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?