Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tales of Greasy and Grubby: Honey and Bling

It has been a little while since I shared a story about Greasy and Grubby.  If you are a frequent reader of my stories, you know Greasy now lives far away from Grubby, and the two made a recent visit to El Salvador together.  Greasy has a new sister church in Peru, and Grubby (that would be me) continues to be in a close relationship with her sister church community and the people of El Salvador.  Although Greasy's new church experiences carry her to another place, a piece of Greasy's heart will always be in El Salvador.  And although Greasy and Grubby tried on new nicknames during their most recent adventure in El Salvador, the names did not really stick.

Our idea for the recent visit was to surprise our sister church community.  The community would not expect the two of us to show up together -- it took a long while for them to accept that we no longer live on the same street (much less the same state), go to the same church or travel together.  This would be a true surprise.  Of course our sister pastor knew.  Of course our beloved Julia, one of las tres amigas knew.  We anticipated that others would find out through the grapevine or Facebook, but we hoped that most folks would rejoice in this great surprise.

We arrived very early in the morning and were bustled into Julia's house (our home in the community) for a nice long visit.  People started to stop by -- Julia is in a great location for that.  What fun it was to watch people's faces as they noticed us sitting under the cherry tree, especially the kids who screamed with delight and ran to the gate.

We know the community well, so ventured out to walk the pathways, pausing for conversation in the shade here and there and experiencing invitations and hospitality at every turn.  We visited the "mom with 8 kids."  Although we now know the names of the women in the community, back in the beginning of our relationship we came up with nicknames to help us remember who was who.  Now I use the nicknames when I am writing so that identities can be protected.  The first time we visited the "mom with 8 kids," we caught her off-guard.  She was so apologetic for the laundry and folded clothing which was piled on every surface in her tiny house.  She said, "with me and my husband and 8 kids, there is just no place to put it" and we had a good laugh about it as we nestled ourselves in and had a long chat amidst the piles of laundry.  This friend is the happiest mother we have ever met, disciplining her children with love, a little shake of the finger and a frown that turns quickly back into a smile, and treating her children as true treasures from God.  Her baby is a miracle, a ninth child arriving late in life 9 months after her firstborn was murdered.  During our recent visit, the baby slept while we sat and chatted.  Our friend told us that she was learning how to make jewelry, and she gave us each a beaded necklace and some seed earrings -- a bit of bling which highly entertained the baby who woke up to join us.

A young mom and her cousin, godchildren to our families, learned how to make tuti-fruti that day as a fresh treat for us.  The woman of the house, younger than both of us, has struggled to support her family by traveling to Honduras to purchase fruit and then cut it up to sell in the market.  She has always been so proud and excited to serve us tuti-fruti at her home, and we remembered together the first time she introduced us to tuti-fruti (watermelon, pineapple, strawberries and bananas cut up small and drizzled with honey) in 2001 after her children were baptized.  She is tired and not quite lucid.  She is receiving chemo-therapy for brain cancer.

We had many visits, and many surprise conversations in the pathways on our walks, and then...there were two surprise parties at the church.  Our coming had definitely not remained a secret.  The family commission (divided into four women's Bible study groups) teamed up:  two groups for an event on Saturday and two groups for an event on Sunday.  These were beautiful parties.  A welcome sign with our names was up on the wall.  The first party featured a devotion time and a really yummy Salvadoran treat that I cannot remember the name of but is sort of like a buñuelo soaked in honey, served with a sweet milky drink seasoned with whole cloves (in a traditional morro cup).  The women worked very hard all day to make these special treats.  After we finished the delicious refreshments, we received the gift of a song.  The two of us sat in our white plastic chairs, as the women and a few of their children sang to us about brothers and sisters being and working together.  Of course we were teary-eyed because to receive a gift such as this really is to experience the love of Christ.  With sticky honey on our fingers and our lips, we hugged and kissed and wished each other a good-night.

The second party was held after church on Sunday.  Many of the women had attended workshops to learn to make beaded jewelry with pearls and sparkles and colorful beads and natural seeds.  We were bedecked and bedazzled with necklaces and bracelets and earrings and small purses.  Since Grubby is short, she was the first to be decorated, and being the comedian she is, did a little model-walk and twirl which elicited clapping and cheers.  Greasy is quite tall, so it took a bit of stretching and ducking which provided just enough of a delay so that when the crowd called for her to do a strut and twirl, it was captured by a pastor with a quick grab of Grubby's camera.  Sadly, Grubby promised Greasy never to publish these photos.  The truth is that no matter how much bling you dangle onto us on a really hot day, we retain our true identities as Greasy and Grubby.  After the fashion show, the women presented Greasy with a very special gift - a lacquered map of El Salvador with a traditional scene on the front, and a hand-written message on the back:  For our dear friend...on behalf of Sector No. 1 with much caring and love, hoping that you will always remember all of your friends. Each name of the Sector 1 Bible Study group was inscribed below the message.  Another gift of love, and a few more tears.  Then, the two of us were invited to a table which was filled with fruit.  Each woman had brought fruit from her garden or the market - and it was quite a banquet!  Everyone was able to share in the sweet goodness.  We received gifts of fruit to carry with us.  There were hugs and kisses because it was time to say good-bye.

The memories of the visits, the parties, the laughter, the tears, the sharing, the cooking, the eating, the singing, the worshiping, the hugs, the kisses and the love we share together are strong and sweet, like honey for our spirits.  And yes, we wear our beautiful bling, and when we hear, "Ooh, I love your necklace.  Oh what pretty earrings.  Where did you get them?" we say, "they were a gift from our sisters in El Salvador" and we recollect how we were the ones who were surprised.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Stone Soup

We packed stones in our suitcases.

OK, not real stones, but pieces of gray and brown paper, some new and some recycled, all suitable for making stones.  We prepared our stones, cutting rounded and irregular shapes from the paper, pasting an invitation to the back of each stone, and marking a J, E, S, Ú or S on each front.  Then, we went out walking.

We stopped at each home in our sister community, asking permission to enter, greeting one another, sharing a few stories and praying together.  Then we asked, "Do you know the story of stone soup?" 

We shared the story together, bringing out a paper stone at each home.  The invitation was to join us in making stone soup.

On Saturday, the invitation called for a pilgrimage to the river.  The tradition of celebrating baptism, first communion and confirmation together was strong, and the act of making a pilgrimage to a special location was a way in which to include all who wished to participate, even those who felt a little shy about entering the Lutheran Church.  Because the river was dry and the weather was extremely hot, a few of the young men in the community had built a little champita - a roof of palm branches held up by bamboo poles to provide a bit of shade over the altar.  We sang.  We prayed.  We shared the sacraments and celebrated with the adults, teens and little ones who were named as children of God and with the teenage boy who experienced Holy Communion for the first time.  Then each person was invited to bring his or her gift to the altar - a fruit, some grass, flowers, a bit of ribbon, whatever he or she wished to give.  The gifts were simple and abundant -- I held out my skirt as people placed their gifts into it like a basket.  This was the gathering of the ingredients for the stone soup.

Saturday night we made a loom from some branches and yarn.  On Sunday morning, the Sunday School children gathered for their lesson.  As the loom was brought forth, the children wove and tied all the gifts to it, occasionally running outside to gather more leaves and pieces of grass and working together until they had created a beautiful piece of art.  This was the mixing of the stone soup.

In the afternoon, families came to the community center for worship and a shared meal.  People brought their stones, taping them to the wall...spelling out JESÚS.  Youth read the scriptures.  Guitar and recorder players and singers made music.  It was a grand celebration of the coming together as the body of Christ, each sharing his or her unique gift for the benefit of all.  This was the eating of the stone soup.

The paper stones have long since fallen from the wall, the leaves and flowers from the artistic weaving have long since dried up, but in a special spot in my house I have a simple tecomate, decorated with a blue ribbon and tiny red roses, a lasting taste of the stone soup and a reminder that God creates miracles and beauty when we are together.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Play Ball!

Every now and then, the women and girls in our sister community play softball.  It seems to be one of those things that comes and goes, maybe depending on the availability of equipment or leaders or space on the soccer field or safety.  There are a couple of older women in the community who are all out softball stars, who hit with great power, run fast -- who play and cheer with great exuberance.  These dynamo player-coaches periodically rise up and organize the girls into one or two community teams.

My all-time favorite girls softball experience in El Salvador took place a few years back.  Our sister community girls were in a tournament with a neighboring community.  The girls met at the soccer field to practice before the game.  Our goddaughter, about 7 months pregnant and wearing flip flops, grabbed hold of the bat and started hitting the ball out into the field.  I still chuckle at the memory of watching her hit those balls. I also chuckle at the memory of the catcher, crouching down behind home with her Mary-Jane school shoes and too-small soccer shin guards for protection.

The girls practiced a bit, but then found out the game had to be moved from the original field location (the prime field strewn with sporadic patches of grass and cows munching along the perimeter) to a dirt field at the edge of town.  This secondary field was situated at the edge of a steep drop into a ravine, so that a ball hit over the fence would bring cheers for a home run, followed by a climb over the fence, a precarious trudge through some garbage and a serious delay of game.

The girls gathered for a review of the rules and determination of where the bases would be.  Our goddaughter was the ump, and while I chuckle at the memory of her at-bats, I marvel at her saucy no-nonsense attitude while setting the rules and governing play.  The game was played, with loud calls of "bola" and "estraaaaayyyyk" and "hom run!"  The two teams were pretty evenly matched, and they played until the rain ended the game.  I don't even recall who won - for as serious as those girls were, in the end it was a tournament for fun.