Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Junk Drawer of our Mind

Emptying out the junk drawer of our Minds
1)      Tons of things are sold in plastic bags and not the sealable ones (Cut fruit, uncut fruit, water and Juices). Sooooo, all these bags are tied tight. I’ve got Cro-magnon fingers and can’t untie any of them, Thank God I have Dianne.
2)      When you buy gas, you stand close to the attendant while he does it and make sure he puts the gas cap back on. I’ve been told; some of the attendants steal and re-sell them.
3)      Sooooo, in many of the public bathrooms and even in some restaurants and business the toilets don’t have seats. When I asked why, I was told they were stolen. How the heck to you steal a toilet seat without anyone knowing? I know that desperation causes people to do lots of things but stealing toilet seats???????????????
4)      Speaking of public bathrooms if they have toilet paper, many of them have dispensers near the sinks, that’s not to dry your hands, that’s your toilet paper. Grab some before you do your business or your S#*t out of luck. Excuse the pun.
5)      When going out always carry some tissues with you in case there is no toilet paper wherever you visit. Or again, you might be, see the pun in #4
6)      Before going to stores learn the phrase “Solo mirando”, it means only looking. Down here as soon as you enter a store a clerk is going to ask you what you want or do you need help. A quick Solo mirando, gracias, does the trick.
7)      When people stop at your house to say hello or when they see you outside and come over to say hello. You immediately get out your plastic chairs and offer them a seat, a drink and something to eat. It’s rude if you don’t.
8)      When you ask, how are you, como estas usted (don’t forget the usted) down here, unlike in the U.S., you actually mean it and be prepared to listen to peoples sickness or bad day. We care down here and we share are problems.
9)      If you come to visit during the right time of year in El Maizal, we have black moths that are huge and you’d swear they are bats, please don’t freak out. By the way, we have bats too, try not to freak out when they come around.
10)   The big red ants are creepy looking but don’t bite, it’s the darn tiny ones that bite the heck out of you. Don’t freak out
11)   We have Geckos like you read about. They are totally harmless and eat tons of bugs but they can startle you running up and down the walls. Don’t freak out
12)   If you’ve followed our facebook pages you’ll know we have Alacrans too (scorpions). Just move away before you “Freak Out”.
13)   If you’re on the bus and see someone holding something that looks like a bunch of crabs and they’re selling them. That’s what it is.
14)   When waiting in line for the bus, when the bus pulls up you find out you weren’t in a line at all, it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. You’ll be pushed to the pavement by that Grandmotherly woman behind you before you can say excuse me.
15)   At the sign of peace get ready to shake everybody’s hand. At large services, it’s a workout.
16)   You think we talk fast in Espanol. Wait till you pray with us. By the end of the Credo Niceno, you’ll be trying to catch your breath.
17)   In some showers and sinks there are 2 faucets, the one on the left is Cold and the one on the right is, wait for it>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Cold. We call it refreshing.
18)   When you’re on the bus and it looks like you literally most climb over people to get on and off. Well, yes that’s what we all do and nobody gets mad. You can’t either.
19)   We found out where all the old school buses in the United States went to die. You have 3 guesses the 1st 2 don’t count.
20)   Here’s the main driving tip for down here. You must drive very aggressively but always in a careful way.
21)   Once they found out I was an accountant, all the guys have assumed I don’t know anything about manual labor. It’s funny at first but gets tiring fast. I do know how to shovel and rake without instructions by the way.
22)    Everybody loves us and wants to help us but sometimes you do feel like saying “Leave me alone”.
23)   The metric system is in full use here. Gas is by the liter, soda is by the liter, we travel kilometers and the land is measured in Hectares. But, go buy some Chicken, beef, rice or beans, it’s by the pound?????? Go figure.
24)   You know the dollar coins that we refuse to embrace and use in the U.S.? That’s all we use here, I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen a dollar bill.
25)   Since we’re on money. Even though many things can be bought with change, pennies just don’t get used much.
26)   Buying margarine that doesn’t require refrigeration take some getting used to. The yellow dye and the fact it only melts at very high temps is also very different.
27)   I’ve never so many varieties of Tang in all my life. It’s not just orange. You can get it in Cinnamon, passion fruit and tropical flavors we’ve never heard of. There’s even a milky sweet one.
28)    I think I’ve died and gone to heaven because in the Campos, hot dogs seem to be one of the staples and they are individually wrapped. If you haven’t figured it out, I love Hot Dogs
29)   If anyone ever offers you Pacaya, just say NO. Don’t think, Hmmm that sounds exotic, Hmmm maybe just a taste. We’re telling you right now, say NO.
30)   Our personal record for passengers inside our 4 door pickup is 10.  Four in the front six in the back. It was pouring so no one was in the bed.
31)   Sometimes I’m so filthy and sweaty from working in the fields, I empty my pockets, take off my belt, glasses and shoes and walk directly into the show to rinse the filth off the clothes and then off me. That’s just the rinse cycle, Dianne must still wash them to get them clean.
32)   If you ladies want to get rid of or avoid getting bat wings, start doing laundry by hand. Diannes arms are getting ripped.
33)   When I first starting using a corbo (Machete)and was pruning trees, on a missed swing, I must have flung it 20 feet. It might explain #21
34)   If we knew then what we know now, 5 years ago we would have come here and opened up a tienda selling only Hair Gel (Boys and men) and dark eyeliner pencils and hair ties for the women. We’d be retired right now eating Papusas and sipping Pilsners by the playa.
35)   You don’t like cold showers, then don’t shower in the morning after the water in the storage tank has cooled off. You shower in the late afternoon when that tanks been sitting in the sun all day.
To be continued………………………………………………….

Tom y Dianna

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

For you are all one in Christ Jesus

She has such a beautiful smile; it’s one of those smiles that make her whole face beam happiness when it appears. It’s never forced and she wears it well. We all know people like this; the smile is just a natural part of their appearance. That’s why when I saw her sitting at the table talking with our local Sacerdote (priest), hands cradling her forehead as she looked down speaking softly, it was sorrowful to see. A face that was always a source of an infectious smile was now desperate and worried a source of instant concern. You see, her father has left the family in order to better their lives.

She’s the middle daughter who’s around 16, her older sister is 17 or 18 and the youngest daughter is 13. The family is headed by 2 hardworking, loving and caring parents. They run a local tienda and they farm a Manzana (about ¾ of an acre) of land they use for Maiz, Maisillo y frijoles (corn, livestock feed and beans). They also maintain a productive yard of a few banana trees, a mango tree and a large flock of chickens. This is not a family that sits still waiting for life to get better or get worse; they make way the best they can. The family also attends our local church and the daughters regularly attend bible study with us. They regularly participate as lectors.

The older daughter works as a nanny for a family that live outside of our community, she leaves before 8AM and doesn’t get home till after 5:30PM. The two younger daughters run the store. Their tienda (store) will always hold a special place for me and Dianne because it’s the 1st place we made our presence known in the community outside the church. We’d go there to buy a bag of rice, beans or zanahorias (carrots, no lie, that’s the word for carrots) but it was the process that was fun. Why you ask? Well, we had to try out our espanol on the 2 younger daughters. In my best espanol I’d say, como estan ustedes, quieres arroz y frijoles, puedo tengo un libra de ambos? How are you, do you have rice and beans, may I have a pound of both. That’s when they’d look back at me with a look of utter bewilderment. My Massachusetts accent and terrible pronunciation made my espanol sound like a rare form of Klingon used in only the remotest part of our universe. They would giggle and respond back and we would give them our bewildered look because we didn’t understand a word of what they said and these two gringos now fully understood what immersion in another language meant. The whole communication process broke down into finger pointing, head nods, with interjections of my espanol, their giggles and them finally counting out my money for me because of course I couldn’t understand what sietenta y cinco was (.75 cents). That’s not all either; Dianne and I would now take the walk of shame. As we left the store to walk home we’d hear both girls talking, giggling and full-fledged laughing. I’d look at Dianne and say, “you know that’s about us” and she’d respond “you think” and we’d have our laughing moment. It wasn’t discouraging it was actually lots of fun communicating with these young girls, that I looked forward to (I think they did too) and now it’s no big deal at all. On a final note it wouldn’t have been so much fun if they weren’t so kind and compassionate to Dianne and I as strangers that they didn’t know. They helped us learn the language but we also learned from them the relief of receiving the love of God, the kindness and compassion in a helpless situation that Jesus calls us to give all our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Their dad was one of my working campaneros. He was a tireless worker who wielded his corbo (machete) with ease on any task whether we were cutting grass or framing the new greenhouse. He also showed me how to properly clean and sharpen it. At first he didn’t talk much to me but as he saw me using my terrible espanol to talk with the other workers, he soon was looking at me smiling and shaking his head in amusement. I considered that progress. Then it finally happened, he started telling me how to use the corbo with better technique and that this was how you cared for it. I barely understood what he said because he talked with machine gun speed and others had to translate my enspanol to him but we were friends now. He respected my work ethic and he was one of my mentors that I depended on in the campos. He’s also the caring dad who walks his daughters down to the bus when they must go shopping and stays with them till the bus comes, so he knows that part of their trip is safe. When they return he goes down and walks them home. Not all that different from us protective dads in the U.S. It’s touching to see.

The Mom, well as all you Mom’s at home know, she is the glue that holds it all together. She works in the tienda, works in their field, washes the clothes and cooks. The daughters all help but as usual Mom is the anonymous presence that makes everything look easy because she goes from one labor intensive job to another because she loves her family and everything else suffers if she isn’t that tireless worker too. Plus Mom is the one who sometimes gives us extra Papusas’s when we occasionally buy them on Sundays. The girls got their smile from mom tambien (also)

Unbeknownst to that family they are a part of our life. That’s why when we recently returned from a weeklong stay in San Salvador we immediately noticed the father wasn’t around. We didn’t see him working, he wasn’t at the tienda, and his presence was noticeably missing. I finally asked a friend where he was, we were afraid he fell ill.

We found out that he had been thinking for quite some time about emigrating to the U.S. in order to earn substantially higher wages to help his family. In El Salvador as a laborer he can make $4 to $6 per day if he is lucky. He knew that in the United States a laborer with his skill set can make $6 to $10 per hour. I won’t insult you all by doing the math; the financial benefit of this decision is tremendous.

So what do you do when you decide to go to the U.S.? You contact a coyote and pay upwards of $6,000 for passage to the U.S. and you tell no one till you leave. You travel by different modes and if you are lucky you walk into the U.S. 8 days later. If you aren’t lucky it can take anywhere from 15 to 30 days. If things go badly you can be arrested and jailed wherever you are, you get arrested and deported, you injure yourself or get sick and you are abandoned to fend for yourself or you potentially die during the trip for various reasons including untreated injuries/sickness, exposure to the elements or murder. During all this time the immigrant cannot have any phone contact with anyone. The family never hears from the traveler till they reach the U.S. The family must wait and pray that a phone call comes and as I pointed out sometimes you never get the call and the family is left to wonder what happened. In regards to when the father will return home, no sabemos (we don’t know). Getting back is just as dangerous as getting in.

 I’m sure some people think they know about this but you don’t know about it, you only know the stereotyped story that labels the immigrant as an illegal. The immigrant story most of you hear is in the sole context that they are a threat to our way of life in the U.S. (that statement screams entitlement of the privileged), they are criminals and a drain on our system (a statement that is very debatable when you look at independent studies of the financial pros and cons) or they are coming to solely live off our welfare system.

None of these apply to my friend and the argument can be made that they don’t apply to the vast majority of illegal immigrants. Our friend knows what he needs to do in order to help his family. He’s being courageous, willing to risk life and limb to get this done. What father presented with the same situation and limited options wouldn’t consider taking the same risks?

A wife is missing her husband, children are missing their doting father and a man must take risks that most of us know nothing about for his love of family. I’ve seen the daughter’s tears caused by the pain of missing their Papi (Daddy). People need to stop believing these lies about immigrants with descriptions that only breed, resentment, hate and fear of our fellow man. Its political rhetoric meant to garner support of some voters by filling them with fear and hate of complete strangers.  It’s called scapegoating by creating a narrative about people that’s false but it’s effective because few people know the truth or many deny the truth so they can deny their responsibilities to their fellow man.

 We have the same story about one of neighbors who lives behind us. She left her son, husband and mother to work in the U.S. We don't know if she arrived safely or not. It's more than sad to think people must make these sacrifices and take these risks to just improve their family’s lives from miserable poverty to livable poverty. Let me point out nobody is getting rich except for those who traffic our fellow brothers and sisters who are in desperate situations. These stories are quite common.

I had concerns about blogging on this because of it being a political hot button but in reality we are very close to a reasonable reform if our politicians who call themselves Christians remember "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."  Galatians 3:28.  If men of political power lived their faith instead of professing it to garner votes, many of our social problems could be reasonably resolved.

Put immigration on a personal level. Look at the families of your closest friends and neighbors and imagine them being torn apart like this. We didn’t imagine it we saw it and we knew what we had to do. We visited them with our Books of Common Prayer and together we all prayed for loved ones, for protection and for travelers. If Dianne and I have learned anything that we can share with you it is this. Don’t believe the narratives of the poor, the immigrants or any strangers that you’ve been fed all these years. These stereotypical descriptions tend to be steeped in hate and fear.  Think of our faith and not the stereotypes next time.

1 John 2:9-11

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.




Tom & Dianne

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Our constant companion

He that believeth hath everlasting Life

Sadly last night we found ourselves sitting at another final memorial service for a young friend who had passed away. These services are normally 9 days after the death or burial.

On Thursday night of October 23rd we found out that a young man who attended bible study with us in a neighboring community (Positos) passed away. Gustavo Enrique Nunez was only 15 and his mother Victoria hosted bible study at her house, which we have attended many times. He was also the brother and Brother-in-Law (Yerno) of our friends Yuri and Alfredo (our previous Deacon). Thursday at about 5PM Fr. Mario came to our house and told us the news and our help was needed. We spent from 5 PM to 1:30 AM driving back and forth to a Hospital in the City of Santa Ana so the family could make arrangements for the body. I didn't drive but a community member who knows the country very well did. When we returned from Santa Ana the grieving mother, Victoria, rode in our truck. Dianne and I listened as she spoke about her son to our friend Alberto, the driver. It was heartbreaking as she talked about how he just bought a bicycle and as she told the story and repeated how he said “Por favor Mami”when he requested permission, she broke down and cried remembering that moment, we did also. Gustavo was her last child, the baby of the family and the only child who was still living at home.

The next day Dianne and I travelled to the next town Cara Sucio to transport family members back to Victoria’s house. Early that morning in their grief they took the bus to that town to purchase food for all the people who would be visiting the house. We went back to Victoria’s to drop everyone off. We were surprised to find that Gustavo’s’ body was already at the house. One room was adorned with flowers, candles and a large Cross at the head of his casket. Gustavo’s Casket was in the center with a framed picture of him sitting on top. Gustavo was a handsome young man with a bright smile that he wore almost every time I saw him. He was a good boy who attended school, bible study and church regularly. He was very interested in attending the English classes Dianne and I will be starting  in that community. He also was aware of the gang activity in that community and avoided it by staying at home with his friends instead of being in the streets exposed to recruiting by the gangs. From what I knew of him, he had his head on straight for a young boy and wanted to better himself. Two key attributes I believe you need to possess in this country if you want to have a chance of improving on your current situation. We paid our respects and visited with his mother.

As we visited and waited to see what schedule would be for the next couple of days, as is common thoughts of the departed goes through your mind. For instance last Sunday was the last time I saw Gustavo, I was showing him and other kids my truck. I remember having to go up to him and say " Mi amigo, lo siento, yo no recordar tu nombre" my friend, I'm sorry I don't remember your name. With a broad smile he said Gustavo and extended his hand for a shake. That's the last time I saw or spoke to him. It’s amazing how a simple meeting can end up sticking with you with an attached value that you didn’t realize at the time. Soon after we took everyone back to El Maizal as the wake would be all day and many members of the community wanted to attend the wake that night.

Friday night we were supposed to bring 15 members of the community to Positos but unfortunately it started pouring buckets at 5PM and never really let up till 7PM. We had to confer with Father Mario and call off the trip because the roads would have been too hazardous. It was a very difficult decision as we know this denied Victoria additional company in this time of need. There are many harsh realities and something as simple as rain and dirt roads can deny people help when needed.    

Saturday morning was the funeral. We brought members of the community to the home and we all assembled our vehicles for the procession. The procession was made up of pick-ups and small flatbeds equipped with frames in the back to allow the most passengers as possible. The cemetery was farther away than the last one we attended so nobody walked and the procession moved much faster. It was interesting to see the procession would stop to pick up more passengers, the vehicles were crammed with mourners.

When we arrived at the cemetery we all walked in. Like the last cemetery we visited it was mostly above ground vaults but this cemetery was even larger. Let me point out that during these funerals because of the cramped quarters it is customary to walk on people’s graves (vaults) and even use them as a higher vantage point to view the actual ceremony. I was standing on a high vault with about 6 other people in order to view the service.

Because of Gustavo’s age he had many classmates there, most of them in their school uniforms. It was very moving to watch them all file by the vault paying their last respects. The grief stricken family was last. It was exceedingly difficult to watch friends suffer like this; Dianne and I were moved to grief ourselves. After his vault was sealed we all returned to our homes and our thoughts were with Victoria and hoping somehow the void in her heart could be filled while the memories could slowly go from grief to cherished moments of his life. We have never experienced such grief but that hope is all we could pray for.

With the recent deaths in the communities we live and share Gods mission with, I found myself concerned with the fact that maybe the tragedy of young unnecessary deaths might be our constant companion.  It took me a few days to realize I was looking at this all wrong. Of course these deaths are tragic and we should never be accustomed or accepting to the fact that in many cases in this country and many like it they are caused indirectly and sometimes directly by social injustice. The reality is that if we live in this world we will always experience death.  However, as a Christian I believe I gave death too much emphasis in our lives. It’s not a comrade or friend, words associated with companion. It is merely something closely related to our state of being or part of our life cycle, no more, no less.

When we look closer at any tragedy our companion is not death, it is not grief, it is not suffering. It is the One who gives us hope. It is the Christ that will never leave our sides. He can’t stop our human suffering at these times but He gave us this message to give us Fortaleza (strength) “I am with you always, even to the end of age”.  We need to grieve, it is part of our healing, it is part of our human existence but we can’t forget who our true Companion is.