Easter Sunday marked the end of Holy Week, a religious holiday that in my protestant upbringing went practically unnoticed, except for the sugar-fest we call Easter egg hunts. But here in Catholic, rural Guajoyo, Holy Week is much more than just a week off of school. Of course, my experience of Holy Week was affected by the fact that my host family is very catholic, so I can’t assume that everybody in the community has the same experience, but what else can I do but write about what I myself have experienced?
Two things defined this week: church and Rio Lempa.
The church had different activities practically every day of the week, from regular mass to candlelight processions to vigils that go late into the night. Good Friday was practically entirely occupied by church activities, making necessity of the vacation that most people take from school and work. I was brought to tears on Thursday night’s service, in which 12 men from the community representing the apostles sat before the congregation, and people from the community came forward and washed their feet. That same night is the procession of silence, in which leading up to the service at the church, the men from the community walk through the community in silence carrying candles. As they filtered into the hot, freshly-painted church, I glanced back to see solemn, creased faces in the enchanting glow of candles, and the women – some of them with towels covering their heads – who came there to feed the souls of their family just as they also feed the stomachs. It’s hard to say exactly what it was that was so touching about that moment, something that goes beyond words, but it has something to do with the incredible resiliency of a community of people who struggle day to day just to meet basic needs, but who find happiness and hope in Christ, in the church, and in these age-old traditions.
The river, called Rio Lempa, is the largest in El Salvador, and a major lifeline for the bajo lempa region where I am living. At the moment, the water system that brings potable water from a spring down to the communities is broken, so people go to Lempa to wash their clothes, dishes, and bathe. But this week, people went to Lempa to enjoy themselves. I think Salvadorans understand the holy concept of rest in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. Some days you work, and when you work, you work hard. But you don’t live to work, you live to be alive and to enjoy your family and to let mango juice run down your face and to do flips off a log into the river. On Saturday the whole family went to the river, we killed a chicken and bought the fixins for chicken soup. We made a little perch on the shore – a table made from logs stuck into the ground and a few hammocks hung for lounging – and spent the day splashing around in the water, or simply sitting on the shore watching the sun slide from one side of the sky to the other.
Easter can be a bit of a gloomy time, all this talk about death and torture and last words, but in the end it’s a celebration about being alive, and that is what this week has been about. We are alive, and although maybe the drought ate up half of this year’s crop and maybe there’s hardly enough coins to afford a bag of beans to fill tummies, for whatever reason we are alive, and that is something worth celebrating.