Introductions … new services, new people

12 09 2009

I might as well warn you now that I’m just planning to make a rather long post and get caught up.  I’ll divide it up here and there, I think, so that you can decide whether you want to keep reading or not!  Actually, you might try skipping through.  I tried to put the most interesting parts first, but now it seems somewhat reversed.

The translating has turned out not to be as big a job as I thought.  Rachel had already satisfactorily completed everything but the 29 pages she gave me.  I have about one page left of finishing up her work, and then I need to format it and it will be done.  As I was wrapping up my part of the translating on Wednesday, she came in and asked me if I like working with children. (Nah, I just came down to help with this school because I get sadistic pleasure out of keeping their noses to the grindstone.)  And do I like working with special-needs children?  I had to admit that I can’t claim prior experience at the elementary level, but I was quite ready to try.  So she told me that Juan Diego, eight years old, is on his way through kindergarten for the third time.  The public schools had him the first two times, and didn’t have the resources to help him, so they just sent him out to play when he acted up.  He has made tremendous progress this year in his class of about 10 students, with loving discipline.  However, at this point he’s still struggling with the names of the letters.

In point of fact, most of the children are.  ACE has a fairly strong phonics program (I must admit), and these children know letter sounds backwards and forwards, and can sound out words, even though they’re not really supposed to be reading till next year.  But achievement counts for nothing if you can’t pass the tests, so Juan Diego must know that when someone points to “a” it doesn’t mean “ape,” “antelope,” or “ah.”  (I didn’t finish learning the Spanish alphabet till I tried to teach it last month, after four years of college, but if kindergarteners finish the year without knowing any random letter when you point at it, it doesn’t matter that they’re already reading.)

Anyway, I readily admit that it’s something that needs work; I just can’t see the threat of not letting them “pass” kindergarten or participate in “graduation.”  That’s just the way the game is played, which is all education is about anyway, right?  (By the way, every youngster in the school has an average of 97 or above – most of them 99.x.  Just thought that might interest some people with whom I’ve had that conversation.  It’s purely objective grading, too.) 

So Juan Diego must learn his letter names, with 30% vision in one eye and 70% in the good one.  Rachel and I discussed some aspects of the matter, and some strategies, and we decided that I should pull him out 2-3 times a day and use flashcards or whatever I liked to help him.  I held my ground and said that I didn’t think it would be beneficial to work more than 15 minutes at a time, and when I finally reached into my ammunition store and pulled out a factoid from a certain methods class by a certain fabulous teacher, it found its mark, and I won.  (Said factoid being that a rule of thumb for activities at the elementary level should last for (student’s age + 2) minutes = 10 for Juan Diego, even if he were perfectly normal.)  I discovered a flaw in myself.  I’d really rather not negotiate; I prefer to just walk off if I am seriously disagreeing with someone.  But I can’t do that if I want to participate another five weeks, and so I had to buckle down and work with her.  I think it was good for me.

So … Rachel got her flashcards together, and yesterday she and James drilled the students for about half an hour on letter names versus letter sounds, and I cut stuff out and laminated.

Anyway.  There’s quite a while left, and Juan Diego is not done needing help, if I don’t miss my guess.


I don’t know if the last part was as interesting as I meant it to be or not.  Moving on, the church services have also been something to get used to.  Sunday morning, Lee was invited to preach at a baptism.  He and Sharon were concerned before they even went.  The baptism is held at a swimming pool by this church, and it results in quite a festive atmosphere for a Sunday service.  It was 100% new to me, because our church doesn’t “practice the ordinances” at all – blame it on Quaker influence somewhere way back, if you like.  I heard someone surmise that once, and so it’s what I say now.

But I didn’t see anything I felt like importing.  To say nothing else, I don’t know where the idea came from that girls should wear white tops for baptism (even if they didn’t have low necks), while men in swimming trunks are observing from the other end of the pool – they couldn’t get the whole place reserved this time.  I feel like saying quite a bit more, but I shall refrain.  Except that I think John Wesley and Adam Clarke demonstrated quite satisfactorily that baptism originally was by sprinkling or pouring rather than immersion, and why holiness folks have strayed from their Methodist roots, I’ll never understand.  Especially after attending this service.

I did enjoy the Sunday night service.  I’m afraid there’s quite a bit of what we call “wildfire” here, but it was interesting.  They had a trumpet player, and two acoustic guitars, and a keyboard.  They run their sound a little loud.  Just a little, you know. 😉 I really did enjoy the trumpet player.  I wasn’t sure whether the high point musically was when they asked him to sing, or when they asked the keyboard player to sing.  See, I liked the trumpet player’s singing, but then he couldn’t play the trumpet.  And I appreciated when the piano player stopped playing, but I didn’t enjoy his singing as much. 

The piano player turned out to be the pastor, and he got everyone to stick their hands in the air and say Amen sufficiently, and then preached.  Oh, but I missed René in Sucre.  During prayer here, my mind went back to a little second-floor room with a young man praying from the pulpit, as his voice rose and earnestly pled with God, and God’s presence settling into the room, even with most people pretty quiet.  But you take what you can get.

Wednesday, there were two funerals, if I understood.  Someone from the church had died, and the pastor’s brother had (not unexpectedly) passed away.  So Maria and I showed up, but there were just a few people who had come to pray a few minutes before going to the funeral or whatever it was.

Last night, they were to have a missionary service at 6:00.  Maria and I went with some anticipation – well, maybe I should speak for myself.  The church was decorated tastefully in blue and gold, and I loved the touch of spreading fresh pine needles all over the tile floor.  They had all the folding chairs out, and evidently expected a crowd.

About 6:45, they got the sound adjusted like they wanted it … it was done in such a manner as to prevent folks whispering to one another.  Hollering, maybe, but not whispering.  The missionary and his wife sat down on the front seat, she not at all in line with typical holiness standards, and with a V-neck revealing … more than I think I’ve ever seen in a professing holiness woman.

Oh … the piano player.  I somehow knew when I saw him shuffling across the platform towards the bench, a young man unable to straighten up, that he could play the piano.  They say that when God takes one ability, he frequently gives another.  I have heard greater virtuosos.  And no, I won’t say that it all was entirely appropriate for church.  But when I hear piano accompaniment that good, I’m going to enjoy it!  He was throwing in all sorts of chords, and grinning to himself all the time, and always in control of the rhythm – something I’d missed Sunday night.  I think he and my brother would enjoy an afternoon together.

Then they called up the poor struggling evangelist, and he went to his Mac laptop and turned on his soundtracks, and I eventually realized that we had actually come to a concert.  It wasn’t so much the music that was objectionable, although Lee and Sharon said they heard it a block away, but there was just a vein of performance and emotionalism running through it all the way.  He did preach (on Jesus turning water into wine), and he even preached specifically against sin when they called him back up after the wildly successful altar call.  (Said sin being pirated CDs.)

As to the altar call, I was and still am quite curious as to 1/4 of the audience having been converted after repeating a sinner’s prayer, and I should like to know whether they will be there on Sunday, and when they’ll be joining the church.  The pastor announced to us that their names had been inscribed in heaven and the angels were having a party now.  (On a side note, I noticed one man turning around from the altar and beckoning to his women-folk to follow him up there, which they did.  That did seem pretty non-US.)

Then the missionary’s wife went back to man the product table (or to woman it?), and they called some children on stage and had them sing and invited a round of applause, and everybody went out and bought tostadas from the booth in front, and we all went home.  (Actually, I bought some sort of delicious warm, thick drink with a piece of cinnamon stick in it.)

I am not trying to be offensive here; I recognize that I have a range of readers from different backgrounds.  I am not meaning to denounce the church people, or to condemn churches with practices different from mine.  As to anything beyond “reporting,” I am simply measuring this specific church by the standards which I understand this organization to use.  If they professed different beliefs, then I hope I would ask myself whether they were conforming to what they believed.  I am quite sure that there are numerous good people here, and it’s hard for me as essentially an outsider to distinguish what positions people hold.  I really have only attended one service representative of “normal” here.  Also, I really respect the missionaries’ recognition that this is a self-supporting, independent network of churches, and that they don’t have the right to dictate anything.  Finally, I know that if an outsider came into my church or movement, they would misinterpret a lot of things at first. 


(I do know some people are interested, and if you’re not, you’re under no obligation to continue.) For those whom I haven’t lost yet  …

6 hours later – I couldn’t remember what I wanted to write about, so I gave up.  It was shaping up to be a really warm day today, but it started raining around noon and kept it up for an hour or so.  That broke the heat, and I escaped for a pleasant afternoon.  The Rickenbachs (Lee and Sharon) have gone to Honduras till partway through next week, and it’s just Maria and I here.  I had determined to buy my lunch.  (The folks here and I have a bit of an ideological difference when it comes to food.  They’re proud that they’ve learned to subsist primarily on vegetables and fruit … and I don’t see that it’s anything to be proud of. 😆  However, I do get a fair amount of meat.  In Bolivia I got to craving peanut butter – I guess for protein – after 2 or 3 weeks!)  It was about 3:00 when I finally found a place I wanted to eat, and all I’d had was a fruit & yogurt breakfast.  I managed to find something that wasn’t an expensive, fine-dining restaurant, but wasn’t hamburgers either.  And I have to say, they can make good steak in Guatemala.  I can’t help looking for the Heinz 57, but it doesn’t need it.  There was a family in there, and the youngsters were all talking English – I think they know more slang than I do (not saying much). 

Question:  Why is it that an American who has travelled to other countries is “well-travelled” and, if they’ve sent a few weeks backpacking and staying in hostels, possibly even “bicultural,” but a Latin American who has earned a living in the US for a while is (to describe the US perception as best I can) someone a little humorous who just doesn’t belong?  Inquiring minds want to know.

After that, I carried out the main part of my plot for the afternoon.  Maria and I passed some old wooden doors last week, and I glanced up and saw, on a a paper which had been in the sun for a long time, that it was the Jalapa historical museum.  I’m guessing it may be about the only one in town, but who knows.  It claimed to be open weekday mornings, and Sat. & Sun. from 3 to 6.  I made it over there about 4 today.  It certainly didn’t look open.  I knocked … looked through the dilapidated wood, and it didn’t look too inviting anyway … knocked again … Finally I mosied off.  There was a door open across the street, and women were in there sewing.  This being Guatemala rather than Sucre, Bolivia, I thought they might not mind helping out a foreigner, so I asked if they knew if this museum was open.  One of the ladies assured me that it should be, came out, crossed the street, got the attendant’s attention, told me I needed to knock harder, and explained to the man that I wanted to see the museum.  It is a block and a half from the house, but I don’t think anyone from here has ever gone. 

There are moments, as an American foreigner, that one doesn’t feel very welcome in other countries.  Then there are the moments when you knock on a museum door, undoubtedly the first foreign visitor in ages, and some volunteer takes an hour and a half to give you a personal tour, explain every photograph, make the history of Guatemala come alive, answer questions, show you every room and explain how it was typical or atypical, what was original and what is duplicated – and even appear appreciative of an interested audience.  Then when it’s all done he kindly asks you to sign the guest book, and you ask if he wasn’t supposed to charge you (like it says on the door), and he agrees that your grand tour did cost you all of $2.50, just to support the work, and invites you to come again some time if you have a chance.

I have seen “gramophones” (the famous old Victrolas) in museums before, and you probably have too.  But unless you’re a little older than I am, you probably haven’t heard one play.  Just ask the next museum guide you meet to wind that thing up and let you listen to it!  It seemed he would have let me touch anything in the place, although I can’t say it seems like a wise policy to this American.  In Abraham Lincoln’s house, they warned us that if even our heels slipped off the marked path, the alarms would all go off.  And I suppose that house will last longer.  I asked in one room if I could take a picture.  He said it wasn’t usually allowed, but it was OK to take one.  He actually took one of me in the room.  ( By the way, I would check out those Flickr photos.  I commented on the one of the kitchen with some of the explanations the guide made to me – it interested me, at any rate.

So that has been my most rewarding escape.  A couple of other times I’ve slipped out on my own … went to a frozen yogurt store … bought a Coke … had a trio of school-age boys holler something after I went past which they thought I wouldn’t understand.  It was very tempting to answer them.

Someone commented to me by email that they were concerned I wasn’t enjoying Guatemala as much as Bolivia.  Well, it would be hard to enjoy anything that much.  (I kind of left my heart in Bolivia.)  And this is a very different set of circumstances, forcing me to react in different ways.  But I don’t need just a repeat of a previous experience.  I’m developing insights in different ways and directions this time.  Yeah, a lot of English conversation – but there’s more information being shared that way.  Anyway, that is a topic for another day.  Congratulations if you stuck with me this far!

I’m now remembering quite a bit more I wanted to share, but I will spare you.  BTW, Maria posted an update herself, where she borrowed a couple of my pictures.




8 responses

12 09 2009
Jerry Smartt

Querida Amata,
Tomorrow Sigma Delta Pi/Spanish Club is going to lunch at a Salvadorean restaurant…pupusas, yuca, horchata, plátano frito…the works!! Wish you were here! Maybe when you get back, we’ll go for lunch!!
Thanks for the interesting emails..they are a pleasure to read. It’s fun to watch (or read? see? hear?) you grow.
Un abrazote,

12 09 2009

Oh, I’d love to do that! Maybe around the weekend of Nov. the 5th, come to think of it. 😉

You’re up a little bit late! Maybe it’s not so much over there. I’m feeling tired earlier at night, not sure why. I’m not doing an awful lot of walking.

I should come up with a prize for folks that make it through my novelas. Hmm, I’ll have to think about that one for a while.

13 09 2009
Daniel J. Mount

I read all the way through. The description of the museum, in particular, was fascinating. Are you familiar with Doug Phillips? He came out with a CD series a little while back (last year, I think) on “Mysteries of the Ancient World,” some of which were Mayan, and he described a similar ability to touch and get involved in South American museums.

13 09 2009

No, I haven’t heard of him. Assuming you really mean CD and not DVD, I might try to look that up some time.

The Mayan part perked my interest. This museum didn’t really go that far back, but I am hoping to visit Tikal right before I leave. This museum really impressed me with the “hand-on” more than any I can remember having visited.

I guess that if I ever write a book on my travels, my proven readers get an autographed copy … but then I won’t sell any!

13 09 2009
Daniel J. Mount

Yes, I really mean CD. Doug Phillips leads Vision Forum Ministries and is one of the best-known speakers on the homeschool conference circuit.

The site appears to be having some server issues presently, but a downloadable form of the series (mp3) is available for something in the neighborhood of $20 on That’s actually where I got it, to save money.

For when the site’s back up:

It’s a fascinating series.

14 09 2009

I read you entire post – and very much enjoy your ensights and observations. Again, a great experience. The “culture” of worship varies so much between different people groups…even of the same denomination. I guess we know what is most important however……….. You are doing some really good things Amy.

14 09 2009
Amber Rogers

Hey Girl! I finally was able to read all your updates and I really enjoyed them. 🙂 Keep updating we all love it!! Love you girl…

14 09 2009

Well, there’s some people making it through, anyway! 😀

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