Sunday, June 17, 2012

Life After Baptism, Parts 1 and 2

A week ago we went to the baptism of a 10 year old boy, Ricardo - the son of a couple in our ward.  He has wanted to be baptized for a long time, but he has great fear of water.  We went to the church at the appointed time and found it dark.  The missionaries came soon after with the news that the baptism was off.  Ricardo wasn't ready.

 It's possible he was remembering the first time he went to be baptized, about a year ago.  That time he stood in the water with the missionary for over an hour, but could not bring himself to the point of being submerged.  Miriam has tried several times during this year to get Ricky to take swimming lessons so he won't be afraid to be baptized.  But he refuses.

 Tonight, Thursday, we call the missionaries a few minutes before 7;00 to see if the baptism is really going to happen.   Yes, they say. But not until 8:00.  Can we borrow your hot pot?  We want to get the baptismal water a little warmer for Ricky.

 This is an electric pot we use to heat our dishwater. It holds 2 liters of water.  I  think about the house we live in which has no heater. Neither do the churches, nor the office in which we work.  Neither is there a heater for the water used in the baptismal font.

 "No way," I think.  "That little pot will make no difference whatsoever."  But I give it to them anyway.

 "Maybe it will be okay," I say to myself.  "It's not really cold here - just rather. . . fresh."  These are the kind of positive words I tell the unhappy missionaries to use.  I am practicing what I preach.

 We arrive at the church at 8:00, but Ricky and his family are not here yet.  Neither is the Bishop.  But six elders are hustling around managing the water.  Two of them come in with a huge pot full of steaming water and pour it into the font. They have carried it five blocks from their house where it was heated on their stove.   I put my hand in the font water.  Yes. It's still fresh. But Ricky should be okay.  After all, he's lived here his entire life without a forced-air furnace. "He's used to it," I tell myself.  These are the kind of positive words I use to think, "We positively didn't come out in vain tonight.  Surely this time he will be baptized."

 I watch while they pour little pot after little pot of water into the font.  The water stays fresh.

 Ricky and his mother, Miriam, arrive.  Miriam has brought a friend, Julienne, who is an investigator, she tells me.  She has not brought her husband.  "El está en crisis," she tells us.

 "Oh, no!"  we think.  He was sick for many months and has only recently become somewhat better.  He has stayed home in great pain.

 The Bishop arrives soon after, wheeling his bicycle down the hall. (We do not leave valuable things unattended at night here.)   He is dressed in Levis and a nice sweatshirt.  "Hmmm,"  I think.  "He's thinking there will not be a baptism tonight."

 The elders keep pouring little pots of water into the font.  Miriam tries to test the water with her hand.  She can't reach it.  She's too short.  Julienne tries to test the water. She is shorter than Miriam.  "It's still fresh,"  I think, but I don't say it aloud.

 Miriam pulls a pair of flip flops, an orange t-shirt, and some camo shorts from a grocery bag.  She gives them to Ricky, and I realize she brought them for him to wear in the font.  I say nothing.  I have learned to be quiet sometimes.  "This is not my job,"  I think.  "Some elder will get out white clothes for Ricky and he will change without my intervention."

 This is just what happens.  In a while Ricky, dressed in white, enters the room followed by two missionaries also dressed in white.  This surprises me.  "Has Ricky not yet chosen who will baptize him, so both got ready and are waiting for him to pick which one?"

 "Well," I think, "they can work this out without my intervention."   I have learned to be quiet sometimes.

 The Bishop calls the meeting to order, and we sing a hymn, then I offer the opening prayer.  I ask Heavenly Father to bless Ricky that he will be able enter the water without fear.  This is more than positive thinking.  I have faith that this can happen.  Of course, I realize that my faith can be over-ridden by someone else's agency.

 While the Bishop welcomes the visitor, Ricky walks out of the room.  Bruce whispers that he thinks Ricky has gone to hide somewhere now that we are down to the wire.  But then we hear people talking behind the shutters that close off the font from the room we're in.  It's Ricky and four missionaries.  The light is on over the font and we can see through the slats in the shutter. An elder pours another huge, steaming pot of water into the font.

 Then the two elders dressed in white step down into the water.  "Wow! "I think.  "They can both count this baptism!  If it really happens."  That's still a big IF.

 Ricky steps into the water.  He makes a sound that I interpret to mean, "THIS WATER IS REALLY FRESH!!!"

 An elder says something indistinguishable that I interpret to mean, "We put hot water in here just for you.  It's fine."

 I clearly hear Ricky saying, "?Dónde está el agua caliente?  (Where is the hot water?)  He searches around with his foot, but does not find the hot water.

 The elders gently pull him off the steps, and Ricky clutches at them.

There are no more questions about water of any temperature.  This is now a matter of life and death for Ricky.  We understand that how cold or warm the water is will not matter to a ten year old boy who is thinking he may drown in the baptismal font.

 He clings to the elders.  They have a hard time removing him.  Ricky is not a small boy.  He is actually rather hefty.  He comes to his mother's shoulder, and even though she is short, that is saying something.  An elder says, "?Tienes confianza en nosotros?"  (Do you trust us?)  Ricky answers with something that I interpret to mean, "Not really, guys."

The three arrange themselves for the prayer and the baptism, the elders speaking persuasively. It is difficult with Ricky trying to hold on.

An elder raises his arm to the square and speaks the baptism prayer.  Ricky keeps his eyes open.  The prayer over, the elders try to lay Ricky back in the water.  Nothing doing.  He struggles to remain standing.

 More words of persuasion.  The words for baptism are spoken again,  This time Ricky leans forward and plunges his face into the water.  He looks up at the elders expectantly.  No one wants to say the words that have to be said.  The elders look for mercy from the Bishop, who shakes his head.  The boy's back never entered the water.

 I look at Julienne to see how she is taking all this.  "His body must be entirely submerged in the water - everything at once," I explain.  She nods in understanding.  She says, "It's just that he is so afraid of the water.  He had a bad experience once in the water.  He almost drowned."  I nod in understanding.

Another prayer is said.  Ricky stands like a piller in the water.

 I say to Julienne, "I've never seen a baptism quite like this."  I'm thinking I should say "attempted" baptism.  She says, "He really wants to be baptized.  He's just afraid."  I am glad to see that she does not see this as coercive, but rather as persuasive.

More words of persuasion, Ricky still resisting.

Bruce leans over and says, "I can't take this.  I'm getting out of here."  Bruce loves Ricky.  He walks out of the room.

Miriam is leaning against the wall with her back turned to the font.

Julienne and I are avidly watching the most unique baptism I could ever have imagined.

Suddenly the baptism is over.  No more words of persuasion - just action.  An elder slips his foot behind Ricky's knees and the other leans him back. As if they had practiced it a dozen times.  !A perfect dunk!

The boy is baptized before he knows what is happening and  before he can express his fear again.

He comes up and gasps for breath.  "No me siento bien!"  He exclaims.  (I don't feel well!)  But it is over and done.  In a few minutes he does feel well again.  Very well.  He has accomplished what he feared he could never do.  And he has survived!

"Bien hecho!" We say to Ricky.  "Good job.  Well done."


 We go to Sacrament Meeting this morning (Sunday, 10:00 a.m.) expecting that Ricky will be confirmed.  Miriam is sitting on the front row of the chapel, which is their usual seat, but she is alone.

She tells us that she went early this morning to work her land a little.  This is land thirty minutes away by bus where they are going to build a house - someday - when they have the money.  She came straight from the land to the church, changing her clothes on the way.  She isn't sure where los Ricardos (father and son) are.

As she talks I see Ricardo, padre entering the chapel.  He is alone.  But he looks better than I thought I would see him after his crisis.  He stops to shake hands with people as he works his way to the front.

Then I see Ricardito, happy and smiling, walking up the aisle.  He sits down just as the meeting is starting.  We sit down too, anxious to hear what Ricardito thought about his baptism after considering for a while.

After the opening song and prayer, the confirmation is announced.  The Ricardos go up to the stand and the bishopric joins Ricardo, padre in laying their hands on Ricardito's head.  It is a lovely blessing. I write quickly all I can so I can give it to Miriam to fill in.

After the confirmation, the Bishop invites Miriam to join her husband and son next to him.  They stand with arms around each other while the Bishop talks about eternal families and the important step Ricardito has taken in spite of his temorcitos (little fears).  We smile to ourselves.  "!Little fears!"

When the meeting ends we hurry forward to talk to them.  Ricky has jumped up and is being embraced one at a time by various women in the ward.  He seems to take in stride both the hugs and the felicidades.  We tell him our felicidades and then he splits.

"What did he think of the baptism?" I blurt out to Miriam.  She is smiling.  "Oh, era increible!  El dijo a todo el mundo que era bautizado - la familia, los vecinos, todos!  Era tan feliz!""  (It was incredible. He told everyone that he was baptized - the family, the neighbors, everyone!  He was so happy!")

"Y tambien me dijo,"she says, 'Dejes de hablar de lecciones de piscina.'"  (And he also told me, "Stop talking about swimming lessons.")

 Se dice (It is said) that all's well that ends well.  So it has.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Life After the Party Begins

We've been in Lima a few months now. We have adapted to Peruvian time, meaning we don't become sorely vexed when meetings don't start on time. We usually try to be on time ourselves, though, because once in a while a meeting starts on the dot of the announced hour.

Last Sunday a dinner to celebrate the founding of the Relief Society was announced to begin at 7 p.m. on Friday. We know it won't really begin at 7, so we leave the apartment a few minutes after the hour, and begin a leisurly walk to the church (which is only four minutes away). We walk slowly and enjoy the cool of the evening.

On our corner we see something interesting. Well, let me qualify interesting for you. We do not have a satellite dish. We do not have TV. We do not take the newspaper. We read the Ensign or Liahona. Last week we watched on our computer a John Wayne DVD - "El Dorado". Sometimes there is a crash at the corner (four times since we've been here), and we walk down to figure out who broke the law and to see if anyone is seriously injured and to check out how fast it takes the police to arrive. That's the kind of interesting I'm talking about.

There is an old truck pulled over to the very spot where the crashed vehicles always come to a rest - northeast corner of the intersection where the electical box is. The truck is a flatbed with fenced sides, very much like the truck my father used to drive when I was six or seven. The right rear tire is missing and the axle sits on the ground.

Sitting on the curb across the street is an old woman from the country. That she is from the country is clear by the long braid down her back and the blouse and heavy skirt she wears. We stop to talk with her.

How is she? Estoy bien. (We see she has very few teeth. Another sign of being from the country.)

What happened? Mi hijo fue para comprar una llanta. (My son went to buy a tire.) ?Sabe donde está una llantería?

I'm sorry. I don't know where a tire store is. Maybe over that way (Calle Javier Prado) or over that way (Calle Melgarejo).

Would she like a glass of water while she waits for her son to return with a new tire?

She asks me, "Su casa está cerca?" Oh yes, I say, my house is just down the street. I'll be back in just a moment. What I really want to ask her, but am unwilling to provide for her if she says "Si", is, Does she need to use a bathroom?

I am remembering waiting for someone to return, not knowing how long they will be and how long I am going to have to refuse relief to my body's urgent need. But I can get her a bottle of cold, clean water. And a peanut butter and honey sandwich. And three peach halves in juice. And a paper towel in case she decides she will relieve herself in some dark place near this corner.

We return with the food, visit for a few minutes, and turn the corner to walk to the church. As we move down the walk, we can see through the church windows three young men in the hall where the dinner will be. No one else. Maybe the other guests are all sitting down?

We walk in and find the tables covered with lovely gold cloths. Each chair has a gold bow tied at its back. The piano is turned to the room with a folder of music resting on top. Oh! There will be entertainment! The other guests ARE sitting down - all three of them. No food in evidence. No smell of food. No one rushing around doing last minute preparations.

Well, we can wait. It's Peru, right? We've adapted, right? We sit down to talk with the others. It's been a long day of sitting for me though, so after a few moments I get up to wander. When I get to the piano I begin sifting through the music in the folder. As I look, one of the young men walks over. He plays the piano for our Sunday meetings. We have a conversation in Spanish in which I am reminded that my Spanish is not that great. He is going to play tonight for a woman who will come later to sing. He plays a famous Serenade, doing a rather good job. Then he opens the music he will play for the singer: A Karen Carpenter song, one of her first great hits - "Close to You".

I love this song, I say. I used to sing it to my baby who was born about the time the song became popular. I think about how I loved singing this to my Joel.

The young man begins to play and I begin to sing - quietly. How lovely that Karen Carpenter had a low voice. I don't sound good, but at least I can reach all the notes. The song ends, and I see that a few more people have arrived. It's 7:30. We move to a table at the invitation of an older couple. We visit. It's 7:40. We visit. It's 7:50. I haven't eaten since lunch at 12:30. I don't really feel hungry, but I know I'm going to suffer from low blood sugar tomorrow. We visit until 8:00. No food in the building yet, but a few more people walk in.

We see the sister missionaries and excuse ourselves to talk with them. We talk for 5 minutes, and are standing there when three plates of food are carried in. We talk for 5 more minutes. No more food.

I have to go home and eat.

So we say good-by and leave. We are not upset because we've adapted to Peruvian time, and this is how it is here. I could have prevented my emptiness by eating before I came. I resolve to do so next time.

At home we nuke frozen pizza and decide to go to bed early. It's cool so we choose to sleep in our bed instead of on the air mattress in the living room as we have done all summer.

It's almost 10:00 p.m.. We lie in bed and listen to the parties going on outside - at least three from the sounds. A woman laughs maniacally from time to time. Some older people are having a loud discussion. Some kids way down the courtyard are laughing raucously. Not enough to keep us awake because we have adapted to Peru's party sounds. We are alseep within a few minutes.
A bugle sounds!!! I sit straight up in bed. One of those crazy kids!!! I have not adapted to this! I am AWAKE! It is 12:20 a.m.

But maybe I can adapt. I lie down and turn my back to the window thinking, "He'll get tired in a few minutes. He can't keep this up."

But he is keeping it up, and I realize he's making music, not just noise. In a minute a group of men begin singing with the bugle, and I realize it's not a bugle - it's a trumpet and a mariachi band!

I hope it's a recording. But the music stops and someone uses a microphone to thank the group for their applause. It is a real, live mariachi bandwith a microphone at someone's party. It's 12:23, and and we can tell they are going to sing for a while. We get out of bed, taking our pillows, and move into the living room where we will set up the air mattress.

A new song begins, slower and much quieter. Half way through the first line I realize, "I know this song!!! (At least I know the English translation of it that I learned from Miss Just, the fifth grade music teacher.) I join in, ". . .but more beautiful than his song is the sweet music we bring. Awaken, oh my Beloved. . ." I grab Bruce and make him dance with me while I finish the last line, ". . awake for the dawn is nigh. The birds are singing sweetly. The moon has gone from the sky."

Bruce does not enjoy my singing, but I LOVE knowing a song being performed at midnight by a mariachi band at a Peruvian party. What a great party night!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Life After Losing My Passport in Bolivia

Bruce and I flew out of Cochabamba, Bolivia this morning after making presentations to missionaries there Tuesday through Thursday. We were scheduled for a layover in Santa Cruz long enough to spend several hours with the missionaries in Santa Cruz, and then fly on to Lima this afternoon.

We landed and left the plane. I usually count my carry-on items when I leave a plane - pillow, backpack, carry-on bag, and fanny pack. Not this time. I realized as we walked through the terminal that I didn't have my bolsa (black fanny pack). MY PASSPORT WAS IN IT!

Heart pounding, I walked over to a security person and told her what had happened. She called someone who said they would check the plane as soon as all the passengers had disembarked. She told me to wait there for news. I waited. Waited. Wanted to visit the baño, but stayed in place in case the person came back with news while I was gone. Finally a guy came along and said I couldn't wait there any longer - he was going to close that area.

We waited some more in another part of the terminal. (Erin, think of the Beira terminal, but a little bit bigger.) They finally told us (with little sympathy) that the bag was not on the plane.

My passport, two debit cards, a credit card, two checkbooks, my little bolsita with about 200 soles (about $75 American) in it, the lipstick Jenny gave me (my favorite), a flash drive with a lot of work on it that was irreplaceable, and my mission journal (present from Joy).

As we waited we became later and later for our presentation to a group of missionaries waiting for us. I kept exercising calma, tranquilidad, paz - and I did manage to keep from hyperventilating. I wondered if I would be able to talk to these missionaries about how to manage their thinking.

What if I collapsed in tears!!!!
What if I had a panic attack!!!!
What if I found that the trauma was so great I could no longer speak Spanish!!!!

We arrived at the church and found the missionaries singing hymns (rather than swinging from the rafters as I had feared). The mission president wasn't there because he had had to fly out of town earlier in the day.

I presented my information - the third time in four days - all in Spanish. At the very beginning I almost began to cry. But Bruce said the presentation was the best of the three I've given. That would be because I was mentally praying so often and so fervently that I would be able to get through it without breaking down. I did get through it. Then Bruce did his presentation.

While he was talking the phone rang. We hadn't been able to get a signal before then. It was Liliana calling from our area office to ask me about my passport - did I have a copy of it with me (of course not), did I have a copy of it in my desk at the office (of course not), did I have a copy at home (yes, but I'm not sure where). OK, I'll call you back later.

While I was doing my presentation, the church attorney came to talk with Bruce about the problem. He said he would try to work things out. So - three sets of people working on it, counting the church travel people got involved as well.

After Bruce was done we said personal good-byes to a couple dozen of the 80 missionaries that were there, one of whom assurred me with a lovely grin, No se preocupe, Hermana. Va a obtener su bolsa hoy. (Don't worry, Sister. You're going to get your purse back today.) I thanked him and wondered/hoped he was a really faithful missionary. And then Presidente Calderón showed up! Their flight plans had gone awry and they were in town after all.

Oh, Happy Day!!! We had been wondering what we were going to do about eating and getting places. They took us to lunch - really good food. While eating President contacted the American Consulate in Santa Cruz (no embassy here). A woman there told me what I had to do to get a new passport.

  • Make a police report at Interpol - do this in a hurry because they would be closed tomorrow and not open again until Monday, and it would take a couple of hours to get the report.

  • Get a passport photo for an American passport, 2x2 cm on a white background. (I guess countries have different requirements.)

  • Come to her office on Monday (!!!) and fill out forms that will be sent to La Paz that afternoon, be completed on Tuesday, and sent back to Santa Cruz on Wednesday.

  • OR

  • Do the police report in a hurry (ditto above) and get the passport photo. (Ditto above)

  • Fly to La Paz (But I don't have ID!! Oh, I thought, this can be done without any identification, as we experienced this morning when we boarded our flight from Cochabamba and only had to show our boarding passes. And we didn't have to remove our shoes. And they passed out the snack for the flight as we went through the gate before getting on the plane. And they let us bring on bottles of water that were purchased who knows where!) and be at the American Embassy 9 a.m. Monday for an appointment she would set up.

OK. We could do all that because Presidente Calderón was willing to drive us around. We arrived at the police station (Main Police station for the city of 1.5 million people) and found three men there to help us: the church attorney, a church travel worker, and someone else with another job which seems to be to help stranded missionaries.

We had to get badges to go to Interpol and then walk through a metal detector. When I say I don't have any ID, she shruggs her shoulders and gives me a badge. She motions us through a metal detector. When I say I can't do that because I have a marco-pasa (pace-maker), she says it doesn't work anyway, so go on through.

We all go up, and very quickly I am told to enter the office (before at least half a dozen others who are waiting, including a Mennonite couple). The woman asks me nothing. She talks with the attorney who has come in with me. He answers all her questions, shows her the copy of my passport the area office has sent, and shows her Bruce's passport with the Visa and the papel de engres (entry paper).

She is not impressed. Where is HER papel de engres? How do we know she came in legally? Here is her husband's passport with Visa and proof of entry, says the attorney. She considers with narrowed eyes. She finally turns away, answers a call on her personal cell phone, then looks at me. I say, Muchas gracia, señorita, por ayudarme, (for helping me) with as much warmth as I can pull up in my traumatized state. She smiles for half a second and goes back to her stone face.

She pulls up the papers and fills out one small part. Regresa el lunes de la mañana, (Come back Monday in the morning) she says while placing my papers in a file. My eyes go wide. Por favor, señorita, says the attorney, she needs to fly to La Paz Monday morning. She sighs, pulls the papers out, notarizes and signs them with a flourish. Espere (Wait), she commands. She returns in two minutes with the papers and gives them to me. (I'm thinking, Come back Monday in the morning because it will take so long to finish this?!!!!) But I say, Muchas gracia, señorita, with a huge, genuine smile. I know my skin has been saved by the church attorney.

The church travel person has been talking to Presidente Calderón. They should fly to La Paz tonight, he says, because the planes are not dependable. The flight could be delayed for hours and she could miss her appointment. Then her passport would be delayed another day. OK, we agree. We drive to the airport because there is a flight to La Paz in a couple of hours. The ticket is being changed from Lima to La Paz by the travel guy. I'm thinking, Where will we stay in La Paz? Who will get us to the Embassy? Where will we get food? Can I get gluten free? Do we have enough money for all this?

As we walk into the airport I say, we should check with Aero Sur one more time to see if my bolsa has shown up. The Lost and Found office says we have to ask Security. I walk up to the check-in counter and explain that I lost my bolsa on the plane this morning and need to go to Security. ?Donde está? (Where is it?) He bids me, Espere, and calls someone, then walks away. I wait. Wait. WAIT. With patience and humility. He comes back after 10 minutes and says, (Hay un pasaporte, pero no pienso que es suyo. (They have a passport, but I don't think it's yours.)

I wait some more. El está viniendo. (He's coming.) I strain to see over and around the people in front of the man. Is that a black bag in his hands???!!!!!

I break into strains of Muchas gracias! Muchas gracias! I hold the bag to my bosom. The travel man, with patience, says, Mire para el pasaporte (Look for the passport.) I look. The money is gone and so is my favorite lipstick that Jenny gave me. Those young women sitting behind me, I think!!!!! But my passport IS there with the papel de engres!

!!!!OH HAPPY DAY!!!!

But the flight to Lima has already left. We find out it will cost$800 American apiece to change our tickets to tomorrow. We need to stay another day. The church travel man lives nearby and will pick us up for church at 8 a.m. on Sunday and get us to the airport in the afternoon. So here we are in Santa Cruz at the Sun Hotel having a vacation.

We swam in a lovely pool this evening. Dad learned to float!!!! The water was delightfully warm. The sun was going down. The sky was beautiful. The bats came out. So did the mosquitoes. So here I am inside, learning to blog.