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Happy Holidays: Parte Dos

Hola dear friends, what a week it has been, an emotional rollercoaster of sorts – in a good way though. I have a lot to talk about so I won’t waste space with idle chatter (that’s the efficient German in me, not the relationship-oriented Latin), but I did want to take a moment and wish you the Happiest of Holidays. That’s right, just like in the U.S. the Christmas frenzy hath commenced; some stores have been decked out in full yuletide ornamentation since mid-October and I’ve heard rumor that Santa Claus has setup shop in some of the larger department stores in town. I was walking through my neighborhood the other day and happened to notice that some families have already erected Christmas Trees; good grief – it’s not even mid-November yet. The locals tell me that it is only going to get more intense, by the time December rolls around the revelry should be at a fevered pitch; apparently San Jose is going to be one big party at Christmas-time. It should be interesting to watch – I’ll keep you posted.
Let’s start with something light and easy…I have some un-confessed sin that I need to repent of – I covet and I mean covet the cars here. I’m in love with them and I want one… or five, in the worst way. This desire of course runs counter to everything Mennonites believe in and isn’t terribly becoming of a missionary either, but I can’t help it. The cars here are amazing – not in a technologically advanced or luxurious sort of way, but amazing in that they’re novelties, i.e. Pablo just drove that canary yellow T-bird out of a film from 1973. There are certain cars here that you could never find back home, probably because they’re death traps, but that minor detail has not diminished my love for them or stalled my machinations for obtaining one. These cars are in my mind, quintessentially Latin American – boxy, old, dull-colored and rugged; what more could you want. My favorites thus far are the Land Rovers (1970’s style), old 80’s-style muscle-cars, boxy little sedans that look European and of course VW busses and bugs. It’s interesting too, because I’m told that the very cars that I love, these gems from a by-gone era are the very cars that Ticos are embarrassed to drive. I am not exaggerating when I say that outward appearance is everything in Tico culture – you may not have hot water in your house but you do have a BMW; what are your neighbors going to see? Most Ticos look down their noses at old Land Rovers or VW’s; they would much prefer to drive Honda Civics or Dodge Neons…ugh. They think these modern cars denote wealth and status – I think they’re eyesores. Anyway, if someday you see me driving a ’73 Yute you’ll know where it came from.
Thanks to an almost sudden stoppage of rain my SCUBA class was able to get to the beach to finish our course last weekend. Back in September our school offered a SCUBA course and since my work in Honduras will put me in close proximity to the second-largest barrier reef in the world, I decided to get certified. I won’t bore you with details like the layout of my hotel room or the size of the boat that we dove from but I will tell you that SCUBA is like nothing I have ever experienced before. It’s an incredible feeling to know that you are 50 feet underwater, able to stay there for almost an hour and swim within inches of exotic fish, sting rays and eels. It opened up a world that I never thought I would see first-hand. Folks I assure you, God is truly a master artist; the range of life down there is breathtaking, which is not good because rule number one in SCUBA is to never stop breathing. While riding in the boat on Sunday with the wind in my hair and the salty sea spray flying up in my face I realized that if I weren’t involved in this whole missions thing I could easily see myself becoming an expatriate and living the life of a beach bum somewhere – giving dive tours, eating fresh pineapple and sleeping in a hammock. If I weren’t a Christian I think I might pursue that life…… anyway, I can’t wait to dive again.
I write a lot about my mam`a, she’s an endless source of material believe me. A few friends though have requested that I post a photograph in order to assist their developing mental image of her. As requested, here is the photo, though I will say that my Mam`a, Flora Mora is her name, was none too pleased that I took a candid shot of her - she prefers to look her Sunday-best when posing for the camera. I told her I was going to post it on the internet and a look of agony shot across her face. I tried to assuage her fears by telling her she looked lovely in the photo but I don’t think she believed me.
Speaking of old Flora, she had me dying laughing the other day with her thoughts on death (the play on words while humorous, was entirely unintentional). In Costa Rica when a person of status dies their rich relatives shell out some serious money and have their obituary aired on television right after the 12 o’clock news. This daily exercise in the macabre is set to the theme song from the movie The Mission, a very sad tune – it’s all a very sappy and showy affair. Anyways, I asked my mam`a about it at lunch the other day, she explained what it was and then proceeded to tell me that it was stupid waste of money. She said rich people like to have their dead relatives’ obituaries aired on television in order to impress other rich people. This then segued into her thoughts on funerals; she thinks death in general is an unnecessarily expensive affair – the flowers, coffin, reception… all a total waste of money. Flowers especially, she cannot understand why people send flowers to dead people, she said (en Espanol) “Why would I want flowers if I’m dead, I can’t enjoy them, their just gonna rot – that’s hundreds of dollars down the drain”. She would much prefer cremation, with no fanfare, no flowers and a potluck dinner to wrap it all up. She’s a very pragmatic woman. She also told me about her anniversary, another thing that she thinks people waste too much money on. She’s 56 and was married to Orlando when she was 20 and he was 21 – in all those years they have never celebrated their anniversary with more than a nice dinner at a restaurant. It wasn’t for lack of planning though – when they first got married they agreed to forego a honeymoon and subsequent anniversary celebrations and instead put that money toward a big vacation to celebrate their 25th. They saved a little bit each year and their 25th wedding anniversary finally rolled around. They were all set to vacation in the Caribbean but 1 month before they were to leave, Orlando was hit by a car and had to go to the hospital – the hospital visit and subsequent treatment wiped out their vacation savings so they never got to go. I was nearly in tears after hearing this story but Flora, jolly as ever, looked at me and said, “after that we agreed never to save for another vacation again – we don’t want anything else bad to happen to Orlando, instead we are saving for a dryer – Happy Anniversary.” She thought it was a real hoot.
In my last post I mentioned that I started working with a mission in the community of La Carpio but I wanted to wait until this week to write about it. I wasn’t sure what I could write about after just one visit, I’m not sure what to write about after two visits. It has become the highlight of my week and emotionally draining all at once – I think and pray about it a lot. I’ll do my best to describe my observations but I feel at a loss for words. La Carpio is a community of Nicaraguan immigrants living in and around the municipal dump of San Jose – as I am sure you can imagine the poverty-level is staggering and as always it’s the children that suffer the worst. When I first heard that we were going to visit a dump I mentally pictured mountains of trash with a few huts scattered about – I could not have been more wrong. The dump is actually a landfill, most of the time it looks as though it’s a very rural village, but when it rains the hills turn to mud and the walking paths reveal the thick layers of trash that lie underfoot. The village itself is built on top of the landfill with material salvaged from it; homes are made out of rusty sheets of metal or rough-hewn wood and are usually no bigger than one or two tiny rooms. Material possessions are either scavenged from the dump or bought from cheap retailers in the city. I’m told that in Costa Rica if a person squats undisturbed on a piece of land for at least 2 years it becomes nearly impossible to legally evict them, even if that land is government owned. That’s exactly what happened in La Carpio; Nicaraguans, social outcasts and too poor to live anywhere else, moved into the vicinity of the municipal dump, built a makeshift community and eventually gained control of the land. The government initially did nothing because they were happy that the unwanted Nicaraguans had segregated themselves – now they find themselves saddled with a massive, growing community that is in need of every kind of social service imaginable. Our mission work in La Carpio focuses on children; we walk through the streets and invite them to a little gym that was built by a mission organization. Once we get there we supervise games, read Bible stories to them, sing songs, do arts and crafts and give them a snack. It doesn’t sound like much; honestly it doesn’t feel like much, each time I have left feeling like we didn’t accomplish a whole lot. I have had to step back and realize that we are doing things with these kids that they wouldn’t be able to experience otherwise, we are building relationships with them and showing them genuine love – God is using us in ways that may seem insignificant but are actually quite impactful. It’s hard to describe everything that I’ve observed there, I feel as though my words don’t do it justice. Photos help and I think I will post a weekly La Carpio montage, but it’s the interaction with the kids that gives me the most to think about. I see young children and early adolescents with so much potential, they’re bright, warm and full of life – I know they have dreams about what their life might be like someday and I know that for many of them their life will be one of struggle, pain and poverty. For someone that likes to have a plan of action and clear-cut goals for solving problems this is a difficult place to visit – I feel so helpless, I have already become much attached to a few kids and I want to help them but I don’t know how. Please be praying for the children of La Carpio, a life of crime and drugs is easy to fall into there, pray that God protects them.
Before wrapping this up I wanted to mention that I am now able to cook rice 501 different ways, I never dreamed that rice could go with so many different dishes. I never dreamed that I would actually enjoy rice with those many different dishes. I have discovered that it is the mainstay in Tico cooking, other things may come and go but rice is a fixture. We have it every meal, and with everything you can imagine. Some nights we have chicken noodle soup with a plate of rice (add it to the leftover broth and you have a second bowl of soup). We eat rice with beans, with fried noodles, with fried cauliflower, eggs, lentils, potatoes, tuna fish, plantains; the list is endless but my favorite is arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), it is to die for. Incidentally, my least favorite is rice with spaghetti; it is not to die for.
Well that about does it for this entry, it was a tad long I know, I’ll try not to experience so much next week. Although I do foresee us talking about my teacher Francisco, the local chickens and my Salsa/Meringue classes in the next post. Peace!

- Matt


Johnny Stoeckle said…
Matt-thanks for your update! We'll be praying for the children of La Carpio. And also for less spaghetti and rice.

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