January has been a month of new experiences. Two such experiences stand out most clearly in my mind. In our last newsletter Greg shared with you about our new office location in a part of the city called Alto Selva Alegre, but as of that newsletter we had not actually obtained the office. Shortly after the new year, we signed the lease and began work on our office space. Painting, sanding, and cleaning are not special things, but being a part of a community, that is special. That’s the first new experience we had in 2009.
Our office is located on the main square in the district of Alto Selva Alegre. This district is relatively new yet well established and conveniently located close to many newer, undeveloped, neighborhoods. While surveying the city we were drawn to ASA for its location, tranquility, and the apparent openness of its people. We had also been told by multiple sources of the good opportunities existing in the surrounding neighborhoods. We were thrilled to find such a perfectly located office. The main square is no more than a park, but with the main church of the neighborhood on one side and a large clinic on the other, it is always filled with people. Kids play under the trees, the hurt wait in the shade to be seen. People sit to have a drink and share news. It is filled with life. Now you might imagine that all these people would be very curious about gringos renovating an office. We have had many people come by to ask us what we’re opening. Some are more chatty than others, asking us where we come from and how we like Arequipa, and if we like it better than Lima. Some want to know if we will be providing medical care. Others just want to welcome us as neighbors. As we begin to have more of a presence there we pray that these chance encounters would lead to more than just pleasantries. We pray that, through something as normal as an office, we can reach out to ASA and beyond and begin to meet people’s needs. For now, though, the pleasantries feel great to us.
Our second new experience has involved a big red van. That’s right, we finally found some wheels. Our van is large and red, some might call it fired brick or some other rosy color, and it handles much like a boat. It was a very good find and thanks to your generosity we are currently making some modifications to it that should serve us well in the future. If you’ve never been to South America and been on the streets this part might be hard for you to understand but I will try to help. We have planned with no small amount of anxiety to purchase a team vehicle. Our anxiety comes from driving in Arequipa. Between the multitude of taxis, combis, buses, and other vehicles the roads are quite clogged and practically devoid of any rules save this one: don’t hit anyone! This one golden rule is followed quite well, but traffic can be nerve racking to drive in at times. I am happy to report that both Greg and I have driven multiple times and have handled ourselves well. We might even say that we feel comfortable doing so, but I’ll let Greg speak for himself on that one.
Though, in the interest of full disclosure, I have a few stories for you. My first day of Peruvian driving went off without a hitch. On my second day, upon arriving at the office a car was parked in front of our door. As I passed this car and tried to avoid a taxi heading our way I mishandled our boat-like van and gently scraped the parked car. I say gently scraped because there was virtually no damage done to the gentleman’s older solid steel car. However, our van wasn’t as lucky, but is still entirely functional. I am getting it fixed as body work is incredibly cheap here. My other story is this: the other day I was driving as we were looking for furniture when we needed to make a U-Turn. While there was a sign saying “No Left Turn” we agreed that this was still a good place to make a U-Turn. The short of it is that I got pulled over for making a U-Turn. The policeman told me that the “No Left Turn” sign also means no U-Turn, though there are also specific signs for U-Turns in some places. Ok, now we know. After a long conversation of him saying I will get a ticket and lose my license and Greg and I repeatedly saying we just want to do what is right, he subtly requested a bribe. We managed to sidestep that one and he gave up and let us go.
That’s what has happened so far in 2009. We cannot know what other such stories we will have, but we do have some plans. We will resume our language studies. Greg will begin learning Quechua at some point while the three of us continue with our Spanish tutors. During the first half of ’09 we will move to our target area and begin making contact not only with our immediate neighbors but also with the important people/groups in the area. Perhaps our largest task will be the research we have planned. Our present goals have us launching our first developmental project in the Fall and we have a lot of questions to ask before we can do that. Be praying for us as we seek to establish ourselves in our new communities. Pray that doors will be opened and people will be responsive to our questions so that we can work in responsible ways that last longer than our direct involvement. Finally, be in prayer for us as we enter into the period of more intense culture shock.