Monday, May 1, 2017

Un Dia en la Vida


Who would have thought it would be this hard to blog consistently?!

I have recently started my seventh month, which leaves a five month hiatus between my last blog and this one. And I have yet to tell you much about the actual work I am doing! I work in a before and after school program that supplements the 3 hour public school day. The children who attend this program are provided with meals, Computer Classes, Art and music classes, Homework Help, Civics lessons, and Christian Formation. When Lexy and I are there, they also have English Class. Lexy and I work at two different school during the week, alternating Wednesdays to split our time equally.

Here is a quick rundown of a day in the life of a Costa Rican YASCer, and a few stories about my kids (who are by and large, ridiculous).

To get to our Heredia location, we leave at 6am to take a bus, that takes us to a train, that leaves us with about a quarter mile walk to school. Upon arrival we spend time ushering kids inside, feeding them breakfast, and cleaning up after the many unsuccessful attempts they have in getting the food from their bowl, to their mouth. It truly amazes me how many names I have learned and can appropriately apply to the right little faces. We eat breakfast ourselves and pray that it will be Gallo Pinto (a traditional Costa Rican breakfast dish made with rice, beans, onions, peppers, and a healthy heap of cilantro).

Next, we bring a cup of coffee to teach the older kids, throughout one, two, or three sections. They vary in age, from 6 to 12, and their English abilities vary even more, regardless of age. They spend forty minutes taking notes, completing a worksheet, or playing a game. The best received game we've created (and recycled repeatedly) is called "Circle the Word". What the name lacks in creativity, the game makes up for in competition. We will write all of our vocabulary words for a given section on the white board and divide the class into two teams. Each round, one representative from each team is called and they race to circle whichever word we say aloud. As with the majority of our games, the winning team gets bragging rights. Once I cheated with an 11 year old who was playing against Lexy. I don't think she's recovered from that loss yet.

We have two sections of children between the ages of 4 and 6. Through trial and error we have learned just how short their attention spans are, and tend to stick to full group activities so we don't lose too many. We have many, many songs that we sing. Songs that teach salutations and food items, and classics like Ole' MacDonald and Head Shoulders Knees and Toes. When we come prepared, we can color with the little ones. When we don't, we can read one of three bilingual books we have. They are still engaged when we read the Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar for the 74th time. I hate now hate that book and will never read it to my children.

Lunch duty looks much like breakfast duty, making sure everyone has gotten a plate, or seconds. The children here are much less picky with what they eat than the children I have worked with back in the states. On beet salad day, they are even less picky that I am.

Our last task in a normal day is nap time. It has been officially declared that I am not a good naptime proctor (One kid from the siesta I watch once responded to my "Buenos Suenos" or "Sweet dreams" with a "Buenos Suerte" or "Good luck") . I love having time with the kids that isn't structured around learning and I tend to play too much. I love answering questions (My favorite was from a ten year old boy who wanted more information on the Illuminati and what Beyonce is doing with them) and seeing how many words they can translate from a book on my kindle. Occasionally I arrive to them already being completely asleep. That's a scenario I can't mess up. These kids will sleep through anything. On days like that I need only back track through the easy listening CD, which skips after track 4. After naptime we cross our fingers that it isn't going to rain on our walk to the train station and head out for a nice long commute home.

Most school days are lots of fun. Some days we are being questioned on the state of affairs between the US and North Korea, some days we are being asked if we've ever been to Hoboken New Jersey, and can we show them on a map. And on the days that aren't fun, Lexy and I can always find something to laugh about, because when you aren't having fun, that's all that matters.

Pura Vida,

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Lenten Meditation

This year I was blessed with the opportunity to participate in a project with my home parish, despite being out here, in Costa Rica. 40 people were each assigned a day and received the assigned passages to meditate and reflect upon. Being able to read these thoughts from my friends back home each day has made the distance seem a little shorter. I'd like to share my submission, from April 8th, with you. My online Episcopal community.

"When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. He asked, “Where have you laid him?”
They replied, 'Lord, come and see.'
Jesus began to cry." John 11:32-35
In preparation for my mission year I learned about the utility of cultural sensitivity. This encompassed many different things, but all hinged around the idea of ditching the old “white savior complex” of missioners who have gone before us. We must strive not to “Do For” but to “Be With”. First and foremost is always relationship building, through Christ, because all work will be properly prepared after those friendships has been forged.
It can be hard, especially on days when you feel your time is not being well spent. Days when the kids are screaming and fighting, when the schedule has been changed without your knowledge. Days when the bus passes by you without stopping and then it starts to rain. In today's Gospel we hear about Mary going to meet Christ, at the behest of her sister. Mary is grief stricken over the death of her brother, and begins to cry as she reaches Jesus. John 11:35 states Christ’s response as plain as can be.
“Jesus wept.”
Christ has already been lauded for his miraculous abilities, but his response to seeing Mary in such a state was not to jump for a solution. Not to try and end her despair abruptly. Banish it from his day, his mood, his presence. Instead Christ simply stayed with her. He felt moved. Before being called to action he needed Mary to know, that he was here with her. And that her pain was being shared.
I still find it difficult to comfort a child in Spanish. Whether it’s a fall off the jungle gym, or a bruise from a bully, or a preteen heartache, the words may escape me. In times like that it helps to remember the power of togetherness. Maybe I can’t raise the dead, but I can remain with you until the storm passes.

Happy Easter!!

Saturday, November 5, 2016


I have to admit, I was more excited about leaving the United States than I was about living in Costa Rica. I did not choose my destination or my occupation this year; I asked for a change and waited for an answer. I felt a primal yearning to uproot, to find new eyes in a new land, always remaining cognizant that the same Sun would follow me steadily.
Lately, as the homesickness begins to flare, licking me with flames of sadness and doubt, the motives that brought me here can become faint memories. Much time and effort has gone into building and nurturing the community that I have left in Rhode Island, and I knew it well. There are days when I feel much of myself has been left in my community back home. On those days I work a little harder, to build within myself.

Now is a time for self-guided intention.

It has been some time since I have felt lonely. While I am very busy and often exhausted with work, a year is a long time. Here, rather than needing to find ways to make time for myself, I need to curate activities to spend time actively engaged with Alexa. I have been reading and writing, to keep a dialogue of reflection under the spotlight. So days do not pass idly, but are unfolded delicately, with the help of more eloquent pilgrims who have gone before me.

I have been praying. That one might sound too obvious for a missionary looking to be intentional, but jeepers it's been difficult. In the US, prayer is a passive event for me. I am an audience member at a grand weekly celebration. I can recite my responses with my eyes closed, as I am wrapped in a warm blanket of tradition, sweetly awakened by the smell of coffee an hour later.

Now it is up to me to keep appointments in the chapel. It is up to me to choose the words, the scripture, the length of silence that is kept. I am finding it difficult to trust in my own guidance, and to let go into the moment. The trust I have in Rev Patrick at my home parish of The Redeemer is implicit, and due in part to that I always leave feeling nourished and ready to take on my week.

Lately, a week is too long to wait. I need to find space in my day, my head, and my heart, to cultivate intentional community. To trust in the arms that picked me up and placed me here, and spend time in those arms when I feel alone.

This song has been helping immensely too. I hope you enjoy.

"Smile" - Eyedea and Ability

"I can only build if I tear the walls down,
Even if it breaks me I won't let it break me down.
I'm fallin' but no matter how hard I hit the ground,
I still smile."

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Para Los NiƱos

It happens quite often during my day that I need to remind myself to stretch. To stretch my legs after a long commute. To stretch my Spanish muscles, which have atrophied since high school. To stretch the muscles in my face that form my 'I am VERY serious' face, and twice as often the ones which my 'I am just kidding!' face is comprised of. Thankfully, the language barrier has been easier to face with the children of Hogar Escuela. They are willing to wait patiently while I flip through a dictionary, or ask them to write out phrases on paper when they are lost on the voyage from their mouths to my ears. Better yet, they are just as proud of me when I remember things they've taught me, as I am of them.

We have crossed some hurdles in these first two weeks of school, tripped over a few, and completely missed at least one (it was a train, and I still can't believe the last one leaves the station at 8:00 in the morning). Lesson planning has been difficult, to say the least. 3-5 year olds do not like to listen for very long. And they outnumber us ten to one. Most other classes are comprised of children between six to twelve years of age, which offers a range of ability we are still wrestling with. Within those classes, attendance varies greatly, as our school is supplemental to aid parents in need of childcare for their full time employment. We are never sure what we will receive from each day upon arrival, but we have learned that everyone has more fun if we can be flexible. So I continue to stretch and keep myself warm with the spirit of compassion and love that brought me here. Although I am exhausted at the end of this week, I know that I have earned this feeling. & that makes it so much sweeter.

However slowly it seems, routines are being formed. Most students know our names, our songs, and greet us with ecstatic " 'Ello Teachers!" and a hug when we see them in the halls in which we walk together, as we grow together. I'll include a few pictures of these halls so you can walk with me and see what I see, as best as I can provide.

Pura Vida.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Para Vivir, Para Quemar, Para Vivir de Nuevo

My name is Alexa Henault, and I have just begun a year as a missionary for the Episcopal Church. For many who know me, the subject of that sentence, they are surprised by the predicate that follows. I have never identified so boldly as a Christian. I have been raised in a family and in a community that prioritize compassion, and my church has never been any different. However, many dominant Christian narratives choose to espouse shame keeping me quiet when discussing my affiliation. My church has never been dogmatic or prohibitive. I didn’t want to represent myself disingenuously because of individuals who shared my faith, but radically opposed my values. Odd as it may sound, I distanced myself from the church so my identity would seem more morally sound.
As it turns out, making decisions for your soul based on how they affect your reputation is not a healthy choice. After a tumultuous hiatus I began to actively search for spiritual outlets. I find communal worship quenches my spirit more than independent prayer, so I began to visit different houses of worship. One a week. Slowly, but intentionally, dipping my toes back into the cool waters. I was fascinated, by the buildings, the ministers, the music, the families, the children. I did not often stray from my home parish growing up, so being able to walk so freely into an intimate shared space of strangers was powerful. Some places had nearly tangible boundaries between a new parishioner and the parish community, and some places welcomed me with open arms. The one that felt like home became my spirits new resting spot (and it was only a five minute walk from my house!) After the spiritual taste testing I found myself back in a traditional Episcopal Church, with an eclectic and open minded congregation, all of whom introduced themselves at my first coffee hour.
While my religious ties may be a surprise to some, no one is surprised that I have chosen to dedicate a year of my life to service work; it is not the first time and I doubt it will be the last. Upon applying to the Young Adult Service Corps I admit my expectations for my acceptance were low. In fact, sitting here in my new bedroom in San Jose, Costa Rica I still can’t believe that I was given this opportunity. I feel blessed to be allowed to work with the children and colleagues I will soon meet in Hogar Escuela. Moreso I feel blessed to have the opportunity to be reborn in a new place, with a community in Christ to help guide me. The travel to Costa Rica was delayed by a few days because of an active volcano near the city that was covering the surrounding area in ash. I kept thinking of the allegory of the Phoenix, a bird who was set aflame by the sun while perching on a tree. From the ashes the bird rose again, to new life. I have been welcomed into this new chapter under a blanket of ash. Watched as it was gently cleansed by rain. And I have never felt more prepared.

The Phoenix Who Survived
-@Deanthebard ( )

Rising from the ashes, you spread your wings to fly
Reaching now for those final dreams, belief will never die
Beautiful and so glorious, the eternal bird of fire
Soaring up into the sun, leaving behind the pyre
Dreams are now your destiny; reach with all your might
You’re a powerful inferno, ablaze and in full flight
Yesterday is over, today has just begun
The sky is now your playground your home is now the sun
Destiny is in your grasp, forget the doubts and fears
Your flame will burn eternally for all remaining years
There will be times of doubt, and moments of pure sorrow
But one thing that is ever true, you’re the angel of tomorrow