David and Nancy Slinde Speaking at their "Sending Service"

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

First Christmas in El Salvador

In November when we arrived, Christmas decorations were going up in malls and city plazas. Overall few homes are decorated with strings of colored lights. The malls and municipal parks and boulevards are the largest decorators for Christmas in the city.

Visible signs of Christmas disappear as we leave San Salvador. Absent big city budgets and large malls, the small towns of El Salvador look the same at Christmas as in the middle of August. Among the rural poor the best evidence of Christmas is handmade decorations for home and church.

On Christmas Eve, we joined Bishop Gomez, the Lutheran Bishop of El Salvador, and his family for their traditional celebration. It was a quiet conversation of adults until all of the grandchildren arrived. Then the action began with opening presents, playing together and much joyful noise.

Fireworks exploded throughout the neighborhood. As the night continued more family and friends arrived. Mrs. Gomez had sandwiches and beverages ready. There was lively music and dancing. At midnight we formed a prayer circle to thank God for his abundant blessings and mercies during this past year and to ask his protection and blessings for the coming year, very appropriate for all our lives.

The prayers were accompanied by loud fireworks. After the final Amen, we went out on the upper porch to watch the awesome multiple aerial and ground displays throughout the neighborhoods of San Salvador. This local custom is legal and very dangerous. The smell and smoke of gunpowder was thick. As the fireworks slowed down, we enjoyed a wonderful feast of turkey, rice, salad and cake.

What a great first Christmas; we are safe, healthy, well fed, and grateful to God for these blessings. But to be honest we missed our family and friends. We enjoyed new customs, but missed our Midwest traditions. We knew before we left that some things in life can’t be duplicated. Therefore, to all of you in “the old country” and in our hearts and thoughts and prayers, we love you and we miss you.

David y Nancy

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Difficult Reality

Last week, we were invited to join a Salvadoran ngo as global representatives for distribution of building materials provided through international relief donations. This ngo recently distributed donated clothing and bedding to 150 families in La Libertad.

On Monday, we traveled to San Francisco Chinemeca above Lake Ilopongo with narrow winding streets on hilly terrain, 2100 ft above sea level, population 8575 spread across the hillside.

We began at the “command center”, a home where materials were stacked and small tables served as information desks. A community leader was preparing lists of names of those who would receive supplies. We were briefed on the families, the destruction, and the process of reconstruction of lives and homes.

Stacks of 2 x 4s and 2 x 2s for posts and roof supports, piles of corrugated aluminum sheets (3 ft x 8 ft) for roofing and siding, and bags of fasteners were being sorted for 12 families. Amounts supplied varied based on the size of the family needing shelter.

Then we visited the home sites. The devastation caused by mud slides is difficult to describe because it is so severe. Not only are homes lost but often the land under them is gone too, making rebuilding impossible. These families must seek new locations. The November storm had a multiple affect – continuous heavy rains compounded by rain pouring off roofs onto land and homes on the slope below.

One family willingly shared with us the remnant of their former home and their makeshift home on a neighbor’s lot. This shelter of branch supports and black plastic sides and roof measured 6 x 12 feet for a family of 6 and held a double bed, a cook top and 4 shelves of possessions.

As we passed the supply center on our way back to the city, teams were loading materials onto a truck for delivery. One man rolled laminate sheets and carried them on his back up the hill.

While there is devastation and sorrow, there is also hope for the future and new beginnings. Solidarity and respect are evidenced in the attitude of “it is not only your loss, it is also our loss.” Community members are working together, caring for one another, helping each other with temporary housing and rebuilding.

Being included in this project was an honor and experience that deeply touched our hearts and spirits. The forces of nature are beyond human understanding but response is within our created beings and capabilities. We assured the community leaders that we would share their stories at home in the US, that they would not be forgotten.

The effects of the storm are no longer significant in US newspapers but please know that funding for recovery is still urgently needed. Support can be sent through Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran World Federation, Catholic Charities, and the Center for Interchange and Solidarity (Los Olivos CIS, P.O. Box 76, Westmont, IL 60559). If you send a donation, clearly designate it for El Salvador Disaster Relief; otherwise it will go into a general fund and will not be put to immediate use.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Summer Break

Mailed Dec 20 2009

Our first school term (4 week session) ended at 12:22 on Friday; 38 minutes later we were escaping the city on a mini bus to the volcano Bocaron near Nejapa. It last erupted in 1917. Evidence of the lava flow to Nejapa is still visible. The city of Nejapa celebrates the eruption annually on August 31 by throwing oil soaked fireballs at one another – not your typical commemoration or Main Street event. But the crowds love it!
(See http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2065504/fireball_festival_2008/)

On the drive up the mountain we passed crowds of workers on the sides of the road waiting for transportation for either themselves or for their daily pick of coffee beans. Further up huge flat bed trucks were coming down with full loads of coffee in sacks that seem impossible to lift, yet men carry them on their backs for long distances.

After a 35 minute drive up hill we stopped for coffee at the Miranda café on one of three coffee plantations on this volcano. It also offers canopy tours where you strap on a harness and slide on one of 9 cables between mountains over lush forests, either holding on for dear life or taking in the view (see www.elsalvadorcanopy.com)

At the top of the mountain, we walked through a tropical forest enjoying cool fresh air, brilliant plants, majestic trees and a clear sunny sky. At the edge of the volcano is a platform for looking deep and wide into the crater. There is evidence of the “cone” growing and while this volcano is dormant, it is not dead. Many fissures expel steam in and around the coffee plantations. Hearty adventurers can take a 2 ½ hour hike down steep and rocky trails to the bottom which also means a 3 hour hike back up. It is not on our to-do list!

Today is Monday, the first day of winter in the USA but just another summer day here. Last night brought an unusual hard rain and wind storm which we are certain frightened many people living in make-shift shelters as a result of the Hurricane Ida damage. We have an amazing story to tell you about our experience today but that will wait for another entry.

Four days until Christmas – God’s blessings to all of you as you celebrate with family and friends. We leave tomorrow morning for San Jorge, our new community, return on Saturday and will write to you then.

For our new journal recipients go to http://oslcslinde09.blogspot.com/ for prior entries.

David and Nancy

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Bus

The bus is a window to the people and life of El Salvador. For 20 cents one can ride anywhere in the city. It is a great system with many buses and many routes. For each trip, we plan to travel light – only money and whatever needed for that day. This week we traveled to new areas in preparation of documents for our residency visa.

A bus ride in the central city includes vendors entering the bus to sell sweets, preachers who have a captive audience, beggars and petty thieves. This week a young man got on the bus and begged for money, walked down the aisle holding his cap out. Everyone put coins into his cap. The first time this happened, we did not. He approached us a second time and I noticed the smell of alcohol. Nancy had bus fare coins in her hand and dropped them into his cap. He thanked Nancy and left.

Attire on the bus has a wide range – old women wearing the seller’s multi-pocketed apron, well-dressed business people, women with bags and baskets on their heads either for selling or going home from shopping, casually dressed moms with children, poorly dressed people of all ages, young people in uniforms of banks and restaurants, and more.

The buses travel through zones of heavy traffic and raw exhaust pollution, zones of cooking and produce smells (even raw fish – that’s another story!), zones of street “hawkers” and noisy crowds, loud music, gang graffiti, and fascinating architecture – both good and bad.

Christmas decorations are evident everywhere; it is strange to have 95 degrees and see snowmen and icicle lights in stores and homes. We had two nights that got down to 70 and people were complaining of the cold. We saw sweaters, winter jackets and wool hats on the bus. We had on typical summer clothes and we loved it.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


The bus system had been a complete mystery to us. However on our first day of classes we took the bus to and from school. We now have used 5 different routes to get around San Salvador. It is important to plan ahead when riding the bus to have a couple of dollars to hand over if robbed and to only carry necessary money.
The bus trip from downtown San Salvador was a missed photo opportunity with narrow one-way streets filled with vendors and buyers. The driver maneuvered through tightly crowded passages as night fell. We returned home much later than planned.

We experienced our first earthquake last week. The tremor was long and hard. Everything shook, especially us. The internet reported the center just off the coast of Sonsonate 40 miles away as 5.9 on the scale. All of San Salvador felt the quake.

Having legal identification in your possession is crucial. Yet with the risk of robbery carrying your passport seems irresponsible. Recently police stopped our van as we returned to the city from our rural community. Nancy did not have her passport but our Salvadoran friends in the van clarified our status. We were allowed to continue, but now that we travel alone we make sure that we can prove that we are legal immigrants. Nancy could have been taken into custody.

The black rain has begun. The sugar cane fields are burned before the men cut the stalks and load the flat bed trucks with mountains of sugar cane. The cane stalk is dry, over ten feet tall and highly combustible. With the strike of a torch, the field becomes an intensive inferno with the flames spreading faster than a man, woman or child can run. The black powdery ash rises thousands of feet into the air, travels many miles and rains down when it starts to cool. Last weekend our city neighborhood was “rained” on and the season is just starting.

Our first Thanksgiving Day in ES was different. School and homework as usual, with a special dinner of beef roast stuffed with vegetables, mashed potatoes, spicy avocado salad, and rolls; very delicious and celebrated with our host family.

The rooster: Each neighborhood has a rooster that should be eaten. Our rooster is just one yard away. He begins his morning call at 3 am and continues at intervals until 1 pm. Nancy has a theory that the rooster knows everyone’s name. Each call by Mr. Rooster is directed to an individual by name. My wake up comes at 5:45 - Nancy’s comes at 6:15.

It has been a good second week of our lives here. We look forward to the next.