"Will you offer the prayer over our New Year's Eve meal?" my host father asked on my first evening in the country, listing a few ideas about things I could pray about. I wasn't sure I could pray very well in Spanish, but I was willing to try (and hopefully it was very amusing to them, just like when little kids pray).
The way my flight schedule worked out made me a little nervous, because I arrived about 4:30 p.m. on New Years Eve and would spend 4 days hanging out with my host family before starting school. I worried it would be a little awkward, but it turned out to be a great experience to spend the holiday with them. We watched bullfighting on TV on New Year's Eve and then I went to bed early (being super tired from all that sightseeing in Mexico).
The next day, my host mom told me that they had a tradition of going up into the mountains every New Years Day. So, little Santi grabbed his car seat, we all climbed in the car, and my host sister Valeria pulled out the GPS on her phone to help us find the way. The streets here have numbers and names, but they often aren't posted. Instead, people use landmarks to give directions--for instance, my address is to go to the Shell gas station in Montelimar (which doesn't exist anymore since new managment gave it a new name) and go a certain number of meters south and west of there.
After winding our way through the hilly streets, with my host dad asking directions from three guys in an old car and then needing to help them push the car so they could pop the clutch to start it again, we found the beautiful little farm in Heredia where we'd be meeting. And that's when I realized this was a family reunion with my host mom's extended family.
If you've ever attended someone else's family reunion, you know how fun it is to keep a conversation with strangers going. And doing it in another language on my first day in Costa Rica was even more fun!
After meeting lots of aunts and uncles and cousins, they suggested I sit down next to the mother of my host mom, and so I chatted with her. She was kind and told me that we were going to go out for coffee together sometime. And that was a great place to sit, because as people came to the reunion they all came by to say hello to her, and they all gave me a kiss and greeted me too. Here we are together, having fun playing with the sweet little blue-eyed little 8-month old Nicole.
They all brought food to share, and wanted to make sure I tried what THEY brought, and so as I sat there chatting with grandma people brought me plates of food to try. And I enjoyed chatting with some cousins who were physical therapists and hearing about their work.
Soon, it was time to go, because Luis had promised to take his own mother out to coffee that day. So we headed back to town and picked her up and headed to a coffee shop for a little snack, where they used Facetime to visit with distant relatives in the U.S.
And I felt really lucky to have all these experiences...what tourists get to do stuff like this? And I felt really grateful to be living with a such a great family who include me in their activities.