OANSA: Growing Up.

June 27, 2013

May 005So so so proud of this kid.
He is leading music time at OANSA on Saturday, and I cannot even wait.
This is the future, people!

Ratatouille 009Love this picture and these girls.

Somewhere in the mix of discussing hamsters, rats, and lipstick, I realized that I have arrived.

Generally, the progression of time is an essential requirement for meaningful relationships. Now nearly two years into my Paraguay stint, many of the friendships I have established have finally stepped beyond the threshold of superficial. Bantering fluidly back and forth with the girls about life and love at cooking class last night felt so natural. It was a proud moment of accomplishment and belonging, but one, of course, tempered with tinges of regret that I am also leaving in a month.

Still, I am thankful to be departing with memories of easy conversations about the monumental and the mundane. In spite of the anguished tears and white hairs and nightmares accumulated over the months, I am grateful to know that Asuncion, against all hope, as become some sort of home, complete with friends, family, and comforting meals shared around a smoking space heater.

Ratatouille will always be a warm reminder of these times.

Ratatouille 001Ratatouille 003Ratatouille 006Ratatouille 008

Kablooey 050

Now that Mi Esperanza has purchased a new property, we have been laying groundwork for starting off on good terms with the future new neighborhood. One such effort was a work day at the nearby, very frequented park, where much of the playground equipment was in disrepair.

I stuffed far too many small children from the Santa Maria neighborhood in the Rav4 and trucked them over to spend the morning helping out. There were so many kids who had come over from my Santa Maria OANSA neighborhood, all working earnestly painting benches and seesaws, that jobs became scarce and all there was for me to do was mill around with the camera. These are the best dilemmas.

I was further impressed to observe that the years of Saturday kids’ club and inter-weekly home visits we have invested in these children are showing pleasant results in more ways than one. Not only were they clamoring to assist in the beautification projects, they were using language like “please” and “thank you” and “what else can I do to help?” Unsolicited.

I felt like such the proud parent. And especially so when the concluding BBQ lunch saw my kids patiently line up to serve others first before expecting their portions, contrasting markedly with the other children who were jostling and brazenly pilfering food like the barbarians of Primero de Marzo past.

Boom, baby.

Most Saturday mornings still feel like uphill battles, but these pockets of propriety show that somehow, some way transformation is taking place. Growth and maturity may hold positive things for this community of scalawags, and there is hope yet in the promise of a brighter tomorrow for Paraguay.

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Cooking Class 023A world of crazy.

“You know, I’m going home in less than four months,” I casually dropped to the kiddos after I asked many of them where they had disappeared to over the summer. An obvious, guilty silence fell over the room, bringing pause to the cookie rolling and evasive alibis they tried to feed me.

Then all at once, they started back up, “Are you serious?” “Forever?!?” “Will you come back?” “Why??”

Over the din of a thousand questions, S laid them all to the wayside with an incredulous and borderline frantic, “WHO IS GOING TO TEACH COOKING CLASSES THEN???” This was S, who in a country where boys tend not do anything in the home and especially not “womanly” tasks such as cooking, and who a year ago, had never cut a tomato in his life, expressing regret that these culinary workshops had a rapidly approaching expiration date. My heart overflowed.

These cooking classes have been my pride and joy, and more than that, a saving grace. To put it crudely, they feel like the only thing I have done here that someone else hasn’t ruined for me, and I cling to the victories they bring. They are a reminder that even when there is not much immediate fruit in the seeds I’ve planted these past years, there is still the chance that these kids will find better things in their future because they were loved in this time in their lives. Love covers over a multitude of terrible things (and perhaps not coincidentally so do cinnamon sugar doughnuts).

But truly, it has been a privilege to couple a passion with a unique opportunity to form meaningful relationships with teenagers we have struggled to reach. Perhaps unorthodox, perhaps not so sustainable as a ministry, but somehow still a channel to speak cupcakes, cuisine, and most importantly, hope into the lives of the young and vulnerable.

This past Monday was the first class after a frustrating hiatus of absence and what seemed like apathy. But then SEVEN kids showed up, including a teenager I have been trying to get into the church since I arrived in Paraguay. Everyone was on their best behavior, and some were even demonstrating to other less frequent attendees, how to level off the flour cup and how to test the concoction in the oven for doneness.

Then T smoothed the icing on the cake of an extra sweet afternoon, “It’s been so long, [Lo]. I’m sorry. Can we make doughnuts next week?”

Cooking Class 017Terrifying.

Cooking Class 009A wonderful sight to behold.

Cooking Class 016I still don’t get who Marcos is?

Cooking Class 001Workin’.

Cooking Class 020Coco balls.