Friday, December 31, 2010

Sparking in the New Year

"Stand further back!"

"We're fine, Mom."

"Don't light all of those at one time!"

"Alma did it!"

Fireworks from the stadium. Fireworks in the streets. Fireworks in the yard.
New Year's Eve in San Salvador . . .

maybe not every mother's dream . . .

but lots of fun for kids who like sparklers, whistlers, fountains and big BOOMS.

These photos were taken during our second New Year's Eve in El Salvador... some are mine and others were taken by a friend named Rich. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Happy New Year

Clink, clinkety, clink. BANG! POP-pop-pop-BANG!!!

The firecrackers hit the corrugated tin roof and before they could roll to the ground exploded with an awesome noise, plenty loud both inside the house and out.

Sleeping was not part of our itinerary for our first New Year's Eve in El Salvador.

Dancing was! Our own kids were down for the count with systems catching up with a week of local food, but my husband and I joined the rest of the families in the Casa Comunal for a lively New Year's Eve dance. One of my favorite images is of tall and lanky "J" who was in his awkward teen years dancing with a gorgeous young woman from the community who was decked out in a little off-the-shoulder yellow top, tight black pants and spike heels. Oh my -- J was having the night of his life. We danced like crazy, laughing and bringing the new year in with loud music and big sweaty smiles.

After the dance, we headed back to our host family homes to catch a little sleep before an early morning departure for the beach. That's when the fireworks began, and the celebration of the new year continued into the wee hours.

And in those wee hours, we got up and loaded ourselves, a group of about 75 cozy and sleepy people, onto a couple of old school bus for the 3 hour ride to the beach. In El Salvador, New Year's Day is Beach Day! The sand, the sun, the surf, and the food gave us a full day of celebratory fun!

The end of Beach Day on that Happy New Year Day brought a whole other adventure. You never know what the new year will bring.

When we arrived home that New Year on January 2nd, it was without our luggage. We still are not exactly sure why our suitcases spent an extra week in Mexico. Maybe it had something to do with a little discovery that J's mom made when she finally unpacked their suitcases. Without her knowledge, J had packed some of those awesomely fun Salvadoran fireworks into a suitcase, hoping to share a Salvadoran Happy New Year celebration back home in the snow.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

El Sombrero Azul

In my mind I see a big blue sky.

Yesterday a funeral was held at our church. A daughter of the congregation was killed in a tragic accident as she was traveling home for Christmas. Her mom, her dad, her sister, her brothers, her boyfriend, her friends, her Sunday School teachers...all are crying, all are grieving. And even though our sisters and brothers in El Salvador do not know this daughter of God personally, they are grieving too, because as family in Christ we are connected in prayer and joy and sadness.

As messages of Feliz Navidad and Merry Christmas passed between us, so did requests for prayer and words of comfort.

... my eyes turned toward the huge blue sky and the thoughts that came to mind were these: God is the creator of life, the creator of all that exists. In life at all times in some places it is night and in other places it is day, in some places new creatures are born and in other places other creatures die, in some places some people laugh and in other places other people cry. And God is always there and the blue color of the sky is always there, and God's time is always - it is in the coming of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost; it is the sacrifice and love of Jesus in the time before Easter; it is the obedience and promise in Mary’s belly; it is the understanding, love and waiting of Joseph in Advent.

The blue sky is always there. Above the clouds, above the rain, above the fog the blue sky is always there.

God is always there.

God's faithfulness imaged in the big blue sky . . . I am remembering Antonio. I am remembering Antonio's bandaged hand raised up against a huge blue sky. "Dale!" "Forward!" "Keep on keeping on!"

Antonio's trust in God and ability to reach for the sky despite the clouds of his illness have served as a reminder to many that God is faithful, that God's time is God's time, and that God intended for us to help each other to keep on keeping on.


Author's note: The thoughts about the blue sky and God's presence were shared by Pastor Santiago. The photo of Antonio was taken just after he had raised his hand in the air. This gesture, with the word "dale," is a gesture of solidarity, of moving forward together, of defiance, of "let's go!" and is used during the singing of "El Sombrero Azul." The song refers to the big blue sky of El Salvador like a big blue sombrero.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas, Material Girls

The girls arrive with their hair in sweet-smelling curls and a little make-up on their lips and cheeks. Their moms are also lovely, with a little bit of anxiousness in their eyes and nervousness in their movements. The space is decorated with balloons and streamers and proud families take their seats in borrowed folding metal chairs. The ceremony begins with the national anthem, blaring out from enormous speakers.

The pastor gives a prayer and the master of ceremonies introduces various dignitaries...a local mayor, pastors, the sewing school teachers, and sometimes, guests from the United States.

Christmas vacation in our sister church community in El Salvador includes a highlight - celebrating graduation day at the sewing school.

The idea of a sewing school and cooperative was one that was birthed early on in our relationship. Over the years we have hauled and shipped machines, equipment, and fabric. We have supported the students with prayer and gifts of graph paper, pencils, tissue and scissors. We have been impressed with the students' design abilities and skill. We have been disappointed when the cooperative aspect of the venture struggled, but have faithfully supported the few or many students who earn official diplomas based on their number of years in the program. We have been measured for clothing, and given the gift of hand-made clothes. And a couple of times, we have shared in the joy of graduation day.

After the anthem has been sung and the guests have been introduced, the fashion show begins. We will all remember that first graduation, as the students modeled their burgundy evening dresses to the blaring strains of Material Girl. Replayed several times, that was the theme song for the year and we just could not help laughing and wondering if the Salvadorans understood the humor in their song selection. That first celebration ended with Greasy's and Grubby's husbands dancing on stage with the models to a few tunes, including Material Girl.

A few years later, Greasy and Grubby were selected to judge the fashion show. There were categories of children's wear, folk dance costumes, casual clothes, women's suits. Grubby had dutifully worn her baby blue polyester skirt, which had been made for her a few years back, and neither felt qualified enough to be the judges. We two decided just to agree with the teachers' choices.

After the show there was a raffle. The prize was a big plastic bucket filled with all kinds of useful things for the kitchen. Grubby's husband, who was also appropriately attired in a pair of khaki pants which had been designed and made for him by the students a while back, was the winner! He had fun giving his gifts away to some of the women later in the day.

The graduates receive their diplomas, each one crossing the floor with Pomp and Circumstance and each escorted by a white-shirted husband, boyfriend or brother. Some of the graduates continue in the program for another year or two, moving from patterning and hand-sewing to machine sewing, or from women's clothing to men's pants or knitwear with the serger. Most of the graduates sew clothes at home for their families, some will make things to sell. Some students get jobs in maquilas (factories or sweat shops). The cooperative aspect of the school has struggled to be successful as its own business.

Men's pants are the specialty of the lead teacher and some of the students, and Grubby's husband, who wears his pants all the time in El Salvador and in the US, will testify to their good quality and fine design. In the past year, this specialty has served the school well, as it was awarded a government contract to make uniforms for the local school children. This has been a wonderful achievement and source of income for the students and the sewing school.

We will continue to support the school with suitcases full of donated fabric, with envelopes of donated needles, with prayers for a productive and successful new year, and with a hearty "Congratulations and Merry Christmas!" to the Material Girls and Guys in the sewing school!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Rum Pum Pum Pum

We arrived with our families on Christmas Day. We gathered inside the little church, and it was already getting dark. The benches were set up around the perimeter of the walls so that all could see the children who were gathered in the center. Pastor Santiago took on the role of director, gently placing his hands onto kids' shoulders and guiding them into place. Then he bent over, face to faces, so he could give the children some final instructions before the pageant began.

The girls were dressed in their best white dresses, which first appeared at their baptisms or first communions. They carried shepherd staffs, which glittered with Christmas garland. They sang a few songs, and then invited one of our kids, a drummer, to join them for a special song. They handed him some sticks and a little home-made drum and invited him to sit with the others and give the beat.

"Come, they told me, pa rum pa pum pum. A newborn king to see, pa rum pa pum pum..."

This was adorable.

OK, maybe it was adorable to me, as the mother of the drummer.

This little memory really sticks with me because it was just so very thoughtful - to remember that one of the guests has a talent and to invite that guest to be a part of the pageant, the team, the group, the family.


Rum pa pum pum.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holly Jolly Christmas

We were driving through a holiday lights display, laughing at the animated images of Santa in his workshop and the bears in the bakery. With the fresh blanket of snow all around us, the lights were especially pretty.

"When you were a little girl, did you celebrate Christmas with the story of Santa Claus?" I asked my friend from El Salvador. It was her second visit to the US - her first time in the snow.

"Yes," she said. "The parents told the children about Santa Claus, but really, the parents made little gifts for their children. We had Christmas trees. The big stores had trees and decorations and you could visit Santa. Now, with electricity in the communities, people put lights on their Christmas trees. Some houses in the community have lights, but not as much as this," she said, pointing out the car window.

The Christmas traditions in El Salvador are an eclectic mix of pilgrimages to find Jesus and pilgrimages to Metro Centro, of straw reindeer and mangers filled with straw, of golden trees made of tinsel and poinsettias which grow in the gardens along the streets. On one side of La Plaza Barrios people rush by a golden tree with sparkly wise men sponsored by Western Union; on the other side of the street people quietly kneel in the cathedral and offer prayers beside the wise men who bring sparkly gifts to baby Jesus.

One of my friends once had a job in a sweatshop, sewing white furry trim on to red velvet skirts, making "Christmas dresses for little girls in the United States, like Santa's helpers," she had told me.

Some of the Christmas decorations in El Salvador strike me as really funny - the snowman at the airport, the big hat at the mall, the parade of straw reindeer marching along the sidewalk. Others are very sweet - the tree at the guest house decorate with gold-painted tortillas, the little decorated pine tree in a coffee can at a friend's house.

Home-made ornaments next to shiny ones from the store. A real tree in a pot next to the plastic one with the LED lights. The story of Baby Jesus and the story of Santa Claus. Gifts of faith and presence. Gifts of special things and presents. Across miles and language and culture, we have a lot in common.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Looking for Jesus

All around the world, Christians are setting out decorations and preparing to celebrate the coming of Christ as a baby. Each culture, each community, each family has its own special traditions.

On my fifth birthday a little friend gave me a cardboard nativity set. Every year, on the first weekend in December, I carefully take it from its box and set it up. In this house, it has always gone on the kitchen counter. I unfold the base, insert the stable pieces, put the roof on, insert the background. Each vertical piece has little slots that slip into little semi-circles that fold up from the base. The pieces have to go in order...the animals, the shepherds, the wise men, the adoring child. After everything else is in place, I take up the last piece...Mary is dressed in a soft blue and Joseph in red stands behind her, and in her lap is a chubby baby Jesus. I look at this piece for some moments, and think about what it was like to be Mary. Maybe this is something every girl, every woman thinks about, what it would have been like to have to go door to door, at night, looking for a place to have a baby and then to be Jesus' Mommy.

As worship ended, the sky grew dark. We picked up our lanterns - made with strips of balsa wood, cardboard, colored cellophane, and candles - and went searching for a place where Jesus could be born. The crowd was large with many children, and the children who were accompanied by their pastor led the procession. We stopped at the first place, and read a poem asking if there was room for Mary and Joseph to stay. No. We asked at the second place if there was room to stay. No. Finally at the third place, there was room and there we found Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus.

There, in Quezaltepeque, we celebrated the New Year by going door to door, just as Mary and Joseph did, in the tradition of las posadas.

After the journey through the neighborhood, we gathered in the half-finished church, seated helter-skelter in plastic chairs under the stars, for a celebration dinner. The women of the community had labored all day long to make enough tamales to feed the crowd. Chicken is a treat in this poor community, and no part was wasted as a couple of our kids found out as they bit into a beak, a bone, a foot. The neighborhood dogs enjoyed those extra little bits of surprise.

After dinner, a clown came out to entertain the kids. This was no ordinary clown, this was a clown with a political agenda and a ranting style. This clown was just plain scary. As the clown handed out treats to the kids, we gathered up our kids and shared good-bye hugs all around.

As I set up my cardboard nativity, I sometimes wonder what traditions my kids will remember or preserve from their childhood. Maybe a posada journey from house to house, maybe beautiful faces lit by candlelight, maybe a holiday tamale, maybe a laugh about a beak or a foot, maybe a story about an exuberant clown, and surely the feeling of big Christmas hugs on a starry night in Quezaltepeque.