Friday, April 2, 2010

All We, Like Sheep

Easter 2006 found my family in the Peruvian Andes. How it ever thought to look there was a true mystery; all we could remember was one minute we were playing "Quien es mas macho?" with an Incan bartender, and the next we were sniffing llama poo.

(Just kidding. The only drinking game my family plays is the one where you eat a fistful of Mentos and drink a jumbo extra grande Diet Coke and then watch each other's heads explode. Great FHE activity.)

Anyway, we were working with a humanitarian group in the little village of Salkantay, which is a mile above and 200 years behind Cuzco.

There is not a more beautiful place on the earth than Salkantay, Peru. Those Andes don't mess around with gentle slopes and rolling foot-hills. They shoot straight up into the stratosphere, beyond, it seems, the 14,000 foot elevation where the village is situated, thumbing their majestic noses at wimpy ideas like gravity.

The cute guy up the street, a long way from home

They're green and precipitous and, in every possible sense of the word, breathtaking. This is the only place I've ever visited where you actually order oxygen from the hotel desk, and a bellman brings it to your room and, if necessary, straps a bicycle pump to your face and re-inflates your lungs.

Our group spent a week or so helping the villagers with a variety of projects, including building a greenhouse, constructing a running water system, and introducing the little Peruvian children to the modern, transcendent wonders of Spicy Cheetos.

Many of the villagers were descendents of the Inca, and only spoke Ketchua. A few spoke Spanish as well. None spoke English.

Yet it was so great to see our kids working side-by-side with these villagers, communicating with sign language and stick-in-the-dirt drawings and the kind of laughter you get when you realize the table you just spent an hour building together has three legs pointing south and one due west.

It was life changing. I have forever after looked at my oldest two children with different eyes.

One morning, however, we arrived at the village to learn that we would be participating in a new project.

The village was raising a special variety of sheep. (I'm not sure which breed. I think it was the "Woolicus Stupidus", but I could be lying.)

It was hoped that these sheep, if kept healthy, would provide a high-quality wool which could be used to make blankets, clothing, and other products which the villagers would take into Cuzco and sell. The impoverished residents of Salkantay had pinned a lot of their hopes for future prosperity on those sheep.

Well, a big part of keeping the sheep healthy long enough to realize a return on the village's investment was immunizing them. I couldn't tell you what kinds of diseases sheep are likely to get (mad cow?), but we were nonetheless pegged for the job of getting them vaccinated.

It should probably be noted here that, to a man, not a single member of our humanitarian expedition knew the first thing about sheep. Zip. I'm not sure any could even spell the word 'sheep'.

Nevertheless, possessed of the hubris that is the downfall of tourists everywhere, we trotted up the hillside to assume our duties as Sheep Herding & Immunization Technology Specialists, or for short, umm…well, never mind. We won't abbreviate that one.

The first thing we noticed after regaining consciousness (remember, we were three stinkin' miles above sea level) was that there were no sheep in the pasture. There was, technically, no pasture in the pasture. It was more along the lines of a grassy wall, which ran at a gentle 175 degree angle until it met with an ascending cliff that rose so aggressively "up" it appeared to loop back on the geometric continuum, qualifying more as an inverted "down".

This cliff was where the sheep were grazing, evidently affixed to the mountain by Velcro. And keeping them company was a herd of llamas.

Also on that vertiginous mountainside were some of the local shepherds, who, upon noticing our group sucking wind and collapsing like fish on a boat bottom, began to direct both the sheep and the llamas toward the pasture.

I can't really describe how they did it (tasers, perhaps), but somehow they managed to separate the llamas from the sheep, dispatching the llamas toward the village and leaving the sheep - and their victims - to their respective fates.

One of the men began instructing our group on the finer points of immunizing sheep. It seemed we were to first encourage the sheep into an adobe pen, where the local toughs would then single out individual animals and, using a complex formula known as "guessing", would holler out to we, the volunteer sheep-dopers, the amount of medicine their sheep required.

After the medicine had been administered, another batch of idiots, er, I mean humanitarians, would 'paint' the heads of the now-vaccinated sheep with red goo, which indicated that they were finished, and point them in the direction of the gate.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Oh. My. Word.

Let it here be observed, when the Lord referred to His children as "sheep", it turns out He was not paying them a compliment.

The only creatures on that hillside who were more brainless, more stubborn, more skittish and goofy and easily distracted than the human volunteers, were those blasted sheep. The pasture and the pen were only maybe fifty yards away from each other (forty-nine of those yards pointing straight down; we could have simply picked up the sheep and dropped them into the pen if we could have caught the crazy beasts), but it took us nearly an hour of sheer buffoonery to do the job.

First, we thought we could just 'holler' them down the hill. "Go, sheep! Go on! Go, sheep, go!" We sounded like we'd been scripted by Dr. Seuss.

The sheep, naturally, heeded our counsel by running in a circle and pooing.

So we determined that we were going to have to 'chase' them to the pen. We removed various jackets and hats and began jogging and flailing and, by this time, breathing out threatenings against those cursed sheep and their posterity to the third and fourth generations, convinced that we could scare them into cooperating.

The sheep responded by assuming individual trajectories and running in what was now forty different circles and bleating revolutionary slogans back at their tormentors. And pooing some more.

Next on the agenda, then, was an attempt at creating a seminary movie moment by kidnapping a few of the lambs and carrying them toward the pen, confident that their mothers would follow along out of powerful maternal instinct. Oh, the mileage we would get out of this object lesson!

See? Moms stick close to their little ones. Right? Right? Well, I did anyway.

Unfortunately, sheep don't watch seminary movies, and instead read in our act of collecting all the lambs an offer of free babysitting. They celebrated their new-found liberty by frolicking in a general anti-pen direction, and, of course, pooing.

The hillside was becoming a slippery slope of unmentionable terrors for we gringos, who were wearing our "old" sneakers for the job. This meant we had essentially strapped rubber ice skates to our feet and were now trying to keep from falling into what you get when you combine a stressed-out sheep with a grass-intensive brunch.

My son, Dave, was one of many victims.
I think we burned his clothes and made him return to the hotel wearing a festively colored poncho.
Or at least we should have.

Strangely, we had the best luck when we simply hid from the sheep. "They're getting nervous," we reasoned, "Give them some time to settle down. Let 'em think we've lost interest. Then we'll break out the tranquilizer darts."

And sure enough, a few sheep gravitated toward the pen. Typical. And once we got three or four contained, the rest, as sheep are wont to do, followed them in.

Now it was time for the wrestling match wherein the local herdsmen would quite literally pick up a sheep in a position reminiscent of the Heimlich maneuver, and call out "Dos!" or "Cuatro!", which told the volunteers how many cc's of medicine that sheep would need.

Meanwhile, we were either filling syringes with anywhere from two to five cc's of this milky substance or handing them to others, who would then rush over to the Heimliched sheep and squirt the medicine into its mouth.

Yeah, that went well.

Not knowing that this stuff could well mean the difference between good health and poor, perhaps even between surviving the wet Andean winter or not, the sheep had less than zero interest in cooperating with the immunizers.

They spit. They thrashed. They pulled out shivs and menaced the other sheep. They mouthed off and stomped up to their rooms. Recalcitrant nincompoops.

As if that weren't enough, once the medicine which wasn't all over the volunteer's shoe was in the sheep's mouth, the volunteer would actually have to massage its throat to FORCE it to swallow.

Then the immunizer would shout "PAINT!", and another volunteer would rush over to brush red dye on the sheep's head, who would finally be released to go its way, only to be as obstinate and stupid about exiting the pen as it had been about entering.

From start to finish, it was one big exercise in coercion and, at times, sheer, teeth-gritting determination not to be out-maneuvered by a 150 pound bag of helium in a wool sweater. Those sheep did everything they could to reject what was being offered to them.

They were short-sighted and temperamental and even aggressively determined to remain unprotected, exposed, and vulnerable to whatever disease or malady lay ahead. They had to be led, pushed, and threatened. Some took several attempts from several well-stomped laborers to finally get the job done.

But at the end of the day, every one of those silly sheep bore on its head the symbol of its renewed health and brighter future.

Sheep Herding & Immunization Technology Specialists

I learned a lot of things that morning. About sheep and people and how mind-blowingly difficult it can sometimes be to do something good and necessary and life-saving for others.

About the kind of vision and effort it takes to call and contain and get the attention of creatures who might otherwise never pay any heed to what you do or say or want for them.

About the love that is poured into the healing of all mortality's pain, including -- especially -- the healing of broken hearts, and the mark set upon those hearts when they have been made whole by the Master Physician.

And mostly, I learned a little more about the Good Shepherd, who on another hillside on another Easter, reclaimed His sheep and, one by one, anointed their heads with salvation, inviting them to forever lie down in the green pastures of eternal life.

All we, like sheep, have gone astray. But we hear the voice of the Shepherd, who knows us, who has borne our griefs, carried our sorrows, and graven us on the palms of His hands.

And we follow Him.

Happy Easter.

This is a reprint from my first Easter post, last year, when I only had 11 followers and three of them were the voices in my head. 
So, since my mom and sisters and BIL and nephews are all coming to play for the weekend, I'm taking a breather from the ol' blog.
Love to you all!  ~D


Garden of Egan said...

Awesome story DeNae. No one can tell a story like you!
Awesome that you could spent some time in Cuzco being SHI........uh, what was it again?

Anyway, I do have a question:
Did you find Kronk?
Was Ezma really that bony?
And how 'bout the Emperor? Did he get his groove back?

Seriously, I love your analogy and the way you do speak of the Master Shephard and our own resistance to being anointed by His care.

Happy Easter to you as well!

Madama Sebastian said...

Happy Easter...

Momza said...

At first, I thought, I've read this story before...
Did I read this story before? It sounds so awfully familiar?
Then I see where, YES, you have shared this before and I am NOT crazy.
Oh and then tears. Because I love having His mark on my heart. I am His.
That just makes Easter so much sweeter.

KC Mom said...

This was an awesome post! So vivid in detail, I don't know that I'll ever forget.
First of all.
I reallllllllly want to take my children and do that.
I think I may be one of those ornery sheep. I never even thought of it that way but it's true. Not all sheep are willing to follow their master and be fed. I'm sad to think of my Master trying to herd me around and chasing me winded all over the cliff. A cliff that I shouldn't even be walking on.
Thank you for showing me how I can be a better sheep today. :)

Uptown Girl said...

Hilario and beautiful all at the same time DeNae- how do you do it?!

I especially love the pic of you and your daughter with the little lamb :)

Perpetual Mommy Exhaustion said...


Also, I hate sheep.

MarieC said...

I agree with Uptown Girl. I was laughing until I cried, and then touched beyond belief. Beautiful!

Molly Doe said...

Beautiful. and Hilarious. Thank you!

JBSquared said...

This is the first post of yours I ever read, and I love it as much now as I did then. Thanks for sharing it again. Happy Easter!! said...

That was the most wonderful post I have read in a long, long time!
" met with an ascending cliff that rose so aggressively "up" it appeared to loop back on the geometric continuum, qualifying more as an inverted "down"." BWAHAHAHA!
I raised two sheep when I was a teenager, for 4-H. I have never in my entire life come across two stupider animals. It just goes along with being a sheep, it seems.

M-Cat said...

I love this post! An amusing story with a great spiritual analogy.

I fear that I have been a sheep that has had to be wrestled on many occasions, and now I understand as I wrestle with my own.

Happy Easter friend!

Becca said...

Oh, how I love this. The laughs. the almost-abbreviations, and then, most especially, the bring-home. Happy Easter to you, friend. Well said.

Twinmomwv said...

Wow! What an amazing experience for your family. I hope we can all learn from this story and become the willing sheep He wants us to be, not the stubborn ones and run in circles and poo.

Happy Easter DeNae.

Braden said...

Beautiful work, DeNae. You had me laughing until I cried and then made me feel the Spirit. Happy Easter to you. Thanks for helping me be a little closer to the Shepherd.

Katherine said...

Great story!

Kazzy said...

That was terrific. Thanks for your insight and great writing.


David said...

Let it not be forgotten that on top of everyting else, He has to wait for US to decide we want to cooperate. There is nothing coercive about true descipleship- it's all voluntary. Like Elder Holland said: "Having already offered the Atonement in our behalf, Christ has done His part to make that longing a reality. The rest will depend entirely upon ourselves."

Also, what she meant by looking at us with new eyes is that one of the sheep swallowed her glasses and she had to get new ones.

Christine Macdonald said...

I am so happy you re-posted. LOVE this.

Happy Easter to you too, mulady!

Anna said...

Beautiful, thank you for sharing.

wendy said...

Loved the message.
What a neat project to be able to participate in.

Maureen said...

What a lovely post ... and such food for thought. I cannot imagine what an experience that was for you and your family. Thank you for sharing.

AS Amber said...

I love this story. So glad you posted it again! And I'm so glad to be able to spend Easter with you this year!!!

Love you!

Cheeseboy said...

"... where you eat a fistful of Mentos and drink a jumbo extra grande Diet Coke and then watch each other's heads explode. Great FHE activity."

Oh mighty you are terrific. People say my blog is funny, but I don't hold a candle to your way with words.

Happy Easter to you.

Loretta Valenta said...

This is the first post that I had read by you and I was hooked! After I read that I printed it out so my husband could read it (you were worth all the ink it took to do that!) :) and I have been with you ever since! Happy Easter!

Eternally Distracted said...

Great story - glad you reposted... Happy Easter to you and yours :0)

Bob Zenk said...

Three voices in your head? Three? Interesting number. Judging from the inspired analogy I just read, I bet I know who the three voices are! Thanks for listening to them.

Kara Herron said...

DeNae -

I definitely think you need to come with our humanitarian group to Guatemala this summer. Please?! Seriously, it won't be as fun with out you. I doubt we'll be doping sheep, but there will be lots of other fun, fun, fun things to do.

Geez - the more I read about you and get to know you, the more I realize how alike we are. Only, you are way more funny and a much better writer!

Have a great Easter!

25BAR said...

hope you had a gr8 day!