The first time that my kids were in El Salvador was quite an adventure - for lots of reasons. We all learn as we go, and a couple of pieces of good learning came out of that trip.
Our church has a sister church in El Salvador, and we had made a couple of trips to visit when we got the idea to do a family trip over Christmas break. Even though we were early on in our relationship, we recognized the importance of getting together as families, staying in homes, sharing traditions and just hanging out. So, that's what we did.
Kids do not need to know Spanish in order to play together. That is a lesson for the grown-ups.
Play happened. Soccer and North American football. Circle games in which our kids never did get the rules, and lots of "can you come to my house?" adventures.**
There were baptisms, confirmations and even a wedding. There was a dance, fireworks tossed on the rooftops (not by our kids - but it did fascinate them), and lots of tortillas.
Eventually, kids get tired of tortillas. So, we caved in and went to Burger King. This offered up another lesson: (no offense to Burger King) beware of burgers in El Salvador, and, never let newbies, especially children, eat anything that has been in contact with lettuce. All of my kids got sick.
And so we come to a memorable lesson from this trip. My kids were very sick. Whether it was the burgers or an accumulation of microbes, they were living in la latrina. We battled it with the usual meds, including Cipro, but were not having success. Our host mom, who has a child with a medical condition and so is very resourceful and wise said, "I know how to cure this. My son has this problem and I know what works." She filled a pot with something that smelled like red wine (a home brew of sorts), some leaves and sticks and boiled it for a bit. Then she poured a glass for each of the kids. "Drink it," she said. They scrunched their noses, gulped it down and in 10 minutes were cured. Seriously. It was like magic.
This is a lesson about trust and learning. It sticks with me like glue, and is a reminder to me to always be open to learning and to asking for help. And now, as I write this, I am thinking I should ask my friend for that recipe!
The kids have been to El Salvador a few times. It has changed their lives. But for those of you who might be serving as delegation leaders or coordinators for partnership programs, you might be interested in the policy which we developed following this first family trip experience:
+ Young people under age 18 must be accompanied by a parent
+ That parent must have traveled to El Salvador before (or have significant real-life travel experience in Latin America)
+ The young people and parents must participate in orientation sessions
**The current reality in our sister community is that children cannot roam as freely as they once did. Yet, with good information and local invitation and support, families can travel safely in El Salvador.