Punks in Streets, Goats in Cars, and God at Work

Trip Start Jun 06, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Peru  ,
Friday, July 20, 2007

1.  Cuidate (Take Care)

I had my first scare in Peru on Friday the 13th.  I was pretty shaken up.  Damn, itīs a nasty feeling to have someone try to rob you.  They were street punks up to no good.  As I was walking down the road to the Rojas house in Lima they asked, "De donde eres?" (Where are you from?).  Being the friendly and curious gringo I am I responded, "Estados Unidos," and hurriedly carried on.  They invited me to more conversation by asking what part.  I had to decline.  The young men didnīt seem the type to slow down for and chat with so I only yelled, "El Norte!"  Hoping the exchange was over I pressed on.  To my dismay, so did the punks, in the same direction...

"Cuidate" is a word that Peruvians often use along with or functioning as a goodbye.  It comes from the verb cuidar which means, in the reflexive form, "to take care of oneself."  Iīve heard this word over a hundred times since arriving in Peru, much more frequently than the typical Peruvian.  Itīs not because I meet more people and make a better impression on them.  Itīs for another reason.  You see, "take care" does not quite mean the same thing in Peru as it might in the states.  I often suggest to friends and family to, "take care" (of themselves) when I say goodbye.  The intended meaning when I say it is something like, "Donīt stress yourself out too much at work," or "make sure to take a walk in the park, get some exercise and fresh air."  Here in Peru the meaning is much more a matter of security and survival.  It means, "Be careful not to get robbed," or "Take care not to get kidnapped," or "Donīt be stupid if someone stops you with a gun."  After the night of the 13th, I was glad to hear the warning so many times.

Since the warnings, I always look behind me in the streets.  Every minute or two I glance back to see what might be coming up.  So in this case, I glanced back and there I saw my pals from the corner following me. 

I sped up my pace, looked back and noticed they had sped up as well.  By now I was thinking their friendliness was a little over the top- maybe even suspicious.  I tested my hypothesis by crossing to the other side of the street.  I think my actions hurt their feelings because the front man yelled out, "Hola!  Gringo!"  They all crossed the street and started to spread out.  That was the, "Oh, Shit!" moment.  They were cutting off any escape routes.  So I located the nearest light and the nearest people not hostily approaching me and headed in that direction.  I kept my eye on their movements.  It was like a coach had planned the routes for them- "Xīs" darting about the street, surrounding the one "O", me, backing into a wall.  It seemed hopeless.

The young man demanded money from me.  He reached into his pocket for something.  I awkwardly stepped between the two aging Peruvian professionals that I had located, hoping he wouldnīt do anything too desperate with them there.  I told him repeatedly I had nothing but books in my bag, and after 15 seconds of pure awkwardness and uncertainty he decided to leave.

The two strangers allowed me through the locked gate into the front part of their store.  One said something about the police and cruised off on his bike.  The other whistled down a taxi to take me the two blocks to the house. 

I made it home.  I was shook up, but with a shaking hand I wrote out my anxiety in my journal.  I was really paranoid for the rest of the night and the next day.  Now, Iīm just more careful and pay attention when Iīm told, "Cuidate."

2.  Goats on a Combi

The most practical way to get around in Peru is the combi.  I mentioned combis briefly in a previous entry but didnīt go into any detail.  Combis are vans, about the size of a Dodge Caravan.  The difference being that instead of 5 or 6 people being inside there are about 12-15 for any given journey.  In the combi one can get just about anywhere in a city for about 35 cents.  So itīs cramped, but itīs cheap.

Every combi is equipped with a loud, obnoxious screamer.  A screamer is a young man (every once in awhile a woman), who is in charge of collecting fare from the passengers who board the rolling combi.  Along with this responsibility they have several others.  The screamer has to scream the street names at everything moving along every street, he opens and closes the door, he hangs outside the van at 45 m.p.h., and hits the side of the van repeatedly, yells, and whistles (to get peoplesī attention as well as to express the anger of his driver at some other competing combi that cut him off).  Also, every once in awhile the screamer generously helps the clueless traveler, like me.  One sunny afternoon outside the bustling city of Chiclayo, I learned that the screamer is also responsible to take care of animals that want to ride the combies. 

On my way home from the ancient pyramids of Túcume (near Chiclayo), I saw a man crouched over and waving his hand.  I thought he was bundling up corn at first but soon realized that he was doing something to an animal.  It looked like a dog.  A Canadian mentioned something about roadkill.  I was immediately curious to have a look and incredibly surprised when all of a sudden the screamer banged on the door and demanded the driver to stop.  I couldnīt believe it!  The screamer had compassion for the poor animal and wanted to help.

He swung open the Combi door, leaped to the street, and immediately had his hands tied up with the other mans doing something to the animal.  They were pulling, and tying, and writhing.  It must have been terrible!  Then they lifted up the beast.  And by golly!  It was a bleating goat!  They were hoisting the goat up to the roof of the combi to bring it into town.  Its eyes were crazy, its screams so much like a person yelling, "AHHHH!"  I could only laugh and reach for my camera.  Then we were off.  We knew ole Billy was directly above us by the kicking of the roof.  We knew he was upset by the cry of "AHHHH!" every time the door opened. 

So the goat made it to the market.  Likely, he has already visited several homes in Chiclayo, sitting quietly on a dinner plate at the dinner table of hungry Peruvians taking a big sniff, and saying, "Ahhh...Ļ Combi screamer, job well done.

3.  A Reflection: God at Work

As I have moved from one experience to the next, one group of loving people to the next, I see God at work more and more in my life.  Along my journey Iīve been blessed with the generosity of the Rojas family, the hospitality of Cheridyn up north, the mission team from Texas, the congregation at Luz Divina, a mission family in Chiclayo, and Iīm on my way to jungle shamans and pastors in Iquitos.  What does it all mean?

I think these happenings show us that God is working constantly, sending people, thoughts, and feelings to guide us in following His will for us.  In a recent devotion I read, "Everyday God sends us opportunities for spiritual growth."  I think of spending a week with the team from Texas.  My spirit grew in understanding of mission after conversations with missionaires like David from Argentina, church administrators like the newly elected bishop for the Gulf Coast area, Mike Rinehart, and ley leaders like Juanito Warner.

Working with these people led to another bountiful connection with leaders of the Lutheran Church in Peru like Pastor Benjamin and the children at Luz Divina.  My spirit grew in capacity as it stretched into Peru to embrace the children and shadow the leaders of the church in their work.  Two weeks later I felt that it was time to move on.  And then God bestowed a great blessing upon me to run into Henrik, a Lutheran missionary in Chiclayo, Peru.  Whatīs going on?
Henrik and I have been swapping emails for over a month.  We lost track of each other amidst packed schedules.  Then, by chance, I randomly discovered Henrik at Cristo Rey, a Lutheran church in Lima.  After a group of gringos entered the building I asked who the older male one was and learned he was pastor Enríque.  I thought nothing of it.  Then, after five minutes it clicked.  Enríque is the spanish version of Henrik!  Next thing I knew, I had changed my plans, bought a bus ticket, and was sitting across from Henrik and his daughter on the way to the Mission in Chiclayo.

It was so exciting and interesting to spend a few days running around with Henrik.  Also from my daily devotional, "Rubbing shoulders with people who trust in God is contagious."  The whole family is an example of trusting God.  After 20+ years in the mission field Henrik, his wife Patti, and daugher Becca are heading back to the states.  They continue forward confidently, trusting their futures to God and the mission to the other faithful servants in Chiclayo. 
It has been wonderful seeing God at work in my life.  I live faithfully and act with greater passion and confidence.  With every vocab word I learn and every person I meet I know God will make use of it in the future.  "Now Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see" (Hebrews 11:1).  We donīt always see Godīs plan in full- it may be another life until we do.  But by faith we can be certain that there is a plan.  Such certainty brings me confidence in living.  I pray it is doing the same for all of you.

God Bless,

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tabijim on

Continue to Embrace the Unexpected

Wow! You are amazing! After the close call with the punks, you can see through the whole Peru experience, and continue to embrace the unexpected. Good for you, and I'm thankful you were not harmed. I will rest in the thought that you are doing God's work.
Kio tsukete! Cuidate!

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