Thursday, August 27, 2009

Transportation Lessons 101


What would we do without transportation? We couldn't get anywhere without it! During our mid-year school break in July, within a 48 hour time period I learned some important lessons on transportation. Here they are!

Transportation Rule #1
If the head of one the major taxi companies in your town is organizing a strike day, you had better not try to get anywhere that day no matter what hour.

Before heading off to the states for a couple of weeks, I decided that at least one Peruvian trip was in order. So, I made plans to head off to Santa Teresa for a couple of days with my friend Luz and fellow missionaries, the Shultz family. We heard that there was a transportation strike planned for Tuesday so we planned for an early train ride (5:30 am). Usually the strikes don't start until a little bit later and we knew that we would have to leave Cusco at 3:30 am in order to get to the train station in Ollantaytambo in time. All seven of us got into the last possible station wagon taxi heading off to Ollantaytambo. Our taxi driver was speeding out of Cusco and seemingly making excellent time, passing all the other collective taxis leaving at that hour.

Everything was going fine that is until we got to a small town called Chincheros right outside of Cusco where we reached a roadblock. The striking picketers were out at 4am!! Our driver pulled over and got out. A bunch of men came over yelling at him and slashed three of the tires of the taxi. Then they proceeded to move their protest to another place and leave us stranded. For the first time in my life a strike day was not working to my favor (they usually are what we call "Peruvian snow days" - an opportunity to miss school). We were stuck there for 4 hours trying to find a tire place that was open early enough and trying to keep warm. We wrapped ourselves with our beach towels and were offered coca tea by a lady in town. By the time the sun was out two things were clear: 1) we had missed our train! 2) it was still safer to go forward than to go back to Cusco that was experiencing an apparently serious transportation strike

Transportaion Rule #2
Local trains for residents are really slow because they operate basically as the only form of transportation for some people.

The tires were somewhat repaired and even though we had to stop at every available air source, we made it to Ollantaytambo without any further trouble. At the train station we were not refunded our tickets but were told we would be allowed to ride on the 9:00 local train which usually only carried local residents. We didn't complain too much since we really only lost 3 dollars for our tickets but it didn't quite seem fair. The train ride to Aguas Calientes and then to the end of the line (where we were going) took a long time. Why? because the train had to stop every once in a while to pick up people along the way. I realized that the train was functioning like a bus because it was the only way some people who lived in the countryside could get anywhere. It would be like me having to go to school every morning in a train!! Can you imagine? But there are people who do it every day around the world!

Transportation Rule #3
Sometimes the destination is worth the transportation headaches.

After arriving at the train stop and jumping in on a tourist van ride we finally made it to Santa Teresa! After lunch at one of the few selections in the small town we settled into a small hotel (they were all small). Then we headed down to the famed hot springs. They were really the best hot springs I'd been to at that point with beautiful rocky walls surrounding and nicely landscaped grounds. There were pools of varying heats and even a cold pool where you could dip in and then jump back into the hot ones (the kids loved doing that). Despite some biting flies it was a relaxing end to a crazy day!

Transportation Rule #4
Once in a while when man-made transportation fails, you have to rely on the form of transportation that God gave all man, your legs!

The next morning we awoke groggily after a noisy night. We chose a hotel right across from the only disco bar in town and I'd say that our walls were pretty much made of cardboard. oops. At about 7:30am Ron Shultz brought us quickly to our senses by saying that we either had to leave on the train at 8am or 4:30pm and if we left later that meant we would get into Cusco at 1:00 am. A quick decision brought us to the conclusion that we were eager for the earlier option! Ron ran off to get the tickets and we quickly packed up. We he got back we jumped in a taxi and made the dash for the train stop (about a 20 min. drive). The taxi driver drove as fast as he could and we prayed that we would make it in time. We were almost there when we came across a truck trying to make a turn to get on the bridge we needed to cross. He was backing up and going forward and backing up and going forward!! What to do?! We grabbed the bags and took the form of transportation God gave us, our legs! We ran and ran and Ron made it to the train first begging them to hold it. We all tumbled into the train car seriously out of breath but we made it!

Transportation Rule #5
No matter how hard you try, sometimes transportation delays can't be avoided.

The train moved on to the next town which is Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machupicchu) and we got in line at the station to buy early train tickets to our next destination Ollyantantambo. First the man said there were no tickets for the 10:30 train and then he said there might be standing tickets for the 2:30 train. But when he went to buy them they were gone!! Gone!!! No tickets for the early trains!! All our running for naught!

Now we were stuck in Aguas Calientes until 9:30 pm. Thankfully, Luz had a connection with a local pastor who let us leave our luggage at his church. Then we headed off to take a hike up a local mountain called Putucusi which overlooks Machupicchu. We did consider going up to Machupicchu but the only one who had never seen it was Luz and only on Sundays is the entrance free for Peruvians. We took on Putucusi instead and what a hike it was! The first part was in the shade but included several series of ladders which were slightly unnerving. The youngest Shultz kids were pumped and raring to go for the first part but then we hit the non-shaded areas out in the hot sun. The rest of us pushed on and made it to the gorgeous views of the area and Machupicchu. It was a tiring hike and we felt like victorious explorers finally reaching our destination! The rest of the day was spent playing on the rocks, eating at restaurants and meeting up with another teacher who happened to be in town.

Transportation Rule #8
The best kind of transportation is the kind that brings you home again!

We jumped on the 9:30 train and made it into Ollantaytambo at 11:30 pm. Of course there were no buses running at that hour and we tried to find a collective taxi. All the taxis were either taken or wanting to charge an arm and a leg to get to Cusco. We didn't know what to do so we walked to the plaza and waited with a bunch of people who were in the same situation as us. Finally a van pulled up and we all pushed our way on (I mean literally, Peruvian really are good at pushing and you just go along with it when you are desperate for a ride). Half of us were standing and half sitting but we made it back to Cusco around 1:00 am.

We got out of the van and looked around for a taxi to take us back to our respective homes. We got one and do you know who it was? Our taxi driver from the early hours the day before! The same guy with the slashed tires! So, we greeted him like an old friend and asked how the rest of his day had gone and shared our adventures and finally left him with a nice tip.

And do you know what the best part of our trip was? The taxi ride that brought us home! Hallelujah!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

We Are Family!!!

For the past two years since I've been here teaching at PROMESA, we have done a Mother's Day program at school in May. Mother's Day is a big day here! There are signs all over the place in stores and in streets: "FelĂ­z Dia Mami" they say with red and pink hearts. You had better remember your mama here in Peru because she's a very, very, VERY important person. Every school does a special program with dances, singing and more. Every year PROMESA has done the same thing until this year. This year the teachers got it into their heads to make the focus more on family and less on just the mama. One of the problems here in society is the lack of strong father figures. Many are not around or drunk or not responsible. Unfortunately many have mistresses and affairs and do not represent a good face in their families. This is an extremely sad fact of Peruvian society but it doesn't mean we need to ignore the fathers altogether!!! PROMESA wants to model something different: a family where every part is important! We decided to include fathers in our program this year.

So, our program this year was called the Family Day program and the focus of the special numbers was the family. Instead of singing "Thank you God for my mother" it was "Thank you God for my parents." There were special dances, poems, dramas and songs. In between each number a Bible verse about the family was shared. My 4 year old kids did a dance to the song "We are Family." You know that Sister Sledge number... "We are family...I got all my sisters with me"... This was a Dora version with "I got all my amigos with me" and was very fun. (did you know that even Pat Boone sang a version of this song!!) The moves were simple and we incorporated signs that said "I love my mother", "I love my Father" and "I love my family". I was very nervous about how it would all turn out because you never know with four year old what's gonna happen. I had a horrible experience with a devotional that my 4 year olds prepared last year. We practiced and practiced but when it came time to perform in front of their classmates something unhinged. They went crazy, ran all over the front, threw themselves on the stage and created general disorder right up there in front of the rest of the school....Augh!!!!! horrible memory!

Here are some of the culprits from last year's fiasco just making themselves at home on the steps of the stage in the middle of the program!!

Three of my 4 yr. olds ready to do their dance: Neomi, Josue and Natali

The four yr. old dance: "We are Family"

The five year old class presented a typical "huaino" dance

Here are the girls! Aren't they precious?

Thankfully, that was not repeated for this program! My kids did a wonderful job and held up their signs and got applauses from their parents and it was incredibly adorable!!! Yay! I didn't get to see too much of the rest of the program because I was making candy cars in the classroom and eating them with my 4 year old class but I think history was made. We stepped out and did something different as a school and it was successful. Yes, the mother is important in the culture here but God calls us to family standards that are different then whatever culture we are in. It was time to stand up and create a new standard. Bravo, PROMESA! "We really are a family!"

First grade presented a typical "saylla" dance

Fifth grade did a hip-hop dance to Kirk Franklin's song Revolution

Second grade presented a Jewish style dance

At the end of the program, everyone sang "He's got the whole world in His hands" together

Monday, April 13, 2009

Necessary Footwear and Calm Serene Waters

If someone tells you that rubber boots are a good idea to take with you on a trek in the jungle during rainy season, believe them. Do more than believe them: FOLLOW THEIR ADVICE AND TAKE RUBBER BOOTS!!! Of course, I figured rainy season was getting over and surely it can't be that bad. Why would I go out and buy rubber boots when I'll probably not use them and I'll not need them ever again.

I was burned once by unnecessary boots. I went to the Cornerstone Music Festival one year and it rained and poured and produced massive amounts of mud. It was nasty, smelly and my friend Heidi and I vowed to never again experience that. So the next year we went out to Wal-Mart and bought rubber boots which we lugged from Pennsylvania to Illinois. It didn't rain that year. Not one drop... not one little bit of rain. Those boots sat in garages for several years after that...never used and just functioning as the home of several spiders.

So, why was I going to risk buying rubber boots in Peru?

Well, a five kilometer walk in thick mud is a good reason why. I didn't realize that until we got off our canoe and started walking on the jungle path towards the lake. Everyone who was coming out of the jungle and back towards the river had on rubber boots. I was wearing my roommate's hiking boots and when some girl saw them she said "that girl is not wearing rubber boots! she should be wearing boots!" ooooohhh, bad sign. So, let's just say I wish I had those rubber boots. We spent the next two hours traipsing through the rain and on very thick and nasty mud. Most of the time with stayed along the edges of the path with walking sticks trying desperately to not slip into the mudiness. I scratched myself on branches and tried not to grab onto spiny palm trees and trying not to think about large ants or spiders that may have been calmly sitting on those branches right when I wanted to steady myself. You can imagine how tired we were to finally get to the lake!!!

Getting ready to hike to the lake. Look who the smart people are in our group!

The muddy path!

After our struggle through the mudiness of the jungle path (that had been tred by too many tourists in rubber boots), we were met by the smooth, calm, sereness of Lake Sandoval. A large undisturbed jungle lake cut off from general civilization is a thing of beauty. There was such a calmness and peacefulness there. No motor boats, no factories or sounds of people around the lake. Just us in a canoe gliding along the water looking at the ducks with the needle/snake necks or the crazy brown and orange birds that sound like they have asthma or looking for cayman alligators in the water and monkeys in the trees. We were amazed by God's beautiful creation all around.

Every once in a while our boat guide would stop the boat to look at interesting plants in the jungle ("monte" is what they called it in spanish...well, really in Quechua because monte in Spanish is mountain!). We saw a HUGE old tree with big vines growing up it. It was at least 500 years old! Can you imagine??? We saw "walking trees" which are trees with huge roots and skinny trunks that look for the sunlight and lean towards it. Their roots then grow in that direction. We saw lots of beautiful butterflies and flowers too.

I think the hibiscus is one of my favorite kinds of flowers. It always reminds me of Puerto Rico.

The walking tree....Don't walk away with me under you!!!

But nothing compared to the beauty of that lake. Serene, calm and peaceful. I want my life to be filled with a peace like that. Calm, resting and surrendered to the sovereignty of my Creator. My God is a God of Peace and He has given me the prince of peace to rule in my heart. How often do I feel like I'm struggling through a muddy trek in my life...wondering if I'll ever arrive at peace. Will it always be a struggle and a fight? Will I reach that peace? But our muddy road eventually led us to the lake...that peaceful, beautiful and serene lake.

The next day we made our way back on the muddy path. This time we rented some rubber boots. The path was worse and you had to keep moving or you might loose one of your boots in the mud!! Once when we were in the worst part of the path we passed a family who were coming in. One little girl was getting a ride on the guide's shoulders but her sister was having a worse time trying to make it through the mud. She had this look on her face that said "this is the worst experience of my life!!!" We greeted the family and encouraged them saying that it didn't get any worse along the path. And I said: "keep going, it's worth it! The lake is gorgeous!!!"

How often do I feel like I'm struggling like the little girl thinking "this is the worst experience of my life"? But I need someone to come along who has experienced the hard stuff to say: "keep going! It's worth it! What awaits you is amazing!" God's peace is there for me. It's wide, it's clear, it's amazingly deep...

Thank you Jesus for muddy walks that get me somewhere. Thank you that they come to an end and what awaits on the other side is worth it. Thank you for your amazing creation and thank you most most MOST of all for your peace.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rifts that Reveal Beauty

I read something beautiful in the book "Streams in the Desert" (L.B. Cowman) this past week. It's the parable of a prairie and I thought I'd share it with you all.

"At first there were no canyons but only the vast, open prairie. One day the Master of the prairie, walking across His great grasslands, asked the prairie, 'Where are your flowers?' The prairie responded, 'Master, I have no flower seeds.'

The Master then spoke to the birds and they brought seeds of every kind of flower, scattering them far and wide. Soon the prairie bloomed with crocuses, roses, yellow buttercups, wild sunflowers and red lilies all summer long. When the Master saw the flowers, he was pleased. But He failed to see his favorites and asked the prairie, 'Where are the clematis, columbine, violets, wildflowers, ferns and flowering shrubs?' So once again he spoke to the birds, and again they brought all the seeds and spread them far and wide. But when the Master arrived, He still could not find the flowers he loved the most, and asked, 'Where are my sweetest flowers?' The prairie cried sorrowfully, 'O Master, I cannot keep the flowers. The wind sweeps fiercely across me, and the sun beats down upon my breast, and they simply wither up and blow away.'

Then the Master spoke to the lightning, and with one swift bolt, the lightning split the prairie through its heart. The prairie reeled and groaned in agony and for many days bitterly complained about its dark, jagged, and gaping wound. But the river poured its water through the chasm, bringing rich, dark soil with it.

Once again the birds brought seeds and scattered them in the canyon. After a long time the rough rocks were adorned with soft mosses and trailing vines, and all the secluded cliffs were draped with clematis and columbine. Giant elms raised their huge limbs high into the sunlight, while at their feet small cedars and balsam enhair ferns grew and bloomed, until the canyon became the Master's favorite place for rest, peace and joy."

I feel like that prairie. My prairie looked lovely on the outside...nice and flat...with rolling grasslands and wildflowers. But it was nicely laid out with expectations I had built up, with things I was sure would happen and with the plans that I had. I even justified my expectations thinking that they were God's plan for me or making them seem like they were something I deserved for living a pure and right life. But the Master of my prairie needed to send his lightning into my life in order to disrupt those expectations.

The rift hurts like a gaping wound and my smooth flat world is disrupted. But the Master of my life knows what He is doing. He wants me to build up my expectations based on who He is and what He's done for me. It has nothing to do with something I'm doing right or not right. It has nothing to do with my efforts and everything to do with Him.

So, he has created a rift in my life but that rift will fill with life and become a beautiful canyon where the flowers of patience, kindness and gentleness can grow in my life. The Master can have His way in that canyon and the pain and sorrow will become a source of joy.

So, thank you Master of my prairie and maker of my canyon. Thank you for removing that which is not of You and creating something beautiful with my life. I know that even your lightning bolts bring life to me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Living in the Land of Foggy Foggy Dew

Once when I was a biddy (okay I was in college...not too much of a biddy) made up a little song (a diddy really). Here's my diddy as a biddy. Okay, okay no further silly introductions! The song went like this:

When you're living in the
land of foggy foggy dew
Then you haven't a clue
Haven't a clue...
Haven't a clue
what to do do do do!!!!
Oh you haven't a clue
what to do!

It's really rather a silly and repetitive song but I never claimed to be a great composer and I know that God didn't necessarily bless me with great musical talent. It was a fun little song birthed from my indecisive tendencies and the fogginess that often descended over the Grace College campus. It's stuck with me through the years and I've always intended to record it on my first cd called "Carrie-oke" but unfortunately my singing career never got off. Bummer... Recently it all came back to me in a fog...errr....on a clear day or something like that.

My missionary team here in Peru was off on wild adventures in the southern part of Peru (really it was just a team retreat) and several of us decided to stay longer and do touristy things. One of the touristy things was visiting the Colca Canyon which is supposed to be the deepest in the world. You can imagine our excitement as we piled into the car one morning in order to go to the canyon look-outs to see the condors swooping by our heads.

There was one little problem: fog.

It was actually a very large problem as a hugmungous quantity of fog filled the canyon. It was really thick like the type they say you can eat with a soup like pea soup (which in my opinion is a very silly saying because fog like pea soup would be green! and it's not green now is it?). Anywho, we passed buses and carloads of disappointed tourists returning from the lookouts who declared: "Nothing to see...nothing to see!!" Ah yes the land was surely the land of foggy foggy dew that day.

We braved on and made it to the lookout where all we could see over the edge was.... dum...dum...dum! FOG!!! Yes you guessed it dear reader (you are so smart! I knew you'd figure it out). We tried going to several of the lookout spots and staring intensely into the misty white and having curiosity burn in our hearts. What was down there? What did the canyon look like? Would the clouds clear?? We had no way of knowing what would happen with the fog but there it was and there it stayed as we hoped for holes and glimpses of what was below.

With sad hearts we climbed back in the car knowing that our nearly 2 hour car ride had been wasted. We were on our way back when someone chanced to look back. Could it be???!!!! Was that a clear spot over there? Were the clouds lifting??? Sure enough the thick fog was being rolled back like a curtain and the canyon we had so wanted to see was being exposed like the first act of a majestic play! Woohoo! We climbed down the hill to the lookout area while others drove back to the parking lot. And as I was climbing the hill to where the others were we saw it.

A condor swooping around...soaring in the area and coming so close that we could see it's black and white wings and the royal collar around its neck. It was majestic! It was amazing! And it wasn't the last that we saw. Before we left that day we saw several of those huge birds swooping near. We stared down into the deep canyon with such excitement, exclaming over every rock. It was maybe not that impressive if you've seen the Grand Canyon or other wider and bigger canyons but to us who nearly missed seeing it at all, it was such a gorgeous sight.

I think I've been living in somewhat a season of fogginess where I've been tossed and confused by many things. I didn't understand what was the best and where things were going. I felt farther from God than I wanted to be and I seemed to just be sitting in that fog. But I believe that God is bringing me out of a foggy season into a season of majestic beauty. He wants me to sweep and soar like those condors and delight in His creation. I don't want to live in the land of foggy foggy dew any longer. I want to have a clue! I want to know what His whispers are and what He wants me to do.

Even if we staring into something that just looks foggy and white and we can't see anything beyond that, it's good to remember that yes the beautiful canyon is down there. It's beyond the fog and it's not moving. God's love, goodness and faithfulness are like that. Always there under the surface...steady and solid and not going anywhere. I don't want to just be convinced that the fog is all there is. The fog will clear and the faithfulness of the Lord will remain.

Amen Lord! Show us your beauty beneath the fog!!