Showing posts from 2010

Sparking in the New Year

"Stand further back!" "We're fine, Mom." "Don't light all of those at one time!" "Alma did it!" Fireworks from the stadium. Fireworks in the streets. Fireworks in the yard. New Year's Eve in San Salvador . . . maybe not every mother's dream . . . but lots of fun for kids who like sparklers, whistlers, fountains and big BOOMS. These photos were taken during our second New Year's Eve in El Salvador... some are mine and others were taken by a friend named Ric h. Enjoy.

A Happy New Year

Clink, clinkety, clink. BANG! POP-pop-pop-BANG!!! The firecrackers hit the corrugated tin roof and before they could roll to the ground exploded with an awesome noise, plenty loud both inside the house and out. Sleeping was not part of our itinerary for our first New Year's Eve in El Salvador. Dancing was! Our own kids were down for the count with systems catching up with a week of local food, but my husband and I joined the rest of the families in the Casa Comunal for a lively New Year's Eve dance. One of my favorite images is of tall and lanky "J" who was in his awkward teen years dancing with a gorgeous young woman from the community who was decked out in a little off-the-shoulder yellow top, tight black pants and spike heels. Oh my -- J was having the night of his life. We danced like crazy, laughing and bringing the new year in with loud music and big sweaty smiles. After the dance, we headed back to our host family homes to catch a little sleep before an ea

El Sombrero Azul

In my mind I see a big blue sky. Yesterday a funeral was held at our church. A daughter of the congregation was killed in a tragic accident as she was traveling home for Christmas. Her mom, her dad, her sister, her brothers, her boyfriend, her friends, her Sunday School teachers...all are crying, all are grieving. And even though our sisters and brothers in El Salvador do not know this daughter of God personally, they are grieving too, because as family in Christ we are connected in prayer and joy and sadness. A s messages of Feliz Navidad and Merry Christmas passed between us, so did requests for prayer and words of comfort. ... my eyes turned toward the huge blue sky and the thoughts that came to mind were these: God is the creator of life , the creator of all that exists. In life at all time s in some places it is night and in other places it is day, in some places new creatures are born and in other places other creatures die ,

Merry Christmas, Material Girls

The girls arrive with their hair in sweet-smelling curls and a little make-up on their lips and cheeks. Their moms are also lovely, with a little bit of anxiousness in their eyes and nervousness in their movements. The space is decorated with balloons and streamers and proud families take their seats in borrowed folding metal chairs. The ceremony begins with the national anthem, blaring out from enormous speakers. The pastor gives a prayer and the master of ceremonies introduces various dignitaries...a local mayor, pastors, the sewing school teachers, and sometimes, guests from the United States. Christmas vacation in our sister church community in El Salvador incl udes a highlight - celebrating graduation day at the sewing school. The idea of a sewing school and cooperative was one that was birthed early on in our relationship. Over the years we have hauled and shipped machines, equipment, and fabric. We have supported the students with prayer and gifts of graph paper, pencils, t

Rum Pum Pum Pum

We arrived with our families on Christmas Day. We gathered inside the little church, and it was already getting dark. The benches were set up around the perimeter of the walls so that all could see the children who were gathered in the center. Pastor Santiago took on the role of director, gently placing his hands onto kids' shoulders and guiding them into place. Then he bent over, face to faces, so he could give the children some final instructions before the pageant began. The girls were dresse d in their best white dresses, which first appeared at their baptisms or first communions. They carried shepherd staffs, which glittered with Christmas garland. They sang a few songs, and then invited one of our kids, a drummer, to join them for a special song. They handed him some sticks and a little home-made drum and invited him to sit with the others and give the beat. "Come, they told me, pa rum pa pum pum. A newborn king to see, pa rum pa pum pum..." This was adorabl

Holly Jolly Christmas

We were driving through a holiday lights display, laughing at the animated images of Santa in his workshop and the bears in the bakery. With the fresh blanket of snow all around us, the lights were especially pretty. "When you were a little girl, did you celebrate Christmas with the story of Santa Claus?" I asked my friend from El Salvador. It was her second visit to the US - her first time in the snow. "Yes," she said. "The parents told the children about Santa Claus, but really, the parents made little gifts for their children. We had Christmas trees. The big stores had trees and decorations and you could visit Santa. Now, with electricity in the communities, people put lights on their Christmas trees. Some houses in the community have lights, but not as much as this," she said, pointing out the car window. The Christmas traditions in El Salvador are an eclectic mix of pilgrimages to find Jesus and pilgrimages to Metro Centro, of straw reindeer an

Looking for Jesus

All around the world, Christians are setting out decorations and preparing to celebrate the coming of Christ as a baby. Each culture, each community, each family has its own special traditions. On my fifth birthday a little friend gave me a cardboard nativity set. Every year, on the first weekend in December, I carefully take it from its box and set it up. In this house, it has always gone on the kitchen counter. I unfold the base, insert the stable pieces, put the roof on, insert the background. Each vertical piece has little slots that slip into little semi-circles that fold up from the base. The pieces have to go in order...the animals, the shepherds, the wise men, the adoring child. After everything else is in place, I take up the last piece...Mary is dressed in a soft blue and Joseph in red stands behind her, and in her lap is a chubby baby Jesus. I look at this piece for some moments, and think about what it was like to be Mary. Maybe this is something every girl, every

Tales of Greasy and Grubby: Yes, they are waiting...

Waking up on time was not a problem. The rain pounding on the tin roof during the long hours of the night was followed by the roosters crowing and the all-dog alert, so that before the sun came up, we were already finished with any attempt of sleeping. We slithered out of our sleep sacks and peeked into our shoes (hoping a random mouse, cockroach or scorpion had not settled inside for the night) before we slipped them on and headed for the latrine. That old latrine experience was always an adventure. Weaving in and under the plants, the short little distance to the potty seemed longer than it really was, especially in the dark. The outhouse was just wide and deep enough for the cement seat and a skinny person. The 2-foot step down into the outhouse carried a moment of mystery...would it be squishy full of mud? would the cockroaches scurry up the walls? Greasy had a harder time of it, being so tall that she could not really stand up without bumping her head on who knows what. It

A Banquet Parable

Our first visit... We arrived in sister church community in the late afternoon. Seven of us had broken off from the synod delegation to spend time with people we knew through story and the occasional email. A celebration awaited us, but news of a family in mourning had been shared with our sister pastor. We walked down an unfamiliar dirt path, down a hill to a home where many people had gathered. The crowd parted so that we strangers could enter the home. It was very dark inside, and as our eyes adjusted to the candlelight we could see the family members weeping at the loss of their daughter. Maybe she was ten years old. Our sister pastor did not really know the family, but in moments of trouble and grief, there is community and solidarity and faith. The smell of the candles, the cadence of prayers of the rosary, the sweaty heat of many bodies inside the adobe house, the confusion of not knowing how to behave at a vigil for a little girl in a country we had just met cement thi

Joy in the Neighborhood

Today I saw this picture, and it brought tears to my eyes. Yesterday was a great day in our sister church community. The congregation gathered to celebrate the baptism of Luisito, Vanesa's baby brother. Luisito is a miracle baby. He was born more than a month too soon, and was so very little. At two months old, he was still smaller than most newborns, and he seemed not to respond to much. But yesterday, at almost age 1 and thriving, he was baptized, and this photo was taken at the party. Luisito's story is enough to bring tears, but it was the sight of happy kids with that piñata that got to me. There is another photo from yesterday which tells the story of the piñata - a photo of my friend Julia who recently started a new business maki ng piñatas. In that photo, Julia stands amidst her creations, smiling with a big, huge, happy smile. This is the smile I remember from before the murder. More than a year ago, Julia's son was murdered. Dragged out of his home in the

Tortillas for Thanksgiving

Soon it will be time once again to bake the squash bread, the sweet potato biscuits, the apple pie, and to stuff the turkey. It will be time to fill the house with a big crowd of people, to say grace together, and to enjoy the bounty of the harvest. Cooking on Thanksgiving is something I always do...even when in El Salvador. Last year, we were in El Salvador for Thanksgiving. We were staying at the guest house for the Lutheran church, along with a couple of other North Americans who were serving as missionaries in El Salvador. Our little group decided to make Thanksgiving dinner. We were graciously given full access to the kitchen, and after a trip to Super Selectos, we cooked for those who usually cook for us. It wasn't fancy. Pulled chicken in creamy gravy. Mashed potatoes. Dinner rolls. F resh salad. Fruit salad. We couldn't find onion rings or green beans, so we opted for cooked broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. We gathered to say grace together, in one big cir

Getting Ready for the New Day

When my kids were little they really enjoyed reading Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever, and some of the favorite pages showed Little Bear "getting ready for the new day." We all have our routines for getting ready for the new day, and my routine still includes announcing to my dog, "Mommy's going upstairs to get ready for the new day." I am girly girl. Fifteen years of Boy Scout camping and eleven years of globe-trotting and hanging out in El Salvador have not changed my routine, and getting ready for the new day in El Salvador has brought plenty of children in our sister church community plenty of entertainment. I wake up to the sounds of roosters and dogs and calls of "paaaan franceeeeés." I tippy toe to the door, which, with its metal latch is not easy to open quietly, and catch a breath of cool fresh air. After a little visit to the latrine, I sneak back into the house and grab my towel and shampoo. Although I am a girly girl, I am also

Off the Beaten Path: Tonaca

Our sister church community is located in the municipality of Tonacatepeque, so every now and then we are able to spend a little time in the center of this small city. The locals call it Tonaca , and it is a lovely and quiet town with a bit of colonial personality. The town square is home to a park which features big old trees, benches for resting, a gazebo made from concrete designed to look like a giant tree trunk, scattered small statues of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and a fountain which features a young boy taking an eternal pee.  It is this fountain near the corner entrance to the park that gives visitors a clue to the rich and unique folk history of this little part of El Salvador. The people of Tonaca are known as j icameros, and jicama is plentiful in the stalls of the local market (which are set up in the mornings along one side of the town square). Ask any of the women in the market or the old men resting in the park about the fountain, and you might get to hear th

Little Capes, Big Difference

Earlier this summer we visited a community called Guadalupe . It is a community of people who live each day with eyes toward the sky, looking for the dark clouds that bring rain, and with ears toward the volcano, listening for the rumble that could mean rock slide. There is a warning system. When the siren blares, often in the night, the moms and dads gather their children and run for the safety of a nearby field - safe from the rocks but not from the rain. The leaders in the community had described the evacuation process, humbly asking us to help with "capitas." In the telling, it was hard for us to figure out exactly what was being asked of us because it seemed like maybe they needed wagons or strollers in which to pile the kids so they could run faster. As we debriefed on our experience in Guadalupe, we double-checked our dictionary and realized that what they were asking for was "little capes" -- rain ponchos for the children! We took up a small offering amo

Performers in the Streets

I was reminded by fellow blogger, Tim , of something which we often encounter when driving through the busy intersections in San Salvador -- street performers. I always have mixed feelings when we witness these quick performances. The performers are usually male, often appear to be young teens, and their abilities and showmanship are many times quite amazing! Yet it is sad to me that the young ones are not in school, and it is worrisome to me when they dart out at the change of the stoplight, sometimes late at night, hoping to entertain and hoping to receive a bit of compensation in appreciation of their performances. I can envision jugglers with bowling pins, boys maneuvering balls on pairs of sticks, a few clowns, and lately, musicians. So, I went on a mission, looking for photos of performers among the many thousands of photos in my "Everything El Salvador" folder . . . and I could only find ONE photo. Of course, I might have some from the pre-digital era, but it real

Pilgrimage to the Chamulapa

It was my friend's turn to have a vision . . . A river. No walls. God's church. All are welcome. Sometimes the mystery of God's work is not revealed until we look back. Our first group visit to our sister church community in El Salvador had included a midweek medical clinic and worship with the celebration of baptism. Our next visit was a celebration of Christmas with more baptisms. Our next visit included home visits which brought the community into the church for a night worship in the rain. As we we were planning for the next visit, God gave us the thought of uniting a mission of healing with the spiritual healing of baptism at a worship to which all were invited and all would feel welcomed. I saw us at the river - at the Chamulapa. When we talked with our sister church pastor, he agreed that the Chamulapa was the perfect place for a service of baptism. Those who were afraid to come into the Lutheran Church, because of their Roman Catholic roots or the church

Day of the Child

During October, Salvadoran communities celebrate the Day of the child. Officially, the celebration date is October 1st, but it seems like the whole month of October is an opportunity for schools and churches and communities to have special fiestas, field trips, and educational events which lift up the well-being of children. This week, I have been receiving emails from some of the Lutheran Church sister communities. Each message has been a positive expression of the cooperation which is taking place between the federal government, local officials, heath workers, youth grou ps, and the church. Kids are having fun and staying safe, receiving check-ups, eating cake, laughing with clowns, playing with toys, breaking piñatas, singing, dancing, watching puppet shows, eating cookies and jello and working with teachers to learn more about the rights of children. One of my favorite Day of the Child memories was a visit Greasy and I had with our sister church school. The kindergarten, first

The Day of the Grandma Queens

We were gathering up our things and getting ready to leave La Palma, when one of our group shouted out, "Look, a parade!" We were treated to the parade of the Grandmother Queens. People crowded along the main street through town to watch a line of decorated pick-up trucks, each one carrying a special Grandma Queen. We waved and clapped as the Grandmothers and their entourages passed by: The Queen of the Sewing, The Queen of the House, The Queen of Nursing, The Queen of the kitchen, and The Queen of ... well, we weren't su re, but she had a truck filled with white balloons. Each queen proudly wore a sash and waved her queenly wave. As we watched the regal and beautiful grandmothers pass by, my friend and I were reminded of a special afternoon spent with a lovely Grandma Queen in our sister community. Now we understood a little better the honor and beauty of the Day of the Grandma Queens. After the parade, our Salvadoran pastor gave his mother a beautiful bouquet of ca

Medicine Run

My photos are organized into folders. Layers and layers of folders. Under "Everything El Salvador" is a long list of photos by year and by month, and then by place or event. In this labyrinth there is one folder which holds just 3 photos. It is entitled, "The Medicine Run." The photos do not really tell the whole story - a story which perfectly illustrates the kind of crazy, "how did I end up here?" kind of experiences in which I often find myself when I am in El Salvador. We had been staying in our sister church community for some days, running our sixth Mission of Healing. This had become an annual event during which we teamed up with local health care workers to examine several hundred women and children and men, to provide care for acute infections, and to provide families with basic medications to relieve pain, reduce fever and promote good health. Reiki healing, shoulder massage, hugs and prayer were a big part of the healing experience. Be

Blog Action Day: No Hay Agua (There's No Water)

No hay agua. No hay agua. The phrase echos through one house, then another. There's no water. Our sister community was born in 1996 as a resettlement community of in-country war refugees. Back then, the water came from "the dirty river" - a stream of mostly run-off water that gathered at the bottom of the hill. Or, women could walk an hour to a spring-fed river - a lovely gushing water source during the rainy season, and a trickle through a dry ditch during the dry season. A great place to play and bathe and scrub laundry on the rocks along the stream. The first w ell was dug at the bottom of the hill near the dirty river. Women dipped their buckets into the well, filled their plastic jugs and carried water up the hill. The installation of a windlass was a good improvement. The installation of an electric pump was even better. A few more years passed, the community grew, and water sources were placed in the pathways. It didn't take long for the development of

Off the Beaten Path: Fire and Water

"Let's go check out some fun places." I love it when I have some free time and my friends in El Salvador have some free time and they offer to take me to the fun spots. This is really excellent for someone who leads delegations on a regular basis, and this is how I found out about the sports complex in Nejapa. We drove th rough the town and got a little history lesson about the tradition of boys throwing fireballs at each other: "Las Bolas De Fuego" every 31st of August. The historical story is that the local volcano erupted more than 300 years ago and forced the villagers of the old Nejapa village to flee and resettle at its current location. The community remembers this event by watching boys throw balls (balled-up rags soaked in a flammable liquid) at each other. There is also a legend about a saint fighting the devil with fireballs... On the far side of town the cobbled road dumps you into the complex. After paying a small fee for parking, we walked a