A distinct difference between Iquitos, Peru and Spartanburg, SC (or possibly the entire U.S. as far that goes) is that people here have time for each other. One of my favorite daily sights is when my neighbors come out of their homes, toting their rebar rocking chairs, and arrange themselves on the sidewalks in front of their homes to while away the afternoons/evenings talking to each other. They typically sit for hours chatting with family members and friends, and often passersby will stop as well to introduce themselves or simply to say hello. It's because of this habit that I know everyone up and down Napo Street and they know me - I am the gringa who lives on the corner of the seventh block.
Peruvians enjoy each other's company; it has taken some time for me to get accustomed to this. I'm used to being with people for a purpose: whether at work, in a meeting, at church, in Wal-Mart - wherever we are in the U.S. we always have an agenda, and much of the time we get antsy if someone in any of those locations wants to halt us for too long as we fear we will be late for the next place/event on the list, or we just plain get irritated when people stop us to talk because we want to be left alone. Even at parties or other social functions, at best our conversations are superficial, and we flit around from person to person, lest we actually have to talk about something of substance. Of course I realize that there are plenty of people who do regularly have meaningful conversations - I'm not saying it never happens - but, in general, to the outside observer, ours is a culture that is always busy being with people, but never really having time for them.
Among the things I love most about my life here is that every day, at some point, Villa and I take a break from whatever work we have going on and sit in our own rebar rocking chairs and talk. It is priceless time, because in it I deepen my friendship with the person who takes care of me literally every day, I laugh (and sometimes cry), and I learn valuable lessons about Peruvian culture and language. Perhaps more importantly, I have been granted more than a few opportunities to share my faith and my reason for being here with someone who is not particularly religious and does not go to church, but believes in the sovereign God because he says that same God is so obvious in my life (at which time I get my much needed, regular dose of humility, because I know myself well, and if Villa sees God in me it is only because He truly is there).
Then yesterday I went home with Juan. Since the deaths of their parents, his sister, Beatrice, is the only woman in the house (for all practical purposes), living with 5 of her 6 brothers, her 2 children, her husband, and occasionally the girlfriends of 2 of the brothers, as well as the kids these brothers have produced with said girlfriends. At any given time there may be 12 or more people inhabiting the 3 rooms (one of them is not a bathroom as there is no plumbing where they live) of their wooden shack (which is better than most in that they have a concrete floor (vs. dirt) and aluminum shingles (vs. thatch) for a roof). To say the least, Beatrice has a life that 26 year olds in the U.S. cannot begin to fathom, with the burden of caring for everyone in the house falling on her shoulders. On the way there I asked Juan if she would be upset that he was bringing me home with him unannounced; he looked at me like I'd lost my mind. Actually he was a little insulted and asked me why I would say such a thing. I tried to explain to him that, in the U.S., it is not polite to drop in on people without calling first - he didn't understand. So, the motokar deposited us on the edge of the paved road and off we went on foot, down the dirt road together. When we walked into the house, there were people everywhere and Beatrice was trying to tend to all of their needs (one brother was standing in front of her with a needle and thread, wanting her to stitch up his ripped shorts, another was yelling at her because he couldn't find his shoes, yet another wanted to know if she planned to make lunch that day), while simultaneously spanking her 3 year old and nursing her 5 month old baby that was nestled in the crook of her left arm. But when she saw me standing in the doorway, she broke into a huge smile, forgot about everything around her, invited me in to sit on her bed with her, and told me she knew company was coming because a butterfly had flown through her window earlier in the day. Almost immediately everyone else in the house flocked to me as well, and before I knew it, 6 of us were all piled up on the bed together talking, laughing, and playing with the baby, while the 3 year old crawled all over me as though I were playground equipment. And so went the next 3 hours. Juan stood in the corner of the room for most of the time, watching from a distance and beaming proudly, because his family was embracing me (as he already knew they would) and because I was returning the favor. Before I left I was hugged, kissed, and invited to come back any time and often. In reality (and in my mind) a similar situation in the U.S. plays out very differently (and to most anyone, myself included, who says they would react in the same manner as Beatrice, I have only this to say - liar, liar, pants on fire!). From Juan's family, I learned a lot about what it means to make a person, a total stranger and a foreigner no less, feel welcome, valued, respected, and appreciated.
In case you've been wondering about the title of this blog post, 3 hours, 46 minutes, and 42 seconds would be the length of time my brother and I talked on the phone one Saturday afternoon back in September. Anyone who knows him is reading this and thinking, "What??? I don't believe it. There is no way Brad McAbee talked that long to anyone about anything," as he is typically a man of few words. Nevertheless, I speak only the truth - we did actually talk that long. Now, nearly 3 months later, I have no idea what we talked about (and it really doesn't matter), but I have yet to forget the amount of time. In the midst of his crazy football season schedule and my tumultuous transition to foreign missionary life, for one afternoon we let the rest of the world go by and simply made time for each other.
As I count my blessings tomorrow, my list will be decorated with my family and many friends back home, and punctuated by the unmerited privilege I have been given to live here in Peru, being accepted and loved by people who have taught me more than I could ever hope to help them. And if I take nothing else from my time here, I hope I never forget the infinite value of the individual (family, friend, and/or stranger alike) and the importance of just being with them no matter what else is going on around me.