Saturday, January 26, 2008

Retreat to Chile!

In January we had our annual missionary retreat. This year was our regional retreat and the first ever combined Peru/Chile missions teams retreat! It took place in Chillán, Chile which is 5 hours south of the capital, Santiago. Our retreat was at a ski resort with cabins, a trampoline and a pool. Since it was summer, the weather was very delightful! We were about 31 people with our speakers and boss included in there. The theme for the week was the Father heart of God and taking another look at the story of the prodigal son. It was a pretty basic theme but it was amazing to see how often we look like one or the other of the sons who distanced themselves from the Father's heart! The speakers for the week were Darrell and Sherrill Hostetter. It was a wonderful time of fellowship, swimming in the pool, playing games and of course: EATING!!! We ate lots of fruit because the fruit was so yummy and cheap in Chile.

Destiny, Abby and Oriana

During one of our morning sessions together

After our week at the retreat I took a 3 hour trip on Saturday up to Pichilemu where my friend Joyce and her family live. There is a huge YWAM base in Pichilemu and my friend and her sister have been served at the base for several years. I hadn't seen my friend or her son for 6 years (since my YWAM school in Venezuela) and it was so fun to connect with her. She has since married a guy from Uruguay and they have a small house in Pichilemu. It was so sweet to feel welcomed in their home, eat Venezuelan arepas again and see the sights of Pichilemu. It's a regular beach town with the summer crowd that swarmed the downtown at night. The only thing is that it's really cold! Even though it was summer, it got cold at night. I can't imagine it in winter. I just stuck my feet in the frigid water and walked along the black sandy beach. Hello again Pacific Ocean!!

My little friend Moises (who was a baby the last time I saw him) and my monkey friend Sunny at the Casino in downtown Pichilemu

Marcelo, Joyce, Moises and Sunny

Posing in front of the Pacific Ocean again!

Chile is definitely much different than Peru. It's a lot more developed and really looks a lot more like the U.S. than a Latin American country! There are supermarkets and nice highways and the landscape really reminds me much more of the states. The people are lighter skinned and more European looking. It was definitely a different culture than Peru. I really enjoyed my break and chance to get away but there was something nice in coming back to Cusco and feeling sort of like I was: HOME

Ballooning in Cotabambas

One of the very exciting things that I got to do before the beginning of the new year was take my first trip to one of the communities where the Mennonite church has an outreach. The last week of December the youth from the San Jeronimo church took a trip out to Cotabambas in order to do chocolatadas. Chocolatadas are a typical event at Christmas time. It's where people go into poorer areas and give out hot chocolate and toys to kids.

There were ten people in our group and we left early on Thursday morning in two vehicles. The trip was 5 hours up and down mountains on dirt roads that curved and swerved and were sometimes rather bumpy. The truck that I was in had a tape player that only worked sometimes and only one tape that we heard many many times. We also had Señor Mac who was a laptop that one of the guys who buys and sells computers was trying out. Unfortunately Señor Mac only had a battery lifetime of two hours and there weren't available power sources on our way out to Cotabambas. Cotabambas is in another department of Peru called Apurimac.

We made it out to the town of Cotabambas where we met up with Pastor Paulino who is the missionary from the Mennonite church working in the area of Cotabambas. He and his wife Fanny are originally from Santa Teresa which is closer to the jungle and MUCH warmer than Cotabambas! We made a plan as to which communities we would go to when and set off for Colca which lay on the opposite mountain. Colca was a village of about 100 people that had about 20 believers. We parked our cars in the main square (not really a square just an open space in the middle of town) and set off to make chocolate over an open fire at one of the believers house. As they set up the fire wood and got the huge pot boiling, I distracted the kids below in the square with: BALLOONS!! Yes, it's true, my balloon twisting talents were once again going to be put to use. I don't know if these kids had ever received a twisty balloon before so it was great to see their expressions. The best thing was a huge herd of sheep that ran through the square while I was doing this. Two of the girls helped me and we made balloons for about 40 minutes. Unfortunately, by the time I was done most of the kids had dismantled or deflated their balloons!! oh, well...

We walked up to see how the chocolate was coming and get a little warmer (it was really cold in Colca!!) inside the hermano's house. We sat inside their little blackened adobe kitchen and drank tea and ate roasted corn. The believers were so sweet and loved to laugh a lot. They enjoyed our cameras and company. I loved their typical hats and outfits! The chocolate was made with hot water, chocolate powder, chocolate bars, sugar, oatmeal and powdered milk stirred over a hot fire. We separated it into two big pots and the men lugged them down to the square where we set up our chocolatada line. The kids came with their cups and containers and lined up to receive their toy, bread and chocolate. It got pitch black by the time we were done and where there are no street lights it gets _really_ dark!

The kids line up with their mugs in Colca.

Eating soup with a "whishlah"

Afterwards we went and had soup at the believer's house. There were not enough spoons and so I ate mine with the big wooden spoon that had a special name in Quechua (I think it was a whishlah or something like that - Paulino liked to try to get me to say it so that he could laugh at me). After our yummy soup we headed to the little building where a church service was being held. There were tons of people because we were there! There was a worship time in Quechua and one of the guys from our group (who normally goes out to the communities) preached in Quechua. As you can imagine I understood nothing + I was really tired (we left Cusco at 4:30 am) = I had a REALLY hard time staying awake!!! The service was really neat in any case and several people prayed to receive Christ and we prayed for a couple for healing.

The church service in Colca

That night we slept in the church building. It was pretty much like camping because there was no bathroom or water available. I brushed my teeth with a water bottle and accidently dropped my toothbrush in some cow or sheep doodoo. What was I to do in such a predicament??!! Well, I cleaned it off water and antibacterial hand gel of course and tried not to think to much about it the next time I had to brush my teeth. Don't worry I have since thrown it out but there was no where to get another toothbrush in such a situation!

In the morning we left for two communities close by but a little lower down. I went to one small community called K'utuctay with half the group. I had about a dozen kids to make balloons for and it was so fun!! I got into making more complicated things and they seemed to take care of their balloon creations a little longer. We made our chocolate in the house of a believer there. We were in the kitchen/living room/bedroom with guinea pigs running around on the floor and a goat carcass hanging from the ceiling. Add some balloon creations to the mix and you've got the picture of what I experienced. The believers were really sweet and gave us a snack to eat: choclo (corn) and soft cheese with chuño (freeze dried potatoes) and goat meat (you guess where from). When the people in the campo (countryside) offer you food, you eat it and you eat it all! It was actually yummy so I had no problem. The gals in our group had trouble sometimes finishing their food but I would eat up all mine. The guys teased the girls and said: "look at Carrie! She eats like a campesino (country folk)!" hee hee...

Ruth serving hot chocolate
Chuño, Choclo & Cheese

We met up with the other half of our group and headed out to unchartered territory higher up. These communities had no Christian witness so they really were unexplored. In order to get to these places we left the dirt highway and drove out onto the grassy field. We drove past flocks of llamas and alpaca grazing and around cactus and water sink holes. It really was quite an adventure to get to a homestead where there were not too many people and hardly any kids. Since we had no contacts, we just gave out clothing, bread and toys. The woman of the home refused to sell me her yarn ("manan" no - it was for her blanket!) but she did offer us more chuño and chicha (corn beer) which we did our best to swallow down! Paulino was able to hand out some tracts and share with the people in that area. From there we drove to other homesteads to give out clothing, toys and balloons. It was pretty funny because we would stop everytime we saw someone on the side of the road or in the field. "Quick find a piece of clothing or a toy!" It was really fun.

The yarn that I really wanted to buy!

Friendly llamas along the way

That afternoon we headed to San Juan which was another larger community where there is a group of believers. We set up our chocolate making factory outside the church building and took shelter inside when the rain started. That afternoon I gave balloon twisting lessons to the majority of our group and we produced a basketful of balloons to give out later. That evening we gathered kids and adults (there were probably about 50 or 60 total) and gave out chocolate, bread, toys, balloons and clothing. It was really fun but we had so much chocolate left over!! We left in the pitch black (again no street lights and not too many house lights) and drove back to Cotabambas where we slept at the church and in Paulino's house.

Making hot chocolate in San Juan

The next day we packed up our stuff and got ready to leave. Before I left I got to go on a little tour with one of the hermanos to a nearby hilltop where they used to sift/grind the dirt for gold. You can still see the holes that they dug! He told us that the name Cotabambas came from a word in Quechua that means those that grind or mill for gold. He also talked to us about some of the surrounding communities that have no Christian witness and how his son Gedeon wants to be a missionary to those communities. It was such a cool conversation, a wonderful view and great end to my time in Cotabambas.

The hermano who was our tour guide in Cotabambas

We headed out that morning for the trip back to Cusco which was long and uneventful. Along the way we stopped and gave out stuffed animals and toys to some kids along the way. It was so fun to see the smiles on their faces! When we stopped at the bridge for a short break I was attacked by biting flies that left red marks on my face and neck! ugh! We went back up and down the hills and curves (on one hill there were 24 curves just to get up the mountain). Some of the drop offs were a bit scary but what an adventure.

I'm so glad that I got to see the community of believers out in Cotabambas! I know that they have a lot of challenges but I was encouraged by their joy, faith and commitment despite it all. I'm so glad that I could share my balloons with some kids, give them chocolate and see them smile.

So, when can I go on my next trip??

Navidad, Navidad!! Hoy es Navidad!!

As you can imagine, my first Christmas in Peru was quite different than what I'm used to.

First of all it's not cold here and doesn't get too cold because December is spring turning into summer. It was hard for me to realize that Christmas was even coming. One thing that helped was learning Christmas carols with the PROMESA teachers. I was so glad to learn some of the traditional carols in Spanish (although they aren't sung too much in Peru).

I spent Christmas Eve morning with my friend Luz in downtown Cusco. On Christmas eve there is a big outdoor market selling crafty things and supplies for elaborate nativity scenes. There were millions of little animal figurines, moss and grass, sand, stone and paper to decorate your nativity scene. There was even special clothing for baby Jesus (if you had one that was a doll), including some Andean style outfits!

After that I went to visit with my boyfriend's family in Urubamba. We enjoyed time with them playing Dutch Blitz, eating cookies (I brought a huge container of them - I think they were gone by the next day) and talking. My favorite part of the day was playing soccer in the small cobblestone side street outside the church building/house with some neighborhood kids. I'm not very good but somehow I didn't do half bad!

That night I got to celebrate Noche Buena with the congregation at the Huacarpay church. Christmas eve is the big thing here in Peru. People stay up until midnight and eat a late night meal to celebrate Christmas. The church had a special service to celebrate Navidad. It started out with worship, a sermon and then reciting scripture memory verses. Unfortunately the memory verses came at about 10:30 when I could barely stay awake. How many times can you listen to verses on respecting authority and stay alert and awake and interested??

Finally around 11:45 they stopped and started handing out PANETON and CHOCOLATA. These are two very important ingredients for a wonderful Christmas! PANETON is very much like a fluffy version of fruitcake which is quite delicious in my personal opinion. CHOCOLATA is hot chocolate which usually has oatmeal added to it or something cause it's thicker than the hot chocolate in the states. Then we had a talent show with music, kids doing dramas and clowns getting us to sing "Chichiwa" (a song with silly motions). As you can imagine I woke up enough then! We stayed till about 12:30 when we got a ride home with the Kreider family in their truck.

I slept in late and went to a missionary Christmas lunch on Christmas day. As usually we had quite a yummy lunch! We hung around all day singing carols, doing a gift exchange and enjoying each other's company. One word about the gift exchange. I had Kiersten the 14 yr. old son of John and Cindy Kreider. Cindy told me he wanted a pocket knife that was just a knife without all the doodads that usually come with pocket knives. The only thing that I could find was a bit bigger than a normal pocket knife. It kinda reminded me of a switchblade that someone might have in NYC. Well, despite my doubts as to whether it was a good idea, I gave it to him. Kiersten _loved_ the knife and named it Bob! I'm not sure the parents were thrilled but I tried to squelch by fears of him seriously injuring himself with it. (side note: Bob did cause some damage when the family was on vacation and Kiersten was cutting bamboo. Thankfully he only needed one stitch! augh...)

Definitely a different type of Christmas but I enjoyed every part and piece of it! FELIZ NAVIDAD!!

The End of the School Year

It's crazy to think that I've actually made it through my first school year at PROMESA!! In my classes we had finished up the entire alphabet by the end of November and there were only two weeks of school in December. In my last two weeks I concentrated on review, Christmas and getting ready for our end of year program.

The four year old class waiting for the school program to start

To celebrate Christmas we went through a book that told a part of the Christmas story on each page. The book was full of very cute pictures and flaps that you could lift to discover exciting things. Each day I would read a page in the story in English and then give the general idea in Spanish. I also had some cute nativity puppets (thanks to Janet Pinkos at KCF for those!) that they really enjoyed. Unfortunately they more often proved a distraction rather than help! After we read the book we usually did a craft that went along with the theme like an angel from a disposable cup, tissue and pipe cleaner or a star ornament.

The five year old class was a bit deprived from tons of crafty projects because they were practicing their dance for the Christmas program. I taught them a dance to an updated version of the song "Angels We Have Heard on High." Thankfully there were almost an even number of boys and girls so I was able to split them up and have them do different parts. The girls got to use kabukis (those ribbons on sticks) but the boys were not given ANYTHING. Boys + Kabukis = trouble! We had some difficulty in the beginning trying to learn the dance. Five year olds really do not have much of an attention span! I felt like I was fighting an impossible fight but with consistent practice they finally got it down to a reasonable semblance of what I wanted! They did a pretty good job during the actual performance. The little girls were so cute with their kabukis - especially when they did a pinwheel in the end. Let's say I'm just glad that I didn't have to teach the 4 year olds a dance (thanks Miss Wendy)!!

One of my little angels: Aron

The four year old class does their shepherd dance.

So the school year ended with a week of cleaning up and doing report cards. I was so tired after washing all my tables and chairs! It's amazing what damage kindergarten kids can do. Our school program went off pretty well considering that the kids had four days off from practicing. One of my favorite parts was the Christmas carols that we teachers sang in different parts of the programs and a hip-hop type dance by the 3rd graders. Oh and of course my four-year old student, Reynaldo's face during his shepherd dance! I gave all my students a lollipop and stickers the last day and he came up to me and said "Gracias Profe! Muy amable!" (thanks teacher, very nice!) It was very sweet though I'm positive it was initiated by his parents.

Praise the Lord for His faithfulness during this past school year. He was with us in the hard and the good times and boy oh boy did I LEARN A LOT!!

The Christmas Spirit Continues: Cookie Making

Another typical Christmas tradition is of course: COOKIE MAKING!

I wasn't about to let the altitude scare me away from one of my favorite pastimes of the holiday season. Here is the tale of how this pastry outpastried herself with too much cookie making!!!

Cookie Adventure #1
Cookie making and baking started out the second week of December and the last week of school. I had the brilliant idea to include cookie making in my kindergarten classes. I prepared sugar cookie dough which my kids rolled out, cut out with shapes and decorated. I think the kids enjoyed the cookie making - especially Alex who loved anything involving food. They did a pretty good job except when some decided to put the confetti sugar shaker in their mouth. doh! I took their decorated cookies home on sheets of wax paper marked with their names. I baked them one night at 10 o'clock while I desperately tried not to burn them. I didn't succeed very well with several and I had to make some extra cookies to give to those kids. oops! On the last day of school we had a Christmas party where the kids got their bags of cookies along with some candy thrown in (yeah I know it's not a good idea to give kids a sugar rush in your class but it was the LAST day of school!).

Cookie Adventure #2
I had originally been planning to have the PROMESA teachers over for a cookie baking party that next Saturday but we switched the date at the last minute. Unfortunately my friend Fabiola never got the news and showed up at my house thinking she was going to make cookies. Well, I did have left over dough from my kids so I had a spontaneous cookie making party with just Fabiola! We made sugar cookies and Bekah's Special (chocolate cookies with butterscotch chip - I call them that because my previous roommate Bekah always made them!). It was fun even though I wasn't planning on doing it!

Cookie Adventure #3
The rescheduled PROMESA Cookie Making Party took place the following week. Around a dozen people showed up to join in the baking madness! We made cookies from 2pm until 7pm and had seven different varieties including: decorated and frosted sugar cookies, russian tea cakes, marshmellow wreaths, cream cheese cookies with red and green candied cherries, ribbon cookies!! It was great fun and everyone went home with a plateful of very yummy cookies. I was very tired as you can imagine.

Cookie Adventure #4
This cookie adventure was not so glamorous as it was just me making more cookies to give away at Christmastime. It's amazing how quickly cookies disappear no matter how many you feel like you've made! This time I made a cookie called Hawaiian delight which was made with pineapple juice and had a frosting with pineapple and coconut. They were so yummy and I made tons. Unfortunately the ants had a fiesta with half of them one night because the top of the plastic container had cracks just big enough for ant entrance. Sigh!

So by the end of December I had quite OUTPASTRIED myself!!! I think I can wait another year for more cookie extravagance!!

Casa Dulce

The Christmas season started out with a favorite yearly tradition for the Shekinah Dance Team: GINGERBREAD HOUSES!!

This year I decided to continue the construction of sweet abodes with the EMM missionary kids. It was a little challenging to try and find available candies like in the states. The basic building blocks of this type of gingerbread houses is graham crackers and egg white icing. Those ingredients were easy to make or find.

So Destiny, Hannah, Jeremiah, Bethany, Kiersten, Oriana, Dawn and I all met on the last Friday in November in order to begin construction. The girls started off right away with simple structures that they could decorate. Boy did they decorate!!! They thought that they had to incorporate every different type of candy available. Destiny wins the prize for the most excessive roof and yard decoration. I thought that her roof would fall in because of the sheer amount of candy piled on top. Kiersten and Jeremiah tried a more complicated structure but Jeremiah had a bit of a hard time until his dad helped him out. His house looked more like a tabernacle in the end! Kiersten was creative and even created a wagon out of pretzels and marshmallows. My house was the most complicated structure with the least amount of decoration. I have had some experience with this of course.

Kiersten and I constructing our houses!

Oriana puts the final decorating touches on her house.

The night was a very fun way to start the Christmas season. I took my gingerbread house home without eating it and it became the first Christmas decoration in my apartment. It sat on my coffee table for the whole moth of December and created a lot of conversation for Peruvians who had never seen such a thing! Thankfully no one tried to eat it besides one very tired architect who figured the porch could do without out its posts.

Hannah can't wait to snack on her house!

This was Destiny's house! She really wanted to decorate with every candy possible!

Monday, January 07, 2008

North American November Holiday: THANKSGIVING!!!

November was not just a month to celebrate Peruvian holidays but to enjoy a great North American tradition: THANKSGIVING. I decided to celebrate with my kids because after all, giving thanks is really important no matter what culture you are in. I explained to the kids what Thanksgiving was all about and we acted out the story with our own natives and pilgrims. Afterwards, we made turkeys out of our handprints and wrote what we were thankful for and ate pumpkin cookies. It really was a very fun school day (and reminded me of the many years that I celebrated Thanksgiving as a kid at school).

School ended at 1:00 in order to honor this holiday and the N. American teachers ran off to a missionary community Thanksgiving dinner. The Shultz family (who were originally talking about just having a small group over) had over 30 people from the greater missionary community over for Thanksgiving. There were Wycliffe missionaries, Presbyterian, Baptist, independent and Mennonite missionaries all together to celebrate a holiday that holds a special place in all our hearts.

You should have seen all the food! We had four turkeys with all the typical sides!! My favorite dish was definitely the sweet potato casserole which was made by one of the missionaries who doesn't really like sweet potato! When it came time for dessert, we all tried to shove some delicious apple pie, chocolate cheesecake or peanut butter pie in our mouths! What a privilige to gather together and still celebrate Thanksgiving in such a way.

I think what I am most thankful for this year (believe it or not) is that God allows me to pass through difficult things because He loves me and uses every situation for my good!! THANKS GOD!!!