Peru

Lost in Peru

I’ll never forget the day I accidentally explored the city of Puerto Maldonado, Peru, alone on a motorcycle with a Peruvian stranger.

We were in town, when we developed a sudden craving for ice cream. We decided we would head over to Copasu, a cute little shop in the city’s plaza.

Aliza and I had been in Peru for about 3 weeks, and up until this day we had always taken a motokar (a motorcycle with an enclosed bench on the back) to get around the city because all 3 of us could squish in easily. However, our friend Brianna had just arrived and now we wouldn’t all fit in a motokar.

Instead, we would each have to take a separate motorcycle. Which was not something I was particularly excited about. We tracked down 4 motorcycles and Tat the Spanish master told all the drivers where we were headed. As I got on the back of the motorcycle and we drove away, I was inwardly shaking – I did not like this feeling at all, and I could not wait for it to be over. I was hoping I would never have to take a motorcycle again. (I’m sort of a baby.)

But we reached our destination, ate delicious ice cream, and everything was okay.

Until we decided we needed to go to Pacifico, the grocery store, to buy snacks for our 10 hour bus ride to Cusco later that day. Which meant – another motorcycle ride.

So I put on my brave face and hopped on the back of another motorcycle. Surprisingly, this ride felt smoother and less terrifying, and I concluded that I was getting used to it. We reached Pacifico, and I truly believed that this would be the last motorcycle ride of the day.

But I was sadly mistaken, because after we had bought our snacks we were going to head to Gustitos, the restaurant where Tat’s parents were doing Spanish lessons. So we called over 4 more motorcycles, and began the trip to Gustitos.

There’s something you should know about Gustitos – there are two locations. One is located in the plaza, and the other is located on the other side of town. The one where Tat’s parents were, where we were headed, was the one that is not located in the plaza.

But in my mind, we were going to the Gustitos in the plaza. For some reason, I didn’t realize that Tat’s parents were doing Spanish at the other location.

However, where I thought I was supposed to be going was actually irrelevant because my driver didn’t understand where he was supposed to be going. We drove for a while, and when we stopped in front of a shop, I looked up and saw a sign that said “Copasu.” (Fun fact that I didn’t know before this moment: there are two Copasu’s in Puerto Maldonado.)

I looked around confused and then I said to him “Gustitos?” and he replied “Si!”, and pointed at the building as if that was where we were. I looked around to see if maybe Gustitos was on the other side of the road. But it wasn’t. Unsure of what was truly going on, I said “Gustitos en la plaza?” He gave me a confused look but started driving to the plaza, and for a moment I believed that all was right again.

We got to Gustitos, and as soon as the driver had left and I walked in, it suddenly dawned on me that I was at the wrong Gustitos.

Not only was I not where I should have been, but my 3 friends and Tracy and Scott, Tat’s parents, were all waiting for me at the other Gustitos.

I pulled my phone out to see if I could connect to the wifi to message them and let them know what had happened. It didn’t work.

I paced back and forth in Gustitos, looking like an obviously lost white girl. (Which I was.)

I went to the bathroom so I could stop being the centre of attention and just think.

I figured that my friends were smart enough to assume that I had somehow ended up at the other Gustitos by mistake. But I was worried that they would be worried. I figured that I might just have to wait there for them to come get me.

But as I thought about it more, I didn’t want them to have to come find me. I didn’t want to be “rescued.” I wanted to solve the problem on my own, no matter how intimidating the situation was. I wasn’t in danger, the situation wasn’t urgent, and I wasn’t afraid that something bad would happen. But it’s a lot harder to get anything done in a country where you don’t speak much of their language.

I knew that the longer I waited to do something, the worse things would get. I decided I would just go for it, find another motorcycle, and try to tell them I needed to get to the other Gustitos. And pray that they actually knew what I was talking about.

I walked out of Gustitos, everyone in the restaurant’s eyes still on me. Just as I went outside, there was a motorcycle that dropped someone off right in front of me, and I thought “It’s now or never.” (Looking back, I was thinking hilariously dramatic thoughts.) Trying to seem as deceivingly confident as possible, I walked over to the moto with a big smile and said “Hola! Otro Gustitos?”

The driver let out a confident “Si!” but I wasn’t confident that he knew where I was asking him to go. But I hopped on anyway, and decided to trust that this guy knew what he was doing.

While we were cruising around the city, I began putting a potential scenario together in my head, becoming very anxious.

What if, assuming I was at the Gustitos in the plaza, my friends headed over there, while I was on this motorcycle on my way to where they had already left? And when they arrived at Gustitos, they would find that I wasn’t actually there. And panic. And I would be stranded at the other Gustitos, fully aware of what was happening but having no idea how to fix it.

I knew that there was absolutely nothing I could do to change this situation now that I was on this motorcycle headed across the city. It was out my hands. As I sat on the motorcycle of the stranger I didn’t even speak the same language as, I prayed, knowing that’s all I could do. I wasn’t worried for myself, I was worried for the people who would be worrying about me. I said to Jesus “Please, just let them be there. Please let this guy know where he’s going. Please make this all work out.”

I anticipated seeing the Blackburns’ big black land cruiser around every corner we turned. I hoped to see the beautiful faces of my friends. But some of the turns we were making didn’t seem like the roads leading to Gustitos, and several times I doubted that this driver knew where he was going. (Side note: I don’t think he took the quickest/most logical route, either.) I just kept asking Jesus to make it all work out.

And then we turned the last corner, and I saw Scott, Tat’s dad, standing on the road, the others behind him. Everything worked out. I felt so relieved, and even mildly proud I was able to figure something like this out on my own.

However, I began to contemplate how the situation could have been different if I didn’t know the love and protection of Jesus.

This situation is in no way a “big deal.” Truly, I wasn’t really in danger and I wasn’t going to be lost forever, but in that moment, I was alone. But I wasn’t alone. It was just me and Jesus, which is how it sometimes has to be. Had I not known in my heart that I was protected by the God of the universe who always has a plan, I’m not sure if I would have had the courage to just do something to try to solve the problem. I would be afraid, and timid, and unsure, and insecure. I didn’t think any of these thoughts while they were happening, because His word is hidden in my heart and is at the core of my being. But my spirit knew that He works everything together for my good. So I wasn’t afraid. When I hopped on that motorcycle, I wasn’t really deciding to trust the driver. I was trusting Jesus. I was trusting his plan, even when I doubted He was taking me down the right roads. As minuscule and insignificant as this situation was, God had a plan. He always does.

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The beautiful city of Puerto Maldonado from above 

My very first motorcycle ride…..

 

 

 

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Peru

1000 Spanish Words

Sometimes I forget that if I want God to use me, even in the tiniest way, I have to be available.

Sometimes that’s a big task, and sometimes it’s as simple as putting down my phone and being a part of the world around me.

I was reminded of this in a sweet little children’s library in Peru.

The house we are staying in is located in the jungle and there is no wi-fi access (Which is totally not a bad thing, in fact I’m actually very glad there isn’t.) One of the perks of going into town is that often times we would have wi-fi access. On this day, we were using the library’s wifi.

Earlier that morning we had visited Curi, a cacao (chocolate) farmer and we explored his fascinating plantation. We spent the morning learning about all the work that Curi does and the incredible business he has developed. We had taken tons of pictures and we had such a great time (Even though he took us on a steep walk through the jungle in flip flops, “looking for tigers”.) Being at the library where we could access the internet was the perfect opportunity for us to share these pictures with the Facebook and Instagram world.

As I was mindlessly refreshing my Facebook news feed over and over again only to discover that hardly anything had changed, I felt a sudden conviction.

Let me just tell you that usually when I am in an environment where there are kids around, I am right there with them. God has really given me a heart for kids, and I find so much joy in the presence of children, laughing and playing. But there I was, at this gorgeous children’s library, surrounded by precious kids who were running around and laughing and playing. Yet I was more interested in how many people would like my photos on Instagram. I was ignoring the beautiful little people around me.

Though the conviction was strong and demanding, it was also mildly confusing. I couldn’t have just walked up to a kid and started talking to them like I normally would – I don’t speak much Spanish at all. How could I possibly interact with people I couldn’t start a conversation with? I so desperately wanted to talk to these kids, and it felt like Jesus wanted me to as well, but since I know very minimal Spanish, I decided to selfishly ignore this conviction and continue mindlessly scrolling through the internet.

Until I actually couldn’t stand looking at my phone any longer. I had seen all that the Internet had to offer that day.

So I put my phone down, and started looking around the room. I had no clue what to do with my helpless self, and I felt a little bit like I was simply there just taking up space.

I walked to a shelf and picked up a children’s book called “1000 Spanish Words”. I took it back to the table we were sitting at and began looking through it. Each page had a different room or scene and different items labelled in Spanish. For example, there was “La cocina”, which means “The kitchen”, and one of the labelled items was “La manzana”, which means “The apple.” I looked through these pages just to see how many of the words I actually knew. (There were not many, by the way.)

And then, something amazing happened.

Before I knew it, we were surrounded by several children and I found myself pointing to items on the pages and saying things like “Te gusta (Do you like) la manzana?” and as they answered “si” or “no” with cute little giggles on their expressive faces they were so entertained. This went on for quite some time and we were having so much fun together.

Suddenly, this language barrier didn’t feel so massive. I spoke to them using the little Spanish I know, and when I was totally lost (which was quite often), I asked my wonderful friend Tat to translate. (Seriously I’m not sure what I would do without her and I’m so thankful that she doesn’t mind hearing “How do you say _____ in Spanish?” 17 times a day. THANKS TAT!)

We spent the afternoon laughing and reading stories to children in English. They smiled the whole time, and the look on their captivated faces hid the fact that we spoke different languages. And the completion of a story was always followed by a big hug, and a huge “GRACIAS!!”

One of the girls asked me to read her a story and I decided I would read it in Spanish this time, though there was no doubt in my mind that I would brutalize the pronunciation. And as I read I found myself saying “Si?” after reading a word I wasn’t sure I knew how to say, and the tiny child would nod her head or correct me. She didn’t mind that I couldn’t speak to her confidently in her language. And I didn’t mind asking a 7 year old girl if I was pronouncing a word correctly. We enjoyed each others’ company even though our words were few. Deep conversations are not the only way to connect.

I cannot sufficiently sum up why this day was so special to me. There’s a good chance I’m the only one who thinks this story is even significant in any way. But that is 100% alright with me because Jesus was there urging me on, and unlike so many other times; I listened. And he did something great in my heart. 

I left the library that day with a joyful heart and an important lesson learned; sometimes we have to simply be available for God to use us, even the tiniest way.

I am really, really glad I put down my phone that day.



   Some of the murals at the back of the library 

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“God is love”

Inside of the library