Reflections on a Day in the Car

They were playing soccer.  For a time it wasn't possible for the young men to play soccer on the neighborhood field.  Too dangerous.  On Christmas Day with a current situation that was a little bit safer, the guys headed out to the field for some fun and competition.  In a tense moment as two players headed for the ball, they crashed into each other.  One ended up on the bottom, and one landed on the top.  This is how our friend broke his leg.

He is 25 years old and has a pretty good job working for a small company.  He has a wife and a little girl who is afraid of the big white cast on her daddy's leg.  He lives with his mom and a huge family of sisters, two husbands of sisters, and a few little nieces.  Because his job is in the formal economic sector, our friend is fortunate to have healthcare benefits.  He is able to miss work for two months while his leg is in a cast, and he will not lose his job.  In addition, he qualifies for sick pay.

Because government offices were closed for the time between Christmas and New Year celebrations, our friend's process to receive payments was delayed.  This has been a hardship on the little family. Today, this young man on crutches needed to walk through a labyrinth, and he needed a little help.

The young man's mom, the pastor and I had been doing some early morning work together.  At 11 AM we swung by the community to pick him up.  His sisters and a neighbor had helped him navigate his way uphill, on a rutty dirt path, avoiding rocks, until he made it to the side of the road.  The helpers waited with him until we arrived.  We loaded him into the pastor's car, stashed the crutches between the seats and were on our way to his place of employment.

Normally, he leaves the house before 5 AM and rides 3 buses to arrive to work by 8 AM.  By car, it is about a 40 minute drive, putting our arrival time during the boss's lunch hour.  So, we decided to grab some lunch too.  At 1 PM we arrived at the business.  Mom followed her son up a a long flight of concrete stairs.  She carried the manila folder of forms while he slowly hopped up the steps using the crutches.  This was the first time he had left the house since being weighed down with a cast.  His leg hurt.

Time passed.  Finally with documents signed and stamped, our next stop was the health department's central office.  This is located in the city center, a couple of bus rides away from the employer.  We made it over there pretty quickly, but with skinny streets and no place to park and only a minute to hover, it was tricky navigation for a guy on crutches.  A wait, a signature, a stamp, and a few awkward curbs, holes and street vendor-blocked sidewalks later, our friend and his mom were back in the car with the precious manila folder.  "Don't lose that card," Mom says.  In the folder is a little card that is good for one month.  I am not really sure how the card is used to get payments, but I realize that the one month validation means this process will need to be repeated in order to qualify for a second month of sick pay.

The process was complete at 2:40 PM.  I cannot imagine what our friend would have done without the help of his mom, and without transportation from his pastor.  There is no way he could have ridden the public bus and walked from the bus stops to his destinations.

Perhaps the afternoon quest for sick pay would not have seemed so ridiculous to me had I not spent the morning in a similar endeavor.  The early morning work which the pastor, the mom and I had undertaken was the delivery of letters to various organizations  from which we are seeking participation in an upcoming family wellness fair, which is being coordinated through the Lutheran Church.  The pastor had written letters to the Red Cross, the local health clinic director, the regional health director and the local mayor.  Each original letter needed to be hand-delivered, and both the original and a copy required stamps and signatures from the recipient (or a representative).  We kept the copies; the originals stayed in the various offices we visited.  We received lovely welcomes, we had great conversations, and we also waited outside office doors for significant chunks of time.

There is no question that the personal conversations were fruitful.  We also shared surprise hugs and greetings with a few friends in the clinic waiting areas. Yet, this process of securing copies, delivering documents, waiting, stamping and signing is just so cumbersome for someone who is accustomed to online forms, email, texts and phone calls.

So, the majority of this day was spent riding around in a car and hanging out in waiting rooms.  Certainly something could be learned from this experience.  Here are my reflections:  I think there could be less traffic in San Salvador if people did not have to do all of their paper-passing, signing, and stamping in person.  I think perpetual waiting is frustrating and makes it difficult to get anything done on time.  I think sick people who need sick pay would benefit from a more efficient system.  I think pastors who drop everything to drive here and there to help out a young man with a broken leg are awesome.  I think car conversations and chance meetings in waiting rooms are precious.  I think it's wonderful that government agencies and humanitarian organizations are so eager to learn about the work of the Lutheran Church and to partner with the church and local communities to improve the well-being of the people.  I think there is value in meeting with people face-to-face and working to build relationships as we prepare to work together.


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