We’ve been hanging out since we got here. We sat in on a reading session with Claudia and the young children, and have begun to battle the heat. Sweat is soaking us. César and Joe had told us just before we left the house that it would be hot, and they were not kidding. Sitting together on a ledge, Charlotte, Kendahl, and I are met by the outstretched hand of Sister Elena. We introduce ourselves, and Charlotte and I immediately notice that she did not have a bit of trouble saying my name, which has been a common challenge for many of the people I have met here in Central America.
Before we know it, we are in the back seat of a truck with 76 year-old Sister Elena at the wheel, and Claudia tagging along with us in the passenger seat. She can surely drive a stick-shift better than I will ever be able to. We are headed out to an agricultural cooperative just one town over from Tierra Blanca, in San Marcos. This agricultural cooperative was started by the farmers as part of the Agricultural Reform that was initiated just prior to the signing of the Peace Accords in 1992. There are now close to 200 members, with many of them being women. Once we meet up with the woman who is one of the administrators for the cooperative, we find ourselves walking to an abandon plantation home that served as the place of residence for the owners of the land that we are standing on when the land was organized as a hacienda. One owner. Much land. Disrespected workers. That was the life leading up to the armed conflict. The nation was run by about 14 families at one point in time. The economic and social inequalities were immense. We entered the house to find it filled with bats. A large open home that was probably very lavish in the past. Sister Elena is enthusiastic and curious. We soon find ourselves lead by her throughout the building; she even took it upon herself to pull back some barbed wire that would have prevented us from reaching the upstairs level.
The next day, after a relaxed morning, we headed to Puerto Triunfo with Sister Elena to see a bay where there was once thirty boats that the government had simply let sit until they sunk. The sun is shining, there is a relatively strong breeze coming off the water, and we are seeing various peoples come and go via boat and bike. On one side of this road to the bay, there is a pile of coconuts. Along the ledges, there are families spending time with one another. At the end, we find a older structure suspended above the water, and men laying in hammocks on its porch. We also see a tanker tractor-trailer, and a small barge that has pulled up to this road. Out of curiosity, Sister Elena approaches the older gentleman to inquire what is happening. He tells us that he is coconut oil producer, and he is offloading oil from his barge to the tanker for it to be brought into San Salvador and used in various products. I can see the struggle and prosperity in the lines on his face and the dirt on his hands. He is an average Salvadoreño working to just get by. He is proud of his job, and appreciative of our inquiry.
Sunday morning, our last morning in Tierra Blanca with Sister Elena began at 5 AM. We walk down the dirt road from the cultural center to the home of Chambita, and the pig cooperative that he and his friends are a part of. They are butchering a pig. They received enough orders for pork to be able to do so. Aside from this grusome sight, we are shown the pigs’ pens. Some mothers are by themselves. Others are with their piglets. Furthermore, there are other piglets, older than one month, in their own pen since they have reached the age of being able to be away from the mother. Charlotte, Kendhal, and I are given the opportunity to get into one of the pens and hold some of the piglets. Which isn’t like holding a kitten or a puppy. They like to kick and squeel if they aren’t held close to your body and cuddled. Later, Kendahl and I are given the opportunity to help remove a strip of skin from the pig. This is something I don’t think I’d ever have the opportunity to do in the United States. Now, I’m guessing some of you who are reading this and know me personally, are wondering why I would participate in the butchering of a pig when I’m usually a vegetarian (more of a flexatarian) back home in the States. Well, I support sustainable procurement of foods. At home, I eat meat if it has been sustainably sourced and produced. That doesn’t mean Tyson meat from the grocery store. It’s usually a local farm that has produced the meat and has treated the animal in a humane manner, from birth to death. This is the same way that the people of this pig cooperative handle their swine. Each day the pigs and pens are cleaned. The pigs are killed in a humane manner, and processed in a responsible manner, with every part of the animal being used.
Our weekend in Tierra Blanca at the Centro Cultural de Monseñor Romero was enlightening. I felt as if I witnessed Liberation Theology in action. From the agricultural and pig cooperative, to the manner in which Sister Elena treated those she interacted with. Central Americans don’t use the term Liberation Theology because they don’t have to study it. They live it. It is their struggle to become economically indpendent and sustainable. It is in their struggle against the government to retain their land. It is in their faces, smiles, and conversation. It is their fight for justice, peace, and solidarity.