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Monday, February 08, 2010

Jack and the Beanstalk

Dec 21/09

I stared down at my phone, unable to really believe the message someone had just sent me through SMS.

"Angelina....are you sure you've translated this correctly?"

It had taken me a moment or two to decipher the text message that had been sent to me 10pm at night while I was on my way back to the residence after dinner with a friend. After a year of studying spanish and 3 months in Buenos Aires, I had become reasonably fluent in the language. But still, I had a hard time absorbing the messaging I was reading on the SMS. I read the message 3 or 4 times to make sure I was translating it right. It appeared to be an invitation for dinner on Christmas Eve.

"I've already spoken with my father and he said that it would be no problem if you wanted to come for dinner on the 24th"

On a normal basis, there would be nothing strange or unusual about getting a message like that from a friend. But this wasn't quite what you or I would consider a friend. The story goes back to Thursday nite at church when I arrived for the weekly group that goes on. But tonite, a huge surprise would await me. The leader took me aside and said, you're going to advance on into another group from now on. She gently led me to the upstairs into a huge room with several different groups. She took one of the girls aside and explained that I was their latest addition and left me there. Part of me did not want to be there. I had gotten very fond of my last group leader and she was very fond of me. But I knew that as a Christian and as a language learner, it was good for me to be not get stuck in my comfort zone. And just because I'm not in Marisa's group anymore doesn't mean that we can't sit together or chat or spend time together. We still are in the same building and part of the same church after all.

So I introduced myself to this new group of girls and they were very pleased to meet me. It was quite obvious that this group of girls, their spiritual maturity level better suited me than the last group. The church has a system that where you first join, they put you in a basic group where we chat about the foundations of our faith. Then as the participants show maturity and growth, they put them in a group that would better fit their level of spiritual growth. It turned out to be a great evening and by the end of it, I was already starting to feel comfortable and happy. I ended up giving away my cell phone # as I normally do. It would be a move that would later yield some very interesting results.

Later, I offered to accompany Marisa for part of the way as she made her way to the bus stop after the weekly church groups had finished. She gladly accepted and off we went. We had a lovely chat as we walked along. Somehow in our chat, the subject of Christmas came up and she asked me what my plans were. I said that I probably wouldn't be doing anything. She looked shocked! She asked me if I was always on my own. I didn't know how to explain the complicated dynamics of my very broken and dysfunctional family but I promised her that one day soon, I would explain my background. It was then that she said that on Christmas, she will be at the house of her mom and that I was welcome to come. I was abit surprised because normally I am just prepared to be happy and content being on my own for Christmas so I didn't know how to respond to her. I told her that it was kind of new to me and normally I don't get offers of this sort. Truth be told, she caught me off guard and I didn't know what to say. But I told her that she was very kind of her to be so considerate of me.

Soon we reached the point where we had to part so we kissed each other good bye Argentinean style and went our seperate ways. Normally at Christmas time, everyone just wants their space with their families. It was so new and exciting to be in a culture where people are just so open and upfront. Little did I know that this would not be the only experience I would have with the directness of the Argentinean culture. I think one of the biggest cultural differences that is different from Canada is that Argentineans don't worry as much or get concerned about crossing another persons line or offending another person.

Don't get me wrong, they are extremely polite and respectful as a culture. But if they want something from you or something would mean alot to them or anything having to do with their relationship with you, they make their feelings obvious. They don't just sit and not say anything in fear of what the other person is going to think. They are not a culture that you ever have to walk on eggshells or cut through red tape when you want to get your message far as I know. Here is a good example, it was about a week ago that I was talking with Eduardo about his birthday celebration and truth be told, I was being very blasé about it. People who know me do know I can get a little non-chalant about things. And when I do get that way, I really appreciate friends who are gentle but firm with me and aren't at all going to let me get away with being blasé.

I was saying "Well, we'll see. I don't know if I can come to your birthday because I am coming back from Iguazú that every day and I might be tired...blah....blah...blah"
Now in some circumstances in Canada, the other person might really want me to come but don't want to express it in fear of offending me. And they'll be like "OK Angelina.....whatever you want. No pressure. We love you no matter what." But you know what? I actually love it in the Argentinean culture that they are clear about their feelings and you don't have to guess. I will never forget the way Eduardo looked at me. I could tell he really wanted me to come. He wanted everyone to share in the joy, happiness, and positivity that would be there during the celebration.

So I tried giving a more affirmative but still non commital reply like "OK, I'll try my best to come". That still didn't quite make the cut. He was like "'s my birthday and it's your birthday too". One thing I will say is that he is such a gentle giant and he had the sweetest look on his face, I just couldn't resist in the end so I said "OK......I'm coming" I made a decision that unless I was immobile, I would come to the party. But I love the honesty of the Argentine culture, I don't have to guess what is on a persons mind and I don't get offended or upset when a person makes their feelings obvious to me. It actually helps me alot in my relationships. And I could not be happier that I came to the party. What an enriching experience it was for everyone who was there!

This would not be the only time I would encounter this side of Argentineans. Three days later when I was walking back from dinner at a friends, I get this text 10 at night from one of the girls in the group. She asked me what my plans are for Christmas and she said she has already spoken to her father and he said it is OK if I have Christmas dinner with them at her father's house in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Wow! I'm really not in Kansas anymore. There is no way in Canada that someone would text someone they've only seen once and tell them "I've already spoken with my family and if you're up to it, you can come for Christmas dinner". I think that alot of Canadians would be far too concerned about making the other person feel uncomfortable to do something like that.

The the story gets even better than that. Seeing as her parents place is on the outskirts of BA and it might be a little complicated to get there, she says that after work on the 23rd she's going to meet up with me in the city and together we are going to take the bus to her parents place where I will spend there two nights. And if it works out with Marisa on the 25th, I will come back to Buenos Aires on the 25 to spend time at Marisa's mother's house with her and her whole family. This is getting wild! But what happened to plans with Gladys?

Because of my trip to Iguazú and all the spending I did, it would not be financially responsible to be spending another 500 pesos to book tickets to travel back to the province of Misiones with Gladys. I actually did sit down and pray after my trip to Iguazu about still going with Gladys but after praying, I did not feel to do more spending on tickets to travel. So what in the world was I going to do during these 12 days from Dec 21- Jan 3 when Gladys was away on holidays? What I'm going to do is trust God that if I do what I'm feel I'm supposed to do that God will do the rest. And it looks like that is exactly what is happening! I was more than prepared to spend Christmas here in the residence and I would have been happy and content no matter what. But within 3 days, I now have 2 offers on places I can go. And if it doesn't work out with Marisa's family on Christmas day, I can just stay where I am with this girl and her family. It really pays to not take things into your own hands but instead, to have faith and do what you are suppose to do. And the right doors and opportunities will open up. It is truly exciting to see what this path is holding for me.

Just the same that it was truly exciting to see how many lives got touched or blessed before I left for Argentina. Some of you recall me coming to you and saying something like "I have some things that I cannot take with me to Argentina and I was wondering if you would like to have it......." It really was an amazing sight to watch because things that I had in my possession that I needed to give away turned out to be things that where exactly what people needed or wanted. Someone to take care of my car that needed a car, someone to take over my cell phone contract that was needed a cell phone etc. There was a beautiful winter coat that I had that I wouldn't be able to use. And the person who I gave it away to fell in LOVE with it. I always liked the coat but the moment I handed it to them, it was love at first sight. Another story is a couple who just moved into a house and they needed everything from scratch. I had a bunch of things in my possession like bakeware, kitchen stuff etc. Things for the house. Not only that, 2 years before I had gone on a trip to IKEA with Shaw cable and bought some furniture and things that I never used. I thought I would be getting my own apartment but that never happened. Those items turned out to be exactly what this young couple needed and they ended up saving hundreds of dollars on things for their house that they now wouldn't have to go out to the store and purchase themselves.

These are all true stories and some of you who are reading this email are the participants in the stories in the paragraph above. Probably my favorite story is how merely informing someone of my plans to leave became the spark that opened the doors to one of my most beloved relationships. Understand that I cannot tell the stories above without telling this one because it is another gift this whole trip to Argentina bestowed. My dear friend is a supervisor at my last work place. Before we were friends she was someone that I always had nice little chats at the office with when I worked there. It was one of those type of things where you don't know the person very well by you always get a good feeling from them when you pass by them in the hallways.

When I made my decision to come here, she was the first person I decided to tell that Monday morning when I arrived at work. Being someone too who truly values what is important in life, the look on her face told me that she could really feel and appreciate what I was doing when I told her that I am going to a 3rd world country to give someone the gift of English. It was a conversation that was out of the norm than what I normally have with her or what I normally have with others. But after that brief conversation, I had gotten to see a different side of her for just a moment. And I was left with the feeling and sense that this is someone that I might share alot on common with and could potential get along well with them in friendship. And that hunch turned out right! From that one conversation led to a number of conversations which would become the solid basis of one of the most enriching friendships I have ever had in my life.

I often wonder what would have happened if I had chosen to stay in my comfort zone and not done what I was suppose to do (by this I mean going to Argentina), Maybe I would have lost the opportunity to bless the lives of others and make a difference with my material possessions. If it weren't for that conversation about going to Argentina, maybe that supervisor and I would still be just passing by each other in the halls, our conversations nothing more than mere office chat. I would have forfeited many of the great relationships that I am having now with Gladys and the people at church.

This journey has been richer and sweeter than you can ever imagine. Let me explain. In the stories above, I told you what happened BEFORE I went to Argentina. Good things were already happening. But what awaited me here blew my imagination. You see, I thought that the lady that I would be teaching, we would have some nice little relationship and will probably exchange email addresses and keep in touch after my time here is done. Instead I get paired up with someone who my personality and hers, we fit like a glove. It really surprises me some days how well we fit together! And another big surprise is how fast she is learning. This is due to a combination with sound teaching methods along with her hunger to learn the English language. In 3 months, she has gone from knowing nothing to now being able to comprehend even some witty humour in English. Our latest movie was the movie "UP". This is Pixar's latest release and I knew that it would be one of those things that she either did not get at all, or that she would understand a ton. She surprised me by how much she understood, even humour in English that are a play on words. This particular movie has alot of them and the jokes are not something that someone would get if they were starting out in English. It showed me that her mind is truly wrapping itself around the concept of English and her abilities in comprehension are escalating at the speed of light.

Working with her some days feels like Jack and the Beanstalk. We all know that story. Jack throws what he thinks is a worthless little bean into the ground and wakes up to find that the seed was magical and has grown into a massive beanstalk. It feels like with Gladys, I've taught her some basic principles of learning English. But I never imagined that she would be at the level that she is now in these few shorts months. This has also told me that my ideas on the psychology of what it takes for a person to learn another language are correct. Truth be told, if you've actually implemented correct study methods, there will be a point that your mind will start to absorb and process the language, even if you are not setting aside alot of time for formal study. Your brain will literally piecing the language together as you go about your daily life. This is the reason that Gladys can now take a two week break from classes and see a movie of medium difficulty and comprehend a ton of it. And she did not study once during that two week break. Now, like Jack and the Beanstalk, she only needs a little to yield alot.

But the surprises of Argentina don't stop there. So I go to church and before i started going to church, I imagined that I would find this nice little church, make friends, exchange emails afterwards and it will be a nice little time. Instead I fell in love with this church, they way they do things and their services. And not only that, the church people fell in love with me. I fit so well in the church and in this country that I do see myself coming back many times. I believe this trip was really to get things started and to build community and relationships.

Argentina keeps surprising me at every turn. Even little things like certain foods here give me a huge surprise when I put it in my mouth. Croissants (I don't normally like croissants), here are sweet, hot, fresh and taste natural. Pizza (another food I've never been the biggest fan off) in this country taste out of this world. I went to one place where the cheese on the pizza tasted so real and so fresh, as if the milk got taken straight off the cow. And the vegetables tasted so authentic that it was as if it came straight from the garden and then was cut up and put on my pizza.

And don't even want to go there. To date, I have never paid more than $17 CDN for a delicious steak meal with an order of fries, a drink, and sometimes some blood sausage to go with it! The steak here is so suave, sweet, and light tasting and most of all....CHEAP!!!!!! Meat here is so bountiful and plentiful that I can have steak anytime I want and I don't have to think twice about the cost or what I am spending. I was talking with a lady from England about how amazing it is to be able to eat out whenever you want as frequently as you want and you don't need to go to somewhere expensive to have an amazing dining experience.

Every experience that I thought would be mediocre, turns out to be something more beautiful and wonderful than I can imagine. Even my trip to Iguazú, the story is that I had been checking the internet for weeks wanting to see when there might be good weather to go to Iguazú. Iguazú is worth a trip no matter what the weather. It is a spectacle beyond your wildest imaginations. And trust me when I say that because I have a huge imagination as a writer but what I saw in Iguazú broke the limits of my imagination. Then I came across a few days that it looked like it was going to be good weather and those few days covered my b-day of Dec 15.

At Christmas time, we love to hear inspiring stories. I hope this one is inspiring enough for you. And the best part is that some of you got to be part of the story! But it is not over yet. There is a sense inside of me that the best is yet to come and that everything that I've seen and experience in these past few months in this country has only been to prepare me for more amazing things that are going to unfold. Some days I cannot imagine anything happening that is more amazing than what I just described in this email but I have learned to never think you've seen it all. On that note, have a merry Christmas and stay tuned because this is going to be one of the few times where the sequel is better than the original! Some days I do feel like Jack and the Beanstalk. Everything I thought would be little and insignificant and mediocre at best have yielded results so gigantic that I'm not even sure what I'm going to do now. Oh, come to think of it I do know what I'm going to do now................

Amorous Alpacas

Amorous Alpacas