Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Making Friends in the Neighborhood

It didn't take much time for us to be noticed in our neighborhood. As the new white people with four kids, we didn't exactly "blend in." The neighborhood kids have been very welcoming and our kids enjoy having friends to play with. The adults have been friendly as well, but there is one family in particular that has befriended us.

Through this relationship, we have learned to appreciate Peruvians' commitment to follow through. For example, when you say, "We should do dinner sometime," they ask, "When?" and establish a time and date before parting ways. They are great at asking for what they want and accepting whatever answer may come. We love this about our friends.

One example is when our friend asked us to cut her son's hair. She had asked if we cut our boys' hair. She was apparently pleased with how it looked, because she immediately asked if Geoff would do the same for her son. Geoff, of course, said yes and an appointment was made with the new neighborhood barber (i.e., Geoff).

Now it is one thing to cut your own child's hair, but quite another to try to avoid butchering the hair of a one-year-old Peruvian. Our little amigo didn't appreciate my effort to clean up his overgrown mop and let us all know that we should not count on his cooperation. If you've never cut anyone's hair, you may not understand how difficult it can be to shave straight lines while the tiny head you're working on is imitating a bobble-head doll on the dash board of a Winnebago cruising the dilapidated streets of Brena (a poorer district in Lima - lots of pot holes and road construction).

One of the other things we have grown to appreciate about Peruvians is their commitment to breast feeding whenever and wherever their baby is hungry. They have no inhibitions when it comes to nursing in public and would never think to attempt to conceal the act to avoid offending the sensitivities of their American friends. We have grown to love this about our friends as well.

So...our friend restrained her son the best way she knows how. She pulled up her shirt and began nursing the boy while Geoff continued to chop away at his hair. While Geoff and I have grown accustomed to seeing mothers nursing in public, this was a first. Geoff kept his composure and finished the haircut to our friend's satisfaction. But, needless to say, Geoff was a little shocked, feeling slightly uncomfortable with using sharp, electric clippers so close to such a sensitive part of the body.

And this is how life goes in Lima...our friends are constantly challenging our presuppositions about what is normal. We thank God for the doors that He has opened in the neighborhood and we pray that these relationships will continue to challenge us and our friends to trust and follow Jesus.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jungle Fever

Three weeks ago I traveled to Iquitos with four friends where we participated in the Great Amazon River Raft Race. Iquitos is the largest city in the Jungle, and it can only be accessed by boat or plane. We arrived to Iquitos on September, 23rd, a Wednesday evening, and spent the first night taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of the downtown area.

On the morning of the 24th, we awoke early, ate, and left our hostal around 7:30am. We then met the rest of the competitors and organizors at a park in central Iquitos, and, from there, traveled to Nauta via bus, lying approximately 120 miles upstream from Iquitos. As we entered Nauta, a crowd of people with banners and instruments welcomed us with flare. After exiting the bus, the procession, including a band, people carrying banners, and dancing children, escorted us over a mile into the heart of the town. It was an unexpected treat, and we were all humbled by their gracious hospitality. After an hour of music and speeches given by various towns people and organizors of the race, lunch was served at a local restaurant.

The real fun began after lunch when we took a boat across the river to begin constructing our rafts. We were given eight Balsa logs, rope, and several really long nails, the bare neccessities. We had brought a saw and additional rope and were able to borrow a machete. After much discussion, a design was decided on (see below) and construction was initiated. It was difficult work that took us around five hours to complete. The sun in the jungle felt like it was being focused through a magnifying glass, and we soon felt dehydrated and throroughly exhausted...and this was before the race began.

The morning of Friday the 25th, around 8am, in a boat we had built with our own hands, we commenced rowing 120 miles down the Amazon River. The river was amazing, reminding me more of the Lake of the Ozarks than the Mississippi. At many points it seemed to stretch in every direction, with no end in sight.

We had the unfortunate privilage of being on the river when it was extremely low, decreasing the current to a agonizing crawl. We were forced to paddle constantly to make it to our rest point each day, leaving little time for soaking in the sights and sounds of the gigantic river. We completed the first leg in just under seven hours, and spent the night in a village on the river. Picture a jungle scene from National Geogriphic and you're not too far off.

On day two, the route was extended because the normal shortcut had dried up, forcing us to paddle several miles out of our way. We began at 7:00am and completed the second leg just after the sun went down. The light of day was reflecting off the clouds on the horizon as we dragged our weary bodies off the boat and into a small town where we stayed the night.

I had developed a cough towards the end of the day on Thursday, and it had gotten progressively worse as the race went on. By Saturday night, after the second leg of the race, I began feeling really rundown. I contributed it to the days events and tried to ignore the little voice in my head telling me that what I was feeling was more than fatigue. I showered, ate, and headed to bed as quick as possible, fearing that I was starting to run a fever.

By God's grace, I awoke on Sunday feeling fair. I was hopeful that it was merely the exertion from the day before that had caused me to feel so ill the previous night. We set out early Sunday morning and committed to a much slower pace for the first half of the day. It was a beautiful day and the noises pouring from the jungle reminded us that we weren't in Kansas anymore. We saw several Amazon porpoises and enjoyed waving to the local children that sat on the banks towering above us. By noon the sun was bearing down on us, an oppressive task master, taunting our attempt to enjoy the last leg of the race. We picked up the pace and soon neared the end of the race.

The last 200 meters was against the current, up a tributary boarding Iquitos. We gave it everything we had because anything less than that resulted in us idling in the middle of the river, unable to cut through the water pushing us back out towards the Amazon. The locals came to our aid by revealing the route that would eventually allow us to traverse the final leg. We made our way close to the shore, and the slight decrease in the current made progress possible. We finally crossed the finish line, hoping to burn our boat as part of the celebration.

As soon as I got off the boat, I felt weird, beyond exhausted, almost numb. I managed to get back to our hotel room where I collapsed on the floor until it was my turn to take a shower. By the time I went to take a shower, I was shivering uncontrollably and felt like death warmed over. The rest of the team went to dinner while I laid in bed praying for Jesus to return.

Our plane left Iquitos at 9:20pm, and I was back home before midnight on Sunday. While I was racing down the amazon, Raechel had an even bigger adventure. She had to take care of our four young children in Lima, Peru all by herself. And what was her reward for all of her hard work, a fifth child on the fifth day of her adventure. I only got off the couch twice all day on Monday, running a fever and feeling like I had Malaria or Dengue fever.

By God's grace, we both survived and have fully recovered. Looking back, the Great Amazon River Raft Race was a lot of fun. It was challenging and amazing, and I have a lot of fond memories of the trip. I'm glad I did it...and I'm glad I never have to do it again.

My friend, David, and I working on our raft.

Our raft at the end of the race.

Our team, plus a judge and other bystanders, on our raft shortly after crossing the finish line.

Look closely at my eyes...I am feeling rough...Look at my smile...I am wasting energy I didn't have to waste.

A fishing barge with it's huge net stretched out to the left.