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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!

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyNDavis @ 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 — AshleyNDavis @ 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!

 

Social Butterfly October 21, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyNDavis @ 2:52 pm
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I love being right in the middle of something and having the power go out. I’m almost forgetting what it’s like to have any sort of consistency with electricity and water as is normal in the US. I think the only times I can really recall that the power goes out in Jacksonville is when it’s storming terribly. Yet here I sit in the reading room, looking out the windows to clear blue skies and a beautiful day outside.

Anyways, as I’ve been looking ahead to my future back in the states, I’ve started making plans with friends and family. I think that makes it an exciting transition instead of dwelling on all the goodbyes we have yet to say here. I signed up for the very first FSM 5k in February. I suppose that means I will need to quite literally hit the ground running when I get back in December if I want a chance at running that. I’m a horrendous runner but I like the idea of being a runner so much that I am willing to keep trying. I’m enjoying the idea of the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping for a few days once I return. I’ll probably do a complete 180 on that sentiment once I actually have to get out there and do all of my shopping in the three-day window I will have to do it in. But for now, it seems like a lovely plan.

There is certainly something to be said about the events that we will be missing out on once we leave here. This past weekend really proved that to me. Andrew and I have been so fortunate to be a part of so much here. We’ve witnessed multiple weddings, birthdays, baby showers, first communions, school activities, etc. Saturday night, we got to be a part of Aschllyn’s quinceañera. The celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday is a huge deal here, similar to the very special sweet 16 in the U.S. Aschllyn’s mother invited us last week sometime and I remember her telling us 6:00 p.m. and thinking immediately that that was the exact time of the FSU versus Clemson kickoff. Likely our biggest game of the season to prove we are national championship contenders and here we have a really important event at the exact same time. In very typical Latin American fashion, 6:00 p.m. actually meant 7:30 p.m. and I got to watch a little over an hour of the game to start. I will just say, this shows how good God is. I so badly wanted to watch the whole game but I knew Aschllyn’s birthday party was more important. And I knew how awful I would feel choosing a football game over her. Therefore, I like to think that God pulled some strings for me. FSU destroyed Clemson and I was content to just come upstairs to check the score occasionally. When your team is beating the #3 team in the nation that badly, you’re not exactly on the edge of your seat. Truth be told, I would have said God had orchestrated the whole deal if FSU had lost so that I wouldn’t have felt bad about missing it. Either way, thank you Jesus! I was fortunate to enjoy a very beautiful quinceañera celebration.

Here’s another fun event we just went to. This one makes me laugh out loud when I think about it. One night last week, Andres came up to the apartment to ask me a question. He asked me if my camera has the date on it of when I took pictures. I said yes. He then goes on to ask if I could tell him when he and Karla got married last year because he doesn’t remember. The real kicker here is that he is convinced that Karla knows and is just not saying anything, which is why he couldn’t ask her. We are midway through October right now. I just want to point that out. I pulled up my iPhoto and scrolled to Andres and Karla’s wedding album from… August 12th. It took everything I had to not bust out laughing. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Karla has definitely forgotten her anniversary as well. There is no way a female is going to just not say anything for over two months. I’d give it a week tops. So Andres then invited us to an anniversary dinner set for last night after church. Again, Latin American planning and timing was in full force. We thought that when Andres was knocking on our door after church that it was because the dinner was ready and he was letting us know. What he was actually doing was asking if Andrew would take him to the grocery store to buy tortillas. After they returned from the store, plus an additional 20-30 minutes, we finally went downstairs to start the evening. At this point it’s well past 8:00 p.m. and I am again thinking the food is ready for us to sit down and eat. When will I ever learn? We walked downstairs to find them putting the first round of food on the grill. It all just makes me laugh now. Sometimes I find myself in these situations and there is no other option for my very structured, type A, obsessive-compulsive personality but to laugh. In all seriousness, we had a great time camped out in the breezeway relaxing and chatting amongst friends while the food was cooking on the grill. It was a good time.

I’ve got my own little event in the works here. In preschool class, we go over days of the week and months of the year. They know them pretty well when said all at once. We are working on getting them in sequence and understanding that if today is Monday, then tomorrow is Tuesday. Likewise, if we are in October, then next month is November. The only good thing I can think to talk about in November is my birthday. The children don’t know a whole lot about Thanksgiving here, and I’m taking that day off anyways! No need to talk about that. But my birthday, on the other hand, is completely worth talking about. I should also note that Mack shares my birthday. So I may or may not have agreed to a little fiesta. The kids consistently ask me if Mack can come do program with us and I’ve finally given in. On my birthday, during our party, Mack can come down to the classroom with us. This is undoubtedly going to be total chaos. I’ve agreed to all kinds of things in the excitement of it all. We are currently debating whether we need one piñata or two. Clearly, they’re pushing for two, one for the girls and one for the boys. Someone got really crazy with it and suggested one for Mack as well. I think we may be able to suffice with just one. I’ve promised them one cake for us and, of course, one for Mack. We talk about the party often and the little ones are so excited that this is a party just for the preschoolers and Mack and I. I would be remiss if I didn’t include this hysterical comment from one of the little girls in class named Cristhel, who I absolutely adore. One day last week when we began discussing what was going to happen next month in November, Cristhel goes “we know Ashley, it’s your birthday,” with the sassiest little attitude you’ve ever seen from a five year old. I’m letting it slide because I know she is going to lose her mind when the day of the party actually rolls around.

Well, I’m going to spend the last few minutes of my lunch break trying to fill up my water bottle for the afternoon. The power came back on but the water went out. Unbelievable! Here’s to hoping that comes back on soon!

 

American Dream October 18, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyNDavis @ 5:06 pm
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Ah, the sweet sounds of rain falling on the tin roof. The only thing I can hear over it would be the obnoxiously loud soccer game we’re airing right now for the teenagers in the church. I’d probably only ever watch a soccer game if it were a part of the actual World Cup. In fact, that’s the only time I can recall watching soccer with even the slightest degree of interest. That was back in college at Florida State when they would show the games in the student life center on the big screen. Soccer to me is kind of like the Olympics. I’m all about it once every four years but have zero desire to follow the sport otherwise. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So I find myself sitting here listening to the teenagers go nuts over this game between Costa Rica and Mexico. I would have never guessed this being from the United States, but Mexico is one of the most hated teams in Central America. Apparently, they think they are better than everyone else. A group of elitists, if you will. Does that sound at all like the Mexicans we know in the US? Anyways, as I type this, all I can hear is screams and the famous GOOOOOOLLLLLLLL! Viva Costa Rica! Beat Mexico!

Anyways, I was upstairs talking to the woman who cleans the church and apartment the other day. Her name is Xiomara and she is Nicaraguan. We’ve talked several times about her life and journey to live in Costa Rica. Here’s a woman who has come to this country and is perfectly legal, she works her butt off to provide for her family, and has zero desire to take advantage of the system. Yet time and time again, she shares with me snippets of the prejudices that she has experienced in the time she’s lived here. Given the endless opportunities, people will never cease to disappoint you, this much I am sure of.

Xiomara and I started to talk about the differences between life in the US and life here. She told me she has a cousin that lives in the US and has been there for probably twenty years or more. Xiomara said she would love to go to the US like her cousin and work but she just can’t leave her kids until they are all older. As she started to describe to me the life that her cousin lived in the US, it became clear that she didn’t know what she was really hoping for in going to the US to work as well. She described a well educated woman who left her job as a professor in Nicaragua to go to the United States of America and live the American dream. She talked of how smart her cousin is but what a better life she has now. I guess that statement would be better worded if I said what a better life that Xiomara assumes that her cousin has now. She began to tell me about the job her cousin now has in the US. She serves food to students in a school cafeteria. I immediately thought of how many wretched kids make fun of the ‘cafeteria lady’ in their schools as if they aren’t real people too. I also thought of what a low-paying job that is. Xiomara said that her cousin sends money back to her family in Nicaragua because she makes so much more in the US than they can in Nicaragua. While this is true, I explained to her that it costs so much more to live in the US than in Nicaragua. We talked a bit about all the people that move to the US for a better life and to make more money to send back home. The only problem with this is then they are stuck. No one can ever leave that situation. People will work themselves to death to provide enough to live off of for themselves and whatever they can manage to send back to their family in their native country. Of course, when Xiomara told me that her cousin lived in a something like a truck that could move from place to place, in a neighborhood full of other trucks, I quickly put together that she was living in a trailer park with her family. In truth, living in a small trailer is probably not any greater than living in the house that Xiomara currently lives in. Do you think she’d ever believe that? That her house is just as good as the trailer her cousin has in the US? Probably not. Living in a trailer park is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s hardly the glamorous life that the people in those native countries think of when they tell people they have family in the US. Adding United States to your address doesn’t make all your dreams come true.

Maybe for some of us, we are living the American dream. I know I was and will again. There’s no doubt that it’s easier for some than others. Maybe Xiomara’s cousin doesn’t have the easiest life out there, but by raising kids in the US and then having the next generation be brought up there, they will certainly have a better shot at the life we have come to expect as normal and what others outside the US have come to know as glamorous. I do wish it were easier though for people to understand what it means to live and work in the US as a poor immigrant instead of just constantly hoping for a life that they truly don’t understand. I’m not saying I understand it all based on one conversation with Xiomara. For the record, my grandparents and father are immigrants. I’ve heard all my life how hard my grandparents had to work and for so little. They too sent money and things back to their  families in their native country of the Ukraine. It was worth it to them to work that hard as it is to so many others who do the same. I guess seeing the flip side of that being here in the foreign country with the people who look to a life in the US as if it’s something that it’s not has just opened my eyes a bit. 

 

RIP September September 8, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyNDavis @ 11:44 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

I want to kick this whole thing off by saying that I didn’t blog for the entire month of September and you all have no idea how much that hurts my obsessive compulsive soul. Every time I come to the blog site, I catch myself glaring at the archives on the right side. They will forever read that I got lazy and blogged every single month except one… ONE. I can’t handle it. So now, I will blog with a vengeance.

Well people, we now have our one-way flights home booked for December. It was significantly harder than I expected it to be. And I think I delayed it as long as I could. We will return to the United States on December 21st. One of the most challenging aspects of the move back is to try and be excited about getting back to Florida. We are so lucky to have friends and family who are genuinely excited and eager for our return. I am grateful for our relationships back home and looking forward to getting back to them in person. That is the truth. But I can’t explain how difficult it is to think about leaving here. I’m just not at all prepared to say goodbye to all the people. I’ve been experiencing a lot of anxiety here lately. Some nights, I can’t shut my mind down and it’s just constantly racing when I start to think of our goodbyes. I guess when I am doing my thing all day every day, I don’t have time to think about those things. When I am laying in bed at night with nothing but silence in the air and my own thoughts to deal with, I begin to plan out what I need to do before leaving, who I need to say goodbye to, the special activities I want to do with certain people before I leave. One night, after about two hours of this and being well into the wee hours of the morning, I broke down and started crying. That’s the first time I’ve let myself process our departure in such a way. I’ve been very fortunate recently because I feel as though God has given me glimpses of excitement when I think about my return to the U.S.

Anyways, enough of all that. I don’t want to put a damper on the rest of the blog. I was asked the most interesting question the other day. Tamara, a 5 year old in my preschool program, asked me if I could speak Spanish. She was dead serious so I had to answer in an equally serious demeanor. I said “Si,” and she responded “Como?” I explained to her that I was speaking to her in Spanish right then and that’s how. She giggled and giggled. So I then asked her if Andrew could speak Spanish and to go ask him. His answers were identical to mine. She again just laughed.

Mack has become quite popular in his time here. A lot of the younger kids ask to visit him on a regular basis. One day last week, it was about 2:35 p.m. and there was a large group of the preschool program kids waiting by the classroom door. We don’t begin program until 3:00 p.m., so I gathered the group and we began to look around the playground to see if any other program kids were there. I was really just trying to stall for twenty minutes or so. After we searched the entire playground, I told them we needed to check the reading room. As we all head that direction, Eitel runs ahead and into the reading room. Before we even make it to the top, Eitel comes running back out telling us there are no kids in there for program. So I tell the group that we are going to visit Mack before program and I start to move my herd of little ones up to the apartment. They were really excited. I opened the door and sat on the threshold with Mack while they all took turns petting him. He was so calm with all of them. Then I let Mack give me kisses and they just laughed and laughed. They thought it was hilarious. No one was scared of him out of the dozen or so kids there. We all said goodbye to Mack and made our way to the classroom. Now, of course, they ask if Mack can come do program with us each day. That would be a nearly impossible feat to have him sit with me and be calm for that long. Yet I have two more months here, who knows what I could pull off!

My sweet hippie child Sarchari is going to make her debut in this blog. I love this child. She bares a strong resemblance to Pebbles from the Flintstones, except she has this beautiful olive complexion and chestnut colored hair. But otherwise, she’s Pebbles. One day, Jafeth asked Sarchari if she knew who Jesus was. She said that Jesus was God’s son. That’s impressive to me since Sarchari is probably only 4 years old. Then Jafeth asked her where God lived. Her response was just too precious. She said in heaven with Simba and Mickey Mouse. Oh, goodness. A couple of weeks ago, I was pushing Sarchari on the swing. She asked me if I saw the cow off in the distance. I looked and saw it. She asked me if I saw the trees and the clouds. Saw those too. And then she asked me if I saw the airplane. I thought that sounded odd since we hardly ever see airplanes around here. I searched the sky where she was pointing and couldn’t find it anywhere. She just kept saying “It’s right there!” I assure you, there was no airplane anywhere near us. I have no idea how we slipped from reality to make-believe so quickly, but it’s typical Sarchari. I have one last memorable story with Sarchari as of late. While on the playground recently, I hear one of the children crying and I go over to sort out what happened. One of the kids explains that Sarchari hit this boy and that was why he was crying. I turned to Sarchari and asked her if this were true. All she responded with was “suavecito” which means really softly. She then proceeds to demonstrate by lightly patting the boy’s shoulder. Something tells me that’s not quite the way it went down. But nonetheless, I explained to her that she was not allowed to hit anyone, whether it be suavecito or not, and made her sit in timeout for five minutes. She may be the only child I’ve ever made sit in timeout who just takes that time to look around and enjoy the breeze with a smile on her face. Not a single complaint nor did she ask me sixty times if her time were up, or at all for that matter. When her five minutes were up, I told her she could play again and she jumped up and ran off.

I could go on and on with stories about the little kids. They say and do the most hilarious and precious things. The teenagers, well, they’re teenagers. I wouldn’t call them hilarious and precious so much as aggravating and feisty here recently. The kids here at the mission are growing up on us, that’s for sure. Therefore, this group is significantly more challenging to deal with than ever before. Sometimes our entertainment comes more from trying to come up with creative ways to punish them than it does with the “cute” things that come out of their mouths. We had a group of six teenage boys cause a huge ruckus last week with a city worker across the way. The details are not worth sharing, but the punishment is. These guys normally have to read about 17 to 20 minutes in the reading room each day when they come in. Now they have to read 40 minutes for the next two weeks. You would have thought we were going to be force feeding them wet cat food or something. It gets better, they all have to work eight hours each with Pabel doing various projects around the mission. They will be cleaning the outside wall, picking up trash, landscaping, and other wonderful tasks. My personal favorite was to have them go down the hill to collect the large stones that fell when the teams were working on the retaining wall and bring them back up to the mission.  That one was Pabel’s idea. I will say, the staff has never collaborated so well together as we did to come up with this particular punishment. The work commences mañana so we’ll see how it goes.

What other cute things have the teenagers done lately? Let’s see, this one pertains to our Tuesday night worship with the youth. Andrew and I have been plotting and planning to pick a night to tell the kids that we are only going to do worship and bible study without any recreation time at the end. The reason for this is because some of the teen guys will come and sit through forty minutes or so of worship and bible study just to get to play on the xbox for half an hour or so at the end. For some of them, it’s like pulling teeth to get them to at least be respectful and not talk while the rest of us trying to worship. And those same kids rarely take any of the bible study questions seriously, which is just sad. So for those reasons, we told them last Tuesday night that we weren’t going to have time for games at the end. If they didn’t want to worship and do bible study, it was completely OK with us if they made the decision to not be there that night and go home. To our surprise, they all stayed anyways. Unfortunately, Andrew had to stop the music a few times because of the unbelievable disrespectfulness taking place during worship. That’s one thing that I absolutely cannot stand is people being blatantly rude and disrespectful during worship. I walked over to Andrew and told him that we should stop after that song and be done with it for the night because I just wasn’t going to tolerate these guys acting like that while we were trying to worship God. I think we’ve had this thought cross our minds a couple of times in the last nine months of doing this with them, but we’ve never come to the point of stopping midway through and ending it all early for the night. During the song when I told Andrew this, a few kids got up and left. A few more followed suit, and so on. Our group of about twenty had dwindled down to seven. When the music stopped, we turned the lights on and I went to the front to tell them we were stopping for the night. As I looked at the seven though, I knew these kids were serious about wanting to be there. I never want to ask kids to leave worship. I would if I had to, but I hate that it would come to that. I was so incredibly relieved that God had sorted this out for us and the kids causing all the problems had chosen to leave on their own and He left us with those that wanted to be there. I felt like this huge burden had been lifted from our shoulders that night. The teenagers that were still there asked if we could just finish the last song at least, as we had picked out four but had stopped after three. Andrew and I glanced at each other and quickly made the decision to move forward with our night as planned. So the nine of us worshipped freely, without any distractions, for the remainder of our time. I will take seven kids who want to worship in truth any day over twenty kids that don’t want to have any part of worship and will disrespect my God the entire time. We told the kids after worship that we intended for them to still have recreation time at the end anyways, we just wanted people to be there for the right reasons. We did the bible study together as one group and ended up having some good discussion. They didn’t rush through it as quickly as possible so they could play the games either. Andrew and I ordered pizza for everyone at the end and we just relaxed and hung out. We ate pizza and listened to music. Everyone stayed a good thirty minutes past when we normally end, but I thought it was worth it. Andrew and I always kind of debrief after worship nights and talk about how we thought the evening went. At the end of the night, I assumed that one us would have  a moment of disappointment at the small number we ended up with, but it was the exact opposite. We were both so excited and grateful to have a group that was sincere in their desire to worship and study the word.

Despite the previous irritating stories about some of the youth, I have had plenty of good conversations with many of the youth about all kinds of stuff. More recently, they’ve been asking about our return to the United States. We’ve received lots of questions on why we have to leave. I try to express the best I can that I believe God has called us to return home and that this wasn’t meant to be a permanent move. I’ve also explained that we need to return and work, start a family, etc. Most responses are asking if we could work for a little while and save money, then return. I want to be able to tell them that we’ll do just that, but I really have no idea what we will be called to do in a few years. I’ve promised everybody and their mother around here that Andrew and I will bring our future children here so that everyone can meet them. They seem moderately OK with that promise as the second best thing to us actually having kids here. One of our sponsor children is a teenager, so we’ve already had some of those conversations about our return. He knows we love him and we will miss him. I think it’s going to be drastically more difficult to tell our younger sponsor children that we are moving back to the United States. We’ve somewhat started a timeline of when we will say our goodbyes and announce that we are leaving to various people and groups here. Hard to imagine we are already putting all of that in order.

As I write this, we are 75 days out. There’s much to do in that time period, the major thing being the Christmas parties. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. The days are long but the weeks are flying by. I don’t want to take a single moment left here for granted. Coincidentally, I’m listening to Michael Buble’s version of ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ at this very moment. I know we’ve still got a bunch of memories to make, and who knows, maybe the best is yet to come!

 

Our Lunch Date August 24, 2013

I’m pretty sure at some point, I promised myself to blog more as our time here winds down because I know how much I’m going to cherish these posts and memories later in life. Or come January… when I’m heartbroken over not seeing these people each day and my new reality has set in. Anyways, on to the story.

Last weekend, we took our sponsor child, Hierguth, out for lunch. I walked him home on Friday to ask his mother if it were OK. He told me I had to or she wouldn’t believe it otherwise. His mother seemed utterly unenthusiastic and merely asked what time to send him to the church. I said 12:00, if it was fine with her. I think I could have said I was taking him to the next country over for a week and it would have been all the same to her. Nonetheless, as I left and told Hierguth that I would see him the next day, he was grinning from ear to ear.

Hierguth

On Saturday, our doorbell rang at 11:58 a.m. with Mauricio standing there looking puzzled. He cautiously told us that Hierguth was here to see us and was waiting at the gate. We confirmed that we were expecting him so the guard let him through. He stepped through the gate and took off running towards the apartment when he saw us. His smile was priceless and he was bubbling over with excitement. He handed Andrew a picture he had drawn with some words written on it, including his name. When Andrew showed it to me, I told him we’d be keeping that little piece of paper forever.

He was wearing the new shorts we brought him from the states in July and the new tennis shoes we bought him. He hasn’t been wearing the tennis shoes to the mission so we’ve never seen him in them outside of the day we gave them to him. Whenever we ask about them, he tells us his mother won’t let him use them unless he is going out so they don’t get messed up. I wish I could find a way to politely tell her that they are meant to be used and we will buy him another pair if it means that he gets to wear these more. But we don’t want to overstep our bounds. Nonetheless, Hierguth looked quite adorable and even had his hair styled with gel.

While we were waiting for our taxi, we talked about where we were going to go for lunch. I think initially, he may have though we were eating lunch at the apartment. When the taxi arrived, he seemed quite inquisitive. He asked a million times where the mall was and how long it would take to get there. As we passed by various places, we would point them out together. I said “look, there’s the big church,” as we passed through town center. He responded, “the church of San Ramon?” I just laughed and said “yes, we are still in San Ramon.” Mind you, this is only about an eight minute cab ride from our side of town to the other. As we neared the Instituto (the high school), I pointed it out to him. Right across the street from the high school is the Tribunales de Justicia, or the courthouse. I really didn’t think to point that landmark out, nor did I think he’d recognize it. But as we passed it, Hierguth told me what it was and that his uncle was there. I would bet my entire savings that Hierguth’s uncle is not an attorney. I’ve already been told a little of his family’s story so I understood what he was referencing. His mother is the niece of one of the more infamous drug lords of Bajo Tejares. He’s in jail, but Hierguth has merely been told that his uncle is at the courthouse.

The cab ride alone seemed incredibly entertaining for Hierguth, but arriving at the mall took our fun and his excitement to the next level. We walked in and passed the arcade on our way to the food court. His eyes lit up like an American child on Christmas morning. He asked if we could play there and we told him that we could, but after lunch. As we turned the corner and saw the food court, we asked him if he had ever been to McDonald’s. He said no. I’m by no means a fan of McDonald’s, but I would suffer through my dislike of it in order to get Hierguth his first ever Cajita Feliz, or Happy Meal. While we were standing in line, I asked him if he wanted chicken or a hamburger. He told me chicken, but then he asked if he could have french fries. I said of course. A few seconds later, he asked if he could have a drink. I said sure. Then once we ordered and we were able to pick out which toy he wanted with his meal, his mind was blown. Clearly, this kid doesn’t know all the goodies that come in a Happy Meal.

Once we got our food, we sat down to eat. Hierguth said the cutest little prayer to bless the food and then we started to dig in. I brought my camera with me and had to resist taking pictures of every single moment, but I did get a few of him eating his chicken nuggets and sipping on his tiny kid sized coke. It was just so precious.

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Midway through the meal, Hierguth said he was taking the rest home. He really had hardly eaten anything. When I asked him if he was still hungry, he said no and that if he eats too much his stomach hurts. Too much really translates to a normal amount of food for someone his age and size, but he is used to eating a lot less than what a child from a different socioeconomic status would be accustomed to.

After lunch, we hit the arcade. To us, this is just a rinky-dink, tiny little arcade with very few games in it. But to him, it was awesome. I can’t imagine what this kid would do in a Chucky Cheese. We bought ten tokens and began to play. He was quite fascinated with the fact that he kept getting all these tickets with every game that he played. He had no idea what they were for, but we just kept on collecting them. We played skeeball (my personal favorite arcade game), a racing game, a basketball game, and ended in air hockey. I’m not sure how many rounds we were supposed to get on the air hockey table for two tokens, but we all three played for probably ten minutes or more. It just kept giving us the puck, so we played and played and played. When we were done, we took all of the tickets to the counter and explained that he could pick out a prize with his tickets. Wouldn’t you know, they had marbles there. That is one of Hierguth’s favorite things to play with right now. He was able to buy 17 marbles with all of his tickets. Again, he was bursting with excitement.

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The taxi home seemed equally entertaining for him. Once we got arrived back at the mission, we let Hierguth pick out three pieces of candy to take home. One for him and one for each of his sisters. We walked him home and watched him give packs of M&Ms to his sisters. He showed them his bag full of marbles and his happy meal box full of leftovers. On our walk home, Andrew and I were on such a high. Never in a million years would I have thought a $20 outing could bring that much joy to anyone’s life. It cost us next to nothing but meant the world to him. And really, it meant the world to us to be able to do that with him. We are really lucky to be able to sponsor the kids that we do here. We are lucky to have relationships with them and be able to communicate with them. It’s going to be really hard saying goodbye to all of the kids, but especially our sponsor kids.

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