Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Busy Times at Project Abraham

Hey Everyone! I'm sorry I haven't updated in a while. Things have been busy and they're about to get even crazier.

Yesterday a team of 40 came from Pennsylvania. They are Shalom Christian Academy, a Mennonite high school in Pennsylvania, and this is their senior year mission trip. I went along with Candace and Jonathan to get them at the airport. (Not sure if I've mentioned Jonathan yet, but he and his wife Amy are missionaries here. They used to be missionaries in India, and he has a shaved head and a HUGE and intimidating beard. When I met him, He said Hi, I'm Jonathan and I said wow, your beard is intimidating... oh, and I'm Julie!). We took the group downtown to a market in San Jose and I got a little Christmas shopping done. Last night I rested up to prepare for the crazy days ahead.

Today the team started work at the project at 8, so Brian and I had to be here at 7:30 to get everything ready. I had to bring everything with me for construction work on the project, for my math classes afterward, and for the worship service at church tonight. The team proved to be great from the start. They paid attention on the tour, asked great questions, and volunteered for different jobs around the site. I worked with six girls on what will eventually be a hardwood floor. We had to carry the wood from the area where it was cut to the building where it will be installed. We then had to apply the termite poison (incidentally, it is illegal in the U.S.) and a coat of varnish. We finished with sanding the varnished pieces. There were abundant floor boards to do, so we developed our system and got to it! It was great getting to know them and kind of neat to be someone they looked up to. The Costa Rican workers have also told me that my Spanish has improved a lot since the last time I was translating for a team. At the end of the day the Ticos could only exclaim at how hardworking and enthusiastic everyone was. All I can say is that those floor boards are going to be the best ever.

Tomorrow will be a really busy day as well. After working at the project I have math classes and then the team and about 40 youth from the church here are going roller skating! It's going to be great. This weekend we're going to the Irazu Volcano on Saturday morning, eating lunch at the mall, and then we have youth group at night. Sunday morning is church and in the afternoon we're going to do evangelism with members of the church throughout the neighborhood here and in one of the city parks.

I've been thinking for a while about writing an entry called "It's not all sunshine and sandy beaches." Living in Costa Rica, despite the amazing people, culture, and food, does have its downsides. There has been a definite lack of sunshine. Up until this week, it rained on all but 4 days since I arrived and it's pretty cold at night. We're just starting to come out of the rainy season, and the weather won't be really nice until December. I haven't actually worn shorts at all, except for working out, and I usually bring both a zip-up hoodie and a windbreaker jacket wherever I go. Surprising? Before all of you norteamericanos start calling me a wuss, remember that there is no insulation here against whatever is happening outside. Think of it like camping. When I'm teaching math until 9pm in a building with open rafters and it's 50 degrees and raining, it's COLD!

The other major downside has been struggling with the language. It's hard to go from being the articulate and intelligent person I am in the U.S. to having the social skills of a child. Wait, most of the children here are even better than me... All of the grammar knowledge and vocabulary that I know on paper are useless without the quick thinking that it takes to have a live conversation with someone. "What the heck did they just say so fast?.. What do I want to say... how do I say that? What's the word for 'varnish' in Spanish anyways? Maybe I'll just call it 'paint', I know that word..." And before you know it they're repeating themselves because of the vague look on your face. We'll just say it's very humbling but as they say here "poco a poco", "little by little."

On another note, I had a nightmare about Socialism last night... I'm sure you can guess why. Never watch CNN right before bed! No matter where you are in the world, you can never escape American politics.

All right, it's time for church, but I'll try to update again soon! I miss everyone!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More about the wall and ... Taco Bell?

There were three things I had written down to include in my previous post, and it turns out I forgot two of the three. As Beth (I miss you very much!) would say "Genius!"

First an anecdote about the fence: Candace and I were talking about the wall for the childrens homes the other day. She told me that there have already been incidents of people trying to come through/over the fence to get children from the home! She said that sometimes the abusive parents who have lost custody of the children are able to find out by word of mouth that the children are there. There have been mothers and other family members trying to lure children towards the fence or trying to come in and take them from the home. I know that some of the children in the home currently were placed there because their parents were wanted for multiple murders. It scares me to think of how easily those people could get in to the project -and what they might be willing to do to get their children back! Yikes.

The other thing I wanted to do was post pictures of the current fence. Before you accuse the project of being negligent when there's a horrible fence next to a nice children's home, keep in mind that it's the rainy season and it pours every single day - it was just repaired in January. Also keep in mind a 2x4 costs $8 here and minimum wage is $2 per hour.

In the above photo, the children's home is on the right and the tin shack to the left is part of the adjoining impoverished community.

The above photo speaks for itself. Many of the boards are just falling off of the fence, and those that haven't fallen yet are rotting. People could come right through!

Again, for those who didn't see, information on giving to the project can be found in my previous post, "How to".

On an unrelated note, last night we ate dinner in the mall food court. You might all be disappointed to find out that and the fast food I've been craving most is Taco Bell! I know, I'm in a latin country, with real Costa Rican cuisine. How could I possibly crave T-Bell? Well, taco bell here has a few differences from the States. It's expensive- Like $13 for two people to eat. The tacos also come with french fries on the side. Weirdness.

On Fridays we have an English discussion group. I have so much fun teaching the Costa Ricans idioms and other phrases in English. Last week we had little debates on different topics such as the death penalty (which is illegal here), abortion (also illegal here), and more lighthearted ones such as dogs vs. cats as pets and coke vs. pepsi.

On a side note, in vitro fertilization is also illegal here because of the way fertilized embryos (baby people!) are treated. I never thought about that before but it's so true - they always implant two embryos and expect one to die so the mother ends up with one baby. It's like there is a life sacrificed every time the procedure happens, and the doctors expect it to happen that way based on the chances of the embryo "sticking." (disclaimer: this is not a super-scientific description and I don't want people to start arguing about it.)

One last anecdote is that tonight I hung out with Brian's host family. Their papa tico brought home a bag of fresh macadamia nuts - still inside their little shells. It became a huge family activity using rocks, a hammer head (no handle!), or a pliers to break open the shells on the sidewalk. Everyone was laughing, joking, and even after taking a long time to get a shell open, they'd give the nut inside to someone else. It struck me how in the states people would never buy macadamia nuts like that. It would be so much easier to buy a container of de-shelled nuts. However, the sheer joy we all had in opening the nuts would've been absent. It's a good representation of the general attitude I've encountered here. They clearly have a lot less than Americans yet are usually far more joyful. That small bag of nuts was the highlight of thier (and my) evening. They say "it's the small things in life..." I've noticed that when you have fewer big things (i.e. SUVs, square footage, and hot pockets), you're more likely to catch all of the joyful small things that come by.

That's all I have for now. Thanks for reading and que Dios les bendiga!

Friday, October 17, 2008

How To:

1. How donate funds to the wall and other building projects at the Abraham Project?

The official protocol for donations to the project, (which includes a tax receipt mailed back to you) is to make checks payable to Cornerstone International and note in the memo section "World Hope Outreach Building Project." Mail the check to:
Cornerstone International
P.O. Box 192
Wilmore, KY 40390

2. How to sponsor me directly or donate to the costs of my math tutoring?

This is a significantly less official operation. If you email me or post a comment on this blog I'll email you my mom's address. She's handling all of my finances while I'm here via joint checking :).

A few anecdotes from the last few days:

Last friday before tutoring I got an email from Jon saying that he'd been praying especially for my communication with the math students. I also said a special prayer before heading over to the project that day. When I arrived, I met my friday 4pm student for the first time, and then his mom explained to me that he is partially deaf. Woah. Communication barrier! She told me to speak very loudly and clearly and make sure that he can see my lips when I speak. He turned out to be a very sweet kid who was very enthusiastic about help and wasn't afraid to ask me to repeat myself or write out what I wanted to say to him. Our lesson went really well and all I could think was "Wow God! You just helped me teach three theorems of similar triangles to a spanish-speaking partially-deaf person!"

I finally used the Costa Rican oven this week to make banana bread! It was pretty good and everyone I shared it with thought it was great, but it was nothing compared to my mom's or grandma's. And then I got homesick :(

There have been a lot of floods and landslides here. My mama tica told me that things flood every year around this time. It reminds me once again that I'm not in a first world country like the U.S. They don't have the infrastructure to handle the vast rains that predictably come every year.

That's all I have for now! Thanks for reading and continue to pray for my language skills - especially with my students!


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

levantar fondos

Brian and I have decided to do a little bit of fundraising using our respective support networks.

A fundraising project we have been given by the missionaries here is to build a concrete wall around the border of the children's homes. Right now there is a flimsy wooden wall that needs to be repaired every year or so because of the excessive rain they get here, rot, and erosion around the posts. This edge of the project is also the border they share with an extremely impoverished community. Literally two feet beyond the nice grassy area that the rescued children play in are the shacks made out of scrap metal that entire families live in, the only separation being a rotting wooden wall. And we know that it isn't usually only poverty all by itself that affects a community. It is usually accompanied by neglect or abuse of children, drug or alcohol use, prostitution, and violent fights over food or possessions using weapons. Many of the children come from that community to attend the project's daycare every day because their parents can't (or just don't) feed, clothe, or even really spend time raising them as they grow up. Every few months the missionaries go into "the farm" as it's called, and check for any new babies or new families with children who need help. Even though it is a community that the project ministers to, it would obviously be beneficial to have a stronger permanent barrier between the type of poverty and danger from which the abandoned children are rescued and the safe and loving environment they now call home. We've divided up the fundraising costs between four people, and I'm responsible for raising $1,200.

The other fundraising project we have is just to cover the costs associated with our math tutoring. We bought 6 review books to help us review the math for the various grade levels and ensure that we're teaching things in the same manner that the schools do. We'll also have substantial costs associated with printing and copying worksheets, review sheets, etc. for the students.

If you have the means to contribute to either our teaching supplies or to the wall I encourage you to pray about it and then act accordingly. I also encourage you to talk with friends or your church about making a contribution now that you know about the need here. The missionaries really want to install the wall at the end of October because there is a big team coming from the U.S. to volunteer in construction and installation will be very labor-intensive. I will keep you updated on the status of funds!

I am really enjoying math tutoring! Last night I was helping two students and I was actually surprised when they said they were tired of sitting – then I checked my watch and realized we’d been going for two hours! I never get bored of it. It is frustrating when they don’t understand but it’s also an interesting challenge to think of a new way to explain it so they will understand. I got annoyed when my students told me that their math teacher at school won’t even repeat herself if they ask her. She won’t even re-explain something! She doesn’t skip a beat when the class is lost and confused.

I think it’s even more exciting than watching a good movie or sporting event, watching the student hesitate over a problem. I can see the wheels turning in their heads, and when they get it right, I want to jump up and give them a high-five. Actually I did that today. I think the students enjoy themselves when I’m so excited to help them. I try to always give them really positive feedback like, “perfecto perfecto!” or “super-inteligente!”. Today I helped a girl who is seriously very bright, and all she needed was a few things clarified and she was off to the races solving trig problems faster than I could. YAY!

Tonight my friend Johanna comes to visit from Honduras! She's a fellow Wisconsinite and Hopkins grad working in a clinic and a jewelry-making business with women with HIV. Commercial: there is a link to her blog on the right! She has to leave the country for a few days and then re-enter through customs every 90 days to renew her visa, just like I have to here. I’m excited to hear more about her experiences and to share with her what we’re doing here.

Hasta pronto!

<3 Julie

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Dios es Bueno"

God is good.

My mama tica is very close with her nephew Luis, his wife Cristi, and their 2 year old daughter Valentina. They come over at least once a week for a meal or coffee and my tico parents love to spoil Valentina. The first time they came over was about a week and a half ago, on Thursday of my first week here. We talked about all kinds of things - the U.S., chicken in the oven, engineering, etc. Then my mama tica said in Spanish, "Julie, they don't go to church. What do you think of that?" Um... a little awkward to ask that in front of them. Then she's like "Exhort them, go on!" So we ended up explaining about the church and inviting them. They'd been intimidated in the past by a church with people yelling and falling over all the time. We told them this church isn't as "intense" and that there's no obligation to participate at all. You can just sit there and listen. They agreed to go.

They came to church the following Sunday! Mama tica was a genius and practically stole Valentina and took her to the crying area so Luis and Cristi wouldn't be distracted by anything. The message was exactly what they needed to hear. The topic was silences from God, such as when we pray for something but it doesn't come. After the pastor explained silences from God and God's nature, he explained our nature (sinners), and God's response to that (saving us). He really layed out the Gospel step by step. Even though I'm not usually one for dramas in church, there was a drama illustrating how Jesus took on our sin, died for us, and then rose in victory. It was very powerful. After church we asked Luis and Cristi what they thought of it and they said they loved it! They said the music was beautiful, the message was beautiful, they learned a lot, and they want to keep coming back! yaaaaay.

There was a concert at church this past Sunday afternoon with all kinds of homemade food for sale as a fundraiser for the project. One of the performers was Victor Zuniga and my new favorite song is his song "Dios es Bueno". It's such an 80s dance song! My mama tica bought his CD, so we've been jamming to it while making dinner or cleaning.

At the concert, Mr. Zuniga gave a short message and then had an 'alter call'. Luis was the only one to go up, but he went all the way to the front carrying Valentina and weeping. I hope this is an outward symbol that the Holy Spirit has put true saving faith in his heart. Today mama tica told me she's going to give him a Bible so he can continue to learn about God and water his inner mustard seed. Praise God!

On a completely different note, there are some more Costa Rican-isms that I want to share with you. They store their frying pans in the oven - of course - because they never use it to cook! They believe that rain causes illness. They also believe that if you walk in the house with bare feet you'll get sick. These superstitions are especially irritating to Brian, the Johns Hopkins premed and future doctor. He's like "Of course, bare feet cause illness, because OF COURSE all pathogens enter the body through the skin of the foot!"

Mama tica and I have been powerwalking in the mornings (when I'm not sick). Today was my first day back to walking. We go for a whole hour all around the neighborhood. Costa Rica has a lot more hills than Wisconsin!

We had our first day of math tutoring yesterday and it went pretty well. We're facing up to a pretty awful math education system. My two students are in 8th grade but they couldn't resolve something like 8 - 9 + 5 = ?. They didn't know that 2/2 = 1 and couldn't add simple numbers without their calculator. I made them use their fingers if they had to but they weren't going to rely on that calculator. The "system" must not teach the fundamentals of numbers, the number line, or positive and negative numbers well here. Unfortunately, my students have an algebra exam this week on polynomials. It's frustrating trying to balance preparing them for their exam with filling in the fundamental basics that they lack. Oh, and we also have 13 students total so we can't spend more than a few hours a week with each of them.

I'm excited that we're developing a more fixed schedule and I hope to get back to working construction at the project during the day to complement our afternoons and evenings of tutoring. We're also going to have an English conversation group on Friday nights to help adults learn English and also work in some evangelism while we're at it.

That's all I have for now. Pray for my math students - both that they understand my awkward Spanish explanations and the math concepts that I am trying to teach them!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Few More Anecdotes

Hi Everyone! Thanks for reading.

First of all, I've been sick the past few days with the flu. Sinuses, headache, sore throat, aches, fever, and pure exhaustion. It's honestly very scary to be sick in another country. I learned all kinds of new words this week:
calentura = fever (mine was 101.1)
gripe = flu
glandulas = glands, like on your neck (mine are HUGE right now)
pastillas = pills

Speaking of pastillas, here you can get some serious drugs at the pharmacy without seeing a doctor. My mama tica went and described my symptoms and brought back some mystery medicine. I was instructed to take one yellow and one blue pill simultaneously every 12 hours. Well regardless, after taking the pills and having mama tica pray over me, my fever had a least subsided a few hours later. I slept all of Friday and have slept a lot since.

One very positive thing that came from being sick was that I discovered the TV in my room has cable, and I get American channels! I didn't even have a TV at college, so I have no idea what to do with my very own cable tv. I found that I get the food network, HGTV, ESPN, ESPN2, FOX, CNN in English and EspaƱol, and lots of other interesting channels. Unfortunately the discovery channel is dubbed over in Spanish.

Another interesting anecdote is that since Costa Ricans don't use the oven to cook things other than cake, they're fascinated by oven cooking. Lots of people have been asking me what kinds of things I know how to cook in the oven. My mama tica now tells everyone who visits our house that I'm going to cook "pollo en el orno": Chicken in the oven. I think every day she reminds me that I promised to make chicken in the oven.

Tomorrow is our first day of tutoring math. I'm pretty nervous about communicating geometry and other things in Spanish so the kids can understand.

My friend Johanna, who also went to Hopkins, is working in Honduras right now in an HIV clinic and is visiting here in Wednesday! I can't wait!

I also found out about an opportunity to go to Nicaragua in November. It would be a mission trip with the Costa Rican church to do evangelism and also some vacationing. They said there's an island with a lagoon, two volcanoes, and people who haven't heard about Jesus! It would also be over my birthday, so that might be really exciting. Oh, and also the 13 day trip would cost like $100.

OK I have to go for now but I promise to post about a lot of the God stuff that has been happening lately.