ashleyandandrew

Blogging Away!

Time to Write Something January 29, 2014

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I suppose it’s finally time to break the blogging silence. I haven’t written anything in a while. I think I was slightly afraid that once I opened the blog site, I might revisit the previous posts while I was here and I just wasn’t ready for that. Though I couldn’t help but immediately notice that I am lacking a post from December altogether. We all know by now how much that annoys me… the archives are forever reflecting that I skipped a month! I know I’ve said this before in October or November I believe, but I got away with it. I had drafted the post in one month and finally posted it in another. The archives kept the month I drafted it in. While I feel that I cheated the system, it soothed my soul to see every single month lined up on the right side of my screen without a single month missing. But here we are in late January and it is time to write something. Maybe it’s not a bad thing that December came and went without a blog post. It fits the story and tells its own piece.

When I look back at our last few weeks at the mission, it’s all a blur. It all happened so quickly. We have been back just about a month now, yet it feels much longer than that. Then when I think of things that happened when we first arrived in Costa Rica a year and a half ago, those memories feel like a lifetime ago. The Christmas parties this year were a lot of fun and a huge success. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are reached through the mission. We invite all children, teenagers, and adults who are actively involved in our programs and ministries to the parties. This year, that was nearly 400 people. But that doesn’t include the many more people that come through the mission gates at any given time. I think I did a pretty decent job of staying in the moment and enjoying the parties versus running the show. Being in charge of all those parties is tough because I just want it to go well for the kids and people attending you always run the risk of missing out on the fun by being the go to person and keeping it running smoothly. I was blessed to have enough volunteers and people surrounding me to allow me the chance to just be with the kids and relish my last big event with them.

As a staff, we did a really entertaining skit of the Christmas story. I think we did one run-through and the majority of us had one sheet-fitting with wardrobe, aka Maga. That was it. Talk about typical Latin American planning. My little heart was becoming overwhelmed with the lack of practice and planning that went into this, but it all turned out wonderful. We all looked ridiculously good in our wrapped sheets and headdresses. I was a shepherd and my umbrella as a staff looked quite impressive. Xiomara was just about the best Mary I have ever seen. She’s quite the actress. Poor Vinicio was Joseph and he just had to go along with all her antics. During our one and only run-through, she reenacted a birth scene that had us all in tears we were laughing so hard. Needless to say, that part didn’t make the final cut.

We also learned the dance to “What Does the Fox Say?” as a staff for the youth party. Luckily, we had several more practices for that. It was necessary seeing as though it’s a choreographed deal that is more than a little complex to teach 8 or 9 people. Some of us are slower than others. Interestingly enough, Xiomara saw us practicing one morning and said she wanted to be a part of it. The rest of us are at least a decade or two younger than her and it had taken us a few practices to even come close to having it down. Within one hour, she was easily as good as half of the other people doing the dance. She’s multi-talented. We had someone record our dances a few times and were quite impressed with ourselves. Then the night of the youth party rolls around. I am not going to name names here, but the video of the final product is easily some people’s worst performance! I don’t know what happened but when you look at the pictures of the dance, the still frames would indicate to you that we aren’t even doing the same dance! Nonetheless, the teenagers still loved it. As soon as we began, they started going nuts. I think this dance and even the skit were so much fun because it was all of us as a staff doing this together. We planned it all out together, practiced together, and pulled it off together. That is significant to me as this staff hasn’t had the same unity as in times of the past. It was nice to go out on that note.

Andrew and I chose to stay a week longer after the parties instead of leaving with everyone else once they were over. That was such a smart decision as it gave us time to decompress from Christmas chaos and spend some quality time with everyone in the very tranquil last week of mission activities for the year. There weren’t too many kids at the mission in that last week, but we made sure to spend as much one on one time as we could with the ones that were there. Hierguth came every day and we soaked up our final moments with him. We also got to spend a lot of time with Yohan and little brother Jorhan. I cannot even believe I have waited this long to talk about Jorhan. Those two little rascals showed up to the mission one day and Yohan introduced him as his little brother and I remember standing there staring down this small, white version of Yohan in awe. Two of them. There are some kids at the mission that I absolutely love to pieces, but am grateful there’s just one of them to deal with. Yohan was that child for me. I really didn’t know if we could handle another, and so close in age! Now all of a sudden, here’s another little hell raiser. Yohan part dos, or as we lovingly refer to him, Yohan blanco. I jokingly told Andrew that we were quite lucky to have Jafeth agree to take over the preschool program well before Jorhan showed up. Now we certainly aren’t paying him enough for the challenges this next year holds for him.

Our last few days in Costa Rica were a bit chilly. We had planned to have a water day as our final hurrah with the kids. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday went by, too cold to do much besides wear jackets, drink coffee, and warm up by chasing kids on the playground. Yet somehow, as I type this now at my house in Jacksonville Beach were it’s in the 30’s, I would gladly go back to the “cold” weather of San Ramon. Thursday rolled around and we suddenly had amazing, beautiful weather. Andrew and Jafeth started filling tons and tons of water balloons. We had several volunteers in that week and everyone just kept taking shifts filling balloons. I’m not sure how word got out, but by the afternoon, we had three or four times as many kids as the previous few days. It was perfect. There are times that things happen and we look back after the fact and see how God orchestrated it all. For some reason, the entire day I could see God was doing this for us so we could just enjoy the kids one last time. Every moment of it all, I thanked God over and over. We had so much fun. Jafeth and I looked at each other at one point and I remember saying to him that this was all God and his response was “I was thinking the exact same thing.”

Friday was a somber day. We had a handful of kids at the mission. It made us even more grateful for the previous day’s water balloon fun. All the kids left around 3:00 and it was just the staff. We decided to close early. Hierguth was the last child to leave. We said goodbye and told him we loved him. Andrew told him to make sure he listened to his mother and grandmother always. We hugged him and he turned to walk away. We watched him walk out of the gates and then Andrew and I both turned to walk back in the apartment. I could feel the tears streaming down my face before I ever made it back inside. We sat down and cried together for a few minutes.

That afternoon and evening, we had a steady stream of visitors come to say goodbye. With each and every one of them, I wanted to freeze time and have it sit still. I heard Mauricio’s jolly laugh for the last time in a while. I deeply regret not having Pabel say okie dokie one more time for me. It’s one of my favorite Pabel expressions but it will have to wait until this summer. In between visitors and late into the night, I was packing away. We truly did look like we were hauling our life away when we left the mission at 4:00 a.m. the next morning.

Fast forward to life back in the United States. It was a crazy time to come home, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holidays. The question we received most was “are you happy to be back?” I have a bit of a confession to make. I probably said yes to a variety of people and it couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I still don’t even know what the true answer is. I find it most difficult to fake being excited when so many people here are genuinely excited to have us back. For weeks, I kept hoping I could be as excited to be here as everyone was to have us here. I recently read one of the most useful articles about missionaries returning from the mission field. It talked about how whether you’ve been gone a year or twenty years, most missionaries feel similar feelings of this being very much a grieving process. I have to say that I agree with it. Andrew and I have had to say goodbye to the life that we knew as missionaries in Costa Rica. Even when we go back to visit, it will never be the same. It’s hard not being there for so much. The kids went to Camp Brittney a couple of weeks ago. I must have checked the camp’s facebook page a thousand times for photo updates. I was so grateful to see pictures of the kids having so much fun there. I desperately wish I could have been there to see them off and welcome them home as I’ve done the last three times we’ve sent kids to camp. I miss our daily interactions with people. I yearn to walk outside of the apartment and have children scream my name with excitement, to have Cristhel come bring me the tiniest of flowers that she picked on her way to the mission each and every day. I want to gather all the little ones up off the playground and sing songs with them and do the preschool program. I would love to hear Luis Fabian yell “Andrew!” but really be calling me because that’s what he’s always done, or Jonathan yell “Davis!” every time he sees either of us. I’d love to let Mack out on the playground and have all the kids chase him around like they love doing so much.

I could go on for days talking about all that I miss there. I miss it terribly. It is certainly a process to move on and I have no idea where I am in that. It’s difficult to write about it all, difficult to look at pictures of our time there. When I can look at all the pictures and smile without the tears flowing, maybe then I will be past all of this grieving. The sadness will fade and all that will be present is the joy of the whole experience. One day.

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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

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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!

 

Social Butterfly October 21, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 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!

 

RIP September September 8, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 11:44 pm
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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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