Let us play

From conception onwards, pretty much everyone around me has been in agreement that I am a terrible mother.  Once I’ve accepted this fact and I know that really there is nothing I can do to change the tenure of public opinion, it becomes curiously liberating not to have to please anyone except myself, and to consider myself free to be the parent I would like to be, rather than the one that everyone else thinks I ought to be.  (I would like to state right here that quite a lot of the time I don’t manage to be the parent I aspire to be either, but I do at least have some idea of what I think that could look like.)  In some ways my child has more limits on him than normal kids around here… I limit his TV, both in terms of time and content.  I limit his diet, particularly its percentage of sugar, and he goes to bed at a time of my choosing, usually a hour in single figures.  In other ways he has a lot more freedom than kids here, to seize every opportunity and

playing in the mud


playing in the mud


playing in the mud


playing in the mud


playing in the mud

Monday’s Thoughts

There are stories to tell, but sadly not mine so I can’t tell them, at least not on a public blog.  My little kid from the village has nearly learnt to swim; I’m allowed to say that.  He gets more and more confident in the pool every day, we were playing with water balloons today, I guess he’d never seen them before, but he loved it. 

I first read Rob Hay’s Article on Toxic Mission a year or more ago, but I’ve found myself coming back to it a few times of late, and since I’d promised a couple of folk that I would send the link, I’m putting it up here for anyone who might be interested.  I think it’s a good discussion starter, and probably should be compulsory reading for anyone in leadership in mission and anyone who aspires to leadership in mission (actually as the article points out, most folk in leadership in mission weren’t planning to be there, so probably it should be compulsory reading for all of us on the grounds that we never know where we might end up). 

I’d saved it in the same place as this cartoon from Asbo Jesus who as regular readers will know is someone whose work I appreciate for many reasons;


This is also from quite a while ago, and it had me thinking about the whole concept of “they”; i.e. “The other”…. whether that’s talking about youth workers, church members, mission partners or whatever (and in other contexts disabled people, black people, “the poor” and as many other stereotypes as you like).  “They” are “those who aren’t like me”, and “They” are usually attributed with negative characteristics which I don’t share… “They” aren’t asked for an opinion because “They” aren’t interested, can’t be trusted, wouldn’t respond anyway, don’t understand, haven’t had my training….  All conveniently ignoring the small detail that the main denominator that links the individuals in question is that “They” are all members of the same youth-work team, church, mission organisation, and if “They” really don’t care, can’t be trusted etc.,, then the most logical place to start exploring for a root or a reason is within that shared common denominator.  And then life starts to become uncomfortable, hence the link with the above article.  Oh for a good context for reflexive discussion. 

On a more cheerful note, and swiftly changing the subject;

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

Yup, it’s Burns night.  Bit hot for haggis here right now, and the whisky’s terrible, and we can’t get “neep”, but here’s a toast to ol’ Rabbie B. 

Procrastination Effort

I’m supposed to be writing a blog.  But it’s too hot.  And I’m too tired… post-scout-camp, middle of summer scheme, mother of a three year old, owner of two lunatic dogs, and I’m nearly five months pregnant. 

So, I’ve tidied the house, cleared up the aftermath of the 3-year-old’s bath, watered the plants (with his left over bathwater), put the rubbish out, harvested some cabbage from the garden, wondered whether butter-nut-squash will behave like a pumpkin if I try making it into jam (and then realised that I don’t have any sugar in the house), written a shopping list to go to the supermarket tomorrow (including sugar), made a savoury tart in anticipation of lunch tomorrow (including recently harvested cabbage), done the washing up, put a table and chairs outside for when Martin comes home from prison (hopefully any time now), and written a couple of emails. 

It may be that the procrastination effort cost more energy than writing the blog. 

Post Scout Camp

The butternut-squashes are threatening to take over the world, the melons are following close behind, while the tomatoes are clinging to life, and the peppers have just about given up the fight.  Apparently it was a dry week in San Francisco, and I forgot to leave plant-watering instructions. 

We on the other hand are sun-tanned, tired, and thoroughly pleased with our week on Scout camp in Rio Tercero, which was spent in traditional Scout-camp fashion.  From playing in the river;

girls in the river   DSC_0063

To country walks;

Scouts at Indian Statue   Bridge over a gorge 

To learning about the local wildlife;

Garzas negras     Joni at the riverside

To chores and activities around the campsite;

Flag break   Child washing clothes

And many other hearty Enid-Blyton-approved activities (bring on the ginger pop).  The balloon-powered cars weren’t an unqualified success; the relatively clinical conditions of our office floor proved to be quite difficult to reproduce in the middle of a field.  However, one child did manage to make his work, so we at least proved the principle, and we enjoyed a water-fight with the balloons afterwards so it wasn’t an entirely wasted effort. 

Joni has pretty well learnt to swim, if you’re OK with a tendency to go backwards (aspiring to be a squid or something), and the Scouts enjoyed introducing him to the age-old art of rolling down a grassy hill; some activities transcend national boundaries;

Rolling down the hill   Rolling down the hill

And now we are back to reality.  Summer scheme carries on as normal for me… continuing the theme of children and water, just in a different context.  Joni is back at nursery.  Some idiot yoof crashed his motorbike into the side of our car yesterday, so this afternoon involved a trip to the insurance company and the filling in of relevant paperwork (Form 64f “accidents involving idiot yoof”). 

We followed the trip to the insurance company with a possibly not very fruitful trip to the local convent on behalf of one of the local beggars who we are building a relationship of sorts with.  “Where you from? … Why we not speak in English?” – Mother Superior turns out to be from India.  We had to sit through half a mass in order to get to meet her.  Mass was held in a peaceful, simple, white chapel, accompanied by two acoustic guitars… it did cause us to wonder whether it was worth converting to Catholicism.  Despite our begging house-caller’s insistence that the nuns wanted us to go and speak to them, they themselves appeared not to know who she was, so I’m about to attempt some written communication, using her as postman to try and find out if we’ve got the right nuns, if she’s telling the truth, if they’re trying to get her off their backs, or if there’s some other misunderstanding… could be anything, complicated by the fact that she’s illiterate.  All in a day’s work. 

90% of the work is done in 10% of the time

The title of this blog entry was a favorite saying, many years back of a guy called Chris, an I.T. friend. There’s some truth in it. As a programmer, I have spent endless time sitting through interminable meetings, thrashing things out in front of the coffee machine or over a fag. Eventually, our minds would clear and we could throw ourselves into the code. There was nothing like the hit you got when everything finally came together.
Yesterday, I had two objectives: One was to pay Hazel’s hospital bill for the year (giving us a 10% discount off the cost) and the other was to collect a laptop which a friend had brought over from the U.K. for use in Hazel’s work at the Cottolengo. I thought it would be good to take a friend from Córdoba with me for the ride. Whilst I achieved my objectives not everything went to plan.

Despite having phoned my bank the night before advising them that I was going to make a large-ish transaction, my card was still blocked at the point of payment so I had to phone them (twice) to sort it out and then re-join the every growing payment queue in the hospital for the second time!

Then I went to my friends house. He had developed a severe ear infection to the extent that I did not wish to be on his left side. So, we had a little diversion via the local chemist to pick up various treatments and then to the hospital to have one of the said treatments firmly planted into his posterior. He developed an interesting limp and facial expression as a result.

Finally we set off for Villa Giardino to get the laptop stopping at La Falda for coffee and Lemon pie. (The Lemon pie is particularly good there). Whilst enjoying our refreshments I incurred a multa (fine) for parting in the wrong place. I was totally unaware that I could not park here. I had parked there before but things had changed! In fact, I’m sure all the other cars were equally unaware as well – it was not particularly clear. On top of that, there were no instructions on the form as to how I pay it or for how much it was. Merely an instruction to present myself at the Municipalidad within the next five days to make my defense. So we had another diversion around La Falda trying to find the Municipalidad. It was closed when we finally found it.

So we went on to get the laptop. This passed without incident!

However, we did have plenty of time to talk. His partner, a recent convert and pretty sharp too, has been having a few issues with the church. Last time they went there were four or five collections for tithes and offerings and the preacher took a swipe at the catholic church – the church in which she had been raised and which had taught her, in conjunction with her parents, her values. We talked about other issues too – issues we have visited many times. I asked what they were currently studying in the Bible. “We’ve just started out on 1 Corinthians!” came the response.

Finally, when we got back to Córdoba, we chatted over coffee.

“You do realize that all the problems we’ve discussed can be found in the Corinthian Church” I said. Her eyes lit up. I took just a few minutes showing them issues in the church that can be found there. “All this is not new. The majority of problems we find today in the church can be found back then as well. So we do have teaching covering these things” I added.

It was a quick impromptu study, 5-10 minutes, held standing between the hall and the bedroom. However, it gave credence to her frustrations. It was a surprise too because the approach here to bible study can be very egocentric. That is to say that everything has a direct application to all of us, be it a criticism, blessing, instruction or whatever. A little theology is applied to the worst cases of judgment that we find in the bible so that they can be ruled out.

So, we have now agreed to meet up every 2-3 weeks to go over their recent readings together. If I had done nothing more yesterday than that 10 minute bible study I would have been happy with it as a good days work. However, it could not have happened without all the faffing around with hospitals, municipalidades, English banks etc.

I think my friend was right. 90% of the work is done in 10% of the time.

Divine mercy and mud pies

I arrived at the Scout building yesterday evening into the middle of the emergency services scraping up yet another couple of teens who had managed to crash their motorbike at some speed (judging by the damage to both vehicles) into a car.  Stats from our local hospital last year suggest that they expect to treat between five and ten injury accidents involving motorcyclists every single day, and that fatalities run at one every three to four weeks.  That’s a lot for a town of 80,000 inhabitants.  Fortunately yesterday’s pair lived to tell the tale, despite wearing their helmets draped fashionably from their elbows rather than usefully on their heads.  According to an article in the paper here the other week, San Franciscans earn twice the national average wage, and own twice the national average number of vehicles.  Sadly money can’t buy twice the common sense, or double the immunity from dying in a road accident… in fact if anything money probably increases the levels of stupidity (naivety), by creating a cushioning sense of protection and immortality.  And so everyone wrings their hands, and the kids continue to kill themselves.  Having ascertained that yesterday’s teens weren’t any of our Scouts, and that there wasn’t anything I could usefully do there, I carried on in to open up the Scout building with a renewed sense of heaviness, where I found myself humming “Who can sound the depths of sorrow…. upon this nation, upon this nation, (upon their arrogance, upon their determination to self-destruct) have mercy Lord (because without your mercy nothing changes and my God these people surely need it)”. 

Today brought a new opportunity to connect with one of our neighbours.  Living facing into a plaza, we are on at least conversational terms with almost all of the occupants of the other houses which also face the plaza, as well as with many of the folk living in the surrounding streets (particularly since mine is the infamous blonde kid making mud pies in the plaza).  This one family had caught my attention in an “idle curiosity” sort of way since I identified their little boy as having Asperger’s Syndrome from a couple of hundred metres away, but so far I’ve never managed to generate an appropriately sensitive context in which to ask whether their child has ever been given a label.  This morning however, mum and child showed up at the disabilities summer scheme so I was able to take advantage of the context to introduce myself properly, explain my interest, and confess my long-distance labelling of their kid.  Turns out I was correct, and when we were all leaving at the end of the morning Mum asked if we could get together sometime and talk some more about Asperger’s. 

I’ll be looking forward to that, some time after Scout camp which will be occupying the coming week. This week our non-working hours have been filled with gathering camping gear and all the other sundry items that one needs for Scout camp…  bits of string, balloons, bottle tops…. I had one of those “good idea at the time” brain storms and planned an activity involving the construction of balloon powered cars, so I’ve been filling the house with rubbish, and building prototypes on the office floor powered by balloons, elastic bands and useful tips on applied physics from my technically minded husband.  I think it works; whether the kids manage to replicate it, better it, or trash it completely, I’ll let you know when we’re back. 

New Year 2011

New Year’s eve passed in a pretty similar fashion to Christmas; convene at house of friends, eat a lot, watch the fireworks going off, repeat to fade. 

New Year’s Day we took a little trip out to Devoto, which is the first little town west out of here and as we have discovered, is a great find for a small child; park in the centre, walk two blocks east and find a largish pond complete with ducks, geese and turtles, walk two blocks west and find a plaza complete with the ubiquitous swings etc., cross the road and find an ice-cream shop complete with ball-pool and soft play.  A free afternoon’s entertainment (apart from the ice-cream). 

Monday I was back at the summer scheme as normal; Saturday here counts as a working day, so the New Year bank holiday was on Saturday (even though the banks and most white-collar establishments don’t actually work Saturdays).  I’ve produced a little communication book for kiddo using pictures relevant to the summer scheme, which he is really enjoying… the picture of the swimming pool is his favourite, having that shoved under ones nose isn’t a very difficult piece of non-verbal communication to understand!  He’s a lot more water confident this year as well.  I had cunningly not told the village that I was enrolling him for the summer scheme in the hope that I could present it later as a foregone conclusion to claim my costs… bit of a risk, but it´s paid off as sure enough today I had a text from the social worker asking whether I had spoken to the village governor… “No, I haven’t got round to that yet” (unsaid; because I took a conscious decision not to have a protracted discussion about whether the village can afford to pay for my fuel or not…) which fortunately elicited the desired response; “I’ll make sure it gets cleared, save your fuel receipts and we’ll sort it out at the end…” hoorah. 

This afternoon we thought that maybe some of the other local villages might be worth an explore as an alternative to Devoto, so we took off to Frere which is the first place out of here heading north.  Despite its reputation for affluence, which is certainly reflected in the houses and cars, we couldn’t actually figure out what people of Frere find to do with themselves (apart from building big houses and buying new cars) since the place didn’t even seem to have a working ice-cream shop let alone anything fun for kids.  We ended up in the local service station, which at least served coffee and pastries, and Joni was quite happy to eat a chocolate egg while watching the bored looking young man driving some sort of ride-on device cleaning the asphalt on the forecourt. 

On the way back we enjoyed some fantastic views of a thunderstorm breaking over San Francisco, which of course meant some good big puddles awaiting us for a good end to the day as far as Joni was concerned;

Joni splashing on the patio

Martin on the other hand was less impressed about the other big drops leaking through our office roof and onto his computer; must tackle our landlady again about that one. 

We read the story of Epiphany this evening, Joni knows it well as he’s very keen on the picture of the magi;

“Mummy, what’s in the presents?”

“What do you think might be in there?”

“Hmmm…. a ball…. a banana…. some cars… some books…. and a lorry”

Probably far more appropriate gifts for a child than the original version, amazing that these people for all their wisdom never thought of that.