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!!

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