Change is in the air…

This post, like the previous few, has been set to auto post at a later date then the typing…bet I fooled you!  Today we are leaving for Mes de Misión and I will be out of contact until early February.   Greg, Mateo and I will be traveling with 50 sophomore aged boys and several of their teachers/school administrators to Puerto Grau (a beach/fishing village about an hour north of Tacna).   This month of mission is a requirment for any student who wants to continue at Colegio Cristo Rey as a student.  And since CCR is the top school in Tacna, many people participate even though they don´t understand the purpose behind it initially.  The Jesuit school sees it as their mission to open the eyes of the students.  Open their eyes to the realites of Peru – a reality that at CCR most students do not understand given their higher social-economic status.  We will be working on several projects…construction of some sort (yet to be determined), pastoral work with the people who live in PG, and a third type of work that has been labled “various tasks” of which I don´t know what will be entailed.  As with everything else in Peru, you just gotta roll with it.

So I will be gone for a month with the students, and when I return I will be off to Lima for a brief stay to get my residency papers taken care of, and then to Cusco where I will be starting the new community and beginning to wrok in the parish come March.  One thing to note, is that if you want to send me anything the address will be changing.  I will post it in February when I get back.

For me, I´m excited about this opportunity.  Its a chance to really work with these students one-on-one for an extended period of time.  It also pulls us outside of Tacna and exposes us to a different reality of life in Peru – namely one of a migratory fishing community.   While it will not be easy – they are 14 and 15 year old boys and I don´t speak the language well enough yet – it will be a lot of fun (at least I think so).   All worries over the last 2 months will be put aside, and I´m hoping that in some weird way this will make me ready to take on Cusco.

Until then, I hope you all enjoy winter!  And look forward to pictures of longer hair…I haven´t had a haircut in 2 months and it´ll be at least another month till the next one…and we won´t be shaving for the month of mission either.

Peace!

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A view of the pillars

Life as a JV in Tacna has been difficult.  We´re passing 8 weeks here and I have yet to really feel like a volunteer.  But the difficulty has not be in the living of life…I have done a lot of that…but rather in living in accordance with the values we ascribed to when we applied/were accepted as a Jesuit Volunteer.   The values we seek to live out fall into 4 categories: Community, Simple Living, Social Justice, and Spirituality.  While under normal circumstances living these ideals in community is difficult given the difference of opinions that exist in communities as well as the difficulties of living in another country, but for me in Tacna there have been even more obstacles.  We´ve been tasked with the job of setting up a new community in Andahuaylillas, but we have yet to set foot in Andahuaylillas.  Instead we have been living in Tacna, with host families, for the past 2 months.  While it has been really useful for my Spanish skills, and for understanding some of Peruvian culture, it has made it difficult to live as a JV.   To better organize my thoughts, I´m going to go according to the pillars of JVC.

Community
Community has meant different things these past 2 months, and I think that the 2 different meanings will continue to exist even as we move into Andahuaylillas and make it our home.   Here in Tacna more dominating meaning of community has been that of my host family.  I have spent 6 weeks living with a family in Tacna.  They are the people that I have seen every day and spent the most time with while in Peru.  I love them, they´re amazing people and have really taught me a lot…about a lot of things.  The only reason it will be difficult to leave Tacna is because of my host family.  But with this form of community, it makes it difficult to have the other form, the form which JVC seeks to create, namely a community of volunteers.  The difficulty here is that we don´t live together.  We don´t see each other every day.  And one of us is even living in the States for January…so it´s been difficult.   To add to this, we have been watching the Tacna volunteers begin to form their community (both with each other in their own house, and with their neighbors who will be their neighbors for the next 2 years).  While I can´t fault them for doing what only seems natural, especially given that they have all moved into the community house here, it makes it a bit more difficult being on the outside.  When all 7 of the new Peru volunteers were living with host families, it was easier…

But you can´t really change the hand you´re dealt.  And I signed up for this.  I wanted to help start a new community in a new location.  I just never realized how difficult these three months would be with regards to community, nor did I realize how important the idea of forming a community among the 5 of us that will be in Cusco would be to me.   We´ve done our best to work towards an idea of community, but It hasn´t been easy….I´m excited and ready for the work in Cusco.

Simple Living
This also has been complicated given the living situation.  My host family certainly did not sign up for a life of simple living when they invited me into their home.  So I have been living at their life style which is not the simple life style of the volunteers.  While we certainly aren´t overly extravagant at my house, we are very well to do in Tacna.  Living with my host family has also clouded what I thought it meant to live simply.  Is living simply supposed to be in the things we have?  Or is it more in the way we live?  Should we do away with all the things in life to get to the “purest” form, or is it more in how we live with each other?  My family here always has someone coming through the house to chat.  They spend a lot of time talking and being with people.  They live simply, meaning without too much complication, but they have internet, a microwave, a washing machine, and other things that might not fit the definition of simple.  Just something to keep in mind as we move to Andahuaylillas in February.

Social Justice
What does this mean?  I really have no way to judge what this would even look like here in Peru yet.  How do you do justice in a society you don´t understand?  I think again, I simply have to wait until I understand where I am better and what it is that I will do once I get to Andahuaylillas.   For now, I can only be present to those I am with.  And once January 9th comes, then I´ll be on Mission Month with 53 high school boys…that surly has to count somewhere in this column?

Spirituality
This is the easiest to articulate because it comes from a language deficit.  One of the surprises that I wasn´t expecting was the frustration I would have in mass.  Going to mass for me is something that I draw strength from.  And when the language shifted from English to Spanish I lost something.  At first it was difficult to even understand what was being said (I knew what was going on by the fact that mass works the same in all languages).  I didn´t get anything from the homilies and I missed a lot.  It was tough for a while, but now that my Spanish is improving I´m getting more from mass and the difficulties here are subsiding.   There is more to type here…but time is always getting shorter.

In summary of this I think the word is: Unsettled (thanks Walter for the word).  Life has yet to settle down, and it won´t for another few months.  Patience is something that I don´t usually have a lot of, but I´m learning a bit more about it every day: patience with myself, with my surrounding, with the Tacna Volunteers, with my community (however you define this).

Book reports…

One thing that has been a nice break from the difficulties of Spanish language acquisition has been reading.  We have an over-flowing library in the Tacna JV house and I´ve taken advantage of that…

Death in the Andes
A Mario Vargas Llosa book that I picked up before leaving the US for two reasons.  One, he had just won the Nobel Prize for literature and two, it was about the Andes.  The story takes place in a mining village in the mountains during the period of the Shining Path.  It highlights many of the cultural idiosyncrasies of the Sierra culture.  The plot follows two military men who have been tasked with uncovering what has been going on in this mining village with regards to mysterious disappearances.  There are several plot lines in the book that keep jumping around, and at first it was difficult to follow where I was in the plot, but after a few jumps I figured out how the book was moving around.  The book also looks into the cultural differences between the sierra and the coast, and delves into the relationships between the two.  There exists a lot of racism on the part of the coastal people with regards to the sierra people who came out through the novel.  It was also interesting to read about the Shining Path from the view-point of a Peruvian author; because it is something that isn´t really discussed here in Peru…t wasn´t a pretty period for Peru.

After reading this book, I got my mom to send it to me in Spanish and I´ve been working on reading it in Spanish…going well so far, but it´s definitely a lot slower this time through.

Shadow of the Galilean – Gerd Theissen
This was a really cool read.  Gerd Theissen is a well-known New Testament scholar, and he set out here to write a different kind of story of Jesus.  This is a historical novel that uses the research Theissen has done over his career to paint another view of Jesus.  It takes place from the point of view of a merchant in the region.  He was caught up in a protest and arrested by the Romans.  In exchange for his freedom he was required to spy on various religious communities in the area and report back to the Romans.   He is sent off to visit, or try to visit, the Essenes over by the dead sea, and then off to other parts.  Eventually he is commanded to investigate Jesus and find out if he is “dangerous” to the Romans.   This merchant never actually has a meeting with Jesus, but learns of him from others who have heard/seen him preach.  This method is representative of how we today come to know Jesus.  There are no writings by Jesus, only those intermediaries who have left us accounts of what happened 2000 years ago.

I particularly enjoyed the format of this book as it contained a lot of academic information in an easier to read manner.   And the author included letters to himself after each chapter that dealt with the difficulties of writing a historical novel about Jesus.  In these letters he deals with many of the criticisms that are targeted at the book thus giving the reader a bigger picture of where this book fits and forced me to evaluate the book for what it was, namely a historical novel.  Thank you dad for handing this to me as I was packing back in November!

Motorcycle Diaries – Che Guevara
Confession here…I had never read anything by Che or about Che before this book.  (Apologies to Eddie and Chris)  I also read this in English, which I shouldn´t have probably done.  But anyways, it was awesome.  It follows Che on his travels across South America while he was a medical student in Argentina.  He just picked up and left to travel to see the continent.  I don´t pretend to know much more about Che than what I´ve read in this book, but from what I do know (from the lengthy introduction by someone I don´t remember) it seems as though these travels really set in motion the ideas that would push him to fight for the rights of people in Latin America.  One of the things you can see, even in English, was that he was a really good writer.  I´m looking forward to reading more of his stuff…especially from his time in Cuba.

1984 – George Orwell
Such a fun book.  I read it in the 8th grade along with Animal Farm, but this time through I think it makes a lot more sense…or at least I´m picking up on a lot more themes.  I´m about halfway through it and the themes of liberation and oppression are really interesting.  The oppression that exists here, while initiated by a government, is perpetuated by the people of the party.  People who are too gullible or who don´t really want to know about the world, have buried themselves in this idea of what it means to live a good life.  Live according to the party and you will be great.  To Winston (the protagonist) there is more.  His analysis is that the revolution has yet to begin…there needs to be another revolution to over through “Big Brother” and the hope here lies in the proletariat.  They are beneath the Party and the party doesn´t worry about them as long as they´re managed….there is a lot more to think about, but I´m not about to give a full-out report on the themes of oppression and how it relates to the culture of today. 

A belated Christmas update…

Hola todos,

Sorry for the delay in this post…while it seems like I have all the time in the world, it also seems to fly faster here than it does back home.  Going to work on New Years too, and also some other things to post before I leave on Sunday for Mission Month where I won´t have access to anything really.

Noche Buena…Christmas Eve
In doing things that aren´t typical (like being in South America for Christmas) we decided to take a 1.5 hour car ride up to Tarata.  Those of us who went were Mo, Mo´s family, Jessica, myself, and two of our neighbors in Habitat Martin and Edith.  Tacna sits about 20km from the coast and while we can see the mountains from where we are, we most certainly are not in the mountains.   But after a lengthy car ride we had made it a long ways (i don´t know how far exactly) and we had climbed more than 3000 meters (roughly 10,000 ft).  It was a gorgeous ride and nice to get out of the desert and see lots of vegetation.

After arriving we checked out the church  and sung by the market to grab some bread for the day and maybe explore the possibility of getting some breakfast.  Being Xmas eve there werne´t many vendors or people in the market, but fortunately there was the bathroom attendant who didn´t take the day off.  Paid my 50 cents and got my paper so that I could do my business…you have to take advantage of these opportunities when you aren´t sure the next time you´re going to be given the opportunity to go.  Not that I would have minded popping a squat in a farm or along the trail as we were hiking, I just thought it would be better in the present company to get my business out-of-the-way.

The hike was beautiful…and I hope to show pictures at some point, but as for now you just get the words.  We hiked down into a valley, crossed a river, and back up the other side.  It was so much fun to get out of the desert and see some real vegetation.  And it even rained a bit…the real kind of rain, not the puny mist that has happened twice in the last 8 weeks here in Tacna.   This also gave me time to enjoy the presence of other gringos…sometimes you just need a break from the
Spanish.

One of the cool things we got to see on this hike were the ruins, well not really ruins ruins but the bases of long defunct granaries the Incas used to store food once harvested.   They were well up on an opposing mountain side so we didn´t get to explore them, but non-the-less still cool.  The other really interesting thing was up in some “caves.”  Really just some massive boulders and rocks overhanging the trail which we climbed up in between…but in there exists an altar to Mother Earth (pachamama) as was explained by our guides from Habitat.  There were a bunch of bones on the altar left from the various animals that had been sacrificed for the blessing of the earth upon the harvests in the region.

After reaching the far side and climbing up through the rocks we got to hang out on top of the side of a mini-mountain while we waited for a taxi to take us up another 15 min to the Baños Termales.  Here I played with the panoramic function on my camera and hopefully it turns out well…but again, at the moment I don´t have the pictures with me.  It was unbelievably gorgeous and made me really excited for our home in Andahuaylillas which is quite nicely nestled in a valley with many mountains.

The Baños were a great way to end the day trip into the mountains…it allowed for us to relax in on the side of a mountain in a bath heated by the flowing magma beneath the Andes Mountains.  So relaxing to be in the aura of the mountains and relax in a bath.

After getting back to Tacna, I took advantage of a few free hours in the day to take a nap before the evening festivities.  Mass was at 7:30 in Habitat with the Jesuits.  It was jammed packed which was a change from the normal Sunday mass.  Granted many people had traveled down from Tacna (about 15 min by bus to the north) to go to the Jesuit Christmas mass, but it was still a cool feeling to be in a standing-room-only Christmas eve mass.  To close the mass the Jesuits had all who spoke different languages to give a short merry Christmas message.  Languages included among the audience were: Spanish, Aymara, Quechua, French, and English…pretty cool to be in such a diverse crowd and a nice way to bridge some of the language gaps.

After mass we went around Habitat with Fr. Fred and delivered a few Christmas baskets for some families that wouldn´t really have a Christmas dinner…the families had been chosen by Fr. Fred and we were just along to sing carols and be present to the gifting.  Once this was accomplished we made for the center of the city with everyone else.  Many of the volunteers were going to one family´s house, but I was headed off in a different direction to spend the evening with my host family.

Christmas here works a lot like New Years in the States.  The night before is more important than the day of.  There is a countdown to midnight.  There are fireworks, lots and lots of illegal fireworks.  We toast champagne.

Dinner was served around 11pm and the mass in the Vatican was put on the TV behind the table.  But we promptly interrupted the Pope when it got close to midnight to listen to the radio and the countdown to midnight.  But we didn´t really need a countdown, as you could tell when it was midnight by the amount of fireworks outside.   There is no “official” fireworks display for the city of Tacna, but I don´t think it´d be necessary.  Everyone thinks they´re an expert and everyone buys their own fireworks to shoot off.  It was quite a sight as everyone in the neighborhood was shooting off fireworks and all you had to do was stand in the middle of the plaza in front of our house and look in any direction to see a colorful display.

After a while the fireworks started to die down and we all went back inside to sit, converse, and open presents.  My family isn´t huge on the presents deal, or at least I didn´t see it Christmas Eve…but my sisters did get a Wii at their grandparents house which probably was the doing of their parents.  And then the visiting began.  The way it works is you chat with your family and guests for a while and then go out to visit other families and friends.  I didn´t understand how this would work because if everyone goes out, then there is no one at home to be visited.  But we were one family that was to stay put…my grandmom didn´t want to or need to or for some reason didn´t travel so we had some friends visit us.  My sisters and dad went to their grandparents´ house to spend the night around 2am.  And around 3am our visitors had all left and I got to go to bed.

Christmas day
A bit more tranquil, but we hosted a lunch with a lot of people.  It was fun though and they put me in charge of the grill (a real honor given the importance of the meat)…I think that the grandfather used to the one in charge and since he died in March they haven´t really used the grill…but we used it for the pork on Christmas.  It´d been marinating for 3 days and was amazing…my grilling skills didn´t really make a difference given the excellence in the preparation beforehand (of which I had nothing to do with).

And that was Christmas…