Sunday, July 03, 2011

In Which We Go to Church

(A late post! This one's for Sunday.)

Between the late hour of our bedtime last night (thanks mostly to this hotel having the fastest wifi thus far, so we've both been on an uploading photos/videos binge) and the amount of frustration the Church's "Meetinghouse Locator" webpage generated, the fact that we both got up early to go to church was pretty miraculous.

Since going to church, especially our church, is not what we do while traveling, we were congratulating ourselves on the advancement of spirituality as we walked the mostly-deserted streets to the chapel we had finally found on Google Maps when we saw a young man moving gesturing slowly in a decidedly off way. Just as we approached him, he collapsed onto the sidewalk.

We both stepped into the street to avoid him and continued walking.

An older man was approaching from the other direction and he gestured at the young man on the ground, at us, and then drew his finger across his throat in a slitting motion while scowling at us.

After walking another block, we started talking about what had happened and how we felt like, as Jason aptly put it, we had just taken the role of the Bad Samaritan. Could we have done something to help? Should we have done something to help? The fact that my instincts were to avoid the person in need and probably would be the same even in my own country bugged me, and I felt horrible about it.

We got to church right at 9:00 and took our seats in the chapel. As the room slowly filled up, lots of women came over to greet us warmly, each one swooping in to kiss me on the cheek and to shake Jason's hand.

The Bishop stood up to start, and one of the women stood up front to conduct the hymn. When the congregation started to sing a cappella, Jason leaned over and said that I should have volunteered to play. I told him I would have, had I known they didn't have a pianist, but how was I supposed to respectfully let them know this now? I was still feeling badly about the man on the street, and now there was a way I could help someone else, if only I could let them know. I was determined to stay for Relief Society and play for them there, if nothing else.

In the meantime, for once I was grateful for the predictability of church talk. The meeting was in Spanish, and I paid far closer attention than usual as I tried to work out what everyone was saying. It was actually a relief to enjoy such a mental exercise at church. I did pretty well with the sacrament meeting testimonies, but lost most of the Sunday School lesson. The teacher more than made up for it, though. She was awesome! Even though I couldn't understand 90% of what she was saying, I really enjoyed her excellent teaching style. She was engaging, firm, funny, and kept the class in line and ticking along with what she wanted to accomplish. I was so on her side that when she asked a question and the other students all avoided eye contact, I so badly wanted to answer just to back her up, even though I had no idea what she was asking.

At first Jason and I had stayed in our pew in the chapel, assuming that Sunday School would be in there. A young man, Ruben, came over to meet us and when he found out we were single (or, as he said later, claimed to be single), he told us that this class was for old married people and whisked us away downstairs.

The class had already started when he opened the door, and we walked in the back of a room of twenty or so people. I was startled to see all of the girls sitting on the left side of the room and all of the guys sitting on the right, like the wedding in "Fiddler'," but after introducing us to the class Ruben unabashedly led us to the front row on the girl's side where there were three empty seats together. He turned around to a girl sitting behind us and asked rapidly for something. She handed him her Bible (in Spanish), which he gave to me, gesturing at the scripture reference in Mateo 26 written on the board. I handed it to Jason, since I had my iPhone scriptures with me, and we flipped to the appropriate passages.

After that class, Ruben found the Relief Society president and passed me off to her while he took Jason to Elder's Quorum. Relief Society was back in the chapel, and the woman who had conducted the music in Sacrament meeting immediately took possession of me. She introduced herself as Gloria, then introduced me to every other woman in the room, one by one. Sitting behind us was a row of elderly ladies, and when Gloria ran through each of their names, one dressed in red said, "Your friend is Yak?"

"Yes," I said, nodding (Jason goes by his easier-to-pronounce first name in foreign countries).

She smiled. "He is very beautiful," she said, gesturing to her face. She and her friends all broke into giggles like middle schoolers. I agreed with them.

The president called the group to order then, and as she announced the opening hymn I quickly turned to Gloria and told her I could play the piano.

"You play?" she asked.

I nodded, "Yes, a little," trying to temper my offer since I am certainly not one of those sit-down-and-play-perfectly-on-sight pianists, but she was already flagging down the president and announcing to the group that I could play.

She bustled me to the carved and woefully-out-of-tune piano at the front of the chapel, handed me a Spanish hymnbook, then took her place to lead the music.

I quickly glanced at the music and, seeing the arpeggios, immediately knew which hymn it had to be, even though there were extra notes in the melody to accommodate the different language. I launched into "As I Have Loved You," and the women all sang along.

I swiveled around on the bench for the opening prayer, just like I do at home, then joined Gloria in the audience again. As the president went over the plan for the rest of the meeting, I heard her mention testimonies again.

"After lesson, you will give your testimony," Gloria leaned in to announce to me.

"What?" I stammered. "But... I don't..."

"It's okay," she said, waving her hand dismissively, "You can do it in English. Jesus will understand."

The teacher spoke really, really quickly and cried a lot, so I couldn't pick out much of the lesson. Gloria explained later that it was about not speaking badly about your neighbors. Then came a mini-lesson on what I figured out was visiting teaching when the teacher waved familiar little printed strips of paper around. After she closed her talk, she started handing out the papers and Gloria turned to me.

"Okay, you give your testimony now," and she pushed me up from my seat.

So I did. I went to the front and all of the ladies were beaming at me. I greeted them in Spanish, introduced myself in Spanish, then gave a testimony in simple English. Many seemed to understand me, nodding along encouragingly. I told them the basics of what I believe, of the sameness of the gospel everywhere in the world, and of how much I appreciated Gloria and the others welcoming me and helping me. I closed in Spanish using the phrase I had heard a lot that day, then quickly sat back down next to Gloria, who squeezed my hand.

Just like in sacrament meeting, several people got up to bear their testimonies right when class should have ended. They kept going, though, well past when we heard the men and children clamoring in the hall outside. At 20 minutes after, the president announced the closing hymn and I dove into it, figuring out what song it was a few measures in. When we dismissed, someone opened up the back partition. There were all the men, including Jason and Ruben sitting on the stage, waiting. When I approached them, Ruben exclaimed, "Amanda! You play the piano! That is so good!"

Ruben, Gloria, and some of the girls from the Sunday School class chatted quickly in Spanish, then invited us to join them for lunch. We gladly abandoned our plans for the afternoon and followed them out, pausing to take a group picture in front of the building, as you saw.

The group walked to a square a few blocks down and hailed two cabs. Gloria rode with Jason and me while the other four piled into the second cab. We rode across the river to a more modern part of town and pulled up in front of a big rotisserie chicken restaurant.

Ruben, Alejandra, and Luce had claimed a table on the second level, and Gloria ordered pollo, papas, and ensalade for everyone. Jason and Ruben managed to catch the waiter and get him to drop her order from half a chicken each ("Good to take home!" she had extolled) to a quarter of a chicken.

We ate, chatted, and had a grand time. If I thought it was strange going to church in pants (I had a skirt with me, but it was far too cold to wear), it was even more strange to sit in a restaurant after church with a bunch of Mormons, two of whom were extolling the virtues of mate de cocoa tea. Gloria works in insurance, as does her daughter Alejandra. Her husband is working in Salt Lake City, but he's coming home to visit in a few months. Her sister, Nella, lives nearby and Ruben and Luce are both originally from Cuzco and are studying at the university in Arequipa.

They were a delightful and kind group. We exchanged email addresses and Gloria insisted on ordering us a cab back to the Plaza de Armas. We bade them farewell amidst a flurry of hugging, kissing, and hand-shaking, then Jason and I were back on our own again.

We had a tricky time booking the tour we needed to find for the next day since most of the travel agencies in town were closed by the time we got back from lunch, but we both agreed that going to church and meeting those people was completely worth the hassle. We did manage to find a tour, as you know, and after getting that settled we had just enough time to go through the Santa Catalina convent.

When we got inside, a tour guide offered to show us around. She explained that we could either join a group in French that was leaving right away, or wait 30 minutes for a tour in English. It was pretty close to closing, so we opted for the French tour. Jason asked if I minded not being able to understand everything, and I pointed out that that's been the case for the last two weeks for me.

The guide was good - she spoke clearly with deliberate gestures. I followed along with a lot of it, and Jason was nice enough to summarize the parts I missed in a whisper as we walked from place to place. It was actually a relief to hear French after so much Spanish, even though my French is so rusty.

The convent itself was beautiful. It's a city-within-a-city, and the narrow alleyways are painted bright red or blue with flying buttresses arching overhead and lots of flowers. We were both delighted and disappointed to learn that on Tuesdays and Thursdays they stay open late so you can roam the convent by candlelight. Alas, our schedule would not let that be!

We spent a bit more time looking at the creepy Cuzco School artwork in the gallery before exiting back into the city to find dinner at a restaurant across the street called Chicha.

It was, all in all, a perfectly delightful Sabbath day.

No comments:

Post a Comment