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.