Herding Buffalos

In Water buffalo Theology, theologian and missionary Koyama writes about a traditionally rural view of the world as being essentially cyclical, following patterns of seasons, weather, and farming.  He suggests therefore that a major challenge to this worldview therefore is to introduce the notion of God acting in linear time – that history is in fact going somewhere and one day will reach a conclusion.   I might not be herding water buffalos, (although between my kids and the scouts…) but at the moment I find I have quite a lot of sympathy with a cyclical view of the world where the sun keeps rising and the rain keeps raining and it is easy to lose sight of the idea of any sort of linear progress.  Work, family, school, bureaucracy, Scouts, paperwork, meetings, church, preaching…  I think there is a discipline in learning to notice the blessings in an ordinary life, and in remembering that we aren’t called to be excited but to be faithful. 

Yesterday I took Danny to an appointment with the psicopedagoga (educational professional) who is trying to assess him for the school.   From the other side of the door, I could hear her asking him to tell her the colours of the play dough, and him answering her all in English, even though I know he knows the colours in Spanish.  So she asked him to say it “so I can understand”, and he went straight into an absolutely wonderful rendition of “speaking English to a foreigner” – loudly, slowly and with a comedy music hall Argentinean accent!  I was crying with laughter on the wrong side of the door, and it also caused me to conclude that this kid probably has all the personal resources he needs to do whatever he wants with his life; the real challenge is going to be how to get him through formal education for the next twelve years. 

Another month went by

So many blogs were nearly written that now it is impossible to remember what I thought I was going to say.  Which may be a blessing for the readership.  

We learned some things about hospitality from a homeless guy from the northern corner of the country, who speaks Guarani, and is also Deaf, with some sort of additional learning disability, the combination of which made communication tricky to say the least.  There was a question mark over whether he might have been in prison, possibly ex-sex offender, which we never managed to verify in either direction, but we put some ground rules in place for everyone’s benefit.  We shared meals, clothes, footwear, and hot water for a month or so, and then he moved on again.  I’m not quite sure why we were called to walk this kilometre of our lives together, but some people have entertained angels without knowing. 

Other things chug along.  Life with a Teen in the house goes up and down like an electrocardiogram.  Sometimes I have to step back and see the bigger picture in order not to get totally lost in the jungle of today’s series of small dramas.  She is making progress, and Baby is thriving.  This afternoon we were looking at a world map together, and she was asking questions (what’s the capital of Argentina? What country is France in? Could a tsunami reach us here?) which caused me to realise that probably no-one has ever invested that half an hour to do something so simple with her. 

Danny is causing consternation at school.  The teacher wondered if he is autistic.  Everyone else who knows him confirms that is the most ridiculous idea ever, but we were posted off to a “psicopedagoga” (something like a cross between a special ed teacher and an educational psychologist) in order to prove it.  The psicopedagoga agreed that it is a ridiculous idea, and then came up with her own equally ridiculous alternative… he doesn’t speak Spanish because you speak English to him and children learn language from their mother.  Which is of course why there aren’t any other bilingual children in the world, and in fact no child ever learns to speak more languages than its mother… She didn’t say that bit, but it would be the logical conclusion of what she did say.  So now we are in the position of having a teacher who thinks she can’t do anything with this child, and a so-called specialist confirming that it is the fault of the parent.  The child in question is quite happy, takes life as he finds it, and enjoyed his fifth birthday yesterday for which I produced the rocket cake in accordance with request.  I have to make a expanded version of same for his party which happens on Friday. 

Joni participated in his first bike race last weekend.  It was freezing cold and blowing a hoolie, but he thoroughly enjoyed himself.  The course reminded me a lot of when I used to do first aid duty at motocross tracks with the St John Ambulance.  Lots of mud and lumpy bits to go over.  The funkiest feature was an old bus with ramps made out of pallets so the riders had to literally ride on and off the bus, with two tricky 90 degree turns in the process:


Three pictures from the week

Ruta 19

Yes, it’s still raining.  This is the Ruta 19, the main trunk road from here to Cordoba, the provincial capital.  At the moment a sizeable chunk of it remains impassible, with more rain predicted for tomorrow.  Martin and a bunch of blokes from church have a date on Saturday morning to go and give a hand to an old guy who has been wading around in five inches of water in his house for the last fortnight. 

scout leader training

This is the district Scout leaders meeting which I was at on Sunday.  There are some wonderful folk in the district who I enjoy catching up with.  And it is great to see our Scout group moving forward from “small, poor and irrelevant” to starting to look like a force to be reckoned with.  We’re the posse in the orange neckerchiefs on this side of the photo. 


Martin chased this character out of our front garden the other day.  And then realised too late that if we’d left him for another half an hour he might have finished the job of cropping the lawn. 

No photo, but at the moment most evenings we’re sharing food with a guy newly arrived in San Francisco from the north of the country looking for manual work.  Communication is somewhat interesting owing to him being Deaf and having significant speech difficulties, as well as a few other minor disabilities.  We realised that he can’t tell the time, so yesterday Martin hit on a workable solution; “When the sun goes down tomorrow, come to my house”. 

On the Twelfth Day

Christopher Robin lived at the very top of the Forest. It rained, and it rained, and it rained, but the water couldn’t come up to his house. It was rather jolly to look down into the valleys and see the water all round him, but it rained so hard that he stayed indoors most of the time, and thought about things. Every morning he went out with his umbrella and put a stick in the place where the water came up to, and every next morning he went out and couldn’t see his stick any more, so he put another stick in the place where the water came up to, and then he walked home again, and each morning he had a shorter way to walk than he had had the morning before. On the morning of the fifth day he saw the water all round him, and he knew that for the first time in his life he was on a real island. Which is very exciting. It was on this morning that Owl came flying over the water to say "How do you do?" to his friend Christopher Robin.

"I say, Owl," said Christopher Robin, "isn’t this fun? I’m on an island!"

"The atmospheric conditions have been very unfavourable lately," said Owl.

"The what?"

"It has been raining," explained Owl.

"Yes," said Christopher Robin. "It has."

"The flood-level has reached an unprecedented height."

"The who?"

"There’s a lot of water about," explained Owl.

"Yes," said Christopher Robin, "there is."

                   With acknowledgements to A.A. Milne.

After twelve days of rain, the forecast here today cheerily predicts that it will continue in similar vein till next Tuesday.  

The little things

A reminder to take time to notice the little things in life…


Apologies for those who don’t like creepy crawlies, but I thought that was beautiful with the water shining off the web. 

It has been raining almost without ceasing for the last eight days here.  We’re doing OK, but spare a thought for folks flooded out up-country.

Closer to home, the Baby has been going to nursery for two hours a morning since Monday, which is improving relationships at home, and might even mean I don’t growl if Teen asks me occasionally to look after him of an afternoon/evening. 

And we have successfully wrangled a special cinema screening of the new Jungle Book movie next Saturday afternoon for the three Scout groups in our district. 

So it’s not all bad. 

Maze of Bureaucracy

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

If you received our newsletter, you might be wondering how my paper-work trip to Cordoba went this week.   Here are the gory details. 

Left home at six in the morning.  Arrived in Cordoba, and made my way to given address.  The building is unmarked, down a back alley, between what looks like an electrical substation and a disused garage.  But a bunch of Argentineans look like they might be going to do what I’m doing, so I follow them and thus discover that I am in the right place. 

Located an information sign which says I need to be in office six.  Ask someone manning a desk to direct me to office six.  He doesn’t know.  Spot office six about three metres in front of where said employee is sitting.  I guess it might have been his first day. 

Stand in queue at office six in order to be given a small green piece of paper.  This is apparently the explanation guide to the process to be followed.  It is in tiny print, poorly photocopied, and dominated by an unintelligible diagram featuring a bunch of arrows pointing in random directions.  I have a sinking feeling that this is going to go quite wrong quite soon.  The woman in office six points me towards the next queue across the corridor. 

Stand in second queue in order to be given a second small piece of paper, in white.  This is a payment slip, which needs to be taken to a “rapipago” (payment system) office two blocks down the street, where I will need to pay 30 pesos (about £1.50) in order to progress. 

Paid up, I call into a stationery shop next door.  Experience tells me that stationery shops can be good sources of useful information.  Sure enough…. “Yes, you need to buy this type of folder, and an index sheet like this, then you need to fill in the index like this, and I’ll make two photocopies of it for you, then the folder needs to be put together like this, and that will be twelve pesos please (60p)and I’ll lend you a pen and a hole-punch and you can let me know if there is anything else you need…”

Back in the original building, apparently now I need to be in office four from which the queue is oozing down the corridor, so I decide to take a break for lunch.  Head across town to the house of a fantastic woman who I haven’t seen since Joni was a new-born baby, hardly surprising I didn’t recognise her kids either.  That was the best two hours I’ve enjoyed in a while. 

All good things come to an end, and too soon I am in the queue outside office four, until I am finally called in.  The first woman receives my paperwork with an encouraging “Oh, I don’t know what to do with you, I’ve never dealt with an foreigner…”  She calls a friend.  Who calls another friend.  Who confers across the office with a fourth friend.  The jury is out.  Two of them think they can receive my paperwork.  The other two are less convinced.  So they go for the safe option: make it someone else’s problem.  “You need to go to this other address across town and consult with this person”.  

I wend my way to the second address from which the person in question has now left for the day.  But I am attended by three other people.  They offer a bunch of possibilities, all things I have previously attempted.  I start getting the impression that they are playing with me.  Finally, one of them suggests I go back to London.  Being fair, at this stage in the day there are few things that I am going to find amusing.  And this isn’t one of them.  So I’m annoyed and I leave. 

Partway down the stairs one of them catches up with me.  “Don’t leave like that” He says.  Well how would you like me to leave?  “It’s OK I understand you”.   No you don’t, you really don’t.  “Calm down, come back upstairs and we’ll talk”.  I take a deep breath and follow him back up the stairs.  Bless him he was quite a sweet guy in the end, and he did everything he could to help me, including giving me his email address so that he can let me know if he manages to make any progress with any of the other people who by then had all left their respective offices and thus weren’t answering their phones. 

The one thing that we did manage to ascertain was that I thought I had revalidated my secondary school qualification when I took a bunch of exams here about five years ago.  But no.  Apparently that is referred to as the “formacion nacional” (National formation), and in order to finish revalidating my secondary school, I need to take those certificates, together with the certificates issued by my country of origin (you know those bits of paper that I’ve never been asked for since the age of sixteen and I have absolutely no idea where they might be, even to the nearest town; those ones) and book an appointment in Buenos Aires to complete the process.  Fantastic.  

And I missed my bus.  Fortunately by the time I made my way back to the bus station, it was nearly time for the next one.  And there were still some empty seats. 

Think before you pray

Que Dios te bendiga con incomodidad ante las respuestas fáciles, las verdades a medias, las relaciones superficiales. Así vivirás en lo profundo de tu corazón.

Que Dios te bendiga con ira ante la injusticia, la opresión y la explotación del pueblo. Así trabajarás por la justicia, la igualdad y la paz.

Que Dios te bendiga con lágrimas derramadas por quienes sufren el dolor, el rechazo, la inanición y la guerra. Así tenderás tu mano para consolarles y para cambiar el dolor en alegría.

Y que Dios te bendiga con la locura de pensar que puedes hacer que el mundo sea de otra manera. Así harás las cosas que otros te dicen que son imposibles.

(Libro de culto y oraciones, Consejo Mundial de Iglesias, IX Asamblea, Brasil.)

I prayed that on the 28th of January and since then I’ve been running ragged.  There may be light at the end of the tunnel soon now all school-aged kids are back in term, and we should have a nursery place for Baby starting in early April which will give me a couple of hours a day with two hands to tackle the rest of the to-do list. 

With sweat at the foundry between the wars

Sweet moderation, heart of this nation
Desert us not, we are between the wars

Billy Bragg – Between the Wars

Currently we appear to be in a period of calm between episodes of manic intense activity. 

Teen is in a good place at the moment, she and boyfriend are getting on well and spending more time together now that they have officially split up – I wouldn’t dare to attempt to fathom any reason or understanding beyond appreciating the peace while it endures.  We’re still no further forward regarding paperwork, and we are still not sure what will happen to Baby when Teen goes back to school.  Both of those things are technically in other peoples hands, although the net effects of either will of course fall onto her and us. 

School goes back for everyone on the 29th, floods and teachers strikes permitting.  I think we have gathered enough paperwork and equipment, but there’s usually something I have forgotten or didn’t know about.  The idea of ensuring that people have access to sufficient information in order to fulfil requirements isn’t really part of this culture.  I find it hard that I am unable to do anything other than be in the wrong most of the time, but I suspect that people who are born here just accept it as part of life. 

The first ever camp with our church teens went well.  I don’t feel I have a great affinity with teenagers in general, so I was amazed that they seemed to enjoy the games that I organised, and they even appeared to be listening when I presented my teaching slot. 


Now between camps, preparing for the Scout summer camp for the final week of the school holidays, from this Saturday till next.  I am actually slightly worried that I am not stressed enough about this!  Normally at this stage I would be running around like something headless, but it all appears to be under control, so I am hoping and praying that this is really the case and that anything major I may have forgotten will come to light preferably in sufficient time to fix it. 

We’re arming for peace, me boys between the wars


Teen’s life currently resembles a soap opera.  Most details not appropriate for public viewing before the watershed, but all prayers and wise counsel gratefully accepted.  She and baby decamped to Cordoba for a few days this week.   On the way back from dropping them off at the bus station I realised this meant that we could actually fit the whole family in the car, having effectively been grounded since Baby’s birth in December (being six in a car thus illegal to go anywhere).  So we made a spontaneous decision to decamp to Miramar for a few days. 

I love the fact that our kids are still unsophisticated enough to be able to have fun with sand and water.  We pitched tents in the usual spot and mostly divided our time between the beach – sand and salty water; and the swimming pool – chlorinated water.  We also threw in a boat trip to see flamingos because Joni wanted to go on a boat, and I never get tired of flamingos; and a trip to an otter farm which we hadn’t done before.  “Nutria” are a local delicacy, and technically aren’t otters, but it’s the best translation the dictionary can come up with. 


Now we’re back home, catching up on the next instalment of the Teen soap opera (thought briefly about killing her yesterday but today we have calm on the western front), drying off tents (inconveniently rained all day yesterday for packing up), catching up with washing, and preparing resources for games and activities ready for the next decamp, with the church youth group starting on Monday.