Some fruits of a recent retreat on our pillar of Community
Where does community lead us? Where does it lead me? Thomas Merton said that “We are fighting death; and involved in a struggle between love and death, and this struggle takes place in each of us. Our Lord’s victory over death, the victory of love over death on the cross, seeks to be manifested in a very concrete form on earth in the creation of community.” But death of what; of who? An esoteric death perhaps, one where we fall into a life of solitude—or ambiguous solitude. The world of today provides many paths to this form of solitude. How many of us are connected to our “friends” on Facebook but not really connected to these same people in “real life”? The world we inhabit is seemingly becoming more and more interconnected, and yet at the same moment, we appear more and more isolated. False communities have taken our commitment away from each other and given it to a nonliving entity. Our bonds are not connections of community but rather connections with networks, televisions, and objects. And when we lose this sense of connection to our living, breathing brother or sister, we contradict our humanity.
JVC, being the countercultural agency it purports to be, motivates us to acknowledge this disconnect between digital reality and concrete reality and then asks us to push against it. But what exactly does this pillar of community look like for us? Community can take many forms—compare the monastic community of Thomas Merton to the revolving door at the House of Hospitality where Dorothy Day spent a large chunk of her life. At first glance these two communities are seemingly opposites. But where their actions differ, their motivations share a foundation; that being the message of the Gospel. “Who does Christ pick to build community? He picks us, just ordinary people with ordinary weaknesses” (Merton). That’s where we come in. Our job, mission, and desire of and for community is born of a greater desire to grow beyond what each of us is individually capable. We seek change, whether it is personal, spiritual, or structural. We seek growth. We seek an understanding not readily available in our world today. Through our home JV communities we are growing in our capacity to bear the love of Christ in such a way that we are fortified to live in love with our work sites, our new friends, and our families…all of which are simply other forms of community.
“Very often we think that the only people we have to love are our neighbors. Perhaps we never see anyone else to love. But no, we do have to love others and we want to love others and community must extend beyond our own community” (Merton). The balance in JVC of home community versus neighborhood community versus work community versus friends from the host culture can get tricky. We have seen this in Andahuaylillas over the last year. But I believe it is paramount to remember that our commitment to one another within the four walls of our house cannot and must not preclude the commitment we have to be in community with those whom we seek to serve. We cannot live isolated and apart from our neighborhood. Andahuaylillas is a town of roughly 5,000 people, and our work sites are in the local high school and the parish, two of the social centers of the town. So as we walk down the street, buy our groceries, and use the Internet, we are surrounded by people who know us, who stop us to say hello, and who gossip about us behind our backs should we fail any number of social norms on the brief walk between home and our destination. It is a place where the balance between home and outside is precariously calibrated and the boundaries are frequently muddled.
So what holds it all together?
“Community is not built by man; it is built by God. It is God’s work, and the basis of community is not just sociability, but faith…there is more to community than just personal fulfillment and sociability” (Merton). Our faith is what binds us together in authentic community. “A real community,” writes Martin Buber, “is one which in every point of its being possesses, potentially at least, the whole character of community” (quoted by Dorothy Day). While in our community we may be divided on what exactly this faith means, we can agree that it is our faith in something greater than ourselves that pulls us together and draws us into community. Speaking in terms of my own faith, our goal in community is an attempt to overcome death with love in the same way Christ did. It is a push to draw out the humanity in each of us, to push us to excel beyond our human weaknesses, and to overcome the boundaries that divide us. In the end, we are one body, one blood, and one brotherhood of humanity called to love and serve our fellow brethren because our salvation is tied up in theirs.
**Thomas Merton quotes from a talk given on Eberhard Arnold’s “Why we live in Community” available free online from Plough Publishing House. And the Dorothy Day quote of Martin Buber comes from “On Pilgrimage – October 1950” also available free online from http://www.catholicworker.org.
This is going back a ways, but as I promised, Semana Santa 2011. Also, click on the photos to see a larger version if you want.
Domingo de Ramos
This day started with a procession. The whole town gathered down on the highway at the Capilla del Señor de Antahuayla. This is the cross of Andahuaylillas (Antahuayla was the name of Andahuaylillas before the Spaniards changed it to be more Spanish sounding) and Holy Week starts with a procession to carry the cross from its capilla up to the church for the week. This is also where the blessing of the palms took place so that everyone could carry palms up with the cross as well. Along the route up to the church there were these lines hanging across the street with flowers, bread, fruit and other things hanging from it. Once the cross passed underneath these lines it was fair game to reach/jump up to pull the stuff down…and by “fair game”, I mean free-for-all.
Once we got to the church the place was packed. Something I had not seen since arriving…there was absolutely no room for anyone to sit. The choir was spread out across the entire church because we hadn’t thought to reserve benches ahead of time since the church had never been this full. So with more than 300 people we celebrated the Palm Sunday mass.
This day usually passes without notice in the US. While there might be more people who got to mass this day or whatnot because it is Holy Week, it is a day we do not usually mark. This is the opposite here in Andahuayillas and the greater Cusco area. This is the day that we celebrate El Señor de los Temblores (Christ of the Earthquakes). In 1650 there was a massive earthquake in Cusco which destroyed many buildings and damaged the Cathedral. And somehow this image of Christ survived the destruction and was henceforth known as El Señor de los Temblores. People have a high reverence for this image of Christ and he is found in most communities throughout the Cusco valley. And every Holy Monday is the day he is brought out from the churches and processed throughout communities. For us this means taking the cross down from the altar where it normally sits throughout the year and placing it in a special stand that is then carried throughout the whole town. And by the whole town I mean the whole town. The entire procession took about 4.5 hours. We would go a few blocks, stop, place the cross on a table, and then we prayed and sang before moving on. I’m not very good with estimating the number of people at events, but my guess is that by the end of the procession (circa 8:30pm) there were over 1,000 people in the procession, and if you weren’t in the procession you were waiting at the church for the return of Señor de los Temblores.
Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday
These days were less busy in the parish. We were doing a lot of planning for the rest of the week, but there wasn’t too much going on. Wednesday afternoon we hosted a group of jovenes for the first of several sessions on what Holy Week means, but this day wasn’t too intensive as only a handful showed up.
This is where the big work of the parish started kicking in. And to complicate things, Padre Oscar was called away to serve as the pastor in another parish so a different priest, Padre Cesar, came in from Lima to celebrate the rest of Holy week with Andahuaylillas. Fortunately most of the plans were set on what we were going to do for the washing of the feet, the Hora Santa, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil, so it was a matter of filling in Padre Cesar and working to get things done. For me, the largest part of my work was putting together a 2 hour long community prayer service for after mass on Thursday evening. It is something that is done to accompany Jesus while he is in the Garden at Gethsemane. The idea we had was to show clips of a video followed by reflection questions, followed by a prayer, followed by a bit of silence, followed by a song. And we repeated this sequence 8 times. Each time through we varied the form of prayer drawing from things like responsorial Psalms and poetry. Half of the songs we sang were also in Quechua which was cool to listen to, but I still don’t understand most of what is said to me in Quechua. The video clips I selected started with the entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and followed his life up through the 3 denials of Peter. Each clip was between 2 and 3 minutes so as to not be too long and to give us something concrete on which to focus the reflection questions. And everything was done through Powerpoint; kind of cool to bring 21st century technology into the 16th century church.
At the beginning of the service there might have been close to 75 people in the church, and by the end there were more than 50 so I was happy to see that enough people found what we did useful enough to stay until 10:30pm. Some of the nuns stayed long enough to thank me for putting it together saying that it was a really cool experience and a really helpful guide in community prayer for that evening. That meant a lot to me, because I was unsure how people would respond to what we did. Sometimes change isn’t easily embraced in such a small town, but those who were there thought it went well. Now we just have to think of how we can improve or change it for next year!
Morning came quickly today. After going to be late on Thursday, we were up at 4am to hike up into the mountains to pick flowers. We walked along the highway for about 90 min to a mountain on the outside of Huarcapay where a lot of wild flowers grown. I walked with one of the nuns and a volunteer who lives with the nuns. We were going to pick flowers for the parish so that we could create an alfombra in the church. Creating alfombras is something that many families in Andahuaylillas do in the streets for the Good Friday procession. Around 6am things started to get light and around 6:30 we were hiking up the mountain from the highway. It was a really pretty way to start the day, because daybreak in the valley gives you a lot of colors and a lot of cool views. We then spent a couple hours picking different colored flowers to carry back. Once the sun came over the mountain top, we realized why this is an activity for the wee hours of the morning…the temperature quickly rose and we decided it was time to join the masses heading back to Andahuaylillas. Only this time, instead of walking the 90mins back, we flagged down the first bus and rode back to town.
After leaving the flowers in the temple I helped to hang up the signs for the procession which would take place in the afternoon. We had to mark where the Stations of the Cross would take place while on the procession. After this was accomplished, it was time for a rest before lunch. One of the most interesting traditions of Andahuaylillas is the tradition of the 12 plates. While the rest of the world is fasting on Good Friday we live in a place where you eat 12 plates of food for lunch before the Stations of the Cross procession. Lili invited me to eat at her house with her family. We did not end up eating 12 entire plates, but instead stopped at 9. There were 4 soups, 1 plate of fried trout w/ potatoes, and 4 plates of dessert. The trout was unbelievably delicious, but of everything, the plate that stands out to me was the mazamorra de calabaza … essentially a sugary, soupy, dessert of pumpkin.The alfombra for the parish…distinct honor of actually being inside of the church
Immediately following the lunch we went to the church for adoration of the cross which ended with El Señor de los Temblores being taken down from the cross and placed in a giant glass coffin. After we had all passed by the coffin the in the church, the procession began. The empty cross was in the lead, followed by the glass coffin, followed by a mourning Virgin Mary. As we left the church the band began to follow too and would accompany us throughout the entire procession. My job in this procession was to play the matraca at the front of the procession. Because you are not allowed to ring the bells of the church between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil we have this instrument called the matraca we play instead. It is a heavy and cumbersome instrument to play, so I shared the duty with Onassis who also works in the church. The idea was that we were announcing the movement of the procession, alerting people in the streets that it was coming. Although I feel that most people were aware of its presence, it was still something they looked for. So for the following 5 hours I, along with Onassis, would shake the matraca announcing the coming of Christ’s coffin.
While there were 14 scheduled stops of the coffin for the Stations, we ended up making over 30 stops because we stopped at every house that had placed a table out in the street. This is also where all the alfombras come into play. Many families had arranged their flowers in the streets to create images for the cross and coffin to pass over. It was all very cool, very beautiful. While I thought the procession on Monday was really big, this one came in at over 2,500 people by the time it ended. And when we arrived back in the plaza there were over 500 more people waiting to receive the procession.
Foto from Cara – in the plaza welcoming back the cross, coffin, and Virgin Mary
One of the most interesting things that I didn’t realize until the end was that the image of Mary in mourning was only carried by women. Of the three it was by far the heaviest and carried by women throughout the whole 5 hour procession. And they sang. They sang as they carried it. Christ’s coffin had a band, but these women sang for 5 hours as they carried Mary. Granted they had rotations and invited volunteers to carry her too, but still, it was quite impressive and showed a real connection that they have as women, as mother to the Virgin Mary.
This day I spent with the jovenes on a retreat. We discussed many of the themes of Easter and what they meant to us. The Jesuits and Nuns were in charge of leading it which was awesome to be able to simply participate. Afterwards we invited those who wanted to help set things up for the Easter Vigil (which is celebrated at 4am on Sunday morning as opposed to Saturday night) to stay the night in the Retreat House. Things we had to do were prepare the readings, prepare the fire out front of the church, create cardboard things for the candles so as to not drop wax on the floor of the church, make hot chocolate for 400 people, and cut up fruit cake for 400 as well. By the end of all this it was midnight, and I went to bed knowing that I would have to be awake at 3am.
To celebrate the Easter vigil at 4am Sunday morning was a new experience. Several hundred people showed up too, which surprised me. We started outside the church in the plaza with the fire in a pit, and after this service of the light we proceeded into a dark church. It was really neat to have several hundred people in the church in darkness except for the candles. The service proceeded as normal, and after the priest had invited us to extinguish our candles there was a power outage so everyone immediately relit their candles and the mass continued in candle light. One of the really cool aspects of having this service at 4am is that as the service progressed the sun began to rise symbolizing the new day, the resurrection, the life that comes from Easter. So cool. Mass ended, and then there was a procession of the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament through the plaza. At this time we, and the jovenes, went to the kitchen to bring out the hot chocolate and fruit cake we had prepared. When everyone made it back to the church we then broke bread and drank hot chocolate together, which gave it all a more Christmas feel than Easter feel, but everyone enjoyed their food.
And after all the Easter festivities in Andahuaylillas (including the 11am Reserruction mass) we got out of the town to find our Easter duck.
So this was a long long post about what Semana Santa looked like in Andahuaylillas. I’m planning on another post to write more about what Easter felt like here. Also to expand more upon what my first year as a Catholic (celebrated on April 25) looked like, and where things are headed from here. Thanks for reading!
Before I post pictures of me learning how to butcher a cow/bull I just wanted to explain a bit about the process of purchasing meat here. Generally speaking the comedor uses 35-50 kilos of meat each week for the lunches we cook. And we normally purchase this meat the week before from the market in Cusco or Urcos. But this week was a bit different. On Monday a woman approached us saying she was going to slaughter her cow and asked if we would like to purchase some of it. We bought all of it…all 102 Kilos of it. The thought was that since they would deliver it to our door we could freeze it and use it over the next few weeks. So they brought in the cow, it had already been gutted and whatnot, all that lacked was for us to cut it down into meal size portions. The cow was split in half down the middle; the two back legs were then also separated so that there were 4 parts in total. The front legs attached with rib cage and the hind legs. And that was how it was delivered. Pricing you ask? Well, in the market the cost would be between 8.00 and 8.50 peruvian soles (about 3USD) per kilo, but because the seller didn’t have to take it to market or look for a buyer and we were buying the whole thing we only paid 7.50 soles per kilo. That was cow number one, and we spent several hours chopping it up with several large knives and an ax.
The next day arrives. Around 10.30 am a woman appears in the kitchen obviously distraught. Her 4-year-old bull has suddenly died this morning. I asked how, and didn’t quite understand the response, but it had something to do with the grass it ate. Its stomach suddenly started to swell up and eventually it died because its stomach killed it. Apparently if you put water on the cow when this starts to happen you can prevent it from dying, but because they were so far from a water source when it happened they were unable to save it. The family has 6 kids and all of them are in school, and 4 come to eat every day in the Comedor. She is upset because the bull is a huge source of income for the family, and they didn’t know what they would do now that it had died. So they were looking for a way to sell the meat to make the most out of a bad situation. We wanted to help her so we moved some things around in the freezer to make some more room, and bought half of her bull. The thought was that half of this bull would be something like 60 kilos (or half of yesterday’s cow). But no. This Bull was big. Very big. And half of him came in around 130 kilos. Later in the afternoon they arrive with the bull in the back of a station wagon, we weigh him, and lay him on the table in my pantry. From there things proceed as they did the day before, and we begin the process of cutting down the meat to daily portions.
Probably the coolest part of all of this is that we were gifted the heart of the bull by the family. They were grateful for us purchasing the meat, and to show their appreciation they gave us the 2kilo heart. This was a nice gesture because the heart of the cow or bull here is a delicacy. So with this 2 kilo heart in the fridge we decided to cook anticucho for lunch today, and it might have been one of the most delicious plates of meat I’ve ever eaten.
And below are some pictures from my days as a butcher…
Will post a wordly update soon! But for your viewing pleasure I present several scenes from Andahuaylillas…click on the fotos for a larger view!
The view of where the view from above came from…la cruz that overlooks Andahuaylillas
Stay tuned tomorrow for pictures of Sam the butcher. In the past 2 days we purchased an entire cow and half of a bull (about 250 kilos or 550 pounds of meat)…all of which means I got to learn how to take the ax to the cow.
As I sit here looking out over this barren landscape with the sound of cresting waves in the background, it is hard to deny the beauty of this world. But at the same time it is difficult to ignore the blaring ugliness of humanity.
I´ve never found the beauty in a desert landscape. Perhaps it is my upbringing in the land of deciduous forests and fields of cotton that give me a flavor for the greener side of life—a green that simply isn´t found here in this desert. This month has been the longest excursion into this “wilderness.” A wilderness of rocks, dust, sun, wind, and the tantalizing beauty of the Pacific Ocean—tantalizing because I haven´t been afforded the opportunity to go swimming and yet every day we work under the blazing sun looking out over the cool blue knowing that its waters would refresh our weary bodies.
There exists a beauty in knowing that these rocky shores of Peru are a part of a much larger wilderness. We are perched in the foothills of the Andes—those majestic mountains ranging from the end of this word up into the canal that Roosevelt built. These mountains are the source of the mighty Amazon as well as home to the capital of the vast Inca Empire—a place which I will call home in a few short days. And we are connected to all of these places by the soles of our feet. But this is a temporal connectedness. There also exists a historico-social connection.
Just a short walk down the coast we encounter the ancient fishing grounds of the Inca. Marked by two large stone circles we see where they would unload their catch for the waiting Chaskis. Then long trek towards Cusco would begin as the chaskis would sprint the daily catch up into the mountains thus ensuring that the Inca Empire would have fish for dinner. Additionally, this coast is retains a dark history of conquest—the unflattering picture of invasion, integration, and apparent self-denial of Peruvian roots. The importance of the coast on which I sit is highlighted even more as we watch the fishing boats come into port; unload their holds of the bounty which the sea has provided. Once securely stored in whichever car, truck, or van it is immediately shipped off to Lima or some other large city along the coast that will barely recognize the name of the port from which they eat.
Acknowledging these connections is easy. Understanding, however, is not. Removing myself from the ugliness found in humanity proves to be difficult. From our work on the side of the mountain I look down. First I notice the ocean and then I see the town in which we have been serving for the last four weeks. If I wanted to I could count the house, but there appear to be 60 or so. The majority of which are single rooms made of “Esteras” – a woven grass of sorts. But this is not the only reminder of the poverty ingrained into this fishing village. A special care is needed when walking through town as to avoid the piles of human feces that serve as a physical and an olfactic manifestation of the neglect felt by this village. Their government has failed them. It has failed to provide the basics which we, gringos and Peruvians alike, take for granted. The smell of burning plastic in the morning serves to remind us that there is no trash pickup. The scene every Saturday morning of people taking their water containers to the corner to quench their thirst for the week reminds us of a lack of running water. And even that water is not a guarantee from their government as right now they are trapped in a nightmare of intergovernmental bickering. They have been without water for 10 days because they have been disowned by their own district, and their neighboring district will offer no assistance. They live on a border between two localities and neither one wants them. Their humanity has been forgotten as they are transformed into a red number on the bottom line; a subtraction of 350 soles each week from the budget—the cost of water for this village.
But the government has not wholly forgotten. They did build the village a medical post in 2009. A lovely blue and while building that has lain vacant until 51 Peruvian adolescents, 5 teachers, 2 cooks, and 3 Jesuit Volunteers moved in a month ago. Conveniently the government found the money to build a medical post, a sign of goodwill to appease the villagers, but they have forgotten to provide the personnel and supplies necessary for the health of this village.
But every night, for a brief moment, the beauty of this port is restored. Mateo, Greg, and I sit on the front porch of the medical post, wave to abuelita, and watch the sun set over the tranquil Pacific. The transition from yellow to orange to red to night reminding us that it will rise again—bringing with it the hope of a new day.
Life is much more tranquila these days. Exams for most schools started this week which means that I really don´t have anything to do because I´m not responsible for giving any of the exams. But this is not to say that life hasn´t been easy-going for the last few weeks. Its been a difficult time adjusting here simply because there isn´t a whole lot for me to do except practice the language and learn what I can about the culture. The volunteers who will remain in Tacna for the next two years have been hard at work in their placements getting to know the people they will work with and getting a feel for the work they will be doing. They have been prepping classes and even teaching 1 or 2 periods each day. But for me, because I will not be here next year, the schedule has been much more free.
For the past 2 weeks I have gone to Colegio Cristo Rey each day to hang out / work. I would show up in the morning, sometimes for first period (7:45) and sometimes later in the morning depending on the breakfast conversation in my house or if I went for a run. Usually I would buy a newspaper on the way to school and then spend some time reading in Spanish which has been helpful in expanding some of my vocabulary. I would look at the schedule to see who was teaching what that day, and pick a class or 2 to sit in on. The classes I watched were mostly religion classes to get a sense of how that works in a Catholic School setting. Listening to the spanish spoken in the class room might have been more helpful than the class itself since I probably won´t be teaching religion in Andahuaylillas. When the service club at the school would meet, I would join them. During class breaks or lunch I would wander around occasionally to talk to the kids. The best thing that I think has come from spending time at the school are the conversations I had with the professores…practicing spanish and getting a sense for how things/kids operate in Peru. The school day would end around 2:45 every day and I would stick around for a bit to talk with the 2 volunteers who work at the school. Depending on the day or what was going on in the evening I would either head home or head to the Habitat community where the volunteers live.
Three highlights from last week: Soccer with the Cristo Rey Staff
Every Tuesday and Thursday there is a soccer match at 5pm with the professors and staff of Colegio Cristo Rey. It’s a lot of fun and they take it very seriously. There is a Jesuit priest and brother who play too…the priest is on the older side but really enthusiastic and all over the cancha. The brother has skills and its interesting to see the competitive side of the Jesuits. In my first game with them the score was 4-3 with the gringos combining for 3 goals and 2 assists in total, but we were not all on the same team.
Despedida for Cara, Nate, Gabe
This is was a big fiesta with all of the friends that they´ve made over the last 2 years invited. It started around 730pm and went until 3 or so in the morning. Lots of food, dancing, pisco, and you can´t forget the vino de chraca. The fiesta was held in a chraca (farm) to the north of the city and I would guess that more than 80 or 90 people showed up to say farewell to the volunteers.
Gabe´s Birthday Party
Peruvians love to fiesta. The first thing my host mom asked me when they picked me up was when my birthday was and what I was planning to do for it. But being more than 6 months from my birthday I said that it was a ways off to think about. Her response was that I was thinking as a gringo…peruvians start to plan their next birthday the day after their last one. So Gabe´s birthday was a lot of fun. His host family hosted the party and we brought over a few dishes and they cooked a lot. I tried my first Cuy (guinea pig) that night and it was an interesting experience. It is a difficult animal to eat because it is so small, but it was prepared well and tasted delicious. Gabe´s host dad has his own vineyard so he brought the wine and pisco and then the dancing began. There is always a ton of dancing at any proper peruvian party. And this was no exception. I´m working on dancing in step with the beat of the music, but that is going to take a lot more practice. I enjoy the dancing, I´m just not very good at it.
A look forward to the next few days…
Friday – all the teachers of Catholic schools in the area have a mass and then a Christmas Carol contest. I´m singing with the staff of Miguel Pro. (singing, like dancing, something I´m not very good at…but we´re all having a good time)
Saturday – Cara leaves for the US and will spend 6 weeks there before returning to Cusco with us
Next week – Summer vacation starts officially and will be spending time hanging out with the host family. Maybe hitting the beach up before Christmas. Maybe going fishing with some neighbors. Maybe doing whatever it is that peruvians do. Will be spending Christmas with my family here and most likely New Years at the beach with them. And then Jan 9 starts Mes de Misión.
Will try to get some more pictures up soon.
Earlier this week I was sitting at the dinner table with my host family. They were telling me about Lake Titicaca and this island that is in the middle. It is a small island and is split between Bolivia and Peru. It is known for the trout and the frogs that you can eat…supposedly all delicious. Things are going well and I´m understanding most of what they´re telling me. And so I asked a question to participate in the conversation…the question was something along the lines of how do you eat the trout or how does the trout taste, but I don´t remember fully at the moment. The funny part of this story comes from the word trout which is ´trucha.´ And if you mispronounce the word with a ´ch´ instead of a ´tr´ then you get something very different from trout. You end up with a woman´s body part that isn´t usually discussed at the dinner table. My host dad thought it was the funniest thing ever and the others all were laughing quite hard. And me, not knowing my error, sat there until my host mom leaned over to explain what I had just said. Fortunately Grandmom had gone to bed already.