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Driving Stick Shift July 31, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 2:14 am
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I feel like I can finally post about our first attempt at driving here in Costa Rica now that we’ve had at least one successful drive under our belts! Two Saturdays ago, we needed to go get groceries for the family that had just arrived here at the mission to stay for a week. We had only previously driven stick shift once with a car in the very flat and even terrain called Ponte Vedra. Here, we have a pick up truck and as soon as you look out the front gates of the mission, you will see some of the steepest hills you have ever seen. So it was practically comparing apples to oranges. Nonetheless, I convinced Andrew that we just needed to go ahead and give it a shot. After all, the store we were going to was less than a 5 minute drive away.

Eder opened the first gate and Andrew attempted to start reversing out of the mission. Luckily,the truck stalled and thank God because you can’t get out of the gates until both sides are open. I should note that Eder is probably lucky to be alive today. Somehow, someway, Andrew was able to back the truck out of the mission and put it into first gear to begin up the hill. As we were leaving, the father of the family that had just arrived noticed we seemed nervous and not so skilled at this. He mentioned that if we needed any help, he could drive stick. We said thanks as we naively assumed we had this situation under control. I’ve mentioned Big Mama in a previous blog post. On that day, she happened to be sitting outside the mission at the bus stop selling some food. Boy, it must have been obvious that we were clueless because as we backed out… Big Mama was making the Catholic cross motion across her body multiple times! And she was outside of the car on much safer ground!

Now I remember Henry telling me that the truck had to be in first gear the entire way up the hill, but no one shared that with Andrew. And it just didn’t make sense to me, so I didn’t share it with Andrew either. We make it half way up the hill and Andrew shifts into second. We make it a touch further. Then there appears to be a problem. Our assumption is we need more power! So Andrew tries to put it into third gear and we stall immediately. I’d like to paint a picture for you… here we are in the middle of the road on an incredibly steep hill. There are more people walking, riding bikes, driving, standing outside their homes, etc. than I have ever seen at one time in Bajo Tejares. Each and every person is staring at us like we’re the village idiots, and in that moment, we kind of were. To me, there was no other reaction that seemed more appropriate than to bust out laughing. Andrew, however, began to freak out.

I ran back down the hill while everyone around us is watching the scene unfold. At this point, a bus is coming down the hill and Andrew is still stalled in the middle of the road. He had to roll backwards to a safer place. Big Mama is yelling for the guard “Ashley, Ashley!!” as she points up the hill. Eder comes running out with a phone thinking we may need to call Jessica because something must be seriously wrong. I immediately get Bruce and we head back up the hill to the truck. We weren’t exactly setting him up for success in trying to get this truck going on this crazy, steep hill… but he did it!

The week and a half following that episode, we walked to the grocery store every time we needed something. And then today, James stops us after a meeting and says “why don’t we go driving?” Oh my Lord, I almost panicked. I had already convinced myself that walking to the grocery store, bank, gym, etc was going to be the perfect plan to get my cardio workouts in for the upcoming year and build my endurance… it would be like Costa Rican bootcamp. But we had to do it. We needed the driving lessons and James was willing to work with us.

He drove us to a less congested highway and pulled over. Andrew went first. I sat int he backseat and watched and listened as closely as I could. He drove for about 20 minutes and did really well, didn’t stall once. Then he pulled over and asked me if I were ready to try. It was definitely one of those moments where your mouth says yes but your mind is saying absolutely not! Where we stopped for me to take over was a little higher into the mountain and the clouds had moved in. I couldn’t really see that well which was terrifying at first, but eventually the clouds cleared. I drove a little while back towards where we came from. As I kept driving, it occurred to me that we would be reaching town again very shortly, which meant traffic lights, speed bumps, other cars… all things that sounded dangerous when paired with my capabilities. Nevertheless, I made it to my first intersection and left turn. My heart was racing and I began to turn, but then stalled. Bad news… I was partly in the intersection at this point. Good news… I was able to go shortly thereafter. And we made it all the way back to the mission safely, with me behind the wheel!

 

The Slumber Party July 17, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 2:04 am
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Good evening blog followers.  Although I (Andrew) have written bits and pieces of former blogs and have helped to proof-read and edit, this will be my first complete blog that I’ve written.  No time for training wheels, I’m jumping in with both feet.  As Ashley stated in our last blog, our first week and a half has been awesome.  We’ve gotten to spend time with the children and youth during the day, and hang out with the Chapin teams during nights and weekends.  There’s always something to do and someone to talk to.  This past Saturday night we attended the weekly youth group.  Let me give you a synopsis of how youth group here works.  It starts off with the kids having a hang out time, followed by organized guys vs. girls games.  Apparently they have been keeping track of wins for the past several weeks, and when they reach a certain point, the winning team gets to take a trip to the beach with Pastor Maiko or something along those lines.  Needless to say, they are pretty competitive and there is much incomprehensible Spanish screaming when the games get close.  The games are followed by listening to snippets of different Christian songs on YouTube, all of which are in different genres.  I guess it’s to give the kids good ideas for Christian music they can listen to that matches their tastes.  Then Maiko gives a sermon, and while I can’t understand most of it (although I’m proud that I’m picking up more and more Spanish and can understand the main points he is getting across), I can just tell by his style and passion that he is an amazing preacher.

So back to this past Saturday night.  After group was over the Gringos were cleaning up the multi-purpose room.  After we finished, I was walking back up the hill toward our apartment and saw a bunch of the youth and Maiko in the first education building.  Apparently they were all praying for Keylor, the 16 year old that Ashley and I sponsor, because his mom was really sick in the hospital.  She is a diabetic and had to have some sort of transfusion.  She previously had to go to the hospital for the same reason and fell into a coma and almost died, so you can imagine the severity of the situation.  After finishing the prayer and dispersing, Maiko informed us that since it was just Keylor and his mother living in their house, one of his friends, Luis, would be spending the night with him that night.  The two boys ate dinner at Maiko’s house right after that, since Keylor’s mom wasn’t home to cook for him.  Ashley and I started thinking, and thought it would be awesome if I could sleep over at Keylor’s too so the boys wouldn’t be alone.  Maiko asked him, and while he was excited about the idea, he was also embarrassed for me to see his house because it wasn’t clean (and probably because of the size and lack of material possessions in it).  We told him I didn’t care, and that I was messy too.  So Maiko and Ashley loaded us up with snacks, I got my pillow and a blanket, and the three of us made our way down into the Bajo towards Keylor’s house.

For those of you who don’t know, much of the Bajo has been redone in the past few years due to help from the government of Taiwan.  So instead of a tin shacks with dirt floors, most of the families now have a small concrete house to live in.  Most people, including myself, wouldn’t really consider that 3rd world type poverty.  But upon entering Keylor’s house, I was truly humbled and almost felt guilty and embarrassed for the luxurious and pampered American life I have been raised up in and have become to expect as normal.  There was a main living area of the house that was probably 10′ x 20′, which including a living room and a kitchen.  And when i say kitchen, I mean a table with a hot plate for heating things and a tiny sink which barely worked next to a countertop.  The living area had a couch, a chair, and a tv on a stand.  There were two tiny bedrooms that were connected to this main space by a doorway (but no door) which had beds and dressers, and a small bathroom toward the back of the house off the kitchen.  I have to be honest that my first thought was “This isn’t so bad.”  Then when it started to sink in that this was the house that he lived in every day of his life, not just something you stay in for a week on a mission trip or a camping trip and tolerate it because you know that soon you’ll get to return to your spacious, well-furnished, air conditioned house filled will all your “stuff”, I realized that the people here were living in true poverty.

We did some rearranging, which including moving the couch into Keylor’s bedroom and their lone chair into the kitchen, and ended up with two mattresses on the floor in front of the tv, which we would share to sleep on.  We put a movie on, laid on the floor eating our snacks, and just talked with each other (in very broken Spanish on my part and lots of signaling and hand-gesturing on theirs).  I wasn’t going to put this next part in because it’s sort of embarrassing, but it really is a big part of the story, and down right hilarious.  The food that we ate at Maiko’s house before going to Keylor’s was authentic Honduran food that they prepared for us.  It basically consists of eggs, beans, and cheese in a tortilla.  Not the best combination for someone who is already really gassy due to a high-protein diet.  My stomach was absolutely killing me from holding in so much gas, so I told the guys I needed to go to the bathroom because I had to “pedo,” the Spanish word for said action.  They laughed and I went in there and tried to do it quietly, but it wouldn’t work so I just didn’t try.  I tried to lay down on my mattress and hoped it would just go away, but it eventually became too painful.  I tried to warn them the best I could, and then just let it rip.  Over the next 30 minutes, I have never “pedo”ed so much and I would bet those two boys never laughed so much.  The next morning we all got ready and I invited them back to the mission to eat breakfast with everyone and join us for Gringo church.

Although it was a somewhat physically uncomfortable experience, I’m so glad that I got to share it with my sponsor child and another boy that I’ll surely become very close to.  I’ll never forget my first slumber party in the Bajo.

 

Hola from Costa Rica July 15, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 2:06 am
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Hola from Costa Rica! We’ve been here just over a week now, time for an update via the blog!

Last Friday, we got to see the Beach team before they left Pura Vida for their weekend at Manuel Antonio. I figured we would get to have lunch with them and spend a little while there visiting but their schedule got condensed and they had to leave the mission sooner than expected. Lynn took us over there and we were able to give everyone hugs and talk for a couple minutes. It was definitely worth it! I will miss my Beach family dearly.

Also last Friday afternoon, Andrew and I walked down to see the new homes built recently for 13 families of Bajo. We walked up and saw some of the ladies with their machetes chopping away the weeds. We were fortunate enough to have some interesting conversation with Big Mama! For anyone who has met Big Mama, you know what I mean. She’s an absolute trip. Andrew volunteered to help chop some weeds and Big Mama was having a ball with him. He wasn’t getting out of there until that job was done. She invited us to a little fiesta in the Bajo on Sunday, and though we didn’t understand all the details in full, we agreed to go.

We returned to the mission that day and all was well until Jessica came running into the apartment crying with her arm skinned up to tell us about a break in. Seemed odd as it was broad daylight. Apparently, someone had jumped the fence of the Pastor’s backyard and entered their house through the back door. No one was inside. He was able to grab one of the mission computers, an ipad, jewelry and other things and started shoving them into a backpack which had a visiting friend’s passport in it. The pastor’s wife came into the front door as he was trying to escape through the back. She immediately started screaming “thief! thief!” in Spanish. As the thief was jumping back over the fence, everything fell backwards out of the backpack. All he got away with was the backpack. Isn’t that something! Nonetheless, everyone handled the situation really well. And the kids that were on campus at the time were quite upset that someone would break into this place and steal things from their Pastor.

Unfortunately, there have been some issues with the truck starting recently. This is a hoot. Apparently if you put the truck into gear and have people push it, you can get it going. Last week, we pushed that thing all the way down the hill to no avail. Which means we had to then try and push it back up the hill to have some more room to get it going. It started with Pastor Maiko, the guard, Andrew, and a father and son that had just made it to the mission the day before. Then I started pushing too. Then we added in another guy, two more girls, and the mother and daughter of said family. At this point, we had gotten the truck maybe 10 feet up the hill. It was enough to attempt this again… so we pushed it back down the hill the 10 feet we had just worked so hard to get it up to and it started! We have since gotten the truck fixed. But that was definitely an experience.

On Sunday, we went to the fiesta in Villa Larry, which is what the area of new homes is called in honor of Larry. It was actually really neat. They had their “community center” opened up and full of authentic Nicaraguan and Costa Rican food… and it was cheap! The residents down there were trying to raise money for improvements to their community. So we got great food and the proceeds went to a great cause, can’t ask for more than that! I tried multiple things and they were all wonderful. I will say that I wanted to try arroz con leche, which is more or less rice pudding, and when I paid for it and handed my little ticket to the woman… she opened up a cooler that housed the arroz con leche with nothing in between the rice and that cooler. It was probably amongst the more unsanitary things I have ever seen as the woman is batting away flies from the food she is about to hand me. But I figure they have likely consumed plenty of things like this in that fashion so it’s not going to kill me… And almost a week later, here I am still standing.

This past week, we had a team here from Chapin, SC doing VBS. It’s been fun hanging out with the children. When they come up to me now asking if I understand Spanish, I just say yes and hope for the best. One evening, Andrew and I walked outside to help the teenagers watch the younger children during the women’s group meeting. We had a crew of about half a dozen 7-8 year old girls wanting to play various games with us. After the first few rounds of them walking down an invisible cat walk and having us give them a score on their sassiest walks… they decided we would play a new game. In very, very rapid Spanish, this little girl explained that 3 of us Gringos would stand in a line and sing a song. When we stopped singing, they would all jump on us like monkeys and whoever wasn’t attached to a person would be out. The great news is, I understand all of the directions and explanation she was giving. The bad news is, this is more or less the equivalent of human musical chairs. I turned to Andrew and the other Gringo with us and said, ‘I don’t want to alarm you… but as soon as we stop singing, they are going to pounce on us.’ We were terrified to stop singing but as soon as we did, they came at us like little spider monkeys. Andrew had a sunburn from earlier that day and by the end of it, all I could here was lots of giggling and Andrew yelling “my sunburn!” and “they got my leg hair!” I have never laughed so hard.

That’s all for now folks!

PS – for all who are wondering how Mack is doing… he has gotten the tour of the grounds and he loves it! At lunch time and in the evenings, we let Mack out to run around and play. He loves all the space. He is also loving having all these people around who pay attention to him. One day I let him out to play in the Pastor’s yard, and when I went to take him back upstairs to the apartment, the front gate to the compound was open. Ronald, the guard, ran over to the gate and jumped in front of it. As he crouched down in a Sumo wrestler position, he yelled “Listo!” which means “Ready!” I about died laughing. That was a sight to see!

 

Miracles Do Still Happen July 6, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 8:36 pm
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What a crazy, chaotic adventure yesterday was! We arrived in Miami on the 4th and spent the night with my parents and Mack at a hotel so that, if necessary, we could switch to the morning flight on the 5th based on the weather. In order for Mack to fly, the forecasted temperature at departure has to be 85 degrees or less. Between Andrew, my mom, and I, we must have checked the weather forecasts a hundred times. When we all woke up on Thursday morning, the forecasted temperature at 7:00 p.m. was right where we needed it to be at 85 degrees. We relaxed at the hotel for a while and checked out at 2:00. Then we found a restaurant that had tables outside for us to eat at with Mack. We all enjoyed a nice lunch together then took Mack to a nearby park to run around. We decided to arrive at the airport at around 4:00 p.m. in order to assemble Mack’s crate and get everything unloaded from the car. The plan was to check in about 2 ½ hours before our flight. Everything was going perfectly to this point. I did a final refresh of the weather on my phone as we got in line with all 4 pieces of luggage, 2 carry-ons, 2 personal items, a crate, and a dog. We were still forecasted at 85 degrees.

In the 20-25 minutes we waited in the line to check in, the forecasted temperature rose one degree to 86. We had no idea until we got to the counter and the woman checking us in told us he would not be able to fly because of the temperature being to high. Sure enough, when I hit refresh on my phone of the weather channel page I had up, the forecast at 7:00 p.m. was 86. Andrew and I were shocked and devastated. All day, things were looking perfect. The man that helped us in with all of our stuff also helped us move it all to a sitting area at the end of the airport. My parents were circling the airport at this time while we were trying to check in to make sure it all went smoothly, and it had not. I called my mom and as soon as I said the words “they won’t let him fly,” I burst into tears. This was our worst nightmare coming true before our very eyes. My parents parked the car and came in to sit with us while we tried to figure this all out. Andrew and I started praying immediately for something to change and Mack to be able to fly. I started to walk to the bathroom where I could just cry for a moment to myself in peace, and the arrival/departure board caught my eye. One little departing flight on the board was highlighted yellow, and it was ours. The flight had been delayed by 30 minutes. In that moment, God was telling us to have some faith.

I ran back to the counter and asked the woman if this were true. She said it was and that we could check the forecasts again. It was now forecasted at 86 for 7:00 p.m. and 85 for 8:00 p.m. She went ahead and handed me forms to fill out but said we still needed to wait a little while to check him to make sure the temperature was steady. It was probably around 5:30 p.m. at this point. We religiously checked the forecasts on our phones. Even though it was getting later in the day, the forecasted temperature was somehow rising. The 15 minute intervals showed that in no time at all, the forecast for our new departure time of 7:40 p.m. had risen too. Our little bit of hope had evaporated. Andrew and I stood there looking at the arrival/departure board as I just cried. We were going to have to leave him behind. I began to make phone calls to discuss some sort of back-up plan. We went to the counter to discuss our options. I begged for more time to check the temperature, but at this point we were also risking Andrew and I not making the flight either. The woman said we could have 15 minutes more at max. We had to start checking in by 6:20 p.m. or so without the dog if the forecasted temperature was still too high. We went back to sit with Mack and my parents and all of our stuff. At 6:18 p.m. or so, Andrew and I refreshed the weather forecast and saw that at 7:45 p.m., it was still forecasted at 86 and at 8:00 p.m. it was 85. We forced ourselves up from our seats and onward to the counter to tell the woman we would be checking in without the dog. It took a moment for her to get with us as she was working with someone else at first. In that moment, with tears streaming down my face, I hit refresh one last time. The temperature had just dropped to 85 at 7:45 p.m. Andrew was looking over my shoulder and we freaked out, almost yelling to the American Airlines staff, “He can fly! He can fly!” The supervisor pulled the forecast up on his screen and nodded his head. We were good to go. I told the woman I’d be back in 2 minutes with all of our stuff. Andrew and I ran back to my parents and said “We have to go now! He can fly!” Everyone grabbed something and we took off running to the counter.

It took about 20 minutes to get completely checked in. At this point, when we dropped the dog off at TSA to be inspected, the plane was already boarding. Andrew and I still had to make it through security and down a sky tram to our gate. We ran in the places we could run, and prayed in the places where we just had to wait patiently. When we arrived at the gate, they were still boarding. We got on the plane and as soon as that thing took off, I started crying tears of absolute happiness and gratefulness. It was a miracle.