Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 3 - Home Visits - Friday

On Friday, Jenna, Michelle and I established a new morning routine---conducting our morning meeting while walking to and from Starbucks. Our hotel was definitely in a very Americanized part of Lima: Starbucks, Fridays, McDonalds, Chilis---all right around the corner.

Friday morning we conducted home visits with leader-mothers and their families in the community. At first, I really didn't understand the point of these meetings but we found the same things with these families as we did with the others we visited: they all had stories and they loved sharing their lives with us.
My team, once again, hiked all the way up the hill. We visited Elva, her son Mikiar, and daughter Grace. Elva shared her sewing business with us. She also shared about her hometown in the hills. She was definitely proud of her heritage. Elva is also quite the matchmaker. She asked each of us if we were married, how many kids we have, etc. I am set to marry her 33-year-old brother. I just have to come
back in October for her son's baptism so I can meet him. Apparently, he also sews. She also asked me to bring my 18-year-old brother with me so he can marry her sister. I think she might end up being pretty disappointed in that situation. Kyle was instructed to take her 3-year-old son back to the States with him since he only has two daughters. I think she really loves her family but is looking for a better life for them than she has. At the end of our time, she invited us to have lunch with her family on Tuesday. She would prepare a traditional meal from the highlands. Of course, we had to accept but looked forward to that meal with anticipation and dread.

After our visits, we stopped by the preschool in the community. The teacher shared with us what her day looks like. The kids were adorable, of course.

We then headed off to an amazing lasgana lunch at the FH offices. Yum! We had about 20 extra minutes to kill. So, in true Janelle fashion, I introduced the team to High/Low. It was good to sit and think about the good moments, the rough ones, and the funny ones.

The FH staff used our visit to have a conversation with the community about family violence. (This is their current focus.) Before they started, the Kooyenga family was able to share a little bit about their story and their two sons, both of whom graduated from Elim. Kathy said that, eventually, she learned that she didn't need to try to fix her sons, she just needed to teach them about Jesus. God would fix them when they got to heaven. What an amazing perspective! To end their time, we sang Alabare--our one attempt to sing in Spanish.

During the majority of the workshop, we were able to visit more families of children with disabilities. I was thrilled to learn that I would get to visit Yoda. (We thought his name was Jordan for a while but finally saw it written out in his school notebook.) His mother is a hard-working woman who loves her son but struggles with what his future holds. Yoda has technically aged-out of the school system at 15. He was still in 3rd grade and the school did not welcome him back this year. I was able to chat with the mom about what the future could hold for Yoda. While school is not really an option for him at this point, I encouraged her to help him find a purpose in life: whether it be helping her at work, running water up and down the hill for people, assisting the FH staff. He needs to find something that he enjoys doing and something that keeps him out of trouble.

For dinner, we were able to take the 5 families from the community that had children with disabilities out to dinner. It was a special time for everyone involved. It was a HUGE treat for these kids. Yoda's little sister announced this was the best restaurant in the whole world. (It was a chicken place a little nicer than KFC.) I think it was also really nice for the families to realize that they are not alone. I think most of them knew the other families existed but they
didn't seem to really know each other. I was especially excited to see Ashley's family there. They had been at doctor's appointments all day but still made an effort to make it. I think that just shows how desperate they are for community. We all had tons of fun eating, chatting, hanging out, and taking lots of pictures.

One of my favorite moments was when dinner ended. Everyone at the table asked for a plastic bag. They each took all their bones, leftovers, salads, etc and put them in the back. There was not an ounce of food or scraps left on the table. The bones went to their dogs. (Dogs chocking on chicken bones must be an American myth because they have tons of dogs that seem to be surviving just fine.) The salads to their pigs. They didn't waste anything. Definitely something we Americans could learn from them.

Once again, we came arrived back at the hotel rubbing our eyes and ready for bed. I think it's safe to say that Friday was a highlight for a lot of the team.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Some info on our team

I should probably mention at some point all the amazing people that traveled with us each day:
We had our team of 13 from Elim. Our group included two recent Alumni with their parents, a client from adult services, and people from pretty much every other aspect of Elim - teacher, parapro, advancement, adult services, Bethshan, volunteer, spouse.

We also had a missionary from Nicaragua who works with children with special needs. Michelle was a huge asset to our team.

We always had three translators with us. Jordan (on the left) and Abel (on the right) were always with us. The third position was shared by a couple of different people. These guys did a great job jumping in to conversations and helping people build relationships. It seemed like just when someone would need help, one of them would appear. (I really didn't get to spend much time with them but I was really impressed with what I saw and heard.)

The final member of our team was Pilar. She is the groups coordinator for FH but she's so much more! She has her own amazing story of living with a family member with disabilities. This was a major asset to our mission since she definitely understood our purpose and was able to help us advocate for these children. She was a hostess, tour-guide, translator, encourager, nurse, toilet-paper supplier, advocate, singer, and anything else we needed. Pilar also allowed us to meet two of her amazing children. I wonder if they know how they lucky they are to have her as a mother.

We always had our wonderful driver, Roni and were always joined by several FH staff when we were in Los Cipreses.

It's interesting that one of my biggest concerns going into the trip was that I didn't know anyone. That very quickly became a non-issue. I wouldn't trade any member of the team for someone I had already known.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Day 2 - Welcome to Los Cipreses, Lima, Peru - Thursday

Thursday (Day 2) started off with a late breakfast and some get-to-know-you-games. If you know me at all, you know that I HATE things like this. Sadly, I seemed to be the only one that hated them. Ugh! Not my idea of a good time but they did break the ice a little bit so I guess they served their purpose.

After our games, we met with the head of FH in Peru and the head of FH in Lima. They welcomed us and told us a little bit about their mission. We then headed out to Los Cipreses to a welcome ceremony in the community. (We must have had lunch but I have no idea where we ate or what.)

Los Cipreses is a small community in San Juan de Lurigancho. There are approximately 1 million people in this region in Lima. It's one of the largest urban neighborhoods in the world. It was formed when people fled out of the highlands during guerrilla warfare there in the 1980s. People moved in so quickly that there wasn't time to plan or construct an infrastructure. People just built "houses" where ever they could find a spot. Most of the people lack running water and basic necessities in these areas.

When we arrived in the community, the kids swarmed the van. I was prepared for a mass-chaos situation like we usually faced in the work camps in Baja. I was shocked when the kids just wanted to welcome us. We each got hugged and kissed as we got off the bus. Not once during the week did anyone ask me for something or try to get into my pockets. They were just excited that we came to visit. They wanted nothing from us but some time and attention---and to take about a billion pictures.

At the welcome ceremony, the preschoolers did a dance for us. Of course, after a few minutes, they started pulling members of our team into the dance. We were all trying to get out of our comfort zones and enjoy ourselves when we noticed the words of the song. It was all about being drunk! This definitely got us laughing.

After the preschoolers, Johan and his sister did a traditional Peruvian dance. This was, of course, a highlight for me. I fell in love with him instantly. (He reminded me so much of my Angelito in Mexico.) His sister never wavered or lost the beat---no matter how silly her little brother got. She was obviously proud of him.

After the ceremony, 4 of us and a translator went to visit a family with a child with special needs. I asked our team leader as we were leaving what the point of the meeting was. She told me to visit with the family and hear their story. That didn't sound like much of an agenda to me but we set off up, up, up the hill. (This is the nice part of the path. It was a bit treacherous!)

At the top of the hill, we met a beautiful young family with a 5-year-old daughter with special needs. You can read Jenna's version of the story here. Ashley is a beautiful little girl with limited speech but tons of personality. Her parents continue to visit doctor after doctor to get a diagnosis for their precious child. When we first arrived, they were very quiet but after a few minutes, they opened up and told us their story. We sat with them for 2 hours while they went through details of therapies, doctors, schools, and family rejection. They told us how they feel awkward and unaccepted in the community. I began to realize why we were there. We were there to listen. I'm pretty sure this was one of the first (if not the first) time someone had sat and listened to their entire story. (After all, how often do people sit and listen to someone talk for 2 hours.)

At the end of the conversation, I was able to encourage them from a professional and personal viewpoint. They are doing a lot of things well. They both love their daughter and they love each other. They are searching for the best schools, therapies, and doctors they can afford. They are working together to help their daughter be independent and working with their families to encourage acceptance of Ashley. We ended the night by inviting them to go to dinner with our team and with some other families from the community who have children with disabilities on Friday night. I thought it would be really important for them to see that they were not alone. Ashley had doctor's appointments on Friday so they weren't sure if they would make it or not.

By the time we made the hike down the hillside in the dark, we were all ready to head back to the hotel. We stopped for a light dinner at a local restaurant and then, once again, crawled off to our beds and collapsed from another long day.

Day 1 - Travel Day - Wednesday

I've decided to blog my Peru trip by days. I don't want to miss anything. Even if no one else reads it, it will be a good way for me to remember the trip in the future.

In all honesty, I wasn't that excited about the trip. I've done TONS of traveling this summer and I was (and still am) exhausted. The thought of going on another trip with a really long flight was not appealing to me. I had missed the last team meeting and just felt really unprepared for the trip. Also, I didn't really know anyone on the team. Our team meetings had been pretty quiet and a little bit awkward. It seemed like a really random group of people to me and I wasn't sure if I would really connect with any of them. The morning of the trip, I was really nervous and wondered what would happen if I just didn't show up.

We met at Elim at 7:45am to load the van and change into our matching shirts. After all, it wouldn't be a short-term missions trip without matching shirts! (I guess that's what I get for laughing at all the other matching-shirt-groups I had seen in the airport all summer.) We said a prayer and headed out. It was pretty quiet in the bus and I continued to be super-nervous.

Everything went smoothly at O'Hare and we were soon on our way to Houston. In Houston, we found out that the man from Food for the Hungry that was going to accompany us had a family emergency and had to back out. This concerned Jenna a little bit but didn't seem to affect the trip from my experience.

From Houston, we boarded a 6 1/2 hour flight to Lima, Peru. The plane was huge! I had no idea so many people flew to Lima. We all got to know each other a little bit better during the flight. (Sitting so close to each other for so long has that effect!) By the time we landed in Lima, it was 10:30pm. We cleared immigration and customs and were exhausted by the time we met up with Pilar. (She is the groups coordinator for FH and an amazing woman.)

We piled into our bus and met our driver--Roni. We learned a lot that night about driving in Peru. It involves a lot of near-death experiences and very few rules. Stop signs are optional and the first person to honk gets the right-of-way. We only saw one accident during the week so it seems to work for them. I will say that they all have an amazing knowledge of the dimensions of their vehicles. They routinely come within inches of each other but very few cars showed signs of being hit or side swiped. It was pretty crazy!

By the time we got to our guesthouse (kind of like a bed and breakfast), we gladly took the rooms assigned to us and fell into bed. Traveling is exhausting!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Follow My Peru Trip

Here are a couple of websites where you can follow my Peru trip. I won't be writing on either of them but someone is supposed to be!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ohhhhh...Amtrak.....Such a good idea in theory.....

Every few years I eat Taco Bell because I somehow think that its effects are not as bad as I remember them being. I am quickly reminded why I don't eat Taco Bell. Amtrak seems to have the same effect on me. I think it's a good idea. You go to sleep in Chicago and wake up in Buffalo. What could be better than traveling with little effort, little money, and no day lost to travel time? Then I remember the truth. Here are some highlights/lowlights from my recent Amtrak experience.

1. The schedule put out by Amtrak is merely a rough estimate of when they may think about arriving or departing. You should in no way make plans around this schedule. It's usually a good 2-3 hours off.

2. Train personnel are not responsible for informing you of stops, delays, or changes in plans. You are just supposed to guess when your ride should be ready for you. (Thank goodness for my Blackberry!)

3. No matter how many footrests they put on those seats, they are not comfortable. You will not get any actual sleep. However, the guy across the aisle from you that snores like a banshee will get a solid 8 hours.

4. Since you will inevitably be stuck in the train station for endless hours in the middle of the night, you should try to do so with a 100-member gospel choir. Their antics, songs, and dances will keep you well entertained until the train shows up at 2AM! Have you ever seen 30 people dancing the Cupid Slide in a train station? I have.

5. 1 usable bathroom is more than enough for 2 train cars full of people. And, you should know which ones are broken and which ones are actually in use. It's definitely not the responsibility of anyone who works for the train to tell you or put up a sign.

6. If you have a really good book, your seat-mate will talk for hours on end. This will cause you to be grateful for the 2 hours after he gets off the train when you can read in peace.

7. Weird people take the train.

8. There are so many different takes on the proper attire for an overnight train ride. I am of the running pants/sweatshirt camp. It's overnight--why wouldn't you want to be comfy? There are also people that believe in wearing your Sunday best. Some are dressed for a night at the club. Others go all out with pajamas and face masks.

9. There is no set temperature on the train. Our train car fluctuated between 60 and 85 every 5 minutes or so. I think it's too keep you busy putting on and off layers so you forget to look at your watch to see how late the train is.

10. The one think Amtrak does really well is outlets---two for every seat! Brilliant since I killed my phone battery checking to see what time the train was going to actually arrive....

Next Trip: Peru with a team from work. I'm sure this will be good for some stories.

Someday, when I'm home for more than 48 hours. I'll blog about some of the fun stuff I did the last two weeks in WNY.