Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Cathedral Loses More than a Facade

Today I learned that the facade of the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Salvador has been destroyed, not by an earthquake or the winds of a hurricane, but by the hands of workers at the direction of church leaders.  The images of the colorful tiles crashing to the pavement, the chiseled shards being gathered into white buckets and irreverently being tossed into a dumpster are painful to see.

I don't want to question the right of the Catholic Church to pull down something old to make way for something new - new wineskins for new wine are sometimes needed.  As a non-Salvadoran, I don't want to impose my outsider opinion on a Salvadoran decision.   But in my heart I do question the wisdom in carrying out such a violent act on a mural depicting peaceful images of the Salvadoran people, and I do wonder what the motivation was for such a decision.

Like any artist, Fernando Llort, the creator of the facade, has his fans and his critics.  I am personally a fan.  He and his family have been very gracious during our visits to their workshops, taking the time to work with Salvadoran friends and artisans who wished to learn more about Llort's artistic style and technique.  His web site has a lovely story which describes the impact of his experience in creating the work of art which framed the entrance to the Cathedral.  I can't imagine how sad and confused and offended Mr. Llort must feel as he witnesses the great disrespect which has been shown to one of his life works.

The most recent photo I have of the Cathedral was taken in September 2011.  I was there with a Salvadoran friend who had not yet seen the completed facade.  His last visit had been during the time when the facade was still covered with scaffolding, and the artisans were putting the tiles into place.  He was so thrilled to see the completed images, colorful and peaceful, surrounding the statue of Jesus.  The plaza in which we stood held for our friend past experiences of fear and violence and death.  On that recent September day, with the sun shining in the bright blue sky, with the green trees shifting slightly in the breeze, with the older men relaxing on park benches and women selling aromatic fried foods and fruit, the mirrored images of colorful Salvadoran life stood as a backdrop to peaceful moments.  It was a profound experience for my friend, and one that Salvadorans and visitors to El Salvador will miss.

My friend Tim has also written about the destruction of the cathedral's facade on his Blog.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Christmas Corner

I entered the house.  It was dark inside, so it took a moment for my eyes to adjust after being outside in the bright sunshine.  "Just a minute," Julia said.  She reached into the corner and dragged a raggedy extension cord over to the socket and plugged it in.

Two little plastic Christmas trees came to life!

The trees framed the corner of the room which held a leveled pile of sand and a multitude of small treasures.  Each item was carefully placed to face the corner, and in the corner there was a well-loved ceramic Baby Jesus. Julia had spent a long time assembling her Christmas corner.

"These are my son's baby shoes.  We brought this pine cone back from a trip to the mountains.  My boys played with these cars when they were little.  I have had this figure since I was a little girl."  Julia carefully picked up treasure after treasure, grateful for the memory it brought to mind, joyful to share the memory and her stories with a friend.

Donkeys and horses made from clay.  Cats and cows and crocodiles made of plastic. Mary, Joseph, Shepherds and Kings of all shapes and sizes.  All positioned carefully in the sand, all with faces toward the corner adoring Baby Jesus, all surrounded by lights and sparkles.

Every year, I assemble a Christmas corner to honor the birth of Jesus and the gift of Julia's friendship.  I try to remember Julia's stories, and the stories that accompany the few Salvadoran treasures I place beneath the tree.  The cup from Julia's cupboard, made by her grandpa.  The stuffed pig from Christina.  The angel from our sister community's anniversary party.  The church made by Papa Santiago.  A photo from the first time we said good-bye.  It's a lesson in humility.  Julia's life treasures fit under two small trees and mine do not, but the love and friendship we share is bigger than any corner or any house can hold.  Merry Christmas, Julia!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tamale Time!

Christmas Eve festivities happen at our house. We go to church in the later afternoon and then come home for a quiet evening of snacking, talking, Christmas music, playing games and opening a few gifts. The family members who do not have other celebrations to attend come to our house, so the guests vary from year to year and so does the food. This year, I have decided to go with a Salvadoran theme.

There are a few Salvadoran dishes which I make pretty often, and they turn out pretty well: guacamole with big chunks of avocado and hard-boiled eggs, cauliflower relleno with tomato salsita, ejotes (green beans) cut fine and made with scrambled egg, and of course, Salvadoran red beans...but there is one must-have for Christmas which I have not yet attempted -- tamales.

If my kids are reading this, they are probably groaning and saying "yuck." It's true, their experiences with tamales in El Salvador have included a few unwelcome bites into chicken beaks, chicken feet and other unknown crunchy things, and the gooey mass of corn dough has not always been cooked to the finest texture. Yet, every Christmas and major celebration of which I have been a part in El Salvador has included tamales. Savory tamales filled with potato and carrot. Sweet tamales slathered in fresh cream. I am determined to try to make a tasty tamale.

So, today I got out my Salvadoran cook book, a gift from my husband a few years back. The tamale section has about a dozen recipes, some of which require some ingredient research and all of which contain meat. With a vegetarian on the guest list, I needed to turn elsewhere for ideas.

As I was about to hit Google for answers, I remembered the video. About 4 years ago, my friend Julia took me to one of the best tamale-maker's house to show me how to make tamales. I filmed the entire process, from pulling the corn off the cob, to grinding, to mixing, to starting the fire, to wrapping, to cooking. Who needs a cookbook when you have a step-by-step film featuring your friends and non-stop humorous commentary?

Tomorrow, I will find that video and experiment with tamale-making, because it just won't be a Salvadoran Christmas without the tamales!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Advent Bracelet

I am still wearing two slightly battered, mis-matched bracelets. The tightly-knotted turquoise, orange and white one has survived on my wrist for an amazingly long time. I did take it off for my son's wedding, which technically broke my wear it til it breaks rule. For a long time, the tri-colored yarn was accompanied by 3 stretchy elastic bands strung with teeny tiny beads. These beaded bracelets are often traded among teen boys and girls in our sister church community and after a while they break, scattering beads across the dirt or across the floor. Some have survived long enough to return to El Salvador for a visit or two.

The second bracelet on my wrist is a purple, stretchy rubber-band bracelet which springs into the shape of a clothes hanger when I take it off. It was obtained in a trade - tiny pink beads for a purple hanger. I have to confess: the hanger was also removed for the wedding.

This morning I pulled out the big plastic box which holds gift bags, tissue paper, tags and ribbons. Time to wrap the Christmas gifts! As I was digging around among the glittery snowman bags and recycled tissue I found a bracelet. What a surprise! I had not thought about this blue and white, ribbon-wrapped bangle for months! I pushed it onto my wrist, resting the image of the Salvadoran flag beside the turquoise yarn and the purple hanger, and I thought about when it was that I had received the bangle...

Almost 11 months ago, Bishop Gomez gave me the lost El Salvador bracelet. I wore it every day for quite some time and now I wondered, how did it end up in the gift-wrapping bin? Prior to a kid's birthday or our nephew's wedding or who knows what special event, the bracelet must have slipped off my wrist and nestled itself among the wrappings, waiting to surprise me on a gray and rainy Advent day.

Dios - Unión - Libertad -- (God - Union - Liberty) -- These words of guidance for a nation which I now carry with me on a bracelet, arrived unexpectedly during this time of Advent. As I catch a glimpse of the bracelet, I think about all of my friends in the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, who share God's love by building community and doing justice among the marginalized, the forgotten and the oppressed. As I bustle around the house, wrapping the gifts and baking the treats, this little blue and white Advent bracelet reminds me of God's purpose in sending Jesus...

Isaiah 61.1:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Off the Beaten Path: El Mozote, 30 Years Down the Road

Thirty years ago, a terrible massacre was carried out by the Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran armed forces in the small town of El Mozote. More than 1000 people were killed. This week, Tim's El Salvador Blog is dedicating its posts to sharing the story of this horrific event.

Three years ago I visited El Mozote. Tim was with me. A very dear friend from our sister church, who has a chauffeur's license, drove us there in a rented car. Although our friend had
heard of the massacre, he had not been to El Mozote and he knew very little about what actually happened there. He is a politically active, staunch FMLN supporter who knows a great deal about what happened during the war, so this surprised me a little.

We made the long drive from the capital, from highway, to small paved road, to rocky bumpy road, to dirt path. We paused along the way for lunch in a small town, enjoying a little time for rest and conversation before beginning a visit to a place which we knew would be very difficult to visit.

When we
arrived in El Mozote the first thing that struck me was the quiet. It is quiet. The homes which held life and families in 1981 are dead shells. Signs of the violence which occurred are all around. As we paused near the town square a young woman came to greet us. She is a survivor - a survivor only because she was not at home at the time of the massacre. Her mom had just had a baby, so she had been sent off to her aunt's house in a nearby town. The 1981 slaughter of the innocents, including her mom and her baby sister who she never knew, set the path for this young woman. She has dedicated her life to sharing the story.

As we walked through the town, our guide pointed out the
bomb craters, explained how the men were corralled into an open space, how the women and children were placed into the church. She described their deaths. Our friend asked a lot of questions. He marveled at the richness and beauty of this agricultural land. That juxtaposition of the beautiful and the ugly was difficult for all of us to experience.

Outside the church, a beautiful memorial garden stands as a sign of life and hope. A colorful mural on the side of the church honors the lost lives of the children. It's impossible to understand how the soldiers could have killed grandpas, dads, grandmas, moms, children and babies. The images in the mural -- the colors, the playfulness, and the joy, express what were the hopes for the earthly lives of these lost children, and the faith we have that these little ones are playing and running and laughing with joy in heaven.

At the end of our visit we stopped at the small tourist center which the women of El Mozote have set up near the town square. Our friend paged through a book of photographs, pondering all he had seen. He said, "We Salvadorans need to come here, to remember this. The children in our community need to know something about the history. They don't know anything."

We bought the book and gave it to our friend later as a gift so that he could share the lessons of this horrific event with others. On our drive back, we talked a little about our feelings. I remember one comment which our friend made about the condition of the road, "The government wants this road to be bad so no one will come here." We made a few additional stops, including a visit to the Museum of the Salvadoran Revolution and a park filled with happy families and fresh air.

Since the visit to El Mozote, the adults in our sister church community have shared a little bit more of their stories and the history of the war with their children. They have hosted a couple of movie nights, showing documentaries and films such as Voces Inocentes and discussing them with their children. There is healing in the telling, and lessons for the future.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

O Christmas Tree

When I was in 2nd grade, my Sunday School teacher took a Polaroid photo of me and each of my classmates as we stood in front of a church Christmas tree. We pasted those pictures onto cream-colored tag board stars, and then carefully pasted burnt matchsticks onto each of the star points. This little Linda star was a Christmas present for my mom and dad that year, and it was placed on the tree that year and for several years beyond.

When my kids were in preschool, each of them had the opportunity to make an ornament from an inverted flat-bottomed ice cream cone. A pipe cleaner was stuck through the bottom to make a hook, and the cone was covered with white icing. Colorful cereal pieces were stuck into the icing and the Christmas bell was ready to hang on the tree. Each sticky bell had it's one glorious year on the tree.

Whether it reappears year after year or adorns the tree only once, a home-made ornament is a beautiful and memorable gift.

The first time we were in El Salvador for Christmas, I was surprised to see Christmas trees. I guess I thought that the Tannenbaum was a German tradition, not really Salvadoran, and I had never seen Christmas pines in the Salvadoran forest or on tree farms. Well, the magic of the global economy had brought plastic trees to El Salvador and a few homes and many public places hosted Christmas trees. My favorite tree was decorated with homemade ornaments -- gold-painted tortillas and bright red ribbon. I like to think about the kids and moms making the tortillas, poking holes into them and letting them dry, painting them gold and stringing wire into them to hang them from the tree. The poinsettia flowers on the tree were not real, although red poinsettia flowers line the streets and pathways of rural El Salvador during December. A simple idea and a beautifully simple tree.

We've done a little Christmas caroling in El Salvador, singing together songs which we have in common. I came across a pretty good version of O Christmas Tree in Spanish from
Qué verdes son
(O Tannenbaum)
(Oh, Christmas Tree)

Qué verdes son, qué verdes son las hojas del abeto.
Qué verdes son, qué verdes son las hojas del abeto.
En Navidad qué hermoso está con su brillar de luces mil.
Qué verdes son, qué verdes son las hojas del abeto.

Qué verdes son, qué verdes son las hojas del abeto.
Qué verdes son, qué verdes son las hojas del abeto.
Sus ramas siempre airosas son, su aroma es encantador.
Qué verdes son, qué verdes son las hojas del abeto.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Just Click: What will we see next?

Each time I head out into the streets of El Salvador I
see something
check out these photos
my last visit...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner in July

I was invited to dinner.

This was one of those times when I was on my own, living in our sister church community, hanging out with friends and spending a little quality time with a few families who have become extensions of our own family.

The invitation came from our goddaughter's mom. Over the years we have shared many visits in her home. The hospitality is always generous, even if there is not much food to offer. This is a family that struggles...struggles with a dad who is challenged by alcohol, struggles with a mom who is mentally unstable, struggles with severe poverty, struggles with teen-motherhood for our goddaughter, struggles with violence and real threats. At the time of the dinner invitation, the household consisted of mom, our goddaughter and her 3 year old son, and a younger teenage sister.

My friend, Julia, walked me down the hill and through the narrow short-cut to my goddaughter's house. I have done this walk alone many times, but the stress-level was heightened in the community that night because of the vigil. Late in the evening, a vigil would be held in another home just down the path from my dinner destination. On that same date one year earlier, on a sunny afternoon, two teen boys were shot and killed by gang members as they stood outside of a little store in the community. Julia said she would return after dinner, in time to pick me up for the vigil.

We rattled the gate - a big piece of corrugated tin which almost completely blocks the tiny yard from view. The fire was smoldering under a pot on the outdoor grill - a humble contraption made from a rusty part of an old oil drum. Young chickens with their first real feathers wandered about the yard, entertaining the little guy. Outside the house, three plastic chairs encircled a small round table which was set with a red-checked cloth. We sat at the table, chatting and laughing at the chickens and the dog.

We took some photos of each other. Mom was thrilled to have her picture taken in her Barcelona soccer jersey. A man walked by carrying his guitar on his back. I recognized him from a few years back when he and his buddies played music at our friend's surprise birthday party. He remembered me too, and paused on his way to the vigil to play and sing for us.

As the sun set, we shared dinner. I was presented with a whole chicken, and a big pile of rice set on a pretty plastic plate. "Look inside," the mom told me. Inside the chicken were a couple of whole egg yolks. This was a very special way to prepare the chicken for an honored guest. My goddaughter told me that they had killed one of their young chickens that day. They chose the biggest one. She was really proud of that.

Mom brought out a big pile of tortillas, and a scooped up a bowl of broth from the po
t over the fire for each of the girls. One chicken foot sat in the middle of each bowl. We gave thanks for the food and for one another.

Then we ate. After eating some of my chicken, I asked if the girls would like to share with me. They eagerly said yes, so we divided up the chicken and some rice into their bowls. Mom said she didn't want to eat. She would not sit down with us, but instead, stood by the fire with her arms crossed in front of her and smiling with great satisfaction of having served up her finest dinner. Half-way through the meal, she brought each of us a steaming mug of weak coffee.

Dinner ended, and it was time to go to the vigil. Julia came and picked me up, and we walked a little further down the hill to pray and sing with families in mourning. We hugged and hugged at the gate. To this day, we still remind one another of this night - of the love, the stories, the time and the special food we shared together.

Although I have photos of us together at the table, I am unable to post them out of concern for the safety of the family.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Inviting and Injustice

We are frequently invited. Anyone who has the heart to travel can do so. We are invited for special events in the lives of the church and the people. We are invited to team up with leaders to work together in education, healthcare, public safety, employment opportunities.

We less frequently invite. This is not to say we don't wish to invite. We want our pastor, leaders and friends in El Salvador to participate in special events in the lives of the church and the people, and we want to team up with our friends to work together in ministry and in our home community.

Earlier this year we extended an invitation to our sister church pastor to visit us and to participate in several important events, including a big anniversary worship and pastor installation at church, and a family wedding. We thought about inviting other community leaders and church members from El Salvador, but we have never been able to get visa approval for anyone other than our sister church pastor, so we only invited him. His long-term visa had expired, so we helped him to assemble a very complete profile of his previous visits and his work in El Salvador. He was granted a renewal of his visa.

Then he waited. His passport with visa did not arrive, did not arrive. We made an inquiry at the US consulate (which cost us money) and were told that nothing could be done unless the passport had been delayed more than 30 days. We contacted friends in the embassy who learned that because our sister pastor has a common last name, the US was going to do a criminal check to make sure he had not committed crimes during his previous visits to the US. This could be a delay of "several months". Expedited process was requested.

In the meantime, the special events are passing by, and our sister pastor is not with us.

The visa process is frustrating. Good people with good intentions are invited by responsible citizens. Some visas are granted, and many are rejected. We continue to try to work with this process and talk with representatives about how to improve it.

Frustration over the visa process is one thing, yet once a visa is granted, it seems to me to be completely unjust to hold a foreign national's passport for up to several months, without communicating to that person that this is occurring, in order to conduct a criminal background check. I don't question the wisdom of conducting a criminal check (although, a pastor who presented a detailed account of every previous visit to the US seems an unlikely target for such a check), but I do question the "several month" time delay. In our sister pastor's case, he travels frequently outside of El Salvador, and the holding of his passport by the US for "several months" seems absolutely out of line.

We in the US are accustomed to flashing our US passport and quickly moving through visiting immigrant processes around the world. Some countries require us to have pre-positioned visas in our passports, which can take a week or two. This seems reasonable.

I want to ask anyone and everyone in our government who makes or implements our US visitor policies: How would you feel if another nation's government held your passport for 2 or 3 or 4 months while conducting a "check" on you? Would this be reasonable? Would this be just?

I do not believe we should continue to treat honorable visitors to our country as suspicious and potential criminals. I do not believe that we should intimidate visitors with lack of communication or by holding their passports. This is not right.

I do believe that I should be able to invite a beloved pastor and friends to a milestone event at my church or to my son's wedding.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Rain Story III

It's hard to describe the sound and the force of a tropical rain shower, but I found this little video clip which I recorded one morning during a surprise storm. Here are some things I have been told when hiding from the rain...

"You can't go out there! You'll slip and break a bone!"

"Don't get wet in the rain, you'll get the flu."

"Wrap the babies up tight during the rainy season, otherwise they pee and pee and get sick."

"Be careful not to get wet, the rain is acid and it will hurt you."

One time we got caught in the rain at the main bus top in Apopa. On a good day it is a challenge to find the right bus while jostling through the crowd along the highway. Our sister pastor wove among the people with Greasy and me trying to stay close behind like a couple of good little ducklings. Suddenly the heavens opened up and torrents of rain poured from the sky. Pastor glanced over his shoulder to see if we were with him, and gave us a look which said "Oh well."

We stood for a moment, clutching our backpacks and feeling the steam rise from the tops of our wet heads. Soon the bus arrived, and we pushed and jostled just like everyone else to get on board. The two of us were not quite as assertive as our pastor, but we all made it safely aboard. Greasy and I burst out laughing, two soaking wet ducklings, relieved to be with each other on the right bus with our mama duck pastor watching over us.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Rain Story II

We drove along the highway in a red pick-up. I was scrunched onto my husband's lap, who was squeezed in next to the lawyer, who was squeezed in next to the driver. Every now and then I ran my little pink sweat-towel over the windshield and the side window to clear the view. Our sister pastor, our son and my best friend's husband were having a bathing experience in the back of the truck, as the rain tumbled from the dark gray sky.

We were determined to get a shipping container out of customs, and this involved driving documents from one place to another, in the rain.

We drove past the Hipermall...a monstrosity of a mall with high-priced stores. One time I asked a friend if anyone ever shops there. She said, "Sure, we go there. We window-shop."

We came around a curved off-ramp which encircled a small piece of land - one fourth of the clover-leaf pattern at an expressway interchange. The rain had let up, so we had a clear view of the community which had been established on this piece of clover-leaf. Small homes made of plastic, and cardboard and scrap metal crowded together with tiny dirt paths between them. No electricity. No sewers. No water. In the shadow of the Hipermall, people were living in the most desperate situation.

We drove slowly around the curve, as did the line of cars ahead of us and behind us. Suddenly a bright celeste blue umbrella emerged from between the cars. It was held by a little boy who was maybe 4 or 5 or 6 years old. He was naked, darting among the cars with his hand extended, begging for money. I heard our pastor's voice, "Where is your mommy? Go home. Go home to your mommy."

The lawyer said, "He's not lost. The parents are desperate. They sent him out to beg. They think he will get money because he is small and naked. It's not right."

This happened a long time ago, yet that little boy with the blue umbrella lives inside my head, and the desperation of parents who would send their child out naked onto the expressway to beg weighs heavy on my heart. It's not right.

As the rain lets up in El Salvador, many are desperate for food. May the world respond with immediate help and long-term support so that no mother will be tempted to send her little one out to beg. Some have so much. Many have so little. It's not right.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Rain Story

Last week brought rain on top of rain to El Salvador, and those of us with friendships and hearts in El Salvador spent the week doing the best we could to help, to network, to share, to inform and to pray for relief. Tim's El Salvador Blog has kept the news flowing as the waters flowed, and we are all grateful to him for keeping us informed.

Thanks be to God that the sun has returned to El Salvador's "sombrero azul." The rain has stopped for now, but the sorrow for those who lost family members in the rain and the mud will continue to hover like dark clouds in their hearts - and they need our continued prayers. The blue sky has returned for now, but the humanitarian crisis will continue due to flooding, loss of homes and businesses, and especially the loss of crops so close to harvest - and the country needs our continued help through our churches and our networks.

Readers of this blog may recall a few stories from past postings which speak to the power of rain in El Salvador...
The Rains Came Down
Little Capes, Big Difference
Tales of Greasy and Grubby - Worship in the Rain

This week, in the midst of the chaos of the storms, I received a phone call from a friend in our sister church community. This is unusual - not too many friends have the resources to charge up their phones for a call to the US. "Oh HI!" I said, as my friend introduced herself. "What a surprise!"

"I call you only to greet you. The women in the family commission want to say HI and Francisco said it would be OK to call you. How are you? How is your husband? How are the plans for the wedding..."

The rain had drenched them. School was suspended. All their crops were lost. But..."it's so great to chat with you - to hear your voice." Stuck in the house because of a storm, a conversation with a friend can brighten the day.

I remembered being stuck in the house because of a storm...
We called it "The Dancin' House" because during our first visit to our sister church, the community held a dance for us at this house. It was small and tidy with corrugated tin walls pieced together and a strategic narrow ditch running through the center of the hard-pack dirt floor. Greasy and Grubby had been invited to spend a couple of nights with their friend in The Dancin' House.

Not too late in the evening, we were each given our own bed with a lace-trimmed flat pillow. The bedroom also served as the closet, and the family's clothing hung from the rafters over our heads and was neatly stacked in little hampers hanging from the walls. Our friend tucked us in as if we were little ones, carefully pushing the soft yellow mosquito netting under the mattresses all around us. She and her husband and two small children crowded into a hammock in the kitchen area.

We weren't asleep yet. The rain started. First as a pitter-patter on the tin roof, then more like a train running over our heads. Drip, drip, drip...the water leaked inside through small holes in the tin. Our friend placed a plastic bucket here, a metal pan there. The water flowed faster and faster through the ditch which ran across the floor. Rush, rush, drip, drip...we slept to the lullaby of the falling rain.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny. We passed the morning visiting homes and meeting with people from the church. At lunch time we returned to The Dancin' House for a delicious meal and a little rest. The clouds rolled in and the rain began to fall. We were supposed to go visit the flautas (recorders) class up in the church, but our hostess absolutely forbade us to go out. "You could slip. You could fall. You could break a bone. We don't go out when it is like this. It's our job to keep you safe. You have to stay here."

She was right. The winds came up and the rains fell harder. The locals call this, "El Norte." We sat and watched the rain. We could hardly speak to one another because the sound of the rain on the metal roof was deafening. We shivered a bit in the wind. We marveled that so much water could fall in such little time. We thought about the families who live downhill. We learned that the strategic ditch across the middle of the dirt floor served as a convenient location for a four-year-old to relieve himself when mom wasn't looking (a much dryer option than running out to the latrine during the deluge).

Greasy took out her guitar. Grubby took out her violin. With the roaring rain for accompaniment, the two guests serenaded their friends with their finest tunes. I remember that one of our favorites was "I'll Fly Away," which we sang and played with abandon, fighting the rain for the melody line. At some point, our sister pastor's younger brother flew into the house, dripping wet with his flauta in hand. The flauta class had been cancelled, and we were stuck in the house; but the rain could not keep us from making music together.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blog Action Day - Faces and Food

Today is Blog Action Day, and the topic of the day is food.

Today has also brought more rain, more mud, more flood, more loss and more grief to the people of El Salvador. It has been hard to keep up with the news from all of the sister church communities with which we are connected. It's hard to think about our friends being wet and hungry and scared. It's hard not to think about what all of this rain will mean for the dry season ahead -- what the loss of corn and beans and fruits and vegetables will mean for families who are wet and hungry tonight, but face a long dry possibility of being very hungry in the months ahead.

During the non-stormy times, we talk together about food sustainability and learn together about organic gardening and maximizing land use and fertility by growing companion crops and creating city gardens in pots and vertical spaces.

During the stormy times, we give thanks for emergency foods which have been stored for a rainy day...

"Today we went to the community of Puerto Parada to deliver the food."

"How was your experience today in Puerto Parada?"

"It was excellent. The people were very joyful when we gave out the food. They told us that they had not had anything to eat because they could not leave much less go out to work."

"A happy and slightly sad situation at the same moment, right?"

"Yes, when I looked into the faces of the people - they were happy - satisfied to receive the food and I felt super happy and told them that all of you have prayed for them."

"Thank you for being the hands of God and the instruments of our prayers today."

"The people send many greetings to all of the people in your community."

This conversation occurred tonight as the rains were letting up slightly and the internet connection cut in and out.

This photo was taken during my last visit to Puerto Parada.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

There is God

It's raining.

It rained all day. It rained last night. It rained yesterday. It rained the day before.

The hurricane season has another month of life. At the end of the season tropical storms seem often to hover for days and days. The soil is saturated and begins to sink or to slide. The streets become rivers and the rivers become lakes. The corn is covered and the beans are buried by the waters.

School days are lost. Work days are lost. Crops are lost. Homes are lost. A few, and hopefully only a few, lives are lost.

Today there is much news of loss.

And today, there is also news of hope and thanks.

"Thank you for your prayers and thanks be to God that although the water has been running down the gully in front of the church, no families have been affected."

"Thank you for your prayers and thanks be to God the food was delivered."

"Hi, thanks be to God we are all OK and God has kept us safe from the danger. Thank you for your prayers."

Where there is loss, there is God. Where there is hope, there is God.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Missing You, Babe

The delegation had spent a great week together. It was easy for me to serve as tour guide for it was a spunky group of guitar-toting, song-loving, eager-to-learn Spanish and ask-a-ton-of questions folks who are committed to beginning their new relationship in El Salvador in a spirit of accompaniment. We were spending our last day sitting and listening and talking with a woman whose husband had been killed in an act of violence on a bus outside of Aguilares before sharing lunch with her pastor and visiting Cihuatán.

At some point, we were squeezed into the too-small van - I was sandwiched between two guys in the very back, bumping along the road, and listening to our driver Luis' MP3 collection of classic 90's tunes in English. Of course, the guitar-toting, song-loving group was doing a lot more singing than listening. Singing the songs from proms and college days brought back fun memories which many in the group had in common, and helped to keep the spirit of joy alive as folks processed the hard moments of the day.

That juxtaposition of joy and sadness, although present in every day of our lives as human beings, rips into my day and shoves me off-balance when I am in El Salvador. As I was chatting and laughing and bumping along in the back seat of that van, the simple lyrics of a song, sung with great gusto and laughter by a group of travelers, sliced into the moment and pierced my spirit...

I could stay awake just to hear you breathing
Watch you smile while you are sleeping
While you're far away and dreaming
I could spend my life in this sweet surrender
I could stay lost in this moment forever
Where every moment spent with you is a moment I treasure

I could feel my heart being squeezed. I could hear his teenage voice, reciting these words as they were written on the page of a spiral notebook. He was learning English. He was proud to be able to read these words to me and my friend. He was reading these romantic words to two middle-aged ladies who he had only known for three days without any embarrassment.

Don't want to close my eyes
I don't want to fall asleep
Cause I'd miss you babe
And I don't want to miss a thing

But you are asleep. You are missing out on your life. Your wife is lost without you. Your daughter is growing up without knowing you. Your mother has nightmares about the night you were murdered. Your father cannot find peace.

Cause even when I dream of you
The sweetest dream will never do
I'd still miss you babe
And I don't want to miss a thing

We dream of you. We miss your dimples and your smile. We miss the boy you were and the young man you had become. We still eat at the table where you ate. We still sleep in the place where you slept. We love and play with your daughter. We care for your mom and dad. We hold your photo to our hearts and hear your voice in our ears.

The song went on. I was quiet and teary. I am thankful that I could share a little bit about my young friend's story with my new traveling friends. They are building new relationships in El Salvador. Their hearts are full. At moments, their hearts will be broken.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Tales of Frufy and Campy: Together Again

We arrived bright and early on Friday morning. Our sister church pastor gave us a ride to the community. We hopped out of the vehicle and called out to Julia who was happy and so surprised to see us just after breakfast. We hugged and hugged like ositas (little bears). Pastor asked if we were OK (he had to leave for a meeting), and Julia said, "Sure we are las tres mosqueteras - una para todas y todas para una (the three musketeers - one for all and all for one)." Pastor left, and las tres mosqueteras marched down the little steps into Julia's "compound."

Julia's place has changed over the years. The original house still serves as the kitchen and storeroom. It's hard to believe that twelve years ago we all slept in this hot little space - that first night in the community cementing us together as special friends forever. The newer house is about 10 feet away from the old one, leaving enough room in between for a small circle of plastic chairs to be placed in the dappled shade of a mango tree. This is where we gathered to catch up and share the stories of our lives.

Julia proudly shares that she has lost weight and feels better. She recalls events from the night of her son's murder. The passage of time and talking about her son is helping to relieve the strain on her body and spirit. Pirate, the big dog, sniffs and settles nearby. "He knows you," Julia said. Pirate, his wife (whose name I can never remember) and Ranger (their almost grown pup) offer companionship and protection. So does the padlock on the chain link gate. The cat Mishka (or something that sounds like that) and variety of wandering chickens and ducks offer companionship.

Pretty soon it's time to walk to school to go get the little ones. It is parent-teacher conference time, and the kindergarten children and their parents are preparing for next year. The other kids are all at recess and we offer our usual enormous disruption to the organized chaos. I love the sing-songy way in which the kids call out our names.

We walk home with the kids, bumping into friends along the way. Then we return to our spot in the shade. The vegetable lady comes to the gate and Julia negotiates the purchase of green beans, tomatoes and laroco. Julia's grandson hauls out a desk (it has wheels) and takes out his homework. This is his routine, to "open his office" after school each day. Julia pulls the ends off of the beans while the little guy does homework. Pretty soon the homework, which involved coloring in some letter shapes, is finished and a little friend comes over to play. It's not even lunch time yet and we have already shared a full and lovely day.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The End of the Tales of Greasy and Grubby?

Greasy and Grubby have had many adventures in El Salvador, but because Greasy's home base is now a flight away from Grubby's home base, their travels together have lessened. This fall, Grubby had the opportunity to serve as a coordinator and guide for a church in her area which is building a new relationship with a sister church in the eastern part of El Salvador. Greasy was on her way to El Salvador, accompanying her new bishop and a friend to a wedding and then making a visit out to the eastern part of El Salvador. Well, when God creates opportunities like this for Greasy and Grubby, Greasy and Grubby make plans!

The two friends headed to El Salvador and crossed paths a few times during their different journeys there: big hugs in the Bishop's office, getting to know the people in Llano el Coyol, and a brief visit at the beach. At the end of their fun and responsibilities here and there, the two of them planned a weekend get-away in their sister church community. It was planned as a surprise, as much as anything can remain a surprise when folks are connected on Facebook.

The night before heading out to the community, Greasy and Grubby were packing up their stuff...
Grubby: "I guess I'll just have to wear these green hiking sandals to church."
Greasy: "I guess I'll just have to wear these flips with the purple flowers around the community."

Grubby laid out her gray skirt with the snappy and zippy pockets and moister-wicking fabric. Greasy laid out her gray skirt with the lace and ruffles.

Grubby pulled out her orange tailored blouse. Greasy pulled out her froofy pink and purple blouse and pink tank top.

"You're so frufy and I'm so campy." It was true. Greasy had packed a whole bunch of ruffly long skirts and flowing tops (that would be the fru-fru). Grubby had packed her outdoorsy skirts and campy shirts. Greasy and Grubby laughed and decided to adopt their new nicknames: Frufy and Campy. After all, no one really wants to be called Greasy or Grubby...

So, for now... we begin the new adventures of Campy and Frufy.

And, yeah, I was the campy one.

Next post: What Frufy and Campy experienced as they surprised their sister church community.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Alabare...bum, bum, bum, bum

Today we learned that Don Francisco passed away.

I wasn't surprised by this sad news. When we visited Francisco two months ago, he appeared to be declining in physical strength and in spirit. My Salvadoran goddaughter and I knelt on the floor beside his mattress and bent close so we could hear him. We held his chilled hands in ours and sang the one song we knew he loved, "Alabare." He sang with his heart and his lips, but with no strength of voice. We knew his time with us would be short.

Our visit to Casa Esperanza today was made with guitar in hand and voices ready to lift Don Francisco's spirits. When we learned that he was gone, we did not go upstairs, we did not go to his room. We missed him, but "Alabare" was sung, along with many other lively tunes so that all the clients in the house were laughing and clapping and singing with great enthusiasm!

Tonight, Mama Trini shared the story of Don Francisco's last days...
On Sunday he was grumpy and spoke in an unkind way to the woman who cares for him over the weekend. On Monday he did not want to eat, nor did he want his vitamin. He never took any medicine. He was blind and his hip was broken, but he never suffered any pain and never asked for any medications, not even acetaminophen for a headache. On Monday he asked the women who care for him to forgive him. He asked each one, 'Forgive me, forgive me.' On Tuesday he ate only a little bit of plantain and some milk, and continued to ask, 'Forgive me.' As the women who care for him we thought he was preparing to die. On Wednesday he went to sleep and by Thursday morning he had passed away.

Don Francisco will forever live in our hearts, and every time we sing "Alabare" his baritone voice and lively guitar will surely be accompanying us from heaven. Good-bye, Don Francisco...bum, bum, bum, bum.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Today we were at the beach. Warm hazy sun, a breeze off of the water, huge waves crashing at their breaking point and friends gathered together for fun made it a very perfect day. After swimming and playing beach soccer and eating delicious boca colorada fish and sharing stories with one another, we decided to share one last song together. As soon as the cords echoed through the guitars, the hands began to clap and voices rang out, "Alabare, alabare! Alabare, alabare!"

The voices rose up through the sound of the crashing waves, and within a few moments the kitchen staff and various children were singing too. Then I noticed the stranger at the gate. He appeared to be in the neighborhood to sell crabs (because he held a bundle of wriggly crabs in his hand). He set down the bundle and clapped with great exuberance. It was hard to tell if he already knew the song or was learning it quickly. The smile on his face was fantastic! I motioned to him to see if it was OK to take his photo.

Yesterday, a chorus of Alabare brought children who rarely see visitors out into the yard to chat and play, and it comforted an old man whose body is tired but spirit still wishes to sing. On Sunday, choruses of Alabare filled the church and all were inspired to sing and clap and tap their feet. This simple song of praise has been filling the air in El Salvador this week!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pupusa Obama?

Pupusas are a gastronomic experience which every visitor in El Salvador should embrace. My first pupusas were served up at Pupusaria Paty: bean and cheese. Since then I have eaten pupusas in homes, in churches, at sidewalk cafes and in large restaurants from one corner of El Salvador to the other, for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. It's a good thing that I like pupusas.

On the outskirts of Nejapa at the turn of the road which leads to Apopa, with its bright green facade sits the Pupus -->ódromo. This is one of my new favorite places for pupusas, and it has as much to do with the atmosphere and the pupusa-makers as the pupusas themselves. We arrived and settled in front of the first pupusaria in the line of pupusarias which make up the pupusodromo. We scooted benches and tables to create a suitably large dining area. We were presented with a little pad of paper and a pen so we could write down our order: all different kinds and more than 45 pupusas in all. Of course, I ordered pupusas con laroco y queso and and it definitely became a group favorite.

This morning we encountered a laroco plant - a squash-like vine that was growing up on a trellis, producing shade and little white flowers. There, in the garden outside of Mo
This morning we encountered a laroco plant - a squash-like vine that was growing up on a trellis, producing shade and little white flowers. There, in the garden outside of Mo -->
nseñor Romero's house at Divina Providencia, a Carmelite nun presented us with one of the blossoms. We took turns holding it to our noses and breathing deeply while recalling the tasty and cheesy goodness of the pupusas of the night before.

This afternoon, as we sat in a large circle a question was placed before Bishop Gomez: "What is your favorite kind of pupusa?" The Bishop side-stepped the answer for a while, and told a couple of pupusa stories. The pupusa is an indigenous food; the best ones puff up as they are cooked; one place has a pupusa loca (which I believe has a little bit of everything in it).

The question was asked again. This time the response involved President Obama. Did we remember when President Obama visited El Salvador? Weeks before he came, the Bishop said, "resourceful vendors prepared a special pupusa and began calling it the Pupusa Obama." Why was it called the Pupusa Obama? It was made with black corn.

We laughed in disbelief, but the Bishop assured us that this was true. We laughed some more and asked the Bishop again...did he have a favorite kind of pupusa? The answer finally came: pupusa con laroco y queso. Of course!This afternoon, as we sat in a large circle a question was placed before Bishop Gomez: "What is your favorite kind of pupusa?" The Bishop side-stepped the answer for a while, and told a couple of pupusa stories. The pupusa is an indigenous food; the best ones puff up as they are cooked; one place has a pupusa loca (which I believe has a little bit of everything in it).
The question was asked again. This time the response involved President Obama. Did we remember when President Obama visited El Salvador? Weeks before he came, the Bishop said, "resourceful vendors prepared a special pupusa and began calling it the Pupusa Obama." Why was it called the Pupusa Obama? It was made with black corn.
We laughed in disbelief, but the Bishop assured us that this was true. We laughed some more and asked the Bishop again...did he have a favorite kind of pupusa? The answer finally came: pupusa con laroco y queso. Of course!