Saturday, December 1, 2012

Our World Tour - Peru

Why would a semi-retired married couple decide to endure cruel full-body scans, cramped airline seats, crowded airports, crunched budgets, and crippling demands on aging bodies?  Several reasonable answers could be suggested, but those that know us realize that “a thirst for adventure” is certainly not one of them.  No … only one reason is powerful enough to catapult us into the unknown rigors of visiting three countries in one summer … our grown children and precious granddaughters.
Of the five granddaughters that have blessed our lives, two of them were born in the last year and I had not met them yet.  So our summer plans were sealed, and Peru became the last leg of our summer world tour.

Coming back from Japan we were already feeling the effects of extended travel.  My wife picked up a nasty cold a few days before we left Narito Airport to fly to Texas where we hoped to fly standby to Peru the following day.  However, our plane was blown in two hours late on the winds of a thunderstorm, so the delayed travelers made flying standby a complicated and remote possibility.  We were jet-lagged and sick so we decided to buy plane tickets and leave a few days later.  The extra time to recuperate was greatly appreciated.

Our long-time friends since Bible school days became gracious hosts in their lovely home during this unexpected turn of events.  They gave us natural energy juice drinks, walked with us along winding paths in wooded areas, treated us to old fashioned hamburgers at In-and-Out fast food franchise, and supplied Nyquill to knock out my suffering wife at nighttime.  When loving hospitality is experienced from brothers and sisters in the Lord it helps us appreciate the words in Galatians 6:10

                As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them
who are of the household of faith.
Our destination was Peru … Lima, Peru to be exact.  The reason I mention this is because the entire time we were there (with one exception) we never left the city although we sometimes drove for two hours in one direction.  Lima is a sprawling city approaching 9 million people where some actually move to another part of the city just to have a change in climate!  And, of course, we had to get used to a different culture.  We adjusted to no paper in the toilet, bottled drinking water, and 220-volt outlets.

The culture is uniquely different from the DR.  The people on the average are shorter and lighter skinned than Dominicans.  They walk faster.  The streets in many places were immaculate.  The garbage of the day is set on the curb and a mysterious silent truck picks it up every night.  Street sweepers clothed in bright orange or green uniforms that look like rain suits visibly dot the streets at almost predictable intervals. 

We felt safe almost everywhere we went.  Omnipresent police were visible everywhere.  Even at night there was a special task force of neighborhood police on motorcycles with recognizable uniforms with a fluorescent stripe of yellow down their sleeves and legs.

However, it is still a Latin country having struggles with unpredictability.  They don’t always plan in advance or show up on time as much as I’m comfortable with.  The “squeaky wheel” skill (think ”nagging”) that I’ve honed the last four years in the DR came in handy more than once during our stay in Peru.

As is typical in many families in Latin countries our daughter and son-in-law are living with his parents.  They are gracious people who live by the motto “mi casa tu casa”.  (My house is your house)  Their home was big enough to let us stay in a bedroom with its own bathroom, for which we were very grateful.
While it is summer in the United States, it is winter in Peru.  For a couple coming from a tropical island, visiting Peru in July was quite a shock.  We had little in the way of appropriate clothing, but our daughter had coats and sweaters hanging in our closet when we got there.  She also thoughtfully supplied us with snacks and bottled water in the room with soap and bath talc in the bathroom.  We felt like we were at a hotel.  The houses are not heated in Peru and the temperature drops into the 50’s and 60’s so we revived the old habit of dressing in layers while we were in the house.

In the two and a half weeks we were in Lima we saw and did many things which could fill a medium-sized book.  My blog strategy therefore is to tell a small story about each of the six people that we lived with during this time. 


 Since my daughter’s father-in-law has the same name as her husband, we began referring to him as “Abuelo” which is the Spanish word for Grandpa.  Fortunately, these in-laws were able to speak English well enough for a casual conversation, so we could relate on a minimal level.  Abuelo is a retired naval officer who works for a private security company.  On occasion he visits the officers’ club on base and hangs out with the men.  One night he asked me to accompany him to play “bochas”.  I didn’t know what he meant but I agreed.  For the next couple of hours I watched two teams of dignified older gentlemen officers roll croquet-sized colored balls down a bowling-sized alley trying to get the balls nearest to a golf ball-sized white ball.  Quite fascinating actually!

The man who served the drinks at the club had a heart attack recently.  The Naval heart surgeon, who was playing bochas with us volunteered to do the necessary quadruple bypass surgery and all the officers chipped in to pay the expenses associated with this dramatic event.  He was released coincidently on the day of his birthday.  So Abuelo and the officers met him at his home with a cake and candles.  When it was time to blow out the candles the man removed all but one and blew out a single candle.  He explained that this was only the first year of his life because without them he would have been dead.
This story illustrates the greatest character quality that I observed in Abuelo during this time.  He always wants to help.  Every morning he asked, “How you sleep?’  or “Here, try Mil Hojas … it is good cake.  Peru has best food in whole world.  It is true!”

“Grandma” Abuela teaches English at a private 47-year-old Catholic school with 1800 students.  Each of her classes has 40 students.  As a teacher I get involuntary trembles when I try to picture that situation.  The grandaughters have been a blessing for her as she enjoys playing with and holding them after a long day. 

Anyway, her school sponsors an annual Independence Day parade, so she invited us to see this extravaganza.  My wife and I stood on the street corner for two hours watching 52 classes of students from K – 12 march by.

In Peru there are three geographical regions from which people are identified:  the coast (the Cholos), the jungle (the Silvaticos), and the mountains (the Sierranos).  The people who come from each region have distinctive clothing and customs, so every class was assigned a certain area and dressed accordingly and performed a traditional dance from that region.  Since it was a contest, competition was very high.  The dances were well rehearsed and quite colorful.

As certain classes progressed toward the performing area where the judges and dignitaries sat, they marched.  The marching was curious indeed.  It resembled the Nazi goose-step … stiff legs reaching waist high.  Abuela marched along with all the other teachers as well doing a more modified march step. 

The following Sunday I realized that this unusual march step is a national phenomenon.  On the morning after the official date of independence July 28 the government cancelled all church services and sponsored a military parade broadcast on national television.  I watched for awhile out of deference to my ex-military host.  I’ve never seen so many marching soldiers … most with that goose-step march.  Army, Navy, Air Force, Special Forces, airplanes, helicopters, trucks having soldiers hanging upside down suspended on ropes at 45 degrees on the side.  I’m sure I saw marching soldiers in my sleep that night.

Our daughter’s husband works with a private security company similar to his father.  He doesn’t speak English well enough for us to talk directly to him for any length of time but we’ve observed him over the years.  He is a loving husband and a good father.  One story helped me to understand his personality and character.

During the Independence Day weekend we took a day trip to “the mountains”.  This is the one exception I mentioned earlier when I said we never left Lima.  After several hours of driving we finally arrived.  When I got out of the car and they pointed with pride to the surrounding “mountains” I was speechless.  On both sides of this Naval officer retreat grounds we visited for the day were two towering rock piles.  Seriously, not one green life form existed … only dirt and rocks.  I think it was the word “mountain” that threw me off.

The Navy built this resort for their officers to have a vacation retreat place.  It is called Remanso and indeed is beautiful with grassy expanses, several play grounds for children, a specific woman hired to create games and activities for all ages, swimming pool, an assortment of restaurants, cabins, places for tent camping, fishing pond … even an area to ride horses and play paint ball in an altitude above the grime and overcast of the city.  But please don’t use the word “mountains” to an Idaho man.

Abuelo and Abuela spent their honeymoon there and it has been a big part of the life of their family while their three children were growing up.  Before our son-in-law gave his life to Christ he attended a party at this resort sponsored by his uncle.  Five sons of other officers (one of them was an admiral) crashed the party and were making trouble.  Our son-in-law, who was in high school at this time, told them they had to leave.  Words were exchanged and the five party crashers bragged that he couldn’t make them leave.  When Abuelo heard that they were going to fight he intervened.  He told them that five against one was unfair so he agreed to the fight if they went off the grounds and fought one at a time.  Each of the boys including our son-in-law had been training in karate.  After he cleaned their clocks one at a time, they left the party.
When he became a Christian this strength and intensity was submitted to following Christ and being a good family man.  We certainly didn’t have to worry about safety when we went downtown with him.

What a privilege it was to watch our daughter in action as a young mom.  Her two daughters are 15 months apart and so she has had a traumatic introduction to mommy-hood.  As is customary for many families in Latin countries this family employs a full time maid who lives with them five days a week.  She is single and in her 50’s.  This Sierrana came down from the mountains when she was 18 and has been with the family ever since.  When our daughter was married and began living in her in-laws’ house she inherited a maid to do the cleaning and laundry and cooking.  When the children came she decided she wanted to do everything herself.  So she made arrangements with the family to reorganize the responsibility of the maid.  I find this intriguing that it is important for her to establish her own autonomous family even in a culture where it is not expected.  She has been walking with the Lord only for a few years now, but I see a great deal of wisdom in her insight into Scripture and her responses to difficult situations.

At 21 months this oldest daughter appears to be super-charged.  One night my wife and I volunteered to babysit while the parents went on a rare and well-deserved date alone.  We weren’t ready for what followed.

My wife bought a number of children’s books in English, so her goal was to read Cesia’s favorite book “My New Baby” in one sitting.  Up to this point Cesia had not spent more than 20 seconds on any one activity.  She would go to the Legos, then to the dolls, then want us to play with Lamb Chop the hand puppet, then back to the book.  My wife actually made it through the book before the end of the evening but I noticed she skipped a couple of pages and read really fast.

Disciplining an active child who has a strong personality has proven to be quite a challenge for her parents.  I appreciate their commitment to raising her in a godly way … but she is strong.  One time Cesia was told not to touch the TV knob.  So she went to Papa, dragged him to the TV, and placed his hand on the knob.

One morning she and I were the only ones downstairs.  I was reading my Bible and she was pushing a large plastic tricycle around that had a long handle on the back which made it double as a stroller.  Cesia wanted to move it from the dining room to the living room.  As she pushed, it would encounter various obstacles.  Each time, she grunted with frustration until she overcame the obstacle.  One time the trike tipped over.  She went through so much grunting and yelling  that it sounded like anger.  When she was finally successful she uttered a loud sound of joy and began clapping for herself.  I think she may have inherited a little of her papa.

When God gets a hold of her heart these will be good qualities.  She seems to be happy most of the time … smiling easily, excited shrieks during playtime, no whining or pouting even after a discipline session.  However, I noticed when she falls, or “goes boom” as she calls it, she has to have mama.  The time between the boom and her call for mama is so short that I began referring to this event as the “boom-mama” syndrome.

Fe is only 7 months now but is very different from her sister.  It is amazing that every parent seems to learn this truth afresh with their own children.  At only three months old when we were there she didn’t do much but eat and sleep, but the differences were obvious.  When she drank from her bottle she stared at the bottle holder intently and had a large variety of expressions with her nearly invisible eye brows.  Although the children are half  Peruvian, both children have bright blue eyes because of Swedish ancestory on their side as well.  Fe’s cry is more of a pitiful whimper and she was content to be left alone in the bouncing baby seat.  She didn’t smile much and seemed serious and contemplative. 

One particular Sunday was a special day for us grandparents.  Not only did we have the privilege of visiting the church where out daughter’s family had chosen to worship, we also participated with them in a baby dedication ceremony for Fe.  Both sets of grandparents were there as well as other family.  This little girl was the main reason we came to Peru so this was a meaningful reminder to pray and support our children’s family.  This will be our continuing ministry to our growing family around the world.

It was fitting that our last memory of Peru was of eating food.  They are certainly proud of their food!  On the last afternoon of our visit Abuelo and Abuela prepared a big meal of special Peruvian dishes while we took our daughter’s family to a local park to snap some pictures.

While we were eating later Cesia came to the table and said, “Bah!”  Unless one is around her a lot it is hard to know what she means.  It is her word for binky, ball, bath, balloon, the maid, or goodbye.  In this situation it meant “play with me.”  My wife responded, “Not now, I’m eating.”  Cesia then put the toy into my wife’s hand, pried her finger loose and placed the toy in her hand.  I think she will be a leader of something someday.
While Carol spent part of the evening picking feathers off her socks for the last time (the warm house slippers she borrowed for our stay had goose down in them) I packed and we were ready for the drive to the airport through the Lima rush hour traffic.  When we arrived, the guard at the entrance to the terminal building made it clear that only passengers could enter.  Abuelo showed his magic “I-am-a-retired-Naval- officer” card but the guard held his ground.  Abuelo just smiled and told us to go in.  The next thing we know we see his grinning face at our exit gate.  When I asked him how he did it, he told me that the head of airport security works for his company.  We appreciated that last demonstration of Peruvian hospitality.

By the time we arrived back in the DR it had been nearly two months of traveling on our world tour and we had visited three different countries.  With our tired muscles, stretched ligaments, and jetlagged brains we felt like we had put in a long day of manual labor, but it felt sweet as we thought back on it.  Solomon wrote:
                The sleep of a laboring man is sweet whether he eat little or much …”  Eccl 5:12
May God in his mercy bless our growing family and draw them all to Himself in His time. 

No comments: