Saturday, September 25, 2010

Snow School

It was Christmas time - a perfect time to have a Snow School!

The challenge: teaching about snow in a place where it never snows (except maybe on El Pital, but that is a story yet to happen).

On a warm December day, the teachers in our sister community graciously invited us to come into the school to teach the kids all about snow and winter in the northern United States. Our teaching group consisted of moms, dads and kids from our congregation, most of whom did not speak Spanish.

Easy to organize and lots of fun, Snow School was a great way for us to interact with one another, especially for our kids.

We started with a little teaching to the whole group of about 80 students, explaining that snow falls from the sky, it is cold - the basics. Then we divided the kids up into small groups which rotated every 20 minutes or so, to different activities:

1) Snowflakes - this was an easy one for the kids because they know all about making papel picado. We brought scissors and white paper and the kids decorated their classroom with winter snow flakes. To make the snowflakes extra special, we brought glitter. Since it was about 110 degrees in the school, the glitter stuck onto the kids as much as it did onto the snowflakes. The kids went home laughing and sparkly.

2) Ice - we had large laminated photos of our kids ice skating and snowmobiling and sledding on a frozen lake. The Salvadoran children could not believe that we could walk right across the lake! This was a fun discussion center led by one of our group who could speak Spanish and ask and answer kids' questions.

3) Snowman Building - we brought 3 large styrofoam discs and big wooden buttons, carrot, coal etc. decorations (on dowels to stick through the styrofoam) to demonstrate how to build a snowman. Then the kids had a chance to build their own snowmen from marshmallows with pretzel stick arms and raisin eyes. Fun to make and yummy to eat!

4) Mittens on a String - the kids traced around their hands to make mitten shapes, cut them out, taped them to a string and had a lot of fun decorating them with crayons. All the kids went home with a pair of mittens hanging around their necks.

Looking back, it might have been fun to show the movie, Frosty the Snowman, and do a parade while singing the song, or to treat the kids to an icy treat from the couple in the community who have a small business selling frozen goodies. Hmmm....maybe it's time to do Snow School again with a new crop of kids!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tales of Greasy and Grubby - Afternoon with the Queen

One day, Greasy and Grubby were hosted by the queen.

It had been a long walk to the edge of our sister community, down near the old hacienda. We had been to the hacienda once before, and had been told stories about battles and seen bullet holes in the old concrete walls, but we didn't know too much about the families who live nearby. On that day it was our mission, to meet the families who live near the hacienda.

We walked up to the edge of the yard. "Buenas tardes, con permiso?" "Good afternoon, can we come in?"

"Pase, pase, por favor" which literally means, "pass, pass please."

We were greeted by an exuberantly smiling grandmother. Moving slowly but with a bustle of excitement at having company, she pulled 3 chairs together, chirping "Sit down, sit down."

A little guy soon sidled up to our hostess, "My grandson," she said, "I am taking care of him."
He was shy, and as we took turns introducing ourselves and telling a little bit about our families and our lives, he played peek with his big brown eyes, hiding every now and then behind his grandmother's arm.

After a little conversation, our hostess smiled proudly and revealed a secret, "I am the queen." She told us how she had been elected queen, with a sash and flowers and a grand parade. (At the time we didn't know anything about the tradition of the Day of the Grandma Queens.)

Soon the Queen rose and walked over to her pila (the open concrete cistern where water is stored for cooking and washing). She hastily scrubbed out two tall glasses, and then filled them with water and freshly squeezed lemon. She graciously presented Greasy and Grubby with the fresh lemonade.

We were honored to be served by the Queen.

And, this was the moment of origin of the phrase, "Pray it down." When you know you will get sick from what you have been served, yet in gratitude and humility you have no choice but to eat or drink, you pray it down.

And this was not just a slogan for a toast. Greasy and Grubby literally prayed while enjoying every swallow of that delicious fresh lemonade, lovingly made with the water of a queen.

Apparently God answers the prayers of faithful lemonade drinkers -- Greasy and Grubby did not get sick, and have wonderful memories of an afternoon in the home of the Queen.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mi Milagro

"Oh, mi milagro ... my little miracle."

"Mom, do you have to call me that?"

When our youngest son was 10, we went to El Salvador with members from 4 other church families to celebrate Christmas with our sister church community. It was a real adventure for the kids, staying in a new place with new foods and making new friends. We went Christmas caroling, ate Christmas tamales, and led a "Snow School" (sharing with the Salvadoran kids a whole bunch of fun activities to give them insight into our snowy Christmas times at home).

At 4 a.m. after a lively dance and a fireworks-filled New Years Eve, we boarded 2 old school buses, one big and one little, and headed out to the beach. New Year's Day at the beach is a Salvadoran tradition, and what better way to spend our last day in the country than celebrating at the beach with all of our friends.

We spent the day playing in the waves and the sand, eating lunch at a little restaurant, and finally watching the sun begin to sink into the sea. We knew we were going to stay somewhere near the beach, and what a surprise when the buses took us not 5 minutes away to an old abandoned farm cooperative. A few buildings surrounded a sandy field with scraggly weeds. This was not quite what we were expecting...camping out without a water source on the night before heading to the airport. We were standing around discussing the possibilities when our son started jumping up and down, trying to kick his sandals off. He had stepped into the path of marching fire ants, and they marched right into his feet, stinging along the way. We poured the water from his water bottle on ants and spritzed some OFF here and there, and soon the ants were gone.

But the effects were not gone.

"Mom, I feel hot." And then he started breathing fast and shallow, pulse racing.

What happened next has been pieced together from a few people who were there, because at this point, I went into The Mom Zone. The two of us were ushered into one of the buildings, and I sat on a desk with our son sitting between my legs, leaning on me. I put my cheek next to his. He was hot and red. I remember trying to breathe with him, for him, through him to slow him down. People handed us water and I made him take 4 Benedryl and drink in between breaths. I remember thinking maybe it was good to try to dilute the poison. We closed our eyes and just breathed.

Outside, someone had called the police to see if they could help or get us to the hospital. We were 3 hours from San Salvador.

After some time, I am not sure how long, maybe an hour because by that time it was dark, we stood up and walked outside. The crisis was over and our son was breathing normally.

Our sister pastor's wife took over. She piled all 78 people into the two buses, putting the guest families in the center and Salvadoran adults standing to block each window so that no one could see in during our drive back to the capital. Our son sat on my lap, and we tried to reassure everyone (and ourselves) that he was OK. She took us a hotel that she knew would take us in and we were checked in, each family with a room. The little bus stayed with us - our transport to the airport the next morning - and our Salvadoran friends traveled in the big bus, going home in the middle of the night, not exactly concluding the week of celebration as they had planned.

I spent the night in bed with our son, watching him sleeping and breathing peacefully.

We had pancakes for breakfast. In the daylight, we could see that the hotel was absolutely lovely. Some of our friends showed up in the morning to make sure we were all OK and to say good-bye. We have lots of photos of hugging from that morning.

After returning home, I took our son to an allergist. I told the doctor the story, just as I have told you. The allergist said to our son, "You should not have lived. It was a miracle."

I had a dream that week. In my dream God spoke to me and said that a cloud of witnesses had surrounded us... that my son and I were surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. I called my friend Greasy, who had also been on this trip with her family. "What were the Salvadorans doing while my son and I were sitting on that desk."

"They were in circle around the building, praying."

It was a miracle.

Many months passed before I could tell this story. Even now, as I write it for the first time, my hands are shaking and tears are in my eyes. And every day, I give thanks for the cloud of witnesses who called down the power of God to be present in my little milagro.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Off the Beaten Path: Festival in a small town

We were on our way to El Mozote, and came upon a small town. The streets were closed around the square, so we decided to stop and enjoy a little slice of life and a little lunch in a quiet town.

Well, normally quiet...but on this day live music from a local folk band blasted out from towers of black speakers. Groups of children with a day off from school were sitting around bright white, concrete picnic tables which surrounded the square. A homemade banner was strung across the church, "Ecological and Nutritional Festival."

We enjoyed the music and the people, and then stopped into Comedor Gloria for a little bit of the local stew and some Kolashampan (yeah, I'm one of those who likes the taste of orange creamsicle soda). We continued to listen to the music while eating and we apparently also served as entertainment for a big group of teens who had also come into the cafe to hang out and drink Cokes. No doubt they were enjoying about my cool gringa accent.

As we drove out of town, continuing on our journey, I was left cool it is to have an ecological and nutritional festival. Maybe another great Salvadoran idea to take home with me.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Vanessa's Day of Fun

One day, quite a while back, Greasy and Grubby were invited to Vanessa's Day of Fun.

We were staying in the home of one of our friends in our sister community. At the time, four generations of mostly women and girls lived there, in just a couple of very dark small rooms. At night, the family would take a couple of taper candles, drip wax onto a surface and stick the candles to the wax to provide a bit of light for us so that we could talk well into the night. The night was sometimes a challenge with creepy crawlies, but we had a bed with a mattress, so we could avoid the walls and the floor and sleep pretty well.

One morning, we woke up and it was Vanessa's Dia de Divertido - Day of fun.

Vanessa was pretty little at the time. Her mom's only child. Her mom was young and beautiful, inside and out. She still is. We have been friends for a long time, and Vanessa's Day of Fun was something she wanted to do for us. We cleaned up and gussied up (as best as Greasy and Grubby can ever do with a bucket shower) and headed to the bus stop. We took a micro into Apopa and hopped out near a little mall. We had to cross the street, and our friend was so concerned for our safety that she waited for a really big break in traffic, grabbed our elbows while carrying Vanessa and said, "Run!" What a comical site we were!

Outside of the stores, there was a row of colorful kid-sized trucks and cars - the kind that you pop a coin into and they give you a little rock and roll ride. Vanessa climbed into each one, and we took turns squeezing in beside her. Vanessa's mom popped a couple of colones into a read and yellow coupe for a brief ride filled with giggles and hand claps.

Then we went to the ice cream shop. Vanessa's mom bought an ice cream cone for each of us. We sat at a table and chatted the afternoon away. Then it was time to go to the bus stop (that main bus stop in Apopa is still beyond my ability to figure out) and ride back home.

Vanessa's mom gave Greasy a beaded bracelet - one that she had been wearing for a while. Later, Vanessa's mom gave me the same bracelet (but a new one). I wore that bracelet for a very long time (because I have this thing with bracelets).

Years have passed since Vanessa's day of fun. Vanessa's dad left. Her uncle tried to get to the US. He was arrested and sought asylum, but after a few months in prison in Texas was deported. The family has struggled economically. The girls have scholarships and all go to school. The girls work during vacation - in chicken factories, slaughtering chickens before Christmas. Vanessa's grandpa makes jewelry boxes to sell at the market. Her aunt's boyfriend was dragged out of the house and murdered by gang members - not the first time a family member had been killed. Vanessa recently celebrated her first communion. She is smart as can be and does very well in school. She and her mom, her step-dad and her younger siblings recently moved into their own house. Vanessa's great-grandma passed away, after a long life.

After its own long life, Greasy's bracelet finally broke one day, with beads scattered across the floor. Mine was on the verge of breaking, so I put it away. Yesterday I brought it out again. I retied the string and pulled it on. It is very grubby and not too sturdy. It reminds me that in the midst of whatever hard things are happening in life, it is good to have a day of fun. I will wear it til it breaks.

(For those of you following my bracelet stories...mysteriously the orange and pink beaded bracelet from Maria disappeared off of my wrist during a hard day of church work. I'm sure the clasp simply came undone. I hope some little kid found it and is enjoying it as much as I did over the last 3 years.)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sharing a Beautiful Quinceañera

One of the most beautiful Latin American traditions is the celebration of a young lady's fifteenth birthday. In our sister community, this celebration is centered in the church and in the home. The birthday girl selects an escort, usually her older brother, cousin or close neighbor. The female and male attendants are friends and family members.

Each family has its own way of making this celebration happen, and in a community in which resources are very limited, families are creative. Girls borrow, or rent (for a few dollars), or have their moms make their pink gowns. Sometimes one or more "madrinas" or godmothers volunteer to help provide the cake, the dresses, a ring or a necklace, decorations and party favors. Often, the girls themselves make their small recuerdos or souvenirs. Guests bring small gifts.

One thing that the girls like to do is share their quinceañera photos with their scholarship sponsors. Sometimes they save one of their recuerdos for their sponsors. And sometimes, if we happen to be in the community at the right time, they invite us to the celebration.

I was blessed to be present at Norma's recent celebration. It was a beautiful celebration. Norma was surrounded by family and friends, her front yard filled with neighbors who wished to share this special day with Norma. A beautiful celebration. Norma entered the scholarship program in 2007. She was in second grade and couldn't read. She studied in third grade in 2008, passed into 5th grade, and now, two years later, is currently studying in 7th grade -- taking the bus to school each day with her age peers.
Norma's perseverance and commitment to building her future is really something to celebrate!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sunday School Required

One of the rules which the scholarship program directiva has set up in our sister community is this: Kids in the scholarship program must attend Sunday School.

The merging of church and public education in El Salvador is a little different from our North American education experience. Prayer and celebration of Christian holidays is part of public school life, and part of the culture that Europeans brought to the country. The scholarship program allows church resources to help kids to go to public schools, and it is OK to ask kids to attend Sunday School. Parents do not have a problem with this. Sending their kindergarten through sixth grade kids to a wholesome, Bible-centered, safe place on Sunday morning is wonderful, and it's a known expectation from the beginning. For the kids, hanging out with the Lutherans, whether their parents are Roman Catholic or Pentecostal or members of the the Baptist Biblical Tabernacle Friends of Israel, is no big deal. Sunday School is fun. Kids pray, they sing, they act out stories, they memorize stuff (and have fun doing it!), they color, they have small group youth leaders who are cool, and they get a snack.

I have learned a lot by going to Sunday School in El Salvador. I have learned that you can use an action figure as John the Baptist and a kid as Jesus and dirt as the river Jordan. I have learned that punching holes in the Bible page, putting yarn through it and hanging it onto a kid will help that kid not to lose the page on the way home. I have learned that the skills used in teaching 80 kids in a one-room-schoolhouse style Sunday School in El Salvador transfer really well to an urban setting in the US, and that we need to invite our big kids to help the little kids more often. I have learned that if you make anything a contest, it is more fun, even studying the Small Catechism. I have learned that kids never tire of coloring. I have learned that sharing lesson plans across cultures and language is fun and is totally worth the effort.

It is good for the scholarship kids and for all of the children in the community that they have a place in which they receive love, give thanks, are safe, make friends of all ages and are encouraged in their weekday studies.