Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Typical Atypical Day

A Typical Atypical Day
Today has been a typical atypical day. Joel and I went to bed the night before at 10:00, only to re-awaken about 2:30. We have a lot of things on our minds about our mission in Carmen Pampa, and of course, we spent a couple of hours talking. Joel took the initiative to cut up a pineapple, which, for once, was not over-ripe.

After awakening again at 8:00, I prepared my class and went down the hill to teach. I had my i-touch and speakers ready for student listening. I was also anticipating my students' book reports: we are reading children's books, like Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, Mercer Mayer and Lillian Hoban books (illustrator of Bedtime for Frances). I was excited because one of my students was very interested in the witty writing of the Lyle, Lyle Crocodile book. All year, he has demonstrated a moderate interest, but when confronted with interesting twists on words, he had lit up with enthusiasm. So I walked into my classroom, anticipating another good class--Joel going up to the second floor to the language lab with his class and our fellow instructor Chris closing the door to his class room for second-year students. But where was my class? I looked at an empty room.

All semester there have been problems with class cancellation: the big celebration of the school's anniversary, called the intercarreras, the faculty retreat in the following week (which created a three-week hiatus between classes for my students in education), and numerous other events that pre-empted class: a birthday party for the head of the Eco-Tourism department, the dedication of a new building (which the student body and all faculty were obliged to attend), a lecture on bats (we had visiting scientists here at Carmen Pampa who were studying the numerous bats here), as well as compulsory campus cleanup days, and the election of Mr. and Ms. UAC (Unidad Academica Campesina--Carmen Pampa). I had recovered from the initial shock of class cancellations (once, 4 out of 7 classes cancelled), and our students, coming onto the end of the 20-week semester, were attending class in earnest, putting their academic work at the top of their list of priorities.After writing a note on the board, "All students will be counted absent today," followed by the date and my signature, I left the classroom after twenty minutes.

Walking back to the volunteer house, I saw two of our of guests sitting outside the church--our German volunteer, all of nineteen years old, had three guests for the week, a friend from high school, her mother, and the friend's Bolivian boyfriend. It struck me that I had the keys to the locked church that they were sitting outside of. So I offered to open the church to show them the Franciscan Church--the statue of Francis, the small fountain of water, which I couldn't turn on, the aguayo backdrop behind the hand-carved crucifix, and of course, the trip up to the bell tower, where a panoramic view could be enjoyed by all. No, it didn't stand up to the churches and spires of Germany, but it was in its own way erene and inspiring.

Then, I showed the small group our children's library, which is more like a childen's playhouse than a library. Now, it is very spic and span, after I washed the windows, walls, and curtains, and scrubbed down the table, chairs, and bench. Puzzles, games, crayons, and coloring books were stacked neatly on the small blue shelves against the wall. Later that day, Joel would be showing the movie Toy Story 3 on the homemade screen, while the children eat the popcorn that he made in the wee hours with our deluxe popcorn popper, along with the Tampico (a version of Tang in a bottle) he would buy for them, sitting on the large straw mats on the newly-created cement floor (thank you, José Tintaya!). The children would sit on the brightly colored mats that we had purchased two weeks ago in La Paz. I am told that sometimes there are 22 children in this space.

After serving as a tour guide for the first time, I gave our guests hugs as they departed by mini-van to Coroico, from which they would then travel to La Paz. The mother herself would be going on to Germany, while the daughter and her boyfriend would return to Cochabamba. I was glad that my day had not been wasted, that I had indeed occupied the role of a docent (from Merriam -Webster's 1 : a college or university teacher or lecturer 2 : a person who leads guided tours especially through a museum or art gallery).

Having asked Joel to take over my office hour for me (which I later found, was impossible because the office was locked), I packed up my mochila (backpack) and started up the hill. I was accompanied by Don Oscar, the head of community service on the lower campus [Manning], who told me that he actually lived in the house beside the coffee plantation (cafetal), along with his wife and three children, two of whom went to the elementary school that the Xavier brothers had founded in Carmen Pampa, the oldest of whom attending a high school in a nearby town.Bidding him good-bye at the cafetal, I continued to trudge up the hill at my own pace, walking by the state-of-the-art, cutting edge recycling center.

Suddenly at the head of the trail, I saw my class. I heard a gentle, "Oh NO . . . " emit from the female students. There was the other docente, the head of our eco-tourism department, leading my students from the upper campus (Leahy), where Joel and I live, down the path to the lower campus. It had been a field trip for the students! How nice! And the other docente had simply forgotten to inform me. Alas, there had been no transportation available or the students would have been back on the lower campus by 11:00 a.m., in time for class. After some teasing and a lot of reassurance that I wasn't angry, the tired crew proceeded down the hill.

I went on to my apartment. That morning, even before preparing my class, I had done what I typically do when I am a little depressed: I cleaned my apartment (which, by the way, is spotless as I type). I had deep-cleaned the bathroom, which resists cleanliness, mostly due to the shower that somehow leaks over the stall (the shower stall is the locale for washing all of our clothes) and the dust that collects in our apartment that is tracked into the bathroom onto the water throughout the space. As I came into the apartment, I attacked the dishes in the sink, took a shower (always has to be done after a walk up the hill), started another "load" of clothes in the shower stall, and decided to roast some raw peanuts for snacking.

I received a Skype call from Emer, which I certainly would have missed on a typical day. Her new family is visiting for Thanksgiving, her husband's parents and brother, which brought to mind the obvious: our family was apart for the first time ever on Thanksgiving. It was good that she was responsible for the Thanksgiving dinner for the new in-laws, as one experience could cancel out the other one. On Skype, I was able to visit with our cat, Elliott, who has been in our family for seven years.Carmen Pampa's Thanksgiving would be celebrated on Saturday. Joel is responsible for the sweet potatoes, and I am making the fudge pies and apple cider. A comparison of my menu with Emer's as well as the menu for my own family in Nashville (I got to talk with my dad's wife, Mary, so I am connecting with family today in the event that the internet breaks tomorrow--the family that will gather tomorrow in Nashville is my dad, his wife, Mary, my younger brother and his intended, Wendy, and my sister's family) revealed that Thanksgiving meals should somehow be comprised of a green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, devilled eggs, and fudge pies, along with the usual turkey and dressing.

At Carmen Pampa, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving with 27 people all told, priests, sisters, the core group of volunteers/missioners/gringo staff, and some visitors from the U.S. embassy in La Paz. Unlike the North Americans who will be eating in wintry dining rooms, possibly with candlelight, we will be dining in the flower-lined garden between the Convent and the volunteer house, with two tarps to keep the sun out of our eyes. I am told that our guests will bring six bottles of wine each.

Tonight there will be no Mass, since the priests and sisters are having a diocesan-wide convocation. But Wednesday night Masses are iffy these days, and I know that last week after I set up the Mass, I was told by the main office that there would not be a Mass. I took everything down and locked up the church, only to find that one of the priests had driven from Coroico at the last minute to have Mass. When he arrived, just about ten minutes after I had closed up the church on the upper campus, I sheepishly waved at him from the tienda where I was eating my fried chicken and french fries. NOT MY FAULT, I wanted to say. I really like this particular priest.

There are so many opportunities for mis-communication. The president of the college had not felt well, so he went home, after telling the office that there would be no Mass. Later, the other priest was told that Fr. Freddy was sick, and jumped into his car to have Mass. The replacement priest remarked on how clean the church was, with fresh flowers, but no people. The same thing happens on the lower campus, where I am told to have the church down there ready for Mass, since there is a fifty-fifty chance that there will be a Mass. If my Spanish were as good as Sr. Jean's, and I pray that one day it will be much better than it is now, I will do what she would do if she were not on a two-month vacation: I would have a Communion service. And maybe someday I will give what Catholics call a "reflection" (so called if a female or other non-ordained person gives a sermon/homily) in Spanish. Having preached in Protestant churches, but not in the Catholic Church, I am able to do some things in my own language that I cannot do in Spanish.

I have now arranged to communicate by email with the priests on Wednedays and Thursdays. So things get better as I learn the Bolivian ropes. Our cell phone tower was working for two days, but a thief stole the cable, costing over fifteen thousand dollars, and so we are once again back to ground zero: a cell phone in every pocket and a brand-new tower on the hill, but no cellular communication.

As I have written my blog, I have been waiting for the faculty bus to take all of us administrators down to the lower campus for the faculty meeting. This is a rare opportunity for me to go to the meeting, since the Mass is definitely not going to happen. But the bus has not appeared (I later found out that it was in the shop in Coroico).Tonight, because the Mass is definitely cancelled, Joel and I are able to attend the English club meeting: the students studying English are able to watch movies in English, play cards or games, and have an immersion night in English. I am waiting to find out if the social hour is actually going to take place.

What does work? The campus ministry meetings always happen every Tuesday night; the Wednesday night Masses were celebrated like clockwork until about three weeks ago, with beautiful flowers and joyous music; Sunday Mass always "happens;" English program meetings and community meetings convene without fail, and the students have been coming to class faithfully since Joel and I had to miss two weeks of classes due to the blockade. I noted also that one of the most beautiful garden paths that I have ever seen, in North American, Europe, and South America, had been created less than a half mile below our living quarters, and that tourists from other towns in Bolivia had come to enjoy both its beauty and the vista it offers of the Andes Mountains.

I can't help but think that as my Spanish improves, I will be more "in the know" about what happens and what doesn't happen. In the United States, I was one of those people who always came to meetings about ten minutes late. Maybe I was a kind of rebel; here my rebellion takes the form of being on time. **I look forward to seeing what kind of person emerges from this mission experience in the coming two years.

**I still have the capacity to be late . . . .

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