by Larry G. Lepper
The day began with a wonderful breakfast prepared by Cecelia of the Pastoral staff. It consisted of scrambled eggs, fried plantains, beans and tortillas. Being Valentine’s Day, there was a card and small turtle toy at each place setting. They were from Betty Dyer to each of us. It was very thoughtful of Betty. The Pastoral team marched in with a gift for each of us. Each of us received candy and a small gift. It was a great breakfast.
Our schedule for the day was to visit two schools in or near Berlin. We gathered our gifts we had brought for the schools and prepared to leave. Before we could leave I went with Kathy Mahler to put gas in the truck. There are two gas stations in Berlin. The first one we visited is very close to the Pastoral House. As we pulled in the station attendant shouted “No gas!” So it was off to the other station where we purchased gas. One does not say “Fill ‘er up” but tells the attendant an exact dollar amount to put in the tank. Yes, it is full service. Kathy asked for $40 of gas. That $40 put 10.61 gallons into the tank. That’s $3.77 per gallon.
Then it was off to two schools. At the both schools we visited kindergarten, and first and second grades. Students either go in the morning or afternoon. Mornings were the younger children and afternoons older children. The first school had about 45 children in the morning and 45 in the afternoon. Kathy first introduced us with our Spanish names. Then Kathy asked each of them their name. They were a bundle of energy, just like kids everywhere. They counted 1 to 10 in Spanish and then we did also. Then they sang a song to us and we returned the favor with a simple rendition of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands….” We then presented the teachers with gifts for the school consisting of white board markers, glue, permanent markers, jump ropes, crayons, craft supplies and coloring books. The children at the first school led us on a very short walk to their soccer field where they would play at recess. Being the dry season it was dusty and a little worn from all the little feet running over it. They were more fortunate than the second school which was right in the city and had a small paved play ground.
The second school had about 125 students. We visited both morning classes with the same procedure as the first school. Not as many school uniforms were evident in this school as the first. We assume the lack of uniforms was due to personal finances of the family.
We were struck by the dedication of teachers. They were trying to do so much with very limited resources. The children were like most random groups; some were natural leaders and others were quiet and reserved. The children were bursting with energy which we enjoyed.
After the school visits we returned to Casa Pastoral for a wonderful lunch of chicken, beans, fresh pineapple, fresh papaya, rice, onion salad and tortillas. Then it was off to the coffee finca (farm) to learn about growing, harvesting and processing coffee. Senor Evers was the coffee foreman who showed us around and explained the process. Not much was happening on the finca as the harvest was completed a couple of months ago. We saw the nursery where new coffee plants were being cultivated. Shade trees as well as cocao plants were also being raised. Some of the areas of the finca had both coffee and cocoa plants.
Coffee is grown in the shade of other trees. The larger trees protect the coffee plants from too much sun. The manager of the finca has to know the proper amount of shade required to produce the best coffee. Each coffee plant produces about 10 lbs. of coffee beans. Buds were now on the plants waiting for the rains to begin in April-May when they would bloom and produce this year’s crop. The crop can vary widely with this past year’s crop being about 3 times the previous year.
The coffee plant produces a fruit called “cherries”. Each cherry generally has 2 coffee beans although it is possible to have three. The first process is to pick the cherries, and this is done by hand. Only the ripe cherries are picked and harvest generally takes 2 pickings. The land where the coffee grows can be very steep so workers must walk around the plants to harvest the cherries. The cherries are taken to a central processing site where the hulls are removed leaving the beans. The beans are then spread on a concrete drying bed, where it takes about seven days to dry the bean for either roasting or storage. The dry beans can be stored for up to one year before roasting. We did find some cherries and put them into our mouth to taste. We chewed and did not detect a hint of coffee flavor. We also did the same with the dried coffee beans with the same results. The flavor we associate with coffee doesn’t develop until the bean is roasted.
After the finca visit we returned to the Casa Pastoral to rest before taking the pastoral team to a nice dinner in Alegria, as it is our last evening here. Alegria is located up the mountain from Berlin. Along the road up the mountain is a beautiful view of the Lempa River Valley. Several volcanoes could be seen in the distance. There were seven of us travelers plus six from La Casa Pastoral. We had all worked very hard together and shared many experiences during the week. Several toasts were made and a few tears shed as we will miss our new friends greatly. Tonight we pack for the trip home and head to the international airport in San Salvador in he morning. We have so many wonderful experiences we are anxious to share with the people of Iowa.