Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent 3 - Joy

This weekend I CIS arranged a trip for students/volunteers.  5 of us, plus Ulyses (a Spanish instructor at CIS and our guide for the weekend) and Jose (our driver, who I called Luis all weekend until he finally told me his name with Jose!  Oops!) went to the eastern part of El  Salvador to visit a number of sites. The trip was a lot of fun and I enjoyed hanging out and being able to speak to people easily in English.  Generally Ulyses refrained from correcting our Spanish except when we asked.  However at one point he very calmly (and without laughing-- at least on the outside) let me know that the word I needed was "punto" (point) not "puto" (male prostitute).  Recently, although I know the difference between these two words, apparently my pronunciation was not as crisp as it needed to be and my word "pena" (sorrow, trouble, problem) sounded more like "pene" (penis).  I am being very careful to clearly pronounce the word "year" which if not pronounced correctly sounds like I am wishing people a "Happy New Anus"! I was relating these stories to friends at CIS and a woman who speaks very good English but for whom Spanish is her first language told me that she never uses the word "beach" in English because she cannot hear the difference in pronunciation between it and "bitch".

Much of the content of the trip was difficult.  We visited El Mazote which is a small village in the mountains.  In December, 2011 a unit of the Salvadorian army perpetrated what is known as the "worst massacre" during the war.   Around a 1000 people including nearly 150 children were tortured and murdered.  The details are beyond horrifying.  This weekend there was an event commemorating the 30th anniversary.  We also visited a museum which commemorates the lives and deaths of many of the guerrillas during the war as well as a re-creation of a guerrilla camp in the mountains.    Life was very difficult for these folks and many of the people were very young.

At one point I lamented that today's blog topic was joy.  Ironically, this is a topic about which I usually have a lot to say.  I had nothing.  At one point, I said a quick prayer that God if you want to write about "Joy" you are going to need to help me here.  My heart is very heavy with all the tragedy and death I am learning about.

Later in the day on Sunday we climbed a mountain.  We passed enormous craters where bombs were dropped  during the war.  We also passes a helicopter landing site that the army used during the war.  The misery that was unleashed on the peasant population from these places was palpable.

We then reached the top of the mountain.  The view of neighbouring Honduras was spectacular.  It was a sunny, warm day and the mountain top was pristine.  There were a few trees so there was the option of shade or sun.  At one point during our time here I realized that I had found my joy.  The simple joy of simply being alive.  The man who was our guide at the museum had lived in a rebel camp for many years.  He talked about how they prayed twice a day...once in the morning to thank God for seeing them through the night and again the evening to thank God for whatever blessings they had received during the day.  It is hard to imagine they received much, including food, during the day, but they remained thankful.  I was deeply reminded of the blessing of life and the joy that comes with simply being alive.  The people that I know that survived the horrors of this war have the gift of life.

As I quietly walked down the mountain, back to "real" life and the challenges of life in El Salvador, my spirit somehow felt lighter for having found a way to rejoice in the midst of such darkness.

And so my friends, I would invite you to take a moment, be still, breathe deeply and feel deep within you the joy of being alive.

Me on the mountain.

Ulyses and the 5 "chicas".

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