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.