This is a guest blog post from Mark Knox, a businessman from Ashland, Oregon who traveled with his Salvadoran business partner Laz Ayala to El Salvador. This is an account of their trip to promote stoves in Laz's hometown (and have a little fun along the way, of course).
Biggest day yet, but with shortest entry. Sad, frustrating and spiritual sums it up.... We got up for a nice "lunch" at Irma's and had fish soup (heads and all). Her two daughters were there, Natalie's cousins Maria and Juany who were 16 and 22. Irma makes her living by feeding the military - two to four at a time in her own house (we actually visited one day while they sat there and ate, M16s over their shoulder. Most of them didn't seem too enthused over our visit).
After lunch we stopped at the hardware store to get a few items then headed to the barrio where we hoped to start at Jesus' but she wasn't back yet from collecting wood. Our first house was a family of X children. (Note: it was very difficult to tell whose kids were whose and how many there were, but they were all over the place!). After the old arched mud stove was removed, we had to prop the table with extra supports. Laz asked the husband if he could cut a branch for the support and he proceeded to go outside and drag one inro the house where he started his chainsaw and went to town - in the house! After, we went to Jesus' where she and her daughter Anna were grinning from ear to ear. Anna and Jesus gladly "manhandled" the old stove to make room and tossed everything within seconds. We laughed to see their excitement. They were just so excited. We then mixed cement directly on the dirt floor, between boulders and all, to stabilize the new concrete top we were putting in. Laz got down there and claimed "this is how my dad and I used to do it" then packed cement in between the cracks. We put the stove on and immediately tried to start a fire, but we forgot kerosene which is the gringo way (I thought we needed to go even faster if we were going to make a dent). Laz and Fred worked hard to get the fire started and didn't get anywhere until Anna and Jesus stepped in. The women in El Salvador know their fires. It was a fine job and a special moment.
After, we went back to first house and it was working perfectly. We all just smiled. We then went back to Irma's house for our last three stoves and a bite at Alana’s, but as we were leaving we got caught-up in a small "political" parade (FMLN which was the peasant's / peoples party that was derived out of the Civil War).
As we were traveling back to the barrio, Anna flagged us down and pleaded with Laz to give her sister a stove. Laz had already promised the last stove to another family, but when she said her sister was very poor and had a 32 day old baby, Laz gave in, jumped out of the car and we installed it in her back yard under a lean-to. After, she brought out the baby and we all got to hold him - Harrison Ivan.