we were blessed by many of the children. They were each given a certificate to give us, and with a mix of glee and apprehension, called out our names one by one to hand us our certificates. Each name was also celebrated by the ringing of the Baltimore Cowbell.  (How did that get here???)

Right before we left, Al offered us the hula hoop challenge. With one big circle, all joined together, we raced to pass the hula hoops, over the head, under the feet. The kids were quite skilled in this, the adults not so much. Regardless, a lot of laughter echoed under the roof of the community center. 

And then it was time for hasta luego. Many hugs and photos all around. Such a bittersweet time. We have felt so welcomed. Despite the language barrier, words cannot describe the feeling of inclusiveness we have felt this week. This beautiful country, this beautiful community, these beautiful people…so much love. 

After our farewell, we headed into Ataco for some shopping. We pass Ataco each day to and from the worksite, and just set off the main road is this lovely artisan community. There is a beautiful loom shop, where we could watch the weavers work on these large, wooden looms. There are shops filled with beautiful artwork, jewelry, and a machete shop or two.  I don’t want to name names, but someone (or two) may be bringing home a new way to cut the grass. 

We spent our last evening here at Hotel Alicante- this beautiful lodge in the mountains- with a traditional Salvadoran meal of pupusas, pastalitos, and cortida. Muy delicioso. After dinner, we shared in a service or worship, communion, offering, and sharing. It was a lovely way to end the work week. 

Our team cannot thank all of our family and friends at home for your continued support and prayers while we have been away. We have prayed for all of you, too. It is with joy that we look forward to sharing our stories with you, to keep the spirit of this community and country alive. 

Muchas gracias!

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. -1 John 3:16-18

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Futbol Frenzy

I hope no one is tired of me saying that today was another wonderful day in El Salvador…because it really was fantastic. We continue to not be disappointed in our activities and experiences each day. 

We spent our build time today between the two houses in progress. Great strides were made on both houses. On Santos’ house, work continues to build up the outside and the inside walls of the house and leveling out the dirt subfloor inside. Rich had the pleasure of clearing the wild vegetation on the side of the house, which he managed to do with a pickax. For some reason, I don’t think he’ll be using this method on his garden at home, but his determination and hard work was appreciated. 

At Julio’s house, out in the woods, the cinder blocks are almost to the point of putting on the roof. The top layer needed to be filled in, and there was a lot of scaffolding climbing today. It’s amazing how high six-foot scaffolding can feel. We were also entertained by Douglas, one of our interpreters who lives in the community.  He kept telling us impossible-to-solve riddles. It was fun for him, but not so much fun for us. We finally had to cry uncle so he would give us the answers. 

I had the pleasure today to sit with Berta, who’s son will be living in the house in the woods. I brought over my photo album to show her and we started talking. Thankfully, Douglas came over to help translate, because with my lack of Spanish, the conversation would have been quite short. Berta told me about her family, and that she has lived in this community her whole life. She has been able to divide up her land so that each of her six children will be able to live near each other, so that when she dies she  knows that they are together. When I told her that I was a nurse, she said that she wanted me to come back in December for the Health Brigade- when a medical group will come into the community. I didn’t make her any promises I couldn’t keep, but am always hopeful we’ll return again next year.  

Later in the day, we played futbol with some  of our amigos. It’s amazing how they all know what’s going on, because the community  comes out in droves. While the serious ones were playing futbol, there was also a pretty intense game of wiffle ball going on. I’m not sure who won which games, but there was a lot of laughter and high-fives along the way. It was such a happy afternoon. 

Speaking of happy, Luis Fernando joined us for dinner tonight. After discussing some of the struggles of the country and people of El Salvador, he lifted the mood by stating that El Salvador is the 5th happiest country in the world. Agreed!

And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? -Micah 6:8

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” –Luke 10:29

After all the rain yesterday, it was a bright, sunny day here in El Salvador, and some of us have  rosy skin to prove it. We had a productive, eventful day, lending our hands at both worksites. 

After lunch, we went to Pedro’s house. We met Pedro last year, when we worked with him in building his home, also in Getsemani community. He was at work today, but we met his wife and son, who so graciously opened their home for us. We had been there last September, and the family was able to be in their home by December. The yard was so green, lush and full of blossoms. They have a covered breezeway of sorts that connects their newly constructed house with their old house, so their living space is quite large. They use their old house for the kitchen and their new house is used for the bedrooms and living space. It was great to hear how happy they are in their new home.

On the way back from Pedro’s house, we stopped at the cornmill. This is owned by an older gentleman who uses his home as a shop. He closes his cornmill at noon, but was kind enough to open his door and show us how his business works. He talked us through the process of how the neighbors bring corn and it’s mashed for cornmeal to make tortillas, tamales, pupusas, etc. He also has a little store window in the front, where he sells potatoes, onions and eggs… a great example of business in the community which allows them to be self-sufficient. This is especially important, as the community sits far back off the main road, and access to a cornmill otherwise could be quite a feat.

Our final destination of the day was the family home of Francis. Francis is our Habitat liaison this year. She wears many hats, but is often most helpful with translating for us. We had never met her before this trip, but she fits right in with our team. She lives in San Salvador with her older brother and sister, but grew up in Ahuachupan, which is near where we’re staying. Her mother still lives there, and she offered us a side trip on the way home to see her mother’s home. She promised us (in her very humble Francis way) that it was very beautiful, and she wasn’t kidding. We stopped in front of a small bakery and discovered this was her mother’s shop. Her mother waved us behind the counter, greeted us all with a hug and a kiss and told us to come in. (I asked Francis if she was calling to let her mother know that we were coming and she said, “No, I like to surprise her.” I said, “With 13 dirty adults?” What a kind, generous gift to give us.) Her mother has this beautiful home with a two-story open courtyard, plants and flowers everywhere, and a beautiful roof-top deck. Similar to Baltimore city rooftop decks, but here we get to see the Santa Ana volcano to the left, and the beautiful mountainside to the right. After our tour, we were treated with fresh cookies from the bakery. The generosity and kindness is so pure that one can’t help but be smiling. 

We ended our evening tonight with the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37. We reflected on the day, and Kevin challenged us to think about who has been our neighbor since we’ve been here in El Salvador. We each have had wonderful experiences with different neighbors and really could see the work of Jesus as we recognize the importance of taking care of each other.

To teach, to be taught and a little Zip.

Amazing Tuesday here in El Salvador! 

Today we were joined by two university groups, one from Babson College, just outside of Boston; and the other from Esem University in San Salvador. Both university groups are studying business and economics, and they do this share-experience twice a year. They come to Getsemani Community because of its co-op model. Almost one year ago, Getsemani Community formed a co-op. They make and sell jewelry, textiles, art, and coffee. Habitat helped them develop their model, encouraging them to work together in business vs. competing against each other- as many families have some sort of entrepreneurial-ship . The co-op has been very successful in the community and will be celebrating their one year anniversary next month. The university students spend some time building and some time meeting with the co-op board of directors to discuss economics and business development. Everyone seemed to enjoy their day and we really enjoyed working with all the students. 

In addition to all the happenings at the build site, Taylor and Brian had the opportunity to work with some of the kids this morning. There are classes in the community center for kids 4-9 years old, and Taylor and Brian had a great time being entertained by them. Apparently the winning games were “Guess what the kids are drawing,” and “Taylor’s dog is a little pudgier than the ones in El Salvador.” 

With all of our new amigos, lunchtime in the community center was quite festive. There was so much buzz and it was great to sit, eat, and share experiences with so many different people. Even Santos, one of the masons, joined us for lunch. Lunchtime is always a great time to share with the masons, even though there can be quite a language barrier. Though quiet, he was pulled into the conversation and was perceived to have enjoyed himself. 

Because we were many in numbers, we split our build time between two houses. Some of us continued to work on Santos’ house, and the rest went to a house down the road, into the woods, down the path, around the corner until you could see the construction site through the trees. The house is surrounded by all this beautiful lush greenery and tropical flowers. It’s being built behind an existing home (substandard, dirt floors, walls made from fallen trees), where we were able to exchange brief conversations with some of the women there. This exchange also happens because the tools needed at the worksite are kept in the first room of the current home. So it’s not uncommon to have to knock, walk into the house and then wheel out the wheelbarrow or get a bag of cement. The families greet you so warmly, but imagine constantly getting interrupted if you’re doing laundry (by hand) or bathing your kids out in the front yard. They just wave hello, say, “Adelante” (come in) and then go about their business. The community feeling is abundant and so hard to imagine back at home. 

After many great personal interactions and moments to remember, we left the worksite in the afternoon to enjoy a little ziplining. Now when I say little, I mean up the side of a mountain, down 13 ziplines, over these amazing lush coffee canopies, and yelling out a “Woo-hoo!” for all of Apaneca to hear.  Despite the rain (right, is in rainy season), we zipped right along, and just had a fantastic afternoon. We were happily soggy by the end of the tour. 

Good dinner, good team meeting, and praying for a good night’s rest. Thinking of you all at home…

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. –Galatians 6:9-11

Monday, August 12, 2013

Cinco + Tres + Dos

We had such a great first day at the build site today! We started the morning by meeting in the community center in Getsemani, the community where we built last year. We reunited with Tania, who is the Getsemani project manager. Habitat is currently working on two houses in the community. Today we worked with Santos, who is the mason (foreman) of the house. He is assisted by Roberto and David. We were also reunited with Douglas and Oswaldo, two very active youth in the community. They are now working with Habitat by helping with translation with the volunteer teams. Axil is the homeowner that we are working with. She currently lives up the road in the community with her mother. She has a son who is five, Anthony, and her husband is currently away in the military. 

Because of the heavy rain last night, the worksite was a little damp this morning, to say the least. We started the day with some creative water bailing. The rain had pooled in the trenches where we were going to pour the footers later in the day. We were handed the bottom of a water bottle and, flat on our bellies, reached down to scoop out what felt like a tablespoon of water at a time. However, many hands do make light work, and that task didn’t take too long. It did dirty us up quite bit, so by 9am it looked like we had accomplished a lot!

The morning was also occupied by some rebar tying. Now this may sound simple, but when you realize that you’re twisting and cutting is what is going to hold the house up, the pressure is on. After much patience by the masons, many of us had grasped that task. 

Right before lunch we started mixing the cement for the footers. This required the measurement of 5 wheelbarrows (caratilla) of sand, 3 wheelbarrows of gravel, and 2 bags of cement. This is mixed from one pile into two, then back to one pile. It’s then scooped out in the middle, water is added, and with precision not let the walls cave in, it’s mixed and mixed and mixed until it makes this beautiful, sloppy mudpie mix. We then started the bucket brigade, with buckets full of the mix passed along until it could be poured into the proper place. We made one big batch of this, broke for lunch, and this was our activity for the rest of the afternoon, with many, many more batches. Just when we thought we were about done, Santos gave instruction for one more half batch, which we finished right before the skies opened in rain. 

We were so blessed to have a great first day, with healthy strong bodies, plenty of water to drink, and only minor aches to grumble happily about at the end of the day. Looking forward to the adventures tomorrow will bring!