Monday, November 19, 2007

Weekend Retreat

This past weekend was both good and tiring. Our church had a women's retreat at the Word of Life camp in Santiago. There were slightly over 50 women from our church and a sister church or daughter church...I'm still a little unsure of what the connection is!
We got to the camp early Friday evening, and we were some of the first ones there. So, we helped set up. The sound equipment needed to be hooked up, balloons blown up, tables set, and gobs and gobs of food prepared. Friday evening there was going to be a "welcome meeting" and then an once (pronounced ohn-say) which is like a light evening meal. After using all my lung capacity to blow up some of the foulest tasting balloons I've ever encountered, I headed into the kitchen to see of what service I could be there. That, and I was starving since all I'd had since lunch was a bowl of strawberries, and at this point it's about 8:00. I started with easy jobs...putting bread into baskets and ham and cheese on plates. About this time I made a sandwich with my "boss" to appease my angry stomach. Even half a sandwich was enough to make me normal again! Then it was on to more difficult jobs.
The "boss," Vicky, was directing several women what to do. And of course, this is all done in Spanish, which made for some very interesting moments for me. I understand a good deal, but I wasn't always sure that I was doing what she had told me to do! After all the sandwich fixings were ready, she shows me to a counter with two large knives, a couple of plates, and a large bag of butter. Yes, I did say bag. It was tightly packaged into something resembling a rectangle and was approximately the size of a good book. What was my task? To open the butter with one of the machetes she provided, and then proceed to cut it into little cubes. Sounds pretty basic, right? No, not at all. As I opened the package with the very large knife, I realized that it was very difficult to get the butter out without completely destroying it. And in the process I got butter all over my hands and the monster knife, making it one big slippery mess. I was having visions of slicing my butter-slathered hands and not being able to grade any more...much less ruin all that perfectly good butter! To make a long story slightly shorter, someone came to my rescue and opened it for me (actually, it took TWO other people), and we successfully sliced the butter.
We then had our welcome once before the welcome meeting. By the time all the butter slicing was done, most of the women had sat down. All the people I knew were sitting at full tables, so I plopped myself down at the first empty seat I found. This table was full of women from the other church. They were all very friendly and very interested in talking to me. They found it fascinating that I didn't speak much Spanish, and proceeded to say any English word they knew, sprinkling them into the conversation whether they fit in the context or not! They were all impressed at how "well" I spoke (these are my quotation marks, not theirs...I think I'm my own worst critic), and had little discussions amongst themselves as to whether they thought I was understanding whatever it was someone said to me at that moment. Later in the evening, we were getting split up for our room assignments, and I kept bouncing from one group to another. Finally I was put in the group with these women from San Bernardo (the other church), and they cheered and pulled me into their midst. I seriously felt like their mascot...their non Spanish speaking mascot. Haha. I haven't felt like anybody's mascot since high school when I was the only person under 45 on a weekend bus trip my grandmother took me on.
We went down to our cabin and settled in. My bunk was in a corner of the room, surrounded by only one or two other bunks. The majority of the women were crowded on the other side. After throwing my bags down, I headed downstairs to the bathroom. This was an interesting experience. The first thing I noticed is that it was not built for tall people. The sinks and mirrors were all a little low (I had to duck a little to see myself in the mirror), as were the stall doors. The stall doors to the toilets AND the showers. And when I say low, I mean low. They came to my collarbone. It was literally impossible for me NOT to see over them, short of stumbling around with my eyes closed! The doors had no lock or latch, but stayed shut anyway, despite the centimeter gap between the door and the doorframe. Many of the doors had large corners missing, and one of the stalls had a hole cut in the wall near the tank. Had I been 10 years younger this all would have scared me from using the bathrooms at all! The next thing I noticed was that the water in all the toilets was brown. This, I think, was from a lack of use, because by the end of the retreat it had lightened considerably. And, last but not least, I noticed that there was no toilet paper provided. Now, had I been thinking, I would have realized that this was quite common for Chile. However, it never crossed my mind. I guess I figured it would be provided since we were going to a church function and not to a public place. Guess I was wrong! Luckily, several women brought some, so there was plenty to go around.
Finally I got to bed, and slept the night away...for the most part. As far as camp beds go, these weren't too bad. But they were still camp beds! I had set my alarm for 7:45, hoping to get a decent amount of sleep. I started hearing alarms throughout the room at 6am, but was able to fall back asleep. Around 6:45 all the women decided it was late enough to start talking, and didn't stop until....ok, they just didn't stop. It was at that point that I realized my mind does not like to work in Spanish at 6:45 in the morning! I stayed in bed until about 7:20, then trotted downstairs for what I knew would be an interesting shower experience. Luckily there was still hot water! I found it very difficult to see which stalls were empty without inadvertently looking over into one that wasn't! But I successfully found one, and happened to have picked a time when not many other people were there. So my height wasn't too much of a problem...except of course for the fact that I needed to bend my knees a little to get under the shower head!!
After breakfast (more sandwiches, bread and toast, and cookies) we had our first meeting. I was very tired and didn't understand much of what was going on. Then we had game time. I have played this game in high school, so I was familiar with the process. Once figuring out their variation, I figured I'd be fine. Although with the language barrier, I knew it could be tricky. Basically it consists of running around in circles to music, when the music stops, the leader calls out two body parts. Every one needs to find a partner and touch those two body parts. The last ones to do this are kicked out. I know many Spanish words for body parts, and was doing pretty well (except for the fact that the people on either side of me would always find a partner on THEIR other side, so I was often left alone), until she said "knee to eyebrow." I could not remember the word for eyebrow, and so was mercilessly kicked out of the game. Haha. I did get a round of applause though.
Then we had another meeting. This was led by an American, and I was able to follow most of what she said due largely to her strong American accent. I'm more accustomed to it. She was talking about God's grace in trials and in every moment of the day. He provides strength when we need it. She had great illustrations and had several people give testimonies. It was very moving. She gave an illustration of a woman walking with a backpack (she actually had someone do this). And they kept putting bricks in the backpack. She was saying that when we don't give our burdens over to God daily, it begins to weigh us down. Until she handed the woman the last brick to hold in her hands, making the load to heavy, and she fell down. This was to say that one day something will happen, a relatively trivial thing that shouldn't be a big problem, but because of the accumulation of burdens, it overwhelms us. It's when we give up our "backpack of problems" that we are able to handle the "bricks" we sometimes have to carry in our hands. It was such a great message and it was a blessing to me that I was able to understand it.
Then we had lunch and free time. Usually during free time at these types of things I'm very social and hate missing the action. However, I was very tired, and needed a break from Spanish, so I laid outside under the shade of some trees and took a nap. This was all very relaxing until I started considering the possibility of the sprinklers coming on...I had no idea how close I was. Luckily that didn't happen!
Then we had our last meeting. It was led by an woman from Argentina, and I have a hard time understanding her because she talks so quickly. I was doing a pretty good job though until about 45 minutes into it. She said one thing and my mind practically shut off. She said, "And this is the last point of the first part." Just the first part! After that I was able to follow along with the power point, but didn't understand anything she said. She spoke for another 45 minutes! Needless to say, I was pretty fidgety at that point!
Then we had our last once, packed our bags, took innumerable group photos, and headed home. The rest of my weekend was just as tiring, but all in all, it was an awesome experience. I didn't get any work done, but I was ok with that. I had great Spanish practice, got to know some more women at the church, and was fed from the Word. What more could I ask for?
This week promises to be good. I taught today, am helping chaperone a field trip tomorrow, then have half a day on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday we're off for Thanksgiving (yay!), then I have my birthday celebration on Saturday (yay!), and then I only have 2 full weeks of school left! It's flying by! Please pray that I will have the time, energy, and concentration to get everything done. I have about 30 essays to grade, three tests to write, three finals to write, figure end of semester grades, PLUS all the regular grading throughout the week! It'll be a race to the finish! Then I'll be home for Christmas for about a month!
Wow, this was long. Congratulations if you made it to the end! I hope each of you has a wonderful Thanksgiving, and I will see many of you in a few weeks!!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thoughts of the future

Well, the semester is winding down now...and by winding down I mean getting crazy! We're only about 5 weeks away from the end with half of one week being taken up by Thanksgiving break and half of another week consisting of finals. I can't believe how fast it's going! It's going to be so busy preparing for the end, fitting in the last chapters and tests, reviewing, writing finals, and grading grading grading! I have a large pile of essays on my desk that I'm trying very hard to ignore. :o)
All that being said, I'm almost half way done my year in Chile. I'm coming home for almost a month at Christmas, and then will be back to finish the second semester. That's it! So, indubitably, I'm starting to think ahead.
I love it here. I feel like I have a purpose. I enjoy going to my job, being with my coworkers and students, and helping kids learn and grow. I have met some incredible people and am making friendships with many of them (this will be easier with some of them when I speak their language!!). I love the culture here (mostly!) and the language as well. I am so anxious to master it! I still have a long way to go, but I'm definitely making huge steps in the right direction. I'll probably have it down by the end of my year here!
If you haven't guessed where I'm going with this, I'll tell you. I'm seriously considering and praying about teaching another year here. There is a lot to think about, but mostly I want to do what God is directing me to. My gut tells me one thing, and I want to make sure that my inclination is coming from Him. I need to make the decision relatively soon, believe it or not, because the administration needs to start putting out the word about open positions for next school year.
Please pray for me as I make this decision. Pray that I will follow God's leading and I won't miss His direction. Pray that all the necessary details will fall into place for whichever way He chooses. And pray that if I do stay, I will have the support I will need. If any of you support me or have supported me in the past, I ask that you consider and pray about the possibility of another year's support.
As soon as I know, I'll let you know what happens! I'm so excited to see what God does in my life and the experiences He brings to me. I'm sure I'll have many more to tell since these last few weeks of the semester are jam packed with events!
Thank you all so much for your prayer, support, and encouragement! It means so much to me. I will be home in one month, and I can't wait to see you all! One month!! I can't believe it!
'Til the next time...

Thursday, November 1, 2007

All Saint's Day

Today is another holiday here in Chile, which means no school! And since tomorrow is Friday, and I don't have many classes, I took tomorrow off as well. Long weekend! Don't be too jealous, though. I still have a LOT of work to do. :o)
All Saint's Day (the name of the holiday) is basically a day where you remember loved ones who have passed away. I'm sure there's more to it, and it probably comes from their Catholic background, but I don't actually know. The way most people celebrate it is to go to the cemeteries throughout the city, visit the tombs of their family members, and decorate them with flowers and other meaningful things. All along the streets outside the cemetery and on the paths inside are vendor selling everything from flowers to ice cream to hats to makeshift vases to jewelry. It seemed a little disrespectful to me to sell jewelry and shoes inside a cemetery, but it was happening!
A group of us from the church went to a large cemetery around 11am and passed out a few thousand tracts with the church's information stamped on it. Please pray with us that people will read it, think about it, and that the Lord will lead them to follow up. I'm sure many of those people are ready to hear what God has to say to them, and I hope they listen! It was a great day, and it was a way that I could be involved despite my limited Spanish. You don't need to be bilingual to pass out tracts!!
Just a note about the cemetery. It was all above ground and was a mix of large family tombs and small, individual "boxes" in a wall (much like you would see in a morgue, but in stone and closer together). The tombs were mostly large and ornate, and there were fountains and pathways and well kept grass all throughout the cemetery. It was quite a sight!

On another note, I'd like to mention what I did last weekend. It was a good time for me to make some new friends, get to know some I already had, and see some more of Chile. On Saturday I went with a group of people to Vina del Mar (which means Ocean's Vineyard), a town on the coast not quite two hours away. We took a bus, got there around 11:30, and immediately took off. The group split, and I went with two people that I'm friends with (Mike and Heather). We didn't really have a plan for the day, but decided to just do things as they came to us! So we walked, and walked, and walked. If we saw something, we stopped. Along the way, we stopped at artisan shops, paintings for sale on the streets, a clock of flowers, a castle or two, the beach (of course), a park to rest and relax, the "boardwalk," and a church or two. We walked through most of the tourist section of town, and a little that wasn't a tourist section.
It was so much fun! I seemed to be having a bit of a clumsy day. I dropped some chocolate ice cream on a white shirt, got a mysterious stain on my back, and was attacked by the ocean. That is not an exaggeration! :o) The water was cold, but we wanted to put our feet in. I stood past the point where the waves were coming in, then stepped forward when the water came up. This successfully worked several times. Then I noticed a rather large wave coming, thought it might come farther up the beach, and considered the fact that I should probably move. By the time I had thought all this, the water was upon me, drenching my pant legs, and I turned and ran up the beach, all the while splashing more water on me! It was highly entertaining for Mike and Heather! :o)
Several other funny things happened that day. At the ice cream place, Mike had his highlight of the day. Now, he's about 6'7" and looks every bit of it. There was a little old lady (and I mean LITTLE, and old!) and she started talking to him, asking for money. He doesn't understand Spanish, so she switched to very broken English and started harassing him! When he walked by her out the door, she smacked him on the butt! That was very entertaining for Heather and me! :o)
We laughed and joked all day, and it was so great to have that camaraderie that I've missed so much since coming down here. It was a beautiful day, and I'm so thankful God blessed me with it! I'm including a link to some of the pictures from that weekend. The first few are from and ice cream place that serves monster helpings (if you order it, of course) that I went to with Mike, Heather, the Crosses (another missionary couple here), and a few Chileans. You can see that we piled into the car--5 in the backseat. This is not uncommon here! The rest are from Vina. Enjoy!