Showing posts from 2016

Kits for Girls

The plans for the Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fair are well in place for February 2017.  One new teaching discussion that we will have in the coming year is entitled "Menstruation:  Myths and Facts."  As part of the teaching charla , we hope to offer the girls and women washable hygiene kits.  We are using the patterns and instructions from Days for Girls International  and we invited women and women's groups to help create the kits. The response has been tremendous!  We should have close to 500 kits for the North alone! (depending on how the January sewing events go). Because the kits are sure to be wildly popular, we encourage continued and increased involvement!  The Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fair model takes us into different rural communities in the Northern region each year.  The Central South Fair is held in the capital city, and people are bused into a central location.  In both settings, women and girls will continue to need kits.  T

Unexpected Christmas Images

Whenever I am in El Salvador in November, I marvel at the early abundance and diversity of Christmas decorations which adorn public spaces and homes alike.  Even in the churches, congregations deck their halls and light up the Christmas trees well before the first week of Advent. Stores advertise their "Black Friday" or "Black Evening" sales.  This is hilarious to me since there is no Thanksgiving celebration nor actual "Black Friday" as a day off from work on which to go shopping.  Giant inflatable Santas are put out in parking lots and reindeer made from straw sit out on sidewalks.  The competition among businesses is stiff as they entice customers to spend their aguinaldo  (thirteenth month pay - an early December bonus paid to workers in the formal economy). Despite the clear commercial element to the early decorating, I think there is truly a great deal of joy which the Salvadoran people have in decorating and lighting things up in anticipation of

A Sea of Flowers

Day after day the green grass grows taller, little by little hiding the roadside landscape such that the San Salvador volcano appears to emerge as an island in a sea of green, and the distant hills of Guazapa seem truncated from their base. Day by day we drive the well-worn route along the periferico  - the peripheral highway that carries us from San Salvador north.  When the grass is short and the air is clear we take photos along the way, catching a quick glimpse of the San Vicente volcano in the distance or the cloud formations over Guazapa.  As the years have gone by, large factories, a trucking corral, and tightly packed rows of houses surrounded by concrete walls have invaded the landscape, yet the grass continues to thrive. One day, unexpectedly, the grass produced blooms - big, white, feathery blooms that gleam in the sunlight. Our pastor tells us that this valley has been planted with sugar cane for as long as he can remember, as long as his father can remember.  Before

This is our King

As we drove down the road to Tonaca, a pick-up truck pulled out in front of us.  "Hey, it's Jesus!" my husband said, as we followed close behind.  The large statue of Jesus stood on a processional platform, with the wooden handles laid across the sides of the bed of the pick-up.  Jesus wore a golden crown and robes of white and crimson red - the traditional colors chosen for Jesus by most Roman Catholic churches for their Christ the King celebrations.  In the back of the truck, a man was practically wrestling with Jesus, as the strong wind tried to lift the statue right out of the truck.  We followed the truck all the way into our sister church community.  They turned off at the Catholic Church, and we climbed up the hill to the Lutheran Church. Christ the King Sunday is a Lutheran tradition too.  The decorations in the Lutheran Church were already blue for the coming season of Advent.  A little Christmas tree stood in the corner with blinking lights.  The pastor we

Off the Beaten Path: A Fiesta to Remember in Tonaca

Siguanaba, Headless Priest and Cipitio The sun fell low in the sky.  At every turn we were confronted by ghosts and ghouls, devils, screaming women , and headless priests.  She was there...the Siguanaba !  Along with her pitiful little son, Cipitio.  The legends of Tonacatepeque had come to life as they do every year for the November 1st Fiesta de la Calabiuza.  (Calabiuza is a word which is like the Spanish word calabaza  which means "pumpkin" - but in the local vernacular means "skull.")  Characters from imagination and legend wandered the cobbled streets and posed for photos.  Some ran up to us, screaming and acting their roles with great enthusiasm. As the evening light grew dim, the characters gathered around their hand-drawn carts - some with metal bases, some constructed of wood and bamboo, most with big wooden wheels. Adorned with skulls, coffins, large paper-maché characters, and carved calabiuza skulls, the carts were designed and decorated by diff

The Legend of La Llorona - The Moaning Woman

"What is the story of the screaming bride who clenches her dead baby?" we asked.  Not too many people could tell us the details about this legend, though some of the most convincingly scary figures in the Celebration of the Calabiuza  in Tonacatepeque this year were dressed as this tale's ghostly brides. This girl was legitimately scary. She ran up behind us screaming at full force! The legend may have originated in Mexico, but it is told throughout El Salvador and other Latin American countries.  Like many Salvadoran tales, this one was probably created, adapted or propagated by missionaries and priests in order to teach the native peoples a moral and societal lesson... There once was a beautiful peasant girl who lived in the countryside near a large hacienda.  When she was old enough, she took a job at the hacienda and attracted the attention of a young man.  He was the son of the owner of the hacienda and was an educated and handsome man.  He and th

Off the Beaten Path: ¿Donde está el Baño?

It's your first time in El Salvador.  You are excited and a little nervous.  You have done your best to memorize a little bit of Spanish, and you have mastered three very helpful phrases: Mucho gusto - pleased to meet you Con permiso - may I come in, or excuse me ¿Donde está el baño? - where is the bathroom. You have been well prepared by your trip leader, and you are confident that you can keep these three important rules: Do not use the water to brush your teeth. Never eat lettuce. Never pass up a flush toilet. Well, first time visitor, have I got great news for you!   Parque Cuscatlán now features brand new bathrooms!   I won't tell you exactly where they are, because, of course, you will want to test out the appropriate Spanish phrase which you worked so hard to memorize.  There are plenty of signs in the park pointing you in the right direction if you can't find anyone on whom to test out your "¿ Donde está el baño?" And you guessed it,

The Day After The Election

November 8, 2016.  We hosted an election-returns  fiesta  in our home in El Salvador for friends from the United States who live here.  We were a like-minded group.  The US Embassy in El Salvador held an online symbolic vote for anyone who wanted to click on the link with results giving 79% of the vote to Secretary Clinton and 21% to Mr. Trump.  That seemed pretty positive.  Our group was 100% for Hillary Clinton. As the map turned red, the positivity waned and our stress increased.  Never had we hosted a party during which no one could sit down, during which inboxes were exploding with texts and messages, from friends both in the States and El Salvador, expressing worry and dismay.  At one point I received a call from our sister church pastor:  "I don't understand what the media is saying," he said.  I tried to explain our system.  It is difficult for Salvadorans to understand how the media is allowed to predict or report results while citizens in parts of our country

Off the Beaten Path: Swim Little Turtles, Swim!

A few days ago, we held tiny sea turtles in our hands.  They were only one hour old.  We were taught how to pick them up, gently grasping them by the shell, between thumb and forefinger so their little flippers were free to wiggle through the air. A few days ago, we gently set little turtles on the sand and watched them scurry, scurry toward the waves. A few days ago, we were part of a movement which has released 46,000 baby sea turtles so far this year in an effort to preserve these beautiful, ancient sea creatures. We found out about this opportunity through a friend who saw it on an ex-pat Facebook page (a page where folks from the US and who live in El Salvador post helpful information).  We got up early and headed toward La Libertad, asking at a few points along the way for directions to the specific beach. Once we arrived, we were greeted by our guide, Francisco, and were seated in plastic chairs under a palm-frond canopy.  First we would receive the charla (educational

Making a Living on the Day of the Dead

In El Salvador, the 2nd of November is not a day to go to work or school.  Known as El Día de los Difuntos  or the Day of the Dead, it is a quiet day.  It is a day on which families go to the cemetery to spend time with their loved ones who have passed on to the next life. In the Roman Catholic tradition, November 2nd is All Souls Day - a day dedicated to praying for the departed loved ones who are passing time in Purgatory.  Masses are said and intercessions are made in the hopes of shortening the time loved ones have before entering heaven.  In El Salvador, whatever their faith tradition, families find comfort in observing the Day of the Dead.  Especially for families whose hearts are broken by the loss of young lives due to violence, this day brings a chance to remember with photos, candles, flowers and time at the grave. On November 1st, we traveled to Tonacatepeque for the Fiesta de Calabiuza .  This is an elaborate celebration of the spooky folk legends of the region, and

Smiling, Waving, Friendly Lutherans and The Reformation

I put some thought into my outfit for the day. Sensible black skirt, sensible black shoes, a white polo shirt with a big Luther Rose embroidered near the right shoulder, and a hand-made wooden cross hanging around my neck. Just in case we were stopped at the entrance to the community, the clear Lutheran Church identity could be useful. As we turned into the narrow dirt lane, with our windows rolled down, I waved. A few people hanging out at the palm-frond-covered bus stop waved back. A guy smiled. "Good," we thought. It was slow going because months of rain had washed away both sides of the road up to the paved area. Our slow pace gave us the chance to call out "buenos días" to people standing outside their homes and the school. It's important to let anyone controlling the streets know who you are, and to connect with friends who recognize you. It's also just more fun to be those crazy, friendly, smiling Lutherans.   The paved area gave way to ro

The Migration Table

It was a beautiful cool night, and a glorious clear morning.  The little, green parrots flocked noisily to their daytime home in a nearby tree at 5:45 am, as they do without fail every single morning.  They are incredibly loud and fun to watch at later hours in the day. We had to leave early to navigate our way through traffic and out of the city.  We were meeting in Guazapa with the Mesa de Migración  for the northern region of Lutheran Churches.  The Migration Table was formed by the church to better care for families impacted by migration due to violence. The participants in the  Mesa  are pastors, healthcare workers, police representatives and local government officials. The meeting began with a review of cases by municipality.  The "cases" consist of internally displaced families and "returned" people - that is, people who were deported from the US or caught and returned while journeying north.  The Mesa  keeps track of the cases so they can be recorded and

Off the Beaten Path: Climbing up the Mountain with Super Abuela (Part 2)

Shall we continue up the mountain? Yes, everyone including the grandmother said yes. We climbed up and up to the Cocina Vietnamita (the little Vietnam kitchen) - an ingenious design of a kitchen built into the hillside, complete with tunnels lined with clay roof tiles that vented the smoke a long distance away from the cooking site.  This was done so that air reconnaissance could not detect the exact locations of the guerrilla cooking fires. We continued our climb up to the former FMLN camp.  For a while, the teen boys carried my backpack and the other grandmother's purse.  Eventually they grabbed Super-Grandma under her arms and carried her up the steep, rocky grade so that her feet hovered just above the ground.  This was a very sweet act of kindness by the boys, and not a word was spoken as they scooped her up to fly.  We finally made it to a camp which is named after some kind of snake.  (I did not understand what the guide said as the name of the snake.)  Here the guide

Off the Beaten Path: Climbing Up the Mountain with a Super Grandmother

On October 4, 2012, I wrote a story about a Grandmother.  After a little hiatus away from blogging (with my own grandchildren), today I realized it is October 4th once again.  In memory of the grandmothers who have gone before us and in honor of all of the super-grandmas who climb mountains, crawl around on the floor, bake yummy treats, tell inspirational stories and give fabulous hugs, I am writing today's blog story.  ¡¡Que viva las super abuelas!! We wandered around the small town of Cinquera , then hopped into our micro-bus and, following the instructions from the town-folk, drove a little ways down the road to the roundabout with the giant ceiba tree.  With more than a little bit of skepticism, we hiked up a gravel and dirt road, hoping eventually to find a small rain forest in which we could do a little hiking and swimming.  We arrived at the Cinquera Ecological Park and were warmly greeted by our guide, Raquel.  The park has not been given any status or protection by the