Archive | October, 2013

I don’t know what to think

31 Oct

Did the curtains guy flat out lie to me? Or did we just miscommunicate? I feel severely handicapped by lack of facility in the language. The way things worked out, we paid the curtains guy before we saw the final product. Upon inspection, one set of curtains was not the pattern we wanted. I went back to the store and negotiated, I thought, for him to give us some discounted tulle (lacy white curtains in front) to compensate for my having to buy new curtain material. He came today, on time, installed the missing galleries to hang the tulle, and brought the right curtains. But no tulle. I was flabbergasted. There are a couple clues that he might not have understood me correctly. There are also clues that he was taking advantage of me. I don’t know what to believe. I desperately want to believe that someone so punctual, efficient, and talented (a rare combination anywhere) is not taking advantage of me. I do know, however, that I can shop around for tulle elsewhere, as it doesn’t all have to match, so maybe it’s best to call it “curtains” on this one.

Shortly before the curtains guy came, Ricardo called (taxi driver whom I’ve invited to a Bible study the last several weeks) and said he wanted to talk to me and could he come to the house. He came about 15 minutes later and I met him at the gate. He did not seem himself. He said he had a serious problem and didn’t know how to tell me this, but he buys and sells cars and he is waiting on a car to sell but in the mean time, his daughter at university cannot take her exams because she can’t pay the bill. He is asking his friends to help and he thought of me and could I possibly loan him $200. So I says to myself, “Right, I’m going to loan money to a used car salesman in Peru…” I told him politely that we had just paid the rent yesterday and now was not a good time. He left pretty quickly thereafter and never called back about going to the Bible study tonight. I am not sure that I will hear from Ricardo again. Our friends here tell us that this is extremely common and that I absolutely did the right thing. If you loan money, you will never see it or the borrower again and the relationship will be ruined. Even supposed brothers in Christ whom they have known for years have run off with money and stopped returning calls. So Shakespeare was right: “he who loans money to a friend loses both it and friend.” In the future, I might even quote this to would-be borrowers and suggest that in order to preserve our friendship, it would be best to keep money out of it.

On a positive note, today is Reformation Day. The impact of the Reformation has become more real to me every day in Peru. False religions share many common characteristics. There is a lot of outward “holiness” (dress code for meetings, clerics in robes or tunics, repetitive prayers, mandatory fasting or abstinence from certain foods, observing holy days). There are lots of traditions. There is a lot of emphasis on the importance of the One True Church (think Rome… or Mecca) and families get hostile or distant when their loved ones are converted away. But there is little evidence of real holiness, little evidence that “love thy neighbor as thyself” has ever been taught or practiced. The only fear of doing wrong is that of getting caught. Thievery and connivery are so common that you must be vigilant always. You never leave a worker in your home unattended. Or take an unregistered taxi. Or leave your phone lying on a table in a restaurant. Or loan money to anyone. Or take your hand off your camera when sitting on the bus. Why don’t you have to think about these things daily in Fayette County, GA or Tama County, IA? Because of the Reformation. Because of the recovery of the Gospel of grace. And the corresponding rediscovery that holiness is not defined by outward appearances and observance of holy days, but by whether we love people as Jesus did. In the final analysis, it comes down to the Word and the Spirit. As the Scriptures became available in the common language, aided by the printing press, the Spirit moved in a powerful way in northern Europe, the UK, and eventually America. We pray for such a revival to now sweep through the rest of the globe.


30 Oct

Yep, it’s here, too, but thankfully not nearly as prominent. The big stores have a few “decorations,” but not as ghoulish and in-your-face as in the US. It’s not the same as the Day of the Dead (Nov 1), which I’ll write about tomorrow, Lord-willing. Peruvian kids evidently do “truco o treat.” We will probably be at the language school party for a while, after which I’m planning to go to a Bible study with Ricardo. I’m not sure if the landlords will open the outer gate, so it might be a non-event for us.

An Android in the pulpit

29 Oct

Everyone we’ve talked to has told us the most important thing we can do for the first six months is learn the language. We’re doing that, but we’re also anxious to “get to work.” So I was really encouraged Sunday night to see an Android tablet in the pulpit! The pastor was using it for his Bible and notes. The church I visited is located in one of the pueblos outside town and has a dirt floor and tin roof, so I did not expect to see gadgets there. In fact, as I have seen the poverty around us, I had begun to wonder whether it is in fact too early to work on digital publishing and mobile apps for pastors. Not so! I’m not a month too early, and maybe even “late.”

In a similar vein, Vicki and I visited an English class tonight that uses a Bible study as their primary teaching material. There were several young men there, mostly students with no prior exposure to the Bible, and there we were talking about the importance of daily devotions and how to have a quiet time. One student said he was “thankful to have friends who know God better.” They long for the peace and joy that comes from knowing God, and they’re beginning to realize that they might have stumbled onto it. They realize that there’s more to this life than school and stuff, and they were so much more open to discussing the Bible than most in the US and Europe (except international students, who may not have been hardened). Vicki and I both thought, “This is what we came for.” It was exciting, and we hope to get involved with English classes on a regular basis as we get settled.

October, the purple month

28 Oct

October in Peru is el mes morado (the purple month), during which traditional Roman Catholics celebrate El Señor de Los Milagros, the Lord of Miracles. You can get a pretty good idea of what we’ve been seeing all month using Google images. According to Wikipedia (and corroborated by our language teachers), the traditions originated around a famous mural in Lima of El Cristo Moreno (dark-skinned Christ) painted by an Angolan slave circa 1650. The painting continues to be a symbol of black brotherhood in Peru. Reportedly, the wall on which it is painted survived the earthquake of 1655, which was the first of many miracles attributed to it.

On this day in 1746, Callao (the port city of Lima) was inundated by a tsunami associated with the worst recorded earthquake in Lima. In remembrance of the tragedy, October 28 has become the day of the main procession, in which replicas of the painting are carried throughout the streets of Peru. In downtown Arequipa this afternoon, the streets near the San Camilo market were blocked off and 2 or 3 different groups of 30-50 men in purple robes stood waiting to walk in the procession. Along the streets, the people erect shrine-like purple booths and the pavement itself features murals or writing made with painted sawdust. (A missionary friend recalls that in one smaller town where they lived, all the children were required to bring a bag of sawdust to school because the town did not have enough). All month long, many women have been wearing purple robes with a white cord for a belt. Each knot in the cord represents a “miracle” or answered prayer. The historic cathedrals are draped with purple and hold special masses and other events throughout the month.

The processions have become quite commercialized. I saw cotton candy vendors and carts offering various types of chocolates and baked goods. There is a special cake attributed to Doña Pepa, an enterprising black woman who catered to the thousands of procession-goers in Lima. A teacher brought some to language school earlier this month. It tastes a bit of licorice and I found it too sweet overall. Tonight, there are fireworks, as there have been almost every night this month. It seems that Peruvians love fireworks almost as much as ice cream.

The holiday is very typical of Catholicism in Peru: it is focused on the image of the crucified Christ (not the risen Christ) and has an air of superstition about it owing to the supposed miracles. There is an outward show of religion, and many think they are achieving favor with God (or perhaps favors from God) by their exercises, but we know that God looks on the heart. The only robe we need to be accepted by Him is that of Christ’s righteousness, given to us freely by means of faith in the risen Savior.

Is this heaven?

27 Oct

The juicing operation

No, this is Peru.

But there are certain tastes of heaven here. Namely, fresh squeezed orange juice. All the oranges you see here cost less than $3. We bought the juicer last night. Vicki says that in order to recoup the $36 investment, we will need to have fresh squeezed orange juice regularly. I could not agree more!

Vicki ventures out

26 Oct

Well, it finally happened. Saturday is market day, but it was also haircut day, find a juicer day, pick up a picture frame day, oil the door hinges day, and one or two other things. To make the best use of time this afternoon, Vicki would go grocery shopping while I took the boys for a haircut. So we all walked up to Real Plaza, withdrew cash to pay the rent using Vicki’s debit card (because I’ve already used mine 10x this month and #11 triggers ATM fees), put Vicki on a bus for the Metro shopping center, and prayed for her silently as we set off to find the peluquería that a friend had recommended.

Now when you get a haircut in a place that’s not your home (tip of the hat to Ray Stevens), the most important thing is to be able to tell the stylist how you want your hair cut. This requires a somewhat specialized vocabulary which eludes me even in English, so the best I could do in Spanish was to ask for a picture book showing different styles. I got as far as “book” and the stylist smiled, reached for the style brochure, and Daniel and I flipped through it together to find the only sane-looking cut in 20-some pages. Daniel’s main goal was to get it very short so he doesn’t have to go back too often. Timothy was a bit easier. I just said, “Like it is now, but shorter.” Fifteen minutes later, both boys emerged from their chairs looking quite handsome. Total bill: $7.50. I noticed that our boys had left the only blonde trimmings on the floor. Some of the ladies in the shop seemed to be really enjoying watching the proceedings. I don’t think they see many blonde-haired, blue-eyed types in there.

After the haircut, we stopped for $0.70 ice cream cones at the McDonald’s kiosk in the mall. Peruvians LOVE their ice cream (helados). There are two kiosks in the mall, street vendors selling frozen treats from small carts every couple of blocks nearby, and a guy downtown who rolls a big barrel full of ice cream in the tourist areas. Every now and then, I also see a woman in traditional dress selling homemade queso helado on the street. I love this country! It is not uncommon to see a man wearing a suit licking an ice cream cone as he walks in the business district.

When we arrived back home, we expected to find Vicki but did not. I began to worry a bit. Had she gotten off at the right bus stop? Was she able to make her purchases? Had she communicated the right location to the taxi driver for the ride home with sacks full of groceries? I was about to set out to find her but thought to check online banking first. Sure enough, she had made a purchase at the supermarket. A few minutes later, a taxi pulled up with Vicki and the groceries and we all went down to help transport groceries to the fourth floor. Everything had gone smoothly. This is a major achievement for Vicki and will be a huge time saver for us going forward, allowing better division of labor.

Also, we received our first care package yesterday! Thank you to all the kind folks in our church small group who participated! We were so tickled to find our favorite snacks as well as the many hard-to-find items we had requested. Y’all were very thoughtful and it was a blessing. We understand there is one more package coming and we look forward to it also, but so much of what we wanted / needed was in the first box that we’re wondering what’s in the second!

Picking it up at the post office was an interesting experience. Because the package wouldn’t fit in our PO box, it had to go through customs, and they only open the service window twice a day. You queue up (sometimes as early as 6am for the 8:30 window if you want to be first), present your package slip in order of arrival to the clerk, who disappears, and then you wait. And wait. And wait. I went at 1pm for the 2pm window, found two people waiting and decided to get a document notarized nearby. The notary didn’t open until 3pm (refer to the previous post about notary siestas), so I went back to the post office. By this time there were about 15 people waiting. At 2pm, the clerk came out, we all handed in our papers, the clerk disappeared, and I saw scant evidence of further activity for about an hour. At 3pm, I went in to the office where the clerk had gone, said that I had a meeting at 3:15 and requested my package slip back. They happily obliged. I then went to the notary, waited for 3 people in front of me, dropped off the document because the right person wasn’t in until Monday, and returned about 3:45. I handed in my package slip again. About half an hour later, I heard a commotion in the office and heard them calling my name. I went back, opened the box for the customs officer, discovered to my delight that various chocolate candies and chocolate chips were untouched, and then waited while he decided that the items matched the declared value and I did not owe any duties. After two more officers took their turns stamping the papers, I was allowed to take the package home. Total elapsed time from original presentation to receiving the package was 2.5 hours. As I picked up our box, I politely thanked the clerk, who politely responded “por nada,” as though there were nothing at all unusual or inconvenient about the process! Because to them, there isn’t. They can’t imagine doing it any other way. A Norwegian student from language school in front of me received her package in 1.75 hours, as she did not leave for the notary like I did. Our friends here tell us the usual time is 3 hours. And you thought lines were long at your local post office!

I share all this for your entertainment and to give you a realistic picture of life here. I hope it does not sound like complaining because we really are very thankful for all the items we received that we simply cannot purchase here and for all the time, energy, and money our friends spent collecting things on our behalf! Hopefully, we can time our arrival at the post office better for the second package in order to pick it up with a bit less waiting.


The curtains are coming!

23 Oct

We love our apartment, but it’s currently something of a fish bowl as we have no curtains. Besides privacy, curtains are important for regulating temperature. Right now, for example, it’s impossible to take a nap in the afternoon because the bedroom is too light and much too warm with the afternoon sun streaming in. Also, it’s hard to sleep in past sunrise (~6 am). Well, at least for Vicki, but then she can’t sleep in even if it’s pitch dark 🙂

As an aside, taking an afternoon nap (siesta) does not appear to be an official Peruvian tradition. However, there are certain professions which I suspect practice the traditional Spanish siesta. And I’m not talking about outdoor workers avoiding the hot afternoon sun, but rather notaries. They all seem to close at 2pm and reopen at 4pm. Very suspicious. Thanks to the bureaucracy here (it is said of bureaucracy that the British invented it and Peruvians perfected it), it seems that large numbers of people need a notary on a regular basis. I’ve been twice already. This in turn leads to long lines at the notarías beginning to form as early as 3 pm (although those lines are nothing compared to those at the public hospitals, which reportedly begin forming at 3 AM in order to get an appointment sometime that day).

But back to curtains, a friend showed us the good fabric store several weeks ago but we have dilly-dallied a bit getting started. The store must be the wholesaler from which all the other fabric stores buy because their inventory is huge and their prices are just above half of what everyone else charges for the same material. At any rate, there are no curtain rods or anything currently in our apartment and a couple of the windows are curved outward on a corner, so I was unsure how to measure. Someone at the fabric shop said he would come and measure but he didn’t show. It turns out this was because he was going to be late and tried to call me, but I didn’t answer, which was in turn because I keep getting unwanted calls and find it difficult to understand Spanish on the phone. But he did come today and it was a good thing he did the measurements because I would have missed some of the subtleties. If you make curtains too short, for example, they will blow out in the wind when the window is open. The total price for nine different windows of varying sizes is going to be about $300 INSTALLED. Amazing, really.

The metal workers also came today to install bars on the windows near the stairs, which the landlord had agreed to do earlier. The bars are decorative, even attractive, and tremendously improve security. We’re really thankful for this and for a very good relationship with the landlord so far. Next week, they should come back to fix a couple loose ends (literally) and install a chin-up bar for Daniel on the roof. He brought one that fits in a door frame, but alas, none of the door frames in our apartment are strong enough to hold him. I could probably install the chin-up bar myself. It’s just a pipe with a couple elbow joints, but it needs to be anchored into concrete, and drilling into concrete still feels kind of wrong to me. As long as the guys are going to be here, anyway, I might as well let the pros do it….