Depth of life

For those of you who know me, it will surprise you to hear that I have not been dancing much lately.  I still can’t help but tap my toes whenever a catchy song comes on the radio, and I’m often walking with a swing in my step, swaying along to the music inside my head.  But when it comes to social dancing, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately.  I did go to a big dance event in Atlanta in October – and I placed 2nd in the competition that I entered!! – but other than that, I haven’t really done much dancing at all since May.

Me with Mike, my 2nd-place partner in the Strictly Swing competition

Me with Mike, my 2nd-place partner in the Strictly Swing competition

But I am ok with that.  I know that the funk will pass and I will love it just as much as I used to; but until then, I’ve been busy filling my time with plenty of other exciting things.  Michael has planned a few very exciting dates – a couple of my favorites were seeing Cirque du Soleil while they were in town (which was incredible, even though they didn’t let us take any pictures :[ ), and taking a ride on the giant Ferris Wheel that overlooks much of downtown Atlanta.  I don’t think I believe him when he says that his date ideas are boring :).

The only picture I got at Cirque du Soleil before they made us put our cameras away...

The only picture I got at Cirque du Soleil before they made us put our cameras away…

My friend Jess has made a yardsaling convert out of me.  If you know how much I hate to shop, you will understand that this is a very big statement.  But there’s something exciting about hunting down deals, about finding a treasure in the middle of a bunch of trash.  Perhaps I should take up dumpster diving as a hobby… 😉  But, despite my newfound affinity for yardsaling (I don’t think I’m converted quite enough to be able to say that I have an affinity for dumpster diving yet ;]), I haven’t been able to go very often.  My weekends have been taken up by other things – things like traveling, writing, seeing friends, or sometimes just baking yummy goods.

One of my recent personal culinary victories was making homemade challah bread.  Challah bread is a sweet ceremonial Jewish bread that takes hours and hours to make.  It’s not particularly difficult (except braiding the dough so that it bakes into a nice pretty pattern is somewhat challenging), but it has to rise 3 separate times, each time for several hours.  So, all in all, it takes close to half a day to make.  ANYWAY, I have this memory of making challah bread in our old house with my mom.  I don’t remember the occasion – it must have been over 10 years ago at this point.  All I remember is the sweet time that I got to spend with my mother.  Ever since then, I have wanted to make it again, but never had a sufficient reason to invest all of that time into it.

So when an older couple from my church invited me over to their house to celebrate Sukkot, the Jewish festival of the tabernacle, and specifically asked me to bring challah bread, I jumped at the opportunity.  It took me 2 days to make it, but seeing her face when I arrived was totally worth it.  She had been expecting me to just pick up french bread, since no supermarket sells challah bread.  Her genuine joy and excitement when I walked in with a homemade loaf was more than enough payment for any extra effort required on my part.

My challah bread - it came out beautifully!

My challah bread – it came out beautifully!

A curious thing has been happening to me in Atlanta.  I still yearn for adventures in other countries and cities.  But I am also learning that depth of life matters just as much as breadth, if not more.   I am beginning to experience relational profundity that I could never dream to have by spending a few weeks or even months in a foreign country.  I am learning so much about myself and God and people in general.  Some of it is hard, tough, ugly, painful stuff.  Life gets messy when you get that close to someone.  But I would much rather experience these things and grow from them, than to stay in my own blissful bubble of relational ignorance and bankruptcy.  I do still yearn for adventures.  But I am learning, as my roots are growing  (at least for now) here in Atlanta, that adventures are even more exciting when you have dear people that you love and care for to share them with.  And that is a truly thrilling thought.

Celebrating a life well lived

After bravely and fiercely fighting as hard as she could, my grandmother lost her battle to cancer this summer.  It took me a very long time to decide how to write about it.  Of course it was difficult on all of us, seeing her go through the pain and suffering that she did.  And although I miss her very much, I am glad that she has moved on from that hardship and is in a better place now.  However, I don’t think that Jan would have wanted me to focus on the sorrow of losing her.  A much more fitting eulogy, I think, is focusing on the celebration of her life; remembering the wonderful woman that she was, and being grateful for the time I had with her.

One of my strongest memories of Jan happened over a decade ago.  Mom and dad went away for their anniversary, and so they left me, Chris, and Josh with Pa and Jan (Matt and Hope weren’t born yet at this point).  Chris and I bickered a lot that weekend, but Jan was my little oasis.  I knew that I could always run away to her and have her teach me something or just talk to me, and everything would be better.  I spent a lot of time that week just watching her cross-stitch.  She loved cross-stitching, and was really good at it, took – she made some truly brilliant designs in her lifetime.  She is probably a large reason why I picked up cross-stitching, myself.  Now that she is gone, I like it even more – it seems like a eulogy of sorts to her every time I pick up a needle and thread.

Aside from that weekend, I have lots of vivid memories of going to visit Pa and Jan in their almost-beachside home when I was younger.  I would stand next to her at the sink, helping her peel the shells off of the shrimp that we were cooking for dinner – she always made the best food.  I remember when she first showed me how to use a shrimp peeler – after I finally figured it out, which took a while, I promptly decided that it was the best thing since sliced bread.  Jan loved cooking, and since they lived so close to the ocean she cooked a lot of seafood.  It is fitting, I think, that one of the last things I did for Jan in one of my later visits was to let her sit back and relax while Pa and I cooked crab cakes for her.  She had already started to get sick at that point, but I had no idea then that that would be the last time I would see her alive.

They moved a few years ago, and I’ve visited them several times since; but their old home still holds so many memories for me.  I remember digging through their interesting books and magazines to find something to hold my attention while I curled up in their overstuffed reading chair for hours.  But then, more often than not, I would get distracted by the high ceilings or beautiful view, and drag Jan outside to go on a walk with me.  Being so close to the beach, Pa and Jan also made sure to make good use of that whenever we came to visit.  I have a photograph of Chris and I in 2 separate dune buggies, which were rented courtesy of our generous grandparents.  We were obviously having a ball.  The pictures don’t show it, but I’m sure that there was some friendly (or perhaps not-so-friendly) competition happening in those dune buggies while Pa and Jan sat and looked on, just enjoying the sight and presence of their grandchildren, regardless of what they happened to be doing.  I remember that when we were on the beach and she was in her bathing suit, I would often notice her upper arms and want to play with them – I thought they were smooth and touchable and wonderful.  As a little girl, I couldn’t understand why she hated me doing that; I get it now, but I still stick with my guns and say that she was, and always has been, beautiful.

One of my favorite things about Jan was that she not only encouraged my own interests, but she also spurred me on to pursue other interests that I may not have tried otherwise.  One year for Christmas they bought me a flute; for my birthday, which falls a few days after Christmas, they paid for a year of flute lessons.  As retired music teachers this was probably a no-brainer gift for them, but I had never even considered learning an instrument.  I ended up not sticking with it after that year, which I really regret and often wish that I could pick back up; nevertheless, the fact remains that she was constantly spurring me to better myself, something that I really appreciated about her.  And she didn’t just want us to learn for the sake of learning; she actually took real pleasure in seeing our progress.  My little siblings elected for piano lessons instead of flute, and they are still taking lessons; up until her death, she was always asking for recordings of their recitals, or for live demonstrations when they went to visit.  What was happening in our lives mattered to her.

But, as I already mentioned, Jan was always more than supportive of my own chosen interests, too.  My first pair of real dance shoes was purchased by Pa and Jan.  I’ll never forget that day…we drove ALL OVER town to find those things.  Myrtle Beach is not known for its swing dance scene, and thus finding a store that stocked the specialty shoes that many west coast swing dancers use proved to be no easy task.  But Jan was determined…it was important to me, and so it was important to her.  In the end we finally chanced upon a pair that I loved in a Halloween costume superstore, of all places.  I adored those shoes.  I wore them into the ground…they were literally falling apart before I finally retired them.

Myrtle Beach may not be known for its dance scene, but it IS known for its golf scene.  Every time we went to visit them, they would take us to a different putt-putt golf course.  I have never been a fan of real golf, but I always loved exploring a different mini-golf course with my grandparents (and yes, there were so many that we never went to the same one twice).  When I got older and started visiting them without the rest of my family, they assumed that I would have outgrown that activity, as well.  So when I actually asked to go there again – what can I say, I’m sentimental – they humored me, but then also took me to see Le Gran Cirque, Myrtle Beach’s version of Cirque du Soleil.  What a night!  I have to say, putt-putt was fun….but I was glad that they took it upon themselves to make me try something new.  That was an incredible performance.  Along a similar line, the last time our whole family visited them together, they took us all to a hands-on science museum called WonderWorks.  Was such a blast.  Jan was (and Pa still is) an incredibly giving, generous person.

Even after her death, the impact that she had had and was continuing to have on so many people is impossible to ignore.  As I sat there in the church during the memorial ceremony, I marveled at how many people were there, how many people had worked so hard to make her memorial service special and actually memorable.  How many people really loved her deeply.  How many people were working extra hard to make sure that Pa was taken care of after her passing.  Jan left behind a plethora of wonderful memories, scores of people who esteem and miss her dearly, and remnants of herself that will continue to bless people far beyond the scope of her life.  That, my friends, is the definition of a life well lived.  I miss her very much, but even more so I am proud and grateful to have had her in my life.  I am honored to have known her.

Just what the doctor ordered

Although I’ve been blessed to have been able to spend a good bit of time with some dear friends this summer, there are several of them I wish I could have spent more time with.  One of them is Elizabeth.  Between school and then work and church and being super popular with lots of people making demands on her time, she is a tough one to pin down sometimes.  But ironically enough, it seems to have actually gotten a bit easier since she got a new boyfriend.  Caleb and Michael have several times taken the initiative to plan double dates and outings and such, which means I’ve gotten to spend more time than usual with my lovely friend Elizabeth (oh yeah, and Caleb and Michael, too :]).

Two of my favorite such outings were going to the High Museum and visiting Helen for the day.  The High was supposed to be a surprise for me and Elizabeth – the only thing I knew was the date, and that I should dress up.  But it turned out that Caleb told Elizabeth all about it, so the only one who was surprised was me.  And boy oh boy, did the three of them enjoy the fact that I was left in the dark.  They were definitely enjoying teasing me, lol.  But it was worth it.  The High was having an exhibit on classic cars, which was why we went that night.  Knowing that I used to race, they chose that activity really solely because they thought that it would interest me – I felt very loved :).

After leaving the museum, we came across an interactive exhibit set up outside the museum entrance.  It was basically just a bunch of hammocks hanging under the stars – using them was encouraged.  It took a few minutes to snag 2 hammocks near each other, but we finally did, and stayed there in various amalgamations of people until the museum staff finally kicked us out.

My other favorite outing, as I mentioned earlier, was a day trip to Helen.  Elizabeth and I had so much fun with the boys at the High, that we decided to plan our own date.  This one was also supposed to be a surprise, but they are pretty insightful and had mostly figured it all out by the time we left.  But it was still fun.  She and I had packed stuff for a big picnic, which we ate upon arrival to Helen, which is about an hour and a half away from Atlanta.  After that, we rented some inner tubes and floated down the river.  It was pretty crowded, since it was Labor Day weekend, but we were able to navigate pretty well, especially considering the fact that we had decided against renting poles for steering.  I found that tying myself together with another inner tube made navigating the river exponentially easier – when one person got stuck on a rock, the other one usually bounced off of them and then pulled them free.  I only got stuck badly enough that I had to stand up to get off of the rock 3 or 4 times.

In the middle of the river, there was also a couple of big water slides, at which we took a fun detour for a while.  We started off racing each other down, but when Michael was going so fast that he slammed into the pool at the bottom and scraped himself up pretty badly, we decided to calm down a little bit and go at a more relaxed pace.

Once we finished the tubing course, we went back to the town and walked around for a bit.  I didn’t want to bring my camera on the river, so the only pictures that I have from the entire day are from when we were walking around the city center.  Helen is a very picturesque town – it’s supposed to be a facsimile of a traditional German town.  It’s incredibly touristy and I would hate to live in it, but to visit for a few hours was actually a lot of fun.  They have lots of little candy and artisan and gift stores that you could browse for hours if you wanted to.  My shopping limit is much less than that, so I only lasted about an hour before I was ready to head back home.  But it was a very nice day.  I was particularly grateful for the fact that, despite all of the driving to get there, I was actually able to rest and re-charge a bit on the river.  I had been going so hard for so long at that point, that some rejuvenation time was really just what the doctor ordered.  Getting to do it with people I love was just the icing on the cake :).

The upside of glitchy software

My dear friend Elizabeth recently celebrated a birthday.  Many months earlier, she had mentioned that she had never been to an aquarium; her birthday also happened to fall on a Sunday this year, which is a very convenient day for planning things, since most people don’t have to work.  So our church small group planned an outing together to go celebrate her birthday at the Georgia Aquarium.  For a first experience, that’s a great aquarium to go to – it’s actually the largest in the world…for now, at least.  But for all of our best intentions, this outing almost never happened.

We got there around 3:15 on Sunday afternoon.  Unfortunately, however, no one had thought about the fact that it was Labor day weekend.  The place was PACKED.  Seeing the huge swirling mass of people as I was parking, I almost turned around and retreated before I ever even made it to the aquarium doors.  But Elizabeth is a dear friend of mine, and so I soldiered on.  When the group of us who were going finally found each other at the ticketing booths, we realized that there was another problem.  The Georgia Aquarium sells tickets for specific entry windows.  Usually there aren’t enough people there for it to matter; you can just walk up and buy tickets for whatever time slot you happen to arrive within.  But by the time we got there, all of the tickets were sold out until 7:00 pm.  Almost 4 hours away.  To make matters somewhat worse, between season passes and guest passes and some people buying tickets in advance, everyone was actually able to get in at 3:00 except for 2 people, Matt and Aaron.  As we stood there at the self-ticketing kiosk, trying to figure out what to do, Aaron started absently tapping the “buy tickets” button over and over again.  All of a sudden, the 3:00-4:00 time window showed up as available!  But then the next time he tapped it, it had disappeared again.  We quickly seized our chance.  Aaron and Matt whipped out their credit cards, and kept tapping the screen until the 3:00 window showed up again.  It had to be quick, you see, because we didn’t want the system to figure out that we were gaming it and started behaving properly again :).  So yeah, hooray for glitchy software!  Without it, the stories and pictures below never would have happened.

The aquarium itself was pretty cool – being the largest in the world, I knew it would be.  I had been there several years ago and enjoyed it both times; but honestly, I find the cost of admission prohibitively expensive, and normally would rather spend my time and money elsewhere.  BUT, this time was different.  Michael’s dad works at the aquarium, and it just so happens that he was there at the same time we were.  So all of a sudden Michael comes up to us and asks, “do you want a behind-the-scenes tour?”  His dad had just randomly decided to take us all “behind the curtain,” as it were; so we tagged along behind him as he showed us all of the inner workings of the aquarium.

It was really one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen.  We got to see the enormous whale tanks from above, and where they cultivate coral for their exhibits, and the machines that they use to simulate waves, and the rows upon rows of water pumps and sand filtration systems that are constantly running, and the in-house animal hospital that they take the fish to when they need a doc.  It was definitely one of those things where I sort of knew that a lot of stuff must happen behind the scenes in order to bring about the polished finished product, but I had no idea of the enormity of the effort until I actually saw it for myself.  Despite the crowds, it was a really awesome day.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  And to think, it was all thanks to a glitchy ticketing system! 🙂

4th of July camping trip and visit to Berry

During my time in Atlanta, I have been blessed with some truly extraordinary friends.  Not only do we love each other dearly and care about what goes on in our lives, but we also like each other.  We spend lots of time together, just because we want to.  One of my favorite examples of this was this past 4th of July.  A big group of my small group members went camping in Cloudland Canyon for the holiday weekend.  Despite having a very inauspicious beginning – one of the cars broke down in the middle of nowhere, and a few people had to go back and get those passengers, and then drive up to Chattanooga at the end of the weekend to get a rental car to get everyone home again – it was an amazing weekend.  In fact, the car breaking down almost made it better – it was really awesome seeing how positive and upbeat everyone stayed…they just pulled together and did what needed to be done, and had a great time doing it!  Plus it gave us a great story later on… 🙂

Aside from our little vehicular misadventure, we did plenty of other more traditional activities – went hiking, made bonfires, found a fun little playground to reconnect with our inner children, played card games, and found a lovely little waterfall to hang out around for a bit (Elizabeth and Caleb even went swimming in it!  Crazy kids…).  It was such a nice, relaxing weekend; I was so grateful to be able to spend it with people that I cared about so much.

(continue reading past the pictures below for the rest of the story)

As a bonus, we even got to stop by Berry on our way home!  Caleb and several others in the group had always wanted to go to Berry but never had, and of course I will NEVER argue about a trip to Berry; since it only meant about an extra 30 minutes of drive time, we decided to make the detour and go visit the place where I have some of the best memories of my entire life.

I got to play tour guide for the people in my car – I was a very enthusiastic guide.  I felt a little bad for the guys in the other car, who were missing all of the stories.  Of course, my story-telling may have gotten a little too enthusiastic at times…perhaps I should have been feeling bad for the people in MY car, lol…

But anyway, we had enough time to visit all of my old haunts – my old dorms and the lovely mountain campus and the famous Frost chapel and the beautiful Old Mill and the original one-room schoolhouse that Martha Berry founded before Berry was even a glimmer in the future. We tried to go to the Martha Berry museum, since most of the people in the group had never been there before, but it was already closed :(.  But it was still a wonderful visit.  I always love going back to Berry, but going back with people who’ve never seen that part of my life before, but are eager to learn about it and hear my stories, just made the visit all the more sweeter.  It really was one of the best weekends of my year.  And to think I almost stayed home and missed it!  Many thanks go out to my friend (and now roommate) Amy for convincing me to go!

Whirlwind

Things quickly turned into a whirlwind after I returned from Peru (and by quickly, I mean within hours of stepping off of the plane).  That is largely why it has taken me such a long time to finish all of my stories from Peru – I was just going non-stop for months straight.  Since I knew I was going to be gone for 5 weeks straight right after graduation, and I didn’t have a job lined up and thus didn’t know where I would be living, I just let my apartment lease end.  But that meant that when I returned from Peru, I had all of my stuff in storage, was bouncing around with friends because I didn’t have my own place (and doing lots of driving too, since most of them live outside of Atlanta), and also still trying to find a job.  The lack of my own place made everything more stressful, and the increased drive time was wreaking havoc on my back.  Needless to say, it was a stressful time.

But things weren’t all bad.  I did a lot of dancing during this time – in fact, the day I returned from Peru was the anniversary party for Wicked Westie, and you can bet your boots that I was there, even though I was nearly sleeping on my feet from the long trip back.  As tired as I was, I was really glad that I got to be there – I’ve missed every other anniversary party for Wicked because I’ve been in one country or another.

I did skip dancing a couple of times, but it was for worthy causes.  My favorite was going to see the Lego movie at an outdoor showing at Emory University.  It was something put on for alums and friends of alums, so Elizabeth invited a group of people to go join her.  I did miss dancing, but I had a great evening with some awesome people – including Federico, a friend of Elizabeth’s who is actually Peruvian!  Totally worth it :).  It was great being able to reminisce a little bit with someone who understood what I missed so much about Peru.

Another reminder of Peru was the World Cup, which started while I was still there but continued for a while after I returned.  I happen to have several stateside friends who also like soccer, so for the Netherlands-Mexico game we decided to go to a pub that’s popular for watching World Cup matches.  They were rooting for the Netherlands, so in the spirit of unity I dressed up in my best orange outfit and started cheering on the Netherlands.  But I couldn’t make it through the whole game like that – pretty soon my Spanish roots took over, and I took off the orange topshirt I had on and went over to the other side of the pub to cheer on Mexico.  Hey, I may have never been to Mexico, but it’s a whole lot closer to Costa Rica and Peru than Holland is! 🙂

Scars of Life

There is a song that I love that talks about how the things we suffer make us stronger. A few of the lyrics say something along the lines of “I would love to fix it all for you, but please don’t fix a thing whatever you do. Cuz these bruises make for better conversations.”  I’ve been thinking of that song a lot lately. But I think that it’s the scars, more so than the bruises, that show the lives we’ve lived. Bruises come and quickly heal, but scars stay with you for the rest of your life. Of course this means physical scars, like the one I’ve got on my knee from whitewater rafting, or the one on my ankle from the killer mosquitoes in Machu Picchu, or the one on my foot from too much dancing in cheap shoes. But the deeper scars, and the ones that show all the more life, are the ones under the surface, the ones that can’t be seen. The scars that have been left from my travels, from the places I’ve lived and the things I’ve seen and the people I’ve met. They don’t cause scars at first; at first they are wonderful, magical, and life-changing. But it’s that very life-changing aspect that causes scars later on.  It’s the separation, the tearing away from those things that I’ve grown so close to, that rips my heart and emotions apart and leaves deep, deep scars. 

It’s hard to cope with those scars. They are painful. They are there because something that touched me deeply is now no longer with me. But, as hard and as painful as it is to live with those scars, I would never choose to live life without them. Which scar would I give up? My precious host family in Costa Rica, who taught me not only about life there but about how to love others, love God, and be content with what I have? My dear students in Korea, who selflessly took time out of their insanely busy schedules to love on me, a sad and desperately homesick American very far from home? My beloved host parents in Spain, who cooked for me the best food of my life and with whom I know I’ll always have a home if I ever go back to Seville? Or perhaps I would choose to give up this most recent scar from Peru, in which the flexibility with which I came allowed me to meet some truly incredible people and see God work in ways that I have very rarely ever seen?

No, of course not. There is not a chance in the world that I would ever give up what I gained from those experiences in exchange for a pain-free, scarless existence. As the song says, they make for better conversations and richer lives. The fact remains, however, that it hurts to be always and forever separated from things and places and people that you love. But I don’t think God has given me these scars – or anyone, for that matter – to cause us pain.  If that’s what we think, we’ve just got to be missing something.  In fact, I wonder sometimes if reflecting on wonderful things from the past makes it harder for you to focus on the wonderful things of the present.  I know that’s something that I often struggle with.  The real question is not how to avoid the scars, but rather how to live life in a way that amplifies the beauty of the here and now, rather than focusing on the pining for a beauty long past.  The real question is figuring out how to use these scars of life, both the good and the bad, in a way that honors God and uses our talents and knowledge to their full potential.  Perhaps that’s where the true beauty of life lies – in learning to live in a way that does not eliminate losing things you love, but diminishes those scars because you have learned to find beauty and joy in your present state, no matter what it is.

Closing thoughts

Because I had originally bought my return trip from Lima, I had to return back there from Andahuaylas – budget airlines like Spirit don’t deal kindly with itinerary changes.  I flew into Lima early on the morning of Wednesday, June 18th.  But my flight out of the country didn’t leave until that evening, so I met my Pastor Mario (from Korea) one more time before I left.  I found it rather fitting that he was both the first person and the last person I saw on my trip.  I’m not really entirely sure why, other than the fact that he is Peruvian, and is part of the reason I thought about coming to Peru in the first place.

I left my backpack in a locker at the airport, and then he took me to the city center and we spent most of the day there together.  Had lunch at a wonderful historic old restaurant – Zamantha made such a mess, it was awesome.  We saw a diplomatic convoy arrive at the presidential palace, which was really cool.  Such pomp and circumstance!  For all of the times I’ve said that I dislike Lima, I have to admit…historic Lima is pretty incredible.  The architecture alone makes it worth the visit.  We went on a city bus tour that enabled me to see much more of the city than I would have on my own, or even if Mario was just driving me around.  We also went inside a few buildings – my favorite was the catacombs under the grand old church.  There were flocks of birds swarming the courtyard of that church outside, which would have make for a very quaint painting, but was kinda creepy in real life.  I guess it matched well with the catacombs underneath it…

But the entire day definitely has strong undercurrents of sadness in it for me.  Without looking for it or even expecting it, I was realizing that Peru, like so many other places, had stolen my heart.  Except Peru did it even more forcefully, and in even less time than other places had.  I know that I’ve said this before…but there’s something special about Peru.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, other than to say that I knew that God was with me there – it was obvious, and it was incredible.

So as I boarded the plane to head back stateside, I decided to try a different tactic to avoid reverse culture shock on my return.  If the thing I loved most about Peru was the fact that I could see God there…why not try to do the same in my day-to-day life in Atlanta?  Get away from the hustle and bustle, and take time to see God working all around me.  He is no less sovereign and no less loving at home than He is abroad.  It is just easier for us to get comfortable and miss His provision when we’re at home.  I challenge all of you to do the same – make a conscious decision to look for the ways that God is working in and guiding your life.  Ask Him to show them to you.  You may be surprised by what you find.

The diplomatic procession:

The birds that I mentioned in the cathedral courtyard:

Views from my last Lima bus tour:

Another world to fall in love with

After we finished our week in Pampachiri, and amid many tears of goodbye and countless photos and promises to keep in touch, we all headed back as a group to Andahuaylas.  Their flight was leaving early the next morning, so I only had that afternoon and evening in the city with them.  But my flight, which I had bought long before I ever thought about coming to Pampachiri, didn’t leave for another 4 days.  So I got spend a beautiful, precious three days with Ingrid and the 2 Carloses, who had also come back to Andahuaylas (Ingrid and Carlos own a restaurant there).  I had almost all of my meals with them at their restaurant, but they were obviously pretty busy during the day, so I spent a lot of the time during the day either on my own or with Carlos II and extended family.

Carlos II took me all over the city and its outskirts in the 3 days that I was there.  There was a little festival of sorts in the main plaza while we were there – that’s one of the things that I love about Latin American countries.  Every city always has its main plaza, and there is always something going on in it.  This time it was some sort of artistic exhibition – there were kids painting, and more sophisticated paintings and sculptures on display, and even groups of chefs or chefs in training or something like that who were making food art.  It was quite fascinating  – I sat there for a long time just watching them ply their craft.

I also went to a big market with Carlos II one day; we made a game of finding as many unusual fruits and vegetables and various other things for sale that we could.  I was losing until I realized that he was serious, and then I started looking in earnest.  We found spiky fruit, and vegetables that looked like little monsters – none of which I remember the names of – and alpaca meat and blocks of salt bigger than me and all sorts of fascinating things.  I particularly liked the emoliente, a hot herbal tea often sold by street vendors that is believed to have powerful medicinal properties.  It’s no wonder, too, as emoliente almost always has toasted barley, flax seed,alfalfa juice, honey or pollen, and lime juice, and sometimes plantains, aloe vera, cat’s claw and even horsetail , depending on the recipe. I’m glad I found that out after I tried it, because if I had known that I was drinking horsetail I would have been far less inclined to try it.  But I’m glad I did – it was delicious!!  Another favorite “unusual” thing that I found – and tried – was hidromiel, or mead.  If you had asked me what mead was before I came to Peru, I wouldn’t have had the slightest idea.  But now I’ll never forget – the Spanish name is much more descriptive.  It is translated literally as “honey water,” and that’s exactly what mead is – an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water.  I had hidromiel be naranja, or orange flavored mead, and it was truly quite good.  I was surprised at how much I liked it.  And of course, if I’m talking about strange new foods I encountered in Peru, I can’t leave out the chirimoya.  Chirimoya is a tropical fruit native to the Andean region, and if you’ve never tried it, it’s almost certainly unlike anything you’ve ever had before.  The white fleshy fruit fruit is soft and sweet, with an almost sherbert-like texture.  This is where its secondary name, custard apple, originated from.  I could have eaten a chirimoya every day I was there – I wish I’d discovered it earlier!  Why can’t we have exciting fruits like that in the States??

Carlos II took me to quite a few places in and around town, which various amalgamations of the extended family in tow, depending on who was able to come along.  My favorite would have to be a tie between the rocks of Campanayo, and Pacucha Lagoon.  Campanayo was pretty, but I really liked it because of its novelty factor.  There are huge rocks scattered all over the ground there.  But when you hit on them with other rocks, they ring as if you were hitting metal, not stone.  Apparently they are famous all over Peru.  But if I hadn’t gone there with a Peruvian, I never would have heard of them – that’s why I always prefer traveling with a local! 🙂  It was truly a fascinating and surreal place.  I’ve never seen anything like that.

But the other place, Pacucha Lagoon, was absolutely gorgeous.  Actually, I take back my previous comment.  It wasn’t a tie between the two.  Campanayo was unique, but it couldn’t hold a candle to Pacucha in terms of beauty or tranquility or happiness.  Pacucha Lagoon is largely considered one of the most beautiful lagoons in all of South America, and it certainly lives up to its reputation.  Vast stretches of pristine, multicolored water under brilliant blue skies, framed by gorgeous tropical foliage and punctuated either by a calm tranquility, or the peaceful chirping of birds or friendly chatter of neighbors shooting the breeze.  I went with Carlos II and a few other extended family members, and it was such a lovely and relaxing day.  They took me to a nice restaurant right on the water, and were just so kind and accepting of me.  I am sooooo grateful that I got to spend that time with them.

And just like that, my time in Andahuaylas was over.  Carlos II took me to the airport – my flight to Lima left too early in the morning, he wasn’t comfortable with me taking a cab.  He bought me emoliente to warm me up (it gets COLD in southern Peru!!), and then once we got to the airport we bought a quinoa tortilla for breakfast and manjar blanco (a sort of dulce de leche spread; very very tasty) for the road.  And then I was gone.  I actually ended up sitting on the flight next to another Peruvian who had also been on the mission trip.  So we chatted almost the entire way back; it was nice to reminisce for a little while longer about the incredible week that I had just had.  But I was definitely cognizant that it was almost time to get back to the “real world.”  This is yet another world that I am going to have to return to someday.  Hopefully much sooner rather than later.

More than just a mission trip

My adventure in Pampachiri started long before I even got to the city.  I left from Chiclayo on Saturday morning, headed for the airport in Lima.  I got there late in the evening, and settled in to spend the night in the airport.  I got an email later from a few of the other people on the team who were also camping out at the airport and trying to connect with me, but I didn’t see it until later, so I just found an isolated corner of the airport, used my backpack as a pillow and pulled my jacket over my face, and went to sleep.  Thank goodness for earplugs :). Early the next morning, I got in line to check into my flight, and finally met up with the rest of the group – it’s pretty easy to spot a large group of foreigners with extensive amounts of medical supplies in the small airport in Lima.

The flight to Andahuaylas was fairly uneventful, other than the normal chaos that comes with transporting lots of bags and people.  After we landed in Andahuaylas, we had to hang around the airport for several hours until the buses came to get us on the 3 hour trip to Pampachiri.  And when it finally did arrive, it was too big to actually make it all the way to the “airport” (I use the term loosely), so we had to bring all of our bags and the medical supplies by foot until we got to the buses.  I was very glad at that point that I had packed so lightly – my backpack that I used for the entire month was actually much smaller than most of the other personal bags for the week and a half mission trip.  Always an adventure!  I love it ^_^.  It was even more complicated because of the enormous amount of medical supplies that they brought – it was too heavy to fit in the tiny plane from Lima to Andahuaylas, so it had to be bussed in several days earlier from Lima to make sure that it got there on time.

Before I met up with the group, I had some concerns about how I would assimilate with a group of people I had never met, especially since I had missed all of the training that they had together in the States before leaving.  I needn’t have worried.  They accepted me instantly.  By the time we got to Pampachiri, I felt like I had known them all my life.  Same thing with Ingrid and Carlos (our hosts), and the other Carlos (Ingrid’s cousin).  I like to call him Carlos the Second :).  In fact, as the week, went on, I found myself spending more and more time with the Peruvians in the evening, and less with the Americans.  I loved them all, but since I got to see so much of the Americans while we were at clinic during the day, I tried to spend my time in the evenings learning from the Peruvians.  They taught me slang Spanish, and Peruvian folk songs, and all about their national and personal histories.  It was really fascinating; definitely time well spent.  I really connected with the Peruvian culture and the people that I met while I was there.  It’s definitely a place that I will be going back to.

My job as part of the mission team, since I have absolutely no medical experience and zero desire to change that fact, was serving as a Spanish-English translator.  Definitely one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever done.  I would say that my Spanish is at a pretty decent conversational level; however, speaking medical Spanish is a completely different language.  Whew.  Many of these terms I didn’t even know in English, let alone Spanish.  On several occasions every day, I found myself having to ask the doctors what a word meant in English first, before I could move over and translate it into Spanish.  And then sometimes there was an added bonus if the patient only spoke Quechua; then we had to do the same process through 2 separate translators.  Yikes.  It was quite a challenge.  But it was fun.  Of course there were some times when I wanted to give up and go home, but overall I really enjoyed it.  Something I’ve noticed about when I travel: when I’m in the States I’m happy and comfortable, but when I’m abroad I feel….fulfilled.  In a way I’ve rarely or never felt when stateside.

The daily devotionals we had as a group were also a huge encouragement to me.  I particularly liked Tuesday’s devotional, which was on the story of Jesus healing Jairus’ daughter.  The title was “seeing the unseen,” and talked about how God is working behind the scenes to put the pieces of our lives together for our good.  We may not know or see how He’s doing that, but we can be confident that He is.  As I talked about in my previous blog, my trip to Pampachiri was the culmination of weeks of God teaching me just that very thing.  As a translator, I not only got to tell people about good health and hygiene, but I also got to tell them about Jesus and what he’s done in my life.

Aside from that, my ability to communication in Spanish meant that I was also able to enjoy a traditional festival that happened while we were in town, go on a couple of hikes with Ingrid and Carlos the Second and some people from the group, and have late night discussions with Carlos and a few of the younger doctors, with me serving as a translator and lots of laughter all around.  Pampachiri was more than just a mission trip.  It was a time of relaxation and rejuvenation, an answer to my prayers that my trip be more than just sightseeing, an encouragement and affirmation of my worth as a child of God, a reminder of His fervent desire to bring more people into that family, a glimpse into the lives of some very passionate and inspiring people from several different countries, a taste of human hardship – but also grit and determination – and what I can do to lessen that hardship.  It was truly an incredible week.  I can’t wait to go back!!!