My first inkling that something might be wrong was when my bus took an unexpected detour. I glanced out the window to see the main road that goes by “my favela” was blockaded, and no traffic was allowed to go down it.
“What’s the matter?” people started asking.
“Oh, Jacare and Manguinhos are ‘comendo bala’ (eating bullets – not a good thing)” others answered.
What normally would have taken me five minutes to get home ended up taking me almost an hour – including the big detour, getting off the bus and walking a couple of miles (the road was still closed off, and no buses, taxis, or cars were going down it), and waiting with a crowd (my rough estimate of 800-1000 people) for the police to open up the road so we could all go home.
Finally, a few cars started going through (slowly) the police blockade, the shooting had tapered off, and the wisdom of the crowd decided that it was safe to go. Being a member of the crowd, I tagged along. Also, the more people around, the lower the odds of me being hit, right? About halfway down the dark road, we noticed that the power was completely off at the entrance to Jacare – and shots started again. Some people ran back the way we had come from. Others of us edged up against the wall. Conversations broke out between strangers as we waited for “them” to stop shooting.
“Those shots were over in Manguinhos, not Jacare. We’re fine,” said one of the older men. A number of us agreed, and as the shots died down began walking. Once you made it under the metro line, and over the train tracks, the power came back on, and we felt “safe” again. Of course, shortly after I got home, shots started again. I think, for me, the most frustrating thing is not knowing what’s going on…
It’s at times like these that I get super excited about going “home” for Christmas…
But, that wasn’t what I wanted to write about.
Part 2 – A Confession and “Contemporary Christian Music”
Folks, I need to confess to you that sometimes I think bad things. I’m not the most loving of people. The following is an example of that…
Tuesdays I spend in Manguinhos, the favela across the way, at a day-center for at-risk kids. It’s a simple place, but there’s much love. Every day after a Bible lesson and snack, there’s free time to play, and the hands-down favorite is the swing that a dear friend built. (Well, she designed the original swing, and set it up. It broke after a few weeks, but version 2.0 [rope tied to mango tree branch, tied to broken off splinter-free piece of 1×4] is still going strong). The only place to really put it was in the courtyard, hanging from a mango tree. And, the only branch on the mango tree that grew in the right direction is in one of the corners of the concrete walled-off courtyard. But it’s OK, because there’s at least six feet between the swing and the wall (when it’s not actually ‘swinging’). And the kids have gotten used to cushioning themselves with their legs, so they don’t slam into the wall at high speeds.
I should mention that the wall is typical favela construction – it does it’s job, but it’s not the sturdiest of structures, and I’m usually afraid that some poor kid is going to go right through it when they yell out “I want to go HIGHER!!!”. It’s brick and mortar, but not super thick, and I don’t think there’s much rebar supporting it. But so far, the wall still stands…
Everyone loves the swing. But due to it’s precarious nature, there has been an unofficial weight limit imposed. And one of the girls – H – in particular is hefty. She’s only 8, but there were serious discussion amongst the staff if the swing would support her over a long-term period of use. She really wanted to swing though, and felt left out that all the other kids could. So I decided to test the swing and see how sturdy it really was. This involved me getting on it. Since I couldn’t really swing at all without smashing into the wall (and causing pain and damage to myself and the wall), I decided I’d try to spin around. After a couple of tries, I even got some more volunteers… By the end of the day, we had three very nearly throwing up guys, but proof (of a sort) that the swing would hold H.
Last Tuesday was the day. I found an old step-ladder (which I convinced everyone was the “cool way” to get up on swing, instead of me lifting them up, because it hangs about 3 and a half feet up in the air), which we used to get H on the swing. And I (gently) began to push her…
Growing up, my family listened to lots of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music.) Through the benefit of hindsight, I can appreciate how incredibly cheesy, melodramatic, and downright silly many of the songs were (I’m talking to you, Carman) – but at the same time, they hold a special place in my heart. Russ Taff*, David Meece, Carman, Steve Camp, Petra, Wayne Watson, Geoff Moore (and the Distance!)… Of course, mixed in with that were artists like Rich Mullins and Michael Card… For a while, I was convinced that I liked hearing them “ironically,” but I’ve come to the place where I can admit that hearing the over-blown 80’s power-pop of CCM (as I knew it then) brings a smile to my face – it just makes me happy.
Strangely, the songs come to mind at the oddest of times. And thanks to my odd memory, lyrics pop up and make the oddest of connections with daily life… That’s what happened yesterday. As I pushed H, careful to not push her too hard lest she hit the somewhat precarious wall at too high of a speed and injure herself or (my greater fear) the wall, a 4Him classic popped into my head, causing me to break into the giggles. (I’m still not sure as to what the song originally meant. And try as I might, I can’t remember anything else, and have a bit too much self-respect to google it…)
“Stop laughing Ben,” I said to myself (or rather, my “inner critic” said to myself). “Even in your thoughts, it’s not nice to make fun of people. Or laugh at them.” But it wouldn’t stop. (That’s what I get for being a 1.)
“When you send your demolition down from the skies
These walls have got to fall
I’ll be your Joshua swing it back and let me fly
I’ll ride your wrecking ball,
Ohhhh, I’ll ride your wrecking ball.”
And playing over and over in my mind was the image of poor H – riding the wrecking ball of the swingset through the neighbor’s wall, 4Him’s power chords blaring in the background as she sang along…
“…swing it back and let me fly, I’ll ride your wrecking ball…”
*Please watch the Russ Taff video. I remember getting chills hearing this on our cassette player on our long drives from Huaraz to Lima and back. It was one of my favorite songs when I was six or seven… and yes, it’s cheesy, but I still do love it… almost as much as “Wrecking Ball.”