“Poco a poco, lado a lado, lento pero seguro” (Little by little, side by side, and slowly but surely)
Since arriving here in Cochabamba, I have come across these phrases many times. I am hearing poco a poco in my language school, as I, along with my fellow students, struggle to learn Spanish, and lento pero seguro from our host family, who has been hosting students since 1984. Lado a lado, a phrase that I found in my Spanish workbook referring to the ways that vowels work when they occur side by side, found its existential equivalent in the candle that our Franciscan mentor, Fr. Ignacio Harding, whom we call Iggie, presented to us when the four of us new missioners came to eat lunch with him at his Franciscan Center (our fifth missioner, Catherine, arrived here in Cochabamba on Wednesday—she is taking a short refresher course in Spanish). The words “Tu va commingo” (I go with you) are inscribed on the tall, sturdy candle, which reminds me of a Pascal candle in church. The five of us Franciscan missioners are to light this candle weekly when we meet for prayer, communal reflection, and, most likely, a meal. Iggy will join us whenever he is available, but the purpose, I think, is for us to support one another in our prayers and reflection. Yes, I go with you is appropriate for us missioners working overseas, and the promise lets us know that our Lord does go with us, along with our mentor, Iggy, each other, and all friends here and at home. We do not go alone here.
In the following blogs that I write, these three phrases will dominate. As I learn the names and places of my new environment, I will supply them. I am determined not to remain in my own abstractions, but to recreate the world as I see it.
"How to Get on a Plane to Come to Bolivia for Three Years"
It had taken all summer for Joel and me to sell our furniture, keeping only our piano and an antique secretary, and giving away the rest. Most challenging was selling some of our books, and boxing the rest. As an English professor for many years, and one whose career change at the age of fifty-something meant that I had to buy even more books to pursue a degree in theology at Vanderbilt Divinity School, I knew that these books had to be stored for future use. I think of the piano that I inherited from my mother, the one I learned to play on, and the one my children learned to play on, now residing in an Anglican church in Franklin, Tennessee, now being used for piano lessons in the church. I recall the family china and silver securely boxed and placed in my twin brother’s basement in Madison, Tennessee, and the other wares boxed up and placed in a friend’s climate-controlled storage barn in Fairview, Tennessee.
Even the night before we left the country, we took another load of boxes from the Franciscan mission house, where we had lived for three months, to my aunt’s home in the same city, Washington, D.C. In the future, her daughter will take them on to Tennessee. One does not go on mission alone, clearly, since so much help from our family and friends at home is needed. Still, little by little Joel and I culled our things in the five days we had to whittle down our possessions so that they might be packed into two trunk-sized duffel bags and two carry-on bags apiece. I recall leaving two garbage-sized bags of clothes in the basement of the FMS house (Casa San Salvador), all those clothes that I had really never worn much over the years or had been worn until they were worn out. Our daughter, Emer, aged 25, who had come to stay at the FMS house with us before our departure, was pragmatic in her efforts to help me select what to take and what to leave behind.
Most of the books in my library were already packed away in Tennessee; still, I had to pare down my collection even more, and today as I look on the desk in the room that my husband and I occupy in Cochabamba, I count sixteen books brought here.
Painful though it was, all the packing done, the extra boxes dispatched to my aunt’s house, I found myself at the Baltimore-Washington airport with the other missioners. At the last minute, I discovered that I had some clothes with me that I had planned to stuff into a carry-on. No room! No luck! Emer took care of this problem in the women’s restroom at the airport. I could layer my clothes, all extra socks going on top of one another, jeans worn under slacks, and blouses layered over one another. There! Recalling Heidi as she was transported to her grandfather in the Alps, dresses layered over dresses so that her clothes did not have to be packed in a suitcase, I was ushered from the restroom, feeling somewhat confined in my many layers of clothing. Joel recalled the indigenous Bolivian women, who layered on skirt over the other. I was going into this new element with cultural adaptation in mind.
The FMS office had basically closed for the afternoon as everyone accompanied us to the airport to give us a magnificent send-off. Families of the missioners were there, and after the camcorder interviews with all of us, many, many hugs, and some private time with our families, we began to move through security. My daughter remained there at the security entrance until we had been completely declared safe to go after all the computers and carry-ones were inspected. I am sure that all three of us in my family recalled those good-byes during the college years when our two children were leaving for what seemed like an interminable amount of time to go to college or to attend a summer program. Our family tradition is to wave until the traveler is totally out of sight, jumping up to wave as the act of separation becomes more imminent. My last glimpse behind was to see Emer, still waving as we finally turned to go. She would soon be a continent away, our daughter, but we would see her in July when she would visit, and we would talk with her with our Skype connection.
As we went down the narrow corridor, the four of us boarded the plane to Charlotte, North Carolina; to Miami, Florida; to La Paz, Bolivia; and then on to Cochabamba. We were together as a group, Clare, Nora, Joel, and I, but our families, friends, and our FMS support team, were with us as well as we made our way to our new home in a time zone the same as our own.