Mulitilateral Agreements

Argentina is 200 years old today, which feels like it ought to be quite a historic moment, but it’s actually quite hard to feel a sense of history, not least because mostly the news has been filled with politicians talking not about the events of 1810, but squabbling like school children about the planned events of 2010. It starts to become clear why inflation here is currently at around 25% when the people supposedly running the country show themselves to be incapable of organising a picnic on a bank holiday. However, if you want to know about the more interesting history, try here, and if infantile politics is more your thing, most international news channels are carrying this summary
We on the other hand came to our own multilateral agreement of a completely different nature. Martin from a different sector of society was brought up to believe that accommodation starts with three stars. We, having more recently swung down from the trees, wouldn’t have known what to do with a hotel even if our parents had dared to take us to one. So, the Frost-Cant coalition has bought an edifice with two rooms, big enough to stand up and walk around in (Martin), with a mini-bar and room service (OK I lied about that bit, but only just), while still being unmistakably a tent (Hazel). And we piled it, ourselves and our dogs into the car, and went to pick up friend Sergio’s girlfriend and daughter (8), thus demonstrating the tardis-like capacity of a Chevrolet Corsa. We were even still legal; five bums on seats, two dogs in a dog-crate in the boot, and camping equipment packed into every other available air space. Sergio went on his bike! And off we went to Carlos Paz for three days.

Carlos Paz is the first half-way attractive place out of Cordoba. We thought being touristy there would be lots of campsites to choose from. Apparently there used to be, but the local municipality decided they wanted the land back, so now there’s only one, correspondingly overpriced, but none-the-less very pleasant, safe for the kids, and at this time of year, mostly empty. So we had our first family camping experience, and Sergio’s family had their first family camping experience. The little girl is an only child, and luckily seems to enjoy the novelty value of adopting a two-year old every so often, so the two of them had a whale of a time, playing on the swings and slides, testing the functionality of Martin’s new air mattress;

kids jumping on air bed

Hiding in the trees;

Joni in the trees

Like father like son;

Martin asleep outside the tent Joni lying on air mattress

Lots of Sergio’s friends and relations live in Carlos Paz, so we had visitors most meal-times.

Sergio and Marcelo cooking Grub’s up!

And then we shoe-horned ourselves back into the tardis-sardine can and went home again, where the washing machine is now working overtime. All in all, highly successful; even Martin said that he would be happy to repeat the experience, despite the cold nights and f-f-f-freezing mornings.


The digital display in our car suggested it was four and a half degrees when I set off at seven o´clock this morning. I suspect it wasn’t a great deal more than that in the bedroom either.
Seven o´clock I left the house. Seven-thirty I was outside the homestead where my little disabled friend and his family live. Eight o´clock we were outside the hospital, where the only parking space left was the one right next to the door. Result. Reversing out of it later, I understood why it had been left till last. We were there to complete the final piece of paperwork in the “kid goes to school” marathon of confetti. This is a “certificate of disability”. I thought by this stage we’d proved that he is disabled, but apparently this is the all important and final word on the subject.

Apart from being required by the school, this one is also worth money. Since birth this kid has been entitled to a state benefit, but because no-one has ever done the paperwork he has never received any. Mum never completed primary school, so paperwork’s not really her thing, and living in the back of beyond, she probably has never been told what she’s entitled to. I suspect that unofficial government policy is to hope that people don’t know what they’re entitled to. So off we went to the benefits office. This took the rest of the morning. Another unofficial government policy may be to make the process of claiming ones benefit so protracted that those who stay the course will be the ones who really need it. Nevertheless, our tedious morning has hopefully born fruit; we’ve been told that she’ll start receiving his disability benefit from July, which will make quite a difference to the family as a whole, and particularly to mum. At the moment she receives no income at all, and living where they do, without transport, little prospect of changing that, so finally she might even be a position of making some small choices for herself and my mate, her child.

Save thou and I

Winter has arrived in the southern hemisphere. It’s not UK-cold, but given that there is a gap in our bedroom wall to the outside, and no heating, or insulation, or double glazing, one wouldn’t want it to be much colder; and there have been a couple of ground frosts this week already. We are grateful for our wood-burning stove, definitely worth the work to get it going, even if it does mean that we permanently smell of campfire.
Here’s a round up of a few snippets which I’ve been gathering up, and haven’t got round to doing anything more creative with…

(UK) “There is some stat that 80% of office moves end up with the office nearer the house of the most senior person to work in that office…” (Comment on someone else’s blog) I’ve yet to verify this, but if anyone can add any concrete information, I’d be interested to find out.

(Argentina) Adolescent male arrives at our door “My aunt says can you give her a lift to Quebracho this afternoon” (background info; his aunt is actually his great-aunt, sweet old lady, who I quite often take with me to and from Quebracho village). “No” I say, “Our car is being fixed, so I’m going by bus today”. “Oh” he says “So will you come and pick her up?” Now I know Spanish isn’t my first language, but I didn’t think it was that bad….

(UK) “On any academic committee, if you try to engage them with the big issues, they look blank but as soon as it’s going to affect their bit of their course, they’re furious and the politics start”. Gill Evans, Cambridge Professor of history, quoted in the independent 10-12-09. I dug this one up for something I was writing a while ago, and didn’t actually use the quote in the end, but I think it is making a well-transferrable point.

(Argentina) Talking about an English teacher; “She has to work thirty hours a week, and travel between different schools, and for all that she only gets four thousand pesos a month…” I tried really hard to look sympathetic, I promise I did, but I was battling against the double images of trying to imagine any teacher in the UK thinking that 30 hours was a long week, combined with the fact that this poor lady’s insufficient salary is more than double my own monthly living allowance.

They’re all queer save thou and I, and even thou’s a bit at times…

En mass to Mass

Last Sunday I went to mass. It wasn’t planned, but I was on a scout leaders’ training weekend and they decided to go to church, and since the majority are Catholics (everyone except me), we went en mass to mass. I recognised most of the words, in fact if I’d been fast enough to translate in my head I could have joined in with 90% of it. As it was I sung a few responses, said amen to the creed and performed another “history of the reformation in ninety seconds” over lunch, as is becoming traditional at Scout leaders’ events. Poor acoustics meant that I didn’t catch the entire sermon, but he used a nifty little illustration about being salt to society which I may well plagiarise for my own next preach at the end of the month.
One of the many benefits of being involved in Scouts is that it is giving me an opportunity to get up-close and personal with some real live practising Catholics in Argentina. Given that something like 90% of the population here would identify themselves as being at least nominally Catholic, one might have thought that there would have been plenty of opportunities for this contact over the last five years. However, society here is quite segregated in lots of ways, and the evangelical church seems to be more segregated than most.

Let us be fair; there is a good historical reason, which is that for many years the protestant church was too tiny to have a voice, and when it started growing it was met with a corresponding barrage of opposition from the Catholic church, including the personal abuse of believers. However, while the opposition has gone away to such an extent that these days most Catholics don’t even know any evangelicals, let alone what we believe (hence my “history of the reformation in ninety seconds” over lunch), the evangelical church still retains a dominant metaphor of itself as “victim” even though anyone younger than I, or with less than 25 years in church, is unlikely to have experienced any personal opposition.

Shut your eyes and listen for one minute. You are sitting at the back of the congregation, and above the boom-cha of the ubiquitous music group the soothing voice comes through the microphone; “… and despite all your difficulties and all your problems you have still made it to church this morning because you have chosen to make the effort to come here despite everything that was trying to prevent you, and that is a miracle…” Open your eyes. What do you see? A small group of poor, down-trodden, struggling believers, battling through the opposition in their determination to come to church? Not these days. In fact in our city, the first thing you probably experienced is a search for a parking space in between the large shiny four wheel drive trucks congregated in front of the building.

Now, let’s be fair again. The Catholic church isn’t perfect, and we can draw many distinctions between “Rome” and “the average Catholic on the street”, and clearly me making a straw effigy out of the Evangelical church is no more helpful than the Evangelical church making a straw effigy out of the Catholic church. But, when I hear one church preaching a self-centred theology of victimhood, while the other grapples with the Sermon on the Mount, it causes me to reflect less on “What is my response to the Catholic church?” and more on “What is my response to the Evangelical church’s response to the Catholic church?”

So I went searching for this, from a friend’s blog back in 2006, which is still one of the best pieces of blogging I’ve ever seen:

“I’ve just had an argument with the director of my misssion about whether or not they should accept Catholics. He thinks they shouldn’t. I thought they should, but now I agree with him. But for different reasons. He thinks they shouldn’t accept Catholics because there’s something wrong with the Catholic church. I think they shouldn’t accept Catholics because there’s something wrong with the mission. As evangelicals, they’d stop converting the damned heathen and spend all their time converting their co-workers. Christ indwells you, they say. The guiding principle of the mission is that we respect the other person because we respect Christ who indwells them. But of course, Christ only indwells them if they have an “Evangelical” faith. Of course.

You see, ecumenicalism is where the rubber hits the road in Christian witness. Am I prepared to love and accept those who are in a different tribe to me? Multinationalism is easy, because the reality of Western hegemony in missions makes it easy to claim to be multinational even when you’re not. Non-Western partners are sufficiently polite that they’ll adapt to you anyway. But ecumenicalism? Shit, this is where that whole thing about loving your enemies comes into play. And basically, we can’t do it.” Simon Cozens 22-10-2006

Certainly our own mission takes a similar line to the one mentioned above. Our official statement says:

Because of the particular characteristics of much of Latin American Roman Catholicism and the historical and ongoing attitude of the Latin American Roman Catholic Church to evangelicals, applicants from a Roman Catholic background will only be accepted provided they confess to an evangelical faith and an evangelical church allegiance.

Let’s be fair for the third time. I have very limited experience of Latin American Roman Catholicism; I’m talking about two cities, in one province, in the context of a very big country, in an even bigger continent, so I’m not really in any position to comment on the particular characteristics of much of Latin American Roman Catholicism and the historical and ongoing attitude of the Latin American Roman Catholic Church to evangelicals outside my own environment.

When I first read the bit about only accepting Catholic applicants provided they have signed up to an Evangelical faith and church allegiance, I thought this was a reasonable position because that was five years ago and I didn’t have any experience of the Catholic church. When I started meeting real live Catholics through the Scouts over the last few months, my next thought was that this requirement was wrong and needed changing. Now I think that actually we may be right to insist on this. Less because of what may or may not be wrong with the Catholic church, but because if we want to have any role in helping the Evangelical church out of its ghetto, the first thing we’re probably going to have to do, is to climb down into the hole with them.

Pank End

Joni with new duvet

This is a pank end. A what? A pank end. What do you mean you don’t know what a pank end is?

Essential modules omitted from the prenatal advice; dressing a moving target, reasoning with a two-year old, and how to develop the gift of interpreting toddler-speak. The interpreting thing takes on an increasingly urgent quality when two-year old teeters on the edge of dissolving into ball of human fury unless parent comes up with the goods forthwith. Once tipped past the point of no return, high decibel screaming ensures that the chances of understanding will be even less than they were before tantrum ensued. It took me quite a while to figure out that “No pank end, no pank end, NO PANK END AAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHH” actually means “I don't want a blanket thank you mummy” and that the definition of “blanket” itself will include any kind of bed-covering whatsoever.

Personally I don’t care if he has a blanket over him or not, despite all the people here trying to convince me that he’ll die of hypothermia in the night or pneumonia shortly afterwards. However, I do care intensely, albeit from purely selfish motives, about the bit where he wakes up cold at 5 in the morning yelling “make it the bed, make it the bed” until mummy crawls out of her nice warm pit to sort him out.

So, mummy went shopping for a new pank end, alias thinnish quilt-type thing, bit like a duvet only not quite, (they don’t have duvets here) with lorries and police cars and buses and diggers and most bases covered for a two-year old transport obsessive. I’ve put it at 90 degrees to the mattress (he’s short so he doesn’t need a whole bed length) and tucked the excess length right under the mattress on one side, so he can toss it back, without throwing it off completely. And he loves it. We’ve had a few little naming rituals where we go through and claim dominion over all the vehicles we can see. And more importantly, we’ve now had two nights in a row where we haven’t seen him till 7 in the morning. Hopefully there will be many more where those came from.

Localised chaos

Happy polling day to y’all. Can’t say I mind missing out on the three hours queuing in order to be turned away at the door; the words banana and republic come to mind. But the idea of a hung parliament might make life interesting. Politics here is so complicated that I couldn’t begin to explain that which I barely have any possibility of understanding. So it’s probably fortunate that we can’t vote anyway.
First week of trying to get the village involved in transporting kiddo home from school and it was already off to a bad start. Last week the village confirmed that they would be OK for taking him home this week, starting on Wednesday. I chased the social worker on Tuesday to make sure we were good to go. “Oh that’s tomorrow isn’t it?” Yes, that’s the traditional order of the week. “I’ll get back to you to confirm”. Reminded me of a conversation I had a couple of years ago talking about how a friend here might have resolved a certain situation; “Well, if I was Argentinean, the first thing I would have done is nothing, until I absolutely had to do something…” Sure enough, social worker comes back to me on Wednesday morning to say that the taxi can’t start till Thursday, but kiddo can miss school for one day on Wednesday. I’m not sure I really like this, but we’ll live with it.

Thought occurs to me; has anyone told the family that kiddo’s not going to school today. The question appears to hit the social worker as if I had suggested storming the Bastille. No, she hadn’t thought of speaking to them. Pause while I wonder why she might not have imagined that the family would have kiddo ready and waiting today like every other day unless we speak to them first. Nope, I give up. Unfortunately having asked me to contact the family, she then phoned them herself to say that kiddo wouldn’t be expected in school, while simultaneously I was rearranging my life to enable me to take him both ways… between us we screwed it up and in the end it all became too complicated and he didn’t go.

That was yesterday. Thus 4.30 pm today found me hopping around the house wondering if the taxi was going to turn up, and how mum and the school might react if it didn’t, and whether I ought just to think about becoming a taxi driver as my permanent day-job. I had armed the staff at school with my mobile number in case of disaster. Fortunately everything seems to have gone OK, according to mum when we texted her later to check that they were home safely. One day down, here’s raising a toast and a prayer for next week.

Moving parts

When I was at primary school one time they made us put together a “human machine” all acting as co-ordinated moving parts, which for some reason also involved chanting “chop chop busy busy work work bang bang”.
That kid’s still in school, the transport issues remain unresolved, but the school are keen not only to keep him, but to have him all week as soon as possible. “As soon as possible” will be when we get the funding through from Cordoba province, which is unlikely to be anytime soon. Luckily everyone involved here is Argentinean so nobody will be surprised about that.

The house has been like a railway interchange today with people arriving and leaving from all directions. We’ve had two lots of people fixing things; some on the roof, and the others welding the blind in the office. The owner has been in twice too, once to collect the rent and the second time to check the progress on the roof. Martin went to the prison, and brought a different set of people back with him (Brethren prison-visiting missionary-pastor types, more on them another day I expect). Joni went to nusery as usual. Hazel went off chasing social workers as is also becoming traditional. I’m thinking of designating social worker chasing as a national sport with a scoring system for time taken and kilometres driven before actually catching one.

In between that and making a cake and a batch of bread, I’m also answering the next set of questions for the next Scout leadership training coming up this weekend. “How is my Scout group putting into practise the national strategy for adult resources?” Well I couldn’t rightly say for sure… Leadership training weekends are going to be a bit of a feature this season. Having cunningly not trained any leaders for the last ten years, there are now almost no qualified leaders left in our area. This would be just fine, we do have a fantastic bunch of leaders, just none with a wood-badge (the Scout equivalent of the bit of paper that qualifies people to do things). However, in these days of easy litigation, (oh yes it’s here too in spades, which is pretty scary given the level of health and safety that doesn’t exist) definitions are starting to be tightened around who is a “Scouter” and therefore who can do things; i.e. virtually none of us. Cue mild panic while our region assembles and trains a training team, and then puts a few dozen leaders through a few dozen leadership weekends. What was that thing about “national strategy for adult resources” again?