29 May 2011

Butterfly Moments

Thursday the sky had been working up to a rain all day.  By the time I was walking home from the Institute in the late afternoon the light was beginning to fade, a low blanket of grey clouds hung over the city, and the normally colorful neighborhood seemed to have absorbed the monochromatic pallor of the sky. The weeds along the sidewalk, the trash in the streets, all seemed to add to the general dreariness of the day. I walked quickly towards home, staring at the grey sidewalk to avoid tripping on some chunk of concrete or falling into a gringo trap (more on those later). That’s when it caught my eye balancing on a piece of litter in the weeds along a vacant lot: a small butterfly so brilliantly blue that it seemed to produce its own light. I stopped in my tracks and bent to examine it. It would have been beautiful at any time, but the grim grey day seemed to provide the perfect backdrop for the butterfly’s luminescence. I could tell it was injured and I as I held out my finger, it climbed on, slowly shifting its wings. The tiny miracle poised on my finger, a gorgeous shimmering spot in a drab world. My friend accompanied me as far as the corner before it fluttered awkwardly to a nearby clump of grass and hid itself among the blades, and I walked the rest of the way home alone, smiling.

Just a few days before, when discussing a butterfly garden, I had told Brittany that while I thought butterflies were nice, I had never been impressed by them. 

Dolly Parton and I do not see eye to eye on butterflies.  
But this one…this one impressed me.

Life here in Costa Rica is pleasant. I have a comfortable home with a very nice Tico family. I am surrounded by friendly likeminded Americans. We have access (albeit it expensive access) to most anything we could need. But after being here five weeks things have settled into a routine, and there is a certain monotony to this season of language learning. Here’s a look at my typical weekday:

5:15am- Wakeup because the sun is pouring in and the other family members are already up and making noise. Go back to sleep.

6:00am- Wakeup for real. Quiet time, check email, get ready for the day while watching Foxnews.com videos and catching up on the world.

7:00am- Breakfast. I want a cup of coffee. Instead, I am fed a bowl of cereal, fruit of the day, glass of juice…and coffee. I try to cram it down while making conversation with my Tica mom in Spanish, and usually learn something about a family member’s life that makes me wonder if she isn’t just pulling plot lines from a telanovela.

7:20am- Walk the 5 blocks to school.

7:30am- Conversation class starts with a prayer in Spanish. We discuss directions, household objects, and very useful things like the word for “chef’s hat” (el gorro) or a “large paintbrush” (la brocha).

8:25am- Phonics class starts with reading a passage from the Bible (in Spanish of course). We practice over-pronouncing our vowels and appropriately slurring our words together. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, we play hangman.

9:30am- Break time. Tuesdays and Thursdays we have an optional chapel service which is always nice. The other days we hang out and chat, study, have a snack, or grab a quick nap.

10:20am- Grammar class starts. We try to learn the difference between the 6 different verbs that Spanish has that mean “to be,” and strain to remember the long list of exceptions to every rule we’ve learned.

12:00pm- FREEDOM! Head home from school and hope we beat the rain.

12:15pm- Lunch with my Tica mom and her 11-month-old grandson, Matias. We chat about my day, but mostly I make silly faces at Mati and my Tica mom tries to get him to identify where the parakeet is. (It’s been at least a month and he has yet to even look at its cage. I don’t think he cares about the bird.)

12:45pm- The rest of the afternoon is spent in various combinations of sleeping, reading, studying (maybe), Skyping, jogging, editing photos, zumba class, and eating oreos (they are the one American snack cookie readily available so I keep a stash on hand).

6:30pm- Dinner time with my Tica mom again. Usually the conversation involves how ridiculously hot it has been that afternoon and what funny thing Mati did. She sometimes feeds me bizarre things like a green bean omelet or neapolitan ice cream with cherry jello, but for the most part the food is good.

7:00pm- See “12:45pm” above.

We do have opportunities to serve on the weekends and do some exploring, 

We got to explore Sarchi, the town famous for the colorful painted ox carts that many associate with Costa Rica. Beautiful artwork!
but the day in and day out routine can get a bit mundane, especially with so much down time and when we’re anxious to be on to the next part. But, like that grey day helping me to appreciate the remarkable beauty of that butterfly, sometimes the commonality and sameness of everyday life can help us appreciate the humor and joy in little things that we might otherwise overlook in busyness. 
Here’s a few recent “butterfly moments" (and yes it bothers me to call them that because it's quite a bit girlier than I am comfortable with, but it seems to fit so I'm just going to go with it):

-If you haven’t gathered from my facebook posts and pictures, it rains a lot in Costa Rica this time of year. Generally in the morning it’ll be sunny and dry, but by lunch the clouds are building up and moving down off the mountains, and then by mid-afternoon or early evening it’s raining. I love the rain, and hopefully will STILL love the rain by the time we leave in August. One afternoon a week or so ago it was sprinkling when I left the house to walk back to school for a zumba class taught by a fellow student. About a block away from the home, the skies opened up and the gentle mist turned into a torrential downpour. My umbrella provided little protection from the wind-driven rain and within a minute I was drenched…and grinning like a fool. I laughed uncontrollably all the way to school, and was thankful that there was no one else out on the streets. If the Ticos could have seen me sopping wet and giggling I’m sure it wouldn’t take long to get the reputation in the neighborhood as the crazy gringa. (Although, there’s plenty of competition around here for that title. So many gringos live in the area they call it “Gringo-landia.”)

-Facebooking the other evening I was reading a status update of one of my translator friends in Haiti who normally writes in French or Creole. I read it and about half way through realized that while I was understanding it fine, something was weird about the French. I thought perhaps it was creole and read it again, but I knew that wasn’t right either. I could NOT figure out what was wrong with this French! And the simple reason was…it was in Spanish. One month and I can no longer differentiate between the languages…oy vey!

-In that same vein, last night I was walking up the front steps and my Tico dad was at the kitchen sink and called out a greeting to me. I replied with a very cheery… “Bonsoir!”
Bonsoir? Really?! I can carry on a decent conversation in Spanish now (the verb tenses and gender agreement are often wrong but you can get the point) and I still randomly pulled out a French greeting. I was really hoping that the running water drowned it out or that he would think I did it intentionally just trying to add a little international flavor (like I need more of that!?).

-I was introduced to Hillsong in Spanish and it’s awesome. I mean, Hillsong in English is great, and I loved when they would do bilingual worship at Hillsong Paris, so I shouldn’t be surprised. I highly recommend downloading the albums: “Con Todo” and “Unidos Permanecemos.”

-Last week we visited church with some other staff members and the Spanish song that they sang during their “welcome time” was to the tune of “Red River Valley.” Many of the churches we have visited use primarily English hymns and praise songs translated.

-In grammar class we are constantly having to make up sentences to practice whatever rule we are learning. It gets tedious after a while writing sentences about situations that you would likely never have to discuss in real life. I entertain myself by writing a great deal of my sentences about llamas. My favorite of this week: “The llamas are mad because they are in a pen and are not playing on the hillside.”

This llama IS playing on the hillside. But he is still mad... and also considering eating that family. 
There are a lot of those moments, the little things that just make you smile or appreciate something simple. I am trying to learn to live with more gratitude and I pray that I will be aware of and thankful for the small "butterfly moments" that fill each day. What little things are you thankful for today?

*Thank you so much for your continued prayers and encouragement. I say it a lot, but it really does make a difference! Please be in prayer for us that we will continue to learn the language quickly, that we will be sensitive to the needs and opportunities around us, for a deepening hunger for God, that we will develop strong team relationships, and for continued health and safety. Also be praying for my good friends at home, Rachel and Velyn, who are preparing for extended trips this summer to serve in East Asia and Africa, respectively!*

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