Today I’m going to do something that I almost never do. I’m going to shamelessly promote a friend’s blog. Adam and Sarah Quinn are friends of ours who are raising their funds to come as missionaries to Costa Rica. Hopefully they will be arriving next spring. They have been coming down here on missions trips for ages, and the bug finally bit them, so to speak. Anyhow, for the past 15 days or so they’ve been posting an interesting fact about Costa Rica on their blog once a day. I thought those of you who are interested in travel and cross cultural adventures would be amused at some of the details that have captured their attention. So scoot on over to Adam and Sarah Quinn’s blog and read their Crazy Costa Rica Facts… and feel free to send them a donation if you feel so inspired. Tell them I sent you . 🙂 Chao!
If you are a regular reader, you may have been wondering where I was yesterday and why there was no Monday blog… or maybe you didn’t even notice. But we have been out of town all weekend and I didn’t realize that I forgot to plan blogs for this week until Monday afternoon. Oops. My mind has been on other things.
“What kind of other things?” you may wonder. We just completed our first real Leadership Retreat for our university ministry here in Costa Rica. We have been working at establishing this ministry for the last 3 years and here’s where we are at this point.
These are most of our leaders, and as you can see, they represent student lead small groups on 9 campuses around the country. And we are still growing. We are leading leaders.
This weekend we rented a house on the beach, tucked into the rain forest and we poured into their lives. The students, some of whom only knew each other via Facebook previously because they live in other cities, came away feeling like they were a family. I read their comments on Facebook as they complimented and teased each other and encouraged and quoted each other. It was a great weekend.
Once the students left for home, my family and I stayed another two days for a little R&R after the intense preparation leading up to the retreat. We were awoken each morning by the loud pitter patter of monkeys jumping and running across the tin roof of the house. This morning we all got up to enjoy the show. We threw slices of mangos out the window and onto the roof for the little monkeys to eat. We’ve seen monkeys many times here, but I can’t remember ever having so much fun with them.
Honestly living in Costa Rica has in some ways ruined us forever. We will never again think a zoo is a great place to spend an afternoon. After you see the animals in the wild, anything else is just sad and disappointing. On this trip we had two sloths just hanging out in the tree right off our patio. We saw 3 different types of monkeys all in one day, and monkeys in general every morning. And we lived among the geckos and gigantic insects and iguanas and jungle birds for a few days- some of that was not wonderful, but it is very different from life in Minnesota. I don’t know if I can ever go back to “regular” life after living in Costa Rica. This is my home and I love it here!
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” said Mark Twain.
Based on this statement I might develop a sudden prejudice against Italians just so I can justify a trip to Florence, Italy. Yeah, that’s it. I need to go purge myself of my “Italophobia”.
I am originally from Iowa. But before you jump to conclusions, you should know that I never even SAW a real live cow until we drove from Des Moines to Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was 6-years old then.
I’m a city girl. But I am related to people from small towns. They don’t come up to the Cities very often, and when they do, some of them are “packing heat” the whole time. (In my wedding pictures, my grandparents were both armed.) And I would be too if I stayed in the Super 8 Motel on the edge of town. Apparently they don’t want to go too far into the city in case God rains down fire and brimstone in Sodom and Gomorrah fashion. They are scared of the city.
But the interesting thing is that several years ago my grandpa asked my dad for a computer. My dad asked why he wanted it. He said, “I want to be able to check the weather in Australia.” Is he ever going to go to Australia? Not unless they relocate it to the next county over. He just wants to know. Go figure. Maybe if he could have nurtured that spark of natural curiosity when he was younger, he might have one day visited Australia and experienced the weather for himself. But as it stands, traveling beyond his little world, at this age, is almost too much to handle.
On the other hand, my world spans the globe. I have friends in nearly every continent. And yet, sometimes that makes this world feel just as small as my grandpa’s town. The words that are used to describe the missionary lifestyle are the ones you see in travel magazines: Ex-Pats, International Community, Global Nomads. That’s my favorite one, Global Nomad. I like it because I DO feel like a Nomad. We pick up and move somewhere else every couple of years, sometimes more frequently. When we are in one place too long, we get the itch to travel somewhere else. When we are in one place, we long for another.
I feel like it’s just a physical reflection of the spiritual reality that we really are just sojourners here on this planet. We feel a deep seated longing for our spiritual home, Heaven. We don’t settle down here. We don’t get too attached to this old life. THIS is Temporary. THEN is Forever. In the mean time, I hope to cultivate broad, wholesome, and charitable views of men and things by all my global wanderings.
We are coming up on “summer vacation” here in Costa Rica. As a family we are looking forward to returning to the States for a few weeks of R&R for Christmas and to attend a World Missions Summit. We are totally blessed to be able to travel with relative ease between our mission field and our home state. But in many ways, making short trips back home sort of has the same effect as traveling through time might have. I feel like I get Time Travel Shock and the space-time continuum is interrupted.
When I am in Latin America, the third world is my “normal”. It’s like I exist in a completely different period of time now. There are so many aspects of life that I just take for granted at this point. The things that used to shock me or catch my attention have become part of my background white noise and I hardly notice them any more. But when I am dropped like a paratrooper back into my original setting, everything that used to be “normal” before I was a missionary seems stunning or note-worthy. Not only do I change locations physically, I seem to travel into the future to a time that has not yet existed in Costa Rica. The bouncing back and forth can be quite a shock to me both mentally and emotionally.
Let me expound on just one feature of my time travel shock. When I return to Minnesota the first thing I notice is the SPACE around me. There is just so much SPACE! Even in a crowded airport, I have ample elbow room. When we get in the car and drive from the airport to the house, the cars all keep a reasonable distance from each other. The highway is buffered on both flanks by wide hills of grass or dunes of snow depending on the season. So much unused SPACE! In the grocery store, I have lost all sense of what is an appropriate distance to maintain between myself and the other shoppers. Either I fall into my Latin American patterns of driving my cart right up to the behind of the person in line in front of me, or I over compensate and leave a confusing gap between us. My sense of space is all out of wack.
When I return again to Latin America, the first thing I notice when I step outside of the airport is the closeness of everything and everyone. The humidity wraps around my head and presses against my face, making me feel like I am breathing through a wet blanket. The people press in all around me asking to carry my bags or find a taxi for me. I have to resist the urge to start pushing people out of my way. I want to shove everyone and shout, “Back off! I have been folded into an airplane seat for hours and I really need some space.” The smells of wet pavement, rotting sewer, and over perfumed humanity all press in against my senses leaving me no where to turn. Then we get in the car and start driving home. The traffic zooms up to us and stops suddenly, no buffer, no fear of hitting us. They are just taking up space as fast as they can lest another car come along and claim that inch of pavement. We zoom, they zoom. The buildings on both sides of the highway hug the road, dangerously close. When we stop, people swarm the car trying to sell us things through the car windows. We keep the windows rolled up. That 3/4 of an inch of glass between us and the street vendors feels like enough space. Personal space has become relative.
In addition to our awkward use of space and the gawking our family of 5 will do in every public space, going back for Christmas time is a surreal experience in and of itself. My parents want my kids to make a Christmas list. My kids don’t know what toys are “out there” now. They ask me, “What do I need, Mom?” I just shake my head. I am stuck back in time from when we first left America 6 years ago. I think about what will fit in a suitcase- again, I have space issues. Before we leave, I will search the internet for what clothes are in fashion now. I will try to pack things that are neutral enough so that I blend into the background and don’t make me stick out like someone who just arrived from the year 2006. Not only to we change spaces, we change times as well. I am already anticipating the Time Travel Jet Lag.
We have a phrase here in Costa Rica that is unique to this country. We say “Pura Vida” which literally means “Pure Life”. This is a handy little phrase that can be thrown into nearly any pause in a conversation and usually elicits expressions of pleasant surprise on the face of every Tico who hears a Gringo or Gringa pull off a Pura Vida. How’s your day going? Pura Vida. How do you like Costa Rica? Pura Vida. Do you want to go surfing with me? Pura Vida. Would you like another plate of Gallo Pinto? No thanks. (I just threw that last one in for fun.)
Anyhow. Pura Vida is kind of the national phrase of Costa Rica. It rings with the mellow tones of a laid back way of looking at things. It typifies the Costa Rican way of going about life, or rather of letting life happen. I like Pura Vida. I’m kind of a laid back, go with the flow, HakunaMatata kind of a girl. So Pura Vida suits me.
Just for the fun of it, the Pura Vida, watch this beautiful video of someone’s vacation to Costa Rica and breath deeply. Relax and enjoy this. Pretend it’s YOUR vacation video. Kick off your shoes under your desk and enjoy a little Pura Vida today. It’s on the house.
A Third Culture Kid is someone who is not a native to the country that he or she is growing up in- think missionary families, military families or foreign business families. In our case, our TCKs are not entirely American, nor are they Costa Rican. They have spent more years living outside of America than inside. For my kids, “home” is Costa Rica. Because of this awkward way of growing up, TCKs make a third culture among themselves. They best relate to other kids that have grown up living abroad. They seem to “get” each other, regardless of the country they grew up in.
This blog will give you a little taste of what it’s like to be a Third Culture Kid. This is the opening of the book by Heidi Sand-Hart called “Home Keeps Moving”.
You might be a Third Culture Kid if…
*You can’t answer the question, “Where are you from?”
*You speak two languages but can’t spell in either.
*You flew before you could walk.
*You have a passport, but no driver’s license.
*Your life story uses the phrase, “Then we went to…” five times.
*National Geographic makes you homesick. (I love this one. I would also add that walking through EPCOT’s International Village felt oddly normal.)
*You don’t know where home is. (Indicated by the long pause you get when you ask them “where are you from?”)
*You’d rather never say hello that have to say goodbye.
*You read the international section of the newspaper before the comics. (what’s a newspaper?)
*You have friends in or from 29 different countries.
*You wince when people mispronounce foreign words.
*You never take anything for granted. (Except the fact that you live where others vacation. We are less than impressed when people on Wheel of Fortune win a trip to Mexico or Costa Rica.)
*You speak with authority on the subject of airline travel. (and know how to handle your passport and fill out immigration paperwork.)
*You know how to pack. (and wait until the last minute to do it.)
*You feel odd being in the ethnic majority.
*You feel you need to move after you’ve lived in the same place for a month.
*Your pocket money makes you a millionaire in one country and a pauper in the next.
*You’ve had more vaccinations in your lifetime than your neighbor’s dog back home. (Amen!)
*You consider any travel under 8 hours to be a “short trip”. (So true!)
*You’re an expert on jet-lag remedies.
*You have frequent flyer miles on 5 different airlines, but not enough on any of them to get a free flight.
*You can easily guess a strange’s nationality by their accent.
I can truly agree with every single one of those. Our missionary life is wonderful and different- full of blessings and difficulties. Last week I stood on a beach with my children and examined a nest of sea turtle eggs that we found. Then we took 10 steps into the ocean to catch sand dollars. We live an amazing life and it’s nothing like America (not that we don’t like America, we love it too!). I don’t begrudge one hardship when I think of all the benefits that come with this lifestyle.
Do you know a TCK or are you an exPat family? Please add to the list by making comments below. It’s fun to share our experiences of living and thriving overseas.
This morning I left the house at 6am and arrived back home at 5:30pm. The kids were in Dad’s care all day long. Walking in the house I thought possibly a Midwestern tornado had struck us. Josh and the two girls were cuddled on the couch watching an old episode of Wipe Out and the boy was no where to be found (he’s a teenager, he hides in his room a lot.). Not only was the house a disaster, but the water had been turned off all day long because the city was doing some work on a main line. This left all the toilets full of WWII carnage. I gagged when I walked in.
“So, what did you guys do all day while I was gone?” They informed me that they watched a few movies. I looked around surveying the wreckage of movie watching. The dinning room table was lost under papers and clothes from the girls’ room, the dog dishes were empty, there were crumbs over every surface of the living room. Pillows and blankets were strewn in the ruins of a fort. The dishes were piled high (which can’t be blamed since there was no water.). The mountain of shoes behind the door had grown feet and walked into the living room. Upstairs the load of laundry I had dropped on the bedroom floor at 5:45am was untouched and the bed was unmade. Children’s books and blankies cluttered our bedroom. I walked back to the kitchen, ignoring the mess, and started making dinner.
**Sigh**. Welcome home Mom. We missed you, now get back to work.
Mom’s way is different than Dad’s way. When I’m home with the kids, the house ends up clean again by the end of the day because I can multitask. Chores get done and the kids are cared for at the same time. When Dad watched the kids, I’m just thankful that everyone is still present and accounted for at the end of the day. Dad’s Way is just different.
This reminds me of the time that my husband won a trip to Europe.
For Christmas one year, Josh surprised me with a plane ticket to Prague, Czech Republic. I had always wanted to go there and that year a friend of mine was teaching English in that city. Josh had secretly made plans with my friend to surprise me with a trip to visit her. I was totally thrilled on one hand, and a bit confused on the other hand. Why didn’t he buy a ticket for himself too? If it was because we didn’t have the money for two tickets, I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. If it was because he wanted to spend a week of quality time with our two young children, I didn’t want to take that from him. But I really would have preferred to travel with my husband. So I bided my time until I could discern the reason why he only bought one ticket. And I worried.
Secretly I worried about leaving Josh alone with a 1-year old and a 6-year old for an entire week, and for good reason.
A few nights later I spent the evening bathing the children and getting them ready for bed while Josh sat on the couch like a lump and watched Monday Night Football. I wanted to take a relaxing bath myself. So I handed the wet, towel-swaddled toddler to Josh while he sat on the couch barely conscious. I handed him a diaper and PJs and said, “I’m going to relax in the bath, don’t interrupt me unless someone is bleeding.” No response from Dad.
A few seconds into my bath I hear a sickening thud followed by intense screaming from our toddler. She had fallen off a bed and knocked her head on the wooden floor… but no blood, so I didn’t come out of the bathroom. “I’ll let Dad handle this,” I decided. A half an hour later I exited the bathroom and was greeted by a naked baby with a sucker in her mouth and red sticky stuff all round her face.
I scooped up the child and carried her to her father. “What is this? Why is she eating candy right before bed? Look, she’s all sticky! I just bathed her! And why is she still naked?” The only response I received to my inquisition was, “She brought it to me, so I opened it.” Obviously.
Another sigh. I again scooped up the naked, sticky child and headed towards her darkened bedroom. With my hands full, I did not turn on the light. Big mistake. Suddenly I slipped on something tube shaped, warm and squishy. “What on Earth? Did he give her a banana too?” I thought. I quickly turned on the lights and to my utter horror I saw my bare footprint in a pile of poo on the bedroom floor! I gagged. Dad had let the baby run around naked after her bath and she had pooped on the floor while he sat catatonic in front of the football game. I was furious!! There was a very minimal reaction from Dad. “She didn’t smell poopy.” No, it looks like it was a clean drop!
Later that night, I carefully brought up the subject of Prague. Without directly saying, “I fear for my kids’ lives if I leave them with you for a week.” I asked Josh what he thought about me asking my mom to watch the kids so he could come to Prague with me. He was absolutely elated… I secretly think the whole “inept at diapering the child” thing was just a ploy to get to come with me to Europe. Well it worked. And my children are all still alive, thanks to my Mom. She knows the Mom Way too.
I hope nobody takes this blog post wrongly. I am not trying to brag about myself or to put anyone down. I’m not trying to be negative, I’m just expressing a frustration that most of my co-workers in the foreign mission field also feel. These are my true feelings and thoughts. I’m being honest.
It’s a really popular thing in churches now days to throw around the word “missionary” and to apply it to many different contexts. For example, some people say “my office is my mission field” or “I am a missionary in my school.” This kind of rubs me the wrong way. I don’t deny that these places are full of people who need to hear about Jesus. And I don’t deny that Jesus gave the Great Commission to all Christians (Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”). And I don’t deny that it can be hard to be a light in the darkness. But these uses of the word “missionary” kind of bother me because, you see, I AM a missionary. A real missionary. I have taken the “go” in that verse to literally mean “go to the nations.” It’s more than my occupation, it’s my entire life.
As a real missionary I have made decisions for my own life that have ripped through my family. I chose to go, so my kids have come with me. And that decision tore the heart out of my parents who had to say good-bye to their grand kids. That decision impacted the aunties and uncles and cousins and sisters and brothers that we left behind too. You see, I’ve made the hard choices that a missionary makes when she loves God more than she loves her family.
As a real missionary, I have spent YEARS learning the language. I have put in the hours of hard study. I have laid down my own desires and submitted myself to another culture, another way of thinking, and another way of communicating. I have been stripped bare of my own identity. The “missionary” who just walks across the street to be a witness to his neighbor will never be required to make the same kind of investment. I have done the hard work to become a missionary.
As a real missionary, I have sold all my possessions (except a few boxes of treasures and memories) and made an international move MORE THAN ONCE. I sold the rocking chair that I rocked my babies in. I watched my dishes walk out the door. I put my electronics in the hands of a garage sale shopper on a Saturday morning. I spread all my possessions across my lawn for my neighbors to pick through. I looked at the pitiful wad of dollar bills and quarters that I accumulated in exchange for all my worldly possessions and I knew, despairingly, that this pittance would not cover the cost to repurchase these things overseas. It was going to cost me something more to reestablish a home in a foreign country.
As a real missionary, I have swallowed my pride over and over again to ask churches for money. We need support to do what we do. To an American, this feels like begging. I didn’t like it. It can be humiliating, but this is the way our organization is run. So week after week we would “shlep” our presentation table around the state like a traveling salesman. We have done the leg work to earn our support as missionaries.
We have made the sacrifices to earn the title “missionary”, so to hear others appropriate the title for themselves when they haven’t made those same hard sacrifices kind of bothers me. It’s like me giving my kids Tylenol and then calling myself a Doctor. I didn’t work for that title. I didn’t pay for that title. I didn’t invest my life in becoming a doctor, so when I rob the Doctor of his title I also rob him of his earned respect. I am not a Doctor. I am a mother with an eye dropper full of over-the-counter pain-killer.
In the same way that I am not a Doctor, I’m also not a super hero. I don’t expect great honor. I don’t want to be put on a pedestal. I don’t want to hear the praise of men. I’m not fishing for compliments or pats on the back. The only thing I am dying to hear from my heavenly Father is, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Here’s your eternal home… and you never have to move again.”
Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Oprah isn’t the only one who has a list of her favorite things. Just because Fridays are supposed to be light and fun, here are a few of the things in life that put a smile on my face:
2. Daisies. I like all kinds of flowers, but daisies are the most cheerful, in my humble opinion. If I could combine the shape of daisies with the fragrance of lilacs or gardenias I would have created the perfect flower. I like Daisies so much that I named my daughter Emma Daisy.
7. Books. I have a Kindle because I live in a Spanish speaking country where English books are hard to find. I love my Kindle because I can still read with it, but I vastly prefer books. The cracking-spine sound of opening a new book. The smell of paper and ink. Turning a page and feeling the progress of one side being heavier than the other side.
8. Laughter. I love laughing until I cry or until my tummy hurts or until I make a croaking sound or something equally silly and laugh inducing. I love people who make me laugh. I love movies that make me laugh. I love every kind of humor from slap stick and junior high humor to dry, intellectual wit and sarcastic banter. I love it all! I have no problem laughing at myself either.
9. Naps. I’m a 20 minute power napper. I’m a much nicer person after I’ve had an afternoon cat nap. Every mommy loves nap time. Even though my kids have out grown naps, I still want one every afternoon. I just wish I had a hammock.
10. Coffee. And again in the morning, I’m a much nicer person after my cup of happy goodness. Sweet and creamy is my M.O. The smell of coffee is better than… anything! They should make coffee scented car air fresheners and coffee scented deodorant and coffee scented breath mints and -OH- I could go on and on and on! It’s the best legal addictive stimulant around. Coffee makes me happy, happy, happy! I usually feel invincible after 2 cups, so I just stick to one in the morning and go about my regular Wonder Woman way.
Of course there are many more things that could go on this list. Beaches, fall leaves, camp fires, baking, cats (no haters!), compliments, baby animals, dark chocolate covered almonds, date-nite with my husband, my kids, traveling, learning new things, teaching, coconut lime sugar cookies, the list goes on and on. The world is full of things that I love! Eat your heart out, Oprah.
Unless you are a cultural anthropologist, you probably don’t give much thought to your own culture. You don’t think about what makes your nationality or ethnic group different from other groups. You don’t consider where your opinions come from or what deep seated believes inspire your reactions to the world. You never see all the different colored strands that go into making the tapestry of your world view.
Unless you physically move into another culture, you have very little to compare yourself to. Up until that point, your culture is like a mole on the back of your neck that you never knew existed. How can you possible know it’s there unless someone points it out to you? For example, when we visited Thailand, our missionary friend humorously informed us that Thai people think Americans stink. I was incredulous! We don’t stink! They stink! (Americans tend to think the smells of fish, cumin or garlic are potent, so anyone who eats a lot of those foods will stink to the American nose.) But the amazing thing was that after sweating profusely for 5 days straight, I was out of clean clothes. And so was everyone else in the group. Now I agreed with the Thai people… we do stink. But unless I came in contact with someone with a different perspective than mine, I never would have seen myself from a different point of view… or smelled myself from down wind.
When missionaries enter a new culture, one of the things we pray for is that God would give us friends who can unlock the culture for us… gatekeeper friends, I call them. These are friends that are able to love you for who you are and help explain their culture to you in a non-judgemental way. These are the friends that will gently correct any mistakes you make without causing you additional embarrassment. These are the friends that you can trust with your questions like, “why don’t we flush the toilet paper here?” and “what does it mean when someone rolls their eyes at me?” and “how am I supposed to take my turn if we don’t form a line?” A gatekeeper friend is an invaluable resource for learning a new culture.
I am continually amazed when God gives me friends like this because sometimes it is very difficult being friends with an outsider, a foreigner. Having a conversation takes a lot of work on both sides, for me to struggle through Spanish and for them to concentrate so hard on understanding my meaning. It’s exhausting for both of us! Always having to explain things that are automatic or that are generally taken for granted requires patience. Noticing the tired, glazed over look in my eyes or the look of confusion or of shock means paying attention to the details of someone else and taking compassion on them when their reactions are not your reactions. It’s a lot of work being friends with a foreigner! And I am so grateful for the friends that are willing to put in that kind of work to be my friend. In their compassion towards me I feel the love of Jesus. It’s a beautiful thing!