Thursday, October 31, 2013

Night Tales

It is late in the evening.  Moths flutter by the light bulb.  The white plastic chairs are gathered in a circle.  The door is open to let the heat of the day escape from the house.  This is story time.

"One time, I was walking through the woods, and I heard something beside me.  I stopped and looked, but I did not see a thing.  Then I kept walking.  I sensed something by my side.  Then," the teller gasps...

Just then a cockroach starts zooming around the room like a hummingbird playing pinball off of our heads.  We all gasp and swat at the warm air as the teller says, "I saw it -- it was the white cadejo."

The other women in the circle nod.  They had all experienced the presence of the white dog.  "The white cadejo walks beside the woman, protecting her from danger.  One time, when I went to the river to do the laundry, the white dog was with me."

A husband speaks up.  "I have spied the black cadejo from the corner of my eye.  He has followed me through the woods.  I know this because I have heard a stick break, and when I have turned around fast, I have caught a glimpse of him."  Some men are afraid of the black cadejo, and have run to get home quickly.  Other men say that it will protect them when they are out at night.  If they are drunk the black cadejo will keep them from harm.

These are not just ghost stories.  These are the legends which are told among the people of El Salvador, and seem especially popular among those who live near the small town of Tonacatepeque.  Legend and life experience are woven together here, and the stories shared are not only shared on All Hallows Eve.

"When I was a little boy," the husband continues, "my grandfather ran into the house one night.  He was as white as a ghost.  He had seen the headless priest.  I was not sure this was true, but my grandfather told us exactly what happened, and I know it was true.  He was walking toward the big tree on the old path to Tonaca."

Others in the circle confirm they know of this tree.

"There was a fork in the road and my grandfather had to pass by the tree.  The priest was sleeping by the base of the tree.  Suddenly he stood up in front of the big tree trunk.  It was the priest with no head!  He started to chase my grandfather who had to run for his life.  I have believed this story since I was a little boy, maybe 8 or 10 years old."

"What about the Siguanaba?" I ask.

No one in the circle has seen the Siguanaba.  Some have heard her cry out by the little dirty rivers in the woods. Her voice is beautiful so she can lure men who are out late to come to her.  The Siguanaba was once a beautiful woman who fell in love with the son of the god Tlaloc and lured him to marry her.  While her husband was away, the woman had affairs and became pregnant.  She was a terrible mother to her son, Cipitio, and was cursed by the gods to wander the earth forever searching for Cipitio, who was also cursed to forever remain a little boy.  At first, the Signuanaba seems beautiful, with long black hair and beautiful fingernails.  She wears a white night gown and her body is very lovely beneath the fabric.  She lures men to come to the river where she sits combing her hair and washing her clothes.  When her victim is close by, she suddenly reveals her hideously ugly face.  Her eyes are read and  bulged out and her long breasts slap at the water as she walks. Her nails become long like claws and she grabs at her victim. If her victim sees her true self, he will be crazy for the rest of his life.

This is one of the many stories which encourage men to be home at night, rather than out to be out seeking the company of his drinking buddies or another woman.

We are sleepy.  The door is closed and the light extinguished.  We crawl onto our warm beds, our foreheads damp with sweat, our dreams filled with visions of spirit dogs, a headless priest and a mysterious woman.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Four Boys

Today I was meandering through some old video files, looking for some footage of singing in El Salvador, with the goal of finding audio for songs which we could sing with our congregation on an upcoming "El Salvador Sunday."  In the meandering, I came across a video entitled, "Four Boys."


The title appears.  This is one of the videos we created as a promotion for the scholarship ministry we coordinate with our sister church community.  A boy's first name emerges in white letters on a black screen, and then the image transitions to the face of a teenage boy.  He's wearing a Tazmanian Devil t-shirt.  The camera follows him as he shifts nervously from foot to foot.  Subtitles appear as he talks.  "I'm [complete name].  Greetings to the brothers and sisters at [sister church name], especially [boy name] who is sending help to me.  What I want to say...what I want to thank you for the help that you have sent me, and take care of yourself, and of your family, your father, your grandma, your mom, just take care of yourselves.  That's all."  He smiles a little shy smile during the entire interview.

The next name appears.  A little boy is seated in a white plastic chair. He has a big smudge of dirt on his cheek from wrestling around with his brothers.  Around his neck he has a cross made from pink and red fun foam and blue yarn.  His eyes look up at the sky, and he holds one finger by his cheek as he thinks of what to say.  "Hello, good afternoon, I live with my mom and my dad and my brothers, and my little brother who has to have his little foot operated on. I go to school. I am 7 years old.  I have brothers.  That's all."  He gets up quickly and has a big smile as he scoots off camera.

Same chair, new boy.  This one has a Badgers football cap on his head.  He swings his legs back and forth and talks fast.  He is about 9 years old.  "I live with my family.  My mom's name is ____, my dad's name is ____.  My brothers are ... and me.  I am in fourth grade.  I want to continue studying.  Thank you to the brothers and sisters who give me some help.  Thanks."  He is eager to get out of the chair.

Boy number four:  "Hi.  My family is of people who are pretty poor.  Everyone is working. My brother Marvin.  My sister [name] went away on a trip. We'll have to see when she returns.  Through God you are helping me.  I want to keep studying.  I go to second grade.  Thanks to the brothers and sisters who are helping me.  Thanks to my sponsors who are there in the United States, and I tell you that you are helping me and I will send you a letter later.  That is all."  This little guy has charisma.  He is the kid everyone falls in love with.  He could be a great leader, if all that energy is channeled in a positive direction.

The video was made a little more than six years ago.  Six years...a long time in the life of a boy.

The first boy dropped out of school shortly after the video was made.  He joined a gang.  The reasons are complex but were partly due to stresses in his family.  For most of the last six years he was out of touch with the boy in the US who was helping him.  The US family never stopped praying.  Both boys grew up.  A short time ago, the grown boy began studying again.  He is in a safe place.  It is not easy for a young man to stay hidden.  The US mom visited him.  The love and prayers he receives from across the miles encourage him and sustain him when he is lonely.

The second boy has been studying.  He still has that thoughtful manner and shy smile. His little brother, who was born with club feet, had surgeries and can run and play like his big brothers. This year, the boy dropped out of school for a little while, copying his older brothers.  One older brother convinced him to go back.  "You will regret leaving."  The boy has returned to school for now.

The third boy needed to work to help support his family.  He figured out a way in which he could work every morning and weekend and go to school every afternoon.  After five years of working and going to school, he has quit school.  He works as a mechanic and is very good at it, but without a diploma he will only be able to work at a non-professional level.  The hope is to find a technical school which will help him to get the credentials he needs.

The fourth boy has moved away from the community.  His brother, Marvin, was murdered while he was working taking fares on a micro-bus just one week after we made the video.  The second brother joined the gang and dropped out of school.  The mother took her younger children and left, leaving no contact information behind.  I think about this little guy - well, forever little in my memories - all the time.  Someday, I know I will connect with him again.

Four boys.

Friday, October 4, 2013

¡Feliz Quinceañera!

"Be sure to have a cake.  Usually there is a cake.  We couldn't afford a cake, and we were a little bit sad about that, but it was OK, right?  The cake should have layers and be tall and pretty like a wedding cake."

We had a cake.  And balloons, lots of balloons.  And streamers and pink tablecloths and pink sparkly stuff and a princess in a pink dress and pink lemonade.

From the beginning, we had planned two quinceañera celebrations to honor our fifteen years together as sister churches:  one in El Salvador and one in the US.  Even though we were sad to say good-bye to our Salvadoran friends at the end of our time with them, we had some fun together planning for the party "in the north."  We probably would not have dancing.  We would decorate using colorful balloons and streamers just like the Salvadorans had done.  And there would be cake.

The party in El Salvador was planned by the community, and we had sent some funds ahead of time so our friends could plan the kind of party they wanted.  When they met to make their plans, they decided to use the funds to give a party to the church!  They painted the exterior of the church so it would look just like it did in 2011 when it was born - a beautiful, soft purple.  They also built a low wall and fashioned a black metal fence and gate around the church to protect it from the occasional delivery truck or mischief.  When we arrived, the community showed us the fifteenth anniversary gift they had given to the church.  They hoped we were in agreement with their choices for the use of the money.  We absolutely were, absolutely.  We were also tremendously impressed with how much work they were able to do with a little bit of party money!

So, at the Salvadoran fiesta we each ate one piece of chicken instead of two, and we cut no cake and broke no piñata.  We laughed and danced and shared lots of warm and lovely hugs.  The cake, beautiful with layers like a wedding cake, would be served up north.

And so it was.  We had a great big up north party with all of our congregation invited.  We ate cheese pupusas and sweet tamales with cream.  We shared photos from the celebration in El Salvador, and told stories.  The quinceañera princess cut the cake and little ones marveled at her sparkly dress. Finally, we hoisted the piñata over a tree branch in the church yard and children took their swings.  One good whack and candy spilled over the ground.  The party was over.

Fifteen years as sister churches.  Fifteen years of growing and learning together.  We think about the little ones who broke open piñatas in the early years and are now grown - some with children of their own.  We look forward to the next fifteen years, hoping our children and grandchildren will continue to grow in faith and love together, sharing wisdom, hopes, dreams, joys, sorrows, and fun.
¡Feliz quinceañera!