ashleyandandrew

Blogging Away!

Time to Write Something January 29, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 1:58 pm
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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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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!

 

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!

 

It’s Friday… again? May 24, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 1:24 am
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Goodness gracious… I feel like I’m flying through my life these days. I don’t want time to stand still, but I need it to slow down just a little. Every Sunday afternoon, I find myself thinking that the weekend flew by and it’s already time to go back to work on Monday. But in the blink of an eye, it’s Friday again.

When I was growing up, I used to have crazy anxiety over how much sleep I was getting if there were something important happening at school the next day. I took the importance of a good night’s rest for exams and things like that to the extreme. I remember countless nights of watching the clock and calculating how much sleep I could get if I fell sleep right at that moment, then recalculating a few minutes later, and recalculating again an hour after that. Nowadays, unless I get no sleep at all, I understand that a few cups of coffee can set a bad night’s sleep straight right quick like. But somehow, I’ve turned this scenario from being worried I won’t get enough sleep to worrying that my time here in Costa Rica is going by too quickly. And in the same way that I would lay in bed at night and calculate how much sleep I could get, I now constantly think about how much time I have left here. One minute, we’d only been here a few months with many, many more to go. Now suddenly, we’ve been here for almost a year. We now have just half a year left or so. We originally committed to stay for one year, and if you didn’t already know, we have extended our commitment through the end of 2013.

We’ve been through all kinds of ups and downs in our time here. I guess this wouldn’t be a very realistic composition of our time here if I didn’t talk about such things. Recently, the teenagers have been driving me absolutely insane when it comes to youth worship. Sometimes it seems like their mission in life to just make things as aggravating as possible. When people take us for granted and don’t appreciate anything we are trying to do, I so badly want to explain to them the sacrifice it takes for us to be here. This isn’t a paid job for us or a vacation. We are missionaries. We make nothing. Yet somehow this is one of the most involved jobs I have ever had. We work tons and tons of overtime each and every week and not only do we not have time and a half pay to look forward to, we don’t have any pay at all! When people back home don’t understand why we are here doing what we are doing, I can kind of get that. But when the people here see us working all day and doing ministry most nights of the week, and can’t appreciate why we are here and what it takes… it’s frustrating. So I say all of that to set up the story behind the teenagers and our battle to worship.

A few months ago, Andrew and I implemented Tuesday night youth worship. Previously, Tuesdays were solely youth recreation time. For our first six months here, it was the evening that I dreaded the most because it felt a whole lot like babysitting a bunch of teenagers. Who needs that headache? But we did it because it was providing a safe place for teenagers to go at night where they could have fun and not be hanging around in the streets. When we came back after our Christmas visit home though, we knew it was time to give the kids what they needed. Maybe not what they wanted, but what they needed. The teenagers here could play ping pong, foosball, and the wii for hours on end. Actually, they much prefer that over anything else. Changing every other Tuesday night from recreation to worship was certainly going to have some opposition. We blogged about the first night, which went really well. The set up is three or four worship songs, split into groups of five or six people, read a passage of the Bible and answer questions that we prepared. It seemed at first, that the majority of people were unaccustomed to worshipping. And it seemed that they were especially unaccustomed to reading the Bible together and talking about.

After a couple of meetings, we still had kids coming. The problem is that a lot of them would talk during the songs, joke around during their small group time, and answer the questions as fast as they could so they could play games afterward. They were completely missing an opportunity to worship God and dig into His word. One Tuesday night, I asked one of the youth afterwards why no one wanted to pray, worship, or read the Bible. His response was “I guess we are just lazy.” I told him I couldn’t quite understand that when Andrew and I were giving them the opportunity to do all of these things during Tuesday night worship time. I will say, there always seemed to be some tiny positive in each of our Tuesday night worships that kept us going. I asked Jaikel to help us set up the sound once and he suggested some worship songs for us. It was a small thing, but he cared enough to give his input. A couple of times, I’ve been lucky enough to open my eyes during worship and see a hand or two lifted in praise, no joking or anything, just genuine and sincere worship. We’ve consistently had around twenty kids coming to worship nights. After the first few go arounds, I thought they would just stop coming when it was worship and not recreation. After all, there are a few guys that consistently ask us every Tuesday if it’s worship or recreation. When we say it’s worship, they beg us to do only recreation. Every time this happens, I want to smack them and say, “you are going to worship whether you like it or not!” Even in my head, I’m joking when I say that. But in all seriousness, we have to do what’s best for them, even if it’s not what they consider the most fun at the moment. The group that whines and complains about worship still shows up surprisingly enough. Andrew and I made the commitment a while back that we would keep doing what we’re doing every other Tuesday night, even if it’s just the two of us showing up. At the very least, they’d see who we are and what we’re made of. And if no one showed up, they’d know we were still there in the church worshipping because it’s important to us.

The Tuesday night before last, I didn’t want to do worship. I had the same few guys complain to me again about it being worship night again. I was in a bad mood and I knew my attitude wasn’t so great. But I looked up a bible passage and prepared my discussion questions anyways. As I walked downstairs, I prayed for a better night with the youth and that they’d actually get something out of it. We always open in prayer. The majority of the time, no one wants to pray. They’d rather me pray  in English and them not understand a single word of it than one of them having to pray. But Beto actually volunteered to pray. He’s kind of a jokester, a good kid, but somewhat mischievous at times. I remember legitimately thinking about what I would do if he slipped some inappropriate joke into his prayer. Crap. What would be my course of action then? I listened as closely as I could to make sure I was understanding the Spanish. All of a sudden, he said he was thankful for Andrew and I doing this for them. I’m not sure if my face reflected the shock as I may have been jaw dropped, but I was grateful the lights were off to conceal it just in case. Later that same night, one of the three small groups ended up having really good discussion and they all took it really seriously. They ended up talking for probably twenty five minutes or so. One of the other groups finished extremely fast as usual. And the last group did seem to talk about all the questions and give it real thought, but also finished pretty fast. But there was that one group that actually discussed all the questions and cared about the bible study! After we were done with the worship and bible study, we let them play games for the last half an hour or so. It was the craziest thing, but one of the girls left right after we were done. She came for the worship part, but didn’t really care to stay for the games. Talk about that being a first. This past Tuesday night when we did recreation, Jonathan came up to me and asked, “why don’t we just do worship every Tuesday night?” That made me come full circle with this whole youth worship deal. At times, I have dreaded doing it with them because of how much some of them complain and express their disinterest in it. But you know what? They don’t have to come. There are kids here that legitimately appreciate the chance to worship and do bible study with us. And in their own teenage way, maybe they also appreciate us and what we do here.

It’s taken a long time to get to this point, on a variety of levels. I feel like I can finally say we have seriously good relationships with a lot of the kids here, of all ages. The kids can no longer pull a fast one on us when it comes to the reading rooms and doing programs. We know the drill and they know we know it. I’ve got serious authority with the preschoolers. That may sound silly, but it takes time. They are much more well behaved than they were last year when I took over. We have our little routine and it is so wonderful. We’re talking openly and honestly with the teenagers. They respect us. Is that not a major win in and of itself? I feel good about where we are with the language. Learning a new language is tough. I almost think it makes you a different person because it takes so long to become confident in what you’re saying. It’s hard to go from being a confident person who owns everything they say and do with boldness in their job, relationships, social circles, etc., to concentrating so hard on what to say and how to say it. It will humble you beyond what you even imagined possible. I’m not a terribly funny person, but I like to joke around and be sarcastic. Do you know how hard that is in a foreign language? I made a joke in a group of people this past week and I thought to myself, that is serious progress. It sounds so stupid, but it’s true. I still don’t really love talking in Spanish within groups of Spanish speakers. It still makes me nervous. So to make a joke on top of that… that’s progress my friend.

I’ve learned a great deal about this position I’m now in. As it turns out, missionary is really code for ‘friend, co-worker, communications manager, therapist, master of crafts, nurse, strategist, head of logistics, playground patrol, human resources, director of public relations, advice giver, decision maker, sponsorship liaison, teacher, etc.’ I don’t recall half of those things being in the job description, but we get to do a bit of everything here. I’m not even sure how you put half of that on a resume and have anyone believe it’s the same job position. For my entire life as long as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed having responsibility and being a leader in the environment I was in, whether it was school, work, church, or whatever else. Not much has changed. Someway or another, I’m the go to person for all kinds of stuff here. If we’re out of toilet paper in the mission center, I’m going to hear about it. If someone on staff has a problem with nearly anything, it’s coming to me. If there’s confusion on where to code an expense, I’m getting an email with questions. One thing’s for sure, I feel needed here… even if it’s to keep the toilet paper inventory at bay. And when every last person here is driving me insane with requests, ‘situations’, problems, questions, and whatever else, I still love them all and I’m thankful for my life here. There have been crazy difficult times here, but I have never once regretted coming here. Never once have I wished God had chosen something else for me.

A friend of mine asked me recently if I thought it would be easy to jump back into life in the US when we move home. My answer was honest and simple, yes. And probably far too easily, in fact. That’s just the way of the American lifestyle. It’s unbelievably convenient. But when I think about returning to the US, I know the most devastating part about it will be not seeing these people everyday. Do you know how many hugs I get a day from the children here? If I just think about leaving them all behind for too long, it makes me want to cry. My neighbor and friend, Maga, asked me recently when Andrew and I would have children. I should say that everyone clearly assumes we don’t want children since we are “so old” and don’t have any yet. By Costa Rican standards, I should probably be planning my third baby already. In any event, I told her that we’d probably have children in a few years once we are back in the US and settled into life there again. In complete sincerity, she responded, “but then I’ll never know them,” with such obvious disappointment in her eyes. I can hardly imagine a time when I won’t be coming here, even after I’m living in the states again. I know I’ll bring my kids here to visit so they can understand another piece of the world besides their own.

Well, tomorrow is Friday… again. Another week has flown by. I’m going to make a serious effort to concentrate on the present and not worry about the future and how fast the time is going. If this were even slightly boring, I’m sure the time would creep by. Ha! Quite the opposite here in Bajo Tejares!

 

Time Flies! March 2, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 8:28 pm
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I can hardly believe it’s been so long since my last blog. February flew by and I was too busy to write about it! What can I say, sometimes life happens and gets in the way of keeping up with the blog. In the last couple of days, I have been reading a few other blogs of people I know living abroad so now I am feeling inspired to keep on writing and capturing various memories of what’s been happening here. Plus countless people have told me they enjoy keeping up with us and the mission through the blog, which is equally inspiring.

This morning, I was laying bed scrolling through Facebook updates before actually getting out of bed. There is a slight chill in the air here today, mainly because of the wind, but it appears to be quite chilly in Jacksonville today. It had me thinking that I would love nothing more than to wake up in my cozy little home by the beach, throw on some clothes and a scarf, jump in the car with Mack, hit up the Starbucks on 3rd, and head to the dog park for the morning. How glorious it would be to be sipping on a deliciously warm venti caramel machiatto and watching Mack zip around the dog park enjoying life on a cool Saturday morning in Jax Beach. None of that is at all possible here, but it was sure nice to think about for a bit.

As I was sitting in the living room a little later, reading articles on my laptop this morning, our neighbor Maga walked up to the front door with fresh flowers for me. Any sad feelings about being anywhere but right here this Saturday morning had evaporated when she gave them to me ‘just because.’ In fact, as of late, I have hardly been able to enjoy any such pity parties in peace. Just yesterday, I went for a walk on my lunch break after being annoyed over something, determining I just wanted some time to myself to think through things. I don’t normally go for walks in the middle of the day so don’t you know I saw half the town on the walk where I wanted to be by myself. On my way up the hill, I notice a car approaching behind me and coming awfully close. I move out of the way only for it to stop next to me. It was Jenny and her boyfriend asking where I was going and if I wanted a ride. I told them I wanted the exercise, but thanks anyways. Then I passed one of the mothers sweeping her sidewalk near the top of the hill. She greeted me and asked “esta cansada, Ashley?” I wanted to answer with “dang straight I’m tired!” but I could hardly breath and didn’t know the correct translation for such a sentiment, so I just said “si” and kept on trucking. No more than two minutes later, Pabel comes zipping by in a taxi waving, likely on his way to the hospital with his wife to check out some complications she is having after her c-section. I make it just past the Hogar para Ancianos and hear a little voice calling my name from the other side of the street. It was Valeria waving to me on her walk home from school. I thought about how nice this half day at school must be for her since she usually has long, full days of rigorous schoolwork at her bilingual school. Maybe thirty seconds later, two teenagers come walking towards me on my side of the street, one of which is one of the more obnoxious 17 year old guys I have ever met in my lifetime and the other is his girlfriend. Why couldn’t Valeria have been on my side of the street and this kid on the opposite side? Literally right after passing these two, the cleaning lady at the mission is walking my way with a bag of groceries in her hand. We passed each other, exchanging comparable sentiments on how hot it was outside that day. I hadn’t even made it to the Maxi Pali yet and had already seen eight people I knew. Unbelievable. Once I got into town, things slowed a bit. I passed Musmanni, the bakery, which smells like heaven. Inside was one of the volunteers who has been coming to the mission. We had just laughed about our feast of sweets the day before that we all enjoyed for Laura’s last coffee on her last day working for the mission. The irony of passing by the bakery and seeing her picking out something delicious yesterday was enough to make me smile. Finally, I went to Aroma’s to grab a quick salad for lunch. Wouldn’t you know the director at Pura Vida Missions passes my table when headed to the restroom and stopped to say hello. Eleven people I know within an hour, all on a day where I wanted just an hour of solitude to be left to my own thoughts.

God has a sense of humor. Even though I assumed I wanted to just get out and be by myself, I come across so many people that care about me and I them. People that I really love. I love having connections that mean something with so many people. I like passing someone in the street and knowing their story. Never in my life did I ever think I would enjoy living in a small town. In fact, when I return to the States one day, it will be straight back to a large city for me. But it works for me here and I actually really enjoy going out somewhere and being guaranteed to know someone.

Anyways, back to what has actually been happening around here in the last month since my last blog. In the second week of February, we welcomed a small team from New Jersey. They were all Puerto Rican and spoke Spanish, what a blessing that was! Of course, Puerto Rican Spanish is different than Costa Rican Spanish… so I had to pay real close attention when they spoke, but I was getting it. One of my managers at the bank was Puerto Rican and his English was so fast I would struggle to keep up, forget about his Spanish. So in the speed sense, I understood better than I expected. What got me was the thick New Jersey accent on top of the Spanish. This group was so much fun though. They did some baseball down in the Bajo, crafts up here at the mission, and then nightly events for the various groups. We served hotdogs each night to the different ministry groups and let me tell you – I’ve never seen so many hotdogs!

The last two weeks have been the Beach UMC teams. This was a fun time for me because I knew several people coming on these trips and we were able to work alongside of them in their construction projects. They took on the sidewalk project down in the village. It looks amazing! I cannot even put into words what a blessing that will be when rainy season gets here. There are at least two slabs down there that I helped smooth out, so there’s something to be proud of! I admit, I didn’t do a wealth of work while down there with the team… but I wasn’t about to take jobs from people who had raised a good amount of money to come down here and serve in this capacity. Plus, I was just enjoying their company for the most part. I do have a quick but entertaining story from my time down there. In the first week, I volunteered to take a wheelbarrow of concrete down the stretch. I was excited since the wheelbarrow jobs are a hot commodity and I finally got my hands on one. So I carry it up to the mixer and set it down. Jack and Don tell me I need to stand there and hold it so it doesn’t fall over when the concrete starts pouring into it. How would I know any different? I wasn’t actually paying attention when the people before me went. And they said it with straight faces so who am I to doubt them? There I am, standing by my wheelbarrow when the concrete starts to pour. It started splattering everywhere! ALL over me. At this point, everyone is laughing hysterically. If you stand too close to the mixer when it’s pouring, you will end up with concrete all over you. Lesson learned. Actually, two lessons were learned; ask a third person to confirm instructions given by Jack and/or Don as they may be setting you up and stand far away from the mixer.

We’re already in March and I have no idea where all the time goes. In the last few weeks, we have hired several new staff members and said goodbye to one of the best we’ve ever had here, Laura. I’m impressed with the people we have hired thus far and I think they are doing a great job. Laura leaving was a difficult thing for us on several levels. She’s truly just a great person, but she was also really great at her job. Several months back when Laura told us she was leaving, I started making this conscious effort to hug all the children more. I know that sounds strange. It’s not as though I never hugged the children before, but it was usually if they came up to me for a hug, I would then hug them. Anyone who knows me will tell you I am not a very physical person, definitely not a touchy feely kind of person. So for me, it is a conscious effort to be the ‘initiator’ of the hug. But I am making the effort every day now with as many kids as possible because I know that’s something they are going to miss with Laura being gone. We had a really fun final get together for Laura over coffee on Thursday. We closed the mission early that day and originally planned a small gathering. That small gathering turned into a much larger one with coffee, my delicious brownies, pastries, heaping plates of oreos, homemade empanadas, a couple of gifts and impromptu speeches, and over twenty people. Staff, volunteers, friends. But it was a good time. It was also a good reminder of what it takes to keep this place going each and every day. Everybody brought something different to the table, literally – you cannot even imagine the variety of food we had there. But philosophically speaking, all of us bring something unique to this mission; talents, cultures, passions, personalities. All I can say is that it’s good to be a part of it all.

 

The Flood November 15, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 12:18 am
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Man, yesterday was an interesting day! This is a story that is only funny way after the fact…

On Tuesdays, Andrew and I work all day doing education/recreation activities downstairs. After the kids leave at 5:00, we usually get about an hour to relax and then head right back downstairs to do youth recreation time from 6:00 – 8:00. Yesterday was no different. We were are all downstairs with the kids having a good time playing random games. I believe sometime around 7:00, I came upstairs to use the bathroom. I was in and out quickly so I could get back downstairs, not really paying attention.

Around 7:45 or so, Felicia went upstairs to check her email and go to the bathroom. She noticed water in the hallway and thought it may be the washing machine, but then heard the toilet running. She ran downstairs to tell Andrew what had happened. At this point, I was standing outside collecting basketballs from the kids as they were getting ready to leave for the night while simultaneously talking to Jessica on the phones about our plans to go to San Jose today. One of the kids pointed up towards our bedroom. There was a stream of water flowing down. This was bad news. I stopped mid-sentence in my conversation with Jessica and said, “we’ve got a big problem here, I have to call you back!”

Now I had to get all these kids out of here… and they won’t hesitate to let you know that it’s only 7:50, not 8:00. As I am wrapping things up downstairs, Andrew comes running back down and tells me the apartment is flooded. It was hard to really imagine what he meant by “flooded” until I got up there myself. What a nightmare.

I walked inside and the water was flowing 2/3 the way down the hallway. As I made my way through the water in the hall, I quickly realized that two of the bedrooms, the bathrooms and the laundry area had over an inch of water throughout the entire space. Mack was slippin and slidin all over the place, curious as ever. We quickly put him in the first bedroom, the only one without any water in it yet. We made a wall of towels at the edge of the water down the hall so it wouldn’t go any further. Ronald, the guard, came to help along with Pabel, the maintenance guy. Pabel happened to be dropping off his car for the evening and Andrew asked him for some help. One of the teenage guys also came in to assist. Everyone was sweeping water to one area and Pabel was scooping it up in buckets to dump in the shower. I was grabbing things up off the floor as fast as I could. Water was everywhere. We had to move furniture all around the rooms and hallway to try and soak up all of it. We were flying through towels.

Meanwhile, the phone is ringing off the hook and I finally realized it’s probably Jessica calling back to make sure no one is headed to the hospital and nothing is on fire. I explained to her that there was water everywhere. She kind of laughed at first and then I said, “Jessica, you are not understanding me right now… I am standing in a lake of water inside the apartment. There is literally water in almost the entire apartment right now.” Needless to say, she let me off the phone real quick.

During the chaos, I said to Felicia multiple times “I just don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.” When in doubt, laugh. After such a long day with the kids and then this, if I had started to cry at any point, I wouldn’t have stopped. So we laughed. If you can imagine such a thing, all 6 of us were able to get the floors more or less free of water in about an hour. When we initially came upstairs to the mess, I thought it’d be an all night affair. After we finished getting everything cleaned up, Andrew and I were talking to Jaikel, the teenager who came to help us. We asked him how he would describe all of this and he answered “un desastre” (a disaster). Right, he was. We’re still not done washing all those towels!

 

Catch-up on Life November 10, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — AshleyandAndrew @ 12:15 am
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It’s time to play catch-up. I don’t necessarily have one thing in particular to write about tonight, but a variety of happenings around the mission here lately.

I have taken over the preschool program in the last month or so. Laura went on vacation and I covered for her… then she “gifted” me the program upon her return. Truth be told, I fell in love with the class the very first time I sat in on it during my first few weeks here, so I really do consider it a gift. The program is for children ages 3 to 6 twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Between the two classes, we have an average of over twenty children coming each day. One day, I am going to write a blog called Kids Say the Darnedest Things, Spanish version. There is no more precious age group than this one. We open each class with a simple prayer, it’s really all I am capable of in Spanish… but I tell myself it’s simple for the children’s sake. One day, I let a 5 year old named Allison pray for us, she wanted to so badly so I finally said yes. She began by thanking God for the day and ended with thanking God for the food we were about to eat. If only preschool class involved food in any way! I take that back. Just two days ago, we were making penguins in the shapes of squares to go review shapes. The tiniest little girl in the class, Nazareth, dips her little baby finger into the glue and slops a good bit of it right into her mouth. It must not have been too awful, she didn’t even flinch. The whole table looked quite confused when I told them that the glue doesn’t go in the mouth. Something amusing seems to happen everyday with the preschoolers. Just yesterday, I was having a staring contest with Yohan. You really have to know Yohan to appreciate this story, and if you have ever been to Bajo Tejares… you probably know the little devil I am talking about. He is a touch crazy to say the least. We were staring at each other, eyeball to eyeball, and he kept getting closer and closer. I really should have known better but just as he was about 2 inches from my face, he headbutts me right on the nose. It was quite the painful sensation and I’m probably lucky my nose isn’t broken from it. Lesson learned, never let Yohan get that close to your face.

Andrew has taken over the recreation aspect of the mission recently. He’s doing a phenomenal job with it as it’s no easy task. The children love him. I can always hear them yelling for Andrew to come play with them. There are 2 variations to his name these days, Handrew and Andreuss, the first with a very strong H sound in the beginning and the second sounds just like Dr. Seuss. Yesterday, after we came upstairs for the evening, Andrew tells us about an interesting encounter that day. He walked into the center and heard Julio, who is probably 12 years old, and a few guys all huddled around Julio looking at something. Andrew went over to see what they were staring at. Julio had one single hair on his nipple and they all thought it was the weirdest thing. Then suddenly they are all lifting their shirts up and beginning to examine their own body hair situation. Andrew told them that it was normal since he was getting older and showed him his own chest hair. As he walked away, he heard one of them say “hold still!” And just like that, Julio’s single hair was no more.

Last weekend, we got to experience the First Communion of some of the children of Bajo Tejares. It was really wonderful. The church is quite small but is beautifully landscaped. As Andrew and I walked up to the church, we immediately saw Valeria with her communion group. She was the one who invited us and was so excited to see us there. She looked stunning in her communion dress. We also saw Nicole, the sponsor child of Andrew’s mother there, also looking beautiful in her dress. Interestingly enough, Nicole is a pretty quiet little girl who didn’t have too much of a connection with either Andrew or myself before the communion. Since that day, she comes up to us every time she is here to give us a hug. And even though I didn’t recognize anyone else, a little girl recognized me and came running up to me asking if I could make sure to get a picture of her brother taking his first communion. A few days before the communion, I had asked how long it would likely take. The answer I received was about an hour. Why I didn’t immediately double that time in my head is still a mystery. I live in Latin America now, I need to get on Latin American time. Sure enough, sitting in a packed church on wooden pews with no air conditioning, easily an hour and a half into the totally Spanish service, I realize that this is obviously a 2+ hour venture. Good Lord in Heaven. Situations like that are the humorous part of living in this culture and afterwards, you just can’t help but laugh.

Tuesday was my 26th birthday and I very much enjoyed celebrating it here in Costa Rica. Mack’s birthday falls around mine and since he was a rescue puppy, we don’t know the exact date. So we call my birthdate his as well. The night before, I made Mack a birthday cake for the first time. It was made of peanut butter, honey, vanilla, shredded carrots, and flour. It smelled quite delicious. For lunch, the entire staff and volunteers went out to Aroma’s. We had a fun time. After lunch, we let Mack eat his birthday cake. Initially, he just kept licking the icing off of it. Then Andrew crumbled it up for him so he knew to eat it all. And with his hands covered in cake and peanut butter icing, rubbed them all over my face. How lovely. Andrew also brought me a beautiful flower arrangement of orange roses. Tons of people wished me a Happy Birthday throughout the day here at the mission. Later that evening, we watched the results from the election to end the day. That’s the only part of the day I wish had turned out differently!

We’ve been doing a lot of Christmas shopping recently to prepare for the parties coming up in December. Felicia and I will walk to various stores in town and carry all kinds of things back on foot. It’s a bit of a workout. Our last trip, we ended up carrying 14 bottles of shampoo and conditioner back… and 2 gallons of milk. That was a bit much. Andrew and I have made our first solo trip to the Wal-Mart, which I should note that we only know how to get to via the airport. By via the airport I mean we turn into the arrivals and departures area, drive through to the exit, get back on the highway going the opposite direction, and get off at the Wal- Mart. I’m sure there is an easier way, we just don’t know it yet. I’ve also been working relentlessly on the Christmas party lists so that we are ready for the parties. We will have around 400 people coming to the parties this year and each person will receive their own gift bag and goodies inside. It’s a lot of work, but somebody’s gotta do it!

Lastly, people ask us often how the Spanish is coming along. I feel like it’s our version of “are we there yet?” It’s hard to give an exact answer because learning a language is such an abstract thing to track, but others think we are doing well. At the last tween girls meeting, I was standing with a few girls and one of the girls turned to the other and asked if I spoke any Spanish. The response, without hesitation, was “Oh yes, Ashley speaks Spanish.” A few people on staff have told us they think we are doing very well for the short amount of time we have been here. After all, 4 months is not as much time as it seems when it comes to learning a new language. At this point, we can make our way through almost any conversation with a teenager or adult who is willing to explain things to us if we don’t understand or speak slower. We are also doing much better understanding the little kids since we are spending so much time with that age group. Sometimes I think of random words or phrases in English and am amazed that I could actually say the same thing in Spanish if I wanted to. Most recently, we have had one of my former high school small group girls (Felicia) staying with us and she doesn’t speak any Spanish. Whenever she wants to speak to someone else here or someone wants to say something to her, a translator is required. It still surprises me when I am able to translate anything for anyone. It’s crazy to me that I am capable of doing that at this point. Speaking of Felicia… she was outside playing with a child this morning when an American woman came up to her and asked her how she was doing. Felicia responded that she was doing very well. The American woman patted her on the shoulder and told her that her English was so good. We all laughed at that one. That is one thing I enjoy here, being the resident expert in English!