Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Evermore and evermore.

DESPEDIDAS

How do you say goodbye to someone you really may never see again? How do you tell someone how much she meant to you in just a few short minutes? How do you cap off a year, a year, of life?

My last week in Lima I did what I could to answer those questions. I went to several despedidas – goodbye parties – that were thrown for me.  These include lots of delicious food, dancing, some World Cup game watching, a couple of small gifts, and lots of mini speeches and story sharing. My whole extended host family gathered together to have a large lunch and watch the World Cup final. Daniela and Karín planned two surprises for me – a lunch out of award winning ceviche and a surprise party with many of the artisans from Lima.

In Peru I experienced goodbyes that wanted to create one last good memory. Yes, there was plenty of time spent reminiscing on the year, but more than that, there was time spent enjoying the comfort and joy that was achieved in the relationship. I liked that.

The whole family gathered for my despedida (and the World Cup final)!

PARACAS RETREAT

For our final YAV retreat we went to a little beach town about 4 hours south of Lima called Paracas. There we reflected over this whole year and, in good Peruvian style, also spend lots of time just enjoying the relationships that had formed between us. We had long dinners and good conversations. We adventured to the Ballestas Islands where we saw penguins, sea lions, and flocks on flocks on flocks of birds. We went on a dune buggy ride and sand-boarded on the expansive sand dunes all around. We ate lots of seafood and celebrated the life that was found so far from home.

The beautiful sandstone cliffs.

The crew after sandboarding.

JUNGLE ADVENTURES

Blake, Mary Kate, Spencer, and I all took off the day after the retreat to do some final traveling around Peru. We wanted to see the place and community where Spencer had been all year so we headed to the jungle! We spent about half of the trip in or near Moyobamba and the other half in Iquitos. We traveled as simply as possible and enjoyed the freedom that came from not always have plans set in stone.

In Moyobamba we got to spend a lot of time with the people Spencer spent the year with: we had dinner with Jenny’s parents, we went to a Mistura food event that Spencer’s colleagues planned for his despedida, we participated in a march against bull fighting with his coworkers, we stayed for free in a beautiful home that houses students from extremely impoverished families while they attend college, we hiked the tallest hill around in the dark to see the sunrise, we swam in waterfalls and hitchhiked back to town, and we attended a concert where Spencer starred as violinist.

Selfie in Chazuta.

Sunset at the top of el Morro de Calzada.

Waterfall #1. My skin hasn't seen sun in a while!

We took a boat up the Huallaga River, which eventually turned into the Amazon River right before arriving in Iquitos. We had to laugh at the ridiculousness of the Peruvian time schedule as our boat left 31 hours late. We also got woken up at 5:45 in the morning telling us to hurry and gather our stuff because we were moving to another boat. Everybody on board moved boats and then we sat in port until about 9pm that evening. Other than that the trip went smoothly and we arrived earlier than we thought we would in Iquitos.

While in Iquitos we did a three-day jungle tour. The first day we took a boat for a few hours to get to the first campsite. Along the way we saw pink and gray dolphins and stopped to let monkeys climb aboard the boat! It was a beautiful sunny day – hot but pleasant with the breeze and shade provided by the boat. We ate absolutely delicious food the whole trip starting with a tamale and juanes on the boat. The only downside was the mosquitos! As soon as the sun went down they were oppressive. You couldn’t swing your arms without hitting several and they were biting straight through my jeans like they weren’t there. But we went out on the water that first night to go look for caimans (small alligators) and the mosquitos died down. The second and third days we were based out of a small indigenous village and did some hikes into the jungle. We found some creepy animals and learned all about medicinal uses of plants. We swung on a Tarzan vine and learned how to make thatch roofs. We concluded the adventure by swimming in the Amazon River itself and enjoying a relaxing boat ride back.

Sunset over the Amazon River.

Holding a caiman (baby alligator)!

QUICK REFLECTION ON THE YEAR AS A WHOLE

Currently I am sitting in the Lima airport waiting for my flight to leave this evening. It is a surreal feeling to be so close to coming back. It’s been so long that I am quite sure I will feel uncomfortable in the U.S. at least at first. I will throw my toilet paper in the trash and be blown away by the fact that there are such things as drinking fountains and free potable tap water.

I know that I do not have a full understanding yet of how I have transformed and changed during this year, but I know that I have done so in big ways. I am more comfortable in my own skin and more comfortable in quiet and silence. I have learned to rely on God as my true and only source of strength more than ever before. I have learned how to solve conflict in healthy ways. I have learned self-discipline. I have learned thankfulness and fearlessness. I have learned the power of accompaniment, a listening ear, and a willing hand. I have seen incredible generosity and humility. I have seen the power of family. I have seen

I just want to say thank you once again to each and every one of you for your incredible support this year. I cannot wait to see the actual skin on your faces and here the beautiful ring of your voices un-warbled by cyberspace. Whether you helped me financially, supported me in prayer, or simply read my blog here and there, I am indebted to you and blown away by the amount of love I have felt from afar. Gracias. Gracias. Y gracias.

Of the Father's love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unending praises be,
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory
Evermore and evermore.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Harvest Will Fill The Barn

SETTLING IN…

The last few weeks in my life have been full of movement. As I’ve mentioned, my host family has been talking about moving practically since the day I walked in the door back in September. The last three months I have been living out of a half-packed suitcase because I would be told, “This weekend we’re moving.” And then we wouldn’t move. Then I would be told, “This weekend. It’s really going to happen.” And then we wouldn’t move. Then I’d be told, “We paid for one more month in this house, but we’re going to start moving stuff over to the new place slowly and calmly.” And then we wouldn’t move anything. Long story short, I came home one night and it was actually happening! I packed up the rest of my stuff quickly and at 8:30pm we started making trips over to the new house. We didn’t stop until 3:00am and everybody had to work the next day. I just had to laugh. They were so proud of themselves for supposedly packing so well and being so organized for this move compared to others, but I was screaming internally at the disorder and chaotic nature of it all. And almost three weeks later they still haven’t completely finished. The kitchen stove, dining room table, and washing machine – all quite essential items to a home – have not yet been moved.

I haven’t lived in one place for more than 9 months at a time since I lived at home during high school. I thought I was going to break that record this year, but we moved right at the 9-month mark. It was actually a good test to see if I could fit everything in my suitcase (which I could!). I’ve gotten settled here and am actually enjoying the new arrangement. The TV is now in the living room instead of one of the bedrooms, so we have actually spent a lot more family time together especially now that the World Cup is happening. My true soccer fanaticism has come out, and I fit right in.

SOME SAD NEWS

Two weeks ago I was traveling with another group from the PC(USA) that came to visit the Joining Hands Network and a few of the associate organizations. I went with them to Huancayo. We left on Thursday morning early and got back Saturday afternoon. On Wednesday night before I left, I came home to a pretty visibly upset host mom. I sat down next to her and asked her what was going on. She explained to me that her sister Violet, the one who had a stroke about a year and a half ago, had a really bad day. She’s been on the decline for the past few months, but I did not realize how bad it had gotten. She lost a ton of weight, wasn’t really able to eat or keep down any medication, had an infection that started in her kidneys and then spread to the rest of her body, and now was having trouble even breathing. We sat and she cried a little and talked in a roundabout way about the probability of her sister passing away. The next day, on Thursday morning after I had already left on my trip, Violet went to be with the Lord. They had the funeral the next day, which I also missed, and a mass a week later, which I was able to attend.

The death really hit my host mom and the whole family hard. They had been more or less expecting it, but it came so fast. They had all thrown their time and energy and money and hope into Violet’s recovery and to see that all come to an end was really difficult. Please be keeping them in your prayers.

…AND WRAPPING UP

Here is a quick itinerary of what I have coming up! I have three weeks left of work and living with my host family. They are really big into doing goodbyes here, so I will get an official “despedida” from my host family, office family, and YAV family at the end of these three weeks. Then we have one last YAV retreat in Paracas where we will spend time reflecting on the year as a whole and what it has meant in the trajectory of our lives. We also get to do some fun stuff like dunebuggying and touring the Ballestas Islands! After the retreat I will spend 2 ½ weeks traveling into the jungle with the YAVs before flying back to the U.S. We will get to see where Spencer has spent his year, take a boat up a tributary of the Amazon until we arrive at the Amazon itself, and tour around Iquitos – the “heart of the jungle” – before flying back to the U.S. on August 6th.

I feel at a good place of being ready to be done but also knowing that it is going to be insanely hard to leave and say goodbye. It is so strange to think that I am almost done. I am a year out of college now and almost a YAV alumna!

I also just published my first Partnership Program update that I will be writing monthly throughout my time at Gordon-Conwell. If you want to check it out, here’s the link you need: my.gordonconwell.edu/partnership/amiller5


A look over the valley in Chupaca.
Beautiful blue skies!

Sugarcane.

A compost project - they can turn methane gas from decomposing cow manure into gas used with a normal gas stove!

The tiniest and cutest kitten I've ever seen.


“X” by Wendell Berry

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we're asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Cause to Celebrate

 This month we celebrated two major holidays here in Peru: Labor Day and Mother’s Day. Labor Day was on May 1st and meant a day off work. For a long time my coworkers, Daniela and Karín, and I had been talking about visiting EcoTruly Park just north of Lima, so we finally made up our minds to go. I was under the impression this place was an ecological farm where people lived off what they could grow on the land. It was that, but it was also a religious center for the Hare Krishna religion that Daniela is a part of. There was really beautiful architecture – tall adobe cone-shaped buildings – and most of the buildings formed part of the central temple. It was quite a surprise and an interesting experience to see first-hand the deities and idols that they worship and to learn more about their beliefs. I have many more thoughts on this topic if you want to talk more.



Mother’s Day I celebrated with my host mom and all of her sisters. We spent the afternoon together and shared a big lunch. But exactly one week later, I got to see my real mom in person! My family came to visit me for 10 days, and we had all sorts of adventures on Lake Titicaca, at Machu Picchu, and here in Lima. We had a dinner with (almost) all my YAV people and lunch with my host family. It was wonderful for them to be able to see my context and meet the people that have become so close over this past year. It was sad to see them go, but it’s crazy to think that it really won’t be much longer before I am back in the U.S. and will get to see them again.

Dad and I trying cuy (guinea pig) for the first time!

The floating reed island of the Uros people that we visited. 6 families - 21 people - live there.

The women on the island dressed as they dress every day. Look at that ancient musket that they actually use to hunt birds in the reeds!

We got to take a short ride on their reed boat.

On the island Amantaní where we stayed the night with a local family.

The sunset from the highest point on Amantaní.

On the island Taquile where they are famous for their textiles. The women weave and the men knit.

Dad and I got roped into doing a dance with them. I'm a little lost.

After our tour of Lake Titicaca we had some time to kill in Puno. We camped out at Black Coffee and played some cards for the afternoon.

(Almost) to the top of Huayna Picchu. The very top was super crowded.

A gorgeous sunny day at Machu Picchu!

Although not a holiday, this month we also “celebrated” our third YAV retreat. We went to a retreat center run by the cutest little nuns just outside of Lima in a town called Chaclacayo. Besides the nuns, we had the place to ourselves. It was a beautiful oasis of green grass and vegetation in the middle of a desert. The theme of this retreat was finishing well. We spent some time looking back on the year and reflecting on both big social justice type issues and interpersonal issues that we don’t want to cast aside without fully addressing. It was a great exercise that motivated me to continue investing in relationships and my work here even as the year is drawing to a close.

Spencer, Blake, Mary Kate, Abby, and Emma

Right before the retreat, this quote was posted by a friend on Facebook and the phrase “redemptive memory” kept coming to mind as I spent time reflecting:


“How can we engage the present moment in a redemptive way? How can we remember the past in a way that frees us to live – truly live – right now? It starts with redemptive memory, which enables us to remember the past differently – not as an ideal to which we would like to return or as a regret we would like to reverse, but as one chapter in a larger redemptive story we continue to live out in the present moment. God is in the past, however ideal or horrible; he rules over the past and promises to use the past, as it is, to work redemption. He makes all things serve his plan and fulfill is redemptive purpose. There is no Golden Age to which we must return, no hellish experience that consigns us to a lesser life. There is only God writing his story, a story of redemption.” Jerry Sittser, A Grace Revealed

Monday, April 21, 2014

Let's talk about fashion...

PERU MODA

fashion: a popular trend, esp. in styles of dress and ornament or manners of behavior; the production and marketing of new styles of goods, esp. clothing and cosmetics

I never thought I’d be able to say in my life that I have been to a fashion show, but I have. Peru Moda. I went with Daniela for work. It really was like entering a different world. Along the abandoned coast just minutes from my house, huge white tents were set up. We entered walking on red carpet and were given an official-looking badge naming us as “Buyers.” We also were given huge heavy-duty felt bags to store all of the pamphlets and business cards we were handed and all the merchandise our nametags told us we were going to buy. Once inside the tent the red carpet became gray, but I still nearly forgot that right underneath was dry dirt. Inside the white tents there was luxury and excess and wealth and fashion. Just outside and underneath there were dirt and lawn maintenance staff and brown ocean foam and normality. I came in wearing brown corduroy pants, my most stylish cotton shirt that I brought to Peru, and Toms shoes. I saw around me tight, short dresses, stiletto heels, and as much jewelry as tastefulness would allow.

We spent the first part of the day wandering from booth to booth checking out the latest styles and designs. We found a potential client and a couple potential artisan groups to add to Bridge of Hope. But at the end of the day we went to watch a show of several jewelry collections on the catwalk. It was freezing in the room because portable air conditioning units were getting a run for their money. It was one of the few places I’ve been in Lima that has air conditioning. There were five or six designers that had their jewelry collections, their models, and their music selection. It was quite exciting actually, although most of the collection consisted of totally outrageous and not-for-daily-use items (anyone want a silver Roman-style helmet?!)

I didn’t really know how to respond then and still don’t really know now. Although there was a very small section of Fair Trade companies (though all of them very large) and a small section where smaller artisan groups could display their products, the majority of the people in attendance and the majority of the producers come from large companies and corporations. I couldn’t help but think that we were supporting by our attendance this fashion ‘entity’ and all of these huge corporations that really have made it much harder for our artisans, and other small organizations or artisan groups, to market their goods. But at the same time, we do have a lot to learn from them.

JUEVES SANTO & EASTER IN GENERAL

fashion: a manner of doing something; in the style associated with a specified place or people

The Catholic Church, especially when it comes to holidays, shapes much of the culture in Peru, at least in part. Although it is probably true that in most places around the world, church attendance skyrockets on Christmas and Easter, it is definitely true here for all of holy week. It is tradition or the fashion, if you will, to attend a Palm Sunday mass, participate in various activities during the week, “fast” on Friday by eating tuna instead of another type of meat, and attend an Easter mass.

The mid-week activity that I participated in with my host mom was on Jueves Santo (Holy Thursday), or Maundy Thursday as we would call it. It is tradition to do a sort of pilgrimage and visit 7 churches that night. To start the evening there was a longer mass where they did 12 foot-washings of various people in the congregation. There was also a lot of singing, one of the priests did a lot of throwing of the incense smoke at the congregation, they gave communion, and there was a short biblical reflection. From there, a solid group of about 100-150 people set off from the church to walk the circuit of churches. The first mass started at 7:45pm and we finished the route at about 12:45am. In each church we went inside to see the altar with Christ’s body, in the form of bread and wine, inside. The priest who came along would say a few words and give time for prayer and reflection. Then we’d get up and continue on. The whole time there was someone carrying a full-sized cross at the front of the group. They would rotate people, but the idea of visiting 7 churches, according to my host mom, is to remember the 7 falls that Jesus apparently had as he walked to be crucified.

The evening wasn’t really a somber occasion as I was expecting it to be. True, when we arrived at a church there was silence and time for meditation, but the bulk of the time we spent walking. As we walked there was a taxi that followed us with two huge megaphone speakers on top and a wireless microphone sound system. The priest had the mic and led everyone in children’s songs and occasionally in the repeating of the Lord’s Prayer and other prayers to Mary. We quite literally were walking the streets of Lima, blocking traffic, chanting: Give me a C. C!! Give me a R. R!! Give me an I. I!! …. What does that spell?! CRISTO!! Cristo! Cristo! Cristo! Cristo! That had to be one of the most ridiculous thing I have ever done in my life. Although I’m not quite sure chanting “Cristo” in the streets is the best form of evangelism, it was cool to see the number of people that this event attracted and to be a part of a tradition that has been around for so long.


The sense of being a part of something so much bigger is something that I have often lost in the Protestant church in the U.S. Yes, I understand that there is the church universal. Yes, I know that there are Presbyterian churches around the globe. Yes, I know that the Protestants formed out of the Reformation. Etc. etc. But the Catholic church is so much older! It is so interesting to think that an entire culture, for the most part, decides not to eat meat on Fridays because of a church tradition. Or to know that across the world in Catholic churches, they hold to the same practices and liturgies and daily offices on the same days. I feel more aware of the greatness and vastness of the God we serve.

Ukrainian Easter egg decorating!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Artisan Gathering, Moving, and News!


ENCUENTRO DE ARTESANOS

On March 18th and 19th, Bridge of Hope artisans from across Peru came to Lima to celebrate the International Day of the Artisan and to participate in the 10th Annual Artisan Gathering. It was a fun time of collaboration, community, celebration, and recommitment.

We started both mornings with a short theological reflection that I gave, first on the importance of teamwork and working together as a whole body (1 Cor. 12:14-25) – whether that be in the family, community, particular artisan group, or Bridge of Hope – and second on the value of artisan work and it’s place in society (Jer. 18:1-6). From there we spent time reflecting over the past years struggles and successes. It was a time of honesty and encouragement. Another important part was the time we spent making goals for this coming year. Each put their “signature” – their handprint – on a document to show their commitment to growth and solidarity moving forward.

In the afternoons we did the celebrating! We had a small “fashion show” where the artisans showed off some new products for Spring 2014. We visited Lima’s famous Parque de las Aguas that is full of gorgeous and massive fountains and reveled at the water “art.” And finally, we visited an exhibit on the history of Peruvian art in the National Museum. The artisans were fascinated by the way their different trades have developed over the years and were excited to be a part of a tradition that has lasted thousands of years.
Giving a theological reflection.

The artisans at Parque de las Aguas.

Dionisia putting her handprint signature.

Victor showing off a new scarf and hat.

Claudia and her daughter, Mayte, who's sporting a new hat.

























































































WE’RE MOVING AFTER ALL

I just got word last week that the house my family is living in has finally sold. I was kind of hoping we’d continue living there indefinitely as the house was on the market but no such luck. The current word is that we have 20 days to move out, but they are talking to the real estate agent today to see if they can stay for another two months while they look for a house. It is now a reality, though. I will be moving before my time in Peru is over. Please be praying for the whole situation, though. The price of houses and apartments has skyrocketed over the last few years, and it is going to be difficult to find something affordable in the areas where they want to live that are close to work, family, and friends.

I’M GOING TO SEMINARY

Other big news: I am going to seminary in the fall! I will be attending Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary starting in September, which is just a little bit to the NE of Boston and only a few miles from the ocean. What an adventure! I was offered the Partnership Program scholarship, which is a full-tuition matching scholarship. I am raising support again to fund about half of my seminary education. If you would like more information or to support me in some way (financially or in prayer), please let me know.

STORIES FROM YAVs

Jenny and Jed have been visiting the United States during the month of March, and one of the things they are doing is visiting churches and sharing about the YAV program to raise support. They put together this video of us each telling a story about our time here so far. It’s really well done, so check it out:


READING

This past week I have been devouring The Genesee Diary by Henri Nouwen. It is a really insightful account of his 7-month stay in a Trappist monastery and has offered much encouragement to me. Here are a couple quotes that are from very different periods of his time in the monastery but go well together:

“It requires a great act of faith to accept the love that is offered to us and to live, not with suspicion and distrust, but with the inner conviction that we are worth being loved. This is the great adventure… to really believe that God loves you, to really give yourself to God in trust, even while you are aware of your sinfulness, weaknesses, and miseries” (140).

“When we have found our own uniqueness in the love of God and have been able to affirm that indeed we are lovable since it is God’s love that dwells in us, then we can reach out to others in whom we discover a new and unique manifestation of the same love and enter into an intimate communion with them” (68).

Monday, March 10, 2014

I've hardly been in Lima recently...

VISIT FROM WOMEN OF HUDSON RIVER PRESBYTERY (NEW YORK)

I spent a week and a half traveling around with six wonderful women in the middle of February. We also had the pleasure of welcoming two men, who were visiting from St. Louis to attend the annual Joining Hands Network Assembly, from time to time as well. We basically had the same itinerary as what we as YAVs did during our orientation here in Peru, and it was fun to visit some of the same places and people that I hadn’t seen in months. I did make a quick detour when we went to La Oroya and Huancayo to visit our artisan groups there, so that allowed to me to get to know that area better, but other than that I was there to help translate, offer a different perspective, and provide some calmness when things got stressful or a little overwhelming. These women (plus me!) represented every decade of life from a 20-something all the way to an 80-something year old. It meant we had quite differing perspectives, but I was impressed with the sincerity and commitment they brought to each interaction. We had many conversations about the overwhelming nature of many of the problems we can see in Peru and how/if they could make a difference when they return. I am excited to see how they continue to be involved with the work we are doing here in Peru!

Wanda, Norma, Susan, Joy, La Sheila, Lori, and Me (in order of age)!

YAV RETREAT 2

The last week in February we took off from Lima in a Cruz del Sur bus to head 20 hours up the desert-y coast of Peru to a private house right on the beach. There we spent the week enjoying the warm and oh-so-beautiful beach, soaking up some rays, eating and cooking delicious food, and playing Frisbee practically nonstop. It was a glorious time of relaxation and community and worship.

We spent the mornings having a time of worship, Bible study, and reflection together. The passage we focused on was Micah 6:8 – “What does the Lord require of you but to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” It was good to look back on these past months and evaluate how my life has or has not reflected those principles and also to think ahead to how I can re-center and recommit, especially in this time of Lent as I look back and remember who my God is and all that he has done for me. The rest of the day we would spend laughing, eating, sharing, playing, swimming, singing, and tossing the ‘bee.

Mary Kate, Blake, Me, Spencer, Emma

Our house and beach furniture.

Beautiful days on the beach!

We had a pool and hammocks as well.

Travel to and from the house was in moto-taxis.

A night out in Mancora.

Bonfire and songs on the beach.


ARTISANS

I have now finished visiting all of the artisans. Of all the things I have done so far this year, these visits have definitely landed at the top of the charts. It was fun to adventure around to new places and see where each of them lived and worked. They each have such a different reality, each challenging in its own way. I loved hearing their stories. I loved making them laugh or smile. I loved making them feel uncomfortable as I pulled out my camera and captured them on film.

It was encouraging to hear the stories of success, and the ways in which their participation in Fair Trade has positively affected their lives and the lives of their family. Each one had one of these stories of success and growth. But each also had stories of struggles and failures and difficulties, both presently and in the past. There are stories of economic insecurity, of constant battle against a chauvinistic culture, and of lack of running water in the home. What amazed me was the hope that they all showed. One question I asked every group was what their vision or goals were for the next five years. Almost without fail, they replied that they wanted to get more orders and find more customers. That was more or less the response that I was expecting to hear. But what they said next was what really made an impression on me. They want more orders and more customers not primarily so they can have more money for themselves and their families, but rather so they can employ their neighbors. They want their neighbors to know and experience what it is to be a part of a team, to have a voice, to have a vision, to dream again. Bridge of Hope provides so much more than just an income for these artisans; it provides a new way of life. A way of life that is fair and just. One in which the women stand up for themselves and begin to share equally with their husbands. One in which they can say proudly that they are sending their children through college because the children were able to stick to their studies and graduate high school. One in which they value the work that they do.

The website is now done and just needs to be published. Check back in a week or two to see the new design! www.fairtradeperu.com/en

I also put together a short video to allow the artisans to introduce themselves. As you will see, they are awkward and funny and unique and so loveable!


And now I leave you with this:

"We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself." --Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What?! I'm 23 already. When did that happen?

MINI UPDATES (to make up for my long blogging absence)

CHRISTMAS DAY

Although everyone says that Christmas Day is the 25th, I almost don’t believe them. The celebration starts on the evening of the 24th and carries into the early morning hours of the 25th. Many families goes to mass in the evening, bringing their baby Jesus from their nativity scene. Baby Jesus has been covered in the nativity because he really shouldn’t be in the scene yet, but for the mass he lies uncovered on a table with dozens of other baby Jesus’s and waits for the priest to come bless him after the mass. He then disappears under a cover again until midnight. I think my family really sought to understand the last hours of Advent because after mass ended at 8:00pm – ¡¡8:00pm!! – we sat bored out of minds in various places around the house and waited until midnight. I figured the TV in the living room didn’t have cable because no one turned it on. I came to find out at about 11:30pm that they did indeed have cable, but like I said, I think they were just subconsciously seeking to understand the waiting period of Advent. At midnight we all wished each other a Feliz Navidad with kisses on the cheek and then ran famished to the dinner table. It was finally dinner time. I ate about four different kinds of pureé (mashed potato, mashed sweet potato, apple pureé, and pineapple pureé), a seaweed salad (or something that looks like it), and turkey. We toasted with about an eighth of a glass of sweet wine. Dessert was my beloved (not!) panetón with hot chocolate. Then came presents and chatting. But by 3 or 4:00am on Christmas Day the celebration was over and everyone was sleepily rubbing their eyes and starting to wonder whether they’re going to try to find a taxi to get home or just sleep on the living room floor under a blanket. My theory: I think those wee hours of the morning still belong to the day before.

I met my host mom’s sisters for the first time at our Christmas celebration, and all jokes aside, it was a difficult experience to finally meet her sister who had a severe stroke a year ago. She can’t walk, has difficulty moving her arms and hands, and only recently has been able to form a few garbled words. The hardest part is that she is very much there mentally. There has been some damage, but she understands everything going on around her. She is extremely frustrated with her physical limitations and verging on depression. She broke down in tears twice while I was there out of embarrassment and shame I think. It is beautiful, however, to see the way that the sisters have come together and sacrificed so much to take care of her. It has cost a lot emotionally for them though. Prayer would be very much appreciated.

CUZCO & MACCHU PICHU

Because of the fact that Christmas Day has shifted to the 24th of December here in Peru, Blake and I were able to head to Cuzco on the 25th. I got a few hours of sleep before I had to get back to my house to shower and pack really fast before heading to the airport for a 1:00pm flight. The 10 days I got to spend in Cuzco were just what I needed. It was absolutely wonderful to get to spend quality time with my YAV friends and meet some new friends as well. We spent a lot of time relaxing around Cuzco and trying out the different worldwide cuisines that I’ve missed even while enjoying my host mom’s cooking. My favorite was some deliciously spicy falafels. It was the rainy season, so it was relatively chilly and poured down rain most afternoons and some mornings as well. We spent a lot of time shopping for sweaters for Blake and long sleeve t-shirts for Spencer and hiking to the top of all the hills for me. The highlight of the trip, though, was the Salkantay trek that we did. We spent three days hiking up and over a 4,600-meter pass and then the fourth day enjoying Macchu Pichu through the fog. There were so many great moments but hopping from rock to rock to avoid probably a mile of thick mud, crossing a river on a little cart connected to a cable, having great conversations when there was room to walk two-by-two, and making it to the top of Macchu Pichu mountain stand out.

Panorama of Cuzco.

Trying out the cuisine.

The whole group.
Picture with the llama!


Crosses at the top of the hill.

That's Salkantay Mountain in the background.

We made it the pass - 4,600 meters! (Our guide Abel is on the far left.)

Lunch site Day 2 of trek.

Crossing the river.

There were stairs like this all the way up Macchu Pichu Mountain.

Top of the mountain. It was too foggy to see the ruins except for a short 30 second glimpse!

It cleared up a bit in the afternoon. So impressive.


BIRTHDAY

Birthdays here are such a big deal! I was ready to pass the day with a few “Happy Birthdays” and maybe a special lunch, but it turned out that the festivities stretched for about a week and a half. People kept expecting me to have big plans and worried about me when I said that I was okay with just having a chill day. Here’s a glimpse of the activities… Friday before: Lunch out with my coworkers followed by singing (first Happy Bear-thday in English, then two or three Spanish versions) and apple pie and ice cream. Jan.12: Brought gifts by my host mom and brother at 8:00am. Delicious shrimp pasta lunch with host family and Jed and Jenny. The movie Frozen with my host mom. Over the next week: Birthday donuts with Emma. Delicious nut pasta with host family and Emma. Two homemade and beautifully decorated birthday cakes from Aunt Fabio. Cake (1of 2) and singing at Ada’s sister’s house. Birthday cake (2 of 2) shared with the office. Receive gift of German pretzels and coffee. Birthday cards in the mail.

Thank you everyone for making me feel so extremely loved and taken care of!

The fam. (My host mom is on the far left.)

Blowing out the candle.

Cake 1 of 2.

Cake 2 of 2.


UPDATE ON WORK

Since the end of the year I have not been working for CENCA anymore. With my YAV coordinator, Jenny, I decided for many reasons that it would be better to focus my time and efforts on my Fair Trade job. So since getting back from Cuzco I work full-time with Bridge of Hope.

The decision was a good one. My time has been well occupied over this last month with Bridge of Hope. Over the past couple of years there has been a lot of changes in leadership and because of that, there has not been good follow-up as far as updates go. We get emails all the time wondering if our organization still exists because the website hasn’t been updated at all since 2010. Because of that, we are working on getting up a whole new website in both English and Spanish. I am more or less the point person on that project. I visited all 8 artisan groups in Lima to work with them a little on design of a new “product line” for 2014 and to get new pictures and information to update their profiles on the website. I have been rewriting and translating the group profiles and meticulously posting and adding titles, captions, etc. for all of the products that we sell – that’s a lot of products! That project should be done pretty soon. I will post the link on my next (hopefully!) blog so you can check out all my hard work ;) The one thing the artisans always ask of us is to find them new clients so they can get more orders. Many of them depend on this work to provide for their families, so when there is a slow year, like this last one, they struggle to get by. We hope that with this new website we can attract some new customers.

Once the website is up you will get to see some of my pictures, but if you’re interested in getting a sneak preview of the group profiles, check out my drafts in the Google Doc.

COMING UP

Next week a group from the Hudson River Presbytery in New York, which supports Jed & Jenny’s ministry, is coming down to visit Peru and see first hand the work that the Joining Hands Network is doing. Jed is leading the visit, but I will be accompanying them the whole trip to help with translating and a few logistical things. We will be doing things like visiting a few of the members of the Joining Hand Networks, visiting an artisan group, traveling to La Oroya and Huancayo, and seeing a few sights around Lima. That’s from February 13th – 22nd.

On the same day that I’m finishing up with this visit, the 22nd, we are taking off for our second YAV retreat. (I can’t believe it’s here already!) We have a 16-hour bus ride to get to the far north of Peru to Mancora. We are staying in a house on the beach. I am so ready to spend some time soaking up some glorious rays with my lovely YAVs! We have to jet up to Ecuador to renew our visas, but other than that we are just relaxing on the beach and spending a lot of time in worship and reflection. We arrive back in Lima on March 1st.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

“Christianity is not first and foremost a concept. It is, above all, a fact.” – Gustavo Gutierrez, Theology of Liberation


“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman, theologian