As some of you may know, I was a missionary in Chile for two years. About half of the time I was assigned to the capital city of Santiago. The whole thing was a grand adventure of which I could probably fill a novel.
One of my sectors was Pichilemu, a small village reached by a four hour bus ride over the mountains.
Being on a mission is an experience like no other because you visit a country and live, eat, and work with the local people (well, maybe the Peace Corps?). I lived in a two story home, an old adobe thing harkening back to the days of Spanish colonization. There were chickens in the yard. I washed my clothes by hand in a giant basin; for "warm cycle" I had to gather wood and make a fire.
It was there that I first sampled the Chilean delicacy of pig's feet. Ah, and one time we were in a humble home and the man of the house brought in what looked like a two foot long, de-skinned rat in a casserole pan. I couldn't translate the local word for it, but finally figured out that it was a Muskrat. Delicious dark meat, I must say.
It was winter, and the bathroom was a concrete cube with a pipe sticking out, from which would issue ice cold water (at least when we were out of propane).
Now on to the fleas. Every night when we would come home from preaching the Good Word, I would go into the concrete cell, and start picking all the fleas out of my clothes. My record was twenty-three.
In some of the poorer houses, all they could get for flooring was sheets of cardboard, and while speaking with this family I could hear the tic, tic, tic of the fleas jumping around. And then I could feel them crawling up my pant leg and biting.
Even now it makes my skin crawl and itch to think of it.
When I got back to the states I remember laying in bed and thinking: Ah, no fleas. Something I had never been grateful for. I had learned Wisdom.
Would I trade that experience? Certainly not! Because I also understood what it was like to breathe absolutely pure air, to eat bread out of a 1700s style igloo oven with fresh, fresh butter, to hear the waves lapping in the distance, to see a grotto by the sea called the "Pozo de la Virgen", and most marvelous of all (something that even now, on recollecting it, brings tears of joy to my eyes) to see the Milky Way stretched out over the night sky like a belt of diamonds.