Immigration

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that anything that has to do with immigration gets my gag reflex going. For those of you who want to know if we got married in the U.S. or Costa Rica first (because yes, it matters in the process), we married in the U.S. first and then got it certified in CR. We turned in our paperwork almost right after getting back from our wedding, but there were some complications and one of our papers expired before we could get scheduled for a meeting with immigration. Side note: we were paying a lawyer (who was a family friend) good money to take care of these things for us, but we found out too late that she was not doing her job very well.

While reading over our documents one night, it hit me that my tourist visa would be expiring in one week and that due to the meeting complications, I was going to be illegal here. Not to mention that I already had a job … which if you don’t have the correct papers, can lead to a swift deportation. Don’t take this lightly, I’ve seen normal people deported from CR before. I started sweating immediately and we called our lawyer. She casually confirmed my suspicions and said I need to leave the country immediately (this was the moment that the family friendship started to deteriorate).

After a minor breakdown and hours of ranting, we bought bus tickets for several days later and hightailed it out of there. We went to Bocas del Toro, a small chain of Panamanian islands near the southern coast of Costa Rica. Minus the panicking and the exhaustion of several buses and water taxis, the trip turned out to be a blessing. It almost made up for the fact that we didn’t get to go on a honeymoon and it was honestly one of the first times since we had gotten married that we felt relatively normal.

While the trip was a blessing, the residency process was not. We finally were given appointments with immigration and did what we had to do, but no matter how organized I was, something always went wrong. Like “they lost our original marriage certificate” kind of wrong. I mean, I should have never given them the original document, but I was naïve to the ways of the Costa Rican filing system (i.e. possibly nonexistent).

I was also unaware of how difficult it was to get fingerprinted here. At the time, there was only one place in the capital to get fingerprinted for the residency process. The first time I showed up, I was oblivious to the line stretching out the gate and around the block. After waiting far too long, I overheard one of the guards saying something about running out of numbers. Only the first 50 people in line were allowed to be fingerprinted that day and I was not one of those first 50 people. The next time around, I decided I would be there when the doors opened at 7:30 a.m. Unfortunately, I was not the only person to have that thought. In fact, I wasn’t among the first 50 people to have that thought. Fail. I approached the guard and asked what time she thought I should arrive in order to be among the first 50. She thought getting there between 1-2 hours before opening time would suffice. Sooo, basically camp out at the crack of dawn. I’ll admit it; I had to have a crying/cursing Costa Rica session in my car to pull it together. After my pity party, I went back to the guard and asked her if there was any other way. She told me that sometimes they would give out more numbers in the afternoon if there was space. The next week, I rolled up in the afternoon hoping for the best. There were huned’s of people there. I went up to my guard (we were becoming fast friends) and she had sympathy on me. She took me to another line and told me to wait there. Besides getting the stink eye from all those people I had apparently just cut in front of, I was feeling pretty confident.

As I came to the front of the (shorter) line, another guard asked me if I had brought the correct seals. What seals? No one had mentioned seals, the instructions I had been given didn’t say anything about seals, and can I bribe someone to ignore the fact that I didn’t have seals? No. Go look around the block and ask at the banks and law offices, they probably have them. I literally ran around the block looking for the seals and of course, no one had them. Finally, desperate and furious, I stopped at a little soda (which is like a little hole in the wall restaurant), and the cook sold me some seals for 20 cents as she served up some rice and beans to another customer. What the…?

By now, I’m panting and sweating and all my guard friends are cracking up at the poor gringa’s plight. I must have done something right though, because as they laughed, they let me pass everyone in line. Success. Not only did I get fingerprinted that day, but I made friends with some guards who clearly needed some comic relief and found an unlikely love for a greasy cook selling 20 cent stamps and Diet Coke.

And then we waited … a long time. About two years in, we finally called the immigration office regarding my visa and I remember overhearing Albin talking to the lady and getting increasingly frustrated with her (which is unusual because Albin is often much more merciful in situations like these). She refused to help us because she said it was impossible that my residency had taken that long and that residencies are processed within 90 days. Albin assured her that wasn’t the case for us and that we just had a question. Nope, a two year wait was impossible and therefore she could not answer our question. He hung up with a prompt “gracias por nada” (thanks for nothing).

Two and a half years later, I was finally given my temporary residency permit; even though it would expire after one year, there were tears of joy that day. I am currently waiting for my permanent residency permit that I get through having my baby in Costa Rica (anchor child anyone?) and I was told it would only take 90 days to be processed. That’s what I was told in regards to my temporary permit, so I’m not getting my hopes up this time. The 90 day limit is today, so I’ll keep you posted.

Immigration processes and policies are definitely a complicated matter. Albin and I have been praying about and considering moving back to the U.S., but we’re trying to come to terms with the inevitable high cost, long wait, and load of work it will take to make that kind of thing happen. It’s intimidating, overwhelming, and humbling (especially when immigrantion is a hot topic right now and people aren’t careful with their comments). Trying to do things correctly and legally through the immigration system is frustrating enough to make even Donald Trump think twice about his hateful assumptions (fun fact: Did you know Trump is married to an immigrant?).

Moral of the story: residency processes just suck. Accept it and move on. No matter where you’re applying, prepare yourself to receive a different answer from everyone you ask about ANYTHING, to spend a lot of money in filing fees (and seals apparently), and to wait. If you are married to (or are going to marry) someone from another country, you said “I do” to lines in immigration offices. Embrace it.Try to have a good attitude and enjoy the ride. All that hard work means you get to live with your foreign dreamboat, and even Trump can attest to that :).

Sidenote: If you’re not going through immigration processes, try to have some grace with immigrants despite the current attitude of condemnation that is so popular in the U.S. right now.  Not everyone trying to get into the U.S. is a druglord or rapist. As evidenced by the devastating story of the Syrian children who drowned this past week as their family tried to escape the war- you never know what extreme circumstances are bringing someone to take desparate measures. That Syrian father wanted was a better life for his family, can we blame him? That could have been you or me, risking everything to give our family a peaceful future. Don’t be quick to judge, friends, almost all of our families were immigrants at some point. 

Crossing the border into Panama

Crossing the border into Panama

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What If I Married the Wrong Person?

What if I marry (or married) the wrong person? Is there one perfect soulmate out there for everyone?

Those questions seems to resurface all the time and I’ve always wondered lost sleep over them. I mean, that is a whole lot of pressure. You have to find that one perfect man out of the 3 billion(ish) on the planet? What if I make a mistake? Does that mess up the whole order of perfect soulmates because I married someone else’s perfect mate and now they’re endlessly wandering the earth trying to find someone that’s already taken? And if I do make a mistake and I don’t believe divorce is an option, am I just stuck with the wrong person till death do us part? Thinking about how I could be miserably mistaken my whole life or about how I could possibly screw up the arranged order of the perfect soulmates of the world is enough to give me an ulcer.

I’m pretty sure I did almost get an ulcer early on in our marriage because there was a small part of me that wondered if Albin was really the one for me. It was terrifying. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know we had a rough start, but apart from all that, I felt like he didn’t even know me. Like didn’t know what really made me tick. I assumed that if we truly were soulmates, he would just “get” me. He would understand what I needed and it wouldn’t require me spelling out everything. He would always make me laugh, he would understand all my vague comments, and anticipate my needs. Basically, he just needed to be a mind-reader because “happy wife, happy life” … right?

Wrong. Painfully wrong.

Not only did I find myself feeling misunderstood and lonely, I found myself with a husband who was frustrated because he couldn’t make me happy. I had no idea what was going through his mind and that frustrated me as well. I had an illusion that we would always be on the same wavelength and when that bubble was burst, I started to question whether we were right for one another. Some of it was selfishness (like the hope that he would anticipate my every need, bahh), some of it was an expectation that we would naturally be interested in the same things (like… where to go out for dinner), and some of it was just our deep-down desire to know and be known. As we’ve worked through these things, we’ve had a big breakthrough: truly becoming “soulmates” takes time, effort and practice.

It’s finally sinking in that we have to work hard to be soulmates. We have to put in some effort to learn what makes our spouse “tick.” We literally have to practice being the right person for our spouse. It’s all about being intentional. I’ll be sincere and admit that being intentional isn’t necessarily my forte. Being intentional requires effort, forethought and selflessness. It requires me putting myself aside and choosing to do something that doesn’t necessarily appeal to me like it does to him. It requires him to ask me if I want to talk about something even if he’s tired and has no desire to open that can of worms. It requires both of us to be interested (or at least try to be) in what gets the other person excited.

The problem is that it’s so much easier to think about how my needs aren’t being met. It’s far simpler to sit and lament our differences than it is to surrender our will and actively pursue a compromise. It is so much easier to sit around and think about what Albin doesn’t do for me or how he doesn’t “get me” than it is to flip it around and think about what I can do for him or how I can engage him more fully so that he feels fully known.

For example, discussing politics doesn’t appeal to me and I usually avoid political conversations at all costs. Albin, however, loves getting into a good political debate. For years, I’ve literally blown him off every time he tried to start a conversation about politics. Basically, it would go like this:

Albin: What is your opinion about [insert current issue]?

Me: I don’t know, maybe [insert quick generic answer].

Albin (silently waiting for me to return the question, which doesn’t come because I’m avoiding the conversation): Well, I’m not sure I agree.

Me: Okay. What do you want for dinner? [End of conversation.]

Rude, I know. I’m a slow learner, but almost four years into this, I’m realizing that Albin gets some sort of intellectual satisfaction from hashing out a political topic. If that’s something that he is interested in, why do I have to be a jerk change the subject? Is it really that hard for me to ask him what his opinion of the topic is and (heaven forbid) actually listen to his rationale? He listens to me spout unimportant crap all day and doesn’t blow me off. So, I’ve tried to be intentional and engage in a conversation that interests him. Maybe a little effort on my part makes him feel like he has a partner that values his opinion and with whom he has an intellectual connection. If that’s the case, me taking five minutes out of my day to debate about the government is worth it. Believe it or not, I actually enjoy these conversations now because he gets me thinking about current events and things in the government that I actually should be pondering.

An example for me would be something that Albin did recently. Playing games is one of my love languages and something that I associated with family. I love to play games, specifically Nerts. Albin will play games, but it’s not something that satisfies some deep inner need of his, and plus I think he hated Nerts for a long time because I may or may not go overboard and get too intense when I play. Anyway, it really bothered me that he never wanted to play games with me. It was like pulling teeth. Like how hard was it to sit down a play a few games of Yahtzee for goodness sake? It’s silly, but I actually wondered why I hadn’t considered this game drama before we had married. Would I have married this guy had I known he wouldn’t always be up for a game of Scrabble? Does he even know me at all?

Finally, several months ago, Albin suggested we started having game nights once a week. He said he wanted to get better at Nerts and he thought it would be something for us to look forward to on Thursday nights. I ripped his clothes off right there. Just kidding, but his offer spoke to me on some deep level. He’s gotten really good at all games since then and now we really do love game night. He was intentional and sought to engage me in something that was important to me and that I associated with the concept of family…which made me feel like we were more of a family in a way. Like maybe we weren’t on two completely different wavelengths after all.

Albin and I definitely are not experts and clearly Albin is the deeper of the two of us (deep theoretical conversations vs. my board game needs), but we’re learning and I like our progress. As we become more intentional, we get along so much better, agree on so much more and feel more fully known. Even silly things like (finally!) agreeing on a restaurant, conversing about legislation and keeping a running Yahtzee tally going forms a connection and creates room for us to become soulmates for one another.

En fin, I’m trying to learn from my own lesson today and think about what other areas I can put myself aside to be intentional with Albin. What ways can you be intentional and engage your spouse today?

“I have found the one whom my soul loves.” Song of Solomon 3:4

                                                                                                                                   

 

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 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.

 

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.

 

Breakfast Battles

I have no idea if the following topic is just a bicultural marriage issue or if it’s an every marriage issue, but it is fun to write about, so I shall.

I grew up on loads of breakfast cereal. Any time of day was a good time of day for cereal. One of my favorite food-related reasons for going back to Ohio isn’t to eat Olive Garden, but to open up my parents’ pantry and see a cereal buffet. Cereal has been in my top five favorite foods for decades. One of my fondest childhood memories is when I would eat peanut butter Cap’n Crunch until the roof of my mouth would hurt while watching good ole Bob Barker on the Price is Right. Oh, and what did I crave during pregnancy? Cinnamon Honey Bunches of Oats. You can’t get it here in Costa Rica, so I literally dreamed about me finding a cabinet full of it.

Enter Albin. He was used to eating a big plate of gallo pinto (black beans and rice) with sour cream, eggs and toast for just about every breakfast since, well, forever.

When he first came to Cincinnati to visit, he was slightly timid with my family.  As Albin became more comfortable with everyone, he started to seem more uncomfortable with breakfast. Finally, he must have mustered up some confidence because one morning I overheard him ask my mom if we had anything else to eat for breakfast. After a puzzled hesitation, she said yes, thought for a moment, and offered him oatmeal. I have to give it to him, he really tried to seem excited about that “different” option, but I know his Costa Rican brain was telling him that oatmeal was just hot cereal.

My mom noticed his less than authentic excitement and asked what he usually ate for breakfast. He asked if he could just make some eggs. That definitely wasn’t a problem. The best part was that she pulled out a carton of “Egg Beaters.” For those of you unaware of what Egg Beaters are, like Albin was, they are eggs that are already beaten and ready to be poured out of what looks like a milk carton. You should have seen Albin’s face when she gave him that carton. Eggs in a milk carton? He was lost. By that point, I was cracking up. He considered turning her down, but it all worked out in the end and Albin took the plunge with boxed and beaten eggs.

Photo credit: eggbeaters.com

Photo credit: eggbeaters.com

The next weekend, we went camping with a big group and one morning Albin had disappeared. We were looking everywhere for him when suddenly I caught a glimpse of a man creeping around my grandparents’ camper. Turns out they felt sorry for him and invited him to eat breakfast with them. He was overjoyed to find out that they were having (real) eggs, sausage, bacon, and toast.

That was just a foretaste of things to come. Breakfast was definitely another thing for us. Apparently a lot of our cultural things have to do with food, but let’s be honest, a big part of our day is dedicated to eating. Up until this day, I still avoid eye contact on Saturday mornings when I know Albin is looking at me with longing, hoping that I will say those magical words, “What if I make gallo pinto?” Don’t worry, I do make it. I’m not completely heartless. In fact, I’ve grown to love beans and rice for breakfast. Just as cereal has definitely grown on him. I’ve even opened up his horizons and blown his mind with different kinds of pancakes. He had never tried a blueberry (or banana, or chocolate chip) pancake before we were married! Once his eyes were opened, he got a little out of hand. I remember one day he surprised me by getting crazy and making pancakes with apples, cinnamon, and chocolate chips in them.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose. Our children will have a nice assortment of both cereal and gallo pinto throughout the week, with the occasional randomly flavored pancake thrown in. In a funny way, our breakfast is kind of like our relationship. I love 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.

photo clips

 

Long-Distance Relationships

Honestly, long- distance relationships are not for the faint of heart. Albin and I got married after a seventeen month long-distance relationship. You might be thinking, “Well no wonder you guys struggled your first year of marriage.” (Don’t worry, the multitudes have already made us aware that this is a common perception). However, for those of you out there doing the long-term, long- distance relationship thing, the good news is that there is hope despite what the multitudes may say.

In a nutshell, Albin and I were close friends for a good nine months before I (finally) acknowledged that there was a little more there than just friendship. The nine months definitely count for something because we knew each other pretty well before we entered the only month we actually dated within the same country. We dated for a month and things got pretty serious pretty quickly. We both knew that if we were going to put up with the emotional madness that is a long-distance relationship, we better be mighty confident that other person was worth the wait, grief, phone bill, etc.

After our first month of official dating, I went home for two months and we were able to use Skype every night (this was before we owned those newfangled internet iPhones and all day texting was possible). Then I left for the World Race for eleven months. During those eleven months we were only able to Skype once a week. Since I was in remote and different places each month, the connection was almost always unreliable. We emailed a lot as well.

family photo

A “family photo” of my sister and me skyping Albin

Thirteen months after doing long distance, I came back to Ohio and Albin met me there. It was also the first time he was going to meet my dad, sister, and extended family. I also knew he had an engagement ring in his bag.

I panicked.

Not only was I going through culture shock and processing my trip, but I was looking at this guy who I knew in and out over the phone, but not so well in person anymore. The struggle was real. People can change a lot in a year. Let’s just say there were a lot of serious conversations for us and a lot of serious sweating for me over those next three weeks. The worst thing I did was put a lot of pressure on myself to make everything get back to how it was before. I expected us to just “click” again, and that was unrealistic. Even though we had spent thousands of hours talking, it is so different than just hanging out when you’re dating. The best thing we did was do “normal” stuff together. Go to the grocery store, go for morning runs, play games, and dress up to hit up the “Goettafest” with my family (Goetta is a breakfast meat that we love in Cincinnati. We have a festival to celebrate it.).

photo credit: 365cincinnati.com

That’s my sister in the mullet wig. photo credit: 365cincinnati.com

While doing “normal” stuff helped us reunite in a way, it didn’t change the fact that many things had changed and we weren’t going back to what we had before. I think that’s okay. We knew we were supposed to be together. God had confirmed it to both of us and that is what we were clinging to.

Near the end of his visit, we got engaged. He then went back to CR and the long-distance fun resumed until I went to visit two months later. I stayed for a week, left, and then a short month and a half later he was back in Cincinnati with his mom and grandma in tow for our wedding. It was insane.

When we were finally married after those seventeen months of long distance, we got to our hotel room and kind of just looked at each other. It was almost shocking to not have to say goodbye to one another and hang up. I’m thankful to say that we were both virgins when we married, so it’s funny for me to think about how our physical relationship before marriage was not only just limited to kissing, but really we didn’t have much physical interaction in general. Like “not even sitting in the same room” kind of physical interaction.

I’ll be honest here. Those first few months of marriage were so hard. In a sense, I feel like it was reminiscent of an arranged marriage. We literally had to get to know each other all over again. We knew a lot about each other, but so much had changed. I am convinced that if we hadn’t had Jesus in our lives, we never would have made it. We fought so hard for “us,” and our relationship came out much stronger because of that.

While it wasn’t the ideal situation, it’s what we did, and we fought to make our marriage “meant to be.”

If you’re in the throes of a long-distance relationship, let me encourage you with this: there are many beautiful things that come out of the struggle. Here are my favorites:

  1. You find out of if you’re really “in love” or if you’re actually just “in lust.” When you take out the physical temptation, you find out if your relationship really has sustenance.
  2. If you know you’re relationship has been 100 percent confirmed by God, it’s an awesome opportunity to learn to trust Him at His word. There will be a lot of doubts and negative comments along the way, but listening to what God says instead of what  others say will grow your faith exponentially.
  3. If you find a guy (or gal) that will wait for you for an extended period of time while remaining faithful to your relationship despite the distance, that person deserves your respect. I would also be willing to bet that this person has staying power and faithfulness when temptations or dry periods come during your actual marriage as well.
  4. It’s commendable to see two people sacrifice time together to do what they believe God has called them to do now. I believe that God will reward that obedience and give you the grace to finish well.
  5. You get to know someone SO WELL when you’ve played 20 questions more times than you can count. Word of caution: Even though you may know your man’s favorite color on Sundays or what he would do if he was given a million dollars, that person has a lot of quirks and habits that don’t come up in “Twenty Questions” or during Skype conversations. On the one hand, we’ve realized that we both do things that annoy the crap out of each other and that had we known about them pre-marriage, they could have been petty reasons for us to call it off. On the other hand, we didn’t have those petty annoyances to complicate our relationship before marriage, so we married for foundational truths. Now, when things get murky and we start focusing on stupid little differences, it’s easy to look back to our long-distance relationship period and clearly see those foundational truths we based our relationship on.  Hopefully that makes some sense.
  6. You do not take the times you are together for granted because you know what it feels like to be apart.
  7. When you go through long periods of difficulty in your marriage, you can quickly recognize how going through the difficulties together is so much better than when you are apart.
  8. You win when people are playing the “let’s compare dating stories game.” Oh, joy!

Anyway, I know many of you are in long-distance relationships, and whether you’re with someone from another culture or not, it’s just plain hard. I get the frustration, the love/hate relationship you have with Skype, the doubts, and the fears. You’re definitely not alone and need to keep reminding yourself that it will all be worth it in the end. God has you in this season for a purpose and He doesn’t make mistakes.

My (surprise) gynecologist visit in Costa Rica

This traumatizing story is such a classic that it deserves a repost from my very first blog in CR.

A little background: In Costa Rica, the country has a Social Security system, the Caja, which offers free medical care to any citizen/resident that pays their taxes. Except for the ungodly long lines and general confusion, the care you receive is pretty good.

My second year in CR, I came down with what was probably my fifth case of bronchitis during rainy season. I was eligible to receive care from the Caja, and since I’m always up for free stuff, I decided to try it out. My first mistake was that I went alone, because despite my lofty thoughts, I was not good at Spanish. Basically, you have to go before 7 a.m. to the clinic and wait in a line to get a ficha (a little paper with a number). Based on that ficha, you are given an appointment time. After waiting in the wrong line and not doing the right thing, I finally practiced my Spanish out in my head enough times to ask the people around me what I needed to do. I was profusely sweating, naturally. I finally received my appointment time; it was scheduled for 3:15 p.m. I walked home and went back to bed.

I drag myself back over there at 3:15 p.m. and finally get called in. The nurse asks me to explain my symptoms and I tell her about the bronchitis, fever, etc. We are understanding each other pretty well until she uses a word I have NEVER heard in my life.

Papanicolaou.

It is definitely a question and she is definitely waiting to know if I want one. If you’ve ever learned another language, you know that context is everything. If context isn’t working, grab onto anything that sounds familiar and go with it. Well, all I understood was “papa” in this case.

My first guess: Papá = Dad. Who knows, maybe she is talking about something hereditary. I say, “Mi papá no está aquí” which means, “My dad is not here.” She looks at me like I am crazy, but politely asks me the same question.

My second guess: Papa = Potato. I can’t think of a good reason why she would talk about potatoes at this point, but I´m starting to panic, so I ask, “Porque estás hablando de papas?” which means, “Why are you talking about potatoes?” She seems frustrated now and tells me that we are not talking about potatoes.

Well, if we’re not talking about dads or potatoes, then what are we talking about? She explains that aforementioned word means that a doctor will revise my lady parts. What the ??? Why would I want someone to “revise my lady parts” if I have bronchitis? At this point, the sweat is pouring freely from my every pore.

Papanicolaou = Pap Smear (Come to find out later, Albin lets me know that they do routine paps when people come in if there isn’t any record of one on file?) Why the nurse thought now was a good time is still beyond me.

Anyway, I thought it over and since I’m the cheapest person alive and a multi-tasker, I thought about how I could kill two birds with one stone today and save money on a gyno appointment in the states. I get over the weirdness of the nurse’s proposition and go for it.

I get into the doctor’s office and it’s a he(!). I’ve never had a man gyno, so I start getting nervous. He doesn’t even look up but tells me not-so-gently to drop my pants. I follow instructions and slide onto the table because by this point, I am swimming in sweat. I’m super tense. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but 50 percent of you know how super tense works out during a pap smear. The doctor starts sternly barking in Spanish that I need to relax. I cannot relax. This is not a time for relaxing. Just as I am having second, third, and fourth thoughts about my decision, he tells me not to worry and shows me the metal contraption that they use to conduct the procedure. I’m pretty sure that I screamed. It looked MASSIVE to these virgin eyes. Traumatizing. I sucked it up and got it over with. The doctor was so annoyed but I didn’t care, I practically ran out of the room back to the nurses’ station.

All sweaty, I sat back down at her desk and she takes me over to a check-up table and tells me to drop my pants. Are you crazy? I refused. She told me she was giving me an injection of antibiotic for my bronchitis (so she did understand that I was there for the bronchitis). Fine. So I dropped the pants and laid on the table. She shoots me in the cheek and the proceeds to say, “Oops.”

“Oops” is like the last word you want to hear when you’re at the doctor’s office. I asked what happened and she told me that some of the liquid came out (or at least that’s what I understood). She apologized and said that I might experience some muscle spasms as a result. Ha.

You. Have. NO. Idea.

As I grabbed the antibiotics they had prepared for me, I felt a small twinge in my butt cheek. I started walking home and I now wish I had video proof, but I’ll just have to describe it. For you women out there, you know how you kind of waddle out after a pap-smear? I was already doing the slight waddle, then I experienced the largest muscle spasm I’ve ever had in my butt.  They would come and go every few minutes. I had to waddle six blocks to get home, stopping every few minutes as my whole butt contorted in ways I didn’t know possible. It was humiliating. I can’t even imagine what the neighbors thought.

When I walked in to my Tico family’s house, my Costa Rican mom looked terrified and asked what happened to me. I was crying and waddling and coughing and spasming, and she just starts LAUGHING. Like, hysterically laughing. It’s the contagious kind of laughing, so I stop crying and start laughing hysterically. More hysteric than laughing, but whatever. I survived.The sad part is that I never went back to get the results because I was too humiliated. All that trauma for nothing.

So, for all of you out there who asked me why I paid to have my baby in a private hospital rather than to do it for free in the Caja, now you know.

CCSS