Sunday, August 28, 2011

Just Click: A few more photos from the Tourist Day of Fun

"She's always got her camera out the window taking photos."

It's true. In between the singing, the story-telling, the joking around, and the occasional tour-guiding, I spent a fair amount of time looking out the bus window and snapping photos. This was a source of great interest to our Salvadoran friends. At one point one of the grandmas told her little guy to "sit up and enjoy the scenery - this is a chance to see things you don't usually get to see."

So, for everyone on the bus who didn't have a camera to stick out the window and click away, here are the sights along the road during our recent Tourist Day of Fun...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Help Us

He is a teenager. He is looking forward to going to high school. He is intelligent and kind. He lives with a serious medical condition. He is a devoted son and big brother. He sent us a message:

I hope you are well, surrounded by your loved ones. I hope when you read this you are in good health. I think you remember that I told you that I had been threatened. Later, after some time, in other words today, I received a telephone call from someone who said they had not met me but had heard that some people who I don't know are going to kill me. Not me alone but also my whole family. They are going to cut up our bodies into pieces: the hands, or the arms, or the head or whatever parts they want. We want to leave our community. Help us...

At first he thought his family could go far away to be more safe. Later he said it wouldn't matter.

Maybe these are idle threats meant to scare, to intimidate, to exact a payment for some perceived level of security.

Maybe these are real threats. Two teenagers we know have been missing for several months. Surely there are many we don't know who have been killed, disappeared, harmed or threatened.

The police hear "help us." The government, from mayor's offices to President Funes hear "help us." The churches and charitable organizations hear "help us." We hear "help us."

We have seen responses to the calls for help in action -- from mayors and pastors and aid organizations and volunteers and even President Funes. We have seen neighborhoods restored to peace. Yet peace in the neighborhoods is fleeting. Mothers cannot let down their guard. The threats and the dangers are constantly on the move.

How do we respond to "help us?"

I don't have an answer, but I am inspired by the mothers. Every day, throughout the day the mothers pray over their children. They give thanks for each moment of life. They pray for God to send angels to guard and preserve life. And they themselves act as angels of protection for their children. There is power in mothers who, rooted in love, join forces with one another to fight for the lives of their children.

Join your prayers today with the prayers of the mothers of R. and D., two young people who are still missing; and with the family who has been threatened and has cried out, "Help us."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Off the Beaten Path: Juayua is Worth More than Just a Click

After lunch in Santa Ana, we headed out on a beautiful mountain highway to the small town of Juayua, which apparently I have included in a Just Click story once before. I think it's funny that such a little town, sort of off of the beaten path, has made it into my Salvadoran experiences a number of times. Juayua is an endpoint for traveling the Ruta de las Flores - a lovely scenic drive which everyone in our group was eager to experience, so it was the perfect opportunity to spend a little time soaking in the local culture.

We parked the bus in the town square, and set a return time so that everyone could wander about at their leisure. Most of the women in the group walked straight to the church. Several parishoners were kneeling as the priest was saying the Mass, and the women in our group knelt in the back rows, instructing their children to kneel quietly beside them. After spending some time in prayer, our group emerged from the church to admire the facade and the nearby flowers. Then we scattered, this way and that, into the shops and under the trees in the town square.

I wandered over to a woman who was selling one of my all-time favorite street foods: green mango with chili! The mangoes are peeled and sliced into small plastic bags. Then, per the customer's desire, a couple of spoonfuls of different ground-up spices and a few squirts of red chili sauce are added. Delicious! Next it was into the corner bakery where I bought a sweet piece of tamarind cake to share on the bus. It was a beautiful cloudy afternoon, and most of our group had gathered beneath the trees which surround a circular fountain in the center of the square. We shared our treats with one another, which ended up producing a lot more business for the green-mango-with-chili lady.

As we were relaxing and sharing stories, I recalled one of my favorite visits to Juayua...back in 2005. We were a pretty large group of families and college youth from my home church, and we were taking a day to relax and see some of the countryside after running a big VBS event with leaders from the Salvadoran Lutheran Church. It was December, and the flowers along the Ruta de las Flores were abundant and amazing. We had driven the Route of the Flowers and ended up in Juayua. We had to part outside of town and walk in because the Feria Gastronomica or Food Festival was in full swing. Vendors were selling all kinds of artisan crafts and textiles from throughout El Salvador, many of which had unique Guatemalan influences. The highlight of that day was when our teenage son was invited to play the marimba with a local street band.

Although the recent visit was not on a Food Festival day, some of the Salvadorans in our group had heard about it and were making plans to come back in the future.

Before we knew it, it was time to get on the bus and head out onto the Route of the Flowers. It's never easy to get everyone back onto a bus after a leisurely break when all are scattered about. First we were missing two, then two's really pretty funny how this is the same no matter where you are and that you can almost always guess who the missing ones will be. We laughed and joked around about this once we were on our way.

Unfortunately, along the Ruta de las Flores the flowers were just starting to bloom so there were not too many to see. Yet, flowers or no flowers, a beautiful drive through the countryside, when the breeze blowing into the bus windows is almost cool, when musica romantica is playing in the background and conversation is singing in the foreground, when and treats and cake are passing from friend to friend, is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon together.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Off the Beaten Path: Santa Ana Remix

The "Tourist Day of Fun" bus journey with our sister church community friends continues...

We took a short drive from Tazumal to the city of Santa Ana. Neither we nor our driver had ever entered the city from that side, so we had to stop and ask for directions. Soon we were on a street which showed up on our city map. It was fun to see the modern outskirts as we navigated our way into the colonial and early 20th century architecture and narrow streets of the old city center. We emerged from the bus across from the cathedral, counted heads, and like a row of ducks walked across the square to enter the cathedral.

Ines was the only one from our sister community who had been to the city of Santa Ana. She had come to visit the cathedral twice, quite some time ago. Ines told us that when her twins were born, they had health problems. She came to the cathedral for some purpose at that time, either for a blessing or to pray or to request a mass -- her serious face and low tone of voice indicated that it had been a very difficult time for her, so no one pressed her for details. Thanks be to God, her twins are now healthy and happy teen-agers who play soccer and do well in school.

We walked into the sanctuary, and most of the women knelt down to pray. A few stood quietly gazing and the statues, walking slowly, pausing often. We stayed a good long time, and every now and then one of the women would ask me to take a photo of her in front of the altar or one of the side altars.

My friend Julia knows all of the stories about the saints. We stopped near a statue of St. Martin de Porres. Julia is drawn to him because he is brown-skinned and the saint for mixed-race peoples. She told me about the orphanage he started and how he was known to be kind to animals. She knows a lot of details about the miracles which surround this saint, and I think she wanted her little grandson to "overhear" all of the stories as she told me. At one point in her narrative we were interrupted by a man who had been praying fervently at a nearby altar. He asked if we knew of any work he could do; he was desperate to find work so he could feed his family. He was well-educated and had been working as a professional in some kind of business but had been laid off. He was dressed up to come to the church to pray and then to go to an agency. Julia listened carefully and offered her understanding and prayers.

We emerged into the sunlight, took a group photo (it was Tourist Day!), and wandered over to the theater, and, determining it was too expensive for all of us to go inside, decided to hang out in the square. We sent a "scouting team" to find a cafe that could feed 27 people, and they had success! We spent about 15 minutes taking photos in the shade and laughing at the antics of the kids. Noontime arrived and we walked in our duck-line to the cafe. It was a wonderful place with a big covered patio area that could seat a large crowd. Chicken, rice, veggies, Chow Mien with shrimp, tortillas and soda. We sat at small tables in groups so we could chat and enjoy lunch together. It was just lovely.

After lunch we climbed aboard the bus for our next Ruta de las Flores!

For more about Santa Ana, you can read my previous Off the Beaten Path Story.