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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

 

 

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Lasting Memories

During Lent in the U.S. there is often a practice of giving up something. With my small, poor congregation, we decided instead to do something positive. For 40 days we made a practice of caring for Creation. The church grounds have a lot of vegetation, flowers, banana trees, and this summer the members will plant cacao trees so they can sell the pods to the local chocolate producers! We weeded, trimmed, and cleaned garbage from the ditch along the dirt road. We recovered a few balls and frisbees, which the young children haven’t mastered. We still have four or five of them up on the roof. Maybe the heavy rains will wash them down soon.

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I continued to read Bible stories to the children every Saturday, sometimes asking them to draw what they had heard. Then I would tape their artwork on the walls. There were usually 11 Moses in the basket and two dinosaurs, 11 jars of water turned into wine and two dinosaurs, 11 empty tombs and two dinosaurs! There is definitely an affinity for dinosaurs in my class.
Because we spent so much time talking about and actually caring for nature, I decided we would not get out the machete and whack off palm leaves for Palm Sunday.  Instead I bought sheets of green poster board, traced giant leaves, and the children cut out and colored them. They waved them in the air that Sunday when we also had five baptisms. Salidas en Sarapiqui 2019 200

Three were well-prepared, the parents and godparents having come for a preparation class with me. I had brought a dozen of Luther’s Small Catechism, bilingual version. That Sunday, after the three were baptized, a young boy of 7 and his 8 year-old sister asked to be baptized. It was a moment like Phillip and the Ethiopian. As I prepared to baptize them, the young mother of a baby I had baptized offered to teach instruct the children and she held up her copy of the Luther’s book. Then I invited all to come forward for a blessing to remember their baptism. It was a very special day in La Esperanza for their families and the community children with their handmade palm leaves.

On Holy Thursday we had a community Last Supper and a washing and blessing of hands for service. Usually I go through the community and invite everyone I meet, but I knew there would not be enough room or food, plus there are no lights outside the church, nor enough benches. Instead, I just told the community children and they told their families and friends. We all just fit and we had enough food for about 30 people. After dinner everyone came forward, beginning with the children to have their hands washed, dried, and then I made a cross with oil. The children were amazed and quiet, and the adults approached with a little apprehension, but then when I held their hands they smiled. It was a powerful evening.

 

On Saturday evening we made a fogata, a wood fire to mark the Easter vigil. Our difficulty was finding enough dry firewood. What we take for granted in the U.S. took a great effort to find because any pieces of good, dry wood were already used or to be used by families for cooking. The rainforest does not have a lot of hardwood for burning. It was another lesson in humility. In the U.S. we can even find firewood in a supermarket. Not here, plus no one has money to purchase something to simply burn it up.

Easter Sunday was very low key. Worship was very simple. People with little money do not have huge, celebratory meals. No Easter egg hunts or baskets, no chocolate bunnies, no Grandma’s good china, no altar filled with lilies that were forced to bloom in a greenhouse. In poor people’s lives, they use what is easily available or free. Our flowers come from the church yard, when they are in bloom.

In April two of my adult English students and their families invited me on day trips to regions I hadn’t yet visited. The first was a trip to Rio Cuatro de los Angeles where I saw lapas–macaws—up close. These magnificent birds look like huge parrots with brilliant colors and a distinctive cry. I see them where I live, but they are always too far up in the sky to get photos. Here they are, and if you look at my facebook page I will post short videos of them.

Next we drove up to the foot of a volcano in the mountains. There are streams of cold clean water running down, full of trout. We walked around the lagoons and grounds of a restaurant where you can fish your own trout and the staff will clean and cook it (We opted not to fish ourselves). I had the freshest trout I have ever eaten, surrounded by beautiful flowers, ponds, and the mountains.

That evening we visited a woman who showed me a different way to prepare plantains. I usually eat the ripe ones, lightly sautéed for breakfast, or slices of green plantains that have been fried for a minute, then smashed until flat, then fried again. This woman fried them for minute, then put each slice in a citrus fruit press, and then continued to fry them until done. They had a basket-like shape, which she then filled with tuna salad. And I didn’t think we could improve on two favorite foods!
The following week another student, her husband, and their son who had just spent six months in Wyoming took me to see las Cataratas de la Paz, the Peace waterfalls. We drove to the top of a mountain, visited several sanctuaries for local animals, and then we hiked down a million stairs, seeing the series of 3 tall waterfalls so close we could feel the spray.

I was so happy to see the animals up close because they are wild, and not easily seen in their natural habitats. They were brought to the sanctuaries after being abandoned by people who had found and kept them as pets until they were no longer able to feed or house them, or injured animals who could not be released back into nature. I will also post some videos from this visit as I can only post photos here.

Although I love animals, I was not too fond of the three-foot long iguana who made its way into my bedroom one afternoon. I found it clinging to my curtains, then it climbed up on the table where I keep my toiletries. It stayed for almost two hours before ambling out of my room, through the house, and out the back door.  I have more videos than photos.  Find them on my facebook page.


My last week in Costa Rica my colleague Jonathan and Antonia the housekeeper of la Casa Pastoral where I lived and who has become a dear friend, took me to a lake at the foot of another volcano, where we had chicken and fish on the grill, some good beer, and beautiful scenery.

The last Sunday of April we were going to have a joint worship service with our bishop, several clergy members, and some lay folks, all driving through the mountains from San José.  They were going to bring lunch and we’d all have a great worship, then a good-bye party. Then we got calls from the three drivers who had to pass through a long tunnel before continuing through the mountains to my town, about a two hour drive. Unfortunately, there was an accident with a fatality in the middle of the tunnel so it was blocked off and cars were being turned around and sent back to the capital. An alternative route would have gotten them to the church several hours too late. While I missed seeing them, we still had a great service with a crowd (some of whom came for lunch!) and Pastor Jonathan, my colleague from the rainforest region helped lead.

The next few days I was torn apart, wanting to go home and see family and friends, yet not ready to leave behind my colleagues, new friends, and my beloved faith community. I said goodbye to my congregation, my neighbors around the church and around my home. It was hard to say goodbye to my students. We had spent hours together and I am very pleased with their progress. Jonathan and Antonia drove me to San José where we spent the night and I left early to catch my flight home.

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I am now staying with a dear friend in San Antonio until I receive another call.
For several days after I returned I was in culture shock. After a year of sweating all day and half the night, I have to admit it has been comfortable to live in air conditioning, wearing clothes that stay dry all day. No bugs or iguanas in my Texas bedroom.  What I do miss is, because of the hot, humid weather in Puerto Viejo, where it is hotter inside, I spent hours outside the house, walking, so I met my neighbors, greeted my students and their parents, and was very aware of what was happening in my community. In Costa Rica I lived in a walkable community where a car was not a necessity.

Now back in the U.S., living in a vast residential area, far from stores, banks, church, and staying indoors to avoid the heat, I do not have the same sense of community. Children ride school buses rather than their parents walking them to and from school. Food stores are too far away to go to by foot, and then have to walk home with perishables in the heat. My bank is miles away. Friends live far away and far apart from each other. This city is designed for people with cars. I realize how having a car or access to good transportation defines my world. It shapes my relationship with the community. A friend has lent me a car until I receive a call. I quickly re-found my independence, driving to shop, visit, and lead worship as a supply pastor a few miles away. As I went walking the dog around my temporary neighborhood, I realized how difficult it is to meet people when they are locked in their air-conditioned houses, car parked in the drive, so that they are rarely outside their home. Where I lived in Costa Rica, most people did not even have fans, so they spent a lot of time outdoors. Without cars people tend to shop daily or every two days in order to be able to carry their groceries home. We could not help but encounter one another often. I listened to people’s stories and they listened to mine. Here, this takes more effort because our society focuses less on community and more on the individual.

This is where the Church becomes an important place where individuals come together in community, sharing beliefs, vision, and a sense of mission. This is where I find hope for the future of our communities and the world. This is where I find the personal connections I had come to treasure during my year of accompaniment in Costa Rica.
I miss 3 p.m. coffee and trying to listen to Antonia’s stories as fast as she tells them in her island accent. I miss the horse in the field next to the house. I miss the church bells down the street. I miss the man pushing his cart down the street calling ‘pipa fría’—cold coconut water, the top removed from the coconut by machete. I miss the intense emerald green foliage, trees loaded with tropical fruits, and the fields of pineapples. I miss the sweet little faces of the children of La Esperanza. I miss the brightly colored houses. I miss seeing mountains every day. I miss my congregation, the lessons they taught me in humility and patience. I miss being able to walk to every store or office in town. I miss speaking Spanish daily.

I give endless thanks to the synods of SW Texas and North Carolina, Global Mission of the ELCA, and of course la Iglesia luterana costarricense for a year rich in cultural exchanges with colleagues, in new friendships, and in incredible experiences. I thank you, family, church colleagues, friends, and those who followed my posts. I pray that you gained some insight into the people, the culture, the natural beauty of Costa Rica, and the important work of the Lutheran Church. I will always carry their smiles and their stories in my heart.

This is my last post. Thank you for following! If you have a chance to visit Costa Rica, I hope you find it as enchanting, welcoming, and astoundingly beautiful! ‘Pura vida!’

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A year of surprises

Students in the primary school next door to La Casa Pastoral where I live began their new academic year the second week in February. I have missed hearing them since before Christmas reciting in English, doing multiplication tables, and having band practice, all of which I can hear from our kitchen window. I missed them calling out ‘Hello, Teacher!’ as they walked by, and their parents who often call out ‘Good morning, Teacher’ at 5 pm!

February 24th marked the one year anniversary of my first ever hospitalization. I came to Costa Rica for a 4-day visit in 2018 to attend the synod assembly of Southwest Texas’ sister synod, La Iglesia Luterana Costarricense.  After landing I couldn’t catch my breath and on the second day our now Bishop Sue Briner Uber’d me to the closest hospital where I had hoped to get some oxygen and get back to the synod assembly. I had no  breath to speak and she managed very well to get me checked in.  I stayed a week for treatment of a pulmonary embolism. I lost a dear friend to this at the age of 47, so I know how serious it is. When I hear people down here say ‘Pura vida!’ this is what their national motto means to me. Although I had met hardly anyone in the day and a half after arriving, my hospital room was filled with pastors, bishops, synod staff, and those whom I had met in the Diversity worship service. Some visited, some bought books and newspapers, one ran out for post cards to mail home. One student figured out that if he arrived at 2:45, he could have free coffee with pastries with me every day at 3pm! Because I could not fly for ten more days our president Gilberto (he would be called bishop in the US) offered me his mother-in-law’s mountain cabin so I could heal. Yes, Pura vida! is the best Costa Rica has to offer. For some it is coffee, or the scenery, but for me, it will always be her generous and authentic people. I thank God for complete healing and for friendships forged while wearing ghastly hospital gowns with oxygen tubes in my nose.

In preparation for Lent I explained to my congregation what Mardi Gras is and how some of us celebrate it. The adults had not heard of this celebration, so it was a cultural lesson from the Caribbean, Brazil, and Louisiana. The children made masks but we had to postpone the pool party because of rain. You can tell that they enjoy arts and crafts!

A huge fallen palm fan leaf provided ashes for Ash Wednesday, Miércoles de Cenizas. This is the beginning of the Lenten season. I remember as a child our family ate less meat, eating more tuna casseroles than usual. The nuns encouraged us to give up something for Lent that we really liked: candy, gum, tv, comic books… pretty much everything my parents didn’t allow us to have anyway. It is very different to reflect on those days when my reality is that people in my church community struggle to put rice and beans on the table. Many do not even have the privilege of eating fish or meat, or having so much they could ‘give up’ something for Lent.  Instead we are doing things to help the environment, like avoiding plastic, picking up trash, etc.

In March Bible study, we are looking at the women in the Bible. I am struck once again by the huge gaps of information missing in the lives of those who cannot read. I’m not just referring to Bible stories, but also History. I once made a reference to the Holocaust and not one adult had heard of it. I am encouraged that the women show up to learn, and after teaching many years I learned that it takes different skills to teach those who cannot follow a written outline, notes, or much less follow along with a text. I need to watch my vocabulary, that it is not out of their reach. If they appear not to understand, I ask them to help me with my ‘mistake’ and they usually give me options that they understand. I am grateful for the lesson in humility and that these women’s thirst for knowledge is greater than their shame of not being able to read.

Almost a year ago I arrived in this town in the rainforest, with no library, no newspaper, no bookstore other than the one that sells textbooks for high school students.  Since then I often dream of opening a library and one day I ran it past the owner of my favorite secondhand bookstore 2 ½ hours away in the capital. He shared my dream but made it real by reminding me that it would have to be raised above ground level because of flooding, and would have to be temperature controlled or mold and mildew would destroy the books. Very few places have air conditioning so it is expensive to install. Then, of course, we’d need books. My friend only sells books in other languages so it wouldn’t help to ask for donations. There are retired people here who could help staff, and maybe offer literacy classes.  If I ever (even played) won the lottery, I would make this happen!

I am stunned at how many adults cannot read, and over this past year I have realized how this impacts their lives as well as society. In the US we have restaurants with picture menus for those who cannot read, or for whom English is not a first language. Pretty much of our information comes to us in written form. When we were children my sisters and I would watch the scrolling list of school closures due to snow every winter. In the US we depend on ribbons of information across the bottom of our TV screens to find out election results, weather, disasters, and news that cannot wait. Here, vans with huge speakers on the roof move slowly down the streets telling about local events and sales in stores because not everyone could read advertisements. Also, there is no mail service to homes so we do not have hundreds of fliers and ads filling mailboxes and/or blowing down the street. In Puerto Viejo, we often have scheduled water or electricity outages and this is their way of notifying the town. At first I would get angry at the noise pollution because I live a block from the medical clinic and next door to a grade school. I know now that this is the only way some people get their news.

I tried offering a literacy class for adults both in my town and in the community around my church. First, it is not easy to advertise since those in need have trouble reading—or cannot read—signs or the handouts I had prepared.  I was hoping family members would encourage those in need to come, even accompany them in support. Second, perhaps it is the stigma of reaching adulthood without a skill that their children and grandchildren already have. Perhaps they have reached a comfort level with asking others to read for them. Third, I am always aware that although I feel comfortable in Spanish, others may not feel comfortable with a foreigner, with someone with an accent, or someone who speaks ‘textbook Spanish.’ I do have a 10 year-old girl with problems reading and I meet her once a week for an hour or so. I have no idea why she cannot read because I am not privy to her diagnosis, if indeed she has one, but we’re both trying and she shows signs of improving week to week. Instead of getting depressed that my plan did not seem to work out, I am happy to work with this young girl and see her grin when she can spell longer words. Maybe this small success will encourage a local person to reach out and teach another.

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Another rather large difference in education systems has to do with Special Education. One of my evening students has a 12 year-old who barely crawls and is incapable of speech. While he attends a Special Education class, the mother must also be there. She told me this goes for all children in these classes. While it might be a comfort to have a familiar face in the room with the child, these parents miss work or have to hope their employers are sympathetic.

I went to Panama on the Caribbean side in December. There was construction that made us almost two hours late to the border, which closed at 5 pm. It was a scramble to pay the exit tax and haul my suitcase straight up a rocky hill because the foot ramp would have taken too long. After going through customs the taxis were long gone. It rained every day but my photos remind me of the beauty of yet another country I have been privileged to visit.  These are from the Caribbean side, close to the Costa Rican border.

I just made another short trip to Panama. This time I traveled to the Pacific side and we had blue skies, blue ocean and no rain for the whole time! Most of the photos are of the South of Costa Rica along the coast, as I arrived in Panama at night.

I spent part of the next day at a beautiful, clean beach which had very few shells because the tide was all the way out. I was in awe of the expanse of beach with fewer than ten people walking on it. In the distance I could see the mountains of Costa Rica. The young man who drove me is half Latino and half Indigenous and very proud of his heritage, his region, and he stopped frequently so I could take pictures.  The bottom left is a field of rice.

I took a few photos from behind of an Indigenous family, whom we later saw at the beach. The women were wearing beautiful long embroidered dresses and did not seem to be affected by the 97 degree temperature. It was dry, a welcome change from the intense humidity of my region (the dry season seemed to last about two weeks; we’re back to daily rain).  Behind me is a volcano, which from the top gives a view of both oceans on a clear day!  I stayed outside of David, in Puerto Pedregal, whose specialty of course is seafood. I stayed in a small hotel that is as charming as its owners: a Panamanian woman and her Italian husband.  The huge tree behind the hotel is a mango tree, with some close-ups.  They weren’t ripe so we had pineapple and papaya for breakfast with yet another fruit juice I had never tasted.  The other guests were German and I remembered enough travel German to greet and introduce myself and share plans for the day. Two of them were Lutheran and seemed surprised that I was pastoring a church in Costa Rica.  Germany and Costa Rica have a long and close relationship through the church.  This has been a wonderful experience, meeting people from so many places and sharing what we have in common and learning about what is different about us, our countries, and our lives.

I realize that I take for granted the intense greens and lush vegetation, thanks to the constant rain. I take for granted the vivid colors of the houses and the flowers that adorn them and their yards. I take for granted that I have never worn socks, a long-sleeved shirt, or long pants in Puerto Viejo. If it is cool in San José I will (sweating the 2 hour bus ride each way) and then change when I get back home. The roosters across the street that crow all day long (it’s not just a morning thing!) have become part of my daily sound loop. I am used to the iron grills in front of homes and on windows realizing it is necessary for people to have a way to cool off and remain secure. Many people in my communities do not even have fans to deal with the year-round high temperatures and high humidity. I actually enjoy sitting on our patio watching the foot traffic go by. During the day I offer prayer with and for the sick and injured who are headed to the clinic at the end of the block. At night I can hear music, people laughing and singing. Someone plays a saxophone around 10 every evening, which is a lovely sound for winding down.

I wanted to share with you this amazing country, her people, and the many treasures she offers. This has been an extraordinary year. I will need a direct pipe line of Costa Rican coffee and I will definitely miss the fruit! Some I can find in the US, but nothing beats eating a naturally sun-ripened pineapple. I have one month more in this paradise (except for the mosquitoes!) and then I’ll see what plans God has for me back home.

Rosemarie

Lutheran pastor and missionary serving in Costa Rica

Time and Context

Time is different here in Costa Rica. The sun rises between 5 and 5:30 and sets around 6:00. It has to do with being closer to the equator. I am a night reader so it has been a challenge getting up earlier, even though the sun is streaming into my room! Businesses, except for a few stores and the supermarket, close early so that by 8pm my street is very quiet. Psychologically I still think dark is almost bedtime, then realize that if I don’t have an evening class, I’m ready for PJs and a book and it is only 8:30pm. Then I am amazed at folks who call about business at 6:15 in the morning.

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The concept of time is also different. For those of us who learned Spanish from a textbook, we learned that ahora is ‘now’ and ahorita is ‘right now’. Not so much down here. I have waited for two hours for someone who said they would meet me ahorita! There is no way to determine this hour; it is relative.  The locals call it la hora Tica. Tico is a nickname for Costa Ricans, coming from their habit of ending the diminutive very often with tico or tica. Cat is gato. A kitten or a term of endearment for a pet is gatico or gatica. ‘Just a moment’ is Momentico. Nicaraguans are Nicas and Nicos. I answer to la gringa because I don’t sense that it is used derogatorily. It is a constant reminder that in the U.S. we refer to ourselves as Americans, yet actually everyone living in the Western hemisphere is North, Central, or South American.

The last bit about time that I’d like to share is that while there was no commercial crescendo leading up to Christmas, the season lasted until the first week of February. Christmas decorations had been taken down, but the Nativity scene in the town plaza, the one in front of the grade school next door, and even the one in the tourist hotel in town were left on display until after Candlemas, February 2. Children just returned to classes on Wednesday, February 7, and the next day I heard them singing Christmas songs for the last hour. It’s all different, and all good!

We had several retreats for pastors and la Diaconia, our lay leaders. We have met in a hotel on a steep hill, with meals and coffee breaks on top, then we passed all the cabins going down to reach the huge circular conference room, mostly open from floor to ceiling, looking out into a thick forest where we could hear but not see running water. What an inspirational place to have prayer, workshops, and to have quality time with other pastors. The purple is fallen petals of the water apple tree.

We had another retreat in coffee country, right near a volcano (sadly, no time to visit it). I am in constant awe of the sheer beauty of this country and how people use local woods for building, furniture, and decorations, and local food in season to eat. When fruit or vegetables are out of season, we eat something else and wait.  You understand what I mean if you buy an orange tomato and it is tasteless by the time it turns red.  I wanted you to see these settings because they are so different from the rainforest.  The furniture is made from local woods (mostly bamboo, which is extremely hard). The vertical part of the stairs is a mosaic of bits of pottery and glass.

We have two avocado trees just flowering now, and I am hoping that the fruit will be ready before I leave. I will miss the avocados that fill my whole hand and taste like butter. It has been fun tasting such different fruits as dragon fruit, water apple, guava, star fruit, guanabana, and many that are delicious but people don’t know their names. Some are delicious in a juice, but then I find out they are naturally sour and the juice is loaded with sugar. A month or so ago someone tossed the seeds from a papaya underneath a tree and now we have an 7 foot papaya tree, flowering and promising fruit in a couple of weeks!

In celebration of the Christmas season and the end of the year, the synod had a pool party at a huge water park. It was in the 90s so everyone was in the pool! Not your typical Christmas party in the U.S.

We had a Christmas party for the children in the community around my church. Some helped me to fill the piñata and moms had helped to wrap presents for each one. They had a grand time, although I was worried about the huge stick they are armed with for swinging at the piñata. They have much more experience than me, so I wasted that worry! One mother said she was so grateful that we did this every year because that was the only gift her child received. She was probably not alone. Some in my community have a dirt floor. Children often come to the church barefoot, out of necessity. What they blissfully don’t know is how commercialized Christmas is in the U.S. They were so excited to get one gift and have a decorated bakery cake, and enough candy to make their teeth hurt. Joy to the world!

So, Christmas was very low key. Most of my congregation left to celebrate with their families in other towns, so attendance was sparse. Another big difference is that several adults read minimally, mostly memorizing the Liturgy and favorite songs. I wanted to save them the embarrassment of being asked to sing Advent and Christmas songs when they couldn’t remember past the first verse, so we decided to sing just the first verse of songs that they chose. What a difference between this humble group and the lavish programs that are often heard on Christmas Eve and Day. I was perfectly happy to have our few but confident voices, accompanied by children playing instruments (in their own key and time!).

In preparation for the day of the Three Kings, the children decorated crowns. They are great fans of arts and crafts, but they are also good listeners. I am amazed at what they remember while they are talking, laughing, gluing, cutting, and coloring at the same time they are listening.

After nine months here I finally had two visits from friends and a colleague from the U.S. within two weeks. JoEllen and Joy came down from Philadelphia, happy to escape the snow and ice. JoEllen is a seamstress extraordinaire who had sewn a set of stoles for me in all the liturgical colors. She got to see at least one in action when they worshiped with us on Sunday. Joy speaks Spanish and was a hit down here, especially with the young children. She has fallen in love with Costa Rica and might well come back to volunteer/work and live!

Then we had a visit from Pastor Carmen Retzlaff, who leads a congregation that worships outdoors under 100 year-old oak trees in Dripping Springs, Texas. She is here for a 3 week intensive visit to our congregations to see how we do ministry with children, in Indigenous communities, in outdoor ministries, and in our Diversity communities. I am proud that this relatively small number of pastors and lay leaders in seminary training have really reached out to God’s people in need of community, of acceptance, of unconditional love, and of spiritual growth.

I enjoyed going on tours that I had been waiting to do with friends. We had breakfast in a local eco-hotel where the staff puts out fruit for the birds and you can eat breakfast while watching toucans swoop down and grab a banana and fly off, or a number of small, multicolored birds who chirped while establishing the pecking order of breakfast.

We all did the Chocolate Tour, which is everything you could hope for plus seconds and thirds of samples! The second visit I made there was magical because we saw a sloth way up in an almond tree (only his backside) and we heard the howling first, then saw monkeys way up in the tree tops! The guide gave us a complete explanation of chocolate production with a great sense of humor and samples every step of the away. My congregation is going to plant six cacao trees on the church property. We will get fast-growing, mold resistant varieties and in two years members can start harvesting and selling to the local producer we visited. This will be a fun way to practice sustainability.

Cacao pods grow out of the bark.  The seeds are removed and allowed to ferment. Next, they are dried, then roasted, at which point you can crack open the seed and the interior tasted like bitter chocolate.  The seeds are pounded to remove the husks, then pressed with a mortar and pestle until smooth.  Next the guide added sugar to some, sugar and powdered milk to some, and we got to taste along the way.  They prepared hot chocolate that we could flavor with vanilla, chile powder (try it!), cinnamon, etc.  This was extraordinary!  Here is Pastor Carmen grinding cacao beans.  The bottom photo is of my two U.S. friends and two women from my congregation.  No, I am not standing on a box!

And the wildlife.  First is monkeys in the tree tops. I wish I had a good zoom camera…   Then a beautiful small but poisonous frog.

In my collection of crawlers and leapers…. a black grasshopper and a rhino beetle.

I have missed my many grade and high school students because they have been on their summer vacation since before Christmas. Now they are back, joining the college students and adult learners who have been faithfully attending English classes. For many of them, finishing high school and mastering English will get them good jobs in the tourism industry, which sustains many here in Costa Rica.

Having lived for almost 30 years in the snow, I never take for granted the hot weather and the breathtaking scenery only found where it rains 9 months of the years and drizzles the rest. It is a blessing to be able to eat fresh fruit still warm from the fields or trees. Some of my students bring me fruit or coconuts when they come for lessons. They all bring brilliant smiles and hugs and so much joy! My little ones from church were so excited on Saturday telling me about their first days of school. I pray for their protection, for their health, for their families, and for good direction in life.

I hope this gives you a better idea of life in Costa Rica, although most of my experience is limited to the rainforest. It is 5:30 p.m. and the birds are singing their way back to their trees to sleep. Time to close the iron grill front door to keep the toads from hopping into the house. Time to put on natural mosquito repellent and then slap myself silly because they just sting me anyway. Time to thank God for the privilege of serving here, among such beautiful people who have enriched my life and my ministry. I pray that those of you in severe winter weather are staying safe and warm. We do have a guest room here!

Rosemarie Doucette

Pastor and missionary, Sarpiquí, Costa Rica

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 up close.  Sometimes I see 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