Hi everyone, I hope this note finds you well at the middle of February. I have time now to put together another update, so here goes….
After arriving from Lima, I had planned on spending about 5 days in Quito in order to make a visit to the Center for Working Boys there. My friend Rosa, who is originally from Chontal and has a language school Vida Verde in Quito, had space for me to stay at a reasonable rate. It turned out to be a blessing, because after my second night, I got very sick.
I had drunk some wine (some old stuff included) before bed, and couldn't sleep the whole night. Heart palpitations and shortness of breath - things that had happened more in my first years arriving in Quito, and not so much since. My legs were very uncomfortable, and by about 10am the next day, I had a tough fever and chills and malaise. I hit the bed the whole day and night. The next day, the fever and chills were gone, but I noticed I still had that discomfort in my legs. I then noticed that I had cracking skin on my feet, which I had never had before. Later and then the next day, my ankles and feet were sore and swollen, reaching my knees, and my hands and wrists, too, reaching my elbows. I had thought before that it was residue from lying in bed all day and night, but it was clear it wasn't - it had been subtly there all along. Anyway, it then started gradually getting better, but I decided to go to a doctor here.
After talking with some friends, it seemed it could possibly be from a mosquito born illness like Malaria or Zika or Chikungunya. But I had all bodily fluid tests done, and everything came out normal and negative for anything bad. The good news is that I had no mosquito-born illness, and I have no parasites. That's good to know. The theory is that the mix of altitude, bad wine, and possibly some bad food all converged together. But it's something for me to keep an eye on going forward, as my feet, ankles, up to knees still feel some very minor effects of swelling and soreness. I am in contact with my doctor back home to keep him informed and my records updated, and will discuss it some time after returning.
For medical attention, I went to a clinic inside a parish near where Rosa lives. It costs $8 out of pocket for each visit, and the testing costed $48. Not bad all around. So, when looking at getting attention I went to the bishops' conference where I got my visa, to see if I could get a copy of the health insurance that I had to buy in order to get the visa. Not knowing if my condition was going to be something more complicated, health insurance might come in handy - especially if I've already paid for it! Well, I got the run-around. I still haven't received a copy of that "insurance" I supposedly bought.
At Vida Verde, there were some new students from English and Germany and Vermont that I got to know. Jason, who is from Wisconsin, works in the office there. We went out to watch the Super Bowl in a bar in Quito. He is a Packers fan and doesn't particularly like the Patriots, as neither does anyone outside of New England. But I had a sense that God would do something in that time - it was a chance to get to know the guy while seeing if the Pats would win. But we had a great talk, and come to find out he is in a form of mission in the Lutheran church as well. We shared a lot in common. Someone might think going to a bar to watch the Super Bowl has nothing to do with God or religion, but the reality is that each situation is unique, and God's grace works through any and every environment and event, as long as we are open to it. We only need to be aware and listening.
I did also meet some Ecuadorians who were huge Patriots fans. We passed by an upstairs bar where there looked like a lot of Patriots shirts. Wanting to quietly grab a bite first, we went to a lower bar. After the game, I wanted to return to see if maybe there were people from New England there. As it turns out, those were not Patriots shirts, but shirts from a football team in Quito who has adored the Patriots and modeled their uniforms after them. These were guys who played some sort of American football in Quito and practiced there. When they found out I was from there, they went a little wild with joy, having embibed plenty. There was also a guy there from Southern Florida with a Dolphins jersey, who apparently lives in Colombia. he made a toast to the great New England Patriots. All this took me time to process. In fact, I still haven’t processed it. It was surreal. I’m not a super Pats fan like I was years ago, but I pretty much do root for them. But these guys were bananas for the Patriots, especially one guy, Miggy, who plays on that team who insisted on giving me his Patriots hat, despite my many attempts to decline. He was taking out all his Pats adoration on me - Jason and I could only look at each other. Anyway, maybe if I was more of a rabid Pats fan like I used to be, I could get into it more. All the best to him, his team and friends … and the Dolphins fan:
Inside Rosa's house, we found a guest: the very same type of large wandering spider that I found in my shower in Chontal. They are reasonably common there in Chontal. This one had climbed up the wall to get to the chin-up bar that Rosa's son Mateo has placed above the living room doorway. She also carried a large sack of eggs with her! Anyway, we captured the spider after some effort, and later Rosa put her out in the garden. I doubt the spider or the eggs lasted the colder Quito night… Anyway, the next day, I looked at the stalk of bananas that Rosa had brought back from Chontal, and you could see a large nesting spider web, half torn away, on the underside of one of the branches. These wandering spiders are often called banana spiders because that's where they are occasionally encountered. There is one type, which I've not seen in Chontal, that is considered the most dangerous spider in the world, the Brazilian wandering spider. But the ones I've encountered are not aggressive, though my understanding is that a bite might be like a really bad wasp sting.
Visit to Centro del Muchacho Trabajador
I spent a few hours visiting CMT after I was feeling better. A friend, Lorena, is the director of the pastoral department there. It is a day center, really a school now, dedicated to children from poor families, in which they traditionally had had to work on the streets - often shining shoes - during days. I got the full tour, getting to meet staff and some of the children, which was great. No match for short-term opportunities for volunteering turned up, so it is something to keep in mind for the future. One of the things that did strike me were the changes that the institution was undergoing. The leadership, a priest and nun from the States, had moved on in part because of age, and in part because new leadership was at odds with them. Financial problems were also catching up: the center had to close its other location several years ago, and only brings in about 60% of the finds it needs to stay afloat. What I gathered from conversations, it was previously a strict, old-school environment, with almost a slavish feel it seemed to me. For example, daily Mass attendance was mandatory for all students, and actual physical disciplines were common. The current leadership is trying to transform that. Yet, it is something I have seen very frequently with "missionaries": separate from accountability from afar, and enjoying local liberties because they represent opportunities to the poorer locals, they undertake projects and experience lack of support, after which they become demanding with the people they are ministering to. Those poor people who are more inclined to success in the project often embrace and support this demanding way, because it puts them on top, and provides a way to individual success. But the project receives donations and support from foreign donors who really know little about what's happening behind the scenes. The project produces individual successes that make for captivating evidence that the poor are being helped, and this convinces people to donate money. But there is little focus on the overall effects on community and communion, the real foundation of overcoming poverty. That is because those projects, by and large, I believe, actually cause damage to those dimensions of society. After all is said and done, I believe these projects come mostly from the egos of both the founders and the poorer people who experience individual benefits from them. The missionary hasn't been a bridge between the sending and receiving peoples, which is at the core of the poverty problem. Instead, they find a place where they are admired by two, separated peoples alike: the local poor community, and the people back home admire them for all they've done for the poor. Kind of like a king of each of two divided worlds that never knew each other. To me, that's not the mission of Christ. (Which is why what has happened in my own mission is painful, because despite my efforts, there has not been much success in creating bridges between two peoples in my heart.) The enormous portrait of the founder hanging in the lobby space told me really what it was ultimately all about. I give Lorena credit for what she is bringing to the center, though. Maybe down the road something might make sense to talk about again.
Return to Chontal
I returned to Chontal for about 10 days after Quito. I spent much of the time getting my energy back, getting back into exercising, laying low, and doing activities with the kids. Playing games and sports with them. And also putting on a movie, or, on other days, showing short videos. The movie or video would have a theme, and I would ask them to describe and talk about them afterwards, which they love to do. With the short videos, I would arrange them in regard to Bible stories. I have a children's bible on powerpoint that I can read out loud as I turn the pages. And then questions about what they see and understand, what they think of them. These are the types of things I do - everything is planned in a way, and it is very organic. It's not a religion class. It's basically "time together with me"! To me, that's real education.
I got out at times to see the river Rio Chontal, which is a few hundred yards outside the pueblo, down the main road. There is a main river that borders Chontal, the Guayabamba, but that is dirty from what is put into it coming from Quito. But Rio Chontal is crystal clean water and good for bathing, though now in the rain season it would be dangerous to go in. But I like to stop by here to pray a little bit. I always note two things about Rio Chontal: first, you have to come away from the pueblo to find the clean water. Second, when the clean water mixes with the dirty, it loses its cleanness. You can see that affect clearly from these photos. These thoughts have made me think of possibly exploring building something like a retreat and activity house there nearby at some point. But that would have to be something later on.
As usual, on my last day, a Sunday, the priest made no mention of my leaving at the Mass. I don't expect anything different. It just means I have to find my own ways of saying good-bye. But let's just say I won't miss him, poor guy, nor the very closed, heavy religiosity that has been developed there in Chontal and that zone - and in Ecuador in general - by the church over the years. It's amazing that in almost 6 years, he has never invited me to anything, lol. Although he spends about 4 hours a week eating and socializing in the same 3 homes - that's 150 hours each year - there has never once - in 6 years - been a meeting in way shape or form to gather people in ministry or teaching to discuss the pastoral life or ideas or planning or anything, for that matter. It is mind-boggling. His preaching is all about what the people need to do in life, and everyone is bored. But the problem is that it puts people's loyalty to a test: he gives the green light to the familiar, heavy, closed religiosity, which is directly the opposite of my way, which is new but really engaging and lifting up, if given a chance. So there's incompatibility, and people go back to what is familiar. I'll write more on this on another update, drawing from a story from an experience I had with a starving dog 4 years ago. But Ines Rodriguez, who is the “president” of the church, and her family gave me a send off with some meals and gathering.
Some scenes from Chontal on the morning I left:
The Venezuela Situation
I hope to put together some thoughts on the situation in Venezuela, as this directly affects the people of Ecuador for a number of reasons. I hope to include it in another update.
I am now in Mindo for about a week, focusing on wrapping up a number of things, including updates like this and other website stuff; catching up on connections that I slack on; prayer and reflection on processing my Ecuador time, preparing for Peru at the end of the month, and thinking ahead on when I return to Boston in May; and getting a little reset in, while trying to exercise and eat as healthy as I can.
Peru & The Society of St. James
I will be in Peru for March and April, for Lent and Easter, working with the Society of St. James in at least one parish there. It will not officially be part of Barriers To Bridges, the organization. But since I legally am that organization, it will be a barriers-to-bridges effort! So, there will be more to come.
Finally, just a few updates of nature views and encounters with God's non-human creatures, lol!
In Chontal, while the kids and I were watching a video, a giant, 4-inch moth came in. It took about 4 of us and a broom and a stick to get it out. And when I had arrived over a week ago, there was some small poop on the floor and a urine smell in a storage room. I was confused, until I went to close the door behind me and found a giant toad sitting in the corner of the door way. It took a good 15 minutes to get him out with the broom! I would try to sweep it, and he would hold his ground, it was like trying to sweep a rock, lol.
The grotto outside the house was recently refilled with fresh dirt. So, the neighbor's chickens have been roosting there during the day.
When I got to Mindo, I went to a place where I typically stay and picked an available room. But when I looked out the window, I saw this:
Those are called Warrior Wasps. I have included a picture of insect sting pains here. As you can see the Warrior Wasp has one of the most painful stings of any insect on the planet:
Here is a close-up of a guy on the window:
Needless to say, I changed my room to one floor below - on the other side of the house! The owner says he is going to take the nest down himself tomorrow. Lol, we'll just see about that.
These wasps are called warrior wasps because (a) they are one of the most aggressive species on earth, and (b) when they feel threatened, the wasps all beat their wings together to make a marching sound. If you want to hear the marching sounds, check out this video here:
If you want to hear the sound and see what happens when you don’t heed the warning, check this out:
If you want to see someone get stung by one of these guys to test it out, check out these videos:
I can now say that I've been close to those three most painful stinging insects on the chart: the bullet ant, the warrior wasp, and the tarantula hawk. I would make Noah jealous. And yet, thanks be to God, I've never once been stung or bitten by anything serious here in all my times.
I was thinking, these are the creatures that have come into where I've been living:
A bullet ant, giant toads, a giant 5-in beetle, a tarantula, large wandering spiders, crickets, cockroaches (plenty of them), a scorpion, mosquitos, bats, chickens, dogs, giant 4-in moths, giant 6-in flying locusts, night wasps… and probably others I can't remember.
And yet, I've never been stung, bitten, or hurt in any serious way.
Ecuador has the some of the most beautiful and diverse natural habitat in the world. I just saw a large beautiful parrot while I was running today. And yesterday I got a few photos of the Rufous Motmot bird (hey, I didn't name it). It's stunning and beautiful to see:
Yet, next to the most beautiful and awe-inspiring works of nature in the world, there is some of the greatest danger as well. This is life in Ecuador. It is also the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Don’t miss out!
Anyway, I hope your time is blessed wherever you are. Feel free to comment or send a note any time. God bless, and I'll aim to write soon.