In-dependence and a new home

Published: May 12th 2009
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I just stepped outside the office to watch the torrent of raindrops start to fall, to smell the thirsty soil drinking it all in. If that sounds like a peaceful, thoughtful experience, then maybe I can’t explain through writing—perhaps through an expression: IT’S RAINING CHUCHOS AND GATOS!! The first rainstorm of the season--about time, too, since the dust and the heat were getting to be more than slightly unbearable. Oh, and, here comes the thunder…and lightning...!!!!!!!!

And then I started to write a blog entry here--my first attempts foiled by the storm, as the power keeps going in and out and I was warned to stop working on the old computer since it could short-circuit. But here on the gringa’s computer (Thanks, Jillian!), I can start again.

I was inspired to write after such a long stint by 3 factors...

1. The publishing of the new blog for the youth program!!! (check it out to learn more about the facets of the program and to see some great pictures! I posted some pictures on the blog here, but they came out rather fuzzy...)

2. Looking at the calendar and realizing that it's May; almost half the year is gone!

3. A small shred of spare time that I have on the internet today.

(4.) Being rained in helps.

These past few months have been turbulent and transitional. Getting adjusted once again to the work schedule (or lack of one, as sometimes it seems we work 13 hour days), strengthening the organization within the program, and learning how to fit our roles.

As the one in charge of “logistics” in our team, I’ve been struggling with my long-held grudges against math and being organized. I can’t tell if I’ve won or lost the battles yet, but I can tell that these skills will serve me and others as I continue to develop them, as it’s always useful to know how to budget and liquidate funds (even if the first formats I created were a little too “creative” and not that useful…). Anyone who knows me may be relieved to know that I’m taking on my scatterbrained-ness as well. I’m learning the importance of satisfying basic, tangible needs first, before attempting to satisfy the more “intangible” ones.

Speaking of funding, we’ve been functioning rather miraculously these past few months, as we have no stable source of funding available. Between scraping the bottom of the barrel at the organization, gathering together a few pesos here and there, and digging out of our own pockets and personal stash of materials, we’ve been managing to get food on the table and have the materials we need to function for the workshops, but it’s been tight…which is my cue to get puppy-dog eyes and say that if you have anything to spare in these days of the economic crisis, let us know, as we sure could use it! If you’re interested, check out the website above and/or email me for more information. You can also donate through the Foundation for Self-Sufficiency in Central America , the foundation that directly supports La Coordinadora’s work.

A historic event happened here in El Salvador on March 15th: the people of El Salvador elected the first leftist president, representing the FMLN party, Mauricio Funes. I had the opportunity to act as an international observer the day of the elections, watching as people swarmed to the voting booths in Usulután, despite the antiquated and corrupt voting system (it was obvious that there was fraud at several points of the day), and placed their votes. It’s an exciting time to be present to witness the political atmosphere and the possibilities for social change.

On another note, I´m coming back to the States next week for a quick 10 day visit (May 17-27), some with my family and some visiting the University of Oregon for the Earth Matters On Stage conference (really, to check it out and see if I´m still interested in grad school). And I would love to see YOU if you´re in the area and it works out!

In other news: I’ve become an unofficial yoga instructor and a vocal trainer for the theater company. For the first half of every rehearsal (Monday-Wednesday 5-9p.m.) we’ve been training to get into physical and vocal shape, then moving on to theater technique and rehearsing the new play, “The Answers to Why,” a children’s play based on indigenous Salvadoran folk tales. So I’ve been digging up anything and everything I can remember from the scattered yoga classes I’ve taken over the past 5 years, plus the basics from my own practice to be sure that the youth pass the first hour and a half of rehearsal sweating, groaning, and breathing deeply before passing out in shivasana. But really, it’s been a great way to increase flexibility and body awareness, integral for the type of physical theater we’re doing. Tania has been working up a storm with the creation of the puppets and script; it’s slow-going, but will be worth it if we get the chance to do the tour around Spain!

We’ve now incorporated the new group of youth in the first year of the program, and it’s a joy to be getting to know the kids by playing games, dancing, singing, and hearing their thoughts and opinions. The group that has moved on to the second year is involved in more cerebral workshops, developing further critical thinking skills and knowledge.

We’ve also been doing workshops with youth from the Comunidades Eclesiales de Base (communities of Catholics that have organized around the concepts of Liberation Theology), which have been interesting, as some kids come from San Salvador and surrounding urban areas, others from communities that are so isolated in the mountains that they have no electricity or running water, and others from a community that was created by the Taiwanese to provide labor to feed their local sweatshops. A very diverse group, to say the least.

Between all these workshops, which take up nearly every weekend, along with rehearsals and a plethora of the necessary and not altogether evil administrative tasks, it’s hard to get a moment of time to relax…IN OUR NEW HOME!

Yes—after all the longing for a home, we finally have one! Tania, Douglas, and I are roommates, although it’s a rare moment for all of us to be in the house at the same time. It’s a 2 bedroom house with a kitchen and living room, complete with a pila, shower, and latrine outside and a huge yard (with a gigantic mango tree that was raining mangoes from heaven during the season--and now that it´s ended, we have mango preserves!). AND running water and electricity already installed! The added benefit is that our landlord, Don Catalino, at his 86 years, is still spry and attentive to the house, coming over in the mornings with one of his progeny of grandchildren or sons-in-law to work on anything the house needs done. Bit by bit, we’re making it into a home: painting the cement gray walls white, building a porch of tree branches and palm fronds, planting decorative plants and a medicinal plants garden, watering the fruit
Sara, the balloon-twisting masterSara, the balloon-twisting masterSara, the balloon-twisting master

She came to visit us and gave a balloon workshop in return!
trees, and attempting to eradicate the army of cockroaches that have conquered the latrine.

The next step is something I have been looking forward to for years: planting a vegetable garden!! We’re lucky that we work for an organization that has organic agriculture as one of its main strategies for self-sufficiency, because we have our friends, professional organic agronomists, to advise us through the process. The land in Bajo Lempa is mostly contaminated and stripped of nutrients from years of exploitation and over-use as cotton plantations, so we have to start gradually, recuperating the soil and its nutrients to prepare it for planting, using the organic fertilizer that La Coordinadora specializes in. We’ve made the design: a circular mandala with a composting center, corn rows pointing in the four directions, with tomatoes, chiles, onions, eggplant, radishes, cucumber, beans, etc. in between. Around the fruit trees, we’ll plant chipilin, pipian, and ayote (native greens and squashes). Hopefully, this garden will come to fruition, but not until after we build a fence to defend it from the multitude of ragged chickens, dogs, pigs, and cows that stroll in at all times of the day and decimate anything we try to plant (I really have no qualms anymore about throwing rocks at these “free range” animals).

Already, I have a different rhythm these days: getting up to water the plants, washing clothes and hanging them out to dry, making breakfast, going to work (hitching a ride in the back of pick-up trucks has become an almost daily routine). Coming back, cleaning the house, watering the plants, going to rehearsal, making dinner, etc. etc. etc. (Really, I can´t do all of these things in one day, but this how my day would be if I had the time and the energy!) These tangible domestic tasks have grounded me and also at times astound me: how is it that some skills that are so basic to my survival have become extinct? When I think about the importance of self-sufficiency, I return to these tasks…things that a lot of Americans have lost touch with, in the dependence on technology and other people to take care of our basic needs. The myth of “independence” that the U.S. still holds to be true wears thin when I realize that I have depended on machines and the exploitation of people to resolve things for me for most of my life.

Which is interesting, because in many ways, people in “developed countries” are dependent on the labor of those in “developing countries” for basic products: food, clothing, labor, etc., and it’s the same the other way around, as people here depend on multinational companies and NGOs, buying hybrid corn and pesticide products from Monsanto and receiving housing and food hand-outs (my neighbor has a dismantled latrine that has “unicef” engraved right on top of where you do your business…I would find that a bit intrusive—more or less than the cockroaches I can’t say for certain). Within this “international community,” we’re just rendering ourselves less independent and less in touch with our cultural roots: we depend on others to build our houses, grow and cook our food, make our clothes…and we’re losing the skills to do these things ourselves, not to mention the opportunity to realize our interests and capabilities as humans. Check out this recent article by William Greider in The Nation:

"What's needed in American life is a redefinition of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Given the nation's great wealth, the ancient threats of scarcity and deprivation have been eliminated. Yet people remain yoked to
2nd year group after doing a soil experiment2nd year group after doing a soil experiment2nd year group after doing a soil experiment

From the first sustainable agriculture workshop
economic demands despite wanting something more from life -- freedom to explore the mysteries and bring forth all that is within them. Collectively, Americans need to take a deep breath and reconsider what it means to be rich."

As much as I can dream about a Walden-like lifestyle in line with classic American individualist values, those musings get cut short when I realize that I can’t even cook a pot of beans in our wood-burning stove without creating a disaster (“spilling the beans” has an entirely new meaning in this case), and a whole list of other travesties that my pride won’t let me admit here. I have to smile at my 16-year old self: the one who took down all decorations in her room in the suburbs after reading Thoreau, in her frustration to emulate a simplistic life—and realize that not that much has changed. I have a long way to go. And really, in the end, inter-dependence is necessary, as we all depend on each other in seen and unseen ways.

Just some things I’ve been thinking about while watering the trees in the morning.

Although sometimes I sing while I’m doing it too.

Additional photos below
Photos: 20, Displayed: 20


Back of the houseBack of the house
Back of the house

(Porch in progress...)
Front yardFront yard
Front yard

(Yes, it´s stark; the chickens and pigs dug up/ate most of the plants!)
Our kitchenOur kitchen
Our kitchen

Newly painted!
The latrineThe latrine
The latrine

"Outhouse" sounds more quaint and suits it better...
The tilled earthThe tilled earth
The tilled earth

Ready to plant!

14th May 2009

Good entry Robyn. It is nice to hear news from the old little El Salvador and its great people. Hopefully you have a good time visiting your friends and family in The US. I have been looking for the English word for Chipilin and cant find any translation also I have been looking for the English word for Loroco and nothing. I am developing a garden in my back yard and there are lots of plants I dont know the Spanish translation. I am still growing them anyway, funny uh. Well have a good day muchisima suerte en todas tus actividades.
27th August 2010

Hi. Are you still in ES? Bajo Lempa?

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