Monday, September 14, 2009

Funny Feeling

It is 10:23 a.m. local time and I am a little better than 12 hours away from boarding my international flight to the U.S. I'll be States-side for 3 weeks doing a little visiting with family and friends, and a LOT of work for AMF. I am officially in awe of those before me who have started and maintained non-profit organizations. Doing so takes an unbelievable amount of time and even more patience (which I don't always have a surplus of). Of course, the load has felt a little less demanding since I gave up teaching and now work full time for the mission.

The biggest surprise of the morning, as I pack and mentally prepare myself for 24 hours of traveling, is the heaviness in my heart; I am a little sad today. If you've been reading my blog since June, you know that I arrived here under duress; I was already counting the weeks and days until my first visit home, as the pain of saying good-bye to my family and friends was greater than I ever dreamed it could be. Then the mission teams landed and the busyness began and I didn't have time to think about missing home. But I dreaded the day the final team left, for then I would be all by myself and real life for me in this country would begin, like it or not, and I assumed homesickness would set in and I would again be urging time to pass rapidly. Fast forward 13 weeks and the time certainly has passed rapidly, yet not at my insistence, and other than a few random moments when loneliness has gotten the best of me (though I'm not sure why because I am NEVER alone here), I "settled in" without realizing that was what was happening.

To combat today's melancholy, I keep telling myself that I'll be back in a very short time - not like the previous summers when I would arrive in early June, leave at the beginning of August, then, other than a brief 2 1/2 day jaunt in November, not return until the following June. Even Villa and the dog have been acting funny this morning. For awhile now Villa has been telling me that he would be glad when I left for the U.S. because he would finally get a day off; he says I'm a slave driver - that I forget he's Peruvian and work him like a gringo. But today, he came to work early (odd, because I can typically count on him to be at least 30 minutes late), and when I asked the reason he said, "To be here for whatever you need today since you are leaving." Tamy (my German Shepherd) has started moping too, tail between her legs, refusing to eat this morning. Villa said, "She knows in her heart you're leaving." For all practical purposes, this is home now. I put clean sheets on my bed and clean towels in my bathroom in anticipation of my early morning arrival on October 11 - I am coming back soon.

Throughout this whole process of hearing God's call, trying my best to obey, quitting my teaching job, working at fundraising, and taking the leap of faith and actually coming here to live, there has been a constant battle in my mind and heart. More than in any other situation in my life I've had to learn to stay the course regardless of how I felt (and let me assure you that my emotions have been off the chart in every conceivable direction). I've had to focus on that night in July 2008 when I absolutely, unmistakably heard God tell me, "It's time," and press on. It is a powerful experience to stand firm in the decision to trust God when your only instructions are to follow Him (nothing more, nothing less), then watch Him faithfully deliver everything you could ever need, one day at a time. It is a lesson I hope I don't forget any time soon.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Day In The Life

Boy was I wrong! I moved to Peru with the mistaken assumption that, once all the mission teams had come and gone for the summer, I would have a lot of down time - time to rest, to get settled, to think, to pray, to decide what step to take first in establishing my life here. So far that has not happened.

Of course I have my endless to-do list, written neatly on index cards, which are then paper clipped together in order of importance. I get excited when all the items on a particular card have been crossed off and I get to admire, with satisfaction, my squiggly ink lines worming their way through the list as I toss the card into the trash. Then there are the times when all but one or two items have been crossed off on several different cards; that, naturally, calls for a new card, combining the as yet unchecked tasks onto one, and deciding where the new card fits into the rotation. But I digress…

It seems that my index cards are hanging around longer than I expected them to - a phenomenon I've begun to examine. And so last Thursday, after a particularly busy day, I decided to retrace my steps to see exactly how my time had been spent. My alarm went off at 6 a.m. (yes, I know that's a ridiculously early hour given that I am no longer on a school schedule) and I hit snooze 3 times (at 5 minute intervals), at which time (6:15 a.m. to be exact) I got up. I made the rounds through the house and outside around the grounds turning off all the lights that stay on at night to alert would-be wall climbers that someone is actually living in here. I fed the dog, I fed the bird, then I fed myself. While eating breakfast and lingering over my coffee, I watched the last 15 minutes of Melrose Place (reruns in English are a beautiful thing, no matter how bad the show, when you live in a country that doesn't speak your language). At 7 a.m. I put in my exercise DVD (because I promised myself I would get healthier while living here). Midway through my workout, Villa arrived at 7:30 and sat down in the rocking chair outside to wait for me to give him his marching orders for the day. At 8 a.m. I finished the workout, grabbed a bottle of water, and plopped into the other rocking chair to make a plan with Villa. At 8:30 I showered, dressed, turned my computer on and had grand aspirations for the morning - I needed to continue working on my AMF board meeting agenda, the AMF brochure that is incomplete, and the beginnings of a missions newsletter. I also needed to reply to several emails and return a phone call to the lady at the print shop in Spartanburg who is working on some mock-ups for me of potential logos, letterheads, and business cards for AMF. By 9 a.m. I was concentrating on the task at hand when Villa appeared at my window, asking the first of many questions that would continuously interrupt my train of thought as well as my projected work schedule. By 10:30 a.m. I had gotten up from my desk and gone outside to tend to Villa's pressing needs (such as whether I thought the table he just painted needed another coat or could be fine the way it was) 4 times. At 11:00 a.m. I was on a roll because I'd now had 30 peaceful minutes at my computer; but that would end when I looked up to see Margarita standing in my doorway announcing, "I am here." Translated, that means "It's your job to come to the porch to sit and talk to me until the accountant gets here." So that's what I did - for the next 30 minutes, because Joel, the accountant, was Peruvian-style late for his meeting with Margarita. I left them to their own to work, having provided them with all the information they needed from me, and came back to my computer, where I spent a glorious 20 minutes working before I was summoned to show them how to work the printer Margarita purchased. At 12:30 p.m. I heard my name yet again - this time I learned that today was the day Margarita had designated to organize and clean out the pharmacy and that I would be helping her (this being the first I'd heard of said plans). Drenched with sweat, because Margarita was cold (it was an overcast, albeit humid day) and had forbidden me to turn on the ceiling fan while we worked, at 2:00 p.m. she pronounced us finished - for the moment. My breakfast had long since been digested, so I went for the quickest fix in terms of lunch - a ham sandwich with some fresh pineapple (yes, I bought it, yes, I cut it up) on the side. At this point I realized that I had neglected to spend time with God and combined lunch with quiet time. Villa returned at 3:00 p.m. without the supplies I gave him money for a few hours earlier; seemed he opted to go home for lunch first instead of shopping, knowing good and well that the stores would be closed for siesta time when he was through eating and would not reopen until 4:00 p.m. - so he decided he would just hang out here and wait. At this point I had two choices: I could go back to my room and try to pick up where I left off that morning (with the near 100% chance that Villa would interrupt me at least twice) or I could sit down and talk to him for the next 45 minutes; I opted for the latter in order to spare myself a stress-induced migraine. At 3:50 p.m. Villa determined the paint store would be open by the time he could walk there and told me he would see me on Friday morning, because by the time he could make his purchases and transport them to El Jardin it would be at least 4:30 p.m. and the end of his work day. Alone again at last in my house I walked back to my computer to make the phone call to the U.S. I intended to make that morning. I dialed; it rang and rang and rang, but no one answered. That's when I noticed the clock on my computer; it was not 4:10 p.m. in the U.S., it was 5:10 p.m. and business for the day was over. I said a bad word out loud. Well, at least I could try to make a little more progress on the brochure, which I did until 5:30 p.m. when it began to get dark and I needed to get up to make my rounds through the house and around the grounds turning the all-night lights back on so that my space was, once again, well illuminated and free of intruders (except for the neighbor's cat which sits on the wall for no other purpose than to torment my dog and make her bark until she is hoarse). If I hoped to eat dinner before 7:00 p.m., my work day had to draw to a close so I could begin cooking - an art I'm having to re-learn here. The absence of prepackaged, frozen, and microwave foods, the lack of a car and a drive-thru to hit even if I did have a car, and living on a budget that doesn't allow for much in the way of restaurants (and who wants to eat alone in restaurants all the time anyway?) necessitates regular cooking on my part. Fortunately, one of the previous day's activities had been to make the rounds to the 5 markets I shop regularly (each having its own special items that none of the others has), and so I had another piece of fish in the fridge, some fresh vegetables, leftover lunch pineapple, and enough rice for one more meal (then it's off to the market again). By 8:00 p.m. I'd eaten, the dishes had been washed and put away, and I was perched on the couch in front of a muted television, watching the quarterfinals of the last tennis tournament before the U.S. Open, and enjoying my nightly phone chats with my family. A little channel surfing at 9:30 p.m. encouraged me to make better use of my time reading in bed until I fell asleep, somewhere in the neighborhood of 11:00 p.m.

And that, dear friends, was my day.

A typical day.

The life I have signed up for.

It is significantly different than the previous 18 years. It is not highly structured; there are no bells, no class changes, no curriculums. But there is an odd sort of rhythm to life here. The times, activities, locations, and interruptions to my planned schedule vary from day to day. There's still laundry, and yard work, and appointments, and grocery shopping, and meetings, and a host of what I would term "normal, U.S. routines," but it's not the same, and it is difficult, maybe even impossible to explain. Many gringos would look at my day and determine that it was a total waste - that I got nothing of significance accomplished, because my schedule and list of accomplishments (refer to the aforementioned index card to-do list) didn't conform to the North American notion of productivity. I was actually feeling frustrated and unproductive myself, but my dear friend and fellow missionary, Jeni McLane-Barrantes later added her seasoned perspective to that day. She pointed out the numerous opportunities I'd been given to work on my Spanish, the all important relationship building time I'd had with two of the most important people in my life here, the new experiences I've enjoyed in learning to cook again (by new rules and recipes), and, when all was said and done, I had logged nearly 3 hours in front of my computer (a major feat by Central/South American standards). She reminded me that I wasn't in the U.S. anymore and that Latinos don't play by the same rules as North Americans. She was right - and if I detailed "a week in the life" here, you'd see exactly what she means. Perhaps Duane Elmer, in his book Cross-Cultural Servanthood - Serving the World in Christlike Humility, says it best: "Most Westerners manage their lives using PDAs, daily planners or computer pop-up reminders. Little room remains for the unexpected or the ambiguous. We work hard to avoid uncertainty and to live an ordered, predictable life. The unknown, the unexpected, is an unwelcome intrusion in our schedule. We believe it to be dangerous to the order we have built into our existence" (53). Nothing here is predictable; everything here gets interrupted. PDAs are pointless, and you might as well get used to intrusions, welcome and unwelcome alike. So much for my index cards...

Recommended Reading

  • The Bible
  • Serving with Eyes Wide Open - Doing Short Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence - David A. Livermore
  • Cross-Cultural Servanthood - Serving the World in Christlike Humility - Duane Elmer
  • Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) - Robert D. Lupton
  • When Helping Hurts-Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself - Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • Shadow of the Almighty - Elizabeth Elliot
  • Messy Spirituality - Michael Yaconelli
  • The Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne
  • Peace Child - Don Richardson
  • If God Should Choose - Kristen Stagg
  • In the Presence of My Enemies - Gracia Burnham
  • Inside Afghanistan - John Weaver
  • Same Kind of Different as Me - Ron Hall and Denver Moore
  • Through Gates of Splendor - Elizabeth Elliot
  • End of the Spear - Steve Saint