Tuesday, January 31, 2012

From more connected to more protected

Most recent news for me here in Costa Rica is that I've moved to a new apartment closer to where I work (and closer to where I was living before). It has been a lot of fun getting settled and experiencing some privacy and quietness, a luxury I haven't had for the past three years I've lived here in Costa Rica. San Francisco de Dos Rios, where our offices are and where I'm now living, is quite different, if you can imagine, from where I was living in La Carpio. 

Part of what I will have to do in these next months is wrap my perspective around a different approach to security, safety, and comfort. I've already been thinking a lot about the differences between where I'm at now and where I was living in La Carpio. Put simply, in a place like where I live now, people feel safe and secure when they are more protected, whereas in La Carpio, safety came from being more connected. I could leave my car parked on the street, at night, without worrying about it being broken into or robbed (well, I worried, but nothing happened). This is doubly perplexing because La Carpio is notorious for delinquent crime and most of the kids on the street knew that my windows open easily from the outside. Here in San Francisco de Dos Rios, a car on the street at night is an automatic invitation for a break-in. I only left my car out on the street once in SF2Rios and it got broken into, combed for everything of value, and then they popped the hood and jacked the battery. Cars are regularly broken into in front of our office and in the web of streets between where I'm now living and where I work, and muggings are pretty common. And yet, this is where all the foreigners flock to live (both latino and anglo foreigners), and they still somehow perceive a place like this to be safer. In some ways, it is, but in many ways, it is not. Each place has its horror stories - I could get robbed or harmed in La Carpio or I could robbed and harmed in San Francisco de Dos Rios - the former seems more "worth" the risk. To take one of my favorite quotes from the devotional I was reading while I lived there, 
we learn that the most dangerous place for Christians to be is in comfort and safety, detached from the suffering of others. Places that are physically safe can be spiritually deadly" (from Common Prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals).
While I was living in La Carpio, I didn't write or discuss much about the experience publicly, because I was fully focused on being present, with minimal analysis. Participant observation and delayed judgment would be the anthropological way to put it. Plus, there were a few other concerns I had about how such a move would be perceived by others, and it turns out they were well-founded. Granted, I didn't have a very reasonable explanation for what I was doing - at least, I didn't bother to build a case for it. Now, however, I'm planning on taking some time these next few months to go back over my journal entries and rehash some of the things I learned and experienced. Moving to live there was probably one of the most radical moves I've made in my life up to this point, but during my devotions I had a great prayer guide that reminded me I was in good company. A lot of things made me confused, uncomfortable, and uneasy. Most of the time, though, I remember feeling quite content, at peace, and almost electrically alive, thanking God for exactly where I was, exactly at that moment. I am still asking myself why I left, if that's the way I felt. I think, though, it was a natural transition point, and I need some time to think and reflect on my time there.

So anyway, for the next few months during my time of solitude (anything feels like solitude after living with 18 people!) I plan on revisiting my journal entries, my notes, and my "research", and finally sharing some of the stories and things that I learned while I lived in La Carpio, including the different reasons why I went to live there and whether it's something I could (should?) do again. I haven't quite decided how I'm going to put all these experiences into words, but it will probably be through entries on a separate blog. If you are interested in following along on that specific experience, please let me know by commenting or sending me an e-mail or a facebook message or whatever, just so I know to keep you in the loop. I will continue to update this blog with general news and stories, but I won't be announcing each time I update the other site.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

This American Life: Part Christmas

Well, I have since returned from 2 weeks in the U.S. for Christmas and some R&R with my Idaho friends and family. I got some much-needed relax-time, and a lot of low-pressure hang-out time with people in the Nampa area. Besides not getting to see everyone, my time there couldn't have gone any better. But overall, I quite enjoyed not having an agenda, a task list, a schedule, and any projects to work on for a short time.

Some highlights of my time in Nampa stand out - I got to see and hang out with Isaac, Rain, and Camden (Hughes) for my birthday, in which I struggled to maintain a positive score in an intense game of Dutch blitz. My cousin Ryan got engaged as well, and I took engagement photos of my brother Camden and his fiancé Habtam. Over the next week I remember lots of food, stories, card games, and an occasional burst of political discourse. I briefly reconnected with the political topics in the U.S. after a several year black-out where I only receive the highlights that make it to local news stations. 

I was hoping for some snowfall, but there was none to be found the whole time I was there, except a brief dusting. The temperature didn't change much at all... just the scale - that is, I went from about 25 degrees Celsius to 25 Fahrenheit. I took a few nostalgic walks through the NNU campus, watching the sparrows and woodpeckers flitter around the cold lifeless trees, and was even surprised by a family of quail in the bushes outside the prayer chapel. The campus felt like a lifeless ghost town during Christmas week, but I amused myself imagining how the shopping cart got into the Elijah drain, and listening to alarms from abandoned dorms strain to resurrect some life out of the empty rooms.

Some other highlights were: developing film with Mark and Kelly in the fine arts darkroom, playing racquetball with my dad at the gym, visiting Jason's secret "writing spot" where we can watch the trains and traffic whiz by below without being detected, and discovering some half-a-dozen hidden geocache treasures. I got to visit the Whosoever Sunday school class that is still going strong with a sum total of probably over a millennium years of wisdom, and see some friends in the ICM International Church. And if that wasn't enough, I got to drop in on a Lord of the Rings marathon on New Years' Eve at Paul and Gracie's, and trek out to some hot springs on the banks of an icy river with my family. And right before I left, I got to attend an MAF team meeting in person, and visit with Brian Ward and his family for a short bit.

Visiting Idaho-home is a mixed-feeling experience, I should point out. It is then that I realize how much I give up to be on the mission field and live overseas, both materially and socially. From day-in to day-out it becomes easy to forget how much my friendships and family time mean to me, but going back is a jarring reminder of how much I miss out on while I'm away. I tend to focus on the exciting things I get to be a part of in Costa Rica, and I truly do thank God for the things I've been able to be a part of, but it isn't without considerable sacrifice. I try not to get wrapped up in how much I give up to be a part of God's work here, but at times I'm reminded, and Christmas time was a big reminder. Not asking for sympathy! Just stating that I have a great group of family and friends that I LOVE spending time with and miss very, very much.

Well, I skimmed over a lot that happened those two weeks, but it was a great, restful time, which I really needed before returning to the daily grind in Costa Rica. Take a look at the following photo album to see some of the other adventures of this Christmas season.