Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday Post -- 24/09/16

The humble Lada: big in Bolivia.
Six years after we got the keys, and 21 years since it trundled off some Japanese production line, our car is still going. Just. In reality, years of bouncing along the ‘roads’ here and spluttering on the ever-present, engine-devouring dust, have slowly but surely taken their toll. The motor repair bills are, like so much else here, eminently affordable, but the frequency with which our 1995 Rav4 is paying visits to the mechanic means we’re probably spending as much on maintenance – if not more – as our contemporaries in the UK or Canada.

So, while we’re not really in a position to buy a replacement right now – what with home assignment just round the corner – we’re certainly considering our options. Which is why, a couple of weeks back, I got an email from our Latin Link stable-mates Graham & Debbie Frith, who run a student ministry called ‘El Alfarero’. “What do you reckon to coming through and checking out the deals at Fexpocruz [the big annual Santa Cruz trades fair]? Oh, and while you’re at it, we’re running a course at the same time that you might be interested in.”

It was all rather out of the blue, and my mother-in-law had only just arrived in the country for a month-long visit. What kind of signal would my departure for three days send? And what if she cooked that Pad Thai dish I really like while I was gone? Regardless, I showed Amanda the email, and she didn’t need much persuading. “A course on cross-cultural communication? Yeah, I think we both know you could do with some help with that, Craig!”

She was not wrong. She’s been the one rolling her eyes every time I joyfully report that the electrician said he’d come ‘right away’. She’s been the one sitting in on youth leadership meetings when, in a bid to add a dose of levity to proceedings, I have proposed non-serious solutions to genuine problems, only to be met with looks of utter perplexity. “Wait, was that another example of humor escocés, Craig?”

She was more than happy, then, to grant my release, though guarantees over the cooking or otherwise of Pad Thai in my absence were not forthcoming.

The course took place on Thursday evening, Friday evening, and all day on Saturday, and was led by Steve Hawthorne, a medical missionary from the US, currently working in Potosí. With more than two decades’ experience of living and working in Bolivia, Steve was able to draw on a wealth of practical examples to bring the theory of the course to life.

The course drew heavily from an excellent little book called ‘Foreign to Familiar’, by Sarah Lanier, an author who has lived in a wealth of international contexts. The book was required pre-reading for the course and, within a few pages, I was wishing I had been given it many years earlier. Lanier’s basic premise is that the prime cultural dividing line runs between ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ climates (there are exceptions to this, of course: parts of the USA and Latin America are climatically hot, but follow ‘cold’ practices; and most of Russia, sub-zero for a great deal of the year, generally has a ‘hot’ climate mentality). Being born and raised in a ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ climate determines greatly one’s outlook on life.

So, for example, people from hot climates tend to be more relationship-oriented than task-oriented, a largely cold-climate mentality (you even see this played out in the American South relative to the rest of the country). Those from cold climates place great stock in verbal communication, whereas those from hot climates communicate much more indirectly. If you’re from a hot climate, you’re less likely to have much of a voice in, say, a work meeting chaired by the boss (indeed, a hot-climate boss probably won’t want to hear what his subordinates have to say anyway), while cold-climate inhabitants benefit from shorter ‘power-distances’ in the workplace and elsewhere. And, of course, people from hot and cold climates have vastly different conceptions of time (to be fair, I’d grasped that point some time ago!).

These differences and others were drawn out by Steve over the three days. Above all, what he wanted the group (which mostly comprised Americans and Bolivians) to leave with, was not so much a rejection of cold-climate mentality or an unquestioning adoption of hot-climate practices, but an understanding of both and, above all, an acceptance that “I am ethnocentric.”

Many was the moment over the three days when I laid my pen down, leaned back in my chair and thought to myself: “So that’s why that happened!” So much of our experience over the last seven years began to make a lot more sense than before. Indeed, it shed great light on our current circumstances.

Amanda, for example, was dealing with a very difficult situation at work last week, in which Christian principles seemed to have gone out of the window from the person concerned; all of a sudden, grasping the greater ‘power-distances’ in the Latin American mentality, while not solving the problem, at least helped her to understand a little better where the person was coming from.

Less seriously, we have recently made the most of Amanda’s mother being here by occasionally inviting church groups or other friends over for Chinese food. Indeed, by the time I went to Santa Cruz, we had already invited a couple we know to come this past Wednesday evening. They are good friends of ours, but, without seeking to be presumptuous, I’ve often wondered why they never invite us to their place. Well, as I learned from the book and the course, an invitation to one’s home in a developing world context is taken more as a summons than a friendly gesture (indeed, on reflection, something we learned quickly here was that if you got an invitation to a birthday party that very day – as is usually the case here – you had better have a decent reason not to show up in the evening). In fact, the friendliest thing you can do in a hot-climate culture is not to invite, nor to respond to an invitation, but to show up unannounced. On one hand, dropping in on people without warning is something we have barely even considered as a couple (though in fairness, it was still fairly common in Scotland when I was a child); on the other…we have had the, “Really?! They choose this moment of all moments?!” exchange too many times to recall! (Thus informed, we informed our friends that our next encounter would be a) anything but pre-planned, and b) at their place!)

The course ended, all that remained was to head to Fexpocruz on Saturday evening in the company of the Friths and Steve. There were bargains to be had (that’s a relative term; the car market here is expensive), but we’re keeping our bank details to ourselves for now. Still, I feel I have a much better grasp of things for when we come to finally replace our current vehicle, probably next year. I will, however, surely disappoint Graham by not buying a Lada – yes, they are making a big comeback down here. Sorry: I just can’t take back all those playground jokes (Example: “Why do Ladas have heated rear-windscreens? To keep your hands warm when you have to push them.). For North American readers out there, the Lada reference is unique to late-20th century British culture. Turns out that owning Ladas was not conducive to our cold-climate predisposition to arrive at appointments on time.

  • We have booked our tickets for home assignment. Roughly, we will be in the UK in January and February, Canada in March, April and May, and back to the UK just for a couple of weeks in late May/early June. However, our travel to the UK and Canada (and possibly the USA) is visa-dependent, so pray for a positive outcome to our first visa application for Sam, which we hope to submit in November (we’ll probably just do the Canadian and American visas from the UK).
  • Our travels confirmed, the need to delegate responsibilities is brought into sharper focus. Pray for a smooth transition over the next few months.
  • Pray for wisdom for us both in our leadership duties at Fundación Totaí and our church.
  • We’re travelling to Santa Cruz as a family later this week, where we’ll have a few days’ break before saying farewell to Selene. Pray for safety in our travels and pray for our readjustment to post-Grandma life! The Chinese food has just been the start; she has been a huge help with Sam and around the house in the last few weeks. We will be coming back down to earth with a bang. Pray for ample cushioning!
  • For a beneficial few days of education and fellowship for Craig in Santa Cruz last weekend.
  • We had an encouraging prayer meeting during the week, at which one of our members (Mariana) gave a presentation on the work of Open Doors; there was a really positive response to this. She is hoping to give monthly updates at our prayer meetings.
  • We had the opportunity to go out last night as a couple, reflect on things a little and begin to think about what life out here might look like for us in the coming months and years. We found it so helpful. Pray for more such opportunities in the midst of our busyness.
  • For Selene’s visit and the encouragement this has brought us.   

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday Post - 17/09/2016

Craig is trying to get back at me for being away two weekends in a row. I mean, who really needs to go to conference on "Communications in Cross Cultural Ministry"? How could that be relevant to us at all? I know it's really about getting to eat a big, juicy Santa Cruz hamburger and getting a frappuccino at Star Bucks. Oh wait, I might be referring to myself. Oops.

So, Craig is in Santa Cruz since Thursday attending a conference on the above mentioned that he learnt about from fellow Latin Link members who are running it. I think he's really enjoying it, and I'm hoping to get all the details when he gets back. Meanwhile, I've been shamelessly abusing my Mom to pretty much do everything regarding Sam, while I try to work a bit more. I get comments from people at work like, "Does your child even recognise you anymore?", or "Child? Amanda has a child?" Ya...thanks for the guilt guys. Didn't you know that it's important to respect a woman's choice to either stay at home or go to work? Everyone at FT are completely joking of course, but the issue does come up in my mind a lot these days. Especially because I think I am the least loved on the totem pole right now. Craig always wins as he can toss Sam the highest in the air, which is the key quality in any popularity contest, but then my Mom comes in second because she's just around a lot more. I was getting so desperate for attention from my own child, that when he fell and bonked his head and hugged me aggressively for comfort, I internally though, "Score!!!" Outside I was calm and repeated, "It's okay, You're okay." Inside I was doing a happy dance. And yet, I know I need to take advantage of my Mom being here to get a lot of pending work done.

Actually, it sounds like my Mom is getting a lot more hands on work with Sam than she does with my nephew back in Canada, who is 7 months younger than Sam. Considering that Pip is now 10 months old and Mom's first attempt at changing Sam's diaper was surprisingly poor, I got the impression that she doesn't do a lot of Pip's diaper changing. All I have to say to my sister is this, "What are you thinking? What is the purpose of grandparents, if not to pass your children off to them while you go and take a nap? Get your act together and take advantage of the gift of a grandparent's presence. I have already trained Mom to put a diaper on correctly, so I'm sure she won't put one on backwards on your child!" For example, my Mom says to me yesterday, "Why don't you give me the baby monitor overnight and you can sleep in tomorrow?" To this I said, "Let's do it!", without a twinge of guilt. You come to Bolivia to visit, we put you to work. See, Jessica? See how it's done? It's easy, I promise. It only means my child has to smack his head off of things for me to get any love; it's not really too big of a price to pay. Right?

Actually, God's timing, as ever, is perfect, because the majority of my work recently has been helping our new volunteer Melissa get her application for a one-year visa together. She plans to be with us for eight months and needs a one-year visa to stay in the country. When we first arrived in Bolivia six and a half years ago we had to do the same thing, but apparently the process was so traumatising that my brain had repressed the experience completely from my subconscious and I am now experiencing like it is the first time all over again. The process involves first going to Immigration where they give you an overly complicated list of requirements to submit the visa. Then you go and try to meet these requirements by going to various other offices for the documentation. Then these offices give you a list of the paperwork you need to get for them, and the process goes on and on until you feel like you have to sign over your firstborn child to get a visa. It took us a week to get all the required documentation together for Melissa's Interpol background check, which we thankfully submitted on Tuesday, and while we're waiting over the next two weeks for that to come back, we can slowly work on the other items on the Immigration checklist. It is frustrating, expensive and time consuming, but it is the right way to go about staying in the country. All I can think about is how blessed I am to have my Mom here to watch Sam while I drive around the city from office to office like a headless chicken. Doing all this with a 17 month-old would not be fun. But then, this isn't fun anyways. I can't wait for her to get her visa so we can start the process all over again with her Identity Card.

We also had a very productive meeting this past week with all the youth leaders as we planned for our yearly camp. I love camp. I love organising it, running it and experiencing it. So as we sat down to plan the meeting that I was chairing (because camp is my thing), my first thought was that I should make sure that no one else wants to direct this year, as a courtesy, because I am nice like that. No one ever offers, which is how I got landed with it three years ago in the first place, a job which I love. However, this year someone says, "I'd like to do it," and internally I shouted, "Nooooooooo!", and continued to throw a two year-old hissy fit in my mind. I was a rock on the outside though. And as the meeting progressed I grudgingly admitted that it was a good thing, as I have no clue how I would direct a camp and Craig would lead music, etc, while someone had to watch Sam. This is just another way in which our lives have changed and we have to embrace that. We both still very much want to be involved in camp, so please pray as we figure out how to do this while being aware of Sam's needs at the same time.

Last night Melissa came over to play a board game with my Mom and I, so we had nice social evening. We decided to play Settlers, and therefore I had to teach both my Mom and Melissa how to play. I had every expectation that I would win, because I was playing against newbies, but I underestimated my Mom again. I did win, but it was close and I was panicking a bit near the end that she would actually beat me. I warned Melissa during our visa-requirement-hunting travels yesterday that my Mom will play the 'I'm just an old, Asian housewife, who doesn't know what she's doing' card, but DO NOT FALL FOR IT. I can't believe I underestimated my Mom for even 10 minutes. At the beginning of the game I explained everything to everyone and Mom listened with laser sharp focus (should have been my first clue), and then as we start she says, "You're going to have to help me as this is my first time." (Okay, that one was blatant manipulation and wasn't subtle're losing your edge, Mom, you're losing your edge). But as the game went on I forgot that it was all an act and let my guard down...until she stole my Longest Road card from me and shouted, "I beat you!" with that glint in her eye. Ya, there's the Mom we all know and love. Well, Mom that's not the end of the game; and so I actually had to pull up my socks and put in some effort, but victory was oh so sweet when I won by stealing the Longest Road card back from her. Now, who beat who? Okay, so Melissa might have been caught up in some Kearon baggage, but she was gracious about it.


  • Craig's travels as he returns to Trinidad tomorrow.
  • For Melissa's visa application.
  • For camp preparations.
  • For some difficult staff issues in the Foundation, again. 
  • For a balance between working and spending time with Sam, even though my Mom is here.

  • Sam's passport arrived and I picked it up yesterday!
  • A good camp preparation session on Tuesday night.
  • For the rest that I am getting while having my Mom here.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig, Amanda and Sam

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saturday Post -- 10/09/16

Grandma = Noodles.
Well, last Saturday was a rare, full-on blog write-off (pun fully intended) due to us being a parent down while Amanda picked up her mother from Santa Cruz, and today's not going to be much better. This morning, I (Craig) had the monthly Langham preaching class, only to return and swap the car with Amanda, who is doing the weekly grocery shop. Normally, I can rely on Selene for backup when Amanda is out. But, then again, Amanda is not normally shopping!

Selene has, of course, been a huge help since arriving last weekend; being away from her grandchild for such extended periods means that no childcare stretch is too long, and that has released us to get on with a little more work this week. That said, we are beginning to miss Sam just a little! The ample Asian cuisine is going some way to make up for that longing, mind you.

So I'd best make the most of the time I have with him right now. Here are our prayer points, and we greatly appreciate your petitions on our behalf.


  • Later this week, it's Craig's turn to hit the big smoke, as he is attending a conference on cross-cultural communication in Santa Cruz. Pray for safe travels and an encouraging few days there (this is through one of our Latin Link contacts, so we're excited that this partnership is already paying dividends).
  • Keep praying for Sam's passport application, which really should be with us by now (it is not!).
  • Pray for guidance in our various discipleship relationships, and for 'feeding' for ourselves.
  • For wisdom in decision-making in our respective leadership positions at the Foundation and the church.
  • Give thanks for Selene's safe arrival in Bolivia, and for the massive support she has already provided us; three more weeks await!
  • For our latest volunteer, Melissa Olmstead, who is settling in well having arrived here nearly two weeks ago. 
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda