Friday, September 27, 2013

The Possum Story

When moving to our new house we saved the two outside storage areas at our old rental house for last. Mainly because they weren't sealed and we knew it was going to be nasty. There were all kinds of things living in there. We procrastinated as long as possible, but we had a team coming and we really needed our old, long, dining table that had been in storage for the past 5 years to be able to seat this team at our new house. 

Here is the table at our first ever rental house in Petén:
We only lived there a year because it was a little more expensive than we wanted to pay and it wasn't very secure. (Someone actually shattered those windows in this photo one time to get into our house.) It was the only place we could find though at first that wasn't filled with mold. (And it did not look like this when we moved in. We put a lot of work into that house just to move a year later!) Jimmy's brother Jon and his friend Kyle helped Jimmy build this table for us just so that we could host large groups at our home. 

For the past 5 years it had been in this outdoor bathroom (behind us in this photo from when I was pregnant with Jonah & Silas). Whoever installed the plumbing in that rental never hooked up this bathroom so we used it for storage and simply hung a curtain in front. At this rental we probably should have put more into fixing up the house, but we were trying not to make the same mistake twice, yet we ended up living there for 5 years. 
 One day Jimmy went over to our old house by himself to get the last of our stuff... to conquer this disgusting bathroom storage area. Here is his story:

"Knowing how many scorpions and large spiders we killed when we were living in this house, I was trying to be cautious as I moved things out of the closet slowly. It didn't take long for me to find my first scorpion, and it was a large one. As I was in the closet moving things around to try and kill the little bugger (with only one shoe on since I had one in my hand to squish the scorpion), Shelley called me. I stepped out of the closet to talk to her and as we were talking I saw a long tail duck behind the toilet in the closet/bathroom. I immediately knew it was a possum, so I hung up the phone and tried to figure out what to do. 

My thought was that the possum was more afraid of me than I was of him, but there was no way to scare him out of the room since the only way out was through the door towards me. I had a long hoe and slowly began pulling things out, while armed with my machete in the other hand. Finally I chased him onto a tarp we had in there, and yanked it out fast, pulling him out and then chasing him around to the side of the house.

Knowing there was one possum made me extra cautious in case there was a second possum maybe in the closet and sure enough, after a couple minutes of poking at things a second possum showed itself, except this possum was three times the size of the first, and mean! She started hissing at me and there was no way I was going to get her out. So I went next door and asked to borrow a gun. Of course, they had loaned their gun to a friend and didn't have it, but the teenager told me to be careful because a possum had just attacked him two months previously when it jumped off a wall onto him and started clawing and biting his chest and arm. Then he showed me his scars.

Well that did a lot to ease my thoughts, and Alex insisted on coming with me. I thought he was going to help, but instead he just came to watch the gringo fight with the possum. He was very jittery too, knowing that the first possum was somewhere in the yard...

Well the second possum wasn't budging, so I pinned her up against the wall with the hoe and killed her with the machete. This was where Alex helped by yelling, "Hit it again! Hit it again!" He was very concerned that the possum was just pretending to be dead and once I let go would proceed to attack us. I was imagining a scene from Monty Python with a white bunny...

Now having been splattered with possum blood and disposing of the carcass, I returned to the closet knowing that the scorpion was still in there somewhere too. Once again I entered with only one shoe after scanning with a flashlight to make sure there weren't any more critters. I lifted a board of the table and as I turned it around found my scorpion! I dropped the board pretty quickly and grabbed my shoe to kill him. I hit him real hard and saw him drop to the floor. Shining my flashlight on the ground by my feet I saw the dead scorpion lying on top of something furry...a third possum! 

This one became trapped when I fortuitously dropped the board on him! That was an easy kill since I had both hands free. 

It was one more scorpion and several large spiders later before I got the table out of the closet. At this point my nerves were shot and while I like to hunt, a machete is a very personal way to kill something and left me somewhat traumatized."

So my table is in my new house. Don't worry it has been Lysoled real good!
{I thought Becca would appreciate this gratuitous sweaty photo of her being posted again!}
We are planning on building a new table one day now that we know where to find better wood that won't warp over time, but until then I am very thankful for this one! 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fabio...I mean, Santurnino

If you've been to Santa Rita you would recognize the name Fabio as a little old man with a limp and a bad eye. If you spend any time there you would hear him tell his stories about bullet wounds, machete scars and the several times vehicles and cars have hit him and left him for dead. Today I got the whole story chronologically because Fabio is a Christian and wants to be Baptized!
Born in 1935 in Petén he married young and he and his new wife opened up a little store in their town. He also had a little land to farm and put some animals on it. However, he wasn't a very nice man and had a big drinking problem (his wife called him her poisonous thorn). That was the way he lived until he was around 25. He had a few kids by this point and one night decided he was going to go on vacation to visit his family by himself. He was heading out and one of his boys told him he had better take his little, old, dull machete with him to beat off dogs just in case. He hadn't gotten too far down the road when he was surrounded by young men with large machetes. Then commenced a fight where he killed one, seriously injured another before he blocked a machete blow with his shoulder instead of it hitting the back of his neck and was left immobilized in one arm. He was covered in blood by this point but then a flashlight was coming down the path and the other guys left.

It happened that it was one of his friends who got him to the hospital in San Benito. He was there for 23 days with IVs before he was allowed to go home. Shortly after he arrived another man with his same first and last name also was brought to the hospital but died overnight. His village heard that Santurino (his legal name) had been killed and he said his wife was relieved! After leaving the hospital he found that his wife had already been cheating on him before he was attacked, and she took his death as an opportunity for the other guy to move in to her house. So when he was released and got home, nobody was happy that he wasn't dead after all!

He wanted to kill them both but decided they weren't worth it so he told his wife she could just have the store and the animals and the house and he would move on. He moved in with his parents and having hit rock bottom he visited a new church in town and accepted Christ. He was studying his Bible earnestly, but then found out that somebody had given his name to the military and they were looking to kill him. He ran and took his kids with him as he joined the guerrilla movement in Guatemala, but after a few months of his kids being hungry and being eaten by mosquitoes in the jungle, he took them back and left them in the village.

During the war he had nothing but problems, but God spared his life many times. A few years into the war, he was with his guerrilla unit riding in a big truck, but instead of being in the back he was hanging on the outside. The truck went off the road and crashed. He woke up and saw another man looking down at him. The man told him that they were the only two that survived, the other 20 people were dead. A few minutes later that man started screaming that he was peeing blood and he soon died as well leaving Fabio as the only survivor. In various battles he was shot three different times.

During this time he desired to learn more about God, but he was not permitted to have a Bible as the guerrillas were and still are very anti-God. After the war he moved with his unit into the newly formed community of Santa Rita. Even though the war was over, they still would not permit anybody to learn of God and outlawed churches. During the next 12 years he would be hit by a car and a motorcycle while riding his bike in the dark, both times left for dead in the ditch.

This last time he felt the hit but didn't know what happened to him. All of a sudden he was walking alone on a path and he didn't know where he was going but he just kept walking. On the path he came across two men dressed in white and they asked him where he was going.

"Down this path", he said.

"You can't go down this path yet," they told him. "You still have work to do."

He turned around and started going back the other way and that is when he woke up on the ditch, covered in blood with a broken arm, a useless eye and blood pouring out of one ear.

A week after this happened he came to our Bible Study in Santa Rita where he had already been attending for a couple years. He had already told me that he was so happy he could finally learn about God again, after waiting for almost 50 years to continue what he had started. In this meeting he told me he felt God was leading him to give us half of his lot so that we could build a church building on it.

Up to this point we were borrowing a house in Santa Rita where the outside area was already filled to capacity and the lady wanted her house back. Once she took possession we would have had no place to hold our meetings.
{Ready for our Easter Drama}
A few weeks ago Fabio told me he didn't want to be called Fabio anymore. That was his guerrilla name and he doesn't want to be known by that any more, so we are to call him by his given name of Santurnino. He also said that he wants to be baptized. That was something he really wanted to do before the war and now, over 50 years later he finally in October will be able to take that step of obedience.

Santurnino once told me, several years ago, "Life is a rancid sore, but we have hope in Christ." I can't imagine the pain and suffering he has been through. It would have been merciful for God to have let him die in those painful situations, but I can't help but wonder if in God's plan for Santa Rita, he needed Fabio to survive so that he could have a church built in that village. I don't know the mind of God in this situation, but it sure looks like Santurnino suffered so much so that the people of Santa Rita would be saved. That puts, Oscar, Maria, Blanca, Claudia, Jesús, Armando, and all the others in Santa Rita who have also accepted Christ on Fabio's account simply because he desired a relationship with God and was sensitive to His working in his life.

It's the stories like this one that as a missionary give me encouragement when I am feeling down and make whatever sacrifices I think I'm making seem really insignificant.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Founding of Our Church

Our mission in San Pancho is growing. We have a great core group who over the past year have been saved and baptized. We wanted those believers to be able to start participating more in the ministries of our church. Most of our people like to be involved, but it was time to clearly define for all who the true believers were, the ones who since they were Christians can participate in certain privileges that come with being a member of a church. While we Do want to include the unbelievers who attend in as much as possible, we do not want someone who isn't a Christian for example sharing a testimony up in the front of the church, being part of our worship team, or leading a ministry. It was time to draw a line in the sand. 

It is a tradition here for churches to have a special day once a year to celebrate the Bible. We thought that would be a great time to found our church. We would be talking about doctrine and defining once again clearly the distinctives of our church, what we believe and why based on the Bible. We are trying to help everyone memorize the books of the Bible to be able to find verses more easily, so we are saying the books together each week during the services. 
I was planning a visual for my SS classroom and I guess accidentally thought out loud, because Jimmy asked if we could put it on the wall in the main part of our church. You can see it on the wall below, it is pretty big! There are so many basics that you learn in SS when you are a kid that make studying your Bible so much easier. Those are the things we will be focusing on over the next couple of months. The missing pieces that the rest of us take for granted. 
We had a great turnout for our Day of the Bible! Before Jimmy preached he had Nick read a poem about how God is revealed in each book of the Bible. Afterwards we sang Oh How He Loves Us. It was a pretty special moment. 
Here's the kids' time:
We studied the Bible too and made tape measures talking about that the Bible is what we measure everything against. Norma helped me with the craft time!
 The itty bitty kids' coloring table:
 I guess this is the really itty bitty kids' floor... where they eat the crayons!:
After the service all of the people who had been saved and baptized and who wanted to join the church came up and signed a record of our founding.
 There was so much joy!
I am so thankful for all of these people! Four other people who have already put their faith in Christ came and told Jimmy that they wanted to be baptized! 
I think this is great. They are ready to be identified as Christ followers! This is what we wanted, for those who are Christians to boldly want to identify themselves as such and look forward to serving in the church. 
Then it was time for those tamales!
Eden wanted to help too... 
help herself to a tamale!
This was when she saw Jimmy with the camera. She stood up and said, "Cheese!"
Rebeca opened up the leaves for her and she ate the entire thing!
Here's Silas and Hugo enjoying their tamales. 
 Happy Birthday San Pancho Baptist Church! (September 8, 2013)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Heard Around the House #8

 I put some prunes on the table for the first time before supper one night just thinking we should eat them before they went bad. Silas loves to snack, so he went nuts over them. He picked up the bag and was passing them out to all of us. He said, "Dada, when I'm 4 will you put a bag of these in my room?" So I guess when you are big you get the privilege of having prunes in your room that you get to snack on whenever you want! 

Soon after the boys went down for a nap one day something woke up Silas. I noticed him sneaking into the living room. I was sitting on the couch reading, but I guess he didn't think I could see him. I walked him back to his bed so that he could "get all of his sleep out". He then whispered to me very seriously, "Mama, there is someone in your bathroom."I started to wonder if the living room was the first place he snuck into when he woke up. Maybe he went to look for me in our bedroom first. That really creeped me out. I got a very large wood dowel from my sewing desk and went to see who was in my bathroom. It got my blood pumping, but there was no one there. I went back to check on Silas. He said, "Mama, what ya doin' with that big stick." I said, "I was going to beat the person in my bathroom." After further questioning Silas about who he saw I found out that it was a man, he spoke Spanish, and that he was clipping his fingernails. Yeah, that last piece of information clued me in on it being a dream! Crazy little boy scared me that time.

I just found out that the boys are a month past the cut off date for them to start kindergarten next year in the States. We aren't going to do kindergarten in the States obviously, but I wanted them to be on track. I am SO happy about this. Instead of being the youngest in their grade they will be some of the oldest. I also just received a whole extra year with my boys! I was planning on starting a preschool curriculum (Heart of Dakota) this month but now we are just going to continue with what we have been doing, daily games and activities with numbers and letters in them. We will start preschool next year and by then maybe our "school room" on the other side of the house will have a concrete floor in it! 
Yesterday we did a numbers activity with pushpins. It was a big hit. 
 They did all the way up to 12. We talk about the wall clock a lot, so 12 is as high as we have gone. After their nap they asked to do this activity again! Here is Jonah matching the numbers on his paper with the ones on the clock:
When Jimmy first saw the boys working on their numbers he said, "What are you guys doing?" Silas replied, "I already made 1, now I am making 2!"
Then Jonah said, "Yeah, and then I'm going to make 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 and then I'm going to show Mama and she's going to say 'Wow that is so cool!'" 

Silas had his Thor shirt on the other day and Jonah said, "Why is there a hammer on your Thor shirt, Silas?" Silas immediately replied like it was the most ridiculous question ever, "Because God made it that way!"

I have mentioned this before but we keep a plastic pig on our table. Idea from here. If you do something rude at the table you get the pig. The last person to have the pig at the table loses one of their popsicles that day or the next. (All of my kids get a half of a popsicle twice a day). The only way out is to eat everything on your plate. (Sometimes they take this option, sometimes they don't.) 
Well Jonah and Silas have quickly figured out the many benefits of having a younger sibling. Those little stinkers taught Eden the "Beans beans the magical fruit..." rhyme. As you probably know if you had brothers growing up that the last word of the first phrase of that rhyme ends with a word that isn't allowed at the table. The other day when one of them got the pig they enacted their premeditated plan in hopes that their sister would be the last one with the pig when the meal ended. Jonah and Silas started chanting that rhyme in unison and ended it on the next to last word. Then they both looked at their sister and waited for her to resolve it. Sure enough Eden blurts out the last word with a big smile on her face. Jonah and Silas start cheering, "Eden gets the pig!" That's some twin behavior right there!  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tamales: A Tutorial

Just kidding, I am a tamale making novice for sure! We had a very special service this past Sunday. Our church was celebrating a couple things which I will share in another post, but for a celebration of course you need party food! Tamales are the ultimate party food. So here is how you make them. I tried to take lots of photos with my phone while we worked.
Sweet Rebeca lives down the street from our church building. This woman is full of grace (she's one of my favorites). She offered to let us prep and cook the tamales at her house. Several other ladies volunteered to be there at 8:00 to help as well. Well it's not like people sit around watching the clock in this country and beyond that most are dependent on public transportation. There are a lot more variables to deal with when it comes to getting somewhere on time here! For the first several hours it was just Rebecca, Wendy her teenage daughter, Marta another kind mother in our church who only speaks Kekchi, two other teens from our church and I working on them. I thought we had plenty of help, but Rebeca seemed a little concerned at first. Our goal at the beginning of the day was 120 tamales. We knocked out 160 by 1:30 like it was nothing! I think it was the quality of the workers, haha! 

First it's rainy season, so it's hard to find dry firewood. I have experience buying propane, not firewood, so in my defense I would like to say that I knew what was going to happen beforehand, so I specifically asked M, one of the teenage girls to go with me. If some gringa shows up somewhere looking to buy something that she obviously knows nothing about she is more than likely going to get ripped off! Finding dry firewood seems foolproof, but nothing is. So M helped me find 100 pieces of "good" firewood for sale. 
 Sure enough we got back and some bad pieces had been mixed in and who got made fun of? Me! I will always be a gringa. The wood on the right is not good for firewood. It doesn't burn, it just smokes real bad. Now I know!
Our first task was making the red sauce. Probably no one makes tamales the exact same way. We have eaten all kinds of tamales all over Guatemala. Rebeca's recipe though had a wonderful flavor (Jimmy went home after church and had 3 more!)

 Rebeca had already been roasting guajillo chilies on her stove when we arrived. She also toasted some sesame seeds.
 You know the chilies are ready if when you pick them up and shake them you can hear the seeds rattling around inside. Then you tear off the stem and dump the seeds out saving the chili.
Then we cut up onions, green peppers, red tomatoes and little green tomatoes that they call miltomates
 We also cut up red bell peppers into thin slices. Rebeca meant for these to be thrown on top before we wrapped up the tamale, but someone dumped those into the red sauce... not me!
Rebeca put all of these ingredients a little at a time into her blender. From what I have seen, a blender is the one kitchen appliance that is pretty common here. People have those before refrigerators or gas stoves. Then she started it all to boil on her wood burning stove.
 She also added chicken bullion, achiote paste, 
pepitoria (pumpkin seed) powder that she dissolved in water first,
 and saborizante. I didn't realize this until recently when I saw a brand of it that had the English under it, but in English that is MSG. 
The red sauce boiled for quite a while, long enough for us to take the corn to be milled. Rebeca and Marta are so nice to me. They do not treat me like a gringa. When they were trying to decided which mill to use they showed me some masa (corn dough) and asked me what I thought about the texture. 

Here is something I thought was funny. 
Rebeca and I were struggling holding either side of the heavy tub of corn (not in this photo obviously), but Marta just grabs the whole tub after it had been milled to take back to the truck like it was nothing. Kekchi women are strong!  
It cost about 10Q I think to mill this amount. They turn a generator on so you are paying for the gasoline. People have small hand crank grinders in their house, but to do this amount would have taken forever. The bucket on top has water in it that they pour over the corn. 
It was about 50 pounds of masa. We made 160 tamales with it and probably had over half of it left.
Hugo (Rebeca's grandson) went and bought 17 chicken halves that morning. 

I said that we needed at least 7 pieces out of each half to end up with enough meat. I thought they were going to be disappointed. They thought the pieces were really large and then our church people that night were going on and on about how much meat was in their tamales and how that was so special. (Living in this country makes me so thankful for the amount of meat that our family gets to eat. I think about that a lot now as I sit down at meals and I'm grateful!)

They kept acting like they wanted me to cut the chicken. I would have been hacking at the chicken for the rest of the day. So Marta picks up a machete and takes care of it. (That was the first cutting board I had seen all day too. It was borrowed from a neighbor.) One whack and she was through the bone. Spending time in the kitchen with these women has given me even more respect for them. Cooking in Petén is a physical workout!
They put some of the saborizante on the chicken meat too. Now it was time to start preparing the dough.

Rebeca separated some of the masa into the largest pot she had. We filled it with water and then started smushing it with our hands to get all the lumps out.

Then we put it on a fire outside and stirred and stirred.

And stirred and stirred some more. Lots of salt was added to this.

 Marta brought some Mashan leaves from her garden.
 You usually hear about banana leaves being used to make tamales, but I think these kind of leaves are better. They wrap up much prettier. Here is the same kind of plant on our porch:
They are about 4 feet tall. I think they are really pretty. 
I didn't help with this part, but I did take pictures! Wendy and M washed all of the leaves in the pila. I've talked about this several times before, but that sink is a household staple here. The middle chamber is like a cistern and the drains on either side are for laundry and dishes. You stand next to it and dump water over your head to take a bath. 

We did eventually run out of the mashan leaves since we made so many extra tamales. We got some banana leaves from Rebeca's yard to finish the rest. They run them over a fire like she is doing below to strengthen the leaves. You can see the color changing to a more vivid green.

Here is all of our fixin's ready for assembly:
This is about the time more ladies started showing up. They cut the leaves to prepare them. 
Basically you need one entire leaf and then one or two halves more to go on top to keep the leaves from splitting once you fold it all up. 
First you put a spoonful of boiled dough, then your raw meat, and then a little bit of chile sauce.  We were going to drop some red bell pepper slices on top, but they had already been mixed in to the sauce and sank to the bottom of the pot. It is common to add olives as well, but we didn't.

Then you pull it together length wise and roll it like you would a brown lunch sack. Then you turn it upside down and fold it on either end popping the stem going through the leaf which kind of holds the tamales closed.
 Our first tamales:
 Marta lined the same huge pot we used to cook the dough with leaves and then gently placed the tamales inside. Then she added water and covered the top with more leaves to help steam them.
It takes a little under and hour to steam them. 

I really enjoyed sharing this time with these ladies. They were so kind and patient to teach me their craft! I smelled like a bon fire when I got home. I took a shower before church to wash the smoke out of my hair. Those ladies are such hard workers in less than ideal conditions and they don't even think anything of it... and I still get frustrated when the power goes out at my house while I'm cooking supper. I took a lot away from my time with them!
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