Out to play

Martin spent half of last week in Buenos Aires at the expense of his English conversation student who has decided that his favourite way of practising his English is by taking Martin on trips with him.  Very nice too if you can get it. 

They arrived back on Saturday, well timed for me to hand over the child-care baton and disappear off to Arroyito (small town about 100km away) on a Scout leader training event.  Not as glamorous as expenses-paid to Buenos Aires, but that’s me officially recognised and insured for another year.   I have a new task arising from this trip, which is to produce a document outlining the important differences between Catholic and Protestant beliefs.  This is a discussion which I have had at nearly every training event, being the only not-Catholic Scout for several hundred kilometres in any direction.  However, where it has until now been an interesting conversation for lunch, now it has taken on a new urgency since one of the local groups has recently recruited a not-Catholic child, and now the leaders are panicking because they realise that they don’t actually know the difference between an Evangelical and a moon worshipper, and, bless their hearts they really do want to make the kid at home and not do anything that might compromise anyone’s beliefs.  I think that’s great, and I can’t remember any time since I’ve been here that I’ve heard any Evangelical willing to put themselves out to accommodate a Catholic point of view.  In fact I’m ready to put money down to bet that said kid’s pastor doesn’t know they’ve joined the Scouts.   Seems like we might have quite a bit still to learn about translating doctrine into action when it comes to loving our neighbour.  So I am very happy to write a handy cut out and keep guide to the on-going effects of the Reformation, and indeed to support them in any way that might be useful.   

And so Monday crawled into action this morning, looking forward to Wednesday which is the May Day bank holiday here, and a chance to recharge batteries from last weekend, and prepare for the unknown next weekend.  Me n’ the kids and a bunch of other people, most of whom I have never met, are heading up north to Santiago del Estero.  This is Argentina’s desert province, and the location of a project called Am Tena, which I know very little about, except that they are some sort of practical social project working with small communities in the middle of no-where in Santiago del Estero, and I’ve wrangled myself an invite to go check it out.  Could be fun, will definitely be different. 

Taking the goat

A Hungarian urban legend goes like this; 

A man in Budapest goes to his doctor and says “Doctor doctor, I’m going mad, my wife and I and our seven children and my mother in law are living in a one roomed flat and there is so much noise and no space and I can’t sleep, and you need to do something to help me”.  “Go home” says the doctor, “and take your goat into the room.”  So the man goes home and takes his goat into the room.  One week later the man reappears in the doctor’s surgery.  “Doctor doctor, you’re crazy and I’m even madder than before; the noise the smell, the goat droppings, what were you playing at?”  “Go home” says the doctor “and take the goat out of the room”.  So the man goes home and takes the goat out of the room.  One week later the man reappears in the doctor’s surgery.  “Doctor doctor, thank you so much, you have no idea how much better things are now I only have to deal with my wife and seven children and my mother in law…”

Gratitude is a strange beast.  There are so many things that I don’t realise I was grateful for until there’s a goat in the room. 

Not exactly a goat, but I am deeply grateful for all of those days that I didn’t find a scorpion in my bathroom.  And since I found one, I have become fully appreciative for every scorpion-free toilet experience.  I didn’t take this photo, but our local scorpions look like this;

They’re called alacranes, and apparently they are particularly common in this area, although until last week I’d never seen one in my house.  We’re told that the local hospital deal with stings all the time, because alacranes like to hang out in bathrooms (they come up the drains), which is where people are more likely to have bare feet, and to be wandering around half asleep in the middle of the night not looking where they’re walking.  There are some things that still make me feel very foreign, and I am aware at the moment that I definitely haven’t had my identity shaped by the prospect of sharing my living quarters with venomous creatures.  My kids will probably learn to take it for granted. 

Still not a goat, but something else I used to appreciate without even realising it would be bathroom walls.  Our house is quite open plan. It is one of the reasons why we chose it, being airy and light, and having easy access between different areas.  But I had never really considered open-planning the bathroom.  At the moment this is the view from the bathroom into the office; 

office desk seen through bathroom wall

And this from the office to the bathroom;

toilet seen through office wall

Our comedy duo have promised they will be back to patch up in a few days time.  I expect we’ll have to chase them to make it happen.  But I promise I will be grateful as never before. 

Multicoloured Tuesday

When I was seventeen and taking A Levels there came a day when my best friend and I both had exam clashes, which meant that we had to sit one three hour exam in the morning, spend an hour looked in solitary confinement (in separate rooms) over lunch and then take another three hour exam in the afternoon.  We christened that day Black Tuesday.  I remember sitting in the middle of the corridor floor (we were seventeen) at around four o’clock looking at each other and going “we’ll tell our grandchildren about this…”.  (Back then I wasn’t even planning on having children so hard to tell how the grandchildren fitted into the picture.) 

With a twenty four year gap, it’s quite hard to judge whether today has rivalled the original Black Tuesday, but I’m sure it has come pretty close.  A poor combination of sick youngest child indiscriminately showering the house with vomit at random intervals, at the same time as we were without water all day due to a couple of goons knocking random holes (probably less random than the vomit, but still seemed fairly random to the untrained eye) in our bathroom wall with a view to replacing some leaky pipes.  Made all the more interesting by the fact that head goon (the brains of the operation) disappeared for most of the day on another job, leaving us with his mate, who spent five minutes in every fifteen outside with a cigarette, and came back after a long lunch break not quite able to walk in a straight line.  Neither was this happy little scenario remotely improved by our landlord who arrived in the middle of the afternoon like the proverbial seagull, shouting obscenities at everyone in sight and left again in a huff. 

Attempting to maintain something like hygienic order gave me something like the briefest idea of just how easily really bad diseases like cholera must spread when conditions are like ours only with lots and lots of people and going on for weeks and months rather than just one very bad day.  By seven o’clock the goons were still at work, I was wondering when/whether/how I was going to bath the kids, let alone reclaim my house, and a couple of other juveniles from the neighbourhood were bashing on the window wanting to come in and play.  My first thought was that there was already more than enough going on to cope with, and my second was heck they might as well, it can’t get any worse.  So in they came.  Luckily they got called home within a few minutes, and even better, the goons left shortly after, leaving us with water to some of the house.  So I crunched the kids up into their old baby baths on the floor of the wash area, and Martin washed the dishes and put the clothes into the machine.  And whatever happens tomorrow, it’s not Tuesday any more.  

Write a reading scheme

Here’s something for you to have a go at during the long evenings while you’re waiting for the snow to melt (some time in July possibly) in the UK. 

Take two sheets of plain A4 paper.  Fold and cut them in half, so you now have 4 sheets of A5 paper.  Fold these together, so you now have an A6 sized booklet with 7 double pages and a cover.  Add one staple to hold it together. 

That was the easy part. 

Now you have to write the story.  Here are the rules. 

  • The story needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. 
  • It needs to hold together in a roughly coherent sort of way (sometimes more roughly than others).
  • It can contain a maximum of 14 sentences.
  • Sentences need to be short, eight words will be plenty long enough. 
  • You can use any of the key words which we have already practised.  (So far we’re up to around twenty five words).
  • You can introduce two or three new key words, but new vocabulary must be repeated at least a couple of times during the story. 
  • Any other nouns or verbs must be immediately guessable from the illustrations. 

Now you have to illustrate it. 

  • Pictures should be simple and colourful.
  • Pictures should clearly illustrate the text.  So “carrot” is a good choice, but you might want to edit “ratatouille” unless you are a very good artist.
  • Plan to repeat this exercise twice a week for the next couple of months (we have eight books in our series so far and Joni says he wants twenty), so unless you have a lot of time on your hands you probably shouldn’t try and compete with Rembrandt.
  • Pictures may be plagiarised from the internet.  However personally, I have found that it is easier to do a bunch of simple outline drawings with the trusty felt tip pens rather than trawl through six screens of stuff that I don’t want. 

All in all I’m beginning to understand why in the tedious reading scheme that I grew up with, Peter and Jane never did anything more exciting than play with a ball or help Mummy in the kitchen. 

But here’s the twist:-

“Write one about Pirates next Mummy.  They have to fight and then they have to look for treasure”. 

You have one minute to speak on the subject of Pirates without repetition, hesitation, or deviation.  Participants will receive one point for a correct challenge, and a point for whoever is speaking when the whistle goes…  Sorry, wrong game. 

Passing of an adversary

Some have asked whether the news of Thatcher’s passing has met with much rejoicing in Argentina.  Questions of “where are you from and what are you doing here?” are part of our daily lives here, and for the last few days we have therefore been met with “English… ah… Thatcher!”  But as for rejoicing, the short answer is no.  She made front pages of most newspapers, naturally accompanied by a photo looking not at her best, but the accompanying write ups that I have seen have mostly been a fairly bare round up of political and biographical details.  Check out La Voz de San Justo or Clarin (both in Spanish).  Some today have mentioned that she is going to have a state-sponsored send off, others have also printed pictures of people rejoicing in the streets at her passing, but that’s the point; the rejoicing has taken place in the UK and been reported on in Argentina, rather than the other way round.  Certainly there has been nothing like the polemics that we are used to around the theme of the Falklands in general. 

The thing is that while 107% of Argentineans believe that the Malvinas belong to Argentina, many also believe the 1982 war to have been a serious faux pas in Argentina’s political history.  It was also a long time ago; anyone younger than me will only just about remember it, and anyone younger than 30 wasn’t born anyway so whatever they know will be a combination of urban legend and school history book (which often amounts to the same thing).  In fact yesterday right after the predictable “English… ah… Thatcher” conversation opener, I asked him what the majority of the young people of Argentina would know about Galtieri (the president who started the 1982 war), to which he responded “I don’t know… crazy alcoholic maybe?”  Exactly.

Heroine of the Faith

We just heard yesterday of the passing of one of our long-standing supporters.  We are fortunate/blessed (choose your terminology) to have truly amazing people standing with us, and Elizabeth definitely ranks among the heroes of the faith. 

I’m not sure exactly when Elizabeth was born, but it was a long time ago(!).  As a young woman she felt called to mission in Latin America, and so after delaying a couple of years to look after a sick family member (parent I think), she applied to a mission organisation.  Said organisation turned her down on the grounds that at twenty five she was now too old to be considered for “the mission field”.  (Which rather makes one wonder, how much of what we consider to be perfectly sensible today will cause future generations to raise their eyebrows in disbelief?)  So she stayed in the UK, and followed her career as a librarian, supporting Latin American mission in every way that she possibly could, also becoming rather a historian, giving historical presentations as well as preaching on the Methodist circuit. 

She wrote to me a few years ago saying that she had given up preaching despite still being in possession of more critical faculties than many people half her age, because as she said, “I would hate to get to the point where I should have given up but everyone was too polite to tell me”. 

We will especially remember and miss Elizabeth as a stalwart prayer warrior, (on one of the occasions when we were tardy in sending out our prayer letter, she contacted the Latin Link office to ask if we were OK!), and the maker of a fantastic fruit loaf. 

Mud glorious mud

We have been pretty spoilt for camping weather around here.  I normally throw in a jumper each as an insurance policy, and waterproofs have only recently been added to the packing list.  So this weekend was something of a novelty, and a test of our organisational skills to keep the inside of the tent clean and dry despite the efforts of the weather and two muddy children. 

Sunday night was the biggest thunderstorm I’ve ever weathered in a tent.  Luckily Joni is still small enough to believe us when we tell him everything’s just fine (while watching the poles bend inwards and attempting to calculate at what point they might pass that critical angle).  Our tent behaved impeccably, and we emerged on Monday morning to on-going rain, a sea of mud and the sight of every other camper packing wet stuff into vehicles. 

We did briefly entertain the idea of cutting the trip short like every other sensible Argentinean, but Joni is made of stronger stuff.  “Let’s go for a walk in the rain”.  So I dug the tent out of the mud before it sunk without trace, relocated it to a spot with slightly better drainage and we carried right on with our trip. 

It was too cold and wet for the beach, but we’re English so we went anyway;


The kite flew beautifully between the showers and Joni managed to fly it himself for the first time;


We explored the multisensory properties of mud at close quarters (Danny’s trainers went in the bin at the end of the trip);

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And we probably saw far more nature than we would on a “normal” sunny weekend when the place is full of people.  From the ubiquitous flamingos;

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to the toad found sheltering under our fly-sheet;


to the black vultures which are currently nesting in a top floor bedroom of the derelict Hotel Vienna;


(I know that’s not a great photo, but I’m still learning how to use the big lens, and in my defence it was raining hard, not to mention trying to set up the whole caboodle of tripod etc. at speed before the beast flew away, which it did a few seconds after I took that picture.  Yes, a proper photographer would construct it carefully and lie in wait for a few hours/days, but then proper photographers wouldn’t have two impatient offspring in tow.)

Then we trekked back to San Francisco and spent the remainder of Tuesday evening scrubbing mud and hanging wet gear around the house.  Luckily we have a big garage/utility area; memories of times when my one bedroom flat would be filled with soggy canoe club / Guide camp / Duke of Edinburgh expedition kit for days on end. 

Meanwhile, as we suffer nothing more serious than some drippy tentage, please give a thought and a prayer for the people of La Plata (Buenos Aires province) clearing up after the severe flooding there this week, with some 70 people either dead or unaccounted for, and several hundred evacuated.  You can read an account in English here on the BBC website  

And finally, unrelated – no I’m wrong, related in every way; here is a link to the Easter sermon (Maundy Thursday if we’re being accurate) that Viv passed me this morning.  It opens with the wonderful line “For those of us whose spirituality is shaped by the uncomfortable disciplines of the Lectionary, Lent – in the mornings at least – has meant Jeremiah”. and then gets better.  I do miss being an Anglican when we’re in Argentina, lectionary and all.