A Weekly Journal Chronicling My Life
As It Intersects With The Garbage Dump Community Near La Ceiba, Honduras

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Singing For My Supper...er Coffee

Welcome back dear friends, February is knocking on the door and I’m starting to see my time here coming to a close. I know, I know, I don’t leave for Honduras until the end of April (Si Dios Quiere!) but I’m quickly realizing that my time here in San Jose will soon be over. This realization is aided of course by Ma`ma’s daily reminder that the months are sailing by and I won’t be here much longer; I think she’s counting the days. Seriously though, I am beginning to see that the life of a missionary is one of constantly letting go and trusting people to God – that’s a struggle for me. I have made a lot of friends here, Ticos, kids from La Carpio, other missionaries, my family, these people are important to me and I love them dearly. I’ve realized though that I probably won’t ever see most of them again. It’s a struggle to think that very soon these people, people that I love, will be out of my life and that all I can do is pray for them. It’s sad to think about, so I try not to and I’m not even sure why I chose to write about this in my introductory paragraph, kind of a downer way to start a blog entry, sorry. I guess it’s just something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. At the same time though, the end of my stay in San Jose means the beginning of my life in La Ceiba, Honduras – that fills me with excitement and it’s the knowledge that I’ll be doing what I’ve been called to do that makes it all worthwhile. I’m a little nervous to be sure, a little hesitant, but I’ve been waiting to go back to La Ceiba since the Summer of 2006. You cannot imagine how exciting this is for me. If only I could just find a way to bring everyone I care about here in San Jose to La Ceiba I would be muy feliz….the grass is always greener…
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So I made a fool out myself the other night, I know, what else is new. A Tico friend of mine and I were in the mood for a little coffee the other night so we decided to stop off at an outdoor cafĂ© before heading home. We sat down, started chatting and the waitress showed up with water – she put our glasses down and without thinking I sang out “Graciaaaaassss!!!” She just looked at me and then started laughing, I felt not a little bit embarrassed and my friend just shook his head and said “Gringo loco” I’m sure the waitress was thinking the same thing. To be honest I’m really not sure where that came from, I like to sing and all but I don’t often sing out random thoughts – I felt pretty ridiculous.
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My Tico parents have a funny relationship, it’s full of love and commitment and stuff like that but I think they’ve also reached that point in their marriage where they enjoy being cantankerous with each other; for example he calls her little fatty and she calls him old man. Orlando, my Pa`pa, just finished his month of vacation (all city workers get a month of vacay right after Christmas), most of which he spent at the beck-and-call of Flora. He painted the house inside and out, installed a new bathroom, hung a new front door and helped his son rebuild a motorcycle – he was a busy little beaver and if he ever did happen to find free time to sneak off with his girlfriend the car, Flora would blow her whistle and dispense more work. When his vacation ended last week and he headed back to work Flora looked at me and said “It was nice to have him home and we got a lot done but I’m glad that he’s not here to analyze the way I take care of the house and demand that I bring him juice.” I have to imagine that he might feel the same way.
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Dixieana the taskmaster assigned our conversation class a whopper of an assignment last week – we had to take a bus into downtown San Jose visit an office building, talk with a director there and find out as much we could about that particular company. When she assigned it last Monday I about collapsed, I did not feel at all competent enough in my speaking skills to be able to converse with an executive of a major corporation. Despite our many protests and feigned comas she sent us packing and told us to have it done by Friday. My assigned company was ICE – no it’s not a hip-hop record-label, it’s the sole electricity and telecommunications provider in all of Costa Rica, what the more astute among us might call a monopoly, though thanks to TLC (again, not the hip-hop trio) ICE’s days of monopolization are numbered. I brought a friend along with me for moral support and after searching the downtown area for a ½ hour we finally found the ICE headquarters, it was jam-packed with people waiting to receive new cell phone lines (right now there aren’t enough lines to accommodate demand). I was quite sure that I would be spending half the day in this office waiting to speak to someone when all of the sudden a young guy appeared out of nowhere and offered his assistance (I think he could tell that I, the Gringo, was a bit out of place). I explained my assignment and he quickly agreed to help me answer my questions. To my surprise he was able to understand my questions and I was more or less able to understand his answers; I shocked myself and it really kind of boosted my confidence, maybe that Dixieana isn’t so bad after all.
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I visited the beach this past weekend for the 3rd time since arriving here in August – this was by far the best trip yet. A group of friends and I took a bus from San Jose to Manuel Antonio last Friday right after school – it was a long 4 hours sitting next to a rather large, sweating Tico gentleman but it was so worth it. Manuel Antonio is incredible, it’s a national park with hidden beaches, white sand, mountain vistas and lots and lots of monkeys. My friends and I found a cheap little hostel or cabina as they call them here, for $9 a night – we sweated profusely all night in the stuffy little room but it was ok because we were saving money. The next day we paid our entrance fee for the park and started exploring, we hiked on a beautiful trail to a summit that overlooked a little inlet, the same inlet incidentally that Captain Cook is said to have anchored in to hide his gold in the mountains along the shore. We hiked back down the mountain and went swimming at a hidden little beach, it was hard for me to believe that I was swimming in a tropical paradise completely cut-off from the rest of the world, it left me wondering what all of Costa Rica must have looked like prior to the arrival of Columbus. We ended the day with a trip to a slightly more populated beach but along the way ran into a troop of Cada Blanca monkeys – the first wild-monkeys I had ever seen, it was incredible. I felt like such a tourist chasing after them with my camera but I couldn’t help it, they were so cool and I’d never seen anything like it. We ate dinner in the town and then caught a bus back to San Jose Saturday night – it was a whirlwind tour to be sure and I was completely exhausted by the time I arrived home but I can’t wait to go back.
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So on a more serious note, a retraction is in order. It appears that I got some of my facts wrong regarding La Carpio. A missionary to La Carpio stumbled upon my blog and emailed me with some corrections regarding the specifics of that community – to be fair, it’s not as though I was making facts up, I wrote down what was relayed to me by both Ticos and other missionaries. I am grateful to her though; I want to be sure I’m reporting things correctly. Anyway, here are the real facts regarding La Carpio:
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La Carpio isn’t built on a landfill – the community has been around for 15 years and is made up of squatters, both Nicaraguan and Tico. The Landfill on the other hand has been around for about 5 years. Thus as you can see it would be impossible for a community to be built 15 years ago on something that was established only 5 years ago. My friend Lalo, the missionary that we work with, told me that La Carpio is nestled between the landfill and a quarry. In Costa Rica squatters gain rights to the land after 12 years, not 2 (I think I misheard that when it was told to me the first time because I was told in Spanish – I think I heard dos but the Tico said doce), regardless though, no resident of La Carpio actually owns their land. So there you have it, the corrections – I’m pretty sure everything else I wrote about is accurate.
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Speaking of La Carpio, Lalo the missionary came to our chapel to speak last Thursday about his work there and he brought along two of my favorite kids, Lapiz and Roberto to help lead worship. These kids, mind you, are 12 and they got up in front of a chapel packed with scary looking Gringos and sang four different songs. I was so proud of them – they were pretty pumped too, I think it was a neat experience for them to be out and using their talents in front of total strangers. Later that day as we rode in the microbus from San Jose to La Carpio I sat in the back with Lapiz, Roberto and Maycol and belted out all the classic hits from Neal Diamond and Michael Jackson – they knew all the words but had no idea what they were saying, it was pretty hilarious.
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One other quick La Carpio anecdote – we (the other lang. students that work in La Carpio with me) were in the microbus headed back towards San Jose when we pulled up next to a garbage truck that was towing a fire-truck; a toy one. They were having a grand old time trying to keep the toy on all four wheels as they zipped down the highway – it made me laugh so I rolled down my window and shouted my encouragement to them…and snapped a photo.
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La Carpio Photos for the week:
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Today's smile brought to you by the color blue...




...a close-up...




...holding up under pressure...





....sour face.

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More Manuel Antonio Photos:
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Sunrise...





...hermit crab city...




...sunset.




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Ok, that’s all for this week, we really jumped around I know, but there was no real unifying theme to tie it all together….is there ever? Tune in next week to read about the hazards of public transit, the hazards of walking and the panoply of smells that greet me each day. Peace!
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- Matt

Friday, January 18, 2008

I've Returned!

Hello again dear readers, what a lapse in entries we’ve had, my sincerest apologies. For those of you that haven’t had a clue as to my whereabouts for the past month, I made a surprise visit home over Christmas to visit with friends and family for 3 weeks. Unfortunately, I couldn’t exactly announce this upcoming visit over my blog because such declarations tend to be counterproductive to the nature and purpose of surprises. Thus I had to write my final entry for the semester last year in such a way so as to give the impression that I would be in Costa Rica over the course of Christmas and blogging all the while. Needless to say, that is why my most recent entry speaks nothing of imminent flights to Newark, NJ but rather promises forthcoming phonetics lessons and a recipe for rice. I had intended to blog sporadically while at home but ran into an issue regarding internet access. You see, my parents being the antediluvian luddites that they are, have taken it upon themselves to wage a private war against modern science. They think they’re really sticking it to society and Comcast in particular by refusing to employ any technology that postdates the year 1997. As such, any endeavor to blog while using dial-up internet was thwarted by my parents’ new-found Mennonite austerity and was usually marked by my attempts to defenestrate their computer from a second-story window. Again I apologize for the halt in mindless banter that I was putting forth each week, I can’t imagine the damper it must have put on your Christmas cheer. I assure you though that henceforth you will be able to read my entries anew on a weekly basis.
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Where to start…(there are a month and ½ worth of stories and thoughts to dispatch)…let’s begin with some Christmas musings:
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1. After a decade of publicly declaring that she had no desire to own a personal computer, while at the same time secretly wishing that one would someday appear on her doorstep; Shirley Morris (that’s Grandma…or Grandmo to Mo Holland) got a computer from her children for Christmas. She was a little wary at first, but quickly caught on and in one month has become an emailing machine…at least that’s what I hear – I wouldn’t know.
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2. I gained 25 pounds in 3 weeks – ok not really but in all honesty I gorged myself while at home. From Shady Maple Smorgasbord, to Christmas Dinner (twice), to the obligatory Pork and Sauerkraut on New Year’s Day, I ate and ate and ate. When I wasn’t eating grandiose meals I was snacking away on the 33 different varieties of Chocolate Chip Cookies my mother had made (it’s not because she’s a gourmet chef with elaborate variations on her recipe, it’s just that every time she put a batch in the oven they came out a little differently…and no one really knows why). It’s not as though I wasn’t being fed well down there in Costa Rice but I really did just miss my family’s cooking…no one can make Pork and Sauerkraut like my mother.
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3. I made a fool out of myself in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. A friend and I were hiking in the PA Grand Canyon (yes, we have one too) and only 5 minutes into our hike I decided to be a show-off and “ski” on the ice down the path. Unfortunately, I got to moving a bit too fast and being the expert skier that I am, I aimed for the nearest object to break my descent. As luck would have it, this object was a rather sturdy tree that had absolutely no give. I rammed my hip and ribs into it and lay on the ground motionless for quite a spell whilst my companion laughed her head off. Once she regained her composure and realized that I could barely walk, she hoisted me up and practically carried me back up the mountain. I felt really macho and cool that day. Moral of the Story: Don’t showboat on ice in front of a girl.
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4. My family continued their yearly tradition of waiting to by any of their gifts until Christmas Eve Day; my mother of course is not included in this event, she would be a nervous wreck, in fact she’s a nervous wreck if she doesn’t have all of her gifts bought and wrapped by Labor Day. This year she asked if she could come along for the ride but I told her she needed to stay home and iron out the kinks in her Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. Anyways the 5 of us, Dad and the four kids, schlepped ourselves to the Mall ate pizza with my Uncle and then crisscrossed that little mall for 2 hours – it’s always a harrowing time but it’s always a lot of fun. Actually this year I had already bought all of my gifts in Costa Rica for $3.25 so I just wandered aimlessly and chatted with strangers.
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5. To sum it all up I had a glorious visit with friends and family. When I left the country back in August I had no idea that I would be able to come back so soon, I honestly thought that I would be away from home for 3 years. Turns out that’s what I told everyone right before I left too “Seeya in three years”. Thus when I returned some people assumed I had just given up on this whole “missionary thing”, I had to reassure my father not a few times that yes I was in fact going back. I’m just kidding…he only asked me once. Seriously though, this visit was a real treat, it was wonderful to be able to share in my family’s Christmas traditions one more time, to visit my church families at both Agape and Frazer and sing Christmas Carols in English, to share in our family’s favorite meals and to connect again with friends. I count myself so blessed and so fortunate to have been able to spend 3 weeks with people that I love.
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So I’m back in Costa Rica now, I have been for almost 2 weeks now and I gotta tell ya, the weather here is fabulous. Remember how back in November I wrote about the weather turning chilly and Mr. Tumnus moving in next-door, well apparently that only lasted for like a month. Now we’re in the 60’s and 70’s all day every day, there’s never any rain, it’s always sunny and breezy and in the evening it’s nice and cool. The only thing I can compare it too is mid-late May in Pennsylvania. My mam’a loves to talk about the weather, she thinks it’s fabulous too, though I suspect it’s because it affords Orlando, her husband, absolutely no excuse to keep from doing the work around the house that accumulated during the rainy season. She’s been warning me though about March and April, she says I have no idea what heat is like until I have lived through those months in San Jose – can’t wait.
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School started again and good grief is it ever different. I’m basically without friends this trimester – most of my friends from last year left or are involved in a different program so I only get to see them on the weekends. On top of that most of the new students are in their mid-30’s, married and have small children; I’m surrounded by young, married, Southern Baptists. Needless to say, I spend a lot of my free time at school sitting quietly by myself and sipping coffee. On the learning front, that is why I’m here after all, I have different teachers – no more Francisco, which while sad, is also good because it allows us to experience different speaking and teaching styles, it also means Mr. Bean will no longer be teaching us Espanol. Oscar is my grammar teacher and the thing that stands out to me about him, aside from his excellent teaching abilities, is his voice. He has a very deep, grainy voice and he speaks in such a way so that it always sounds as though he’s reading us a story or a poem – he could be teaching us about the Future tense and in my mind all I hear is a voice lulling me to sleep. I’m going to have to start drinking some serious coffee if I’m gonna stay awake in his class. My other class is conversation with Dixieanna the taskmaster. This woman is nuts, she’s a good teacher but she frightens us to death, so much so that one student has already changed classes. She just has a way about her that makes you hesitant to make a mistake, especially the same one more than once. She demands perfect grammar, pronunciation and fluidity in speech – good grief lady I’ve only been at this since September. In reality though I think it’s good, I’m positive that by the end of this trimester I will be speaking very well.
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So my mother, the U.S. version, sent a little Christmas present along with me to give to both Flora and Orlando to show her appreciation for them. It wasn’t excessive, just a little token of thanks. I was sitting at dinner with Flora the second night I was back when I suddenly remembered that this gift was still stashed away in my suitcase, I quickly retrieved it and presented it to her. She was so excited and wanted to open it on the spot but I told her she had to wait until Orlando was present too (he was upstairs in their bedroom). Flora, being the impatient type, ran over to her kitchen wall, grabbed a whistle that was hanging from a nail and gave it two hard blows. Not 30 seconds later Orlando came bounding down the stairs ready to do his wife’s bidding. I lost it, I laughed and I laughed, Flora thought it was pretty funny too. Unfortunately though her merriment was short-lived, she loved her gifts but was none too pleased about the gifts my mother sent Orlando; Turtle Wax and other articles for car maintenance. She just looked at me and said “Thank you, now he’s gonna spend his entire vacation with his girlfriend”, I laughed. She was right though, the next day when I got home from school Orlando grabbed me and rushed me outside to show me the new wax job on his car.
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One quick story before I go; I got to see my first real futbol (soccer) game here last Sunday afternoon. A group of us from the school decided to take in the game between no. 70 ranked Costa Rica andno. 4 ranked Sweden. The result was 1-0 Sweden but it was actually a really close game and in my estimation Costa Rica probably should have won. The game was a fairly subdued affair, there were no bonfires in the stands, violent drunken mobs or bottles of urine hurled at the referees, all standard occurrences at Saprissa games (that’s the local professional team). I had a great time but I do want to catch a Saprissa v. Liga game before I leave, I’ve heard that it’s an experience like no other.
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La Carpio photos for the week...and a few other random shots:
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Down by the riverside...



.....juice time....





.....football time.....




....Pirate day at school......





......lunch break....







....ok, now they're just making words up!






Alright, that’s all for this post – again I apologize for the lapse in entries but let’s blame my parents for that one, it’ll make me feel much better. If you return next week I’ll have stories from La Carpio, a lesson in phonetics and pearls of wisdom from Flora. Blessings to you.

- Peace!