Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Journey through Thankfulness

I found my seat on the plane.  It was in the middle position but in an exit row.  Some people might breathe a sigh of relief to be in the exit row.  But the extra leg room is wasted on me.  In fact, I’d rather be in a row where I can wedge my feet between the seats in front of me and lean against the window.  So I asked the flight attendant if there might be a person with long legs sitting by a window who might like to change with me.  She gave me a look as though this is the first time she had been asked this question.  The man seated next to me remarked that he would have taken me up on that offer in an instant.  His legs were twice as long as mine (and if I weren’t flying to the US, I would have pegged him for a Dutchman).   This exchange led to a 2-hour conversation with my new friend Logan, which means that the flight attendant’s search for a long-legged window-seater turned up negative.  Thankfully!

The conversation started with the typical exchange: Where are you from? Where have you been?  What do you do?  But the responses were anything but typical.  It turns out that Logan is a writer, focusing on travel and technology with an emphasis on the appropriate use of technology.  He has become something of an expert on this after he and his wife conducted a year-long experiment starting in 2001 when they sold their Brooklyn home and moved to Staunton, Virginia to live using only technology that existed before 1900.  You can read about it in his book “SeeYou in a Hundred Years.”  As you might imagine, we had much to talk about. 

As I was recounting my story to him and some of the things I’ve experienced in the past year he made this remark: “You know, as I hear you talk about your experience, I hear you talking about a similar theme that my wife and I experienced as a result of our experiment, and that is “Thankfulness.” 

No kidding.  Thankfulness, indeed.   How can I not be thankful?

Camino de Santiago, Spain - September 2013
I’ve been living like a nomad since I packed up my home in May of 2013 and the journey that has unfolded has been filled with one blessing after another.  As always, I come back to the people.  I’m so thankful for the people that I’ve met along the way who have shared their lives with me, opened their homes to me, guided me on the road and blessed me with fellowship.  As I come upon the one year anniversary of each of my destinations over the past year, I find myself taking a moment to remember the people whom I’ve shared the journey with.  I’m eternally thankful for these people.

Everest Base Camp - October 23, 2013
During this time of travel, I’ve laid my head on more beds/couches/tents/floors/buses than I can count.  Thankfully for eye masks, ear plugs, inflatable neck pillows and the occasional Benadryl, I’ve woken up (surprisingly rested) in some of the most beautiful places in the world.  Did I really get to see the sun rising over the tiny Spanish towns lining the Camino de Santiago, from Everest Base Camp, the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the desert of Israel, the Cordillera Blanca, Machu Picchu, the Cuban Caribbean and the Colombian Caribbean, all in one year?  Yes.  That happened.  So, I’m thankful for the physical ability to be able to have had these experiences and to appreciate the beauty of the Lord’s creation and creativity in each of these places.         

Mount Kilimanjaro - January 5, 2014
And the things I’ve learned along the way have filled me with excitement.  Whether it was learning how to cope with the extreme culture shock I experienced in Kathmandu, or the complexity of life for Israelis and Palestinians, or the culturally rich yet rigid reality of life in Cuba that I am still attempting to wrap my mind around, I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn how the rest of the world goes round.  It’s funny to me how I continue to learn more about these cultures even once I have left those surroundings.  What’s even more exciting is that I believe I will continue to learn and attempt to understand what I have experienced for a lifetime to come.  I’m thankful to be able to take this journey in my mind as well!

Mitzpe Ramon, Israel - January 19, 2014
But really.  It’s not just this season of travel and adventure that I have to be thankful for.  The ten years leading up to this season have been filled with incredible blessings.

I have an incredible community that I have been blessed to share life with in the Vail Valley.  Since my first weekend in Vail in February 2003, I have called Calvary Chapel Vail Valley my home.  I’ve been beyond-blessed by the fellowship I’ve been a part of there and the teaching I’ve experienced from Pastor Tommy.  (And typing this makes me want to be seated in row 5 on the left side in those comfy-blue chairs, worshipping with some beautiful souls in the Valley.)  And this fellowship has led to being blessed by a group of incredible women who have gathered together to share life and life with Jesus every week for years.  (And this thought makes me want to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea in hand and dig into the Word with my Bible Study Beauties).  I’m overflowing with thankfulness for this fellowship, even from afar! 

Cordillera Blanca from Huaraz, Peru - March 2014
I was blessed to find a job (the first and only place I interviewed) at Eagle Valley High School starting in August of 2003. Over the next ten years, I was blessed to spend time with some of the most kind, caring and funny students I could imagine. Many have asked me if I miss the classroom. My response is always that I miss my students, the students I’ve already taught. And I’d love to go back and teach those same students again. A solid majority of my “friends” on Facebook are former students. Over the years, and especially this past year, they’ve blessed me with encouragement for the journey I’m on and for that, I am thankful.

Machu Pichu - April 6, 2014
Let’s be honest.  I have my whole life to be thankful for and that is rooted in an incredibly supportive family.  My parents have cheered for me and prayed for me every step of the way.  Moms continually responds to curious friends asking about concerns for my safety by saying “I gave her up to the Lord a long time ago.”  That is an incredible example of a woman of great faith.  And Pops is my biggest marketing agent.  I know he’s been working when I get a friend request from a person I don’t know whom our only mutual friend is my father.  This kind of support is one I’m sure I take for granted as the alternative (having disapproving parents) is one that would take much of the joy away from this experience.  My brothers and their wives have been great as well.  As they continue on their incredibly successful career paths, they still encourage me, their unconventional sister.  And they are looking out for me.  In the past 3 weeks, Zack and Luke both emailed me with future career ideas.  My initial thought was that my parents put them up to planting these seeds but I’ve been assured that was not the case.  It’s sweet to know that they have my best interest in mind… and know me well.  Both suggestions were intriguing, both in the travel realm, one being a restaurant-tour guide.  (You can read all about it in Luke and Rachel’s blog on their Middle Eastern adventure at WhereAreTheWeavers.blogspot.com). 

Havana, Cuba - April 23, 2014
In my life, I have experienced the provision of the Lord. In abundance. All. The. Time. Actually, I think the Thanksgiving Feast is a perfect metaphor for what I have experienced. Incredible food, meticulously prepared and presented at a full table, surrounded by some of the people I love the most. Truly, I don’t deserve any of it. But I will enjoy it, with great thankfulness.

Costeno Beach, Colombia - October 1, 2014
Thank you for reading my Thankfulness Manifesto.  I hope you find time in this season, no matter your circumstances, to reflect on your own.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Rolling With It

I have been blessed to find a home at the Viñedo de Puntalarga, a beautiful vineyard on a hilltop that has incredible panoramic views of the Valle del Sol (Valley of the Sun) which is in the Boyacá Region of Colombia, about 4 hours from northeast of Bogotá.  I’m living on a VINEYARD!  How cool is that?  And even more so, the family that has taken me in is remarkable.

Panoramic of the Valle del Sol
Doctor Marco Quijano Rico (known by all as “El Doctor”) is a refined Colombian gentleman of four score and one year old.  He is a European-trained chemist who has pioneered the field of cultivating grapes in a Cool Tropical Region to produce high-quality wine, Dry Riesling and Pinot Noir specificially.  He has a great taste for all things aesthetically pleasing and he loves his languages – German, French, Italian and English.  Basically, if you look up “Renaissance Man” in the dictionary, you will find his picture. 

The Doctor has shared life with sweet Sandra – whom the Doctor calls Sandrita for over 20 years here at the vineyard.  (Observation:  Using dimimuatives is quite common: “Diana” becomes “Dianita” or “Little Diana”, “copa” becomes “copita” or “little glass” even “momento” becomes “momentito” or “little moment”.)  Sandra is soft-spoken but uses her words wisely and timely.  She is also well-respected by the girls that work at the vineyard in the tasting room and seems to be a confidant to many.  I look forward to getting to know her better in the weeks to come.     

They are the parents of Marion vid Fiorella (“Marion vine Flower”).  The Doctor often calls her by her full name.  Other times she is just “Princesa”.  Or sometimes she is called “Princesita Marion vid Fiorella, mi amor” for short.  Marion might be the coolest 15-year-old this side of the Mississippi.  There were hints of this early on but my hunch was confirmed over coffee one day in Duitama when we started to talk about music.  I thought it might be a good topic of conversation considering she was wearing a Beatles shirt.  Sure enough.  This chick likes Oasis, Pearl Jam and others that I don’t recall but remember thinking she has great taste in music.  AND, she uses Spotify… the best app around (in my humble opinion) for music streaming.  I have challenged her to the “Top 40 Challenge” (see blogpost “The Joy of Sharing Music”) and anxiously await what she comes up with. 

In addition to this sweet family, I’ve also become friends with a couple of the girls who work here.  I’ve commented multiple times about the incredible staff they have at the vineyard.  There are some seriously awesome chicas here.  So far, I’ve gotten to know two pretty well. 

A few days after arriving, Diana introduced herself in English and told me she would love to practice with me, a common request.   However, she has a little more motivation as she is studying modern languages at a nearby university.  So I practice my Spanish with her and she corrects me.  And vice-versa.  Diana has also taken up rock-climbing this year, something her boyfriend Eduardo has taught her.  This Monday (a holiday) she invited me to join Eduardo and some friends to climb in nearby Gameza.  It was a spectacular day and it felt great to be out on the rock. 


The routes were definitely a challenge, including some slight overhangs which I have never successfully attempted before.  Although “successful” could be defined in different ways, I did manage to make it to the top of both routes I attempted.  
It's been over a year since I've climbed!  Loved it!
With tired arms and aching hands, I was happy to spend the rest of the day watching some crazy and talented and crazy-talented climbers take to the wall.  
Admiring the talent
Wilson was one.  He was introduced to me as someone who has fixed most of the routes on the wall we were climbing.  It was clear that he was pretty familiar with the routes as I’m pretty sure he climbed 6 of the 8 routes a time or two or six in the afternoon he was there.  Willy joined the group a little later on and wowed all of us as he successfully climbed a route that Eduardo had never seen anyone climb before.  We were all impressed.  I also loved that he played House of Pain’s “Jump Around” to get psyched for this challenge.  During the bus ride back to Puntalarga, Diana asked me what I thought of the group.  Again – Colombians continue to amaze me as being wonderful people.  This group just added to the collection of great people I’ve met along the way.   
My Climbing Buddy and Language Practice Friend, Diana

And then there is Laura.  I met Laura on a Sunday morning.  I had intentions of asking about church recommendations the day before but never did.  When Laura arrived, I immediately noted that her phone cover said “YO ❤️ Jesus”.  Then she mentioned something about church.  I asked if she went to church.  She asked if I was a Christian.  I said yes.  She stuck out her hand to shake mine and said she was too.  Laura is one of the fastest Spanish-speakers I have encountered and at first I thought that it might be a tough challenge to overcome.  However, somehow, I manage to catch most of what she is saying.  And to accompany her mile-a-minute talking is her energy.  This girl is finishing up her college degree, works on the weekends, is super involved in her church: teaching Sunday school, participating in a small group and leading another small group – see “Day 5”, and is a major provider for her family.  I can barely keep up, but enjoy trying. 
I've got my soccer jersey.  I think that means I'm officially Colombian. 

So those are a few of the key people in my life so far here at the vineyard.  But in terms of experiences, the overarching theme seems to be “just roll with it”.  Consider the following examples:   

Day 0, 7pm: I’m freshly showered (my first hot shower in over a month!) after the 28-hour journey from Cartagena.  I meet the Doctor for the first time.  After some basic introductions and niceties, I ask him what exactly he has in mind for me during my time here at Viñedo de Puntalarga.  He explains that each year they have a month long wine festival during December and he is hoping that I can help plan the wine festival.  And maybe I can help some with the marketing of the vineyard.  And maybe I could translate the website (www.marquesdepuntalarga.com) into English. Well, this isn’t quite the “working with tourists” box I checked on the workaway form, but I like wine and I like event planning.  I think I’ll just roll with it.

Day 2, 4pm: Gerardo, my fellow party planner, says to me “Vamos!” (“Let’s go!”)  I ask “Where to?”  He says we are going to Sogamoso, the nearest town about 15 minutes away.  I ask why.  He says to meet someone.  Ok.  I had not anticipated this mid-afternoon field trip, right about the time when I was about to “punch the time clock.”  Did I miss something?  The answer: most likely.  My Spanish suffices in almost every situation and I’ve become an expert on picking up context clues, reading body language to determine how to respond to an exchange that I may not understand, as well as carefully watching people’s mouths as they talk to better understand – which makes talking in a car or on the phone very challenging for me.  But still, I know that there are some important pieces of information that I miss out on.  Often times I find myself replaying an exchange over and over in my head to figure out what I missed and sometimes it will hit me in the middle of the night or the next day – and I laugh at my mistake and I’m grateful for the patience of the polite Colombians for the slow Gringa.  (Observation: People are VERY polite.  Everyone responds to other people with “Si, Señor” or “Si, Señora” and often multiple times in rapid succession: “Si, Señor.  Si, Señor.  Si, Señor.”)  Anyway… I get in the car with El Doctor and Gerardo and we go to Sogamoso to run some errands and then sit down at the Doctor’s favorite restaurant, Gula y Lujuria, to discuss details of the upcoming festival.  We didn’t meet anyone.  Just roll with it.   

Day 3, 2pm:  It’s another one of those “everyone get in the car quick and go” situations.  I think I ask where and why but this is the last time that I’ll ask this.  Again, it’s the Doctor, Gerardo and Marion.  This time our destination is Duitama, 15 minutes in the opposite direction of Sogamoso, to run a few errands and enjoy some lunch.  (Observation: Lunch is the main meal of the day.  As a result, dinner is either small or non-existent.  Not too worry.   I’m quite sure I’ll weigh in a few pounds more than when I arrived.)  We walk into a restaurant and immediately go to where a hostess counter might be in the US and instead find an oven where huge hunks of meat have been roasting all day.  The Butcher and the Doctor have an exchange of which I miss most of.   Next thing I know, the Butcher is cutting off big hunks of meat that could surely pass for the USDA standards of your daily meat allowance.  The Doctor, Gerardo and Marion each choose a piece.  I follow suit and enjoy a delicious piece of meat that was either pork or lamb.  The Doctor nods in approval and we are seated to enjoy our lunch.  I thought what we just ate could suffice for lunch but I’m taught that this is what is called “degustacion” or the taste test.  You are served a “sample” size of meat to determine if it is up to your standards before you decide to enjoy a meal at this particular establishment.  Just rolling with it.        

Day 5, 4pm: My friend Laura had invited me to attend a small group of sorts that meets to pray on Monday evenings.  At 2pm, Laura tells me to meet at her house at 4:30 pm.  At 3:30 she texts me to tell me to meet her now but it takes me about a half an hour of texting back and forth to figure out that she means she is ready to go now and not at 4:30.  We meet down the hill from the vineyard and get a ride with a friend of hers to Duitama.  Before the small group, Laura has the apparent task of selling mushrooms (the kind you buy in the grocery store) produced by her brother’s girlfriend whom we’ve just gotten a ride with.  She hands me a bag of about 8 cartons of mushrooms and we proceed to walk around to a few different restaurants and grocery stores she seems to have connections with and in a matter of 15 minutes, the mushrooms are all sold.  We have time to grab a couple of empanadas at her favorite empanada place in town before meeting up with the small group.  

We finally arrive onto the college campus where we join Carolina in an empty classroom for the small group.  The group is small.  It’s just the 3 of us.  But then suddenly the prayer group turns into approaching unassuming students sitting on what might pass for the “quad” and striking up a conversation with the ultimate goal of sharing the love of Jesus.  Evangelism is clearly a gift that Laura has.  It is not one of mine.  I’m rolling with my Jesus-loving homies.   
Sharing the Love of Jesus with a stray dog on the "quad".
I don't usually touch stray dogs but he didn't give me a choice. 

 Day 6, 8:30am: This is the time set each day to join the Doctor and Sandra for breakfast.  By the way – food is delicious and often cooked in the European-style.  And the Doctor is also the Chef.  After a couple of decades spent living in Germany, Switzerland and Italy, he’s mastered the art of European cooking.  And for that I am very grateful.  But there are some occasional twists.  One morning I was served a large slice of avocado with a large sardine resting where the pit should be and garnished with diced tomatoes, green onions and well-seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil.  I’ve never had a sardine.  I’m rolling with it.  And it’s delish.  But there is no time for fish and avocados this morning.  The Doctor tells me I must eat quickly as there is a meeting taking place in Duitama about a topic that he believes I would take some interest in.  No more details are provided.  Just roll with it.  I join he and Sandra for a meeting put on by the Dutch Organization called PUM – or Netherlands Senior Experts.  The meeting consists of a crash course in effective business and marketing practices.  My notes consist of taking pictures on my phone of the rather informative PowerPoint slides that are presented very quickly.  This is followed by a kind Dutch man named Cornelius explaining how the Dutch don’t have many natural resources but they have "know-how" and a bunch of retirees who were bugging their spouses and had spent too much time on the golf course.  These retirees got together to find something else to do.  Result: send retirees with over 30 years of experience to developing countries, partner with a business in this developing country to provide “know how” for a particular area of development that the hopeful entrepreneur may be facing a challenge with.  The retiree donates 2 weeks of their time offering potential solutions for this particular challenge in exchange for a place to sleep and meals.  I’m telling you… this program is brilliant.  Any retirees from the U.S. (possibly my 5-days retired father?) willing to replicate or partner with the Dutch?  Check out www.pum.nl.  The Dutch know how to roll. 

To be clear, I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m stressed out by these unexpected events.  Instead, I find myself shaking my head in wonder at how I ended up in this position.  I’ve found a beautiful setting that reminds me a lot of the Vail Valley in early-September (I’ve named the Valley of the Sun, the Land of Eternal Fall – as they tell me the seasons never change).  Every person I’ve met has been kind and wonderful and welcoming.  And again, the Lord continues to provide for me every step of the way, and in ways that I could never have fathomed or planned myself.  I’m thankful to be experiencing what an incredible adventure it is to walk by faith.  In other words, I’m thankful to be rolling with it.   

This includes doing laundry the old fashioned way