Monday, June 15, 2009

Death Road

To some it’s a true racetrack.
To some it’s only a racetrack in their minds.
To some it’s a livelihood.
To some it’s a cemetery.
To some it’s a workplace.
To some it signifies vacation.
To some it’s three hours of terror in a taxi.
To some it’s seven hours or more of swaying in an old bus.
To some it’s a place to sell goods.
To some it’s a place to buy favorite treats.
To some it’s an engineering nightmare.
To some it’s an ecological dream.
It’s one of few places where clouds rise from below and rocks fall from above.
It’s one of Bolivia’s only roads on which you drive on the right side on pavement and on the left side on gravel.
It’s one of few roads where the driver on the cliff “dropoff” side backs up to allow oncoming cars to pass.
It’s one of many roads where the maximum speed is an average of what a car goes when backing up to allow cars to pass and what a car goes when flying forward to pass the dustmaker driving ahead.
It’s one of many roads on which it is normal to fly past a heavy truck carrying explosive gas with only inches to spare between the truck and car and inches to spare between the car and a plunge to death off the cliff.
It’s a climb or descent of about 10,000 feet, a climate change between desert altitude and sea level jungle, and the difference between the largest city in Bolivia and small pueblos of only a few families.
To some, it’s a road.
To me, it’s a nightmare.
To some, it’s a way to visit loved ones in other places.
To me, it’s the reason I don’t want my parents to visit.
To most, it is known as “el camino de la muerte” (translation: The Road of Death, or Death Road).
So far I’ve survived the trip fourteen times. I must survive two more trips at the very least.
People make T-shirts about things like this. I just want tranquilizers.

Monday, June 8, 2009


It is a sad day here. Tragic, in fact. We walk around in a quiet daze. There is a feeling in the air, the feeling that comes when someone near dies. A long-awaited, much loved, painstakingly chosen and carefully guarded friend was taken out of commission today. She was always so good to us. The adults walk around subdued, taking care of business but not offering conversation. The children, having moved on to other thoughts hours later, fight and play by themselves. This is a day I won’t soon forget, though I walked through it almost as if in a dream due to a combination of the sadness and the cold medicine I took this morning.

Today our car fell down the mountain. In reality, we were very blessed through the tragedy. No one was in the car. Hours upon hours were spent in that car during the last weeks, but in this moment, no one was inside. No one was behind the car. There were no children playing in the path of destruction as the car fell. There were no people or cars passing on the road below as the car landed wheels up on the gravel road. It plunged alone to its “death”; it lay silent and upside-down on a silent road.

Yes, the car lay silent, but it was the noise of the fall that brought us running. It was the screams of Nick that relieved us. He’s alive. His appearance on the hill told us he hadn’t been in the car. The car lay silent far below, upside down, but our hearts were far from silent. Trembling, tears, prayers as the shock rolls over us. Should we be thankful or angry? Frustrated or relieved? The funnel of shock allowed me to experience many emotions all seemingly at once, but left me uncertain what to do with any of it.

So I stood. I stood on the edge of our property which is cut into the side of a mountain. Technically, it is a tall, steep hill, not a mountain, but that fact didn’t save our car. I stood in a hole from which a tree was just ripped. It was this tree I looked up to see flying from its spot at the first noise of the fall. The car’s path is obvious by the path of trees seized from their home. I stare at the half of the car I can see, two wheels high in the air. I hear our friends arrive from Casa de Esperanza, alerted by José. The leaders of the Casa provide practical and emotional help, and eventually the car is flipped on its side. Later, it is turned upright and pulled home.

As I finally walk down to see our friends and survey the damage, I am surprised. This car was more sturdy than I thought. Seriously damaged, yes. Off kilter, yes. But it might survive. It isn’t as smashed as it should be. Nick says it might be able to be fixed. Oh, Nick. I haven’t seen someone so sad in a long time. We still aren’t exactly sure what happened. The brake should have been on. Was it? I am so thankful he wasn’t in the car.

We arrived home only a day and a half ago. The car had been emptied, allowed to rest after safely taking us completely across Bolivia and back. My “healthy” fear of these roads and mountains is now raging.

“Need a ride?” No thanks, I’d rather walk.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hermano Ignacio

Hermano Ignacio comes in smiling every Friday.

He shakes my hand, sets down his backpack, and excuses himself to move on to his next tasks. Three more smiling faces then either join me for the afternoon, lie down to rest after their long trip, or go out again with their father. Giselle, eleven, is all smiles. Her beautiful smile all but covers her thin face. Belen, almost nine, is a box of giggles. Jacob, the seven-year-old, doesn’t speak much to me, but always smiles a shy smile.

They come every weekend. The children quietly play at the mission house while Hermano Ignacio studies and attends classes.

We all have something in common: Spanish is not our first language. On any given weekend you can hear three languages being spoken in our main room: Spanish, English, and their language, Guaraní.

Hermano Ignacio is an incredible example of Biblical willingness. Who will go? Who will serve? Here I am. Send me. He comes to town for classes on the weekends. He goes back to his village to teach during the week. He lives alone with his three oldest kids for now, but “my wife is coming home soon with the younger three,” he tells me as his face lights up.

Called to pastor a church supported by a group of other churches, he fed his family off their support. When the support grew scant and often didn’t come at all, he needed to find other ways to feed his family. He and his wife ground up crops for three years to pay the bills. Someone looking for a bilingual teacher appeared, so he began a new work. Teaching during the week, learning on the weekends; no, this life is not easy.

The trip to Entre Rios is long. A minivan takes them from their village Tentawazu to Timboy, where they can catch a bus for a two-hour ride to Entre Rios. However, the minivan doesn’t always come when you need it. Today the kids walked from their home to Timboy, a five hour walk in the heat of the day, before catching the bus to Entre Rios. Every hour they stopped to rest and talk about Jesus. They came in tired, but still smiling. Raquel, the woman in charge of many affairs here, had a surprise waiting for the kids when they came today. Three boxes from Samaritan’s Purse brought more joy than I have yet seen on their faces. They happily show off their new treasures and then carefully pack them away again so as to guard them on the trip home. There may not be money for the trip home. There may not be money for their trip next weekend. They eat, but they don’t eat much. There is probably never enough money to properly treat Giselle’s epilepsy. Yet today an unexpected box of gifts awaits each one. Oh, if I could only share this moment with the people who sent these boxes.

A week passes, and Hermano Ignacio once again greets me with a Friday smile. This weekend he is weary but eager to talk. We sit down to have some Guaraní lessons, which I treasure. He tells me of his wife and three younger children, whom he expects to arrive on Sunday.

Sunday comes and the hours pass. His wife and children do not come. 8:00. 9:00. 10:00. I take the kids to Sunday School and we sing, dance, and share banana cake. 11:00. 12:00. They still don’t come. Hermano Ignacio gets ahold of the bus company, and finds out they are stuck three hours away. Relief that they are all right. Disappointment that the wait continues.

2:30 arrives and so do they. Hermano Ignacio eagerly introduces me to his wife, and the six kids joyfully run around laughing and screaming in delight. The late arrival means they missed the bus home, and they won’t be walking this time. They wait until tomorrow’s bus, which gives me more time to experience the family’s joy and have a photo shoot. I want to learn from them. They have so much joy, passion, potential, eagerness, and love. I want to share with them. They lack even the basics at times, and I have so much. I am humbled to share my weekends with them.

Ignacio, Mamí, Giselle, Belen, Jacob, Ariel, Joas, y Amos, les voy a extrañar mucho. Gracias por todo. Surupai. Dios les bendiga.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Entre Rios
My bed is a sleeping bag on a cot. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
My pillow is a folded sweatshirt. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
The things I have here fit in two bags. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
I wash my clothes by hand and hang them out to dry while listening to music on my ipod. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
I wash dishes by hand. I have my own bowl here. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
I drink lemonade squeezed from lemons, not made from powder. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
I often eat fruit for dinner here. It is fresh, and imported from only a short walk away. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
I am getting used to not having a bathroom sink. A bucket on a faucet works just fine. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
The kitchen, living room, bathrooms, backyard, and furniture are shared by more than fourteen people. Twenty-two while we have been here. I have much more than I need. I am blessed.
This time has been a lesson in what is needed and what is luxury. We are so very blessed. Look around. See blessings. Share with others. Stop comparing yourself to those who have more, and start thanking God for the things and people around you.

The Rock

Life has been so incredible here in Entre Rios. I have felt a peace that has been lacking in recent months. There is a calm in my heart and a renewed joy on my face. The joy increases with each new friend, the calm increases with each morning coffee or evening sunset. Here I have been at peace with God, learning and growing in ways unforeseen. It has been beautiful. I am blessed on all fronts.

However, today was an explosion of fatigue, sin, and overexposure. The conversations all leaned to one end and I run to the other, bursting with angry screams waiting to be released. I am frustrated with all, myself worst of all.

We went up to Entre Rios’ Christ statue today. It is a place of beauty, filled with roses still in bloom with the approaching winter months. The statue rises above the trees, stands over the town, can be seen from all sides. I look up at it today. It is a rock backdropped by angry clouds. Fitting. Yet it stands firm, no matter the storm.

This storm shall pass. The rock remains.


There is a place where the river chooses its own course. There is a place where the water roars and another nearby where it only gurgles. There is a place where only the trees hear the waters’ call. There is a place where birds soar free and dance in rhythm with the waters’ laughter. Here horses graze in shadows, unseen by the rare passerby. Here the sun flutters through the shadows daring new colors to be formed. Giant rocks sunbathe in the rushing river and reveal holes and channels deposited only by the force of an angry current. Cranes fly overhead and land unharmed by man’s intrusion. Little bugs prance on the water’s surface. The magic of this place is felt, but the majesty cannot be grasped. This place, known as Naranjos, is unknown by most and cherished by a handful. But it is cherished nonetheless.

We sit and talk with Walter and Celinda as the sun sets. We drink maté, a drinking art that exceeds that of coffee in both depth and etiquette. We shell peanuts for hours as we talk and drink. Beautiful flowers surround us, planted in recycled “vases” of Coca-Cola bottles and old oil jugs. The vines grow up the house walls as if to shield the house from a white nakedness. I feel incredibly at home here next to the church, shelling peanuts and surrounded by life. This night answers the yearning of my heart. A home full of conversation and life, a home displaying beauty brought to life by those who dwell there, a home full of fruits and vegetables planted and picked by hand: my heart swells.

On the other side of the church is a field ready for planting in some parts, ready for reaping in others. Such is my heart tonight. Ready to learn. Ready to teach. Ready to give. Ready to receive.