First week at school

I’m a bit scared to write this in case making the knowledge public somehow causes something to go wrong. I don’t care if such superstition is unbecoming to my full-time-Christian-worker status, there have been so many hurdles that I’m willing to grasp at any straws going at this stage. So, don’t tell anyone I told you, but that village kid is in school.
He started on Monday, despite not having yet completed the last few bits of outstanding paperwork, and he’s there three days a week for now. The school want him to go five days a week, but they’ve agreed to accept him on a three day basis until we resolve the ongoing transport issues. At the moment the transport is me. Hopefully as of next week, I will be responsible for delivering him to school, and a taxi will take him home again afterwards. For now I actually want to keep on with the delivering him bit because it means I have an excuse to make eye-contact with both the family and the school on a regular basis, as well as ensuring that he actually gets there. The way things are with the village, I figure that it would be too easy for them to decide not bother taking him if it didn’t suit them, but they would probably draw the line at abandoning him there overnight. My plan is that in time the village will become wholly responsible for the transport, but I’m waiting for the right moment, which will be I’ve developed an ally in the school who is prepared to go to war on kiddo’s behalf if things start unravelling with the village. The paperwork should be done mid-May, we still have one appointment to go to, and another form that someone else should be organising for us, although they haven’t come back to me yet; I feel some more chasing up coming on…

At the moment mum is going with him, which I had explained to the school was going to be the case at least to start with. School are handling this very well, obviously it’s not the normal procedure, but they’re prepared to enter into a protracted process of working with both mum and kid in order to enable them to experience gradual separation at a pace that everyone can handle. So, for the moment while kiddo is off doing whatever he’s doing with his group, mum is being kept busy with little jobs like sorting out a cupboard (where I found her today when I arrived) which means that while they are both on the same premises, the choreography is keeping their opportunities for interaction to a minimum. I hope that a knock-on effect might be that mum makes some contacts outside the family. Heck the school could decide that they like what she’s doing and pay her for it, or recommend her to someone who’ll pay her somewhere else. Now that would be a really good result, but let’s not run before we can walk. What we’ve achieved so far is still too fragile to think of it as completely “in the bag”, but it is a victory worth celebrating; two successful days, school and family are all making the right noises and kiddo seems very happy with himself, so it’s only me who’s worrying about where it might fall apart… maybe I should just stop it and celebrate the moment.

End of the week

There are times when our lifestyle catches up with me; today I’m tired!
At this moment I’m supposedly sorting myself out for a Scout “leadership” weekend, but I’m playing solitaire and writing a blog. They’ve given us homework to do in advance; a series of questions including “define leadership in five lines” “what are the qualities of a good leader?” and “Are leaders born or made?” (Some have greatness thrust upon them…) All of which would be interesting questions, except that my experience of education in Argentina so far tells me that my task here is not to mull around the questions, but to guess the one right answer that the training team has in mind and will spend the weekend presenting to us. It’s probably a good exercise in humility for me to practise smiling sweetly and writing it down in my best handwriting when someone tells me that the correct definition of leadership is Aardvark. What it contributes to my development as a leader may remain open to discussion.

Apart from that, from Tuesday afternoon till this morning the house has been full of Latin Linkers; the other two members of the Argentina team exec came for a meeting, our most local colleague (in Cordoba) came for fun and fellowship, and our newest short-termer came to see what long-termers look like (“stick around long enough and you might end up like these…”). It was good to have an excuse or two to go out for coffee / beer / ice-cream (not all at once) and catch up with folk. Now we’re rediscovering the house, and restocking the supplies of food, coffee, milk etc.

Tuesday I spent the afternoon discovering the kitchen in the Scout hut. A few weeks ago I decided that our kitchen was unfit for anything apart from the rats, mice and cock-roaches whose droppings suggest they had moved in over the summer holidays. I wondered why no-body else appeared to be grossed out, then I realised that I am the senior female, which means that probably nobody else has even noticed. Argentina still operates fairly traditional gender roles. Deciding that changing Argentina is probably a rather too-long-term plan, I spent a couple of hours stripping the layers off to find a fridge, a cupboard, a set of shelves and a draining board. Now all I need to do is to wash the things that need to go back in same. I’ve extracted an agreement from the guys that if I bring it up to a civilised standard, then I can make a rota and nag the kids can keep it that way.

Today we made some good progress towards the “kid from village goes to school” plan. We now have a school (not the same as the first one) who have a place for him in a group of kids his own age. I’ve met twice with the school, and kiddo plus mum went to see it this morning. I’m not sure it’s the best educational establishment in the world, but it means he will leave his house three times a week (to start with) and spend time with other people outside the family. He starts on Monday. The down-side of the plan is that the starting and finishing times clash violently with other stuff that I’m supposed to be doing, which wasn’t what I expected, so for a few weeks I’m going to rearrange our lives, and ultimately I’m hoping to pass the transport job on to someone else at my earliest convenience; after a sufficient period to establish a routine and iron out any teething problems, but early enough that I haven’t become a “fixture”. Anyway, I have another meeting on with the social worker on Tuesday when transport will feature on my agenda items.

Meanwhile, the bread has just come out of the oven, so we’re about to go and start on it. Have a good weekend.

Non news

“Normal” sort of weekend, prison and scouts as usual, church as usual, not a lot to report really, so this is a non-event blog, just us checking in with the world.
Sometimes no news may or may not be good news. This seems like a slightly bizarre example of a non-headline I came across last week;

Obama cuts US nuclear arsenal – but keeps sights trained on Iran.

President agrees to reduce stockpile of atomic warheads – and rules out using them on states that play by rules

Seems to more or less boil down to “USA agrees not to nuke its friends”. Whether this could be defined as progress or not may depend on how cynically you viewed the USA in the first place. Personally I kind of thought we had already established that much, so maybe my optimism was unfounded.

And here is a totally unrelated, and far more useful link, from the Wycliffe website, a page on how to love and cherish (well OK, “care for”) your missionary

They’re here too – only more so!

I don’t quite know what it is about the Jehovah’s witnesses but you can spot them a mile off. They look exactly the same the world over. They can often be seen out in force and they always seem to catch us off-guard.
Having woken up from the siesta, Joni wanted to watch some television so, we ended slobbing it a bit in the bedroom watching Doctor who, Driver Dan, 64 Zoo Lane etc., when the dogs suddenly started barking. Half asleep and shabbily clothed in my old shorts and slippers I went to see what all the comotion was all about. Two Witnesses were standing outside my front door.

As I opened the door to them Joni started demanding more 64 Zoo Lane with menaces. So, I asked them to come in while I tended to his needs. Normally, I would do a quick assesment of the situation, decide I was not in a position to present myself in the best light possible and make my apologies. Today I thought I ought to talk but I’m not sure why.

I’ve had a few run-ins with J.W.’s in England. Normally it is a bit like a tennis match (Hazel’s analogy). We just score points off each other. Someone wins, someone loses but it really does not matter. I’ve been thinking for some time now that these guys need to be credited with integrity and dedication albeit not from the best motives. I would hate to have to go around knocking on doors. You never know what’s on the other site. I guess these guys didn’t either.

So cordially, we sat down and I explained that I was a missionary here. I made a point of getting my English copy of the New World Translation to impress them and we started looking at John 1. I thought it good if I could grab the initiative from the beginning. I explained that I knew something of their teaching but would appreciate hearing it from them.

We spent about two hours comparing translations. We looked at their translation both in English and Spanish, together with the New International Version and the Nueva Version Internacional. We threw in a little ESV for good measure. It all got a bit complicated but was thoroughly enjoyable so I deepened my understanding of their position a little more.

The woman had to leave half-way through leaving me and Gustavo to continue alone. I asked him about why he became a Jehovah’s witness. He explained how, when he was a catholic, he could see the extra factors that had been mixed with the faith to make it acceptable to the people here by the Spanish Conquerers* so it was not really biblical. He wanted to understand his faith directly from the bible and the J.W.’s took a more serious approach to it. He certainly did not find the Trinity therein.

He was articulate and intelligent and I believe he really enjoyed chatting. I certainly did. He’s hoping to come around again Monday. I need to do some brushing up on some teaching in the meantime. Prayers therefore appreciated.

*The Conquerers basically put catholocism on top of the local religious beliefs they encountered. So, for example, the virgin Mary has been ‘merged’ with the Patcha Mama an earth godess.

The cup runneth over

three crates of butternut squash

This the penultimate harvest of the butternut squashes, gathered over the last few days. The final few are still ripening on the plant, and when they’re done in the next week or so, we may even rediscover our patio:

 butternut squash plants

I lost count how many we have had over the last couple of months, but it must have been at least a hundred, sometimes we’ve been harvesting them faster than we can give them away. We even had a rule at one stage that no-body was allowed to leave the house without taking a butternut squash with them (or Corianito as they are known in this part of Argentina).

Our least preferred recipe was the one that everyone waxed lyrical about here; crystalised cubes in sugar syrup. Fortunately there are plenty of other things to do with a Corianito. Oft repeated favourites include soup, “not-carrot” cake, anything involving mash (e.g. shepherd’s pie), stews, casseroles, pies, and bread. I’ve been making a regular batch of four small loaves which we dump in the freezer and work our way through in about a week. It’s a lot cheaper than buying bread, and uses around five hundred grams of grated Corianito to one kilo of flour.

Not to be outdone by his domestic goddess mother, Joni has thrown himself into the world of house-hold chores, particularly washing the dishes (along with himself, the work-top, the cupboards, the floor):

Joni washing up

We’re really hoping that he still thinks this is fun when he’s seven… and ten… and fifteen…


We have it; a diagnosis. We waited two hours for it. We were lucky; the lady in the queue next to us said she’d arrived at six in the morning a few days ago, but there weren’t any more numbered cards left for the day already (you have to take a numbered card in order to swop it for an appointment), and then the day after that she’d arrived at five-thirty in the morning and there were eighty five people in the queue before her, so when they started giving out the numbered cards they ran out before they reached her.
So, conclusion? Having waited our two hours, we spent approximately a minute and a half in the doctor’s office. He asked kiddo’s mum if she still lived in Luis Sauce (yes), how old kiddo is now (eight), and whether he talks yet (no), and on that basis he completed his diagnostic sheet with three words “Profoundly mentally retarded”. I envisage one of two outcomes; possibly, the school will decide that the diagnosis isn’t good enough and send us for some sort of full multi-disciplinary assessment somewhere else; alternatively, being Argentina, it may be that the signature and rubber stamp of the doctor were all that was really needed in the first place and that the form-filling was just a waste-of-time exercise in order to obtain the doctor’s seal. We’ll find out on Wednesday.

Changing the subject. Having been at war for the last four and a half years trying to find out how to have my qualifications validated for use in Argentina, today I received the following response (which might not be correct, but it’s more of a response than I’ve managed to elucidate from anyone else to date). First, I need to revalidate my secondary school leaving certificate, which I can do at some address in Buenos Aires. Then I need to present this with my identity document, my degree certificates, my academic transcript, a description of the programme of study for each module covered, the number of hours duration for each module, and the marking scheme, along with $2,300 Argentinean pesos (divide by 6 for sterling), and then, if I’m successful, I will be issued with the relevant certificate. Only apparently the bit between the presenting the stuff and being issued with the certificate takes between 18 months and two years. I’m trying to look pleased that we’ve made some progress, but…

To end on a positive note, (you can always count on Gilbert and Sullivan… Tom Lehrer quote) last night our kid came and threw himself into my arms with a big dribbly hug and asked “am I cute?” Believe me boy, if you weren’t cute you’d have been sold for chemical experiments a long time ago, so take that as a yes. Which reminded me to dig out the socks that he’s been wearing since he was six months old and buy some new ones that actually fit the poor guy. Diagnosis: he’s a sweet boy, despite his parents.

Thine be the Glory

There are many mundane things that I could have blogged about and nearly did, but then I figured I ought to have something profound to say about Easter, given that we are supposed to be professional Full-Time Christian Workers or something. The trouble is that Easter has almost bypassed us, despite being supposedly professional FTCW’s, and despite having two whole bank holidays supposedly dedicated to Easter on Thursday and Friday.
The Catholic church (which something like 90% of Argentineans would at least nominally align themselves with) goes in for Easter in a big big way, although unfortunately they don’t always get as far as the Resurrection part of the story.

The Evangelical church meanwhile manages to avoid such accusations by missing out the birth, the death, and the resurrection. At least we’re consistent. In fact the whole “God-become-man” thing in general sometimes seems to be strangely absent from Evangelical teaching around here.

Today’s lesson in my Sunday School schedule was a worthy study in 2 Corinthians on the subject of the church and how appreciative we should be of it (abundantly illustrated by guilt-heaping examples of other people who value their church more than we the accused). So I lifted the phrase out of my assigned passage which says “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17) , and holding it between my teeth, dived into the John 20 account of the empty tomb with a “and here’s why”. And then we made Easter cards. I did feel a bit sorry for the younger group who were dutifully colouring in their work-sheets while the bigger kids were having fun, but I thought it might be a crime too far to trash yet another lesson even if it was dull given that I was already ignoring that which had been carefully planned for me to deliver.

As for Easter, personally I can’t get beyond the moment of recognition in John’s gospel:
Jesus said to her, “Mary”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni” (which means teacher).

Do I have anything more profound to add to that? Not a chance.

Busy Day

Out of the house by 7.30 this morning, off to the hamlet of Luis Sauce to collect disabled kiddo and mum at 8.00 in order to take them to meet the school in San Francisco at 8.30. Oh flip but it’s all very medical model isn’t it. Long in-depth discussion about the pregnancy, the birth, and every minute detail of kiddo’s medical history ever since. The major sticking point that I had feared wasn’t because the village will only pay for three days worth of transport, but that kiddo doesn’t have an official diagnosis; fully in-keeping with a total-medical model approach. Even having a certificate of disability doesn’t count if you don’t have a diagnosis. So we were sent off to the hospital to get a diagnosis. The hospital don’t give out appointments in advance, you pick a day and go and stand in a queue for a few hours, and then they give you a numbered card, which you can then swop for an appointment time several hours after that. We’ve decided to try for Monday at the clinic of the neurologist who we are assured will be able to invent an official diagnosis. I don’t really know how things are categorised in Argentina, but I can only assume that there are a bunch of “one size fits all” labels given out to people who don’t tick any other boxes, so I expect we’ll end up with one of those. I hope it makes the school happy; I’m due back there next Wednesday with the completed paperwork.
Back in the car from San Francisco to Luis Sauce, drop mum and kiddo off at home. On to Quebracho Herrado for another meeting in a different school at 11.00. Not very useful meeting as the person who’d set it up wasn’t there, but we moved a few things around and remade contact with a couple of folk who I hadn’t spoken to since the end of the last school year. Home in time to cook lunch for Joni coming out of nursery.

4.00 do the rounds and pick up a couple of people, and drive back to Quebracho Herrado, arrive at 4.30 to find the usual reprobates waiting for me outside our room. I’d brought along some jigsaws to entertain the noisy kids, which they were more pleased about than I’d imagined they’d be. Note to self; buy a few more of those. Meanwhile I was working with two very sweet shy little girls who are both well behind at school, and Joni was entertaining himself by scribbling on the table and throwing crayons around the room. We walked the little girls home afterwards, and snuck in a crafty trip to the plaza which they were happy about; mum keeps them on a fairly tight rein, but she didn’t show any signs of minding when I told her why we were late, so hopefully we’re not in too much trouble.

Back to San Francisco “home to Joni’s house”, build train-track on the floor, watch some Wibbly pig, bath, food, four stories and bed. Our boy is traumatised. No, not by the life of his crazy mother; he’s well used to that. It’s his Nativity book. I thought it was quite a traditional cutesy illustration of the stable scene; strangely European looking baby in the manger, with strangely clean animals looking in at him. Zero points for accuracy, but hardly enough to disturb a two year old. “No sheep! Go away go away! Don’t eat the baby!” At this point I would like it to be known that despite all my mad features, I have never threatened to feed my child to the sheep.