Thursday, July 17, 2008

True story from the field

In addition to developing hobbies, personal anecdotes (more commonly referred to as "war stories") make for popular conversation around the water cooler. Since no one wants to hear about lost memories of childhood, I've come up with a few tales of my own to fill in holes. A friend at work recommended that I record some of them for posterity. Here's one of my favorites:

I was a young missionary in Guatemala, serving temporarily as an ecclesiastical leader (Branch President) to a small congregation on the coast. We were fairly recently established in the town of Sipacate and had a small chapel constructed of materials better designed for a temporary shelter. The interior walls didn't reach the ceiling (making private conferences difficult, if not impossible) and the ceiling was made out of something only slightly more durable than paper mache.

Serving with me was a young man from Honduras (I'll leave his name out of this account), who was slated to take my place as Branch President when I moved to another area. Our congregation's Christmas party was coming up, and in Guatemala that means fireworks - lots and lots of fireworks.

I put forth a few dozen Quetzales to buy an assortment of fireworks. My Honduranian companion picked up a few large, triangular packages wrapped in red paper. Being from California, my experience with explosive devices was nil, so I assumed that he was being helpful, which was my first mistake, and that he knew what he was doing, which was my second mistake.

That evening, we went to visit some members in the area to ask them for a huge favor. I needed every ounce of diplomacy and spiritual aid I could muster, as we were asking something extraordinary. As we crossed the large field leading toward their house, I heard a faint, repeated clicking noise behind me, followed by a rustling in the tall grass. I turned to my companion, who was hustling forward past me, and was about to ask if he had heard something when the first explosion erupted in the bushes behind us. He had decided that the best way to be diplomatic was to blow up their lawn!

I realize that this reaction was a very Gringo point of view, as Guatemalans are quite used to firecrackers going off near Christmas time, but I was unnerved, to say the least. But this was only the beginning. He set off two more explosions, over my protestations, as the children of the house came running out to see what was going on. It was dark, so I couldn't see if any actual damage had been done to the field. The family laughed it off, and we eventually (after regaining a measure of calm and composure) achieved our goal.

It was on the way home that my young companion truly proved himself Darwinian fodder. We passed by our little chapel on the way home. My companion fell behind a few steps and I heard that familiar clicking noise. I thought he had only purchased 3 of the miniature bombs, but it turned out that he had gotten a fourth, somewhat larger than the rest, which he was now lighting.

With a cry of "Watch this!" he lobbed his smoldering explosive . . . onto the roof of our chapel! I have to assume that he meant to throw it over the roof, but didn't quite have the strength. We watched in horror as a bright flash of light erupted atop our chapel roof and echoed hollowly from the structure. We could see nothing in the dark, but we returned in the morning to assess the damage.

When we entered, we saw a large pile of confetti strewn around the room and a hole in the roof slightly larger than my head. The reinforced paper mache ceiling pieces were also strewn across the room. I told my companion to clean up while I thought about what to tell my regional leader.

Incidentally, when I told my leader the situation, he assessed the situation and asked to speak with "Brother Pyro."

As another P.S., after numerous jokes from the congregation about air conditioning and umbrellas, we realized we had a few extra roof tiles and replaced the damaged one.


Derrill said...

I loved that story from your letters. Thanks for putting it up. I like the photos, by the way, they add nicely to the account.

"What a memory!"

Grandma Jule said...

Hey! That's just what *I* was gong to say!

Derrill stole my blog comment!

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