Olivia from Foundation Cristosal picked us up and 8:30 and we were on our way to La Quesera. Noah met us, and we transferred to his pickup truck. 4 of us were in the cab (front and back seats) and the rest road in the back of the truck. This is not uncommon in El Salvador -- I saw many people riding in the back of trucks -- even on the highways. We had to transfer to Noah's truck because we had to go through some rivers and travel along some rough roads.
We arrived at La Quesera monument. It was in a beautiful spot. Noah explained the story of what happened there, based on the account of someone who escaped -- only 6 people made it out alive from that massacre. Over 600 were massacred. The soldiers started by bombing in a circle around the bottom of the mountain, forcing people to the top. They kept this up -- moving the people closer and closer to the top through bombings. Then the soldiers moved in, encircling the people. Men were separated into one group, women in another group, the children and youth in another group. The men were killed, the women were raped and killed. The babies were killed by being impaled on stakes. The mural depicts the slaughter, and includes an image of Oscar Romero. The large metal "box" that we were sitting on -- we didn't find out until Noah told us -- was were the remains of the 600 were buried in a mass grave.
Noah provided us with a background on the guerrillas and the soldiers, and what happened during the war. Such atrocities were carried out -- so many murdered. Noah asked me to offer a prayer at the end -- I couldn't. I simply said we need to have a few moments of silence -- there are no words to express comfort in the wake of what happened there. In this picture is a view from the mural -- once a year a priest from the Roman Catholic Church offers a mass here in memory of those who died.
We went back down the mountain and went to a place called El Conacaste -- an open air restaurant. Olivia helped with ordering -- I saw what looked like roast chicken -- I really wanted a piece of that. I asked for "pollo" -- and was quickly told that this was "gallina" -- pollo indio -- kind of like a free range small bird. Turns out it came with soup. There were innards in the soup (which I pulled out and put aside -- I don't eat those), along with something I thought was a button mushroom. It wasn't. It was the tiny egg that was in the chicken when it was slaughtered. I figured that out pretty quickly, and fished the other egg out of my soup and put it to the side. Otherwise it was an absolutely delicious soup!
After lunch we jumped back in Noah's truck and headed to El Carmen. The roads were much rougher going up to El Carmen -- the road had been basically washed out by a horrific flood. The company who runs the dam that released all the water was supposed to, according to the President of El Salvador: 1. rebuild the levies. 2. dredge the river. 3. build flood shelters. 4. contribute to replacing the crop that was lost due to the flooding, and 5. repair the road. To date (and it's been 2 years) the only thing that was done was to build the storm shelter. If this kind of deliberate flooding happens again, it will totally cut off the people from the town below. As it is, the children walk down the hill every day (and trust me, it's far), and back up. They leave their school shoes at the bottom at a house of a nice woman. They walk barefoot through the mud -- they don't want to get their school shoes dirty.
When we arrived at El Carmen there were two boys playing -- one of them, Brian, is Noah's godson. They were cute -- they followed us wherever we went. Noah shared with us that the mortality rate in El Carmen is high among newborns. One of the boy's grandfather took a look at the boy when he was born and announced, "that one won't make it." He did, though!
The condition of the road makes getting into and out of El Carmen very difficult. There is only one truck up there. The people there told us that in the rainy season Noah is the only person they see -- he's the only one crazy enough to drive up there. Walter spent time with the members the poultry cooperative. They have a new business plan as the location and working of the old chicken coop was poorly planned and designed. Cristosal helped them with the new plan. The first goal is to produce/raise 500 chickens per week to sell. The business plan calls for "full capacity" operation of 500 chickens per day. This would be a big boon for El Carmen. In addition, Cristosal is working with them on repairing their water pump. The woman in the picture lost her arm as a child after a plane dropped a bomb.
While Walter was speaking with the board, Noah took us on a walk through El Carmen. He pointed down the road where the new poultry area would be. We then walked to Lupe's house. Noah asked Lupe if it was okay for us to come to talk with her. She said of course! Lots of chicks running around, with hens and a rooster. Her home was very simple -- an outside room to cook, and the main part of the house. Noah explained to us, and Lupe concurred that Lupe started cooking for the guerrillas from age 10, making tortillas. She shared that she would put the tortillas in a plastic bag and swim with them across the river to take to the guerrillas. The soldiers never stopped her. When she was a little older she joined the guerrillas -- and served them as a cook. Lupe is said to be the best tortilla maker. I told her the next time I come I want her to show me -- she promised she would.
We then went through the soccer field up another small hill to a house that was nestled next to a cliff. The owners of the house, Concepcion (known as Con) and Alfonso, donated the land next to their home -- again, perched near the cliff -- for the building of the church. We walked to that spot -- it has a beautiful ceida tree (I think that's the way you spell that). Alfonso was badly injured during the war. Most of his right forearm was gone, along with now having a misshapen hand. When he was injured, he laid in a mud puddle for a week before being captured. As part of the trade negotiated for the release of Duarte's daughter, Alfonso was sent to Cuba and then to Germany for treatment. When he was found, there were worms in his arm. He has learned to be a carpenter.
I admired the oven in Con's back yard -- she took me to see it. She makes rice bread. She told me that she puts the wood in, and starts the fire. When the bottom of the over and the top are hot and the fire is ash, she pulls out the ashes and puts in the bread. The oven holds the heat for a long time. I told her I want to bring my husband back here so she can show him how she makes the bread -- I know Steve will love that -- to make bread in that beautiful oven!
Noah told us that after a disaster, it was the Episcopal Diocese of El Salvador that went up to help them. All the members of the El Carmen community became Episcopalians after that. According to Noah (through members of the community at El Carmen), an evangelical group came and tried to proselytize the community -- the community ran them out of town. Same thing happened when gang members showed up. This is a wonderfully kind, but tough group. The picture here is where the church will be built.
When we went up to El Carmen, Noah pointed out the bridge that was built by Cristosal and the people
We left El Carmen, and went back down that extremely bumpy road, crossing rivers to get to the main road. Guillermo met us and we got back in the van and headed back to San Salvador.
That evening, we went to a Pupuseria with a wonderful panoramic view of San Salvador -- at night it was glistening! It was nice and cool up there, which was a welcome relief for me. Mariachi came and sang, which was fun. I had two pupusas, pictured here. One was beans and cheese, the other cheese and loroca (I think that's how you spell that) -- it's a kind of flower. I couldn't get the people of El Carmen out of my mind. So isolated. I thought about the things I take for granted -- the comforts I have -- that they most certainly don't. The access to all kinds of foods and diversions.
I wonder when I come back to El Carmen -- will the road be repaired? Will it be gone? Will Con and Lupe be there to teach us bread and tortilla making? I hope all will be with -- I pray all will be well.
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Location:La Quesera and El Carmen