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Monday, March 29, 2010

Just Returned from El Salvador

Hola familia y amigos,

My apologies for not writing more about our adventures the last two weeks. On Thursday, March 18th I left early in the morning by "coche" with a driver to go to Mexico DF airport, 3 hours away, to catch the Mexicana flight to airport. That day I spent more time in cars and airports than I did in the airplane. It was only a two hour flight to San Salvador and Mexicana even served a full hot meal---our airlines sure don't do that anymore.

I arrived at the Comalapa International Airport in San Salvador at 2:05 but by the time I made it through the lines, first to buy the $10 tourist card required in El Salvador and then to pick up my one suitcase and go through customs, it was almost 3:30 pm. My friend, Joalgar, who was waiting outside all that time in the hot sun had begun to think I had missed my plane. There were several planes arriving at the same time so that is why it took so long. As I stepped out into the parking area I was hit by the oppressive heat (about 98 degrees and very high humidity). I had forgotten how hot it could get in El Salvador after living for almost two months in the pleasantly mild climate of San Miguel. Joalgar greeted me with big smiles and hugs and I immediately felt the "warm" welcome. We whisked off in the car with Don Jose, his neighbor who used to drive us in his pick up truck to the Bajo Lempa when I was there in 2006 to teach some of the youth art classes.

When we pulled up 45 minutes later in front of Joalgars house in the suburbs of Ilopongo, the whole family greeted me with hugs. It was fun to see Isabel, Joalgar's wife and their two cute grandchildren, Ronald,age 9 and "la Princessa Isabela" his granddaughter whose 7th birthday we celebrated that night as family friends stopped by. Ronald was so proud to show me his school work and his drawings and Isabela showed me how she can dance. later we all ate pupusas, the dish of El Salvador and went off to bed under the usual mosquito nets. At 10 o'clock at night it was still very hot and sticky but it was still great to be there.

The next morning the children had to go to school very early and Joalgar, Isabel and I had breakfast together. Soon it was time for me to go to the hotel in San Salvador to meet up with all the folks who were arriving that day from Chicago, Rochester, NY, Portland, Oregon, Cincinnati, Ohio and Oakland,California, the delegates coming to join us for the Romero Delegation sponsored by Eco-Viva (the new name of the foundation Gary and I have contributed to for the past ten years which helps small rural villages in El Salvador with tecnical and financial assistance. March 24th was the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Monsignor Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador who spoke out for the poor and oppressed. It was propitious moment to be in this city not often known for its beauty but rather for the pain of the war.

In the following days as we visited key historical sites in San Salvador and then traveled southeast to the Bajo Lempa (the base of the Lempa River near the Pacific) where our small villages are working to be self sufficient, I came to appreciate the 22 people in the delegation whose ages ranged from 9 years to 80 years old. They were a wonderfully compatible group and it was a joy to travel with them. The young people ranging from 9-17 years old added a special dimension to our delegation and their good behavior and genuine interest in learning about the struggles of the Salvadorenos was impressive. We shared meals with the folks in the village many I have to come to love from past delegations (This was my fourth trip to El Salvador), walked the dirt streets, played games together at night before settling in at our dorm rooms. It was terribly hot and humid but nobody complained and in fact, loved the cold showers. Each day was a new learning experience and even for me after being there so often. I loved visiting the new turtle hatchery which has helped save the four species of sea turtles on the Bay of Jiquilisco which we help support, the Mangroves which line the coast and which my first delegation contributed to 5 years ago when we planted 500 "candles" as the young mangroves are called. They are a very important part of the ecology of the bay as well as protection against the damage of the many hurricanes that El Salvador endures. We learned about the new community youth program and went on a tour of one of the "fincas", farms which is now totally organic growing a variety of fruits and vegetables. The progress is palpable and it feels good to know that the money we have donated over the years is truly making a difference in the lives of these dear people. The last two days of our adventure were spent at a beautiful resort on the Pacific meeting under the shade of palapas by a beautiful beach and next to a huge pool with tropical gardens surrounding it. It was quite a contrast to our first 6 days but much appreciated by everyone. I hope some of you will consider joining me and Gary for a future delegation---it is always a life changing and inspiring experience as was obvious our last day as we had a "reflection" circle in which everyone talked about their "Wow" moments.

I flew home on Friday and was glad to get back to Gary and our little place here in San Miguel. We have had a busy weekend with a birthday "fiesta" at our Mexican family's house for the daughter of our hostess, Francisca. We met many more family members and ate a delicious meal to which I contributed the "botanos"(hors d'oeuvres), small "sopes" made with corn flour and filled with frijoles, salsa and cheese, a recipe I learned in an earlier cooking class. I was happy they let me contribute something. Sunday we got together with our writer friends from Cape Cod for a fun afternoon of sharing our writing and some artwork (Milton has been going to the same sculpture studio where I go and has produced some wonderful pieces and wanted to share his paintings as well,.) Today I finished my second wax sculpture which will be cast in bronze and which Mario, our mentor will then keep for me until I come back next year. Gary and I started our packing tonight anticipating our next two very busy days before we have to leave to head home on Thursday, April 1st. We arrive back in Portland at 11 pm.

We hope you have enjoyed reading about some of our adventures here in Latin America. Each year we come, we find ourselves more drawn to its magic and I must say it helps my Spanish, too. We look forward to seeing our dear kids, both daughters and grandchildren and catching up with lives of our friends as well. Take care and we will see you soon.

Abrazos, Sher and Gary