Sunday, December 13, 2009

Going Crazy!

This title does not refer to my sanity: this refers to the state of things as the school year draws to a close here at the Ciudad. As a note, this is being written over several days whenever I have free time, so bear with the choppiness.

(Written on Sunday) We have just come back from Lima Centro after a late morning/early afternoon of exploration. Shelly, our boss, is in town to see what we do and what Lima's like, so we took the chance to be touristy. We went back to San Francisco, which has the catacombs for all of Lima underneath and has a really cool convent and tour. We decided to go in Spanish this time, as when we were first here we went in English. I was surprised that I was able to understand the majority of what he said...without incredible focus. Mighta had something to do with having an idea of what was going to be discussed, but I still was happy. I also really enjoyed getting all of the tour guide's knowledge this time around; the language barrier made the tour last time a lot shorter. There was a lady with our group who was kind of rude and interrupting and probably had a personality disorder, but as the tour guide was explaining the missionaries' assimilation of Incan culture into Catholicism, how the Virgin Mary took the place of the Earth Mother and another god and how the Body of Christ took the place of the Sun, the lady interjected: "Y el Papa en vez de la papa?" or "And the pope in place of potatoes?" I interiorly thought it was a great pun...which I hardly ever laugh at, but will appreciate and find clever. The tour guide was less thrilled.

On the evening of the 12th, 3 brothers got ordained as deacons. It was absolutely AWESOME. So many people were at the church in Chama, the choir was terrific, the Bishop was really cool, and there was a feeling of community like none other! I can't get over how good it felt to be there. What was even cooler was being able to recognize people in the congregation and at the party afterward. I was amazed: people from the Ciudad, a huge number of people who had gone to FestiAsis in Huánuco, some of the leaders from our staff retreat, friars from all over...Seriously, it was awesome.

I can't get over how beautiful people here, either. The women who work here at the Ciudad just overwhelm me sometimes. And I don't just mean those crushes that I talked about several posts back: there is just something that shines through their hellos, their laughter, their moments of anger, and just the way they carry themselves that doesn't quite make my heart flutter in that crush sort of way, but it does make me just think, "Wow, how beautiful, how warm, how kind!" You met people like that? For whatever flaws they may have, whatever guards they might put up, there isn't a bit of guile in them. What you see is them, and you can FEEL it, and it's like hot apple cider on a cold autumn night: it warms you, but in a rich way that goes down to your toes.

(Written on the 16th) The guys overwhelm me, too, because they're just so funny, so knowledgeable, and the earnestness is just...winning. What is the most amazing, though, is the fact that not owing to any virtue or quality of my own other than existing and being here, I'm welcomed, loved, invited, appreciated. It leaves me questioning, "How can this be?" though I already know the answer. In fact, it's more the answer that's awe-inspiring, almost unbelievable: "It's how we do." It's powerful enough, striking enough, that there's almost the temptation to ask the question again in incredulity. The trick for me is swallowing my pride, my arrogance, my assumption that I've got the most important and best interpretation of the world and how it works, and welcome something new.

The school year is over. The kids are recuperating. All of a sudden, there's something I hadn't seen in them. Maybe it's because the end is in sight. But then again, there's the question, "What have I done to merit them missing me? What have I done that could possibly have an impact?" In those moments, I just have to trust that I'll never know the effect of what I do. I'm sad to think that most of the kids I've hung out with these past 4 months will be in a different pabellón next year. I'm glad that they aren't buying so much into macho culture to say things like, "I'll miss you," or show affection, though it's not through hugs or explicitly saying it, like younger kids might do.

It's not snowing, it's not cold, and family's far away,'s still managing to feel like Advent.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Half a Month Later

November has been pretty action-packed, I must say. I will go ahead and say it's for that reason that I haven't updated, but that would be ignoring my laziness, which is such a key factor.

I've been working on getting into a regular exercise routine, which is a huge source of comfort. I had forgotten how much I need to be active to feel my best, and how I need to give it some variety so it's not just another monotonous thing that makes me tired. That was probably why I got so irritated with my swimming routine in college: it was always the same and I never pushed myself. Then again, when I was sick for several days the one time I pushed myself wayyy too hard and was unhappy for the many-hour flight to Berlin and the first 1 1/2 days I was in the city, I figure that I probably instinctively decided against going crazy in the swimming pool. Regardless, exercising is nice.

Two weeks ago, I had the chance to go to Eduardo Talancha's house in the north of Lima. Eduardo works in San Felix, the oldest group of kids, and is an alumnus of Ciudad. I had mentioned last month that I was having trouble with empathy because I had had the world handed to me on a silver platter, and he then said, "Well, I could show you what a lot of kids are coming from. Come look at my house and my neighborhood." Amazing gesture, no? So we went to his house, and it was very small. I wasn't incredibly surprised at the living situation of not having individual rooms for cooking, doing laundry, and getting dressed; I feel like I'd be really dumb if I hadn't picked up on that being the norm from my other experiences in mission work and service. No, I'm not really dumb; I'm really arrogant (though they are invariably connected). While I haven't gotten a doctorate and am very quick to forget stuff that I don't use with frequency (i.e., school skills) and haven't traveled extensively or for long periods of time, I have a college education, a good high school education, very well-learned parents, and have traveled more than many people. The funny thing is, those experiences are supposed to open people up to other cultures, ways of life, struggles in others' lives, and the world in general. I'm now struggling with opening myself to that, because my life has been privilege, opportunity, and abundance of material and spiritual blessings. Here, there are kids who've never been outside of their native neighborhoods, save for going to Ciudad de los Niños. Here there are people who have never had the experience of seeing a North American person, a European, or somebody generally outside of their own heritage. Here there are boys in abundance whose only memory of a father figure is the turned back of a man who walked out on his wife and children when the boys were only 3. Do people have to go to a foreign country to experience interactions with people of this background? Most definitely not. It just so happens that I'm experiencing this in a personal way now that I'm here in Lima. I'm growing up (or at least being given the opportunity to do so) right alongside these kids. Never really thought of myself as having a narrow mindset, but then again, I'd never had to work with adolescents from tough backgrounds, either.

So it's been beautiful, trying, aggravating, and educational. Like it has been every time I've posted. Are you getting bored yet?

In other news, Thanksgiving was this past Thursday, and we decided to have the Capuchin brothers over for a Thanksgiving dinner, of sorts. We found a turkey to cook, weighing a whopping 20 pounds. We cooked it in the bakery's oven, as we lack our own. Its name was Jeffrey, because that was the name of the turkey that Joan, Leah, Sarah, Chelsea, and Sr. Bon Secour (I really hope I spelled that right) cooked for Junior year when they had 50 million people in their apartment and probably violated fire code. I really don't care about fire code, I just remember it being awesome. Jeffrey just seems like a great turkey name, so mixing in gratitude for college friends, which inspired gratitude for friends and family from home and friends from LeaderworX, the great turkey name was icing on the cake. Not that we had real cake...we had a pie that we (meaning Alyssa and Tania, I was busy in the morning and then did salad cutting and a few other not so amazing things because I am lame) made from a kind of squash that resembles pumpkin. It was fantastic, actually, though very rich. But getting back to Jeffrey: one of my jobs was washing him. I thusly took him to the cafeteria kitchen, more equipped to handle a 20-pound turkey than our showers or bathroom sinks, and started washing away ice and body fluid. I then reached into the first cavity to find a bag containing Jeffrey's heart, liver, and stomach. Renee, the head lady (I think) of the kitchen, kindly cut off the parts of heart and liver and stomach that we shouldn't eat. I also pulled out the legs (I guess the feet more than the legs: the scaly part). Renee kindly cut off Jeffrey's toes, though in my head I thought it would probably not make much of a difference, as the three of us collectively abhor poultry feet as food. I then reached into the other cavity to find...Jeffrey's head and neck. Renee severed the head from the neck, instructing me not to eat the head. I told her I had no intention of doing so, thanked her profusely, and went to share my findings with Alyssa and Tania, who were just about as thrilled with the head and feet as I was. We proceeded to slather Jeffrey with olive oil and salt, toss some butter into one of his body cavities, and send him to be baked. He was delicious.

The brothers who came (Hno. Walter was busy) were a delight to have. Hno. Hugo, our local coordinator, is knowledgeable, mellow, fun, and his Spanish is a bit easier to understand. Hno. Sergio works with San Francisco, the second-oldest pabellón in Ciudad. He's a fairly quiet individual with a kind smile, but a beast of a soccer player and no-nonsense when it comes to getting stuff done. Hno. David is in San Felix, the oldest group of boys, has a great sense of humor, and is also very laid-back. He's got an impressive English vocabulary and just needs practice to be semi-proficient. Hno. Polo was there, and was definitely the comedian of the night. I love seeing him away from the kids, because he's a lot less...stressed, I guess. It was a great night.

The following day, I went to Huánuco, a province (and city) to the north of Lima. They were hosting the second annual FestiAsis, which is a gathering of various Capuchin parishes and projects in this particular province to share their ministry, hang out, and have a songwriting competition. Hno. Polo had written a song, gotten four kids together to sing it, and asked me to accompany on piano/keyboard. Thus we went to Huánuco, 8 hours away by bus, hidden away in the mountains, near the jungle, and as green as Lima is brown. The drive there was breathtaking, because I got to see jungle, I got to see mountain, and I got to see desert. I also did NOT get elevation sickness, although one of our kids did. I considered this a personal victory. I now have gastroenteritis, so I guess that Joey (the sick kid) won in the end. Huánuco is up in the mountains, for sure, and the mountains are much greener than the mountains of Lima. Thank goodness. Oh, there is actual rain there, too. In fact, the one thing that Lima has over Huánuco (well, two things) are: The coast and lack of small flies that bite and sting like crazy. Huánuco lacks the former and has the latter in abundance. As we were exploring a temple on Sunday, a giant black winged insect flew near me. Nobody else seemed to think much of it, but in my mind I was thinking, "The insect is the size of my index finger and has something looking suspiciously like a stinger. How are you all not even slightly alarmed at this?"

Huánuco was a great experience, to be sure, but also very trying. The friars who went all stayed at the convent, but due to a lack of space and resources at the convent, the rest of us stayed in hostels in the area. This meant that I was, for the majority of the trip and for all intents and purposes, the voice of authority with my kids. I would not have minded so much if A) I had been told beforehand that this would be the case, B) I had even the slightest semblance of an idea of what was going on, and C) If I could have some authority that wasn't derived from the fact that I'm at least a head taller than 3 of the 4 boys, much stronger than any of them, very hairy, and distressing when angry. However, none of these three criteria were filled, so I felt like I was vested with a whole ton of responsibility without any real idea of how to be responsible, especially when chaperoning in Perú is slightly different than chaperoning in the US. I was looking forward to a fairly stress-free weekend, but when that failed, I decided it was my baptism into the new liturgical year and offered it up as Advent sacrifice. That didn't make me much more cheerful to be around, as I am still learning how to be joyful when all I really want to do is scream, but it helped a bit. We were mainly with other groups of people, so that helped out a lot, too. A group of people from the local parish provided for our meals spectacularly. There were 17 groups there with songs to perform, so our kids were very nervous. I can't blame em, but they kind of refused to listen to any advice I gave them (I think this is payback for all the times I shot down the advice of my parents or other people by insisting that they wouldn't give that advice if they only knew the situation like I did). I think what made me most frustrated was the fact that my kids looked to me as the guy who knew what was going on, and were surprised every single time I told them (it was frequently) that they probably knew more about our plan of attack than I did.

Sunday was a tourist day, so that was fun, and Hno. Polo was there, so I didn't have as much responsibility. I was very happy about this, especially because this weekend was the last "Salida" of the year at Ciudad, meaning that majority of the kids go home or to friends' houses for 24 hours or so, and that we volunteers get to sleep in, go about our personal business, and breathe a little bit. The tourist part of the trip was like my opportunity to partake in Salida time that I otherwise couldn't have had that weekend.

One of the 15-year-old girls from a group near Ciudad was very giggly and probably had a crush on me (or was very amused by the fact that I looked like some artists' interpretations of Jesus). My boys translated this into MY having a crush on HER, which should make anybody who has gone through the Sex Offender training (shout-out to LeaderworX people who've gone through VIRTUS) feel very, very uncomfortable. It sure made me uncomfortable. I staved this off last night by saying that if they all must know, if my eye fixed on one girl throughout the weekend, it was the chaperone of said 15-year-old's group, which immediately led to questions about her phone number, house, the possibility of my bringing her to America, etc. (the last one is not hyperbole, they ask that about any Peruvian girl I admit as being attractive). I just have to laugh, because there isn't any way to explain to them that I'm content just reflecting, "Wow, that girl is truly beautiful," without having much interest in romantic pursuits. They are unable to grasp this concept. I decided to explain to José in seriousness how I just wasn't wanting to use this time of self-discovery and learning to date, especially because of the complications of only being here for 18 months without much intention of being here for a longer, more permanent basis. Explaining that I still had some hiccups in my faith life from a previous romantic endeavor that I'd avoided dealing with until now also didn't do much good. Mentioning discernment didn't aid my cause, either. He responded to all of this by saying, "But Brother, si en 5 años se diera cuenta de que Pamela es su amor verdadera..." ("But brother, if in 5 years you realize that Pamela is your true love...") I responded, "I supposed I'll just have to come back to Lima, then, huh?" Because there really wasn't much else to say. It's gotten less bothersome, but so awkward at times when they ask me my opinion about which high school girl is hotter...because at this point, my tastes have changed just a little bit.

Also awkward: sexual questions. I wish that they'd just use the real words for things instead of jargon or very, very crude gestures. I had forgotten what it was like to be so absolutely hormone-driven that the idea of losing virginity was the pinnacle of existence. Oh...wait...I was a high school kid who felt natural desires, but who looked with supreme disdain (judgmental bugger that I was) on those whose idea of a great conversation was an in-depth discussion about how much more well-endowed one celebrity was than another. This juxtaposition led to several self issues, explaining my slightly more emo phase, but I really strove not to talk about girls that way or make sexual gratification my point of being. If I can't explain not wanting to date right at this moment to them, I don't know how I'll ever explain why I'm grateful for retaining my virginity or why I hold certain conversational topics and gestures in very bad taste. Maybe it's another cultural thing, because I do verge a little bit more on the prudish side, but this will open up to another topic:

Cultural differences. I know that I'm biased just on the basis of coming from my own culture, but I really do think that cultures have some things to give each other. If the US is too much one way, another culture isn't enough. If the US isn't enough, the other might be too much. I don't think it's as easy as, "We have our way, you have yours," with every single issue. I'd like to see some attempt at dialogue and at the very least looking at how different things really are rather that just writing things off as, "Another culture," and therefore exempt from all comparative analysis. That doesn't mean "WE SHOULD JUDGE."

Final tangent of this long, long post: I'm ready. I'm not sure how to word it, and I don't want to word all of it, particularly, but I feel that I need to at least say what I just did: I'm ready.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Happenings

Well, the intestinal thing is gone, which is all kinds of excellent. Left my appetite a little bit askew, so I'm glad for the coca tea that they sell in stores: coca leaves act as hunger suppressants. All kinds of good stuff.

I will say this about the intestinal thing, made me a little bit more aware of what I do like to eat and don't like to eat. College kind of made me numb and omnivorous, especially that first year, and so to have a little bit more opinion in what I do and don't like to eat is like reclaiming a small bit of myself. It's difficult here, because Peruvian custom is that you eat the entirety of what is on the plate set before you, and if it's full of stuff you don't like, you might be in trouble. There are some days that I just physically cannot finish what's on my plate. Thankfully, as an authority leader, I am not morally bound to finish my plate (though it's considered good manners). Usually one of the kids will want to have a go at my leftovers, and so I yield them gladly.

In terms of work I've been doing, there's been a lot of work at the granja (farm) with the chickens. Yesterday (Monday), they had 82 dead chickens, and it was my job to haul them out of their jaulas (cages, but it's cooler to say haul out of jaula) and dispose of them, i.e., throw them into the giant pit aka the Chicken Tomb. 82 is a huge number. I couldn't believe it. Vera, the guy (whose name I spelled wrong in a previous entry) in charge of the granja, couldn't believe it. There were a huge number of eggs, so that was good, but...well, my arms were tired.

Speaking of parts of my body being tired, some kind soul donated three semis' worth of onions to the Ciudad. Getting the semi to the loading dock is an adventure. Unloading the semi is something else entirely. This donation is arriving in segments, which is good. The first installation was two weeks ago, I think. We filled the entirety of the kitchen storage space with the sacks of onions, and the semi wasn't even half emptied. The rest remains outside in a giant pile. Unless we plan on replacing our three breakfast rolls (we get three rolls at breakfast, fyi) with three raw onions apiece, I don't think that we are going to finish all of the onions by ourselves. The administration is of the same opinion, so we are giving onions to families who have some affiliation with the Ciudad and bring their own sacks for carrying the onions home. In this way the first pile has diminished (though the onions for breakfast might be good for our immune systems...better than bread and oatmeal together every morning, anyway). The second pile arrived yesterday. The three older houses have been in charge of unloading the trucks, so we once again went to the front. It's amazing how many times I had to shout, "Onions are not soccer balls," which seems fairly obvious, but the same kid kept on trying to work on his moves. Each time, he managed to hit me with a bruised onion. This made me slightly unhappy. But yeah, that lifting was good for me...albeit tiring.

They've stopped making big panettone in the bakery. Now they're making personal-sized ones. You may or may not remember my last experience in the panadería wherein my work consisted in followed the head honcho around, trying things out, being told, "No, no, like this," and then being asked to do something else. This time, they asked me to shape the wads of dough before putting them in the mold. It was fun and tiring, though it took a very long time to realize what the actual goal was. I thought that it was to make all of the fruit on the inside so that it wouldn't burn, giving the dough some air, too. That's only a secondary goal. The main goal is to make a smooth "shell" out of the dough that covers the entirety of what will be the top and middle of the panettone. Now, they could have told me this, but it's far more fun to learn, right? Right! That's something that's kind of consistent here: they've not told me exactly what to do, but rather let me work my way to the top through trial and error. The efficient and perfectionist part of me hates this, but it's fun. They have fun with it, too, and it's good (in hindsight) to let me make a fool out of myself.

I've got a lot of questions and reflection stuff...I won't divulge much of it here, simply because this isn't the place for it. But in any case, I will say that the authenticity of people here is amazing and difficult. Amazing because authenticity is's real, it's not overbearing but it's not exactly apologetic, and you can really just see people for who they are, and it's absolutely beautiful...even when you see their faults. In fact, the faults make the whole expression even more awesome to behold. Genuineness does something for attractiveness, too...people here are just beautiful and handsome.

It's difficult because it challenges me to do the same. I like to think of myself as an authentic person, and in some ways, the fact that I act more like a 5-year-old helps with that, because a 5-year-old usually can't help but be genuine. But realizing that sometimes (frequently) I lie to myself and coming to terms with that and the reasons behind that self-deception...that takes courage.

I guess that's the overarching goal for this year and a half (transferred over to the rest of life): courage. Fortitude. Audacity. In the list of adjectives I'd give myself, "brave" isn't quite there. I'm not discouraged, though...poco a poco, ¿sí? Sí.

That's all for now.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Playing Some Catch-up

Come rain or shine, sleet or snow, northern or southern hemisphere, it would seem that my semi-annual illness is non-negotiable. I am typing while in bed, recuperating from a very unpleasant stomach and fever whammie. The worst, it seems, passed about an hour ago, which is good, because it was a very turbulent time when I had to stand up and my stomach immediately informed me via violent revolt that it wholeheartedly opposed this idea.

My stomach's complaints have piped down a little, so that's good. This week has been a crazy one!

I'll start off by talking a little bit about the retreat. It was so good to be on a staff (essentially) retreat with the other people who work here in the Ciudad! There's a bit more of a substantial basis there for saying hello or starting conversation now. Also, the opportunity to talk about stuff on my level, as opposed to the level of 16-year-olds, was hard to beat.

The Capuchin brothers here are saying that I'm going to be joining the order and bringing the Capuchins back to the Pacific Northwest. I told them that anything is possible but that fewer things are probable, but don't think the thought hasn't crossed my mind. Though being in the presence of several girls my age who were exuberant and genuinely excited and very vocal about their faith (our retreat leaders) was like a scent of paradise.

This week was more difficult than many others. Lots of heavy lifting on Monday, which I liked, but left me exhausted. Tuesday I was cleaning eggs. Wednesday we TRIED to get our money converted, but that didn't work. Thursday was a bit more successful. Friday they had me spraying the hen house with disinfectant, which probably contributed to my feelings of awfulness yesterday and today.

Once again I found myself frustrated with the kids, mostly just because they can't get it into their heads that if they just work when they ought to, the rest of their time will be so much better, because I won't be on their cases, Hermano Polo will be much easier to be around, and so on and so forth. I don't know if I've gotten intolerant or have finally just gotten stubborn on insisting that they don't walk over me. One kid keeps pestering me about romantic possibilities with pretty much any female that I've ever known. This began to irritate me almost immediately only because of the persistence with which he did it. I finally just told him that I wouldn't speak to him if he talked to me about this, and we shook hands and declared peace. It was doomed to be a temporary peace, however, as the memories of some of these kids are about as high-quality as the bootlegged movies they watch every other weekend (i.e., not high-quality). I have to remind him of it every time we approaches me, because if I don't, he will start the conversation in a loud voice asking about the possibility of romantic attraction to either Alyssa or Tania, my fellow CapCorps volunteers. So while I know how to keep him quiet, he's done his damage: many other guys in San Juan will now ask me the same thing. On the one hand it's cool because it means that they're interested in at least some portion of my life and want to know more about me in the way that only seems natural to an adolescent boy, I'm sure. On the other hand, it gets SO repetitive and annoying! And, of course, the fact that I'm irritated only drives them to peck further, because they're boys and it seems to be an instinct ingrained in us that I think might disprove Darwin's Survival of the Fittest theory, because playing the game "how many times can we poke the lion before it gets REALLY angry?" doesn't seem conducive to anybody's survival. Except the lion's, after he eats the pests.

But anyway, I can only tell them so many times that I really am not wanting anything more than friendship at the moment, but I could do that until I'm blue in the face and they will still bother me about this issue. Do we get more resistant to testosterone over time? Is it the sudden abundance of this hormone to their systems thanks to adolescence that attributes to this? Probably the whole fact that they don't see girls as often as others also contributes.

This time of illness has awakened my mind to another fact. Yesterday, as I missed dinner, I realized that I didn't mind it at all. I didn't mind missing breakfast this morning, nor lunch. In fact, I'm in need of some other food aside from rice, which is a shame, because that won't be happening in the very near future. Missing home food right now.

So things aren't their best at the moment, but I'm okay with that.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Before Leaving For the Weekend...

So we were informed last weekend that we'd be going on retreat this weekend, as the kids are gone for three days and we are all in need of a break. This is lovely news.

I'm a creature of habit, so I hate being thrown out of routine, and the Anniversary did just that. Usually we had it timed so that our needs for water, snacks, hygienic supplies, etc., would last through two weeks, so that on weekends off we had the opportunity to go to the store and restock. However, with the Aniversario, we're now on a schedule wherein we'll be needing to restock on weekends wherein the kids don't go home. But, as this is one of my bigger complaints, you can tell that life is fairly good.

Last week was tough, just because of how much I practiced for the dance that we did as the three volunteers. It was a combination of a Hula (I did Poi balls), country line dancing, and the final refrain of "Beat It" (as a crowd-pleaser). I was practicing for so many hours to get the Poi routine down...I came home after breakfast and practiced. I came to the apartment after work and practiced. I practiced a little after lunch, too. Then I'd practice after afternoon work. Then I'd practice in the evenings, too. I practiced too much, it would appear, and was too uptight about it: as soon as I calmed down a little bit, was less rigid with the rhythm, and had a good rest backing me up, I did much, much better. But...the best preparation doesn't ensure a flawless performance. If I had Hawaiian heritage it would be greatly ashamed right now. I will say that the flag-snag was NOT entirely my fault...we hadn't figured that into the performance. The other error definitely was. Oh, well!

The Aniversario itself was awesome: lots of people, LOTS of good food, and it was cool to see all the products the Ciudad had on sale, too.

I will talk disproportionately about chickens here. They make up half of my day, after all. I sometimes wonder why Biblical imagery doesn't use chickens for its descriptions of the people of Israel or the Church. Chickens are, I think, far dumber than sheep. Then again, "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. He makes me to lie in verdant pastures," is a far more poetic line than, "The Lord is my famer, there is nothing I shall want. He makes me to wander in peckable terrain...Yea, though I wander in the shadow of the cage of the egg collector, I fear no have given me ample cornmeal lovingly in the face of those who peck me, etc." Sheep, though dumb, evoke a far more beautiful landscape when raised in a free-range environment. The other day we tried moving the chickens from their cages to an enclosed area where they could roam a little more freely. We tried putting them in crates, but they escaped. We tried putting them in other crates, but they escaped those. So we put them in bags. They escaped from these as well, but with less frequency.

It's actually very good that I work with chickens in the morning. They teach me how much patience I need to have to work with any creature. Like when the chickens escaped, they were smart enough to run directly underneath their cages which is where all their excrement resides and where humans are unlikely to follow. But occasionally as they wandered through their self-made mire, pecking for traces of something that'd be edible (gross), I could hear them squawk in dismay as the mire became deeper than they anticipated and they sank into it farther than their legs. At the end of the whole process, I definitely looked at a few of them and thought, "May you drown in your own excrement and may it serve you right, o dumbest of God's creatures." Clearly Franciscan spirituality is having a positive impact on my life.

But seriously, patience. My immediate instinct is to react angrily, sometimes to throw chickens (this only happens in the morning when I work with chickens. I have never wanted to throw a chicken at one of the kids), or to make snide comments. My still-limited Spanish is making the snide comments stay at a minimum, which is beautiful, because I don't think the kids are ready for my sarcasm. Besides, it'd eventually just undermine my authority, because I'd become known as the dude who says really nasty thing and has authority even though nobody really likes or respects him. That's not my role to play. I realized that today while working with the kids. Yesterday, while finishing up some work in the viña, Hno. Polo asked that we pull weeds with the remaining hour that we had. I conveyed the message, and the kids said, "Okay," and continued sitting in the shade. I started pulling weeds. Fifteen minutes later, I look over at them, still happily in the shade, with me clearly there and working and watching them, and finally said, "So, if there's a shortage of weeds here, feel free to go to the bigger vineyard, but if you see a couple, pick em up for goodness' sake, and show me that you're not as lazy as Hno. Polo keeps accusing you of being." So my snide comments are building up, which is bad, and I felt bad for accusing them of being lazy on a hot day.

One of my big frustrations and weaknesses, I think, is that some things just make sense for me. I'll understand fairly quickly, and it's hard for me to comprehend that others don't understand, and if I do comprehend that, WHY they don't understand. The big challenge for me is asking that question without arrogance, ego, superiority, or disdain. I don't know why that's so hard to do, but it is. Dude, I'm extremely patronizing and I never realized it. So this is a lame way to apologize, but if I've been unbearably (or even bearably) arrogant to you, I apologize and hope you'll bear with me if I do it in the future, because goodness knows this is hard. Sure, I can think about their experiences and lives and think, "Yeah, it makes sense that they don't get this or that they're slow on the uptake or that they have attention problems," but how I react is a totally different story.

Today was a little better and a little worse. I was getting upset because the kids were choosing the fast way over the good way of laying fertilizer in the vineyard. When a kid asked me how things were, I immediately replied, "Ja, claro que no bién. De hecho, mal. Hay muchos espacios, muchos partes de los surcos sin guano, y hay que llenar espacios vacíos en más o menos cada surco." "Definitely not good. Bad, in fact. There're a lot of spaces, lots of these tilled lines don't have fertilizer, and we're going to need to fill in spaces in pretty much every row." I said it pretty snappishly. I wasn't put off that they weren't following directions: today was the last day of afternoon work this week and I wanted it to be done. And I didn't want to look like I wasn't being a good supervisor. So yeah, I was taking the work too personally, and so my anger had nothing to do with the kids. Dang it. Again. So I followed up by saying, "You know, it's manageable, but just pass the word on to be a little more careful and deliberate, please. I'll take care of stuff here if you guys move on to the next vineyard." Small gesture for being in such a foul mood, but it's a start.

But see, then I got angry again when Walther and Wilson started playing. They always play when they're together. They're very athletic and so I can understand having energy, but...dang it, we have to finish this this afternoon, there's plenty of work to do, it's not too hot, and why can't you be as good workers as you were in the other vineyard? They didn't answer because I didn't ask. It's a very different life than that to which I'm accustomed, so I supposed when you have fun is different, too...but when I saw them later after I'd hauled sacks of manure for them to fill (note: hauling the sacks is much harder than pouring them out, in my opinion), and they were huddled around much as a similar group was two days before, I asked them a little too sharply why they were just sitting around when there was work to be done that really, actually HAD to be done today (as they'll be gone tomorrow and the whole weekend and we were kinda late in fertilizing the vines). Poco a poco, pienso. Slowly but surely, I'll learn patience, if I can give myself the chance to breath before reacting and learn to cut myself out of the equation, as I very rarely belong in it with as much emphasis as I give myself (consciously or unconsciously).

Self-honesty is a terrific thing. Painful sometimes, but...well...worth it. I'm missing Esto Vir a bit right now.

Three small stories. First one happened tonight:
-A kid at my dinner table asked me about Paris Hilton, and if I thought she was beautiful. I responded, "No, because ever since Scott Nye said she reminded him of a pterodactyl, I can't think of anything other than how accurate a description that is. Plus, the whole adult film portion of her life choices really is a turnoff." The kid was very surprised to hear that she'd been in adult films. He then voiced his desire to be an adult film actor. I have yet to determine the proper course of action to quell this desire.

-Monday, while moving chickens, Berra (one of the older guys) was holding a sack into which I was placing hens. He dropped the sack and was going to pick it up when a hen leaped out and sprinted away. There was a pause as we considered said chicken, and afterward, he said, "Sh..." (but he said the whole word. I'm now not sure who's reading my blog, and I don't want parents mad at me. Though after the story about adult films, maybe this is a moot point). Berra had never spoken any English to me before. He has yet to say anything else in English aside from "Finished" when our work in the morning is done. I want to now how he learned that.

-So after my description of people I find attractive here in Perú, I feel it necessary to say that I'm really not feeling in the mood to pursue anything of a romantic nature (much to the astonishment and puzzlement of the kids in San Juan). That being said...
One of my kids has a sister who is my age. He introduced me to her at the beginning of September, so I deem it appropriate to greet her when I see her. At the Aniversario, I was talking with Bradish (the 12-year-old who looks 8 who is now my godson) and his family when she and her family walk by. I nod to her younger brother and then to her and smile. She smiles back, but then she keeps looking at me. Then keeps looking at me. She does not freaking stop looking at me as she walks along. Perhaps people more adept at social interactions would have picked up that the changed expression was one of flirtatious interest long before I did, but I think we all know that I sort of fall into situations and take a while to realize what's going on. I swear, I wouldn't know I was drowning until I was about to die. Anyway, so after finally realizing she was looking at me with interest (the longish hair and beard aren't repelling enough. THAT's why I've been working with chickens! To complete the woman-repelling ensemble!), I successfully avoided her the rest of the day.

Sometimes I have to wonder if the chickens are smarter than I am.

"I shall strike the Farmer and the chickens will scatter. But it'll actually be significant, even though the chickens scatter at pretty much everything."...yeah, definitely better off with sheep.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Quickly...but not so quickly

Because I don't have much time, and won't for a while, I just wanted to say that there'll be a slight lag in updates. I was going pretty strong with the weekly thing, but these next couple of weeks throw a wrench in that plan.

The anniversary of the Ciudad is tomorrow. It's amazing how big a deal it's like a miniature carnival. In two days they've really changed the face of the a good way. But to be honest, I'll be glad for it to end. Next week, all the pro staff goes on a retreat. Apparently Alyssa, Tania, and I are included in that. That's not a problem for me.

Anyway, here are my thoughts of the moment (not quite as humorous as the last time I did this):

Sometimes my Spanish is good, sometimes it's not. I go into fits when I actually have to converse on the phone with somebody in Spanish. I pray each and every time I have to call that I can just ask for what I need and they will say, "Sí," and I don't have to worry anymore. Each an every time somebody calls, I hope that they're just calling to ask how I am. Sometimes the first hope bears fruit. The second one is never the case. Thus I usually just try to find out where they are so that I can jog to their location and hope that the task that needs doing is on-site. This yields more success than my hope of a conversation that goes, "Miggy, ¿cómo estás? ¿Bién? Excelente. Simplemente te llamé para averiguarlo. Nos vemos."

Our ceilings aren't very tall. I have borrowed Tania's jumprope, but I have to take out the lightbulb every time I use it, because otherwise I'll be without a light source for a while. This makes me sad. It also makes me nervous about practicing jumping.

I got to speak to Hannah O'Sullivan over Skype the other day, courtesy of Juliette Szczepaniak. That was awesome. Thanks for that, both of you.

The rest of you should get Skype and add me (clydeomnis is my sn) so that we can talk, too. Seriously.

I think that every saint and person who's ever done something that requires courage has a moment of, "Oh, shoot, what have I done?" I'm sure that St. Francis was hit by at least the temptation to think, "Well, I screwed the pooch THERE," after he disowned himself from his father and walked off in his infamous habit after stripping naked. I don't think that there's sin or counter-doctrinal assumption in saying that after (and during his announcement) Gabriel departed, she had a slight, "Oooooohhhhhhh man," moment. And we all have them. What was the Agony in the Garden but finding the courage to surrender to God's will? I know that it was more than steeling Himself, clearly, but yeah.

If you want joy, you need courage to risk and endure pain.

For courage. For Diego and Bradish and Joel, my godsons (yeah, a third one was added the day of the sacrament).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I think it's a cycle that I get to my breaking point, have a lovely respite, and then go back into battle. I found myself halfway through this week back in that emotional turddom of last Friday. I will spare the public domain more angst, so if you really want to hear me whine*, email me and I'll unload (do not attempt).

Last weekend we went to Barranco for dinner. It's a very small little district in Lima that overlooks the waterfront. It was beautiful. I just love the feel of it.

The only griping that you will hear is this: I think that working with the live hens is worse than killing the other chickens. I know it's not their fault that they live in cages and that they live to lay eggs until their rumps bleed and they die, so their days consist of laying eggs, eating, pecking at the guys who take their eggs, drinking water, making lots of squawking noises, and pooping what seems a disproportionate amount to what they eat, and not much else, and that that disproportionate excrement really can't go anywhere but right below them, and with five chickens to a cage and several hundred cages in one place, that's a lot of smell, but...I would think you're supposed to get acclimated to the smell. Somehow that's not working. 2 months down and I'm eager to try a chicken-free diet.

There, that's it. The rest is something I'm going to try putting into a positive frame of mind, namely:

What you can learn about yourself from being abroad in a place where you don't speak the language, and that involves more than just what's said.

You can learn a lot. I didn't quite appreciate that Fr. Regis told me that he HATED Rome the first time he was there living abroad. That's not to say that I HATE it here. I don't even hate it here in lowercase. There are definitely some very trying moments, though. When I have the time to look at them, though, it's amazing what these moments teach me. For example, Hermano Polo had to go to Ñaña to talk with the postulants there, and that left me in charge, more or less. God help us. God help me. God help the children I was supervising. I immediately found myself irascible and wanting them to conform to more rules, less willing to laugh...I essentially found myself modeling the kind of behavior that I question in others in positions of leadership in the Ciudad. I won't speculate why they do what they do, but I can speak for myself. I was not happy with how unhappy this authoritarian model made me, and upon some short reflection realized that I was getting angry with kids more with an insecurity that I had rather than because of their interests. I had their interests as an auxiliary, but I was more concerned with making a good impression and having them follow rules so that I'd look good. It was not a pleasant revelation, but it's where I am, so I'll work from there.

I am experiencing a hug withdrawal. As witheringly as I might look at people for touching me, I am a physically affectionate person, and suffer for lack of it. Fortunately, there are some very touchy-feely kids in San Juan. Unfortunately, they usually want piggy back rides or to fake-spar. These are not hugs. And hugs are magical. And fake-sparring...generally isn't.

I have the privilege of being honest with myself. Sometimes I have to be, but sometimes, I get to be. I get to take a moment to ask, "Wait, why DO I think this or do this?" I don't think that I lie to myself all that often, but I do tend to plow ahead without taking what I think into proper consideration. I've made small victories in self-honesty. And they're awesome.

I need man-talk. Not like, "dude she's hot," man-talk. Just...talking with guys my age. 15 year olds have a very different world view. It involves a lot of girl-induced system failure. Then again, I'm not sure I ever recovered from said failure after my crush in 5th grade...but seriously, nothing beats having some solid friends of the same gender. I'm working on talking with the older kids who work here and with the friars, so that's cool.

Places with four seasons are places I probably prefer to be. The weather is slowly getting warmer here, so that's good! However, I'll say it a billion who live in places where the leaves change color and the mornings come with some mist and the nights are cold and sharp and clear and the sense of family and community seems as natural and warming as the apple cider and sweaters that you're using don't know how lucky you are. I also would like to live in place with clear skies. I have seen one star in the night sky since being here. Maybe two. I can count the number with less than five fingers, though. The blanketed sky makes for a cool effect, nevertheless.

That being said, I'd love to explore the South of the US when I come back. I need to explore that part of my heritage. Also, I would love to explore West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri (I know, not the most southern), Louisiana, North Carolina...and others. When I was driving across the country to get home from CUA, I thought it was such a pity that we couldn't spend more time in WV or KY. Also, "Take Me Home, Country Roads" and "Black Water" are playing on repeat in my head.

Somewhere along the way, I let the sarcastic gruffness actually become gruff in part, and that was an error. I'm not a cinephile, so I feel okay and not at all emasculated to say that some chick flicks are great.

Hannah O'Sullivan once thought about standing outside of seminaries, waiting for guys who'd discerned that priesthood wasn't for them, because there's a caliber to those seminary boys. There's some truth in that, at least for girls discerning the religious life: I have a mild crush on one of the postulant nuns. After one of my previous endeavors into love, this seems like a regression: from going to girls contemplating the religious life, I'm now attracted to those currently in it. Why do they have to be so intriguing before they wear veils? I'm trying to rationalize that it's a friend crush on an attractive young women who happens to be a postulant nun. Also, there is a woman working with the preschool-aged kids whom I find very attractive. She won me over when at a meeting Hno. Hugo asked what her group would be making for the anniversary of the Ciudad and she temporarily had a very flustered, almost defeated, look. So I like helpless and/or unavailable women. Perhaps you can now share in the irony of all the boys in San Juan asking me for girl advice.

IMPORTANT - I am now a godfather. I was asked at the last minute to sponsor a 9-year-old boy named Bradish in the sacrament of baptism. What? I don't know, either. And I will be the sponsor for a boy getting confirmed this Friday, too. I guess the need is there. I better brush up on my theology-speak in Spanish (this is why they housed me in a small library with many catechesis books). Bradish's two older brothers are also at the Ciudad, and their mom is really kind and has essentially welcomed us into the family and wants to make sure we're present, so that's really cool. Prayers?

I'm sure I forgot some things I've learned about myself, but I think they might be things other people know and that I'm getting/needing to learn for myself now. I do find it interesting that I, at least, often will respond to uncouth or insulting or unseemly behavior in an uncouth, insulting, or unseemly manner. I'm learning here that doing so won't result in making my situation better, instilling them an understanding of why what they're doing is wrong, or that they shouldn't do it. By responding in kind, I have to count on being more powerful, with authority to prevent the temptation to escalation, so that teaches that the might is right, I'm responding to them in the same way, so I'm acting as a first-class living example of hypocrisy for them to either ridicule or emulate (or both, if they're like me), and they know not to do things when I'm watching because I'm taught them nothing more than to prevent a certain stimulus-response pattern. Were I to act as they did in an overblown manner to satirize their behavior, that might be different, but it's insulting to them, requires premeditation, and there's the chance they don't get it. I guess that chance is always there.
I just wonder about this stuff because some say that what makes us the most irritated is the quality or qualities we see in another that we find ugly or wrong in ourselves. Maybe that's right, because we usually respond to what we find very ugly with ugliness. Makes me want to think through everything.

Final thought of a tired guy: After much thought, before totally getting rid of my hairdo that will be very long, I will first craft my facial hair to be a goatee...ish. I will then buy a circular hat with a star on it. I will set it atop my shoulder-length hair, look off into space purposefully at an angle, have somebody take a picture, and then maybe I will be as popular as Che Guevarra.

Probably not. But I think the irony of his face being a popular consumerist decal is delicious. Also, the t-shirt with his face and the writing: "Communism killed over 10,000 people and all I got was this lousy T-shirt" is amazing. But this goes back to what I was saying earlier. Some say that violent revolution is the way to go. As a casual observer who hasn't experienced grief at the hands of corrupt government officials, I feel like that illustrates (in a sick way) the humanity of everybody. The oppressed who overthrow and gain power battle ugliness with ugliness. The "better world" sometimes seems to involve a world where roles are reversed in place of some actual greater equality. Too much to talk about for two paragraphs, and I have no answers, and I'm very tired. Know that you're loved and missed. And if you read this but don't communicate with me, you make me sad, but I still love you and there's legit only a little bit of pressure to get in touch with me (because I have to be honest, right?).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Silence Is Golden

Some very good days this week, especially Friday and yesterday. But we'll get to them in due time.

The news that I killed chickens still is in my mind. I'm mostly over it, though the one chicken that squawked in protest as I began cutting its neck is kind of haunting.

Aaaaanyway, Monday, day after the feast of St. Francis (we celebrated it on Sunday and it was a big deal), we went up to the Capuchin Postulant House in Ñaña to partake in their celebratory luncheon. It was a bountiful and delicious lunch, but it was even more cool to see the Capuchins all there, because they were genuinely glad to hang out together and celebrate that fraternal bond. I got to see Hermano Polo smile a bit more, which is nice, because he usually has to wear his stern or his very stern face at the Ciudad. Of course, when the subject turned to how to kill various animals painlessly, I kind of wished that lunch had happened beforehand. Definitely not a conversation I expected to have.

After that, I returned and worked in the Panadería, "helping" with the Pannetone-making. I mostly just followed the guy who knew the most around and he would occasionally tell me to do things, watch me do them, say, "No, no, Michael," show me a different way, then have me do something else. I was pretty effective at slamming cubes of lard and margarine into the table and proceeding to mix them together, which, along with my height, slowness at speaking, and hairy features, simply further contributes to a widespread (no factual basis for this) rumor among the folks here that I am a Neanderthal. I got to help add the fruit and raisins to the dough a couple of time part of the plastic bag got stuck in the mixer and went into the dough. The next day I was helping bag pannetone (see a connection? There actually isn't one, I said I wanted to see what the next steps in the process were, so they assigned me there). It's a tough thing, feeling like I have to constantly thank people for their patience. They're very good-natured, even in the midst of having to get stuff done, though, so that's very cool.

So that was Monday afternoon and Tuesday the whole day. Wednesday, I painted goal posts in the AM and helped dig a hole for depositing rocks and debris in the PM. Thursday was a no-school-day, so I basically just acted as supervisor for the various things the kids had to do. I still struggle with what I'm doing here, because there are just so many moments that I forget that it's not about me and I'm here for the kids. Sharing what I have as a basic human being and receiving from them the same, stripping away academic smarts (though it sometimes helps), technological knowledge (because it's kind of different here), and simply giving and receiving who we's a lot to take in. I'm not sure if that made any sense, but hopefully by now you're used to what I write not making a lot of sense.

But yeah, the current struggle is having myself follow suit with the idea of being here for them, being myself for them, and improving myself for them, because the idea of getting to the core (well, more or less, that's a lifelong journey) of who I am is a beautiful notion, but it's rather uncomfortable. Thus, my mind and my body protest very vocally. In the midst of this struggle came Friday, a day I really just wanted to not be there so that the kids would go out for the weekend and I could just veg. In the morning, I worked in the granja with the hens, feeding them and collecting eggs, but then I was called over to help clear debris, i.e., very large portions of tree. I had a little forklift (not one that you drive, but one whose lever you manually pump. They call it a "pato" here, which means "duck" literally, which I find hilarious), but it was a difficult slog. I was by myself doing this, and kinda just being an emotional turd, especially when I was told that I had to move the stuff farther away than I had, which meant going back and lifting everything by hand and carrying it to the new destination. When lunch rolled around, I felt a lot better (food can do that), and was honest enough to realize I was just bitter that I couldn't go on break early and had to plod along right up till the lunch hour. What? Do work? Who'd have thunk? That afternoon, I was assigned to finish the job, but I had the help of three kids. Here's where Friday became amazing. They were good workers, but also freaking hilarious. They would pile as many branches as they could onto the lift, then one would sit on the pile while the other two would lie down on it, and the two would push the lift forward with their legs while the one would steer. It was amusing to watch and I wish I'd had my camera. It was just so nice to have people there, and light-hearted ones, at that.

Saturday, which I've come to dread because the last two weeks it's meant cleaning the Comedor, which isn't a small task and usually leaves me frustrated with the kids who don't work too hard, was an interesting surprise, because Hno Polo asked me to accompany the kids to a session that some folks specializing in education were holding on punctuality. I tell ya, playing ice-breakers in another language is an interesting experience. Also, I found myself repeatedly thinking that punctuality is a nice quality, but so is knowing how to pay attention without opening your mouth, i.e., I was angry with some of my kids. They tried telling me afterward that that is just how people act according to custom, but I responded that the people who led the 5-year-olds have been chewing the little ones out for acting in a similar fashion. So maybe it's the custom for 3-year-olds, but for everybody else, it's just a sign that you don't have respect. They weren't impressed, because what does the gringo know? but they had to listen to me, because nobody wants to make the Neanderthal raise his voice, because he will either be intimidating or tell Hno Polo what's going on (or both), and those aren't pleasant options. The boys were also shameless, because the majority of the people in this presentation and workshop were girls, and so they would misbehave just so that the girls would grab their hands and tell them to be quiet. They were also very excited when one of the girls was the same age as me. They told me several times that she was within 5 months of my age, and they told her the same thing. The both of us being exasperated and entertained at the same time was the result. She asked me, "So, they're hard to handle, huh?" And I said, "Yeah, they're a bunch of miscreants," (in Spanish, clearly), and the kids were so overjoyed that I knew Spanish. I had been issuing threats to them all day, yet my ability to joke around was far more worthy of realizing I can sometimes speak the language. Hmmm.

So a couple of weeks ago we went to this restaurant Rustica which is on the beach, and I just have to think about it more...The night is dark enough and the sky uniformly cloudy that at a certain point, you can't distinguish the water from the sky. It's amazing what the clouds will do. I'll get pictures up someday to show you guys what Ciudad's view of San Juan de Miraflores looks like on a regular day, maybe in the morning, and what it looks like on a sunny day. When the daylight is able to pierce through the clouds, you see the city for what it really is. It's not just a bunch of hills completely covered with houses and radio towers and the like: when the sun pierces through, a veil is lifted and you can see the graceful green mountains sloping into the hills, the green intact and unsullied by humans, though still covered in a bit of a haze that's unavoidable in a city of about 8 million people. On the days of gray, the days of haze, when it's chilly and unpleasant and I feel totally isolated, I know that summer's around the corner and brings a a heck of heat and illumination. The same thing with the beach and really with the whole city: when the sun is out, it's ten billion times more amazing. I pray that the days I have like Friday morning can have the same hope in joy and meaning as I have knowledge and assurance of sunny days and gorgeous vistas, that the days when there's light are a closer approximation to what the place is than the days without it.

Sappy enough for you? I'm choking over here. But really, I do hope for that.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Y Ahora Soy Matador

The big story of this week is that I killed chickens. I won't go into much detail, seeing as some viewers might object (come to think of it, I object), but suffice it to say that I have wrung their necks and decapitated them. And plucked their feathers afterward. I did not butcher them any further, which I consider a blessing. However, it will be almost impossible to get the chicken blood off of my sandals, so I'll carry around a little piece of that wherever I go. And I'm sure that they will call upon my killing services again in the future.

I was SO hoping that I'd get by with just put the live chickens in bags, feeding the egg-yielding hens, and plucking feathers. The feather-plucking wound up being my downfall, though: I had never done that before, so I was a little slow, and Hermano David noticed and said, "Miguel...ahora, solo matar." And in my mind, I grimly thought, "Sí, qué suerte..." knowing that it was just too good a stroke of luck not to have to bring a knife to chickens' necks.

I've managed to eat chicken since then. I have to will myself to think about the trauma of it all. Trust me, when I let my mind go there, it's horrific and makes me shudder. But seeing as my food options are rather low, I'll just have to shudder about it on days when we have lentils for lunch.

I have a whole long line of thoughts about this, but they're all semiformed and disjointed. Not that that's much of a break from tradition.

On a more food-FRIENDLY basis, the word this week: Papas a la Huancaína y Arroz con Pollo. Dude. The former is some boiled potatoes put on a lettuce leaf with a spicy cheese sauce (hardboiled eggs and olives optional), the latter is just really good chicken with some rice that has great flavor. OH! Also, anticuchos de corazón. Beef-heart shish-kebab. Slightly chewy, but oh so delicious.

Even with how much I gush about meat, I could totally see being a vegetarian when I come back to the states. I'd have to find a way to combat the constant hunger that I would feel, but I know I'd be fine. We'll see.

Other events: I have decided to forgo the whole shaving and hair-cutting thing for a while. We're not sure how long. Maybe all my time here. I'll keep you updated. It's already somewhat disheveled and I'm not really socially presentable, and that's before I need to comb my hair back and possibly put it in a ponytail. Yikes.

October marks the beginning of Pannetone season at Ciudad de los Niños. The Panadería is open 24/7 to churn 'em out (they make a lot of their money by selling these things). Thus, the Panadería smells delicious almost all the time.

I really am glad for the older guys who're in San Juan with me. They're patient with my Spanish and willing to converse. Also, they have a level of maturity that's just right, so I don't feel quite so isolated as I might were I the only guy my age in San Juan. The 13/14/15 year olds need to grow up quickly in certain ways (i.e., poverty, drug issues, sex issues, etc.), but they're still not quite there. Some are more mature than others, which is almost deceiving sometimes, because they'll be a real ally to me one moment, then they'll act their age the next, and it's almost more a threat to patience than the kids who're consistently acting like awkward adolescents. It's beautiful to work with them, though, because they're so awkward that they can't help but be genuine. I can see through most airs that they put on to look more mature and impressive, and they can be really fun.

It's weird, though, being so consistently immersed in a group of people that's so definitely NOT my age. I'm so used to just being in a group of cohorts that it's slightly off-putting. It's a great way of discovering that I'm not as mature in some ways that I thought and that I'm more mature in others. I'd elaborate, but I'm not sure what I'm saying. I can genuinely say that I miss Fall, but I'm glad for the sunshine today.

Oh!And to make this perhaps even more long-winded than usual, I have been reading this book called The Sacrament of Salvation by Fr. Paul McPartlan. I had to read portions of it for his class in the fall of 2008, and now I'm dedicating myself to reading it all, especially now that Senioritis isn't an issue and I'm not bored of school. The book is about Eucharistic Ecclesiology, which I find fascinating. It's been a way to rejuvenate a somewhat stale taste I had in my mouth regarding the Mass.

Now, maybe the folks who went to Catholic University already think about this regularly, but I just find it amazing how often we go to Mass and don't even wrestle to find a deeper meaning in what we're doing. I mean, clearly we're human, so we're not really ABLE to grasp its meaning in its entirety, but dang. It IS about community, but it's deeper than the community of people who eat coffee and donuts and occasionally are impressed with the homily. It's about love, but not about a love that God and Christ had for us and each other to such an extent that led to the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ that stops there that we're simply to admire for an hour.

I keep coming back to this one verse that Fr. McPartlan's book mentions: "You have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel." (Heb 12:22-24, NAB). Some versions say "graciously" instead of eloquently. My thinking simply isn't working today, so I'll just say: I really pray for the grace of awareness during Mass, because that phrase has opened up a world of strength, of possibility, and of courage...and now what I need is the courage and openness to jump into it. What are you saying "Amen" to at Communion?

Saturday, September 26, 2009


I thought I'd make a post, though I don't have much to say involving my week. Oh! I did go to Ñaña, which is a very cool town with a Capuchin Franciscan Postulant house. Beautiful! Very relaxing time there, beautiful mountain, and they have a ton of fruit trees. And a dog that really was too friendly: it followed me freaking EVERYWHERE.

Some random thoughts, though:

-When we in the US say, "That guy doesn't have the cajones, the huevos, whatever," and are using it as a substitution for "moxy," "guts," "balls," "nerve," or whatever, it sounds all cool and slangish, but I think we should take a minute and realize what these words truly mean. Next time you want to say that somebody lacks the cajones to do something, realize that you are saying that they lack the large boxes/drawers for the task. Now, it's used in some Spanish-speaking places as slang for what we've talked about, but I will never take you seriously (read: lies). But seriously, I crack up when I think of one of my friends saying that he didn't think another guy had the cajones to do a job well. "This guy lacks the boxes."
Huevos, by contrast, makes a little more sense. Literally "eggs," the idea that somebody is lacking eggs at least morphically makes sense in my head. But talking about not having the there a recipe that we are needing to make? "You haven't got the huevos!" "You're right! My chickens died yesterday!"

-I feel a little bit like I'm in an episode of Arrested Development. Those who are fans might know my reference. Others...not so much. I'm commonly just referred to as "Hermano" here (it means "Brother"). In season 1, when Michael had an interest in his brother's girlfriend and she had one in him, Gob (the brother) comes up to Michael and says, "I think Marta is cheating on me...I heard her talking on the phone last night...she kept mentioning this guy's name...'Hermano, hermano.'" We who know what this means are amused. Meanwhile, the non-Spanish-speaking Bluth family is clueless. Anyway, I'm just called "Hermano" here, so if Michael Bluth ever were in search of "Hermano," he'd find me. I'd prefer it if Marta was looking for me, though.

-It is very hard to take even Hermano Polo seriously when he's giving a serious lecture when there's a small kitten batting his cincture around.

-I hate trying to understand people on cell phones in English...when people don't annunciate, I have problems. Now multiply this by 10 billion (based on scientific calculation) and you understand how I feel about talking to people on cell phones in Spanish.

-Ben Vincent once asked: "Do infants enjoy infancy as much as adults do adultery?" I thought that if they did, we'd see some niche in the book market akin to the smutty romance novels you buy at the grocery store, except pertaining to the ecstatic experience of infancy. Then I forgot that infants are, for the most part, illiterate. So to answer the question, Ben, I don't know.

-We just went to hang out in Miraflores. We were hungry and waiting for Hno. Hugo, so we stopped at a bookstore. We proceeded to look at cookbooks. I feel that when you start fantasizing about food, you're either in a place of (if you can just STOP focusing on the broccoli salad) grace and able to appreciate what those who daily go without feel like, or you really need to eat more food.

-I once tried a detox diet that consisted of drinking just water, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and grade b maple syrup. It was the worst decision of my life. I say it is worse than giving up gluten and meat for Advent AND my choice in hair length Sophomore year of high school. I dreamed about broccoli salad for 2 days, I kid you not. The detox did not last.

With that, and the fact that it's now past midnight where I am, I bid you a good night. I'm sorry that this blog post is vapid. I'll end it with a Deep Thought:

It takes a big man to cry, but it takes a bigger man to laugh at that man.

Thank you, Jack Handey.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Blastoff and Blasted In

This last week really flew by. Lots of adventures: Figuring out how to withdraw money (and getting charged far less than I thought I would), the end of language school, more adventures and misadventures with Peruvian cuisine...hooray. I really can't fathom that a month has gone by! I've started and finished language school! Wowza. Winter is ending, "Spring" is beginning.

Anyway, on to the adventures of this week. Monday was money day, so we spent some extra time in Miraflores post-language school to withdraw the funds. It wasn't really that exciting. The most exciting thing was that I didn't get charged for withdrawing from an ATM! However, I DID get charged for checking my account balance. I'm not quite sure how that works.

So then the week continued. Thursday, we decided to try this restaurant called Punto Azul for lunch. It's a somewhat cheap seafood restaurant that's actually more upscale than I thought, and it serves ridiculous portions. It was really an adventure! There was an interesting mixture of Spanish and English, because we were on all different levels, and my teachers (who are very cool, I might add) came along, too. I decided to try Cebiche Mixto. Cebiche, for those unacquainted, is a general name given for several different types of seafood. I've tried Cebiche Pescado and Mixto. Both of them involve cold seafood soaked in a lemon juice with raw red onions and served with a garnish of lettuce, some choclo (corn), yam, and more of the leche de tigre (which is the lemon juice mixture). I had the pescado (just fish) in its spicy variation last week. It was adorned with what looked like a cross-section of a red bell-pepper, so I ate the whole thing. Had I not liked spicy foods, this would have been a poor life choice. Liking them, it was only a surprising life choice. Anyway, Cebiche Mixto: fish is there, but you've also got calamari and octopus and something else. I've gotta say, octopus tentacles aren't half bad cold. Chewy, though.

I seem to talk about food disproportionately, but it's just such a different variety of foods! The fruits here are so different. Seriously, google "Charimoya," because it's not really something we have in the US. Yogurt is pretty much a drinkable commodity here: no spoons. Fun fact: yogurt comes in the plastic gallon and liter containers, but milk comes in plastic bags. I find this amusing. Soooo many different tastes and brands and ways of making things. Someday I'll go crazy in the potato chips section, because it's Perú, land of like 200 different potatoes.

While I'm on a food tangent, let me talk about Chicha Morada some more. Do we just not have purple corn in the US? If so, all is forgiven, but if not, I want to know who is responsible for keeping this beverage from the public at large. It's delicious, fairly nutricious, and a lifesaver if you don't want to drink soda in a Latin American country. So what gives? Are we seriously that afraid of purple stains? It can't be that, we give kids neon-colored popsicles.

Sooo...returning from the food talk (but with a promise to talk about more later), Friday was the last day of language school. To celebrate, Brooke (fellow classmate) baked cookies, Alyssa bought Inca Cola (which tastes to everybody but Peruvians like bubble gum, but that's because it must be the only place that Peruvians use the bubble-gum flavoring), and Rosa, our teacher, who will be leaving to pursue a Master's Degree in Spain, bought some more cookies. It was pretty fun, because we spent the discussion class asking each other questions like, "If you had an autobiography, what would the title be?" or "If you could date any celebrity, whom would you date and why?" It reminded me of the question prompts for the AP Spanish test way back in the day. Only this time I had fun answering the questions.

Oh! Wednesday was the end of the second trimester, so the kids received their grades. I got to look at every San Juan kid's grade (the 13-14 year olds) in order to enter them into an Excel spreadsheet. The way grades work here is slightly different from the US: They grade with a points system, the highest score being 20. For each subject, they get an overall evaluation ranging from 0 to 20. My job was to record the subjects' grades for each kid and then find each kids' GPA (as it were) for the trimester. Perhaps this was a nice introduction into a more real world for me, a guy who's been in private education all his life and been given the benefit of being in atmospheres of incredible intelligence (I have very, very smart friends). These grades were not so great. If you were to encounter a phrase "Masterpiece of an understatement," I think that that past sentence would probably be one of the example sentences. Jeez louise, man. I was so happy every time my fingers had to make the extra effort to type "18", because it was so rare. I was happy when I entered grades above 12. Dang.

It was a revealing moment for me. Some might wrongly assume that the grades were what gave me such pause. It wasn't like I realized, "Ah! I'm working with delinquent and/or dumb children." I will tell you to your face that you're wrong. What I encountered in those grades, and what was confirmed for me later on, was a sense of pessimism, of resignation, of grim reality that never was and probably never will be waiting for me at the end of my educational endeavors in the United States. People might get sick and tired of hearing about all of the opportunity that we have in the United States and how we take it for granted, and it's cliché to then mention Jairo from Guatemala who can't get an education or doesn't have much of a future post-education, but it's so flipping true. I wasn't aware that I had this particular assumption, but I suddenly realized that I was not here to bring the American dream of education to the deprived children. If you want to bring that dream to fruition, work with the school system, the culture, the government, while people with this ideal tutor kids and nurture them in a space encouraging that future with a life that confirms the encouragement. It's more than what 3 volunteers singlehandedly can do. So I'm not here to make them "A" students, because even if I do, what's the point? How do I bring hope to kids who face grim and difficult futures, and what kind of hope should that hope be?

Let me tell you, I've entered data before, and so I know that working in Microsoft Excel can be one of the more painful experiences in life (my life as a research apprentice, more or less). This was painful for a very different reason. I went to bed wondering, "So I'm not here to be their Messiah, because it's so far beyond my power. What in God's name am I here for, then? What the heck am I supposed to do?"

I'll interrupt here to say that I think that being in a foreign country for a prolonged period of time allows people to learn a lot about themselves. I'll venture to say that I've learned that I'm a far more kinesthetic learner than I thought. I always thought I was a mental kind of person, maybe pencil and paper when it came to math, but for that information to hop on the elevator and travel from the head to the heart, I need to live through experiences to make them concrete. One such example are any number of the Mother Theresa quotes, like, "God does not demand that you succeed, only that you try," or "There are no great works, just small works with great love," and things of that nature. Some people can read them and get it. I envy them. However, I'm being granted the boon and bane of experience in order to understand. The words of Theilhard de Jardin, "Above all, trust in the slow work of God," and of Bishop Ken Untener (though these words are often attributed to Oscar Romero):

It helps now and then to step back and take a long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of
saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession
brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives include everything.
This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one
day will grow. We water the seeds already planted
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects
far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of
liberation in realizing this.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's
grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

Ah, so that's what we're about! I love how that comes at the middle of the reflection, because it connects what's been said and what's being said. It comes together with the phrase "God is God and I'm not," and it was of enormous consolation to think of that. Pray, trust God, know that you won't do everything, that you'll inevitably do something silly or wrong because hey, you're human. Be yourself and be that well (name that saint!), know you're not God, but trust in His presence, believe that all will be well, pray for the hope in a certain future to get you through an uncertain and turbulent present. All will be well (I'm on a roll with quotations, this sentence was another saint).

Clearly I'm still in the process, because hey, that's life. I am still piecing together how to love, especially when it's rendered difficult by the kids I'm here to serve (which is when it's most worthy of the name love, I suppose). The day we went to Punto Azul, I got back from lunch and Hermano Polo was holding a town hall meeting. These happen daily. They are never, ever cheerful. And he's not the only one who does them. I understand that this is another culture, that they function far more on shame than on guilt, so it's theoretically more efficacious to publicly ridicule than privately guilt, but when that's all they ever hear (as I feel it is, and I feel it's pervasive), I have to wonder how effective that really is at doing anything other than confirming what people who live in a place like this, have few recourses, and have had rough childhoods have been told through society and possibly through family: they're not worth much. That was the confirming moment I had a couple of days ago. How do I tackle this misgiving? I need to talk with Fr. Hugo about it before I make any confrontations or even contemplate them, really.

With all the quotes, I really didn't mean to suggest that I have achieved Nirvana or really had everything make sense. I'm still struggling, am unsettled, and wanting to cry more than I have in a while. I've gotten attached to the kids, and I'm a softy, anyway.

What a way to begin working full-time, no? Hence the title. I just heard something akin to an explosion, so I ought to go and check that out, methinks. Much love and prayers, please pray for everybody here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Month in Lima, or How Many Different Routes Exist Between These Two Locations?

Just under a month has gone by, and in just one week, I'll be getting used to a new shift as language school ends and begin full-time at Ciudad! I'm excited for that. Language school has been very cool, and I love the teachers and conversation, but it's tiring to be there ever day, and the pollution that you get in your lungs from the transit from San Juan de Miraflores to Miraflores everyday is like smoking a pack of cigarettes (read: I have no idea how bad it is for your lungs, but the comparison seemed appropriate).

I think I've said that I'm working with adolescents aged 13-14 (ish). They're a great group of kids! I think I have finally gotten to the point where I know all their names (and what names they prefer to be called). To be honest, when I first walked in, I kind of thought that maybe I had walked back into my college dorm. They're lively, fun, kind, but won't hesitate to laugh at you, because they have the audacity to tell you that yeah, you're being ridiculous. Right now, my work consists of being with them in the afternoons post-school. I have been put in charge of gardening maintenance and tending to the vineyard, so when the kids work with me in the afternoon, there is a lot of weed-pulling, wire-tightening, and vine-enforcing. Weed-pulling is something I like. When I don't have open wounds, I like getting my hands dirty, and don't mind getting junk under my nails as I root around for...well, the roots. Vines fascinate me. We don't grow grapes to make wine (it's a city of kids, after all), but we eat the grapes. I just like how flexible they are, how you can generally guide them to grow in a certain way that will be more beneficial for it (and for us come harvest time).

The challenge of working with kids is one that I experienced last summer for a week doing Serviceworx with middle-schoolers. They can have great senses of humor, but they genuinely lack maturity, and it's not their fault, because that's just where they are in life. The trick is to remember this so as not to take things personally and jump down to an equal level of immaturity or vindiction in punishment, but at the same time trying to encourage them (both through punishment when necessary) and positive example how to grow into more responsible, more sensitive, more mature people. That's probably why so many people don't like working with adolescents: It requires patience and the equilibrium for reprimand and understanding is so hard to discern (and even harder is adhering to it). So yeah, it's been a challenge.

I work with Hermano Polo, a Capuchin Friar from Arequipa (South of Lima). He's a terrific guy. He plays guitar very well, he's got a pretty good musical ear, he knows how to do a million and one things, his sense of humor is terrific, and his life story is pretty cool, too. Or...what of his life story I could comprehend. He talks pretty quickly. He's trying hard to find the balance I was talking about...and, unsurprisingly, it's challenging. This is not an easy age group to lead. Props to him, though.

But yeah, I'm loving it. We went shopping this weekend. I've never been so excited for yogurt in my life (I was in desperate need of some calcium and milk products).

Note about language school: It can be very frustrating to learn another language. It can be even harder for somebody who likes to know things and hates not knowing things, because you've got to be willing to admit that your English vocabulary won't always help you and that thinking in paragraphs can be detrimental to getting across basic thoughts (especially if you have a lot of SAT and GRE words in those paragraphs). If you like being self-sufficient, it's tough, because a translation usually won't help you out. I am liking this, tough though it is. When you strip away the intelligence, the fancy words, the knowledge of stuff that nobody else knows, you get a sense of who is there underneath. And, though sometimes it can be hard to look at that person, if you want to adjust happily, you've just got to bite the bullet and trust that people never loved you because you got good grades, because you happened to know the answers to questions, but because of who you were. And, if you're anything like me (who's really the "you" in all of these statements), your friends probably wanted to know you more.

It's hard to believe a month has gone by. Hard to believe that this is life, too, you know? That was kind of ambiguous. But I can't get any more specific. Much love, once again. Much missage, but not the sad kind.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


It's a drizzly Sunday morning as we enter the 4th week of service in Lima. It's amazing. I'm loving it.

The last two weeks, we've been going to language school in the morning and returning for Ciudad in the afternoon. The first week was cool, and I really liked the review that it gave me. That weekend, the kids left in the afternoon to go visit families, so we had some time to ourselves to go exploring/eat more typical Peruvian cuisine/allow the tourist gringo part of us to show. We went down to Miraflores, one of the "Municipalities" in Lima (barrios/neighborhoods/what have you), which is a pretty happening part of town. Very cosmopolitan, some nice parks, right on the coast...very pretty, very fun. The coast is really beautiful. We saw it from much higher up, but even so. Anyway, we met up with Br. Hugo, our local coordinator, and had dinner at a small little place. There are a lot of foods to try, and we got started. I can't remember what kind of chicken Alyssa ordered, but it was a typical Peruvian fare that tasted very good. I got Lomo Saltado, which is very good (but, as you might guess from the name, very salty). Br. Hugo got Cebiche, which is terrific: fish served cold, prepared in a sauce of lemon juice and onions. Seriously, very tasty. Tania tried fried Cuy, which is....guinea pig! I don't know if I could ever eat dog (a mental image of my golden retriever pops into my mind, and more or less makes me want to cry), but guinea pig was delicious. The skin was a very interesting texture, and the meat was very good, if not...well, small. It's a creature the same size as a rat, after all. We then went to Barranco, an artsy sector that is very cool (and also with a nice ocean view) and tried Picarones, a fried dessert with a pumpkin batter. Delicious, with an interesting anise syrup on it.

While I'm on a food kick, I tried one of the popular Peruvian fruits: Charimoya. Google it, I can't explain it. We had no idea what we were buying at the time...we just had a hankering for avocados (and dude, the heck with California avocados with apologies to Californians out there, but they were the biggest and some of the best avocados I've had), saw another green and oddly-shaped fruit and had at it. Very good. Mark Twain thought it the most delicious fruit on the face of the earth. Not entirely in accordance with him, but it is quite tasty. Also, though it's not a fruit, per se, I tried a drink called "Chicha Morada," made out of purple corn. It was actually really good. Just don't spill it: it would make for some nasty stains.

Anyway, second week of language school was also good, but I have been sick. I essentially lost my voice, and still have a chest cold and lack the ability to sing in falsetto, meaning that I cannot entertain the adolescents with my renditions of Billy Jean or Beat It. This is not necessarily bad, but being sick is a drag. The air pollution doesn't help. We've been taking taxis everyday to Miraflores, as our neighborhood is pretty far...Miraflores is south-central, and San Juan de Miraflores is north-east. Anyway, traffic in a huge city boasting a population of 8 million+ people is...well, ghastly. Lots of car exhaust. Makes it difficult to recuperate.

Another challenge this second week was just realizing how totally inept I am. At one time, I'm impatient with these reviews, because the arrogant part of me remembers that I learned this stuff. Speaking it normally and knowing the rules for writing essays are very different, though, and I know that, but Mr. Arrogant isn't happy to admit it. At the same time, I'm just in awe as the realization drives its way deeper into my thick skull that Spanish is its own language. I mean, I gathered as much, but I really understand that it's a foundation and byproduct of culture, with a whole mindset, a history, and I know only the scarcest bits of it. Also, I may be able to talk about cohabitation in broken Spanish, but if I want to convey to Vargas at dinner that my food slipped off my fork, I don't know the verb for "slip". I don't know many, many, many things. It's amazing. Lots of gestures, lots of circumlocution, and lots of making a fool of myself. It's gotta happen, yeah? It's good.

I started reading a version of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" that's in Spanish. I thought it'd be a good way to pick up on verbs and vocabulary, since I remember many of the details of that particular book, but then I had to question its authenticity. In Spanish, you should never say, "Yo estoy embarazado" if you're a guy and feel embarrassed. It's inadvisable to use "embarazada," as well, ladies. See, it's a false cognate: In Spanish, that means that you're pregnant. The adjective to use would be "Avergonzado/a". So when on page 70 the book described Cedric Diggory as seeming slightly pregnant, I had to start wondering about the validity.

The title of the post has to do with my mental state, which is a little bit less interesting than what's been happening (unless you're me). This past Wednesday was my mom's birthday, so I sent her a gift and called her using Skype. She was in New York, having helped Stephen settle in at NYU (aw, he's a freshman), and chilling with Dad in Manhattan for a little mini-vacation. It made me sad that I wasn't there to see Stephen move in, to wish her happy birthday in person, won't be able to do the same for Dad, Steve, Grandparents, and other things. It wasn't demoralizing, but it was a "bummer" moment. I was listening to some music that always transports me back to late summer/all of fall back in what seems another world: senior year of high school and freshman year of college. The weather is very different, and I love the crisp of fall, the crunch of leaves, the transformation of ponds and rivers from (generally) pleasantly cool to ice water, the smell of mist and green in the morning, the mingling of the colors of the leaves and the green. Also, I just had a flashback to summers past, and it was beautifully bittersweet.

"Repotting" because it's the same thing wherever you travel: when a plant moves to a different pot or soil, it generally leaves some tendrils of its roots in the native soil. The connections are...undeniable and not going anywhere. And it'll be the same when in a few months I have to say goodbye to this place. I'll miss it. Never thought I'd miss DC my freshman year, and I was missing it last summer. It's cool, though, I like missing people. Motivates me to a) stay in touch and b) get more involved with the folks here. I just felt a moment of really liking the kids today. I've kinda felt it before, but it was a lot more pronounced this morning. So...without further ado, that's where I'm headed. Stateside, abroad, wherever you are, God bless, God speed, and much love.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ahora, mientras mi mente no está funcionando...

Pensaba que escribiría aquí.

Botched as my Spanish is, I find myself having trouble constructing English sentences and thoughts, too. I guess that's part of the process: I have to become unable to communicate in order to better comprehend the language. No, seriously.

It's been a good almost-week here: The first day or two were purely getting into a pattern of things. I have a cell phone to communicate with people here, I have the internet, I have drawers to store my clothes, I begin language school's awesome.

I'm working with the 14/15/16 year olds (mostly 14/15) here at Ciudad. This is a huge operation, so let me explain what all goes into it. Ciudad de los Niños de la Inmaculada is an orphanage/thing that the Capuchin Franciscan friars run. They have 350-ish boys here. I include the "thing" specification (specific as it is) because it's an effective boarding school for many boys who have parents but come from destitute circumstances, have suffered abuse, etc. in addition to those who live here because they don't have parents who take care of them. It's hard to describe in full. They house kids from ages 3-18, i.e., the whole span of pre-primary through secondary education. There is a portion of the property that is a private school, in which both CdlN and non-CdlN can enroll (girls can enroll, too). The boys are split into various houses depending on grade level and age. I'm working with the awkward adolescents, which is an adventure and a challenge. The older kids also get some education in various trades through the various shops they have around Ciudad: they have a cobbler, a sewing shop, a farm with hens and pigs, an auto shop, a vineyard, a bakery...they're called "Talleres" in Spanish. Anyway, it functions as being sort of "shop" classes so that kids get an idea of how to do basic life skills, but it also helps maintain CdlN, and it gives the kids the ability to have a "trade" or sorts when they leave to tackle a career or the university.

The basic day for the older guys is as follows: Wake up, clean the household, get dressed and ready for school, eat, get backpacks and stuff for school, attend classes, come back for lunch, study/hang out a little bit, go to the various "talleres" until 5, study, go to communal prayer, dinner, study, bed.

I'm ready for sleep every night by the time dinner's over. Sheesh, it's a full-time job. Also, we wake up very early. Try
5:10 AM on school days. I thought I was a morning person, but my urge to hibernate when it's a cold, gray, usually somewhat wet morning (it's winter here) comes into conflict with being chipper.

Regarding Spanish-speaking, I'll admit it's tough. My Spanish is broken and barely proficient, and because I'm in overdrive by having to listen to it and decipher and interpret, etc., I feel like I'm regressing a bit. It's very difficult to not have the capacity to express anything more than the most basic needs (e.g., I'm hungry, thirsty, tired, not able to understand, confused, cold, warm, etc.), and so the feelings of being powerless and useless (ugh, especially useless) are hard to surmount, because I can't express frustration well, nor can I do much of anything that I imagine my role should be here. Yet.

The reminder that I've been here less than a week brings comfort. It's still very tough at moments throughout the day, and I'm thankful that there is ample free time on weekends to talk with Alyssa and Tania at night and rest a little bit during the day. Like now, for example. I do know that as comforting as it is to have some fellow expatriates here in solidarity, and as much as I need that connection and ability to communicate, a difficulty lies in having the internet around: The temptation is to shut down and/or do something inane like wikipedia for hours (it's become a luxury to do *anything* in English), so I have to be careful when trying to strike a balance.

I'm very grateful to be here, after it's all said and done. Even if the teenagers mumble and don't pronounce the words or think that my requesting, "Un poco más despacio, por favor," means "Communicate to me as if I am a Neanderthal incapable of expressing thoughts outside the realm of hand gestures and Spanglish" (which is actually more funny than anything else). It's a real exercise in trust and in being able to live with myself. I'm glad to have that opportunity. Hopefully I'll eventually be able to do something like service, but as language school doesn't even start till tomorrow, I think I can muster some patience. Also, I have 18 months left.

In retrospect, let me say this: I absolutely LOVED orientation, both international and CapCorps-specific. The people are absolutely wonderful, I look forward to seeing the two Nicaragua groups in a few months (5 is a few), and I certainly hope to keep in touch with the domestic groups, even if they'll be done with their time in CapCorps before we set foot on US soil again.

That all being said, it's time to do something else. I'm horrible about remembering concrete things I've done, but Alyssa and Tania have photographic evidence that will manifest itself on Facebook at sometime, I'm sure. Until next time, peace and all the good will I can muster to you all. God bless!