Our teammates started teaching the first-ever Bible lessons in the Iski language last week! Being as we are still in the “language-learning” phase of our ministry, however, we are not really able to directly contribute to their teaching efforts a whole lot. What we lack in useful ability though, we try to make up for in excited encouragement! We recently expressed this whole-hearted enthusiasm by completely abandoning them in the swampy jungle on the second day of the teaching.
It was a premeditated, ill-timed departure. One of our kids had to get his passport renewed, and the only U.S. representative in the country who can do such things was only going to be in our area for one day, and that day just happened to land right in the middle of our first week of teaching. [If you would like to see a nice summary of what was taught during this time, please feel free to write to me and ask. Our teammates, Jason and Andre, both just sent out detailed updates about the first week of teaching!]
While we were out at our mission’s support center, we made good use of our time doing a host of things that we are unable to do while in the bush, some fun (we went to a restaurant!), and some not-so-fun (we filed our state and federal taxes!). And, most important of all (except for the passport thing), we procured 9 guinea pigs to take back into the tribe with us!
I have wanted to start a guinea pig farm for the past six months, ever since I realized that I was in desperate need of a source of manure to bolster my gardening efforts, but due to a couple of obstacles,* I hadn’t been able to pull the trigger on this project until just recently. Not only are guinea pigs cute and cuddly, they are also non-aggressive, super low-maintenance, 100% herbivore, and they procreate prolifically! They are a rural, backyard gardener’s dream come true! And, as a large population of South America will attest to, they also barbecue well.**
When we arrived back in our village, and I opened up the cardboard boxes that I had transported the guinea pigs in, the Iski-chatter was so excited that you would have thought that I had just introduced our community to a baby panda! They were totally smitten by how docile and gentle they were, and they got even more excited after I informed them that guinea pigs don’t bite, scratch, dig, jump, or gnaw, and the only food they need is grass and leaves! I told them that I was raising mine for their droppings (which most everyone thought was silly), but they could raise theirs for meat (which most everyone thought was awesome).
That whole day, excited “tour groups” came by to marvel at the never-before-seen creatures. They pet their fur, fed them leaves, and laughed at their cute chirping noises. Iski guys kept shaking my hand and telling me what a good thing I had done by bringing this new animal to the village. I’ll tell you, I was feeling pretty happy about my little farm. Right around dusk, in an effort to circumvent potential rivalries over the ladies, I packed my three males into a separate cage and put them up on our porch. It turns out it was a lucky day to be a boy.
I went out the next morning to find that A) building a cage 3 feet off the ground does NOT put it out of the reach of local predators, and B) chicken wire is more of an “inconvenience” than a “deterrent” when it comes to a hungry dog. I believe the word “obliteration” could be used fairly accurately in describing the scene I was met with. The wire was in tatters, and the ground underneath looked like the un-swept floor of a barbershop. I’ll be honest, I was pretty devastated. You don’t have to know a whole lot about breeding to realize that it becomes a pretty difficult enterprise when all your candidates are the same gender.
The people took it even worse. If it was a rough night to be a guinea pig in our village, then it was a worse day to be a dog. I made it clear that I wasn’t blaming the dog or any of the people for what had happened; it was my own fault for not making the cage strong enough. My Iski friends view the situation a little differently though. Not to be overly graphic, but the canine population in our village has dropped significantly in the last 24 hours. They say that dogs, too, can make for a good barbecue. Especially dogs that have ticked-off the entire village.
This evening, a delegation of 20 men from the village showed up at my door hoping I wasn’t mad with them (I told them, again, that I wasn’t), offering me money for compensation (which I refused), and pleading with me to get more guinea pigs (which, I told them, I was already going to do). In the words of the village leader, “This animal HAS TO come and live in our village! We’ve seen what it is like, and we love it!”
I don’t know where it falls in the “5 stages of grief,” but having an entire village completely over-react over something you lost, and respond far more zealously than you would ever even think of doing yourself, is, in a weird sort of way, kind of comforting.
* Both of which were named “Rochelle.”
**This is the part that really got my Iski friends excited about the project.