Recent Blogs

Drought and a Flood of Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving from Copacabana!

Water ShortageIt’s been a weird week, and I suppose that’s heightened our sense of gratitude.

While the rains are increasing and threatening to flood our house, the entire village has been out of water since Tuesday, and the municipality isn’t likely to pump water out to homes again until Monday, possibly later. There’s a long-standing water shortage here, but this particular crisis is because Copa installed a colossal new water tank, and the concrete that will support it needs time to cure.

I’m quite a few days past due for a shower. Happily, friends who own a hostel in Copa still have water and are happy to “rent” me a shower later today. I’m grateful -- so is Jeff! We can still buy bottled drinking water in town, so we’ll be OK. We’re grateful for that, too. Alas, we won’t be able to wash laundry or dishes for a few days. That’s a little troubling ... but we can find a way to feel grateful for that, too! And we can haul buckets of water from the spring next to the Incan ruins behind our house, so, thankfully, we can flush our toilet every so often. They’re hard to see in the photo, but along with little micro-lily pads there are tiny little fish swimming in those "flush buckets."

Dancing with the Dead – Todos Santos (All Saints Day)

All Saints DayOn Nov. 1, All Saints Day, Bolivianos party with the souls of their lost loved ones. Days prior to the fiesta street markets teem with 50-kilo bags of flour and sugar, buckets full of lard, and tables and blankets spread with myriad, hand- painted, miniature plaster-of-Paris faces. Families use these to make “Tantawawas,” Aymara for Bread Babies. The term refers generally to the many, many, shaped bread loaves -- those decorated with human faces symbolize the dead; others formed like horses, ladders or stairs are meant to help transport the spirits from heaven. Since most families don’t have an oven, they either buy bread or make dough and rent oven time from those who do.

Every family prepares carefully to receive their returning spirits, who descend at noon and visit for 24 hours. Tables are decorated with flowers, veils, fruits, sweets, biscuits, cookies, sugar cane, drinks, and the late beloveds’ favorite foods -- and many tantawawas. The celebrations go on through the night.

For those 24 hours and beyond cemeteries swarm with bands and families, who picnic, sing, dance and drink to welcome and rejoice with the returning spirits, lofted back from heaven on hundreds of kites. “We don’t know that the spirits come back to us,” says our friend Elisa Barrigola Machaca, "but it’s our belief that they do.”

Sprouts, Touts and Louts

Greenhouses in Chani, Sicuani, and Santa Ana, Bolivia, are complete, have new water lines, and are all growing vegetables and flowers! A fourth one, in Cusijata, should be done and planted within the next two weeks.

The mission hired an agricultural engineer, David Kantuta Mayta, to teach people from churches, schools and the local municipality who will be working in mission-sponsored greenhouses the best way to start seeds, transplant sprouts, make compost, and grow, harvest and market vegetables and flowers. David is also doing hands-on training sessions at the 3 operating greenhouses.

The following is a 26-second, one shot-a-minute, time-lapse video of the Chani greenhouse being worked. Thanks to Ryan Kolegas, who shot the video. We can’t wait to see the first produce get packed up, sent to market and sold!

Have you ever had a pie thrown in your face?

CROP Stop SignI haven’t, and as far as I know neither has John Smoke. Unfortunately for us, that is all about to change! You may have heard us engaging in some good-spirited competitive conversations or seen the posters on the church walls with pies surrounding our faces. This Sunday, pies will be thrown. But what’s it all about?

This Sunday, October 14th, First UMC is teaming up with churches and organization all around the area to walk in the annual CROP Walk. This walk drums up financial and moral support for a variety of organizations that seek to fight hunger in our local communities, our nation, and around the world. After hearing about the walk, I immediately knew I wanted to help out and was positive that others would, too. I talked to John and found out that he was positive others would want to help as well. We were both SO positive that we decided to enter into a friendly challenge between our ministries. So, this Sunday, whoever has more students from his or her ministry (for John that’s Kindergarteners-5th Grade, for me it’s 6th-12th graders) walking alongside him or her in the walk, gets to throw pies in the other person’s face.

Choirs have begun!

We had an exciting children's choirs first rehearsal and registration last Wednesday, Sept. 12th. With the Sweet Repeat set up going on we had registation in the Open Door. It was fun to see so many faces full of surprise and wonder at our inviting, spacious, modern Open Door. Maybe we should have registration in there every year so we can show off the space available to our future junior high and high school youth!  Seventy-six children have been registered to sing in our choirs! Woo-hoo!

Take a Walk!

When I was young, one of the small pleasures of the school year starting up again was the prospect of daily walks to and from school with friends from my neighborhood.  On these daily walks, understanding of my friends grew, inevitable squabbles were healed, and compassion deepened as we shared, on the way home, what had been that day's biggest challenges. And there was the unbeatable bonding experiences of doubling over with laughter together at some great joke or silly observation.

Choirs are starting up!

It's almost time for the start of choir rehearsals! I hope everyone saw the information in the Tower Bell or picked up a brochure from the kiosk at the entryway. Choir is a fun way for children to get used to coming to church -- and it gets the parents here and involved and getting to know one another too.

Choirs are not limited to children! We have the Chapel Choir for any interested high schoolers -- a wonderful way to get to know other high school youth . They tour every spring and fuse many friendships.

Salt, Sweat & Seeds

Girl in CopacabanaA lot of good work got packed into the past six weeks!

Our son, Sam, 20, helped build adobe greenhouses in nearby Sicuani and Cusijata. The Sicuani greenhouse and another one in Santa Ana have new water lines, and all three have new roofs and newly planted seed starter boxes.

In June and July Allyson Zeedrich, 23, a graduate student in the University of Illinois’ School of Public Health, fulfilled her six-week practicum here. She interviewed Promotores de Buena Salud (volunteer community public health workers) trained by the mission to see how they are using their skills and whether they need more training to maximize their effectiveness. The interviews confirmed that virtually all of the Bolivian Promotores want more regular training; they want to feel more confident; and they need to know more about promoting themselves. Allyson suggested monthly meetings in which they can choose and study specific topics of interest. She facilitated a lively dialogue on how the promotores could advertise their skills. Using Allyson’s computer and advice, every member of the group gleefully designed his or her own professional business card, complete with a logo and a four-color head shot.

Short Days - Big Projects

Team OnalaskaOur hearts are still soaring and our pantry, our stock of public health teaching supplies and first aid materials, as well as my previously meager store of footwear, have grown substantially, thanks to last week’s visit from Team Onalaska (Wisconsin).

Construction workers on the team helped local Aymaran folks build a new greenhouse in Sicuani, and helped reroof an existing greenhouse in Santa Ana, Bolivia. Nurses and public health workers on the team taught basic nutrition and dental hygiene, and gave much-coveted sunglasses, to two groups of school students and adults – more than 100 people.

On our first day of work with the Onalaska folks, we were welcomed with an early, outdoor lunch -- bowls heaped with rice, potatoes, oka (a nutty-tasting local tuber), and fresh, fried trucha (trout from Lake Titicaca). The builders, including my son Sam, stayed at that site, where they laid adobe for the new greenhouse. The health care folks, Jeff and I moved on to a small school in Sampaya -- one teacher, one room, and 11 students, including several orphans or abandoned children; all from very poor families. We taught dental hygiene and distributed much coveted sunglasses, and school and dental-care supplies.

Photos that welcome the world

A woodland scene

Walking in the woods last week after dinner, I noticed the sun cascading through the limbs then someone walking through that light. There, I was reminded of the little worlds we collide with and walk in and out of each day. How do we say hello with a welcoming word?

This summer we invite you to share images with us at church of some of the ways you have, or will have touched the world. It could be a picture of a neighborhood block party or it could be stepping off the plane in Paris or exiting a boat in Thailand. You can pull out your camera phone and catch Mount Rushmore or a conversation over the back fence with a new neighbor. Wherever vacations or business trips or a ride to a relative take us, we hope you take a welcoming spirit along with a picture. Wherever you find yourself saying hello, to different people and places, share these adventures and email the pictures to Bethany. Please include a brief description in terms of people and place.

We want to geotag these photos and catch a glimpse of the worlds we shook hands with over the summer. A summer walk in the woods, depicted above, did I stop and say hi, did we have a conversation? If so, where did the conversation lead us? Let the conversations begin! Maybe we can see the big things we did together that we couldn't have done alone.

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