Easter 2005 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, Mormon Mommy Bloggers. 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 was 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 was situated, thumbing their majestic noses at wimpy ideas like gravity.
The cute guy up the street, a long way from home
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, there was not a single member of our humanitarian expedition who 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.
To be continued…
DeNae is a Music teacher, composer, arranger; director of the Las Vegas Mormon Youth Symphony and Chorus. She is also a free-lance writer; one published book, "The Accidental Gringo".
She says that her writing style is "essayist", which means she, like Norman Mailor and Moses, is incapable of uploading digital pictures to her blog.
She has been a Seminary, Institute and Gospel Doctrine instructor for 19 years. What does that mean? Don't try to argue with her. She'll kick your butt, every time. DeNae has lived in Seattle; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and currently lives in Las Vegas with the cute guy she married, 24 years ago and her 4 kids.
She also wanted everyone to know that in her previous life, she was a Victoria's Secret model and happily married to Matthew McConoghey. You can find DeNae on her blog, My Real Life Was Backordered.