It’s time to play catch-up. I don’t necessarily have one thing in particular to write about tonight, but a variety of happenings around the mission here lately.
I have taken over the preschool program in the last month or so. Laura went on vacation and I covered for her… then she “gifted” me the program upon her return. Truth be told, I fell in love with the class the very first time I sat in on it during my first few weeks here, so I really do consider it a gift. The program is for children ages 3 to 6 twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Between the two classes, we have an average of over twenty children coming each day. One day, I am going to write a blog called Kids Say the Darnedest Things, Spanish version. There is no more precious age group than this one. We open each class with a simple prayer, it’s really all I am capable of in Spanish… but I tell myself it’s simple for the children’s sake. One day, I let a 5 year old named Allison pray for us, she wanted to so badly so I finally said yes. She began by thanking God for the day and ended with thanking God for the food we were about to eat. If only preschool class involved food in any way! I take that back. Just two days ago, we were making penguins in the shapes of squares to go review shapes. The tiniest little girl in the class, Nazareth, dips her little baby finger into the glue and slops a good bit of it right into her mouth. It must not have been too awful, she didn’t even flinch. The whole table looked quite confused when I told them that the glue doesn’t go in the mouth. Something amusing seems to happen everyday with the preschoolers. Just yesterday, I was having a staring contest with Yohan. You really have to know Yohan to appreciate this story, and if you have ever been to Bajo Tejares… you probably know the little devil I am talking about. He is a touch crazy to say the least. We were staring at each other, eyeball to eyeball, and he kept getting closer and closer. I really should have known better but just as he was about 2 inches from my face, he headbutts me right on the nose. It was quite the painful sensation and I’m probably lucky my nose isn’t broken from it. Lesson learned, never let Yohan get that close to your face.
Andrew has taken over the recreation aspect of the mission recently. He’s doing a phenomenal job with it as it’s no easy task. The children love him. I can always hear them yelling for Andrew to come play with them. There are 2 variations to his name these days, Handrew and Andreuss, the first with a very strong H sound in the beginning and the second sounds just like Dr. Seuss. Yesterday, after we came upstairs for the evening, Andrew tells us about an interesting encounter that day. He walked into the center and heard Julio, who is probably 12 years old, and a few guys all huddled around Julio looking at something. Andrew went over to see what they were staring at. Julio had one single hair on his nipple and they all thought it was the weirdest thing. Then suddenly they are all lifting their shirts up and beginning to examine their own body hair situation. Andrew told them that it was normal since he was getting older and showed him his own chest hair. As he walked away, he heard one of them say “hold still!” And just like that, Julio’s single hair was no more.
Last weekend, we got to experience the First Communion of some of the children of Bajo Tejares. It was really wonderful. The church is quite small but is beautifully landscaped. As Andrew and I walked up to the church, we immediately saw Valeria with her communion group. She was the one who invited us and was so excited to see us there. She looked stunning in her communion dress. We also saw Nicole, the sponsor child of Andrew’s mother there, also looking beautiful in her dress. Interestingly enough, Nicole is a pretty quiet little girl who didn’t have too much of a connection with either Andrew or myself before the communion. Since that day, she comes up to us every time she is here to give us a hug. And even though I didn’t recognize anyone else, a little girl recognized me and came running up to me asking if I could make sure to get a picture of her brother taking his first communion. A few days before the communion, I had asked how long it would likely take. The answer I received was about an hour. Why I didn’t immediately double that time in my head is still a mystery. I live in Latin America now, I need to get on Latin American time. Sure enough, sitting in a packed church on wooden pews with no air conditioning, easily an hour and a half into the totally Spanish service, I realize that this is obviously a 2+ hour venture. Good Lord in Heaven. Situations like that are the humorous part of living in this culture and afterwards, you just can’t help but laugh.
Tuesday was my 26th birthday and I very much enjoyed celebrating it here in Costa Rica. Mack’s birthday falls around mine and since he was a rescue puppy, we don’t know the exact date. So we call my birthdate his as well. The night before, I made Mack a birthday cake for the first time. It was made of peanut butter, honey, vanilla, shredded carrots, and flour. It smelled quite delicious. For lunch, the entire staff and volunteers went out to Aroma’s. We had a fun time. After lunch, we let Mack eat his birthday cake. Initially, he just kept licking the icing off of it. Then Andrew crumbled it up for him so he knew to eat it all. And with his hands covered in cake and peanut butter icing, rubbed them all over my face. How lovely. Andrew also brought me a beautiful flower arrangement of orange roses. Tons of people wished me a Happy Birthday throughout the day here at the mission. Later that evening, we watched the results from the election to end the day. That’s the only part of the day I wish had turned out differently!
We’ve been doing a lot of Christmas shopping recently to prepare for the parties coming up in December. Felicia and I will walk to various stores in town and carry all kinds of things back on foot. It’s a bit of a workout. Our last trip, we ended up carrying 14 bottles of shampoo and conditioner back… and 2 gallons of milk. That was a bit much. Andrew and I have made our first solo trip to the Wal-Mart, which I should note that we only know how to get to via the airport. By via the airport I mean we turn into the arrivals and departures area, drive through to the exit, get back on the highway going the opposite direction, and get off at the Wal- Mart. I’m sure there is an easier way, we just don’t know it yet. I’ve also been working relentlessly on the Christmas party lists so that we are ready for the parties. We will have around 400 people coming to the parties this year and each person will receive their own gift bag and goodies inside. It’s a lot of work, but somebody’s gotta do it!
Lastly, people ask us often how the Spanish is coming along. I feel like it’s our version of “are we there yet?” It’s hard to give an exact answer because learning a language is such an abstract thing to track, but others think we are doing well. At the last tween girls meeting, I was standing with a few girls and one of the girls turned to the other and asked if I spoke any Spanish. The response, without hesitation, was “Oh yes, Ashley speaks Spanish.” A few people on staff have told us they think we are doing very well for the short amount of time we have been here. After all, 4 months is not as much time as it seems when it comes to learning a new language. At this point, we can make our way through almost any conversation with a teenager or adult who is willing to explain things to us if we don’t understand or speak slower. We are also doing much better understanding the little kids since we are spending so much time with that age group. Sometimes I think of random words or phrases in English and am amazed that I could actually say the same thing in Spanish if I wanted to. Most recently, we have had one of my former high school small group girls (Felicia) staying with us and she doesn’t speak any Spanish. Whenever she wants to speak to someone else here or someone wants to say something to her, a translator is required. It still surprises me when I am able to translate anything for anyone. It’s crazy to me that I am capable of doing that at this point. Speaking of Felicia… she was outside playing with a child this morning when an American woman came up to her and asked her how she was doing. Felicia responded that she was doing very well. The American woman patted her on the shoulder and told her that her English was so good. We all laughed at that one. That is one thing I enjoy here, being the resident expert in English!