Well, we finally wrapped up Christmas party week at the mission which means we have now returned to the United States for the holidays! I am quite excited to be home for a couple of weeks for a variety of reasons. I have a list a mile high of restaurants and foods that I cannot wait to partake in. San Ramon just does not have the variety in cuisine that one would hope for. I am loving driving again! It is quite embarrassing, but I am still not great at driving stick shift. If San Ramon was flat land, I would be good to go… but it is not. And to quote a facebook status I saw recently of a friend also living abroad, “forgot how much I missed the little things like aquafina, eavesdropping and polite people.” I don’t do bottled water in Costa Rica like I used to here in the US, so I can appreciate that. It is even more remarkable how true the latter two thoughts are for me. Though I am slowly becoming more apt to eavesdropping in Spanish, nothing comes as easy as walking through a crowd of people and hearing all kinds of conversations happening around you in your own language. And polite people… ha! The funny thing is, I wrote everything up to this point in the blog before we made it back to the US… so the next part of this paragraph is just God’s sense of humor shining down on me. We touched down in Miami Thursday night and I walked into the restroom after going through customs and immigration. As I left the restroom, I of course bypassed the sinks and walked on out as I always do. I believe in the power of hand sanitizer myself so I never wash my hands in public restrooms. Just as I make it outside the restroom, a voice behind me says “not washing your hands? That is disgusting.” No, what is disgusting is that cesspool of germs called a public restroom. I was so in shock by this woman calling me out on not washing my hands, I had no words to even respond with. Welcome back to America. So as it seems, Americans are not the most well mannered folks in the world and every culture has a mean streak. But I will say, there’s the strangest sense of rudeness in basic things like holding the door, moving out the way in the middle of the aisle in the supermarket, waiting to cross the street an appropriate time, etc. in Costa Rica that’s enough to drive you insane. Perhaps Americans are such a fast paced group of people that we understand order and the flow of life a little better when it comes to those subtle things like walking down a sidewalk in an orderly fashion or doing simple grocery shopping without an 8 cart pile-up. I will enjoy the alleviation of such insanity while here in the states again.
Yesterday was a great first day back. I picked up my car from where it was being stored and started running errands. It was fabulous! In fact, it has never been so liberating making a deposit at the bank and going to Target. I loved being back in my Jeep cruising around town. It was ever so slightly chilly yesterday and after standing outside pumping my gas, I decided to turn the heat on for a few minutes. As I was driving down the road, nice and toasty, I kept thinking about the women’s Christmas party we hosted at the mission last week. Every woman was given a number when they came in and we did a drawing of the numbers one by one where they could come choose a gift from an assortment of things from towels to cooking utensils to beauty products. The items that went first were the blankets. Women were passing up all kinds of great things to have a simple blanket. My first and only thought was that maybe everyone in Bajo Tejares has a roof over their head but within their tiny little homes, they are trying to fall asleep at night in the cold. How nice it would be to fall asleep at night in a warm blanket. It made sense as I thought about how cold the apartment gets at night and the fact that I always wear socks and a sweatshirt, not to mention we sleep with a comforter and a blanket. In the warmth of my SUV, that is all I could think about.
As the day progressed, it amazed me how easy it was to slip into my old incredibly comfortable lifestyle. It took no time at all to realize that my life is still far too good for this world. Our entire day of travels through multiple airports had Andrew and I thinking about various people at the mission and what they would think of it all. When we flew over the beautiful downtown Miami area at night as it was all lit up, we imagined what the kids would think of such an experience. In recent months, I have debated whether I’d ever have a truly honest conversation about my life in the states before moving to Costa Rica with the teenagers or adults there in Bajo. They like to ask questions about random things, but I’d almost be embarrassed in some ways to tell them about my life in the US. How does one go about explaining that each morning after leaving my house, that sits 4 blocks off the beach, in my fully paid off SUV, driving down the road to work, I’d stop and get a $5 coffee from Starbucks so I could work the next 8-10 hours at a really good job, then come home in the evening and watch one of 200 channels of television, cook dinner with a fridge and pantry full of options for food or possibly just go out to eat if I didn’t feel like cooking, then take a nice hot shower and settle in to my queen size bed, but only after adjusting the AC or heat to the exact temperature I wanted it at while sleeping… They all think Americans have the perfect life which, as we all know, is not true. But they have no idea just how rich the lives of Americans have become compared with their current situation. The last thing I would ever want is for their life and mine to become a greater divide than it already is.
Just a few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with one of my favorite teens at the mission named Gema. We talk often about all kinds of things. Gema is very intelligent and level-headed for her age. I know she is capable of escaping poverty and I am confident she will one day. When she asked me what I did for a living before coming to Costa Rica, I knew where the conversation had the potential to go. I explained to her that I worked at a bank after studying finance at university. She asked if I made a lot of money and I knew there were two options for this answer. I could say yes, which is the truth by her standards and most of the rest of the world’s standards for that matter. Or I could say no, because by American standards, my salary was quite average. I had a great job, no doubt about that, and plenty of money for the lifestyle we chose to live. Nonetheless, I told her that I did make good money because I knew it was the safer option for the question yet to come. Of course, Gema asked how much I made. The concept of amazing healthcare coverage, 4 weeks of vacation time a year, and a 401k would be lost on her, so I merely calculated my salary out per month in colones and began to write it down. The conversion rate is approximately 500 colones to $1, so you can imagine the many zeros I had to write out. Before I finished my zeros, she was dumbfounded. It seemed unbelievable that you could make that much money in a month. Especially unbelievable when I told her that was just my salary, not including Andrew’s. As I said, I was hesitant to have this conversation with anyone during my stay in Costa Rica, but I had a feeling this was the right person to do it with. She then asked why I would come to Costa Rica and give that up. It was the perfect opportunity to tell Gema that God sent me there to the mission so I could help the people of Bajo Tejares.
I am grateful for the life that I have. Words don’t really do that statement justice, but I am truly grateful. I am going to enjoy this time with my family and friends immensely. There are a million and one things here that remind me of how lucky I am and of what I need to stay focused on in life. But that’s a good thing. All the little reminders are vital, because without the reminders, I run the risk of slipping back into the overly indulgent, rich and comfortable lifestyle that we as Americans are used to living. Without the reminders, we all risk forgetting about the rest of the world and the life that they live.