The Travels of Paula

I was a software engineer at the same computer company for 38 although the name of the company changed 3 times. In 2012 I retired and spend my time now golfing, volunteering and traveling (for fun and on missions).
Living in: Haymarket, United States
  • Day8

    Reflections from our trip

    November 15, 2018 in the United States

    This is my third mission trip and my son's first. As always, we are a motley crew. This year the adventure started at the airport. Trying to find each other when there were 4 different flights and people we had never set eyes on is an adventure on its own. When we all finally found each other we headed to Ahuachapan.

    Starting work with a new crew, especially when some can't communicate with each other may seem impossible, but somehow it always works out.

    I have the unique blessing of being able to speak both languages and act as a translator for everyone.
    I love watching everyone interact, work together, and become friends - language is not a barrier.
    Somehow everyone communicates and the work gets done. And everyone comes out learning something new.

    This trip we were working with drywall, something we're a little more familiar with that we've worked with possibly more than the El Salvador crew at this point. Tim helped organize us and we started working. Tim and Terry have an inclusive way of teaching. They gently coaxed us to try new things, offering up little tips here and there, complementing the work we did and really boosting our confidence. We all learned from them and we worked that way all week.

    My son, the youngest in the group, has made some great friends. And I can tell he has loved this experience and has learned more than he could ever know about working with people, communication at its core, compassion for others - whether they are better off then you or not, inspiration from those you are trying to help, and being humbled in the presence of true faith.
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  • Day8

    Heading Home & Reflections (11/15/2018)

    November 15, 2018 in the United States

    ‍‍‍‍‍I began the day as I have each day since I arrived in Ahuachapán with a cup of coffee while I have my prayers and devotion.  It's what I do at home, but somehow it feels different here.  Then we are all together for breakfast.  Marilu it's an excellent cook and I will miss her meals.   

    After breakfast we all did last minute checks and waited for Brian to arrive.  Then there were the good-byes to Meme and Marilu.  I know I can keep up with what is going on with Marilu on Facebook, but it is not the same. 

    Then we were on our way to the airport.  We stopped at the cluster of shops on our way to the airport.  Terry bought a few things, but most of us just browsed.  The was a musical program going on that a few members of the group watched.  Then it was on to the airport.   Since the group was on 3 different flights, we ended going through different entrances.  For the first time in all the years I have been here, this is the first time there was no one for check-in and Tim, Terry, Rich and I were allowed to check-in together.  The security lines were relatively short, too.  When we got through security we waited for Nina and Jhenny and Frank to get through security.  Nina came through a bit after us.  There were hugs all around.  I will miss Nina.  I wasn't used to sing good-bye to Mission team members before since in the past we were all from the same church.  The good-byes to Nina were harder and sadder for me.  I enjoyed having her as a roommate.  I hope she will consider going on a mission with us in the future.  Then Avianca Four (Terry, Tim, Rich and I) headed toward our gate and in search of lunch.  We found a restaurant close to our gate.  While we were eating I got a text from Jhenny and told her where we were. Because Jhenny's and Frank's flight was a lot later than ours the counter did not open for about an hour after we arrived at the airport.  Jhenny and Frank got lunch at the restaurant and then the Avianca Four headed for our gate.  I picked up some snacks for the wait and read.  The plane was an hour late arriving and thus an hour late departing. 

    Four hours later we were back home.  As we stepped out into the frigid weather all I could think of was hearing Tim say each day while we were in Ahuachapán "Another beautiful day". 

    While it is good to be home, I will miss the rest of our mission team and the friends (new and old) in Ahuachapán.  

    I never know how it happens, but somehow in the first day of the mission all these disparate people from different places, different ages and different lives come together and become a team.  And this team is not so much driven by the job, but by the joy of working together.  When I think of the team I will remember the laughter and joking.  I hope those I encountered in Ahuachapán (our team and the workers and the others we met) saw Christ in me.  I know I saw Christ in the people we met and worked with.  The experience was a blessing.  I still have a way to go as a team lead, but hopefully I am growing in the role.  I am so very thankful for the gift of this Mission.
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  • Day7

    Our Day Off Excursion (11/14/2018)

    November 14, 2018 in the United States

    In the morning as I was completing my prayer and devotion time in the hotel dining room, John came in and told me that he was going to be returning to NC to be with his wife who was carrying for her sister who was having some health issues.  He told me he was going to arrange for a cab to take him to the airport in San Salvador. When Brian arrived, I asked him if he could arrange for transportation to the airport for John. Brian asked Juan De Dios to take John to the airport.

    We said our goodbyes to John and headed for the Volcano National Park.  Brian arranged for a guide to take us on the hike through one of the volcanoes.  Jhenny agreed to act as if translator since our guide did not speak Spanish.  The views were beautiful.   Some of the trail was steep.  At one point Terry tripped and fell.  For a few moments we all (including Terry) thought he might have broken his leg. But he hadn't and although he limped some, he was okay.  There were 60 mile an hour winds, but because we were in the crater we only heard and saw the wind, we didn't feel it.  To me it sounded like the waves crashing on the beach. 

    After the hike we drove to a restaurant on a lake.  We were given a complementary cup of a seafood bisque. It was very good.  I got a chicken dish that was very good.  Some ordered a meal with sausage and other local dishes, some ordered fried fish and Nina ordered a  garlic shrimp salad. 

    After lunch we drove to the Mayan ruin at Tazumal.  We toured the small museum and I made use of the photo translation feature in Google Translate to read portions of the descriptions in the museum.  We were able to climb up a portion of the ruin.  Although we all bemoaned not being able to go to the very top, I was happy with the length of climb when I had to descend steps that seemed to have gotten a lot steeper between the climb up and the climb down.  After walking around the ruin, we visited the shops near the entrance to the ruins.  A few people made purchases, but I just "window shopped".

    We had a short time to rest or start packing before dinner.  At dinner we all talked a bit about the mission.  We initially planned to make our final trek to the Super Mercado for ice cream, but by the time we had finished taking we decided we needed the time to pack. 

    I shared some of my extra space in my suitcase to take some of Jhenny's gifts back.  The packing kept my mind off the good-byes I would say tomorrow.
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  • Day6

    Last Work Day in Ahuachapán (11/13/2018)

    November 13, 2018 in El Salvador

    ‍This was our last work day.  There were lots of jobs for us to work on today (helping with roof work; putting dry wall up on the front wall of the church; mudding and sanding the other ways of the church.   Three of us, Nina, Rich and I, delivered food.  We spent a long time taking with one or two members of each of the families we visited, except one woman who was ill.  Everyone else was talkative and had lots stories to tell.

    When we returned to the work site, it was almost time to head for lunch, so we began the clean up.  Then it was off to the Missioners' Residence for lunch. After lunch we returned to the work site.  At first we were considering delivering more food, but it would have entailed 30+ minutes of walking and the "foreman" preferred we spend our time working on the church.  I did sanding and some gofering.  Most of my gofering jobs were searching for nails/screws/tools and handing people water to add to the mud or helping lift drywall up to someone on the scaffolding.  I decided not to try working on the scaffolding.  I did not want to pull down the drywall if I lost my balance.  I also do had to give hand sanitizer to Aroche to wash out the cut on his foot.  Because it the hand sanitizer has alcohol in it, it evidently stings.  Next Carlos came over in need of a band-aid and we had to improvise with a Kleenex and masking tape.  He was hesitant for us to wash his cut out with the hand sanitizer, but I told him to quit whining.  So, I cleaned the cut, wrapped it with the Kleenex and tape it with the masking tape and he was good to continue working.

    All to soon it was time to clean up and say our goodbyes.  It is so sad to leave.  We have worked as a team these last few days and become friends despite the language barrier.  It has been a week of laughter and learning new skills and how best to leverage each person's strengths. 

    Dinner tonight was chicken tamales. For dessert we had apple parties mad by Marilu's daughter who is a pastry chef. They were excellent. Then Jhenny have us a piece of a cake that is filled with a layer of pineapple.  I have ordered a box of the cake to take back to the States.  There was no need for an ice cream run tonight.

    Tomorrow is our free day.  We will go to the Volcano National Park and then on to Tazumal with lunch at the beach.   And then we will prepare to head back to the States.  It will be hard to say goodbye to everyone.
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  • Day6

    Mission Life is like a box of chocolates

    November 13, 2018 in the United States

    ....You never know what you are going to get.
    What is so wondrous and adventurous about mission trip to me is the surprising unpredictability. As we were organizing at our church, some of us regulars decided to come back. But then, John from Charlotte and Nina from Asheville joined after seeing us on the UMVIM website. And then, a week before leaving, I told my parents and sisters I was going to El Salvador again and my brother-in-law Terry joined too! He even drove two days from North Dakota to Northern Virginia to fly with us.

    So we have an interesting mix of people from Jhenny's 16 year old son Frank to three retirees, from native born Jhenny to Terry & me who can't speak a word of Spanish. Each mission team creates its own identity or personality and this one is no different. Each person brings something to the table -- you just don't know what that "something" is, hence the box of chocolates.

    We "understood" we would work on the new school and do lots of masonry again. No, the permits were not approved so we will work on a rural church site and do some drywall hanging & finishing. We met Aroche, the pastor of this new church and some other local crew members. We typically see him (since 2009) as a skilled mason so it was a joy for me to see him preach this time!

    We also typically work on masonry buildings in town. This time the church is a steel framed building with corrugated steel outside & drywall inside with large windows. Our very bumpy road (while standing in the back of a truck) is filled with walking people and dogs that don't seem to care about the traffic, full sized school buses, oxen-driven carts, motorcycles and cowboys herding cattle. Oh, and an occasional "stray" horse too.

    ...You never know....
    The first day was a little confusing as we tried to figure out what to do, and it turned out, the local crew was too! But Jhenny translated and after lunch Aroche said I was in charge of the drywall. Bonding between the local crew & our team was special and continued the whole time. We all ended up having a lot of fun together.

    When it comes to drywall taping and finishing, John did a great job coaching everyone and it has been showing in our work. Didn't know anything about him before the trip.

    ...You never know..,
    I warned the team beforehand that drywall finishing is like cosmetic surgery ... if done wrong, it is very noticeable and very hard to fix!

    Everyone seems to be having a good time. I am especially trilled that Terry came. He is talking to everyone (here & back home), using his skills, and said he quickly changed his perspective on people here. He can share more if he chooses.

    ...You never know...
    On Monday while delivering food around the neighborhood, we met a blind man with a blind son.This is an incredible story but briefly, God used his blindness (he says) to help many other people "see" as he travels to many countries evangelizing. He even had been to Israel (!!) and soon to Peru. Humbling and awe-inspiring don't adequately describe the feeling.

    You never know...
    One thing that hasn't changed for me is the pre-dawn view of the volcano where I routinely sit & some time journal. It has power lines, walls & metal roofs in the fore, but it works for me as a place to contemplate. I love the simplicity of this life style and always yearn for more when it ends. And yes,, the endless loud traffic and 350 little red taxis right outside our hotel hasn't changed. Also, Marilu's hotel food is as delicious & satisfying as ever. We finished our work and said our usual goodbyes to the crew. We feel the Holy Spirit is driving this all.

    ...Some times you DO know...
    One more day to go. What will it bring?
    P.S. In the USA and particularly in our own Prince William County, there has been a lot of "talk" about immigration. I hope our meager efforts can help make life a little bit better here so that, perhaps, people will decide not to risk their lives over a 1000 miles for a better life.
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  • Day5

    Fourth Day in Ahuachapán (11/12/2018)

    November 12, 2018 in El Salvador

    ‍‍Today Jhenny, Frankie and Tim delivered food.  Before they left, we discussed what the tasks are that needed to be done and who best to do them. There were two tasks. One was to put up the remaining drywall in the upper area. The other was to sand the mudding done yesterday on the lower level and tape over the seams and remud the seam and surrounding area. Terry worked with one of the workers to put up the last of the drywall and then started helping the guys working on the roof.  Rich, Nina and I did the sanding, taping and mudding. John showed us what to do; checked our work and did a little mudding and and taping.  A little before we were supposed to head over for lunch Tim, Jhenny and Frank returned.  Tim checked out of mudding efforts and Jhenny and Frank joined with Terry helping the workers on the roof.

    After lunch we returned and Tim and Rich began taping and mudding the upper level with John acting as gopher for them.  Nina and I began sanding the tape and doing any required remudding on the lower level.  Once we had gotten as far as we could on that, Nina and I moved on to other jobs.  I helped as a gopher with Jhenny for the guys on the roof  (Frank did most of the heavy lifting for that job). 

    As the work was winding down, a man brought over corn from his garden that he had boiled for us using our bottled water.  The corn was still in the husks and hot off the oven and it was delicious.

    On the way back to the hotel we again passed the cows being herded down the road.
    Once we returned to the hotel we showered and had dinner and or evening devotion.  Terry have the devotion.  He said he had learned that a school friend had a stroke and he had been asked to pay for her.  He had felt inadequate not knowing what to pray for.  He said in the end he had prayed "Lord please take care of her.".  I thought that was the best prayer because God will always take care of us although not always the way we want.  But with that simple prayer you have basically asked that God's will be done.

    After the devotion, Tim, Terry and I went on the nightly walk to the grocery store for ice cream and a few other is and ends.  It was a wonderful day and we are making progress on the church.
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  • Day4

    Third Day in Ahuachapán (11/11/2018)

    November 11, 2018 in El Salvador

    ‍For breakfast we had eggs, "drunken beans" which are red beans with green peppers and onions and sausage. We also had El Salvadoran quesadillas.  They are more like sweet cornbread made with yellow cornmeal and cheese - very good. 

    After breakfast we had devotions and then got ready for the drive to Ataco for souvenir shopping.  John and I went into the Textile shop.  John got coffee and I got a cappuccino.  Brian was also there.  The rest of the group hiked up to the cross and then did a bit of shopping and then returned to the Textile shop.   I made veryone show me what they had purchased in Ataco. While we were all together, we decided on our free day activity for Wednesday - we are going to the Volcano National Park and the Tazumal Mayan ruins.

    Then we got back in the van and headed for Entre Nubis for lunch.  After we ordered our lunch we took a short tour of the coffee plantation at Entre Nubis and then enjoyed lunch. I got chicken enchiladas.  El Salvadoran enchiladas are more of a sandwich made of two small tortillas with chicken and cheese with a dab of refried black beans on top. I also got a 1/2 cup of chicken soup. After lunch there was a little bit of time for those who wished to buy coffee and jewelry. 

    Then we headed back to the hotel to get ready for church.  Today we attended La Gloria.  This was a special treat for Tim, Rich, Jhenny and me.  We had worked on the right hand side wall of the church in 2016.  The sermon was about the seeds in the good soil that produce fruit.  The minister related all the acts of service/mission and caring and kindness to the good fruit. Fruit from churches all over the world. Fruit that spreads love and the gospel.  After the service we got a tour of the church.  It was wonderful to see the finished product.

    Then it was back to the hotel for a short rest and then dinner.  Jhenny had bought us some of the local fruit from the area.  So we ended the meal with the fruit.  Everyone enjoyed their favorite.

    After dinner we had devotions and a time of reflection and then some of us headed to the store for ice cream.  I am probably the driving force behind the treks to the store for ice cream.  I hope some of the team will continue to humor me by going every night.

    It was a restful day where we enjoyed each other's company and enjoyed sharing laughter and kidding with each other and becoming friends.  Becoming friends may not always be mentioned when people talk about their mission experiences, but for me becoming friends is one of the things I treasure most about the mission.
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  • Day3

    2nd Work Day in Ahuachapán (11/10/2018)

    November 10, 2018 in El Salvador

    ‍Jhenny and I went walking again this morning.  At breakfast I asked for volunteers to go in the morning and afternoon to deliver food.  This is better than "springing” it on them a few minutes before they are to leave to distribute the food.  I don't know why it took me so long to come up with this approach.

    After breakfast and devotions, Carlos picked us up and (surprise) took us to the Missioners' Residence to pack the bags for the Feeding Program.  Once we finished being the food we headed to the work site.  When Fernando got the he told us that we would only be distributing food in the morning.  Rich, Nina and John went to distribute food.

    Tim is the team foreman and figures out what the jobs are for the day and which jobs each of us can do.  My first job today was to help Tim cut the dry wall and hand the sections up to Terry and Jhenny. I also added as gopher for supplies they needed.  It was a good job for me since I don't have the construction skill set for the more involved jobs.  Frank continued working on making and spreading the cement for the sidewalk.  That work work took us almost through lunch.  The three food distributers got back a little before we went to lunch.  John and Nina cut the paper strips that will be needed for the drywall mudding.  Rich helped  install the rest of the lower level drywall. After lunch John showed Nina, Rich and me how to do the initial drywall mudding.  It took a while to get the hang of it.  Both John and Tim had to remind us a couple of times that we need to smooth the mud to reduce excessive sanding when it dries.  John was a good and patient teacher.

    When we finished, Aroche did a worship service for us.  I missed the singing part because I was cleaning up the mudding tools.  Jhenny acted as translator.  The sermon was on gratitude.  It was very good.  I was surprised at how much of what Aroche said I understood without having to wait for Jhenny to translate.

    Then it was back to the hotel for dinner and devotion and a time to talk about our impressions.  Then the nightly walk to the grocery store for Ice cream.

    The drive, in the back of a pickup truck, to and from the work site has been very interesting each day.  The road is bumpy and narrow in spots.  Each day we have seen a man on a motor cycle with a baby sitting on his lap wearing a pink helmet when we head for the work site and when we head back to the hotel in the afternoon. There is a man on a house driving his cattle one direction on the when we head for the work site and in the other direction when we head back to the hotel.  The are always fearless dogs on the roads as well as approaching buses and trucks on the basis road.  As Rich pointed out, it is amazing any cars have side view mirrors.  And most cars we pass have their side view mirrors.  It is a sign of the web and flow of the population. 

    Tomorrow we will go to Ataco.  There the team can do some shopping and I can enjoy a cappuccino or two.

    This was a very good work day.  I think everyone felt they had contributed and enjoyed the jobs they were involved with.  And most were tired in a good way when we returned.  We are gelling as a team.
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  • Day2

    First Work Day in Ahuachapán (11/9/2018)

    November 9, 2018 in El Salvador

    ‍Jhenny and I walked before breakfast this morning.  I did the first devotion this morning and Tim agreed to do the evening devotion.  Brian arrived at 8 and we left for the work site.  Shortly after we arrived the team from Georgia arrived.  The first job was to move the dry wall into the church to be installed.  Although it was heavy I was able to help pick it up and carry it with the help of 2 or 3 others.  Tim and Rich worked with the Salvadoran workers to measure the drywall segments that needed to be to cut to install on the wall.  Frank, Nina and I smoothed out and leveled the dirt where the cement would be poured to complete the sidewalk around the church.

    When we finish that, we were asked to select 3 or 4 people to go with the Georgia team to distribute the food.  I volunteered and Nina agreed to go, too.  I spoke with Tim and he suggested I ask Terry.  Terry agreed and we went to give out food.  I was in the group with the two women from the Georgia team and Nina and Terry were in the other group.  I always learn new things when I deliver the food.  One family had a son in the Navy and I learned a lot about being in the military.

    When we finished up we returned to the work site and Nina and I helped with the group clearing the cut down plants.  I borrowed the wheelbarrow to move the stuff to the pile of cuttings and trash.  Soon it was time to go to the Missioner's residence for lunch.  After lunch we returned to the work site.   As we were heading back Brian told me we would be going to the school for dinner and the marching band would be performing.  We would leave the hotel at 4 pm and need to be at the school by 5 pm.

    We didn't finish up until well after 4 and it was much later by the time we got back to the hotel.  We rushed to change and then headed to the school.  The marching band, majorettes and a rhythm dance group performed.  They were very good.  There was also a girl there that retrieved batons, wiped sweat from the dancers' faces and when helped with hair problems. - all white the other girls continued to perform.  A lot of the music played was Christian Praise music.  After the performance we had pupusas for dinner and a sugar cookie for dessert.  After eating, I went upstairs to see the upper level addition to the school - very impressive. Then we returned to the hotel and everyone decided to take showers and head to bed. 

    It has been an interesting first day.  It was definitely a day to work on being flexible.  But the day was filled with many pleasant surprises and I once again learned a bit more about El Salvador and life here.
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  • Day1

    Arrival in Ahuachapán (11/8/2018)

    November 8, 2018 in El Salvador

    Leslie Oakes drove Rich, Tim, Terry and me to the airport.  We left the church at 6 am.  The check-in line for those who had done online check-in wasn't very long.  What was amazing was that the line for TSA-Pre security  was considerably longer than the regular security line.  The flight was fine. The flight was almost over before I figured out which earphone jack got you sound (thank you Rich).  But by that time it was a bit late to start a movie.  But I had stuff to read so I was fine.  The Immigrations line was slow and we saw John Ellis, whose flight got in 45 minutes after ours, in line not that far behind us.  For those who tender it, the airport has done away with the Red/Green light - no more drama.

    Jhenny meet us after we retrieved our bags, took us to where Frank and  Nina (pronounced Nine-na)  were sitting and went back for John.  Then Fernando took most of us to find the toilets before we started the 2 hour drive to Hotel Atillo (our home away from home for the next 8 days).

    Today I spent time getting to know Nina, John and Terry (Tim would call it "talking their ears off").  They are all very interesting people and I am looking forward to getting to know them better during the week.

    It was great to see Meme and Marilyn again.  Brian dropped by to introduce himself.  It was good to see him again, too.  We won't be working on the school we were scheduled to work on because the permits still haven't come through.  There will be roofing and dry walling to do at the project we will be working on.  Tomorrow we will be working with the team that is already here (it will be their last day).  I am looking to see what God has planned for us. 

    After a delicious Chicken soup/stew everyone but Nina tried down to the Supermercado for ice cream, Gatorade, snacks and whatever else took our fancy.  I bought a coffee mug so I don't use styrofoam (that makes John Ellis and the environment happy).

    I am going to try to get to bed earlier than I normally do because Jhenny and I are going walking at the very track tomorrow morning.  Going to Central Time is like going through the time change again  (falling back one more time).  Can't wait to start working tomorrow.
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