Friday, December 31, 2010
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.
• 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.
• 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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
• 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.
• 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
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.
• 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.
• 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
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.
• 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.
• 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