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.