Monday, January 21, 2013

You've Got Mail!

You've got mail!!

But you can't just go to the post office and pick it up. No, you must first call immediately after receiving the notice on your doorstep (or church office/apartment complex). After calling, you will be given an email, which you might or might not understand, depending on how well you know the language. You will be expected to send a copy of your passport to this unidentifiable email, with little assurance that it will actually reach the attendant at the post office. After having the email return to you twice, and calling the post office again and again to confirm the email (turns out you had spelled the strange word incorrectly!), you will wait impatiently for two days until finally you receive a response, asking for the package code.

Following this message, the post office will confirm that you are indeed the recipient of the package (as if you didn't know already!), and an official will call you with yet another number that you must use to retrieve the package, within a certain limit of days. From there on out, you must wait the 48 hour processing period in order to go to the post office and pick up the package. Thankfully, they called on a Saturday, and you are going to Quito the following Monday. On this day, you go to the post office, submit the code and the ridiculous customs fee, and after waiting only 15 minutes, finally have the package in your hands. Hallelujah!

This is something like my experience trying to receive a Christmas package from my family. It took three weeks to process, and on the 14th of January, I at last have the box. Por fin! It's a bit frustrating. Well, more than a bit. But I'm learning to have patience, despite the inefficiency of public offices, and especially the postal system, here! And thank you to all my family who sent me lovely gifts for Christmas! Just next time, send something less than 4 kilograms. Por favor. :)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Climb Every Mountain!

I've recently been meditating on this song from The Sound of Music, both because it's my favorite movie and because it seems to apply to my life today.

Climb every mountain, fjord every stream! Follow every rainbow, until you find your dream! A dream that will need all the love you can give, every day of your life, for as long as you live!! 

Since coming to live in Romerillos, I have faced many challenges, both physically (new living conditions and daily routine), emotionally (living alone, not knowing my role here), and spiritually (feeling distant from God, doubting my ability to be a light in the darkness). These abstract mountains at first loomed in front of me so huge I thought I could never overcome them. But gradually, I felt God's presence here with me. I began to find little joys in the mundane, everyday life: seeing the smile of a girl as she understood her English homework, receiving daily visits from an adorable little girl (she said she just didn't want me to be all alone!), looking out my window to see the gorgeous mountain view, stopping to talk with women on my way back from buying bread, successfully running the first day of tutoring, having a great meaningful talk with the pastor. I'm beginning to feel more at home here.

At times I am like the salt that gets thrown into the cake by mistake. Out of place. The extranjera. Foreigner. Almost daily I get those what-is-that-white-girl-doing-here stares. But it no longer takes me by surprise. I just smile and explain why I'm here, and that I'll be staying for a year, not just coming for a week for some feel-good trip and back to my home. And they understand. They relax and begin to open up. Friendships form.

Recently I have seen God's hand in my work here. This week for the first time I actually sort of had a normal routine. Two days we had the after-school tutoring program, two days I taught English, and one morning I helped at the childcare center. It never ceases to amaze me how people can have so much hope in me when I don't know what I am doing. I am really not a teacher. I am really not qualified to start an after-school program. I have no idea how to lead a youth event. Yet despite my doubts, God is using me in mysterious ways. My prayer is that every day I would be willing and obedient to serve in the ways in which He has called me.

So I will climb every mountain. Yes, there will be barriers, there will be struggles. But I won't give up.

I will give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.
The God who brought me to this beautiful place, his love endures forever.
Who is teaching me something new every day, his love endures forever.
Who gives me patience when it's tested to the max, his love endures forever.
Who shows me how to teach in a loving way, his love endures forever.
Who keeps me warm at night in this cold climate, his love endures forever.
Who sends me friends when I am lonely, his love endures forever. 
Who guides my every step, his love endures forever.

(Inspired by Psalm 136)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Christmas: a Season of Celebration

A few weeks ago, I was really bummed about Christmas because I knew I would be away from my family. I figured I would sit at home and do nothing, as people in my pueblo don't really celebrate apart from the Christmas service at church. In Quito there are Christmas trees, nativity scenes, lights, the whole works, but here when I ask people what their Christmas plans are, they say "sin novedad", meaning without novelty, in other words, nothing different or special. It makes me kind of sad. I decorated a bit in my apartment and listened to Christmas music to get in the spirit, but I couldn't help feeling homesick as the final days of December approached.

At the mall in Quito

In the midst of preparing two Christmas programs, I began to realize all of the commercialism we associate with Christmas in the United States. Santa Claus, bright lights, candy, Rudolph, etc. I definitely won't deny that I love this part of Christmas (especially the music!) and it gives me a warm feeling inside. However, I think the warm feeling truly comes from seeing families together, singing carols, worshiping our newborn Savior, remembering the nativity scene and what it signifies. Without this, all the decorations and gifts to show our love would be worthless. No matter who we're with, we can celebrate the beautiful season of God's greatest gift to us.

This Sunday we had the Christmas worship service at my church here in Romerillos. We sang a couple of Christmas songs, lit the Advent candles, and the pastor shared a wonderful message about Jesus' birth. Afterwards I had planned a simple program for the kids. We only had about 10, but they enjoyed it. We sang Christmas songs, made a wreath craft with stickers, and watched a short movie about the nativity story. Then we chatted a bit and gave the kids gift bags. I think it was a good start to doing more programs with the kids in the future. We want to start next year doing an event each Saturday afternoon. Here are some pictures of what we did:

Last Saturday, I still didn't have plans for Christmas. Then my friend Rebeca who helped with the kids in El Prado invited me to come with her to Santo Domingo, where her family lives. I was very grateful for her invitation, and decided to go with her. I stayed with her family through Christmas Day, and though it was still a very different Christmas, it was good. Santo Domingo is in the coastal region (not on the beach though), so it is hot and humid. On Christmas Eve we had a turkey dinner, complete with rice and what they call Russian salad (which is basically potatoes, carrots, and peas mixed together, served warm). That day we went to the river and walked around town a bit, and didn't get back until 5:30, only then putting in the turkey to bake. Hence dinner was served promptly at midnight. Hehe. On Christmas Day we went to the mall and the movies (a new experience for me, since these places are not open on Christmas in the U.S.!). In addition to getting to know Rebeca's family, I got some cuddle time with two cute kitties. All in all, 'twas a jolly holiday!

Rebeca and I at the river

Cool lizard that ran across my feet!

Rebeca with her nieces and me

With Clara, the kitty :)