Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The World of the Mop

Mopping...who knew it could be so complicated? Since I live in a dusty and muddy jungle, I need to mop quite a bit. I don't think I have ever done it the same way twice. The "mop" device is not really a mop. I have seen an actual mop here, and I have no use for it. Our mop is a squeegee thing like what you use to wipe your windows at a gas station, only bigger. You can put a rag on the end. Or not. You can get the rag wet in the bucket or splash water on the floor or just pour water on the floor. You can use detergent type soap, just water, or bleach. You can mop once with an almost dry rag or three times (or more!) with a soaking floor. You choose! I kind of like this freedom.

Yesterday, I had the most fun I have ever had mopping. I just dumped water on my bedroom floor, sprinkled the soap around, and slip-slided around with the mop on my red concrete floor. Then I dumped unsoapy (kind of) water on top and used the mop thing without a rag to pull the water to the bathroom drain and outside door. I am suprised I didn't end up flat on my face, but it was so fun! I could hardly stand up it was so slippery! Meanwhile there was a fire on the hill, as one of our neighbors was clearing his land the fast way. It was super close, so there was smoke in my lungs and ash in the air. I closed the window, making a kind of smoky, really humid room! But man, that floor looks good! Who would have guessed mopping would be a highlight?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Adventures in Wonderland

There is a well-trodden path hidden in plain sight along the road. The entrance to the path has beckoned me since the first time I saw it. Today I entered the unknown to discover the treasure in the distance. The path winds along the hillside, shaded on one side by the steep ground rising up toward the Casa de Esperanza, and shaded on the other side by tall trees bearing not only their own leaves, but also holding long vines, twisting and turning as they descend to the ground. The air is much cooler in this shaded haven, the jungle more intimate. Like a child running to a surprise, I hasten down the path excited to see what lies beyond and nervous that my adventure might be discovered. The path beckons, the trees protect, the mystery intrigues, and the thrill pulses in my being. After a few minutes of falling into the proverbial wonderland, the trees open and I can see a wooden structure highlighted by the sun. I feel intrusive as I now inch forward. I peek around the trees to see as much as I can. A fattened rooster runs past, the side of the wooden structure facing me is without windows and roofed by dried palm branches. My heart jumps from Wonderland into the heart of Africa. We passed such properties daily on our treks through West Africa.
I am not sure what this building is, but I do know this is someone’s property and I shouldn’t linger today. Perhaps someday I will meet these people and we will become friends. As I turn back, I notice the trees aren’t simply shading my path, they’re also someone’s crop. Beneath the taller shade trees there are shorter trees covering the hillside, and these trees are full of coffee bean seeds. Under these trees are pineapples growing in their magical ways. Pineapples sit knee-high on top of a little plant. As I follow the path back to the familiar, I long to grasp this feeling inside, to capture the moment in a bottle and open it every time I grow accustomed to this life.

Mouse vs. My Face

2:30 am. I am awake. I get a drink, and go back to sleep.
3:19 am. There is something in my closet. Fearless this time, as opposed to the last time I heard something in my room a week or two ago (rat?), I throw open my closet door and quickly lift up the ziplock bag where I have been keeping some crackers. A mouse smaller than the one we killed last Saturday in the kitchen runs straight at me on the shelf that is eye level, and takes a daring jump straight off the shelf and into my face. As I throw myself against the door to my closet, the mouse plops to the ground and scurries under the door that leads outside. With my heart still pounding, I find a Tupperware for the other food I have and throw away the crackers the mouse was eating.
6:00 am. I had wanted to get up early and spend some time praising God. I was hungry for God last night, and so eager to spend more time with him. Instead, I sleep through the extra half hour I had planned with God and even through most of the time I needed to get ready.
6:58 am. Though I didn’t have much time to get ready before breakfast, I decided I should make my bed. As I pull my sheet and blanket up, I find two little mouse poops. Not only did the mouse fly at my face last night, he also cuddled up with me in my bed. Thoroughly disgusted, I go to breakfast.
7:26 am. There is no coffee left. I have gotten myself addicted to coffee, and now I can look forward to a coffee withdrawal headache. Shoot.
7:27 am. My new routine includes quiet time with God between breakfast and the time we start school. However, today I slept through the first chance for God time and need to wash my mouse pooped sheets during my second chance for God time so they will dry by tonight. Oh, Lord, help.

10:30 pm. Time for bed again. I have all my food in a Tupperware that has books on top of the lid to keep it secure. The two doors to the outside and the door leading to the rest of the house are blockaded by water bottles and shoes. These won’t keep a mouse out, but at least I might know if the mouse has entered if something is knocked over. Clean sheets. Clean floor. Clean closet. Blockaded doors. I warily fall asleep willing the mouse to stay away.

Later in the week: the blockades have been working! I haven’t heard a mouse or found any evidence (i.e. poop) in my room. The blockades should be absolutely insufficient against the ants, but are nonetheless working against them too! I have much fewer ants in my room, as though the presence of the shadows scares them away. Awesome.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Little Gifts

Her picture sits on my desk. I look at this little child Febe Magdiel every day. She has the cutuest toothless smile. My Casa de Esperanza calendar says that she is 2 years old, but I don’t believe it. I know kids here look much younger than their age, but I won’t believe this little child could be two years old.
Today I sit at the concrete playing field at the Casa and am handed a baby. I don’t recognize her face, but the hat is the same as in the picture on my desk. I ask the name. Yes, this is Febe, my little Febe who smiles at me while I grade papers and plan for the coming school days. She is now sitting in my arms. She has gotten thinner, lost some of the baby chub, and now looks a bit older. I ask her age, a dreaded question, because if she is really two, she is probably really undernourished. She is one, they say. THAT I can believe.
As Febe gets passed one, Jasmin quickly takes the coveted space on my lap. She’s been by my side every day at the Casa. Cecilia was my new friend today. She and Jasmin together, laughing and talking, occupy my lap and my thoughts. Cecilia’s teeth are rotting away, so I can’t understand her, but she is a light of joy. She wants to tell me everyone’s name, so it is unfortunate that I can’t understand her.
Mateo comes and goes. He is busy “macheteando” (pretending to use a machete to cut plants) with a stick. He has an adorable smile. I have played with him before. He must be at least two or three, but I haven’t heard him say a word. He is full of smiles and laughter, and I have an open invitation to play. Miguel (Mickey) runs by, also about two years old. Mickey always looks dirty. His belly sticks out and his shirt is covered in spots betraying day hard at play. These kids are friends from the guarderĂ­a, or day care. Other kids of all ages come and go. I talk to kids and tias (those that take care of the kids).
I have to leave now, and the kids want to come with me. I love that. Mickey comes back over, saying “chau” and waving the whole time I walk down the hill. I hear calls of “chau” from Cecilia and Mickey both standing behind the fence that serves as a backdrop for the sports field. Today as I walk down the hill to my house, I don’t want to go home. I like it here. I hope I can come back soon.


It started out simply a rainy day. It often rains in the night, so I thought little of it. The rain continued; the clouds wouldn’t lift. We were supposed to go to our friend Lidio’s house for arroz chaufa (a rice dish) for lunch and homemade pizza for dinner. It would be an all day affair. Our problem now was getting down to town. When it rains a lot, the road isn’t safe to drive on. Also, we don’t have our own truck, and the one we often borrowed was needed elsewhere. We can’t walk the 45 minutes down to town in the pouring rain (nor do we want to ride down in the truck like usual as all but the three in the cab would also be soaked). I enjoyed the extra time spent at home getting things done so that later in the week I would have more time to go to the Casa de Esperanza.
We finally went down to town in a different truck in the afternoon when the rain had finally stopped. When we arrived, we found out it wasn’t just another rainy day. The creek beside our road was roaring, flooding down our road and the other hills and into the town. The two large rivers that meet in town were furiously roaring down their paths and had extended their borders to cover many streets and fill many homes. One part of town looked like it had simply experienced a rainy day. Another part of town was under water. Our friend Juan Carlos had family members stuck in their homes, so we went in our truck down the water-filled (ankle-deep) streets. Many people were in the streets, most up to their ankles, some up to their knees in lower sections of road. Angry brown water coursed through the streets. Murky brown water set contentedly in other streets. While Nick and I were at our worship band practice, the waters receded a bit, but then as we were back at Lidio’s house and eating pizza, it began to rain again. Though the rain is more of a drizzle than a downpour, it comes fiercely down the mountains and all goes to the same place-the rivers that can’t hold it all. We went out into the streets twice, backing up to a porch and taking one home’s inhabitants, the friends or family of Juan Carlos, to Lidio’s house. Other people wanted to stay in their homes. This is dangerous, as it tends to rain in the night, which can cause waters to rise drastically. They also told me this is prime territory for snakes. Lord, protect those who live near the river! Lidio lives near the river as well, and I heard there was also water in his home that morning. To make things worse, one of their family friends was found dead in his home that morning. I think he died from natural causes; I know it wasn’t from the flooding. It was a traumatic day. Though things rage on outside, sometimes we cope by continuing life as normal. So, back at Lidio’s house, we continue eating pizza, playing games, and chatting like nothing has happened. It is good just to be together, sharing sadness and increasing joy. I hope we are an encouragement for the family. I enjoy being with them.

Casa Day

The river appears to stand still in the distance, but its roar betrays its ferocity. Distant sounds of life in the pueblo drift up to our plot of land on the side of this foothill. We sit high above town, but even our height is shadowed by nearby mountains towering over us. Birds soar far above us; birds soar far below us as well. Though the sky doesn’t appear very wide here, reigned in by the mountains, there is a depth to the sky that I have never been able to see so clearly. Today clouds cover the skies above. They also blow in from below. Today the clouds are thick, at times completely blinding our view, at times visible right before our eyes, blowing through the Casa de Esperanza pavilion. As I sit watching movies in Spanish at the Casa de Esperanza, I concentrate more on the hands , faces, and lives of the children cuddling up with me on the hard benches. My friend Jasmin again fell asleep on me, but was standing up against me this time, as a precaution, since she peed on me yesterday while she was sleeping. She gradually ended up on the floor, and then was moved to sleep on the table. Fidelia seemed eager for cuddle time. I think she was just tired, as she fell asleep within minutes of snuggling up against me. We had never talked before, but today she wouldn’t let me move my arm away from her. Miguel (Mickey), Rosmery, and other little ones wanted to play, cuddle, and just interact. Though at first I often entered the Casa property with a bit of uncertainty, not quite sure of what I would find as I ascended the driveway/road lined by palm trees designated for each child, I am always welcomed by kids and adults alike with open arms. It is a blessing to be here at the Casa. My spirit is encouraged today. I watch a movie, hold one to three kids, cuddle with two more, talk with three more, practice Spanish, love, learn, exist, and I am blessed.
Later, as I walk home, the two tire swings on our property hang still in the mist. A haunting beauty, a symbol of joy without children to enjoy them. I have seen them used for play and time set apart for prayer and Bible reading. Today they seem lonely as I come home from playing with so many children. Life returns to the new normal as I descend the hill back to our house. I enter my room and see my tasks waiting for me. Books to be graded, clothes to be mended, correspondence to finish, coming deadlines, clutter filling my room and distracting my mind. I am glad I stepped away to experience something more important than my to-do list today.
There is a growing tenderness here. I have been here more than two months now. I am becoming comfortable in the classroom setting, aware of my responsibilities, enjoying the routines I have set up, understanding the abilities of the kids and the characteristics of the curriculum. More than that, I feel much more aware of a higher purpose as I not only teach but am asking God to open the doors for HIS purposes for me here. I came here aware of the calling to teach, but God has many more ideas for how to use me as well as things to teach me. I know he is using me at the Casa de Esperanza as I get more comfortable there and become a recognized presence. Sometimes I go up and end up cuddling, sometimes I babysit, once I swam with the younger school-aged kids. God is working on my character, and sometimes that is a joy, sometimes it is no fun at all, but it is always a blessing.