Cara traveled to Anda last week to check out our new home.  She came back with many cool things to say, but she has left some big blanks.  But that’s not her fault…JVC probably asked her to not tell us too much.  The office is supposed to send us all sorts of information about jobs and housing and travel plans et cetera this week…

The feeling I have now is similar to the one you get when you ask a somebody you like out.  There is that brief pause/moment between you asking the question and her/him responding…you’re full of anticipation and hope, but you’re waiting.  It’s similar to that.  But only this time, I know that JVC is going to say yes…I just want to know the details of the date like: when are we going?  What are we doing?  Where are we living?

But anyways…here is most of what Cara wrote in her email to us:

–Llamas:  Sorry, Sam, but the only llama I saw was the iron one at the parish center.  But aparently they are around in the villages high above the Quispicanchi valley.
–Security: Andahuaylillas is very safe because everyone knows everyone else.  Fr. Oscar, the parish priest and an all-around awesome Jesuit, told me that it’s safe for women to walk by themselves whenever they want and that the biggest security risk are the town drunks (who are annoying, but harmless).
–Computer and Internet access:  There is a computer room at the parish that is open every day until 8pm with internet access.  It’s there for the kids to do their homework, but during the day it would be available to us.  The Fe y Alegria school also has a computer lab but I don’t think it’s got internet yet.  There is also an internet cafe that is right on the main square that you can use by the hour (1 hour = s/1.00 = $0.36).
–History of volunteers in Andahuaylillas:  I was a little surprised to find out that Andahuaylillas has welcomed volunteers for more than 10 years.  Most of these volunteers have been from Spain and most have stayed for only a month or two.  People were excited to hear that we’d be there for a more long term experience.  The ethos of JVC is very distinct from that of past volunteers, so it’ll be interesting and exciting to share what we’re all about with the people of Andahuaylillas. I was able to meet 4 current volunteers who have all enjoyed their time in Andahauylillas.  We should be overlapping with a young Peruvian lady named Sylvia who helps out a lot with the parish.  Sylvia was one of my hostesses and also said that we could email her with any more Anda-related questions.  There are also 2 random German young women who are also volunteering for the year with a women’s artisan co-op called the Q’ewar project.  Check out their website for more info about their doll-making project.
–Climate and Weather:  I looks as though we’re going to have to pack for everything.  It’s hot, it’s cold, it’s sunny, it’s rainy, it’s windy.  The good thing about Anda is that the dress code is casual just about anywhere we might be working.  I’m talking jeans and a respectable shirt type of casual.  It’s always good to have a nice dress or black pants (for the ladies) or a shirt and tie (for the gents) for nicer occasions (baptisms, graduation dances, weddings, etc…).  Since we are in the Southern Hemisphere, all of our seasons are flipped.  So when we arrive in Andahuaylillas, they will be in summer which means INTENSE rains followed by INTENSE sun every day.  Then the cold sets in from May until August.  Thanks to some microclimates happening, there’s no snow but it can get chilly at night.  The air is also very dry — I’m not one to get nose bleeds, but I had one almost every day I was there.  The air is very dry – lotion is a must.
–Post office:  Fr. Oscar said we could have our mail delivered to the Jesuits’ house in Cusco.  Packages are more complicated and we’d have to go to Cusco to pick them up.  He recommended that people send smaller packages that weigh less than 3 kilos (6.6 lbs) so that they don’t have to go through customs.
–Connections with home:  It looks as though skype will be the easiest way to communicate with home.  There is not a headset with a microphone at the parish, so someone will have to bring that with them.
–Altitude:  I actually got sick on my third day there :(.  It was awful – I lost my appetite, I felt weak, was in a cold sweat, and very dehydrated.  Sylvia and Oscar were very helpful though in getting me fluids and letting me rest.  I think we’ll have to lay low for the first week we’re there until we acclimatize.
–Transportation:  The town is small enough that we’ll be walking everywhere.  If we need to get to any of the other towns, we’ll take the bus or colectivos.
Fun stuff right??

Boston = Culture

Last week I had the pleasure of traveling to Boston…again.  I have really come to see the city has my home more and more, and while Charlotte is and will always be my Hometown, Boston may be my home.   But anyways…Dad and I flew up on Wednesday to see a Sox game with Dan and Diesel.  A fall trip to Boston for a Sox game has become somewhat of a ritual for my dad, and it’s nice that we get to continue that since Dan is a freshman and all.  While the Sox may not be in the playoffs this year (still not mathematically eliminated yet though) Fenway is always a good time.  Shootin’ the breeze, enjoying a few beers and a hot dog or two on a warm fall night…I love it.  Seeing Dan was good too I’ll admit.  I love listening to his adjustment to BC, and his experiences take me back to my own just 4 years ago.  He is having difficulty figuring out how to get all of his reading done.  I’m sure he’ll figure it out soon enough that you don’t actually do all of the reading!  So this was day 1 of culture.

Thursday came early, and I had to make the trek from Revere where my dad’s hotel was all the way out to Chestnut Hill.  A long journey, especially during rush hour traffic.  But I would be rewarded with a beautiful New England day (although a bit warm).  I spent several hours hanging around the Chocolate Bar, the Eagles Nest, and Campus Ministry…all of my favorite haunts!  There were lots of good conversations with people I haven’t seen in a while, and its nice to see that even as time passes there is still much to talk about.  I hit a point in the afternoon where I felt like it was time to head on.  Being in the Eagle’s Nest for 4 hours is quite long enough.   So I hopped the B-line down to Packard’s Corner where I would be spending the night on Mara’s couch.  The cultural part of day 2 was coming.  The two of us cooked dinner before heading downtown.  Several months ago Mara had asked if I wanted to see Wicked.  We both have a taste for musicals, and she knew that my answer would be yes…it would simply be a matter of finding a mutually convenient time to see it.   We scooted down to the Opera House, and took our seats in the 4th row.  I had left Mara to the seat purchasing, and she had decided it would be best to spring for the front…I mean, how often do you get to do that?  Wicked was fantastic, as I had expected.  I remember seeing it two years ago when it was in Boston, and I had a similar impression as I left this time.  It is such a well done production that you leave the theater and simply want to see it again.  That was day 2.

Friday.  Woke up around 9:30 and made the brief walk to Dunkin for breakfast.  I love Dunkin Donuts.  It is a fantastic place full of deliciousness.  After my standard egg and cheese on a wheat bagel with a hot black coffee I packed up my things from Mara’s place to make the trip back out to BC for a lunch date with Colleen.  Spent several hours again in the Eagle’s Nest and again visited many more people from my BC life.  One of my favorite things to do while at BC was to wander into Fr. Don’s office and simply sit on his couch.  I didn’t even really need to have any reason for being there, but there would always be something going on with Padre.  So I went down to his office and was put to work helping the SOA group with their t-shirts.  About this time my mother showed up since after all this was parents’ weekend.  She and Dan were on their way to visit Newton and his dorm room.  I wasn’t going with him, because I had already seen it and who really goes to Newton?

Later that evening was the standard Pops on the Heights with the Boston Pops.  (culture!)  It was another good concert, but I don’t think it will ever be able to top sophomore year when John Williams conducted…you just really can’t do better than that.  But we enjoyed ourselves.  The woman who was the singer accompaniment in the second half was alright.  But then she became great when she improved a love song to Boston.  She invited suggestions from the audience as to what she should sing about.  Eventually she noticed that the Chorale was trying to say something.  She asked the rest of us to be quiet and the Chorale was able to get out “Mary Ann’s” as something she should sing about.  And so the woman improved a love song to Mary Ann…she might have been the only one in Conte Forum who did not know that Mary Ann’s was the BC dive bar!  We all had a good laugh, and I’m sure she did too once someone informed her of Mary Ann’s existence as BC’s watering hole.

Saturday was BC football. Tailgating was awesome!  As it usually is.  And that’s all I’m going to say about Saturday…

And Sunday I came home…back to my life in Charlotte as a student and employee of the YMCA.

US military diverts flood waters to save self

To go along with yesterday’s post…here is another post from “God’s Politics Blog”.  It is a short post but has several links within it that give you more background.   The US has apparently diverted flood waters in Pakistan to save a military base that launches unmanned drones for extra-judicial killings in Afghanistan…and in the diverting of flood waters we’re putting more communities in Pakistan under water.

Find the article here.

Define trespassing…please

An interesting article/blogpost about a group of peace activist who illegally trespassed on a US military base…they’ve turned their trial into one about the ethical/legal use of remote controlled warfare rather than their walking onto a military base.

See the post here: A Peace Movement Victory in Court

Thanks to Fr. Don for emailing this out to his many listservs!

Travel Pass

Jim, my step-dad, works for US Airways as a pilot. One of the greatest perks of working for a major airline is the travel pass. You, the employee, your spouse, your parents, and your dependents are all allowed to be on the travel pass. About 10 years ago I was added to the travel pass, and that has allowed me to travel anywhere US Airways goes for free provided that there is an empty seat on the plane. I have only ever missed one flight that caused me to be stuck in an airport over night. There is a website we can use to look at the number of passengers on each flight so that we can choose what flights we’re more likely to get a seat on. This privilege was incredibly useful as a student at BC, because it made traveling back and forth between Charlotte and Boston fairly easy. It is something I don’t have to book in advance, and that I can change in a moment depending on where I want to go. The travel pass enabled me to get to St. Louis freshman year for hockey; same for Denver sophomore year. I flew to San Francisco last winter for BC vs. USC. In addition to many sporting events I have been able to visit many places and many friends because of the travel pass. As I move into the last few weeks of life in the states, I have started using it to visit friends from college as well as friends from JVC. I went to Philadelphia a few times this summer. I’ve been to Boston twice in the last few weeks with several plans to go back over the next few.

Two weekends ago I went to Milwaukee to visit Tony, Meghan, Cat, Andy, and Adrianna. All of us are in that same state of limbo with one foot solidly planted in our home towns with our families and our cultures, and another foot slightly off the ground in anticipation of the journey we are set to embark upon. It’s not something we have consciously chosen, having our second foot off the ground that is, just something that is natural as we come closer to our departure dates. But, Milwaukee…what a fun city. Maybe Milwaukee isn’t all that fun, but when you have the right people everything is fun. We were staying at Megan’s place in Wawatosa just outside of the city. We were lucky, it was the weekend of ‘Tosa fest which meant things in the small suburb of Milwaukee were swinging…sorta. Friday night we started at the fest before moving downtown for a brewery tour. Now you might have guessed a Miller tour, but since Milwaukee is somewhat of a beer hub we went for the bit classier and definitely tastier Water Front Brewery followed by dinner downtown. One of the best parts of all of this was that everything seemed natural…as though we’d been friends much longer than the 8 weeks we had known each other. (Especially odd given that we’d hadn’t seen each other in 6 weeks) Conversation was easy, and we were all looking for a chance to connect with others in similar life positions. One more things about Milwaukee…they had a kite flying festival with world renowned kite flyers. Talk about a legit city. And many of you may be thinking that kites aren’t that cool…but let me set you straight. These kites were awesome. The pilots (is that what you call one who flies a kite?) could make their kites do anything. And there was even a kite ballet of sorts! It was just plain crazy…

Last weekend I flew out to LA to visit Carolyn and other Boston College JVs. It was an impromptu decision of sorts thanks to the travel pass mentioned above. Of all the traveling I’ve done, I think this was one of the more difficult trips. Flying east coast to west coast for a 48 hour visit is tough…the time change gets you, the long flights get you. It’s just all around a taxing trip. But seeing Carolyn in her new habitat was worth it. She lives with 4 other JVs and they showed me just how small the Jesuit community is across the country. One of her roommates went to school and was friends with Mateo (one of my community mates in Peru) and another was in the same frat at Creighton with Greg (JV going to Tacna, Peru)…and there were undoubtedly other connections. I won’t go too much into Carolyn’s home and work placements because she does it in much more depth in her own blog which is linked on the right hand side of this blog.

The draw back to the travel pass is that I never have a guaranteed seat assignment and there is no way to be sure to get on a flight. This was made quite clear to me on the way home from LA. I had to be back for my Dad’s 50th birthday which means I had to jump through several hurdles to be sure that happened. I won’t go into too many details, but my flight path back to Charlotte was: LA to Phoenix, Phoenix to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Charlotte taking more than 12 hours to get back home.

I just spent the last 5 days in Boston, and I’ll detail that a bit later…this is enough for now, and anyways my plane to Charlotte is getting ready to board and I do have a seat!

“Thinking Often Makes Prayer Cease”

“Thinking often makes prayer cease”  —  Henri Nouwen in his Latin American journal ¡Gracias!

Have you ever thought about silence?  Like seriously contemplated what silence means?  Do you think you have ever experienced silence?  This thought arises from an experience of silence during orientation where we packed up and headed off to Campion Center out in Weston, MA.  The final days of orientation were to be spent on retreat in silence.  Forced silence as a way to reflect/meditate on all the information we had learned, situations we had experienced, and people we had met.  This was my first time on a silent retreat, and it was something I was looking forward to.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible comes from 1 Kings 19:11-13:

11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.  “Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then a voice came to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  (NRSV)

In this Elijah is running from society.  He is the only one left, or so he believes, that is observing the Word.  He is fed up with his fellow humans, and is on the run.  Only at the urging of Angles has he made his way to Mt. Horeb, and even there is essentially stands up and says, “Please Lord, take me now!”  And it is only after he has looked everywhere else that he finds God in the sound of silence (or I should say the absence of sound!).

This was somewhat like our experience at orientation.  God’s presence was made abundantly clear from the start based upon the sheer number of people who had heard a call to service and answered.  But I was beginning to struggle with finding God in myself with all that was going on around me.  The days were packed full of useful and important information, and bonding with all of the volunteers sometimes took precedence over quiet reflection on God’s presence.  I was struggling.  I had begun to pull myself back from this group in an attempt to find God’s call.  It was almost as though I had lost it and was uncertain as to where I was headed spiritually as well as physically.  Fortunately the silent retreat came at a time when I most needed it.

I entered into the retreat looking for God’s call to become more pronounced.  What was it that I was being called to exactly?  Something had brought me to the Jesuit Volunteers; I had heard something, but as with many things God says to us, I wanted it to be clearer, more pronounced.  I, like Elijah, was looking for God’s voice.  But as you probably know, this is not how God works.  There are very few people who hear His call like a megaphone in their ear…God is much more subtle.  The silent retreat, while absent of any head ringing calls from God, provided me an environment to regroup and refocus on God’s presence in my life.

I think there are only a handful of moments in my life where I have found true silence, because many times what I take as silence isn’t actually silence, but a God made reminder of life.   One of these times occurred while on retreat.  The retreat center provided several workshops for us to attend during our stay.  One that I sat in on was “Centering Prayer”.  A meditative exercise meant to quiet the mind and body to a point where you can simply BE in the presence of God.   You start with being still and quieting the body.  “For a few moments, simply notice what’s happening in your body without trying to change it.  Be aware of where you are stiff or tense, where you are dull.  Without slouching, let your body be supported by the floor or the chair; let it become quiet.” (quoted from a handout)

Gently begin to breathe deeply.  Become conscious to the simple act of breathing in and out.   As you become aware of your breathing, attempt to make your breaths longer and deeper, but do not strain.  As you breathe out, let go from yourself all impurities and dis-ease.  “And as you breathe in, fill yourself with peace and with the abiding presence of the Divine Mystery who breathed life into the nostrils of Adam and Eve and who like a mighty wind blew over the dark chaos before the cosmos was created.”

At this point in our exercise, the 20 or so other people in the room had vanished from my mind.  It was just me and my breathing.  But still my mind was wandering, as it tends to do.  The next step in this centering prayer is to focus on a divine word; something that speaks to you.  The word that settled into my mind was ‘hope’.  Somewhat appropriate for where I was mentally at the time.   As I was sitting in that room, focusing on my breaths in and out, I began to quiet my mind.  Focusing on my divine word.  As other thoughts popped into my mind, I would simply refocus on my word; refocus on being in the divine presence.  The facilitator had us picture these ideas or thoughts that would interrupt our prayer as sail boats passing by the beach on a peaceful day…just let them keep on sailing, and do not dwell on what they contain.

By the end of the 20 or 30 minutes we spent practicing this everything had disappeared from my periphery.  I really had no idea how much time had passed, as I was simply content with being there.  One of the most astonishing realizations when we were brought back to the world of sound by the ding of a bell was that I had been in silence.  True Silence.  When that bell sounded so many noises came back into my consciousness.  The sound of the air conditioner at the back of the room.  The sound of the person next to me shuffling their feet or adjusting their position.  The sounds of others out in the hallway wandering past.  So many things that had simply vanished from my perception as I had focused on my divine word.

Later that day I was down on the banks of pond out behind the retreat center.  Here is an excerpt from my journal:

Silence is artificial.  There is no such thing; especially in nature.  I am sitting on the edge of a pond.  There are no people, but there is still so much noise.  As I sit, I practice the centering/focusing exercise from this morning.  This time it removed my inner thoughts but enhanced the noise of nature.  The birds, insects, wind, tress, and even the fish make so much noise.  But it is a different sort of noise.  If you listen closely it is, in a way, the noise of God.  It is not a man made distraction, but a God made reminder of life.

I think this understanding of silence is something we often lack in our society.   We are constantly searching for input, for stimulation, for something to do.  Maybe the goal should not be a search for silence, but instead a search to quiet our own minds so that we can be open to hearing the sounds around us?

I now question my earlier experience of “True Silence.”  Was that “True Silence” or simply man made artificial silence brought on by a facilitator during an exercise?  Maybe there is no such thing as silence?  Carolyn pointed out to me that not all man-made noise is necessarily a distraction from divinity.  Things like the conversations we had at orientation, or the beautifully crafted music of the organ, or even the voice of the facilitator can all bring a certain degree of understanding in divinity.  I think the search for silence is incredibly useful in my own spiritual life, but I guess you have to make your own choice as to how you balance the silence and noises in your life.

As I look forward to my years in Peru, I can’t help but realize how beautiful JVC’s emphasis on simply being with those whom you are living amongst is.  There will be many times where my duty will simply to be with someone.  Not to say anything, just to listen…even during those awkward moments of silence that occur in all conversation.  Will I be able to control my impulse to fill these awkward voids with useless chatter?  At first probably not, but as time goes on I hope to be more adept at careful listening and being.  Carolyn posed a great question to me while discussing this topic: “What do you think it means to enter into someone else’s silence?”  I don’t feel equipped to answer this question just yet.  At some point in the future I hope to return to it, but for now I leave it to you to ponder.

Personal update…

So I realize that this hasn’t been much of a space where I write about my life and more of a space where I place thoughts that I randomly have about what is going on in the world around me.   And as I move forward I think that this space will continue to be a place where I write about things that I am thinking about as well as things that are going on in my life.  And so with that…

Last weekend, Labor day weekend, I flew up to Boston.  It was part move my brother into the freshmen dorms at BC and part visit my friends who were also in Boston.  At least that was the rationalization.  But in the end it turned out to be 95% hang out with my friends and 5% help my brother move in.  (Which I am sure he was grateful for!)  It was really good to see everyone while I was there, and even better to be back in the Alumni Stadium atmosphere that is BC Football.

One of the things that I did last weekend that was unusual for me was lack of planning.  I knew where I was sleeping, and I knew who all was going to be in that apartment, but I made almost no plans to meet up with other people around BC.  The process became a more natural process of running into people while tailgating or randomly seeing people at Cityside after the game.  The only real plan I had going into last weekend was to meet with Fr. Don to grab the things I had left behind for Daniel and to sleep on Lizz’s air mattress.

Thinking back on the experience, it was the right decision.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and got to reconnect with a lot of friends without stressing out over who I was going to see next.  But at the same time I am sad that I missed seeing some of my undergraduate friends…which is okay since I will be back up there in 2 weeks for parents’ weekend.

An odd thing happened to me while I was in Boston.  I realized how much I missed having roommates and living with my friends.  While there were many (many) stressful times with roommates, and especially friends who were roommates, there is a certain loneliness that comes with living back at home without those supports around.  (And to my parents who I know read this, I am grateful that you allow me to live at home and I love you!)  I also really miss Boston.  Fundamentally as a city it was phenomenal to live in.  The T, as much  as it sucks, could get you where you wanted to go.  There was never any real worry about transportation, and I could be downtown in less than an hour without having to worry about parking or driving after going out.   I feel confident in saying that I will live in a city with a subway when I finally find a place to settle down.

This week has been a mix of work, Spanish, running, and fun.

Work: I usually work 2-6pm at the YMCA After School, but today was special since it was a teacher work day in the school system.  I’m guessing that it was because of Rosh Hashanah, but since its a public school system I don’t think it was officially for that reason.   And we got to run a full day of After School Camp.

Spanish:  I have been attending classes at PDS for a few weeks now.  It is a great 90 minutes of class where I have to speak and comprehend Spanish.  I am picking up a lot of useful things and getting in a lot of practice.  One of the things that I really apprecaite is that Sr. Barron isn’t forcing me to do any of the real work.  I do the reading and the worksheets, but with regards to vocab that the class is learning I am allowed to create my own vocab lists.  So instead of a list built around some reading we’re doing or some unit we’re doing, I’ve built a vocab list around “Church” vocabulary which will be presumably more useful to me in a few months than what the Spanish 3 or 4 class is working on.  But who knows?

Running: I started back running this week.  It has been about 4 months since my last serious run, and that was the Boston Marathon.  Monday was a decent run and I happened to be at the park at the same time as PDXC so I ran a bit of their workout to start.  Thursday was a follow up run, and I started thinking about how many thousands of miles I’ve run at the park where I run…its hard to fathom.  I have really missed the trails this summer, and I am looking forward to getting into a routine over the course of the next few months.

Fun is self explanatory, and it happens almost anywhere I go!

Tomorrow I am off to Milwaukee to visit Tony and other JVIs who are in the region.  (Thank you Jim for your travel pass…you have allowed me to do so many things over the past 10+ years that I would not have been able to afford to do)  I am looking forward to hanging out with other JVs this weekend and to come away from the weekend feeling reconnected to the JVC mission and people that I felt such a strong connection to after Orientation.  (Not that I don’t feel connected now, but as with anything time=distance and I could use a booster shot.)

(This also was not proofread, but I am sure Diesel will find the spelling errors and missed trains of thought)