I can hardly believe it’s been so long since my last blog. February flew by and I was too busy to write about it! What can I say, sometimes life happens and gets in the way of keeping up with the blog. In the last couple of days, I have been reading a few other blogs of people I know living abroad so now I am feeling inspired to keep on writing and capturing various memories of what’s been happening here. Plus countless people have told me they enjoy keeping up with us and the mission through the blog, which is equally inspiring.
This morning, I was laying bed scrolling through Facebook updates before actually getting out of bed. There is a slight chill in the air here today, mainly because of the wind, but it appears to be quite chilly in Jacksonville today. It had me thinking that I would love nothing more than to wake up in my cozy little home by the beach, throw on some clothes and a scarf, jump in the car with Mack, hit up the Starbucks on 3rd, and head to the dog park for the morning. How glorious it would be to be sipping on a deliciously warm venti caramel machiatto and watching Mack zip around the dog park enjoying life on a cool Saturday morning in Jax Beach. None of that is at all possible here, but it was sure nice to think about for a bit.
As I was sitting in the living room a little later, reading articles on my laptop this morning, our neighbor Maga walked up to the front door with fresh flowers for me. Any sad feelings about being anywhere but right here this Saturday morning had evaporated when she gave them to me ‘just because.’ In fact, as of late, I have hardly been able to enjoy any such pity parties in peace. Just yesterday, I went for a walk on my lunch break after being annoyed over something, determining I just wanted some time to myself to think through things. I don’t normally go for walks in the middle of the day so don’t you know I saw half the town on the walk where I wanted to be by myself. On my way up the hill, I notice a car approaching behind me and coming awfully close. I move out of the way only for it to stop next to me. It was Jenny and her boyfriend asking where I was going and if I wanted a ride. I told them I wanted the exercise, but thanks anyways. Then I passed one of the mothers sweeping her sidewalk near the top of the hill. She greeted me and asked “esta cansada, Ashley?” I wanted to answer with “dang straight I’m tired!” but I could hardly breath and didn’t know the correct translation for such a sentiment, so I just said “si” and kept on trucking. No more than two minutes later, Pabel comes zipping by in a taxi waving, likely on his way to the hospital with his wife to check out some complications she is having after her c-section. I make it just past the Hogar para Ancianos and hear a little voice calling my name from the other side of the street. It was Valeria waving to me on her walk home from school. I thought about how nice this half day at school must be for her since she usually has long, full days of rigorous schoolwork at her bilingual school. Maybe thirty seconds later, two teenagers come walking towards me on my side of the street, one of which is one of the more obnoxious 17 year old guys I have ever met in my lifetime and the other is his girlfriend. Why couldn’t Valeria have been on my side of the street and this kid on the opposite side? Literally right after passing these two, the cleaning lady at the mission is walking my way with a bag of groceries in her hand. We passed each other, exchanging comparable sentiments on how hot it was outside that day. I hadn’t even made it to the Maxi Pali yet and had already seen eight people I knew. Unbelievable. Once I got into town, things slowed a bit. I passed Musmanni, the bakery, which smells like heaven. Inside was one of the volunteers who has been coming to the mission. We had just laughed about our feast of sweets the day before that we all enjoyed for Laura’s last coffee on her last day working for the mission. The irony of passing by the bakery and seeing her picking out something delicious yesterday was enough to make me smile. Finally, I went to Aroma’s to grab a quick salad for lunch. Wouldn’t you know the director at Pura Vida Missions passes my table when headed to the restroom and stopped to say hello. Eleven people I know within an hour, all on a day where I wanted just an hour of solitude to be left to my own thoughts.
God has a sense of humor. Even though I assumed I wanted to just get out and be by myself, I come across so many people that care about me and I them. People that I really love. I love having connections that mean something with so many people. I like passing someone in the street and knowing their story. Never in my life did I ever think I would enjoy living in a small town. In fact, when I return to the States one day, it will be straight back to a large city for me. But it works for me here and I actually really enjoy going out somewhere and being guaranteed to know someone.
Anyways, back to what has actually been happening around here in the last month since my last blog. In the second week of February, we welcomed a small team from New Jersey. They were all Puerto Rican and spoke Spanish, what a blessing that was! Of course, Puerto Rican Spanish is different than Costa Rican Spanish… so I had to pay real close attention when they spoke, but I was getting it. One of my managers at the bank was Puerto Rican and his English was so fast I would struggle to keep up, forget about his Spanish. So in the speed sense, I understood better than I expected. What got me was the thick New Jersey accent on top of the Spanish. This group was so much fun though. They did some baseball down in the Bajo, crafts up here at the mission, and then nightly events for the various groups. We served hotdogs each night to the different ministry groups and let me tell you – I’ve never seen so many hotdogs!
The last two weeks have been the Beach UMC teams. This was a fun time for me because I knew several people coming on these trips and we were able to work alongside of them in their construction projects. They took on the sidewalk project down in the village. It looks amazing! I cannot even put into words what a blessing that will be when rainy season gets here. There are at least two slabs down there that I helped smooth out, so there’s something to be proud of! I admit, I didn’t do a wealth of work while down there with the team… but I wasn’t about to take jobs from people who had raised a good amount of money to come down here and serve in this capacity. Plus, I was just enjoying their company for the most part. I do have a quick but entertaining story from my time down there. In the first week, I volunteered to take a wheelbarrow of concrete down the stretch. I was excited since the wheelbarrow jobs are a hot commodity and I finally got my hands on one. So I carry it up to the mixer and set it down. Jack and Don tell me I need to stand there and hold it so it doesn’t fall over when the concrete starts pouring into it. How would I know any different? I wasn’t actually paying attention when the people before me went. And they said it with straight faces so who am I to doubt them? There I am, standing by my wheelbarrow when the concrete starts to pour. It started splattering everywhere! ALL over me. At this point, everyone is laughing hysterically. If you stand too close to the mixer when it’s pouring, you will end up with concrete all over you. Lesson learned. Actually, two lessons were learned; ask a third person to confirm instructions given by Jack and/or Don as they may be setting you up and stand far away from the mixer.
We’re already in March and I have no idea where all the time goes. In the last few weeks, we have hired several new staff members and said goodbye to one of the best we’ve ever had here, Laura. I’m impressed with the people we have hired thus far and I think they are doing a great job. Laura leaving was a difficult thing for us on several levels. She’s truly just a great person, but she was also really great at her job. Several months back when Laura told us she was leaving, I started making this conscious effort to hug all the children more. I know that sounds strange. It’s not as though I never hugged the children before, but it was usually if they came up to me for a hug, I would then hug them. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am not a very physical person, definitely not a touchy feely kind of person. So for me, it is a conscious effort to be the ‘initiator’ of the hug. But I am making the effort every day now with as many kids as possible because I know that’s something they are going to miss with Laura being gone. We had a really fun final get together for Laura over coffee on Thursday. We closed the mission early that day and originally planned a small gathering. That small gathering turned into a much larger one with coffee, my delicious brownies, pastries, heaping plates of oreos, homemade empanadas, a couple of gifts and impromptu speeches, and over twenty people. Staff, volunteers, friends. But it was a good time. It was also a good reminder of what it takes to keep this place going each and every day. Everybody brought something different to the table, literally – you cannot even imagine the variety of food we had there. But philosophically speaking, all of us bring something unique to this mission; talents, cultures, passions, personalities. All I can say is that it’s good to be a part of it all.