Holy Week in El Salvador: Gifts

This is the fourth in a series of stories which describe our experiences in El Salvador during Holy Week...

Our beloved friends in El Salvador give us gifts.  All the time.

Salvadorans are genuinely generous people.  When we ask delegation members about their experiences, this is consistently the first statement we hear.   We - our family and our church - have experienced radical hospitality from the very first visits we made eighteen years ago.  We have slept in beds while our hosts have slept on the floor.  We have eaten whatever food families can share; sometimes receiving the gift of a family's last chicken.  Precious quarters have purchased cold soda for us on hot afternoons.  Our kids received well-loved and precious toys.  We have been presented with treasured baby photos, cups from the cupboard, homemade cards full of glitter, preserved food and hand-embroidered cloths.

After so many years of visits and now time living in El Salvador, we are called casi-salvadoreños (almost Salvadoran), and we continue to be shown radical hospitality.  As we spend quiet time in a hammock, or share a meal under a hot tin roof, we also witness a communal generosity that is not really spoken about.  It is quiet, under the radar.  When a family's water is shut off, a neighbor runs a hose from her spigot and fills the pila.  When the tree is full of mangoes, everyone on the block enjoys green mango with chili.  When a little one has a birthday, everyone manages to find some little gift for the party.  Sometimes there is nothing to share, and occasionally people feel like they will be criticized for not sharing, but mostly, among the tightly packed houses in one little pasaje, people are generous with one another.

During Holy Week we were in our Salvadoran church community a little more often than usual, and throughout the week we received gifts:  unexpected gifts, gifts humbly and quietly given, gifts given with love.  So along with the waving of palms, the washing of feet and the testimony of the women, the Holy Week story is not complete without the story of a few gifts shared and received.

Miel de Azucar
Just like in any Lutheran Church, the families in Los Héroes have "their" spots in which to sit for worship.  Rows of three new green plastic resin chairs are set up on each side of the center aisle. We sit in the second row on the right.  Every week, there are a mom, a son and a daughter with some cognitive challenges who sit in front of us.  The daughter lights up the room with her smile, and always wants to compare our styles of skirt for the day.  On Palm Sunday, Mom and daughter handed us an object that was wound up well in a black plastic bag.  "Miel de azucar," Mom whispered.  Boiled cane syrup made from the family's own plot of sugar cane.  When we opened up the bag later, we found the syrup stored in a tecomate (a hollowed-out gourd).  This stuff is wonderful on fried plantains or for making granola. 

This was not the only gift we received on Palm Sunday.  Another family had made jacotes en miel - small stone fruits that are sort of like a cross between an apple and a plum, stewed in cane syrup. 

Pirate Eggs
Midweek, we invited a family over for pizza and a movie.  The kids brought pirate eggs!  "Don't worry about breaking them," we were told, "because they are hard!"  Happy Easter, matey! 

Bean Soup
After worship on Holy Thursday, we ended up hanging out to work on the mural on the outside of the church's preschool/Sunday School space.  Concerned for our well-being, Sonia told us we would be eating lunch at her house.  When the sun became too intense for work, we walked down the hill.  We sat in a tiny space, at a tiny table, on bright pink chairs and ate bean soup with egg.  Sonia told us that her kids will not eat bean soup made by anyone else because they like it the way she makes it.  It's all about the rice.  She is picky about how the rice is put in.  Simple and few ingredients, and oh so delicious.  Sonia made it special because she knows I love her bean soup.

Marañon fruit with the seeds attached
Cashew seeds removed from the fruit
Don Neto came up the hill as we were getting ready to leave the community on Holy Thursday.  "Do you like marañones?"  These are the fruits which produce cashew seeds.  He ran home to grab a bag-full which he had harvested from the small trees beside his home.  He smiled so broadly that his eyes crinkled as he handed me the bag. Neto had even had taken time to wash the fruits.  The bag oozed sticky juice onto my hands and skirt during the car ride home.  I cleaned the fruits quickly, cutting off a bit of mold here and there.   I made my way outside with a little bee, drunk on the sticky juice.  I had to look online for a video to figure out what to do with the fruits and seeds, and I ended up making a refresco (smoothy) with the fruit.  (The recipe will be featured in a future blog post.  True confessions - that refresco was a bit chewy but tasted pretty good.  It tasted even better with a shot of Flor del Fuego.)

Green Mangos, Tamales and Torrejas
Neto's son insisted on sharing more fruit with us on Easter Sunday.  The mangos he gave us were tiny and green.  Pastor Santiago shook his head thinking those mangos would never soften up.  We left them on the kitchen counter for a week.  We peeled them, sliced them, added lime and chili, and they were delicious!

The mother from the row in front of us gave us another bundled-up, black plastic bag.  It was warm and heavy - tamales!  And another mother, the same one who had made the jacotes en miel presented us with a container filled with warm torrejas - which is similar to French toast, made with vanilla bread soaked in cane syrup.  These foods are Salvadoran special-occasion foods.  These are gifts given to beloved family and honored guests.  We feel like both.

Fun Foam and Glitter

Salvadoran youth are immensely creative in their use of fun foam.  On Easter Sunday, our son and his wife were given a very extra special fun foam gift - a glittery pink candle.  It was presented to the two of them with great ceremony.  Our son is well known in the community from stories of his visits when he was much younger.  His wife was meeting the community for the very first time.  The two of them were very touched by this simple sparkly gift.  We spent some time during the sermon reflecting on the stories of the past and looking for connections among young adults who were very young children when our sister church relationship began. 

Thank you, Los Héroes, for a very special Holy Week.  Thank you for the gifts, the fun and the love.

Other stories in this series:

Holy Week in El Salvador:  Easter Sunday
Holy Week in El Salvador:  Good Friday
Holy Week in El Salvador:  Holy Thursday
Holy Week in El Salvador:  Palm Sunday


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