Sunday, December 30, 2012

Costa Rica, Then & Now

We first traveled to Costa Rica in 2002 with Habitat for Humanity. Calling ourselves the "Valentine Brigade" because our visit was in February, we worked for 2 weeks on the foundations of 6 houses. There were, if I remember correctly, 12 of us on the team plus our team leader Mateo. We stayed in a simple rustic place of lodging; it was a former school for deaf children, with dorm style sleeping quarters, bathrooms and a main dining hall in a separate building. There was a small cooking staff that came each morning and each evening to prepare our meals. Lunch was on the fly, at our job sites.

I remember the overwhelmed feeling that caught me completely unaware when we landed in the airport and never fully abated until we were back on American soil. I was made ill by the food, the temperature, and the stress of  facing one more day of being stretched. I was so out of my comfort zone.

Yet, the beauty of the landscape, the sounds and smells, the rain, the sun, and the warmth of the people captured my heart. Despite the constant struggles with nausea and other physical discomforts, despite the pain I was from an undiagnosed rotator cuff injury,(torn just prior to our departure)  and despite the clash of personalities between several of the team mates, I was still so very grateful to be there and experiencing all of it. Especially sharing this experience with my husband.

It was my first time going on an out of the country humanitarian aid trip. We were a mixed group as is common with Habitat for Humanity. Some of the team were staunch Catholics, a few were staunch agnostics. We also had a Jewish family and to round it out, one Christian Reformed, one Charismatic and Bruce and myself, at the time, Presbyterians. It made for some interesting Theology but we were brought together by one common theme: helping those in need through providing adequate housing.

This time I felt much more prepared for the culture shock. In fact I think I can safely say I had no culture shock at all. I knew all about how septic and plumbing works in this country. I knew what to expect food wise and brought my own back up snacks. I knew the people in my group were all born again, Bible believing Christians. I thought I was fully prepared for whatever came our way.

Never think you have it all figured out.

When we went with H-4-H I didn't know what my role would be and I was frustrated by not being able to do a lot of the physical work the job sites required. I hid behind the camera and fetched a lot of tools for my husband. I felt a little guilty about being there, having been sent by other peoples generous contributions, and not feeling like I was pulling my weight. But no one on the team looked down on me. They were appreciative of my documenting each days work.  I found my niche and I did my best to provide encouragement and comic relief.

When we signed up in 2010 to go with our church to Macedonia I again faced that question of what would my role be? I was again struggling with my shoulder (having retorn the right rotator) and knew the physical requirements for the job were not in my bag of tricks. I was elated to learn that my presence as a prayer warrior and photo-journalist were more than enough to earn me a place on the team!

This time, this trip, it was laid out from the onset that I would play the role of recorder. And I did it to the best of my ability. Daily blogging journals, daily uploads of pictures for all our family and friends back home. I was happy to also dig in with sorting clothes for the children and would have gladly helped with food prep and other household chores if it had been asked of me. It was made clear however from the onset that the Tia's working there had a firm grip on the situation and help wasn't really needed. So I happily snapped away.

Someone asked me today if I left my heart in Costa Rica. I smiled but shook my head. No. While the memories of this visit now mingle happily with the first, and the country has its charm, I am and always will be a home girl. And this.... this is my home.

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