An Ordination

A quick story for today:  One of the first experiences I had in Costa Rica was an ordination at Iglesia Luterana Sola Fe, the church I lived two doors down from.  My second full day in the country was spent at two church services, one being an ordination.  The ordination was one of the many unexpected moments of grace during my time there.  Leonel, the ordained one, is a compassionate man who also does a prison ministry. I am grateful to have been present at this a special occasion.
laying hands on leonel

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Waterfall Adventure

07_01_10_IMG_0751One of the few tourist-type adventures of my month in Costa Rica was spent at a waterfall (the name escapes me, and I am too lazy to google research to find out).  In the great Pacific Northwest US, there are many mountains, high snow-covered volcanoes, a rain forest, and waterfalls.  So in a manner of speaking, this waterfall was not new to me.  It was however, incredibly beautiful.

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The visiting students from Susquehanna University immersion group were on their way to Nicaragua, and I along with them.  On January 7th we left the sprawling city of San Jose and moved along the Pan-American highway.  We traveled by bus down a steep dirt road and then walked a mile or so to get to the two waterfalls. Although it is possible to swim all the way under the falls, I opted to bring my camera, and she ain’t waterproof.

Not wanting to play it safe on the shore because I enjoy a good adventure, I carefully waded through knee-deep rushing water and large boulders to position myself as close as possible to the stream of fresh water cascading from high above.  My 8-year old Teva sandals are barely in tact, but held together for my risky aqua-adventure.

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Water sprayed on my lens as I quickly framed and punched off some shots, day-dreaming that maybe someday I’d crouch for hours in a similar place on assignment for National Geographic.  Back in reality, I snapped a group photo and hid my camera under the protection of my shirt to spy another prime location for a photo.

Accustomed to hiking with my camera slung over my shoulder, I easily scrambled up a boulder on the side of the waterfall without shelter from the misty spray water everywhere.  No one else was near me, but that didn’t matter.  I set the aperture and shutter speed to what I approximated to be a good setting and I held out the camera to shoot one of myself with waterfall in the backdrop.  I had to take 2 or 3 shots, but the final turned out rather well, if I do say so myself.  I also captured a lovely shot of the mist hanging in the hot afternoon air with sun shining through the trees.

Amazing.  Costa Rica…¡pura vida!
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Life in the Barrio

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Tucked away along a dirt road in the San Sebastián district of Costa Rica’s capital San José, this small barrio was my home for most of January (all except the week I spent in Nicaragua). The green door to the left is the church, Iglesia Luterana Sola Fe and behind the view to the camera to the left is the house where I lived.  These interconnected shelters constructed of scrap metal were the homes to the Nicaraguan immigrants who extended their welcome to me, sharing their lives and their faith.

What shall I say? In the short time I have been back in the United States, I have been searching for the right words to describe this place (the people, sights, sounds, and smells), a daily reality so far from the hurried and independent culture of my own country.  Life in the barrio is beautiful and difficult, simple and complex.  I was in Costa Rica for only a month, nevertheless I gained so much from that short duration.  Often embarrassed at my lack of spanish language skills, I was limited in effective communication.  However, I managed to share life, laugh, play, and gain community among the people who live there.

Every morning I ate gallo pinto (rice and beans fried together), fresh tortillas, cheese, fried plantains, bread, sometimes meat and/or eggs, and always coffee.  Costa Rican coffee is strong and earthy yet not bitter like some of the roasts I taste here in the States.  I cannot recall a day I did not have rice, beans and coffee at least once a day (sometimes rice and beans for all three meals) throughout the whole month.  These are staple foods in Central America, and it is a filling and inexpensive meal.

The door at my host family’s home was open throughout the day as friends, family, and neighborhood children were welcome to drop in. Children, out of school for the summer, ran up and down the alley.  Together we kicked a soccer ball, batted around a balloon, and chased each other to pass the time.

The roosters started cock-a-doodle-doo-ing before 5:00am, and the sun consistently rose at 6:00am.  Welcome to life near the euqator—near consistent sunrise and sunset times throughout the year.  The perpetual sunshine of January is the highlight of the dry season, and the summer break for schools. Popular North American Christian spirituality of seasonal change is ineffective in this land of wet and dry seasons.

Since a sheet of metal separated one neighbor from another, noise was all around.  It was an adjustment for this introverted gringa used to an abundance of private space.  I heard the neighbors playing their stereo early in the morning, and I heard the soft patter of the hands of my host mother making fresh tortillas downstairs.  At night I heard barking dogs, cats mating, and the distant hum of traffic  through the open air on the other side of the bookshelves that separated my bed from the rest of the room.

This is but a slice of my life in Costa Rica. I will continue to write in small chunks as I continue to process my memories and what they might mean for my life now.  There are so many little details in addition to reflections—so much can happen in 34 days.  Stay tuned.

Thoughts Upon Arrival

Under the cover of darkness, I arrived in San José late on January 1, 2010.   Tired and disoriented from a few hours of in-flight sleep my heart and mind were also racing.  Once I cleared customs and claimed my luggage, I experienced a surreal moment walking to the door.  As young college students bound for an adventure tour passed me, men stood with signs looking for their tourist visitors.  The scene gave me a moments pause.

I had little idea what to expect of the entire month that lay before me, and indeed the new year as well.  Perhaps it was providential that stress kept me from dreaming up expectations about what my life would be in Costa Rica. However, I knew I wasn’t a tourist, so as I stood waiting for my deaconess sister, I had to ask…am I ready for this?  There’s no going back.  Yes, I’m ready, I thought.

Winding through the dark streets of  San José, I tried to get my bearings, which proved to be useless.  So I just observed.  As we turned onto the dirt road toward the shantytown that would be my home, I prayed to live in the moment.  Happy New Year.  From that moment on, I was free of the burdens of 2009 and free to re-claim an identity that had been lost in the depression—an identity of being a compassionate listener, spiritual director, and deaconess.

It was difficult to arrive so late at night, because I was not able to see my surroundings.  The houses in this small barrio are constructed of mostly scrap metal.  I lay in bed that night listening to the noise of traffic and dogs barking.  Bookshelves and a hanging bedsheet blocked off my private space.  However, the other side of the room was open to the air.  I lay there disoriented, yet thankful for a bed and the roof over my head, ready to sleep off a long day and begin a new life with a new community.

Below is the picture I took on my first morning in Costa Rica.  It looks out to the rest of the barrio and the mountains above San José; behind me are the bookshelves and my space.

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¿Which language hablo ich, eigentlich?

Or: Why I didn’t learn to speak spanish in Costa Rica

While I spent a month in Central America, I can not yet speak spanish.  Learning by immersion is the best way to absorb and speak a language.  However, there are several reasons for my stunted skills en español.  The first one being lack of time to study before I left—less than six months between the time plans were made and departure date.

My feeble attempt to teach myself with a few audio resources, a dictionary and a workbook failed to produce adequate results.  Added to an already stressful personal life, I also ran two full marathons and moved across town all in a matter of seven days in the fall.  An amazing accomplishment for sure, but it set me backwards from learning another language.

In Costa Rica, aside from the fact that I fulfilled many roles but was not enrolled in a language course, there were two major stumbling blocks to learning and understanding Spanish: the loss of hearing in my right ear and…..German.  Yes, that’s right, that pesky harsh sounding language impeded my learning process.  Ach!

I was aware that the tumor around my right ear canal would hinder my ability to understand people.  Some days it is difficult to hear spoken english, so of course a foreign tongue would be even worse.  Background noise made it near impossible at times to hear what was being said.  I only wish I were clever enough to learn the words, “I don’t hear very well”.

However, I somehow managed to emerge understanding a fair amount of words and conversations.  Although I was not able to participate or respond, I often had a basic idea of what was said.  The process was tiring, because I strained to hear words I knew, then tried to figure out the meaning of words I didn’t know given the context, thus creating a delay between the time something was spoken to the time I decided I understood or not.

Anyway, the funnier of my stumbling blocks was my proficiency in the German language.  Because my brain is used to switching readily between German and English that is where my instincts instantly jumped.  It messed with my memory and occasionally I uttered half German half Spanish sentences that probably made no sense to my host family.  At least we were able to gesture and smile a lot.

My favorite mishaps were these:

Counting to five became difficult when I said to myself, “uno, dos, tres, cuatro…cuatro…fünf.  With my hand spread out I looked at it puzzled.  No, it’s not fünf.  You know, that number that comes after cuatro….After 10 seconds the data was finally accessed and I was able to say with gusto, “ahhh, cinco!”  Seriously, I’ve known how to count to 10 in spanish for a long time, but the wires continually got crossed.

I also said “nee, nee” (pronounced nay)  all the time, another way to say no in German, when “no” is one of those words that English and Spanish share.  Really.

The mixed prhases were fun too:  “Una hora ist genug”, “Ja, aber muy consado”, and just last week I responded to someone who had asked how long I’d been in Costa Rica with, “treinta Tages”, knowing with certainty that “dias” are days.

While the explanation seems funny, my perfectionist personality was at times frustrated and embarrassed.  It is a difficult thing to attempt to communicate and fail, for I did not want to appear less intelligent that I know I am to be.  I was afraid because too many people in the States assume that picking up the nuances of another culture and language are so easy that they impose this belief on foreigners and hold it against them when they lack the finesse of a native speaker.  This attitude is magnified in Eastern Washington state where I grew up, where people write letters to the editor advocating to cease teaching Spanish in schools and that Spanish shouldn’t be spoken in “America”.  Sigh.

Nevertheless, I have the skills for a solid base.  When I am able to speak Spanish, the skills I picked up in Costa Rica will be valuable in the future, especially if a situation ever calls for a translator.

An alternative perspective of America.

I wish I were better at writing about events as they happen. Well, I do write, it is just more difficult to transcribe my journal to blog in short spans of time. So this is to introduce what is to come…a series of accounts and reflections about the month I spent in Central America.

In all, I spent 34 days in Central America, mostly in Costa Rica from January 1st to February 4th 2010.  I lived among Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica in the San Sebastián district of San José, barrio San Martin.

Now I have spent enough time indoors and the light on this fine February afternoon in Seattle will soon be gone.  I promise more entries to follow — especially after tomorrow’s (7 February 2010) presidential election in Costa Rica.

A New Year, Another Adventure

There is another adventure on the horizon.  On January 1st, 2010 I will kick off the new year by boarding a plane and flying away for the whole month, bound this time for Costa Rica (and Nicaragua).  As I did with India, I intend to post some, perhaps this time while I’m in the country.

One reason for my Costa Rica trip is to experience something new and away from the familiar in Seattle.  Lately I have been in a stuck pattern, in need of change but unsure how to make it happen.  Well, here it is happening, almost all at once.  Coinciding with this 34-day trip is the end to my work at a bookstore I have een employed at through graduate school and beyond, for 5 years.  It is time to move on, and this is my chance.

Another reason is that I have an opportunity to engage in ministry work with another deaconess.  This is exciting, and has potential to open more doors.  When I ask myself what it is I most desire in work, I have often returned to direct service.  A ministry with people, listening to them, learning from them, and helping where needed.  When I am in Costa Rica I will mostly be listening, learning, and absorbing.

I also really need a sabbatical.  This is a perfect way to combine something that engages my heart and mind, as well as being refreshing for the body.  I will leave Seattle in the grayest period of the year for Central America where it is warm, dry, and exceedingly beautiful to step into a new culture, learn a new language, and hear stories of brothers and sisters in Central America.

Expect more updates on my adventure, stories of those I meet, and of course pictures.