Thursday, December 28, 2006

Winter Wonderland

Well, we have been in the States for almost two weeks now and spent time in Kansas with my family, and we are currently in Colorado with John's family. It is great fun, to be sure. At my house we watched the entire 5th season of 24, the TV show, with my Mom. It was intense. We also had a fabulous time creating sugar cookies with my fam. I let Laura dye the icing for the cookies, and she actually poured in about 1/4 of the bottle of red food coloring which meant that we had a bowl of blood-red frosting for our Christmas cookies. We did use this whenever a cookie broke to show that its little cookie apendages were slightly bloody. Merry twisted Christmas. They were very funny. The other highlight story from the McCulley house was that my mother's miniture dauschaund (not sure how to spell that), Lexi, suddenly disappeared from the living room for about 10 minutes. When she returned, her usually small stomach was bloated to three times its normal size, and she was looping dazily around the room rubbing her nose on the carpet. Puzzled and alarmed, we rushed around to determine what she had eaten. Moments later, my mom came out of her bedroom horrified. Lexi had eaten almost an entire gift of hot chocolate mix that included 3/4 cups of chocolate chips and tons of marshmallows. Mom immediately called the vet who told her to pour peroxide down her mouth to induce vomiting. Done. After the nasty incident, Lexi's stomach returned to its pre-gorging size and all was at peace once more. Our Christmas in Kansas was really wonderful, and we spent lots of time cooking and playing and just spending time with family, always one of my favorite things to do.
The day after Christmas we drove to Colorado. Yesterday we went sledding with John's whole family in San Isabel National Forest, about an hours drive from Pueblo. It was stunningly gorgeous with snowy mountains all around, and we created sledding trails down the hill that led out onto a frozen lake. Seriously, so fun. We bundled up like crazy to the point that everyone was actually hot from running around. Last night we drove to Denver to celebrate Becka's birthday with some of her good friends there. We went last night, because today there is another blizzard predicted (yes, "ANOTHER blizzard"...Colorado is still recovering from a blizzard one week ago) and starting in Denver and we didn't want to get stuck there. So, snow is coming down, and we are relishing the beauty of the whiteness that covers everything. We are really enjoying our time here and so blessed by family.

Monday, December 18, 2006

I'll Be Home for Christmas

Well, John and I arrived in the good old US of A around 7:30 p.m. Friday evening. We came back a few days early to surprise my Mom for her birthday. There were many funny plans surrounding this surprise, but in the end, Mike and Ashley picked us up, and we met up with the sisters and Mom at Olive Garden. She was thrilled to have all of her kids there for her birthday, and it was wonderful to see everyone. (note- I did have to beg to get on the plane in Dallas- you never know when a little whining will pay off if there are weight restrictions on your flight and they are trying to kick you off it.)
Our last week in Costa Rica was truly an enjoyable and charming time to round off our adventures. There was a Christmas party at International Teams with a gift exchange. Steph and Brian were to be helping out at a lock-in for the Tico youth group, and John and I were recruited to join the fun. Youth groups are pretty similar across the world. The kids were loud and wound up and stayed up all night, though we did not. Steph and I made no bake cookies for the party, but they didn't set quite right, and it ended up being a plate of no bake mess. Kids kept asking if it was beans and trying to dip chips into it. Very funny. At the last minute, we also made breakfast for 40 people. I learned how to make syrup!
It was sad to say goodbye to Brian and Steph, and we were so glad to have the time to spend with them and better understand and be a part of the work that is happening at Sonlife Costa Rica. It is good to be home and have some real down time, and we are looking forward to Christmas here and New Year's in Colorado!
**** I put more pics up, Album names are "Osa Peninsula" and "San Jose and Tico Fam."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

It's a Jungle Out There

The Osa Peninsula certainly did us right this past week. We had remarkably safe travel and an amazing trip. The drive down took about 9 hours, because the last bit of it especially was very slow going. Infastructure is definately a part of Costa Rica, but the southern peninsula is a little behind the rest of the country and the world. We saw many more bikes than cars. We bumped our way to Puerto Jimenez and arrived at our hotel out in the boonies, only to find that the road was closed. Not to be deterred we found another road through bamboo and arrived in the midst of their employee Christmas party. When John went to ask about our rooms, the manager was shocked that we had managed to get back there, and since there was a party going on right under where we would be staying that night, she bumped us up to the really nice resort also owned by her for no extra cost for all three nights. This place was a dream location where the four of us shared a two story bungalow overlooking the ocean. The only drawback was the fact that Howler monkeys wake up at 5:00 am and begin to howl quite loudly at that time. It seemed that they were right outside our window, literally. While in Puerto Jimenez, we enjoyed our time lounging on the beach, kayaking through the mangroves and lounging in our gorgeous surroundings.
One highlight of our time in Puerto Jimenez was our morning trip to Matapalo, a large bit of rainforest by the beach. Because hiring a guide was insanely expensive, we decided to drive ourselves out there and see what we could. We drove on a wretched road right into the heart of this place and had no idea where we were or what we should be doing there. We pulled over at what looked to be a farm of sorts with guys lounging about, and Brian went to ask some questions. At this place, there happened to be rare squirrel monkeys, Scarlet Macaws and a white-faced coati wandering about. The Tico man who owned the place was happy to let us run around his property and take pictures. Then he told us about a waterfall hike that he would take us on if we wanted. It is crazy, because everyone was literally just hanging out on a Monday morning. We were excited about going hiking and got our stuff ready to go. Our kind guide was shirtless and barefoot, but he did go get a machete to strap about himself. At this point we realize that we have locked the keys in the truck. We are quite literally in the middle of nowhere, but the guys at this place all jumped in to help try to break into the truck. As the guys worked on picking the lock with asundry items, Steph and I waited, when strangely enough, a gringo came riding up on a four-wheeler saying that his friend was badly hurt and asking if there was anyting we could do. Since Steph is mostly through med school, she got on the back of his four-wheeler and rode up to the accident, where she ended up diagnosing a broken shoulder. After about 45 very long minutes, they were able to break into Brian's truck, and we joined Steph at the site of the accident. Since the ambulence was due any time and the injured man was stable, we set off on a quick hike to some gorgeous waterfalls, quite rounding out our incredibly interesting morning in Matapalo. Who knew.
After our wonderful time in Puerto Jimenez, we drove to Drake Bay, on the other side of the Osa, which required driving through 9 rivers and across the beach for a stretch. This place was quite remote and very undeveloped, which meant it was quite rural. We had to ask specifically to get rooms with electricity at the lodge we stayed at. The four of us shared a bathroom with no light that had fiber glass walls with a giant frog painted on the wall. We also had to hike up crazy hills and stairs to get to our rooms, which did pay off with a fabulous view. From Drake Bay, we took a tour of Cano Island, a 3 mile round island about 45 minutes away by boat. We went snorkeling and hiking and saw ancient stone spheres. We also spotted whales and dolphins on our way back.
Lastly, we spent one night in Manuel Antonio, a tourist hot spot in Costa Rica that truly is gorgeous. John and I spent about 45 minutes watching white-face monkeys eat and play and steal pizza from tourists. We also saw another sloth, moving very slowly of course.
All in all, our trip to the Osa was really great. Now we are back at Brian and Steph's spending a week in the life of missionaries in Costa Rica.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Good-bye Language School, Hello She-Bear Peninsula

We are concluding our time in San Jose, which is sad and happy. We have decided that we have just about reached our saturation point for Spanish in one month. Both of our teachers have told us that we stayed for a full year we would be bilingual and that we have learned remarkably quickly. This month definately gives us a frame work to continue to learn, because we have covered an entire book of Spanish in four weeks. Now it is up to us to practice and keep trying. Last night I managed to get something put on hold at another location of the same store we were at. This felt like quite a feat, but as I walked away, I realized that I had no idea how I had done that.
Our Tico family is quite distraught to see us go. I say distraught, because tonight we found out they thought we were going to be here another week (we think a mix-up at the school), but in fact, we are leaving here tomorrow. Ana was especially upset by this news and told us over and over that she had so many delicious meals that she still wanted to make for us and that she had not had nearly enough time with her angels/children. (She has continued to be an absolute joy to listen to. Though we can understand only about 50% of what she says- about 75% when you include hand gestures and facial expressions, we have covered all topics from terrorism, her own premature birth, Momanism, Costa Rican political history, all of her family in the States, marriage counseling, what our children should look like -she wants them to have Carol's eyes and be as tall as John-and how smart we are. . John and I don't actually have to say anything, because I think she realizes we can't say much and is content to carry the conversation. We smile and nod a great deal and say "Si" and give her lots of hugs and air kisses, because she really is wonderful.) When we gave Ana and Paola a gift for their kind hospitality, Ana teared up, and we promised to come back and have dinner with them before we leave the country.
We are going on a trip with Brian and Steph to the Osa Peninsula (which means "she-bear" in Spanish, though we were disappointed to find out there are not actually bears there, something about bears not living in tropical climates. .) , which is in the very southern part of Costa Rica. It is pretty remote, so our drive down is looking to be a promising adventure that we are very excited about. We look forward to having some fabulous views and exciting stories. Tune in after next week for the update.

I Put the "John" in the "John and Carol Show" the mic on?
By now many of you may have noticed that the better-half of the "John and Carol Show" has been responsible for ALL of the posts up to this point. Many of you--most noteably my family--are not surprised by this fact. Extended trips in the past have consisted of a long goodbye at the airport followed by a long period of silence which is not broken until I have returned to American soil. (Mom, I know you know this already, but I married a good one. You can thank her for finally not having to rely on the fact that "no news is good news.") So what do I say for my very first post? Hmm...
How about a list of my new favorite things which I have discovered in the last couple of months...
1) Knowing the coffee I am drinking and/or the pineapple I am eating was grown with a 50 mile radius of where I live. In Africa I fell in love with the Pineapple. I really did see where my pineapple was growing, and I liked it. Now I can't go much of anywhere without seeing coffee plantations. Sorry, Starbucks and canned pineapple, it's not you, it's me.
2) Discovering again, for the first time, that God is not American. We really do serve a HUGE God. A Father that does not overlook the birds of the air or the flowers of the field. He has also given beautiful smiles and contagious laughs to a group of African children that can kick my tail in soccer any day of the week. Having worshipped with brother and sisters in Twi and Spanish, I realize his love crosses over all mortal delineations, which brings me to my next point...
3) Those fools that built the Tower of Babel really messed things up for all of us. Learning a new language ain't easy. You can learn a lot about a language in a month, but fluency is not as easy to accomplish as one might hope, which brings me to my next point...
4) All of my hypotheses are correct: Carol is a lot smarter than I am. While Carol is a sponge of Spanish vocabulary, Johnny has perfected the phrase, "No recuerdo" (or "I do not recall" for those aflicted by Babelitis.) Which kind of leads me to my next point..
5) Traveling with you best friend is the ONLY way to travel. Carol and I have now been together every day, all day for 68 days and counting, and have loved every...well, almost every moment of it--we are human after all. I love knowing that for the rest of my life I can say "Remember that time we did...[blank]" regarding something we have done in the last 68 days, and she will know exactly what I am talking about. Which doesn't help me at all with my next point, but...
6) The world is the biggest, little town I will ever visit. Full of unique personalities, but still joined by some undeniable commonalities. We all need food, air, companionship and Him (and some other important things that Maslow included in his ladder). Nothing could lead to this next point...
7) Brown paper packages tied up in string...or a Tico tamale wrapped in a banana leaf tied up in twine will do the trick to.
I'm going to hand the mic back over to Carol and let her catch you up on what has been going on this week. I love you all and miss you. "We'll be home for Christmas, you can count on us..."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Muchas Gracias-giving

Well, being in a country that doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving did not prevent us from celebrating the glorious day, in fact, we celebrated twice! It was strange, waking up, the morning of Thanksgiving and going to class as usual with the whole Costa Rican world continuing as normal. That afternoon, Brian and Steph picked us up, and we had meal round one with all of the gringo missionaries on campus here at International Teams. The second Thanksgiving came Friday, when we had it with their whole mission team, about 45 people and almost all in Spanish. We definately got to sing "Count Your Many Blessings" in Spanish before digging into our Turkey and mashed potatoes. Kind of a different dynamic of thankful, but very thankful, none-the-less. And, what was the same about Thanksgiving was the reminder of everything we do have to be thankful for. God has blessed us with incredible opportunities and an amazing support system to help us live them out, and we are so grateful to Him for that and so much more.
On other interesting notes, we had a cold front this week. The coldest day on record in 11 years in Costa Rica was this past Tuesday, and it was about 45 degrees at night. John and I were fine in our hoodies and jeans walking around. However, this cold front has revealed a really humorous phenomenon here in Costa Rica. Because it is warm so much of the time, people do not know what to do or wear in the cold. Someone did a good job of marketing scarves here (I'm not sure how, because that really is creating a demand from nowhere), and all of the Ticos have been wearing scarves all week. Even as it has warmed right back up. It's like they need the scarf just to ward away the memory of that cold front. We have been very amused as girls will be wearing a tank top, with a nice thick scarf wrapped around their necks.
All in all, we have had a very nice holiday weekend and will be returning to our Tico mother and sister tomorrow morning to complete our final week of language school. We are definately understanding more, which is exciting.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sloth Spottings

Sloths are actually pretty easy to spot. Don't ever let someone tell you they are not, because they are. They don't move. They hang out and sleep and stay still at the top of big trees. Just look for the black blob curled unusually around a limb. You did it. You found a sloth.
This weekend we had some more fun adventures. We drove to the world's most active volcano, Arenal, which is blowing steam regularly. When visible at night (not often due to thick cloud cover), you can see glowing hot lava around the cone of the volcano. We were not privileged to view the cone at night, but we did get some pretty spectacular views during the day, also a rarity due to cloud cover. It is amazing, because you hear something rumble that sounds like thunder, but it is the volcano gurgling. Another wild noise we encountered during our hike through another rainforest was the sound of Howler Monkeys. We never came into view of the Howler Monkeys, and I am glad, because the noise they made had the desired effect of making me want never see them.
We were privileged to also go to a place where the pools are all heated by the volcano's thermal energy. It is a beautifully manicured, well-maintained mixture of natural pools and waterfalls and tropical plants with some of the world's most inviting pools, all various degrees of warm. The closer you get to the volcano, the hotter the water gets. It's a pretty incredible place. The next morning, we hiked to another waterfall that was gorgeous, and John and Brian got to swim in the water. Steph and I stayed warm and dry during this adventure.
We returned to San Jose this morning, where we hit the books some more. Spanish is coming along. It is definately something we have to be intentional about. Upon our arrival, Ana informed us that we were her angels and she was glad we were back. It is very comforting to have someone who really wants you to be with them, and can't wait to cook for you. What a blessing.
***** I am posting pictures from this weekend in a folder called "Volcano and Hanging Bridges and Waterfall" or something like that, I can't really remember.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

It's as American as Apple Pie

So, on Tuesday evening, I decided to try something different and bake an Apple Pie for Ana and Paola. Most evenings are very low key in this house, with Ana and Paola usually watching TV in their bedroom and John and I studying Spanish. So, of course, the evening that I decide to bake a pie is when there is also a birthday party for Ana's neice's son. There were kids and cake and Coca-cola and me baking a pie all in the kitchen. Quite a riot. However, this whole situation thrilled Ana to no end, because she seems to be convinced that Apple Pie is the favorite food of all North Americans. (if you meet her, please don't tell her otherwise- she is very happy thinking this.) She talked on and on about how wonderful apple pie's are and how delicious and how special I am that I can make one and how special she is that she got to eat one. Needless to say, the pie went over well. I think I could blog just about Ana. The other day, she sang the national anthem of Costa Rica to us while we ate lunch. This was entirely self-initiated, because we would not be able to ask her to do this if we tried. She also serenaded us with some song that we gathered was about the national flower of Costa Rica. We never quite made out what she was singing about, but it was precious none the less. This morning there was a CD of knock-off Beatles songs playing, (copyright laws don't seem to really be applicable here) and John and I were trying to translate the words. This also thrilled Ana, who began to sing "Ocho Dias de la Semana" and dance for us in the backyard. Seriously, great fun. Ana and Paola are taking incredibly good care of us. It is such a blessing to have our own little family here who really wants to help us learn Spanish and really wants to fatten us up.
Our Spanish is coming along slowly. I still have the deer in the headlights feeling anytime anyone actually speaks Spanish to me. I go blank. What a learning experience this is. Just trying to speak is more than half of the battle. Tonight John and I went to the mall, which is very nice by all standards and tried to practice some of the things that we learned. John is much better at trying, and we were, in fact, able to find out where the swimsuits are because of his Spanish skills.

Monday, November 13, 2006

All Things New

Well, we had just a dynamic weekend playing with our dear friends, Brian and Stephanie. We went to the La Paz Waterfall Park that also has a butterfly garden, an amazing orchid place with over 100 species of orchids and amazing tiny colorful frogs. I think the butterfly garden was a huge highlight for so many reasons. There were so many butterflies everywhere, AND we got to see some of them come out of their cocoons. What a truly incredible work of God to make caterpillers turn into beautiful butterflies just by hanging out in their often camouflaged cocoons. It makes me think a lot about the work that God promises to do in our own lives. Steph and I especially were transfixed as we watched a butterfly learn how to use its wings. They are kind of floppy at first, but after a bit, they can spread them and fly anywhere! Amazing!
At the orchid farm, we were informed that there are some orchids that are the size of a pin head. You know that God made those simply for the enjoyment of making something beautiful. I'm currently reading a book by Madeleine L'Engle called "And It Was Good" which is thoughts about the creation story, and it is so encouraging to think that God created all things out of the love that He shares within Himself between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. What a privilege to be born out of such great love, and then to see what else He so lovingly created and then called Good. He definately called Costa Rica good, and we are getting to see so many intricate and diverse examples of His handi-work.
Now we are back in San Jose, where things a little smoggier, and we are back to attending our classes. Our Spanish is coming along slowly, but we are getting better at just trying and taking the inevitable corrections as they come. It is definately a humbling experience, especially for people so used to being able to communicate very clearly. So it goes. Adios for now.
**** I am currently trying to get pictures up from this weekend. They are in the "Butterfly Garden and Waterfall Park" folder. Also, since I have been rather obsessed with taking pictures of flowers, I am going to devote a folder entirely to them and add my favorites as they come!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lost in Translation

So, seriously, we are gaining a new empathy for people in America who cannot speak English. At this stage in the game, we speak so little Spanish that we sort of freak out if anyone tries to talk to us in Spanish. We are working on this reaction, but it really does take courage to speak in a language you barely understand. Fortunately (or unfortunately), people can spot us as Gringos from miles away and expect very little out of us, and in fact, often greet us in English even before we speak.
Our Tico Mama is an absolute trip. She is worth the journey. Yesterday morning, we explained that we had gone running (we found a fabulous track about a 7 minute walk from our house with a mountain view in all directions), and Ana proceeded to usher us into their exercise room and demonstrate her cardio machine, all whilst keeping a rapid flow of conversation (which means that she is talking and we are nodding and laughing). She explained to us that she has high blood pressure and that her heart hurts, because she has so much love for so many people and for Jesus. She has to take many vitamins and other pills for this condition, she informed us. It would be her grandest delight if we were to become fat while in her care. She thinks that I, in particular, do not eat very much (which is not the case at all, as I eat everything she has put in front of me so far with gusto) and has started referring to me as "Barbie." This refrain is very entertaining to hear while I down yet another helping of arros y frijoles (rice and beans). This morning, John and I were studying in the living room, which had a giant picture of Jesus in it until this morning. (By giant, I mean 9 1/2 feet tall and 6 1/2 feet wide) We didn't know it was going anywhere, and we thought we had time to get a picture of it later. We asked Ana where the picture went, and she sighed, and said they had given it to the church, but that Jesus was still all around us and in our hearts. ( they are Catholic Christians) Then she brought both of us a coconut with a straw sticking out of it, admonishing us to drink up the milk. Once we had finished our fresh coconut milk, Ana proceeded to spoon feed me the coconut meat after hacking mightily at it with her giant knife. We really were amazed that she managed to only cut the coconut and not any other limb or surrounding object. Even after I protested, Ana seemed to really enjoy feeding me the coconut by spoon, and hey, it was quite amusing to say the least. We are really enjoying this experience to live with a Tico family, and it really helps us to be around Spanish speakers all the time.
We have spent a little time each day exploring our neighborhood and the surrounding areas. This can be somewhat difficult, because in Costa Rica, they have no real use for maps or street names. Addresses are given in relationship to landmarks. For example, our address is "San Francisco, of the Two Rivers, 250 meters north of the Dominican Republic School in front of the Paint store, the house with the stones and white bars." No kidding. The only mail that is really received is by post office box. On Friday, we do not have class, so Brian and Steph are picking us up tomorrow night to spend the weekend with them. We are excited to see some of the sights- I think we are going to a Butterfly Garden and Waterfall park!
One last point of interest before I close, in hot water heaters in Costa Rica are only attached to the shower heads and are called "Widow Makers." John has had 3 cold showers so far, and Carol has had 3 warm showers so far, even though Carol is showering second each day. The Widow Maker in our shower looks crazy ghetto rigged, and we did not know what it was, but I have managed to get hot water each time. I have promised to help John in the future, as this scenario is not that thrilling to him.
To say the least, we are having a wonderful, enriching time in Costa Rica.
***I put some of our London pictures in an album called London!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Paradise Found

I think the Garden of Eden was actually in Costa Rica. It is stunningly beautiful here, and it makes perfect sense why this is a hotbed of ecological tourism. We arrived in San Jose on Saturday evening, welcomed by our lovely friends Brian and Stephanie. It is a wonderful feeling to see familiar faces when arriving in another country. We also felt right at home wearing our Chacos and carrying backpacks- adventure traveling seems to be the thing to do here.
We spent Saturday night at the International Teams compound with Brian and Steph, where flowers of every color of the rainbow grow in abundance. As Steph put it, "if you plant it in the ground, it just comes right up, just like that." (she grows fresh basil to have with their meals, and there is no short supply of fresh orange, lime and grapefruit trees that are providiving ready fruit for any occassion.) We went to church with them, which proved several things. 1) We need to learn more Spanish desperately, as we were mostly lost in the church service (though it was nice to not be pointed at or photographed like in Ghana). 2) It is amazing to attend church in other cultures and get another glimpse of just how Big our God truly is.
Yesterday evening, Brian and Steph dropped us off with our Tico host family. What a thrill it has been thus far. We are staying with Ana and Paola- a mother and daughter. The mother is in her mid 50s and Paola is 32. They own a beauty salon that is attached to their very nice home here in down town San Jose. Ana speaks no English, but instead a lot of rapid Spanish that we take in very little of, which matters little to her. I was just interuppted while typing this blog by Ana who had prepared an afternoon snack for "Juan and Carolina." John had coffee, and I had fresh squeezed lemonade both with crackers that we heard a detailed history of in Spanish which means we don't really know anything about them. These women are both so precious and excited to have us here. They call us their babies, which is really hysterical. When Paola walked us to our first day of language classes, she waved goodbye to her "babies." (She was also wearing a shirt that said "Blonde is my Middle Name- American culture really is global.) Ana cooks our meals for us, and we just figured out that she also does our laundry for us, as she walked in our room with all of our clean clothes that she had done while we were in class today. It is a bit overwhelming, but very kind, and we are looking forward to knowing more Spanish so we can actually converse with Ana instead of smiling and nodding and laughing a lot. Paula speaks a bit of English, which helps to be able to meet in the middle.
We will be spending 3 hours each afternoon in Spanish class, 1 hour in Gramatica and 2 hours in Conversacion. It is the two of us and 1 teacher for each class, which is really nice, because we go at our own pace and are able to practice out loud a lot as well as ask any questions that inevitably arise. We really are excited to be here and start this new adventure. It definately helps to be immersed in a culture and only having Spanish spoken to us. It definately forces learning.
We will have more access to internet here (they got high speed internet so students staying with them could have it, we just pay a nominal extra charge), and we look forward to being in contact!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

New Pictures

I just posted new pictures in the folders Ghana Life and More Rafiki Life- Enjoy!

There's No Place Like Home

Hello developed world! We arrived back in the country late Monday evening, and we must say, it is good to be back. We had a fabulous weekend stop in London where we spent two nights and took in the sights. We managed to hit Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Covent Gardens, Piccadilly Circus, the Tower of London, the National Gallery to name a few in the two days that we spent there. London is great, but what is the deal with having to pay for bathrooms? Seriously, that was the low point. But on the whole, it was great to be able to eat what we wanted and such a privilege to see a city so steeped in history and drama and amazing architecture and Lion statues everywhere. It has become my new goal to find a Lion door knocker for our future home and have a brightly colored front door to echo the ones I fell in love with on every London street.
Leaving Ghana and Rafiki was difficult, and we were glad that it was, because it meant that it was real to us and truly impacting. It is encouraging to leave the children at Rafiki, because we know that they are well provided for through God's blessings. It is much harder to think about the fact that for every Rafiki child, there are 10, 20, 1000 other children just like them who do not get cared for. It was such a privilege to be able to serve the missionaries that are doing full time work there, which we respect even more know that we have been there. Because of this trip, we have developed a greater understanding of world need, and we are seeking ways to be part of the solution.
Thanks to everyone for their prayers and support and encouragement. We have been so blessed by our family and friends. We will be leaving for Costa Rica on Saturday, which we are so excited for. We will be continuing to update our blog and look forward to our new adventures!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Noah's Ark, Part 2

Since everybody apparently got a huge kick out of the Noah's Ark incident, we thought we could follow up with the rest of the story. Being dismayed at what we received, my first question was "Can we take it back?" This question has actually been laughed at almost as much as the incident itself. There is where I revealed just exactly how American I really am.
The next week, we went to a different market and found exactly what we were looking for and bought it. They had several for us to choose from, which makes it even more funny to see what we had ended up with the first time. One of the missionaries here really liked the Noah's Ark that is like a tree stump and graciously bought it from us. (we discounted the price a bit, because it was so kind of her to take it off our hands.)
Lesson Learned.
We are going to post more pictures when we get back to the States, after our weekend stop in London!

Try Not to Split More than You Can Roll

As our time at Rafiki draws to a close, we are very saddened at that prospect while also looking very much forward to what we are doing next in Costa Rica. We have one full day left here with the children and our normal routine of life. As we pick up our straw to split it, we have to make sure that we do not split more than we will have time to roll. We have had a great last week here. The Home Office visit went swimmingly, and while they were here, we ate like Kings and Queens. (one note on the Ghanaian caterer, she did a fabulous job, but the Tillipia was in its purest cooked form, so they were all looking at us from their tray- I had the Grouper, which was breaded and fried and boneless)
Monday was the end of the Muslim holiday, so it was a national holiday in Ghana. Ghana is mostly Christian, but they celebrate the Muslim holidays as well. This meant no school and fewer workers here at Rafiki. Therefore we got to play all day with the kids. This meant more Yahtzee for me and more football for John. It was wonderful.
There are so many takeaways from this experience that they are too numerous to mention all of them. Ghana is a beautiful, peace-loving country with a beautiful, kind people. We have been continually blessed by people's gentleness here. Rafiki is doing an amazing work educating and caring for the young children that God has entrusted into their care, and it has been our joy and privilege to be a part of that work. It is amazing to see what a difference education really does make. One night at dinner, the kids were telling me that they were learning all about endangered species. I asked which ones they were learning about, thinking of stuff like pandas. They informed me that Bush Rats are endangered, because so many people were killing them for food during the famine that there are hardly any left. (I thought to myself that it might not be so bad if we were rid of Bush Rats) But I realized that these kids are being armed with the skills and the knowledge needed to change things here in Africa. And they love Jesus! So much that it is humbling, continually. They can sing all 4 verses to more hymns than we even know the first verse of.
Needless to say, our perspectives and our hearts are forever different from our time here. While we, (especially me) are looking forward to getting back to the developed world, we have gotten a glimpse of another world that is unforgettable.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

This Little Piggy Went to Market

This weekend was the most authentic Ghanaian experience that we've had yet. Yesterday, John and I decided to be a little adventurous and venture out on our own. We took a taxi from Kodeku to Medie, then took a "Tro-tro" to the N'Sawam market. A tro-tro is the way that most Ghanaians get around. It is a giant van packed full of as many people that it can hold, which is quite an experience. The leading cause of death in Ghana is actually car accidents. Cholera is 2nd, and "Wasting Disease" (everything including cancer, aids, anything that cannot be readily diagnosed) is 3rd. I would not want to ride a tro-tro in Accra, due to the traffic, but we are relatively in the country, and it seemed sort of safe.
When we got to N'Sawam, we went to the market- a real Ghanaian market, nothing touristy about it. It was such a thrill to walk around and see the sights. It smelled bad. There were nasty fish for sale everywhere, and fruits and fabrics and bread and medicine. It was amazing to see everything. I love fabrics, and they have so many amazing patterns with beautiful colors to choose from. I also got to get a Coca-cola Light from the gas station there in N'Sawam. When we were done, we got to tro-tro it back to Rafiki. Everywhere we walked, people yelled "Obruni," because we were the only white people for miles and miles.
Today we went to church in Kodeku with one of the mamas and some of the kids from Rafiki. It was truly Ghanaian, with the message being given in Ga, Twi and English. Everyone greeted us and was so kind. There was another Congo line to the front during all 3 of the offerings.
The Rafiki Home Office staff arrives this afternoon, so we are all busy preparing for that. It should be an interesting week! I plan to post more with some reflections on what we have been learning, because God continues to teach us so much through this experience.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

It's Game Time

During our 3rd week at Rafiki, one of our assignments has been to teach the children how to play the games they have in their cottages. This means that after dinner and family devotional time, Uncle John and Auntie Carol are ushered into a cottage full of pajama clad kids eager to learn something new and thrilled to have visitors during a time that is usually strictly family.
So far we have been to 4 cottages and taught Candy Land twice and Yahtzee twice. Just image a group of 10 kids hanging onto every instruction givn and cheering as they learn the rulse, while the mama tries vigorously to keep all behavior "proper." The other night we played Candy Land, and it was definately a highlight of life. There we sat gathered round a bamboo table, children snuggled into love seats on each side wriggling and grinning with Mama Bea and Auntie Fostina also there to learn and win, as we later discovered.
Because there are 4 moveable game pieces and 14 of us, we divide into teams. The game begins, with colors being announced to great hurrah and kids so full of excitement that every time a card with double colors came up, whether it was for their team or not, they would stand up, both hands in the air with clenched fists and yell "Double!", after which Mama Bea would tell them to sit down and behave proper. Anytime a card directing the player to someone like Mr. Mint, Queen Frostine or Gramma Nut came out, there was much rejoicing and then much hunting to locate it on the board.
If anyone got sent backward, Auntie Fostina started a song and dance and had the kids on her team joined in with her. This culminated as the last team was on the board trying to finish and the rest of the cottage was chanting "Blue Team Are Losers" while gyrating their arms in the air. Quite a sight to behold, I can assure you.
Last night we played Yahtzee with much fanfare until the electricity went out. And when it goes out here, it is black. Crazy black. But the stars are amazing when the lights are out, and we could see the entire Milky Way. I will post some more later, but Game time is definately a favorite event in our world.

Monday, October 16, 2006

It's All Relative

This weekend we spent most of our time in Accra, the capital of Ghana. We spent time running errands in the city and driving through the market. Again, our senses were overwhelmed by all there is to see and take in. We drove through the 4 square blocks of the market, which took 45 minutes, because it is impossible to get through for all the people walking to and fro, carrying anything from a T.V. set to peanuts to fried plaintain chips (which are really good with salsa) on their heads. There are signs everywhere that say, "Don't Urinate Here", and you begin to understand why very quickly as people undo their "lowers" (in Ghana your shirt is considered your upper, and your pants your lower) and urinate wherever they happen to be. And this phenomenom does not stop at just going Number 1, as we were loathe to discover first hand.

There are so many things we take for granted in the developed world. Traffic lights that consistently or ever work, for instance, are a novelty. Much more often there are about 8 men waving branches in the intersection, often expecting a tip for this service. Many are grateful to pay this tip, because it means that the traffic will not be "snarled," as one missionary put it. While on the topic of roads, I am so grateful to live in a country that cares about it road system. The road to and from Rafiki is quite possibly one of the worst we have ever been on. It took us 40 minutes to go 2 1/2 miles, because it rained this past week. They harvest sand here in Ghana, and the sand trucks drive this road regularly making it a complete disaster for everyone else. As we bump along and eye mud puddles warily, I am reminded of how efficient America all of the sudden seems to me. As we were coming back late this weekend, Barb was driving John and I on the "Kododu Road". She had John get out to test some of the puddles, but warned him not to go in too far for fear of the shistisomes. "Just what is a shistisome?" you might ask. Well, they apparently breed in standing fresh water, and once they get into your skin, they lay eggs in your blood vessels and worms grow inside of you. This sounds like something horrible that I am making up, but I kid you not. The doctor here says it's better not to risk it and steer clear of the water. No problem. No shistisomes for the Spensts. No Siree.

We went to another Ghanaian church, this time in Accra on the campus of the teaching hospital for West Africa. It was all in English and made up of mostly upper class people, though we were still the only white people in the room and did have our picture taken several times while we were listening to the sermon. It was encouraging to be in a Ghanaian church that was really preaching the Word, because so often here you find that Christianity is mixed in with everything else. It's like people want to cover all of their bases, so they believe in the Christian God and go to church and call themselves Christians, but they also believe in all kinds of other superstitions and strange things. Many times they are not living out the freedom that we have Jesus Christ, but are continuing to live in bondage to untruth.

As we begin our third week here, we are so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of Rafiki and God's work here. When we see the kind of schools and other places that these kids could be living, it is a privilege to get to serve them with this kind of quality education and love and facility. And they are learning the truth here! It is such a blessing to hear hymns ring out each night over the campus both in English and in Twi.

Thanks for the comments and the emails!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Noah's Ark

There are so many things to learn in the world! And we are learning them all the time. This weekend we paid $40 to learn a lesson about communications and the ideas that we all have in our heads and how different they can be. One of the missionaries here has a beautiful wooden Noah's Ark, about a foot square with little carved animals marching into the ark. So, we commissioned a Ghanaian woodcarver to make us one like the one in Barbra's house. We described it in great detail, showing with our hands and writing down the measurements as well as with the specific animals that we wanted. John and I were going to get one, and another girl on our team were going to get one. A Ghanaian Rafiki helper named Pascal was going to pick them up for us Thursday.
I saw Pascal, and I was so excited to see our Noah's Ark. The bags looked much bigger than we thought they should, and when Pascal uncovered them, we were shocked. It was a big block of wood, weighing at least 30 lbs. There was a sort of boxy ark on the top, with the animals and Noah and his wife looking to be walking around the bottom of it. Noah is about the same height as the giraffe. What a perfect example of the need of communication. I will post pictures of what we wanted and what we got later on. We have all gotten a big laugh out of it.

In other cultural stories, I should mention that a Ghanaian church service is really something special. We went to church in a village called N'Swam that is known for its marvelous bread. The church was said to be in English, though it was largely in Twi, which we cannot decipher. However, we did understand the offering time. Offering time is a big deal, and everyone dances down the aisles to get the the large bucket in the front. Picture a giant Congo line going through every row of the church. When it came time for our row to go, we were ushered into the aisle and began dancing our way to the front. At this point, the already roused congregation became rather uproarious and stood and cheered and waved their hankies in the air at the "Obrunis" (foreigners) that were joining in the fun. People also took video of us in the service, and the local missionary said it was very likely to make the local news and would at least be talked about for weeks.

We are finishing our 2nd week here, and tomorrow we will take the rest of our team to the airport and spend the day in Accra, Ghana's capital. We are sad to see them go and glad to be staying. I really miss Diet Dr. Pepper and the predictability of electricity, but other than that, life here is really nice. God is teaching us a lot about service and about Africa, both things we want to learn a lot about, so that works out well. Thank you for the prayers and the support. We so appreciate your thoughts!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Ghanaian Life

This Saturday, we went to Cape Coast, the town that holds the main tourism of Ghana. It was our first venture outside the Rafiki gates during daylight.
What a revelation of African life. Driving through village after village. Seeing the mothers with babies strapped to their backs carrying food or wash or water on their heads (we really under-utilize our heads in the States). Seeing the funeral processions that only happen on Saturdays with everyone dressed in black and red and ready for the party that accompanies the ceremony. Seeing the "God's Favour Bakery" or "Christ Will Calm the Storm Store", named as such because of their superstitions that these names will keep away the bad. We are just beginning to understand the cultural rituals of the "Fetish Priests" who promise to cure your ills if you bring them virgin girls and pay them money. There are so many kiosks for "Space Phones"- you know, the kind that don't require land lines and are thus, mobile (aka, cell phones). Watching the sheep and goats wander through the throngs of people looking for scraps or rubbing their heads against something to scratch that itch. So many sights.
Our first stop was the Kukam National Park- Ghana's rainforest with a bridge over the canopy of the rainforest with its highest point at 40 meters. It was so fun to walk that high through a rainforest! The next stop was more sobering. We went to the Slave Castle of Cape Coast- A horrific remnant of the transatlantic slave trade that was heavy for over 200 years. Understanding even the tiniest morsel of that tragedy is just starting to sink in. So many human lives robbed forever, with conditions of squalor for the body and an ultimate theft of heart, home and freedom. The lasting implications of slave trade around the world, and especially the ones we are most familiar with in the US are shocking and saddening. And, Ghanaians sold other Ghanaians into slavery. A crime perpertrated against itself. John and I left talking about the insights into the human condition that we glimpsed. It is amazing to see what humans are capable of and know that, but for the grace of God, that could be us.
After the slave castle, which was beautiful, despite its heinous past, we went to eat at a resort on the beach that had American food. This was a welcome change, especially for Carol, because we eat African food for lunch and dinner. They joke around that it is always the same, some variation of "red over white."
We have started back into our normal routine today, Monday, where John and I split straw and then roll it for baskets. Then we have lunch at the Girls Center with the teenage girls. We then have various asundry tasks in the afternoon. John has been staining doors, and I have been making tablecloths with batik cloth for the dining hall. We then do work for 45 minutes with the kids, then play with them, then have dinner, where we try to make conversation, while they try to eat as much as possible with the end result that there is no food left on the table at the end of meals.
We have a good life here, and God's blessings are new every morning. It is wonderful to see the way He works in and through us to accomplish His work.

Ghanaian women bathing her child in a basin by the road

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Termite Mounds and More

Life in Ghana continues to be an adventure. We will try to keep this to the highlights.
Highlight #1- Termite Mound
So termites here in Ghana are much larger than termites that we are familiar with in America. They build giant mounds for their home, and the dirt is such an unusually hard compound that it is used for the inside of kilns here. There is an entire food chain surrounding the termite mound. Lizards eat termites. Snakes eat lizards. Therefore, snakes live by the termite mounds. One of John's assignments to do with the kids is to take down some of the termite mounds that regularly sprout up around here. It's pretty wild. They actually have to dig the mound deep into the ground, because it will not be dead until they kill the chief. You will know when you get the chief, because it is larger than the others (if you hold it up, it stretches the length of your palm) and has a big white globular thing on top that holds water. If there is a drought, then the other termites can go and get water from the chief. So, as of yet, John and the guys have not yet found the chief, and they must keep digging.
Highlight #2- Gekkos Among Us
Gekkos are a regular part of life here. As we are eating in the dining hall, which is really quite nice by African standards, I might glance up to see a gekko scampering from the curtain to the top of the wall. While sorting clothes, it is quite often that one with hop out at us, which is quite alarming. The most disgusting part of all this is the eggs that you find. They are very small and white and fall out of things that gekkos think are lovely nests, i.e. old cushions that have been stored. I really try not to scream, but it is difficult. One of the missionaries here informed me that as they do not bite and they do eat the bugs, they really are not all that bad. Good point, but it would take me a long time to learn to like them.
Highlight #3- Ghanaian Children
The children here really are precious. All of them have really short hair, and there are 3 sets of triplets and at least 3 sets of twins, so learning names is really an uphill battle. The girls all get their ears pierced 8 days after they are born, and that is the dead giveaway to whether it is a boy or a girl. It is a blast to work with them, but presents unique challenges. Our points of reference are very different, to say the least. They have seen many American movies, so they have a dim understanding of America, but when I asked if they knew what McDonald's was, I only drew blank expressions. Life really is joyful with them. A group of kindergarter's tasted honey for the first time this week. Kofi was later telling me about it. He said, "Please, Auntie, I had honey for the first time. Bears also eat honey, please." So cute.

I need to stop typing, as this is a very long post. We are going to upload some pictures soon, and I will write when we do. Hope all of you are doing well! Thanks for the comments.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Day One in Africa

Picture the Lion King. We haven't seen him yet, but there are plenty of lizards running around and the landscape seems like something you would see in a movie about Africa. We really are here. We woke up this morning, amazed that we were actually in Ghana. Our first day was largely orientation and introductions to the Rafiki village at large.
John and I discovered that they have a special project for the two of us. At this village, the girls that come to their training center make baskets as a way to support Rafiki, because they are shipped back to the states and sold by Rafiki. So, for three hours everyday, John and I will be rollin' straw to prepare it to be woven into baskets. We are guinea pigs for this project, because they want to see if it would be something useful for Mini-Missionaries to learn and do in a short amount of time to increase their BWP (basket-weaving productivity). It's all about contributing to the bottom line for the glory of God.
We met the children that live here this afternoon, and they are a handful of fun. There are 6 cottages with 10 children each ranging in age from 8 month old twins to 15 year olds. We got to play games and be introduced to them all. The culture is very formal here, so when you introduce yourself you say, "Please, my name is Auntie Carol" or "Please, my name is Uncle John (or Uncle Tin-tin, which translates loosely into freakishly tall) , what is your name, please?" It takes some getting used to. One of my favorite moments this afternoon was when a little girl was holding my hand, and I felt something wet around my wrist. Turns out she was licking my watch. She told me that she "was cleaning it, please."
We are so glad to be here, and it is thrilling to think that we will be investing our time and energy and hearts here for a month with these beautiful children and mamas and missionaries.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

London, Part 1

Here we sit in Heathrow airport in London, England. After flying through the night, we arrived this morning to no fan fare and long lines at security. Heathrow is a mini-city in itself with every designer label imaginable and very little for the little people such as ourselves.
We flew British Airways, which really is the way to go, because they give you a treat bag and plenty of food. We are excited to get to Ghana to start what we came for. It is crazy to have travel time between all we have been doing and all we are about to be doing to reflect. We are truly excited to serve and be a part of something that is so far outside of ourselves. We really hope to gain a clearer perspective of what is happening in Africa and what are practical things that can be done from the US.
Hope you all are doing well! To be continued . . . .

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Pilot Episode

It is game time. John and I are headed to Ghana tomorrow morning, and we have certainly had a packed week. We have been enormously blessed by so many people through this process, and we are so excited to be able to pass that blessing on to those at Rafiki.
Highlights of this episode -
**** Cookie Fundraiser- Incredibly kind people from our community group organized a safari sugar cookie sale and raised over $1,300 for the trip. God works in mysteriously sugary ways.
**** We moved into a storage unit- Because we are going to be gone for the next three months, we are putting our stuff into storage in NW Arkansas to await our return.
**** We packed for Ghana- Our team collected supplies that the Rafiki village in Ghana needed, and we will be taking over 1,100 lbs of luggage with the seven of us. We feel privileged to bring Christmas in October.

We are ready to go to Ghana. It is so exciting to know that we are seeking and following God's will as best we can discern and that it is taking us to Africa. We are praying that God will allow us to be a blessing to those we are serving and that we can have servant's hearts in all situations.
We will have limited internet and email access in Ghana, but if possible, we will be updating our blog to let people in on what is going on. Thanks so much for your interest!
****Pictures from this episode can be viewed by clicking on the link titled "Our Online Photos" in the album "Pre-Ghana Fun."

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Getting Ready to Go

This is our first foray into the land of blogging, so bear with us as we learn how to do everything. I think that we have this page set up with links to some of the things we will be doing, as well as links to a page that has our online photo albums.
John and I are packing up our apartment right now. To be more accurate, John is packing a lot and Carol is wandering around the house thinking about packing a lot. We do know that all things will find a box home, and we have a storage unit across the street to start moving stuff to this week.
We are overwhelmed, but resting in the grace of God to carry us through this time of upheaval and uncertainty. It is wonderful to know that we can trust Him to guide our path as we continue to seek His will.