Monday, November 16, 2009

Dogs: 8-10-09

Thinking of dogs today... and how much I want one. Thinking of Booger... and all he represents. This dog... this beautiful, tall, deep black lab came to us slinking low... tail and body arched as though some invisible strings were pulling it up out of the ground... a reanimated shadow of the dog he could have been.

People had hurt him and as such, much fear filled the air between the erect hairs on the scruff of his neck and I would suspect (were I to understand him as another dog might) much hurt and anger as well. Of course I cannot know any of this for certain, but I do know that shadows of dogs and men are not made by regular meals, loving acceptance and a warm bed in the corner.

He came for the free meals he could pirate from our garage, but eventually stayed because my dad caught him and tied him to a calf-hutch with rope. Perhaps this much didn't surprise him... I doubt he expected to be consulted on the matter. But something did happen then that he did not expect. He was given regular meals, loving acceptance, and shelter.

I imagine that somewhere amid his cowering and snapping there was some form of doggy curse that would have offended if we had understood it, or at least some conversation that would have lost him our respect, but our ears, and consequently our hearts were closed to this judgment. We had no cause to think or gossip about what a dirty useless lizard this vagabond was... how long he had been thieving the food of respectable dogs, or how many pups he may have fathered illegitimately in his wanderings. We didn't look at him sideways, or try to keep children from speaking with him... because he's a dog... and dogs are known to do things like that. No surprises.

We don't want our kids to do these things: Stealing, vagabonding, sleeping around... but we have confidence that they can differentiate between how a dog acts and how they should act. Why? Who knows? Somehow though, this gap in communication and expectation practically resulted in a love toward this dog that was selfless, unconditional, blind, longsuffering, gritty and fibrous. It endured many months of struggle and rejection until the heart of the dog had been won over, transforming him into perhaps the most affectionate and loyal member of our odd family.

Love, unasked for, redeemed the heart of a lost, broken mutt... a phenomenon Christians proclaim to pursue and be specially privy to, but which most have secretly and practically given up hope in the existence of.

We can love this way. We have been told we cannot... but we can. When our expectations of others, and views of our own righteousness change... when our hearts are more honest with their own potentials/capacities, and more willing to waste love in the name of giving more of it, then we may understand Christ again... may see a love like he bore: a love that redeems mutts like us.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Ok... I've not been around blogger in a long time, and I don't have much time now, so those of you who follow will get a taste of some journals this time... if you're interested in life here... it's a window.

It's quiet here... empty. I should like it, or at lest prefer it. Yes... I prefer it. Lorena brought me a muddy, half-dead Pitogue (Great Kiskadee) fledgeling this morning. It is wrapped up in my shirt in a tupperware on my desk. I'm going to let the little guy dry off. I walk to the end of my walkway: look up and down the road. Field flickers and doves are perusing the soggy sand in front of house 1o, unaware and unconcerned with the little one's plight. They are the lucky ones, I realize, sipping another drag from the guampa in my hand. I am at peace watching them, yet aching... they were lucky... that it wasn't raining, cold, and in proximity to the dog where they fledged. Yet... there is no sadness in them... They almost take life for granted. They do take life for granted. Who are they to muse over who lives and dies... whether it is just or not... They are the pawns in nature's play. Whether it is cruel or good, right or wrong. Nature is not cruel... just hard. The realization gives no additional struggle... they do not accuse. They just live. Death is not mourned, it is accepted.
I think this is missing among humans. We have protected ourselves from death somewhat by separating ourselves from nature. I think of the soggy fledgeling on my desk with another sip. I should be him. I am cold and muddy and alone. I too jumped out of my nest early in a storm... was chased by a few dogs that wanted nothing more than to feel my bones crush in their jaws. I am weak, trembling and dripping in my failures. Is it unfair? No, not really. It's just life... it's the people I landed among. The setup for failure by my ambitions and fears... He and I should both probably be dead for failure of heart and limb... And nature will continue, neither blind nor cruel.

Hope will live despite me, hopping after the rain, pulling insects from the muck... and I am noone to complain. Yet... Lorena snatched him up from the ground... didn't quite let the dog have his way... brought him to me. I will care for him. Am I screwing with nature, or am I now some unpredictable grace that is part of it? Surely nature is as full of grace as it is cruelty: breaks in the clouds to warm a cold creature... The antelope in planet earth whose pursuers (wild dogs) abandoned an inevitable kill because their kin had made a kill somewhere else... a timely rain that revives something small and herbaceous.... every fallen carcass that keeps a hagfish alive in its shadowy depths.

Pitoguei... do you and I deserve to live? Deserve to die? No, neither really... but since we are alive... let us live!

(note: a reflection on the moment, given the situation in focus... I do in a grand sense of spiritual justice before the giver and inventer of all life, in view of my direct offense to His central idea and personal investment deserve death, but I cannot compare this with the Pitogue as the gospel was written for man's situation and not that of the birds. Accept this entry as art in context, not as an absolute faith statement.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Excerpt from an e-mail home. Thought it would serve as a quick update for the rest of you lovelies as well:


The rabbit project is going well. The pastured pen works like a dream. (must send pictures) The first litter was born recently. Seven babies in total. Not very cute yet... but they have passed the one week mark, are growing more fur and are beginning to explore a bit. This brings the total from 5 to 12. The next two does will not be ready to breed until december, so this will probably be the only litter I see born.

Remnants of my chicken flock were attacked by a dog or wolf or something. I've been handfeeding the one it caught. A few days ago it began eating solo and now enters my house looking for me if the door is left open. lol. I felt a bit ridiculous putting so much time into one chicken, but the spiritual value of it, I think exceeds the value of the chicken. I felt affirmed Sunday reading in proverbs when I stumbled across a verse commending the man who cares for animals. hahaha... anyways, I now have a ridiculously tame, half-blind chicken as a pet in my front yard. Pen for these is built and awaiting 3 men to help me move it. (it was designed originally to be mobile, but the weight turned out to be a problem, and we don't have a tractor of any kind, so it will be stationary for the time being. Potentially it will be moved over the tilapia ponds. We'll see. For now, it will be close to the houses, under a tree.

Bees hopefully coming in the next week or so?

The main thing keeping us busy right now though is construction on a guard shack in the middle of the farm which the brother of the main farm guy will be living in in exchange for some security services. We've had three robberies here in the past month, only one time they entered a building thankfully, but when they did they stole a refrigerator/freezer and a ceiling fan. The other two times they had cut the fence and entered, but were chased off. Once, when Milciades and Shaun went to investigate and the other time by Roberto (the farm hand) with a shotgun and 9mm. What we lost is nothing compared to what has happened to the neighbors. There have been animals butchered in the field, sound equipment carried off, etc. We are fortunate.
So, that to say I've been helping dig footers/cistern and doing masonry-related things. I got to try my hand at stone masonry... which was a real hoot. I both love and hate it, but I spent yesterday and today working on that.

The past week I've been taking books up and reading to small groups of the kids: A spanish kids picture book, and then a bible story out of an illustrated spanish Bible that the last mission team brought for each of the kids. I've only just this evening read to the last of them for this first rotation... but I like it better that way. Reading with three is very different than reading to 11. I tried to read to 11 but it was too much like a classroom... God bless the house parents richly for all they do! I mean... I finished the book.. but I just value the other experience for them... much more than the former. They have school for the former. I've been enjoying it immensely. It's been good for my spanish as well.

So... that's the basic run-down. More to come!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bunnies and such...

Its been awhile, eh? Sitting down to this entry, I realize that I've been here in Itagua for roughly three weeks already, and most of you haven't heard so much as a peep from me. As a result, I went out this morning to shoot photos that I will be uploading in the following days. The first few members of a volunteer group from North Carolina arrived today along with a couple from another town an hour or so away that are good friends with Shaun and Sara. Their arrival culminated a multi-week push to renovate a building here for use as volunteer housing, and eventually the meeting place for the church here. I've been busy with other projects you will learn about in the near future, but was able to help some with patching the roof, tearing out and re-making a wall in the bathroom, and of course the final furnishing and cleaning efforts of the past few days. It's been an amazing transformation. More detailed pictures and explanations will follow (probably tomorrow) but for today, I wanted to catch you up with the details of the blog that was lost. Apologies, this isn't nearly as creative as the one that was lost... but... asi es la vida.

A few weekends ago, I had the joy of going to the national 'Expo.' Basically it's like an enormous county fair, with rides, games, and funnel cakes, but there are also enormous animal barns, competitions, and booths for any business that wants to set up. There's everything from cultural demonstrations to motocross. It's big... a sea of people. Anywho... I went with a British magician to find information on beekeeping and generally explore the agricultural end of things for ideas that could be used at the home in Itagua. One of our stops was a building dedicated to 'cunicultura' in which you could buy rabbits, gawk at 6 kilogram breeding stock, and even eat empanadas (like a hot pocket) made out of their kin. I did all three.

Seriously though... I bought a box of rabbits... 3 females and a male for $5 each. As spontaneous as that sounds... it really wasn't. We had been brainstorming ways to provide new protein sources on site for the kids through projects that they can eventually take leadership in. I have very fond memories of Dad's experiments with pastured rabbit when I was younger, and of all the options that I have considered, this one seemed the most promising. Rabbits reproduce quickly, are voracious herbivores, and are easily cared for by someone less than 100 lbs (as opposed to cows, pigs, goats, etc.) The meat is fantastic and healthy... and one of the house parents here has previous experience with them, and is therefore a resource both before and after I leave.

So anyway... the morning after the expo found me bouncing up the ruta between Asuncion and Itagua in a rickety 80's model Mercedes bus with a box of rabbits, watching Paraguay flash by my open window, and thinking what a wacky and whiz-o thing life can end up being if you pick up your feet for even a moment. Hysterical, I thought... riding a bus with a boxful of rabbits... hiking through a market in San Lorenzo to change busses and feeling the different buzz of this hive... hiking the 2.5 km between the Ruta in Itagua and the Home just out of town while motos and oxcarts bounced past on dusty stone streets... and I was happy.

But then, walking down the row of houses as curious kids came running to see what was inside the box... and watching them come alive over so small a thing as a boxful of rabbits... just torqued some little thing inside of me that I think every person needs adjusted now and then. It was beautiful in a way .... well... in a way I cannot possibly explain to you until you have surprised a child with a rabbit from a box.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


The natural world is full of the human, as human psychosocial ecology reflects the natural. My own inner struggles in the past few weeks and months have brought me to a soothing realization, yet one that I suspect could blossom in a bigger pot, given more time.

I was watching a movie the other evening with the English teacher and this scene provided the foundation for the meditation that has followed. (Protagonist is a wine connoisseur discussing 'pinot' a type of wine... referring to the difficulties in growing the varieties of grapes from which the various pinots are made)

...what determines the value of a plant? what characteristics of an imperiled species would knit a conservationist's eyebrows? Must it smell good? Possess a photogenic flower? Is it more valuable for being a survivor, on the edges of civilization? Do we love it for its hardiness, the multiplicity of the seeds it produces, or the thoroughness of its root system? Do we pity more the weak ones, or celebrate the tough ones? Could you appease a botanists desire to preserve a species of exotic grass by showing him Blue-eyed grass?: (technically not a true grass, but cut me some slack)

Pretty little thing... and common as a skeeter. I mean... who needs to go to the trouble of saving that plain-jane looking Congolese species when we've got things like this to look at? Really people...

But of course few would dare to suggest such a thing openly. The wonder and richness of the natural world is due in large part to the intricate complexity which even the most mundane ecosystem possesses. Losing another species is not tragic because that lost species was the flashiest, tallest, strongest or most fragrant. Rather... we mourn it because our world, in its absence, is just a little less interesting. It was, regardless of how it compares to the other roughly 270K known plant species on the globe, an awe-inspiring work of art... fascinating and precious for even a single difference.

The human genetic code (and infinitely moreso the human psychology) is more complex than that of a plant. You and I are not more or less valuable for our colors, smells, strengths or weaknesses either. we simply are valuable. Not a little valuable, or a lot valuable... we are valuable... you are irreplaceable, and no other plant can be you. No other plant can fill the niche you fill in your 'ecosystem.' If they did, it would be a different ecosystem, even if it continued to function.

The whole 'everyone is special because Jesus loves you' mantra has, for a long time, struck me as almost offensively cliche. This however... casts the tired old adage in an entirely new light for me.

God is a conservationist. when a heart is breaking, yours or someone elses... when yours or someone else's psychosocial 'habitat' is being ravaged by fear, bitterness, shame... and as you feel your petals paling... your roots drying... your leaves wilting... and you cry out... I like to think God's eyebrows knit, he grabs a steno pad, and laces up his boots.

If you have no other reason to love a stranger. Love them for that.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Wail

Watching in combination clips from "Into the Wild" and "August Rush" this PM and realizing... I think I have for some time thought that beauty must be experienced from some particular perspective... somewhere where you can see the grit and toil of the 'everyman' as well as the chins of those with their heads in the clouds. Christopher McCandless was a silver spoon wielding trust fund baby who gave everything he had to UNICEF, chopped up all his ties to affluence (including ID) and set off for Alaska on foot on a self-imposed rite-of-passage. Even gave himself a new name. He wanted adventure... "a spiritual revolution to kill the false being within." And so chased the beauty of life with two feet on the ground. I watch the clip from August Rush with the little girl singing in the empty church... come to find out the group singing with her comes from Harlem and their music is written by the members... mostly students. The song is powerful... full of pain and hope... in lyric and tone... sagging deeply under the weight of human beauty. It is based on their experience.

And I am tempted, having never had nothing... to feel as if I have nothing to contribute to this collective beauty. I am simultaneously moved and excluded from the human chorus... from that wail that spears towards heaven in accusation and then flutters back down to earth in resigned acceptance of the justice that must come from an unspearable God if it comes at all. And the fluttering resolve to a major lift somehow blankets those who wailed... and they are a little warmer ... but noone knows if hope grew and settled from the release of the wail or simply from the new lack of loneliness the chorus made evident.

I stand puzzling... still in the cold.

They can wail... and it is beautiful. But I, wailing with them, would be an imposter. Wouldn't I corrupt their song in some way? Can a suburbanite High School Choir sing southern Spirituals deeply rooted in the agony of the experience of the slaves... or give poetry readings from the pens of the Holocaust... and it be anything but education? Can it be a wail? Can music flow from the aching depths of the human soul... when replayed by souls whose depths have not been sounded, much less dug, much less filled with water from cuts that deep. Can I wail in that way? I do not think so. But perhaps the trying... is part of the sounding... an education for the digging? I definitely think it worthwhile. The wail itself carries a great deal of story... flavor of the human souls from whose depths it originated. And from that we are strengthened and refreshed... given clearer eyes, and more sober judgment.

But that's not the point... my realization is that... the power of the wail is only partly due to the perspective of the singer, but largely due to the fact that it is given indescriminately. Perhaps the singer's benefit is intrinsic in the creation process... but the benefit to mankind is larger by degree. The perspective of the singer is important... surely, as colors on a palatte are important to a painting. But the responsibility lies on all of us to generate beauty indiscriminately. If you are rich, your resources may be different, but your responsibility is the same.
Here, I feel rich. I am in debt... but I show pictures of where I come from... the farmhouse, the gardens, the relatively manicured land.... and I feel isolated from the music that is made here... but I must not allow myself submission to this fear.

Where we are, whoever we are, there we can make beauty.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Update and Thoughts

Motorcycle is in the shop for its final pre-road repairs and check-up. I think this marks the first "first visit to a mechanic" for any of my motorcycles in which the bike was in better condition than when I bought it. I mean... he's still fixing my bike... but I consider it a small victory. Basically, there are some stripped holes to re-tool ... (only one of which I had anything to do with, and I'm fairly certain that this one was only partly my fault) so he'll be sealing the new gasket and changing the oil while he's at it. Buuut... that little mistake on top of a handful of major victories, so... yeah. I feel good about it. Aaaaand... this also means it'll be roadworthy finally.

I spent part of this evening drinking white tea and talking with one of the Paraguayan staff here named Antonio. Really he's the guts of this place... has been working here for longer than I've been breathing air. Saturday I ate lunch with him and the ground workers, guards and cleaning ladies here and was more deeply blessed by the whole experience than I have been in a group of people for a long time... at least since College... (which doesn't feel like it was that long ago... but I have been down here for almost a year now.) I have neither energy nor inspiration for poetry this evening to describe it... but it was to me, deeply beautiful. We sang together, ate asado, and the laughter... there was lots of laughter... every one of them seemed completely comfortable with each other... comfortable with the love they knew they had in that group. We played some equivalent of musical chairs (passing a tennis ball around until the music stopped,) the losers of which had to either sing for the whole group or do a dance. One of the cleaning ladies ended up dancing to "Oh Susanna," after I bashfully scrambled for somethign I could play that wouldn't be ridiculous for her to dance to. They assured me ridiculous was just dandy. (or... however you convey that in spanish).

In the past week I have spent good amount of time in the evenings with Antonio, talking about various things. I am ill-at ease with the ease and transparency of his faith. We talked about all sorts of things. He told me a good piece of his story... who he was... how accepting and choosing to live for Christ has changed his life. He is rich with anecdote. He is generous with anecdote. His Christianity is uncomplicated, and noone has yet convinced him that he is not allowed to believe it. It makes me very happy to be with him, and the other workers. They all seem to glow in the same way. Thier ranks change comparatively slowly to the starched Christians like me who come to teach... who posture and stress, argue, gossip and fight. I'm sure they aren't perfect, but I'm also quite certain they know it. I am ashamed of myself... ashamed of my arrogance... ashamed of my things, and how little real work I did to get them. But I am not discouraged... just ashamed. I do not feel discouraged as long as I have choice, and in this re-tooling of my perspective, I feel like I do.

I am arriving at a new guiding principle in this laboratory of life... and that is simply to find those who seem genuinely, transparently happy in life... and listen for why.