Monday, June 20, 2011

¡feliz cumpleaños a mi esposa!

I married a fixer. A problem solver. Quite the innovative man. I didn’t realize the full extent of this characteristic until more recently, when Chris put an end to a longing I was having to bake. (The stove top skillet oven just wasn't the same...) No, he didn’t go out and buy an oven or anything like that…he BUILT me one. Nor did he spend any money; he made it with the natural materials around our place. Yes, I'm serious.

When I discovered the birthday surprise he was planning (it's not something easily hidden from view), I couldn’t believe that he was really going to take on such a task. Well, after hours and hours, tons of sweat, many experimentations with clay/sand ratios, endless hauling of sand, sticky digging of clay, mixing the ingredients, etc…voilà! A clay oven just outside our bungalow. As if our place wasn’t cool enough before!

To give you a glimpse of the process, I documented it with photos.
#1: Constructing a shelter (built with bamboo
and string he found on the beach and banana tree leaves)
#2: Making the foundation (rocks gathered
by the bucket from the road to our place)

#3: Laying the top of the foundation
(sand, clay, water mixture)

#4: Designing the base (ceramic tile pieces found
on the side of the road or in junk piles)

#5: Filling it in with "grout" aka clay = awesome mosaic

#6: Shaping the sand to make the form
(brought up from black beach, thus it's black sand)
#7: Forming the clay mixture over the sand
(mixture was made "crushing wine grapes" style- with the use of our feet!)
#8: Smoothing the surface of the oven and shaping the molding around the opening
(Chris used his hands and the wooden tool pictured that our neighbor lent to him)

#9: Firing it! Building the first fire to complete the drying process
(with wood he found by tromping through the forest)
#10: Building a door (more clay and junky tools for the handles-
leaning on the left side of the oven)

#11: Baking. Our first trial attempt using the leftover heat from the firing.
(Not quite hot enough to brown the bread but it was still good!)
Once he finished this thoughtful gift, it was time to bake. And bake we did! We had a whole day dedicated to it, as it's quite the process- no flipping the switch and sliding in an electrically-mixed dough. No...this is as "from scratch" as it gets. Before we start we decide the line-up; because it's such a process you make several things per time we fire and then the baking is done for the week. Does it work successfully? I'm delighted to say, absolutely! We've fired it 3 times and experimented with several things. Of course...more pictures!!

As Chris starts the 2 1/2- 3 hour process of firing & heating it up...

...I prep the goodies (I have the better job in my opinion! :)

French Bread
We definitely had to eat a decent
portion of baked goods of course.

From scratch and delicious.
Sourdough-made w/a homemade starter,
not store bought-thanks to my Biologist Husband

Banana bread made with bananas from
the tree Chris chopped down recently.

Dinner rolls/Biscuits
Can you tell we're having fun? :) It's much more than having an oven and baking capabilities- it's now a hobby. (Some things not pictured: granola, mall pretzels, and lots of loaves of bread) We have time to teach ourselves and experiment with how to make different foods from scratch, which is something we definitely never had time to do in college, nor after we graduated. There are so many things we are learning by just slowing down, getting away, and being curious and creative.

Needless to say, I'm blown away by such a thoughtful and intentional gift from my sweet Husband. Christopher has already made my upcoming birthday (June 27th) so very special, and despite being apart from our friends and family, it'll be one to remember.

Thanks for sharing in my fun birthday surprise!


Monday, June 6, 2011

Jesus Loves the Little Children, All the Children of the World

Our 2nd graders

     It’s now officially been the longest we’ve ever been out of the USA and also since we’ve seen our family. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here for 5 months now! The time is going by quickly for sure, and we know that it will only keep going faster, especially as we look forward to having family visit in a few months from now.

Life in the Caribbean has been just beautiful lately. Although the rainy season supposedly started a month or so ago, we haven’t noticed much of a change. Sure, a rainy day here or there, but nothing near as bad as we’d thought. Living in the rain forest means that the rain’s schedule is more convenient to live with. It typically rains in the evenings, making a lovely pitter patter on our roof, or making it so we have to yell to each other to top the noise of the pouring rain.

Last weekend we had the company of two friends who are currently living in the San Jose area, but  hale from the States. They caught a glimpse of the beauty we’re surrounded by, like the monkeys who were hanging out (literally) right outside of our place for most of the day on Sunday, the white and black-sand beaches, and the gorgeous foliage we call our yard. They were also able to experience the vast temperature difference between the Central Valley and the Caribbean-I think they were looking forward to sweating a bit less upon returning to San Jose. : ) One of the highlights of the weekend for us was teaching them the card game Pinochle (yes, the game that is played by mostly older generations, but it‘s seriously addicting!), and spending time with friends our own age. Considering that we spend most of our time with 7 & 8 year olds or 65+ year olds, it was just fun.

As for a not-so-fun thing that happened, several keys on our keyboard decided to stop functioning on our laptop. We attribute it to the humidity and are going to be leaving it on more of the time to keep it dry enough. Thankfully we found a cheap external keyboard that we can just plug in, so I’m appreciatively using it to type this blog.

We received our first pieces of mail this week!!! A graduation announcement and letters from George Fox friends back home were the highlight of my day on Monday. I don’t think we’ve ever been so excited for mail, but then again, we’ve never been without it for 5 months either. Thank you so much to you thoughtful friends of ours!

Some random observations as of late to share with you:

  • We have yet to see a lawn mower here which is probably because there is very little grass, at least what we think of grass. So, weed eaters or machetes are used when needed! Those poor souls who have to bend over cutting grass with a machete!
  • Three weeks ago it rained so hard that our landlord (whom we‘re fondly calling “neighbor” now) measured 6 inches of rain in ONE HOUR! We learned that he never has to fill his pool; the rain generously does that for him. We love watching it from our deck as it comes down in sheets. Then again, it wasn’t as fun to watch when we had to walk home in it from the “downtown” of Cahuita. We were soaked from head to toe by the time we arrived…despite the fact that we had an umbrella.
  • We’re becoming vegetarians to avoid the high meat prices. However, we will definitely start consuming it upon our return to the States. We’re also boycotting the expensive yogurt, all the cheeses we miss that are similar to those in the States, and we mostly use milk in its powdered form to cook with.
  • I have no idea what I’ll do with all of the kitchen utensils, pots, and pans that we have in boxes in the States. Here kitchen items double or triple in usage. My apron (which I never even used in the States) is also my pot holder; our glass cutting board is also a lid for the large skillet; and two pans with the cutting board = my oven! I am delighted to say that I’ve made several things in my makeshift oven and they are wonderful “tastes from home.” Skillet bread, banana bread, biscuits (the best so far!), and even brownies (which we ate but I probably wouldn‘t have served)! It’s a great way to get us through until we have an oven once again someday… It’s the little things in life, right? ;)
  • One stop shop? Never heard of it here. We’re finally getting to know the best places for each item on our shopping list, although the prices fluctuate a ton here! What took us 15 minutes to find last year in Oregon definitely takes a minimum of 1 hour while in Limon.
  • Personal appearance is big here. Matching outfits go so far as to be all one color from head to toe, including accessories, purses, and glasses! Bright colors are often worn and coordinated with perfectly. I’ve seen more turquoise, purple, and yellow shoes than I have brown. 
  • There aren’t zoning laws for businesses and residences, so they are very intermixed. However, most homes sell something from their deck or front door (ice, bread, spices, coconut milk, or homemade ice creams), so it comes in quite handy for them!
  • Curb appeal? Quite the opposite. Most homes either use walls, gates, or fences made from thick plant growth to hide the place. Or, the outside receives very little upkeep to avoid catching the attention of robbers. We’ve seen some private oasis’ when the gates were open and we would’ve had no idea.

As for our little kiddos:
We think it’s about time for an update on our students and how teaching is going! Well, ever since exams a couple of weeks ago the whole teaching piece has been rather tumultuous. It started when the 2nd grade teacher became so ill she missed 2 weeks of school. Instead of getting a substitute to cover for her, they just had the 2nd graders move their desks and materials to join the 6th graders. So, when we had English or Science class, they would turn their desks around and we’d imagine the room was split in half. Thankfully we could borrow a chalk board (it had been a while since I‘d used one of those!) and I used the top of a bookshelf as my temporary desk for my materials. It was during this setup that one day’s English class became unbearable to continue. The students were so disrespectful and the lack of classroom management (and/or discipline) was overwhelming. Long story short, English class only went for half of the scheduled time for the day and I left drying my eyes and with a new resolve to establish a much-needed change in that department. The good news is that a few weeks later it’s working, even if only in our classes. We were hesitant about starting something that wasn’t going to be used school wide, and only in place while we were teaching, but it’s been the best thing since mango sunrises! It’s amazing how the same students who can demonstrate such awful behavior can so quickly rise to the occasion when they have some sort of accountability and structure to work within.
Yuliana was the student of the week; the cards are for the new behavior system;
the points are received for answers in English.
On the contrary to their unruly behavior, they can really be quite darling! Plus, the last couple of weeks they have just been awesome and we’re able to enjoy each other so much more. When we arrive in the mornings we have about a half hour before we start teaching. I typically end up walking by their classroom at some point during this time since it’s along one of two walkways, and since they don’t have doors during the day (only pull-down metal doors that lock when they day is done) they inevitably catch a glance of me trying to discreetly pass. This is always a hopeless attempt and I’m immediately greeted with a group of 7 & 8 year olds yelling, “MRS. SAVAGE!!” This is just sweet in itself because they’re excited to see me, but it’s also special to hear my name, because it’s so rare to hear an actual teacher’s name instead of “Nina.”

Shiwai is constantly calling us his “Mami y Papi” for who knows what reason, and we receive the following questions and statements from our students on a weekly basis. “If I were your daughter/son… What would my name be? What would we do? Where would we go? How would this be? Can we come visit your house in Cahuita? I wish I were your daughter/son!” ect. We assure them that we’d adopt them all in a heart beat if the need arose, and we proceed to paint a picture of what we imagine life would be like with children. I think the idea that we would consider having children that don’t “look like us,” aka, have white skin and brown or blonde hair, was a stretch for them at first because they’re very observant of race and color. In fact, they describe people by using their skin color quite often, and they regularly comment on Shiwai being “Chino” or of Chinese heritage. I often tell them that it doesn’t matter in the slightest and we love them all just the way they are. This usually spurs on a huge group hug and clinging children as they profess their love for us and how they never want us to leave. How could we not love them, really?! : ) They see a more playful side to us than they do from other grown ups in their lives, because there isn’t a lot of playing that occurs between parents and children in this culture. Perhaps we will arrange a time for them to visit us in Cahuita at some point this year after all.

As for the academic side of things, I am very encouraged by the amount of English they understand and can speak now. There is obvious improvement and they’re excelling in their exams. I’m sure it’s tricky for the kids when they hear one version of English at home or on the streets, and then another in class when it’s English from the States. I always love when they attempt to explain things in English, and especially on their own accord. This week Argelyn responded to my question with, “She said she soon come.” This is a classic example of the English spoken here. In the States it would be considered terrible grammar, but here it’s the correct way, and the way we speak it is hard for them to understand at times. (To get a better idea of what it sounds like, just listen to some Bob Marley.) Their attempts can also turn into fun quotes. Denskel told me, “I’m goin’ to take a relax,” as he flopped down on the floor and folded his arms behind his head for a pillow. I could only laugh at the time, and now it’s one of the lines we most often repeat to each other.

We recently decided to “interview” each of them and find out some of their dreams, hobbies, and favorites in life. It was insightful and humorous as we went along.

Here are the following questions and each students‘ answers:
1. What do you want to be when you grow up?
2. Favorite hobby or sport?
3. If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?
4. Favorite food?
5. Favorite English word?
6. What would you want to do if you visited the States?
7. Favorite color?
8. What would you wish for if you had 1 wish?

Occupation: Professional soccer player
Hobby: Playing soccer and basketball
Animal: Cheetah! No…dolphin!
Food: Oranges and chicken
English Word: Mrs. Savage! (I was completely caught off guard by this one and burst into laughter as he grinned from ear to ear. His 2nd favorite? Mr. Savage…naturally!)
States: “I want to touch the snow and go to Hawaii. Aloha!”
Color: “Sky Blue”
Wish: A world where no one does bad things, no one kills, and there is no trash.

Occupation: Doctor, because I want to help other people.
Hobby: Riding my bike and doing karate
Animal: A Chick
Food: Cereal
English Word: Long and Short
States: I want to see snow.
Color: Blue
Wish: Have a green automatic car.

Occupation: “This is my dream: I want to go to space and I want to be an astronaut.
Hobby: Playing the violin and doing gymnastics
Animal: Dog
Food: Sopa de Magi (We‘re not sure what this is exactly, but some type of soup.)
English Word: Be quiet (They tell this to each other often to avoid losing points during the day.)
States: “I want to make snow angels.”
Color: Pink
Wish: Have a happy family, a pretty car, and be popular in school.

Occupation: “I want to be a veterinarian.”
Hobby: “Playing with my gameboy and barbies.”
Animal: Dog
Food: Strawberries
English Words: Mr. Savage and thank you
States: I want to see snow and my family that lives there.
Color: Pink
Wish: Have a family and a red automatic convertible.

Occupation: Soccer player so I can get a lot of money
Hobby: “I like to skateboard.”
Animal: Cheetah because they can go really fast. No…a turtle!
Food: Pineapple (I told them they were all such healthy kids, picking fruits!)
English Word: Sky Blue
States: I want to be cold.
Color: Blue
Wish: Have a dark gray Revington Lamborghini

Occupation: Police officer because I want to catch the guys that steal at the store.
Hobby: “I like to do gymnastics.”
Animal: Cat
Food: “Cookies!”
English Word: “She is fat.”
States: I want to see my Uncle and play in the snow.
Color: Brown
Wish: Have a pretty, organized family.

Unfortunately, Aaliyah wasn't there the day we took pictures (she was sleeping apparently...). Chris offered to make up answers for her, but I think we'll just try to post hers on a later blog. :)

That's enough for now I think. We could always use prayer for our work at the school and each of the kiddos. Also, for the small church we attend in Cahuita-for the congregation and for the children's ministry which is struggling. Thanks for reading and sharing in our adventure!

Our next blog? Chris' birthday gift/project to Jenn!!
Excellent photography: Christopher

Dios les Bendiga!