{23.6.14} Getting into the swing of things

With a little less than a week left in San Ignacio, I feel like I am just now hitting my stride. Yesterday was really nice, albeit with a little more church than I could handle without getting pretty squirrely. Luckily, the afternoon brought a great walk with Laura at Entre Pinos, where we found some cows, the river and all the pretty little horses. In the evening was a very moving Father’s Day celebration (brought total sitting-in-pew time to about 4 hours) and a dinner afterwards. At the dinner, Laura and I sat with a couple who have a daughter in the US (near Boston, of course, like everyone here). Their daughter’s oldest child is 13, and they’ve never seen her because the wife can’t get a visa and the daughter is in the US illegally, so can’t leave. Every time we have a visa conversation like this, I can’t help but apologize for the heartache the US’s immigration laws cause for such good, law-abiding, loving people. 
After dinner, Laura and I stuck around to play frisbee with some of the kids who were left over, to the consternation of Lucy and Danny who had no idea where we were (so much worrying for our safety… food, violence, you name it). I am kicking myself now that I didn’t bring more frisbees, as everyone keeps asking me how much it cost and where they can get one. For the kids that can’t get a toehold in the fast-paced ricochet games of schoolyard pelota, I think tossing a frisbee around is a welcome safe activity, and at the very least a novelty. Besides, nobody’s super good at it, so the pressure is pretty low (although I am quite impressed by how fast a lot of the boys pick it up… goes to show how much lots of time running around can do for the ol’ hand-eye coordination). After Danny (the ‘-ito’) came and found us, we went to the pupuseria and tossed some there, too, before giving in to a rousing game of street soccer. It was a ton of fun, and even Lucy played, heading it a couple times on passes from Danny (the ‘-ote’). While I ended up with a net effect of zero (one score for us and one against us… schwoopsies!), I was having so much fun that by the end I was quite a sight, completely drenched in sweat. And oh what a scene it was, too. There were constantly young guys sauntering by, microbuses passing through outfitted in their supahfly neon lights, and the occasional drunk homeless guy who would take our ball and refuse to give it back or mutter incoherently at no one in particular, some sort of proxy for the FIFA announcers yelling ‘gooooooooooooooooolllllll!!!!’. 
Yesterday, Chris (Juan Miguel’s sister, and one of the three siblings that lives in the house together across the street from the school) promised to straighten my hair, so today during lunch, I got my second ever hair straightening, much to the amusement of Juan Miguel and Laura and the curiosity of the afternoon kids at the school who insisted on touching it (you can’t go to school with a bedhead and come back with it perfectly straight without some reaction, I guess). 

resuls of la plancha

After a normal morning where we worked with 9th graders (adding in tongue-twisters to the games… thanks for that one, Mom!), we decided to try for smaller groups in the afternoon. I ended up with 4 boys from 8th through 10th grade to come to my ‘tutoria’. They were good natured (mostly) about taking linguistic risks, and I’m sad that I might only be able to work with them a couple more times before leaving. I think smaller group tutoring with really motivated kids is a really good direction for this program to go. Plus, the motivated ones are more fun to teach. We told jokes, did tongue twisters, told stories and played some frisbee. What’s not to like?

tutoria selfie 🙂 (with two of them)

Tonight, I busted out my friendship bracelet bag for the first time and spent about an hour in a flurry of teaching people how to make bracelets and making ones for the kids who begged for them. Price: a bunch of hugs. Color schemes: soccer teams (Barcelona…. sorry Real Madrid fans). Also interesting was a Japanese women who is here for some sort of environmental program, possibly related to the Peace Corps. Didn’t catch a lot of what she said, between the bracelet making going on in my hands, a Japanese accent I’d never heard before and lots of background noise, but she seemed really cool. Right away when she walked in we pegged each other as The Only Foreigners in the room, and she came over to ask what I was up to. Funny how that works where in any other situation but rural El Salvador I would have no reason to talk to her, but here, we actually have a lot in common. 

Enough for tonight. Gosh, didn’t mean for this to be so long. I have labored much over papers that were shorter than this post! 
~~~ God talk ~~~
Yesterday started with the normal service which, at its peak (about an hour and a half in when all the tricklers had arrived and no one had started to leave yet), hit 141 people! It was a mix of the normal opening remarks and some talk about bible passages, plenty of music (less hymns and more rousing songs), a sermon in English dubbed into Spanish and discussed afterwards (since Emma, the normal pastor, is still recovering from back surgery), prayer sprinkled in and of course the birthday song and accompanying thanks given for many years completed. The whole thing was alternately very moving and kind of interminable for me. Moving during the songs and very heartfelt prayer, when I got tinglies, and let’s be real, when the two-year-old sitting with her uncle behind me toddled over and smiled with all of her three teeth. Honestly, I think half the reason the services are so intergenerational is that lots of people welcome the socially acceptable distraction of a baby to breastfeed (which happens with abandon wherever babies abound) or a toddler to corral and smile at. I have trouble sitting still and concentrating for my 70-minute Wellesley classes, much less two and a half hours of God on a gorgeous Sunday morning. I have noticed that by the time they are teenagers, there are a fair number of kids that have cultivated that blank, unthinking sort of stare to get them through. What’s interesting, though, is that checked out is not the norm. And while everyone has different reasons, I think, for coming, lots of kids come. Whether it’s playing in the band that gets ‘em or their parents or their friends or spirituality, the youth population is really huge. 
Laura and I were talking about this on our walk through Entre Pinos yesterday, about the differences between El Salvador and the US Quakerism. It seems to me that here, there is much more spiritual following that goes on here. People let their church services bring them to a place of deep emotional spirituality, and so in church crying is the norm. In the Father’s Day service last night, during the closing prayer, all of the families magically found each other and embraced the fathers as many (fathers, mothers, children) cried. Every Sunday, there has been a birthday, and every week, at least one of the birthday people has expressed their gratitude for God’s role in their life and cried. Sometimes, after particularly moving songs, people dab their eyes and sniffle. If you follow along and let yourself ride the wave of the service (and don’t fidget so much like me), I think it’s pretty easy to have deep spiritual experiences every week here. The whole idea of religion being a non-drug-induced way of changing your state of consciousness is a reality here. 
FGC quakerism, on the other hand, demands that people be their own leaders. I find silence really difficult. And at this point, with so little practice and so much overstimulation in the last few years, I’m pretty darm bad at silent worship. I know it is possible to have very transformative experiences, because I have been there (interestingly, the most in El Salvador), but it’s a lot of work. It’s hard to get the tinglies. I consider myself lucky to have had such great experiences with silence even though I actually haven’t done it that much, and I think there are a lot of young people like me who find it really difficult in a world where we are immersed in multitasking technology and constant blaring lights and bright sounds. I’m not saying that silence vs song is the only reason, but look at the difference in the youth population (and just general population) between El Salvadoran Friends and Friends in the US. In just one church service in a town of about 9,000 people, 141 people showed up. They do the numbers for every church-led activity, and on Thursday night where there are smaller house meetings in each of the three communities, over 100 people attended. On a work night and a school night. Compare that to Madison Monthly Meeting. 
So, I’m not saying MMM should go out and evangelize (something that Friends here in El Salvador take very seriously… I mean, it’s in their name), but I think that sharing our faith more is something that both we and those we meet can benefit from, and it needs to go beyond the “we aren’t all about oats” thing. Maybe this is just me feeling frustrated that I feel so underdeveloped here in terms of religious upbringing. When they cite bible passages during the service, I have to look at the table of contents for 30 seconds to find section whereas everyone else here just flips right to the page without having to poke around confusedly. 

I wish I could think of some way to find a middle ground between the leading and the following I see. I wish I had been given more guidance about what to do in silent worship, since I still don’t feel like I know in the least what to do with it or how to recreate great experiences. I wish we’d done more worship sharing when I was younger and that I felt more empowered to speak up. At the same time, while I don’t like being preached at for 45 minutes at a time, I do like being given more ideas to ponder and bible passages to read and reflect on. I like how one of the preachers on Saturday night brought in Kant, even though he interpreted the whole “I think therefore I am” thing wrong (he interpreted it as “thinking causes me to be” instead of “I know that I am because I am thinking and in order to be thinking, I must first be”… oh well). I like how at the youth gathering we played with water balloons and garbage bags AND talked about God. At this point, I don’t know how one would bring more following (AKA assistance/guidance/oomph) to the US and more meaningful silence and reflection here. I guess all I can do for now is just be grateful that I’ve gotten to see the advantages of silence and song and that I can carry both practices forward with me. 
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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Ruby says:

    I'm so glad you're having such rich experiences, Savannah. This seems to me to be the most important reason we're in relationship with El Salvador Evangelical Friends- to grow spiritually.

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  2. Ruby says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Soren Hauge says:

    Thanks for sharing what these experiences of worship and young people's experience of it helped you to learn — it helps us to learn.

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  4. Check facebook 🙂 Laura took the pictures

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  5. Kat says:

    So I'm really curious — what do you do with straight hair? Picture, please!

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  6. Kat says:

    I share a lot of your frustrations, and am guilty as charged I guess in terms of what we did for you guys. I think religious education for kids is something FGC Friends are terrible at — partly because most of us came to the Society of Friends as adults and didn't have good Quaker youth programming modeled for us. We know what we don't want (my religious education in the Episcopal church was beyond pathetic) and I'm hard pressed to name a single friend or acquaintance of my generation whose childhood church experience induced them to stay in the same faith as adults. Most of us left something behind without figuring out a good childhood version of our adult faith to share with kids.
    For me, the spiritual ecotones — the edges between different systems and cultures — are always most productive of powerful experiences, and I've shared many of those edges with Salvadorans. I think it can work the same way for them.

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