Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Spinning around in Shanty town.

You never know what you’re gonna find
when you take a trip to the other side
but you can be sure that you’ll be surprised
by what you see and how you change your mind.

And if you open your heart to the people you meet,
you won’t expect what or how much they’ll teach
you, so get ready to treasure all your moments
as they come to you.

I got to spend Wednesday playing with the kids of women in Nacario who have formed a group with Lupe, Robin and Wilber. We sat on the dirt floors in Erica’s house, playing with clothespins and jacks. We ran around for hours. They taught me their games, like gallinita (marco polo on land, with a blindfold). And we played chase. And we laughed. The two oldest girls, Estrella and Joci, captured my heart. I spun them around in circles and they taught me their dances and we danced them and laughed together— so much so that between laughing and running I was constantly out of breath. Estrella was a little girl but she watched out for all the littler ones. When something went wrong, the maturity of a girl much older shone in her eyes. At the end of the day, as we were leaving, I said, “Do you know that you are a special chica?” She asked me why. I told her that God loves her, and that since God is the King, and she is His daughter, she is a princess. Her shy and hopeful smile when I said that melted my heart and made me so thankful for the opportunity to be there and share that small but profound truth with her.

Friday night, we had a “fogota,” a bonfire, in Nacario with the women and all the kids from the churches and from Wednesday afternoon. We sat under stars in the dirt around a fire made with the same kind of straw as their homes. After we sang and played, and prayed, we ate as a community. And it was one of the sweetest nights of my life. Though those moments will never again enter my life but through the path of memory, I hope I will again cross paths with those hearts.

San Clemente: First Impressions

We took a three hour bus ride along the ocean shore and then half an hour inland to the outskirts of Pisco. Along the way, we saw town after town made up of nothing but a few brick buildings and shacks. San clemente is no different. Now I realize why they call them “shanty towns”—it’s not like a normal city with a central area, some normal residence areas, and then the “bad” side of town. Every side of town here is poor. Every side of town consist of shack, after shack, after shack, dusty thatched roofs, dirt “roads” separating blocks, smoke billowing up from crockpots over open fires. On top of that, because of the earthquake that broke up the town over a year ago, piles of rubble line the roads, the adobe bricks constant reminders of the walls and roofs they once had. On the two paved streets, cement buildings still standing are painted bright colors, and from our roof they pocadot the place, adding pinks, greens, blues and yellows to the brown town. From here I can also see grass about half a mile away on a cotton farm. There are a few trees and of course the colorful clothes hanging outside, relieving your eyes from all the dirt and straw.

The first afternoon we were here, Armando walked me around. He came here for 3 weeks with his team from his church in A-town. So we strolled down the hill from the mission house into the central area where street vendors and make shift stores are. Some things that stick out in my memory—the smell of animal feces and stray dogs, flies swarming around a whole broiled chicken at a “restaurant” (a tent made of tarps and stakes), honking three wheeled “motos,” a dog ravaging through garbage and gulping down something’s intestines, little old, wrinkled, leathery women with sombrero hats and skirts that puffed out from their waistlines to their knees over pants, schoolgirls giggling at the Americans on the street, old men shouting in gruff voices, and colorful fruit stands all around. The grown ups—this is their life, all they have ever known and probably will know of the world. The kids have never even been to Lima.

While we were visiting a church that first night, I shook the thickest, strongest, roughest hand I may ever shake. The friendly giant must work in the mines. His grip left such an overwhelming impression on me of the reality of how hard people work here, their whole lives, to provide less than what is necessary for their families.

I guess this all sounds like I am pitying them, as though I think I am better off because I go home to clean streets, maintained buildings, recycling bins and trashcans, and sturdy roofs. But bare with me, these are only my first impressions.

Light on a Hill.

For me, to live here with all the external filth and lack of aesthetic appeal, without clean, hot running water or a grocery store, would be hard—more than hard—a huge adjustment. But a chunk of my heart says it wishes I could do it, because I have seen more truly happy faces and felt more genuine warmth in their embraces than I have with the wealthiest 10% of the world. To all of us who have pitied those in countries like Peru and then said in a grateful sigh, “How rich we are!” someone needs to say, “Yes. But that’s all.”

We’ve visited a couple different churches at night here, but allow me to tell you about one church in Nacario—because that is where this desire to stay here sprouted. At 7 pm, after the sun went down and the stars came up, we hopped in a moto and trekked out to this thatched building where the church met, on a hill in the middle of nowhere. The bike rattled and shook on the bumpy road, the driver tried to avoid piles of debris. It struggled up the hill where a fluorescent light shone from a long thatch building. We got out. It was so quiet.

I laughed to Lupe, really, the light of the world! We were greeted with hugs and besitos from three children and a very old woman, Asuncion. Her sweater and large skirt and apron exaggerated her round figure and she enveloped me in a warm hug in the cool night. A man came out from around the corner and the children ran to hug him saying, “bendicciones Pastor!” I think his name is Manuel. Three long wooden benches faced the front with a desk and a Bible, and one sat along the side where the kids were busy making nametags out of poster paper and tape. They eagerly elected me to write the names, which was an awesome idea considering how normal Spanish names sound to me and how easy they are to spell… They had to dictate almost every letter of every name to me, so I’m not sure it was an efficient decision!

We began with singing, and they sang out about how only Jesus gives peace and love and joy, with conviction that made me believe them. Then they let us share with them and I stumbled through my testimony in Castellano. They smiled and watched attentively. When I said that Jesus is my mejor amigo and Padre, I saw understanding and faith in the squinting eyes of the the old women, like rocks weathered and eroded by avalanches crashing down on them. And the kids, when Robin taught the Bible study, where the ones shouting out the answers and eagerly racing through pages in their Bibles to find the right verses. To see their enthusiasm and joy and their comradeship with each other gave me such hope for their generation! Afterwards, we talked and played and they showed me their homes and asked us when we were coming back. These 3 girls, Luz, Carolina, and Leceita, were so sweet, so mature and kind to each other; they were the kind of kids that energize you—not wear you out. They have joy. They have not a care in the world and I almost envy them, because they don’t know about all the material things they could have. So they don’t focus on what they don’t have. They can smile on an empty stomach or laugh lacking jackets. No ads for iPods make them unhappy with their paper and pencil, or clothespins they use for toys. It’s not that way with all the ninos here—a lot of the kids in the schools worry about getting a turn to bat or kick and when one runs off to buy a popsicle, the others fight for a piece, and like most kids, they fight for your attention. But for real, these kids at the church are different. They are a light.

Wilber, a man who lives and works here at the mission house, asked me if I wanted to live here. I was tentative to answer. “I want to come back.” But unlike these kids, I know life with running water, cars, and airplanes and starbucks, houses with backyards and, well, the things that money can buy. If God tells me to come back, I wonder if I will be able to tear myself away from my material desires. Scary thoughts. But for now, I’m enjoying life here, and “soleando”—soaking up the sun.

San Clemente: Pregame

I was realizing last week that most of my frustrations with Spanish stem from the inability to express myself with a pinch of “Anne” on top. Not knowing what to say is different than not knowing how to say it—it feels as though my personality got stuffed into my luggage on the plane to Peru and now it’s only visible when I’m interacting in my heart-language. Humor is out the window to dry, and hanging on the clothesline on the roof with it are sarcasm and wit. Encouraging words are still in my suitcase, while I hope that with a dictionary in hand I can pull them out sometime soon. But it’s tough to feel useful on the “mission field” when your primary love language is spoken and you’ve got a noose on your tongue.

So anyway, one morning last week I was sitting on the couch, complaining to God about this problem when He answered with some well known words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Share the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” The response kind of put me to shame while challenging me—God gave me several communicative organs besides my tongue, and some appendages too, and it’s about time I put them to work. This little message arrived just in time for our trip to San Clemente.

Taxistas Locos.

Tonight we went to a cumpleanos fiesta, Peruvian style, for our friends Jimmy and Elsa (Tito’s brother and sister). Their family lives closer to the center of Lima, pretty far from Salamanca, so the 12 of us piled into two taxis to get to their apartment. So Peru birthdays, dinner and cake included, consist of singing, playing guitar, and dancing. Fue divertido, pero larga. We finally left at midnight.

We walked a few blocks through the sketchy streets to the combi/taxi stop and again split up into two groups to ride back. The 5 girls, me, Susan, Monica, Romina and Gianella (the vescis) were going to go together, but then they told us we should go with at least one guy so Monica switched with Armando. Our taxi left first, and we noticed he was flying down the street. But then he started swerving like an ant dodging a human foot. The red and yellow of combis and other taxis flashed into our windows while we gasped and Romina screamed, “Senor!” He finally got control and calmed down, but we were a little shaken up. After a few minutes, some other taxi made him mad and he started trying to get revenge by hitting him—again, swerving in and out of combis and cars. He pulled over and the other taxi pulled over under a bridge and both drivers got out. We ran out of the taxi and walked along the edge of the expressway, Susan and I holding Gianella and Romina away from the street. Middle of the night, walking in the middle of nowhere on the side of the highway—not the safest night of my life… But after walking and praying for a few blocks for a Christian driver, Armando found us a taxi. Thank God we had not gone with all girls! As we rode home, Susan asked the taxista, “Senor, eres Cristiano?” and he said he was—pretty direct, gracious answer to prayer. We finally arrived home in one piece and thanked God together for watching out for us in a really tangible way.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Some Things Just Take Getting Used to...

Some things in life just take getting used to, especially in Peru. I don’t know if I will ever get accustomed to throwing my toilet paper in the trash can. It almost guarantees that your restroom will never smell pleasant, and that you will be embarrassed when company comes over. On a less odorous note, Peruvians have a superstition that cold drinks make you sick, so the options are: drink a room temperature Coke or find a Starbucks and ask for an iced latte. Also, the sun is not a frequent visitor of Lima in wintertime… He likes to stay hidden behind this huge grey blanket but get close enough that you feel like you’re under a fluorescent light in a dark room. Anyway, it’s no Miami.

These are small matters though, when at the end of the day I reflect on all the cool privileges of living here in Salamanca. Today I visited a home for abused or abandoned kids called El Refugio, where I’ll be playing one or two days a week. Some members of the Calvary Chapel Church in Lima started it 10 years ago, using this huge house in San Isidro. You walk in and every room exudes warmth, at the same time saying, “This is a real house, with regular people and lots of little messy kids who are getting loved a lot.” I met two girls who work there, Milagros and Rosanna—both seemed so genuine and open-hearted. A girl who’s a student from Austria is also working there, and she’s more in my boat apparently because she speaks German and English, but not so much Spanish. Well, they have used all their space to really make this home cozy and fun for the kids. The kids’ rooms are stacked with colorful bunk beds and cribs, and they use two other rooms for classes. On the roof, plants and flowers line the edge of a little playground. The whole place smells of hot, fresh bread, which is one of the ways they make a profit. The organization as a whole has several other ministries in different locations, one being a women’s home for battered women. They make crafts like these beautiful cards with Bible verses on them, and sell them to make money for the home. Really cool.

My beautiful roommate Susan just came in with fresh dulce de leche bread from a bakery down the street and sunflowers! So I’m going to go enjoy those. Nos vemos.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Caminando en Salamanca

For the past two days, I’ve woken up with the faint hope of sunshine and walked out into the living room to see the sun staring me in the face! Lima is even more beautiful under a blue sky. Yesterday I sat on the roof of our apartment building overlooking all of Salamanca. The tall apartments fill the landscape—blue, grey, red, brown, green, yellow boxes with cement tops and clotheslines. For all the manmade buildings, there is still so much vegetation. You can find a park every three streets, and tall royal palms and poinsettia trees hover over rooftops. The colors, dulled and weathered by time, climb slowly up into the hills and in the background sit on the sides of the mountains. Brown mounds of dirt, the mountains appear rugged like the Rockies but dry like sand dunes. The range hugs the outskirts of Salamanca to the east.

Yesterday, I went on a walk and felt drawn out toward the mountains, so I walked down street after street until I basically stood at their feet. On the way, the lively sounds of car horns and music and neighbors calling to each other swarmed around me as I walked. When I reached the neighborhood plaza, I truly felt like I was in the South America I’d imagined. Smells of rich Peruvian food cooked fresh in small local restaurants came from every direction. The marketplace buzzed with people and street vendors, and the shops brightened the street with color.

I spent much of the time trying to figure out where I was and memorize the way I took so I could make it back home. I’ve never had much of a sense of direction, but my fear of getting lost and knowing less Spanish than I’d like kept me on my toes. The past few days have sharpened my ability to understand conversation, but I still struggle with speaking the language.

I certainly had my fill of it by the time I got home last night. We played soccer with the guys in the neighborhood for a few hours in the afternoon. Bien hecho (good job) got me through that okay. Afterwards we had lunch with our neighbors (at 5 o’clock… my stomach is still adjusting to this culture), and then went to youth group—reunion de los jovenes.

My precious friend Tito, who's 15, told me a little bit of his testimony. His dad is a pastor, so he grew up in the Church. But he accepted Jesus personally a year ago, and when he did that suddenly God gave him this gift for playing guitar. He really is phenomenal for only having played one year, so props to Jesus for that.

The rest of the evening consisted of a trip to El Marginal, the edge of our neighborhood, where all the Peruvians ate cow heart. I passed on that. I guess I don’t have the guts of Ben Carroll who drank tribal goat’s milk and blood, but I’m okay with that fear because I also have never been bedridden with Malaria… :)

Anyway, Saturday was clearly pretty fun, and today has been a good Sabbath. Susan and I picnicked on the roof till the cold set in, and are settling in our cozy apartment for the night. Ciao, amigos!