Back in June I alluded to new living arrangements in the works; that was a euphemism for a pretty drastic change that has been several years in development. After a lot of thought, prayer, and planning, I packed up the essentials and moved in with a host family in the La Carpio squatter settlement.
Many thanks to all of you that have been praying and keeping me in your thoughts over the past few months! You never know what that could mean to a missionary serving overseas! Sometimes there's a lapse in my ability to send out timely updates, but please know that your concerns, thoughts, and prayers are always greatly appreciated. Same goes for quick comments and notes of encouragement... you never know when they arrive at just the right time.
So what has it been like living in a "squatter settlement", or a "shantytown"?
Well, one of the favorite terms I came across that describes life in place like La Carpio is "social density", which explains a lot. I went from a household of five to a household of 19, in a slightly smaller area. "Social density" occurs in the streets outside where we live as well; they are almost never empty. There are nearly always kids playing, loud conversations, music at top volume, and a cacophony of other noises right outside my room. For example, as I write this it sounds like there is a park full of kids playing tag outside my room... right outside my room. If they run hard enough into the sheet of tin they would fall into my bedroom. The weekends are an especially big party in the streets.
Some of the most basic living functions took some adjusting to as well. How many buckets ought one to use to bathe in the morning? (about 10). Where is the toilet paper kept if not in the bathroom? (each person has their own roll because if you leave it in the bathroom it will get soaked and disintegrate). How do you flush the toilet correctly? (takes skill).
I guess the next important question to address is... WHY? Well, the best explanation is that it is a learning experience, on several levels. Primarily, spiritual and life learning. God has been shaping both the desire and the possibility for this as a learning experience for me for several years now, and the time finally came to just take the next step and make it a reality. I really felt he had something for me to learn here. In the months, weeks, and days before the moving date, my writing became intensely spiritual and I felt God's presence in way I have not felt... well, ever. That is, I suppose the intensity and radical dependence on Him for each step of a drastic transition is not new. But the particular circumstances surrounding this move were different; I didn't know what to expect. Hehe, in fact, that's part of the reason I didn't write a lot about the decision to move - I didn't know if the new living arrangements would last 3 days or 3 months... or never materialize in the first place.
Well, things worked out, it has certainly been a "learning experience," and that initial intense conviction that God was with me in the first steps... is still there, not as intense as before, but still there. That's the best assurance of all. When I actually wrote this post it was during a relatively strong rain, which creates a rather soothing din on the tin roofs that sometimes lasts late into the night. To me, it's one of the best sounds in the world to sleep to.
So, as I post this update it's been nearly exactly five months. I will share more stories as I get the chance. But some of the photos, videos, and stories you see now will be from "The Chilo Tribe," as the family I live with is called. If you have trouble picturing exactly what a "squatter settlement" looks like, I recommend the following two videos, that I posted a while back, and the following two photo albums. I pick these specifically because although the area suffers from poverty as a material deficit, there is a lot more going on here and these videos show that: