Friday, November 03, 2006

Travels with My Aunt

In this version of the story, the narrator (that's me) is definitely the sketchier of the two. Also, my aunt is actually my aunt. Apologies for anyone who hasn't read Graham Greene's book by that title, and was planning on it. Of course, if I were really sorry, I wouldn't have said anything . . .

My flights to Costa Rica were two of the pleasantest airline experiences I have had in years, and even the layover in Dallas was well-nigh enjoyable. Nice airport they've got in Texas. I mean that part of Texas. So far the only part of Texas I've ever seen--or really care to, at this stage of my life. Even still, I was a little out of sorts when I landed in San Jose. This had more to do with what was going on in my head than with external circumstances.

This, more or less, is what was going on in my head:

I'm in Costa Rica. It's warm, but it's raining. Why did I come to Costa Rica in rainy season? This is my vacation. I went through a whole lot of hassle with these tickets, so this trip better be good. I don't want to have to do anything. But I'm going to stay with my missionary aunt and I said I'd help out. How can I help out? I'm only here for nine days and I only hablo un poquito de espanol. Plus, I don't want to help out. I want to lounge around for an entire week and I want this to be all about me. I want to see pretty scenery and go to the beach and maybe get tan for the first time in probably fifteen years, even though I should never get any sun at all because my dad's side of the family has a history of skin cancer. I don't want to mess with any poverty.


What is wrong with me? I'm supposed to be a missionary, too. I thought I was going to spend my entire adult life in a country where I did not originate. I thought I was going to help poor people. I thought I was going to save the world. Now I spend my life serving specialty usually-caffeinated beverages to yuppies (and one guy who lives in his car, and one bearded lady) and people who used to be yuppies (even if the "y" no longer applies) and I'm disillusioned by it but I've absorbed enough of the culture, apparently, to be self-absorbed and not want to have to do anything inconvenient when I'm taking a break from the culture I've absorbed that I'm sick of. (Don't try to decipher that last sentence, unless you think like me--which, fortunately for you, you probably don't. Just take it as an indication of how my thoughts work, especially when I'm disgruntled.)

Basically, I was feeling a distinct lack of compassion and motivation, and also feeling guilty for the lack.

Auntie Susan and her roommate Sarita have been sharing lodging and working among the impoverished for decades. They arrived, smiling, at the airport and bundled me into their rickety Honda, and I felt even grouchier. These two amazing women represent to me a fate I both admire and dread. They are well-adjusted, mature women, neither of whom have ever been married. They have, nevertheless, deep and purposeful relationships and a sense of community. (At least, it seems that they do.) They love Jesus and follow Him intentionally and are changing the world--their little corner of it. Describing all the nuances of just how that awakens simultaneous longings and terrors in me would be too complicated and boring for anyone not living inside my head, but you can probably intuit the overall reasons behind my internal reactions.

We drove through San Jose for what seemed like ages and probably was. I discovered, in my brief time there, that it is a large city for such a small country, and that there are no quick trips anywhere. Furthermore, the potholes in the country at large make Auburn's roads look like well-funded highways. I wasn't really thinking of the potholes that night, though. Mostly I was just gaping out the window as Sarita trundled the car along and Auntie Susan in the back seat told me what I was looking at. The city was busy, and both foreign and familiar. I could understand what I was reading on the signs--sometimes because they were in English, but sometimes because I seem to have more Spanish packed away in my subconscious than I realised. They kept telling me what things meant, and most of the time, I already knew. San Jose seemed like a place I had never been before (even though I had, when I was 2 and 5), and also like all the cities I've seen all over the world.

Finally we reached the part of it called San Pedro, which was more residential, and then we arrived at Sarita's house. We were barked at by Canela and Chipis, the two slightly-larger-than-large-furry-slippers dogs who take up residence there, dodged the raindrops through the garden to the door, and entered the warm and homey interior. Dinner was ready and waiting, and I was still hungry for it, even though I had eaten about five times already that day. I don't know why traveling makes me so famished and exhausted, when I don't actually do anything all day. Plus there were fresh avocados. And Auntie Susan is a good cook.

After we ate, my body said it was 11.30, even though there it was two hours earlier, so I went to bed.

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