Saturday, May 23, 2009

What would you do?

I go on a walk to explore more of my neighborhood.
I am greeted by the largest pig I have seen here, wallowing in a tire behind our house.
As if knowing this was show-off-the-large-animals day, a flock of huge turkey-like birds fill the street. As I walk by, they fluff up their feathers and try to follow me.
Two dogs try to attack me, but they are all bark.
I stumble on a cow’s jawbone in the street. Teeth included, it is as big as my foot. It would not be the last one I see here.
I discover the perfect view of the sunset over the majestic green hills.
As I walk, I find myself walking along the longest wall I have seen in this area. I turn with it, and discover it is a cemetery. A man sits outside the gate.
“Como estas?”
“Buenas tardes.”
“Quiero charlar contigo.” (I want to chat with you.) I keep walking.
“Porque no quieres charlar conmigo?” (Why don’t you want to chat with me?) I keep walking. This question stabs my heart.
Why don’t I want to talk with him? Because his voice sounds slurred? Because I have trouble understanding his simple greeting? Because I always heard you shouldn’t talk to strangers, especially those that might be drunk sitting at cemeteries (ok, that last part wasn’t in the warning).
What should I do? Turn around, make up some excuse, and talk to him? Better yet, turn back, tell him the truth, and actually talk to him?
I keep walking, like a dog with its head down after breaking something.

I go to church tonight. The sermon is about treating all people like God’s loved children, even the ones (no joke) that are drunk or a little off. We all deserve to be condemned, but God chose to love us anyway, and we are called to love others the same way. No matter what.

I expect better things of myself next time.


Three horses stand at the ready along the side of the road. One saddled, one in the process, and one waiting. Working with smiles on their faces are Berto and Daniel, two leaders in the church here. 24 and 25, they have lived much longer than I in many senses. As we ride, I hear their stories.

Berto almost died when bitten by a snake at the age of ten. Various things that shouldn’t have happened all came together at once to save his life. Yes, Berto lives with purpose, knowing he is alive for a reason.

Daniel grew up here, but his parents are separated and live in two different areas. Daniel went to work in Argentina for a time, but came back alone to work his farm.

We ride and chat amongst the hills of Naranjos, a small community outside of Entre Rios which I have grown to love. The river roars nearby, but I can’t hear it today. Children watch from across the road, and I can’t resist the opportunity to chat. We shell more peanuts at the pastor’s house, sitting on his porch as the sun sets.

A glimpse of heaven to my soul.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Así es la vida.

Así es la vida.

There is a meat shop in town boasting this name.

Así es la vida.

Large slabs of meat, retaining the shape of a dissected cow hang from ceiling to floor, the red remains boasting a life’s worth of muscle and fat.

Así es la vida.

A translation might be “such is life.” This store has provoked much thought on my walks through town. Sometimes I live as though it is true. I live. I die.

Así es la vida.

As I walk home, a sudden impulse causes me to turn and go instead to a nearby park. Children play in this rare but beautiful park. A man sits and waits on a nearby bench. What is he thinking about?

Así es la vida.

A party advertises itself with blaring dance music.
The crickets, not to be outdone, chirp on.
A dog lifts his leg to the rock wall.
A little girl climbs up behind my bench and watches over my shoulder as I write.

Así es la vida.

There are givers and takers.
Some want to play, some are driven to work constantly.
Some walk for hours to school or to sell wares in the local market. For some, the idea of this is absurd. For most, this is not unjust. Simply,

“Así es la vida.”

What are my assumptions about life? About what do I shrug my shoulders and say,

“Así es la vida?”

This question sometimes defines my thoughts as I struggle with or embrace cultural differences, my societal contribution, the influence of my thoughts on my actions, the influence of my thoughts and actions on this world…

Así es la vida.

The little girl behind me starts to speak. She and her brothers and sister are just here playing. They live across the street. As the two of us talk, the others quickly surround us, the two little ones eager to join in. Two, three, seven, and nine. The two-year-old boy is soon climbing onto the bench with me. His snotty nose and drooling mouth are all smiles. The kids run off to play and come back again, unaware of any bad in the world, only eager to play and release the laugh inside. I soon get off the bench and initiate a game of “Tag, I’m going to tickle you.” Why not? Those interactions are the stuff of life.
I hear a thud.
I look over, and the three-year-old is laying in a fetal position on the ground by the stairs he just jumped down. He roars with laughter. Baby brother comes to hug him by laying on top of him, giving way to even more giggles.

Así es la vida.

We sit down to play a game. Entre Rios-style Duck Duck Goose, it is called Mira Los Cielos, Que Cae Un Panuelo. Look to the sky, a handkerchief might fall. The kids sing this over and over again, drop a rock behind one person in the circle, and both run opposite ways around to be the first to make it back to the original spot.

Así es la vida.

Just as we start to play, the little one falls flat on his face, slapping his hands and nose onto the concrete. His screams instantly pierce the air.

Así es la vida,

I think to myself. Just when you’re enjoying yourself, WHAM!

Así es—

No, I keep watching.
He brushes off his hands, the game continues.
He’s quickly laughing his contagious toddler giggle once again. Words can’t describe this giggle.

Así. Así es la vida.

I choose this life. I choose this attitude. I choose to leave the confines of my work space and venture forth, though the venture be yet uncharted.

Así quiero vivir.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Samaritan's Purse

Merry Christmas!

It is the hottest day since we arrived in Entre Rios a few weeks ago. 73 degrees in the coolness of my room, at least 95 degrees in the sun. The date is May 10, 2009. There is no snow. There are shepherds in the fields nearby, but they are not looking for the Christ child, nor receiving any angelic messages in the sky. We are not singing Christmas carols, and we have not decorated a tree.

However, today I experienced the joy of Christmas in all its truth. Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king. O come let us adore him! In the background jingles our jingle bell (announcing someone is at the door). The gifts arrived this morning, and they do not bear the name of Santa Claus. No, it is Samaritan’s Purse that brought these presents through their project Operation Christmas Child. They have come across the world from north to south, from French-speaking Canada to Spanish-speaking Bolivia. They have been sent a great distance to share God’s love with unknown children. No, these kids may be unknown by the sender, but they are known and loved here in this community, in this church, in this mission house where the children have gathered. Some children came not knowing what to expect. Some children came wearing their best.

As the children first see the boxes entering, the excitement in the room can be felt. But first, the message of God’s love must be shared again, for it is not a message to be forgotten, especially not on a day so special. The story of Jesus is shared, but instead of focusing on his birth, we focus on his resurrection, a rebirth for Christ and for us.
Merry Christmas!
Open the boxes on the count of three!

Time slips by as children explore the contents of boxes and excitedly show others what they have received.

Later, a child in the street asks me if her cousin can also have a box.

Two of our little friends haven’t gone home yet, and cling to their boxes as they go to church and come back to our house. Their mother and another woman have a box between them, looking slyly at it through church. Crayons are strewn across our floor surrounded by artists hard at work. Canadian suckers fill the mouths of numerous children. One walks around with his new bear in his arms.

Some of the children receiving these boxes are quite familiar with gifts. They give and receive gifts somewhat regularly. Others are living meal to meal and are not able to give and receive such gifts. The surprise of the gift is half of its pleasure. The meaning of the gift is another huge part. The contents of the gift are treasured.

What I love is that it is more than Christmas soured. Christmas for me has often been soured by the expectation of the most, the best, the costliest gifts. Christmas is not a day to celebrate Christ in my culture as much as it is a day to focus on stuff. Honestly, the focus on gifts is the reason I even connect this day with Christmas in my mind. Christmas is a day for presents, and today there were presents. Today, however, the celebration is about rejoicing over what Christ has done for us, how much he loves us, and sharing that love with others. There is an essence to this day that is much more than I have known in many Christmases.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Entre Rios: May's Location

Things I love about Entre Rios:
Our lawn mower and fertilizer is a horse.
Our rat chaser is a cat.
A hot shower in the boys bathroom…which I use.
FOUR sinks in which to do laundry!
We take turns cooking…and so far I have not been in the rotation!
A pretty park near our house with roses and benches
Adventure possibilities twice a week with the missionaries that live here (some Bolivian, some not) that go out to surrounding areas twice a week.
PAVED ROADS!! Though some think this is terrible, I just love it.
We are in town, so I can walk to the internet, stores, plaza, etc, whenever I want!
8 HUGE palm trees in the plaza

Things that could make a great Entre Rios even better:
After months in the rainy season in Caranavi, we arrived in Entre Rios just in time to begin THEIR rainy season with them…shoot!
Rooster wake-up calls begin at 3 am.
There is no sink in the bathroom.

Las Abras

Though I have been on many adventures of many types, this weekend was my first of this nature. Traveling Buddy: Angela, an American girl my age who has been here for nine years. Plan of action: take a bus toward Tarija to an intersection about an hour away. Wait there for a bus coming from Tarija to take us down a different road. Enjoy the thousands of stars you usually can’t see. The next ride would be about two hours, depending on how many people the bus stops to pick up or drop off along the way. From there, visit the pastor’s wife, who provides an 11:00 pm dinner and the latest news on the town and church. Get the key to the church, sleep there. 2:30 am- a group from the church arrives, needing to get their instruments to take to the anniversary celebration of a different church in the circuit. 3:30 am-they are finally on their way. 6:30 am- lots of rain. 7:30 am –we walk. We encounter a truck that would take us as far as the river, which saves us an hour of walking. At the river we cross a suspended rope bridge, like those of the movies, complete with missing planks of wood. The only difference between us and the cartoons or Indiana Jones movies is that this time the bridge didn’t break. Walk another two hours up and around the wet, muddy hills. Cross about four creeks…or is it the same creek we are crossing four times? On the way there, we are able to step on rocks to cross the creeks. On the way back, more rain has caused the water to rise, and we wade across. No cars come where we are, as there is no bridge nor any real navigable road for cars. I love how that changes the atmosphere.

We make it to a house near Las Abras, our destination, where we stop to say hello, invite these friends to the church services of the weekend, and drink coffee. The coffee is the typical Bolivian style that I am used to receiving- black with lots of sugar. I will always remember my dear South American friends when I drink my coffee like this. We move on to the next house on the route, where we are greeted by Rosy, an eight year old girl, and her brother and sisters. Her grandmother is a dear friend of Angela’s and we stay there about two hours, eating an appetizer of freshly picked and boiled peanuts. Shortly after, we eat a giant lunch of noodle soup and a type of corn called moté. We finally move on after enjoying watching the one year old crawl all around enjoying the mud from the rains. We continue walking and inviting people to the children’s activities and church services. They are used to this schedule. They know Angela well after her monthly visits and enjoy seeing her. Many children and adults alike are shy around us…or is it just my new presence? Some won’t speak to me, others hide altogether. Nonetheless, they know puppets are coming, the highlight of their time with Angela. Adults ask for it, talking about how applicable the last puppet show was to their lives, and the kids run in so as not to miss their beloved friends. Angela is incredibly talented with the puppets, and each has their own voice and personality. She can do an entire improvised twenty minute puppet show with four or more puppets all on her own. I stand impressed.

Arriving at the church we drop off our bags and visit the lady next door. Like my grandmother, there are four or five things getting done at once. Laundry is being washed and hung by one, the peanut crop is drying, and mother and daughter are preparing the yarn for a new weaving project.

The children’s program is fun. My first time improving puppets in Spanish. I must admit I am completely dependent on Angela this weekend, as I don’t understand the Spanish of this region very well and my improv puppet skills in broken Spanish are not quite up to par. It’s ok. I like Angela, and I see that she is incredible at what she does. The people don’t seem to mind my part in the puppet show. The children are incredibly shy around me, won’t talk to me or sit by me, but I am patient. I have seen what a little time does to timidity.

We watch darkness fall as we wait for the adult service in the evening. There is a small oil lamp type thing we have borrowed, but otherwise there is little light. Everyone has their flashlight. Tonight the stars are not shining down on us, as the clouds and rain have taken over the sky and also kept some from coming to the church. I give a message in Spanish. It is my first message without index cards telling me what to say. I am not impressed with my Spanish nor the message, but pray that God uses it for good. As the small light shines in the window, we do puppets for the adults in the near dark. In this area where electricity has not intruded, a small candle in the window further announces our presence.

After the service, Angela calls us chickens and we go to bed. Here, being a chicken means that you go to bed early, like the chickens do. As we cuddle into Angela’s one man tent and settle down to bed, we hear an animal in the church. I wouldn’t say I am afraid of little animals, but I am uneasy when their presence invades my nighttime space. Here, I feel as though I am the invader, but nonetheless, don’t care for the animal’s presence. It moves throughout the night, and we are both awakened off and on by its movement. What is it?

Angela wakes up before me in the morning, and we are immediately invited to breakfast at the neighbors. She tells me on the way that the animal was merely a chicken sitting on its eggs on top of some bags that rustle noisily. All that discomfort for nothing! We enjoy bread and coffee, sweetened to perfection, and watch the next step in the weaving process. It has rained all night again, which will not be good for our walk back to the river this afternoon. After breakfast and a little waiting for a break in the rain, we walk back, sidestepping the animal poop along the path. Animals roam free here grazing on the grasses. Pigs, donkeys, chickens, dogs, a cow or two, sheep, and probably more. The sheep herd in the church’s lawn has one sheep wearing a bell, so I always know when they are moving. There are even many parrots here, who bother the crops, so children are set to the task of keeping them off the crops (mostly corn here).

Church this morning has more kids than adults, which is normal for this church. Some of our friends could not make it due to the mud and rain, which saddens me, as I know little Rosy adores Angela’s presence and couldn’t come. We wait for people to arrive and a child accidentally shoots his slingshot into a tree. A number of children throw rocks and sticks until it finally falls.

We sing songs, do another puppet show, tell a story about Paul and how his nephew had the courage to speak up about a plot to kill Paul (Acts 23). Many children there have parents who do not believe in Jesus, and the message was about having the courage to share your faith with those that are closest to us. That is so hard to do. As the children did a craft and worked on a memory verse, I pulled out my camera. And you know what? The children weren’t shy anymore! We took individual pictures, pictures with friends, pictures with all of the boys, most of the girls, and even pictures that almost look like some of the girls are holding some boys in the palms of their hands. As we played, we lost track of time. All of a sudden, we were running late and still had to go to a friend’s house for lunch before we left. I enjoyed the kittens and pet parrots as I scarfed down my soup, and then we ran off, walking as quickly as we could. We took the straighter path, a short cut back down to the river. It took us about two hours of steep climbing and steep descending, enjoying certain almost-flat parts, wading across the creek, and sweating a lot.

We got to the river at 3, the time when the bus was supposed to leave. The only thing is that with this bus you never know. It might leave at 3:00, or it might leave at 2:30. Or 3:30. Or whenever it feels like leaving. We crossed the hanging rope and plank bridge again, this time not stopping to take pictures, and started running as we heard the bus’ horn. If we missed this bus, we couldn’t leave until tomorrow, and would need to stay in the same town we stayed in on the first night, another hour’s walk away.

Luckily, the bus was coming toward us, not announcing its departure. We just barely made it to the bus! After the two hour go-as-fast-as-you-can hike, I was so glad to sit down. Two and a half hours in this bus, then another two hours waiting in the dark at the crossroads. Finally a bus came to take us back to Entre Rios. It was another hour and a half on this bus, with poor Angela sitting on the armrest of my seat. We got home and were locked out, but that was quickly resolved.

I was glad to be home in Entre Rios, but sad that the adventure was over. Will I get another chance to go out to the pueblos with these missionaries? That is yet to be known. Angela does this once or twice a week, along with the other missionaries that are here. There is a man from Germany, a man from Cochabamba Bolivia, a family from Caranavi, and a family from La Paz and Caranavi, along with Angela, who do this full time. Two years ago I could have done it too, but for now, I am happy with the kind of life we have with “Go Missions”.