Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Lives in the countryside

In the past year I’ve visited a number of aldeas, rural villages, in the parish of Dulce Nombre, to get to know the people and their lives and to help them with their pastoral work.

I usually spend one or two nights, preaching at their Sunday Celebration of the Word, meeting with the children in religious education, and talking with a lot of people. Occasionally I meet with the youth group and a small base community.

I stay in people’s homes and eat with them. They are extremely generous and hospitable. This past weekend in Candelaria I could have eaten seven meals on Sunday if I had accepted all the invitations. I think they were vying to see who could feed me. The meals are very simple – usually tortillas and beans with cheese and an occasional egg. This past Sunday’s lunch, though, included delicious roasted potatoes and pataste, also called huisquil, a type of squash. They usually offer me more food than I can eat. They don’t find it too strange that I’m a vegetarian and don’t eat meat – especially when I tell them that I have enough protein and I am leaving the meat protein for them.

In the last two visits I’ve spent time with the children in religious education, speaking to them, teaching them new ice-breakers (called dinámicas, here). Though the older kids are often shy, the younger ones are often enthusiastic and very affectionate. Last Saturday when I got off the bus in Candelaria, the kids in the first two levels of religious education greeted me with sustained applause. Two weeks ago, as I left Plan Grande, three little girls ran after me to give me a few pieces of candy and hugs.

Life in the aldeas is hard. Many communities have water, but it is often in short supply during the dry season. And despite the fast that there are wells on private land near the villages some have to seek water sources miles away and dig ditches for the water lines.

A number of people do have small fincas, a few acres of coffee, that they cultivate. A few have some sugar cane fields. But most have to rent land to plant their basic crops of corn and beans. The land is often on steep hillsides, far from their houses. But it is often hard to find enough land that the landowners are willing to rent.

Though most families have chickens, very few have small gardens near their houses to grow vegetables. Father Efraín, the pastor, hopes to encourage more people to plant small gardens near their homes to provide more and varied nutrition in their diets. Malnutrition is a problkem, even int he countryside.

The area in the parish of Ducle Nombre is rugged and quite mountainous. Thus access is a big problem. A few have pickups, some have horses, but most people get around on footor rely on a few buses. It doesn’t help that most villages are very isolated, accessible on small dirt roads that turn to mud in the rainy season. A few buses that go out to rural communities, but most just get to the main towns. Since I hope to be able to help more in the parish of Dulce Nombre I am thinking of buying a used pick up, which will have to be four wheel drive to get through the muddy roads.

Life is hard, but the people have a deep faith and are very hospitable. Visiting with them has been a real blessing. Being able to help them with some projects has been a real gift from God.

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