We Remember the Joy
The sun slipped below the San Salvador Volcano, casting bright orange and pink streaks across the purpling sky. Mothers were gathered at the corner, chatting as their little ones zoomed around with red and yellow plastic trucks. Students began arriving home from school, trudging up the hill wearing comfy blue gym pants and white t-shirts and carrying loaded backpacks. Yessenia sat on the curb, minding her pop-up store which she sets up every afternoon in front of the church.
The church doors and windows were wide open. Cristina cut out and decorated the number 27. People sat around inside and out, chatting and sharing stories. Children worked on homework. We watched a video I had posted on YouTube from last year's anniversary celebration and laughed about Marcelino's love of fireworks. The pupusas arrived. We sat in the sanctuary in a big circle of green plastic chairs, licked salsa and curtido from our fingers, and drank hot coffee. More people arrived. Chairs were passed out to the church porch. Karla went to get more pupusas. Children tumbled around on the floor. It was a party.
We projected a few videos. Vacaciones Navideñas 2001 (Christmas Vacation 2001) caught the crowd's attention and elicited pointing and screeches and giggles. "Look how little I was!" There's this person or that. "That's my mom - I never imagined seeing her again - and in a video." We talked about our memories. "I feel happy but also a little sad in my throat."
People recalled the early years when visiting delegation members stayed in homes. Some very funny stories were shared about those Los Héroes sleepover visits. Lucy fondly remembered Pastor Greg and his daughter. Her husband passed away not that long ago. He appeared in the 2001 video narrating for a boy rubbing cobs of dried corn. Community members confessed they were very nervous about hosting guests in their homes, recalling that in the early years, their homes were humble, without floors, electricity or water, and they worried about food. Even now, they said, they would still feel a little nervous.
The three hermanos (literally brothers - the male members of the delegation) stayed with our family: Jim, Pastor David and Beto. Jim went running in the morning with our son, Carlos. My children slept under the table so that the hermanos could have our beds. (Mirian, remembering a visit in August, 2000)
It is 2023. Evenings are now peaceful...enough. Families are now confident...enough. Delegations could stay in the community at night. Families could host guests in their homes. The church could host a pajama party on a night such as this: March 23, 2023 - the evening of the community's 27th anniversary.
Yessenia stayed open a little later than usual. It was fun to learn about her business. She gets up at 3 AM to go to the fruit market in San Salvador, but the papaya is grown locally.
Children became sleepy, as did many grown-ups. Some families went home to their own beds, because they had to get up at 3 or 4 AM to get to work and to school. About 15 children and adults stayed at the church. The fourth graders needed to complete an El Salvador relief map project which required a great deal of help from the parents, aunties, friends and older helpers.
The church doors and windows remained open all night. A couple of the children fell asleep on mattresses brought from home, covered with fleece blankets. A couple of the kids were intent on building a fort with their blanket (after their moms said they could not use their mattress as a toboggan). Lucy stayed up all night, keeping the anniversary vigil. At one point we thought we heard the carreta chillona, but we know it really was big, black birds that squawk by the river at night. A couple of adults slept for an hour, myself included.
Three o'clock brought rooster crows and the sounds of people heading off to work. At 3:30 AM, we heard the first cohetes (rocket made with a long bamboo stick) shoot into the sky from near the soccer field. At 4:00 AM, Pastor Santiago drove up the road to pick up the chuco. Teresita makes this traditional Salvadoran beverage every year in the traditional way, with black corn cooked for hours and left to ferment over night and cooked again with little red beans. Big buckets of chuco were set on the table by the church door, accompanied by fresh ground alguashte (green pumpkin seeds - pepitas) and chile.
At 4:30 AM, Julia was ready with her palo encendido (a tree branch burning on one end) to light the church cohetes. Marcelino is an expert at shooting off these rockets, and one by one, they flew into the sky. Then we gathered in front of the church to sing Las Mañanitas (the traditional Salvadoran birthday song) to the community and give inspirational words.
Little by little, the sun brought pink to the sky. We dipped our pan francés (little soft white breads) into the warm chuco, savoring the tangy goodness in the cool morning air. One by one, in the morning light, folks stopped by the church. Some were on their way to work and picked up cups of chuco to go. Others brought plastic mugs, metal pitchers or small pots to fill with chuco to take home to their families. "Happy anniversary!" we said. "Happy anniversary!" they responded.
The moms and the aunties and the friends went to sleep on the mattresses on the floor beside their children. Someone took a bucket of chuco to the school. A few of us walked down the hill to watch the school children run a little obstacle course and play other games. It was Recreation Day! They would have chuco in addition to a special treat: rice made with milk.
It's hard to express the feeling of joy we shared as a church family by spending a night in the church, doors and windows opened and welcoming, laughing and sleeping, without fear or worry.
Happy anniversary, Los Héroes!
"We have suffered much, but together we remember the joy." (Pastor Santiago, March 23, 2023)