Mexican Maze

By Iris Slocombe



Time and motion study or ‘making the most of our time’

Early in our training at Main Base on the much smaller Santa Cruz river, and now at Advanced Base on the mighty Rio Jatate the need to occupy our time in the most profitable manner was stressed by the Survival staff. We were required to keep a close check on everything we did – and how long it took!

We were to check our watches every fifteen minutes, and to make a brief note on what we had done in that time, even if it was just going to the bathroom which was a literal ‘hole in the ground’ covered in with ‘banana’ leaves covering all sides and a roof! The survival staff divided up our days into three categories: sleep, daily maintenance & work, and ministry.

For my readers understanding ministry meant how much time did I set aside for meditation and prayer which was part of our daily life as Christians: It was simple to know how much time I spent in sleep or resting, but I needed to know what was included in daily living and ministry.

Daily living was time spent on ourselves such as cooking meals, gathering firewood, carrying water to and from the River Jatate, building or repairing our ‘champas’ (jungle homes) which often needed re-thatching to stop leaks. We also had to consider the time taken in ‘personal’ hygiene: Ministry was time spent in Bible studying, prayer and meditation. Language study included Spanish for those of us who would be working in Spanish speaking nations.

We were also expected to review what we had learned both in the U.K and in the U.S. at the University of Oklahoma in Norman like general linguistics, Phonetics, Phonemics and Morphology and we were all expected to continue working on our individual projects….mine was on ‘The differences between American and British English’ while my husband Bert chose a much more exotic, but to me, repugnant project, ‘The Birthing Behaviors of Pregnant Female Tarantulas.’

I still remember and shudder when one day Bert mentioned that for reasons of arachnid protection he had to bring all his live specimens safely closeted in large jam jars into our champa where we slept! This was too much for me,  and with much love, but reluctant assertiveness,  gave him the choice that it was either ME or the Tarantulas but not both who would occupy our champa any day or night!! Needless to say my husband agreed!

This article would not be complete without mentioning one of our fellow survival campers whose name was Lucy. A single lady who had aced all her subjects up at University and was intent on fulfilling every instruction to the letter. Lucy went so far as to carry with her for this entire excruciating week for most of us campers, a large (and I mean large) alarm clock which was timed to ring every 15 minutes on her campers web belt. It was a source of great amusement for the rest of us campers including me, but to give Lucy due credit, on no occasion did she ever take offense at the sniggers from her fellow students when her alarm clock continued to ring loud and clear for the next several days or so.

For the rest of us we would just average out the time as keeping a record every 15 minutes of the day became tedious for most of us, but Lucy kept rigidly to the instructions and we admired her for her commitment.

Bert and I because of our nursing background were responsible for the ‘medical’ clinic and on more than one occasion I was called away to attend a sick person in one of the adjacent Indigenas villages so keeping to the 15 minute note taking became quite difficult: Cooking food was a real problem for me. I found it almost impossible to prepare food that did not have an appetizing smell: Our surrounding Indigenas friends survived mostly on tortillas and beans.

In the mornings if I just happened to be cooking bacon there would be a row of little noses pressed against the opening of our champa and that completely finished my desire for bacon! From then on we bought all our tortillas from the local Indigenas women and they in turn taught me the art of tortilla making. I learned to first soften the corn with a ‘lye’ solution, then grinding the corn to ‘masa’ on a ‘metate.’

At first I failed miserably in making the small balls of dough and patting them in my hands into round, beautifully even tortillas. But practice did the trick and I was soon competent in making acceptable tortillas for our daily meals: I was never one for too much structure so to be quite honest I found this one week of “time and motion” 15 minute time checks most onerous, and yet it did teach me that I only had one day (roughly 8 hours) to do what I had to do and that procrastination was no excuse not to do what I needed to do.


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