Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hacienda San Nicolas- onions, dystopia, and amateur anthropology

San Nicolas looks a little like the set of a dystopian novel 50 years after the end of civilization. Back in it's day, it had a movie theater, an airport, and a train station. Now Hacienda San Nicholas is just abandoned land and squatter housess, the bricks from tumble-down buildings used to make stacked-stone walls enclosing farmer's fields.

The large train station is carpeted in sprouting onions, the church condemned by an earthquake. Small herds of sheep and cows are driven down the main street, herded under a decaying bridge by men on horses and thir dogs. The hacienda big house looks half haunted, half inhabited. Signs of a once booming economy are quickly disintegrating into something that soon only archeologists will be able to discipher. 
 What caused this booming town to be abandoned? How could such magnificent buildings just decay in silence, not even known to exist by the majority of local people?

A mix of factors--an earthquake, the sugar factory moving up the coast, the highway changing location, and the railway closing down--led to this strange occurrence. San Nicolas, now disconnected from highways and commercial centers is fading into nothing.
Dora, a woman from our church, grew up on the hacienda, her father being the majordomo--a chief administrator. She led us around the ruins and described what it had been like. "Over there was the town square," she waves over at a dirt track running through dust and patchy crops with adobe houses in the background, "It had a town hall, and a big movie theater where you could go up on the balcony and look over town."

"Back on that hill was the health post," she points to a hill scattered with uneven piles of adobe bricks and no discernable purpose.

"This was the church, and that staircase was how you got to the Patron's house, but it is all bricked over now." The church, looking old and abandoned but complete except for a few large cracks, was of a scale not even seen where I live in Puerto, a fishing boom town where "money ran like water" during it's golden years.
The hacienda commands a view of fields and distant ocean waves, and a prime location on what was once a main thoroughfare, a footbridge spanning from hacienda porch to warehouse second floor.
Dora pointed to a wooden shed, looking as though it were being consumed from the ground up, saying "that's where everyone lined up to get paid and receive the big sacks of rice, potatoes and other stuff the Patron gave them."
Nearby, there is a cemetary that is quite different from the other local ones. Instead of brightly colored mausoleums and high-rise coffin apartments decorated with paintings and figurines, the Japanese cemetary is stately and minimalistic. Narrow, pointed grave markers and breathing tubes stand in rows. Peru received many Japanese and Chinese migrants who, though at first treated as slaves, made their mark and have shaped peruvian culture and cuisine. Dora tells of local kids taking advantage of the fruit and money left at new graves before it was closed off from the public.

What started for me as a church fieldtrip to the pool ended in an investigative adventure in amateur anthropology.
It's incredible the way simple changes in infrastructure and industry can so profoundly erase a town, leaving sunflowers and piles of rotten onions where once stood airports and movie theaters. 

Maybe dystopic and post-apocalyptic stories are currently so popular because, in an age where we feel limitless and invincible with our ground-breaking technogy, we need to be reminded that one little failure, or a string of innocent changes can topple not just towns but whole civilizations. Nothing is forever- As much as we try to pretend it is not, life truly is fragile.
Life lesson: Sieze every day and live it to the fullest before your livingroom is used to store surplus onions and foreigners with overactive imaginations take safaris through your backyard.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Spring Break Round Three!

Usually I come away from a week with a team with one theme or idea. Usually I have a lot of descriptive analogies and complementary things to say, or at the very least, an impressive list of goals accomplished. 

This year was different. I don't really know what to say, or how to sum up the week. So here's my best shot, as incomplete as it is:
To be honest, I did not want a team this year. I washed my hands of the decision, knowing that my frame of mind wasn't right. Grace and Cesar accepted the team, and I set to working out the details, but had no uniting vision for the week: "Build stuff and play with kids" seemed to be a bit to simple. The crucial things were nailed down- food, housing, transportation- but the rest? It was not going to be my stamina or charisma that made it work, and I begged God to make something good come of all of this. 
There was Godly love that shone forth from my new friends whether they played enthusiastically with kids who usually don't get shown much undivided attention, painted, or threaded electrical wiring through tubes. I simply basked in the secondhand radiation.
They opened the door to many conversations with neighbors and mothers of the kids, who were appreciative of their attention and their example of hard work. They served as positive role models for my kiddoes for even the few days they were here, reminding them that the world is bigger than they know, and God is closer than they can even imagine.
One night, we even got to celebrate the 18th birthday of one of my friends, who usually doesn't get celebrated. It was beautiful to see seventeen strangers have such a fun time in another stranger's house, making him and his family feel special and accepted without reserve.
 The last night we were able to share a bonfire with some of the kids, teens and a few of the parents we had connected with during the week.
Again, seeing a bunch young adults who cared for one another and for their new friends enough to roll in the sand, burn their fingers, and receive black eyes without a single complaint was a testament of something unusual and special, not found in other places. it made my neighbors question and think.
For me, an especially meaningful part was the way many of the young men who came down were able to connect immediately in ways I can never hope to with the boys and young men I try to serve.
While we spent our afternoons and some evenings with the kids, our mornings were spent on construction, divided between a variety of projects. The group touched up paint on the church, dry-walled, insulated, and wired the second floor that we hope to use as Sunday school space or as an apartment for a pastor and his family. 
A lot more was accomplished than expected, due to the energy and enthusiasm of our group members. Their willingness and eagerness to work was noted by many in town, and wondered at, especially when told that they were on vacation. It gave me the opportunity to share with many people that my new friends served and worked with such abandon because they understood the sacrifice and love Christ offered to them, and desired to offer it to others as well. 
One special touch left by this team was a new sign for our building. We have long needed a sign to let people know who and what we are, and were given a beautiful one!
 I felt refreshed by the week of radiant and loving community, blessed by their worship and joyfulness. It was a privilege to share with them, and know they listened.
 Sometimes it's the gifts we aren't eager to receive that end up meaning the most, and sometimes the way God works seems to be a little disorganized and strange in our eyes.
 But what is certain, is that his love is faithful, and that as we incarnate that love to others in adoration to Him, He will dress our small acts and weary efforts with supernatural power. Praise His name, for He is good. His love and mercy endures forever. 
 Thanks again Chi Alpha at UVA for sending your superstars to bless our town. Thanks for showering us with love and leaving an investment in the Kingdom. You gave your all to our little salchichas, and for that I am thankful for and proud of each and every one of you.