Thursday, July 21, 2011

Part of the family

I spent two of my three weekends in Colombia in “Kiwi House,” one of the homes established for children who come to the ministry and need 24/7 care. The caregivers in Kiwi are my good friends, I stayed there some when I lived in Bogotá, and my precious little J lives there now. I asked them to stop telling me thank you for pitching in with household chores, as I wanted to be part of the family. But what part?

Kiwi isn’t a traditional family, but it is God’s gift of Psalm 68 for the children living there. I couldn’t be the “mom” or the “grandma,” and I certainly couldn’t pretend to be a man! We settled on a visiting auntie and continued with the joke, “Well, I won’t thank you since we’re family.” I felt like family... what is it that makes you feel like family?


It is not good for man to be alone. Or woman, when you consider that God made her as a companion to start with.

It’s a classic wedding verse, and rightly so, given the context. It’s also a verse worthy of discussion in light of I Cor. 7, Isaiah 54, and the fulfillment found only in Christ Jesus. A dear friend, a widow, wrote of this verse one day, reminding me that it is not only marriage at stake. As believers, we are called to love one another. It is not good to be alone. And for this, God made family. Marriage. Children. The family of God!


I’ve no shortage of family, as anyone who’s seen a photo will notice. Maybe that’s why it’s been such a long process to leave them. I think my nephews are precocious and visit them (and their parents) often. I talk to my parents about everything. My younger siblings have kept me from turning into an old person early. I know why I feel like family with them: they’ve seen the worst in me and I know what they expect. Even if I mess up, they can’t get rid of me.


I live alone. Now God and I have had a lot of discussions about this (after all, my mom even makes the point that living alone makes you selfish, since you don’t have to work around anyone else), but this is what He has decided, now. Many times, I like that fact. For instance, I can leave clothes in the washer and shoes in the living room floor and NO ONE minds.

But sometimes I don’t like it. I wondered once, if I had a wreck during summer vacation, how long would it take for someone to notice my absence?


Apparently, I’m pretty adoptable... adaptable. Both. There are a lot of places I’m pretty comfortable and a lot of people who say “Just call!” I have a multitude of “moms” who like to make sure I’m fed and tell me to get some rest. I don’t even feel guilty calling the Johnsons every time I need a place to stay in Albuquerque, knowing I may walk in on a family gathering or it may just be us, sitting and chatting. They very much relate as the family of God.

(My friend Caro and her family, who took me into their home while I was in Bogotá)


But it is not good to be alone. When you aren’t with your family, you’re called away from your parents’ home, you aren’t married, how to heed this bit of wisdom?

It is here that we hear the call of the family of God. Perhaps they will come to you. Perhaps you must go to them. But “family” is more than just being comfortable and knowing limits of visitation. Family is give and take, serve and receive, encourage and admonish. Family is interruptions and availability.

I did live alone, sometimes, in Albuquerque, because I so chose. I didn’t “just call” and I crowded my schedule so that I wasn’t available or “interrupting”. I realized this week, though, that just as I am comfortable with my family because of such interaction, so I have the family of God because of interaction. In Kiwi house, thank yous were vocalized because they served me and received my gifts; I wished to encourage but came away as the recipient. Spending days on end with those of Kiwi made me available to experience life, to be interrupted by their personhood. I was not alone.

And I don’t really live alone anymore. There are a multitude of “just call” folks in Santa Rosa, of course, but more than that, God’s given me a built in “family” here, in my very driveway. Hardly a day passes that I don’t walk down, or they come up, to interrupt. They rarely ask for my help, but I try not to miss an opportunity to give it (the fact that such assistance may involve cows or horses is certainly an attraction). They give much to me, if I open up to receive; eating cookies in the rain goes a long way toward building relationships.They say thank you; I say thank you... but some things are just done, and left unsaid.

That’s because God has provided. I miss my family. I miss my family of Kiwi House. It is not good to be alone - but, if we live by His word... “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another... Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love...Distributing to the necessity of the saints; given to hospitality... Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep...” (Romans 12:5-18)

Do I choose to obey? Because if I do, I will not be - alone.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Random Site Pictures

As mentioned, it is MUCH easier to post photos on facebook. This link is for random pictures. The other one is for food.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pictures Available

It is MUCH easier to upload pictures on facebook than on this blog, so this is a public album. Whether you have facebook or not, you can enjoy one of my favorite parts of my trip by clicking on this link.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Other Farm-Fresh Observations

Remember I mentioned that on the finka, the farm I visited, they grew other produce as well? In the interest of agriculture, I will share with some of you a few fascinating facts from el otro mundo (the other world!)

Scattered amongst the coffee plants are 80 avocado trees, all avocado tropico, a pale green variety of avocados at least twice as large as Haas and with twice the flavor. These, too, undergo two main harvests, yielding an average of 15 each day during these primary cosechas but a few more throughout the year.

Platano - plantain - are also scattered throughout the finca; these yield at varying times, but around every 3 months. . Platano requires an unimaginable amount of labor, justifying, I suppose, the high prices. As the ceudotallo (not sure if that’s spelled correctly!), or stick for each tree grows, it begins to produce bunches of platano (resembling bunches of bananas) that are at first small and straight. These deditos make the racimo. After about 2 weeks, the worker must climb the tree and cut off the matriz (leaf) del racimo as well as the outlying deditos.

This improves the presentación, or appearance and yield of the rest of the bunch. The racimo is then covered with a special plastic bag with holes in it (these bags are blue!) and the bag tied with a string; all bags tied the same day are tied with the same color string.

Approximately 12 weeks later, the leaves of the platano tree will begin to yellow, indicating that the time of harvest has arrived. Green platano are harvested one week earlier than platano maduro. After harvest, that particular stem is cut off and the tree left until another begins to produce. Interestingly, the ceudotallo is very agrio, filled with a watery liquid that actually composes about 50% of the stem: la manecha, or la leche de mato.

The last treat of the finka was mandarin oranges, picked fresh, ripe, naturally orange, soft, sweet, from the trees in the yard. I asked if Gustavo knew why mandarins were rarely exported fresh. He said in Colombia, they pick them when they are 75% ripe to sell in the supermarkets; he thought that upon arrival in Miami, they were probably about 85% ripe and only about 25% of them could be sold before spoiling. Hence, I pity those of you who only know the canned version.

And that my friends, is my insight into the arrival of the wonderful world of produce markets in Colombia.

Friday, July 15, 2011

los procesos del cafe

Oops. I do not know how to turn it. Enjoy anyway - this is the large scale toaster, used by the folks in the comité who are trying to market good coffee within Colombia.


My resumen on coffee... It has waited a while, so let’s see if I learned anything from the two tour guides pictured above and the catedora not pictured here.

The adventure began with a 45 minute drive, winding through the foothills, little pueblitos, and around in circles to a small farm, owned by a cousin of my hosts in Pereira. Our guide: the owner himself, a retiree who passes his time without taking money from his pocket with his small farm. If I understood correctly, the farm, about one hectarea, cost about $40,000. On it, he grows coffee, with aguacate (avocado) and platano trees interspersed. There are also fruit trees around the property; we feasted on sweet, tree ripened mandarins. The avocados, platano, and fruit are sold directly to the supermarket, while the coffee is delivered to the area’s coffee cooperative.

On the far are about 6,000 coffee palos (plants), each of which will yield for about 2 years before the farmer has to plow them under for fresh growth. The primary cosecha (harvest) is in October, with another large harvest in May. About 70% of the coffee crop (150 82 lb. bags) is harvested during these two; however, ripe coffee beans are harvested all year (netting about 30% of the crop, or 1 bag each month) to prevent them falling to the ground and possibly carrying infermidades (diseases) through the soil to other plants.

This particular (coffee farmer), named Gustavo, has grown a type of plant known as calidad supremo for about 12 years. This year, he planted a new type, castillo naranjal, and the tiny plants were already producing. The coffee beans, known as granitos were generally reddish when ripe, but certain plants have beans that are yellow when ripe. If by some chance the beans do fall and grow the plant is known as a chapola and is usually transplanted. This is done by bagging up soil and making a hole into which the root can enter straight. If the root bends, producing cola del cerdo (a pig’s tail), the plant may not live.

Harvest is by hand; during the cosechas, two extra people are hired, but throughout the rest of the year, Gustavo’s faithful trabajador (worker), Freddy, can keep up with the production. When enough granitos are gathered they are taken to a preparation center of sorts. They are first floated in a bucket to remove the papacillo, all the extra plant material that falls into the bucket. They are then run through the despulpado, the machine that peals them.

Once pealed, the granitos are left 12 hours for the fermentado, readying them to be dried.

They are then washed, stirred with a stick, and the water released from the musilago (the concrete washing tub)so the beans are escurrido, free from water. They are then run through a through a saranda (sieve), which helps sort off the imperfect granitos, remaining peals, etc. These are saved as well, however, and are known as (pergamino).

The now clean and pealed coffee beans, known as almendras (they do like like almonds),

and the pergamino are carried to the marquesina de secado, a greenhouse-like area where they are spread on the floor and dried. This process can take as much as 3 or 4 days, so during the primary cosechas, a gas mechanism is used for the drying process.

almendras are bagged in 82 lb. bags that bring about $160 each. The pergamino is sold in a 25 pound sack that brings about $14; the processors sort through it and remove whatever granules possible to make a low-quality coffee, known as coffee creol. Ironically, Colombia exports almost all of the high-quality coffee; if you buy coffee from a Colombian supermarket, you are probably getting pergamino, the trash.

On a related note, even the coffee plants that are cut down for fresh production are burned and sold as carbón, or charcoal.

As aforementioned, the coffee is sold to the cooperativa, a private business which markets it domestically and internationally. To determine what the cooperativa pays him, the cafecultor, takes a sampling of his coffee to the comité, a special part of the cooperativa found in each municipio (community) and dedicated especially to coffee. Each cafecultor takes one pound of his coffee in to triyar it, or take the peels of the almonds off. The coffee is toasted (12 minutes for every 2 grams), then left (at least 12 hours) in a special bag with holes to release gases produced by toasting.

The coffee is then received by the catadores, those who taste the coffee to determine its quality. They begin with an análisis físico to identify obvious defects.

They then prepare each coffee sample according to a specific formula; they grind the coffee appropriately for a variety of preparation modes: a drip coffeepot, a French press, a small Colombian coffeepot. After grinding, the coffee is weighed (in grams), as they are careful to use 5-7% granulitos for each preparation. 7% is considered cargada, or very strong coffee. The catador is required to attend a special 6 months course on identifying various attributes of coffee. These may be positive or negative, and are generally dependent on the soil, the manner of cultivation, and the environment in which the coffee is grown. Chocolate coffee, for instance, has nothing to do with cocoa - only with the way a particular plant is grown.

And that, my friends, is why fine coffee is expensive.

(P.S. That was Lesson #1. Lesson #2: If I were not a teacher, I would be a catador).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Aventura en el Aeropuerto

My mom says I could write a book on this. She might be right, considering that I’ve NEVER had a trip that was completely uneventful. This one wasn’t as exciting as some, however.

Albuquerque to Houston: nothing. Houston to Miami: nothing. Miami: I’m about to figure out the airport, so only 15 minutes were spent looking for the Avianca ticketing counters. But WHERE was it that I found a quiet corner to sleep the 5 hours I spent here before? And WHERE could I find something to eat at this time of night? I wandered, confused, until an old Hispanic janitor noted my face and dared me to ask him in English and see if he could help, “Dime. Dime, què busca?” I answered in Spanish and was immediately transformed to his princesa. He directed me to Dunkin Donuts (I ate a sandwich, Mom!) and insisted that I should find a luggage cart. I just found a bench in the Latin American concourse, where lights were darkened; I laid my suitcase on its side, put a towel over me, and slept on and off until 3:30, check-in time for the flight to Bogotà.

Arrival with no drama, 2 weeks in Bogotá and I’m headed to the airport again, this time in taxi. The driver asks me, “El Aeropuerto o Puento Aereo?” UH-oh. I didn’t know there was more than one option. I shrug and tell him I suppose it’s the airport itself. I arrive, horrified at the long lines, but delighted to find they are only for the States. I’m headed to Pereira and within 3 minutes have my boarding pass for this domestic flight. But what’s this? I have to go to Puento Aereo? How do I know? Oh, all domestic flights leave from there. How do I get there? If I go that way, I’ll see a bus. Mmmm. I go through security and ask directions, but I don’t see doors on that end. The janitress (is that a word?) sends me the other way and I find a lovely young stewardess who directs me to wait for the Avianca bus. We drive across the airline terminal, where we disboard and enter Puento Aereo. I search for my gate, only to learn that you are allowed to enter the rooms which open to the gates only when it is time for your flight - and you have to go through security again. Not that it matters, I’m allowed to take my water bottle through. Note: You know you are in Latin America when the snack shop attendant can’t find enough change, so she asks her friend to dig through her purse.

Well, to continue the story, I arrived in Pereira without incident, and departed in the same manner. Likewise, I flew through the Bogota ticketing process with enough time left to enjoy one last ice cream with a friend at Crepes and Waffles. The only slight hold-up: I got sent to pay taxes and stopped in customs momentarily because agents confused my work visa from 2 years ago with my current tourist visa (be at peace, I didn’t have to pay the taxes after all!). I discovered one change in Bogota departures that I sincerely dislike. After entering the departure wing through the typical easy security process, one must enter a departure room; for U.S. flights, at least, every bag is opened and every person given a patdown. I even had to turn the computer on. All this would not be so bad, if one didn’t need to leave the departure room to go the restroom - and undergo the same process upon re-entrance! I decided to trust an elderly Colombian couple with my backpack to avoid the baggage inspection (I’d already run a greater risk in Miami, trusting ALL of my luggage to an elderly Colombian lady!)

And, even as I write, I find myself in Miami again. Arrival: 11 p.m. It’s nice to be a resident; the customs lines are much shorter. I find my carpeted corner, although it was kind of full of sleeping people. I curl up behind a post, suitcase by my head, hugging backpack and purse. Sleep is slow in coming this time around, though I haven’t had a lot in the last two days. I did get a nice nap between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m. I gave up at 4:45, went to the bathroom, washed the sunburn peel out of my hair, washed my face, brushed my teeth. There are people sleeping on their suitcases in the handicapped stalls; perhaps it is safer? At 5:40 I decide that with a flight leaving in 3 hours, Continental should be ready for me. Arriving at the gate, I had a nice nap, not having to worry about the suitcase, until everyone else came at the recommended 2 hour mark.

And all this to say, have you ever thought of thanking God for what did NOT happen? Like the fact that the trusted Colombians didn’t leave with my bags, or the fact that I didn’t lose my passport (I did lose my Bible somewhere between Pereira and Bogotá; I only pray that whoever finds it reads English). I thank Him that no one even tried to disturb me or my suitcase in Miami, and that no one tried to take advantage of the lonely foreigner in Puento Aereo. In EVERYthing give thanks.

It's no life for a...

In the past month, I’ve lived snippets of four different lives, four different “identities,” if you will. For this IS the pattern of my life: a little of this, a little of that, changing, changing - and so, who am I?

First, I was the ranch girl. My landlady called at 10 pm - could I put a roast in to feed the branding crew? Gungho, I took the roast from the freezer before realizing I’d only cooked a roast over a period of days in a crockpot. Exactly what DID Mom do in the oven overnight? I arrived at the branding the next morning (with the tantalizing aroma of roast in my car, due to juice spilling as I drove down the pasture road) to find that I couldn’t resist pitching in to flank calves despite my job with the ear tagger. Then they offered me a horse and a rope. Far from “good,” I at least earned the honor of appearing to have done this before.

That night, I became the good big sister. You know, the one who was game for anything (or at least appeared to be, for fear of ridicule by brothers big and small). Joe had to check irrigation ditches. On the 4-wheeler. In the mud. Beginning at about 10 o’clock at night. I don’t think I’ve ever ridden a 4-wheeler before, at least not at any great speed for any great distance. There were moments I loved - the wind in my face, water splashing my legs, the thrill of hitting a hole. I was more tired than Joe when we arrived home around 1:00, but - vale la pena.

For the next 8 days, I was a student. It was a Spanish immersion class, but it was a class. I remembered how it felt to be a student, to sit, to try to concentrate when other people were disruptive, to study, and to appreciate a good teacher. Why did I appreciate my liberal professor, so far from me in views and attitudes, so much? Perhaps because the other, the politically moderate but charismatic Guatemalan immigrant, overwhelmed me. On the last day he commented, “You are very organized. And I think I frustrate you.” It was true! I left, then to try to satisfy another part of my identity.

The me who wants to be Latina. The me who wants to leave my focus on structure to relax and be warm, amigable, valuing persons more than schedules. I arrived in Bogota 3 days after I took the test for state bilingual certification. I don’t know if I passed the test. I only know that when I come here, I desperately want to speak well, I want these people to be my friends, I want the happiness seen in the faces of those I’ve come to love. I stayed, visiting friends, being fed and questioned by people I hadn’t seen in years, taking pictures like a good tourist, and - then I came to Pereira, where I noted the contrast between the American and Colombian world. Oh, what we do to ourselves with our THINGS, our ideas of time and individuality, our self-righteousness.

During these days, I never fully left one identity to enter another, and I passed moments in other roles - a daughter, a teacher. I longed for still more, but I could not find the extrovert who desired to start conversations with seemingly uninterested strangers, reaching an opportunity to witness for Christ (in the past, said opportunity has come).

And now it is the time to return. Who will return? Will I be “una poquita màs Latina?” Will I be a better teacher? An energetic sister? A hard-working ranch girl? Which matters the most? I’ve begged the Lord to guide my steps, tried to offer Him my future, but I still do not know what will predominate.

No, it is not in these roles, jobs, desires that my identity lies. My identity lies in Christ Jesus. He promises to guide the steps of those who seek Him. He calls ministry a privilege and devotes a chapter to the manner of everyday living that honors Him. I am a daughter of the King, the King of Revelation 5, when people of every tribe, tongue, and nation will honor Him. Whether I am the best at what I do or the worst, whether I enjoy it or am miserable, whether I behave as I admire or whether I am stuck in the habits of a lifetime, I am a new creation in Christ Jesus, created, redeemed for good works which HE has before prepared. And He makes all things beautiful in His time.