Monday, November 24, 2008

I heart guacamole, Nicaragua, and my mama tica

Hey everyone! I am really sorry for the long absence on the blog. There has been a lot of excitement in my life. First there was a team from Kentucky, then I went on a 4-day trip to Nicaragua for a wedding, then I jumped right back into teaching and celebrated my birthday. I also have a load of great pictures to upload.

Ok, where to start? The team from Kentucky was great. They were a team of about 10 adults whose trip was centered around learning about the childrens' homes. They went grocery shopping with the house parents on their first day to Hipermas and to PriceMart. They got to experience just how much food (and money) it takes to feed 20 hungry kids every day. The team was also in charge of making dinner - one night in one home and another night in the other home. It was kind of coincidental but we had spaghetti for lunch on Tuesday, then the team made spaghetti for dinner on Tuesday, AND for dinner on Wednesday. It was amazing though. A taste of home (I mean the USA of course, not Italy, haha).

The team also took all of the children and missionaries to the mall for lunch on Sunday and to see the movie Beverley Hills Chihuahua! It was such a cute movie for us and for the kids. The movie was dubbed over in Spanish so I got the gist but I didn't get most of the jokes. It's always so exciting seeing people out of their element, but going for it anyways. The adults knew very little Spanish, but they each had a little Costa Rican child on their arm going through the mall. It was especially beautiful to see one of the men on the team interact with the children. His name is Brackie and he previously worked in a children's home in the states. All of the kids just loved him and always jumped all over him. Another one of the men, a big construction worker type, knew a "banana dance" and taught all of the kids this wacky dance. It was so cute.

At the end of the trip the team spent an evening with Steve and Georgiana, the coordinators of the childrens' homes. They are the ones responsible for interacting with the government and child services, as well as raising the $4500 necessary to feed and clothe, and pay utilities for the children in the homes every month. They were very open with the team about how difficult it is. One member of the team came forward and offered to take charge of raising the money for a single child every month. Not that he has to pay it - more that he will find within his network of friends and family the money to sponsor a single child. Then, Brackie said that he would take on the responsibility of traveling around to churches in the states to speak about the project and raise funds for the homes. What a blessing! It's exactly what Steve and Georgiana have been struggling with and praying for.

The last day the team was here Brian and I left for our trip to Nicaragua. We went for the wedding of Tony Y, a member of the church here. We were 10 people, sort of a delegation to represent his church in Costa Rica even though his family and the bride's family both lived on an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua. The island is called Ometepe and it's GORGEOUS. Google it if you want, it's spectacular. It consists of two volcanos which rise out of the center of the second largest lake in Latin America. The lake apparently has bull sharks in it as well, one of the only places on earth with freshwater sharks.

I stayed with the pastor's family for three nights, in a brick house with dirt floors and a latrine out back. They were such wonderful people! I had three adorable sisters who couldn't stop hugging me or following me around. I am going to miss them so much. I even got to participate in a bible study with my 15 year old sister, where we learned how a huge God can use a small me. I found it very interesting when one of the girls spoke up to describe how she's "small" in the world and said that she's young, short, poor, and brown. I was thinking "your skin is gorgeous!" but even in Latin America, racism is still very real. I didn't get a chance to ask too much, but even in Costa Rica it seems that the people with ancestors from Spain are in politics and hold prominent positions in business.

The water wasn't drinkable for me (they're used to it), so I had to buy bottled water at the little store before we went to the island. They probably cooked with the well / rain water, so I hope it got hot enough to kill bacteria or viruses! It was a completely different culture and world. The primary mode of transportation is horse or bike, and there were people herding their cows around. The bride's family slaughtered a cow for the wedding feast and the groom's family a pig. I even got to meet the pig and see it butchered the day before the wedding. We helped decorate the little brick church before the wedding, me and the youth pastor sang a song during the ceremony (yeah, I sang a love song in Spanish that I learned on the morning of the wedding! ), and I had to take pictures throughout becasue they didn't have a photographer! I don't think I'll ever have that big a part in anyone else's wedding. The bride and all of the brides maids walked to the church like half a mile from her house down dirt roads all dressed, and there were two separate power outages during the ceremony. Apparently that's normal there, for the power plant to run out of fuel.

Nicaragua was definitely a third world country. It's supposedly the second-poorest country int he Western Hemisphere. We visited four different cities on the mainland portion: Granada, Managua, Rivas, and Masaya. I'll post pictures soon. In summary there were gorgeous Spanish-style colonial buildings next to shacks. I saw a LOT more poverty than I've seen in Costa Rica. There are a lot of things I'll just have to describe because I couldn't take pictures, either because of the danger for my camera or out of respect for the people. Dirty children playing in the doorways of "houses", people with such sad eyes and lined faces, people in sweatshop settings hand-sewing leather sandals, purses, or other clothing. Sad, sad stuff but a beautiful, beautiful country. Another thing I meant to add: unique building materials. I saw a house made of an old train car, and I saw a latrine topped with a truck bed cover. Fascinating.

And any trip to a third world country wouldn't be complete without its fair share of danger. The house I stayed in had no windows.. just holes with a sheet covering them. So.. once I actually climbed right through my own window to get in when nobody was home. Thank you Lord that my passport and money weren't stolen. I also had several different rides in the back of pickup trucks, some of which (stop reading mom) I was standing! Yeah, I was standing in the back of a pickup (hanging on of course) going like 50mph past little shacks made of branches, tarp, and corrugated metal. Finally, if I thought I stood out in Costa Rica, I was wrong. In Nicaragua the people are generally darker, and especially on an island, I stood out like WOAH. I don't think I ever went more than 1 minute outside without being beeped at, whistled at, or hollered at. Even the other Costa Rican with us, Mariafernanda, got noticed a lot for her medium skin.

Overall, the trip was a complete culture shock but also very beautiful. I would definitely like to return to spend more time there before my tenure in Central America is through.

We returned to the VERY DEVELOPED country of Costa Rica on Sunday night the 16th at about 11pm. After returning from Nicaragua it took me a few days to recover. I ate decently there but the quantity and nutritional value were a bit lacking. (I was one of the lucky ones in the group who actually got two meals a day from their host family though.) I also only slept a few hours each night there, between the roosters crowing, dogs barking, and trying to spend as much time as possible getting to know the people and culture.

Wednesday night I went to see Quantum of Solace with the missionary family, which I thought was decent. Wednesdays are two for one, so it's only $3 per person. Woo!

Thursday the 20th was my birthday. My mama tica threw a "surprise" party for me, which she told me about the day before because she didn't want to scare me. I really know she was just too excited to contain herself and wanted help cleaning the house. After tutoring that day I got home at about 7 to a house full of people! Yanira had made chicken chalupas for dinner, along with a beautiful yellow birthday cake. I told nobody to tell her though, that she wrote my name on it as "July". There were something like 20 people there, and I was amazed at how loved I felt. The youth worship leader brought his guitar so we could have a correctly tuned version of happy birthday in Spanish and English. Then they all prayed for me and I almost cried. I even got presents from some of mama tica's friends. I got a beautiful coconut shell watch from her sister, a body lotion from her friend down the street, and a bag of chocolates from her neice-in-law. Mama tica also bought me a touch lamp painted with palm trees and volcanoes. It reminds me so much of the landscape here.

The best part of the night was that Candace invited her friend Wainer, a professional salsa dancer and instructor! He taught our group how to dance when we came in January and he's a really cool guy. So as soon as the "old" people left, the salsa music came on and there was much dancing and laughing. My friend and math student Victor was competing against Yanira for the center of attention on the dance floor. I know everyone had a great time, and I just felt so blessed to have shared my birthday with people who care about my despite not knowing me long. It was the birthday where I expected the least but felt the largest outpouring of love and support from unexpected places. It really was an indication of how God has been caring for me. I've sometimes felt lonely, isolated, and very homesick, but that day was like God showing me again how He always provides and how He's always taking care of me.

Thanks for reading everyone, and I hope to post a lot of pictures soon. Keep praying for my Spanish skills, for my students, and for the children in the homes. I am coming back to the states Dec 17 for a few weeks, so if anyone wants to visit with me or wants me to speak to their church, family, Bible study, or whatever, let me know. I know it's my job to carry the news of this project far and wide both to bless people with news of God's work and to raise support for the children here.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Que lastima! The Mennonites are gone!

The team of high school students from Shalom was amazing! First of all, something like 80% of their class is in the school chorale, so they were always singing. They could break into 4 part harmony at a moment’s notice and it gave me chills to hear them. They sang a thank you song after meals and also performed in church on Sunday.
On Sunday afternoon we went to an old folks home with the evangelism group from the church. It was a beautiful place run by Catholic nuns that began as a place for abandoned people, whether children, handicapped, or elderly. Some of the original abandoned children sheltered in the home are now 80 years old and still living there! It was amazing watching the high school students bond with the elderly despite the language barrier. The students sang a few hymns and many of the people cried. Then, one 90-something year old woman recited a poem for us and sang a song about the national flower of Costa Rica. Later, when some music came on the radio, another woman jumped up and grabbed one of the high school guys and started dancing! She wasn’t more than 4 feet tall but so adorable and having a ball! I met a woman who told me her brother lives in Madison, Wisconsin. I said “Mine does too!” Talk about a small world! I could tell that by the end of the day, everyone felt so blessed by the time together – the elderly and students alike.

On the worksite, the Mennonites were really hard workers. I called them “reverse locusts” because they swarmed over the site, accomplishing everything in record time and never tiring.

On Tuesday we took them to the beach. The only downer was that it’s hard to drive past projects and poverty before getting on our catamaran and cruising to an island. It was a wonderful day though. It was overcast and windy, so I didn’t get too sunburned. I had tons of fun throwing the football with the guys on the team, getting swept around by the waves, walking along the beach with Candace and seeing sand crabs and hermit crabs! I even got pulled into the boys’ game of “S the Q” and got dunked a few times. I even did some dunking in return.

It was very sad to see them go. They were all so much fun, so easy to get along with, and every one of them had a real servant’s heart. I’m interested to see where God places them from here, as they spread out to be salt in the earth. I made sure to talk to them about being confident in their decisions as they head off to college no matter what people say about them. I experienced firsthand that it really bothers people if someone is a Christian, if someone turns down drinking or partying, or even if someone votes republican! Haha). You’ve just gotta be confident in what you believe.

My mom told me that she really enjoys my little cultural anecdotes so I’ll write about a few more here:

I woke up the other day, completely exhausted and a little cranky. I opened the refrigerator only to find my jar of peanut butter looking back at me from the top shelf. Peanut butter doesn’t go in the refrigerator. My mama tica must have put it there. I then had a little laugh as I glanced at the eggs on the counter and last night’s meat still in the pot sitting out. They sure do things differently here, and I don’t think they know about Salmonella. I just remember that I am living among their culture, and I will do as the ticos do. Some things that I do as the ticos do are: wear jeans everywhere (even to church), never wear t-shirts or sweat pants, make my bed every day (my mom will probably faint when she reads that!), never walk barefoot in the house (“it causes illness”), even if you have plans, never go anywhere in the rain (“it causes illness”), agree with them when they say it’s cold and I don’t think so, take a siesta right after lunch even though I worry about acid reflux, and greet everyone with a kiss on the cheek.

My partially deaf math student, Josue, has turned out to be very sweet and appreciative of my help. I have the hardest time communicating with him, but we’ve managed through writing, or through me repeating myself very slowly and loudly. I think it is especially hard for him because of my accent and because I probably don’t move my lips the way most Spanish-speakers do when they speak. Thank goodness he’s very smart and has never once gotten discouraged! Here’s a picture of us that Brian took on Friday:

I have come to accept and appreciate getting whistled at by construction workers, though the attention still makes me uncomfortable. At first I was really offended and annoyed, but then I realized that to them, it would be rude to let even a decent-looking girl walk by and not whistle at her. When women from here go to the states they probably feel there’s something wrong, like they’re ugly or something because no boys are taking notice. One day I got whistled/beeped at 4 times before I’d made it 2 blocks from home. I had been feeling unsure about the outfit I was wearing when I left home, but I soon felt much better thanks to this particular aspect of the culture.

One last thought:

In my last post, I talked about how I’m a child when it comes to my communication. At church that the pastor talked about how Jesus told us we all have to become like children to enter the kingdom of God. It really struck me once again how God has a purpose for everything under the sun. Sure, I’m frustrated that I can’t communicate the way I want to but God is using it to humble me and make me like a child for His purposes.