“Be careful of the shower. We call her the Widow Maker.” This was part of the welcoming talk. They don’t have hot water tanks as we do here. Instead, a dubious looking wire hangs down over the shower and into the shower head and warms it on the spot. This means one should never, ever touch the showerhead when in the shower. I forgot this once.
I was standing in the shower using the hose when it popped off of the showerhead. Reaching up to jam it back on I felt a tingling in my left arm and wondered if I was having a heart attack. That was when it occurred to me that I was being electrocuted.
The other different thing about this country is that you may never, ever put toilet paper down the toilet. Really, really bad things happen when you do this. This led to some interesting stories over our stay of which I will spare you.
So we took our first trip to the orphanage. We walked out of our house, out of the gate past the man with the gun, down the street to the other side of the bock where there was another gate and another man with gun (who didn’t smile until our last day there) who let us pass, and up to another wall with a giant, solid gate in it and rang the bell. It felt a little bit like Dorothy and friends at the door to the Emerald City.
Over the door to the house the children made a sign that said, “Bienvenido” with all of our names. It was the last time I was to be called “Fr. John” for I was hence dubbed, “Papa John” after their favorite pizza shop.
Our first meeting with the kids was a bit stiff – or at least I thought so. “Here are your guests! Say hello!” Some of the people in our group amazed me at how they weaseled their way into the children’s attention right away. I’m of the type to stand back and wait until their ready which can take some time. In either event I was WAY out of my comfort zone.
It was “Kids Day” in El Salvador - a kin to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day etc. So we all piled into two vans (one looking shocking like the Mystery Machine of Scooby Doo fame) and headed out to a pupuserea for our first taste of authentic El Salvadorian fare – avoiding of course, all fruit, water, and ice.
We took over much of the restaurant and it took some time for the food to get to us. Though the children were lively they were exceeding well behaved. I would have been very proud of them if they were from my school. We drank sodas out of real glass bottles with straws that were too short (I lost mine inside not have learned yet that one must bend the straw) and watched the women make our food. Snatching a handful of (something) they would pat it into a hollow patty and then fill it with whatever we ordered and then toss over to a hot griddle where another lady tended them. When they were done she slid them over to another lady who piled them on plates and sent them out to the customers.
It was quite good. If anybody out there knows how to make these things I would really like to know.
By the time we got back it was quite late. We trudged back to our house through gates and guards and had our first nightly meeting in which we prayed and talked about our experiences. For me, it was odd. I did not feel like we were actually there yet, but more like we were in a place made to feel like El Salvador and perhaps we would turn a corner and find ourselves in the middle of New York or something. That would change soon.