Saturday, June 23, 2018

Protesting 201: Energy

We were crouching in the street, in the rain.  Wait... wait... wait... the student leader told us, then...RUN!!  As everyone ran, I thought, "Ooh, I need to share this idea with Pastor Steve."* 

Strategies for keeping the energy alive during a long protest march or during a series of social action events over a period of time is a challenge.  Environmental groups, human rights groups, and churches in El Salvador have been fighting for a law to protect El Salvador's water resources from the clutches of polluters and money grabbers for 12 long years.  There have been small victories along the way, but every time the political parties which favor the interests of wealth and business increase the number of seats they have in the legislature, new threats arise.  It is incredibly disheartening.

This is why it is critical for community organizers to invite, welcome, educate and encourage young leaders with new energy and new ideas into their social justice movements and organizations.

The student group from the UCA (University of Central America) numbered in the hundreds.  Somehow, our little team of middle-aged Lutherans ended up walking among them.  So, when it was time to crouch, we did our best.  We waited... waited... and RAN!  Well, actually, we slipped off to the side of the road to take some photos, because we realized this marching technique was effective in getting the attention of the press as well as making the march fun for the students.  Every so often, despite the pouring down rain, the drummers slowed their beat, the students and everyone with them crouched, and they waited while a big gap opened up in the line of thousands. Then they ran screaming about water until they caught up with the line. 

photo credit: Tim Muth

Did I mention drums?  Effective.  Batacuda rhythms draw attention, and make the march feel more like a dance.

For a while we walked behind a pick-up truck which held giant speakers and a young woman with a microphone.  She led the chants.  Chanting is also effective at drawing media attention and keeping the marchers focused.  If you have marched in the US and been a part of the back and forth of "Tell me what democracy looks like ... THIS is what democracy looks like" you know what I am talking about.  In the water march, chants of "Alerta! Alerta!" were followed by calls for protection of water from privatization.  El pueblo unido jamás será vencido.  The people united will never be defeated.

No to privatization for the present and the
future of my life.   photo credit: Tim Muth

To see photos and videos of generations of citizens in El Salvador fighting for their rights to potable water, visit the El Salvador Water Forum Facebook Page (Foro del Agua is a consortium of groups including churches which is working together to protect and preserve El Salvador's water resources.)

*Pastor Steve, you're welcome.  To everyone who knows Pastor Steve:  Wear proper footwear.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Protesting 101

My phone rang.

"Grimmy," chirped my 4-year-old grandson, "we went protesting today."

Our daughter had organized her two children, ages 2 and 4, and led a protest of 3 on a busy street corner in her city.  It was quickly organized, so not surprising no one else showed up.  The kids made posters.  The kids told me they decorated their posters with "lots of people."

"I'm protesting with my mom so other kids can stay with theirs!!!"
"End Family Separation!"

"Wanna know my favorite part, Grimmy?  The beeping and the waving, and there were people giving us thumbs up."

"What were you protesting?"  I asked.

"Mr. Sessions and President Trump don't know how to share.  And that is not nice," the little guy stated with authority.

Our daughter tweeted out a series of suggestions about how to talk with preschoolers about what is happening with the separation of families at the US southern border.  Use age-appropriate language and concepts, and gather books from the library to stimulate conversation and questions.  A family favorite is A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara.

Our grandchildren are experienced little protesters.  I don't remember ever taking my own children out to protest.  I don't remember my parents ever taking me or my siblings out to protest; protesting was something "other" people did.  That was in the 1960's.  I was a little kid and completely uninformed about civil rights movements or protesting about redlining in my community. 

During the last 23 years of being in relationship with the people of El Salvador, I have learned a lot about my own ignorance and my own lack of political action domestically and internationally.  As an adult, I protested for the first time in El Salvador.  I advocated with local government in El Salvador.  I participated in marches, civil actions and protests in El Salvador.  Why?  Because I was asked to accompany and to advocate alongside brothers and sisters in the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.

Being in relationship with a church that works intentionally, publicly and politically on behalf of struggling people has inspired much of the work that I now do in the US.  Working to protect our city's water resources, walking with Black Lives Matter and justice coalitions to change unjust law enforcement practices, and marching with migrants calling for protection for Dreamers are walks that for me began in El Salvador.  Many of my friends who also connected in solidarity with the people of El Salvador or other places around the globe describe a similar personal journey of evolution in their domestic work through international experiences. 

This story began with the protest musings of a 4-year-old.  As I was pondering what else to include in the story, I did not really plan for it to take a path into my personal protest journey.  But it did.  And among my musings, a couple of forgotten protest stories from my early years bounced back into my head.  Sometimes, in the midst of the serious, I think it is good to embrace a bit of humor...

My mom is going to read this little tale and probably not remember it as funny.  We grew up with a garden, and typically had lots of delicious fresh or home-frozen vegetables on our table.  However, one winter week, Mom decided to use up the older canned goods from the basement pantry.  She created a couple of meals featuring the yuckiest canned vegetables from the backs of the shelves.  Saturday arrived.  I snuck into the basement pantry and pulled the last yucky cans of asparagus off the shelves and hid them.  Then I secretly organized my younger brothers and sister.  We made posters and taped them to sticks, calling for a boycott of canned asparagus.  We marched around the kitchen table, chanting and holding up the posters, seriously refusing to eat canned asparagus.  We were unsuccessful.  We had to sit at the table and eat canned asparagus.  Truth:  I still cannot eat any kind of cooked asparagus to this day.

A later protest was successful.  One day in high school some friends found fingernails and a hair in their food.  It was disgusting.  It was also not the first time someone found hair in the cafeteria food.  I organized a brown bag lunch protest and we boycotted the cafeteria food.  Gloves and hair nets were introduced.  Victory!

My mom is a little worried about her great-grandchildren protesting.  I get that.  Protesting can have its risks, and as parents and grandparents we work tirelessly to keep our little ones safe.  And that is the point of the protests which families are making right now.  Little ones are not being kept safe.  Little ones are crying for their parents. 

We are marching with our Mommy so that other little ones can stay with theirs.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Water and Protests and Life

"Water:  it's the name of the game."

Eleven years ago, as we walked along the Jordan River, as we looked across irrigated fields from the Golan Heights, as we made our way to the Dead Sea, our guide repeatedly stated:  "Water, it's the name of the game."

Creation cannot survive without water.  The earth is the Blue Planet.  We understand the reality of Conservation of Matter:  we have the water we have. 

El Salvador is a petri dish for water issues.  Almost ALL of the surface water is contaminated.  Blame lack of environmental protection laws.  Blame foreign businesses.  Blame big agriculture.  Although the country has a long rainy season, the rains do not have the chance to soak into the aquifers in order to replenish deeper, cleaner water sources.  Blame big agriculture.  Blame urbanization and pavement. 

Within this context, the current legislature is working to set up a law that would allow water to be privatized.  If you want to study the details about the proposed law and the long struggle which Salvadorans have had in trying to protect their right to protect and access this precious, life-giving resource, you can check out this story from El Salvador Perspectives.  You can also check out a few of the water stories from this blog:
The Right to Water
There's No Water
Ecological March
Precious Water
Notebook Thoughts

Salvadorans know, by their history, what happens when private businesses control water.  The Salvadoran public is well-practiced in protesting, marching, demonstrating and petitioning political leaders in attempts to clean and protect El Salvador's water.  Churches take this work seriously.  Bishops, clergy and congregants are at the forefront of organizing these events and in speaking with the media. 

Will the long-ringing voice of the people and cries of future generations be heard over the enticing siren of financial profits for those in power? 

How will El Salvador's experience inform the peoples of other nations, of those of us with sister church relationships in El Salvador, as we fight to protect water resources in our own communities?

As international partners - as citizens of the world we need to pay attention, to accompany, to walk in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are working to clean and protect El Salvador's water, so that what grows in the petri dish will work in favor of health and life.
Water does not have an owner.  If water is for everyone, the struggle is everyone's.

Thousands of protesters gather on June 16, 2018 for a march
against privatization of water.

University students - note the image of the water bottle lined with cash

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Attempts at Salvadoran Cooking: Refresco de Marañon

When I am in El Salvador, I try to cook with local ingredients and try my hand at whipping up a bit of local fare.  During the Easter holidays, we received a gift of small marañones - cashew apples.  Of course the prized part of the marañon is the seed that hangs down below the fruit.  Some people have told me that the fruit is good for much more than animal feed, but I have seen plenty of marañones stuck on popsicle sticks and put into the freezer as a treat for children, and I also have heard that some people make a refresco or fresh fruit drink from the fruit.  With the gift of a small plastic bag full of small marañones sitting in my kitchen, I decided to do a bit of research and make something with them.  I settled on a refresco.

The first step was to remove the seeds from the apples.  I naively thought I could dry the seeds and maybe roast them.  After all, cashews are delicious.  However, with a little research I learned that inside the little green outer skin there is a very toxin similar to poison oak.  To remove the cashew nut from the outer shell, the green seeds need to be heat processed.  The toxin is very flammable, so either this happens in a big flaming fiesta (not suitable for a city dweller) or can be creatively done by burying the seeds in sand inside an old pot and heating up the whole thing (keeping that sand and pot ONLY for this use).  Well, I gave my seeds to friend who lives out in the country.  Maybe she will plant them or process them. 

The next step was to sort the apples, wash them, get rid of the rotten parts, and chop them up.  They smell a little funky, though they do look like apples.  The raw fruit, like so many fruits in El Salvador, does not really have a flavor comparable to something with which we are familiar in the land of apples, pears and berries (where I live when in the US).  It is is sort of like a not-very-sweet pear.

 My next step was to add some water.  I think another fruit juice could be added instead, such as pineapple, but I wanted to see what the refresco would taste like all on its own.  I did not have a blender (I know, my Salvadoran kitchen definitely needs a blender), but I do have an immersion blender, so I used that.  It took a bit to grind up the fruit.  I added water to get the right texture.  It was a little pulpy (ok, chewy) and I think a real blender could have improved that aspect.  Also, let's be real, this color is not very appetizing.  I added a little sugar and kept it simple.  Cinnamon would be a good addition.

I put the refresco in a jar in the fridge.  It was much better the second day.  It was also a pretty good base for a Flor de Fuego cocktail.

All in all, it was a good first attempt at creating something with marañones.  With some orange and pineapple and ginger, or with some cinnamon and coconut, I think this drink has some serious potential.

Happy cooking!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

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

Friday, April 13, 2018

Holy Week in El Salvador: Easter Sunday

This is the fourth in a series of stories about Holy Week in El Salvador...

In El Salvador, Easter Sunday celebrations are not nearly as large nor lavish as the processions of Good Friday or Palm Sunday.  In part, this is because Easter falls on the last day of the Holy Week vacations.  Families traditionally spend Easter Sunday at home or visiting with extended family.  Because the public buses do not run from Good Friday through Easter, it also difficult for people without cars to get from one place to another.

As I checked my Facebook news feed and sent Easter greetings to family and friends from afar, I ran across a cartoon that made me chuckle and feel sad at the same time.  I remembered reading a post from a pastor friend earlier in the week, "If there were no women prophets, there would be no church."

Cartoon by David Hayward + 
As we made our way into the community and came up the hill, we noticed big pieces of cardboard attached to the fences and gate in front of the church.  Cardboard is typically not the decoration one expects to find on the front of the church on Easter Sunday.  I thought about the sister churches in the US with their elaborate garden-scapes with tulips and lilies and daffodils.

Happy Easter cardboard!

"He has risen!  Run!  Carry the news to the disciples!"

When we got a little closer, we could see that each piece of cardboard featured the silhouette of a woman.  Three witnesses.  Three women proclaiming the miracle of the resurrection.

Women were the first to learn of Jesus' resurrection
As it was on that first Easter, the women of the community shared the Good News with the congregation.  Young women read and reflected on the scripture, and Evangelist Sonia preached for the first time.  Then 3 little girls were invited to take the cardboard off the fence and to share the Good News that Christ is risen with the people in the congregation.  The girls ran from person to person.  "Run and carry the news to the disciples."  Christ is risen, Alleluia!

Other stories in this series include:
Holy Week in El Salvador:  Good Friday 
Holy Week in El Salvador:  Holy Thursday
Holy Week in El Salvador:  Palm Sunday

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Holy Week in El Salvador: Good Friday

This is the third in a series of stories which I am writing during this Holy Week...

Viernes Santo or Holy Friday in El Salvador is a day for processions.  El Salvador is historically Roman Catholic, and cathedrals and churches across the country continue to be the centers from which Holy Friday processions emanate.  Many communities carry on the tradition of creating beautiful carpets in the streets.  Youth groups, church groups and community organizations create designs made from colored salt, sawdust and wood chips.  The designs include images from nature, geometric designs, religious symbols and portraits of beloved saints.

The artists wanted to show the beauty of nature and
a symbol of the ancient cultures in El Salvador - Sonsonate 2018
During the day, communities often walk the Via de las Cruces (the Way of the Cross), following the Roman Catholic tradition of reflecting on 14 moments at the end of Jesus' time on earth,  beginning with Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and concluding with Jesus being laid in the tomb.  Often, the local parish has a statue of Jesus carrying the cross which is mounted on an ornate wooden platform and carried through the streets.  As the pilgrims walk over the carpets, the artwork is honored and destroyed.

The Holy Burial procession will pass over this long path of
palm trees late in the night - Sonsonate 2018
In the evening, some communities walk for long hours, commemorating the Santo Entierro or Holy Burial of Jesus.  Again, carpets are created by different family, community and church groups.  Pilgrims carrying a coffin which holds an image of Jesus.  Processions in the day or evening often include penitents, walking in hooded costumes with pointed hats - often purple during the day and black in the evening.  The costumes harken back to medieval times when repentant believers would often inflict injury upon themselves as a way to atone for their sins and they wished to keep their identities and their spiritual practice hidden from the public eye.

Hundreds of penitents lined accompanied the procession, providing
a secure perimeter for those carrying the statues and
the musical groups - Sonsonate 2018
Communities across El Salvador embrace the Holy Friday processions as cultural and somewhat ecumenical events.  Salvadorans who have the ability to travel by car or to rent a vehicle for their families join international tourists in admiring the carpets, in viewing and photographing the processions, and in enjoying local street foods provided by entrepreneurial vendors.

From swimming shorts to pinwheels to ripe mangoes with
hot sauce - entrepreneurs in the town square - Sonsonate 2018
Candles for the evening:
$2 for the small ones, $3 for the large ones
Sonsonate 2018
Four of us traveled together to Sonsonate to share in the experience of the Holy Friday Procession of the Holy Burial.  We were an eclectic group from the US, Brazil and Columbia.  We arrived in the middle of the afternoon, which was plenty early and plenty hot.  We wandered around the streets surrounding the city's central square, toured the cathedral, ate ice cream, and positioned ourselves on a prime corner from which to view the procession.  We took turns walking a bit.  I re-entered the church during mass and was able to listen to a brief reflection on the last words of Christ.  The cathedral was filled to the brim with faithful people acknowledging with faith and gratitude the great sacrifice Jesus made on this day.  The eyes of many mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers glistened with tears as the statue of Mary was prepared to follow in procession behind her beloved Son.
Inside the cathedral - Sonsonate 2018
As a Lutheran Christian, I have spent many Sundays listening to the proclamation that "we are Easter people."  We don't spend much time pondering the blood on the cross.  We don't spend much time waiting at the tomb.  The empty cross is what we wear around our necks and what we place in the fronts of our churches.  Life won.  But death stings.  Grief is real.  On Friday, grief is real, and it is holy.
In front of the Mayor's office - Sonsonate 2018
Gathering in front of the cathedral - Sonsonate 2018
Waiting - Sonsonate 2018
The beginning of the 5 PM procession - Sonsonate 2018

Some of the crowd - Sonsonate 2018
The final words of Christ - Sonsonate 2018
Replicas of relics from the Crucifixion - Sonsonate 2018
Jesus' Funeral Bier - Sonsonate 2018
Marching band playing a traditional funeral dirge - Sonsonate 2018
Women accompanying the statue of Mary - Sonsonate 2018
Mary, Mary Magdaline and John - Sonsonate 2018

Sonsonate 2018
Sonsonate 2018
Sonsonate 2018
Crunchy meringue dessert - Sonsonate 2018

Holy Week in El Salvador:  Holy Thursday
Holy Week in El Salvador:  Palm Sunday