Friday, September 25, 2009

Lettuce Leaves, Uninvited Guests and Grammar

Lettuce Leaves
I am waiting for Miguel to return with the lettuce. The sky is dark and the rain does not relent, and somewhere between our casa and the Jumbo supermercado, he and Nathanael are braving the storm to bring home lettuce and eggs and laundry detergent.

When he does return, the lettuce is a warm, wilted mass. Being that they have braved the downpour on foot, I decide not to question the wilt-factor. Instead, I let the offering soak in the sink. The water is clean and cold, and I am hand-leafing through the layers.

Next, Julia Noel and Abby Gracie and I are shaking cold water from green leaves in the laundry room and laying them over the top of the clothesline. Hours later, when the lettuce is dry and crisp and ready for a grilled chicken tomato salad, the wilting is forgotten.

Uninvited Guests
Each time we open our pantry, a small cupboard above the stove, I'm noticing a seige of tiny cockroaches racing from the light. Large ones have been easy to spot and easy to say goodbye to. However, their offspring are great in number. Though not as quick as their parents, they seem to prefer communal living. Opening the cupboard always provides great amusement to everyone 8 and under. And so, for now, every bit of food is ordered into neat stacks in the darkness of a cold, sealed refrigerator.

And so the weeks have slipped by, one after the other, until today, when they seemed to stand still.

I am sitting in our warm, quiet classroom. Our desks, forming a half circle, show only the tops of my classmate's heads. Our grammar exams are before us. I look around the room and pray for each dear friend to think clearly... then I look at my own paper.

I look, yet it's as if there is nothing familiar there. I blink. Thinking, perhaps, if I turn the fan on, things will improve, I get up for a moment. I sit back down again. I can feel my clothes starting to stick to me. Then my forehead is wet. I am seized with a deep, maddening sense of exhaustion.

I look at the articles and the demonstrative adjectives. I glance through the perifrases, searching for somewhere to begin, but this time, I don't know where to begin. So I start writing my sentences using particular verbs in their particular places, until I re-read the instructions, only to learn I'm not following them, and while I am waiting for Eddie to tap me on the shoulder and say it's my turn for the oral part of the exam, I realize I am paralyzed.

I make it through and express my sincerest apologies for my lack of presence of mind, to the most excellent Dona Alejandra. She is gracious. I walk across the way to Language and slump into my seat. Not long thereafter, I am looking at the white board, then my professor. His face is kind.

"I can not speak. I wrote wrong answers. I studied so hard. I'm studying with my children for their Spanish tests and their other tests, too, and I'm so exhausted," and with that, I lifted my notebook in front of my face and wept.

I don't recall weeping in a class before. I suppose I could've excused myself. But I didn't. I just sat there and cried.

It's a strange thing to be empty. No ideas. No words. No recollection. I studied. I was prepared. I was even relaxed. And then, I was exhausted.

In my weakness, God's Spirit is mighty. He has brought me low. He has humbled me, that I might exalt Him. Jesus' death, burial and resurrection has secured my every victory. But victories do not always appear as I might expect them to.

Today, my most fervent efforts have been reduced to crumbs. I humbly offer those crumbs to Him with my whole heart.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Odds and Ends

The Newspaper

Most mornings I'm waking up before the man on the motocicleta throws La Nacion between the bars. So he remembers where to deliver, Manolo has a clever system of spray painting an N on the sidewalk in front of each La Nacion house. He also paints a white arrow on the ashpalt. This way, in early morning darkness, the newspaper's sure to land beyond the right bars.


When it's time to throw trash away, there are no trashcans, though a very robust system, nonetheless. We place our crude piles of various multi-colored bags in a heap on the sidewalk, grass, or even in the street. Anyone who'd like to sift through the trash is welcome to. Men ride on the back of those familiar trucks, and haul away whatever is left curbside. I'm always delighted by the lack of restrictions. I can place anything out there! There's a possibility it will appeal to someone, but if it doesn't, it will be gone when the truck comes.


Last week, I was walking up the hill with Nathanael and Chloe after school. The clouds grew heavy and dark. Then there was gentle rain, and we were glad to have an umbrella. As we reached the top of the slight hill to turn right onto our la calle, we looked beside us, hearing steady, thumping. Chloe and Nathanael stared in sheer bewilderment. On our left hand side, a violent downpour erupted out of those groaning clouds. Nearly 100 meters across the street, the rain was furiously climbing the hill, and before we could brace ourselves, it was our turn to experience her fury, which mostly collapsed our umbrellas.

I stood at the gate desperate to get the right key in the right place and thrust the porton open for some relief, but my key would not open the gate. I laid the useless umbrella down. Hardly able to see the keyhole through the rain and the wind, I continued to struggle, until mastering the right manipulation and within seconds, we were under the second story of our home, laughingly watching the water pour.

This week, however, it didn't rain. The sky was blue and the wind was warm, and our classrooms whose window slats were open, were full of warm light... This alternative was amusing, for throughout the day and into the nights, electricity would come and go. Our street guard, German, (Air-maun) lamented over our desperate need for rain since we receive power through a hydro-electric system...

Without Water

Last weekend, there was a time without water. Turning the faucet on yielded only a spitting noise. So I had been especially grateful for our big brother family, whose foresight left us with a stash of water gallons (saved for such a time as this) in our utility room.

I used one gallon to disinfect vegetables from the market, and the rest was off limits until a real necessity came up. After a bit, the water was back on again, and what came trickling, then busting out of the faucet resembled rust. Intrigued, we filled our glasses.

"Look at this! It's water," Julia was enamored.
"No, it's clearly mud," Abby Gracie insisted.
"It's awesome," said Nathanael-- resolving the dilemma.

The Library

Miguel and I start each school with LIBRE (freedom)! Our first hour at school is a study period. He enjoys sitting on the terraza working through conjugations with the boys. I go to the library and sit beside an open window, whose gauzy, white sheers blow with the wind. The smell of old books and journals, anthropological findings and yellowed missionary biographies is perfect. I lay out my pages of construction paper conjugations and definitions, and begin sifting through the lists with hushed, forced pronunciations, saying them over and over again...

Carrot Cake

Carrots in La Feria (Saturday morning market) are stunning. Brilliant in color and giant in size, we've become accustomed to finely shredding them into messy heap, then throwing them into our carrot sheet cake batter. Each child helps, one at a time, with food prep. There is much of it. Their favorite is always with carrot shredding, making orange batter. Generally, we have everything for the cake part, and nothing for the frosting part. So we eat our cake without frosting.

Saturday Morning
September 12

Abigail, Nathanael and I land on a marvelous, tiny Pulperia. Located on a neighborhood corner and painted mustard yellow, we stop in this little haven after our trip to La Feria. I love it at once.

From the ceiling to the floor, every shelf is loaded with stacks of different now-familiar groceries and housekeeping supplies. They even have a bar of cheddar cheese. One end cap has plastic bags stuffed with spices, and another aisle is fully stocked with little flour packages and pasta bags and beans and rice.

In my meager Spanish, I asked what to do with the things I want to buy. The gracious owner insists I load things on the narrow counter space before her. We do. Finding each supply on our list, my helpers put their discoveries excitedly on the counter, like little scavengers on a hunt. When finished, we loaded them into our bags from home, and are off to follow the smell of roasting chicken on the fire.

Eventually, we find a store front whose giant open oven has massive tree branches for the fire, spinning golden rotisserie chickens, dripping with juice. We fit one into our bag...

Now the bags are weighted with produce, supplies and chicken, and there is still much walking before we are home. I take a deep breath and prepare for the final laps, all before the afternoon rain pours. When it does, we are listening to her beat the tin roof, safely home.