May 1, 2013

My Last Post

When I first arrived here I had just gotten to know most everybody's names. The girls were the easy part, each one with her own distinct haircut, height, and manner of dress. The boys all wore the same three t-shirts that had been donated in mass along with the same navy blue trousers and all had the same height. After I had finally mastered most of their names they all went one day and got haircuts. I couldn't tell the difference between thirty boys all wearing the same three t-shirts, navy blue trousers and freshly shaved heads.

Now, after first showing up almost four years ago I can recognize as somebody walks into the dining hall just by hearing their footsteps. There are the fast, long paces of Victor, he knows where he wants to go and isn't wasting any time. That's the slow shuffle of Samito, never walking in straight line, always glancing around from left to right as if he was daydreaming. There is the thumping of Virginia, wanting everybody to know that she has arrived. There are the quick, light steps of Ofeita running away from the dragging feet of Jose. I have to replace Jose's sandals every month because he can't walk heel-to-toe. He just shuffles around driving his toes into the ground.

But, after first showing up almost four years ago, after knowing these kids just like my own family, it's time for me to leave. This is the last post I'll put up here, the last story to tell.

There are a myriad of things I could reflect on, a millions different experiences, thousands of stories, hundreds of people. But if there is one thing I wish I could transmit to you for you to fully grasp the entirety of my time at the orphanage, the thing that will stay with me the most, it would be the smells. Stay with me for a second here. Smell is a terribly powerful memory indicator. I think it's because for most of us, scent works in a more subconscious level than sight or sounds. I've discovered this more and more especially as I am removed from things that are brought to mind by certain scents. One day I may be reminded of the scent of the hand soap from my grade school, another day the interior the truck I used to drive, perhaps the food concessions at a little league game.

Other scents conjure memories and emotions far more specific and vivid and evocative than simple time or place, memories that move me for no discernible reason. All of a sudden my nose catches a scent so distinct for some unknown reason from the millions of other scents I've sniffed in my lifetime that and I'm transported to the dinner table at my grandparents, sharing a meal as we did oh so many times. Another occurs while driving on the road as the breeze comes through the cabin carrying with it the scent of wildflowers and suddenly I'm not driving across African grassland but am transported on a road trip across the great American West with friends. Walking through the market and catching a waft of a vendor frying eggs for sale and suddenly being thrown in the kitchen as dad prepares breakfast on a Saturday morning before starting the day's sundry chores.

The memories, the ones that give me pause and transport me to a time and a place so foreign to this one that I've inhabited for nearly four years, the ones that without warning or explanation move me to tears of both unexplainable sadness and indescribable joy are not focused on the scents themselves, nor an activity or place, but the memories associated with them. The ones that grip the core of my being are the ones where I'm surrounding the people I love, I miss dearly, and care about deeply.

I know that soon those scents and those unfathomable pauses will come not because I'm overcome by things and people which are once again familiar, but by those I am leaving behind here. The scent of fresh cookies being sold to the kids at elementary school as I am returning home for the day hand-in-hand with the kids. The hint of thyme on the evening breeze, sitting around complaining about how late the rains are. Grilling chicken inside of a broken down wheelbarrow. The dust settling in the evening as I lay out staring at the milky way, sitting with kids who are constantly puzzled at the joy it gives me admiring God's creation.

One evening I found myself sitting around rather melancholy in such a moment as I contemplated that I live a very long way from all my family and friends and everyone I'd ever loved when one of the little girls we have here came over to sit with me. She could tell I was a little out of sorts and asked what I was thinking about. I said I was thinking about my family and that is what was was making me said. Without missing a beat, she just said, "Hmm, I don't know why you're sad. I'm your family, and you're my family, and here we are together." I then had to explain to her that my tears were not because she made me sadder but in fact the opposite. Then she asked me to stop hugging her so tight.

The memories I take with me are of teaching and coaching little Victor to pass 7th grade. Spending hours with him studying and then hours more praying and fasting and interceding while he was taking the exams. The memories I take with me are of putting out kitchen fires and killing snakes. The memories I take with me are of sitting around with my battery powered radio one evening when the power was out and the dining hall was lit up by candles. The radio then started a program of only Glenn Miller songs (remember, the radio is weird). That night I taught the kids swing dancing till the batteries died. The memories I'll take with me are the first day we sent kids off to stay with their relatives for Christmas and only about eight kids stayed behind, including three little girls that had no family to go to. I spent the evening with sitting with them and holding them while they cried themselves to sleep having no family to go and visit.

Like the memories, the photos are of the things I'll remember. They are not of the imposing mountains, the sunny beaches, the starry skies, the building we built, the events and activities, but of people.

I know you're not supposed to have favorites, but I do. It's also hard not to be impartial when you have certain kids that are always setting things on fire and other that aren't. The one's I'm drawn to are not because of anything they've done. The thing is, as I've explained before, nobody is without anybody. Everyone has an uncle, and grandparent, a mom, and older brother or sister who has left the orphanage, a cousin that goes to the same school. There are only a small handful of kids that have absolutely nobody to rely on. In part, it's because they completely realize that they are forever dependent on God. One such family is Jose, Jordao and Dorcas, who have absolutely nobody to rely on other than their senile Grandma—Jordao said one day, "I think Jesus is calling her because she has got to be getting close to going." The ones without family are the ones looking for it, for care and a connection, for protection and love.

Just as I have long known and only more fully realized here, my relationship with God is also fully realized when I am truly dependent on Him. Not just dependent for happiness, peace, forgiveness, and spiritual niceties, but for food, water, health, life. In the same way, I feel the kids here who grasp and have the simplest, purest picture of what Jesus does for them are the kids that have nobody to run to when it gets hard. As difficult as it is to imagine, we are not the first place the kids run to with problems. But for some there is nowhere to run. Little Victor has nobody to help him. Victor has a testimony that will break your heart, and his mom lives shouting distance from the orphanage. Victor is the kind of kid that come Friday I'll give him some spare change to get a pop after school or some fresh sugar cane and he instead offers the money to his mom, not out of fear or obligation, but because he knows that it truly better to give than receive.

In line with the immeasurable joy that comes from seeing a life transformed by Jesus also is the ache and frustration of those that don't accept the truth. For every Little Victor that has not only been spiritually changed by Jesus, but his entire destiny rewritten there are countless more that end in tragedy. People that make tragic decisions and set their lives on a tragic path and you spend you time trying to speak to them and reason to them for them to see that the decisions they are making are taking themselves on a path they can't come back from. It is the absolute definition of tragedy, in which their decisions seal their fate. I have written about so many kids that we have sent off to jobs and training and schooling. How many times have I written about when they came back?

People that come here and experience a family that loves them and treats them as equals. And when it comes time for them to make their own life, for some that is the last we hear of them. One boy still has a horde of younger siblings here in the orphanage and almost three years after for a job in another city and he has never looked back, come to visit, or even check in. If I call, he will eventually pick up on maybe the second day of me trying. Always cordial and polite, as soon as I tell him I'm standing right next to his younger sister who would love nothing more than to hear from him the line goes dead.

You can even say that it's like the prodigal son. They are people that, in some respects, the best parts of their lives have come from the orphanage—the first place where they weren't always sick, the first place where they didn't have to go labor everyday, the first place where they weren't shuffled around between relatives, always a burden and unwanted, the first place they knew they wouldn't have to fight for food, the first place they knew they had a bed to go to at the end of the night and wouldn't be living in abandoned houses, the first place their relatives didn't lock them out of the house at night, burn them with coals for not returning with enough money after a day of begging on the street. It's like the prodigal son, except they haven't come back yet.

One thing that has deeply encouraged me is 10%. That's where the bar was set. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus encountered ten lepers who cried out to him from a distance. Jesus told them to go find a priest and they were healed as they went. The, only one came back to thank him. You think receiving a sentence like leprosy—destined to die a slow and painful death over many years, possibly decades, cast out from society—to have that erased, your destiny changed by God himself would merit the lepers going back to Jesus. But only one did. If Jesus only got ten percent, how much can we hope for?

And that probably sounds like a real drag. I've only invested in these kids from three or four years and I am distraught knowing that some of them will leave and never look back. Like the multitude that followed Jesus after he gave them all bread and fish, he told them to all go back home because they were only in it for the food.

I know that part of it is my maturing process, but this is the first thing I've done where you don't get to say that the payoff just at the end of the year. It's not cramming for tests at the end of the quarter and then you're done. It's not doing development on a project and then passing it off another group for the next stage of development and testing, finishing a remodel, completing a roof. It's not even like working on a car, because while things here are clearly breaking down all the time, my cars never improve, they just stave off death for another day. It's not even like prepping for a concert and then there is a big performance, or leading new Christians through discipleship where you see the growth and struggles in vivid leaps and bounds. This is the long approach, the realistic approach. Only a fool goes to a third grader and says, "You are going to learn everything you need to now right now. Recall these lessons later as you may need it."

One of the most vivid experiences of my entire life was a certain trip to the toy store with my dad. Normally they were great occasions. A new whiffleball bat, a puzzle, a board game. It was near Christmas and I was in second grade. As we walked in the door my dad said you can have up to fifty dollars total. It was amazing. There was no Christmas list and then hoping and praying you got what you wanted. It was cutting out the middleman. I got vetoed on a Nerf gun, but got a board game and set of Legos. It was turning out to be the best Christmas ever.

And then the happiest Christmas ever turned in to the worst Christmas ever. As I carried the bags to head out the door, my dad asked me to hand it over to the marine that was at the Toys For Tots donation table. I was speechless, dumbstruck, did as I was told, and I went home empty-handed. In the car ride home I must have gone through all twelve stages and grief and then looped right back around whichever stage is responsible for being just plain pissed off. I got home, was sat down, and explained that while I was having the worst Christmas ever, it meant that another young boy that ordinarily wouldn't get anything would be unwrapping the toys that I donated. I was assured that one day I will understand that, just as Jesus said, it is better to give than receive.

I understand now.

Those are the lessons I'm hoping stay with the kids. Not painful lessons that they will carry with them until one day they realize it was true all along, but that one day when they need to call on it, they'll know the right thing to do and the way to act and how to please God. That is the long approach. Whenever there was something (usually work) I didn't want to do I was told by my dad the reason to work was that it would put hair on your chest (my dad had it easy only having sons, because that motivation is clearly not universal to both genders). I try to get the kids to realize that when we have work and chores that the purpose is to prepare them for everything to come. Sometimes, work is its' own reward. When you are faced with a tough choice, it's always better to follow Jesus, even if it means life will get harder, because that's the great paradox we follow, that to live your life is to lose it. And those things I picked out at the toy store, I ended up unwrapping them at Christmas several days later.

When Peter is out fishing, Jesus calls to him, "Follow me." He doesn't say, "Let's go to Starbucks and have a chat," or even come right out and say, "Hang out with me for three years before everybody I know turns their back on me, including you, and I die a horrible death." Even after Jesus is resurrected, he asks Peter to follow him again. This is right before Jesus ascends into heaven. Peter obviously didn't know where to go, but he agreed to follow.

And now it's time for me to follow Jesus somewhere else. In some respects it will be easier. I'll get a job (Lord willing), find a place to live, and look for that special someone. I believe the common term used to describe it is "settling down". I would like to know what part of it is settling down. I went from bouncing around during college, never having to do maintenance and home repairs. I went from not having kids to taking care of fifty of them. I got to skip the newborn phase but got them as they were colicky 4 year-old, ten year-old boys running around breaking bones, filthy teenage boys that you wonder if he is going to wear that t-shirt till it falls off his body or if he's going to shower sometime, and moody teenage girls that you just have no idea what is upsetting them (answer: nothing, and yet everything).

Settling down is the scary part. I came to Mozambique knowing at the deepest part of my being that it what God made me to do. And I leave with that same trust. It does not mean that either decision is any less scary. It doesn't mean I have an idea what I'm to do any more than I had absolutely no idea what what to do when I came to Nampula. I just know that it was needs to be done and I am thrilled by just knowing that much.

I was talking with a group of friends before I left to come here way back in 2010. They were mentioning all the exciting happenings I'd miss by not being in Seattle. One friend was joking and had asked just why I had to go to Mozambique. My answer was, "I have to. It's what God made me to do." The answer caught them off guard for its simplicity and unexpected profundity and halted the lighthearted mood of the conversation. There was then about a minute of silence and staring off into the abyss, each one wonder for him or herself, "Wow. Then what did God make me to do?"

This is not my sunset, this is not the close of my book. It is the close of one chapter, the end to one part of the story. Better parts are coming, and worse part are coming too. Happier and sadder and fuller and richer and more fulfilling and challenging. Yes, even more challenging than life in Nampula. This is not the cliffhanger where it looks like all is lost for our hero—stay tuned till next week to find out if he makes it! I'll make it. Because I know what I was made to do.

I enjoy weaving stories. I can't say that there is a defining thread or current that courses from one episode to the next. I don't even know that many of the stories are that coherent on their own. But I do love telling the stories. There are plenty more stories to be told here, but they're not for me to tell. They will left to tell for someone else. As the children here that I've come alongside with have grown, are growing, and will be writing their own stories someday. They will be nurses, lawyers, farmers, engineers, mechanics, chefs, policemen, carpenters, teachers, pastors, fathers, and mothers. They will struggle mightily, fail spectacularly, and succeed monumentally. I won't be here to see their story unfold. I won't be here to participate in it, to help it, to mold it, to encourage and chastise and correct and encourage and celebrate in it. But he story will be written because I am not The One writing it.

The scary thing is that I don't know what I'm going to do. Much like coming here. That's why it is fun and crazy. I believed that if God was truly calling me to Mozambique than he would also provide for me after I got back. I still believe that. It's hard and scary to trust, but I do.

There are many things that I will remember from my time in the orphanage, but there is one set of memories I'll keep with me the most. Not of chasing after bandits, nor going to the beach with the kids, nor coaching basketball, sneaking into the high school and substitute teaching, attending feasts, watching movies projected on the wall, staying up past midnight huddled around the radio listening to soccer games. The things I remember the most are entirely different. Sitting around chatting in the evening.

Planting and gardening with the boys.

Playing soccer on Saturdays.

Doing homework, teaching multiplication tables, having spelling bees.

Laughing at absolutely nothing over dinner.

The movie Up, aside from being the only movie I've ever seen that made me weep within the first five minutes, features the most unassuming, profound, life altering quote I've heard from any movie.

When the old man Carl sets off on his adventure and his house floats away tied to a thousand balloons, he is joined by a young tag-along named Russell. One day, Russell was reminiscing about his dad: "And afterwords we'd go get ice cream at Fenton's. I always get chocolate and he gets butter-brickle. Then we'd sit on this one curb, right outside, and I'll count all the blue cars and he counts all the red ones, and whoever gets the most, wins. I like that curb.

"That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most."

April 9, 2013

You want me to go where?

The joke with most GPS navigation systems, whether it is part of your car or your phone (or you car phone those of you stuck in 1993) is that at some point it is going to tell you to go somewhere that doesn't exist. It will tell you to turn into a building that should be a road, or you won't be paying attention and you will be headed toward an identical address but in another town. At the very least, you can find an alternate rout or type in a new address and it will get you where you want to go.

Or people with smart phones just type in "Starbucks" and you get instant directions to sate your latte habit. Type in "chinese food" and you see reviews for the nearest chinese food restaurants and then get directions to them.

That doesn't work here. Not by a long shot. You can't head down City Boulevard and then take a left on Maple Street. In theory there are street names, but only foreigners know them. These foreigners come from places where every street, no matter how small, has a name and there is a number for every brick and mortar address.

Here, there are maybe about two dozen streets that have names, with only about three of those being major roads that continue in any direction for more than 500 metres. They are mostly all named after persons. And when you've never heard of the people before it doesn't make much difference trying to remember the names because you just can't. I remember being in Hawaii once and we were confused as all get out. How were we going to remember that Kamehameha Boulevard is next to Wiame'a Avenue that crosses Melekelikimaka Street. It was all Greek (or in this case, Hawaiian) to me. We ended up just remembering to turn at the Long John Silvers and our hotel was a block past the McDonalds.

In Maputo, there is considerably more city planning, and more streets and names, although I don't know that means people actually use the street names or not. I do find it funny that emails from the American Embassy remind us that it is located on the corner of Ho Chi Min and Karl Marx.

In Nampula you can get around much easier telling people which bairro to go to just pointing out landmarks along the way. Once you get near where you want to go, you just ask people where it is you're trying to go if it is a place you are unfamiliar with.

However, this is all relatively easy compared to when you are trying to give a ride to somebody and they are the ones telling you where to go. Culturally, and I don't know if it is a universal trait or only limited to the people that I end up taking places, is is almost forbidden to ask where it is I have to take them. There is an absurd amount of errands that have to be done, and most them involve going to a certain store or picking up and dropping of a certain person in a certain neighborhood.

Most of the time there is a flat-out refusal to tell me where it is we need to go, be it from the other staff or the other Mozambican's I ferry around. The staff all know by know to tell me where to go. The others just point and say "Start going that way." Really inspires confidence when the person giving directions at least knows that, of the two ways I could go leaving the orphanage gate, one will go 100 metres and then stop being a road while the other direction goes to absolutely everything.

I have learned that you absolutely need to know where to you are going before you leave because not only are there multiple ways to get there, but the people I'm driving are horrible at giving directions. Their idea of giving directions is wait until the truck is going at 50mph and then point to the intersection as we pass it saying, "You needed to turn there." And this is EVERY SINGLE TIME I DRIVE SOMEBODY. Are you noticing the irritation here?

And then after the second time it happens you tell the person that a car does not stop on a dime like a person walking and you need to to give a lot of warning before we get to where we need to turn. And then he still does it three more times, forgetting to say anything about turning until you are directly even with where you needed to turn. And eventually, at some point he will tell you to turn down a certain path to get to house. At this point I try to remain gracious, but usually end up saying something like, "Do you see the car we are in? It is a 4ton pickup. The path you told me to drive down is so narrow that a bicyclist just dismounted because he can't navigate well enough. What's that? Oh, cars come down here all the time? I guess we can go then."

Granted, this is not to say that directions are perfect from your GPS, or that people in western nations know how to navigate properly. This last year I was in Detroit doing some traveling with my family (this despite the fact that the Detroit Police openly campaign against tourism to Detroit saying that the city is unsafe). We were on the highway in a strange city with no map and all we knew is we needed to take exit 14B. Having sufficiently gotten this point across well ahead of time, when the moment came my dad pulled car on to exit 14A and my dad proudly announced "14A, just like you said," or something to that effect. The rest of the car let out a big collective, "NO! We wanted 14B, not A. B-as-in backtrack, B-as-is botched, B-as-in bungled."

In that sense, directions here can be easier because you tell people to go the stoplight and take a right. That is a really easy direction because the stoplight is 5k from here. And the next one after that is two more kilometers. There is one more stoplight after that, but people don't consider it a stoplight because it hasn't worked in over two years. If you make it past that, you can go straight out of town without bumping into another stoplight.

And anybody that has ever been to Nampula and given a ride to a Mozambican knows that the one question you can never ask under any circumstance is, "How much farther?" This question does not have an answer. It is answered always with the reply of, "Almost, we're really close." It doesn't matter how far away you are, when it comes to this question you are always very close. I learned very early that you are never very close, no matter how close people say you are.

I have been in so many situations so many different times that people have said, "We're really close, just keep going," or even, "just maybe five or ten more minutes more." That is usually a red flag for we are nowhere near yet. If somebody actually points out a landmark and says it it at that mountain or that river or that intersection I will keep going, but often somebody saying "Just a little farther," is codeword for being nowhere close.

That being said, sorry for the sporadic posting the last week or so, but I'm really close to finishing another story and it'll be up any day now.

April 2, 2013

Total Request Live: Nampula

The variety of radio programming here is not very impressive. Nor is it even a little impressive. There is BBC news, which is so amazing and in-depth and I can't even start talking about them because it will end up with an article titled "439 reasons I love BBC radio". There are a variety of religious outlets but they do about a good of job as if you turned on Christian TV in the US. You'd start asking who the ladies with all the makeup are and why are they selling prayer towels to support Israel.

There are more radio stations today than there were several years ago, but many of them classify as "community radio". This means public radio. And yes, it is about exciting to listen to as public radio in the US. Several of them play music. The rest just talk. Several of them sell airtime to different churches or ministries that play gospel music during their allotted time-slots, but they are rarely listened to.

Hands down, the most interesting radio station is RTP Africa. It is a station from Portugal and broadcast for the Portuguese speaking African countries (which number a grand total of two if you don't count a handful of islands who, combined, don't have a million persons). What makes RTP so darn interesting is that there isn't a genre of music they won't play. During select evenings around 9pm or so the DJ comes on-air with a program that "will take a special look into the music of ______". It lasts an hour and is the widest, broadest, oddest look at music that exists anywhere on the planet.

Simply put, if there exists 60 playable minutes of a certain type of music, they will do a show on it, explaining the history and importance of the genre. I have heard, and this is no exaggeration, shows about: glam rock, the waltz, motown, korean pop, U2's "Rattle and Hum", french folk songs, Miles Davis, Queen, Beethoven's 9th Symphony, South African disco, Afro-Cuban, big band swing, Vietnam war protest songs (from Vietnam), feminism (which I was unaware was a genre of music), and music from blaxploitation films (slightly aware of this as a genre).

I've let the kids listen in a couple of times, if only because the DJ usually tries to explain the importance of Miles Davis (important for the birth of modern jazz), motown (important only so Michael Jackson could moonwalk at the Motown 25th Anniversary concert), glam rock (important for Ziggy Stardust, duh), french folk songs (umm...), Beethoven's 9th symphony (only everything, ever), and Shaft (only everything, ever). The kids usually lose interest because R. Kelly never wrote a symphony, or had a disco album, or covered Queen.

The kids (and often myself) would rather listen to the few radio stations that play what I refer to as "party music". This is the genre that serves as the background for your Friday or Saturday night. To me, the most interesting part is the listener request time. Because most people don't know the names to songs, or even the artists, in order to communicate their request they are often left to resort to sing the song they want the DJ to play.

Sometimes, because the phone network will just forward your call to a random absolute stranger rather than the intended target. The DJ will ask the name of the person who is calling while the stranger, usually confused, will ask the DJ his name. The DJ instead of answering instead asks what music the caller would like to hear. The caller will usually ask to speak to his friend, Joe. Just give the phone to Joe. No, I don't want music. Where's Joe? This is a radio station? Well, when does Joe get back? Can you just get him for me?

Usually at this point the call will suspiciously drop and the next caller pops on the line. Also, when the caller goes on too long or gets to vulgar or racy the calls will get cut off. There is a little bit more patience when the caller is drunk. The calls are funnier the drunker the caller is.

Some of the stations are nationwide shows and some are local here in our city. The local ones usually occupy their evening hours with people calling in to give a shout-out to their neighborhood, their girlfriend, their classmates, their coworkers (really?) or their children. But, contrary to what you might be thinking, this isn't done during breaks in the music. This is accomplished by just turning down the music a little while they talk over, shouting into the phone so that it is barely understandable.

Every now and then we'll hear our bairro given a shout-out. Often people will be listening in a bar or disco and give a shout out to the people standing nearby listening to the radio. The market near the orphanage was once featured in the single greatest radio call-in shout-out I have ever heard or will ever hear again.

DJ: Good evening caller. What's your name.
Caller: Armando.
DJ: Welcome Armando. Where are you calling from.
Caller: I'm calling from Muacomvela.
DJ: And who would you like to greet this evening.
Caller: I want to greet my uncle Fernando.
DJ: And what would you like to say to your uncle.
Caller: Uncle, police are in our house looking for you. Don't come back here—.

And the call "dropped". I have no idea is Fernando is still a fugitive from justice, if Armando was charged as an accomplice, or what the heck the police were even there for. The situation, for me, will remain one of life's great mysteries.

March 31, 2013

My Shapala

There are some things that you will remember till you die. I'm not talking about the cliche's like when your children were born, your wedding, or watching the moon landing. I'm talking about those odd events that only happen to you that make for great stories. They won't always be on the tip of your tongue, but as soon as someone mentions it you can recall every single detail in an instant as if it happened yesterday. Ask me sometime about the time I tried sailing across the Hood Canal. Or running from the police after swimming in the Montlake Cut. Or my brother nearly dying from getting electrocuted. That last one is a funny story. If it sounds like a sad memory, I posit that it depends if my brother is telling the story or I am.

For the kids here, a lot of the stories they love to tell happen to revolve around food. I think in the same way that Americans value their vacations and traveling to all sorts of different places and bringing back photos and souvenirs of new and exotic places, so some extent that is the parallel to people's food experiences. All you have to do is mention, "Hey, you remember that one time you ate ______," and their whole face will light up and they'll tell you everything you never wanted to know.

When you live most of your life only eating three or four different dishes (and probably only two at a time depending on what food is in season), what stands out is the new exciting exotic foods that you probably only get once or twice a year or maybe once in your lifetime. In that way it's like a family retreat you take once a year, or the time you visited Disneyland, or places you'll go that you've only read about.

Ask about the time several kids that got invited along to the dessert potluck at the Missionary Fellowship and it was an endless table of brownies, cookies, cakes, and sweets.

Or those that won a contest and TJ took them out for chicken dinner and, as luck would have it, the happy hour special meant that each one got to feast on a half chicken.

Or ask the boy that Victor once took to an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet: Yogurt, omelets, bacon, sausage, milk, cheeses, imported fruits, the whole works.

Or when TJ picked up a group of kids after school one day in the truck, drove them to town, bought a gallon of ice cream, whipped out spoons, and said, "Let's hurry up before it melts!"

One such boy that had an experience he will never forget was Muaprato. One day last month Victor's brother came to town and a few of the boys talked him into to springing for a car wash. Let's just say that he left a very gratuitous gratuity (yes, the redundancy is redundant). Most of the boys pocketed the money to slowly over time buy snacks and the like. Some bought a few pairs of flip flops, the preferred style of footwear here. Muaprato decided to eat his money.

He didn't literally eat it, of course. I found it strangely funny that, whereas most people in America say that they "spend money", most people here say that they "eat money." Even if they are buying a radio or a t-shirt, the expression remains the same. If you ask what they ate with the money, they just say, "Oh, a new hat, a pair of sandals, a backpack."

But what Muaprato decided to eat was actually food. A lot of it, in fact. This is a boy who is thirteen years old, the size of somebody ten years old, and behaves like he's six years old. I have had folks stop by the orphanage to chat and notice him. On at least three occasions, some version of the following exchange has occurred. My friend will ask, "Oh, how long ago did that boy arrive?" To which I will respond, "Which boy is that?" And then the friend responds, "The one that runs around everywhere making noises like a motorcycle. The one that was eating a crayon, stopped, and then said, 'I like the yellow one better.' The one that tried to to a back-flip and landed on his stomach and hasn't gotten up. The one that ripped off his shirt, ran from one end of the orphanage to the other screaming 'Gonna take a shower! Gonna take a shower!' The one that ripped off his shirt, ran from one end of the orphanage to the other screaming, 'Gonna pee! Gonna pee!' " I then hold my head in my hand and say that he's been here for about seven years.

After Muaprato received his cut of the car washing deal, he asked if he could go down to the market and get a new pair of flip flops. We sent an older, more responsible boy to accompany him.

That night we had chicken for dinner. Muaprato gave his plate away didn't eat a single bite. The next day he stayed home from school sick. The third day, after coming home from school sporting his new flip flops, he was playing in Victor and Christina's house and had to keep leaving to use the bathroom. When Christina asked his friends what the problem, they said he had diarrhea because the cook was doing a bad job and it made him sick.

If you remember from our chickendebacle, the kids are not always the most honest at stating how or why they get stomach aches. In this case, his friends were covering for him. So we got his friends together and Muaprato and asked him what he spent his money on. "Snacks," is what he said. While it was the correct answer, it was not very specific. We asked him to detail exactly what he ate. His face lit up, his demeanor suddenly because very animated, and he accounted for exactly everything he bought as well as the prices he bought if for. He started detailing what he bought.

Three donuts, fryebread, two hush puppies, a chocolate bar, suckers, bread and hard candy.

Just to recap, he ate bread and hard candy. Not bread....and...hard candy. He actually put the suckers in the bread to encounter as he ate. Everybody started laughing, realizing that after eating all this it probably gave his a stomach ache.

But the boy that went with him said he left out one important detail. At being called out, Muaprato put his head down and got embarrased. It turns out that what he left out was buying shapala.

I don't know how to translate shapala. I don't even know how to write it, I'm just guessing. I don't even think other places have it. It's basically dried cowhide, but not leather, but not jerky, and people eat it. Like I said I don't even know where to begin. The whole room busted out laughing.

You see, shapala is something that people sell, and people eat, but the big joke is that people don't actually eat it. In that way, it's kind of like lutefisk. It's there, and people eat it, but people don't really eat it, or eat a lot of it. If you're Scandinavian, you know what I'm talking about. If you're not Scandinavian, well, too bad for you.

Hearing that he ate shapala, and everything else made him sick going on three days, caused everybody present to erupt into laughter, even Muaprato himself. Then as the story spread, the laughter spread. It will not be a meal that he lives down anytime soon.

March 24, 2013

Shiver Me Timbers

One of the things that occurs to me as I talk with my folks on Skype is that they usually ask how the weather has been. For much of the year my response is usually, "Ugh. Hot." And then the rest of the year my response is, "Dang, it's cold." And then my parents rhetorically ask, "What's cold over there, like 80?"

And...yes. 80 is cold. Most mornings that I talk to them these months I find myself in a sweatshirt sipping a cup of tea. And then later topping off the tea just to stave off the cold. It's the time of year where there are actually noticeable temperature swings in between dawn (coldest part of the day) and 2pm (hottest part of the day). As opposed to it just always being hot.

Right now in the middle of the afternoon it's 85F (30C). At dawn, the thermometer claims that it is 70F (21C), but I think it's lying just to make me feel better. Where I come from, in cold rainy Seattle, when it hits 60 this time of year you start skipping school and wearing shorts and tank tops. When I was back in the States last year, I spent my first week in L.A. wearing a sweatshirt because the 85 degree afternoons were just too chilly.

That's not to say when it gets hot I do fine. When the mercury pushes 104 (40C) during the summer I refuse to do any physical activity that is not eating food or drinking water. But here when the thermometer drops below 80 it's chilly and anything below 70 (which is most mornings April thru July) are just plain cold.

It's all in the perspective, I guess.