Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Soul: A Final Note

Near the end of his book Damasio notes that it’s not that we don’t have a soul “it is just that soul and spirit, with all their dignity and human scale, are now complex and unique states of an organism.” It is fine if we continue to refer to the human soul. For example one may still refer to one’s loved one as their “soul mate.” Perhaps what we really need to do is redefine the term soul. Regardless, given what we are learning from scientific study regarding human behavior and the complexities of how an immaterial soul would function, it is probable that man has no immaterial soul and that we are right to believe that man has no immaterial soul. What soul we do have is tied to the wonderful array of feelings and ideas and experiences grounded completely in our biology. There is nothing immaterial about us.

The Soul: Some Practical Problems

All this has led me to do some of my own thinking. It seems to me that there are some practical problems for the soul. In order for the human soul to function in practice, several complications need to be addressed.

First there is the question of the means by which the soul would initiate, prompt, instigate or influence action in the body. To my knowledge no one has identified a means for the soul to do this. One could speculate. For example, one’s soul might have a means to stimulate certain nerves in the brain that it knows would trigger certain intellectual responses or perhaps it could cause certain glands to secrete chemicals to evoke a desired emotion. This of course could happen but I don’t know that any one has ever demonstrated that it has happened or does happen.

Even if one could conceive of how the soul could affect the body, how would the soul know what to affect when? The soul must have a means by which it determines the condition of the body. So that the souls actions on the body would be relevant to the body. That is, it must know whether the body is energetic, tired, sleeping, in peril, remembering something happy or sad, etc. Otherwise your body might be at a funeral and if the soul can’t tell what’s going on it might try to influence you to be happy and laugh. This would appear to be rude at best and insane at worse. In order for the soul to know what the body is up to it might follow around the body and constantly monitor what the body sees and hears, what it thinks, and its various emotional states, and what information it processes at a given time. Certainly it would have to if it were to act with any relevance with the body. Is this probable? Verifiable? No.

In addition the soul would need a means to share the memory of the body. I can think of two ways this might happen. The soul could constantly poll neurons and regions of the brain responsible for memory. So, it would know all the past relevant experiences of the person and if need be prompt the body as indicated above. Or the soul could develop and maintain its own parallel memory. That is, every time an event occurs affecting the body the soul could “bank it” and the means of recalling it in the physical memory and then perhaps, as discussed above, anytime it perceived something happening with the body which something in the memory bared upon the soul could perhaps prompt the body to recall the same memory stored in the brain.

The previous difficulties involved how the soul affects the body in this soul body relationship. Now we turn to our attention to how the body affects or acts on the soul. I can’t think of a method or mechanism or apparatus by which the body could affect the immaterial soul. That is, I can’t think of how the body would engage the soul. Perhaps a body could think or feel soul thoughts or feelings. Perhaps the body/brain could sort of say “I’m not sure how to handle this issue of love…” (or morals or some other soul issue) “…I’m going to pass this off to the soul.” Some of the artistically oriented readers might be thinking that that is exactly how it happens. They might point to times when a good idea or feeling just came to them out of the blue or after they slept or while they were in an attitude of openness to their soul. However, the serendipity that happens to us occasionally when we take a break and just reflect on something can just as easily be explained by brain/body function. Even if it couldn’t be, how could you be sure it was your soul that caused the serendipity? How do you know it’s not some other force?

This leads us to the alternative of the body being merely passive in this relationship. If the body is a purely passive entity in it’s relation to its soul then it would seem that the soul would be nothing more than another of the myriad of external forces acting on the physical organism. It would stimulate various functions of the body not unlike the external physical world around us acting on our various senses and bodily functions. And taking this a step further, since the body has no way to actively engage the soul, unlike the physical world, then the actions this mysterious soul would take on the body would appear random to the body. (Although there may be certain trends or themes which might appear.)

Another option exists where the soul functions as a passive recorder of the body’s experiences. So, that it can carry that background and history into the afterlife. That is, so it could be us, after we die. This is possible but I’m not sure it is probable. And as far as the here and now is concerned, it concedes the point that the body functions essentially independently and does not need the soul.

As you can see, explaining how the soul would work is very challenging and complicated. In my estimation more complicated than explaining human behavior based completely on the physiology of the body. This leads us to call on an old tool for clear thinking called Occum’s Razor. Occum’s Razor is a principle that states that if there are multiple ways of explaining something, the simplest explanation is probably the best. I think that while you can’t prove we don’t have a soul tagging along with us it is simpler to explain life and human behavior without a soul.

The Soul: Another Book

The conversation mentioned in the previous post kicked me back into gear and my brother told me about another book on this subject called Descartes’ Error by Antonio Damasio. This is a relatively old book. He has newer ones out on the subject but this is the one that I could get my hands on. So that’s what I read. First I’d like to say that Dr. Damasio seems like a lot nicer guy than Dr. Crick, but not having meet either of them it is probably premature to pass judgment. Anyway he has a more pleasant writing style.

Damasio proposes that Renee Descartes made an error by holding that the intellectual rational part of man was completely separate from the physical part of man. He demonstrates that experimentation on the brain and body have all but proven that what we think of as the mind or soul is actually a phenomenon generated by the actions and interactions of the brain and body. That the body as a whole, with a large burden of the work falling to the brain, is responsible for all the behaviors and actions typically attributed to the soul. “To say that the mind comes from the body is indisputable…” he states and does a very convincing job of backing up his statement. I won’t be able to do him justice but I’ll try to give you a feel of Damsio’s book. He works with a lot of people with various types of brain damage and in his work they are able to identify the specific areas of the brain that are damaged. They put these folks through a variety of rather creative exercises which pinpoint various behaviors. Exercises involving ethical choices, tolerance for risk, etc. In so doing they are able to identify what parts of the brain have a significant influence on those behaviors. He also spends some time talking about how the body affects the brain and the brain affects the body through chemicals generated by the body in a sort of continuous feedback loop generating feelings and emotions. The basic gist boils down, in my opinion, to the fact that things that we normally think of as the domain of the soul like love, morals, feelings, courage, sense of duty, even religious beliefs can be explained by the brain, the body, and their interactions. And to take it a step further he says it gets kind of hard to distinguish between the brain and the body. After all the brain is part of the body.

The Soul: The Early Years and a Book.

I was not unlike most of the rest of Americans today of which, according to a recent Harris poll, about every 85 out of a hundred seem to believe there is some kind of soul that lives on after death. Now that’s not exactly the same as saying we have an immaterial soul but I think you will agree it certainly implies it. Anyway I went on believing this throughout my youth and early adult life until I hit seminary school. (I like that term. “seminary school.” Jim Morrison used it.) I was pretty okay with the idea until I got to thinking about one of the main teachings at this school regarding the nature of man which was that man (that is human beings or Homo Sapiens) was in essence intellect, emotion, and will. This got me to thinking about what distinguished man from animals because in my youth we had a few farm animals about the place and having worked with them some they seemed to have these three things also. That is farm animals had intellect (it wasn’t a particularly powerful one), emotion (the ewes seemed to suffer what in humans would pass as sorrow when separated from their lambs), and will (especially when we were trying to get them into a truck or pen or other confinement that did not appeal to them). When that little problem came up the only thing that was offered as an alternative was our soul, our immortal, immaterial soul. The animals don’t have one. We do.

I got out of school and went about my business believing, albeit conscious of some misgivings, I had an immaterial soul until I discovered a book called The Astonishing Hypothesis by Francis Crick. It’s been a while since I read it but he was basically arguing that all behavior traditionally attributed to the soul can be attributed to the brain. He was very convincing although he was kind of arrogant in his presentation which was off putting. Anyway, he more or less convinced me. Actually not really. He just made me think about it a lot more. And thinking about it a lot more I drew the conclusion that it didn’t really matter that much if we had a soul or not. Even if we didn’t have a soul people would still probably fall in love and try to do good things and believe in right and wrong and so forth. So what difference did it make? Besides I had kids to raise and a career to attend to soul or no soul. So, I kind of left off the question for a while pondering it only occasionally while waiting for kids to get out of soccer practice or dance class.

Recently things took a slight turn and my ponderings on the soul took on a more proactive nature. My wife and I were at a party and we were talking to a gentleman who had recently graduated with some kind of a Zoology degree. I asked him if he felt that there was something about humans that made them qualitatively different from other animals or if they were just another species essentially the same as other animals only with more complicated brains and other differing characteristics. (How about that for mixing.) He said he didn’t think there was any difference and that kicked off a little discussion with the group of people we were around. Some folks mention language, appreciation of beauty, etc. as things that distinguished us as humans. (Curiously no one mentioned the soul.) However, the group quickly reached consensus when my wife suggested that orgasms are what set humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom and we moved on to the next subject.

The Soul: Introduction to My Personal Odyssey of Not Discovering the Soul

I, like most people, grew up believing I had a soul. By which, and with out getting into a voluminous discussion on the subject, I mean the immaterial real me. The part of me that is not limited to my body or even the capabilities of my brain. The part of me that lives on after my dashing good looks and sleek physique have expired. The following posts outline my personal journey that has led me to believe that we humans do not have an immaterial soul. Please note that these posts only regard the idea of the human soul. I’m not trying to comment on whether other types of immaterial beings exist. That is “things” that are not part of the physical natural world. Things like God, gods, angels, demons, etc. That is for another discussion. In these posts I am only discussing whether individual humans have an immaterial part of them that is uniquely their own as a human.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


We said good bye to our friends and headed back. I was the coordinator for the day. So it was a little stressful for me trying to make sure we all got on the planes but it was an uneventful trip back.


Today they celebrated 25th anniversary of the death of Oscar Romero. He was the Arch Bishop of El Salvador who became and advocate of poor and spoke out against the government. He was assassinated/murdered while performing a mass 25 years ago and this event essentially started the civil war. Oh yeah. Beans for breakfast.

In the morning we had a 4.5 hour church meeting. Representatives from each of the Cantones surrounding Berlin. I’d say there where 300 to 400 people there. It was outside but thankfully there was a tarp over the whole proceedings. It was also broadcast on the radio. When the delegate from the Cantone we were at yesterday came in I noticed the Hefe and the lieutenant with whom he was speaking when I tried to have a conversation yesterday. The lieutenant saw me and recognized me. There was lots of singing and sermons and talk of social justice. Lots of people were recognized. The place was packed. Lots of kids and everything. The kids were remarkably well behaved given the length and the heat. Finally we had lunch and the parish team had cooked up 100s of chicken dinners which I attempted to help pass out but there were too many people trying to help so I mostly got in the way. Several of our delegation ate the chicken then we discovered that there was a special meal prepared for us back and the parish house. Fish. Which I understand is considered a premium meal in the area given the fact that we were in the mountains and a long way from easy access to any fish. It was a very generous and honoring meal. However, for our North American tastes it was a little rough eating. We were all very grateful none the less.

After lunch I headed across town to our bunk house to get ready for the next activity of the day. As I headed over I saw the lieutenant from the Cantone from yesterday. I struck up a conversation with him and (contrary to yesterday) he was very willing to talk. We talked about our families. He has an older daughter and a very young son. We talked about how he got to town. By bus. I tried to talk to him about their crops but my Spanish didn’t cut the mustard. I was really glad I was able to talk to him and I felt he really enjoyed talking to me. When we got to the down town area we shook hands and parted ways.

Since it was our last day several of us decided to climb on the flatbed and take the 45 minute (read 2 hours. Travel in El Salvador seems to take twice as long as it is supposed to.) drive to the beach. This turned out to be awesome. We traveled for a long time on a highway but eventually we ended up on a dirt road and we were going by a bunch of sugar cane fields and typical small El Salvadoran homes when all of the sudden we heard this super loud techno music. I looked off to one side and there was this out door disco area with lights and huge speakers. It was at the corner of a T intersection. We turned onto this gravel road which ran in both directions as far as you could see along the beach. Next to the road was a row of thatched hut type things which seemed to be open for anyone to camp in. And you seemed to be allowed to just walk through. Some had small groups of families or little shops in them. Beyond the huts was a rather grey beach. Very nice. About 3 foot waves throwing up a mist in both directions. The beach was lined with palm trees. There were people as far as you could see but not crowded. Most folks where swimming in their clothes. Mostly natives. A few boogie boards. It was very undeveloped. There where a few guys pushing ice cream carts, a small tienda / surf shop with a few items to sell, and the disco and that was about it. Behind the beach was a few rows of shacks as far as you could see also. The water was awesome. We had a blast. It was a great way to end the week. My last good earplugged nights sleep in El Salvador.


Today I got up early as usual. Beans. Today I got to go to the Cantone with the medical team. This was a great day. A half dozen of us road out of town and into the jungle in the back of a pick up on a dirt road. The rest were in the back of a flat bed truck. A little way up the road a little old lady was sitting on the side of the road. We stopped and picked her up. On the way up into the mountains we saw a cart pulled by two oxen on the side of the road. We have no idea who was tending them. When we got to the village we helped the little old lady climb down from the truck and a little girl ran up to her and gave her a big hug and they walked on down the road together. Later in the day we saw the grandma at the clinic.

The village had prepared for us. There was something that looked like a very tall park shelter. It was open with no walls and a tin roof. Under the roof where some benches and they had set up three examining rooms by hanging black plastic tarps on sticks. This is where the doctors saw the patients. There where already quite a few patients waiting when we arrived. There was not room on all the benches for everyone. For the most part through out the day the women children and older folks went through the line. The older boys and men stood around the periphery until late in the afternoon after all the women and children had a chance to go through.

For the first part of the morning I mostly helped entertain the young kids while they waited to see the doctor. We had a lot of bubble blowing. They loved that. We also played pica pica gonzo (duck duck goose).

Several of us also talked to some of the teenage boys. One of them indicated that he was getting ready to start working in the fields. He gets paid $4 a day for his work.

The Hefe of the village showed up some time after lunch. He like the other men waited off to the side. I attempted to strike up a conversation with him and the gentleman (one of his lieutenants) standing with him. They seemed more interested in speaking with each other than with me. It was kind of awkward so I gave up trying to talk to them.

I tried work in the pharmacy again for a little while counting pills and helping fill orders. Then for a while I actually tried to hand out the prescriptions. This is very hard to do when you don’t speak Spanish. I was in the middle explaining to one of the moms what I’m sure was the means of overdosing her kids when someone stepped in who know Spanish.

Later in the afternoon we played soccer. The “Clinic” that they set up for us was on a ridge with a fairly deep valley on either side. The ridge behind had a school about half way up it. At the bottom of the valley between these two ridges was a soccer field/horse pasture. About four or five of us Norte Americanos played and a bunch of El Salvadorans. Mostly teenagers and kids. One of the high school girls in our group played. The El Salvadorans thought that was pretty novel. Occasionally a pig would wander through the field. I ended up playing goalie and did pretty well I thought once I got the hang of it. I did give up a couple cheep goals. There was one El Salvadoran who was a real moron. He mocked our attempts at Spanish and played dirty. He clearly didn’t care for us. Everybody else was pretty cool and it looked like they were telling the moron to cool it.

At the end of the day after the 3 doctors saw 300 patients we all piled on to a flat bed truck and headed back to town through the mountain jungle in the dark. On the way back we stopped at a small cluster of houses and the doctors hopped out and examined a small child by flash light. The child had been crippled from birth and never seen a doctor. I’m not sure what the doctors did for the kid but it sounds like they thought that maybe he had had a slight case of Polio.

Also, on the way back we were joined by several El Salvadorans. One guy was taking a car battery in to town to get it charged. They use car batteries in lieu of having power lines running to their house. A man and his daughter joined us and a man carrying a sack of something that is like a banana to sell in town. One of the interpreters sat next to me and the guy with the bag. So, I tried to have a conversation with him. He wasn’t very interested talking. So, I talked to the interpreter. She is from El Salvador but went to college in Washington. She planned to live in El Salvador. I asked about her family. She said her mom worked for a NGO (Non Governmental Agency) and was in Indonesia helping with the Tsunami. Then I asked about her Dad and she said he was killed in the war. This was followed by an awkward silence. After a few long moments I asked her to tell us a little more about her father. She said he was active with the rebels on the urban front and was killed when she was like 18 months old so she does not remember him at all. During the week we meet several people who were impacted by the war in various ways including families who had members fighting on both sides. 70,000 people died. It is difficult to find people who were not impacted in some way by the war. I probably mentioned this before but I got the sense that for many just below the surface a lot of anger still resides.

Earplugs, Sleep.


Another early start. Beans for Breakfast. Another day working on the clinic. I talked with some of the El Salvadorans again. I was even able to make a couple jokes in Spanish. Two of the El Salvadorans spent the whole day cutting a set of steal rods and fashioning a fairly intricate metal lattice door. This a common feature in El Salvador. It was pretty impressive craftsmanship. Wiped out after a pretty hard days work. Nothing else to say about the day. That evening some couples who ran some non government sponsored preschools on the edge of town (economically depressed areas by El Salvadoran standards) came over to pick up the school supplies we brought. They were dressed up in their best clothes and looked immaculate. You could tell this was a big deal to them. This brings me to another observation. Even though there was limited running water people were very clean. Except for the ever present drunks and the men who had been working in the fields everybody was very clean. Headed to bed. Earplugs. Slept like a log.


Breakfast with beans again. The medical contingent went up to a Cantone which is what they call the mountain villages. I understood that they saw about 150 people. I stayed back with the construction crew and we worked on the clinic in Berlin. When we got to the clinic we found that the old roof had been ripped off and the new one placed back on the portion of the clinic we were refurbishing. (Materials were from your donations.) We were supposed to paint but we understood that we didn’t have any paint. So, we commenced to scraping. There were also some louvered windows which after a brief interchange with the hefe (boss) I understood we were to tear completely out. Fortunately we figured out that they only wanted us to remove and wash the pains not replace the whole window before I tore into them with a hammer. At lunch time one of the board members from the clinic brought us lunch. When he got there we discovered they actually did have the paint we just were not able to communicate well enough to figure that out. The El Salvadoran’s worked pretty hard in the morning but kind of lazed around for most of the afternoon. I was able to make friends with a couple of them and found out a little about their families. At the end of the day we ended up singing while we painted. Our best work was on “Oh where oh where can my baby be…” The El Salvadorans where impressed with our singing.

The evening was uneventful. I went into town and bought a couple of things. The party started to die down. Right before I headed to bed I helped one of the girls go into town and buy some cigarettes. We had to hit several shops before we found one that sold them and most of the shops were closing up. Cigarettes are a real luxury item there. A store may have 4 or 5 brands and only a couple packs each. Earplugs. Slept like a log.


Breakfast with beans. Church. This lasted for about 3.5 hours. Mostly in Spanish. It was at the pastoral compound out side. Shaded by a tarp and palm trees they had a nice choir. Some guy from Des Moines did the communion. Some of our delegation fell asleep. Not just nodded off. They conked out major league. Unconscious. After church we ate and went and saw the small coffee mill where they packaged coffee for the parish team’s coffee brand (“Don Justo” (Justice)). The idea behind it is they pay a “fair” or “just” price to the pickers for their back breaking labor. More on that later. Next we went to an hour and half bus ride into the mountains to the Finca (plantation). The trip was so rough that the bus was damaged and had to be repaired. (It was still drivable.) At the top of the mountain was a big plantation which produces about 60,000 lbs of coffee a year. Part of this goes to the parish coffee business. A good picker we where told picks about 200 lbs a day and makes $10 for his efforts at this plantation. I understand that this is twice the going rate. (Most pickers at most fincas get about $4 to $5 a day we were told.) So you can figure that all the pickers altogether pull down about $3000 for picking 60,000 lbs of coffee. Now consider this coffee in US stores goes for about $8 a pound. That means at the retail end the coffee the finca produces generates about a half a million $ in revenue. So for about a half a million in business the pickers get about .6%. Now a different angle on the money. For each pound of the Don Justo coffee sold $3 goes to the parish team, $1 to logistics, $2 went to some other person, $.50 went to a US group that helped sponsor the program, $.50 to some other guy and the plantation owner got the rest. Oh, and $.05 would go to the picker.

After we saw the big plantation we went part way back down the mountain and saw a small operation. This family lived in a small block house with one large room and a sheet in the middle to separate the sleeping area from the living area. It had a tin roof. There was kind of an out door cooking area too which had a tin roof. They generate a few bags of coffee a year and I believe the Don Justo business gives them a better price than typical and they seemed genuinely grateful for this. They also had dug footings for a new dwelling which would be about 2/3s bigger than their current home. I’m not sure if this was financed from their coffee business or the Red Cross. I heard both stories. Anyway the lady invited us into her home. There where like 50 of us. I was a little concerned about 50 of us traipsing through her little home. So at first I stayed back. As the line tailed off I noticed that she was just beaming about having everyone tour her home. So I went ahead and checked it out. When I got in there I saw 5 kids huddled together sitting on logs and stuff and they were watching TV. They seemed just as quietly irritated as my kids would be if 50 strangers were walking through and interrupting their show. As it turns out there are actually a surprising number of TVs in El Salvador. At least surprising to me.

On the way back it got so steep we had to get out of the bus and walk at times. It seems I recall having to push once also.

That night again a huge big party. They had a huge float with San Jose on it and a fountain. It was pretty cool. This went all over town and was lead by a huge crowd of people that took up a block ahead of it with two block more of people following it from behind.

More roosters, fireworks, cars with loud music. They really like their music loud. Again earplus.


Breakfast with beans. Today was a day off. We went to a Massacre site it was a 2 hour trip through the jungle. We drug the bottom of the bus along the step twisting roads drove through several rivers where we saw people washing clothes. Ox carts. We had to walk about a half mile up to the top of this mountain to the massacre sight where they are constructing a memorial. We heard several impassioned speeches in Spanish and learned about Oscar Romero who was the arch bishop of El Salvador but was assassinated in 1980. This started the civil war which lasted until 1992 and 70,000 people were killed. At the massacre site they talked about women, children and elderly being killed by the army. Some of them being thrown from helicopters. Oscar Romero was an advocate for the poor and was aligned with the rebels. It is believed the government was behind this assassination. All the people we were with were aligned with the rebels during the war. They are still pretty upset about things. My personal feeling is it might be time to let bygones be bygones. But then I didn’t loose anyone I loved in the war. It appears the economy is growing. The folks who had been here before said they see more cars each year they come. Anyway, we heard a lot about government atrocities. I understand that the rebels committed plenty of atrocities but we didn’t hear about these. Anyway when you realize that the army came to these villages and burned everything and killed whole families and you think about what it would be like if that happened to your family you realize that civil wars in third world countries aren’t just sound bites between commercials they are wars that crush the hopes and dreams of individual people. It makes you think. During the presentation at the top of the mountain in 90 degree sun one of our delegation passed out. On the way back to Berlin we passed a herd of cows and one fell into a culvert upside down and couldn’t get out. The guys all got out of the bus and helped wrestle it out a little bloody but none the worse for ware. We imagined the boy tending them going home. “What happened to the cow?” “The bus went by and it fell in the culvert. Then the bus stopped and all these gringos got out and helped get it out.” “Right.” We ate at a road side Tienda. It was good food. Once back we showered, ate, and went to the festival. I gambled again. I was actually ahead two bucks at one point. Then I lost. They crowned another queen. The queen rode around town on a float. Wall to wall people. They had a huge out door disco set up. Never heard music that loud before. We didn’t go in. Roosters, Fireworks, etc. Earplugs. Good.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Friday Morning

Ate breakfast at Haide’s which included beans (every meal included beans). Went to the free clinic in Berlin. The three doctors who where with us on the trip saw 300 people. We found the part of the clinic which was broken down and used for storage. The roof leaked. Used to be a surgery and birthing area. While the doctors were doing their thing we hauled all the stuff out of the old storage area and into a new storage area. So we could start work next Monday on construction. We also tore the old nasty ceiling out of this area. A very dirty job. I also helped some in the pharmacy. A health queen was crowned and we had a ceremony where we gave the head El Salvadoran doctor some money. I talked to the intern there and he said the clinic was crowded like this every day. The next week when I was at the clinic I discovered this was not the case. There was 50 patients tops at the clinic on the other days. This illustrates the challenge of a place like El Salvador. There were several times when we got different or contradictory stories. I believe this is caused by language and culture differences as well as in some cases out and out deceit. But I believe mostly the former. I walked back with some of the high school kids at the end of the day through town to our living and eating quarters. (The women all slept at the same house where we all ate.) When in town we walked everywhere as do 90% of the people which was great because we got a feel for the town and people. We literally rubbed shoulders. Walking back I noticed the El Salvadoran men, lots of them, ogling unashamedly the high school girl with us. I’ve never seen such overt and unashamed voyeurism. Also, a truck full of boys drove by and we heard “blah blah blah Norte Americanos blah blah.” Definitely derogatory but I think good natured. For the second time in my life I thought. This is what it must be like to be a minority. Almost all the men carry a machete. It’s their main work tool. They even wear them to church. After a bucket shower we ate and some of us went into town. It was holy week and the celebration of San Jose the towns patron saint. So they were having a huge blow out party for several nights. It was like Mardi Gras with out the heavy duty graft. Mostly family fun. Lots of tiendas (stands selling stuff) brass bands driving in the back of trucks, live bands, what I called the latin spice girls (more ogaling), they crowned a queen, carnival rides. It was wall to wall people. You were often literally shoulder to shoulder. They have this game of chance which I played where you role this marble and if you have the marble you want it to land on rojo (red) and if you are betting against him you want white (blanco). The El Salvadoran guys really got a kick out of the fact that a gringo was playing. For next few nights every time I walked past they would shout out to me. Very friendly and positive. It was a good connection. Went to sleep. More dogs and cats fighting and roosters crowing. Earplugs. Good.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Thursday evening/night arrive in El Salvador

About a year and a half ago I went on a mission trip to El Salvador. This is the first of a daily narrative of my experience. It was wonderful.

The parish group which arranged to pick us up had a pickup and a bus. We did not have enough room for all of the luggage so they hired another guy with a truck to take to take the rest of the luggage the two hours to Berlin (named after a German guy who got ship wrecked in El Salvador pop. 25,000 I think) where we stayed for the whole week. Because I was in charge of logistics I had to ride with this hired truck driver. So the first thing I do in El Salvador is get into a truck with a stranger at night who was to take me to a place I had never been before. Cool. When we got to Berlin we were served hot chocolate (by Haide who was in charge of our meals) and went to the men’s quarters. This consisted of a “house” with 5 rooms one chair, one table and matrices laying on the floor. Two bathrooms each consisted of a very scroungy looking toilet and a shower with a 50 gallon drum under the shower head. The water ran 2 hours every two days and the drum captured the water. This is what we used to shower and flush the toilets. Toilet paper had to be thrown in a trash can because the sewage system can’t handle it. For me the toilet situation was the worst thing. I passed a fairly restful night interrupted by horses whinnying, cats and dogs fitting, roosters crowing and fire crackers through out the night. Fortunately I had ear plugs.