Airport Days

I figured out today that in the last three years, I have spent about 14 days travelling back and forth from Costa Rica to Chicago. No joke. So in my two weeks of living in the Chicago, Houston, Ft. Lauderdale, Newark, and Denver airports, I have come to enjoy days of people-watching during the layovers and cloud-viewing from the airplanes (not to mention capturing photos of lightning and volcanoes from the plan window!). I have the airport security system down to a T as I remember to pack my liquids in a plastic bag (quart size!), keep my computer easily accessible, and not wear metal jewelry. I have also mastered the art of hiding large amounts of cash under my clothes… but that’s a story for another blog … or maybe a personal conversation!

Today, I have encountered four airports: San José, Houston, Denver, Chicago: in that order. I started out in San José absolutely, completely, utterly wiped out emotionally from all the good-byes I had to say in Costa Rica. Like I was so emotionally exhausted that even when I saw someone I knew and probably could have struck up a conversation with if I wanted to, I literally ran and hid. (Mom’s thinking, ‘’Is that my daughter!?’’ Yes, Mom, I had a moment when I actually avoided social interaction.) Turns out this acquaintance was on the same flight as I was, but except for a brief wave and nod of the head, I avoided any other contact. Not to mention it was at an ungodly early morning hour, and I don´t know anyone who in their right mind would actually be cheerful at that hour after sleeping for 3 hours (like I did). Ugh.

First ray of light: a tico man working at a little sandwich shop in the airport. I sat down nearby to wait for boarding and I could hear him singing a Spanish worship song I recognized from church. When I say singing, I mean belting it out. No fear. No embarrassment. Singing in his sandwich shop at the top of his lungs. What a great reminder that God was with me, even in an airport.

God has His ways of getting my focus off of myself, and so during the flight from San José to Houston, I was neatly tucked between a 7-year-old boy and an 80-year-old man. The man was very polite but seemed scared of flying, so much so, that I thought I might actually have to hold his barf bag for him at one point. (Thank goodness he never threw up!) While I wondered if the older man would hyperventilate, I was also pondering this kid’s red hair, pale skin, and freckles. I asked him a question in English and he looked at me weird and turned away. I thought maybe he was just socially awkward. Then when the flight attendant came to ask what we wanted to drink, he said, ‘’Yo quiero agua.’’ Then I understood. This red-head spoke Spanish!! I tried my same question from before, but this time in Spanish. Lol, that may have been a mistake because then this kid would not be quiet. He was asking me every 2 minutes how much more time we had and did I know where his dad was (turns out the airline had separated father and son in the seating arrangement). He wanted to know why the plane was in turbulence, what made clouds, what ocean he was looking at out the window, and (again) what time would we get there. By the end of the flight, we were like old friends. He even made a video on his dad´s cell phone introducing me to his family, lol. ‘’This is my new friend, Kate,’’ he said, ‘’and she speaks English and Spanish.’’ Nothing like a kid in your life to change your perspective.

In the Houston airport, it was all the usual customs and immigration lines. Thankfully this time I remembered to throw away the apple before I got to the customs line (unlike the last two times, lol). Then back through security, with African-Americans barking orders in their mixed accent of ibonics and Texan.

On the flight to Denver, I experienced another God appointment while sitting with a 15-year-old girl and a 60-year-old woman. This time, God surprised me at how He can put three people together who are obviously very different but have a lot in common all at the same time. The teen pulled out her Bible to read, and the woman commented that her Bible was just as worn as the one this girl had. I pulled mine out too and was like, ‘’Like this too?’’ Our conversation was very encouraging, and we concluded by exchanging email addresses (not something I do often on airport days!).

The layover at Denver was uneventful as I found my gate an hour early. I then promptly became lost in the world of free airport internet (less airports offer free internet now, but I sure love it when they do!! ), and then glanced up at the gate announcements and the board said ‘’Los Angeles.’’ Uh-oh. I thought I was in the area for Chicago. Turns out they had changed where the gate was, so I was off running through the airport again, praying that I didn´t have a re-run of last summer´s missed flight in the Newark airport. Thankfully, I made my flight just in time for a twenty minute flight delay, lol.

So here I am, on the Denver to Chicago flight. I am tired from lack of sleep and navigating four airports, but I am also encouraged by God’s faithfulness, even when I have said what seems like a thousand good-byes and packed up my belongings in a mere 2 suitcases, a backpack, and an oversize purse. The truth is, I like these airport days. While I don´t know when the next one will be (the plan is to stick around Chicago for a while), I will definitely need to have another soon .


I Will NOT Miss...

(also in no particular order)

1. Stinky, wet feet -- Every day during the rainy season, it´s guaranteed that your shoes will be soaked at least one time during the day. This has two effects: your shoes deteriorate before your eyes and your feet smell like wet dog... all the time. Gross.

2. Loooooong lines at the bank -- Seriously, I have waited in lines at the bank longer than I have waited at bus stops. Well, slight exaggeration, but really, it gets ridiculous.

3. Bars on windows -- I don´t notice the bars and barbed wire as much now, but when I see a window or door without them, my first reaction is, ''Wow!!! That looks so inviting!'' Then my second reaction is... ''I wonder how safe that is''... Funny how my perspective has changed.

4. Indirect communication -- I know there are indirect communicators no matter where I go in the world. I know that without a doubt as I have experienced it in the States as well. I say I won´t miss it because here in Costa Rica, it´s almost expected. It´s culturally acceptable to not really be direct with someone, but then it´s also culturally acceptable to go talk to your gossip buddies about what you think about that person. Then the gossip friends go back to the original person and tell him/her what the other person said. Communication breakdown, and like I said, it's almost expected!

5. Machismo -- I can only think of 5 things I will actually miss about Costa Rica, but seriously, this number 5 makes up for 95% of what I will miss. Men's attitude toward women here is AWFUL. We are objectified, condescended to, whistled at, vulgarized, even hissed at... I honestly hate walking past groups of men because now I understand what they are saying about me. The more men, the worse more vulgar the conversation will be. If I am walking on the sidewalk, a man walking in the opposite direction might walk in front of me at the last possible second to whisper something in my ear. I have learned that the less I react, the less they say. UGH it´s just awful. One guy last week was like, ''Good morning, chica'' in an awful seductive tone, and I continued walking, not even looking at him, and he says still in the same tone, ''What's up with you? Are you deaf? Mute?'' Or another day when a man got close and whispered, ''What a princess.'' I was surprised to hear myself saying, ''What an idiot'' as I kept walking. Even a policeman the other day said something to me in a condescending tone of voice... I found it to be very rude, especially considering he's supposed to make the streets safe to walk on. (Sorry, Mom, I'll stop telling stories about this because I don't want you to worry. Yes, Mom, I carry my pepper spray at all times. No, Mom, please don´t worry. I've survived three years now, and I'll survive today!)

I Will Miss...

(in no particular order)

1. Dimensión Cristiana -- This church has been my rock for the last year and a half. It's definitely a lot louder than my dad's church, so much so that it reminds me of a rock concert :). I love how the pastor intertwines Scripture with personal stories to leave me with a weekly challenge for my thoughts. I will also miss the fact that church here lasts 2.5 hours!

2. Rain on the tin roof every afternoon -- perfect for napping during the rainy season.

3. Wearing skirts to work year round -- No need for boots! No need for hose! Just a skirt and sandals, even (especially!) in January!

4. Subtitled or dubbed movies at the theater -- I now understand movies so much better -- even movies in English -- when I can read subtitles. Weird, I know. I think I'll keep watching movies with subtitles :).

5. Being the ''foreigner'' -- It's always fun to start up a conversation here and explain that I'm from the U.S. (although that's obvious, lol) and then explain that I'm not just a tourist, that I actually live here. I will miss being able to say I'm the ''extranjera''... what if I get boring when I'm just a normal Chicago girl again??

6. Summer in January -- Don't get me wrong, I enjoy winter, but the last three years have been amazing when I realize after Christmas that there's no need for the post-Christmas blues... because I'm going back to summer in Costa Rica! :)

7. Santiago -- This two-year-old has seriously been so much fun for me during the last few months as we are learning Spanish together. He still persists in calling me ''Ken'' and he daily surprises me with the words he is learning. We can hold entire conversations now about dogs, Toy Story, and cars.

8. Knowing my way around a city on a bus -- Seriously, this is such an accomplishment. I feel like I deserve a college degree for my wealth of bus-travelling knowledge, especially considering the lack of maps and lack of consistent schedules down here.

9. Going to a beautiful tropical beach for the weekend -- Three day weekend? Let's go to the beach!!! :) I'll have to re-learn what to do with my three-day weekends in Illinois...

10. Seeing volcanoes -- So powerful and beautiful... and so deadly... but also quite fascinating. I have seen many from the plane window and have personally visited Arenal, Póas, Irazú, and another one I can't remember it's name. Clearly it was a very personal connection :).

11. Seeing mountains -- Psalm 125:2 says, ''As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surround his people both now and forevermore.'' I alter the verse slightly and instead of Jerusalem, I think of San José because there are mountains no matter which direction you look. When I see mountains, I am reminded of God's presence, no matter where He takes me in the future.

12. Airport days -- I like travelling. It gives me a chance to observe others, to meet new people, to transition from one place to another. It might be an addiction...

13. Pharmacies -- No matter what I have -- bronchitis, diarrhea, a parasite, a strange rash (to name a few) -- all I have to do is go to the local pharmacy, explain my predicament, and pay for the medicine. No need for a doctor's visit!... unless I need antibiotics.

14. How the winter season is green here -- No offense to winter in the States, but it´s soooooo... gray.... and dead. Here it´s GREEN and alive!

15. Speaking Spanish in public -- It's very natural now for me to ask questions and listen to responses in Spanish as I'm navigating the city...

16. Sunny mornings in the park -- I love sitting with my Bible and journal in a park, watching the rain clouds form for the afternoon rains.

17. Artesan's market -- My friend Aydee has become a good friend. I have posted about her before as the bag lady, but seriously, this Peruvian woman is such an admirable Christian woman. She's trusting God to provide as she sells her purses and scarves.

18. Being able to use Costa Rican idioms to make Costa Ricans laugh. -- Voy jalando. ¡Que las moscas no entren! Mop. Que chuso. 'Nough said. :)

19. Eating rice and beans -- I never thought I would say it... but it´s true. I will miss eating rice and beans. It´s just so... filling. And cheap :).

20. Plaintains: patacones, sweet fried plaintains, plaintain chips -- What a great treat! I have become slightly obsessed with plaintains lately since I know I will not be able to find them for cheap in the Chicago area...

21. And of course... the many friends I have made. If I named you all here, we would be here for quite some time. You know who you are.


Using What I've Got

In what I have come to refer to as ''normal life'' (anything my life was before coming to Costa Rica), if I were to run out of things like makeup or socks, I would just go buy more... If I were to break something, I would throw away the broken one and go buy a new one... If I were to want something, I would go buy it...

Welcome to ''not normal life'' (anything my life became after moving to Costa Rica). Yesterday, I ran out of my favorite eye shadow:

So what will I do? Nothing. I could buy a new one here, but the importation taxes are so high that the price is ridiculous. Besides, coming back to the U.S. in just a few short days helps my waiting, haha. The ''not normal'' part of life is to actually wait until I can pay a decent price when I buy a new one.

A few weeks ago, my hair straightener just completely gave up on life. Like the handle fell off and I kept using it. Then the spring fell off but I kept using it. (Mom would tell you I'm stubborn like that :)) The only reason I stopped using it was because it decided to stop heating up. I put it on the highest setting, plugged it in, and 30 minutes later, it was still cold as ice. Lol. Again, I'm delaying my buying impulses for when I'm back Stateside. 

Then this catastrophe happened: 
I was blow-drying my hair one morning this week and there was a great flash of light and my hair blower stopped working. I thought for sure there was an angel in the bathroom with me or that a lightning bolt had hit right outside my window (LOL)... but no, it was the extension cable blowing up. Of course, I should have known. Thankfully, I was okay and nothing caught on fire in the ruckus that occurred. I think I'll throw the cable away here and buy a new one... when I'm in the States :).

Spanish Teachers

Hace tres años, yo no hablaba español para nada. De hecho, todo lo que sabía era hola, adios, y ¿Dónde está el baño? Gracias a mucha gente con muuuuucha pacienci, he aprendido montónes, pero montónes, en estes tres años que he estado aquí en Costa Rica. Yo quiero tomar un momentito para reconocer estes individuales, aunque es muy probable que ellos nunca van a ver esto testimonio (en un blog en que, en general, yo escribo en ingles, jeje). Los siguiente son gente que realmente me han ayudado y me han animado en esto proceso de aprender:

Rosena Guerrero
Lidia Yanez
Maria Ledesma
Professor Starzinsky
Mimi Castillo
Mau Escobedo
Elsa Valverde
Carolina Vargas
ManRi y Blanca Cabezas
Judit Cabezas
Albin Contreras
Yoji Takahashi
Ayde Zuñiga
Roxana Araya
Fiorella Fúster
Maria Chavarría
Roger Brown
Merce Mejía
Michael Muñoz
Marilyn Garcia
Natalia Marín
Daniela Mejía
Mariana Garita
Christina Orozco
Diego Cruz

¡Muchísimas gracias a todos y que Dios los bendiga en cumplir sus sueños!

International Connections

I have been reminded daily this week of the people I have met from all over the world. From breakfast with a Venezuelan/Italian family to dinner with a Canadian family (whose five children are citizens of three countries) to hugs from the Nicaraguan cleaning lady at school to more hugs from a Columbian acquaintance at a Costa Rican church... I am reminded of how blessed I am to have had the experience to live outside the United States, even if just for a few short years. I am reminded of how God has worked on my heart to open my eyes to the perspectives, cultures, and languages of those around me. God is good!!

The Venezuelan/Italian family invited several teachers over for an appreciation breakfast. Adelina (the mom) taught us how to make arepas, delicious corn flour bread that reminded me somewhat of English muffins. Arepas are a traditional food in Venezuela and Columbia. We ate and talked in Spanish and I learned a lot about what not to say in Venezuela :). The kids were all outside playing in the pool while we ate breakfast and when it was time for goodbyes, I got a big dripping wet hug from my recently graduated students, lol.

Then the Canadian family invited several teachers over as well for an appreciation dinner. We ate pasta and caesar salad and chocolate fondue while hearing about the kids' summer vacation dreams, which included Peru and Cuba. Quite the dreamers, these kids. Well, I thought they were dreaming, but seriously, this family has travelled all over the world. In fact, the parents' next dream is to take a few years to sail around the world. With FIVE kids!!!! I admire these modern day hippies that have already lived in Korea, Argentina, and now Costa Rica.

Márcia has been the cleaning lady at Lighthouse now for a couple years. She is an immigrant from Nicaragua and is so grateful for her work at the school that she is always singing and greeting everyone with a smile. (Before I go on, I have to tell you that I easily forget that it's not just the white people that are foreigners here in Costa Rica... there are many dark-skinned people here that are also foreigners.) Márcia came into my classroom on the last day to give me a big hug goodbye and to tell me that she knew my momma was super excited to have me back home because Márcia knew her mom would be equally excited to have her come home. So picture this: she's half my height and hugging me really tight and I'm crying like a baby because I'm sad and happy and any emotion possible and I'm realizing (again) that I'm not the only one living so far away from ''home''.

And Sole from Columbia. Last Sunday was Father's Day here in Costa Rica (just like the U.S.), and in church, the pastor asked all the fathers to come forward. As the dads walked toward the front, Sole (sitting next to me), turns to me and asks if my dad is here at church today. I said no. She put her arm around me and said, ''Neither is mine, but we know they're in God's hands.'' Again, I was reminded that I'm not the only one living so far from home and from family.

So there you have it: a summary of my international encounters this week.



Great news! I have a "next step" already planned for when I come back to the Chicago area. I will be teaching in a 5th/6th grade English Language Learners classroom in District U-46. I will be able to live in Elgin and commute a mere 20 minutes. :)

Thanks to all family and friends for your support and prayers for direction in the next step. God is good!

I posted this on Facebook a couple weeks ago but forgot to put it on my blog! An apology to those of you that check on my blog but are not Facebook users!

Graduation Party

After the graduation ceremony, the kids were excited about our graduation party that night at a classmate´s house. A mom helped me do nearly all of the planning, invitations, food, decorations, etc., and so the planning part was fairly stress free for me :)
It was a blacklight party, so all students came in black and white clothes. We hung the mural to block off the rest of the porch to create a party room.

The flourescent paint glowed with the blacklight. Very cool :).

I was surprised by my students' dancing skills. Then again, I shouldn't have been surprised since most of them have latino blood. In case you didn´t know, latino blood = natural dancing talent. My white Caucasian blood has never experienced this natural dancing talent, lol.

We had lots of food like Doritos, Cheetos, and yummy peanut butter chocolate brownie bites. Nothing like some gringo food for a tico party :).

I think this is the best smile I captured all school year form my shyest student. He has progressed so far in his English speaking since he came from Honduras in October. I am proud of him!

The kids discovered early on that if they popped the balloons that were hanging on the ceiling, there were glowsticks inside. They started making hats, jump ropes, necklaces, bracelets, and hula hoops.

The cake was beautiful and matched our painted mural!

A group photo in front of the mural. 19 of my 22 students were at the party.

And then another hyper group photo. By this point, the boys started throwing each other into the swimming pool while I was waving goodbye to all and leaving all the students for their parents to calm down :).

Fifth Grade Graduation

At Lighthouse, elementary school ends with 5th grade and then middle school starts in 6th, so we had a graduation celebration for the students as they excitedly anticipate being in middle school!
The girls went all out with their cute cocktail dresses.

More excited girls.

And more...

Seriously, all the students looked so grown up!!

Another photo right before we go out for the processional.

The church sanctuary was decorated very nicely. We had to sit straight and tall during the ceremony.

The director, Ms. Head, was on the stage the whole time. Each student had to stand front and center to give their speeches we had practiced millions of times. They all did well and I was very proud! :)

Then after the ceremony, we went outside to release balloons to symbolize our prayers going to God about our future goals and dreams.


Mural Process and Product

Here's what it looked like when the white was finished...

And students starting to paint the black...

And putting on finishing touches...

And again, not everyone had to help...

What it looked like when the black and white were finished...

And then, the best part! THROWING paint! :)

We used yellow, blue, pink, and green flourescent paint so the colors would shine in the blacklight at our graduation party...

And the finished product! :) Cool, huh?


Please Meet the Prop Box

I have a fancy cardboard box that contains any 5th graders' imagination needs...

...for creating ... well, anything!

Preparing for the ''Freeze Frame'' guessing game...

Students dress up and act out a ''freeze frame'' of something we've been studying and the rest of the students have to guess. Here you see Ms. Fúster teaching with freeze frames and my magic prop box during Estudios Sociales class.

And another freeze frame...

...All from this magic cardboard box :)

Lighthouse Art Presentation

Lighthouse had their second annual Art and Music Presentation at the Museo de los Niños in San José yesterday. All teachers and students ran home, showered, and dressed up ''semi-formal'' style to meet just a few hours later at the museum for the final evening event of the school year.
Everyone loves Miss Jen, our school nurse :).

7th grade girls greeting and directing at the entrance.

A view out the door into the downtown area.

And some of my girls patiently waiting for the music to begin.

We're lookin' good :)

And some artwork by 5th graders!

I was actually quite impressed with what students had done!

This student of mine was excited that we had matching pencil skirts :)

The cute son of a co-worker

And the students being goofy as we were leaving.


5th Graders are Very Tall...

This student is the youngest... and the tallest. At 10 years old, he looks me in the eye.

The girls are pretending to be as tall as me. Not quite! :)


Zebra Stripes

This is my classroom ceiling:
In 5th grade, we´ve talked a lot about how we are individuals and how we have different gifts and abilities to complete different goals in life. ''Zebras might look the same,'' I told my students, ''but every zebra's stripes are different. Our 'stripes' are all different too.''

It's fun to imagine what I might do to classrooms in the future... last year it was a jungle, this year it's zebra stripes... next year? :)


Pupusas from the Feria!

Last night, Marilyn, her two friends Ana and Lia, and I all had cravings for pupusas. So we went in search of them... only to find the two restaurants we know of that sell them were closed for the night! We settled for a hot dog place called Perro Loco (I had the Canadian hot dog loaded with cheese, YUM!), and then today Marilyn continued her search while buying fruits and vegetables at the feria. She brought home pupusas stuffed with chicharron (there's no word for this in English??), refried beans, and cheese. And don't forget the pickled cabbage on top.

Dad, this might give you a flashback to when you were in El Salvador! :) Pupusas are typical in El Salvador but have become more popular throughout Central America. I love a good pupusa! :)

So I've been thinking... do I continue this blog after I go back to the U.S.? I mean, I won't be living any Costa Rican adventures anymore, as the title says... So maybe I'll have to do a cultural food blog, lol. Or a teaching disasters blog, lol. Or a what-it's-like-to-live-closer-to-family blog. I'm sure to still have interesting stories... :)