So I read a book recently, which I generously rated with an exalted 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.com. It was called An Altar in the Wilderness. It was written by a Western Canadian Eastern Orthodox priest named Kaleeg Hainsworth. This was an inspirational eye-opener on the spiritual consequences of progressing away from the natural world. Technology has equipped us to have little to no contact with nature in our building construction practices, clothing, food and jobs. Technology protects us from the fierce elements of the wilderness but also prevents us from receiving the healing gifts of nature and the voice of God manifested through it.
I fully bought into this theory in Alberta where you can hike to a beautiful high-alpine mountain meadow, sit beneath a majestic spruce tree in 20 degree weather while watching a doe prance across the plateau. Sure, anyone can feel the nurturing call of God as a waterfall of pure H20 sprinkles droplets of heaven onto your upturned face. But here, man, in El Salvador it’s a hard sell sometimes, especially when you have no home.
When I’m helping on the build team by avoiding my assigned duties I often wander around in search of a shady spot where I can rest my weary bones. I find that most of the shade available is plagued with overgrown vegetation tangled barbed wire, littered with piles of burning garbage, leaking milky wastewater or secretly harbouring dangerous insects and poisonous mini-beasts within its protective canopy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Canada is better or that God doesn’t speak through nature here. And keep in mind, I haven’t been out for a stroll in the country – I’m just saying, the heat creates a longing in me that is hard to satisfy.
Let’s take quick break and meet Xiomara and Luis, they are 22 and 26 respectively.
They met and fell in love after Luis’ uncle – The village matchmaker who happened to be Xiomara’s neighbour, introduced them to each other. Luis would drop in from time to time and woo her with enchanting stories of fighting off dangerous Coral snakes and skunks in the corn fields. She didn’t stand a chance and thus Angel, their 6 year old son, materialized quite rapidly into their lives.
Luis farms a manzana of approximately 7,000 square meters (the standard unit of measurement for plots of land here), farming corn and beans. He harvests 800 pounds annually which he sells and also serves at home. He owes about $250 USD per year to rent the his farm and needs to work hard to ensure he can make this payment. Xiomara has worked in the market selling detergent but has needed to be at home with their son over the last few years.
This family is very eager to move in and have been waiting on a house in order to have a bigger family.
Oh hey, check out this next cute little family.
This is Vanessa, she’s twenty one and has a 3 year old daughter, Valaria. I’m the first to admit that “cute” may not be the right word to use here because Vanessa is tough as nails. She works for the municipality, fixing roads, moving gravel and making concrete. Today she worked on a crew loading and relocating rubble from a demolished building with a wheelbarrow. For real. She works all day Monday to Saturday and gets every third weekend off.
We built this house next door to Vanessa’s father house and Vanessa is excited to be in close proximity but be able to maintain some privacy and independence. All family members, including Rocky, the dog, are looking forward to moving day.
After a day like today, my desire for a shady spot and clean piece of concrete to sit down on rivals hunger or thirst. I’m thankful for this small glimpse into the great need that exists for Salvadorians to escape from the elements. It provides an idea of what a house really means to these families who fight this battle every day.