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Thank You November 30, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 10:57 am
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In 16 short months of life in Costa Rica serving as a missionary, I have learned a ton. In fact, “a ton” is highly understating the number of lessons I’ve learned. I wish I could come up with words to describe all the ways I’ve grown as a person throughout all of this. When I think of cramming all that I’ve learned while doing this into just over a year’s time, it sounds like crazy talk. For all the many people who have helped me learn and grow in my time here, I’d like to say thank you. You have taught me much.

Thank you to the founders of FSM for teaching me about not being afraid of the challenges that exist in this world. I am no longer so overwhelmed by what needs to change that I am too scared to take the first step. I can imagine many years ago that it seemed like a crazy idea to think we could actually change Bajo Tejares in real, tangible ways through this mission. But that craziness didn’t stop the founders from carrying through the vision God had for this community. What if it had? What if they were too afraid to take on something like this? We’d have a lot of people in this community a lot farther from God. We’d have a lot of kids continuing to struggle with their education and continuing the cycle of giving up. There would be a void of happiness that this mission brings. We’d miss out on the laughter of the children when they come here to play and experience what safe and secure feels like. There are a few of us here at the mission still that knew Larry personally. Occasionally, one of us will say something like “What would Larry have done in this situation?” First and foremost, we want to do whatever God would have us do. But I always think it’s interesting that we can think about things by asking what Larry would have done and simultaneously understand that that is what God would want us to do as well. I think that goes for all the founders honestly. That’s when you know that you’ve been fortunate enough to have great leaders in the faith to look up to. For that, I am also grateful.

Thank you to the mission teams and volunteers that have come through here in our time because from them I have learned the true meaning of being one body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” Sometimes you hear verses over and over, but until you have seen it lived out, they are just words on a page. I’m fortunate to have seen what it’s like to work together as the body of Christ with many, many people from all over the world. It has taught me that we all bring something to the table and it would be a grave misfortune for any one of us to break away from what God would have us be as one.

Thank you to the tween and teen girls who have taught me how vitally important it is to treat others as you wish to be treated. It is something so simple that we all learn in elementary school. Yet somehow, I’ve come to appreciate this group of girls so much for always being gracious. There are a group of them that have never given up on me and my pitiful Spanish. In the beginning, it must have been a huge headache for them. Now, we talk and talk and talk. Don’t get me wrong, my Spanish isn’t amazing now by any stretch of the imagination, but it gets the job done. It would have never even gotten to that point of such easy conversation if they had stopped bothering a long time ago. I am so grateful that they never gave up on me. I know that I don’t ever want to give up on anyone when they are making a genuine effort in whatever aspect of life it may be in. You never know the fruits that your efforts could bare on either side of that situation.

Thank you to our generous sponsors who have taught us so much about God’s faithfulness. God is faithful to provide and it’s been proven to us over and over again. We could never have done what we’ve done here without people being generous and believing in what we came here to do.

Thank you to a few of my closest friends back home for teaching me the value of wise counsel. I can’t even recall the countless hours spent discussing my life here and the challenges that have come up. I am lucky to have friends that listen without fail but never tell me what I want to hear just because I want to hear it. To listen unconditionally is a marvelous thing. But to have friends who only tell you what you want to hear is a terrible thing. I have genuine, honest friends who may not have known all the characters in the scene and perhaps couldn’t even follow all the complexities of what was happening, but gave their best, straightforward advice that they could offer up. I’ve always been very appreciative to have friends that are true Proverbs 13:20 amigos. I can certainly look back on the past year and say that I have been walking with the wise, maybe from another country, but we’ve still walked this path together.

Thank you to my fellow gringos here in San Ramon for reminding me of the importance of fellowship and how important your own culture will always be to you. It’s not always easy being immersed in a culture so different from your own, but I have greatly appreciated my time spent with other Americans as a small escape back to my “normal” when I needed a break.

Thank you to the college kids of Bajo Tejares for clearly exemplifying what it means to not give up. We have six kids currently studying at university and two more graduating this year who will begin their college coursework next year. The drop-out rate is unbelievably high in this particular neighborhood. I would attribute that partly to the cycle of poverty and uneducated families continuing generation after generation. When the vast majority of parents here are illiterate and unable to assist their kids with any of their homework ever, it makes it difficult for children to grow up and succeed. This mission is slowly helping to break that cycle. More and more teenagers are working hard and being encouraged to keep going. But to the leaders of the pack who have faced more adversity than any other kids here, thank you for having the courage to do what others have said you can’t. And I will just say that some of those people who discouraged them to continue on have come from within their own families. Ponder that for a moment. What’s more, thank you to the college kids for being the example for the young ones that will hopefully follow in your footsteps.

Thank you to our wonderful families who have supported us immensely throughout this process. They have proven that being far from each other is in fact difficult, but not impossible. I’m grateful for family that understood that we needed to go.

Thank you to so many people back home who have taught me the incredible importance of encouragement through positive words and prayers. I never saw myself as the kind of person who needed to hear words of encouragement often but it has strengthened me greatly throughout our time here. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” Being the recipient of all the encouragement I have received will forever make me want to encourage others in the same way.

Thank you to my husband Andrew who has and will forever lead by example in what it means to serve others selflessly, continuously, and without complaining. You will not come across anyone who will work harder at serving others than him. We’ve put in more hours here than I can imagine any job ever requiring.  There have been too many times to count that I have been so exhausted and wanted to take an evening off from something or skip this or that, but Andrew was there to encourage me to keep going. His example has taught me much. He doesn’t get nearly as much credit because he tends to not be the upfront, go-to person for people outside of the mission and the big decision maker like I have been. I will say this much though, we are a package deal and I wouldn’t have been nearly as successful here without him by my side.

Thank you to the children of Bajo Tejares who have opened my eyes in too many ways to count and have taught me that everyone has a story. Always be compassionate. You never know what that story may be. Unfortunately, I’ve heard some terrible life stories here and it devastates my soul. I want to know every story of every child here, but that would take years and years. I’m grateful to even know just a small portion of the kids well enough to know their stories. And though they break my heart, I think it makes Romans 12:15 more and more important for me to remember. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” I’ve shared in a bit of both with the children here. I love the times of rejoicing because it multiplies the happiness. I think we would all bypass the weeping part given the chance, but I think it’s a good thing that the kids always have people here to share in that with them too when it comes up.

Lastly, thank you to God for choosing an average person like me to do something extraordinary like this. I have no idea why He’d ever choose me to do all of this. I often think that I don’t do nearly enough here to deserve all the blessings I keep receiving. There are so many precious memories that I will forever cherish from this place and these people and this time in my life. One of my favorite verses in the Bible comes from the Old Testament when God brings the Israelites into the Promised Land. Joshua 21:45 says “Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” God has taught me to believe in the change that will take place in this world, and to believe that it could involve me if I allow Him to use me.

I sometimes attach songs to memories. When I hear “Thank You” by Mozella, it always reminds me of Costa Rica. It probably always will. Anyways, here is a link to the song on youtube and the lyrics.

 

Mixed up and lost

You showed me love at no cost

And when nobody else cared

You were there

 

Down on my luck

You helped my life get unstuck

And when the world went away

You stayed

 

Thank you for the good times

Thank you for your love

Thank you for the joy you’ve given me

Yeah, yeah, thank you

 

You fight off my enemies

You’d take a bullet for me

And you know I’d do the same for you

‘Cause that’s how we roll

Connected at the soul

And I just want you to know how I feel

 

Thank you for the good times

Thank you for your love

Thank you for the joy you’ve given me

Yeah, yeah, thank you

 

Thank you for loving me every day

Thank you for showing me the way

Thank you for things that I’d never say

Thank you for the good times

Thank you for your love

Thank you for the joy you’ve given me

Yeah, yeah, thank you, thank you

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Happiness and Sadness, Laughs and Tears November 25, 2013

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again I’m sure, but time is flying by. The days seem long which is normal here, but the weeks feel so short. It is already Sunday and we are ready to start a new week again tomorrow.

Last week was filled with all kinds of happiness and sadness, laughs and tears. It was the last week of programs. That came as a shock to me since I didn’t realize that until late Monday. Unfortunately, Jafeth (my replacement with the preschoolers) only got to do the program with me a few days. I know that wasn’t the best training he could have gotten. He will be OK though, he’ll just learn quite rapidly next year on his own of what works for him and the kids. On the last day of programs Thursday, I was standing in the bathroom putting my make-up on. When I am by myself, I enjoy praying aloud and talking to God as if he were standing next to me. So as I was thanking God for the opportunity of being the preschool teacher over the last year or so, I just lost it. There I was, attempting to put make-up on, while crying uncontrollably and having it all come right back off. When Jafeth and I started the morning program, Jafeth asked whether we should sing songs or not. I remember saying “it’s up to you Jafeth, the program is almost yours since this is my last day.” I almost teared up then at the thought of it. After our afternoon class, I went to bring my computer upstairs to the apartment like I always do. Instead of heading back downstairs, I just had to spend some time sitting by myself. I cried and cried and cried over it all. I’m someone who rarely cries and is not very emotional, but I knew this moment would come. The thing is, I know the kids will be in good hands next year. Unfortunately, right now all I can think about is how I am going to miss them like crazy. I hate that I won’t be here to see their accomplishments and improvements, to encourage them, to see them on their first day of school next year, etc. But it is what it is, and right now it is difficult.

Friday was a cheerful day, and thank God for that. We spent the day decorating the mission for Christmas. I have to say that while I may have been the one to buy the decorations and clearly I love how it all looks, everyone else thinks so too! Even though everything is garnet and gold, I’m not being biased here. The church looks the best I have ever seen it for Christmas. The morning of decorating kicked off with Jenny and I going to buy the Christmas trees. This is the wildest thing. I asked Jenny where we would go to buy the tree this year. She said it was pretty far and hard to explain how to get there. That’s when I decided to go with her so I could go ahead and buy our tree for the apartment at the same time. In my mind, I was thinking as soon as she said far and complicated that it must be the place Jessica took us last year to get our tree. Sure enough, that’s the place we pulled up to. I looked around and didn’t see any Christmas trees. The guy was on the phone when we pulled up so we sat in the car and waited. I told Jenny the story of going to this exact place last year and there being no trees left and we had to head to another tree lot back the other direction. I even jokingly told her that this guy was about to direct us to the same place as last year since there were clearly no trees here.

After he got off the phone, Jenny went to ask him where the trees were. I sat in the car waiting patiently and watching. When Jenny got back in the car she told me that he didn’t have any trees and that we could go to Los Jardines because they still had them. I asked her where that was and she said by her house meaning we’d have to go back where we came from and then some to get to this place. I asked Jenny if she knew what déjà vu was and she said “si,” and repeated the same thing back to me but with a Spanish accent. We started driving to this other place and the moment we pulled up, it was the craziest feeling. It was the same exact place that we bought the tree last year.

Once we parked the car, we hiked down to start walking through the maze of trees. Jenny and I were like two kids in a candy store. She asked the man to show us the biggest trees they had. We must have walked through dozens and dozens of trees. We saw several we liked but trying to back track to wherever those were was impossible. Finally, we picked two large ones and the guy started to saw them down. I don’t think we were really paying attention to size because the tree for the church can be as big as they come. But the one for the apartment was also quite large. I think we ended up taking a foot and a half off the trunk to get it to fit inside.

When we got back to the mission, Maiko asked if he should take the tree up to the apartment. I said sure, that would be nice. Let me start by saying that they don’t use tree stands here, they use five gallon buckets with rocks and sand in them to hold the tree. Last year, Pabel graciously did this for us. This year, that guy goes on vacation right at Christmas tree hunting time! Ideally, we would have set the tree out on the carport until we found our bucket and got everything together. Now I know Maiko was trying to help which is why I can’t get even slightly upset about this. Half an hour later after the tree was taken upstairs, I walked up to the apartment to see this ginormous tree laying in the middle of the floor with green sprigs and needles everywhere. We’re all quite fortunate that that was just his mess and Mack didn’t go nuts on the tree in that thirty minutes or so that it was left unattended on our living room floor. When Andrew came upstairs later that day, he actually asked me “what are the chances that we can just leave this like this until Pabel gets in on Monday?” Not good.

What I loved about decorating the mission this year was how many mothers and teenagers showed up to help the staff. Everyone jumped in to help do something. Jenny and I put Ronald and Vinicio in charge of getting the tree in the bucket and settled. Yorlana and Erika were going to start decorating the stage. Others started to unpack all of our Christmas décor to get organized. And Jenny and I were off to buy more stuff! Before we left, I did a quick peek at the unpacked boxes of decorations. I didn’t see the special ornaments that we normally put up. I asked Jenny to be sure we put them back in those boxes last year and she said yes. It wasn’t a huge deal, but I knew Larry and Cheryl’s matching ornaments were part of that group. We decided we’d look for them once we got back from the store. Neither of us said anything to anybody about it but when we returned and everything was sorted out even more, Jaikel came up to me and said that he couldn’t find Cheryl’s ornament, only Larry’s. Sometimes, with all the new staff and changes that have taken place this year, it’s nice to have some of the people who have been around for years to notice things like that. To me, it was quite thoughtful that he knew those were always special ornaments for the tree and he looked thoroughly for them. There was a genuine sense of disappointment when he realized one of them might be lost.

The afternoon was filled with more decorating. Everything truly looked wonderful and it was such a nice collaborative effort. I will say that I really only adjusted, or “corrected” if you will, a few minor decorations when people weren’t looking. I think that’s a pretty big deal for me since I tend to be a little obsessive. It reminds me of something I saw on Pinterest recently that says “I’m not really a control freak… but can I show you the right way to do that?” To have that many people decorating in all kinds of different ways, some putting ornaments in a linear direction on the tree, and others clumping things all together, I did really well with it.

That night, we had a sleepover for the tween girls. This was a nice end of year event to do with them and especially so since I won’t be here next year. We ordered pizza, played games, painted nails, made bracelets, and just hung out. Sometime after midnight, we circled up to talk as a group. The girl who was going to give the message that evening had to leave early on. While we were all together, I took the opportunity to share a couple of verses with them and give them my farewell message, if you will. I shared Psalm 139:14 with them because I think that’s an important verse for every teenage girl to learn and believe. Several of them are sixth graders who will go on to high school next year. I shared with them how easy it is to make decisions that are based on what everyone else is doing and not what God would have them do, so be careful. I encouraged them to stay involved, make good decisions, and work hard next year. For some reason, I felt the need to let them know that even if I come back to visit next year and hear that so-and-so is into this now or hanging out with the wrong crowd or whatever the case may be, that I would never give up on any of them. And I know that their leaders that will be here next year won’t either. I read Jeremiah 29:11 to them and told them that I would forever share that great hope for all of their futures and lives. I told them how proud I was of them and how much I’ve enjoyed getting to know them all. I let them know that I will always pray for them and love them from afar in the United States, but to always remember that they will always have people here in this mission who love them. At that point, half the group was crying, which was not my intent. So I said, why don’t we get up and do something fun? And everyone got up and started a dance party.

Tomorrow starts another week here, one of just a few left. There’s much to do before Christmas comes. I have to share this precious moment I had with Cristhel a couple of weeks back. We have a million Cristhels here but this one is Hierguth’s little sister so I am sure she has heard from him about what the inside of the apartment is like. We were sitting at a table one day in the classroom and she ushered me closer. This child whispers nearly everything to me that she says and is unbelievably meek. She has spent the better part of her short life living in fear. One day, if God gives me the go ahead to do it, I will share their family’s story as I know it would open many people’s eyes to real life here in Bajo Tejares. But for now, just a handful of us know what their lives have been like and we’ll keep it that way. Anyways, when I leaned across the table, she whispered in my ear “is it true that your house is filled with Christmas presents?” I smiled back at her and said “yes, yes it is!”

 

Happy Meals All Around! November 21, 2013

What a trip this is. Here I am playing Scrabble in Spanish with some of the teenagers during youth recreation and totally kicking butt. I actually came in the game four rounds late and am still winning. They have no idea how much time I spend playing Words with Friends and though we’re playing in my second language, I know how to play the game really well. It never ceases to amaze me how confused native speakers seem to get over certain letters and sounds in this language though. I’ve played with educated adults before and been correcting their spelling in Spanish. Amazing.

In any event, plans are coming along to wrap up our time here. I was meeting with Jenny this week to discuss Christmas party plans and she mentioned that this was the last week of programs. It took me by surprise big time. In fact, I would say that I was completely shocked. After this week, we will do two weeks of end of year exams to see where all the kids in programs stand and what progress they’ve made this year. And after that, it’s Christmas party week. Andrew and I have decided to stay another week following the parties to be able to say our goodbyes to everyone. When you have things on such a timetable like that, it makes things so real. Tomorrow, Mack has his appointment with the vet to get things in order for him to fly home. I remember thinking not too long ago that his appointment was way off in the future and would happen when we were close to leaving. Well, guess what? Now we’re close to leaving.

We did a small end of year celebration with our sponsor kids. Dulce excitedly ran up to me last week to tell me she had passed first grade. I told her we’d have to celebrate. That’s what started this whole deal. Andrew and I then discussed taking Dulce and Hierguth to celebrate the end of the year at the same time. And then Andrew came up with an idea. He came into the living room and said, “Now I know this will cost a little more money, but I think we have enough. Why don’t we take Hierguth and Dulce to lunch at the mall, plus their brothers and sisters.” We know them all well, so I felt comfortable asking them all to go. We made plans for lunch on Saturday with all of them; Dulce, Greivin, Hierguth, Ashley Tamara, and Cristhel. That’s five kids all under the age of ten. Telling them all was quite priceless. I gave a note to Greivin to give to his mother asking if they could go the next day. I explained to him what it said and told him to remember to bring it to her that afternoon when he left the mission. He was quite excited to go to the mall. When Dulce came in that afternoon, she ran up to me with a huge smile on her face asking “es cierto?” without ever mentioning what the ‘it’ was. I simply said, “si, es cierto!” When we told Hierguth, he of course was excited to return to the mall. He’s only asked a million times to go again since we went the last time. His sisters overheard me telling him. They were eavesdropping without trying to show that they were eavesdropping. It was quite entertaining. I told them that when they left the mission that day at lunchtime, I would go with them to ask their mom if it would be OK. They must have asked me what time it was a dozen times. There’s no way they were going to let me forget to get permission from their mom. Everyone was set to go to the mall on Saturday.

All the kids arrived looking cleaner than normal. They all had their good clothes and shoes on. Dulce was excited to show me her new boots that her mom won’t let her wear to the mission normally. Hierguth was wearing his nice tennis shoes we brought him from the US over the summer. He’s also not allowed to wear those normally. But this was a special occasion. The car ride alone seems fascinating to them. Their families don’t have cars and they probably walk most everywhere in town. We had all five of them in the backseat with the windows down. I so enjoyed looking back in the rear view mirrors and see their smiling little faces sticking their heads out the windows and letting the wind fly by them.

When we arrived at the mall, it was obvious that there were a lot of people there. We could hardly find a spot to park. Once we got inside, we realized that there was some kind of Christmas presentation happening in the food court which eliminated nearly half the seating that there normally is. I wish I’d known it was going to be that crowded at the mall. I probably would have chosen a different day to go. We decided before we ever even got to the mall that we’d just do happy meals for everyone instead of trying to let them pick which place they wanted to eat at and then coordinate everyone’s orders. Andrew and I asked them all whether they wanted a hamburger or chicken. They certainly made it easy for me because I had five votes for hamburgers. Andrew walked around the entire place looking for a table and came up empty-handed. As he was heading back towards where I was waiting with our crew, I was starting to think that maybe it was just too busy and we might have to go home. Just then, a group of people got up from their table right as Andrew was passing by. We weren’t the only people scoping out a free table so we were lucky to get this one. Andrew took them all to the table while I ordered the food. I was probably in line and waiting for our food for ten minutes or more. It’s not exactly the most efficient operation here at McDonald’s San Ramon.

The kids sure were delighted to see two trays full of food coming their way. I gave everyone their happy meals and let them discover all that was inside of those boxes. As I was dispersing everything, a man came up to our table and asked me if we belonged to an organization that worked with children. While I didn’t understand what he said the first go around, when he repeated it, I understood and said yes. He smiled and said to us “God bless you for the work you are doing.”

I said a simple prayer to bless the food and we all started eating. I think everyone’s eyes would be opened to so much if they took the time to share a simple meal like this with a child from circumstances like these. It’s really difficult for me to rap my mind around. We watched them all eat their french fries and drink their sodas. When I asked Greivin if he was going to eat his hamburger, he said no. He was going to bring it home. I asked Dulce why that was and she said because their mom really likes sandwiches. She went on to save her packet of fruit for her father. Ashley Tamara, Hierguth, and Cristhel all saved their hamburgers to take home. The only one who ate the hamburger there at the table was Dulce. There’s a good chance that a small amount of food is all they are used to eating at one time. They could be saving some of the food for their next meal. There’s also a really good chance that they are bringing some back to their parents. I had kind of hoped that bringing all the brothers and sisters would eliminate the need for Hierguth and Dulce to feel like they needed to bring home food for their siblings. I guess I didn’t expect them to also want to save things for their parents. It’s not a bad thing, just different. I’ve never met children in the US that would do these same things.

After lunch, we took pictures by the big Christmas tree in the food court. We said no to the countless requests for ice cream. They didn’t know that I had already baked brownies and they were waiting for us at the house. But we did hit the arcade. I gave each kid ten tokens to spend. I think that out of fifty tokens total, forty must have been spent at the claw machine that drops down and hopefully picks something up. In this case, the machine was filled with candy and they just kept piling their winnings into their happy meal boxes. I could have just gone to the store and bought $20 worth of candy and we would have ended up with much more, but that wouldn’t have been as exciting for them.

Once we got home from the mall, we sat them all down in our living room to talk to them. Andrew and I explained that we wanted to do something special for them because Hierguth and Dulce are our sponsor kids and we wanted to celebrate the end of the year with all of them knowing how hard everyone has worked in the programs this year. I said something about each of them to tell them how proud I was of each. I told Cristhel I was proud of her for coming to program everyday with me and always behaving wonderfully. I have never had a single problem with that sweet child. I am proud of Greivin for practicing his letters so well and I told him I knew he was ready for first grade. Now is his future first grade teacher ready for him? That has yet to be determined! I’m just kidding. He’s a handful but if I can handle him, then his next teacher can too. I am proud of Dulce for passing first grade. I’ve studied with her several times and I know it’s not always easy for her. I am proud of Hierguth for always coming to read Pinocho and learning to ready very well. He comes in wanting to read with Andrew or I and we are always happy to do it, even the Pinocho is nobody’s favorite task. We will both miss reading with him next year. And I am proud of Ashley Tamara for always coming to do programs and constantly improving in her reading comprehension. She struggles greatly but I’m proud that she never gives up. On top of that, I’m grateful that we have all these programs in place to consistently work with these kids. They aren’t the only ones who struggle. We explained to them that we are moving back to the United States at Christmas and we won’t be here to do programs with them next year. Andrew and I told them all that we expected them to continue working hard so that Jenny and Yorlana can give us good reports when we come to visit next year. Then maybe we can all go to the mall again!

It was a really good day with them. Not too sad either, just a good celebration!

 

Happy Birthday to Me (and Mack) November 17, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 7:48 pm
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So I have to post a recap of my wonderful 27th birthday celebration here in Costa Rica because it will forever be one of my most precious memories from our time here. As a side note, I share my birthday with my sweet boy Mack who just turned 3. I mentioned in a previous post that I was planning a birthday party with all the little kids in my preschool program. I think leading up to my actual birthday, I actually started to get somewhat anxious over all the planning. I’m not really big on birthdays, especially mine. My idea of a good birthday is having the people closest to me remember my birthday and gathering a group of friends to go to dinner and enjoy each other’s company. That’s really it. I’ve never been big on parties and I’m not a huge fan of being the center of attention. Yet there I was, planning two parties for myself. One for the morning program and one for the afternoon. Now I will say, all I wanted out of this day was to do something really special and different for the children in my program that I love so much. I know that I am going to miss them like crazy next year and as we wrap up our time here, I was grateful for a viable reason to do something like this.

Jenny and I are practically birthday twins. She was born on November 5, 1986 and I was born November 6, 1986. For some reason, I have never ever really thought about this before until the week of my birthday… but Jenny and I were born a single day apart in two different countries only for our lives to be weaved together over two decades later in the same exact place. 27 years ago, Jenny’s family was celebrating here in a hospital in San Ramon and less than 24 hours later, my family was celebrating my birth in a hospital in Jacksonville. I know there are people around the world that were quite possibly born within just a few minutes of me and much farther away than Costa Rica, but I’ll probably never meet them.

Jenny and I

Nonetheless, we celebrated our birthdays together this year as a staff on the 5th with a wonderful birthday lunch prepared for us by Maga. One thing Jenny and I surely have in common is our love of food. We can eat. My favorite Costa Rican dish is arroz con pollo with chimichurri and the best I’ve ever had is Maga’s, so I consider that a most excellent birthday gift.That evening, I was quite busy baking dozens of cupcakes for the parties. We’re talking several hours worth of baking. I didn’t get a chance to bake Mack a special puppy birthday cake like last year, but I reserved two vanilla cupcakes for him.

My birthday last year was actually rather tranquil when I compare it with this year’s. We went to lunch at Aroma’s with the staff and it ended with dismal election results that evening. The excitement this year kicked off early and continued to build throughout the day. We began decorating the classroom in the morning before the 10:00 a.m. program. Kids started to come by the room and see the piñata, streamers, and balloons. When we were ready to begin, Andrew and I went up to the apartment to bring down Mack. The kids are always excited when Mack comes out. We led him down to the classroom and started the party off with seven kids in the morning. The morning party was nice and calm with a small number like that. It is normal to have less kids in the morning than in the afternoon. We started by putting our party hats on, including Mack. The kids giggled like crazy when Andrew put Mack’s birthday hat on. Then everyone sang Feliz Cumpleaños to Mack and he ate his special vanilla cupcake with peanut butter and banana icing and a biscuit on top. After that, Andrew took Mack on upstairs so we could do the rest of the party. Somehow, I figured it would be too chaotic with Mack in there while we were trying to decorate cupcakes and do the piñata. I read the children a Dora the Explorer story about making a birthday cake and then we went to the tables to begin decorating our own cupcakes.

Decorating Cupcakes

This was quite interesting to me because when I put out all the sprinkles, they didn’t know what to do with them. I had to show them. It was the same in the afternoon party. I even asked two of the mothers what the name was for sprinkles and they didn’t know. I also thought it was interesting when I had to show all the kids how to take the cupcake liner off before they could eat it. I could be wrong, but I would say most young kids in the US have been to enough birthday parties and whatnot to know how to eat a cupcake. That’s part of what made this experience very cool in my mind. So much of it seemed new and different to them, or at the very least rare.

Morning Party

They enjoyed eating their cupcakes. I had several kids hand me a ball of cake leftover after they had eaten all the bites with icing around it and tell me they were done. I thought that was humorous.

It was then time for the piñata. It’s common for a lot of the younger kids to come to program in the morning, so we had some of the babies in the morning party. I let them all take several swings to no avail. I let Greivin go last because I knew he’d wail on that thing pretty good. He was the one to bust it open. We packed those piñatas so full of candy that I think the morning crew probably got to split nearly ten pounds worth between the seven of them.

IngridJoseth

Once we finished all of our fun for the morning party, I sent all the kids out to the playground so I could clean up and prepare some for the afternoon party. I had to keep the door shut to my classroom so I wouldn’t have tons of kids running in trying to get a glimpse of what was happening. After a few minutes, I heard a knock at the door. When I opened it, I was greeted with half a dozen smiling faces and Yohan holding up a mud birthday cake for me.

My mudcake surprise

Mudcake PhotosIt was such a precious surprise. They were so excited to give it to me.

Mudcake PhotosWe then took several pictures together, mostly taken by Ashley Tamara, and those photos will forever bring a smile to my face.

I went upstairs to rest for a bit before lunch. For some reason, the party and excitement had worn me out. Just after sitting down upstairs in the apartment, Andrew walked in. He said “I guess you’ve probably already seen these,” and then pulls out the most beautiful arrangement of flowers.

Andrew and I with my birthday flowersI must have passed them as they were laying in the backseat of the truck when I walked up to the apartment, but I truly hadn’t seen them and they were still a wonderful surprise for me.Along with the flowers, Andrew gave me a card that he had the whole staff and all the volunteers sign. A few minutes later, I see one of my preschool students, Miriel, walking up to my door with her mother.

Miriel and I with my birthday flowers

She was carrying a sweet little bouquet of pink flowers. Her mother told me she picked them out herself. Later, Maga (whose son is dating Miriel’s mother) told me that when Miriel woke up that morning, she said ‘I have to buy Ashley something today, it’s her birthday!’ and she already knew she wanted to buy me pink flowers saying ‘Ashley will like these the best!’ She was right, they were perfect.

In the afternoon, I spent some time on the playground and out and about around campus. I received so many birthday hugs from all of the children. Naidelyn, another one of my preschool kids, found me outside and said “Feliz Cumpleños Ashley.” When I turned to see who it was, she handed me a small, apple-shaped box full of candy. It was quite adorable. As I was walking towards the classroom, Yohan was walking out and told me to stop and close my eyes. When he reached me and told me to open them, he was holding out a small paper heart that he had cut out and colored red. He handed it to me and gave me a huge hug. Right behind him was Greivin with his paper heart. I walked into the classroom with both of them and sat with them as they wrote their names on the back of them. Often times, Yohan comes late to program. He doesn’t like singing songs and being with the little kids so much anymore. It’s ok with me because I know he’s too advanced for my program and completely ready to move on. I made a deal with him a while back where he gets to choose whether he reads pinocho in the first classroom or write letters in program with me. He often runs up to my room asking if he can come do letters. So on my birthday when I asked him to write his name on the heart so I’d remember who it was from forever, he happily did it and wrote it out perfectly without any help. They are both so ready for first grade next year and I’m going to miss being here each day to work with them.

By the time 3:00 p.m. rolled around, I was certain I might need security to get into my classroom with Mack and my kids. There were kids of all ages swarming everywhere asking if they could come to the party. The party was only for kids that do the preschool program with me each day as a special reward and celebration. I told Marion and Clif to stay in the classroom with the door shut until Andrew and I returned with Mack. Part of the outside crowdWe had a herd of kids follow us up to get Mack. I made them wait by the gate and as soon as they saw him come out of the apartment, all you could hear was them chanting his name. Mack is a furry, four-legged celebrity around here if you didn’t already know. There were probably thirty to forty kids waiting outside of my classroom hoping to get in. I passed kids who hadn’t been to the programs for ages that somehow knew about this party. I had them all make a line and I slowly started admitting them. There were 17 in total that were a part of the afternoon party. Just so we’re on the same page here, 17 kids between the age of 3 and 6 who are extremely wound up and ready to party is the exact definition of chaos. I wasn’t kidding about the security part. I had a volunteer stand outside the door to keep kids clear of the room that weren’t a part of the party.

We started the party in the same fashion as the morning one.

Mack eating his cupcakeThe kids sang Feliz Cumpleaños to Mack and watched him gobble up his second cupcake of the day. Mack was such a good sport about the whole thing. Andrew took him back upstairs and we read our birthday story, this time it was the Five Little Monkeys.Story time in the afternoon The cupcake decorating went very similar to the morning. They seemed initially confused about the sprinkles and then again with the liners on the cupcakes.

Decorating cupcakes

The piñata was a hoot in the afternoon. I think it was a miracle that all the kids got to hit it a few times and it still didn’t break. We had some kids who were too afraid to hit it. I didn’t even blindfold the afternoon group because it would have taken forever, but there were still some who were scared. I have no idea why. I wasn’t planning on taking a swing at it but as I was holding the stick after all the kids had gone, they started chanting my name. So I hit it a few times, unblindfolded, and it still didn’t come open.

Piñata excitementThen we called in the big guns. Andrew came in and the kids could hardly control their excitement. They knew he’d get that thing open for them. After a couple of hits, candy started flying everywhere and the kids were sprawled out all over the floor scooping it up as quickly as they could. Rebecca’s mom, who is probably in her 40’s, had an extremely fast reaction time and was right there with the kids grabbing candy from all directions. I have it on video.

Andrew's turn on the piñata      After that party was over, I was exhausted. Afternoon groupI needed to go upstairs and relax for a few minutes in relative peace and quiet. As the gates were closing for the day, I walked back outside and heard an english “Happy Birthday” and saw Valeria running up to give me a hug. I saw some of the kids leaving, several who were at the party still had their party hats on. They were excited to get a party hat to take home with them. Can you imagine being that happy about something so simple?

Birthday dinner

I ended my day with a delicious dinner at Aroma’s with Andrew, his mom and Clif. The next day, I heard from several of the moms and grandmothers of what a hit the parties were to their kids. Carolina said that all Joseth could talk about was Mack. She kept asking him who Mack was and he kept saying “perro, perro!” Maga told me that the kids that she usually watches at her house couldn’t stop talking about the piñata and all the candy. Xiomara came in the next morning to clean and told me that her grandson Eitel was telling her about the party as well. He doesn’t speak very well but she said she could make out that Mack was there and a piñata was involved.

All I wanted out of my birthday was to do something really fun and special for the little kids that I have grown to love so much while I have been here. I think I accomplished that and in doing so, it was one of my favorite birthdays yet!

 

Waking Up with the Catholics November 12, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 10:52 pm
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There’s nothing to put time into perspective for you quite like a countdown. A few weeks ago, I was considering skipping the tween girls meeting. I was just exhausted and thought that it would be so nice to just come upstairs at 5:00 and not have to do anything else besides relax. Then I started counting just how many Thursday nights I had left with the girls. When I looked at it as only maybe half a dozen more opportunities to get to spend time with the girls, I quickly saw it for what it was. An opportunity. I may have been tired, but spending time with them wasn’t going to be a hassle for me knowing how little time here I have left to do so. It made me wonder how my attitude or mindset might have been different all along if I put things in that perspective from the very beginning. I don’t think we should all go around with running countdowns in our minds of how much time left we have to do this or that, but perhaps we should take things seriously realizing how limited our time is in general.

I’ve developed a new routine in the last month or so here. I really wish I had started this earlier. Every morning, Andrew and I wake up early so that he can go to the gym to do cardio and I can walk through town to get some exercise as well. I’ve never been a morning person and I have to admit, it surprises me some that I am even slightly for such a plan. The first week or so went beautifully. I would get out of the car and start walking towards the church. Just as I was arriving at the church, morning mass would be getting out and I would circle the block one more time while they all filed out. I would go in to pray for 10-15 minutes. There’s just something about sitting in a grand cathedral, letting the light shine through the stained class like fire, praying in the deep silence of it all. Right after my prayer time, Aroma’s would be just opening their doors and I’d walk there to get a cappuccino de caramelo. Then, I’d walk back to the car to meet Andrew while sipping on complete and pure deliciousness. Now I must say, the routine has changed ever so slightly. While I was previously waking up with the Catholics, it appears that perhaps they have changed their routine. I didn’t even know it was possible. The first day it happened, I was quite taken aback. I thought maybe there was a funeral or something happening. I just kept doing laps around the church, every time I passed I would study the people inside a touch more closely to see if they were wrapping it up or not. They weren’t. After a week of this, my only conclusion was that mass was now starting earlier. That’s just awful. I thought I was waking up early with the Catholics before, and now they are getting up earlier! As it is, occasionally I can make it in just after they let out and pray for a few moments in not so much silence, but a dull chanting. There’s a little group of old ladies that stays after mass for their recited prayers. The first day, it kind of bothered me. They were off in their unison just enough (and speaking in Spanish of course) to really throw me off. But all is well now. The new routine is to spend about 15 minutes doing laps around the church and using that time as devoted prayer time. I still go to Aroma’s everyday to get the cappuccino. I have compromised with the Catholics on the use of their space, but the cappuccino de caramelo cannot be compromised. Plus, the entire morning staff knows my order and I don’t even have to say it when I walk in any more. That’s the coffee shop relationship I’ve always dreamed of.

I’m just going to throw this out there since I can imagine at least one person might be thinking it. How can a missionary afford to buy a cappuccino everyday? Is that the wisest use of funds for someone who makes no money? Well, as I said, I wish I had started this routine before but I didn’t. We’re talking about two months of coffee for someone who has spent next to nothing on themselves for the past year and a half. And we’re not talking Starbucks prices by any means. Andrew and I set a small amount of money aside to travel or do something fun while living in Central America since this is a once in a lifetime opportunity living abroad. If you knew how much we worked and how often we could have used a vacation and didn’t take one, then you’d not only be aware of how dumb the question is to begin with, but you’d also be mathematically aware that I can afford a daily cup of coffee if I want one. Now enough talk about the coffee, I’m starting to salivate thinking about tomorrow’s!

One neat thing about waking up early and walking through town is that I get to see Steven walk to work almost every day. Steven and I had an interesting relationship to start out. All I can really say is he was an unbelievably disrespectful teenager who hated me for months. Somewhere along the way, he asked why I hated him. I explained in mediocre Spanish that I certainly didn’t hate him, but I didn’t like his attitude or lack of respect towards myself and other staff at the mission. From that conversation onward, he has been respectful towards me and all is well. I think in a lot of ways, he can be intimidating and that most people, adults included,  don’t bother to call him out on his behavior and attitude. For some reason, I don’t think Steven will ever respect people that don’t stand up to him. That’s exactly what it took for us to now have the relationship that we do. In any event, Steven is one of the only teenagers, albeit 18 years old, that I know who dropped out of school but is choosing to be a productive member of society. Most of the teenagers here who have dropped out of school are somewhat unrealistically waiting around to see what happens, as if something productive will happen for them as a product of them doing absolutely nothing. But not Steven. He went out and got a job. And I’m proud of him. He works at the Mundo Magico store on the corner across from the church. They always have the obnoxious people out front with microphones shouting out their daily deals and attempting to entice people to come inside and shop. Seems a bit odd that yelling at people would translate to a sound strategy in luring them in, but to each his own. Steven has yet to be that obnoxious person and for that I am quite grateful. Nonetheless, each day is a reminder that he is doing what he needs to do to earn a living and survive.

I had a truly wonderful reward the other day when I walked all the way back to the mission on my morning walk instead of back to the car to meet Andrew. I have no idea what made me decide to walk home instead of meeting Andrew like I always do. Perhaps I was thinking of how nice it would be to get back a touch earlier and have a decent shot at a nice, hot shower before work. Regardless of the motive, I was greatly rewarded. As I passed by the street where the elementary school is, I saw several kids outside playing during an early morning recess. I made the right turn and decided to walk up to the school to see if I knew anyone. I had hardly made the turn onto the street before hearing my name being screamed from multiple little voices. I saw Hierguth playing with his friends and said hello to him. I quickly said hello to a few of the girls that called me over. I went up to the fence and greeted as many of the kids as I could. I didn’t want the teachers getting too freaked out by this strange gringa coming up to see the kids during recess. When I turned to leave, I walked back past Hierguth and said goodbye but he didn’t hear me. I felt that twinge of disappointment as I kept on walking. I don’t know why it mattered but right before I turned the corner, I glanced back one more time. There was Hierguth waiting for me to turn around. All of his friends had already left to go back inside and he was standing there alone, waving goodbye to me. I must have had the biggest smile on my face as I waved back at him.

I can say with great certainty that I’m excited to be waking up tomorrow at the crack of dawn to get out and be a part of all of  those things that take place when you wake up with the Catholics! Only 5 weeks left to enjoy it all!