Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Blisters, Backpacks, and Baby Traps

Our daily treks around town are an adventure in themselves. Walking everywhere presents special challenges every day...

Our walk from home to school is usually a 20 minute walk at a pretty brisk pace. Hallelujah that Sarah is a morning person and happily faces her daily walk!!! I can't imagine what our mornings would be like if she hated the walk... So anyway, we don our backpacks each morning (weighing in at about 15-20 lbs a piece) and start our day. We are sure to speak to every neighborhood dog as we pass - Sarah has them all named... "Skipper" is the dog with the hurt leg, "Stinky Dog" has obvious reasons for his name, "Baby" is the rat terrier next door, "Happy Dog with Crazy Teeth", etc. We walk with determination, keeping a brisk pace in order to get to school before the bell. I can't believe that at this point in our lives we are worried about being tardy to our Phonics Class!!!

The sidewalks are slick - VERY SLICK! Due to the constant rain, nothing ever dries out and algae grows extremely well. Billy has named this "Green Ice" due to the fact that he frequently, yet unintentionally, does an olympic figure skating performance for us while walking on the sidewalk. He hasn't fallen YET. We're waiting for the fateful day...

The sidewalks are in terrible condition. They have lots of cracks and places where they are uneven, if there is a sidewalk at all. The roads are not much better. If the cracks and bumps aren't enough, there are "Baby Traps" everywhere... places where manholes, utility holes, storm drains etc. are totally uncovered and open to the world. An adult could easily break an ankle or a leg if you weren't careful and fell in. A child would completely disappear!!! Someone told us the other day about a man that fell into a hole and broke both legs! Luckily, we haven't made this mistake yet. Sarah trips often on the broken sidewalks, though. Yesterday she arrived at school with scraped up hands and legs from a spill she took on the way.

Today, I walked so much (lots of grocery shopping and things that we had to do downtown) that I have a giant blister on the BOTTOM of my foot. How on earth do you get a blister under your foot?! Somehow I have managed... Miles fought blisters on his heels for the first week or two. Guess this is another example of just how "soft" Americans are! We aren't used to all of this walking and staying on our feet!

Little victories... While we were downtown today, I had to ask directions to several different places (of course, they were all on opposite ends of the downtown area!). I was so excited to be able to ask for directions in Spanish and understand everything that was said to me and find the places!!! And when I asked for directions today, the other person didn't laugh at my poor pronunciation or terrible grammar and vocabulary. Woo Hoo!!! Four weeks ago, we came downtown and couldn't find anything, couldn't ask where anything was, and had no idea what we were doing. We paid big bucks for a taxi because we didn't know how to take the bus or how to get home... WOW! We have really come a long way in one month! That is very exciting! Billy was able to pay the water bill today, in Spanish, and buy fish at the pescaderia. We ARE getting somewhere! Thank Heaven for small victories!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What's the food like???

We are greatly enjoying the food in Costa Rica, especially the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. On the weekends, we go to la feria (farmer's market) and visit the various farm vendor tables to choose fruits and vegetables for the week. There is a small feria about 2 miles from our house that is open on Saturday mornings, or a HUGE feria on Sunday mornings that requires us to take a taxi about 5 miles or so from home. At the large feria, you can rent a cart to push while you shop (it's a trick to try to push a cart over the rocky, muddy area). You must bring your own bags for taking your purchases home. This weekend's purchases included guava, potatoes, mangoes, watermelon, onions, strawberries, raspberries, bananas, apples, pineapples, oranges, starfruit, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots... We were loaded down by the time we left!

Most fruits and vegetables are relatively cheap because they are grown here. Somethings are imported and are expensive (grapes are about $8 per kilo!). We are enjoying the fruits that we never buy at home in the USA because of cost... for example, pineapples are 50 cents or $1 at the most, and they are ten times sweeter than any I have ever had!

Lizbeth, our tutor and househelper, makes us fresh juices every day. We have a lemon tree in the backyard, so we frequently have fresh lemonade. My favorite is the fresh pineapple juice and the starfruit juice. Today, Billy was so happy to come home to a pitcher of fresh raspberry juice on the table.

Lizbeth makes our lunch each day. In Costa Rica, the traditional "big meal" each day is lunch. She has been with us for 15 days now and she hasn't made anything we don't love! She is a great cook. We specifically asked that she make only Tico food (no American dishes). She was very happy with this idea! Typical foods... arroz con pollo (chicken with rice), gallo pinto (a rice and black bean dish), pollo frito con papas (fried chicken and potatoes), sopas (soups), verduras y pollo con arroz (vegetables and chicken over rice), etc. One day, we had this awesome dish that looked like chile rellenos, but was actually fresh green beans that were battered with egg and cooked.

Typical breakfast here is fresh fruit and bread, maybe cheese. Typical dinner is the same as breakfast. Lunch is really the big meal. Since the boys are in school for lunch, we have been having lunch leftovers for dinner.

Weight Watchers wouldn't be in business here, I don't think. The portion sizes are pretty small, and there is a big emphasis on fruits and vegetables. At lunch, when Lizbeth makes the side dishes, it is a tiny amount. For example, today we had a meat and pasta dish with camote (white sweet potatoes) and broccoli on the side. For four people, she made one camote cut into four pieces and a section of broccoli about the size of my fist. No chance you might over eat!!!

Dessert is not big here. We just eat fruit.

With all of this good, healthy eating and all of the walking we have to do, you would think that we will lose some weight!!! Gloria a Dios!!!

Things we are missing from home... spicy foods of any sort - there just isn't hot, spicy food here; cheese dip and chips - they don't have Velveeta here and corn tortilla chips are hard to come by; Blue Bell - enough said!; cake mixes are $3-4 per box - we'll splurge for birthdays; things from the grill in the backyard - Billy is hoping to make a grill out of a car wheel rim (?); tacos from Mexico, or any Mexican food for that matter!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

La Carpio ministry

NOW we feel like we are at home! We ventured out from our daily grind of school work and hooked up with a missionary from Houston who has a ministry in La Carpio. La Carpio is a barrio area in San Jose, comprised mostly of Nicaraguan refugee families. The area looks very much like the colonias of Reynosa, Mexico that we have spent the last eight years ministering to. The only difference is that La Carpio is on the edge of a rapidly flowing rainforest river (highly polluted) and there is vegetation here... banana trees and tropical plants, mostly. The streets are mostly unpaved, dirt roads with one or two paved roads on the edges. The houses are mostly built like the colonia houses - pallets, corregated tin, plastic, whatever can be found and nailed up as a wall.

We are working here every week, running a children's ministry program that we are modeling after Pascual's approach in Mexico. We play games with the kids, then come together for bible songs and a bible lesson. We hope to incorporate a craft time soon, depending upon funding. There are about 6 or 7 other missionaries from the language school who travel here with us each week, but none have experience with children's ministries in the field. Therefore, Billy and I were immediately given the responsibility of putting together the plan. That's fine with us... we really felt at home as soon as we set foot on this soil. The children seem so familiar to us, which is a welcome feeling right now when NOTHING seems familiar or normal to us! La Carpio is a welcome diversion to homework and school. And it is actually an extension of our language learning, in that we are forced to use our newly acquired language skills in working with these kids! Please click on any La Carpio link in this blog to see a video sample of our work in this community.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Manana has arrived!

Hallelujah! Evidently manana has arrived - the internet man finally appeared and hooked us up, so we are now on-line and don't have to pay at the internet cafe (which became a process of paying to download a new virus and bring it home to our laptop - Thank God for Norton Antivirus!).

So, we have access to the rest of the world now. Until last night, we had no idea what was going on in the USA or anywhere else. Even the one English newspaper here is only local news and nothing about the rest of the world.

We continue to be overwhelmed with homework and studying. In some instances, we feel like pre-school children... we have a class where all we have done so far is learn the spanish alphabet and sounds, play alphabet bingo in spanish, and practice phonetic rules - reminds me a lot of when I taught kindergarten! Then I switch classes and go to Conversational Language where my brain gets completely blasted with new vocabulary and conversational situations every day! It's like going from Pre-K to college when the bell rings! However, I'm really learning a lot in that class! Three weeks ago, I couldn't even find my house. Now, I can give and take directions in spanish, meet and greet new people and carry on polite conversations, purchase anything in the market I might need, hold a lengthy conversation about the weather (I think I might even be able to become a weatherman on the news!), visit the bank and carry on general banking business, and catch a bus to anywhere! I have to keep looking at the little things that I'm learning and remember that three weeks ago I wasn't even close to where I am now.

After Conversation, Billy and I are in our Grammar class together. We spend 2 hours (all in spanish, of course) learning about the rules of language (nouns, adjectives, articles, verbs, etc.). So, again, when the bell sounds we go from using our "college level brains" to using our 3rd or 4th grade brains. Today, we are conjugating verbs (AHHHHH!!!). We have already finished the unit on nouns, articles, and adjectives (all 5 kinds of adjectives) and we are being tested at the end of the week. This is not a vocabulary class... this is all actual usage. Remember diagraming sentences in high school??? That's exactly the memory that keeps flashing through my mind while in this class.

Pray for our continued learning, and for our ability to actually use what we learn in conversation and ministry. We begin ministering in La Carpio tomorrow to Nicaraguan refugee children, so we will have lots of time to practice!!!

Love to you all!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

We're Still Alive!!!

I know that it appears that we dropped off the face of the earth... Actually, we have been without any "outside communication" for WAY TOO LONG!!! Costa Rica is definitely a manana culture - we called to sign up for our internet service (which also runs our telephone, television, etc.) on the first day we were here. We were told, "Someone will call you back to set an appointment manana". Well, after two or three mananas passed, we began the squeaky wheel tactic and called often. The answer continued to be the same - someone will call you manana. Finally, the internet contract man came and we signed the contract and paid the deposit, etc. Then he says, "Someone will call you manana to set an appointment for installation." Well, you guessed it... he still hasn't called or come by. So we began the squeaky wheel tactic again yesterday. Hopefully, we will have internet soon! Maybe manana - HA!
So now you're asking yourself, "if they don't have internet, how are they posting this?" Simple, we found the one 2 ft. square spot in our house where we can pick up someone's wireless signal from the neighborhood! So we fight each other over who gets to stand in the 2 ft. spot each evening and check their email!!!
So anyway - we are alive and well and beginning to adapt to Costa Rican life. We went through a minor slump of culture shock/transitional chaos at the end of our first week. We were so thankful for the training we have had in that area, as we were able to recognize the symptoms and roll with it... this, too, shall pass. This has been a MUCH better week and we are getting in the groove at the Instituto de Lengua Espanola. And the CONSTANT RAIN is becoming just another part of life - so much so that we hardly notice, really. However, Sarah did tell me today that we should play Noah's Ark with her toys because it is still raining.
The kids are transitioning well.
  • Ryan is in classes with 18 kids from Mount Vernon College in Ohio. They are all Spanish majors and this time at the Instituto is a part of their degree plan. He is also meeting with Young Life in San Jose to become a volunteer student leader here, as well as volunteering at an orphanage - helping to care for children and translate their sponsor letters.

  • Miles is liking school (amazing!). He has joined the school's indoor soccer team, an international youth group, and a bible study group. He is making many friends, both American and Tico. Miles is in love with Costa Rican food!

  • Sarah is in an all-spanish preschool and is picking up spanish way faster than we are! She comes home and holds long conversations with Lizbeth (our tutor/househelper/Tica friend). She enjoys the fact that we don't have a vehicle, as she gets to walk everywhere with us. She especially loves jumping in puddles, which are EVERYWHERE due to the rainy season.
Billy and I are working hard at school. We have class for 4 hours everyday - one hour of phonics/vocabulary, one hour of conversational language, and two hours of grammar. None of our teachers speak/teach in English. Our grammar teacher understands some english, but does not speak any to us. When we come home, we eat lunch and begin our homework. Lizbeth spends time in conversation with us and helps us with our verbal skills. She finds us very entertaining and seems to enjoy her time as "teacher" each day. She keeps telling us that we are muy inteligente, which we know is a flat lie! HA! Yesterday, we worked on homework from 1-4 p.m., then we took a break and walked to the grocery store. After dinner, we did another 2 hours of homework before I literally fell asleep at the table and had to get up and go to bed! Tonight, I have a presentation to memorize (en espanol) and two pages of grammar homework. During our orientation, someone described language school as "trying to get a drink of water from a fire hydrant". NO KIDDING!!! That is a great description! I think I actually sprained something in my brain during the first day of classes!!!

We will begin working with a mission next week. La Carpia is a refugee community of Nicaraguans. We have met some missionaries that work with a children's ministry to this community and we have volunteered to be in ministry with them while we are here. Also, it will be great incentive to work even harder on our spanish - we will have to work with these children and understand their language, as well as speak with them and share the love of Christ with them. We anxiously look forward to beginning this ministry next week.

Okay - sorry to talk your ear off, but I'm communication starved! Speaking in english doesn't require half as much effort as carrying on a conversation in spanish! See above for photos of the school, our house, Sarah's first day of school, and Miles & Sarah overlooking the city (at a park down the street from us). Look for new postings soon... maybe manana! :)