Sunday, June 24, 2012

Throwing Plastic Chairs

One time, maybe back in November, we went to Pricesmart (local Costco) to buy a few things.  One of our main purchases was a $12 block of cheddar cheese.  You think it would be monstrous in size for being this price, but no, it is normal.  Cheese is just expensive here.  It was dark and raining really hard when we left the store. When we got home, there was no cheese to be found.

Joe had left it in the cart, in the parking lot, in the downpour, in the dark.

He was so mad when he realized this that he threw a plastic chair across the room. 

It was just cheese, for goodness sakes, but man, it felt like a really big deal at the time.  And it’s not like we could go back to the store, and in our broken Spanish try to explain, “Uh, we left our stupidly expensive cheese in the cart… did any of you find it?”

This is $16 cheese.  Just cheddar.
So a plastic chair got thrown across the dining room.

Last Thursday was another ‘we-want-to-throw-chairs’ type of day.

We are trying to become residents here in Costa Rica.  Just temporary residents, but you wouldn’t believe the work, the time, the money that goes into getting a ‘cedula’ here (visa).

I will skip all the boring details of what becoming a resident entails, but suffice it to say the process started way back in the States many months ago and continues still…

Thursday morning we head to the Social Security office in downtown San Jose to set up our account.  Paying into social security is one of the requirements to get the visa, even though we will never see a single benefit of paying into it. 

Our friends only pay $26 a month, so it’s worth it so you can get your proper visa and don’t have to leave the country every 90 days.

We got there at 7:26.  Me, Kate, Joe.  We are hoping to get to Spanish class by nine or nine-thirty.

After waiting in line for three hours later, our number is finally called.  We all go back to the office only to have the lady tell us that Kate and I can’t stay with Joe.  The whole reason I went was so Joe and I could tag-team with Spanish.  No love.

Kate and I wait outside for about 30 minutes.   Joe finally comes out and I can tell by the look on his face that it is not good news.

Instead of the normal minimum fee of $26/month, they are telling us we have to pay $440 a month!  Rules have changed.  They are getting stricter.  We are rich Gringos.  “You can pay that much,” the lady tells Joe.  Even after Joe attempts to argue with her, in Spanish of course, the price is still the same.

This lady has got to be kidding.  Wrong.  Confused.  We are volunteers here in this country.  We can’t pay that much.  We won’t pay that much. 

We wasted three hours of our day.  We canceled Spanish class.  We are mad. 

So mad we want to throw a chair across the entire waiting room of the Social Security building.

But instead, we just leave, and start to drive… we are starving… and we almost end up eating at Hooters because it was (almost) the only place open at 11:15 a.m.  (Luckily we did find another option.)

24 Hours Later

Joe takes our good friend Jonathan, who speaks great Spanish, in to the same office the next morning.  Joe is armed with a detailed spreadsheet of our expenses, which our lawyer recommended having (she tells us this after the first appointment – a little too late), to hopefully get this ridiculous monthly fee reduced.

Results: New lady.  New day.  Fluent Spanish speaker to help.  We will be paying just $16 dollars a month.  $16!!!  That is a 97% reduction from the day before!

I mean, seriously???

And so our want-to-throw-chairs experience suddenly turned into a thank-you-Jesus moment.

What a difference a day makes.  And on this day I was humbly reminded of a few important truths
  • We so often waste our time and energy getting so worked up over something that in time will work itself out – sometimes sooner and sometimes later - but it will work out
  • Even if it doesn’t work out the way we envision, it’s going to be okay. God is in control. He has a plan. And if we allow Him, he will use our ‘momentary sufferings’ (whether small daily frustrations like these, or big, life-changing trials) to shape and mold us into His image. (Romans 8:18, 5:3-5)
  • It’s okay to be aggravated, frustrated, overwhelmed, confused. Maybe it’s even okay to throw chairs (or to want to). But you can’t stay there. You have to move on and see the big picture. It’s just cheese. It’s just a misguided government employee who doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about. And tomorrow is a new day. 

And now, with our Social Security account in place, we have an appointment to finally get our residency visas on Tuesday.

You can pray that all goes smoothly…

* * * * *

We all experience frustrations like this in our lives.  What is your experience and what have you learned from moments like these?  Share a comment below.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Time is Going By Really, Really Slowly

There are some days that just seem to go so slow around here.  And it’s not just days… it’s weeks and months too.  June 10th marked 8 months since we moved here.  It feels like we’ve been here more like 18.  It seems like we will never make it to that one-year mark.   Time goes so slow, that much of the time, we feel like the video below (one of my faves on youtube).

Okay, so I’m not saying we feel like the guy in the video for the same reasons.  We are not baking pot brownies.

But time does drag on.  And on.  I’ve been trying to figure out why.

Maybe it’s because we wake up between 5:30 and 6:30 on most days.  The sun rises around 5.  Kate wakes up anywhere between the crack of dawn, and if we’re lucky, 7 a.m.  “It’s daytime mama…”

Maybe it’s because every day seems the same.  Like Groundhog’s Day.  Wake up, exercise, eat, Spanish class, lunch, rest, try-to-study or do-something-productive in the afternoon, make dinner, sun down at 5:30, talk again about our insane decision to move to Costa Rica, bedtime.  Repeat.  Repeat again.

Maybe it’s because we live in a 3-mile radius from our house, almost literally.  Unless we get out of town for the weekend, we frequent the same places again, and again.  Walmart.  Automercado.  McDonalds.  Aquanauticas (Kate’s swimming lessons).  The Project.  Back to House.  Maybe to Pricesmart (the Costa Rican Costco), maybe to EPA (Costa Rican Home Depot).  And holy moley, maybe every once and while we trek across town to get some variety and – watch out – we go to Wendy’s. 

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because time really does go slower here.  Or at least it feels like it.  We are out of our comfort zone.  Out of our culture.  We don’t speak the language.  We don’t have a ton of Costa Rican friends (working on that…).  We don’t have the energy to go out and ‘get in touch with the culture’.  We can’t anyway because we have a 3 year-old who goes to bed at 7.  We don’t have parks, or hikes, or birthday parties or playdates to go to. 

Our life is pretty simple.

Which, yes, is a total gift.  And we are trying, oh so hard, to embrace this gift and this time, but it’s not always easy.  In fact most of the time it’s quite hard.

It’s hard just to get through a day sometimes.  I feel like throwing myself a party when 6 o’clock comes around.  “I did it!!!”  Sometimes, I feel like giving up and saying "Please send rescue."

But we are doing it.  One day at a time.  We are learning to slow down.  To listen.  To rest.  To persevere.  To count our blessings.  And that’s what counts.  Even if the time does go by too slowly.

* * * * *
Have you had seasons/days of your life go too slowly?  When, where, why?  What do you think the challenges and blessings are of these seasons?

Monday, June 11, 2012

An Offical Adoption!

Y'all, this will pull your heart strings.  This is a picture of Mainor and Jenny, siblings that JUST got officially adopted by an Italian couple last week.  It was LONG process.  Mainor, at 13, was the oldest kid out of all the kids in the two children's homes here.  He and his sister had already been through one failed adoption.  But this time, it worked out.  Look how happy they look!

I am still learning the details of how international adoptions work in Costa Rica, but the gist is this: PANI (the Costa Rican child protective agency) first has to declare the children officially 'abandoned'.  This can take years sometimes - for various reasons. (There are several kids at the two homes that still haven't been declared abandoned.  One set of four siblings has been here for four years!). 

Once declared abandoned, then they are open for adoption.  PANI eventually chooses a family, but then it can take months for them to get here (don't have a clue why)... once the family arrives, there is about a week of outings, where the parents meet the kids face to face and take them out on various outings to bond.  But the kids still sleep at the children's home. 

Then, after about a week, the kids 'move in' with the parents in whatever hotel they are staying at.  They have a period of time, a few weeks, where they hang out together and try to bond as a new family. 

Finally there is an appointment with a judge where the kids are interviewed to make sure they are "identifying" with their new parents, etc.  And the judge can either say, "yes" and put the official stamp on the adoption, or "no".  It's all up to the judge. 

In the case of Mainor and Jenny, at the first appointment with the judge, there was a little snafu and misunderstanding when they interviewed Jenny (who is only 8 - she got scared probably and said some things that made the judge think the proper 'bond' wasn't happening), and so thinking they needed more time, the judge told the family "no"...  Finally, last week, they went before the judge again, and the adoption is official! 

Thank you God!  We are praying for a smooth transition for all as they head back to Italy.

And so, with two spots available in the home, PANI just placed two new kids under Gabby and Esteban's care (the house parents) on Thursday.  They are siblings, a 4-year old boy, and younger sister, 2.5, who came from an abusive home. 

This is what the Abraham Project does, so if you're supporting us, praying for us, encouraging us, you're doing the same for them.  The kids.  The orphans.  The least of these.  Thank you.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Fluency - An Impossible Goal?

It has been said that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything.  I recently did a Google search that said something like this: “how long does it take to learn a second language”.  I wanted to do a little research on the topic because it’s obviously very relevant to our number one goal right now, which could be boiled down to the following two sentences:

Learn Spanish.  Speak Spanish.

So the first page that came up from my search was a random blog with a post that fit my quest almost to the T: “How Long Does It Take To Learn A New Language?”.  The blog referenced the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell, which apparently discusses the study about the 10,000-hour rule to become an expert.   The blog post went on to say that if you define fluency in a new language to mean being an expert, then it must take 10,000 hours to achieve fluency. 

My favorite part of this particular post, however, was when it went on to calculate formulas of studying a second language in order to get to this 10,000 hour mark.  There were four different scenarios included which ranged from taking a 3 hour continuing-ed class once a week for 8 weeks, all the way to total immersion which was defined as being ‘immersed’ in the language for 16 hours a day for a year.  It then calculated the number of YEARS it would take to achieve ‘expertise’ or fluency in the given scenario. (Scenario #1 would take 208 years, Scenario #2, just two years).

So let’s jump right to our own scenario. 
·      We currently take 10 hours of Spanish a week.  If we do that for 52 weeks that is 52x10 = 520 hours.  If it truly takes 10,000 hours to become an ‘expert’, that means it will take us approximately 19.23 years to become fluent in Spanish!  Almost 20 years!!!

At first, I must admit this calculation was not only overwhelming, but depressing.  And impossible.

But then I started to think more optimistically and define what ‘fluency’ or even proficiency would look like for Joe and me, because God knows, we will probably never get to the 20 year mark!

This is what I came up with:

Westfall Fluency = Being Able To…
·      … confidently and easily ‘get around’ and ‘do life’ in a Spanish speaking culture/country.  This means shopping, eating out, making reservations, going to appointments, etc.
·      …understand most of what is said on a tv or radio program.
·      …have Spanish-speaking friends that we can converse with in Spanish, understand what they are saying and asking us, and have an intelligent conversation with them.

We’ve been studying Spanish for five months now, and although we’ve achieved a lot in that time, we are a far cry from being fluent.  But with my new definition of fluency, I must proudly announce that we are gaining ground!  Even with only 200 hours of study under our belt, (and 9,800 to go to become experts), we still hit a huge milestone last Friday. 

We invited some Tico (Costa Rican) friends over for dinner for the first time.  And they don’t speak English.  Which means we had to speak Spanish the entire time.  And it wasn’t just Spanish 101 (Hola, coma esta?  Me llamo Jennie, Vivo en San Jose).  It was real conversation.  We talked about our time so far here in Costa Rica, our hopes of having another child… they shared some real-life struggles of their own.

It wasn’t perfect.  Most sentences were slow-coming and there were many things I couldn’t express with ease.  But we did express ourselves.  And so with this growing friendship, and other Fluency Goals slowly but surely being accomplished, we realize that while fluency may take immense dedication and effort, it is not an impossible goal!