Greetings everyone, from the beautiful guesthouse in sunny San Salvador!
Our first day was pretty much an orientation into the program; getting to know our itinerary, as well as getting accustomed to the conditions/surroundings. We left LAX at about 12:30am Saturday morning, had a 5 hour flight (in which I mostly slept, and watched almost all of Argo until the plane landed!), and we arrived in the tiny and jam-packed San Salvador airport at about 11am. Went through customs, got our passport stamped, and soon we were boarding the bus! As soon as we got onto the bus, we met with our delegation leader and translator, Theodora “Tedde” Simon. Tedde works with CRISPAZ, the organization that planned our entire trip itinerary, found us a guesthouse to stay at, and pretty much just planned the whole thing. She’s originally from Oregon and went to USF (another Jesuit college!) for undergrad, and upon asking her story, she actually fell in love with the people and culture of El Salvador after doing the Casa de la Solidaridad program back in college! Which is crazy, because I did the Casa Bayanihan program back in 2011. She thought that was really cool, and so we bonded. (: She’s super nice and has really, really good Spanish. She even married a Salvadorian! She is the epitome of a dedicated, Christ-like woman and a missionary who, through her work in El Salvador, continues to do great things for others. She was really inspiring to be around!
EJ, Yeti and I on the plane
Hello, from the skies
Welcome to El Salvador!
The bus that took us everywhere for the week!
After boarding the bus and officially meeting Tedde (who was around with us for pretty much the whole trip, so we got to know her pretty well), we headed out from the airport. Driving along the roads, I got my first real glimpse of El Salvador. Even as we took off from the crowded airport, my first reaction to the land was that, that was it: land! I saw so much land, grassfields, grazing cows, and crop fields. They were just springing up everywhere, and along the sides of the road were little market stands with a man or woman standing behind it, selling fruits or drinks. I was so surprised with how little of the actual city I saw; it was all very much rural, all farmland. After about 45 minutes of driving and chit-chatting in the car with the group (at this point everyone was starting to really get to know each other more and more), we stopped at our first site on the itinerary: the chapel of Santiago Nanualco. Yep, we were diving right in. It’s this beautiful little church on the side of the road, built in the late 90’s and maintained by farmers living nearby. And it isn’t just an average little chape. This was the site where four innocent U.S. churchwomen were killed in 1980, by the Salvadorian Army during the civil war (which I will talk about soon, or in a later post). On the evening of December 2nd, 1980, these four women–Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kazel–were coming home down the same road from the very same airport where we just landed and got picked up from. They were on the way back from a conference in Nicaragua. That evening, they had no idea what was coming for them: on their way home, their car was surrounded by the Army and the women were taken captive, brutally raped and tortured, and were all killed. They were all involved with the Church, and had been doing missionary work in different parts of El Salvador. Their lives were dedicated to being with the people here, educating them, teaching them about faith and the word of God. And they were all killed. We visited the chapel first thing and it was hard-hitting, seeing the grave where a beautiful monument lies. The chapel was built for them, with simple, beautiful decorations and a picture commemorating their lives right in the center. There was also an artwork commemorating the life of Monsenor Archbishop Oscar Romero, whom I will also talk about in a later post. It was a peaceful, serene place. I said a quick prayer to God about the four women, and then we all prayed together as a group for the first time. It felt very haunting, yet serene to be standing on the grounds where they had been killed. These four women were beautiful and led inspiring, Christ-like lives. They are truly martyrs for the Lord.
The monument in memory of the four U.S. churchwomen who were killed (chapel building behind)
A smiley Anthony Garrison, one of the staff members on the trip
After a quick lunch (our first pupusa meal, provided by Crispaz!), we went back into the bus and headed into central San Salvador, which was where we were staying. We were greeted by Sonia, the housekeeper of Alexa’s Guesthouse, the beautiful house where we would be staying for most of the week. Sonia is such a funny, nice lady! She was already very welcoming and really easy to get along with. She served us this really good tortilla soup with special homemade fruit juice, and it was delicious. After a little siesta (in which we picked our rooms, 5 girls in one room, 3 boys in another, and 2 girls downstairs, while the staff all had their own rooms. The rooms are pretty small but perfect size to fit all 12 of us!), we went back down and had our trip orientation with Tedde. We also met Francisco Mena, the director of CRISPAZ, who shared with us about his experience in El Salvador and how he has close ties to the culture here. He talked to us about CRISPAZ, the organization we would be working with for the whole week. CRISPAZ (Christians for Peace in El Salvador) was founded back in 1984, during the civil war with the government, as a place of refuge for the oppressed people. It was founded by men of different religions who wanted to come together to do something about all of the horrific massacres and fighting that were going on around the rural communities. Now, CRISPAZ has grown as a place of education and advocacy, accompaniment, mission work and cultural awareness. Francisco talked about CRISPAZ’s main component of the “reverse mission,” which was basically the idea that service begins the moment you leave the service site. It’s not just about what happens during service, but also what happens afterward.. how you take the experience home with you, and continue to live it out day by day. It’s about solidarity with others. Something Francisco also said that I really liked was about “focusing on the insistence of God; answering what He is calling us to do. That is living for Him and putting our faith in action.” I really, really liked that. At our meeting, Francisco also talked about the history of CRISPAZ and how it continues to accompany those who are in need, living in total solidarity, and continuing “la lucha”– perseverance through hardship and struggle. He talked about the struggles many Salvadorians went through, both today and during the war; including thousands of human rights abuses, migration issues, and of course, murder. “We are all about bringing the kingdom of God down here, to Earth.”
The whole time I kept thinking about how this day, Day One, was just the beginning. I was about to go on a mission, a journey, that would open my eyes and change my perspectives. Yeah, I was pretty excited. I went to sleep both exhausted and really well that night, still not believing I would wake up in the morning not in my own bed, but in El Salvador. Who would have thought!
The bathroom/shower shared by 5 girls! Funny thing about El Salvador; the system isn’t that great, so you can’t drink the water. So whenever you brush your teeth, you have to use your water bottle with the water from a fresh source, like the jug downstairs (not the sink!). It was really weird getting used to! But showering in the water is fine.
We took a little break between lunch and our meeting to walk a few blocks from our house to the new mall in San Salvador. It was a big plaza full of nice little stores. Everything was pretty cheap! I wanted to buy stuff already! Haha
All in all, it was a beautiful, eye-opening & already heavy first day. I couldn’t wait to see what else was in store.