Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Aw nuts!" ::and bolts::

The past few days I've had the chance to open up the bike a little bit and see a little more of the situation. I have to say... it's a mess. I mean... its a mess in a lot of wonderful ways... just like big scabs are a mess. They themselves may be messy, but picking them ripe feels very very purifying.

The oil I'm holding up here was not put into a dirty jug... it really looks that way. Chalky brown. The gasket behind the right side cover was basically completely shot ... visible gaps, especially on the top. I mean... I am definitley not gifted in this particular art, but even I know that chaco soil isn't exactly a beneficial oil additive for finely machined parts. I can't feel the grit in the oil, but was nonetheless shocked.

So... once upon a time this was a really nice bike... but I'm finding exactly how many times in the past few years it's been jerry rigged. Things precariously held on by strands of wire, stripped out and cross-threaded bolts, etc. It's got lots of scabs to pick. Thus far that has made the work satisfying rather than too terribly trying. I am working at my pace, as students are able to stay and help (so far only one, really. Many things will become more plain, I think, once we get it back up and rolling again. For today... there are cables, filters, and gaskets to replace, parts to clean, fluids to change, and an incomplete, 10 year-old spoke set to have replaced. The picture here shows a number of things too small to see. For starters, the assortment of bolts in my hand are mismatched ones that were holding the removed cover in place. Many are stripped out. There are three different types of heads there. Directly above the hand is another, even more grossly stripped out bolt. The sprocket-looking thing (from the crank?) has a hex-head on it too... half of which is chipped off. You can still see the file lines where someone later attempted to recreate an edge to allow a wrench to grab it. I'm hoping that won't need to come off... but if it does, that's just another one of those little things that's getting replaced if I can get the part ordered for less t han the price of a small child. Oh, someone switched the wiring around too, so that 'neutral' lights up the oil temp warning light instead of the 'neutral' light bulb which I suspect to be burned out and abandoned. I mean... everything works... its just... "what did you have to do to it that last time to make it work?"

Ye mechanically discerning, please feel free to share your insight on this one. I do this to learn, but I usually pay a mechanic some 'tuition' to fix my mistakes by the time things are all working again. Let's just hope bike number 3 is more of a charm than the last 2 were. lol. Blessings.
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Saturday, April 25, 2009

A little story...

Background: Over two months ago, I decided it would be a good idea to buy myself a little more mobility and freedom down here than the bus system allows, so I started putting feelers out to find a used Japanese-made (Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki) Dual-sport motorcycle that could be an extra curricular project for myself and some of the students.

Here there are millions of Chinese knockoffs of Japanese bikes, which adhere strictly to stereotypical chinese manufacturing standards... and because they're shipped and assembled here en masse, you can get them pretty cheaply. True Japanese bikes are much less common, and so I knew they would be hard to find... but I held onto that ideal nonetheless. After looking for awhile, the only japanese bikes I found within budget were either too small, the wrong class, too expensive, or illegal (many bikes are stolen and resold, so there is no legal title with them.) For most we found, more than one of those factors applied . Some friends at the school who had been looking for me found some good deals/options on bikes that would have worked, but they were all chinese, so I was hesitant.

This past week, I finally, after 2 months of searching decided to go ahead and buy one... a 1997 Chinese copy of the Honda XL 125 that the friend of a friend was selling for 2.5 million Guarani (~490). The engine was smaller than I had hoped for, and it needed some minor replacements, and major cosmetic work, but the engine itself seemed to be unusually well maintained. I thought it was an ok compromise, as Honda replacement parts can be bought for this particular model. I could add to the value of this bike by working on it. I liked it. It somewhat followed the ethic from the beginning (giving second life to the old and broken of high quality is better than buying shiny and nice of low quality). It would have been a small sacrifice of ethic rather than a large one. I gave the go ahead to the friend to bring the bike from a neighboring town. He said he could do it today (Saturday). The owner teaches in the Chaco, so we couldn't do the paperwork for another month, but it was already street-legal under his-name, so I could go ahead and begin working on it.

Then yesterday a good friend who works here told me he had seen a nice looking bike for sale that we should look at. I didn't see any harm in looking, but I left my wallet and checkbook at home, as I wasn't expecting to buy. The second bike turned out to be a nearly new Chinese bike, 150cc, taller than the first bike, with a little more power, and in better condition. There were still things to fix, and all the legal paperwork was there. It was taller. They said it was a 2008 model. They said they would take 3 million Guarani for it (~$590). I thought about it, took it for a spin... and decided that for the difference in buck, there was intirely too much difference in bang to pass up. So we gave him a $100 retainer and said I would buy it. When we went inside to sign the contract, the salesman asked if he could wait a minute... went in a different room for a bit... and then returned saying that the owner of the bike wanted more than the agreed-on price, referring to the owner with many unflattering names. I was irritated at what I suspected might be alack of integrity on his part. We haggled for a bit, but agreed to give him ~$50 more. grr... Still irritated, and a little conflicted at having sacrificed a bit more of my ethic in buying a still-shiny chinese bike... I left until today... mildly relieved that my near-3-month search would finally be over. Last night I did some more research, and discovered that he was probably lying to me about the year. I decided to double check-first thing today when we went in to fill out all the paperwork... to make sure that the year was truly 2008. If he was lying about that, as well as having changed the price, I wouldn't buy. If he had been truthful about the year, I would go ahead with the purchase as promised. I was irritated. I was angry at humanity. I subconsciously blamed my sacrifice of ethics for being in this ridiculous situation, and doubted my courage to courteously dissolve it, were the situation as bad as I feared. I took these fears and burdens to the Lord... just letting it out... begging for guidance, wisdom, courage... clarity of sight... to know what to do. The conversation felt refreshing... after a time I went to sleep.

Today we went back. The paperwork wasn't there, so... we waited. I couldn't find the model year on the frame anywhere. Finally the owner came. The bike was a 2007. Still not a terrible deal, but not nearly the deal he tried to make it seem. Fortunately the owner of the bike was there this time, and turned out to be a very personable, seemingly honest working man. Elder explained the situation, the owner quickly agreed that 3 million G was fair. With all chips on the table, the saleseman out of the loop, and the owner seeming to be more trustworthy, I decided to go ahead with it. We got in Elder's car and headed for the Escribania to transfer papers and money. In the car on the way we were talking. Elder mentioned about the Honda I had in the states. The owner added that he had an older Yamaha that was very similar, but a bit bigger. Both Elder and I had an open morning so we agreed to wait and see the other moto, me allowing myself a glimmer of intrigue, but little that would really qualify as hope. Details getting to see the Yamaha were difficult, but 4 hours later, after standing around, sitting around, Drinking Terere, chatting about Lugo and Alfa Romeos, grabbing some lunch, and shopping for flashy lights for Elder's Kia, the owner's brother rolls up on this:

It's a 1995 Yamaha DT 180, which he sold to me for 3 million Guarani (<$600) Basically... the only version of it that came to the states was a 125 dirt-bike. This has the same soul and paint, but with a bigger engine, headlight, and a little more height. This one's got some cosmetic issues, and a few mechanical ones that need to be straightened out (but nothing that keeps it from being roadworthy as-is) Plenty of learning experiences for the boys and me... but after a little reconditioning, I have the value-added quality machine that is what I had given up on hoping for.

I do not praise God for the machine however... for giving a toy that I wanted. It is a meaningless thing. I praise him for intervening, for finding my hopes and gifting my heart in his already perfect provision for the future. I mean a motorcycle is just stuff... but what isn't... is the soul-twisting struggle that the whole ordeal ended up being... all the doubt and frustration and anger and waiting... and then the peace... and then... totally unexpected in the last moment... his provision.

I didn't find the bike. That's the coolest thing. I had already sacrificed my ethic when he rescued it from the dead... which means... in an odd and amazing way... that I actually needed God to sanctify the ethic that I had chosen to live by. Part of my choice was to trust Him with my life... and in so doing, even when I fell short, he honored my heart. I do not say all this to suggest that buying the chinese bike would have been wrong. It wouldn't have been sin, or anything like that, but spiritually, for me, it could have subverted my ethic for future decisions... or perhaps it would have ended up being a lesson strengthening it. Or, even, my ethic could be wrong and it would have broken it down. I can't prove it one way or another... but I believe it to be a good ethic... one I learned from my dad actually, and I will continue to live by it. Point of the story is not whether the ethic was wrong or right to begin with. Point is... that God is trustworthy... my and your wisdom can be pretty fickle, as can be our ability to follow that fickle wisdom. It isn't always... but we all will inevitably fall short somewhere... and when we do, He is able to make up the difference toward the ends we are trusting Him with. And for that... I praise Him.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Ever the bane of my journaling attempts... a perceived obligation to match words with the experiences I would love to be sharing with you... to give some just recognition to the beauty and pain of it all. But somehow I sense that accepting the inevitablity of the gap between the intent of this silly blog and true fulfilment of task is just another part of that beauty and pain I would share with you. So... despite the feast of narration I owe you... have a Cheeze-it.

I've been challenged deeply by reading from Jim Elliot's Journals these past few days. It's amazing... not just the profoundness and excellence of the man he was in many ways, but also in his familiar humanity. And I realize... this is the thing I love about reflective non-fiction... journals in particular... there are layers... layers that can be peeled back and superimposed with images from my own story and developing perspective of reality... like those pictures printed onto a series of transparencies... that can be stacked up to make the whole picture. I mean... despite how wrong or write he may have been philosophically or practically... he was learning to live and love among the same creatures I do... Chasing the same God I chase. And... I love it that I don't have to depend on his interpretations of his experience in order to learn from it. The experience shared through fiction on the other hand, though often containing profound meaning, depends almost entirely on the authors interpretation of reality.

This story... especially with the journals alongside... simultaneously lays bare the narrative, the characters, and the narrator... I mean... obviously never totally bare, but enough that they can be known with some honesty. This is to story, I think, what Photography is to visual art. It is poignant and transformative. It smells like nectar and humus.

I was really blessed this week and encouraged after a few weeks of wiping failure from my teaching scabs. It's really hard... this job. Not THIS job per se, but the profession in general. I've found here an interesting mix of humanity and mechanism... in one moment, teaching can be the most dehumanizing thing I could imagine doing... being placed in front of a group of free-living wills and expected to order them with tools no human should posess into a creature that does not offend us by behaving embarrassingly like us. Personal offense is easy. The inefficacy of my natural responsese becomes inescapably obvious.

But all these things are inevitable, I think. Long-term exposure to our pre/un-trained natures wounds and offends us. Teaching hurts a lot. Life hurts a lot. Teaching hurts a lot all at once... but in that laboratory (if it is not too extreme or unhealthy) I find the wolves of my personality... which the kids have cruelly and wonderfully shaved, and then paraded from the shadowy corners where I'd left them to grow. And as embarrassing and flabbarghasting as it can be... I am grateful. So I clumsily fight wolves with one hand and hold fast to the guiding hand of my Lord with the other. (forgive the metaphor... I actually think wolves are inspiring and elegant creatures... let me borrow the mythical icon). Anyway... I'm determined to prayerfully continue this... in hopes that this process of emptying myself of arrogant illusions as a teacher may teach me to live and love better. Please do continue to pray for me along these lines. It's been hard and depressing... but I think it is ultimately, deeply good.

Blessed this week through meeting a young couple who are working at a school/temp. home for abandoned children within an hour from here. Their programs are irregularly and inadequately funded, though the grant to build the facilities was sizeable. Anyway... this functional unit of this place is a small 'family group' consisting of a 'Tio & Tia' (Uncle and Aunt) and the group of ~10 kids that they interact most intimately with. It's a neat model, I think... more familial, and less institutional. I am excited about the possibility of bringing kids from the school out to work on projects, but even better, to interact with the kids. I know it's not so simple as... "Jimmy, this is Bobby, why don't you guys go chat about life at polar opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum," and honestly I feel pretty unqualified to help any of them into meaningful experience there, but the potential gives me nervous hope. I think it could be something God could use powerfully... open their eyes, sharpen their conscience towards their fellow man, and knead their ability to love. Pray for this as well. I'll try to keep you updated. Pray about this though... that the connections that can be made with the kids would be made. At any rate, I was inspired, encouraged and again affirmed in being in the will of God here, by hearing the hearts of this couple a little bit.

We've been trying to do more fishing these past few weeks... and have succeeded in increasing our trip freqency by ... ummm.... one. We've been fishing once since we said we needed to start going more. But... the big one is still out there. And... you'd better believe you'll get pictures when it bites. For now though... thinking big will have to suffice.

Ok ok ok ok... I gotta sign off. That's the news from Paraguay for this week. Check facebook for more pictures of the trips last week. Blessings. Drop a line. Love to hear from you all.