Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stuff just gets done down here!

We finished school and have gone marathon shopping with Miriam (she’s a shrewd shopper) and Willian’s the driver (you don’t waste time in traffic with him, he knows El Salvador like the back of his hand and has never lost a game of chicken and probably never will)

Finishing school was bittersweet. We loved CIS, the teachers and we had a great host family.  Leaving them was like leaving family. We all worked well together and there was a comfort in their company. Like we all know, life marches on so we said our goodbyes and put our shopping shoes on.

In the previous weeks we did pick up a lot of small stuff, I mean a lot. We still needed a comedor (dining room table and chairs, chinadora (China Cabinet where you keep your dishes, utensils, small appliances, cubiertos, (knives forks and spoons) and all food stuffs. We also purchased a box spring, mattress, end table, amario (a free standing wooden closet), refrigerator, stove with a horno (oven, all of it run on bottled propane), living room set and air conditioner.

So the timeline was on Monday by 1 PM we were out just pricing things. Miriam was a great help and did I mention a “shrewd” shopper. We decided that we shopped on Monday but Tuesday we buy. On Tuesday we were in the downtown shopping area of San Salvador, bright and early. It reminded me of the scenes from New York City in the early 20th century immigrant open market areas.  It was a beehive of activity. You name it and there was a shop or someone out of the back of a truck selling it. Food, furniture, linens, plastic products and cleaning supplies were all being sold. Bikes, cars, trucks, carts and were everywhere. But furniture was our mission (excuse the pun).  By 11:30 everything was bought and delivered except for large appliances, the bed and air conditioner.  Miriam kept us moving and buy 2 PM everything else was purchased and being delivered, sans the air conditioner.  On Wednesday the air conditioner, paint for the inside of the house, some groceries for the week were purchased and the moving truck was scheduled for Thursday.

On Thursday the moving truck was late for a variety of reasons and we didn’t get packing till 1 PM.  Let’s back up.  After lunch I hear them say the moving truck is here, I walk out and my jaw drops. This was no 24 foot box truck. It was an open truck of about 17 feet bars on the sides. My thought was “Are you, kidding me, ARE YOU (fill in the blank) KIDDING ME?”. About 1 ½ hour later it and Willian’s truck were loaded with everything we purchased, our luggage and the six totes of other supplies we brought.  I wouldn’t want to play tetris with these guys. Every nook and cranny of the camionetas (pickup trucks) had something in it. If something was hanging over the edge (sticking way out) we tied it down with rope (rope that I think was used by Columbus). Think Beverly Hillbillies.

I’m not being critical of how things are done. I’m making the point that stuff just gets done down here.  Every time this Estadounidense thinks, “are you kidding me” they say no and prove me wrong.  It’s amazing what you can do with little resources and it’s a testament to the human mind.  I don’t see the Salvadorans throwing up their hands and saying nope, we’re stuck. They critically troubleshoot and problem solve based on the resources at hand and it generally works.  My dad was like that, he was a great depression kid, meaning frugal who didn’t waste a thing. He could fix anything with electric tape (duct tape was too expensive), a wire coat hanger and a staple gun. That lineage will come in handy down here.

Long story short we have landed in El Maizal safe and sound. The community helped unload and we already feel like family. They’ve given us mangos, papayas, tortillas and best of all, their friendship and love. 

Romans 12:2

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will”.



Tomas y Dianna

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Did anyone else know that teaching is hard?????????

Jeane-Baptiste De La Salle
A Saint for Teachers and School Administrators
A Saint with a Charism for the whole Church.
He led the way in developing the theology of the lay teacher's vocation, as an important part of the ministry of the Church and a continuation of the ministry of Jesus.

I didn’t forget idiom’s -  here’s a doozy.  Ojo de me cara, eye of my face. In the United States we’d say, that costs an arm and a leg.  Here I’d say Cuesta  el ojo de me cara, it costs the eye of my face. Me and Wilmer had a long discussion (in Espanol) about what would be worse.
 We were recently blessed by having our Spanish Immersion School (CIS) ask us if we wanted to attend an ESL teaching workshop for their new teachers. They knew that our Mission was going to focus on Teaching ESL and we had no experience. Just one catch, one of their teachers needed a week off and they asked could we fill in? How could we say no, not to mention it would be good practice.

We learned their method which is a popular education method created by Paolo Freire  and further reinforced by Dr Stephen Krashen

The method is actually fairly simple but very different from how I learned English in school. It is how we learned English from our family and friends before we ever went to school, we acquired.  I really don’t have the background to promote it except to say I like it, it makes sense to me and it seems like a fun way to teach and learn. The results are proven by studies and I can vouch for its results because they’ve used it in teaching Dianne and I Espanol. 

Now back to the class plan. The suggested template is to have small group work and discussion, an activity that reinforces the lesson that leads to group discussion, make sure everything revolves around a social issue that has meaning to them and then do review and give homework related to the class work. How hard can it be? Well it took Dianne and I all of Friday afternoon to do this for all 3 classes that only last 1 ½ hours.  How do real teachers plan an entire week??????????????????? God bless you!!

We had our 1st class and it went pretty well except we move along too fast and we got to verb tense review before we thought. Quick progress sounds good except we hadn’t reviewed them ourselves. How would you like to explain the Future Perfect Continuous tense without being sure what it is?? Of course that was when we looked at our watch saw there was 5 minutes left and said, we need to get you better examples and let’s do it tomorrow. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

The 2nd class was very motivating not because of the work. We worked through the tenses and explanations the best we could all went very well.  Our motivation came from the introduction, we forgot to do on the 1st day. The students shared some of their lives and why they were here. It’s difficult to share the experience of hearing people explain the poverty they were raised in but also smile a little when one person says, you weren’t poor, I was poor and they tell a worse story. The stories are not funny but the interaction was. Some people had days of no food, others had days of just beans and most of them had families with no means at all of providing much of anything.  Unfortunately these are not extraordinary stories in El Salvador; actually they are very common, too common.  What is extraordinary is that out of these conditions we have these adults who expressed to us the knowledge that they needed to better themselves and that learning English was one of the steps they were taking. Most of the students had steady jobs and some were fulltime students at the Universidad. I was a little overwhelmed to listen to their accomplishments and their inner knowledge that their journeys were not over.  How can you not be motivated by a small group who don’t see themselves as victims but as authors of their own futures? I don’t believe everyone born in these conditions can rise above them, there’s just to many variables that can shut a person down when they are that vulnerable but these people through the grace of God are extraordinary in my opinion.

 Our last class was definitely the most fun.  We all needed a break from tenses so we decided to jump into Phrasal Verbs.  A Phrasal verb is a phrase or sentence that can’t be understood based on the individual meaning of each word but must be looked at as a whole. For example,  I ran into an old friend  (ran into is the phrasal verb. )As Estadounidenses we use them so much we don’t even know what they are but they make perfect sense. Espanol has no phrases that are of comparison so they have no idea what they mean because they are trying to translate them directly.  How do you” run into someone” and have it mean you met them???
The class split into two team’s women v/s men. We drew a numbered chart on the board, the teams selected a number, we read the corresponding phrasal verb and they had 1 minute to either use it in a sentence that made sense or define it.  If the team got it wrong the other team could answer and get the point. Imagine as an English speaker saying to a student OK, here’s the phrasal verb “set off” and they look back as if I said "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" J. We all had some good laughs at their expense, each team needling the other and finally the women beating the men on the final turn.

It’s the moments like the ones we shared with our class this week that remind us how the benefits of this service keep coming and are unpredictable. We experienced for the 1st time the fulfillment of explaining something over and over again to students and all of a sudden one of them looks at you, uses that future perfect continuous tense correctly and you see the proverbial light bulb go on over their heads as they say “I GOT IT, I GOT IT” smiling ear to ear with well-deserved self-satisfaction.  That’s a 2 for 1 blessing if I ever saw one.

 For all our teacher friends let us tell you right now “WE GOT IT, WE GOT IT”, now we know why most of you love your work regardless of the crap and criticisms you get. Passing on knowledge has to be one of the most noble and fulfilling things a person can do. You’ll forever have our utmost respect.

A good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others. ~Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, translated from Turkish


Tomas y Dianna


Thursday, April 18, 2013

It’s not the same old story

Yo y mi amigo Wilmer

Dianne and I sometimes wonder that when we talk about injustice in El Salvador do some people roll their eyes and say “it’s the same old story”.  I think in our blog we have skirted this issue to try to be alert to this but sometimes it gets to be too much. To tell the stories is about awareness but it’s also about our liberation. Silence in the face of evil is affirming evil.


For instance, it was a sobering moment when in my Espanol class we discussed the use of terrorism and violence in the world. In order for my teacher (Wilmer) to explain his pacifist views he shared a couple of stories. During the civil war in El Salvador he worked as a union organizer among the telecommunication workers.  His desire to organize labor in order to help them get better pay, benefits and working conditions made him an enemy of the ruling families (there are 14 ruling families that make up the oligarchy of El Salvador).  Soon the police were accusing him of being a terrorist. They came to his house and threatened his arrest and when he continued his work, they came to his house and arrested him.  He spent 4 days at the prison being tortured both physically and psychologically. He was blindfolded almost all the time while they screamed at him “CONFESS, YOU ARE A TERRORISTA, CONFESS TERRORISTA”, guns were pressed against his face and into his mouth while they screamed that he confess. All he could do was cry out “no, I am not a terrorista, please I am not a terrorista”. At that point he had to sit and collect himself while telling this story; I had to collect myself too.  During this time of torture his union Brothers and Sisters protested outside the prison declaring his innocence and demanding his release. Through the grace of God, the authorities finally released him. That was not all; he then asked us, have you ever lived in a community that was bombed by aircraft? We had to say nunca (never). He said his family did and the experience was like this:  All of a sudden you hear a jet engine, in a matter of seconds it screams low across the town with a deafening roar, seconds later there are huge explosions that shake the ground, your body and your house. In those seconds between the sound of the jets and the explosions you pray, please God, NO. Seconds after the explosions you shake off the terror to hear your children and the neighbor’s children crying and screaming for their parents. Parents are screaming out in fear for their children, men and women are screaming in utter terror of what happened.  You then help survivors, bury the dead, give thanks to God that you and your family were spared by His grace and you wait for the next bombing. Wilmer feels violence only continues violence and in war innocents suffer as much as soldiers, sometimes in the hands of your own people.


Since I was a boy I was fascinated by military history. I read everything I could get my hands on but what was most interesting was 1st hand accounts. I wanted to know what it was like, how does a human deal with the horrors of war? Here was my 1st hand account right in front of me. Wilmer is a little older than me, a father of four with 3 daughters and a son, just like me.  He’s shared humorous stories of his family life and raising a family. We’ve had some good laughs about our kids and wives (shhhh, don’t tell Dianne). He’s also a religious man who has studied and believes in liberation theology, a theology that I believe is The Way. Our similarities make me feel close to him. He’s the type of guy I could develop a friendship with. His belief in God and love of family allowed him to survive the storm of war and become the man he is today. My answer as to how you survive is as simple as that.


The revelation for me is this. When you have a chance to speak to people (don’t forget to listen to them if you want to learn) we find we are not different and may have many things in common. When we start to look at people as friends all of a sudden the stories of oppression and Government sponsored psychological and physical torture is not a story with fictional characters. It’s not a story in a book anymore.  I don’t want to hear that it’s the same old story or there are 2 sides to every story, shame on anyone who thinks that. What I described happened to a friend named Wilmer, a guy I like and would enjoy having a few beers with. You all know people like this in your lives. Some of them you sit in church with, some you buy coffee from and some we watch our children’s school activities with.  I don’t want this happening to a friend named Amhed a father of four in Israel or a friend named Usman the father of 4 in Pakistan, guys I want to have a beer with. Our Governments aide comes with a price. I don’t want that price to be loyalty 1st; I don’t want countries and their people’s interests bowing to ours.  Instead of being guardians of the free world let’s be guardians of all people and insist, no, demand Human Rights for the people of the world.  We can demand this of our government; our government can demand this of allies. Deep down we need to decide if our caring for other people is superficial in nature so we can say “we care”. Or is it prompted by a spark of anger that our friends should nunca (never)  suffer like this. We have friends all over the world; we just don’t know their names.


“You, you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us

 And the world will live as one” – John Lennon




Tom & Dianne

Monday, April 8, 2013

La Leyenda de Cihuehuet - The legend of Cihuehuet




This is the story of a Salvadoran Legend that goes back to the time of the Mayans. Cihuehuet (See-you-wet) was a beautiful Mayan Princess. Beautiful Princess is the direct translation of Cihuehuet from the native language of the Mayans. The Mayan language was called Nahaut.

This beautiful princess was beautiful not just in looks but in many, many ways but she was disobedient to Tcaloc (ta-ka-lock) who was the Mayan God of lluvia (Rain).  He was so displeased that he made her muy fea (very ugly). She had long greasy hair, ugly, ugly face and long scary fingernails.  Tcaloc changed her name to Siguanaba(See- gua- nah-bah) and made her haunt the rivers and lakes of El Salvador. She looked for machismo hombres, macho men. These are not men who are just macho but they also abuse and use women like toys. When she finds one she changes back into Cihuehuet and seduces the man. Then just as the man begins to make love to her, she changes back into Siguanaba and the man goes loco (crazy) and runs away. She then looks for her next victim. Siguanaba translated from Nahaut means net woman. It means she ensnares men in the net of her beauty.

The teacher of my Espanol class told us this story, his name is Wilmer. He is Salvadoran and is a direct descendent of Mayans.
 The Mayan Empire started around 2600 BC and didn't collapse until 900 AD. It's population numbered into the Millions and extended from Mexico and as far south as the Honduras and El Salvador. It had the 1st fully developed written language of the Americas. It's use of Mathematics, Astronomy and other sciences rivaled that of the Egyptians and Romans. I love history and ancient mythology. I knew Mission word would expose me to many new things, I never expected this. I am blessed in so many ways.


Tom & Dianne

Thursday, April 4, 2013

An Easter we will never forget

This was our 1st Easter Sunday away from our home parish and our family. It was a wonderful day but we miss you all dearly. All the new experiences, friends we make and enlightening moments are a blessing but some voids in a person’s heart are not so easily filled even on this most blessed of Days.
Our day started at 7AM to the sounds of the kitchen in the guest house already in high gear. You see, on this Easter our new Parish “La Iglesia de la Divinia Providencia” Church of the Divine Providence will be hosting an ecumenical service with a Catholic Church. You don’t see that every day in the United States, at least not from my experience. Approximately 150 members of La Iglesia Catolica de Antigua led by their Priest, Padre Louis Ban de Belde were arriving around 8:30 to prepare for our servicio at 9 AM.
Dianne helped with the food preparation (yes, you heard that right) and then the both of us helped set up chairs in the veranda to accommodate all our visitors and our community. Everybody had a job, we all worked together, there were laughs, there were mix ups that had to be corrected and if we closed our eyes we could easily have been working with our previous Churches of St Francis in Holden, MA or St Andrew’s of Edgartown, MA. To give it that home flavor I made a point of humming or whistling Jesus Christ is Risen Today or the Strife is O’er. Literally the last chair was being dusted off when two full school buses of our guests pulled up.
As they walked up they too had that Church Community synergy going. Padre Louis had created the Ecumenical Service. He, Father Mario and Alfredo immediately got down to the business of everyone’s roles as clergy and lay leaders. The Members of the Church of Antigua also got busy. They had brought the bread (large loaves of Salvadoreno Sweet Bread) and wine. They also had other items to use for the procession.
Like all church communities people found the seats they wanted put down pocket books, bulletins or whatever to hold seats. You could see the different families and also communities getting into their groups. It doesn’t need to be repeated but I don’t think any churches would run very well without the Venerable Church Ladies (VCL for now on), Episcopal or Catholic. You could see who the movers and shakers were in both communities who kept things organized amid the chaos. It was the VCL. Our VCL deserve their own blog and I will share that sometime in the future.
The service began with Father Louis introducing himself and our clergy, he then recognized all the different communities that made up his church and ours. As he mentioned each group they would stand and we would all clap. It was a special moment for Dianne and me to stand with our community of El Maizal and to be recognized as members for the 1st time. After that the service officially started, one thing jumped out, the order of the service was different from both the Catholic Mass and Episcopal Service I was used to. We said the Padre Nuestro (Our Father) early in the service and we received communion before we shared the peace.
The most glaring difference of the actual service was that Catholics and Episcopalians received communion together. There was no sign of hesitance from either denomination to receive from priests of different denominations. I was very glad that my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ were willing to receive communion with me, as I believe Jesus fully intended for all of us to do. Having it happen on this Festival Day made it all that more special.
As I mentioned earlier lay people from both denominations played major roles. There were different readers from each faith, both groups participated in giving communion and both groups had musicians playing together during our hymns.
The presentation of the gifts was very special too. 1st a woman brought up special candle that was lit, at the time I didn’t know the significance. As it was brought up, she lifted it high and turned to us all so we could see it before it was set on the Altar. Then a large bowl of water was brought up and placed on the table and then a large red candle was brought up in the same fashion. Once this was completed prayers were said as Father Louis lit the red candle from the flame of the 1st candle, then the red candle was placed in the middle of the bowl of water. Then he, Father Mario and Alfredo joined in blessing the water. Upon completion of this Father Louis picked up the bowl and walked amongst us, using a group of palms to sprinkle us all with the Holy water saying prayers to bless us. It was a very powerful moment. I’m assuming the red candle symbolized Christ’s death, resurrection and our blessing was representative of the world’s cleansing of sin.
We were not done yet with the presentation of gifts. Two pictures of Bishop Romero were brought up and placed on the altar, then flowers were brought up, then water and wine were brought up and finally the bread was brought up.  Seeing the Altar covered with all the gifts plus the presence of Bishop Romero’s pictures was a spiritually touching, actually a little overwhelming.
The Peace was another delightful moment. It took some time but we were a sea of handshakes, hugs and kisses. As Missionarios we are pretty popular and it was such a feeling of honor to have strangers seek us out to wish us God’s Peace and for us to do likewise.
I’m sure some of you are wondering about the sermon but as I put in an earlier blog post, we don’t know enough Espanol to know what the sermon is about. Our loss is your loss and I apologize.
After the service the community stayed and we all shared a Fiesta together. The Main course was Baked Chicken, rice and tortillas. Fresh Mango fresca (Mango fruit blended with water served cold), water or café was the accompanying drink. There was also sliced fresh Mango’s, watermelon and cucumbers available. The visiting community stayed for a few hours after the service and the two communities shared the use of our pool, the soccer field (how they played soccer in this heat is beyond me) and visiting with families in our community. Once the other community left and we all started cleaning, by 3 O’clock you would never know that we hosted this huge event.
All in all it was a remarkable day and week. I’m sure I forgot to mention some things but I think I covered most of it. One other noteworthy thing worth mentioning is that Easter is not commercialized at all. There are no huge candy displays at Super Selectos and no Easter Bunny in this culture. We had an Easter where Jesus of Nazareth, The Christ, did not have to share top billing with a Giant Bunny giving out Cadbury Eggs and Peeps. It’s spiritually sobering to see the difference in how our cultures celebrate the same Holiday.
This is for my Sainted Mother and Father. My dad was a cradle to grave Episcopalian and sang in the choir at All Saints of Worcester, MA. as a little boy and well into his adult life. He was a great singer and he could belt them out, this was one of his many favorites.
Tom & Dianne

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sabado Santo (Holy Saturday)

Sabado Santo

On Holy Saturday the community meets at the guest house just before the sun goes down about 6 PM aqui (here). A small fire is lit on the ground and Alfredo begins by saying prayers from the Liturgia de la Luz ( The Liturgy of the Light). Then we all light a candle and proceed to the Church singing a hymn. Upon entering the Church we remain in candlelight while Alfredo performs a very short service that doesn’t include the Eucharist. Compared to the previous events of Holy Week this is a very small subdued service. Especially when compared to La Gran Vigilia Pascual (The Great Easter Vigil) we have at our home parish of St Francis. After this service we also had a very small gathering of just coffee. I’m not sure if this is tradition or if it was because on Easter Sunday we will be holding a large Ecumenical service and the women of the church need a break.

Easter will have its own separate blog as parts of it were different from what we have experienced back in Los Estados Unidos (The United States). Plus it was Ecumenical between a Catholic and Episcopal Churches.
Tom & Dianne

Viernes Santo (Good Friday)

Viernes Santo

 La Via Crucis (The Way of the Cross) is not to be missed in El Salvador. During the day 12 families create a Station of the cross in front of their homes. They are in the pictures above. They are made by hand with colored salt, chalk, sand, fresh flowers, statues and great love. Watching the families make them in the intense heat of the day was a reminder of the strength of their faith. When I say families, it’s a family event. The Parents and kids are out there doing their parts to make their station the most beautiful possible for such a Holy event. This is done throughout the nation of El Salvador. On the news that night we saw huge and elaborate stations created in San Salvador, it’s hard to believe they are just salt & sand and not actual portraits. Look it up online and I’m sure you’ll see many examples of them.

The procession started at 3 PM. We went to each Station and different members of the community or Alfredo read the prayers for that station. We paused and then proceeded to the next station singing a hymn. We walked through the whole community and then up to Florencio’s (The property’s caretaker) house for the final station. We ended the procession at the church for a short service and the Eucharist we went back to the guest house. It’s a very touching ceremony.  Like the night before the community met again for a meal of papusas, curtido, salsa and café.

I’ve read in several books that the Central American Church identifies very closely to the Passion of Jesus Christ. It has a history of pain, suffering, oppression and to many martyrs to even try to mention. I believe this to be true by watching the serious approach they take when creating and then doing the stations. During the day we ate lunch at Nelson’s house and he made a point of sharing a video with me. It was the torture sequence from the move “The Passion” set to Holy music. As difficult as it is to watch, I felt I had to because to Nelson it was very important. Quite frankly it is very important to truly understand the incredible amount of suffering that Jesus went through for our sake. To ignore it or set it aside, in my opinion, is a disservice to the actual sacrifice He made. It's not easy to watch but surely there was nothing easy to be a victim of it.
Tom & Dianne


Jueves Santo

Jueves Santo

On Holy Thursday the services started at 4 PM. At this service there is feet washing but it is different. 1st of all only 12 people are selected, so as to represent the 12 apostles. Dianne and I were asked to participate and with honor we joined them. Only the priest washes the feet and each person has only one foot washed not both and I don’t know why. It was very nice, the usual smiling and a little joking was part of the ceremony among us participants, especially when I took both shoes and socks off and I was informed of the one foot rule. Unlike at home we are not present when the Altar is cleared. There is also no vigil maintained in the Iglesia (Church).  After this service there was a large gathering at the Guest house for a meal of Papusas, Curtido (cole slaw), salsa and cafe. The sense of community here is very strong and very uplifting.
Tom & Dianne