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Paradise January 28, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyNDavis @ 12:05 am
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This past weekend was a reminder of what living in paradise is like. Yesterday, we got to sleep in and enjoy a good, long night’s sleep. It sounds so simple… yet never guaranteed. Recently, the pastor and youth have been doing some prayer or worship meetings early in the mornings. On a Saturday, I define anything prior to 9:00 a.m. as early. In that sense, I guess what I am really referring to with these morning meetings is really early. A couple of weeks ago, we awoke to music blaring downstairs right around 6:00 a.m. To be honest with you, I am not sure why people think the earliest hours of the day are so much more holy than any other time of day. For night owls, like myself, midnight is far more holy to me than 6:00 a.m. Nonetheless, this is quite the tangent I’ve gone off on only to let you know that we got to sleep in to the hour of our choosing, and it was delightful!

Around noon, Andrew and I drove up to his gym. On Saturdays, we’ll either walk or drive to his gym and then I will go on my own adventures while he works out. The neighborhood that the gym is in is quite quaint. The gym itself is down a street that is almost completely residential. It is a little odd to pass all of these houses and come to the next door in line and have it be a gym. I don’t think they believe in any really zoning codes here. After Andrew heads into the gym, I take off on a walk into town. As I said, the neighborhood is quaint, but I do tend to haul it past this one house. A few weeks ago, I was walking to the market and an elderly woman was standing in her yard by the gate. As I approached, she seemed to be getting increasingly agitated by my presence. I could hardly understand anything she was mumbling about though. And then one of the few Spanish curse words I knew flew out of her mouth, then again, and again. Each time was louder than the last. This old lady was calling me a whore in Spanish! I can’t blame that on a cultural difference so much as a generational one. My thought is if I walked into a nursing home in the states wearing shorts and a tank top, I may very well get the same reaction out of at least one person there. I’m hardly making excuses for the woman, after all, she did call me a whore. But I tell you this story to point out why Saturday turned out even better for me than expected. The woman wasn’t even standing outside when I walked by to be able to scream nasty things as I passed. Point for me.

Yesterday, I brought my iPad on my walk with the intent of heading to the park to read. Most of the time, I like to venture off the main road to see different stores, bodegas, restaurants, and whatever else exists in the town center. I like to think of my walks as fact-finding missions, of sorts. I have the worst sense of direction out of anyone I have ever known so I am often glancing down streets to test myself on whether I remember certain landmarks or places I have been before. As I was walking, I passed the street where I thought the Indian store to be. It’s a fun store to check out from time to time. I paused at the corner and checked to make sure I was right on the location. I was. But I also saw an interesting looking café. I walked across the street to check it out. The best part of cafes in town during daytime is that they have their doors wide open and it feels like an indoor/outdoor type deal. I decided to take a glance at the menu and consider stopping here to read instead of continuing on to the park. After all, it was lunchtime and I hadn’t eaten anything that day yet.

The friendly woman at the counter was able to convince me the hamburgers on the menu there were tasty. You need to be able to read people very well when asking about burgers in this country. Most places have awful burgers here, nothing like what you’d find in the US unless your highest standard for a good cheeseburger there is McDonalds. But, I believed the woman and ordered the quesoburguesa sliders and a Coca Cola Light. As I sat down at a sleek-looking, modern table, propped open my iPad, and starting sipping on my diet coke, I thought this must be the scene people play out in their mind when they dream about living abroad. Walking into a fabulous café on a Saturday afternoon, relaxing with a good book, listening to the hustle and bustle of people outside walking from store to store shopping. This is the life people dream about. After about an hour, and two delicious sliders later, I joined the hustle and bustle outside as I walked back to the gym to meet Andrew.

Now that I have made people nice and jealous, I’ll share a humorous piece of paradise with you that will set you right back to a state of non-jealousy. When I returned home from my adventure in town, I was ready for a shower. As I get in the shower, I see two little black legs coming out of the crack where the wall meets the ceiling. A spider. A wretched, awful, good for nothing spider. My experiences with spiders here in Costa Rica are too many to count. Just last week while in the shower, I spotted one climbing the wall. I made eye contact with that sucker every 15 seconds or so until the death defying moment when I realized I hadn’t checked on the spider in 3 to 4 minutes. My heart skipped several beats until I located it again. I have also implemented the hard and fast rule of shaking out all towels from the rack or the shelf before using them to dry off. Two times now, I have pulled a folded towel off the shelf or grabbed my towel hanging on the rack and had spiders come flying out. One dead and one alive.

So now I take precautions, lots of precautions, which is why I knew I had to kill this spider lurking half way between the openness of the shower and the darkness of the ceiling. I should also note that some spiders are dainty, fragile looking things (not to be taken any less seriously, in my opinion) and then there are dark black, thick looking spiders. The lurker was of the latter variety. I grabbed the showerhead down and contemplated how fast I could get out of the shower if the spider survived the fall down and started scurrying. I changed the sprayer to jet speed and aimed upward. Lucky for me, he didn’t start scurrying when I sprayed him down. Then again, I had him pinned into a corner with the water and he was likely drowning quite rapidly. I sent the spider flying to the drain in the other corner like he was rafting on white water rapids. Once down the drain, and for safe measure, I grabbed the bottle of dog shampoo and started squirting it down the drain. If he had survived my attempted drowning, he was now going to be ingesting dog shampoo.

I tell you this to show that even paradise has its drawbacks from time to time!


Camp Brittney January 20, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyNDavis @ 6:04 pm
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I am embarrassed to admit just how long this post has been sitting in the draft stage… nonetheless, here’s the previously promised Camp Brittney post!

We’ve had an exciting couple of weeks here at the mission since we opened back up for 2013. On day 1, we got news from the director at Camp Brittney that they were very excited to have our kids there for summer camp the following week. Wait, what? Our kids? Upon hearing this, Laura and I were a little confused as we weren’t actually aware that our kids were going to camp the following week. There had been talk of dates and spots available, but this was quite a surprise to us. A good surprise. Chapin UMC had already paid for and arranged everything for 40 of our kids to go, so the clock was ticking to get everyone ready for it!

Luckily, Laura and I already had a running list of kids age 7 to 11 that had not yet been to camp. The unfortunate part was that the mission had just opened back and hardly any kids were there to talk to about camp. As I started sending emails and getting all the details sorted out, Laura took off into Bajo with her list to seek the kids out and tell them about camp. The idea of an overnight summer camp is foreign to a lot of people here. Some of these kids have never travelled outside of this city.  Parents have often never been separated from their children for an extended amount of time. Believe it or not, it takes some convincing for the parents to let them go.  At this point, I was quoting the Hunger Games in my mind, “May the odds be ever in our favor!”

For the next couple of days, we were scarmbling to get forms filled out. The excitement was in the air though. Every kid that was on our list would let me or Laura or Andrew know, with great pride, that they were going to camp the next week. I’ve mentioned Stefren in a post before about funny things. That crazy little guy packed his suitcase 5 days early. That’s the kind of excitement I’m talking about! I was able to get Dulce, one of my most favorite little girls and my sponsor child, on the list at the last minute. Her family had spent some time in Guanacaste visiting family recently and weren’t here when we made the list. I saw her at church that Sunday and asked her mom and dad if she could go to camp the next day. I gave them all the details. Luckily, her dad was standing right there and able to help convince the mom. She nervously said yes. When I walked back down to the church a little later, Dulce sat with her best friend Anny playing on the sidewalk. As soon as I turned the corner, she told me how excited she was to go to camp. We were also able to send Valeria, who I’ve also mentioned in previous posts. She´s unbelievably smart and goes to the best bilingual school in this city. It’s very pricey, but Valeria is the first child to receive a full academic scholarship to go there. As you can imagine, this means she is the poorest child in her class – scratch that – in her entire school. Laura came to me when we were finalizing the list and asked what I thought about Valeria going to summer camp for a second time as she had already been last year. We had already filled as many spaces as possible with newbies so I wasn’t opposed to the idea. But Laura felt the need to explain her reasoning to me. She wanted to make sure that Valeria got to do something really cool this summer knowing that when she returned back to school in February, her classmates will have travelled to the US, Europe, or other amazing places and done amazing things. After all, these are all of the extremely wealthy kids of this area. She just didn’t want Valeria to feel any less special than anyone else in her class. I certainly wasn’t against her going before, but now I too insisted she go. This was important for her.

Monday rolled around and everyone was ready for camp. The bus pulled up and all the children were waiting with their parents for their name to be called. Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, neighbors, volunteers and our whole staff came out to see the kids off. Hugs all around, smiles as the kids eagerly loaded the bus, a “good luck” pat on the back to Jenny, and a sigh of relief on Laura and I’s part once they were finally off!

While I didn’t go to camp myself, I saw all the pictures and got the scoop from Jenny on the week. There were definitely some funny stories to come out of that week. I learned the Spanish word “sonambulos” which means sleepwalkers. That will give you an idea of just how much fun Jenny had chaperoning that trip. There is a good size swimming pool at the camp and that was a hugely popular activity. Most parents were apprehensive about the pool since a lot of kids don’t know how to swim. After all, where would they learn that at? We live in the mountains here in San Ramon. So an added bonus of camp is that some of the kids even learned how to swim that week. They were fed breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Eating 3 meals a day? That in itself was a highlight for many of the kids. Not to mention, they got to go back for seconds, or thirds in some cases. Imagine being able to feast like that for a week, eating enough that you were not just full, but a tad past that. That full, satisfied feeling is a luxury that most of us take for granted. The camp counselors did all kinds of stuff with the kids from skits to games to small group bible study to large group worship. You name it, they did it.

As to be expected, the kids loved every moment of it. I loved looking through the pictures from their week at camp. Pictures rarely do things justice, but if that kind of joy radiates from the pictures, I can only imagine what kind of joy I would have seen in the kids eyes had I been there in person. If you want to see the Camp Brittney website and gain insight as to why they do what they do, check out the link below. It’s a pretty neat story!


Un Dia en La Vida January 8, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyNDavis @ 12:25 am
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It’s hard to describe a typical day in the life of Andrew and I. I know a lot of people ask and I can usually paint a pretty picture of what the ideal day should look like, but no two days are ever the same. Sometimes I find myself thinking things like ‘God, just give me a boring, uneventful day today’ or ‘maybe we can just have a normal couple of days?’ Ha, we passed “normal” a long time ago and booked it on to “chaotic” with little hesitation. So our far too eventful life didn’t let up this past week. Last night we took a trip to the ER for Andrew to try and figure out what could possibly be causing a barrage of symptoms that seemed unrelated, yet connected somehow. Nonetheless, at least I was able to be with Andrew during his second ER experience.

Just around midnight, we woke up Pastor Maiko and asked him to go to the hospital with us. He agreed of course, after all, where would be without a little help from our friends? So off we go. There were only a couple of people sitting on the benches waiting to be seen by the one and only doctor on shift at night. Seemed safe to say that we’d be seen shortly. Oh, wait. This is Latin America. When will I learn to stop making such assumptions regarding timing and schedules while here? I digress. After much waiting and no movement on anyone’s part, Maiko walks inside the building and starts asking questions. We make our way in the building and to the admissions area which no one outside on the benches seemed to realize was the first step to being seen. Lucky for us, we bypassed the people that were “ahead of us” on the benches outside by being the first inside. One might think that a hospital employee might mention these things to people. One would be 100% incorrect in such lofty assumptions. The woman at the admissions desk asked for Andrew’s name and noted that he was already in the system. Thanks for adding insult to injury, lady. Luckily, from this point in the process, we actually didn’t have to wait that much longer. I glanced at the stoplight diagram that categorized the order in which patients would be seen, red meaning you’ve got a serious medical situation that needs to be dealt with ASAP and green meaning that you’ll be waiting a while. When Andrew got called back, I noticed the amarillo (yellow) status on his file. I wasn’t all too sure whether to be excited that we passed the green and were ready to be seen before the others or worried that we weren’t just at the green light. A quick glance back at the woman at the admissions desk erased all worry as she hardly looked qualified to categorize medical needs, in this case we just got lucky.

We went back to a little room that reminded me most of Mack’s old vet office. Clean, but not overly clean. There was a container on the wall holding bright red vomit bags. I have no idea why that caught my eye, but it did. The doctor did all his normal stuff when we got back there. Checked vitals, listened to breathing, checked ears and throat, etc. We had Maiko to translate, though the doctor hardly seemed interested in most of what we were explaining to him. My opinion is you need to be seriously afraid for your health to take a chance with the Costa Rican socialized healthcare system because it is all luck of the draw. No doubt, Andrew was definitely beginning to panic over his health last night so there was no other option. But it needs to be at panic mode to be worthwhile to roll the dice in the San Ramon ER. Alas, the doctor hands us four slips of paper and we head out of there with no real answers but hopefully some useful drugs. We check out with the admissions woman one last time. I thought at this point we would pay for services rendered, but she didn’t ask for any kind of payment. Albeit odd, we just went on to the next stop with our slips of papers.

Even though it was probably 1:00 a.m. and pitch black outside, you’d think they could turn on a few lights inside the hospital. Here we are wondering down dimly lit halls trying to find the ‘farmacia’ in an old and grungy looking hospital and all I can think about is the Walking Dead coming back on air in February. In the farthest possible location, we walk up to a window at the very end of the hall and turn in our slips of paper. After a few minutes, we are given a baggy of prescription strength ibuprofen and a vial to be taken to the ‘inyectables’ section of the hospital and administered there. This is just as horrendous as it sounds, especially if you have a fear of needles like Maiko and I do. Good thing it was Andrew going through this and not us. We get to the ‘inyectables’ section and the nurses takes the vial and prepares the IV for Andrew. I should note that it is also a good thing that Andrew’s veins are easy to find and the nurse got it on the first try. The guy sitting across from us – not so lucky. In fact, terribly unlucky as the nurses alternated attempts, six or seven times later. Once the drip was started, we all began to just watch and wait. There were three bags to go through and watching liquid flow drip by drip is more painful than watching the grass grow. We knew it’d be at least an hour. Maiko drifted off quite easily. I sat and watched the drip for a bit longer, trying to calculate exactly what kind of timeframe we were looking at. Finally, I began to drift off myself. On the brink of my own slumber, all I could think of is ‘God, please give me enough energy to get all these kids off to summer camp tomorrow!’ And just like that, I was out.

In general, I’d probably advise against falling asleep in an emergency room setting in the middle of the night solely because you have no idea what you might wake up to. In our case, it was a blood curdling scream coming from God knows where. After that, I didn’t care to fall back to sleep. Probably couldn’t have if I had tried after the next patient walked through the door. She was moaning and groaning, grasping her stomach, all of this in four inch wedges, a fuchsia halter top and a mini skirt… ain’t nothing getting in the way of a Latina’s fashion statement! There was another girl with her attempting to calm her down. The girl was holding a little, folded plastic red bag. Oh where, oh where had I seen that before? Ah, the vomit bags! As soon as I saw it, I took one fearful glimpse at Andrew. Now if you didn’t previously know this, let me inform you now… Andrew has a legitimate fear of throw up. The woman grasped the vomit bag and started making ungodly noises. I looked back at Andrew, sitting within two feet of the woman, and he’s got his hands to his ears blocking out the sound and his eyes closed slowly and gently rocking himself back and forth. I could hardly contain the laughter so I too just looked down and covered my face. She didn’t end up throwing up, thank the Lord. But nothing forgives those awful noises she was making.

Somewhere around 3:00 a.m., the drips were done and we were on our way home. I slept soundly last night and nearly jumped out of bed this morning when I thought about all I had to do today. God gave me the energy I needed to make it through the entire day and much was accomplished. Two full cups of coffee helped the situation along a little. I fielded countless questions from the kids, staff, and everyone else in between who wanted to know how Andrew was doing. Our neighbor even scurried over this evening with a homemade remedy and then 20 minutes later came back over with dinner for Andrew and I. We are very lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful people here day in and day out. As I said, it was a busy day at the mission and there was much to be done but the highlight was, without a doubt, watching 39 of our kids load the bus for summer camp. They were so excited! I was so excited for them. And I am more than delighted to report on camp this week in my next blog post so stay tuned. I should note that Andrew’s highlight of the day was watching Alabama destroy Notre Dame in the Championship game tonight. Roll Tide!


You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers? January 3, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyNDavis @ 7:05 pm
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Back to work we go! Andrew and I had a wonderful vacation in the United States visiting our family and friends for Christmas. It was just over two weeks of nonstop meetings and gatherings with everyone we wanted to see. Perhaps you don’t realize just how many important people you have in your life until you are trying to catch up with all of them in a short amount of time. Though we got to see nearly every person we wanted to see while in Jacksonville, we still didn’t get to spend tons of time with any one particular person. It made us cherish the moments we did have with everyone that much more.

The question that we were most asked while in the States was “is it weird being back?” The answer we gave every single time was “Yes,” but there was often not much else to add to that. I think things have turned from a simple black and white world into varying shades of grey, and right now, we are in some shade of grey that is hard to describe. What was most difficult for me is trying to not offend anyone, particularly family, when referring to ‘home’ as somewhere else besides Jacksonville, Florida. I lived in Jacksonville my entire life, minus the short stint at college in Tallahassee, before moving to Costa Rica. Trust me when I say, the city of Tallahassee has never vied for the title of home in my mind. But for now, home is San Ramon, Costa Rica.

That leads to the second most frequently asked question, “so are you moving back in the summer?” The answer to that is also its own unique shade of grey, not so black and white. The real answer is we have no idea. We committed to one year here, so I can nearly guarantee they aren’t getting rid of us until at least the end of summer! But we cannot agree to coming back to the US until we know the mission is OK without us. Let me explain a bit, and then hopefully that answer will make more sense. 2013 brings about a year of great change here at FSM. We have had a lot of staff turnaround from 2012 to 2013, and for all completely viable reasons. To name a few, one of our teacher’s assistants just had a baby a couple of months ago and is going to be a stay at home mom. Our administrator of this mission since its inception is relocating to the coast because her husband has accepted a great job out there with the coast guard. From the outside looking in, perhaps it looks like the perfect storm… but that’s not the way we see it. For reasons like these, we are excited for the opportunities and reasons that they are leaving and wish them well. We have been very lucky at FSM to know that our staff has been and will always be like a family. We need to fill a lot of positions and will take our time in doing so to make sure the right people are working here. One thing is for certain, Andrew and I have become familiar faces here at the mission and we aren’t going to leave these kids until we know they are comfortable with new staff. We’ll figure that out when the time is right.

Aside from staff changes, there are other changes happening here at the mission that we are an integral part of and need to see through. FSM has recently begun to partner with a community action alliance of San Ramon. This is a group of mainly expats, along with some locals, who wish to improve this community and the lives of the people in it. We hosted a meeting for this group just after Thanksgiving to introduce the mission and community of Bajo Tejares to them. The members of the alliance were very receptive and ready to jump in and help serve the people of Bajo. From that meeting, we have made extremely valuable connections with people in the community. We have recently met with the director in the ministry of culture who would like to offer our kids free music lessons in a well-established music school in the community, an opportunity they would have never had before. FSM was invited to participate in a round table discussion of needs and issues within the area with the US ambassador recently, all through the connection we now have with the alliance. Hopefully, we can leverage our connection with the US ambassador to connect with the Nicaraguan embassy. Most of our people in Bajo are Nicaraguan and it could be an invaluable connection to have. The alliance would like to partner with us to create a sustainable project for the people of this community that could provide jobs for the long run. We are looking at several options that would be appealing to the government and corporations doing business here in order to apply for a grant to make it happen. The opportunities are blooming here in Bajo and FSM is a huge part of whether those opportunities continue to bloom and flourish or evaporate into thin air.

There are many things happening here at the mission these days. It took no time at all for Andrew and I to realize there was much to be done upon our return and we are right where we need to be. Yesterday was our first day back to work. Jessica, our former administrator, is no longer here as I said earlier. Laura has agreed to be the interim director until we fill the position. I walked into Jessica’s office yesterday morning and was taken aback by the bare walls and lack of personal touch that once existed in the office. Laura looked at me with a sigh of relief when I walked through the door. It’s as though neither of us needed to say it but we both knew how much we’d need the other in the upcoming weeks and months. I was so used to coming downstairs in the morning and seeing Jessica and continuing on with our daily tasks in English. Jessica was one of the few people I always spoke English with and it made our lives so much easier when dealing with the finances and day to day administration of the mission. Now Laura and I have always spoken Spanish with one another, but there was something different about walking in the door yesterday morning and knowing there was no other option. I love Laura and have learned more Spanish from her than anyone else here, but she is ruthless when it comes to that English. She has spoken probably seven or eight English words to me total since I got here on July 5th. It has to be an absolute emergency for her to give in and say the English word. So we began to work our way through the tasks at hand, solely in Spanish. Maybe God sensed my moment of panic and tried to offer up some sort of relief because I was understanding everything she was saying, and she was making do with my Spanish. Interestingly enough, Andrew and I both feel like we haven’t lost even the slightest bit of fluency we had prior to our trip to the US. It’s a good thing too because Andrew’s in so deep on the playground that the “no hablo español” stuff won’t work for him anymore, even if he tried. In the airport in San Jose, we were standing at the baggage claim when an announcement came over the loud speaker, first in Spanish then followed by choppy English. Afterward, I told Andrew I understood more of the Spanish than the choppy version of my own language.

Just as a fun test on God’s part, we had some interesting curve balls thrown our way in the first couple of days back at work. One of which was the battery on the mission truck going dead. Normally, this situation would be handled by Jessica and Andrew or I would be able to discuss the details with her in English. Not anymore. Laura, her brother Jason, Ronald the guard, Andrew and I all stood around the car this morning with the hood open staring down the situation. All of us but Jason, who happens to know a thing or two about cars, were staring quite blankly truth be told. Here we are, trying to discuss the car situation in Spanish, which I might add is a whole different set of vocabulary than anything we’ve encountered before. We certainly never had a “Car Problems” quiz in my Spanish classes growing up. Not to mention, it’s quite terrifying to me to be in a crowd, albeit a small crowd, of people and have to speak their language knowing that it’s going to be butchered quite nicely as soon as I open my mouth. But when there are no other options, you do what you have to do. We discussed, we problem solved, and now we officially have a new battery in the truck as well as some newly acquired Spanish car mechanic lingo. All is well on that home front.

So as it seems, we might be in for an interesting experience here over the next few months. If nothing else, we now realize how incredibly lucky we were before to even have a couple of bilingual people around. But in many ways, it feels like a whole new adventure. You will never know how far you’ve come and what you’ve learned until it’s time to fly on your own. It may very well take Laura and I three times as long to discuss payroll, water bills, and municipality taxes along with whatever else comes up, but out of fierce loyalty to this mission and a crazy love for these kids, we are more than willing to stumble through all of this. I’ve learned more new vocab today than I did in probably the whole month of November. At the end of this journey, I am sure we’ll all get more than a few laughs out of this whole experience!

As we closed up today, Laura looked at me and said “We’re doing alright, right?” I thought, ‘Of course we are! Look at all we’ve accomplished today. Plus, who doesn’t like a challenge from time to time?’ But my mind hurt too bad from all the Spanish problem solving that took place today to say all that, so I just responded with “Yes, we are doing alright.” The truth is we’re figuring it out, nobody’s giving up, and the kids are still laughing and enjoying life here at the mission like they always do. So I’d say we are doing more than just alright, we’re doing pretty dang good.