Friday, October 28, 2011

Slugs, Bugs and then… Culture Shock

We found a black slug on the ceiling in our bedroom.  I guess it crawled in through the window in the middle of the night.  Gross.

Then, in our closet, I found two curiously circular mounds of dirt on the floor.  We swept it up, only to find another ring of dirt in the exact same spot the following day.  Upon closer inspection, I see these tiny ants crawling up through a hole in the floor.  We have anthills in our closet.  Sweet.

In addition to a slug and the ants, there are these mysterious flat, almond-shaped “things” hanging on the walls and ceiling of our house.  I noticed them the day we moved in.  I thought they were just some weird, dried up, dead bug, but last night as we ate dinner, I saw one on the wall and – jeepers-creepers – it was MOVING. I picked it up with my tweezers (after dinner, of course) and it turns out that they have this disgusting black tentacle thingy that pokes out that helps them mobilize… (No legs were visible!) It’s one thing to have a weird, unknown dead creature on your wall, and quite another thing to see it move around and have no idea what the heck it is.  I still have the heeby-jeebies and am on a mission to rid the house of all of them, dead or alive.

So with the slug, the bugs, the endless rain (we actually did finally get some sun this week after 14 days straight of the heaviest rains I’ve ever witnessed), and the different language, food, and lifestyle here, I had my first day of “culture shock” yesterday. It was really just more of a feeling of “I’m not at home,” which I fully expected to experience, but it’s different than I’ve ever had before because I know we’re actually living here.  Not a bad thing, just part of the whole adventure of settling in another country.

Besides all that, here’s a quick recap of the last week:
·      Thursday we visited the U.S. Embassy in order to get some documents notarized to sell our Subaru back in the states.  It was a total cluster, with lots of weird people waiting around, but we made it through and the car is sold.
·      Friday we had to go to the Costa Rican Police Station to get our fingerprints done to obtain our temporary residency here.  It was like going back in time 60 years: a room with blue peeling paint, fluorescent lights, and employees who write your information down in cursive.  I wish I could have taken a picture.
·      The weekend: we were introduced at church at both services and luckily didn’t have to say anything in Spanish in front of the congregation!
·      Monday: Kate’s first day of school.  She did great!
·      Tuesday/Wednesday: We started our tutoring classes to learn Spanish.  Our tutor is amazing and we are already learning/re-learning a lot.  It will be an uphill struggle though to truly become proficient in another language.

One thing y’all can pray for specifically is that all our paperwork for residency goes through.  It’s pretty complicated and very expensive and there has been a lot of misinformation leading to a lot of frustration and time consuming trips to get everything turned in.  We only have until November 20th – that’s when our endorsed papers from the States expire (birth certs, marriage certs, police reports) – and then we’d have to start the whole process over again…

Our internet is down and we are "borrowing" internet from some guy named Ed, apparently a neighbor of ours?? Anyway, it's painfully slow and I can't upload any pics.  When we get ours back up and running, I'll put some recent pictures up.  Until then...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Getting Settled

We moved into our new house almost a week ago now.  It feels great to finally be in our own space again and to start to get settled here in Costa Rica.  We have spent almost every day shopping to set up our home, trying to get the most for every dollar (or colon) we spend.  Things are NOT cheap here, contrary to what many people may think.  The most frustrating part is buying things that we already own in the states and spending twice as much as we would there… but that is part of the whole experience and we’re still within our budget, which is great.  It’s all about making do and prioritizing what’s really important and what’s not. 

Not so important: the quality of a kitchen table.  We have a plastic outdoor table for our dining room table and four maroon plastic chairs to sit in.  It works.  And it’s a lot better than the cardboard box we ate off of the first two nights.

Very important: our bed.  We splurged on a nicer bed and box spring since you spend 1/3 of your life sleeping.  We thought it was worth it.

Middle-of-the-road important: our sofa.  We wanted it to be decent looking and comfortable and to be the “center piece” of our living room since we don’t have any other furniture.  Mission accomplished.

And, just to let you all know, many of our purchases have been made at Walmart. Yes, we’ve become Walmart shoppers. It’s really because that’s what there is here – it’s affordable and convenient. There is no Ikea or Target or even 2nd hand stores, so you go with what you got.

Fortunately, there are lots of other stores to buy furniture and household goods at.  We’ve become huge fans of Pricesmart, the local Costco here (we’ve even eaten pizza there twice!), as well as Aliss, a department store.  Epa is the Costa Rican version of Home Depot and is right up the road from us.  And our new favorite: Pequeno Mundo – kinda like a ware-housy Big Lots.  Kerby and Jason, one of the couples who work at the Project, took us there last night, and we had a blast wandering through the aisles, rummaging through the dollar bins (the 500 colones bin), smelling gross candles, and buying lots of *finally* cheap stuff.  Little containers and baskets, $1 plates, closet hooks, a Toy Story 3 fleece blanket for Fernando, etc…  I was STOKED!

Besides shopping and getting settled, we’ve been to church (on Saturday), eaten dinner at the Terra Mall food court, participated in the weekly prayer meeting with the other families, and taken our first walk in our neighborhood.  We also signed Kate up for daycare – she’ll start next Monday, and met with our Spanish tutor to plan our lessons for the next several weeks.  We start class with her next Tuesday.  Kate will go to the daycare for about 3 hours in the morning while we “practicar y aprender espanol.”  (practice and learn Spanish)  We’re very excited about this as it can be quite embarrassing when people talk to you and you don’t understand a thing.  Well, maybe one word, but not the actual meaning… We are eager to get proficient!

The only huge bummer of our time here so far has been the RAIN.  There has been some type of front over Central America since we arrived, and it has literally been raining or pouring every single day.  We have seen the sun for maybe 15 minutes total.  But it seems to have passed today, and although still gray, it is not raining, thank God.  And soon enough, it will be the dry season and it will get hot!  Looking forward to that.  In the meantime, we continue to settle in and adjust to a new life in Costa Rica, rain or shine!

P.S. God answered a HUGE prayer yesterday: we found out that Delta would refund us the $450 for our ticket change fees we were forced to pay last Monday.  Joe had written an email, and thought he would have to call and harass them, but lo and behold, we received a very apologetic email from Delta!
P.P.S. For those of you who don't know, Dawson, our dog, will be joining us down here within the next 6 months.  He's currently staying with Joe's parents.  We just couldn't bring all our stuff, the cat, and dog all at once :)

First meal: breakfast for dinner on a cardboard box!
View of backyard as you sit on the sofa.  Joe put up a swing for Kate in the middle of this empty room.
View out the front door.  Lots of gates keep us secure and safe.
Kate enjoying her inside park!
Bedtime stories with daddy.  We are having a bed frame built for us at the Project.
Fern enjoying the view.
Leaky roof... a bucket catches (most of) the drips.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

We Made It!

Well guys, we made it!  Our travel day went almost flawlessly, with only a few hitches a long the way.  There had to be a some, right?  Thank you all for your prayers.  We could feel God’s presence and peace throughout all the stressful moments as well as the calm ones.

Some of the memories of Monday include:
·      Getting to the airport at 4 a.m. with all our bags only to find out that we had to pay $150/each to change our tickets.  They said we had to have a return ticket within 90 days or we couldn’t board the plane, due to Costa Rica's visa restrictions.  This obviously came as a HUGE surprise to us because why would we have been able to book the ticket for more than 90 days in the first place?  The guy was a total stickler, and would not budge on the “rule” even though we showed him our certified documents that we had started the process of our residency in CR… Needless to say, it was a nerve-racking start to the morning and I was just praying that he wouldn’t charge us for each of our overweight bags.  The verse, If God is for us, who can be against us? kept coming to mind while he was fussing over our tickets, and when it came time to weigh our bags, he didn’t blink an eye even though each one was 1-7 lbs too heavy.  Thank God.  We paid the $450 and were on our way...
Kate on our mountain of bags at PDX.
·      Joe going through security with Fernando clinging to him and having the detector go off – the guy goes, “We’ll have to pat down both of you.”  Joe looks at the guy like, “You’ve GOT to be kidding,” and he manages to talk him out of it and we put Fern back into his case… one of the funnier moments.
·      Kate sleeping on the plane – a first for her napping during the day on a plane for more than a half hour.  She actually slept on both flights for 1.5-2 hours.  A HUGE blessing.
·      Fernando meowing deeply upon take-off, but other than that, behaving like quite a nice cat the entire day.  Our absorbent pads inside his case soaked up all his pee.
Fernando in the family bathroom in ATL.  He had zero interest in our handmade litter box.
·      Having the Costa Rican customs guy not believe us when we said our tv was 4 years old – he made us take it out of the soaked original box to check (it had been raining hard in each place we flew in/out of).  It was another little hitch at the end of a long day, but again, it all worked out and he let us through.
·      Having all our flights on time, getting two tiny cat naps, Fernando getting through customs in San Jose without any problem, and safely arriving at Steve and Georgiana’s that night.  God is good.
Kate pushing a cart at the San Jose airport.

And the past couple days… We are still at Steven and Georgiana’s actually because getting beds took a little longer than we thought.  But we’ve had two productive days of shopping and buying household goods.  We bought a sofa, loveseat, and a cozy bed today, which are our major purchases, and they will be delivered in the next couple of hours.  We will get moved in tomorrow and spend our first night in our house!  We are so thankful to finally be here.  Here are a few more photos of the last three days…
Kate eyeing some toys at Pricesmart, Costa Rica's version of Costco.
Kate checking out this over-sized chair at La Artistica, where we bought our sofa and bed.
Bethany Thomas, Steve and Georgiana's daughter, and me trying out a bed together.  It was our favorite.
Bethany and Kate in one of those obnoxiously big car grocery carts at Walmart.  Bethany is 12 and was too big for it so she had to hang her leg out.  This was Kate's debut drive and I'm not sure if we'll ever be able to go back to a normal cart.
Luke Thomas and Kate having a dance party!  Kate is really enjoying playing and dancing with Lukey! 

We are so thankful to be able to stay at the Thomas home once again (we stayed here last October on our initial scouting trip and again this August when looking for a house).  We couldn't do this without them.  Thanks again to all of you for your support and prayers!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

One Last Evening

We leave tomorrow.  At 6:20 a.m. Which means we have to be up at 3 a.m., leave the house at 3:30, so we can be at the airport at 4 a.m.  We will have 5 xxx-large duffle bags, 1 big roller suitcase, 1 large-screen tv, 1 bilingual cat, 1 stroller, 1 carseat, and the maximum number of carry-ons (packed with our extra fragile or heavy belongings) with us.  Can we say heavy load?  Or wide load?  Probably both.  Both Joe's parents will be coming with us to the airport because they love us and because we need all the space in two cars to load all of our stuff.  We fly four hours to Atlanta, have a four hour layover, and then have one more four hour flight to San Jose.  It will be a LONG day.  But we are ready.  It's time to get to Costa Rica, unpack our bags and get settled in our new home. 

I am typing this as all of Joe's family is sitting around the Westfall living room, waiting for a roast to finish cooking.  They wanted to do a "mini Thanksgiving" type of meal for our last evening here.  Aunt Una Beth made her famous cheese ball (a secret recipe that she refuses to reveal to the rest of us).  Aunt Maggie and Uncle Ben made stuffing and a salad.  Anita made twice baked potatoes, cranberry salad, and peach cobbler...  Great Grandma Faye is here, drinking her coffee and watching football.  Joe is drinking a diet Mtn. Dew.  Kate is running around like crazy, jumping on furniture, doing somersaults and break dancing moves.  Laughter fills the room while we wait to share a lovely meal together.  These are moments we will miss.  But we are excited for what lays ahead and for the adventure that awaits us!  We just need to get through tomorrow.  I'm sure we'll have some interesting stories to tell... 

The Fernando Fiasco

Warning: This post is really more for me to remember this crazy series of events; it’s pretty long and overly detailed so feel free to skim.

Fernando is our cat. He is destined to go to Costa Rica because, well, his name is Fernando. Way before we had plans to actually move to Costa Rica we used to joke that Fern was bilingual in Spanish. So he just has to come with us. But even though he is small and easy to take care of in comparison to our dog Dawson, it has been a BIG hassle getting everything in line to “import” him to CR.

First, we had to get a rabies shot for him – this has to be more than 30 days before your departure, but not more than a year. That was pretty easy. Task completed in August.

But then the time schedule for things got a little more confined. (For being a country with stray dogs running rampant in the streets, Costa Rica has awfully strict guidelines for bringing in pets that have been meticulously cared for. It’s relatively easy compared to other countries like England or Japan (no quarantine required for example) but still, what we’ve been through to get Fern ready is SO annoying knowing we will see stray animals all over the place.)

So the schedule: Fern had to have a check up at the vet within 10 days of our departure, get a special form – the Aphis 7001 – filled out and signed by the vet, then send it off to the USDA office at the state capital to be endorsed, stamped, and signed by the state vet, then sent back to us, all before we depart on Monday the 10th. It was a tight schedule. 10 days is just not enough to comfortably get all this done.

The appointment was at 2:30 on Monday. Everything goes fine, except the vet fills out the wrong form (I have a hunch while we’re at the vet). I speed home, drop the cat off, and print off the correct form, and then speed off to the vet – again. I start to sweat because I have to get to the post office by 5 to send off the forms so we will get them back in time. It’s 4 o’clock at this point. The form is filled out and I race to the post office just in the knick of time. Forms are sent, but because it’s after 4, they won’t get there until Wednesday. It takes 1-2 days for the USDA to process them, then they will be sent back overnight, which means we could possibly get them on Friday, but for sure by Saturday. It’s all going to be okay.

But then Friday arrives. Nothing comes in the mail. We start to panic after realizing I threw away my receipt with the tracking number on it. After calling the USDA office we find out that they had in fact mailed out our paperwork on Thursday. Then why isn’t it here? Is it lost? Did I write the wrong address or zip on it by mistake? All we can do is wait and pray that it will get here on Saturday.

Meanwhile, we have been running all over town getting Fernando properly equipped for the 12-hour trip on Monday. We buy a soft case cat carrier from Target because it’s cheap. We try shoving Fern into it, with Joe zipping him up with his back leg still sticking out. The cat does a quick about face in the case and manages to leap out before we can quite get it all the way zipped up. It’s just not going to work. So we go to Petsmart and buy a bigger, nicer case with a top-loading door – the only way we really will get him in with ease. It’s much better. Later, Joe goes to Fred Meyer to get absorbent puppy pee-pee training pads (as Joe calls them) that we can use to keep any cat pee at bay on the airplane and in the airport.

Then Saturday arrives. The papers must come or we can’t take Fernando and we’ll have to start this whole process over again in March when we come back to get Dawson. The mail is delivered early at 9:30 a.m.

There is nothing from USDA.

At this point I feel like throwing something across the room. But instead, Anita, my wonderful mother-in-law, offers to look through the trash with me to try to find the post office receipt with the tracking number on it so at least we can figure out what went wrong/where the forms are. We don gloves and start digging through nasty chicken bones, coffee grinds, and dirty diapers. After 15 minutes or so, we finally find the remnants of the receipt – we think – with a tracking number on top, but with a few numbers rubbed off. Right at this very moment, there is a knock at the door. A postal worker from the Washougal post office is on the porch with our critical documents in hand.

Thank you Jesus. We went from Plan A (cat comes), to Plan B (cat stays), and back to Plan A again, all within 30 minutes. Who knew the mail could be delivered twice in one day?

So Fernando will be accompanying us to Costa Rica, crammed under the seat in front of us, and hopefully we will all make it safe and sound and Fern will finally get to use his native language.

Epilogue: Joe found out today that we have to take Fernando out of his carrier to get him through security, so we had to run yet another errand to get him a harness and a leash. Because God knows that if we take him out of his carrier he will run. Can you imagine? My father-in-law Bruce said, “Now that would be a reason to cry. I mean, I would cry if that happened.” So hopefully the harness will stay on and he won’t wriggle free and be running wild through the Portland airport. And both Joe and I are wearing long sleeve shirts to protect ourselves from cat scratches. We also packed some litter and a box lid so we can create an impromptu litter box in a family bathroom in the Atlanta airport (there is no pet area inside the secured area – can you believe that?) Needless to say, we will need your prayers tomorrow. It will be an adventure.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

September Newsletter

October 10th!  It’s official!  We are moving to Costa Rica.  For those of you who have been following our blog, you know that since settling on a departure date for October, we have been busy. 
In August we traveled to Costa Rica to find a place to live and were blessed to find a great house to rent, available October 1st.  So when we returned home we figured we needed to rent out our house as soon as possible.  That made the last weeks of August very busy.  We finished fixing up our house, packed up our stuff, rented out our home, and moved out.  We sold a car, Craigslisted bikes, a bbq, and a basketball hoop among other things, and said goodbye to our favorite places and wonderful friends in Seattle.
There have been several moments during the often stress-filled weeks when we have wondered, “What are we doing?”, and time and time again we have gone back to the reality that we know God has called us to go serve at the
Abraham Project.  Over the past several months people have asked the questions, “Why are you going to Costa Rica? What are you going to be doing?”  These are great questions, and since we sent out our first letter in March we have continued to pray, discuss, and refine what we feel we God is calling us into, while at the same time realizing that even the best laid plans can be changed.  We are going to serve at the Project to do the following: help raise the money needed to build  and run four new children’s homes,  assist in the management of the construction, teach English at the daycare, and be a connection point between individuals, families, churches, and other organizations who want to participate in short-term or long-terms missions.
All this being said, we are humbled and blessed to know that we have your support and that we are not doing this alone. 

Joe, Jennie, and Kate

The last several weeks have been marked by change, travel, and transition, and this will of course continue as we get settled in Costa Rica.  Since we moved out of our house on September 4th, we spent ten days living with friends in Seattle while we tied up loose ends and said our goodbyes.  Then we traveled to visit Jennie’s family in Asheville, NC, which was a much needed break in the midst of the whirlwind of moving.  Now, we are in Vancouver, WA spending time with my family until we depart for Costa Rica on October 10th.
When we arrive in Costa Rica we will spend the first couple of weeks getting our house settled and then Kate will start attending the daycare at the Project three to four mornings a week while Jennie and I take Spanish classes.  Our goal for the first year is to improve our Spanish and acclimate to the culture, while helping where needed around the Project.  We are also excited to work with a few teams from our supporting churches that will be coming to serve, and we would welcome any of you who would like to come stay with us and see the Project!