Immigration is Humbling…

My last post about immigration got Albin and I thinking about how humbling the residency process is. Even if you are an upstanding citizen who works, pays taxes, doesn’t do drugs, and follows the directions down to a T in regards to filling out your paperwork, you can still be treated poorly and/or denied access. No matter what, you have to prove that you’re worthy to come into that country, and in our case, it’s not even on our own merit; I’m allowed to live in Costa Rica because I married a Costa Rican and maybe someday Albin will be able to say the same about the U.S.

Here are two humbling situations that have happened to Albin and me in our process to enter the U.S. without being stowaways:

  1.      This one just makes me look ridiculous … pride comes before the fall. Don’t forget this a no-judgement zone. When we first married, we were trying to get Albin a 10 year tourist visa into the U.S. so we could visit my family at any time. He had been rejected before, so I went into this meeting determined because now was in attendance. Albin tried to prepare me for the fact that there would be a long line of Costa Ricans waiting to be interviewed. I brushed him off and told him that I wouldn’t have to wait because I was a U.S. citizen at the U.S. embassy. Being the entitled American that I was, I passed the long line of people sitting in rows and went straight to the doors where citizens could sit inside (with A.C.) and briefly wait to be attended. Albin reluctantly followed me, but I’m sure he was pretending like he didn’t know me. In front of the dozens of people waiting in the line, the guard stopped me and asked why I was there. When I told him that we were there for Albin’s visa appointment, he told me that we needed to wait in the huge line. I told him that he must have misunderstood, I was a U.S. citizen. He asked if Albin was a U.S. citizen. Well, no he wasn’t, but surely there were exceptions for the spouses of citizens. I think the guard almost laughed in my face and I’m positive everyone in line that had witnessed my arrogance were pretty pleased I was swiftly put in my place. I then proceeded to grab Albin and do the walk of shame to the back of the line. Pride is ugly, y’all.
  2.      After we received aforementioned tourist visa, we went back to the U.S. for the first time as a married couple. Since being humbled at the embassy, I was not as pompous as I had been previously. As we filed into the border control line in Atlanta, we were told to stay together since we were married. When we were called to come forward, the official stamping passports wouldn’t allow me to come with Albin despite me saying that we were married. He (very rudely) told me to go to the window across from his. Not wanting to cause a scene, I went to the other window and the immigration official treated me well there. As I was finishing up, I heard the man working with Albin literally barking at him to put his fingers on the scanner to be fingerprinted. Albin was clearly not understanding, not because of his English (which is excellent), but because the lid was down on the scanner and the man didn’t realize it. I went over to help Albin and the man told me to leave. I started to get that protective wild hair and told him that no, I wasn’t going to leave and that I was going to help my husband because clearly they were having some communication issues. He stopped what he was doing and said, “You’re married to him?” in the most degrading voice ever. He knew we were married because I had told him that when he had first separated us. His tone dripped with intentional disapproval. If it hadn’t been a federal offense, I would have jumped over the counter and slapped the guy right there. I was livid. I told the official again that yes, we were married and that he was mistaken and needed to lift the lid on the scanner in order for Albin to be scanned. As the officially reluctantly stamped Albin’s passport and scowled as we walked away, the official that had helped me told me to ignore the other guy. Clearly we weren’t the only ones there aware of the official’s inappropriate behavior if another official felt the need to tell us to ignore him. The problem was that it’s hard to ignore someone when they make derogatory statements about who you are. It wasn’t as much humbling as it was completely humiliating for Albin. He still gets all jittery when we’re about to go through border control, but thankfully we haven’t ever been separated or treated poorly like that again.

Like I said above, it’s a humbling process. In my first example, I just needed to be knocked down a few notches, but in the second situation, we had no control over how we were treated because of Albin’s nationality. He had done nothing wrong and the official had no right to treat Albin in that way. While I would have loved to file a complaint, I was scared. I didn’t want to be marked at the black sheep of immigration since we would be spending a lot of time in customs and border control for the rest of our lives. In a way, both situations were a reality check for me. In the first, I was whacked out of my superiority complex … which was necessary. In the second, this naïve white girl got her first true taste of prejudice, and it opened up my mind to the very real problem that is racism. In a way, both experiences were good for me because both taught me how I don’t want to be perceived when faced with racial differences.

 

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Looking For Some Community?

Despite keeping a blog, I’m not a techie. It took Albin years to convince me to get an iPhone and I still only have a whole four pictures posted to my Instagram account.  Facebook posts and chats and pages and groups  and messages and pokes and game invites kind of stress me out. I take forever to respond to emails and even setting up this blog took me years to do because setting up all the little widgets was torturous for me.

I’ve felt like I needed to broaden my horizons, if you will, in terms of getting this whole bicultural marriage thing going. I told God that I wasn’t interested in marketing my blog and that if He wanted people to read it, He needed to just have them happen upon my blog. I prayed that if He really wanted me to build more of a community, He would send someone that understood marketing. Well, of course the week I prayed that, I also had invited a friend over for dinner. We hadn’t gotten together for while, so I didn’t know that she specializes in marketing. Of course. So here I go, kicking and screaming as I create a FB page and group. I feel awkward for promoting myself, but if it helps bring glory to God and helps save some marriages, then its worth figuring out how to navigate the confusing world of social media.

I have received so many emails and messages from people in bicultural marriages/relationships who are asking for advice and let’s be honest, I definitely don’t have all the answers. In fact, I am the least likely candidate (ask my friends Lynne and Diego about the time I recommended they didn’t pursue their bicultural marriage). ANYWAY, I figure that if we can start up a community of people who support and encourage one another, that is going to make it easier on all of us.

So here’s to figuring out FB pages and groups to get this whole bicultural marriage conversation started. If you’re a woman in a bicultural marriage/engagement or you know someone else who is, please send them to our group or you can like my page off to the side and that will connect you (I think, somehow. I hope). I’m hoping to start up a community for encouragement, support, laughter, and wisdom. Thanks for liking! Cheers!
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1608317236079696/

Top 10 Favorite Things About Bicultural Marriage

I receive a lot messages from people in bicultural relationships that are considering marriage. Just as in any marriage, a lot of great things can come out of two people doing life together. In this list, however, I’m trying to focus on things that are mostly unique to those marrying a foreigner. In light of that, here are my top ten favorite things about being in a bicultural marriage.

  1.  Kids are bilingual and have an understanding of the world. I love this. I have enjoyed becoming bilingual and I’m even more excited that our children will speak two languages naturally. This will give them many opportunities and will also make learning a third language (if they so desire) much easier. I also love that they will have a broader view of the world and be more culturally aware.
  1.  It’s an adventure; you try new things, eat new foods, etc. Whether you live in your spouse’s country or not, you’re bound to have an adventure. You’ll be exposed to new ways of thinking and doing things, new foods, new customs, and new traditions. You’ll probably get to know his/her country and have fun exploring together. It can be exciting, crazy, overwhelming, and difficult; it will be a lot of things, but I guarantee  boring will not be one of them.
  1.  Two languages/cultures cover over a multitude of sins. This one might just be in my head, but I feel like Albin and I overlook a lot of harsh comments by attributing them to the language differences. If he says something to me in English that seems harsh, I blame it on the fact that he may not know how to say it any other way. If I have a ridiculous personality quirk, he will tend to think it’s just a cultural issue rather than just me being a weirdo. Score.
  1.  You can choose the best parts from each culture to create your own family’s culture. I love this one, too. We’ve been able to integrate both of our cultures into our family culture and choose what we like best. In my mind, our family is getting the best of both worlds when we do it like this.
  1.  I have become Amazon woman. This one might just be from living in a different country or maybe it’s because I wasn’t exposed to this in the U.S., but I have learned so much. As I made Greek yogurt, a week’s worth of baby food, and soaked beans, lentils, and chickpeas to make dinner from scratch the other day, I realized that marrying Albin has forced me to learn how to do things I may not have ever learned living in Cincinnati.
  1.  Your friend group is diverse and fun. Since we are a bicultural family, we naturally tend to hook up with other multicultural families. This opens your mind to a lot of different ways of doing things and you have a lot of opportunities to grow and learn. You meet so many new and different people and become a different (and better) person as a result.
  1.  There is always an excuse to travel. So maybe you’re just going to see family (again) every time you fly anywhere, but at least you’re breaking up the monotony. While traveling for pleasure might not be in the budget, you can always justify going to see family; therefore, you end up getting a vacation without the guilt.
  1.   The thought that God brought together two continents. I just love the thought that God had to rearrange all of our roads and cross borders to bring us together. It reminds me that He has an amazing purpose for us being together whenever things get tough.
  1.  It’s challenging and humbling, but you grow. I’ve been pretty honest about how bicultural marriage can be a challenge, but I’ve also talked about how beauty comes out of struggle. Facing the odds and working hard to make your marriage work creates a love that is steadfast. We have been stretched and as a result, have become more open-minded, mature (I hope), and strong.
  1.  You have to work hard to get to know one another. With language barriers and different cultural norms, you have to work twice as hard to really know each other and understand the other person. This is a positive for me because I see how our marriage has become very transparent as a result. You have to over-communicate and over-explain everything, and that sets a foundation of honesty and directness from the very start.
  1.   I love when my man speaks to me in Spanish. This is the bonus one. No matter how superficial it sounds, having my man speak to me in his love language gets me all hot and bothered lol. Shakira wasn’t messing around when she said, “Oh baby when you talk like that, you make a woman go mad…”

 

Our First Car (First Year Fails: Part IV)

Our first car was an old, faithful ‘92 Nissan Sentra. Albin and that car had a profound love for one another. I, however, learned to drive a stick in Costa Rica in that car, and I’m pretty sure it never forgave me. I have a lot of not-so-fond memories of Albin trying to gently teach me how to go over muertos (speed bumps are appropriately called “dead bodies” in CR) and me freaking out and stalling every time.

About the same time we were going through our apartment disaster, it came time to perform the annual car revision. You have to pass the revision in order to get a little sticker in your window that says you’re good to drive. If you get caught without the little sticker, you can lose your license. Even though our car wasn’t in the best shape, we weren’t too worried and assumed we would pass the revision.

It failed.

I’m not a car person, but something about a hose was messed up. We got the hose fixed and about a week later we went back to do the revision again.

Failed again.

The second time, it had something to do with the muffler and too much exhaust. That little fix was a bit more expensive and time consuming, so it took a few weeks. After that was fixed, we took the car back for a revision.

Failed.

Are you kidding me? Why were they picking on us? There were much crappier cars out there and they were passing! I was starting to get mad. It was a conspiracy! We switched mechanics and this guy claimed that he had all the tools to do the revision in his shop so we would have an idea if we would pass or not. I can’t remember what he found, but he fixed that up and it wasn’t cheap.

By now, our car saga was gaining some fame. Every day we had people asking if our car had passed or not and people were recommending mechanics to us by the dozen.

This next time we were sure our car would pass, so Albin was going to swing by and do the revision quickly after work. That day, I was anxiously eating my fingernails because we were getting precariously close to the expiration date on our sticker. Since we’d spent all of our money on fixing up our car, our dogs, and on buying antibiotics to fight the pneumonia we got from our rotting apartment, one more tab from the mechanic wasn’t in the budget. As I was sitting there praying that the car would pass, I get a call from a defeated Albin announcing that we had yet again FAILED.

FAILED! WE FAILED REVISION FOUR TIMES. Who does that?

Not only did we fail the fourth revision, but Albin said that as he was in the revision and they were running the tires and engine to check for exhaust, the car literally blew up and smoke started furiously pouring from the hood. He said it made quite a scene and the guys just stopped the revision right there and Albin dejectedly pulled away. He then told me that he was currently on the side of the road and that we might be a little late to Bible study that night because the car kept exploding and overheating.

Two hours later my defeated man walked into our rotting apartment and said that he didn’t think we would make it to Bible study. I started laughing hysterically, mostly to keep from crying hysterically.

We switched mechanics (again) and after paying for a bunch of new parts and slyly avoiding all traffic officials who would happily fine us for driving far past our revision date, our car was ready to go. We both went to the revision and it was the most agonizing process ever. I got an ulcer while we waited for the results in the parking lot. Albin went back in to get our score and came out slowly.

“Well?” I screamed.

He shook his head sadly and just before I was about to lose it, he started to smile and shouted, “We passed!”

Tears of joy were flowing. I jumped into Albin’s arms and we raised a holy hallelujah. We were celebrating like we’d won the lottery. I’m sure those revision workers got a good laugh that day.

 

Our First Apartment (First Year Fails: Part III)

Getting your first apartment with your man is a fairly exciting ordeal. Once we received the appliances that we bought on our “honeymoon,” we had a lot of fun setting that 10’x10’ hole-in-the-wall up. We moved in right after we married in December and it treated us pretty well for the first several months. Our only complaint was that the bathroom was attached right to the kitchen/living space, so anytime we had people over, it was inevitable that everyone was privy to what was going down in that bathroom.

Anyway, May marks the beginning of rainy season here in Costa Rica. They weren’t kidding about this place being a rainforest; it rains A LOT. Since it’s not common to have air conditioning or heat here in the city, you have to keep your windows open most of the time–which means things can get pretty musty and moldy. I’ve lost a leather belt and pair of shoes because they literally just molded right in my closet. The month of May also marks the time we adopted our sickly little puppies. If you read my last blog about our puppies, then you know they had ringworm all over them and subsequently gave it to us. Just imagine us trying to rid our tiny, damp apartment of dog fungus. Impossible.

After about a month into the rainy season, we noticed that some slight discolorations were appearing on our bedroom walls. It almost looked like a tie-dye pattern of grey, dusty stuff. We scrubbed them and that seemed to help a little bit for a time.

As the rains picked up though, those slight discolorations multiplied and our walls literally turned black. There were streaks and circles of grey all over the place. As if that wasn’t gross enough, suddenly little bubbles started forming under the wall paint. They started out small but quickly became huge softball-sized pockets of moisture. When the wall paint couldn’t hold any more moisture, they would burst like a pimple and spray water all over our bed. I am not exaggerating people; you can’t make this stuff up. We were seriously living in Tales from the Crypt.  You can see the video below if you’re interested. It’s not great quality and I switch for a few seconds into some wretched Spanish, but you’ll get the main idea.

Turns out, there had been water seeping through the concrete walls and our landlady just painted over the moldy mess before we moved in. Since it was the beginning of dry season when we moved in, we lived in ignorant bliss for several months and she got our money. Not surprisingly, spending a few days in our moldy puss ball room gave us both a fun case of Bronchitis which quickly turned into Pneumonia for Albin. We were both so sick that we didn’t have the energy to fight with our landlady who claimed innocence and took forever to fix the problem. We just rotted in bed alongside our sick nasty walls, tried not to scratch the itchy ringworm from our dogs, and prayed for Divine intervention. I’m shuddering just thinking about it.

There is no moral to this story, nor is there any wise insight to impart. I think that rotting apartments and piece of junk cars are a sort of rite of passage early on in marriage. In my mind, being able to tell our kids someday about our first car and apartment gives us some credibility when we tell them how good they’ve got it. Then I’ll bust into some “Living on a Prayer” for full dramatic effect. Until then, though, these first year fail posts are a great reminder to me of how far we’ve come … and seeing as our current walls aren’t popping like pimples, I’d say we’re moving on up.

 

Finding Hope in the Struggle

Directly after posting my last blog, I laid down with my teething, cranky baby and tried to get her to go to sleep. As I lay there, I was flooded with self-doubt. I worried my post was too negative, too honest, or that people might think our marriage has been just one big, sad mess.

As soon as I started going down that road, God reminded me that He asked me to start this blog and that He challenged me to be as honest and vulnerable as I could be. He reminded me that vulnerability brings freedom to me and to others. He whispered to me that the reason I needed to talk about the struggle was so that the others who are struggling know that they’re not alone and absolutely must know that there is hope, just like I’ve needed to know. I thought for a moment about what “hope” had come out of our struggles and that’s what I want to share about today. The last blog was to let you know that you’re not alone and this one is to let you know that there is hope.

Marriage is a two-edged sword. Your spouse usually draws out many of your good qualities. It’s fun to do life with someone and marriage can bring so much joy. That sword also can pierce you and bring out all the ugly. All those dark, stinky little areas you hoped no one would ever see, and even those areas you had no idea were all that bad; someone has a front row seat to all that crap. The beautiful thing is that God uses marriage to bring those dark hidden things to light, to make you more of the person He created you to be.  When someone else can see those areas in you that still need a little (or a lot) of work, you can work together to improve.

We all know that adversity begets character. As Albin and I have struggled through various circumstances and differences, we’ve matured greatly. We’ve grown in ways I could have never imagined. We sharpen one another, we support one another, and we challenge one another. If you’re never challenged, do you ever go to the next level? If you never face adversity, do you ever really grow?

This is the hope that I have found that comes out of the struggles in marriage. Yes, we have truly had to fight for our marriage and for one another, but we have become steadfast in the process. We are far from perfect, but we are a united front. We look much more like Jesus now than we did when we were first married, and our marriage is far more Christ-like now than it ever has been. When you do life with someone that is committed to making you better, you both will inevitably grow. I recognize that God has used the madness to edify us, stretch us, and teach us things we couldn’t have learned any other way. We can comfort others who have had a miscarriage, encourage others who feel like living in another culture is impossible, minister to those who have deathly-ill babies in the NICU, and rejoice with others who are celebrating the small victories in marriage. Why? Because we’ve been there.

As you go through difficult circumstances together, you are bonded eternally. That’s what our vows were all about. No matter what, we will support one another. A few years ago, we had a dinner with a man that was telling us about a big mistake that he made in his first year of marriage.  He told us that they are doing much better now (many years later), but that his wife had never forgotten how he treated her that first year. I want to turn that around a bit: Albin, I will NEVER forget what you did for me our first year. How you supported me in my mess, how you loved me through the struggles, and how you fought for me and our marriage. You have loved me as Christ loves the church and that testimony has given me the utmost respect for you, even when we struggle.

There is something remarkable about two people who are committed to one another despite adversity. What a testimony it is for two people to keep coming home at night to work it out and not just calling it quits because of hardship. Sometimes the struggles are big, life-changing events, but sometimes they’re just little things. Even on the days that I bust out my crusty old granny panties or the times that I forget to tweeze and my eyebrows start becoming one (more often than Albin and I become one), I can be assured that Albin still loves me. Despite any nasty habits (I won’t elaborate) that Albin may have, he can be assured that I’ll still love him as well. This is what we signed up for when we said, “I do.” Whenever we make the choice to cling to each other when doctors give devastating news, forgive when the other doesn’t deserve forgiveness, or even if it’s something as small as not minding the full-coverage undies or unkempt uni-brow, we glorify God when we choose to love.

Now I can say that I am thankful for the struggle. It may not look like other “perfect” marriages. We may look a little weathered or feel like we’ve been married for longer than three and a half years, but we wouldn’t change any of it. Every day we are helping each other to become more of who God has called us to be and glorifying Him as a result. What better a purpose to serve in marriage than that?

Based on the overwhelming amount of messages that I received in response to Tuesday’s blog, it’s pretty apparent that we’re not the only ones who struggle. I’ll also admit that I’m thankful that not everyone thought our marriage was one big, sad mess as I had feared (sigh of relief). Isn’t it incredibly freeing to admit that we’re not perfect and realize that others aren’t either?  I appreciate all of you who have messaged me and told me that your marriage isn’t perfect, both new marriages and experienced marriages, bicultural and same-culture marriages. It is my prayer that all of us not only find freedom in admitting the struggle is real, but also that we relish in the hope that God is making something beautiful out of us through it.

 

Marriage Struggles (It’s Not Just You)

[A brief interruption in the First Year Fails series of blogs because this is fresh in my mind.]

A few weeks ago, we were on vacation with my family and we met a woman who was sitting near us at the pool. Somehow we got to talking and she asked where we were from. When she heard Albin was Costa Rican, she said that she was married to a Peruvian. Thinking I had found a kindred spirit, I asked her how being in a bicultural marriage has been for her. She seemed puzzled, so I asked her if it had been challenging for her and her husband. She still wasn’t sure, so I clarified and asked, “You know, like with cultural differences and everything?”

Her response: “No.”

Somehow I always feel a little smaller when someone says that their bicultural marriage hasn’t been difficult. It’s definitely not the first time I’ve received that response, but it always takes some composure to not have a surprised look on my face.

Directly after the initial surprise, the myriad of usual doubts came streaming through my mind:

Am I just dramatic? Am I the only one who struggles with this? Is it a personality issue?

Do Albin and I just suck at marriage?

We chatted for a bit longer and then got back to baking in the sun. I kept thinking about that conversation and came to a conclusion:

She was lying.

Okay, maybe she was being truthful, but it made me feel a lot less like a loser to think that she was lying. I began to contemplate how I was a loser and my marriage was a loser-marriage, and everything I did was loser-ish, which I recognize is a completely unhealthy train of thought, but I promised I would be honest.

Anyway, the next day I checked over my email and received a message from a woman that is married to a Sri-Lankan. It was perfect. She said, and I quote,

“I’ve met a few other white, American women who are married to Sri Lankan guys and literally the first thing I asked them was, “DO YOU HAVE ANY PROBLEMS WITH THE CULTURAL DIFFERENCE IN YOUR MARRIAGE?” just desperately hoping for someone to understand what I’m going through.  To my dismay THREE of these women thought for a second and said, “hm, no, not really.” So anyway, I’m really thankful for your blog and to find someone who understands the challenges that come from marrying someone from a different culture.”

Props to God for his always-perfect timing. What an encouragement it was to continue to be honest about my not-so-perfect marriage. There is something so powerful in knowing that I am not alone in this, that there are others who understand. Bicultural marriage is not impossible, it’s not a constant struggle, and it’s not miserable by any means. It’s a beautiful adventure, but it’s also a unique circumstance that can feel very lonely if you don’t have a support group of people who just get it.

Since starting this blog three months ago, I’ve received a lot of messages and emails from women all over the world who are in bicultural marriages/relationships and who all have one thing in common: they want to know that they aren’t doing this alone.

Well girls, the good news is that we’re not alone. I’ve reached two new (and healthier) conclusions:

First, our Creator sees every detail of our lives and knew we would marry a man from another culture before we even truly knew that other culture existed. He goes before us and behind us. He will not leave us alone.

Second, there are countless couples out there who work through cultural differences every day just like us. Some days are easy and some days are just plain hard, but every day that we choose to love our spouse is a victory.

I hope this encourages you as much as it has encouraged me. Sometimes we don’t want an answer, a solution, or advice; we just want someone to acknowledge the struggle. We realize we will become stronger through these things. We recognize that there is a purpose and that things could definitely be worse. That’s not the point. The point is that if we’re being genuine, we all can say that ANY marriage can be downright hard sometimes. It just is and that’s okay. You’re not alone. If anyone out there needs a kindred spirit, I’ll go ahead and answer the question of whether or not bicultural marriage has been challenging for my husband and me:

Yes.

And that’s okay.

“The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Deuteronomy 31:8, ESV

Al and Mariah

Our Non-Honeymoon (First Year Fails: Part I)

I decided that following my last post about the miscarriage we had after our first month of marriage,  I’m going to post a series of blogs about our first year of marriage. You may think I’m being dramatic when I say that our first year was an epic fail; but in this case, I’m not being dramatic. The only two things that didn’t fail: God (because He doesn’t), and our actual marriage commitment (oh, but it came close). Our honeymoon, my residency, our health, our communication, our living situation, our dogs (at first), our Nissan Sentra, my job– they were all a mess. Some of those circumstances were comical (or at least they are now) and some of them were devastating blows to our marriage. Either way, by the time we got to our first anniversary, we felt like we’d been married for ten years. During that time, people who didn’t know us well would continually give us the provocative eyebrow raise and make references about how we were in the “honeymoon period,” but really had no idea that we were barely surviving that special sexy season. Then they would say, “Just wait until year seven, then it really gets difficult.” I think we died inside just a little bit every time we heard that.

Lest you fret that this series of blogs will be entirely negative, this first entry is pretty light and comical, mostly because it was RIGHT after we got married. I can also say that even though a lot of crappy things happened our first year, we did survive, and we’re stronger for it. We’ve struggled immensely, fought hard, and loved well. We’ve come to know each other in amazing ways and have a profound respect for each other now that we’ve seen how the other responds to difficulty. Most importantly, we’ve learned that Christ is the center of our marriage and have come to understand that He is the only reason any marriage is truly successful. I hope these posts are encouraging to any of you who aren’t living a Facebook photo-worthy marriage or feel like you missed the boat on the good old honeymoon period …

Albin was able to get two weeks off for our wedding. He flew to Cincinnati, we got married six days later, flew back to Costa Rica three days later, bought a bed and settled into our apartment for one night, and then spent the next night at my suegra’s (mother-in-law’s) house for our excursión the next day. Excursión sounds so much more exotic than it really is. Basically, appliances are expensive in Costa Rica since they have an import tax placed on them. To get around the import tax, there is a tax-free zone, called “Golfito,” in the southern part of the country. It’s very common to go to Golfito  through an excursión, which is when a company with a bus takes care of your transportation and lodging for your trip. Each person is allowed to spend $1,000 in Golfito per year, so my suegra and Albin’s abuela (grandma) went with us so we could divide up our money to buy our big appliances (found out later that everyone is allowed to spend $2,000 per year, which means suegra and abuela didn’t need to go after all). Back to the story.

We spent the night at my suegra’s and slept in abuela’s single bed (this was the 5th night of marriage, mind you) the night before our expedition. At 5 a.m. we got to the bus stop and a large and in-charge Tica woman named Doña Adelita welcomed a big group of us. We arrived in Golfito in six hours with no problem. We were greeted by a wall of humid heat the minute we got off the bus. By now you know about my sweating problem, so you can imagine. Doña Adelita got up and gave us the “rules.” That day we had three hours to make all of our purchases. We would leave promptly after three hours and head for the border of Panama, where we would spend the night in their “accommodations” and have a chance to shop at the border crossing (i.e. seediest place in the Western Hemisphere). The following day we would return and have two hours to pick up our purchases and get them ready to be shipped back home (it was a rule).

I don’t know how to even describe how this all went down. If you remember the game show “Supermarket Sweep,” then you’ll have an idea. We literally had to run from place to place, comparing prices, bargaining, and buying in 100 degree heat. It was so stressful. Three hours may seem like a lot until you realize you have to compare, bargain, and buy your washer, dryer, oven, microwave, fridge, pots, pans, toaster, blender, Crockpot, and television–all in different stores. On top of that, add in suegra and abuela giving their opinions and telling us what to do, Albin trying to translate everything since I was lost in life, and the lack of sleep due to just getting married. Just imagine me panting and sweating with a deer-in-headlights look on my face as all that bartering and opinionating is going on in Spanish. In literally no time, Doña Adelita was blowing her foghorn and saying it was time to go. Right now.

We shuffled onto the bus headed for the border. Absolute chaos at the border. We eventually arrived at our accommodations which weren’t anything comparable to a hotel, motel, or Holiday Inn. It was an 8×8’ room and it was ghetto. My suegra and abuela graciously took the bunk beds so we newly-weds could take the double bed (6th night of marriage), locked the door tight, and tried to justify in our heads that all of this was completely normal.

The next morning, Doña Adelita rolled up at 5 a.m. and we went back to the free zone to pick up our items. I swear it was hotter than the day before. We secured all of our items and got all of the receipts in order to go through what is essentially a customs line. As we neared the front of the line, Albin started frantically shuffling through the receipts. He couldn’t find the one from the washer and we wouldn’t be allowed out with our new washer without the receipt. Utter panic ensued. We lost our place in the long line and went running to every store trying to find the receipt. So. Much. Sweat.

As abuela guarded our purchases, we ran around rabidly trying to ignore Doña Adelita’s loudspeaker notifying us that we were about to miss the bus. At the last minute, we found that blessed golden ticket at one of the stores and ran back to the line, begging Doña Adelita not to leave us. She had mercy on us and we were able to get our appliances on the shipping truck.

Back on the bus, I passed out immediately and slept for about two hours. Up until this point, the bus was air-conditioned and was the only respite from the unbearable humidity. Naturally, the air-conditioner was overworked and went out. The windows of the bus were airtight (due to it normally being a bus with AC), so there was no air flow. We started stripping. Then the bus driver had the brilliant idea to turn on a movie to distract us. It was reminiscent of Saw III. Between the gore in the movie, the boiling bus, and the curvy mountain road, someone was bound to get sick. Of course it was the lady next to us. She started throwing up and you can imagine how that went seeing as the windows wouldn’t open. People were moaning the whole way home.

The good news is that we made it home. There was a problem with the shipping truck and we didn’t receive our appliances for four days, which wasn’t a huge problem at first since we slept for two days straight. Things started to become dire when our clothes from the excursion started rotting and smelling up our apartment along with the food that couldn’t be kept cold due to no refrigerator. Oh, and did I mention it was Christmas? We went to Denny’s for Christmas breakfast. Sigh.

Moral of the story: Go on a real honeymoon.  Seriously, I know there was the whole thing about not having enough money, or time off work or needing the appliances, but we TOTALLY regret not having a honeymoon.

 

My Favorite Spanish Mistakes So far…

Everyone loves a good translation mistake, especially if it is embarrassing, inappropriate, etc. Most of these errors are funny because the appropriate word was accidentally substituted with the inappropriate word. All of these examples are errors that I have made or people close to me have made. This is not a time to be offended by curse words. If you know you will be offended, you should just stop reading now.  If you know both languages, this will be funnier, but I tried to provide adequate explanations for those who don’t speak Spanish so they can understand my folly.

  1. Molestar= to bother. During my first few weeks in Costa Rica, as a kindergarten teacher, I had to do a lot of “translating.” My Spanish was awful, but nine of my students spoke only Spanish and nine of my students spoke only English. On a particularly frustrating day when my students would not stop bothering each other, I accidentally yelled, “Stop molesting each other!” Obviously my kids were oblivious, however, the principal and the prospective parents in the hallway were not. Fail.
  2. Luz= Light. Once I saw a huge bug flying around our apartment and I asked Al if he could get the “bug that was on the loose.” He didn’t respond. I repeat, “There is a bug on the loose. Can you get it?” Still no response and I look over at him as he stands there looking at the ceiling light with a dumb look on his face. I start to say it again when he says, “Tricia, I am looking at the luz and there are no bugs on it.” Bahaha
  3. Boots or boobs? Once before we were dating, we were with two of our best friends who were also single at the time. We were hiking a volcano and it was raining, so we were wearing boots. Yoji, our guy friend, meant to tell Kate that he liked her boots, but instead he said, “Kate, I like your boobs.” He keeps walking without acknowledging his mistake, but since I’m immature and can’t let an opportunity like this pass up, I lost it.
  4. Backs and butts are very different. Trasero = butt, espalda = back. One day in the teacher’s lounge I was talking about how sweet my Tica sister was. I was telling everyone about how one night we were at a youth gathering at church and she was helping a friend work through a difficult situation. It was a long church service, my Tica sister sat and rubbed her friend’s back as she cried for three hours. As I was telling my coworkers about this sweet act, I mistakenly said, “My sister is so sweet, she just rubbed that girl’s trasero for three hours.”
  5. Sheet on the bed. Once I arrived at a hostel to find out there was only one sheet on the bed. I get pretty chilly at night, so I went down to the lobby and asked the receptionist (who would only speak in English to me) for another sheet on the bed. His reaction was priceless; he was dumbfounded. He asked, “Is there sheet on the bed?” I answered that, yes, there was a sheet, but I would like another. He repeats, “There is sheet on the bed?” Yes. Clearly he isn’t understanding, so I start speaking caveman because I think he only understands caveman. I say, “Yes. Sheet on bed. I want more sheet on bed.” He stands up, gets angry and says, “Why anyone wants more sheet on bed?” and as I start to say, “Because I get cold…” he proceeds to run out the door. Now I’m dumbfounded. I look at Kate and she shrugs with a bewildered look on her face. The receptionist comes back and yells angrily, “THERE IS NO SHEET ON THE BED!!!” I know this. This is why I came asking in the first place … and then it hits me. He thinks I’m saying there is sh*t on the bed since in Spanish, “i” is pronounced with a long “ee” sound. He literally thinks I’m complaining that there is sh*t on the bed and that I would like more sh*t on the bed. Let’s just say that there might not have been sh*t on my bed that night, but I probably peed my sheets that night as I thought about him running in screaming, “THERE’S NO SHEET ON THE BED!”
  6. Huge racks. I always ask Albin to message me when he gets to work so I know he made it safe. One unfortunate day he accidentally wrote his message in my family’s Whatsapp group and it read, “Sorry I didn’t message you. There was a huge rack on the road so I was late to work.” Of course he meant “huge wreck,” but since my family is about as mature as I am, there were many jokes about “huge racks” stopping traffic that day. I told him the only rack that should be stopping his traffic is mine. lol
  7. Tiene miedo = he has fear (he is afraid). Tiene mierda = he has sh*t. Love this one. I team-taught my first year of kindergarten with a lovely Tica named Victoria. She was wonderful, but many of the little Gringo children were afraid of her because they had no idea what she was saying in Spanish. This was a missionary school, so parents were generally very amicable. One day, a missionary mom came to Victoria to talk to her about how her son was afraid in the class. The well-meaning missionary who was just starting to learn Spanish came to her and rather than saying “Él tiene miedo en tu clase,” instead said, “Él tiene mierda en tu clase” which means “He has sh*t in your class.” Victoria told me that she was speechless. At first, she was confused that a kid pooped himself in class and she didn’t notice, and second, slightly offended that the missionary used such a strong word as “mierda” in conversation. Third, she died inside when she finally realized what the lady actually meant.
  8. Huge Disclaimer: This is the worst. I may have dropped the F-bomb completely on accident. Please read this with grace: Recogerme= pick me up, cogerme= F%$# me. When Albin and I started dating, I was seeing a tutor to help me with my verbs. I was going out of town the next week, so my tutor asked me who was going to pick me up from the airport. I had told her about my budding relationship with Albin, so I wanted to tell her that Albin was going to pick me up (recogerme). Instead, I said, “Albin va a cogerme.” which, based on the translation above, you can figure out that what I said was highly inappropriate for this missionary kindergarten teacher to her tutor. Major fail. My tutor knew what I meant and tried to ignore the mistake with grace but then started turning red from trying to contain her laughter. She almost fell off her chair because she was laughing so hard.

The best part about committing these errors is that the humiliation is burned in your brain and you never make the mistake again…hopefully.  Let’s all be very thankful for that.

Wildly Successful Marriage

Nobody wants their marriage to fail, including me. Before I got married, not only did I not want to fail, I wanted my marriage to be wildly successful. I loved to win. I wanted to be the best at everything I did. My parents have an amazing marriage. In my mind, it was pretty near perfect. It hasn’t been easy for them, but they have set an incredible example. In my mind, their example was the standard. I was crushed when I found out that I couldn’t meet my own high expectations.

When Albin and I first started dating, a well-meaning missionary lady asked me to get coffee. She told me she had worked with several bicultural couples over the years and that they hadn’t had much success. She told me a few horror stories about her friends. In some cases, the problem wasn’t the cultural difference, the problem was that they married crazy people. There was, however, some truth to a lot of what she said and I appreciated that she cared for me. A little seed of fear was planted.

Throughout the rest of our dating relationship, engagement, and marriage, we encountered SO many people that were more than happy to give us any negative comment, horror story, or struggle they’d ever heard of in a bicultural marriage. Each time, another little seed of fear was planted in my heart. Comments about how we would be miserable, how Albin would treat me as a second-class citizen, how the Tico man/Gringa woman marriage was rated the most likely to fail (how does one even measure that?!). On several occasions I was told that I was crazy to stop traveling and get married to live in Costa Rica. I am not kidding you; the list could go on and on.

The problem was that the negative comments came so often that I started to believe them. All that fear became a huge ball of anxiety in my gut. Fear about things that weren’t even close to being true about my husband, about my marriage, or about my life. I was discouraged and had a hard time recognizing what was true and what were pure lies. We went through a lot of difficult challenges during that period, and each time I felt like all those negative people had been right after all.

Here we are "cutting" our first anniversary cake...

Here we are “cutting?” our first anniversary cake…

We finally went to marriage counseling and I told the couple we were working with that I felt like such a failure. I still wanted my marriage to be wildly successful, but I didn’t know if that was even possible based on all the negativity I had heard. One thing the counselor said totally changed my perspective.

You need to make your own success.

It’s simple, but it was the proverbial shot to the heart. I had been basing my idea of success off of what I saw from my parents, pictures on Facebook, my friends’ marriages, my unattainable expectations, etc. I was doing a lot of comparing, and that is never healthy.

Albin and I started praying that God would show us what His idea of a successful marriage was. Hearing His truth spoken over us was amazing. He showed us how to reject the negativity spoken over our marriage and how to set limits with people who were literally speaking death over us and stealing joy from our marriage. We started guarding our hearts and minds against all of the attacks.

We realized that we needed to make our own “culture” that worked for our family. We chose our favorite parts from each of our upbringings and instilled those into our family culture. I was reminded again that one of the very reasons that I was attracted to Albin in the first place was his culture and that he was different than anyone I’d ever met. I decided that I couldn’t let the negativity of others steal the joy from what is one of the things that attracted me to him in the first place.

Ultimately, our success comes from Jesus. He shows us what true success looks like. We can read over all the statistics in the world about bicultural marriages; but none of those statistics are taking into account that both of us are surrendered to Jesus and that a relationship with Him changes everything.

I still want my marriage to be wildly successful. We haven’t “arrived” by any means, but I can tell you that our perspective of success has changed for the better. Though we only have three and a half years of experience under our belts, we are on a mission to encourage all of you who are bicultural marriages and relationships out there. We want to be painfully real and extremely honest, but we also want to speak life, encouragement, and fight fear.

Just remember that what you’re fighting so hard for is worth it. It’s possible. You can be wildly successful.

And a note to my husband, Albin:

So many of the negative comments that were made about you and us were as far from the truth as possible. I will never be able to express how grateful I am to you for your faithfulness and unconditional love. The way you have loved me and our daughter (and our ridiculous dogs) is such a testimony to me. You are the most unselfish, caring, and patient man I’ve ever met. I am so glad that none of the Debbie Downers talked me out of marrying you. You are such a blessing from God to me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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