Special Olympics 2014

This year C.E.B.E.P. Santa Rosa (the special education school where Emily and I live and work) was invited to attend the Special Olympics. Two years ago Santa Rosa also participated in the Special Olympics and created great memories for the children and me. The road to the Olympics, which included countless hours of training, was so much fun for everyone.

 A couple of weeks ago the 2014 Special Olympics were held in Trujillo . I was unaware that the Special Olympics were even taking place this year. Apparently the director forgot to tell me about the event taking place. A teacher and I trained the excited participants of Santa Rosa on the day I was notified, which was the day prior to the actual event.  To my surprise some of the participants remembered some of the events from the Special Olympics two year prior which made it easy for me as the trainer.  They knew they were training for a big event which further motivated them. They also remembered how much fun the event was and remembered receiving metals, which overjoyed them at the prospect of receiving more.   

 In the end the children loved the Special Olympics yet again. It was a time for an outing as a team and as friends. I learned a lot about teamwork as they enthusiastically cheered for each other. Regardless of their performance in the event, they always congratulated each other by jumping up and down, hi-fives, and hugs of victory. It amazes me that the children are so present at every moment and really savor and enjoy every step of the way and not just the finish line or placement re received. It is a good reminder to me that life is not just about accomplishments and end results. It is about being present, and as one of my dad’s friends once put it, it is about choosing joy moment to moment. The road to the finish line is just as victorious as the victory itself.

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Señor de Los Milagros

The Lord of Miracles, known here as Señor de Los Milagros, is the biggest Catholic celebration in Peru. I’ve wanted to share about Señor de Los Milagros even though the month of October, which is dedicated to the Lord of Miracles has passed.  

October is a very special month here in Peru. The Lord of Miracles (Senor de los Milagros) is celebrated at great lengths to honor Jesus and his suffering. This past October Emily and I for the third time since our arrival in Peru had the privilege of celebrating with the Peruvian people this great event which is celebrated by big processions. Jesus is venerated at great lengths most especially in Lima, where nearly a million people process throughout the streets of Lima. It is a site not to be missed as people gather to celebrate and attempt to get a peak at the Lord of Miracles. There are so many people that it is easy to get lost so family member lock arms so that they do not separate.

The Lord of Miracles was painted by a slave in the 17th century in Lima, Peru. The artist had no formal training yet created a masterpiece which is said to have been a divine inspiration of faith.  The painting depicts Christ enduring the pain of the crucifixion. The painting consists of the Virgin Mary on the bottom to the right of Christ, above the cross is the Holy Spirit and God the Father while at the foot of the cross is Mary Magdalene.

The Lord of Miracles has received its name because in the 18th century there was a significant earthquake that destroyed most of Lima, yet the wall on which the Lord of Miracles was painted was not harmed. Since then, there have been a couple other earthquakes that The Lord of Miracles painting has survived. This has gained international attention and considered by many to have been a miracle.

Emily and I participated in the celebration of the Lord of Miracles with our community on a much smaller scale here in El Porvenir, Trujillo.  The procession lasts a good eight hours or so as a representation of the painting of the Lord of Miracles is processed throughout the streets of our neighborhood after mass is celebrated. It is an inspiring sight to see so many people full of faith come together to venerate Jesus.

Check out the pictures of our community venerating The Lord of Miracles throughout the streets of our neighborhood.  

~Rafael

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El Trueque: A Lesson in Sharing

I recently went to visit two of the ladies from the women’s baking group, whom I hadn’t seen for a couple of weeks. I decided to bring them my portion of the desert that the group and I had made that day, yogurt cake with peaches. When I arrived at the first house, I was greeted by Rocio. She accepted the cake and disappeared into a room at the far end of her house. She returned with a smile and a huge slab of chocolate fudge cake that she had just finished making.

What I gave.

What I gave.

As I left her house, chocolate cake in hand, I shook my head, thinking, “It is impossible to give something to a Peruvian without them giving me something in return.” I have several friends who sell food in the market and on the streets. If I try to buy something from them, they often won’t accept my money. If they do let me buy from them, the next I pass by they insist on gifting me at least as much as I originally bought from them.

What I received.

What I received.

Arriving at the second house, Manuela greeted me with a hug. She happily took the peach cake, and replied, “Es un trueque entonces. (It’s a trade then).” Before I could respond, she went into her house and emerged with a cup of arroz zambito (the Peruvian version of arroz con leche/ ride pudding). I thanked her for the arroz zambito and told her that it was very kind but not necessary, as she relies on the sales of the rice desert as an income for her family. Manuela smiled and explained the cultural importance of a “trueque” (exchange of goods). She related that it is a cultural value passed on by the Incas that continues to be an integral part of the Peruvian culture.

Manuela's Arroz Zambito.

Manuela’s Arroz Zambito.

Rafael and I were taught something very similar in an intensive course on Peruvian realities that we completed in Lima in 2012. One of the professors taught us that reciprocity is a key value of the Peruvian culture, a value which has a historical basis stemming from the Incas, whose economy was based on a barter system. If someone does something for you, you find a way to do something beneficial for them. I can see this value in action in my everyday life here. Any act of service on my part has been selflessly returned to me, often in ways surpassing anything I have done. My experience of mission here in Peru has been one not just of giving, but of learning to humbly receive what others give me. The people do not give out of their excess or surplus, but rather they give of the best they have to offer.

One of the women from the baking group recently told me that she would like to prepare lunch for Rafael and me. She stopped by my house early one morning and told me not to not cook lunch that day. At exactly 1:00pm, the Peruvian lunchtime, she arrived with two heaping plates of food for us. She hadn’t prepared just any meal. Weeks before making this lunch, she had casually asked us what Peruvian dish we like the most. This past Sunday she came bringing us this very meal, “Aji de Gallina.” There are ways to cut corners economically when preparing this dish, but without her having to say anything, I could tell that she had used the very best ingredients at the market. I was at a loss for something to give in return, but it was not necessary. This was a special, loving gift, which she happily gave, without expectation of anything in exchange. I am continually amazed by the people’s generosity and thoughtfulness, and their practice of the principal of “el trueque.”

Aji de Gallina.

Aji de Gallina.

 

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Fried Rice, a New Friend, and Old Memories

A couple of years ago Emily posted a blog about the young children who work in the streets of Trujillo, Peru in order to help their families meet their basic daily needs. In July, during the world cup this year, I was out running some errands and decided to eat at a restaurant so that I could continue with the errands and not have to go home and then turn around and go back into the city again. Besides, the restaurant had a TV and the world cup was on, Costa Rica vs. Netherlands. Why not take a meal break and enjoy the game. I ordered the daily special, a plate of chicken fried rice that came with wonton soup. I was shocked to see the tremendous plate of food that was put in front of me. It was enough to feed at least four people. I ate all I could and when I was done, it looked as though I had barely touched a grain of rice. I was just deliberating what I was going to do with all the leftover food, when at that very moment, a small boy walked into the restaurant selling candy. He said that he hoped I would buy from him because he was hungry. I took it as a small gift from God when he told me he was hungry. Now I had someone to help me with my meal. I asked him to sit down and join me.

The invitation surprised him and he looked at me as though I was joking. When he saw that I was serious, his face lit up, his eyes got big and an uncontainable smile spread across his face. He took no chances, sat down quickly, and dug into my leftover plate of food, in hopes that I would not change my mind. He politely introduced himself, Jahn, age ten. Jahn ate as though it was his first meal in a long time and like it would likely be his last for a good while. He ate so fast I was afraid he was going to choke, so I offered to buy him a pop. By then he really couldn’t contain his smile. He had a look as though he had won the lottery. Jahn’s reaction reminded me of my childhood in Venezuela, of my life in the orphanage and the week I ran away with my older brother, Wilmer.

When I was eight years old and my brother twelve, we ran away from the orphanage we lived in called Manzanita. At this particular orphanage there seemed to be an over abundance of children and a lack of staff and food. I remember the sensation of always feeling hungry and hardly ever receiving positive attention. When someone did something bad, we were all lined up and slapped in the face to discourage other children from bad behavior. My brother and I dreamed of a better, happier place outside the fences of Manzanita where there would be enough food to fill us and a place where we would not be hit. We made up our minds and decided it was time to leave. To do so, we stole a mattress from the orphanage and sold it to a neighbor in order to have a little spending money on our journey. We then stole two donkeys, hopped on, and off we went. We eventually ditched the donkeys and hitch-hiked on a tractor.

During this particular week, we lived in the streets and begged for food. Most times we did not get good responses. However, towards the end of the week, when all we had eaten for several days was some bread we stole from a bakery, an incredibly generous woman came out of nowhere as though she was an angel. She offered to bring us a plate of food the following day. The next 24 hours felt like an eternity as we eagerly awaited her return. She arrived as promised, and we were like hungry dogs salivating at the meal that was to come. It was the best black beans, rice, and fried plantains I had ever eaten. It was given to us with such love that even the thought of it makes me a little emotional. Just like Jahn, we too ate our meal with such enthusiasm as thought it would likely be our last meal for awhile.

Jahn told me about his life between mouthfuls of rice. He and his 13 year old brother live alone in one of the most poverty stricken, dangerous areas in the outskirts of Trujillo, Peru. His brother works full time at a shoe factory so that Jahn can go to school during the day and sell candy in the afternoon. I was impressed that he goes to school considering his parents live nine hours away, in Lima, where they live with their other eleven children. Jahn and his brother are left alone to fend for themselves in the middle of the brutal realities of poverty, far away from all family members. As he shared, I noticed he never loosened his grip on the plate of rice and never set down his fork. It made me remember when I had a taste of what it is like to be so desperately hungry. The big difference is that I only lived the life of being hungry for a small fraction of my life while he lives it on a daily basis.

While growing up in the various different orphanages in Venezuela, during most school summer breaks, my three brothers and I would all reunite and “vacation” at my grandma’s house. It was a bitter-sweet time off from the orphanages. It was sweet because I was able to be with my brothers whom I longed to be with every day in the orphanages since they lived in separate orphanages, due to our age differences. I was the youngest and it always felt good to be under their protection. It was also a bitter “vacation” because my grandma had a habit of hitting us with a belt to get us to do what she wanted. During our “time off” at grandmas, she made us work by going to the market and offering to carry people’s groceries.  Aside from that, we begged venders to give us the spoiled food they were going to throw away so that we could eat. If we wanted meat, grandma made us hunt pigeons in the back yard with rocks and sling shots. Being on “vacation” at my grandmas house was truly a bitter sweet time if my life. Jahn’s story took me back to a time of my life where my brothers and I in a different, milder way also had to fend for ourselves if we wanted to eat.

When Jahn finally let go of the plate of rice, he looked at me in the eyes, and thanked me. He then proceeded to ask me with an eager smile if he could take the remaining food for his brother, so that he could eat as well. I was deeply touched to see that he had purposefully left some food to share with his brother, despite his own insatiable hunger. Jahn packed up the rest of the food, stood up, thanked me one more time, and then off he went to sell more candy. It was an unexpected yet amazing visit with Jahn, a happy, polite, determined 10 year old boy who fights on a daily basis to meet his most basic needs. That day Jahn reminded me of what I seem to forget at times, to never take food, the most basic thing in life, for granted.

-Rafael

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Flavors of the Amazon: Inchicapi

In honor of my recent visit with a friend to the farming village in the Peruvian Amazon where she is from, I will share the recipe for one of my favorite dishes from this region, a soup called Inchicapi. I was surprised by the amount of soup and hot beverages in the local diet, considering that it was so hot in the village that I sweat just sitting in the shade! However, Inchicapi is so good that I do recommend this dish for any season.

Inchicapi. A traditional dish from Peru's Amazon.

Inchicapi: Typical dish from the Peruvian Amazon.

Inchicapi is traditionally made with hen and freshly ground corn, but we will be using chicken and corn flour in this recipe. I have adapted the following recipe straight from the version I learned to make in the village of Bagazán, Peru.

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups of water
  • 6 pieces of chicken (legs, thighs, wings, breast, etc.)
  • 1 cup of raw peanuts (unsalted and not toasted)
  • 4 TBSP. corn flour
  • 2 cloves of garlic, whole
  • 4-5 small stalks of cilantro
  • ½ medium onion, cut in large chunks
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 medium sized yuca, (could  substitute with plantains or potatoes), peeled and cut into chunks
Pig snacking on corn drying in the sun, to later be ground for Inchicapi.  Little did he know that one week later he would face a similar fate.

Pig snacking on corn drying in the sun, to later be ground for Inchicapi.
Little did he know that one week later he would face a similar fate.

Preparation:

1)      Put the water on to boil (apox. 8 cups). Add salt to taste, being careful to not make the water too salty.

2)      Add the chicken to the water. Cover the pot and let it boil on low heat for about 30 minutes.

3)      Put the peanuts, corn flour, onion, garlic cloves, cilantro, and cumin in a food processor or blender (or crush with a giant mortar and pestle as done in the jungle!). Add just enough water to be able to blend this mixture thoroughly.

4)      Once the chicken has boiled for about 30 minutes, add the mixture from step #3 to the pot. Adjust the broth so that the soup is neither too thick nor too thin. If too thin, add more corn flour, if too thick, add more water. Adjust the salt, cumin, and cilantro to taste.

5)      Let the soup simmer, uncovered, on low heat for about 20 minutes, so that the corn flour cooks thoroughly. Stir occasionally. When about 10 minutes remain, add the yuca (or plantains or potatoes). When the yuca is tender, the Inchicapi is ready to eat. Buen provecho! Enjoy!

Hen, another main ingredient in Inchicapi. This one is from the farm I stayed at near Chope. She had 17 chicks underneath her in this photo.

Hen, one of the main ingredients in Inchicapi. This one is from the farm I stayed at in the jungle. She had 17 chicks underneath her in this photo.

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Basketball and More

It was requested of me to post on our blog this small article I wrote for the Comboni magazine this past fall of 2013 regarding one of my students. Enjoy! 

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Being a missionary always comes with crosses and from those crosses life and hope always shines through. I have always stated that working as the phys-ed teacher for children with disabilities has been the highlight and joy of my ministry here in Trujillo, Peru. The children are always full of life and their slow yet steady progress with their abilities to participate in different sports fills the children with joy and smiles. I am always amazed by the innocence and love the children radiate and how contagious their happiness can be.

 

Every Wednesday morning we start phys-ed classes with children up to twelve years old lining up and ready to start running for a five minute warm up followed by stretching. We proceed to do a fun activity usually consisting with working on balancing and jumping. A couple of children that were not able to jump a year ago are now able to jump and do so proudly. After the first class of the day I spend recess with the children. As I play volleyball, soccer or shoot hoops with the children, I often think to myself “Wow, my ministry is to have fun! Sweet!” There is never a lack of interest in any activity I suggest to the children.

 

Once recess is over, the older students line up to walk to the “canchita” (small soccer and basketball court) to play basketball. All of the children enjoy playing basketball, but no one is more eager to play each week than Niler, a 20 year old student who is wheel chair bound. Starting last year we started playing basketball for phys-ed classes and Niler first went with the thought and attitude that he, just like he does for most other sports, was only going to watch the other children play. To my surprise, all he needed was an invitation, a little encouragement and people to believe in him that he too could dribble and shoot a basketball. He started out hesitantly but took off fast. He now enjoys being pushed in the wheel chair as he dribbles and tops it off with a shot in the hoop. There is nothing more exciting and satisfying than to see him make a basket and see his face brighten up with a smile. That moment of happiness is priceless. The children clap and applaud Niler and each other each time someone makes a basket.

 

It is a satisfying and humbling experience to see other children be Christ like to Niler as they pass him the ball and push him in his wheel chair so that he too can dribble the ball as he gets ready to shoot a basket. The children teach me so much about humility and love. I see and experience how much love they bring to one another and to me on a daily basis. Niler and his classmates are the perfect model of what it means to be Christ-like as they selflessly share and transmit their love and excitement with those willing to receive.      

      

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Congratulations Comboni Family

Congratulations to the Comboni family for celebrating the 75th year anniversary of missionary presence in Peru and Chile this year. Thank you to all the Comboni religious missionaries, lay missionaries and everyone that has helped paved the path for future Comboni missionaries. Thank you for carrying out the Comboni charism of serving people that are less privileged by going to marginalized places following the call to serve God. Mission in Peru is a great place to share, teach and be taught how to love as Christ loved. The Peruvian people are filled with so much love and hope. The Comboni family and the Peruvian people feed off each other and together that love and hope is spread, celebrated, given and received by many. A special thanks to Saint Daniel Comboni (1831-1881) whose faith and love was so strong that he followed his call to love as Christ did and dedicated his life to the most abandoned and marginalized people of Africa.

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Eyes of Faith

This article was originally published last fall by the St Paul – MinneapolisArchdiocese Center for Mission. I was asked to write this article on the topic of faith, as how I see faith alive in the community of El Porvenir, Trujillo, Perú…

Eyes of Faith

For over 18 months now Rafael and I have been living in Perú as Lay Missionaries through the Comboni Lay Missionary Program. Some people consider this a strange or brave thing to have chosen to do. To us, we are ordinary people doing small things, attempting to live out our faith and baptismal call in solidarity with a marginalized community in the slum of El Porvenir, on the outskirts of the city of Trujillo, Perú. In the short time I have been here, I have met many individuals who I look to as models of ordinary people living their faith in small but extraordinary ways, whose actions alone show me what it means to have complete trust and reliance upon God.

No one here better exemplifies trust, generosity, and surrender to God’s will than Juanita, a 77 year-old woman originally from the department of Cajamarca, Perú, who migrated to the outskirts of Trujillo many years ago. Juanita works long hours on her feet everyday, lugging a five-gallon pail of boiled corn, “choclo,” down the street, making her usual rounds and asking people to buy from her. She lives alone except for the few chickens, ducks, and pig that she raises at her house. One of her most prized possessions is a crucifix pendant that she found on the street one day as she was working.

From the little that Juanita has, she gives everything. She is a living example of “giving out of one’s poverty” (Mark 12:44). Her time, she volunteers to the church, serving as the greeter and usher at every mass held in the small neighborhood chapel each week. The food that she sells, her very livelihood, she often shares with my husband and me, refusing to accept any payment. “No, I’m treating you, you’re not going to pay,” she tells me. I in turn share with her. One day I bring her a slice of chocolate cake. “Oh boy!,” she says as she happily accepts the cake from me, “When I left my house this morning I never thought I’d be eating chocolate cake today.”

One day, as I was visiting with Juanita on the street corner where she was selling, I asked her if it is difficult to carry her bucket of corn for hours each day. She told me that it was indeed difficult, but it must be done, as she needs to eat. Juana’s day begins at about 4am when she begins to prepare the food that she will sell in the morning at the market. The she goes home, and boils the choclo that she will sell in the afternoon and evening.

Juanita has told me that God gives her all of her strength, that he gives her everything she needs, and more. She looked me in the eyes and told me, “Nada me falta.” I lack nothing. “Nada.” Nothing. I was struck by the conviction of her statement. I look at her, my eyes taking in the sight of the woman before me, a stooped, hunched figure, a weathered face, dressed in the only shirt and skirt that I’ve ever seen her wear, with a pair of tennis shoes so tattered and worn that the brown skin of her feet peek through the cloth. “Wow, she lacks nothing?,” I think to myself incredulously. Clearly, her relationship with God is deep, much deeper than the human eye can see. The humble example of her life shows me that faith means relying on God and being open to receive the gifts he has for us, understanding their worth not by our human standards but by truly seeing, seeing with eyes of faith.

Mission is about humbly giving of ourselves and equally important, being open to receive. I receive God’s grace and friendship in many ways, through learning to rely on Him as I live here in this foreign and strange coastal- desert-city-slum. This isn’t the type of place I would have ever chosen to live. It chose me and I am very happy for it. I wouldn’t picture myself anywhere else right now. Little by little I too am learning to see with deeper faith, to see God’s image and promise reflected everywhere, in my neighbors and friends here in El Porvenir.

-Emily

Juanita and Emily

Emily with Juanita as she borrows the neighbor’s molino (mill) to grind by hand the choclo (corn) that she will later use to make humitas, a food that she will walk around selling on the street.

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Rice Anyone?

Our neighbors are always very kind and invite us over for lunch which, Emily and I never turn down. We are lucky that people invite us over for and share their food and time with us. Lunch here, like other Latin American countries, is the biggest meal and dinner is just a light snack like bread with coffee or small tamale. Lunch however consists of a big meal that without a doubt keeps you full until your evening snack, if not longer. Typically lunch starts out with a bowl of soup followed by a plate covered by a mound of rice, a small piece of meat (usually a piece of chicken), a sliced boiled potato and aji (hot sauce). This meal is what we’ve encountered most around here in Trujillo although there are many others delicious foods that give Peru a good name. We will feature some of those plates in a later blog.

We enjoy the table fellowship and story telling with neighbors. Also, the food they make is very good but at the same time I have a love/hate relationship with lunches of the local Peruvian neighbors. Why? Well, love because of the company, generosity, example of what it means to give of the little you have, and because the food tastes delicious. Then what is it that I dislike? Well, when I said a mound of rice I meant it. The plate is covered from edge to edge with a heaping, rounded mass of rice. I love rice, don’t get me wrong, but Emily and I guess that there must be at least four cups of rice on one plate alone. The chicken always tastes very good but after a bowl of soup I just can’t handle so much rice. I usually eat about half the rice. When we first arrived to Peru, I would always eat ALL of the rice and somehow Emily would manage to sneak some of hers onto my plate. I would leave the neighbor’s house so overfilled with rice that my stomach actually hurt from being bloated. This uncomfortable feeling would last for a few hours after lunch and then I would have to take a nap. Now I only eat about half the rice but I always run the risk of hurting the feelings of the cook. People here are very proud of their food and their cooking and pay close attention when you as the visitor are eating to see if you like the food. The truth is that they cook very well and their rice is much better than any I’ve ever made but that is just a lot of rice. People give me so much more than Emily and more than themselves. Why? I think they are trying to fatten me up. Many people now have the impression that I don’t like rice but I beg to differ. A key for not offending the cook especially if I don’t finish all the rice is to let them know over and over how great the meal was. We all enjoy a nice compliment every now and then, specially from guests.

~ Rafael

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A Rooster From The Sky

Money doesn’t fall from the sky but apparently roosters do. A neighbor recently invited me over to a very delicious chicken, I mean rooster lunch. I asked her if it was a chicken she had raised or if she had bought it at the market. She said neither of the two. She then proceeded to say that it was a very special lunch because it was a rooster that had fallen from the sky. I thought to myself, oh great what the heck does that mean. I didn’t like the way it sounded so I proved.

Apparently she woke up that morning to feed her chickens and low and behold there was a strange foreign rooster on her roof. She was so eager because she knew her lunch had arrived early. The lunch tasted great but all of the sudden I wished I had never asked where the “chicken” had come from. I guess this would have been one of those times to have kept my mouth shut. My lunch didn’t seem to be as pleasant anymore. I have always been a picky eater that for some odd reason gets grossed out easily. I wish I was not like that and because of it, roosters that fall from the sky don’t leave a good taste in my mouth.

~Rafael

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