Monday, July 22, 2013

La Quinceanera

On Saturday July 6, 2013 we had the great honor of attending the Quinceanera of Diane Vanessa Marquez Reyes.  The translation is “One whom is fifteen” but culturally it means so much more. It is an Aztec Tradition that dates back to 500 B.C. and commemorates a young girl leaving her childhood behind and becoming a young adult. My friends and family who read this might think young adult at 15?? From what we’ve witnessed in El Maizal, it’s not rushed it’s very necessary. Both boys and girls grow up very fast because of the work and responsibilities they must take on to help their families survive and get by day to day.

Invitation as presented
The invitation

Let me back up to the Estudia Biblia that was held at Diane parents’ house when we were invited. Just before we left she gave us a beautiful invitation and our Deacon explained to us that the family and young girl were inviting us to the Quinceanera.  Diane was smiling ear to ear as she gave it to us with her parents standing behind her. It was just a sweet, sweet moment for us to be included like this.  It was Wednesday and the celebration was Saturday. We scrambled for a gift, card and gift box (there’s no CVS or Mall nearby as you might imagine).  Dianne was able to put together a gift of perfume, cross turquoise earnings in a gold box, I printed a card off the internet and we were good to go. The cross earnings were a great idea by Dianne because the religious part of the celebration is very important to the family. Gifts of a religious nature are always a good idea at a Quinceanera’s.


On Saturday the Church service started at 4 PM (OK, closer to 4:45 but we’re kind of getting used to hanging around). As we walked to the church we saw that its entrance was decorated with woven palms around the entrance way and inside bunches of purple balloons adorned the windows and pews. It was very beautiful.



The church slowly but surely filled and additional chairs were brought in to accommodate the overflowing crowd. There was a commotion outside and Fr. Mario explained that the march was starting.  The march is much like a wedding march, there’s 2 young girls who lead the march (just days before I was playing baseball with them, today they looked like princesa’s), followed by a little boy dressed in an ornate white and gold uniform with a matching hat. A court of honor made up of 8 couples was next. Then there was the Quineanera and her proud father. The girls were in lovely purple and lavender dress’s with their hair done the same way. The boys were in black slacks, black vests and purple shirts. They were very charming looking. You may have figured out that purple was her color theme.

Court of Honor Arch
Quinceanera Blessing

The honor court entered the church 1st and with extended arms they created and arch that the Quinceanera and her father walked through.  During the service they are seated in the middle aisle with her in a special chair of honor. How cute that like a bride our Quince (short for Quineanera) needs help with her gown to sit because of its fullness. As the service progress’s there are various stages related to the traditions of the celebrations. To start the service there is a specific blessing for her performed by the priest. One of the lessons is read by Quineanera and the sermon is about the importance of her moving from childhood into being a young woman. At the end of the Offertory the Quinceanera and her father approach the alter and we all watch as she takes 15 one dollar coins from her father’s hand and places them into the basket one at a time as the lay person counts them off.  Just before the end of the ceremony her Godmother approaches the altar and presents a ring to the Quinceanera.  The ring represents the circle of life and how she is now moving into womanhood.  At the end they file out much like one of our marriage ceremonies.  All of this is done in a very tasteful and respectful way.  I should mention that the entire event was being filmed by a photographer that the family had hired.


Following the service there was the traditional photo op’s with Padre Mario, her many family members and friends. People milled around snapping pictures, smiling and talking. It’s such a happy event for everyone. After the pictures the parents had made arrangements for all of us to board a bus and bring us to a restaurant where the reception would take place.


When we arrived people milled about and slowly filed in. The restaurant was decorated in, you guessed it, purple.  There were several mirror balls with colored lights reflecting off them and there was a DJ. We sat at long tables with beautiful handmade centerpieces whose colors matched her dress.


The moment arrived and our Quinceanera was ready to enter the hall. Her court came in 1st and she followed with her father. A short speech was made by her father and the DJ (I apologize but I don’t have the translation) and what came next we all would recognize.  There was the father of the Quinceanera dance. It was tender moment to witness and most people in attendance surrounded the dance floor to watch. After it was done we all took our seats and awaited a wonderful meal. It started with soup and a meal of marinated chicken breast, tortillas, arroz (rice) and a steamed mix of vegetables.  It was a delicious meal.


Soon after the meal the festivities increased in momentum as there was still much to do in the remainder of the evening.  It is tradition that the Quinceanera and her court hold several choreographed dances to mark the importance of the occasion, which they performed. They were practicing these for a few weeks in our community. What followed was a phone call that was fed in over the speakers from a relative who couldn’t attend, from the Quince’s tearful reaction it was obviously someone very important to her, it was a moving moment.  Dancing for everyone ensued but was then interrupted by another special moment.  Everyone left the dance floor and again it was surrounded by onlookers as her father presented her with a large Quinceanera doll.  It is dressed like our Quinceanera and it represents her last gift as a little girl as she enters the next phase of life as a young woman.  This idea is reinforced by the additional tradition of her giving this doll to one of her younger sisters representing her leaving her childhood toys behind.  It was a powerful moment to watch.


It was now time for the cutting of the cake.  The father made a small speech and the Quinceanera and her escort for the evening approached the cake, stopped for the necessary photos and then cut to the cake to our applause. It was a beautifully decorated cake and was delicious as well. The last tradition was a formal toast of only the Court of Honor, the Quineanera and her escort as we all looked on.  The remainder of the evening was for dancing and a great time was had by all.


It was an evening of new experiences for Dianne and I but also one touching moment after another. I looked at the other Fathers and soon to be Quinceanera’s and wondered what tender thoughts of the future were in their minds. I smiled to myself when I saw the Father of the Quince laughing and joking with his Futbol buddies who sat at our table. How many Moms out there can sympathize with her mom. The event much like our weddings can focus on the Dad when it’s been the mom planning this moment for months and probably years.
Sometimes as we enter and experience different cultures we can focus on our differences. Not because we are judging but because it's easy to see the differences; like language, dress, food and rituals but as a Rector I know used to say, we need to dig deeper. The Quinceanera showed us we are all very much the same when it comes Loving God, our families, friends and  maintaining our traditions. When we combine all four no matter where we live, we become one with our brothers and sisters in Christ no matter where they live.

 In honor of Diane Vanessa Marquez Reyes;

 BCP - Prayers for Young Persons
God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world: Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals.  Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start.   Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep alive their joy in your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.


God Bless you Diane




Tomas y Dianna

Sunday, July 7, 2013

There and back in 3 weeks

Here we are just returned from a 3 week visit to Los Estados Unidos. One week visiting our family, friends and St Francis Church in Holden, MA. Then we spent 2 weeks in Missionary training at the Stony Point Conference Center in Stony Point NY, along the Hudson River just north of NYC.

Where does the time go is the perfect phrase to show the differences between our home culture of the U.S.A.  and the one we now call home, El Salvador. As much as we loved seeing our family and friends, everything seemed rapido, rapido rapido (fast, fast, fast with a touch of stress).  This is in no way a criticism but just a statement of fact.  We had to fit into peoples schedules to see us, in official meetings we had a set amount of time with people and the clock had more importance than what we had experienced in the previous 3 months.  As much as we had time to relax the increased speed of life made it hard to relax.  Watching the clock entered our lives again and I’m not sure we liked it that much. Not that we don’t have schedules aqui (here) in El Salvador but there’s a sense of suave (soft, smooth, tranquil, all right, fine) in our life here.  Regardless of increased speed there’s also an increased appreciation of seeing those we hold dear. We had a wonderful time with them all. Dianne and the girls had a nails day together, I sang Karaoke with mi nieta (granddaughter), fished with mi yerno (my son in law) and debated with my favorite Republican, my son Phillip. As I write this, we still and will always miss them every day as we serve so far away. Above are pictures of a Bar-B-Q we all enjoyed.

The week with our family ended much too soon and we found ourselves in Stony Point, NY at a Missionary training conference with approx. 21 other missionaries 90% of them half our ages, more on that later. I’ll be honest Dianne and I had hoped we could avoid this conference since we had already been serving in El Salvador. Luckily the Lord and our Jefe (Boss) Father David Copley felt differently. We regret feeling that way as it truly would have been our loss if we didn’t attend. The presenters and content was very good. In my opinion it was a mix of lectures (50%) and group discussions/activities (50%). This mix made the time go by smoothly and promoted good discussions and allowed for relationship building for all involved. The young adults were YASC members (Young Adult Service Corp) of the Episcopal Church AKA, Yascers. They are just like lots of young people in their early to mid-20’s, with one major difference. They are giving up one year of their lives to serve God and his Church abroad in this world.  How appropriate that this Sunday we will hear the story of the 70 being sent out.  The Yascers Diaspora will span from Japan to the Philippines, Haiti to Hong Kong, South Africa to Honduras, Korea to Tanzania and from El Salvador to Panama.  If I missed a destination, forgive me.  The conference allowed us to meet the Yascers who’ll be serving near us and plans are underway for a Christmas get together in El Maizal, they are our missionary kids.  They are young men and women of deep faith, high intelligence and driven to attempt great things in strength and courage with gladness and singleness of heart.  They were an inspiring group and shed a different light on mission that I previously didn’t see.  
Now we are back and will be in it for the long haul. We won’t be returning till late summer of 2014. It’s a little more exciting now because the previous 3 months got our feet wet and we really only had 4 weeks with our community of El Maizal. We had just started ESL classes and these 3 weeks away allowed us to look at what we were doing and tweak it a bit to make it better for our students and us. Our struggles with learning Espanol will slowly subside as our involvement in the community naturally increases.  Our missionary training and experiences at the conference also reinforced things we knew and brought to light to things we need to remember as we continue this path.
For all Missionaries,
He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.
Tom & Dianne

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Happy Mother’s and Father’s Day from El Maizal (belatedly)

Welcome Dear Mothers
A heartfelt serenade to the Moms
Gangnam Style at Mothers Day
Happy Dads
Master of Ceremonies, Gloria
They danced better than us Dads who joined them
Not bad for my 1st time

I apologize for the lack of posting and communication. We spent the last 3 weeks in Los Estados Unidos. One week with our family and 2 weeks at training for new missionaries. Although Mothers and Father’s day have passed I wanted to share these important community events with you.


On Sunday May 19th and Saturday June 1st we celebrated Mothers and Father’s day respectively. Yes Father’s day was early but the community knew of my travels and planned it so I wouldn’t miss the fiesta. I said no but they insisted and I was truly touched by their caring.


These celebrations are community wide and are a lot of fun. The agenda for both were basically the same but with some twists. 1st of all the young girls and the older girls display their baile talentos (dancing talents). They danced to gangnam style, new kids on the block and Latin American favorites (I assume they are favorites because adults and children knew the words). The girls enjoy dancing and have confidence in front of groups of people. Its fun to watch them dance and they appreciate the applause.  Not just the ladies dance, we have a young man David who knows how to cut a rug. He just turned 11 and knows that it’s all in the hips when it comes to Latin American dancing. He also happens to be our tortilla delivery boy, his mother sells us tortillas weekly.


At the Mother’s day celebration the mujeres (ladies/women) had the pleasure of Deacon Alfredo Lopez serenading them with a few songs. I knew enough Espanol to know that the songs were about loving our mothers and our mother’s loving corazones (hearts). He has a good voice and it was a touching moment to be part of. We also had raffle drawings during the fiesta where all the ladies won a gift and in some cases two. Dianne won a set of 4 drinking glasses.


During the Father’s day fiesta they also had drawings and I was lucky enough to win a coffee cup, drinking glass, shampoo and candies. Even though the ladies didn’t sing for us they did have a few tricks up their sleeves. When the young ladies danced, they danced into the crowd of dad’s and took a few of us onto the dance floor to show our moves. Yes, I gladly danced even though I don’t have “the moves like Jagger”.  The ladies also had us play musical chairs for one of our drawings. I didn’t fare well in that one but it was great fun.


At both celebrations we had special ordered cakes that I believe were tres leche torta (3 milk cake), very sweet, very moist and beautifully decorated. They were delicious. Then the finale of each event was very special. We had piñatas for both fiestas.


These aren’t the safety made piñatas that has you pull strings for safety sake (and alleviates any fun). These are real piñatas that are hung from the ceiling with ropes, the contestants are blindfolded and given a stick (I wouldn’t want to be hit by this stick). When it starts the piñata is raised and lowered, as the participant swings and everyone is yelling out instructions IZQUIERDO (left) or DERECHO (right). The important safety tip is stay away from the participant swinging. These aren’t light taps, these are swing for the fences swings meant to break open the piñata.It’s chaotic and fun but the mayhem starts when the candy drops. Children and adults dive into the scrum. Dianne and I wisely stayed to the side picking up the odd piece of candy that bounced our direction. The kids were so sweet because some came over and gave us a few pieces.


To sum it up, it was two great days of community revelry. The adults had fun, the kids had fun and the sense of community for new members like Dianne and I, it’s wonderful to witness and be part of. We all set up, we all party, we all take down and then we talk about it for a few days. It’s a good reminder that when a community lacks resources, you can’t overlook the best resource we have. That’s the community and each other. A little food, music, dancing, each other and a whole lot of love is all you need. As the song says.


There's nothing you can know that isn't known.

Nothing you can see that isn't shown.

Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be.

 It's easy.

 All you need is love, all you need is love, all you need is love, love, love is all you need.

Lennon & McCartney


We know this is where we were meant to be.




Tom & Dianne