May in Review

So the month of May was pretty fantastic. We had a day long celebration for Godparent’s Day (about half the pictures below are just from this event!), and I walked away with the worst sunburn and the most terrible tan lines of my life. It was all worth the teasing from the kids for the next few weeks. There were the Mother’s Day celebrations as well as the alfombras for the Blessed Virgin Mary. I was fortunate enough to spend an evening with the university students too. Oh yeah, and there’s all that life in between the big moments.

Here is my life at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos El Salvador in photo review. Also! That ugly black spot disappeared from my camera sometime during the shenanigans.

Paz y bien.

We kicked off the month of May by celebrating Godparent’s Day with NPH-style Olympic Games as well as a poetry/short story contest. It was awesome!

We kicked off the month of May by celebrating Godparent’s Day with NPH-style Olympic Games as well as a poetry/short story contest. It was awesome!

A tía with some of the girls before the start

A tía with some of the girls before the start

Happy spectators

Happy spectators

Getting some hula-hoop practice in

Getting some hula-hoop practice in

Team Italy, minus one member who forgot about the group picture haha.

Team Italy, minus one member who forgot about the group picture haha.

Team El Salvador, also missing a member

Team El Salvador, also missing a member

The messiest and muddiest potato (or in our case, bean) sack race ever!

The messiest and muddiest potato (or in our case, bean) sack race ever!

A hotly contest finish resulted in a run-off race between four teams, as you can see.

A hotly contest finish resulted in a run-off race between four teams, as you can see.

Haha, more like flying than running.

Haha, more like flying than running.

I love that as he slides across the finish line, his sister is in the background cheering him on even though they’re on different teams.

I love that as he slides across the finish line, his sister is in the background cheering him on even though they’re on different teams.

You could only advance forward by moving the newspaper, but you could only use the last piece of paper. It involved a lot of hopping and shouting haha.

You could only advance forward by moving the newspaper, but you could only use the last piece of paper. It involved a lot of hopping and shouting haha.

The most intense and hilarious game of leap frog EVER!

The most intense and hilarious game of leap frog EVER!

…as you can see, it was a lot of laughs.

…as you can see, it was a lot of laughs.

Obstacle course!

Obstacle course!

Your team only finished and time-stopped after every member did a hula-hoop dance.

Your team only finished and time-stopped after every member did a hula-hoop dance.

This team went the extra mile and got a little muddy to secure the win for the longest chain of objects.

This team went the extra mile and got a little muddy to secure the win for the longest chain of objects.

Lots of intense thinking during the crazy phrase/word scramble

Lots of intense thinking during the crazy phrase/word scramble

One team member had to walk across half the field with a cup and plate of water. Object of the game was to fill your bottle the fastest.

One team member had to walk across half the field with a cup and plate of water. Object of the game was to fill your bottle the fastest.

In order to be the first to sing the song, they had to run across the field and then jump in the hula-hoop….

In order to be the first to sing the song, they had to run across the field and then jump in the hula-hoop….

Falling, sliding, accidentally shoving/knocking each other was completely optional. It was totally funny.

Falling, sliding, accidentally shoving/knocking each other was completely optional. It was totally funny.

Love it. Love this little boy!

Love it. Love this little boy!

Toddlers, toddlers everywhere!

Toddlers, toddlers everywhere!

After 3.5 hours in the sun and mud…guess who forgot sunscreen and needed a shower like yesterday?

After 3.5 hours in the sun and mud…guess who forgot sunscreen and needed a shower like yesterday?

Mass! I love being a Eucharistic Minister here.

Mass! I love being a Eucharistic Minister here.

University boys being silly (and serious in the background, haha)

University boys being silly (and serious in the background, haha)

My face was super red and stayed that way. This little fruit “apparently” was the same color as my face.

My face was super red and stayed that way. This little fruit “apparently” was the same color as my face.

Walking around the track after Mass. I promise that not all of the girls wear the same color blouse, haha. It just looks like that because of this picture.

Walking around the track after Mass. I promise that not all of the girls wear the same color blouse, haha. It just looks like that because of this picture.

Some of the coolest friends one could ever ask for.

Some of the coolest friends one could ever ask for.

May 3rd was a very long day, and this is the last picture! I ended my day by visiting my friend in the clinic while she was working, and I got a cute surprise when I walked in. This little guy!

May 3rd was a very long day, and this is the last picture! I ended my day by visiting my friend in the clinic while she was working, and I got a cute surprise when I walked in. This little guy!

Year of service boy reading to the toddlers = win.

Year of service boy reading to the toddlers = win.

Secret cake tastes more delicious.

Secret cake tastes more delicious.

If you recall the Mother’s Day post from last month, here is just a glimpse of the boys performing their silly skit.

If you recall the Mother’s Day post from last month, here is just a glimpse of the boys performing their silly skit.

The girls dancing with the tías

The girls dancing with the tías

“The single and without children table” is what we called ourselves, ha.

“The single and without children table” is what we called ourselves, ha.

All of the female caregivers, kitchen staff, directors and then us two volunteers!

All of the female caregivers, kitchen staff, directors and then us two volunteers!

“Haha, maybe one day…”

“Haha, maybe one day…”

Let’s try to make Ashley dance. Ha. Note the laughter on EVERYONE’S face.

Let’s try to make Ashley dance. Ha. Note the laughter on EVERYONE’S face.

Just a slug, making his way down the wall outside the girls’ house. During the rainy season, they are literally everywhere in the morning.

Just a slug, making his way down the wall outside the girls’ house. During the rainy season, they are literally everywhere in the morning.

Two beautiful year of service girls

Two beautiful year of service girls

This girl got the fun and slightly embarrassing surprise of being able to kick a few penalty shots with a professional goalie! He blocked the first one but missed her second shot.

This girl got the fun and slightly embarrassing surprise of being able to kick a few penalty shots with a professional goalie! He blocked the first one but missed her second shot.

It was awesome. His nickname is “Motor”, and he’s arguably the most beloved/famous member of the regional professional team FAS.

It was awesome. His nickname is “Motor”, and he’s arguably the most beloved/famous member of the regional professional team FAS.

Just cheesin’ it

Just cheesin’ it

My friend making one of my favorite things, canoa! It’s a fried plantain split open and then stuffed with a pudding like filling.

My friend making one of my favorite things, canoa! It’s a fried plantain split open and then stuffed with a pudding like filling.

This year of service boy decided to make sweet bread for the whole place! It was delicious. He’s so thoughtful and giving, bet you wish you were that awesome.

This year of service boy decided to make sweet bread for the whole place! It was delicious. He’s so thoughtful and giving, bet you wish you were that awesome.

One of the year of service boys, who wasn’t actually celebrating his birthday, came along to help us during the birthday party. This is one of my favorite moments from that day.

One of the year of service boys, who wasn’t actually celebrating his birthday, came along to help us during the birthday party. This is one of my favorite moments from that day.

This is a close second, haha. It seems to define our relationship well.

This is a close second, haha. It seems to define our relationship well.

I love the “main street” and its giant trees.

I love the “main street” and its giant trees.

Making alfombras, or carpets, in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. First the designs are drawn with chalk and then are filled in with various colors of fine wood shavings. Here is the babies’ house/year of service girls doing theirs!

Making alfombras, or carpets, in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. First the designs are drawn with chalk and then are filled in with various colors of fine wood shavings. Here is the babies’ house/year of service girls doing theirs!

And this is what it looked like afterward…awesome!

And this is what it looked like afterward…awesome!

Boys’ house caregivers and some year of service boys working on their alfombra.

Boys’ house caregivers and some year of service boys working on their alfombra.

Though all of them were absolutely beautiful, the boys’ house alfombra was my favorite. Here it is!

Though all of them were absolutely beautiful, the boys’ house alfombra was my favorite. Here it is!

Girls’ house caregivers and some year of service girls working hard.

Girls’ house caregivers and some year of service girls working hard.

The finished product!

The finished product!

Ninth grade boys working together…

Ninth grade boys working together…

…and this is what they came up with. How creative and cool are all of these kids?

…and this is what they came up with. How creative and cool are all of these kids?

Look who I found hiding out in the doorway nearby while I was taking pictures!

Look who I found hiding out in the doorway nearby while I was taking pictures!

The eighth graders start with the chalk drawing…

The eighth graders start with the chalk drawing…

…and finish with this!

…and finish with this!

Seventh grade start with the drawing…

Seventh grade start with the drawing…

…and finish with this beautiful image.

…and finish with this beautiful image.

The youngest students were the angels who processed with the Virgin Mary to the chapel. How cute are they?!

The youngest students were the angels who processed with the Virgin Mary to the chapel. How cute are they?!

Front of the procession

Front of the procession

On the way to church

On the way to church

We had a small celebration to do with the university students and the two caregivers in charge of the students. The evening began with a lot of laughter. This game was hotly contested…

We had a small celebration to do with the university students and the two caregivers in charge of the students. The evening began with a lot of laughter. This game was hotly contested…

…as you can see. It was great. I wish you could hear them screaming over each other and laughing trying to sort out who really won. Ha!

…as you can see. It was great. I wish you could hear them screaming over each other and laughing trying to sort out who really won. Ha!

His voice had just cracked while explaining some really complicated instructions. They were giving him a very hard time, haha.

His voice had just cracked while explaining some really complicated instructions. They were giving him a very hard time, haha.

So much for taking a nice picture...haha I love these guys.

So much for taking a nice picture…haha I love these guys.

With my big brother! I hardly see him since he’s out studying and working in the big city Santa Ana.

With my big brother! I hardly see him since he’s out studying and working in the big city Santa Ana.

 

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot (Not) Like Christmas – In a Good Way

The Christmas season and experience here in El Salvador was excellent, awesome, and at some points it seemed altogether unreal. So why did I paint my Christmas experience with such terms? One would think Christmas is Christmas…right?

Wrong.

Sure, the feast day itself is the same. It is the recognition of, remembrance of, and opening of our hearts to the coming of and birth of Christ.

Unfortunately, this world-altering day isn’t celebrated the way it ought to be in many places, and I’ll come right out and say that the United States is one of those places. For quite some time now, I’ve felt that the US is a little too commercialized in its celebration of Christmas. From my perspective, too much is placed on the value and quantity of things that one receives (or even gives) during the season. The center and focus is not the Church and Jesus, but instead is a store and a sweet deal.

This sentiment was confirmed after experiencing Christmas here in El Salvador at NPH.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my family’s traditions, and I still believe in the magic of Santa Claus. I’m blessed to have the family that I do because we value the time we have with each other; my grandparents come over to our house in the morning and then we go to theirs later in the day. We celebrate my Grandpa’s birthday, since he’s so cool that his birthday falls on Christmas. We open presents, but we also go to Mass. We also have a terrible tradition of at least one person being miserably sick each year. I think I started that tradition, haha.

Anyway, I think what I’ve been hungering for is a culture that places more emphasis where it rightly belongs, on Christ. I found that culture here in El Salvador and especially here at NPH.

The quite beautiful and large nativity scene just outside of the cafeteria

The quite beautiful and large nativity scene just outside of the cafeteria

We began the season with the novena for Our Lady of Guadalupe, which started on December 4th.  Every night, a different house or group of employees was in charge of leading the novena. A novena is a special prayer and devotion that lasts for nine days; in this case, the novena was for Our Lady of Guadalupe, asking for her intercession for us. So we all gathered and prayed the rosary together, and afterwards we had a little snack. What I particularly enjoyed witnessing was the community novena, in which we invited those who live along the road outside of our home to come in and pray with us. We then served them dinner.

With boys before the novena, waiting for the others to arrive.

With boys before the novena, waiting for the others to arrive.

Our Lady of Guadalupe outside of the boys’ home – Casa San José

Our Lady of Guadalupe outside of the boys’ home – Casa San José

With the boys who led the rosary on the first night of the novena (and the house director too)

With the boys who led the rosary on the first night of the novena (and the house director too)

Second day of the novena, this time held at the girls’ house – Casa Santa María. Here’s my living room!

Second day of the novena, this time held at the girls’ house – Casa Santa María. Here’s my living room!

With the girls who led the rosary

With the girls who led the rosary

Third day of the novena, held at the babies’ house – Casa Niño Jesús

Third day of the novena, held at the babies’ house – Casa Niño Jesús

You see! Father Wasson’s practice of unconditional love isn’t just within the confines of NPH, but instead extends itself into the practice of loving your neighbors.

On the night of the community novena, serving food to the community members who came

On the night of the community novena, serving food to the community members who came

I’m pretty sure this is from the night the novena was held by the year of service pequeños. Every night the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was place in a different area and decorated differently.

I’m pretty sure this is from the night the novena was held by the year of service pequeños. Every night the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was place in a different area and decorated differently.

The novena finished on December 12th, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day, and in addition to the rosary, a mixture of high school students and year of service pequeños did a nice dramatization of the story of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady’s appearances to him.

The final night of the novena, held by the cafeteria staff. Here are some photos from the production of the story of St. Juan Diego

The final night of the novena, held by the cafeteria staff. Here are some photos from the production of the story of St. Juan Diego

DSC_1565 DSC_1578Another really cool thing that we did was the posadas. A posada is an activity in which we remember the journey Joseph and Mary took just before Jesus was born. A group seeking a place to stay goes house to house, asking for a room. The occupants deny the travelers, and this is all done in song. The different parties sing a number of stanzas back and forth (the ask, then the refusal), until the traveling party moves on to the final home. When the group is finally granted room and received into the home, there is usually some kind of fun activity or party and of course, food. Posadas are usually done in the week leading up to Christmas, with the last posada falling on Christmas Eve.

So in our case here at NPH, the different houses took turns hosting the posada and being the traveling party. For example, our first posada was done by Casa San José, which is our boys’ house. They went singing to Casa Niño Jesús (the babies’ house) and then to Casa Santa María (the girls’ house). After they were refused entrance, they traveled to la cancha (the playing courts) where everyone was waiting for them. At la cancha, they were finally welcomed and given a room.

The boys arriving at the babies’ house to begin the posada

The boys arriving at the babies’ house to begin the posada

The babies, year of service girls, and tías on the other side waiting to refuse the traveler’s request

The babies, year of service girls, and tías on the other side waiting to refuse the traveler’s request

The boys on their way to the girls’ house, with images of Joseph and Mary up front

The boys on their way to the girls’ house, with images of Joseph and Mary up front

Attempt #2 at lodging

Attempt #2 at lodging

Yay! They finally found a place to stay…

Yay! They finally found a place to stay…

After everyone took a seat in la cancha, some of the boys put on a little skit and dance. It was great! Their creativity always surprises me, and as always, they made the crowd laugh. After the presentation, we began with the piñatas! Every section of boys and girls got their own piñata, so breaking those took some time. Once they were all done, we had dinner outside (it hasn’t rained in 2 months, so we’ve been able to eat outside almost every night.)

Their skit was about the value of Christmas and about a young boy who learned the value of giving rather than receiving

Their skit was about the value of Christmas and about a young boy who learned the value of giving rather than receiving

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And now, for the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer dance!

And now, for the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer dance!

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With the boys after their skit and dance

With the boys after their skit and dance

Only the beginning of a week full of piñatas and lots of candy…

Only the beginning of a week full of piñatas and lots of candy…

One of the year of service boys really enjoying his job of working the piñata

One of the year of service boys really enjoying his job of working the piñata

In total, we had 5 posadas. And again, displaying that wonderful NPH spirit and love, we had a posada for the community one night. I missed the girls’ posada because I was quite ill one afternoon/night, but I was fortunate to see their dance during the last posada a few days later. The last one was held in honor of the Hermanos Mayores (big/older brothers and sisters), who are former pequeños. We had about 25 come for Mass and then the posada, and because it was the last one, all of the houses performed their dramas/skits/dances.

The community posada

The community posada

More chaos and candy!

More chaos and candy!

The posada for “Hermanos Mayores”

The posada for “Hermanos Mayores”

Inside the babies house, waiting to refuse the traveler’s request for a room

Inside the babies house, waiting to refuse the traveler’s request for a room

Piñatas, piñatas, and more piñatas

Piñatas, piñatas, and more piñatas

The babies’ house did a dance about the 3 Kings

The babies’ house did a dance about the 3 Kings

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The girls’ did a fun and comical dance with Santa as the star

The girls’ did a fun and comical dance with Santa as the star

So beautiful!

So beautiful!

I never tire of watching kids snatch up candy after a piñata breaks.

I never tire of watching kids snatch up candy after a piñata breaks.

The boys taking care of business and demolishing the piñata in record time.

The boys taking care of business and demolishing the piñata in record time.

On Christmas Eve morning, all of the children assembled in our multipurpose room to receive their gifts. It took less than an hour to hand them all out, especially because many of our children are not here right now and are instead on vacation with any family members they may have (who are capable of hosting them for a short time.) I was expecting Christmastime to be a bit sad, what with us missing almost half the population, but it was far from being sad. I was also unsure about their reactions…admittedly, I’m used to multiple presents under the tree, not just one item (although their bags had tons of cool stuff inside!) From my perspective, it seemed quite joyful and full of laughter.

Handing out gifts on Christmas Eve morning

Handing out gifts on Christmas Eve morning

DSC_3866 DSC_3873 DSC_3959Later that night, we had Mass in near darkness, with just a few candles to illuminate the altar and the choir. It was unimaginably beautiful. I returned to my seat after serving as a Eucharistic minister and closed my eyes. The children were singing and it seemed as if I were in the largest cathedral ever built with the biggest choir in the world. The sound lifted us up into the night sky.

Our manger scene in front of the altar

Our manger scene in front of the altar

The church just before the kids came

The church just before the kids came

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The church just before the last lights were turned off and Mass began

The church just before the last lights were turned off and Mass began

After Mass, our walk to la cancha was lit up by a few hundred candles. We prayed and then ate a traditional dinner. After dessert, we all piled onto one side of the court to watch the fireworks.

These 2 university students saved me a spot and grabbed a plate of food for me at dinner since I was walking around taking pictures. So sweet!

These 2 university students saved me a spot and grabbed a plate of food for me at dinner since I was walking around taking pictures. So sweet!

Fireworks!

Fireworks!

Yes! Fireworks. That’s a Christmas tradition I’ll take to the bank, and I think the United States should definitely adopt it, of course! What’s better than fireworks on the eve of Christ’s birthday?

We were all out later than usual that night, but I stayed out even later and hung out with two of my friends, watching a movie (one is a nurse/tía who was a former pequeña here and the other is a university student/pequeña who also works at the home.) I didn’t go to bed until around 12:30am.

For me, our Christmas Eve celebration felt more like Christmas Day back in the United States. Christmas Day was actually like a normal day here, the only exception being that we woke up and ate breakfast much later than usual.

The many traditions I experienced truly lengthened the Christmas season and celebration for me. Instead of just one thing or a singular event with many parts, like Mass on Christmas Eve/Day and then the opening of presents, the entire month of December seemed like one big long celebration interwoven with various events and activities that combined the Divine with the rich cultural and secular festivities.

And I really, really love that.

Paz y bien.