Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Things I will miss from El Salvador:

~pupusas de ayote
~eating fresh papaya and mango
~desayuno tipico
~speaking, reading, and listening to Spanish every day
~the tropical weather
~the sounds of the birds outside our apartment
~the Thursday Farmer’s Market at the Ministry of Agriculture
~café latte helado from The Coffee Cup Centro America
~CCESV’s unique events and offerings
~going to the beach!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

God and Gifts from El Salvador

  Salvadorans frequently use phrases that include God.  “Que Dios te cuide, Que Dios le bendiga, Gracias a Dios, Si Dios quiere, Si Dios permite, Vaya con Dios, Primero Dios, Primeramente Dios, Espero en Dios, Como Dios manda, Dios me guarde, Dios guarde, etc.” God is part of their vocabulary, and for many, their window to the world.  Throughout our time here we have been given special gifts and food from people we’ve worked with.  Both big and small, these gifts made us feel blessed and thankful.  Entonces, como Dios manda, gracias a Dios por estos regalos y que Dios los bendiga! 

Fresh eggs from a small family farm.

Bags of magnificent avocado.

A hammock to take home to Oakland!

Natural Loofah to keep our skin beautiful.  

Tamales de Chipilin and pastries at the end of a workshop.  
These are just some of the delicious treats we were served.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Women and Domestic Violence in El Salvador

In this house we want a life 
free of violence towards women.  
En esta casa queremos una vida libre de violencia hacia las mujeres.

  This photo was taken in Suchitoto.  The image and words are to be found on walls all over the town.  In the time that we’ve been here, I’ve seen various campaign ads on buses and billboards to help raise awareness and protection for women living the reality of domestic violence.  I’ve also seen the President speak about it on TV and read various news articles expressing the dire situation and the need for change.  I’d like to think that the visibility of these campaigns is a sign that El Salvador is on the right path.

Shicali Ceramica, Museo de Arte Popular, and a neighborhood park – a small haven of art, production, and peace

  Tucked between Metrocentro and Universidad de El Salvador is a small neighborhood park, Parque de la Colonia Centroamerica, where Salvadorans go for lunch or a break from work.  On one side of the park is Museo de Arte Popular and a few blocks from it, on another side of the park, is a unique ceramic studio called Shicali. 

  The main attraction at the Museo de Arte Popular is the exhibit about “sorpresas” from Ilobasco.  Here you can see the history of how these “miniaturas” came to be.  My favorite part was seeing whole miniature scenes, like the coffee harvest, sugar cane production, the zoo, and even the signing of the Acuerdo de Paz.   

  At Shicali, most of the twelve workers have some kind of physical challenge (discapacidad fisica) and each contributes to the studio in their own special way.  On the day I was there I met the deaf potter who was throwing large plates.  I also met the woman in the wheel chair who helped me with my purchases.  The ceramic pieces Shicali creates, both functional and decorative, are of extremely high caliber and quite beautiful. 
  Upon visiting the park, museum, and ceramic studio, I felt content to have found a small haven of art, production, and peace hidden within the chaos of San Salvador.

There are some terrific photos of Shicali to be found on Flickr

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sugar Cane in El Salvador...the bitter and the sweet.

  Sugar is a big industry in El Salvador.  According to AAES, la Asociacion Azucarera de El Salvador, the industry generates over 50,000 jobs.  Of the national production, half is consumed in Salvadoran homes.  El Salvador is the ninth biggest exporter of raw sugar in the world.  Eighty percent of the sugar produced in the country is exported to the United States, Canada, Russia, Chile, and Taiwan. 
  Sugar is supposed to be sweet, right?  That’s why we grow it and put it in almost everything.  Sadly, sugar cane workers’ lives, here and in Central America, have a bitter side.  The workers are at great risk for developing kidney disease to the point of sickness and even death.  There are a variety of reasons: exposure to extreme heat and dehydration, exposure to chemical pesticides and herbicides (exacerbated by the industry’s lack of providing proper protection), and the funny fact that the workers may be eating too much sugar…fruit juice, soft drinks, and the sugar cane itself. 
  This recent article in the Guardian is not the first to go into the details of what, why, and how.  What is alarming to me is the lack of action being taken to protect the workers.  Whether the causes are singular or multiple, it IS clear that action can be taken now to prevent kidney disease. 
  Sugar cane isn’t the only agricultural industry that creates ill effects for its workers.  In the United States, many farm workers are undervalued and overexposed to chemicals, pesticides, dehydration, and unethical working and living conditions.
  When will the world begin to give farm workers the value they deserve?  Where is the sweetness to be found in an industrial agriculture system that fails its very own workers?  

This map reflects the increase in deaths from kidney disease between 2005 and 2009.

Driving between El Cuco beach and San Salvador we often found
 ourselves stuck behind one of these trucks overfilled with sugar cane. 

Note: these photos have been borrowed from various news articles.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Cerro Verde: Orquids, Butterflies, and Children; Orquídeas, Mariposas, y Niños

  On our visit to Cerro Verde, we saw lots of orchids and butterflies.  We also saw families and many kids running around.  The park is large and there is plenty of room for picnics or celebrations. We followed pathways in hope of finding hiking trails, but luck was not on our side.   It felt good to breathe fresh air and be surrounded by tall trees and volcanoes hidden by clouds.
  En nuestro viaje a Cerro Verde, vimos muchas orquídeas y mariposas.  Hubo muchas familias y niños jugando. El parque está grande y hay espacio suficiente para tener picnics o celebraciones.  Seguimos caminos con esperanza a encontrar senderos sin suerte.  Fue bueno respirar aire fresco, rodeada de árboles altos y volcanes escondidos por nubes.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Warning – This post is not really about El Salvador; it’s about something that happens in my kitchen on a weekly basis, and could happen in yours if you let it.

  Pizza is not Salvadoran.  It’s true that Pizza Hut is quite popular with Salvadorans and there are many restaurants that include pizza on their menu.  Throughout our time here I’ve sought to find the best pizza place in San Salvador (see I HEART Pizza), and there are still a few places on my list that I’ve yet to try.  When I’m not eating pizza out, I like to make a simple pizza at home. 
  On my recent trip to California, I stopped in at Ponsford Bakery in San Rafael.  In addition to buying some amazing pastries, I bought some whole-wheat flour to bring back with me in my suitcase.  You CAN get whole-wheat flour in San Salvador though you really have to seek it out.  One wise expatriot suggested that I just add afrecho (bran) to white flour for the whole-wheat effect.  It’s not quite the same, but it’s easier to find in stores and does the trick.

  Here I share with you a simple healthy pizza dough recipe that you can easily replicate in your home, wherever that may be.  Buen provecho!

  • 3 cups flour - whatever combination you like best.  Mostly white?  Mostly whole-wheat?  A little afrecho? 
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon dry active yeast
  • 2-3 Tablespoons honey or sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup olive or vegetable oil
Note: The only thing I truly measure when making this is the flour and water.  Everything else is based on a pinch and a splash.  The message for you is “adjust as you see fit”.

  Combine lukewarm water, sugar, and yeast in a bowl.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes.  Add oil, salt, and one cup flour and mix.  Add one more cup flour and mix.  Add the remaining cup of flour, mix in bowl, then knead on counter or table until the dough has a smooth consistency.
  I like to make my dough early in the day, so I put the dough in the fridge, covering it with a plastic bag so it won’t dry out.  About an hour before I’m ready to cook the pizza, I take the dough out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature.  Depending on the size of your pans and how thick you want your pizza crust, separate the dough as necessary (i.e. if you have two pans, divide dough into two balls).  Knead the dough briefly and let it rest on the counter.  You can add oil or flour to do so, depending on the consistency of the dough.  Lightly oil the pans.  After about 10 minutes, spread the dough out to fit the pan.  You can use a rolling pin or wine bottle.  I like to use my hands.  Let the dough rest another 10 minutes.  Spread out as necessary into pan, then add toppings.  Bake on the bottom shelf in a preheated 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until golden on the bottom and a little toasty on the top.  Much more satisfying than Pizza Hut!

Some of my favorite combinations are:

  • Fresh ricotta (La Lucania), thinly sliced zucchini, and chili flakes
  • Bell pepper, mushrooms, black olives, tomato sauce and mozzarella
  • Red onion, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, and whatever combination of cheese I happen to have in the fridge

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Serenity and Creativity in Panchimalco; Casa Taller Encuentros and delights along the way

  Casa Taller Encuentros exudes tranquility, creativity, collaboration, and vision.  For the town of Panchimalco, it offers a different perspective AND opportunity.  It inspires hope, attracts attention, and brings visitors from all over.  What would the world be like if every small town had a place like this?

Places to stop along the way to Panchimalco:

View from El Mirador.  Can you see Lago Ilopango in the distance?

Learn about one of El Salvador’s most esteemed
 writers and artists, Salurrué, at La Casa del Escritor
If you're lucky, you can meet Pantera, the black cat.

Salurrué meditated and dreamed in this room.  He liked to paint here.

Puerta del Diablo, The Devil’s Door
Be sure to go on a clear day for amazing views! 
Puerta del Diablo, The Devil’s Door

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Tamale Workshop and the fun in sharing and learning together

 Part of our experience in El Salvador has involved workshops of all kinds.  I have taken various workshops offered through MARTE and CCESV.  My husband has taught numerous workshops to fellow and future English teachers.  And I myself have led a series of workshops for women at a few universities.  So when we were invited to a tamale making get together in a fellow professor’s home, they smartly called the gathering a “Tamale Workshop”.  Our host led us through the steps to get us to a fantastic dinner of tamales de chipilín and salsa de tomate.  
  Is there something you want to learn how to make?  Is there something you love making?  If so, I encourage you to seek out your own “Tamale Workshop” or “INSERT-HERE-WHATEVER-FOOD-YOU-LIKE Workshop”.  Food is a great way to share with each other and many of us are experts in at least one family dish or traditional food.  Creating a “workshop” is a great excuse to gather some people you’d like to get to know better, share knowledge, and have a good time.

Chipilín is a popular herb grown and used here in El Salvador.

Plantain or banana leaves are cut and cleaned to wrap the tamales with.

The masa is dried ground corn mixed with water.  Corn flour and water could also be used.  A simple white cheese is cut into strips.  In the blender are sautéed onions, chipilín, and water.  Once the wet mixture is added to the masa, we added spices, salt, and olive oil. 

Chipilín leaves are added in at the end for texture.

The tamale assembly reminded me a bit of rolling a sushi roll.  Pack it tight!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Universities and their Chapels, Safe and Sacred Spaces

  Universities in El Salvador are like sanctuaries.  Generally speaking, they are safe, green, open spaces, free from traffic, crime, and graffiti.  Thanks to my husband’s job, I’ve had the chance to visit more than a few campuses, most of which are private and religious-based.  My usual response to being on campus is a sense of relief and joy; Relief at being able to walk around in a relaxed environment, and joy seeing young Salvadorans chatting in the halls, smooching on the grass, and going to and from classes. 
  The religious-based universities in El Salvador have chapels.  When I find myself in one I like to take a few moments to sit, reflect in silence, thank the universe for what I have, ask the universe for what I want, and feel the energy that comes when you allow yourself to rest.  Despite the oppression, lies, and baggage connected with organized religion, I appreciate, and even envy, the rituals where sacred space and community are created.
  UCA, Universidad Centroamericana Jose Simeon Canasis a particularly lovely campus in San Salvador.  It is rich with history and played a poignant role in the civil war.  Visiting their chapel you’ll find colorful scenes by Fernando Llort, as well as large drawings of people being tortured called “Stations of the Cross”.  You’ll also find the bodies of the six Jesuit Priests who were killed by the Salvadoran Military.  In 1989 these priests, along with an employee and her daughter, were shot to death in the early morning on the campus grounds. Near the chapel is a Museum for Martyrs and Center for Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero.  The history is chilling, but it’s impressive to see how it is honored at UCA.
  If you happen to visit one of these universities, I encourage you to take a moment, whether under a tree or in front of Madonna, to reflect in silence, appreciate all you have, and sit with the unknown.

From Don Bosco University in Soyapango, Universidad Don Bosco

From UNICAES in Santa Ana, Universidad Católica
From UCA…

P.S. UCA has one of the best bookstores in the country 
featuring many Salvadoran writers.