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!