I heard about the bombings in Boston last Wednesday when I was away at a little religious community at the edge of the city of Santo Domingo. The man who is the head of the community mentioned it when he found out I was from Boston. The power and internet go out frequently here, so that keeping up can sometimes be tough. I wasn't able to catch up with the news until Thursday, and since then I've tried to stay on top of what's happened in Boston. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone back home, I'm accompanying you from a distance! I'm glad they were able to catch the second suspect alive, and I'm sorry that the other is dead, that there's another death. It seems that everyone is a victim in all of this. What evil can do when it is reflected and grown… I hope there can be true reconciliation and healing for all involved, and the hope of the resurrection when we can find a way to listen to God speak in these events.
I do wonder, what was it like to be in "shelter in place" there?
For a day and a half, I stayed in a little religious community in Santo Domingo called Agnus Dei. They are based out of Germany, and are laypeople who live in community in poor areas. They have a main house on their property with several huts where the members of the community and live and where guests can stay. Here's the reception area. It's all built by the community itself.
One of the living huts:
The outhouse bathroom:
And then you reach the gates to the area of the chapel:
Inside the chapel there is perpetual Eucharistic Adoration.
Since they were having some security problems of late, I slept above the sacristy (in the picture). Padre Finbarr, who had also stayed, slept in the sacristy below!
It was good to have a day of recollection, away from activity and with God, especially before the school year begins and time will be tighter … "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile." (Mk 6:31)
A few weekends ago, a bunch of the leaders from the parish went with Padre Martin to the beach and I got scorched. I mean, big time scorched. For about 5 days, I was a walking zombie, because any clothes on my body was like torture. It was like I was wearing burning shirts all week. How did this happen? Well, we got to the beach and everything was sort of different. The beach was nice, but they do it a little different here. They come to the beach in all their ordinary clothes, and then they find a place to change. Before leaving, they take a shower and then put their ordinary clothes back on. A little different from the way we do it, at least in Boston. So anyway, what that means is, after the breakfast and the hunting for a place to change and all that, time is ticking away. By the time we settle on the beach, I'm reading to jump in the water, but I have to wait a little while for the food to settle. Fully overcast, 10am, wearing a t-shirt: I'm safe to wait a little bit for putting on the sunscreen. The plan is to jump in the water for about 10 minutes, then dry off and put the sunscreen on. Otherwise, I'd have to put the sunscreen back on right away. 10 minutes, I thought. Yeah, right.
The water wasn't Nantucket Sound 62 degrees, it was Ecuador 75 degrees. And the waves were huge, and … well … I lost track of time. I was in the water for an hour and a half, at peak sun time.
All I can say is that all week, I hoped for the end of the week. My own foolishness got the best of me. I think of the parable of the sower of the seed, where the seeds don't have roots yet, so that "when the sun rose they were scorched." (Mt 13:6) I'm just getting roots settled in here ...
But that's not all. Another thing happened while at sea. After I finally put on sunscreen and before the burn had settled into its torturous action, I went back in to play in the waves. At one point, several of us were out a little ways, meeting the waves a little earlier. It was what I had been doing all say, but it seemed like a few more people were doing it now. Then a woman, a stranger, seemed to suddenly be a few yards a little further out than me. She asked if someone could help her. So I and a few other men started to move, and another one of the younger guys reached her first. I wasn't sure if she was not well, or what. So he got a hold of her, and next thing I know, he sails in with a wave and she's left behind. Now I turn around, and suddenly I noticed something: we're going out to sea, FAST. We didn't notice it, but a strong rip current had suddenly developed and was taking us out to sea. I started to try to swim back, but could hardly make any progress, it only felt like I was still moving out to sea. Not being a good swimmer at all, and having a hurt shoulder on top of it, I decided I better kick as best I could to try to get back, and then try to get help. So I had to leave the (now) two people who were floating out with me to start swimming as hard as I could (I can't help anyone if I need help myself!), and while I noticed I was making some progress, a lifeguard and another younger guy passed me to go out to the two behind me and get a hold of them. We all made it back safely. But I realized that, again, I got carried away (ahem!) with playing in the ocean.
A few pictures from the beach. Here is mostly our group out in the water.
There are a lot of restaurants like this one along the boardwalk:
Some of the folks from our group playing soccer. I mean futbol.
I should note something here about my photos in Ecuador. I've noticed a few things here, of course, but a couple of subtle things that are worth mentioning now. Not many people have wrist watches, not many people have eyeglasses, and not many people have cameras. Putting promptness and driving quality aside for a whoooole other topic, I'll just say that the whole picture-taking thing is not as widespread as it is in the States. That means that if I go around taking snapshots, I sort of separate myself from everyone else. That's not my intention, so that's why I don't take a lot of photos of people. It's not that common, and I immediately stand out if I do it. Sometimes I wish I had more photos of us together, but on the other hand, I would rather have the real moments and memories with the people, than have my time with the people here documented - and separated. I also am very subtle with any examples and actions of wealth or "power" from the States, it is quickly noticed. Others here are sensitive to any technology and money I might have, that's the nature of being a gringo in a developing country. If you wish to have real relationships, if you wish to have real friendships, then those things have to become subtle or hidden. And at the peoples' service in a way that respects the reality of their material sensitivity because of their poverty, and is willing to receive from them as well.
It's the same when God became man in Christ: from day 1, the wealth and power was hidden. He knew what our reaction would be, that if people knew He was God, He couldn't be a human friend, He couldn't be a son, or a cousin, or a co-worker - He would always be that "God" guy. In short, He couldn't be fully human with us. And so for thirty years Jesus lived a life with His divinity so hidden that no one had any idea…
I'm not here to save people from poverty, or convert people, or help people. I'm here out of a love in my heart, one that is not just my own, but a divine love too. I have this in my heart because Jesus Christ has loved me with this love, and now, through that, it's in me, too. And it is strong and always, always at work in me. So, just as Christ became one of us to live our life out of love, in a similar way now I am here because God has put that same love in my heart and sent me here, so that that same love of Jesus for us can be made known through me. … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. (Jn 1:14) I find Christ here, and can give Christ here too. It if were just my own desires or feelings or "project", as it were, I tell you, I wouldn't last here three days ...
I went with the deacon here, David, to meet with some friends of his a drive away in the city of Mindo. There was a little sort of resort to spend a few hours. They had a bunch of bird feeders for hummingbirds. There must have been hundreds of hummingbirds zipping by the whole time. I took a few pictures:
It makes me think of the words of the Gospel, "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Mt 6:26) These guys have everything provided for them. How could God not do the same for me? And you? ….
One of the recintos that I've been visiting is a new one where some of the people have been recently baptized. I went out to visit, this time I drove myself. It was the first time I drove on the roads here, winding up and down through the mountain and hills. On the way to the location, I was very cautious, there some spots with no guardrails, and some spots with hairpin turns on the side of a big hill. You also pass a bridge in process and the road is very choppy. When we got to the recinto, after about 30 minutes of additional driving through undeveloped rural paths, up and down large hills and turns, no one was there. There was some miscommunication about the time. Anyway, I was with Sr Jenny and we prayed for the people, and then left. On my way back I had relaxed enough to go with a little more confidence! First time driving in the mountains of Ecuador, I survived, it went well …
On the next day I went to visit another recinto, to meet up with the youth group that's hopefully re-forming, but this time I had no transportation. So I took a moto taxi, which is a little, 3-wheel buggy of a cart with tarp over it. The driver sits in the front, and there's a double seat behind him. It's got what must be like a golf-cart engine in it. The first guy I asked wanted $7 to take me there. I found another guy who said $5, and we went.
The drive is about 45 minutes through the rough, unpaved rural roads. As we started out, it began to rain a bit. By the time we were in the thick of the journey, it had begun to pour, like it does here around that time of day. Finally, we reached the little center, and I noticed two people were waiting for me under some shelter. I got some phone numbers of other taxis to call, and went off to meet them. Apparently, the rest couldn't make it because of the rain, so we decided to cancel, and they headed off, and because my taxi had waited around. Well, that part was because the break cable, like the one you'd have on the handlebar like on a motorcycle or bike, was broken. So, I got in, and we headed off in the rain. Driving, driving, without the break through the rains along the twisting dirt paths, up hills and down hills. Finally, the rains were subsiding, but as we reached the little bridge that we earlier passed over going the other way without any problems, we discovered this:
The river had overflowed and covered the bridge. So we stopped. And my driver said, "OK, now I can fix my break cable." And he went to work. I got out and walked around, checking things out, and we all just waited. Now the water going over the bridge is dirt brown. Normally, and when we first passed over about 30 minutes earlier, it's pretty clear water. The torrential rains pick up dirt and residue from the mountains and drag it into streams and rivers. (This is what happens with a lot of the water supplies when there's heavy rains.)
The driver thought that the water would subside quickly. It seemed to me that it did a little bit, but not all that much. Anyway, after it started to get dark, a couple of local youth came by and crossed the bridge on foot. Then the truck and the motorcycle on the other side each passed over without a problem, with the help of the youths directed the good spot to enter. Finally, we were all that was left. The driver got in - he wasn't able to fix the break - he put on the headlight, and we started off with a running start to reach the bridge in our little buggy…
There is the dark, you could see by the headlight, one of the youths was standing nearby indicating with his arms how the best spot to cross the bridge. We kicked it and entered and buggied our way across without a problem. Thoughts of spending the night in the recinto faded away, and he drove me to the church where I'm staying.
But I was hungry and wanted to pick something up at a local store. He dropped me off at a corner in the center, and I dropped him some extra money for all this effort. I felt bad that it cost him all the time and effort and his brake line. And then, after I gave the buggy a good push to get it started, he took off. I went into a corner store, and just when I was finishing with my purchase, the rains started to come down torrential again. The curbsides started to fill up with water, and within minutes, you could not cross the street without wading through a shallow stream. I was stranded again, like everyone else. I went over the internet place to spend some of the time there until the rains and streets subsided. Two kids were sitting outside. "There's no internet - the rain." Of course, when there's heavy rains, we all lose internet, and soon, power. Here's a picture of the street, and a video of the street, too. You can see one of the taxi buggies drive by. (I think it broke down in the middle of the street.) But you can also see in the video what starts to happen with the power, when the lightning comes. A lot of times it goes off and on in various locations, and then off totally for good.
But through it all, we keep coming back. "And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock." (Mt 7:25)
Things are ramping up for school. I will be teaching english and physics to sophomore-level kids. There will be about 50-60 kids, so the physics class will be divided into two. I am hoping to connect with people back home to do some projects in both classes, to build some bridges between here and there. There are a lot of changes in the national law guidelines, so there have been a lot of initial meetings to address them. I've got make some diagnostic tests for the students to find out what they know, and then do a review on their weakspots. So I'm working with some of the teachers on that, plus all the administrative aspects like class planning and teaching styles and so forth ….
The school has a uniform, and the same for the teachers. One of the teachers took me on the back of his dirtbike to his house to lend me his uniform shirt and pants. I am trying to find a tailor who can make the pants. You can't find the clothes pre-made like in a Sears or Macy's...
I've begun the language collaborative, sharing English some of the local people. Pronunciation is the big problem here. There is no regular access to english speakers or english conversation, so the conversational skills are non-existent, even if they are book smart about some english. It reminds me of the quote on the front of the school from the Letter of James: Faith apart from works is dead. (Jas 2:26) So language without conversation is dead language. (Reminds me of what everyone used to say about Latin when we studied it in high school…) But now we're hoping for a resurrection. I hope to connect with people back in Boston to help to build a cultural exchange, a forum where English is alive ….
On Fridays, I usually go to the therapy center for the disabled, and then catch a ride to the farm center, where the living center and horse therapy are. There, many of the patients and residents, with their families, eat lunch together. Then, afterwards, we start a lot of different activities. Games, some sports, and, believe it or not, dancing. Dancing is great socially and physically for the disabled, allowing them to express themselves to each other and to move their bodies about in a fun and social way. It's a great time, though you sweat profusely! It's a great day for everyone to be together… I'm hoping to get a Facebook site up and working for the project sometime soon ….
One of the girls that has been coming recently I recognize from a Mass at one of the recintos. One evening at that Mass, I got up to go to communion, and one of the young girls in the benches had gotten up to go in front of me. As the line moved along, she hopped forward to the right, then forward to the left. Bit by bit, she made to the front on her one leg. At the center, she has a prosthetic and uses crutches….
I hope to update again in a week or two. Take care and God bless,