Friday, January 24, 2014

Laughing is Cross-Cultural

I have heard many funny stories over the years of things people have said and done when learning a new language and culture. Polly and I knew that we would be creating a number of our own while in Costa Rica, especially while at language school. I want to share these stories with you so you can laugh along with us.

How do you say three-hole punch?

Polly, Genevieve and I had to go shopping yesterday for some necessities. We asked "the girls" (the simple term for the three single girls that live in the apartment right next to ours at the language school) if they needed anything. They asked if we could keep an eye out for a three-hole punch. No problem, right?

Well, you would think I would have at least done the work of determining the spanish word for three-hole punch before I left the house, but I did not. Neither did I have access to the internet where I was. I hoped beyond all hope that I would just find it without having to ask a single question. You know as well as I did that there was no chance it would be that easy.

What was I to do? I didn't even know enough words to throw something together. Then, the lightbulb went on. I found a spanish-english dictionary on one of the shelves. I picked out two easy-to-pronounce words, one for hole and one for punch. I knew that it wouldn't be the right word but I hoped it would get my idea across.

I went up to the first employee I saw and began...
Perdon. Yo no hablo bien el espaƱol. (With full hand-motions going) Tiene un hoyo poncho para, dos, tres.
The employee looked right at me and said,
Do you need one-hole, two-hole or three-hole punch?
Yep, he spoke english (not all that common here). I couldn't help but laugh. In case you ever need to know, it's called a "perforadora" in spanish.

Why would you like to return this?

Genevieve received two of the same gifts for her birthday. One of our friends gave us the receipt so we could return it. I had already successfully returned some stuff to one store here but forgot the word I used and it took 20-30 minutes. We went to the service desk and received the question we weren't prepared for, "Porque."

What do we tell them when we don't speak the language. In Polly's mind, she thought about the fact that Genevieve got two of them for her birthday. How could she say that though? She simply replied, "dos." The women looked at us like saying "two" by itself simply would not suffice.

I finally came up with the best I had, (pointing at Genevieve) Ella tiene la mismo (yes, I know that's not grammatically correct, but it's what came to mind). That apparently worked well enough because we were able to exchange it after all.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Home, Sweet Home

Where is home? It’s amazing how differently people will answer that question. Depending on the circumstances, you may think of “home” as:
  • Where you grew up.
  • Where you have settled down and started a family of your own.
  • A confusing word without an easy answer.
Missionary kids (MKs) typically fall into the third option above. The general term for kids who grow up in a culture that is different from the one they were born in is “third culture kids.” The reason for this is that they never really fully belong to their “passport” culture OR the new culture they’ve entered (they are not native).

This is the reality that Genevieve is and will continue to cope with. She is American but growing up in Costa Rica. She is not now, nor will she ever be, truly Tico. But she will be spending significant developmental years in Costa Rica learning the Tico culture, which will make it difficult for her to integrate back into American culture.

Two weeks into our time in Costa Rica, Genevieve is celebrating her 3rd birthday today. This has caused some of these realities and challenges to surface.

There’s no place like home.

Since we only have a shower and no tub in our apartment, we have been bathing Genevieve in one of the bins we used to travel here. While Polly was giving her a bath recently, Genevieve asked to see the drain. When Polly showed her, the following conversation ensued:

Genevieve: That’s not the same as the drain at our house.
Polly: This is our house.
Genevieve: But I don’t see Sheesha and Kaykay.

Back in the States, we lived with a family including the two children Sheesha and Kaykay. How could this be home if they aren’t here? That was her logic.

When we were talking about her upcoming birthday, she asked if all her friends were going to come for her birthday. When asked which friends, she said, “Sean.” (her cousin). She started listing a few other friends from back home in the States.

There have been a few other examples that have made us a little sad.

Home is where the heart is.

We were told some time ago that on the mission field, missionaries are more like family than simply friends. It has not taken long for us to see this truth play out, especially with Genevieve.

All the other missionaries at Cincel have been so loving and caring toward Genevieve. She is the only toddler here so she gets quite a bit of attention from everyone. In turn, she calls them all by auntie and uncle. And she knows all their names.

We have invited all her aunties and uncles over for cupcakes to celebrate Genevieve’s birthday tonight. They are all so excited to come.

Last night, when I asked Genevieve who she wanted to pray for special, she began to list all of her Cincel aunties and uncles one by one. She loves them.

Nobody will replace her aunties and uncles from back home in the States. But it’s not about replacing them; it’s about gaining new ones. New ones she loves and who love her back. She is truly blessed.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

La Gracia de Dios

It was one week ago today that Polly, Genevieve and I boarded a plane and moved our lives to San Jose, Costa Rica. We have slowly but surely been adjusting to life in our new context. But before we get too far removed from our travel day, I wanted to share with you the favor God showed us that day (after all our anxieties about it)

What do you do with over 20 pieces of luggage?

I don't know the most pieces of luggage you have ever traveled with at one time, but for us this trip brought a record. We had:

  • 9 plastic bins, zip-tied shut
  • 5 duffle bags
  • 5 suitcases (including 3 carry-ons)
  • 3 personal bags
  • 1 stroller
  • 1 car seat

That's a lot of stuff. Have you ever thought through the practical side of how you handle that much luggage at an airport? I hadn't prior to our arrival at the airport. A few components combined to make this go smoothly.

1. The kind employees of Jet Blue sectioned off an area for us to put our luggage while Polly and Genevieve waited in the line.

2. We had friends and family there to help us bring the luggage to that area and tag it all for us.

Excess baggage gets expensive

Jet Blues policy for baggage fees is:

  • 1st bag free
  • 2nd bag - $40
  • 3rd+ bag - $75
The very nice woman helping us at the desk spoke with her supervisor and had them eliminate $225 of these fees. A penny saved is a penny earned.

Dragging her kicking and screaming

Genevieve got upset when took her carry-on from her as we worked our way into the security line because she was holding the people behind us up. Polly was literally dragging her kicking and screaming through the line. While this may seem inconvenient, it did cause an employee to put us in the fast line bypassing everyone. We made it through security with no issues.

Oversized carry-ons

When we arrived at the gate I asked about our carry-ons. They were oversized, but they gate checked them at no cost. That's another $150 we saved (though they didn't arrive in Costa Rica until the following day).


There were quite a few people ahead of us in line once we arrived in San Jose. Thankfully, this culture loves and looks after pregnant women. They moved us to the fast lane again and we received our tourist visas in the matter of minutes.

Time to get the luggage

How were we going to get all that luggage from the conveyor belt through customs? Thankfully, they had Skycap guys waiting at the ready to help for a tip. They even waited with our luggage while we filed the paperwork for our 2 gate-checked bags that didn't make it with us.


The guy wanted to go through all the plastic bins. But after opening one, he accepted the fact that it really was household items. He told us to take the rest. We weren't held back for very long at all.

That day will serve as a reminder to us of God's favor when we face difficult days here. God really drove this point home to us on Sunday when John Musacchio preached on God's favor. God is so good!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Breaking News: Life is Different in Costa Rica

Okay, so it's not really breaking news. It should come as no surprise to you that life is different here in San Jose, Costa Rica than it was in the States. There are many things that are different for many different reasons. I thought you might appreciate it if I shared some random, not-so-obvious ones (for example, the fact that they speak a different language should be an obvious one) with you:

Gates and locks and barbed wire oh my

I carry a key ring with 5 keys on it. And I don't even have a car. We have:
  • 2 keys to enter and exit our front entrance (a wooden door and a gate)
  • 2 keys to enter and exit our back entrance (a wooden door and a gate)
  • 1 key to enter and exit the gates around Cincel's property
This means that we have to unlock and re-lock at least 3 locks every time we leave or return home. And this is not just because we're Americans living in Costa Rica. Everyone around here has gates and most also have barbed wire around their properties.

We have plumbing and toilet paper, but...

...we cannot flush it here. Toilet paper goes in the trash.

Addresses are a little more complex

In the States, addresses consist of a street name and street number, but that is not how addresses work here. While they recently started putting up signs with street names, none of the locals know them and it's not how addresses are given. Addresses consist of directions based on distances, descriptions and landmarks. When I take a taxi home, here is the address I give the driver:
Carretera a Zapote, de la Sede Lechera 250 metros norte, 100 oeste y 100 sur, edificio color crema a la par de un play.
While we have a post office box for mail, this is also the address that goes on any package sent through FedEx. It's not merely directions, it's our address!

What's the date today?

They don't write the date the same here as how we write it back home. Back home we write it as month, day, year. Here we write it as day, month, year. Today in Costa Rica the date is 13/1/14. This is hard to remember when filling out paperwork.

My pockets are heavier and make more noise

The currency in Costa Rica is colones. Many things cost 1 mil or more, which works out because 1 mil ($2) is the lowest denomination of bank notes. Everything lower is coins. As a result, coins are used a lot more often here. Basically, imagine if we only had coins instead of bills for $1 in the States. Imagine how much more change you would carry. This is our new reality.

There is a lot of newness here, but we love and embrace these changes. They are part of our new normal.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

4 Reasons Costa Rica Will Get Me Back In Shape

I recently posted about my weight loss a few years back and how I have done well to maintain it. While this is true, I did put on 5+ lbs this past holiday season. But only three full days into life in Costa Rica, I'm convinced I will get back in shape in no time. Here's why:

Food is too expensive to waste.

It didn't take long for us to realize that the grocery store is going to be an expensive trip each week. On a couple of occasions, I thought about grabbing a quick snack beyond my normally scheduled snacks. On each occasion, I remembered my grocery bill and walk away from the cupboard. I guess it's the one positive to come from the high prices.

Unlike in the U.S., it IS cheap to be healthy.

Polly, Genevieve and I all enjoy eating fruits and vegetables. But back home, produce makes up about half our grocery bill. It's just so expensive. Not here though. We went to the open market yesterday and got fresh, delicious produce at much cheaper prices. We couldn't believe it. In Costa Rica, junk food is actually more expensive than produce.

We walk everywhere.

We have money in our budget to buy a car so at some point we will have one. But for now, we walk anywhere that's within a couple miles. For everything else, we take buses or taxis. Even when we do get a car, with the gas prices being as high as they are, I see no reason to stop walking. Plus, it's a great way to become acquainted with our new home.

I found running buddies.

I didn't think I was going to get to keep running in Costa Rica. I didn't know how safe it would be or if there was anywhere good to run. Thankfully, a missionary who has already been here for a trimester of language school (and in the past) is a runner and already has a bunch of routes to run. And another one of the new students is also a runner. We have already run twice. And the good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) news is that there are LOTS of hills around here.

Yep, I'm pretty sure I'll be back in shape in no time. This brings me joy.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

6 Non-Missions Related Things I Can't Wait to Do in Costa Rica

In one week, we will be leaving for Costa Rica for 3 years. While we will be busy with language training and missions work during our time there, we will also be taking some time to enjoy the country itself. This is especially exciting for us because we love being out in nature and there is no shortage of outdoor activities to do in Costa Rica. Here are the 6 things I've already been talking and thinking about.

Zip Lining / Canopy Tour

Whitewater Rafting

Volcano Hike

Chasing Waterfalls

Just Beach-y

Sport Fishing

These are all random pictures I took off the internet. In the spirit of making new year's resolutions, I resolve that by the time we return to the States I will write a blog that will include personal photos of me enjoying each of these activities in some way.