Ray Almy's Trip to El Salvadore

In the last issue of the Newsletter was a note from H. Raymond Almy (1252-9532-741) telling about his upcoming trip to visit with a child he had sponsored in El Salvador. Ray, our 85 years old cousin, has reported on his trip which he says he was very thankful for the opportunity to have made. Following are excerpts from his account of the trip.

Ray wrote that he had not asked in advance what a Christian Foundation for Children and Aging retreat consisted of, and therefore had no idea what to expect on his arrival.. He said he primarily wanted to visit Liliana Maria, the 6 year old child he sponsored.

Ray wrote "before leaving I received instructions as to clothing to bring and $5 for a visitor permit and $25 for a departure tax. That's the exact dollars I took but with plenty of American Express Traveler's Checks. At a bank in the airport I used the $25 to buy 150 colons as surely I thought there would be no problem with El Salvador money. What a mistake. The price on the visitor permit had changed to $10. Colons were not acceptable. The bank would not accept a travelers check and despite my pleadings upon return where the permits were issued was I going to get one. Quite some time had elapsed. I was getting anxious thinking whomever was to meet me might have thought I was not on the flight and I knew it took time to go through customs." After an anxious period of time, Ray finally met a fellow that would exchange some of the colons into U.S. currency. Ray then obtained the required permit.

After customs, Ray was met by a retreat person and driven to the Divina Providencia Children's Home in Santa Tercla for the start of the retreat. The retreatants watched as the very orderly young children lined up with their plates to get their evening meal. "Then we had dinner."

"May 3 was the celebration of the Cross, an annual event marking the beginning of the rainy season, time to plant and obtain employment. Children dressed in their festive clothes, danced joyously near a Cross under which were fruits and vegetables. We visited two groups. Prayers are said for a good planting season which begins in May lasting six months. It's winter but was plenty hot while we were on the retreat."

"On May 4, I met my sponsored child and her mother. Her mother had to leave for awhile. In the meantime the home children, all about the age of Liliana Maria, were allowed to walk through several streets to and to climb the Maya Ruins. A girl and my child took me by the hand, having me climb to the top. I don't think the top was much more than 25 feet from side to side. I expected any moment one of the capering children would fall off to the next lower level about four feet down. They didn't, but I was glad to get down to street level."

On May 5 the retreatants went to a home in Santa Ana. Then on May 6 they took a 2 hour trip in 4 wheel drive pickup trucks "to travel perhaps 35 miles up, up, up on a road strewn with large stones while the uncomplaining sat on their luggage in the hot sun. It did no good for the 85 year old to demur their insistence he ride in the cab with the driver. Age does have its benefits."

"We were told at one time El Salvador was 95% forested. Now 2%. The poor have had to leave the good flat planting fields and live high up in the hills, which are like small mountains. Their transportation is to walk miles. Women carry baskets of beans, vegetables, etc. on their heads."

"The little children were adorable. The last night we were entertained by children of three different age groups, the oldest being teenagers. They danced and sang like professionals. The youngest group sang a song directed to each of us individually. Of course the words were in Spanish. I thought it might have something to do with our group having so much fun with my name. The staff chiefs knew me as Ray, my being registered in the records as Raymond Almy. However I had to take my passport which has my birth name Harry Raymond. My driver's license with my picture is Henry R. and the one always with us on the bus and as director is Henry. Even I was getting confused when I was called by one of the names."

"It surely was a primitive experience. Ten days no hot water to shave or shower. No mirror. Surprised to find one can shave without need of a mirror. There were flush toilets but to use them made a few trips with basins filled with water. To take a shower used the basins to pour water over oneself. Daily about 10 pm all showered."

The translator for the retreat group told of the experiences of sleeping in the houses of the sponsored children. He wrote "my friend and I were remembering when one of the visitors told us that he woke up in the middle of the night and needed to go to the bathroom. Let me tell you that many of the houses where we stayed have the bathroom outside in the patio and you have to go out to use it. Anyways, Eduardo went out his room looking for the bathroom and suddenly he got lost in the patio, and could not find the way back to his room. I am not sure how he made it to his room, but he did. Well, you can imagine our group laughing by hearing this."

One day the group went "to a small mall where was displayed all kinds of articles; most hand made. Some were taken home as souvenirs and some, including clothing, was left for the children in the home."

After singing one night, "we individually were called to center stage, the stage being just the floor. When it came for me to be called, I thought the children were even more exuberant. How was I to know at the time that my name Ray, spelled Rey in Spanish, means king."

We thank Ray for his most interesting account of his trip to El Salvadore.

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