Friday, December 31, 2010

Saturday Post -- 01/01/11


A happy new year to all of you, first of all, and while we're all pondering the difference a year makes, we're sitting here reflecting on the difference a day makes. You may already have read that on Boxing Day, the government removed, at a stroke, its energy subsidies, thus effectively raising petrol prices by 70% and diesel prices by 80%. The government's stated line was that this would help to prevent the smuggling of oil across the border to Brazil and Peru, where prices have been significantly higher for years now.

Whatever the reasons, the execution has left a lot to be desired. One could perhaps understand a steady increase over a two-three year period, but to impose such a hike within the space of 24 hours is curious, particularly with the majority of citizens living well below the breadline as it is. And, as ever, Trinidad will get it harder than most, owing to our isolated position within the country. The nearest major city, Santa Cruz, lies some 300 miles away by road and Trinidad relies heavily on goods transported from there. So the impact felt by motorcycle and car drivers is the mere tip of the iceberg.

Needless to say, unrest is brewing, with a civil strike called across the Beni region yesterday and several marches having already taken place nationwide. Furthermore, the President came out on Wednesday evening and announced that the blow will be softened by a 20% increase in public sector wages by the end of 2011. This will help few at national level, where the majority work in the private sector, and presents an obvious challenge for 2011 to Fundación Totaí where, with healthcare playing a prominent role, public sector workers abound. Please pray!

Tough medicine, then, but we won't allow it to tarnish our memories of our first Christmas here in Trinidad, where we enjoyed a special couple of days over last weekend. Work finished at lunchtime on Christmas Eve and we marked the official end of 2010 for FT (though the services have, of course, continued apace since) with a closing ceremony and staff lunch at which we enjoyed, for the first time this year -- and, indeed, for the first time in many of the Bolivians' lives -- roast lamb! Given that lamb and not turkey is the plat du jour in the Kearon household on the 25th, Amanda was particularly excited. Not a big lamb man myself, have to say, but this stuff put a lot of supposedly high-class UK restaurant kitchens to shame.

The afternoon of Christmas Eve tends to be the time in the holiday when, for me, the reality of the impending celebrations truly hits home. This year the young people of the church had spent the best part of a month preparing a service to be held that afternoon, though with rainy season threatening to explode into life on the 24th (it has since rained furiously), it was touch and go for a while as to whether it would go ahead in its original format, particularly as space in the auditorium is so limited, making it preferable to stage it outside. As you can see from the picture, taken that afternoon by our neighbour Kenny Holt, the skies threatened to wreak havoc -- indeed, there was a brief shower early on -- but we managed to get through it and clearly the rainbow was the Lord's own special way of telling us we were doing the right thing.

As mentioned last time, the big celebration here is around midnight on Christmas Eve and we enjoyed a lovely meal with the family of FT dentist Miguel-Ángel to bring in the 25th. I was to pay for my excesses, however (non-alcoholic, I hasten to add!). As ever the week before Christmas had been an exhausting one and, if we were being totally honest, but for the prospect of celebrating with friends, the thought of staying up so late on the 24th seemed neither appealing nor, indeed, achievable. So I did what anyone else would do: I glugged down Coca-Cola by the bucketload. As far as dinner was concerned, it served its purpose -- I was in an uncharacteristically jolly mood come midnight. But let's just say that getting any sleep that night was challenging to say the least. Indeed, I think I managed about 2 hours!

Nevertheless, I woke up on Christmas Day, bright as a button and determined to slog on through the day in as positive a manner as possible. We enjoyed a morning of meeting family members for various Skype sessions and then headed over to Kenny's for something of a culture clash: a Christmas dinner for around 30 people, made up of the missionaries and their families, and some of the locals. Christmas Eve here isn't simply the big celebration, it's pretty much the only celebration of Christmas. If anything, the purpose of the 25th is serious R&R. So it was something of a shock after the main course (of an eventual three) to hear the local guys rounding up the troops for an impromptu game of footie! By this stage, I had managed to metamorphose into a human beach ball, rendering any physical activity not only impossible but almost certainly fatal. I politely declined, bracing myself for Amanda's trademark pumpkin pie. So yeah, no post-meal snoozing in front of the Doctor Who special round these parts. I ended up heading home almost immediately and crashing, as did the majority of guests. All things considered, the whole event probably didn't last longer than 3 hours. A brief but certainly memorable meal.

Since then, we've been back behind our respective desks. A fair number of the staff have taken holidays but we're waiting until the end of January when we're hoping to take a few days off to travel to Santa Cruz with Amanda's sister (her arrival here being a prayer point in itself given the civil unrest). But it's been nice, for once, to have our working days punctuated by generous quantities of Christmas chocolate -- some of it from Europe! We trust you had a blessed Christmas and our prayers are with you for the coming year -- looking forward to your company again in 2011.

Prayer
• For the country in these fragile days, particularly for ordinary families, who will feel the effects of the fuel increases in a very real way.
• For both of us in our day-to-day work. Though a little quieter right now, it's a great opportunity to get a lot of the groundwork for 2011 in place.

Praise
• For a really enjoyable and restful Christmas weekend.
• For God's faithfulness to us in 2010 and so many opportunities awaiting us in 2011!

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday Post -- 18/12/10




Here we are at what I suppose was our staff Christmas party for the year. Last night the workers at FT were invited to the home of María, who is part of the administrative team. It was a fun night and doubled up as the occasion upon which to unleash the Secret Santa presents. Unlike the UK, the Bolivians seem to take the present-buying pretty seriously.

Still hard to believe that Christmas is just around the corner, though I'm sure that would be the case were I back home too. I remain utterly perplexed as to where 2010 has gone. The Lord has been so good to us, though, and we have spent a lot of time these last few days looking back, still wondering how on earth we got here, but excited about what has been done and what is yet to come.

And we're really looking forward to next weekend's celebrations. Christmas Eve is, if anything, the bigger event here -- think Hogmanay, but a little more family-based and you have the right idea. Families get together, share a meal and, at midnight, open their gifts together. So no spoilt brats jumping on their parents' bed at 4am so they can open their entirely expected PS3/Plasma combination round here. Just a pleasant, quiet, family affair. Our neighbours, Miguel-Ángel (the FT dentist), his wife Rut, and their five children, aware that this is our first Christmas away from home, have kindly invited us over to celebrate Christmas Eve with them. They're a great bunch, so generous and humble, and we hope to have a great evening with them.

On Saturday itself, all of the missionary families/couples are getting together at Kenny's home and we've decided to invite Miguel-Ángel's family and also the family of Elias, the church pastor. So Christmas Day may be quiet elsewhere in Trinidad, but not round our way! Turkey will be served but rumours of an additional stuffed pig are afoot (that'll make two of us then!).

This week, however, I received something of an early present myself. As I have mentioned before, FT is an official centre for the Emmaus Bible courses, a low-price distance-learning course, with a heavily evangelistic bent in the initial stages. I'm one of four people here who mark the books when students have completed them, and this involves one-on-one feedback, so as to ensure that the students (who are mostly children) understand what we are saying. And one of our principles is that, with any feedback, we always cite a Bible verse to back up what we have said. Without a doubt, the passage we cite more than any other is Ephesians 2:8-9, which says:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast.

You can imagine, then, what we're often up against in the typical student's answers. A frequent answer to the question, "How do you know you're going to Heaven?" is "I'm not sure because I'm not always good." This comes as much from Christians as non-Christians. Real confusion on this point here.

Anyway, I was giving feedback to a young boy who had a 99% score but had answered such a question on faith and works incorrectly. Furthermore, he had asked in the 'any further questions' section at the close, why Jesus had to die. The Lord was able to help me explain the hopelessness of our works with regard to salvation and use this to then illustrate why it was that Christ died for us. I explained that the only thing we can do to be saved is to accept the free gift of his salvation. I then felt led to ask the boy if he wished to receive that salvation. He said yes and, for the first time in my life (that I am aware of) I had the honour of leading someone to the Lord. The boy's name is Ymer and he has an older sister who is really involved at church and very mature in her faith, which will be a great help for him, but they both come from a difficult family situation. Please pray!

Our final newsletter for the year has just been sent out -- if you wish a copy, write to us at cramandaham@gmail.com.

We may or may not be back with another post next weekend but, in any case, we wish all of you a very happy, Christ-centred Christmas and a God-honouring New Year. We're so grateful to know that so many take an interest in our work and excited to have made new friends through the blogosphere. May God bless you all this Christmas.

Prayer
• For the church’s events over Christmas, particularly the service on the afternoon on Christmas Eve. It will be held outdoors (can’t imagine that back home!) and lots of children and young people are involved. We rarely, if ever, see the parents of the majority of the younger folk and are expecting many of them to come along, so please pray for the evangelistic aspect of this service.
• For a sense of peace for both of us, far from home as we both are this Christmas.

Praise
• For the chance to share the gospel this week with young Ymer.
• For our ‘Trinidad family’ with whom we will mark Christmas this year –- would be very hard without them.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Saturday Post -- 11/12/10


Sorry, folks. After that refreshing, feminine-infused interlude last week, I'm afraid you're stuck with me again. But I'll see if we can hire her for another appearance soon. She's not bad, you know.

BREAKING NEWS: A shop has opened within a stone's throw from our house. It has bread and everything! Our neighbourhood, very much on the brink of Trinidad, is undergoing something of a transformation, with people buying up land and building properties. The dirt track that leads to our flat is fast becoming just another street. So the shop's opening is further proof that we ain't in Kansas no more (when I say 'shop', I refer to an oversized shed, as most such establishments are here). Many's the Saturday morning back home when, with both cupboards and botheredness levels running on empty, we'd nip round to the neighbouring Co-op for some munchies, often in a state of wanton jammie-bedeckedness. So you can no doubt understand our sheer giddiness at the latest turn of events. Right?

If you want another slice of Trinidad life, try this for size. The other week one of our tyres got two major punctures. We took it to a tyre specialist and got the punctures repaired for the princely sum of 25 Bolivianos, or about £2.50. Back home, that would have been a straight replacement. The lack of such resources here leaves you with no other option when it comes to cars, but doesn't it say a lot about us Westerners' disposable outlook on life?

We've had a pretty busy week. Amanda mentioned the graduation ceremony last weekend and we've included a picture from it, above. We thought that was it for 2010 until, on Sunday morning, we got an invitation to another friend's school graduation party, on Monday evening, beginning at 9pm. Now, back in the UK, if you're invited to something, there's usually a good half-hour of leeway re. the actual arrival time. But in Bolivia, if the invite says 'Come at 9pm' what it actually means is 'See you at 11!'.

This left us in a bit of a quandary. You see, we're not getting any younger and rare's the night we're not sound asleep by 10.30pm at the very latest. And, of course, it was a school night. Very much a school night. So we reckoned there was only one thing for it: show up at 9, look like idiots in the process and politely slink away about 90 minutes later.

Well, as Meat Loaf once eloquently put it, two out of three ain't bad. It was at least two hours before the whole party had arrived and the obligatory parade of the new graduates didn't start till about 11.30pm. The rest of the week has therefore been a bit of an upward struggle, energy-wise. However, we're just chuffed that people would think of us in that way and, as you can imagine, it's a great opportunity to develop relationships with some of the families around here.

At work, we've both been busybusybusy, with Amanda really getting into the nitty-gritty of the data processing she's been tasked with, while I'm at the beginning of the long process of preparing curriculums (should that be curriculi?) for next year's Community and English classes. I'm also taking meditations next week, which requires a lot of preparation.

Excitingly, though, we got our Christmas tree up on Wednesday evening. If you haven't already seen the pictures on Facebook, here are a couple. Many thanks to Chicho and Rachel for lending us the tree and decorations. It's my first faker in years, something of a challenge to my principles, but as you have probably guessed by now, like Co-ops, tyres, and most other things, real ones are hard to come by down here.




Prayer
• For Craig as he leads the meditations next week.
• For Amanda as she organises the data for FT’s EPPDATO survey on hearing loss in the Beni region. It’s a huge project, with the deadline at the end of January.

Praise
• For the opportunities in the last week to develop relationships as part of the school graduation festivities.
• For getting through a busy week with significantly reduced energy levels!

¡Que Dios les benidga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Saturday Post - 04/12/10


Another Saturday Post... and well, this task just seemed too much for Craig this week, so... yes, this is Amanda. Since I haven't posted for ages, hopefully I can offer a bit of a fresh perspective on some things. And for those of you who didn't understand anything that Craig was talking about in the last post regarding the Mamoré football match (myself included), I want to assure you that this post will be football-free.

As mentioned in our previous post we had our friends Omar, Lucy, their kids and Omar's father, Hugo (pictured, above), over for lunch last Sunday afternoon. The time with them was great... and both Craig and I felt really blessed by it. To be honest, sometimes I feel frustrated in situations like the one on Sunday, because my Spanish, and sometimes Craig's as well, does not allow us to have really deep conversations with people. I feel like we spend a lot of time saying, "What/Qué?". Sometimes I feel like they are missed opportunities, but I was reminded this week that when words fail us God can still use our actions... and it is an awesome reminder to be aware of not only our speech, but our actions as well.

As an interesting side note, the lunch with them also reminded me of the native population's diet. At one point in time I used to think that Mexican food applied to all countries that spoke Spanish, but it doesn't. We ate fajitas, and while they recognised it as Mexican food, I don't think it went down that well. And I made the classic foreigner mistake of not putting loads (actually any) salt in my rice. Oddly enough, they loved dessert, which was pumpkin pie. At least the kids didn't leave on any empty stomach.

Last Sunday was also my last Sunday School class until the next school year... Jo and I ended it with a class game of Taboo in Spanish, which was great for my Spanish. I held the buzzer for the whole game... normally I have a lot of trouble understanding these teenagers, as they are teenagers and therefore they don't speak, they mumble, and when they do speak in an audible voice they use loads of slang that they don't teach in language class. So, I was really forced to concentrate to try and hear if any of them had said a taboo word. It went well... and in the final round I had to describe the word for both teams... and I even impressed myself with my Spanish descriptions.

Today is now actually Sunday the 5th, because I ran out of time yesterday to finish... I will now continue.

For me the work week was filled with a lot of paperwork, which is fine, as I don't mind paperwork. There is something fulfilling about finishing a report or getting through a stack of data entry. The deadlines are kind of stressful though. Myself and two other nurses also started attending PAN (Programa de Atención a Ninos) locations in order to carry out otoacoustic emissions testing. The PAN locations are essentially nationalised daycare centres with anywhere from 10 to 25 kids between the ages of 0-6. The testing involves a visual component with an otoscope and the actual OAE test. I place a rubber ear piece, similar to an ear plug, into the kid's ear, which is attached to cables and ultimately a small box. This box sends emissions at various frequencies into the child's ear and reads how the emissions are received. The child doesn't have to move, say or do anything... I prefer that they sit perfectly still and let me tug on their ear to my heart's delight... but the screaming and crying that goes on when they are just asked to sit next to me does my head in every time. After mornings like these I sometimes question why people ever have children. But the effort is worth it, as all results that came back "refer" means that the child should get examined by an audiologist for more specific testing. The child and their family are referred back to the Foundation where a further contact with the population is made.

Last night, Saturday the 4th, we were invited to the high school graduation of some of the girls from our church. It was our first experience with the graduation process here and it was extremely interesting. I had a great time, though Craig spent a lot of the time reading his Bible on his mobile phone while they read through all 89 names. The place wasn't filled until about 45 minutes into it... and people spent their time chatting to their neighbours the entire time, like it was no big deal. But it was a huge affair with every person inviting everyone and the mailman's brother. The secretary's son from the Foundation was graduating as well, and so there was an open invitation to everyone at the Foundation and a lot of workers came just for the Secretary. Each graduate is gowned up like in the States, or for the Canadians and Brits, like our University graduations. And every graduate is announced forward, escorted by a family member, whose name is also read out, to receive their certificate/title. 89 people and an hour-and-a-half later we start with the speeches. Our Pastor's step-daughter, who was the equivalent of the valedictorian, gave a speech and there were a lot of special awards and plaques being passed around. There was also a little slot where the graduating class passed on their standard to the year below them. My favourite part through this was that there were ladies walking up and down the aisles with baskets selling peanuts and candy just like at a baseball game. After that we went to celebrate with one of the graduates... it was KC and Maicol's neice and they had a really nice dinner for friends and family. And after church today, our Pastor, Elias, and his wife Porfi, had friends and family over a very nice celebratory lunch. We've been invited to another one tomorrow as well... it is Promoción season... which is where I think we get the word Prom from, or at least from the Latin equivalent.

Craig spoke at church this morning on 1 Samuel 30. He used points from David's experience with his men to encourage the young people to develop into strong leaders in the church and in their own homes. As I said above, there was no Sunday School and when I arrived at church there were not many people there, but wonderfully, in true Bolivian style, people arrived late... arriving being the most important thing; arriving late being something that will never change. We pray that the message will touch the hearts of the people present this morning.

Prayer
• That the young people will continue to think about the message they heard this morning.
• For guidance for Craig as he starts to develop the cirriculum for the Community and Education classes for next year.
• Amanda as she continues to work hard to get her work down within the deadlines given to her.

Praise
• The blessing that Craig felt from this week’s sermon prep.
• The blessing of knowing how deep our friendships with people are as we were invited to share with these high school graduates on their big day.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Post -- 27/11/10



With summer now very much upon us, football season in South America is drawing to a close (though, as in most of the world, that doesn't necessarily mean a break from football). We're entering the final weekend of fixtures here in Bolivia, with Trinidad's Real Mamoré travelling to Sucre, where a point would guarantee them survival in the league. This comes hot on the heels of a heroic home victory over third-placed San José on Sunday afternoon, or a sobering insight into the darker side of South American football, depending on your point of view.

A John Major-dull first-half gave way to explosives in the second, with a penalty being awarded to the home side for a spectacular, non-contact dive in the box. 5.9 for technical accuracy etc. In spite of this, the ref didn't even think twice. And no wonder. The past weekend, a Mamoré-incited riot on the pitch, as a response to some poor refereeing calls (in their opinion) had almost caused that game to be suspended. The added sweetener of a red card for the player who didn't make the tackle confirmed that this particular match official was in no mood to be hounded from the field of play. Penalty successfully converted, Mamoré went on to romp it 3-0. Hard to begrudge them the victory, but the circumstances made it harder to applaud.

Things have mostly returned to their normal pattern at FT now that the Campaña has come to an end. I've been spending some time taking in the classes which are held for children in the Community on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. These are groups of children who live nearby, or in, Trinidad's men's and women's prisons. Convicts in Bolivia (I stop short of calling them all 'criminals' due to the imaginative criminal justice system in place here) get the added bonus of taking their families with them to jail, should they so choose. Thus, many children find themselves living in these atrocious conditions. They go to school, but the state schools are pretty useless here and, given their family background, many have very much missed the starting gun as it is.

So, FT sends a bus to the prisons, which ferries them here in the afternoon. The classes have a mix of Bible teaching, English teaching and homework assistance as part of each lesson, but at the moment a curriculum isn't in place. So, once the classes finish for the year in the next couple of weeks, I'll be sitting down with Sammy (who is currently taking the classes) to set out a vision for 2011. They're very poor kids but they love the input of the Community classes -- they represent something of a refuge for many of them -- and I'm looking forward to playing a part in that.

Amanda has been back into the regular nursing rhythm of things, carrying out vaccinations in the community and visiting schools for health checks. She's taken on more administrative tasks recently and she's really enjoyed the extra time she now has in the mornings, having finished her Spanish classes, to see to those tasks. She and I got some great news this week in the shape of our first family visit! Jessica, Amanda's younger sister, is coming in mid-January to spend some time with us.

Tomorrow lunchtime we're looking forward to hosting Omar & Lucy and their two children, whom you may remember me mentioning in previous posts. They're a great young couple who can definitely be filed under the 'seeker' category. Our co-worker, KC, has been meeting with Lucy regularly to study the gospel of John and Omar is showing similar enthusiasm. They threw a surprise birthday lunch for Amanda in September and we've long been looking to repay the compliment. Please pray for our time with them.

Prayer
• For our time with Omar & Lucy tomorrow.
• For Amanda as she takes on more administrative work in these next few weeks.

Praise
• For confirmation of Jessica’s visit in January.
• For the opportunity for Craig to use his educational gifts in the community classes.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday Post -- 20/11/10

Once again this week I've been struck by how very easy it is to communicate a doctrine of the faith to others, yet almost unconsciously be negating it in one's own life. This week's verses for the morning meditations came from the latter section of 2 Corinthians 9, in which Paul implores the Corinthians to be cheerful and generous givers, not merely for the sake of Christian goodness but because the blessing to the giver is real and life-impacting. Materially, he/she will never go without the essentials, and spiritually, he/she will reap a great harvest of blessing.

What a simple lesson! Indeed, as I led the meditations, I boldly suggested that I may not exactly fit into the stingy Scot stereotype. And yet this week a couple of scenarios arose in my life where I found myself in positions to be generous with my resources and, initially, felt major resistance, only to find that when I gave, the blessing was indeed as much mine as my recipients and the returns on my investments were momentous. Be encouraged to give in a spirit of generosity.

This week has, of course, been the second of the surgical Campaña fortnight and I'm pleased to say that patients and staff emerged from the two weeks intact. The Lord has really blessed the work of the health team in the last couple of weeks. And, of course, it'll be nice to have Amanda around a bit more. Indeed, this morning I've taken some time off fronton so that we can spend some time together (see, I really have learnt the 2 Corinthians 9 lesson!). Aside from the meditations, which take me a good two-three hours to prepare every day given the language hurdle, the website has again been my priority.

Big shout out to my sister, Kirsty, who hit 21 this week, rendering me officially old. And, of course, my fellow St Andrews alumni. I tell you, that sausage supper made him the man he is today.

Prayer
• For the full recovery of all Campaña patients.
• For our witness here, that we would not simply be hearers, but doers of the Word.

Praise
• For the successful completion of the Campaña.
• For the Lord’s help as Craig led the meditations.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, November 12, 2010

Saturday Post -- 13/11/10


That’s Amanda with our faithful mutt, Arturo, a picture taken last week and one of her last known sightings round these parts.

I exaggerate, of course, though it’s true that, since FT’s General ENT surgical Campaña got going on Monday, I haven’t seen all that much of her, working, as she is, 12-hour shifts, doing clinical work in the mornings and joining the Campaña team in the afternoon. Amanda’s primarily been based in the new inpatients’ ward, which was opened on Monday and has certainly been put to use this week.


I can forgo a Monopoly partner for a week when so many needy cases are being helped. The Campaña continues until the end of next week, though, happily for Amanda, is punctuated by a holiday next Thursday, for the Beni region’s anniversary.

My work this week has mostly involved further website updating, so not too much of note to report, though this morning I spent some valuable time getting to know other notable Trinidad residents (see posts below). Given that it took me the best part of two hours to get them online, I hope regular readers will understand the brevity of today’s post.

Prayer
• For Amanda and the rest of FT’s health staff as they treat the Campaña patients.
• For Craig as he leads the morning meditations next week.

Praise
• For energy, particularly for Amanda, during a hectic week for her.
• For help for Craig as he preached at church last Sunday.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Nature Calling (2)





Nature Calling (1)

Back in July, FT staged a 5-Day Club in the village of San Pedro, some 60km north of Trinidad. Since then, we've been back twice for one-off afternoon visits. However, one thing that cannot escape your notice as you drive the road north is the variety of wildlife on show, particularly the bird life. A shame, then, that we've always been in such a hurry to get to San Pedro and back.

So, this morning, my good friend Kenny Holt and I took a few hours off and set off bright and early, expected only to be home in time for lunch. Kenny very graciously lent me his zoom lens and here are some of the day's spoils.





Friday, November 5, 2010

Saturday Post -- 06/11/10

We've just returned from our 6-monthly review meeting with the FT board, where we had the chance to discuss our plans for 2011. No messing around, here's a breakdown.

One of my main tasks this year has been to organise and promote the use of FT's library. I started out enthusiastically here, putting the books in order (it was that bad) but time has constrained me from doing more, such as assembling an index and acquiring texts. Therefore, I'll be re-focusing my energies here, as well as promoting titles which may be of use to people at the morning meditations. We have a great wealth of texts but little awareness among the staff of their benefits at the moment.

Additionally, FT's community education ministry, which takes place among local children and those who live with their parents in Trinidad's prisons, is somewhat short-handed at the moment in terms of staff, and so I've been asked to come on board to advise Samy Gutierrez (who regular blog readers will be familiar with) and assist in running the classes, which take place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons.

Aside from these developments, I'll be pressing on with the website, tweaking the English classes to encourage a greater uptake next year, and continuing with my usual church commitments.

As mentioned last week, Amanda's language classes have just come to an end, freeing up her morning schedule, which she will now primarily devote to administrative tasks in the Health Area, including working on compiling the data for a Beni-wide survey which FT embarked on in 2009. There may also be an opening for her to take on a more hands-on role in FT's audiology work, supporting audiologist Odalis Arce, who could do with a hand at the moment. That possibility will be run by the general assembly later this month.

As Diego mentioned in the meeting, those days when we moaned about not having much to do seem like a long, long time ago now. But we're excited about our new range of tasks and looking forward to what the Lord has in store for us.

Looking forward has been the theme of the week, with a surgical campaña kicking off next week, for a fortnight. Unlike the campaña back in May, this one is a general ENT campaña and a team of surgeons from Spain will be here to support Diego and the staff, including Amanda. With around 6-7 cases per day, and Amanda often required well into the evening in post-surgery, I'm already mapping out my diet of televised sport and war movies for the fortnight. Before that, though, I'm due to preach this Sunday, so please be praying for that.

Prayer
• For patience and flexibility for both of us as we adapt to our new schedule.
• For Craig as he preaches this Sunday from 1 Samuel 22.
• For Amanda as she prepares to work two solid weeks with the surgical campaña.

Praise
• For a productive meeting this afternoon.
• For meeting various administrative end-of-month deadlines this week.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saturday Post -- 30/10/10


We were engaged in much merriment yesterday (Friday) as, together with the rest of the Fundación Totaí staff, we marked FT's sixth anniversary. The above picture shows FT staff and various family members at the official climax of the day's festivities. It was a good opportunity to consider how far FT has come and the Lord's provision over the years.

I say official climax as my favourite bit of the afternoon came later on, when about a dozen of the workers got changed and had a game of football out on the field outside our house. Believe it or not, this was my first proper kickabout since we came to Trinidad nine months ago and therefore embraced by yours truly with no little fervour, though admittedly no large flair. Indeed, if you're a secondary English teacher and you're in need of a simple, easy-to-understand definition of irony for your pupils, a simple photograph of me in my Barcelona 'Messi' shirt would be of immense benefit. Forgive me, Lionel, for I have sinned.

Nevertheless, a great time was had by all, not least the opposition goalie. This week also marked the climax of our Spanish classes with Farid, with Amanda concluding her lessons on Wednesday -- though, of course, the learning has only just begun! Cheesy, that, but true. We're glad that, with a freer morning schedule, Amanda will have more opportunities to learn in practical, everyday situations in the workplace. And we're particularly glad for the relationship we've been able to build with our young teacher over these past months, and will certainly be looking to maintain that friendship in the years to come.

On that subject, I was able to take advantage of our newly-turbo-charged internet speed earlier this week to meet, via Skype, my uni flatmate of two years, Dave Vinton, who like ourselves has recently left familiar shores to serve in a new environment -- though in many ways, it couldn't be any more different than Trinidad. Dave, originally from Bath, is working as assistant pastor at Grace Church in Greenwich, Connecticut or, in his own words 'the Tunbridge Wells of the USA'. Just 30 minutes' drive from New York City, Greenwich is America's unofficial hedge fund capital and home to some of the world's big economic players. Like ourselves, adjustment to the new culture has its ups and downs, but he is relishing this new opportunity. For all that our respective 'fields' are in such contrast with one another, I was intrigued to realise, as I chatted to Dave that, in many ways, we face similar hurdles to the gospel, particularly with regard to the whole concept of salvation by grace and not works (admittedly, something that none of us will ever truly grasp this side of Glory). Here the root of that confusion is centuries of Roman Catholic influence; up there, men and women who have gotten where they are in life by being very, very good at what they do.

I really appreciated getting back in touch with an old friend -- you have no idea of the encouragement that that sort of contact can be to us down here. I heartily commend his ministry to you and direct you to his own website, which details his work.

http://davevinton.blogspot.com/

Prayer
• For both of us, that with our formal language training now at an end, we would not slacken off in our Spanish studies.
• For Amanda, who has taken on further administrative tasks this week as part of her work, that she would keep afloat among the paperwork.

Praise
• For big progress this week on the new FT website, which Craig is developing.
• For some great opportunities to spend time with friends this week, be they work colleagues or old pals from home.

¡Qué Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, October 22, 2010

Saturday Post -- 23/10/10





As you can see from the pictures, above, we've been out and about with a local family this week, spending time on Sunday afternoon with Sammy & Nayara Gutierrez and their family. Way back in the dim and distant past -- or, to be more precise, the '90s -- my parents elected to sponsor a child at La Palmera school in Trinidad, where I was to later on spend my gap year in 2000/1. That child turned out to be Sammy Gutierrez Jr. and he is pictured, from 2003, in the first photograph. Through this sponsorship, our two families became very close, with my parents visiting them on a couple of occasions over the years, and Amanda and I had long been planning to meet with them again.

So we were naturally delighted to accept their invitation for lunch on Sunday past. Only I wasn't mentally prepared to meet the man standing next to me in the second photograph. Sammy is now studying civil engineering at university and is a martial arts specialist. I don't know about Amanda, but with those kind of credentials I'm not planning on calling him 'Junior' any time soon.

It was a real thrill to us to hear of his and the family's progress, with one development towering, Sammy Jr-like, above all else: Sammy and Nayara's coming to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Nayara was first, accepting her need of a saviour four years ago at a church meeting she'd been invited to. But, typical bloke, Sammy dug his heels in, all the time going further down the road of alcohol abuse, until, about a year ago, he finally gave in. And not a drop has passed his lips in the time since. As turnarounds go, it's positively Rooney-like. Not only that, but he's since joined FT and is working as a teacher as part of the Community ministry here. This helps him in two ways: firstly, he gets the encouragement of working alongside other Christians; and secondly, he's not under the same pressure to do so many gigs with his band on the Trinidad party circuit, where liquid temptations abound.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Amanda's been out and about in the community with the nurses again while I've been back working on the website after meeting Diego to discuss some further updates this week. We were also able to get back out to San Pedro for another follow-up visit, this time with Amanda coming along as part of the health team.

I have to dash now as the Friday English class is starting soon, but I'll close in the usual fashion...

Prayer
• For the construction work required to complete the next phase of FT HQ, required in time for the next surgical campaña in two weeks’ time, in which Amanda will be heavily involved.
• For Craig as he seeks to get the new website live as soon as possible.

Praise
• For the arrival of our newly-fixed computer, which we’d left in La Paz last month for repairs.
• For a great afternoon of catching up and fellowship with the Gutierrez family on Sunday.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saturday Post -- 16/10/10

When I set out to blog our goings-on on a weekly basis, I opted for the monicker of 'The Saturday Post', despite aiming to write it on a Friday afternoon of every week. Two reasons led me to this point: firstly, the British readers probably wouldn't get the chance to see it till Saturday anyway; and secondly, it gave me breathing-space so that if I forgot about it on the Friday, I could still get it posted on time.

Well, I think I've done rather well in the sense that it's taken me about nine months to completely forget to post our update on the Friday afternoon. However, being a little pressed for time, I'll need to make it a brief one. Work-wise, I managed to prepare materials for the remaining English classes of the year, while Amanda spent a couple of days at the school where health checks have been carried out. They're doubling their efforts now because they want to get the whole school seen to by the end of the year.

Outside of work, things have been fairly quiet, though we've been able to harness the power of the internet to our advantage in our recreational time. Since we came down here, one of the biggest adjustments has been the lack of books we have at our disposal. Even in subsequent deliveries from Scotland, it's been a struggle to get a lot of texts down here as they take up so much space and weight. However, if you have a Mac (as we do) I discovered this week that it's possible to download a 'Kindle for Mac' device from Amazon, meaning you can read on your computer -- no substitute for the real thing, of course, but as good as we'll get here. Not only that, but they have a million or so classics available to download to your device without having to pay a penny. I'm hoping to read Middlemarch in the next few weeks. We'd also been lamenting our lack of board games. Again, we had to resort to the computer, but we've managed to find a couple of pretty decent versions of probably my two all-time favourites, Risk and Monopoly.

I'd mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we were due to host the Gutierrez family, whom my family have known for some years. Unfortunately they weren't able to come but they insisted that we join them for Sunday lunch this weekend. So we're really looking forward to spending some time with Sammy & Nayara, who only a few years ago came to a saving faith, and their children.

I'm without any preaching or meditations commitments for the next couple of weeks, so I'm hoping to use the slight slackness in the schedule just to get my thinking cap on and pray for wisdom as to the direction of the area of Education at FT. Prayer appreciated.

Prayer
• For Amanda and the team working in the local school, that they may be able to check all children by the year’s end.
• For another visit to San Pedro, site of the five-day club in July, on Tuesday afternoon, for a couple of hours of games and teaching.

Praise
• For a productive week at work for both of us.
• For finding practical solutions to our leisure needs. May seem trivial, but it makes a huge difference in a town that lacks even a library.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, October 8, 2010

Saturday Post -- 09/10/10

Many thanks for your prayers this week for my time leading the meditations in the mornings at FT. Our focus for the week was the final few verses of chapter 7 or 2 Corinthians, a somewhat complex passage exploring the ins-and-outs of the various politics between Paul and the church in Corinth. However, with the Lord's help I was able to draw out some basic points, such as today when we focused on Paul's joy in being proven correct to Titus with regard to the church, not a joy that came from some sense of personal vindication so much as the joy of being seen to be a man of integrity and the glory that it consequently brought to God. Being someone of integrity is something I've been thinking a lot about recently. Never in my life have I been placed on such a pedestal as I am here, delivering sermons and meditations on a pretty regular basis. With broken homes everywhere we turn, men of integrity are lacking and, therefore, when someone can teach from the Bible, people take notice. But I'm so aware of my shortcomings too -- if the folk who come to our church every week, mostly young people, had a sneak peek into my thought life, for example, I'd be run out of town!

I would hate to stand before the Lord on that Day, telling him about all the ways I pointed my brothers and sisters in the direction of holiness, only to be interrupted as he queries, "Holiness, eh? That's all well and good. But what about that rubbish you allowed yourself to binge on every night on the telly?" or something to that effect. At times this world turns my head in all directions but, if I'm honest with myself, the last thing I wish is to join the Pharisees in the Society of Hypocrites.

One thing integrity means is consistency of character in our relationships, be they with believers or not, and Amanda and I have certainly been encouraged in this regard with a couple called Omar & Lucy, who live just around the corner from us. We got to know Omar & Lucy -- who have two daughters -- through Diego & Jo, with Omar a regular now at fronton every Saturday morning. When we got a call last month out of the blue on Amanda's birthday, asking us if we'd come round for lunch at their place to celebrate, we knew the Lord was establishing a close bond between us. We've been able to use the relationship to witness to them as a couple and, at the same time, they've started coming as a family to the church's Bible studies on a Thursday night. KC came to me today to let me know that she was looking to start a one-on-one Bible study in the book of John with Lucy and she was wondering if I'd be interested in doing something with Omar, given our friendship. So we're hoping to have something up and running, possibly as early as next week. Please be praying for this great opportunity.

As mentioned last week, administration has dominated recent days, however, the English classes have not gone by the wayside and they reached a landmark this week with the first exam for the Wednesday group (the Friday group are a week behind due to local holidays). It appears that all students passed, so some encouragement there to keep pressing on. At the same time, as we're currently planning for 2011, I'm looking to make a few changes to the classes, specifically shorter, more bite-sized modules throughout the year that will, Lord-willing, encourage a higher uptake. Believe it or not, certificates still have great power here -- people love nothing more than to display a fancy bit of paper on their wall. The classes continue until the end of this year, but our cross-cultural lessons show no sign of abating.

Prayer
• For our time with Farid, our language teacher, as he comes to visit us this evening. The other week he was asking Amanda about the Reformation and it’s led to some encouraging conversations.
• For the study with Omar, that the Lord will use it to deepen our friendship and, ultimately, bring Omar to a saving faith.

Praise
• For a real sense this week of friendships being strengthened – it’s been a great encouragement.
• For the Lord’s guidance this past week as I preached on Sunday and shared in the mornings.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, October 1, 2010

Saturday Post -- 02/10/10


"Administration. Administration. Administration." With apologies to Tony Blair, that has been the theme of the working week. In October of each year, the initial budgets for the forthcoming calendar year are prepared, so I've spent a good chunk of the week trying to plan for the Education division of FT next year. While hours spent in front of Microsoft Excel ain't exactly my cup of tea, it's provided a good opportunity to think about what direction the Lord is leading us in as a division. Excel is par for the course for Amanda, of course, and she's been supporting the nursing staff with that side of things this week.

Still, it's not all been spreadsheets. On Tuesday, a group of FT workers, including myself, headed back to San Pedro, where July's five-day club had been held, to spend another afternoon with the local children. We had no idea what to expect (despite our advanced warnings they had no idea we were coming) and we were met by only a handful at first, but as the afternoon wore on, a steady trickle of local kids got wind of the activity and, in the end, some 60 young people turned up -- as many as, if not more than, the group that came regularly in July. I led some singing, the Sports division led some games and Kenny gave 'em the gospel!

It was no easy afternoon, mind you, given the weather of the past week or so. Unfortunately, the smoke has reared its ugly head yet again and Trinidad remains smothered in the stuff. This, added to some unseasonably warm weather (spring only began about 10 days ago) combined to send temperatures into the high-30s for a good week or so. At times it was just about unbearable, creating that vicious cycle whereby the heat drains any energy you have, yet the nights are so stuffy that sleep is a major challenge. However, we have to remind ourselves that we, at least, have the benefit of fans in our home, something which most families around here simply cannot afford.

And speaking of family, I had the chance to speak to mine yesterday, 'face-to-face', via Skype. Hardly newsworthy in the developed world, but a recent hike in internet speeds has made a big difference of late and it was a thrill to be able to add vision to the sound. So, if there are any Skype users out there who fancy a chin-wag some time, our screenname is slybacon75. Look forward to it!

A fair few prayer points this week...

Prayer
• For lunchtime on Sunday afternoon, when we’re inviting over Samy & Nayara Gutierrez and their family, old friends of ours and recently-born again Christians.
• For Paris, not the city (though I’m not stopping you) but a physio at FT (pictured, top) with whom Craig has been sharing his faith recently.
• For Craig and his fairly hefty teaching load – preaching on Sunday and leading the morning meditations this week.
• For the morning meditations, not just this week but all weeks. A good number of FT workers aren’t believers and this is, for most, the only regular Christian input they receive. Pray that they would come to understand the reason for our work here and come to know Jesus as their personal saviour.
• For both of us as we trawl through the end-of-year administration.

Praise
• For the recent opening with Paris (see above).
• For a south wind which has decreased temperatures significantly from the furnace-like heights of earlier in the week.
• For being able to chat with the family this week.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, September 24, 2010

Saturday Post Travel-Log Special -- 25/09/10

While on our trip, I spent about half an hour each evening scribbling down the events of the day, for the benefit of my generally useless memory. I wrote to no other audience but myself, so I'm not sure how interesting the following will prove to the casual reader, but I reckoned it would at least make for a slightly different Saturday Post this week. Just edited highlights here. I'll try to post some more pictures, too, over the next few days.

As for prayer this week, give thanks for the refreshing time we had while away and pray for energy and renewed vision as we adjust back to the working day here in Trinidad.

Saturday, 11th of September
• Arrive in La Paz around 2:30pm. Stepping off the plane is like walking into a fridge with the light left on. Wonderful.
• After a short hunt, locate our base for the majority of the week: Hotel Fuentes on Calle Linares, a street in the heart of the touristy (and hilly!) San Francisco district of town. The woman at the hotel tells us a room with a double bed is available for only one evening. I explain that she’d told me otherwise on the phone. Sure enough, we get the room for three nights. I’m reminded that we may be in a very different city, but we’re still in Bolivia.
• We take a micro [La Paz’s main form of transport, mini-vans which struggle up and down the hills] to Wagamama – not that one, but an independent Japanese restaurant in town. It’s our first taste of Eastern cuisine since arriving in Bolivia and well worth the wait – subtle flavours I’d forgotten even existed take an extremely powerful hold.

The street just outside our hotel. Chocos abound.



Sunday, 12th of September
• A patchy night’s sleep, to be expected as part of the adjustment to high altitude.
• At breakfast in the hotel, I take my first cup of coca leaf tea this holiday, and Amanda her first ever. It’s a tad bitter, but a tried and tested guard against altitude sickness, though of course, it has been known to have other uses.
• A marathon of a service at El Jireh church in the city [home to Pastor Juan Antonio Maldonado, old friend of FT and the church’s namesake here in Trinidad]. The Lord’s Supper takes up the first 90 minutes, though with a markedly different feel to what I’m used to. Worship songs are repeated over and over, with a very lively, quasi-Hebrew feel to things. Later, I’m invited to address the church on behalf of the church in Trinidad. As in Trinidad, the children come up to the front to sing before heading to their Sunday school, only here they also fight for the microphone to recite huge chunks of Scripture – as in, full Psalms/chapters. It is truly inspiring stuff. We leave at around 12:45pm, some four hours after arriving.
• After fevered anticipation, we head straight to ‘Burger King’ on the Prado. But it takes only a few bites for the excitement to dissipate as we contemplate the poor quality grub at non-Third World-adjusted prices.
• After a post-lunch siesta, we take a micro down the hill [up is the only other direction in La Paz] to catch the 5pm showing of ‘Inception’ at a recently-opened multiplex. We’d heard snatches of information about it beforehand but nothing could have prepared us for the reality (or is it?!). Mesmerising, the best film we’ve seen in a very long time.

Monday, 13th of September
• This morning we aim to get our sole FT-related business out of the way and we make tracks for the Bible Societies shop round the corner from our hotel. There, we spend the morning picking out tracts for FT and the church, with the bargain prices (around 10p per tract) meaning we only just make it out before lunchtime closing.
• My watch stopped working a few months ago and had been planning on getting a new one here for some time, so we wander down the Prado to a watch shop recommended by the hotel manager. Inevitably, genuine models are thin on the ground (‘Rolexes’ come at missionary-friendly prices), though at least here, the woman has the decency to declare her forgeries (not usually the case back in Trinidad). I pick up a nice Casio (never let me down) which comes with a guarantee. When I ask for the guarantee, I’m told it’s etched into the reverse of the watchface. Sense any further effort may be in vain.
• We get a taxi to a street market (again recommended by our hotel manager, whose Super Mario-like appearance betrays a genuine affability and desire to please). Amanda picks up a set of kitchen scales and a vegetable steamer – like decent watches, these are, again, impossible to find in Trinidad. [trust readers are getting a sense of just how exciting the ‘little things’ have become to us over the last year]
• Pop into a restaurant next door to the hotel. It’s quiet, but serves a good, traditional set menu, which results in my first llama steak of the holiday.
• Super-sized jugos (fruity, South American milkshakes) nearly cause us to keel over, so we take another much-needed stroll down the Prado, browsing the various fake DVD stands and shoe shops. On way back to hotel, we nip into ‘Oliver’s Travels’, La Paz’s token British bar, though I’m the only British customer. Nonetheless, we enjoy the closing games of the US Open final while bantering with staff (both Brits) about all things La Paz.

Tuesday, 14th of September
• Both showered and changed by 7:15am. We check out and catch a micro heading to the cemetery, where buses leave for Copacabana.
• The four-hour bus journey is as spectacular as usual, though desperation to urinate [my bladder shrunk considerably at high altitude] dampens the excitement somewhat. With hindsight, a gigantic lake perhaps not the most comforting scenery.
• We arrive in Copacabana at the back of noon [there was a toilet stop an hour earlier, thankfully]. A bit of a hike to our hotel but we are duly rewarded for our effort. A specatacular lake view is afforded from the gardens. We swing in the hammocks for a while before lunch.
• We toddle up and down the streets [funny how high altitude is never flat] of Copacabana, reminded of just what a far-out place it can be. Hippy-inclined chocos abound.
• Amanda suggests we rent a pedalos. We mess around in the boat for half an hour and I get some good pictures of reed boats [Titicaca’s signature vessel] in the process. We spend the remainder of the afternoon sourcing ice cream and visiting Copacabana’s striking cathedral.
• Amanda takes pictures of Copacabana’s ‘Museum of the Poncho’ for the benefit of her sister, Jessica (who hates ponchos).
• As ever, I’m up for a climb, with Cerro Calvario [one of the twin hills which book-end the town] positively calling my name. Amanda suggests we wait until sunset and it proves a stellar call. The walk up the hill is, once again, breathtaking, if only in a medical sense. But the end justifies the means, with the best view I can remember in a long time. I get a fair few sunset shots.

The two of us on Isla del Sol.


Wednesday, 15th of September
• Get down to beach in time to catch our boat to Isla del Sol. We manage to get seats on the upper deck and, naturally, I take a sackload of pictures.
• We arrive at northern port of the island, Challapampa. With time fairly short, we’re keen to set off alone but we’ve been ambushed by a local tour guide who won’t let us buy tickets for the island’s Inca sites until we’ve listened to him describe his (pricey) tour to us.
• We manage to sneak away and, while walking, meet a couple of French-Canadian chaps, one of whom expresses an interest in coming to Trinidad to volunteer at FT. We stop at the island’s main Inca site before walking another 15 minutes to the summit of the hill at the north-west point of the island. There are stunning views all around – well worth the effort.
• Next stop on the boat is Yumani and the island’s Inca Stairwell. We rest here for 30 minutes and are reunited with our Québécoises friends.
• At 3.30pm, we start heading home, stopping off at the final ruin on the island on the way, where I take a photo of a llama and am then promptly charged one Boliviano for the privilege – after our tour guide experience and now this, I find it sad that such a striking wilderness is increasingly bearing the hallmarks of a tourist trap.
• On the boat back to Copacabana, we chat with a young couple from London who have been travelling in South America since January. Midway through a footballing conversation, the guy’s backpack slides off the top of the boat and into the water! Our driver turns back and we manage to salvage it. The contents dry quickly in the high-altitude sun. Mercifully, no important documents were contained therein.

Thursday, 16th of September
• This is the travel log entry that very nearly didn’t happen, as sure enough, my traditional disaster-moment of the holiday reared its ugly head.
• We’d showered and packed and while Amanda was getting ready, I stepped outside into the hotel garden to drink in Lake Titicaca one last time.
• After breakfast in the hotel we headed, with bags, to Copacabana’s main bus stop. We locate a reasonably comfortable micro due to leave at 9am. We pay and board.
• Amanda makes a reference to last night and my thoughts turn to my travel log entry. I suddenly realise the notebook is still in the hotel, with only five minutes until our departure. Amanda suggests we try to get a refund and take a 10am bus. Inevitably, and despite the crowds looking to travel to La Paz that day, the driver isn’t interested [the customer is never right in Bolivia].
• The driver, therefore, gives me five minutes to get to the hotel and back. The hotel’s a mere five minute stroll from the plaza, so it should technically not be a problem. I sprint and get there within two minutes, but the altitude takes its toll. I somehow get back to the bus on time but am severely winded for the best part of an hour!
• When we get back to our La Paz base, everything is in order and our suitcase is ready to be claimed from safe storage. We’re a floor higher this time (such insignificant details take on a whole new meaning at this altitude).
• We walk to bookshop ‘Los Amigos del Libro’, which, according to our guidebook, stocks the biggest range of English-language texts in the city. That ‘range’, it turns out, consists of two dusty old boxes of self-help manuals. I figure the Atkins diet can wait a few years yet.
• We catch a trufi [a regular-sized car, like a taxi, but picking up multiple passengers] to take us (and four others!) to La Paz’s much-heralded ‘Megacenter’ shopping mall. Our hope is to spend some of Amanda’s birthday money before catching a film later. Alas, the prices are stratospheric, the whole experience only serves to remind us that Bolivia has no middle-class.
• Our film, ‘Salt’ is utter nonsense, yet engagingly twisty throughout, complete with a sequel-ready climax.
• We get back to San Francisco and scale the hill back to our hotel. The climb has definitely gotten a lot easier since leaving Copacabana.

Friday, 17th of September
• The plan had been to go to Tiwanaku today [a major Inca site just outside La Paz] but as soon as we got back from Copacabana yesterday, the thought of sitting on a minibus for another couple of hours completely lost its appeal. Therefore, with added urgency after last night’s ‘Megacenter’ disappointment, today was designated ‘shopping day’. Amanda duly obliges.
• We head to Mercado Buenos Aires, which covers 30 square blocks and appears to have no end. Need I say, it goes up a big hill?
• We dump the morning’s spoils in the hotel room and then proceed to ‘Oliver’s Travels’ for lunch, where I become the first customer ever to purchase Irn-Bru!

A view over Valle de la Luna looking towards 'The Devil's Molar'.



Saturday, 18th of September.
• A typical last day of the holiday. That strange mixture of longing for things not to end countered by the sense of impending closure. Nonetheless, we make the most of it.
• After breakfast, we return to the cemetery to catch a micro heading in the direction of Copacabana – on Tuesday, I’d noticed the photographic potential of the view as we ascended La Paz’s canyon, with some stunning views of the city with the snow-drenched peak of Illimani in the background. Unfortunately, the view today is severely obscured due to mist. We take some pictures nevertheless. It’s more than a little unnerving being so high, mind you.
• Finally we land our sole English-language book of the trip, Amanda finding a 1956 [the year my Dad was born – talk about old!] edition of Daphne du Maurier’s ‘The Scapegoat’ in the market for 15 Bolivianos [should explain here that Bolivianos is the currency – we’re not in the business of slave-trading].
• After lunch (over Sunderland v Arsenal in the ‘teatime kickoff’) we make tracks for Valle de la Luna, a journey which takes 50 minutes or so on a big, hulking, snail-like bus (formerly used to transport schoolchildren in Virginia, it appears). But we’re well rewarded when we get there – a truly spectacular sight. We take endless photos, the late-afternoon Light adding to the beauty. From viewpoints over the craters, I can’t help but notice a sliver of green in the distance: La Paz golf club, the world’s highest, so they say.
• We dither over going to see the golf club for ourselves (rumours are it’s ultra-exclusive) but in true last-day-of-holiday spirit, we reckon, “why not?” and find a taxi driver who can at least take us to the gate.
• We manage not only that, but receive a guided tour of the clubhouse from a helpful young woman. I manage to sneak a few shots of the 1st/18th. Looks a great course in a spectacular backdrop. I make a casual inquiry re. membership, expecting to be rebuffed. A lifetime membership will cost you $4000, steep here but a bargain compared to many inferior courses back home. We take a bus back to the city to enjoy our last La Paz meal and pack our bags for our Sunday morning flight home.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More pics

This is the last batch of pictures I'll be posting here. If you have Facebook, I'm in the process of arranging a more complete album there. Thanks.

Fellow travellers on the road back to La Paz from the Lake.



A view of the city from our hotel.



San Francisco market, just round the corner from our hotel, known as 'gringo alley' for its abundance of Bolivian arts & crafts and the tourists that flock to buy them. Guilty as charged, before you ask.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Photo finish (3)

Started uploading these just as pre-boarding was announced. Home now in Trinidad, as I post. More to come later this week, though sadly the internet speeds here (nor our blogging account size) will allow us to do photographic justice to a great trip.

On the two-hour boat ride to Lake Titicaca's Isla del Sol.



An Inca settlement overlooks the lake (that's Peru in the background).


The view over the lake from the northernmost peak on the island. Can you spot the mountains in the distance?

Photo finish (2)

Copacabana's cathedral, one of the most spectacular in South America. Weirdly, locals come here every Saturday to have their cars blessed by dousing them in pure alcohol.



Overlooking Copacabana from hill Cerro Calvario (the town, with its beach and bookending peaks, would lend its name to the bay in Brazil).


No explanation necessary.

Photo finish (1)

Reckoned there are worse ways to spend our extended layover in Cochabamba airport on the way back from our trip (Trinidad currently engulfed in thick smoke) than to upload a few pictures from our trip. Will be posting some prose later in the week, as usual.

Amanda posing on the La Paz's Prado, the main street running through the city centre.



Amanda again, this time swinging on a hammock at our hotel in Copacabana, overlooking Lake Titicaca.



A reed boat, typical of Lake Titicaca.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Saturday Post -- 11/09/10


We’re both going on a somewhat holiday. Tomorrow lunchtime we’ll be vacating the Trinidad region for the first time since we arrived back in January and flying to La Paz. Our intention was to take a break from our life and work in Trinidad and, location-wise, we couldn’t have done much better. A vast metropolis set at a height of over 3500 metres above sea level and nestled within a dramatic crater (Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon would not be an unseemly landing vehicle), La Paz provides a stark contrast to the hot jungle lowlands of the Beni region. Weather-wise, meanwhile, it won over this Scotsman long ago. 20 celsius would be a pleasant day (though the proximity to the sun can make it feel warmer) with temperatures plummeting to zero or below in the evening. Needless to say, as oxygen lacks, hills abound, so a few days’ acclimatisation are essential.

Culturally, things are no less distinct from the Latin-infused Trinidad. La Paz is the main hub of the majority Aymara population of Bolivia, who descend from the country’s native Indians. Women in bowler hats carrying babies in their back-pouch can be seen trundling up and down the streets all over the city. Vibrant arts and crafts are furnished and sold at many a street corner. And rare is the restaurant meal which isn’t interrupted by a folk band thrashing their charangos (a Bolivian variation of the mandolin) and beating a drum.

All of which will be wonderful. But I’m not going to lie to you. Probably the thing we’re most looking forward to about La Paz is that, as a big city, it provides many of the amenities we took for granted back in Glasgow. It has bookshops. It has a multiplex cinema. It has Burger Kings – I’m not even sure if I’ve visited a Burger King this millennium, but all of a sudden the thought of a Whopper prompts me to reach for my bib.

It’s a ‘somewhat holiday’ as we have items of business to attend to but we’ve managed to keep these to a minimum; one being to purchase tracts for Fundación Totaí – a simple and effective way of ministering to those who pass through our doors every day – and the other is sourcing a new laptop to replace our faithful Macbook, which processed its last megabyte a few weeks ago. This coming Sunday, we’re hoping to pay a visit to the church of a chap called Juan Antonio, an old friend of the church here, whom we’ve heard so much about over the last few months.

On Tuesday, we’re going to take a three-hour bus trip up to Copacabana – not the beach in Rio but the original town from which it took the name. As a small town it’s worth a visit in itself, but the big attraction is the body of water it sits upon, the largest in South America at 190 km long and, at 3,810 metres altitude, the highest of its size in the world. I refer to Lake Titicaca, shared by Bolivia and Peru, as close to the sea as you’ll get here, but what a substitute! The navy blue water gleams like a diamond on the usually sunny days up there and is surrounded by some dramatic mountainous scenery. While we’re there, we hope to do something else we were getting used to back home, albeit, a lot more healthy than an XL bacon double cheeseburger: walking. The Isla del Sol, a two-hour boat ride from Copacabana, is home to some well-preserved Inca ruins and some excellent paths for exploring.

So much to look forward to, and you can probably sense my excitement, but above all, we just want to have a relaxing week and re-charge the batteries for the end of the calendar year, which we’re led to believe is usually the most hectic period at FT. And we hope that, in the moments of solitude in our hotel room, in a boat or on the road, the Lord will continue to reveal his plan for us and our work here in this country, where the myriad of spectacular landscapes provide a backdrop to corruption at all levels of society and rabid superstition (of which more when we return).

No post, then, next weekend, but I’ll be sure to regale our readership with photos and anecdotes when we return. God bless you in whatever situation you find yourself in right now.

Prayer
• For safety as we fly to La Paz – the smoke of a few weeks ago has returned to a lesser extent than previously. Flights are operating to the best of our knowledge.
• For a relaxing time away from Trinidad, and a renewed vision for our work.

Praise
• For Craig’s sermon on Sunday – really felt the Lord’s guidance as I addressed a difficult topic.
• For successful completion of all the usual end-of-month admin tasks.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, September 3, 2010

Saturday Post -- 04/09/10

Blog readers who question the power of prayer may wish to take note of events 48 hours after our previous entry. You’ll remember we’d requested prayer for rain over Bolivia, a hitherto unknown quantity for some three or four months. On Sunday evening, a downpour ensued and has been followed by two further storms (one of which caused Amanda to literally jump out of bed the other night).

The immediate benefits are obvious. Night driving is no longer the hazard it was and the colours of Trinidad are on show again. Looking out our kitchen window, we can see rich shades of green in the dense jungle that we’d forgotten existed. And the airports are fully functioning again, meaning that we should be able to travel to La Paz next weekend for our week in the Altiplano of Bolivia.

And longer-term, the smoke’s recession means stress-free breathing and an end to that feeling that you’ve woken up in the middle of the Marlboro factory. Happily, though heavy, the rains weren’t so prolonged as to cause any significant flooding or damage to properties – many properties here, of course, being a simple combination of sticks and tarpaulin.

I got an insight into just such housing while driving FT’s ambulance earlier this week. Recently I’ve been charged with going twice a week to a clinic on the other side of town to pick up some children who come to FT for physiotherapy care. The uptake, however, had tailed off in recent weeks and so our physio, Paris, was keen to accompany me as we opted to drive directly to the doorsteps of many needy patients. We drove through one barrio to pick up some cases that I hadn’t even known existed before though it soon became clear why Trinidad’s town councillors would be unlikely to make a song and dance about it. While waiting outside one house, Paris pointed out to me the adjacent cuneta (sewer) where, just a couple of weeks back, he’d spotted a live alligator!

With a team from FT on the annual “Oye Bolivia” trip north, the usual health excursions have been sidelined this week so Amanda has been mostly based at headquarters while I’ve mostly focused my attention on my sermon this Sunday from 3 John 9-11. Our usual church/youth responsibilities will make for another busy weekend, though quiet weekends have long been a thing of the past (which is why we’re planning on being away for two of them in a couple of weeks). But with Amanda’s 25th birthday falling on Saturday, I’m sure we’ll find time to enjoy ourselves.

Prayer
• For Craig as he preaches on Sunday.
• For continued refreshment from above – i.e., rain.

Praise
• For the week’s showers.
• For the opportunity to help isolated physio cases this week.

¡Qué Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Friday, August 27, 2010

Saturday Post -- 28/08/10


Something pretty amazing happened this morning. I was sitting in the car in the queue for the petrol pump, minding my own business, when some chancer on a motocicleta thundered in from nowhere and parked himself right in front of me in the queue. And here’s the thing: instead of ignoring this abuse of systematic restraint, the pump attendant proceeded to waggle her finger at him like a mother to a naughty child and, at which he slowly put-putted away, head down, lesson learned.

Please excuse my seemingly disproportionate levels of excitement, but round here, people don’t so much queue as elbow their way to the front, like John Prescott at a buffet. It can be thoroughly demoralising, not least because in most establishments, such loutishness is happily patronised by staff. So, when something like what occurred this morning takes place, it restores your faith in humanity a bit.

Anyway, as you can doubtless deduce from my ability to drive, I’m now leagues removed from my bed-ridden state of last week’s post, indeed, by Sunday, it was already a dim and distant memory. And I’m thankful it took place last weekend, because this weekend we’ve taken Friday and Monday off to give ourselves a short break. Indeed, after seven months of working straight, holidays are all of a sudden the new black as we’re hoping to fly to La Paz in a couple of weeks for a complete change of scene (and altitude).

And ‘hoping’ is the best way of putting it right now, because you may have read in the news that huge swathes of Bolivia are under a big black cloud right now. Winter being the dry season, this is the time of year when landowners traditionally take advantage of the arid conditions to burn down trees in order to clear space – smoke has filled the air for about two months here now. Except, in some parts of the country, the fires have been left unchecked and some 5 million acres have been wiped out. The consequences are several: the air quality is plummeting, 35 homes have been destroyed and, now that we have our very own version of the Icelandic volcano cloud, many airports (including Trinidad’s) cannot guarantee flight departures.

The government is in an awkward position, claiming it can’t afford to put the fires out from the air but so far failing to convince any regional neighbours to come and lend a hand. Of course, the US are just a phone call away, but the bridges were burnt there some time ago...

Essentially, then, we would ask that our blog followers become a little band of Elijahs and pray for rain to fall on this parched land, for the good of the people of Bolivia and, if possible, to allow us to get away for a while. We live next to FT and Trinidad is pretty isolated so in order to get a proper break from our work, travel is a must.

This week we were up to our usual tricks and I was charged with leading the meditations, taken from 2 Corinthians 5:6-15 in which Paul defends himself from accusations of selfish motives in the church on the basis that the love of Christ controls him, effectively rendering selfishness an impossibility. Would that I could say the same! A great challenge to us all and the chair in particular.

Prayer
• For rain (see above).
• For next Tuesday, when we’ll be heading back with a team to the remote town of San Pedro, to build on the work accomplished there during July’s 5-day clubs.

Praise
• For the refreshment of our mini-break – already feeling it by Friday lunchtime.
• For the never-ceasing vitality and relevance of the Word of God – something we often take for granted, yet so true this week.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda