The sun shone, the blossom blossomed, and the hillsides were alive with newly hatched lambs as we stomped the paths with Joni bouncing along in his back-pack behind me. Each walk makes me greedy for the next, I can’t get enough of it. This is what I really miss about England. No, we don’t have the drama of the Andes, the Iguazu falls, the pampas, or the glaciers. English countryside isn’t show-offy, but that, ironically, is one of the reasons why I love her understated rolling green so much. And even more important, it’s only two minutes walk from my door. I think that’s the main reason why we don’t take enough time off in Argentina; we’ve never managed to figure out what one does for free time in a country where hardly anyone just goes for a walk, and in any case most places are too far away for anything other than a major expedition.
One of the things I was really looking forward to about England was a chocolate-fest, since Argentinean chocolate is officially nasty. But now I’m here and faced with groaning shop counters of everything I could possibly want in the confectionary department, I find I’m not as excited by the prospect as I thought I was. In fact I am surprised to discover that the one thing I really wanted but didn’t know it, is a good greasy English “All day breakfast”. I love English sausages, even though they actually are rubbish; the “meat” content is barely meat, and the other ingredients are barely food. Nevertheless, despite feeling my arteries harden with every grease laden serving, I am joyfully taking every occasion to plough through a good old fashioned fry-up. And in case you were wondering, I’m not even pregnant.
Still on the theme of food, we finally made it out for a curry the other evening. It was fantastic, needs to be repeated soon. The place was moderately busy for a weekday evening, so we were surprised by the amount of personal attention we were receiving from the waiters. Polite and friendly Bangladeshi guys, they all came to talk to us, even the ones who didn’t appear to have a reason to be at our table. And the questions they were asking seemed rather strange; the “where are you from and what brings you to these parts” variety of questions that we normally expect to answer five times a day in Argentina. Then we realised; everyone else was smartly dressed and neatly occupying their table in grown-up twos and fours, having left the kids at home with a baby-sitter. Cultural gaffe number one. As Martin observed, even after only a couple of years abroad we are already at the stage where we can only just about masquerade as English, and even then it doesn’t always work. For the record, our baby expresses a preference for popadoms and mango chutney.
Having been back in the UK for almost two weeks I thought it was time to write something. So far we’ve been enjoying seeing family and friends, going for walks over the fields, and revisiting old haunts. We did our first official church presentation last week, which went OK in a slightly disorganised “wondering how this powerpoint projector thingy works…” sort of way. Luckily we were among friends and they were good to us. I will write about my impressions of being back in the UK, but not this time because I haven’t figured out what I think about it yet.
The last couple of weeks in Argentina went a bit mad. The contract finished on our house, so we had to pack everything up and store it in someone else’s spare room. I had an invitation to go to a conference in Ecuador in the last week, which I declined, thinking that moving house, going to England, and being the parent of a small person were three good reasons not to be going anywhere. But I was persuaded by Small’s other parent that it was a good opportunity and that he would be delighted by the prospect of taking charge of his son for a week. So having boxed all our belongings, we installed Martin and Joni into the pastor’s house, and off I went to Ecuador.
For reasons best known to someone else, the most logical route from Cordoba to Ecuador is via Panama. And it wasn’t until I reached Panama that I discovered the time difference and realised that the wait was an extremely long one. Hence, on exhausting the entertainment possibilities of the airport (allow twenty minutes max), I was stamped through immigration and went out to discover the world.
From my brief sojourn, Panama looks like a place worth returning to. Watching massive boats ease their bulk through the canal at Miraflores Lock is enough to bring back any little kid’s fascination with transport, while Panama city is the clash of two worlds. On one side the shiny glass and chrome tower-blocks rise above air conditioned shopping centres and white people drive around in showroom 4×4’s; on the other side the afro-carribean population crouch on upturned crates along cobbled streets lined with rickety ex-colonial terraces. Then the digression was over and on we went to Ecuador.
“Sometimes this missionary thing does have its exotic moments…” I thought as I strolled along a mountain track, at 4100 metres with the mist swirling around us, high above the city of Quito, sharing a mango with a Brazilian theologian, and a Peruvian disability activist. It was a good conference, a first consultation on disability and theology from a Latino perspective, organised by EDAN, the disability network of the World Council of Churches. We tackled some brave issues, of embodiment and the image of God, as well as thorny questions of Bible translation. It was good to see that EDAN has also moved forward in its thinking since the last event of theirs that I went to a couple of years ago. They don’t have all the answers, but at least they’re now asking some of the questions that hadn’t yet made it onto their previous agenda. And now I have a whole lot of notes to read through and things to think about. I’m also wondering if it might be time to start doing some more theological study. Probably in Spanish and possibly with a more “traditional” establishment in order to have freedom to explore ideas without being browbeaten by the self-appointed thought-police. Now, how to slide that idea in past an organisational hierarchy…
Although Joni’s body-clock would have us believe that we are still somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, actually we are back in the UK, TAM Airlines notwithstanding.
The first connection delivered us to Sao Paulo airport without incident, where we discovered that our 22.45 flight had been renamed 23.45, but in any case wasn’t leaving till 01.00. Sure enough at 01.00 they loaded us all on, and then made us sit there until 03.00. The explanation given was that “the baggage was being loaded”. We couldn’t quite figure how the baggage could take that long to be loaded, and we suspect that the real explanation might be that “the baggage wasn’t being loaded”. In any case, it meant that Joni was fed up with the plane before it even left the tarmac, and the other passengers were probably equally fed up with Joni.
I have heard that some airlines give extra room to parents with babies (given that we pay a percentage of the ticket price for him), but TAM isn’t one of them, so we got to share a seat in the middle bank, in the middle of the plane. The meal thing is the biggest challenge, using one set of hands to pin down baby’s waving limbs, and the other set of hands to wrestle the lids off the containers, while not tipping anything over the people whose elbows are trapping mine by my side. I gave up on the cutlery; eating pasta with ones fingers might be indelicate but it ensured that some at least made its intended destination.
Arriving at Heathrow, we waited for a gate to become available (having missed our allocated landing time I guess), and on finally entering the terminal we found ourselves corralled into a passageway, behind a locked door, beyond which the bomb-squad were dealing with an incident in the immigration department. Luckily we were in Terminal four, so after immigration had eventually spat us out, we were quickly able to collect all our baggage from a moving carrousel, apart from the pushchair which was shortly delivered to our hands by a real person. Now there’s a novel idea for keeping the system moving, might someone suggest it to the gurus scratching their heads in Terminal five.
So here we are in sunny Baldock feeling slightly surreal, trying to figure out whether the last couple of years were a strange dream, which of our two worlds is the real one, and where the points of connection might be between them. Joni is bypassing such existential angst, and is busily categorising his two worlds according to flavour. Major discoveries associated with the UK so far include tinned baked beans, rusks, instant oat cereal, cheddar cheese…