Update: I’ve added photos so take a look!
Today was yet another full day yet I must be brief if I’m to have any energy left for our final day in El Salvador tomorrow. So much has happened here and it’s hard to believe Thursday is our final full day before we pack up and head out early Friday. I’m still having trouble uploading photos. Well, I found a way, but it would be one at a time and it’s simply too late in the night, I’m sorry.You’ll have to remain content with my written ramblings until I find an easier way to reinstate photos in the new posts.
Here’s the scoop, dear reader…
Weighing Our Options
Today was the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Monsignor Oscar Romero. We began the morning by bussing out to the chapel where Romero was shot through the heart and found the entire chapel and plaza completely full. A worship service went on as we shopped, rested, and prepared for a march during the day – a big difference from marching in the cool of the evening as we did on Friday night.
Before we left the guest house, however, we examined our options for the day: march the whole march, join in late, start it and end early, or whatever else was on the table. We chose to start it and see what happens, as Christina felt it was important for us to see the full chapel. It turned out to be the right decision, too, as we had a chance to purchase flags, bandannas, and other memorabilia with Romero’s visage gracing it. Plus, I got the chance to meet a Deputy, a Senator in the National Assembly of El Salvador. A man in a suit was walking around, shaking hands with excited people. I figured hey, this guy’s got to be somebody, so I simply asked him if he spoke English and who he was. He told me, I asked for a photo together, and when I showed it to Cristina, I learned he was Damian Alegria. I now have taken a photo with a Salvadorian senator and a photo of the president from only five feet away.
A March of Solidarity
We let the beginning of the parade go by and joined in, waving our flags and joining in on several of the chants. Many of us were overwhelmed by the emotional impact of marching in solidarity with these people to celebrate Romero. It’s a work day, and if you recall how high unemployment is and how low averages wages are, factoring in the cost of living, it’s a great sacrifice to take a day off work to march in a parade. Knowing this, I think, helped us understand the importance of the march even more.
We did pretty well for the first hour, opting to continue walking together as we took photos of various flags and people around us. I wasn’t wearing a hat and Cristina made me by one shaped out of a frozen chicken nugget box by a street vendor. At first I thought I would look ridiculous (I did) and that I wouldn’t need a hat (I did) yet pretty soon it was a lot of fun to wear, because I indeed kept cooler and many Salvadorians were wearing the hats. Solidarity comes in many shapes and forms, including frozen chicken nugget box hats.
After that first hour, most of the group headed to the bus. Kike drove them around town while Christina, Luis, Sara, Tim, Jackie, Fred, Barbara, Kathryn, and me chose to keep marching. I knew it wasn’t wise to push myself too far and yet I felt compelled to continue. Kathryn expressed her feelings as a voice in the back of her head telling her to keep going. So we did for just over another hour until the parade stopped on the road outside the memorial wall we visited yesterday for a speaker to give a speech. This hold-up lasted for quite a while so I wandered over to the side of the bridge we were on and also ended up wandering into a conversation.
I met a man named Victor from Honduras and I was amazed the two of us actually held a pretty decent conversation with my limited Spanish and his broken English. He told me about the US-backed military coup in June, 2009, the same month Funes came to power in El Salvador. He’s part of the new resistance movement called ALBA, the Alternative Liberation Boulevard from America. It’s a new organization which is both a punishment for the US for backing the coup and creating a new effort for Central America to have solidarity and self-reliance as opposed to relying on the US. Much of this final information came out of a translator named Ryan, a young man from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He and his group are living, working, and studying in Nicaragua for three months as part of a global exchange program. I can’t tell you how jealous I am to hear of what a unique opportunity.
Eventually, we decided the march wasn’t moving any time soon and we got back on the bus. We pulled up to the cathedral at the same time as President Funes’s motorcade although this time I had no opportunity to get a picture. Later we learned Funes was upstairs asking for forgiveness on behalf of the government for the slaying of Romero, a powerful message the people of El Salvador have never officially heard from the president of their nation. While Funes was upstairs, we went down to the cathedral basement to see Romero’s tomb and headed out to lunch. His tomb was laden with flowers and surrounded by throngs of mourning Salvadorians, it was quite a sight.
It was an emotional morning, a hot morning, and one that will stick with us. Our last stop was a city square where people gathered years ago to protest election fraud only to be massacred by the army. It was an odd place to walk through, this plaza, knowing so many innocent victims were cut down for a right we too often take for granted in the US.
A Powerful Pottery Place
After lunch at Pollos Real we went to the Shicaali pottery cooperative, a business set up which celebrates pottery made by disabled artisans. Profits go toward raising awareness of disabled Salvadorians, particularly those who are deaf and/or in a wheelchair. The art was fantastic and it was good to see yet another co-op run responsibly and giving back to a marginalized community within an already marginalized community. Progress is being made, by the way. The co-op, founded in 1988, has convinced the city to add more ramps, give better education to deaf people, and have implemented two city buses with wheelchair accessibility. Not bad for a small co-op of 35 people and 8 artisans looking to make a positive difference.
After buying a new mug, I had to step outside and miss the tour as I was beginning to feel the effects of the march on my body. I walked across the street and ordered a small vanilla ice cream cup, managing to explain how hot I felt, how cold Minnesota is in comparison, and how much bolder vanilla flavor is down here compared to the US. My Spanish isn’t amazing but what is amazing is how much we actually understood of each other. I guess immersion education may be the answer. Plus, when in doubt, just talk about the weather. This bit of small talk is universal.
Our Motivational Speaker Was a Nun, Who Was Yours?
Sister Peggy, 71 and feisty as ever, spoke to both our group and the St. Thomas group at their guest house which was much bigger than ours but not necessarily all that much nicer. Peggy was radiant, very animated and boisterous in her presentation. She’s been in El Salvador for over twenty-six years and has a lot of perspective on teaching liberation theology to students here.
Let me give you a sampling of choice Sister Peggy quotes. I’m sure you’ll understand that she knows exactly how to be profound, funny, and realistic all at the same time:
- “Jesus didn’t leave us the magic words. I mean, how do you do that transubstantiation? I used to think Jesus didn’t leave us the magic words. But he did. It’s LOVE.”
- “Life comes out of the darkness; we need nightvision.”
- “Virginity used to mean spiritual virginity, your purity of faith. The older you get the easier it gets. Doesn’t matter if you have seven kids, kinky sex, or two in your bed. I’m talking about Romero virgins, a purity of Romero faith.”
- “I’m seventy-one, and I still want to be more Peggy. I am not yet fully Christian, yet I want to be more a virgin.”
- “El Salvador is like a low-grade herpes virus. It’s never gone, it always stays in your system, and you can’t stop thinking about it.”
- “How do you provoke the church to be the church?”
- “I get glimpses of faith when someone shares with me half a grape.”
This last quote is from a story she told in which she ran into a ten-year-old girl on the bus every day around ten years ago. Each morning, she would give the girl a tangerine until finally, one day, she didn’t have one. She shrugged to the girl and the girl appeared to be pouting, then playing with something in her hand. Then, the girl approached Peggy and offered her half a grape. Now that’s generosity. Now that’s faith at work.
We had a delightful dinner and then worship. The group’s night ended early and while a few folks went to bed and others went out for el soupon y tipico, the “youth contingent” decided to go out for karaoke. Jenn, Tim, Sara, and I walked down to a series of night clubs and found a little one with one bartender, a DJ in the back, a bouncer, and a table of three guys – everyone looking low-key. Let’s just say when we walked in the party got a lot more lively.
- “Light My Fire” by The Doors (Nate)
- “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond (Jenn)
- “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul (Sara)
- “Love Will Keep Us Alive” by the Eagles (Tim)
- “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” by Billy Joel (Tim and Nate)
- “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain (Jenn)
- “Closing Time” by Semisonic (Tim)
- “Without Me” by Eminem (Nate)
- “Mama Mia” by ABBA (Jenn)
- “Summer Lovin’” from Grease (Nate as Travolta, Sara as Newton-John, Jenn as the girlfriends, and Tim as the guy friends)
We had a blast and took photos with the employees and other guys in the place. The bouncer was possibly convinced Tim was pro wrestler Dave Batista, and we’re still not sure we were able to convince him it wasn’t the case. The dude gave us his email and a demand to send us all the photos we took during karaoke.
Final Notes and Highlights
Highlights from today include: Donna S. observing that although it was a major parade that shut down major roads, a cart still backed out of the garage and turned to go the opposite way in the street, David being so hot when we had lunch that he only ordered ice cream, dancing to Lady Gaga videos playing in the restaurant, taking pictures of a pick-up basketball game to have an older dude shout out, “NBA!” as he whiffed an airball, a big bang on the roof during Sister Peggy’s talk to which Christina shouted, “Mango!”, Peggy’s comment that “God is the sap of life,” chanting “Polo Campero!” with Luis on the bus, and beautiful, beautiful karaoke.
Tomorrow we head out to the US embassy and say our final farewells to each other. If it’s seemed like an emotional journey so far, just wait until we come to a close.
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Update: I’ve added all of the photos for today, so take a look!