Today was a really special day because I got a really different view of la realidad. Fr. Dean invited us to go with him to the Ignacio Martin Baro Cooperative in Llanos Verdes, a part of Jayaque. I knew this morning when I woke up, that this was going to be a very memorable day because traveling with a Jesuit in the campos is an experience in itself.
We began the trip by traveling to Las Palmas, a part of the city that was really hit by the rain in October. Las Palmas, a marginal community just a short distance from my house, struggles with the reality of city life. There is a good deal of violence in this community due to gang influence as well as the combination of different political parties. Dean told us that during the rain, the river rose so high that homes were totally wiped away with the mudslides that were created. You can look down the side of the road now and see what use to be the material possessions of some of the humble dwellings there. While Dean visited a home there to get some of our traveling companions (Silvia and Martin), I got out of the car an looked down the side of the road for myself. It was an incredible sight of sadness and loss, and I did take a moment to say a little prayer.
While I waited for Dean, I simply stood on the sidewalk and greeted people as they walked by. One older man came to greet me and we talked for a while. He told me all about the area, things that Dean had already mentioned. We talked about this mans family. He had 7 brothers who died. I didn’t ask why. He also told me about God. As an Evangelica, he thinks that God is only for the "good", but I explained that I think that Dios is for everyone. He thought a minute and we talked some more, but clearly I didn’t notice that everyone was packed in the car and ready to go. Unfortunately, I had to cut our conversation short and hop in the car. I did think to myself as I left, "what would it be like if I lived there?"
In the car, I met Sonia and her novio Martin. Sonia’s mother works with Dean in the Las Palmas community and Martin is a student at the UCA. I found out later that he is studying psychology, and so we had a lot to talk about. He is a very kind young guy who has a certain internal compassion. I always admire that in a person.
We continued on our way, with a quick stop in San Benito, a community of the rich, where once, their priest, a young guy, started to make some changes and he was killed. Change is dangerous here....
On our way to the Santa Tecla market, Dean showed us the areas that were totally destroyed by the earthquakes of 2001. You could see the mountains in the close distance, with the mudslides from the rain and the obvious possible danger that another earthquake could pose. We picked up some beans at the market (a market frequented by natives for the cheap prices) to later give to a particular woman.
We then drove for about 30 minutes outside of the city on the Pan American Highway, known for its curvy way through the mountains. It was really a sight to see all the sights where the mudslides were. Incredible....
Eventually, we arrived at the cooperative that Ignacio Martin Baro helped encourage. Ignacio, affectionately called Nacho, was a Jesuit who was killed with his 5 other fellow priests and two female domestic workers in 1989. Together, they are called the UCA Martyrs and this week is the anniversary of their assassination.
Nacho was known for his commitment to the people of Llanos Verdes. The children knew him for the candy that he had for them, while the older members of the community knew him for his dedication in accompanying them in the reality. He visited people daily and had strong relationships with them. They say that he is still there with them.
So there was a beautiful mass at the cooperative with beautiful music and really great heartfelt worship. You can tell that the people of Llanos Verdes have a different relationship with God than the rich of the world. These people have a simple faith really grounded in the reality of the world around them. I always say, if you want to know who the crucified Christ is, go meet the poor of the world...they are connected to God everyday.
The sermon that Dean gave was really great, and we had commented before, that here, it is much easier to connect with the people through a sermon. You don’t have to stretch so much to make the readings apply to life. Everything really fits with the realidad of today, and the people hang onto every world because the words are about their life.
After the mass, we had tamales and some cholocate with people. I walked around, and met some of the Casa kids, and then we left for some more visits with Dean. Up the mountain we went, and stopped to visit a man that is bedridden. Nacho had visited him religiously. After that, we went to find a particular woman that was friends with Dean. We knew that she was living in a school now since the rains washed away her house, and so we had to find her. Luckily, we found her walking up the hill as we were going down. She was such a kind soul, full of joy. We talked on the side of the road there with her for a while, and I couldn’t help but look around at the beauty of the place I was, and the beauty of the moment and think, "God, this is such a great life, and this is exactly what I want it to look like!"
After a while, we gave her the beans, which she was so grateful for. I later found out that many people can’t even buy beans sometimes because they are so expensive and so they go without a protein source. And so for this woman, the 5lbs of beans that Dean bought for her was protein for a while. She continued her walk up the hill with her grandchild and I thought, "The people suffer here so much because of the rich and yet she is so full of joy."
As it started to get dark, we began our drive back to the city, but we stopped at a church that was being used as a temporary shelter after the rains. At one time, there were 700 people in the shelter, but as the rains subsided, thanks to God, many could go back. Now there are a bit more than 100 people there, yet many of them are children. It was dinner time when we arrived, and the kids flocked around us, wanting to learn some English rather than get their dinner. The main woman of the shelter gave us a tour and showed us the reality across the street.
"See,"she said, pointing to the mudslides on the side of the mountain. "This is where these people use to live, and now they are here, and the government hasn’t helped us."
I noticed that most of the people in the shelter were women and children...lots of children, who were so happy to see us. And as we left, I noticed some soldiers who had just arrived. I asked Martin, "why are they here?" And I knew my answer as I asked the question, as I saw the smile on Martin’s face.
If you think about it, the poor forced together by result of a disaster that the government hasn’t helped with, makes a community that is very dangerous for the government. These soldiers were there to monitor the "situation". A disgusting reality and abuse of power that is all too familiar in El Salvador.
As we left this community, I couldn’t help but make not of how important that moment was for me. As the children waved as we drove away, someone commented on how different campo life is in relation to city life.
We continued on our way once again, but quickly made another stop at a little comedor to get some drinks and pan ducle. As it turned out, the place we were sipping refrescos at, was a favorite place of Monsenor Romero. He liked to come there to rest, and he was very involved with the community there, and good friends of family at the comedor. We had a nice snack complete with a guy who played tunes on his harmonica for us. To think that even my snack time meant something today...that at one time, Romero also reclined at table and sipped the same cold drink that I was enjoying. And thus, life comes full circle.....
Today was a great day full of really important thoughts and experiences. Although I like my job at CARECEN, working with migrants and their families, I can’t help but think if I would like this kind of life better...accompanying the people of the campo...going to their homes everyday... being with them during their daily struggles. It’s a different life, that is for sure, but maybe it is what my heart is looking for.