Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mano en Mano

My essentials in the campos
Raul & Francisco (check out the height of the grass)
They spend much of their time bent over like on the right, their stamina is amazing

As I walk through the waist high grass at 7:30 AM, already soaked through all my clothes with sweat, a roll of hay hanging over my head on my trienche (pitchfork), praying that a scorpion or arana (spider) doesn’t drop on me, I say to myself, “self”, you asked for it J.

You see about 2 weeks ago I started asking mi amigo Nelson (Assistant Director of the Agricultural Project) if I could work with the project. Nelson would smile and say Tomas, manana (tomorrow) or le llamarle’ (I’ll call you). Tomorrow comes and no Nelson, no call.  We played this game a couple times till I told him, I’m here to help, let me help. He smiled and said manana and I thought here we go again.                   
Tomorrow comes and this time Nelson shows up and my active membership in the Agricola Proyecto (Agricultural Project) starts (be careful what you ask for).  Since then I’ve planted Teak saplings with Claudia, another member of the project. We planted about 50 trees over 2 days. I’ve also pruned Teak arboles (trees) with Nelson using our corbos (machetes). I’ve planted corn, soy and also fertilized the churches corn crop with Santos, Gloria, Yury and Laura. With Erick and Nelson’s help our park was cleared for the kids to use.
Finally here I am waist deep in grass. For the last 4 days Raul, Francisco and I have cleared ½ of a soccer field so it can be used. We started every day between 6:30 to 7:00 AM, stopping at 11:30 or 12. The grass and weeds were 2 feet to 6 feet high. Raul and Francisco use a hooked stick to hold up the grass while swinging the corbo to cut right along the ground. As they progress they use the stick to pull the cut grass behind them and move forward. This is where I come in. I use the pitchfork as a rake and roll the grass till I’ve formed a decent sized roll, then I take one end and twist it back over the roll and stab it down into the middle. You lift it up and you have what looks like a big bunch of cotton candy that I pile up at the edges of the field. The bundles weigh from 20 to 40 lbs.
A job well done and they cut it to within an inch of the ground with a corbo

The cleared Goal

The view from midfield at the goal in the uncleared area

It’s been one of my best experiences here because I made two friends by being present. The reason we only work 4-5 hours is because when we start the heat index is in the high 80’s and by the time we stop it’s crept to the low 100’s (101 to 105). In this heat doing this work you work for 45 minutes and rest 15 minutes slowly filling up on water (don’t gulp water in this heat). The actual work was a struggle between the heat, the sun and because of the previous nights of rain we worked in either a couple of inches of water, mud or normally both. It was very important not because of the end result but because I was earning respect from my campaneros de trabajo. First because I was actually doing this work but they came to realize I could communicate in espanol and that we had many mutual interests.
In the field when they found snakes, we talked about snakes. They found turtles we talked about turtles. They noticed (everybody notices) that I sweat so much I dripped from head to toe they joked about it saying, “I was leaking”. During the breaks it was more of the same, we talked about our families, sports, food and the good and bad things about El Salvador and my country the U.S.  Raul worked in the U.S. for 2 years in California and knew a little English which helped facilitate the conversations. Francisco at first was very quiet but with Raul explaining my Spanglish, soon Francisco was also talking to me. That was a big moment for me because I don’t think he realized I could communicate. Don’t get me wrong, my Spanish is terrible, absolutely terrible. It’s all 1st person present tense, I can only hope that ½ my verb conjugations are right and pray that ½ the words I use mean what I think they mean. The point is that it doesn’t matter. We had some great laughs (most at my expense) but I became one of the guys (and gals, there’s as many women as men in the project) during all this work.
Mano en Mano means hand in hand, in this case you could assume it’s because we were working hard and needed each other’s support. The reality was we reached out for each other’s hands in friendship by sharing the information of our lives. Everybody I’ve worked with knows more about me and me about them now and we all shared smiles and laughs. For me in mission this is what being present means, this is what accompaniment means and this is what it means when you hear people talk about the process being more important than the job. Every home, school, hospital built or skill taught is extremely important in impoverished nations but if you’re not present, if you don’t accompany the people and if you don’t take the time to make real friends (not based on being the giver and them the receiver) along the way, you’ve missed one of the great gifts God gives us when He calls us to serve. It’s the gift of giving and receiving, not of tangible assets but of ourselves.
“As we begin to strip ourselves of false securities, finding in God our true and only identity, daring to be open and vulnerable to each other, we’ll begin to live as pilgrims on a journey, discovering the God of surprises who leads us into roads which we have not travelled and we’ll find true companions on the way.”
Quote – Anonymous
Tomas y Dianna


  1. Thank you for this beautiful post. Just please be sure to drink LOTS of water, Tomas. It's nice and quiet here since South Road is closed off, which irritates the rich and famous but delights the rest of us who live in Chilmark. It's nice and quiet, for a change...

  2. Dianne, I never go to work with less than 3 liters of water. Working hard is important but working smart is what keeps you from passing out :)

  3. I'm with an Ohio peace and justice ministry called Los Amigos Episcopales. Many of our members have visited El Salvador, some numerous times. We are very familiar with El Maizal and have been providing financial support for La Divina Providencia school there for the last 3 years. I was so happy to find your blog. We will be following your ministry with great interest. We have been in partnership with the Diocese of El Salvador for 21 years. God bless you for your commitment to help the people. Our website is and we also have a group FaceBook page.