Sunday, December 27, 2009


Sorry about the very long delay. Here are pictures from October, November, and our summer classes (Since the last post about teaching I've dropped almost all the other activities and am mostly just teaching 6-7 hours of classes each day. It's a blast and I hope you'll enjoy the photos of my girls). A special thanks to everyone who has sent gifts for the girls over the past four months. There are a few pictures of the girls enjoying them, but many of them we saved for Christmas so you'll have to wait until I've put up Christmas pictures (Sorry. And really, they'll be up much faster this time).




Saturday, December 5, 2009

Advent 2

Pope Benedict read my post and wrote this homily in response...last Sunday. Enjoy.

Pope Benedict's Advent Vesper Homily

Dear brothers and sisters,

With this evening celebration we enter the liturgical time of Advent. In the biblical reading we just heard, taken from the First Letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul invites us to prepare for the "coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (5:23), keeping ourselves irreproachable, with the grace of God. Paul uses, in fact, the word "coming," in Latin adventus, from whence comes the term Advent.

Let us reflect briefly on the meaning of this word, which can be translated as "presence," "arrival," "coming." In the language of the ancient world it was a technical term used to indicate the arrival of a functionary or the visit of a king or emperor to a province. But it could also indicate the coming of the divinity, which goes out of concealment to manifest itself with power, or which is celebrated as present in worship. Christians adopted the word "advent" to express their relationship with Jesus Christ: Jesus is King, who has entered into this poor "province" called earth to visit everyone; he brings to participate in his advent those who believe in him, all those who believe in his presence in the liturgical assembly. With the word adventus an attempt was made essentially to say: God is here, he has not withdrawn from the world, he has not left us alone. Although we cannot see or touch him, as is the case with tangible realities, he is here and comes to visit us in multiple ways.

The meaning of the expression "advent" includes therefore also that of visitatio, which means simply and properly "visit"; in this case it is a visit of God: He enters my life and wants to address me. We all experience in daily life having little time for the Lord and little time for ourselves. We end up by being absorbed in "doing." Is it not true that often activity possesses us, that society with its many interests monopolizes our attention? Is it not true that we dedicate much time to amusements and leisure of different kinds? Sometimes things "trap" us.

Advent, this intense liturgical time that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to grasp a presence. It is an invitation to understand that every event of the day is a gesture that God directs to us, sign of the care he has for each one of us. How many times God makes us perceive something of his love! To have, so to speak, an "interior diary" of this love would be a beautiful and salutary task for our life! Advent invites and stimulates us to contemplate the Lord who is present. Should not the certainty of his presence help us to see the world with different eyes? Should it not help us to see our whole existence as a "visit," as a way in which he can come to us and be close to us, in each situation?

Another essential element of Advent is expectation, expectation that at the same time is hope. Advent drives us to understand the meaning of time and history as "kairos," as a favorable occasion for our salvation. Jesus illustrated this mysterious reality in many parables: in the account of the servants invited to await the return of their master; in the parable of the virgins who await the bridegroom; or in those of the sowing and harvesting. Man, in his life, is in constant waiting: When he is a child he wants to grow, as an adult he tends to his realization and success, growing in age, he aspires to his deserved rest. However the time comes in which he discovers that he has waited too little if, beyond his profession or social position, he has no choice but to wait. Hope marks the path of humanity, but for Christians it is animated by a certainty: The Lord is present in the course of our life, he accompanies us and one day he will also dry our tears. In a not too distant day, everything will find its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God, Kingdom of justice and peace.

However, there are very different ways of waiting. If time is not filled by a present gifted with meaning, the waiting runs the risk of becoming unbearable; if something is expected, but at this moment there is nothing, namely, if the present is empty, every instant that passes seems exaggeratedly long, and the waiting is transformed into a weight that is too heavy because the future is totally uncertain. When, instead, time is gifted with meaning and we perceive in every instant something specific and valuable, then the joy of waiting makes the present more precious.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us live the present intensely, when we already have the gifts of the Lord, let us live it projected to the future, a future full of hope. The Christian Advent thus becomes an occasion to reawaken in ourselves the true meaning of waiting, returning to the heart of our faith which is the mystery of Christ, the Messiah awaited for long centuries and born in the poverty of Bethlehem. Coming among us, he has brought us and continues to offer us the gift of his love and of his salvation. Present among us, he speaks to us in many ways: in sacred Scripture, in the liturgical year, in the saints, in the events of daily life, in the whole of creation, which changes in aspect if he is behind it or if it is obfuscated by the mist of an uncertain origin and an uncertain future. In turn, we can speak to him, present to him the sufferings that afflict us, impatience, the questions that spring from the heart. We are certain that he always hears us! And if Jesus is present, there is no time deprived of meaning and void. If he is present, we can continue to wait also when others can no longer give us their support, even when the present is exhausting.

Dear friends, Advent is the time of the presence and the expectation of the eternal. Precisely for this reason it is, in a particular way, the time of joy, of an internalized joy, that no suffering can erase. Joy because of the fact that God became a child. This joy, invisibly present in us, encourages us to walk with confidence. Model and support of this profound joy is the Virgin Mary, through whom the Child Jesus has been given to us. May she, faithful disciple of her Son, obtain for us the grace to live this liturgical time vigilant and diligent in waiting. Amen.


Here is a post that doesn't make very much sense because I can't fit my thoughts in to these words. I'm posting it anyway though. Good luck decoding.

A very belated Thanksgiving and happy Liturgical New Year to all! We are in advent, friends! This is is one of my favorite times of year. It's an entire month to be reminded of the good things (uh...the incarnation, anyone?) that have come to ushere on earth and the good things we await (the return of Christ and the fullness of the Kingdom of God, sounds good to me). Wait a minute...those parenthetical celebrations were pretty much the same.

And here it is: the rub.

God has come near.

God is near.

God will come near. mortal mind is baffled.

I can look back through this blog and see this conflict (yes, I know, for many of you this may be no problem. I wish I could say the same for myself) peeking through some of these posts. Some are celebrating God's presence, and some are stiffling a desire to yell "God! Where are you?!" The Kingdom of God is at hand!'s here...or it's around the corner? Both. God has come down from heaven in the form of an infant, the weakest amongst us, to teach us to live and love. He became the pure lamb on which our sin could be laid to restore us to friendship with God. He rose from the grave and conquered death so that we could praise Him through eternity. Go to mass and savor every word and gesture and you (hopefully) will be reminded of the astounding gift of God's presence on earth in Jesus Christ. And yet...the world is still waiting. Injustice, hunger, disease, death, sorrow, fear, and pain are everywhere. The earth is still waiting for the fulfillment of God's reign. He rules the heavens. He rules our hearts. He is here. When will he rule the earth? When will we, with sincerity and unanimity, ask Him to?

I played with a little girl today. We held hands and twirled in a circle and giggled and chattered in Spanish. The Kingdom of God is at hand. She was sitting, filthy and hot and tired, in the street, where she lives with her siblings, and at first came over only to beg me to share my lunch. The Kingdom of God is at hand.

God is here, little one. Rejoice! God is coming, little one. Rejoice!

Sometimes I'm filled with hope and joy and an acute awareness of just how close God is. And sometimes I sound like Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky): "I want to see it, and if I am dead by then, let me rise again, for if it all happens without me, it will be too unfair. Surely I haven't suffered, simply that I, my crimes and my sufferings, may manure the soil of the future harmony for somebody else. I want to see with my own eyes the hind lie down with the lion and the victim rise up and embrace his murderer. I want to be there when every one suddenly understands what it has all been for. All the religions of the world are built on this longing, and I am a believer."

For everyone as impatient as I am, I wish I could give you the solution, the magical pearl of wisdom that will soothe your (and my) frustration, but you're not going to find it here. God has to do that work in each of us.

And so we have advent: the time of year that reminds me to humble my heart and wait with patience and hope rather than irritation and despair. Ivan also tells his brother Alyosha, in his story The Grand Inquisitor, that man gives up his freedom in exchange for the bread of the world because he is too impatient to await the bread of life. This alone is reason enough to learn patience, but this eagerness should not be abandoned either. Ivan reminds us that we must await the bread of heaven, but that the world in front of us has value to. I'm positive that God agrees, why else would Jesus have become man to live amongst us on the earth? The majority of the readings during advent are about waiting, but never about passivity. Jesus talks to us about the end times, about the coming of God, about His return. Basically, he reminds us that His work is not done. And neither is ours. We are told to be vigilant and prepare ourselves and the world for the fullness of the Kingdom of God to arrive. We are not passive recipients. The reign of God is a present reality because it is present in us as we await its completion. God has come in to the world through the incarnation, liberated us from sin and death, and continues to dwell among us. But we're still waiting.

With hope for the world to come, we wait. And With joy for the world that God has come to, we celebrate. Happy advent.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Easy as A B C

During end of the school year conferences this week we discovered just how behind many of our girls are. We had an idea of it as we were helping with homework every day, but now that we have report cards in front of us things are looking pretty dismal.
The little girls especially have a lot of catching up to do and most of them will be repeating their grade next year. In the meantime, I'm teaching summer school to the five girls, Kindergarten through second grade, who still don't know they're alphabet. This only begins to chip away at the work ahead of us. Addition, spelling, division, sciences...there's work to be done in nearly every subject of every grade level. I can think of dozens of causes for this situation. There are not enough adults to go around when it comes to supervising the girls' academic life, the hogar and teachers are not in very good communication, the girls, likely because of their family situation, still lack a lot of skills and traits necessary to succeed in school, the girls are constantly offering to do each other's homework, by the middle (or sometimes the first day of classes) of the year they're too behind to catch up so they just fall further and further back because no one realizes it, etc.

In the meantime, the girls still want dance lessons from me, voice lessons from Johanna, and piano lessons from the both of us. I think I've also been volunteered to teach guitar, or at least that's what the sign up sheet on the wall suggests. I want so badly for these girls to have the opportunity to try these things. Their environment and background create a great need for opportunities to learn some self-confidence, discipline, perseverance, self-expression, respect for self and others, etc. Music and dance lessons are great opportunities for all of this, but when placed along side the academic needs as well, I feel completely overwhelmed. I know I can't offer everything I want to or everything they need. For now I'm just trying to offer everything I can.

Summer schedule:

5:15 prayer with the hermanas
6:00 running with any girl who wants to give it a shot (it's been a blast to see them get in to this and stick with it even though it's tough at first)
7:00 breakfast, washing clothes, scripture, etc
9-12 summer school with the little ones
12:30 lunch
2 Enlish class (high schoolers MWF, hermanas Tuesday)
3-6 Piano lessons, patroling the computer room, homework help, and (somehow it's going to be fit in starting this week) dance class
6 prayer with the girls
6:30 dinner with the hermanas and any extra homework help, dance, etc with the girls if there's energy left over from the day
8:30 Salesian goodnight and "house meeting"

I love it and see the importance of every bit of it...but sometimes I can't wait for Saturday. It's really discouraging to be running from English class to a piano lesson, trying to think whether the song on the radio would be good for the teen dance class, fumbling with your keys to open the computer room to tell the girls to quit playing, and then a little girl comes up with her favorite book and you have to tell her you don't have time to read it to her. I like being here, I like being busy, I like everything I'm doing. I just wish it could be enough.

PS: anyone want to move to Bolivia for the year and help out? We could use another volunteer (ladies only).

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sent Forth

Six months ago, in my daydreams, I was consumed by Bolivia. When I pictured myself here, I naturally didn't give much thought to how my life and relationships in The States might continue on. My imagination remade me in to a Bolivian and I shrugged off all of America besides "I'll miss you" and "how do I pay my loans off?" I left with just a backpack and thus didn't expect to be carrying so much with me. I think sometimes it's fashionable to be "psh! like, so over America" and it's easy to over-romanticize being submerged in a new country. I didn't realize how close I would still be to home. More importantly, I didn't expect to be so grateful for it.

Christ teaches us that we must be prepared to sacrifice our entire lives out of love for Him. This includes our belongings, our security, our homes, and, most challenging for the majority of us, our relationships. Not all of us are asked to leave it all behind, but our loves should be ordered in such away that we could if called to. When I seriously began to consider what this meant for me in my own life, I did not anticipate how very present those relationships would be to me here. Being led in to mission may mean that you leave your relationships behind you at "home," but they never disappear. The people that I love are no longer down the hall or across the street or even "just a phone call away." I volunteered to slip away from a lot of people, ocluded by geography or time or a dramatic separation of experiences and life paths that has consequences I cannot anticipate. But my friends and family are here in a way I never expected. Paradoxically, I would not be here if I couldn't leave them, but I also couldn't be here if I didn't feel like every one of them was with me somehow.

It is not vain or prideful to say I have been loved deeply and abundantly in my life. It is a testament to the generosity and care of God, manifested through the actions of the people around me. This love shapes us. This is the only way we learn to love and serve others and it starts from the very beginning of our lives. Our parents and siblings, hopefully, take us home, smother us in hugs and kisses and just enough time-outs and scoldings to teach us right from wrong. We learn we are loved, that we have the potential and the knowledge to make good decisions we can take pride in, and that there is always a safe place for us to come back to.

Then we start school. Our ""profes" teach us to raise our hands, to take turns, and that math isn't so bad after all. We learn to respect and listen to others and the impact we have on someone simply by believing in them.

Then we take an interest in the world. We join churches, we travel, we take a look at what makes us mad or joyful in the world. We learn to discern, to fight injustice because all people have value, and to listen carefully to God's call in our lives.
It carries on like this with every person we meet. My roommate is at my side day after day, through good and bad, and I learn from her how to be present. My leadership team looks with a genuine delight at every person and I learn the power of acceptance. My family sends me a care package and I learn to be generous and thoughtful. My profesor lets me sit in her office for hours babbling about how directionless I am and I leave understanding so much more about listening and the role of love in our vocation. I burst in the door hysterical about some new, probably unimportant bit of drama and my friend sighs and breathes out the explicatives I was afraid to say and I learn the beauty of empathy.

I wish I could reflect each of these qualities at once, but I think that only Christ could pull that off. But learning from each of them brings me a step closer to understanding His perfect love. Jesus tells his disciples "love one another as I have loved you." This love is channeled through the people put in our lives who teach us by their example how to love others and give us the strength, tools, and security to do so.

When I left I feared I was abandoning my friends and family. I see now that I was actually sent forth by them. It may be that the only thing the two concepts hold in common is the distance. I pray every day that my actions can be a testament to the love I have been shown in my life. I am encouraged and emboldened by every email or letter that reminds me that I am always accompanied by the prayers and thoughts of someone far away. My experience here is dependent upon God's love, which is and has been revealed to me through all of you. I hope you can all come to see the presence of God's love in your life without having to move out of the country. Now go hug someone and tell them how they have taught you to love better. As for you and me, this will have to do. I love you all! Thanks for loving me!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Johanna and I are pretty spoiled here. We live in one of the nicest buildings in Itocta, we have all our basic needs taken care of by either the hogar, the religious community hosting us, or the SLM program. We´re not exactly roughing it and I can´t complain. Despite our own comfy position, we do see a lot of suffering around us which is hard process sometimes.

It´s easy to think of poverty as simply a lack of material goods, and of course this isn´t excluded from the poverty Bolivians experience. We pray novenas all the time, asking God to provide the money for this month's food for the hogar or for someone to be healed because we can´t afford their surgery or medicine. Our neighbors plow their fields in thin sandles because it´s all they have. It´s easy to look around our village and see a lot of things missing that are household staples in the US.

While the absence of  "stuff" may make life more difficult, it doesn´t account for a lot of the suffering of the impoverished. Hunger and illness are difficult enough to bear, but we are also beginning to see how poverty affects basic psychological and social needs as well.

A few disordered examples:
Security and safety- Material need leads people to crime out of desperation. Several people we have caught trying to pickpocket ourselves or other people on the street have been mothers carrying babies. You can´t help but wonder if this is how they feed their children. Also, there are a lot of families, including young children, on the streets. We´re always safe in the hogar long before dark and I wonder what fear these parents have for their little ones on the city streets late at night. Crime is rampant, the dogs are everywhere, and the rats are huge and hungry. Even families living in homes have to worry about the adobe bricks (many people can´t afford real brick) crumbling in the rainy season.
Privacy- The people on the street really have no place private to go as they sell from their tents and carts all day long in the concha. People urinate and breastfeed pretty much anywhere. When they do come home, the houses are often way too small to give anyone much privacy. We see a lot of our neighbors scrubbing their shoulders clean outside under the spicket after a day in the fields, or children bathing in dirty ponds and irrigation channels outside the house. Life overflows from the cramped houses and I feel like I´m peaking in to windows as i walk the roads in Itocta.
Childhood and family- Work is scarce and there´s no actively observed minimum wage if you can find work in the first place. A recent news article on BBC reported that, despite child labor laws, a third of children and adolescents work to help feed their families. A twelve year old bagged my groceries the other day. A lot of our girls are here because their families can´t afford to feed them and had to choose between sending them here or sending them to work. Sometimes their parents left because they could only find work with family or factories or fields in other cities or countries. Poverty has completely torn apart their families because they have to choose between staying together and staying alive.
Respect- In bolivia, if someone treats you like crap but may potentially pay you, you better put up with it. People are forced to work in miserablt jobs with inconsistent pay because getting paid half of what you were promised for twice the hours you committed to is better than not getting paid at all. A lot of the girls talk about parents or siblings working for people who some weeks just outright didn´t pay them. There was nothing they could do about it because there was no other work to be found. The need and lack of education of the people makes them almost defenseless against political and judicial corruption as well.

It´s hard to reconcile the image of a loving and sheltering God who shepherds and provides for His people with the poverty around us. I´m glad that this is something I could struggle with here in Bolivia, surrounded by people whose faith shines despite the obstacles around them. I don´t know if I could do it if I wasn´t able to be here to see how these people make sense of their own suffering and spirituality.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Finally! Pictures! Actually...this is only probably the first month of pictures, but it will keep you occupied until I put the rest up (hopefully this week).

Don't worry, there are still plenty of pictures to come of our trip to Christo de Concordia, Rosa and Veronica making their first communion, and the legendary PE showcase.

Are they really going to light that?

This week the students at the school that the sisters run had a presentation for educacion fisica (PE) and traditional dancing. It was pretty fun to watch, but I can't imagine anything like this in the states. Every class performed some sort of dance or ran an obstacle course. One class of what looked like maybe third or fourth graders made a series of different types of pyramids together on the pavement. People just milled around the school, buying popcorn and saltenas for about three hours while the kids performed. The whole time the PE teacher stood in front of the kids blowing in to a whistle and occasionaly waving a stick around. One of the last demonstrations was a class of boys running through the concha (basketball court), launching themselves off a little trampoline, flipping in the air, and landing on a stack of old mattresses. The boys (either by their own eagerness or the suggestion of their teacher, I'm not sure) were dressed up in various costumes. There were a few Mexican luchadores (wrestlers), a few zoros, some hulks, lots of spidermen, and a clown. Gradually the obstacles got higher and higher or more difficult (a hoop, for example) until they brought out a rope with a wound center, doused it in gasoline, and lit it on fire. That night I had trouble explaining to the sisters why we would never be allowed to do that in The States. I may have avoided high school PE until I was threatened with not graduating, but I realize now I had a lot to be thankful for. No one ever made me do tae bo in front of nine hundred people. I also never had to dress up like zoro and do flips over a flaming rope.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I'm still here...really

Two and a half months now and things are going really well. I'm sorry I haven't kept you all up to date lately, it seems the more settled we are the busier we are.
I don't have anything particularly profound to share today, I just thought I'd let you all know what we've been up to.

Johanna and I have finally made a friend outside of Itocta. Chris, who is part of our Salesian program, has been studying at the language school and living with a widowed woman who is happy to have us visit even after Chris moves to his site near Santa Cruz. Dona Celia is excited to take us to some of the other cities in the departamento (similar to American states. Cochabamba, while a city, is actually the name of the entire departamento in the valley of the Andes). We're also hoping she'll share a bit of her fabulous cooking skills with us. Finally the orthodontist I take girls to every week can stop scolding me for not having seen anything outside of Itocta and the city of Cochabamba.

On Thursday we introduced the sisters to burritos for the first time. South American food is actually very very different from say, Mexcian food. They had never eaten tortillas before and were really excited. They also think it's really funny that they're called burritos (meaning "little burro" or "donkey" in Spanish).

This week the school is giving the students an opportunity to show off a bit. Friday morning they had a few hours of short plays put on by each class. It was great to see a few of our girls up there in front of their peers or showing off the beautiful scenery pieces they have been working on all week. Next week we'll get to see a few of them presenting all the music and traditional dances they've been working on this year. I think there's even a PE demonstration some of our little ones will be part of.

I'm still amazed by how much my relationships with the girls have changed over these weeks. My first month here I was convinced that there would always be quite a distance between myself and some of the older girls. I'm so surprised to find how close we've grown. As we adjusted here it was easier to divide our time between "working hours" (meaning the time we were actually scheduled to be in the computer lab and library and studies) and our off hours. Now it seems everything just flows together. Tutoring and playing and resting and everything in between all flows together in a very family-like way. "working hours" are sometimes packed full of algebra and quizing little girls about Christopher Colombus ("and then he killed their king and enslaved them all" um...correct) and teaching Elohina, a young woman in her mid twenties with traumatic brain injury, how to write the number five. Some days, however, they're spent teaching guitar (I started learning from the sisters when I got here and I love it!) or laying in the sun being quized on Spanish vocabularly by the older girls. Similarly, our "off hours" are sometimes completely free- we wash clothes, Johanna gives me a singing lesson, I play ridiculous amounts of sudoku, etc. Sometimes, however, they're completely naturally spent with our new family. I meet girls outside at 5:30 am and we wait for the sun to come up so I can take them running, we read Stelaluna in Spanish after lunch, I run downstairs at ten pm because I know one of the girls needs a few last minute run throughs before her speach tomorrow, etc. The day is beginning to run together in a way that is at once full (from running at dawn to night prayers with the girls at 8:30...and maybe some last minute studying after that) and relaxed. I craved more structure at first, but there's always so much to do that it doesn't seem to matter. I can see more clearly now how it is more important for us to create a family and home structure here than it is for us to act as good "employees."

I've got much more to say about what I'm learning here about myself, life, poverty, God, children, etc. but this will have to do for now because we're heading out to do some travelling in a neighboring city this afternoon. I'll do my best to share some more reflections with you soon and in the meantime I'd love to hear from each of you.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


I started thinking a bit about gratitude here after starting Henri Nouwen's book "Gracias." I sent an email to my friend Lee that sparked some reflections I'd like to share with you all.

Things are going really well for me here the last few weeks. The changing factor, I genuinely believe, is adopting an attitude of sincere gratitude.

I often have very little to offer here other than simply delighting in the people around me. Five months ago I had an opportunity to prove my competence every day through exams, meetings, and projects. I saw the fruits of my labor (usually). I knew I had value because I could contribute to my environment. I could set goals and meet them every day. I could work towards graduation or a new job or a good grade for months or years. Arriving in Bolivia, I couldn't reaffirm my worth in the same ways. I couldn't prove myself by checking items off my to-do list, and it was difficult to realize that the sisters and the girls weren't asking me to. Henri Nouwen describes how his own experience of vulnerability in Bolivia lead him to gratitude in his book "Gracias!"

"One of the most rewarding aspects of living in a strange land is the experience of being loved not for what we can do, but for who we are. When we become aware that our stuttering, failing, vulnerable selves are loved even when we hardly progress, we can let go of our compulsion to prove ourselves and be free to live with others in a fellowship of the weak. That is true healing."

Being loved by the girls and by my community in Bolivia has nothing to do with my abilities. Getting an email from a friend or a package from my family has nothing to do with anything I can do for them from here. I often feel I am far from "earning my keep" here. The love I experience in the hogar and in Bolivia reflects the perfect love of Christ, who asks nothing in return. My existence is enough. Here in Bolivia I have the opportunity to feel the selfless love of God through the people around me, but it requires me to make myself entirely humble and dependent. I must experience my own weakness to better understand God's love through my hosts and the people supporting me from "home."

Because of this, it is difficult sometimes for us, as humans who desire to feel complete and in control, to simply receive. However, receiving is absolutely essential to understanding our relationship to God and to eachother. In addition, Nouwen reminds us that receiving is an act of liberation. When we receive one another with gratitude we remind each other of the trumendous power we have in our world. My willingness to receive is, I'm surprised to find, an act of service. Think of the people who have deeply impacted your life. It's likely they were people who listened to your story with eagerness, grateful to know you better. They asked you to teach them. They trusted you to exercise your power with love and responsibility by caring for them. In short, they received you and everything you had to offer with gratitude and a reverence for the unique being that you are. This reverence, this gratitude, this thankfulness is mine to offer when I am willing to admit that I am wanting for something here.

On the other hand, our unwillingness to receive from our communities places them in a position of subordinance. In Genesis 23, the Hittites try to give Abraham the land to bury his wife and he has a heck of a time persuading them to let him purchase it. Had he accepted it, he would not have an opportunity to be the rightful property owner. Their "generosity" was actually depriving Abraham (who was disadvantaged as a foreigner in that land) of an opportunity to build a life for himself. As affirming as it is to provide for the people around us, we must not do so at the expense of another's autonomy. Furthermore, When I refuse to be provided for by my host country, and I strive to impose my "competence" on them, I instill in them the same insecurity and helplessness that I myself feel as a displaced missionary, but in their own home and country. What a terrible trespass against my hosts.

Learning to be truly grateful for every email, every conversation, every little girl, every hour spent reading (over and over and over) the book about the crocodile lurking under the bed, has so dramatically changed my experience here. I was having so much trouble until I started ending the day by recounting what I received rather than what I contributed. The day suddenly became full and meaningful and beautiful when I meditated on the works of God rather than the works of my own hands.

In unrelated news: I learned how to eat chicken feet today. Champion!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Spanish Lessons

Language is rough sometimes. After Jerica left I caught myself thinking sometimes "gee, I'll have to have someone explain what that person was saying this afternoon" and then I would remember that I'm the closest thing we have to a translator. My two hundred level Spanish from Sophmore year is the best bridge we have between Johanna and I and...all of Bolivia. Including our Hogar. Sometimes I feel pretty proud of myself for how much I can stumble through with my limited vocabulary and poor grammar. Sometimes, however, it's a bit isolating and leaves me exhausted at the end of the day. Regardless, we're all learning a lot from each other.
Not only am I learning Spanish, I'm learning Cochabamban Spanish. Here are a few highlights:
First, in South America they don't use the vosotros form. However, in Cochabamba, they do use the word "vos". Usually you would use it when speaking informally to a group of people, but they'll use it when talking to only one person. They also use the vosotros form of commands when talking to only one person.
Next, They tend to use the past perfect tense (with haber), rather than the regular preterite almost anytime they're talking about the past. For example, instead of saying comio (she ate) they would say ha comido (she has eaten).
Also, as I've mentioned before, they add ito/ita on to everything, even adjectives (which usually means it's small, but here doesn't really mean anything). quesito (little cheese), zappatitos (little shoes), verdito (a little green), solita (a little alone). Everything. Out of this comes the expression mamita (little mama) and papita (little papa). Which can pretty much mean anyone. Usually it's used to refer to children but some of the people in the city have refered to me and some of the sisters as mamita too.
They also refer to people by putting an article in front of their name. Niki becomes La Niki (the Niki), Andre becomes El Andre (the Andre), etc.R is pronounced like rr, rr is pronounced like j.
Finally, a few words are just different altogether. We don't wear chaquetas (jackets), we wear chompas. It's not guapa (pretty), it's linda. We use "harto" instead of "muchO" (many much). Feo (ugly) describes almost anything unpleasant. Those shoes are feo, this smells feo, my homework is feo, etc. Flip Flops are Chinelas because they're vaguely Chinese looking.
A few more highlights from the teenage vocabulary:
Cochina: this words is used here for pig, but more commonly is used as a slang. As in "you didn't pick up your trash? Cochina!" or "Cochina! Close the door I'm trying to change!" Or "you like a boy!? Cochina!"
Por fis: slang for "por favor" or please. As in "I need ten more minutes on the computer to watch videos of Michael Jackson. Por fiiiiiiis"
Ya pues: the literal translation doesn't make any sense, but the expression is used for something like "come on" or "enough already." As in "Ya pues! I already finished my homework!" or "Give me back my copy of Harry Potter, ya pues!"
So there you go, feel informed.

Lord of the Dance

One of the things I love about living here is that I get to dance all the time. The sisters and the girls are always ready to teach you some traditional dance, either for a celebration of some sort or just for the heck of it. They're also completely fascinated by ballet or any sort of classical dance. Every day someone asks me to teach them something new. It's a blast.When I was at Whitworth I took Judy Mandeville's classes on sacred movement and also was part of Jubilation, our dance minsitry program. We spent a lot of time expressing our prayers, meditating on scripture, sharing the gospel, and praising God through movement. I try to remain faithful to this form of dance every time I share with the girls or the community. When the girls want to dance with me we start by talking about how our bodies like to say "gracias a Dios." When I danced for the school yesterday (which was a blast!) I danced a jubilation piece, "praise you with the dance" and was so happy to be able to share this prayer with the students and their families. The sisters even asked me to help choreograph their own praise dances that they perform for each other and for their students.
It's amazing to me how much more expressive they are here when it comes to moving their faith. At every mass there are teenagers up in front of the congregation moving their hands and arms in synch with the music. Almost all their religious music has some sort of movement associated with it. The sisters were shocked when I told them that that's not common in the states, and that adults especially don't really dance. While my own style and training seems very American to them, I'm being received in to a community that understands aspects of my prayer life a lot better than my home culture. Dance already has such a strong presence in the faith of the people here and I'm having an amazing experience learning how I can participate in that.
I also am realizing that one of the perks of being a missionary is that you get to do plenty of things you're "unqualified" for. Credentials and training are pretty much irrelevant. If you have something to offer, you better offer it. My high school dance team coach would probably be horrified at the thought of me teaching ballet, or out on the basketball court by myself in front of nine hundred kids representing American dance. But they love it. Little girls were running after me as I was leaving, asking when I would be teaching for the town. I love sharing this here, and I find that the more I do the more vividly I encounter God in the people around me.
Also...dancing in front of the school in a homemade green tutu with gigantic puffy sleeve, white spandex shorts, and pink tennis shoes felt hillarious. So fun!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Happy Anniversary

I can't believe it's been a month and then some. In the last week Ive had a lot of very mixed feelings about being here. Last Saturday I got pick pocketed on a micro (bus). Unfortunately, I had to choose between falling over on an old woman and giving up the five bucks in my pocket to the creepy guy smashed against me in the aisle. I started to feel really frustrated this week with my half-developed Spanish. I know enough to take care of anything Johanna or I really need, but this also means I know enough for people to expect me to pick up plans and news from the surrounding conversations, which i definitely can't do. Finally, I celebrated my one month site-anniversary from my bed after spending the night nearly sleeping on the bathroom floor with some sort of food poisoning. Surprisingly enough, getting sick really broke me out of the few days of frustration I had been building up towards Bolivia.
Anyone can point to the time lines and say "Yup, the one month slump, right on time." and tell me about culture shock and parasites and homesickness and sleep deprivation. For me, I realize that most aspects of life, even if they're not necessarily worse, are just more difficult. Speaking, making friends, making a phone call, is more difficult. Eating is more difficult. Going for a walk, with your white skin, your sea level lungs, and a city full of stray dogs, is more difficult. Sometimes we wake up and there's no water, either in our bottles or from our faucets. Nevertheless, I find that I grow to love this place a little more every week (Not quite every day. On Thursday when I had to check the toilet tank to make sure i had water before I started throwing up I was less than enamored). When I crawled out of bed on Friday, scratching my lice-infested scalp, I was so happy to see the clear Cochabamban sunshine pouring over the Andes as the girls ran across the street in the uniforms for school, shouting in Spanish and Quechua and, yes, singing Hannah Montanna. I was so glad to be wiping little noses and teaching ballet and singing along with the guitar in the garden with the older girls. I was so excited to think about going to the city and wandering through the tents of breads and crafts and colored fabrics. I love living with these people, even if the life they invite me in to is harder than mine ever has been. With the exception of the language frustrations, pretty much everything that's pushed me here is a fact of life for Bolivians. I'm not the only one who wakes up in the middle of the night with a new friend crawling around in my stomach. I'm not the only one who holds my breath when I try the faucets. I'm not the only one who eyes each passing stray, looking for the green tag that means someone has vaccinated this dog for rabies a few months ago. Even the sisters have stories about people on the street slashing their purses and grabbing at their pockets. These are the realities of poverty, and while each lesson is here is harder, I'm blessed to receive it.
So...Happy one-month site-anniversary to me.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

When I was your age...

I realize I haven't spoken much about the most obvious part of my life here: I live with about 4 dozen girls between 3 and 18 years old. For the most part, it's great! These children are all so full of energy and say and do some of the funniest things. It's incredible how our relationships with them have grown so much already in just a short month. I absolutely love coming downstairs every morning to a busy home full of girls and knowing my day will be full from beginning to end with their faces.
The majority of the girls are in their teens, which has been rather thought provoking. I run the computer lab in the afternoons, which gives me a chance to see the girls in all their thirteen year old glory. To be honest, it was baffling at first. I spent most of the time sputtering in Spanish and wondering what was wrong with these girls. Was I ever this entranced by the computer? Was I ever willing to sit and play children's addition games for hours if I could get away with it just because it meant I could plant myself in front of this ridiculous machine? Did I beg for two more minutes and start opening a program I couldn't possibly make any use of in such short time? Did I whine incessantly about how there's no way I could have finished my homework in the time given to me, even though I just spent half of it googling my own name (or Korean soap opera stars). Did I insist that I could not be interupted at this moment because, clearly, the desktop background MUST be adjusted to properly display the true beauty of the cast of High School Musical? Did I beg someone to let me in to the computer room an hour early (despite being unable to say what educational need it would meet) as they were getting on to a bus?
Any moms, aunties, grandmas, and teachers out there reading this are laughing right now. Of course I was guilty of at least some of this. Almost every kid was.
Posting the rules of the room on the door, Never allowing more people than computers in the room at once, and being consistent with consequences (No, you can't use the computer today, all you did yesterday was make a collage of pictures of The Jonas Brothers) and rewards (I can see you haven't been doing anything but homework in here, of course you can stay on a bit longer) helped, but not as much as realizing that I did the same things at that age. The basic thought processes of teenagers don't seem to vary much, even across time and culture.
So needless to say, I'm learning a lot. A few of the girls made me a "cartita" last night with a hand drawn Hello Kitty catching butterflies (I think this is the first time Hello Kitty has ever been on my wall, in truth she/it really freaks me out). Underneath is a little letter of friendship. The very middle reads "perdonamos si algunas veces te hemos hecho, que te sientas mal" which means, roughly "forgive us if we've done some things that make you feel bad." It's my reminder now that, despite the moments of frustration, I am so happy to be surrounded by these girls, and (what a gift!) they're glad I'm here too.
Here are a few more lessons to add to the list:
19. No matter how difficult they can be, these girls will always make my day somehow.
20. Have patience, all of us were young and abnoxious once
21. Enforcing reasonable and known consequences will NOT hurt your relationship with a child. Give them five minutes and they won't even remember why they were mad at you in the first place.
22. There is a lot of wisdom to the Salesian teaching that says that children will do a lot when they know they are loved. The harder you work to help a child know they are cared for, the most likely they are to listen to you, even when they're "in trouble".
23. Don't plead, don't yell, don't bargain. Just calmly give directions as though you expect people to respond and they most likely will.
24. Don't forget to celebrate each person when they're at their best, especially regularly "difficult" kids. It's important that they can clearly see a distinction between disliking their actions and disliking them.

And yes, in case you were wondering, the computer lab is running beautifully now.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How time flies...

It's been a busy week (and in response to all your emails, yes I am still alive and well)! We're settling in to a bit of a routine now, which is always nice.
Every day we have breakfast with the sisters just after seven, help with dishes before heading out to wash our own clothes and such before the day really starts, and then are downstairs sometime before nine. At nine we open up the library and computer room and help with homework, check out books, monitor the girls on the computer, etc from 9-12 and 3-6. In between we spend some more time (usually 12:30 to around 1:30 or 2) with the sisters for lunch, play with the girls, help with last minute studying (the girls have been singing Hoobastank's "The Reason" for a week straight prepping for an English exam), etc. At six the girls pray the rosary before dinner, and we're usually at the sister's house until around eight at night before coming back to dance, play, sing, whatever with the girls before prayer around 8:30 or 9. The day usually ends with a few of the older girls in our room, telling stories we pretend to understand, whispering about their secret crushes, and looking through our pictures to see if we know Hannah Montanna or the cast of High School Musical.
On Tuesday and Thursday evenings we have mass, and on Friday mornings before nine I take a guitar class with the aspirants (learning guitar is actually part of their formation. Awesome, right?).
We also spend a lot of time preparing for all those celebrations we're ready to sing and dance for. On Sunday the archbishop came to bless the new transition house for the girls aging out of the hogar and afterwards we had a big dinner for him, the communities of sisters in neighboring Pucarita and Primero de Mayo, and the girls who will live there. The day after we had yet another party, this time for Hermana Rosi, who was the Mother Superior of the entire order before "retiring" to Cochabamba where she is now helping run the aspirancy (which is where we are) and the new transition apartments. The sisters asked me to dance ballet for her birthday (how can I say no) and afterwards (apparently it went well) asked me to teach something to the pequanitas (little ones) for Padre Pepe's birthday on Monday and prepare two pieces to dance for the high school in three weeks.
Okay...that was a really long winded, and poorly written explanation of why you haven't heard from me in a bit. It's nothing personal, honest.
I'm caught up (for a day or so) on laundry, visa paperwork, and dancing, so hopefully I'll have a bit more to say this week.

Monday, August 24, 2009

a few more lessons

10. There's always room for one more in any vehicle
11. It is perfectly acceptable for strangers to fall asleep on you on the bus
12. Milk a cow into the glass, add some sugar, and drink.
13. When you pick lice out of a little girl's hair, be sure to pinch them between your finger nails before you throw them.
14. It's not a meal in Bolivia until you've eaten something fried
15. Funnel cake and popcorn is a perfectly acceptable dinner
16. If you want to sound like you're from Cochabamba, add ita or ito (which is Spanish means something is little) to the end of every word.
17. It's never too late for the neighboring houses to blast their music. It's also never too early for the roosters to start crowing.
18. It's easy to get out of bed when you know there will be a dozen girls on your way to breakfast ready to give you huge hugs good morning.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Padrinos de Caca

In Bolivia we use the word Padrino or Madrina for Godfather/mother but also for the patron or sponsor of something. For example, I will be the Madrina de Torta this month because I will be buying cake for one of the parties. I think it's a role that suits me, as I hate to say a party lacking in cake. Anyway, yesterday we needed some fertilizer for the garden so we payed a visit to Hermana Nemecia's cows. Or as I like to call them, Los Padrinos de Caca. So Johanna, a few of the sisters, and a few of the older girls and I loaded up a cart and road back to the hogar on a mountain of cow poo. I'll post some pictures soon of us assuming our rightful place as queens of the mountain.

We got a chance to be queens of the mountain (or maybe just gringas of the hill) once again this morning. Jerica, Johanna and I hiked up the hill behind the hogar to get a view of Itocta and the nearest two towns, Pucaria and Primero de Mayo, from above. It was a beautiful morning and it was great to be greeted by the girls again when we got home. The afternoons are usually spent helping with homework and playing games or singing and dancing as they finished (Johanna is a fabulous music teacher). The girls are obsessed with ballet and beg to learn when we have free time. Turns out the sisters are almost as excited as the girls are and after dinner last night I spent about two hours dancing with them in the salon out back. Talk about a great way to end the day.

Time to head out (Jerica and I are going over to the neighbor's house to milk cows). Hope all is well at home.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Como se llama?

I'm having a great time with all the girls so far, and getting to know them has proved to be an entertaining process. The confusion usually starts immediately, as little kids who have grown up speaking Ketchua or Spanish can't pronounce the vowels in my name. It usually goes something like this:

Como se llama?
Hambre? (which means hunger)
No, Amber
Hombre? (which means man)
uh...Puede llamarme Niki. (you can call me Niki)
Y su apellido? (and your last name?)
And so on...

So far I've gotten to know a few of the girls pretty well. I'm surprised how quickly we've fallen in to a routine together. School runs in two sessions each day, so half the girls are there in the morning and the other half are there in the afternoon. It's really nice to help them with their homework or play games with them in smaller groups throughout the day. A lot of the girls have been begging to learn ballet or swing dancing and want to teach me traditional Bolivian dances and we have a blast together in the evenings. The sisters love to dance too and it seems that any occasion calls for music and dance. Last night they celebrated one of the sister's birthdays by performing all sorts of dances, including one where they dressed up as little old hunch backed ladies. They also played a few songs together because learning guitar is actually part of their formation. As you can tell, I love how important music and dance is here. It really works in our favor because singing and dancing has helped us connect with the girls and the sisters so quickly!
Last night we got a chance to see even more dancing at the festival of Maria de Urkupenia. People come from all over Bolivia this weekend to a little town where there was a (maybe legit/maybe not) Marian apparition. There was a parade for hours with the most elaborate dancing and costumes and music from different areas of Bolivia. It was amazing, I'd never seen anything like it before. I would show you pictures, but we didn't take anything but our bus fare with us (events like this attract a lot of ladrones, or thieves). While we were there we saw about a dozen other gringos (amongst what seemed like millions of people), which is pretty unusual for Cochabamba. It's pretty obvious to everyone we're from the US and it's an enlightening experience to be so painfully aware of my race (Yes, sir, I know I'm from Los Estados Unidos. No, I will not take a picture with your buddy so he can hang it on his wall and reminisce to his friends about all those crazy nights we didn't spend together).

All in all, it's been a good, but exhausting week. Happy Feast of the Assumption!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Estamos aqui!

A short update:

I'm in Cochabamba! Our little village, Itocta, is surrounded by the Andes and is absolutely beautiful. The girls gave us a warm welcome and we were smothered in the most delightful way by hugs and rapid introductions in Spanish and little girls attempting to carry suitcases bigger than they are. That night they hosted a special welcome celebration where the girls performed dances they had prepared themselves, complete with beautiful costumes and printed programs with a message to each of us inside. One of the sisters welcomed us to the home and reminded us that it will be wonderful, but also tought sometimes but to hang in there because we are family now and that's what families do. Needless to say, we're feeling eager to settle right in.

The sisters found out I love to dance and invited me to help choreograph a dance with them for a party this weekend. I'm so excited to jump right in not only with the girls but with the community too. It's easy to forget we've only been here about two days. Sometimes I get impatient about not understanding a certain song or prayer yet, or about having so many names left to learn, or about having no idea where in the town certain things are. Then I remember that I got here Monday and have an entire year to go. Nevertheless, here are a few things I've learned so far:

1. Toilet paper goes in the trash can, not the toilet. Yes, you read that correctly
2. Hand washing your clothes is an acquired skill, but make sure you do it regularly because a pile of laundry doesn't fit very well in the plastic tubs.
3. Use your water sparingly. Espcially your precious minutes of hot water.
4. Never understimate the power of hospitality. Making someone feel welcome is a trumendous gift.
5. Don't bother learning tons of Spanish music. All the girls want to hear from Americans are Disney songs and the theme from Titanic.
6. You may have to choose between living lice-free and snuggling with adorable litle girls. Oh well.
7. You know how we speak Spanglish by adding an O on to everything? Apparently English sounds like everything ends in "ation." Nation, recreation, addition, etc. If you want to sound like you're speaking Bolivian Spanish add ito or ita on to everything. Even if that thing is large (ita typically implies that it's tiny), hermanita, papito, ahorita, librito etc.
8. You will never know how many varieties of potatoe exist in the world.

Tengo que irme. Chau!

9. In bolivia, use "chau" instead of "adios." Adios is saved for long term goodbyes.

Monday, August 10, 2009

There's No Place Like (a new) Home...

"La Union es La Fuerza"
(Unity is Strength)
-Bolivian national motto

I'm sure you all want to know a bit more about where I am. Actually, that's not true. I'm sure it's all the same to many of you and a small handful (mom) would like a short essay. So here are a few facts you're welcome to glance at if you're curious.

Bolivia is one of two landlocked countries in South America. It's East of Chile and Peru and North of Argentina. It's a very diverse country because they have such a large indigenous population compared to other countries. About half of the country is Amerindian, a third is Mestizo, and the remainder are white (Spanish, American, German, etc). This not only creates a wonderfully rich culture, it also means that there are over 35 native languages in addition to the main language (Spanish) spoken around the country. In addition to being one of the most diverse countries in South America, it is also one of the poorest. About two thirds of the population (which is around 9,100,000) is below the poverty level.

Politically speaking, Bolivia has experienced quite a bit of unrest over the course of its history. Between winning independence from Spain in 1825 and beginning a new era of relative stability in 1981, Bolivia averaged a change of government about once every ten months (that's 193 coups d'etat for anyone who's counting). Don't worry though, Bolivia has transitioned comparatively peacefully since then. Current socialist president Juan Evo Morales Ayma, who took office in 2006, is from the indigenous Aymaras, thus his election marks a turning from a long history of primarily white and Mestizo power in the majority native population. Morales has drawn attention in the last few years by re nationalizing natural gas and hydrocarbon production, promising to relax coca farming restrictions put in place by agreements with the United States, and beginning a new constitution which will empower the indigenous majority. These actions, particularly the latter, have been met on occasion with rioting.

So that's the brief rundown. Or at least everything that will make my mother sweat. Despite it's political and economic struggles, Bolivia is a beautiful country enlivened by an active culture and wonderful people. Don't you worry.

More about Cochabamba in particular to come. And yes...most of this is straight out of Wikipedia.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Salesian Family

After two weeks at Maryknoll training, we spent a week in Port Chester, trying to better understand what Salesian ministry looks like. The Salesians are a Catholic order devoted to youth. They were started by Don Bosco, who reached out to children and teenagers by making himself a trustworthy companion. Every Salesian ministry contains the "four oratory criteria" which were essential to the oratories Don Bosco started over 150 years ago. Oratories should be a home, playground, school and church all in one. Children should be able to learn, pray, play, and know they are loved all at once. The Salesians began when boys attending the oratories started to take a peer ministry role and eventually decided to stick around to help with the younger kids. Pretty soon they grew to a whole group of people who became known as the Salesians.It's a very relationship-based method known as the preventive system. Basically, the idea is that if a child knows they are loved, is given high expectations and the means to meet them, and is kept busy in a positive way, they've probably got a shot. Peer modeling is really important in the Salesian method, and it was pretty cool to see it in action in Port Chester. Kids from the school grew up to work at the summer camps. Kids from the summer camps talked about wanting to help at the food pantry and clothes closet when they got older. Most of the volunteers, teachers, and counselors we met grew up in Salesian parishes. They really are a family of sorts.

In fact, that's why the Salesians are in America to begin with. A lot of people don't realize that the Salesians are actually the second largest religious order in the world. In Africa, India, South America, and parts of Europe they're pretty well known. They only came up to America to help care for communities of immigrants from countries they originally served. I talked to someone about my age who said that he came here from Peru, where he attended a Salesian school and parish, when his Dad found a statue of Mary Help of Christians (Maria Auxiliadora, our patron) and realized he was at home here amongst the Salesians.

On a side note, this whole "Salesian family" thing works out to be a pretty good deal sometimes. Like, say, when people grow up in Salesian communities, become persons of influence in the UN, hear there are some Salesians visiting, and decide to exercise some hospitality. Here we are in the General Assembly room, that's my lovely and talented site companion, Johanna.

Anyway, that's all for now, take care and be good.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's gonna be fine

So training has been a long but valuable process so far. We all know when we sign up that we're accepting a certain amount of danger by travelling to a developing country. Nevertheless I'm glad my mom isn't here to listen to half our speakers discuss potential dangers by saying "for example, when I was in Bolivia..." She probably doesn't need to know just how many times the last volunteer was robbed over the course of the year. She also probably doesn't want to hear about how they treat the children for tape worm every six months because it's considered almost inevitable. Or about how to properly bribe your way through a road block. Or what to do if a civil war starts during the elections in a few months. Thanks for allowing me to project my anxiety on to you, mom. The violence and illness are of course unsettling, but I think I'm more nervous about the first few months of feeling completely incompetent. It's very humbling to think about entering a community where I sound like a child when I try to piece together a sentence and can't make it to the grocery store unaccompanied.
Training is reminding us that mission is not about competence, it's about relationships. Accomplishments and goals are far less important than the day to day interactions we have with the people (particularly the children we're working with). It's a tough transition to make, especially coming from such a goal-oriented culture. Thinking about these challenges is not as intimidating as I expected. We're reminded every day to think about our motivation and purpose. How did we get here? Why are we staying?
I suppose I owe my family some of those answers too. The easiest answer is to say it's a calling. God asked, I'm answering, simple as that. It's true, but not terribly enlightening for everyone else. A lot of the people here would answer similarly. We have a deep desire to serve people. We want to learn to love better by serving the communities receiving us. Why do we have to leave to do that? Nouwen reminds us that displacing ourselves allows us to find our identity outside of the competition and constant striving of our "reglar" lives. We're forced to understand ourselves as weak. As I mentioned above, we're completely dependent upon our communities. We sound like children. We're sick all the time. It's not exactly glamorous., but His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Our Way (Finally)

So step one of the journay to Bolivia has brought me to New York for the Maryknoll International Service Orientation (or MISO). It's great to be able to see a bit of the East coast of the country before I leave, and I'm haing a great time, but I can't say I'm not impatient to get moving. Fellow Salesian Lay Missioner Jenna and I spent our first day being introduced to New York city by an old friend, Ben. We all had a fantastic time and I'm looking forward to more exploring on our days off (right now we're in a town called Ossining about an hour train ride from Grand Central Station).

Recently we were treated to a concert by our own SLM leader and his Andean folk band. We also had a chance to learn a few moves from a young woman from Bolivia.

I'm not sure which was better, getting a preview of what's awaiting my partner Johanna and I, or having our "after party" (comprised of about 35 missionaries dancing behind an old convent to latin music) shut down by the police for noise violation. At 9:45 pm. Oh, Ossining...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Farewell...for now

As you know, I'm heading out in August for Cochabamba, Bolivia for a year...or two...or maybe even three. Rather than mass emailing people (or disappearing completely for the entire time) I figured you'd all rather check in when you'd like. Hopefully I'll get a chance to update you often, and I'd love to hear from all of you too! I'll email you just before I take off from New York so you know when I'm actually anticipating posting here. Before then, give me a call so we can say goodbye!