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Puerto Viejo, Sarapiquí, Costa Rica… first impressions

 

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April 30 I arrived in Costa Rica to serve as a missionary and pastor in the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica. I live in the town of Puerto Viejo, in the region of Sarapiquí. This is a tropical rainforest region two hours north of the capital, San José, close to the Nicaraguan border. Sarapiquí is home to monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, and colorful birds like toucans and parrots. The region is known for its endless fields of pineapples, coconut trees, bananas, plantains, cocoa, yucca, and more.

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The rainy season is May through November, so I arrived just in time to see more rain than Noah ever saw. Everything is a deep rich green and plants and food grow quickly.  In the photo are dozens of bromeliads, plants growing on a host tree.

In front of our house we have loaded banana trees, a 25 foot avocado tree, a lime  tree, and an almond tree. In the back we have plantain trees and a coconut palm. I learned that it is dangerous to hang clothes to dry underneath the coconuts. They fall from more than 30 feet and can knock a person unconsciousness. One of the hazards of doing laundry!

The weather in Sarapiquí is a challenge. May was extremely hot with up to 95 degrees and 95% humidity, which is great for my complexion. I have learned that cool showers are actually welcoming and the intense heat and rain produce amazing fruit! Living in a place where very few people or businesses have air conditioning, I am more conscientious of how so many people in the world live without what we Americans would consider basic comforts. Full transparency: I did buy two fans for the house and one for our church.

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My congregation, La Esperanza, is in the small town of Chilamate, less than a 10 minute ride by bus, at the foot of a hill. We are a small congregation with many more children than adults. The little ones fill up the tables in church on Saturday for Bible study and crafts. They are followed by the teens who come for English class. Several parents in the community want their children to be baptized or be prepared for communion. I expect the parent(s) to come to the preparation classes with their child so soon we will have some new faces. As it often happens, the children come first, and then bring the adults.

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The church is cement block, with a cement floor, and like most buildings down here there is a corrugated metal roof that amplifies the sound of the rain so I have to use my outside voice inside when it rains. The windows have no glass, just the bugs, the sunshine, or the rain, and us. I still jump a foot when I open a shutter to find a huge toad, a 4 inch long black grasshopper, or a lizard sitting on the sill. We always have a few dogs, cats, or birds coming to visit. The view outside the windows is incredible, with beautiful birds, flowers, and banana trees.

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I wear a clergy shirt and insert the collar one minute before worship. I put on my stole for communion. And still, I am soaked by the end of the service. I realize how much money, energy, and emotion we in the US spend on church buildings, heating and air, decorations, and worship, yet the end result is the same. These people love and praise God with joy! The children play instruments when we sing and we are sometimes accompanied by the call of a rooster. My favorite moment was when an eight year-old girl followed me to the table when I began to prepare for communion. She stood next to me and watched me, imitated my facial expressions, gestures, and then recited the Lord’s Prayer with me. I felt so close to God, who sent her to us to remind us of the power of prayer, of humility, and of being an authentic Christian. There is nothing more beautiful than the innocence of children.

The families in La Esperanza have huge hearts! I get hugs when I visit and when they come for classes and worship. When I go to their homes I am offered a fruit juice that was squeezed just for me, usually from a fruit tree in the yard, or a green coconut with the top removed so I could drink the water.  This drink is called ‘pipa’.  If you have a machete you can prepare your own (coconuts are extremely hard) or you can buy them on the street from a vendor or I get some from my neighbor.

 

My week is filled with more children and more joy. I live next door to an elementary school so I offered to help children with their English and have several classes with 1st through 6th graders. We meet in what was the garage, an open space between the house and the street. Like many other homes and businesses, it has an iron grillwork in front for security, yet the space is open for people passing by to see us, to ask about the classes, or the other ministries we are offering. The children call me Ticher, and bring me pictures they drew, and sometimes fruit or candy. They give me a kiss on the cheek when they leave class.

I realize how important English is in the world, and particularly in this country where tourism is so important to the economy. Not only are a great number of tourists from the US, but many other countries know English as a second or third language so knowledge of English is almost a necessity for jobs in tourism. I am glad not only to help children get good grades but also to increase their chances for better paying careers later.

Another Lutheran woman and I are preparing a class to help non-literate adults learn to read. We would like to help them overcome the stigma, to be able to help their children with school work, and to give them the skills to have a better paying job. One of the first challenges is to publicize the class in a way that makes them or family members aware while preserving their dignity.

We are working with groups of women who are learning a craft or a trade (or another language!) to prepare them for a job or career. I will have more to report on these groups the next time I write.

My Costa Rican synod is led by Presidente Gilberto Quesada Mora, our bishop, who is very caring and supportive.  Since I’ve been here the synod has participated in marches in downtown San José calling for an end to violence against women, for supporting workers and migrant workers, and for embracing the LGBTQ community.        

 

I am blessed to serve in Sarapiquí with Pastor Jonathan Jarquín. He lives close by and serves two congregations an hour from here. I have included a mural from his congregation in San Julian. Notice that Noah’s ark has tropical animals and the ‘dove’ is actually a toucan holding a branch! Context is very important here. An ark full of elephants and giraffes would not reflect their experience!

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Pastor Jonathan with a member’s pet parrot and the Sarapiquí  River.  It looks very innocent but it is home to crocodiles and currently is flooding nearby towns.

Costa Ricans are very proud of their country and culture, which actually is a blend of many. This is reflected in the variety of races and nationalities that make up the population, and in the different accents from the various regions. People listen to music from all over Latin America and the US and foods from many countries find their way to restaurants and kitchens.

I am very blessed for the support of my synod, family, and friends in the US while I am serving here. A special thanks to Bishop Ray Tiemann, who has been so supportive of this partnership and who is retiring this summer. Muchísimas gracias to Rev. Sue Briner, our new bishop elect, and Rev. Judith Spindt, our new bishop’s assistant, and the Southwest Texas Synod staff for their help and enthusiasm, and for helping to make this year of accompaniment a reality.20180223_080113

 

In closing I would like to share my first impressions of this adventure.

To hear “Pura vida” as a greeting and to describe a good or nice person. It literally means ‘pure life’ but down here it translates loosely as ‘the good life’ or ‘the best in life’.

Parents holding hands with children, shading them with their parasols on their way to school…

A mother carrying a pipa-a green coconut with the top removed and a straw sticking out, to refresh her child with ice cold coconut water for the walk home from school…

A father carrying two toddlers because the heat is crushing, and it speeds up the walk home…

The many little confident voices singing “Hi Ticher,” “I am fine,” and the occasional shy parent offering “Good morning” as they walk past our semi-enclosed terrace (fancy for former garage)…

The tear in the eye of a woman who is moved that there are female pastors, and humbly accepting her blessing…

The morning and Sunday bells of the Catholic church on the corner, and hearing the Mass over a loudspeaker as I walk to the taxi stand Sunday mornings…

The bright colors of Costa Rica in the landscapes and in the houses.  Even the soccer field remains a beautiful emerald green all the time, thanks to the rain.

The gigantic toad that scares me some evenings, hopping alongside the garden…

Forgetting dry laundry on the clothesline until the downpour is underway…

Incredible birdsongs and flashes of color as they fly by…

Two mothers who cannot read or write bringing their little ones to learn English…

Shaded by a tall avocado tree…

Hearing “con mucho gusto” (“with much pleasure”) as a response to “gracias,” instead of “de nada” (“it’s nothing–don’t mention it”). It think it sounds more polite.

Standing in the blinding sun with 20 people waiting to use the only ATM in town, eyes stinging with sweat, thinking ‘this is a first world problem’…

Cool showers…

Asking for directions and no longer being surprised to be led by the arm down the street to find the service needed…

No mail carriers or mail delivery to homes; mail can be collected at the post office.

Without street names or house numbers, locating by how many hundred meters away places are… and realizing that I never did learn the metric system!

Thrilled to have seen two toucans up close, too fast for the camera…

Still feels strange to keep eggs in the cabinet rather than the fridge…

The nightly show of thunder and lightening to remind us that we have no power over nature…

Someone dropping off a horse to eat the grass in the vacant lot between our house and the school…

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Eating the freshest fruit ever!

Living without a car, walking around town or taking taxis and buses, meeting more people that way…

Leaving my cats in a loving home in Harlingen, Texas, and to my joy finding an affectionate cat in my new home… Thank you Celia and Marlene for caring for Mica and Chulo!

Walking outside to teach English classes several times a week in our enclosed terrace…closest commute ever!

Meeting new neighbors who greet me with a pipa – freshly cut green coconut filled with water, or a pineapple….

Showing up early to set the table for the 5 pm service, putting out liturgy and song books, and the skies open and I am jumping with every clap of thunder. No one else is here, not even the stray dogs who usually show up. We could not hear each other anyway because the roofs here are corrugated metal and it is impossible to hear when there is a wonderful thunderstorm. I have some challenges but even more joy!

 

Rosemarie Doucette, pastor and missionary

 

 

Holidays and Celebrations in Costa Rica

I had no idea it could rain so much, so many days in a row! The upside is that everything is shades of brilliant green, with flowers of every shape and color cascading from roofs, covering trellises, flowering in trees, giving shelter to colorful birds and food for bees and hummingbirds. Having grown up in Chicago with four seasons, it is strange having the same weather for seven months so far. Leaves don’t change color and fall at once. Fruit and nut trees have their seasons staggered throughout the year. Our avocado looks pretty sad but the limes and bananas are doing well! I did find a log with some fall-colored mushrooms on it. fall mushroomsThe children I teach and even some adults have questions about snow: how does it taste? How long does it last? Are schools closed for the winter? They cannot imagine long sleeves or long pants, let alone winter coats, warm hats, scarves, and gloves. The only boots they have seen are some cowboy boots and the knee-high rubber boots worn to work in the banana and pineapple plantations. Hardly any businesses or homes have air conditioning, so they cannot even imagine cool, let alone freezing cold. No one in my congregation and many in my neighborhood don’t even have a fan to keep cool.

Looking at holidays in Sarapiqui, the region where I live, August 15 is a holiday especially for Catholics, but the whole town benefits from a day off. No classes for the children participating in a parade to celebrate the Virgen Mary. September 9 is the Day of the Child and we got a couple of soccer balls for the children to play at church, one for the girls, one for the boys. Sometimes they’ll play together, other times the squealing is too much. September 15 is Costa Rica’s Independence Day. I missed it because I went to the wedding of dear friends in Philadelphia. I know the children in the school next door were practicing overtime for their band and marching numbers for the parade. What I really wanted to see were the ‘faroles,’ handmade lanterns with different shapes like boats, houses, and torches. People make their own and join the parade as it passes their house, so the lights become a long trail snaking through the streets. Of course they had national dances and fireworks, as we do in the US.

The children of La Esperanza Lutheran Church, where I serve, helped me distribute fliers to the community announcing a Blessing of the Animals on October 6 in remembrance of St. Francis, the patron saint of animals. We had a couple dozen dogs and cats show up with their people. It was pure chaos because I realized too late that folks who are financially challenged do not make a collar and leash a priority. We had mad dashes of children and fur as they chased each other, hid, jumped in and out of windows! In the end we had a good but exhausting time. It was a good opportunity to meet some of our neighbors, both 2- and 4-legged. We didn’t see the cows that day; they usually pass by the front entrance in the middle of worship. No one could catch the roosters and chickens, so they were blessed at a distance.

They don’t celebrate Halloween in Sarapiquí, the region where I am serving, but I heard they did two hours away in San José, the capital. I chose not to even mention it because the area around my church is very poor, nothing like most of us have ever seen. It would put stress on families to provide costumes and candy, and trick or treat is only fun if others participate. Also, there are no street lights. When it is dark around the church, it is dangerous to walk. The streets are filled with huge rocks—not gravel, and mud puddles. There is no Thanksgiving holiday, although we are all thankful at all times for the gifts and grace we encounter in our daily lives. Our next big event will be in preparation for Christmas.

We recently had a retreat for pastors and congregational leaders. We were at a ranch in the mountains of Puriscal, the town where I stayed to heal after my hospital stay in the beginning of March. It was a delightful setting, with beautifully kept grounds, with trees and plants labeled for visitors (thank you!). I saw my first coffee beans in situ! They are various shades of green, and when they turn red, they are picked, sorted, roasted and head to your coffeepot.

There was a cinnamon tree and I chewed a leaf and stole a tiny piece of bark. I saw a lemon tree, the first lemons I have seen since I arrived. It’s funny that there are limes, grapefruits, oranges, but no lemons where I live. I found one on the ground and showed it to my English students for a week before we used it in cooking. Down here they are called ‘Creole limes.’ On the property were poinsettias, and other incredible tropical flowers I had never seen before. There were many bromeliads, plants that attach themselves to bark or nest in crooks of trees, using the rainwater falling on the tree, and taking advantage of the protection from the direct sun or too much wind.

I am not a camper so not very happy with ice cold showers, or the bat flying around our bedrooms at night. Another first, I had never eaten rice and beans for every meal for six meals straight. Of course there was another meat or eggs, but rice and beans are a staple here. Everyone else thought it was normal! I have lost over twenty pounds walking instead of driving, and eating fruits and vegetables without rice, beans, bread, everything that adds calories.

On November 23, the International Day Against Violence Toward Women and Girls, the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica participated in a march in downtown San José. Once again, I was very proud that our bishop Gilberto, most of our pastors, church leaders, and almost the entire synod staff all marched behind our banner. It was great to see so many men turn out and march in solidarity! We have a ministry, a program for Sexuality and Gender, and we are constantly speaking out for justice in Costa Rica and as part of the Lutheran Church worldwide.

No rain; these are sombrillas, used for shade.

I have to admit that I much prefer the low-key approach to Christmas here. Whether it is cultural or a question of money, very few people have any visible decorations outside their homes. Stores have very little. The children in the school next door are practicing a few songs for their Christmas concert, or a parade, but I have not heard any Christmas music in other places. I do love the music, and some decorating, but there is something refreshing about not clouding the humble birth of Jesus with commercialism. It’s funny that the children are playing songs about reindeer and snow; the temperatures are still in the 90s and we are in shorts, tank tops, and flip flops!

Before I arrived I naively thought I would see sloths and monkeys in trees, toucans eating bananas off the trees, and see parrots everywhere. I have yet to see these except the birds flying so fast that I cannot catch a photo.  When it gets cooler, say in the mid 80s, I’d like to go where I can find these birds and animals and share them with you.

I have seen other wildlife up close—sometimes too close! The flying insect that has scorpion-like pincers came to my outdoor evening English class. The spider was in church, found during a deep clean and quickly hid herself again. The beautiful green iguana was lying on top of my bedroom curtains. When it was coaxed down with a broom, it took off running on its hind legs with its little front legs churning like a sprinter! The giant toad apparently walked in the front door when we weren’t looking and I found it at 5am one morning. Not as cute as a sloth, but this is my world and the wonders that live in it. I am so happy to report I have NOT seen a snake yet.

My classes are varied: Bible study for adults, English for all levels, sewing, and of course I have the children on Saturdays for Bible stories and coloring, crafts. I love teaching so this fills my heart with joy. Some of my English students do well in school, high school, and university and want to improve. Many want to be able to communicate with the tourists who visit or shop on their way to tour the rainforests. My pharmacist just joined us, so I will be tailoring a lesson for her. Others want to be tour guides. Two work at the clinic and wanted vocabulary to help address the needs of patients. It makes me happy to know there are people who want to learn just to be able to serve and welcome others!

Many students have dropped out, many children because their parents have sent them elsewhere while the strikes are still going on in many schools. Mostly people drop out or miss a lot because they cannot afford to miss work days or an unexpected opportunity to earn a little overtime. Some of my adult students have not finished grade school, or only have an 8th grade diploma. There are so many needs here, but there is even more faith. People know it can get worse, but never impossible. They are very aware that God is the source of their joy and that they will always have what they need, if not what they want.

As I waited with over 50 of my closest friends outside in line in the simmering heat to use the only 2 ATMs close by, I noticed how easygoing people were. Of course, they are used to this, but still. They ungrudgingly move to the side and gesture older people, a woman in a wheelchair, pregnant women, and people with babies toward the front of the line. When I could not walk well for several weeks following an accident with my foot, I was pushed to the front, which I dearly appreciated. Some people worked their way to the front explaining they only had a few minutes free during work. People did not snarl. They smiled at the babies, squatted and spoke to little children, turned to the person next to them and started conversations. I could feel the sweat dripping between my shoulder blades, and then down my face. While I could be absorbed by the weather, I chose to look down the Boulevard toward the South where I could see mountains looming in the distance. I thanked God for the blessing to live among such easygoing people, used to seeing tall tourists, and still surprised to find one who speaks Spanish! It must be easier to keep spirits up when the official dress is shorts, tee shirts, sandals, and sunglasses.

I also love how people help one another. Within five minutes one day two men came by the grill separating our front patio from the public sidewalk. They were asking for food—not money. I gave them what I had: tuna and garbanzo beans. They blessed me with tears in their eyes and my students who were with me gave them each some money. No snide remarks after. No judgement. Just a short prayer to send them on their way. I notice that people say ‘Adios’ to say good-bye, but also as a greeting: to God! I love the simplicity and the friendliness.

This summer I spent a few days in Guatemala City, the capital. It was eye-opening as I saw people dressed in familiar clothing alongside women dressed in brilliant colors and traditional weavings of their ancient culture. Some of the architecture is colonial, some more modern. We especially loved the tiny restaurants with women cooking on open fires in the doorways. Sadly I saw many people begging, some with obvious physical problems. At the airport there were many women holding a child, with another clinging to their skirts, begging for money for food. These children belong in school, but I think this is how they get tourists to help them. I pray for a day when there will be no hunger, no homelessness, only the pure love Jesus taught us to share.

 

 

Have a beautiful holiday season with family and friends and please remember those who go without, who are lonely, and in mourning. Blessings to you, your families, and friends.

Ministries of the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica

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My first message was first impressions, of the pure delight in living in another part of the world, whose landscape is so different from most of the US. Then my first impressions of the Costa Ricans who are so similar to, yet different from North Americans. Now I share my impressions of serving in the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica, that is part of the larger Lutheran Church in the world, yet it is very unique and in many ways more mature than her 30 years that we just celebrated.

When I describe the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica to friends and family, people in town and on the bus and wherever we may meet, I am still amazed by our ministries and how a rather small number of pastors and lay persons are changing the world for good. They are simply following in the footsteps of Christ, seeking out the marginalized, the despised, the vulnerable, the difficult to love, the difficult to help, those who do not fit in the box, or who do not fulfill society’s expectations of their identity. They give without expecting in return. I’d like to share some of these ministries with you. Whether or not you are involved in a church or religious group, there are lessons to be learned, examples to follow, and a renewed hope in these ministries that people can be reached, lives can be changed, and life can be more fulfilling.

I begin with our ministry to los Indígenas, the communities of the First Peoples of Costa Rica. They have beautiful names and places like Quitirrisi, Ngöbe de Sixaola, and Bribrí. I do not live near these communities (most are South, near Panama), but I have heard the stories and have met the people personally involved. Throughout history, Christians in the world have had the notorious reputation of entering a country, a region, or a community and imposing their faith, and often their educational and financial institutions, ignoring, devaluing, or destroying the existing cultures, including their languages, traditions, customs, and their rhythm of life. This abuse has nothing to do with the Gospel in which Jesus did not try to change people of other faiths and nationalities. Sadly our nation is not an exception, so we can learn from this ministry.  I am pleased and relieved to report that the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica does not impose itself on the spiritual practices of the Indigenous peoples of Costa Rica, whose faith is part of their identification. Instead, we come in a spirit of accompaniment and offer to help people obtain documents that prove citizenship because many people were born at home and have no actual birth certificate. With documents, they can now vote in national and local elections. It is a very tedious and slow process, but the more people who can vote, the better it will be to secure their rights. We work with lawyers to help recover lands and water sources that were taken from the Indigenous peoples. We also help prepare people to advocate for just wages. Without proof of citizenship, and without the vote, many people have had no support in demanding their rights to being paid just wages. For most, their work is hard manual labor, working in the banana and pineapple plantations. While we complain about the extreme heat and humidity and try to avoid the sun, these men and women must wear heavy rubber knee boots, long pants, long sleeved shirts, and watch out for snakes. They are not paid well enough to properly feed their families, to pay for decent housing, etc.  It stings that many of their problems are shared by our own First Nations Peoples.  There are some communities who are interested in worshiping with the Lutherans, or in combining elements. There are some who welcome non-Indigenous people to their religious services or ceremonies, and others who prefer their privacy, which the church has honored.

 

                       Our Indigenous Communities        Labor Day Parade May 1, 2018

For more information on the accompaniment of the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica in the Indigenous communities, and photos, please click: http://ilco.cr/index.php/programas/indigenas/1164-pastoral-indnigena-de-gira-por-la-zona-de-talamanca.html 

We have another ministry called la Diversidad that offers a worship service and safe space for the LGBTQ community and friends. One of its members, Alexa Araya, is currently pursuing seminary studies and will be our first Trans pastor. On July 1st in the capital San José our pastors and the synod staff marched in the Pride Parade. It was the most immense expressions of love and respect I had ever witnessed in a public event! I was very touched that several men and women approached me to have my picture taken with them because they had never seen a woman pastor, or a straight pastor supporting the LGBTQ community. We seemed to be the only church group marching. What a shame that so many of our LGBTQ siblings are not made to feel welcome in churches. They not only are welcome in our church, but valued, cherished, and unconditionally loved. This is the way Christ taught us, and in 2000 years we have sadly moved away from unconditional love, choosing instead to judge, rejecting people who are unlike ourselves. I am blessed to serve with people who live the teachings and words of Jesus.

 

Pride Parade San José July 1, 2018

A shout out to my dear friend Jo Ellen Morrison who made me a set of stoles for my ordination! There are being used across the map.  Mil gracias!

For more information about our Diversity community please click: http://ilco.cr/index.php/diversidad-79.html

After a couple months I am still struck by the similarities and differences between our countries.  It is not a secret that I am serving in an impoverished area. The children in my congregation do not live in town but out in the country.  Many of their parents work in the fruit plantations–las bananeras y las piñeras.  The children sometimes come barefoot. They often have clothing that was clean at one time…. They always come hungry. After our Saturday Bible study and crafts one of the girls asked if she could take home the remaining couple of liters of a six-liter bottle of water I had brought for them for snack time. ‘‘We don’t have water in our house, Pastora.’’ Not begging, not guilt-tripping, but just informing me as children do. We take so much for granted in the United States. There is running water at the church but it is undrinkable.

Before classes and worship we all help remove the iguana and gecko droppings from the tables, benches, and on Sunday, the altar table. Although we have doors and window shutters that close, the space between the walls and the roof is often open in many homes and buildings to allow air to circulate. This is how the occasional four-legged or winged visitor gets in. I do not mind sharing space, but not so much with the wildlife! Today a child squealed in worship and said ‘‘Pastora, there go the cows! Get your camera!’’ Sure enough, there were several cows walking within a few feet from the entrance. When we sing, we are accompanied by the roosters that walk around the grounds and hop up on the low wall and look in at us! The dogs still attend worship, but they sit in the entrance. We always have little geckos running up and down the walls. There is a bigger lizard-looking guy on my web page. He is a cherepo. See how long his tail is, and he has a vertical fan on his upper back.  There is one living in our almond tree but he is the same color as the bark so pretty invisible. When he jumps to the ground and starts running, he runs on his back legs only, which is truly comical (only if he is running away from our open doors and window). Antonia, my housemate, offered a photo of a giant one, perhaps an iguana, clinging to the utility pole at the edge of our patio. He looks to be 25-30 inches long including his tail. I am glad we have never met!

 

Now I know who is running across the metal roof at night—not squirrels or cats!

Those of you who are preachers, or who give talks, conferences, etc., you know how the sometimes the smallest thing can distract you from your thoughts. Imagine hearing a bird chirping and glancing out the window and seeing this!

 

I admit I can get lost in my sermon looking out the side window. I also get lost writing at home looking out the front door. You’ll notice many of my photos are taken during the rain. This is the rainy season, from May though November.

Most American children do not have animals attending worship with them, but they share a love of their pets and a natural curiosity of animals and bugs. Here we have several names for ‘mosquitos’ including sancudos and bocones. I love Nature but I go to great lengths to avoid mosquitos and biting ants, mostly because they can carry diseases like dengue, although this country does not have many cases of malaria. I purchased insect repellent during my first week here, bringing a second bottle of the natural spray to church so the children are safer. One bug I do not see often is the housefly. We have more exotic invaders like dragonflies, giant moths, centipedes, and scorpions (although I have not seen one here, nor have I seen a snake).

In two weeks we will be celebrating the feast of San Francisco, patron saint of animals. Next weekend the children and I will go around the neighborhood to invite people to a blessing of the animals on Saturday, October 6. The little ones are excited. This is a project they can fully participate in as children. I told them I will print fliers but they can color them before we pass them out. Their joy becomes mine!

Sometimes I feel bad that these children do not have some of the opportunities that our children have in the US.  Then there was the day that it poured for the 4th or 5th day, non-stop. We had a pond in the side yard of the church. At first the girls stood next to me looking outside the window and said ‘‘EEEW! Pastora, the boys are all wet and dirty.’’ In five minutes the girls were jumping in the pond, chasing each other and the dog who joined them. I looked at them and thought ‘What game do children have in the US that brings more joy than a gigantic mud puddle?’ I still cannot think of one! I will be posting videos on facebook some day because this site does not support video. Then you’ll see all of them soaking wet and never happier!

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I am sad that three families have moved away and there went 5 children from my Communion class, but new children have joined us. Last week a new girl, about 10, said ‘‘Disculpe, es Usted gringa?’’ She nailed it! Most of the children have no concept of the size and location of their country, let alone the rest of the world. Whereas the US sees itself as a giant in the world, Costa Rica is proud to offer what it has, which is friendly and authentic people, natural beauty, incredible fruits, vegetables, coffee, and chocolate (is there anything else?). They are proud and happy to share their country with the thousands of tourists who visit year round.  I think their money is interesting, with dolphins and monkeys on the bills!

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One big difference between our two countries is the use of color. I am always touched by the display of bold colors of the houses and businesses, even the buses. I have already posted photos of the breathtakingly beautiful flowers.

 

One big difference that I have found in my town of Puerto Viejo is that there are many family-owned businesses, and not that many big businesses that hire from outside. It occurred to me that my street looks like the diagrams in the Spanish textbooks with the Verdulería (fruit and vegetable market) la Panadería (bakery), which I am looking at as I write. This has been difficult, trying to stay away from bread and cookies and at all hours they are baking not 40 feet from our terrace! Notice the chicken on her way somewhere, crossing the doorway.

 

There is a Catholic church at one end of the block. La Clínica is at the other end. In between is our home, the grade school, and a couple small shops. Our kitchen and laundry room windows face the school and occasionally I hear ‘‘Hello, Ticher!’’ There is a supermarket that would surprise Americans. Although the meat counters are refrigerated, as well as the very limited freezer and refrigerator space, the stores are not air-conditioned. They do not have dropped ceilings so they are not so brightly lighted. Some interesting things are rice and beans are stacked on pallets because they are a daily staple in most homes. There is one side of an entire aisle filled with tuna and sardines! I love the 20 plus different kinds of tuna—not just in water or vegetable oil. My favorites are packed in olive oil with balsamic vinegar and another with olive oil, tomatoes, and fresh basil. I can open these and eat without adding anything. On the other hand, there are very few cold cereals, packaged cold cuts, no pre-cut or pre-packaged fruits or vegetables. Beer is sold by the bottle or can in the refrigerated section, or by the six pack stacked in the middle of the aisle. Wine and liquor are behind a counter and someone (who has never touched a drop of wine) assists by asking me how many bottles from the right or left. Pointless to ask by name! Often it is still too hot in the evening to include wine with dinner. I just go to the default water bottle. Something we expect to see in supermarkets is an entire aisle of greeting cards and wrapping paper, ribbon and gift bags. Since there is really no home mail delivery, and Hallmark dictates the holiday cards we need to send, it makes sense that there is no such aisle here! People celebrate birthdays by having their favorite meal and people come over and give them hugs and stay for coffee and homemade cake. There are no places to go with children for pizza parties, burger parties, mini golf, etc. I find it refreshing that there is much less materialism.

Most people do not have cars in this town. We walk or take the occasional taxi (they are all red).  I have to share the inside of one that I took a day when Costa Rica was playing in the World Cup. The front window was full of things and he had the game on his telephone mounted on the dashboard! He actually drove pretty carefully so I did not complain. There was so much traffic, he could not go fast if he wanted to.

Inside Tico Taxi

The buses only head out of town, including the one I take 2-3 times a month to attend meetings and workshops in San Jose at the synod office. It becomes part of the daily or every other day routine to shop because you cannot carry everything in one trip, even with a ‘carrito’. These are the little two-wheeled carts that work for shopping and for bringing giant water bottles and cookies to church. I am glad that every Saturday that someone will always reach and help as I heave my carrito with the 6 liter bottle up the steps of the bus and even carry it off the bus for me when I arrive at my stop. I am still touched by how helpful people are in Sarapiquí, the region where I live.

To finish in color, here is a magnificent sunset from a few days ago. I held my breath for 10 minutes, watching the light and color change.  Jonathan Jarquín, pastor friend, took this.  Mine did not pop with the same color.

 

cof

I leave you in peace and look forward to sharing more very soon.

Rosemarie Doucette, pastor and missionary