Living in Latin America as a White, non-Spanish speaking Woman from the USA

I find myself sitting in a Carl’s Jr. all alone, waiting for my piping hot chicken tenders and crisscut fries to not only feed my hungry belly but to comfort my ex-patriate heart.  Being alone in public NEVER happens to me anymore but I feel it is happening tonight because I believe Providence needed it to.  I honestly feel like crying right now but too many tears have already been shed the past 2 years (can you believe it has been 2 years?!?).  I am all cried out (at least for now).

You see, I thought I had a Stake Primary Presidency meeting tonight because Google Translator led me to believe that the message I was translating told me that it would be better to meet this week than next week.  That totally made sense to me because meetings seem to be thrown together last minute and the way the text read made it sound like next week was off limits, so when would the next available date be possible for a meeting?  So I assumed tonight was our meeting.

Now, all is not lost.  Yes, I had to sit in traffic for almost an hour and I didn’t really have anywhere to go, now that the meeting “was cancelled” (the very reason I am sitting in a Carl’s Jr., typing away at my blog) but I felt I shouldn’t go home.  I honestly felt that I needed to take some time out and do some self reflecting and let some steam off.  Thankfully I actually feel that I have learned some positive things from this experience.

For one, when someone makes plans with you, confirm the date, not just the day of the week.  Secondly, look for the hidden purpose of things, not just what you expected to happen.  For instance, on my way to this meeting tonight, I was feeling quite uneasy.  I may have even shed a few tears.  I was feeling overwhelmed, inept at doing things I feel I could easily do in an English speaking calling, and even a bit left out of something that could fill my “social Wendi” cup in an English speaking setting.

But instead of turning the car around and going home, something I really wanted to do but didn’t, I said a prayer and sincerely asked Heavenly Father to help me face the fears I had in my heart and mind and to help me be of worth to these sisters, rather than a burden.  No one wants a mid-age, non-Spanish speaking woman on their hands.  Or do they?

As I pulled up to the Stake Center and saw that the building was closed and the gates were locked, I immediately sent a WhatsApp group message letting the Stake Primary President know that I was there but couldn’t get in to park my car (I was late to our last meeting, so I was making an effort to not only be on time but to communicate where I was to the Presidency).  Thankfully, within minutes, the one person in the Presidency that I ‘thought’ didn’t like me very much, called me (not texted – a MIRACLE in and of itself) and said, IN ENGLISH, “Wendi, there is not a meeting tonight.  It is next week.”

Just hearing English, from a stranger/person I thought didn’t like me, was such a gift.  I immediately felt immense gratitude that she would make herself vulnerable in order to help me.  I know what it feels like to use a language that you don’t know if you sound good or not speaking.  I know what it feels like to have people be critical of your best effort.  So I TRULY appreciated her sacrifice of comfort in order to help me know what was going on and told her so.  I am hopeful that tonight might have been a gift for the two of us and possible for the entire Presidency.  Maybe they do need a non-Spanish speaking, mid-aged, experienced in most callings of the church, respectful of any English spoken woman in their presidency?  Only time will tell.

Of course I felt silly about my error and even a bit dumb, but thankfully I ignored those feelings and took stock of the situation.  It was a mistake and no harm was done.  I realized that I actually NEEDED to get out of the house and I think my family needed a break from me too.  Not that things are bad between us but because we are with each other 24/7.  Homeschool has a way of suffocating you sometimes, so it is good when we each have opportunities to take a healthy time-out.

After clarifying texts went around for 10 minutes or so, I found myself needing to do something I used to do in Utah – going out and getting something to eat by myself.  Now, I don’t have many choices around here but Carl’s Jr. was close, the chicken tenders are pretty fresh and the fries aren’t so bad.  I wish I could have something to drink rather than soda, but beggars can’t be choosers.  It is good to just be grateful.

But no sooner had I gotten in line, a man walked up in front of me and ordered his meal.  I didn’t mind, I needed a few more minutes, but I do miss being asked if I was in line or if they could go ahead of me.  Now, don’t jump and say it’s because he thought I didn’t speak Spanish because HE spoke English and you can tell he isn’t from here.  He had an issue with the USA twenty dollar bill he gave to them to pay for his meal (they thought it was counterfeit) and so I tried to help him understand why they were asking for a different bill.

Just at that moment, a 20-something Tico guy walked up to him and IN ENGLISH, told him what was happening.  What?!?!  I rarely, and I mean RARELY, get any help from people here.  But instead of getting upset or jealous, I tried to help the English speaking man feel better about the confusion . . . but he blew me off.  Instead of politely just ending the conversation, he walked over to the Tico guy and started explaining things to him.  I was floored!

Is this happening in the USA too or is it only happening to me?  Is it because I am older and not as attractive anymore?  Is it my size?  Because of my health problems, I have gained some weight and I am not in shape.  But what about my countenance?  Doesn’t it say “friendly, helpful, kind” still?  Or . . . is it because I am a white woman?  Now, I know that isn’t completely true.  I have had experiences where I have been with other white gringa women (ex-patriate, USA citizen, non-Spanish speaking women) and people seem to be helpful and friendly toward them.  So is it because of how I look?

This part of living here stinks and I don’t know that moving back to Utah would give it back to me.  I feel that living in Costa Rica has changed so much about me and sometimes I fear that it has changed too much and not for the better.  I miss being treated with respect by others in my community.  I miss men opening doors as we both walk up to a business or restaurant.  I miss people, men and women, treating me with respect, intelligence and kindness.  I especially miss being part of conversations.

In Costa Rica, and I have heard in most Latin American countries, the women are not included in the conversation.  It is like going to a rude mechanic and he only speaks to your husband, even though the husband might not have a clue either, but because he is a man, he is worth explaining things to.  Argh.  These are the moments that being a human being really stinks.  I can see it happening all over the world.  Look at how women are treated in China, India, the Middle-East, Latin America and the Islands.  We, women of the United States of America, are truly the BEST TREATED WOMEN in the WORLD!

Yes, there is still abuse and there is still crime and there are still equality rights that haven’t been solved but in comparison to the rest of the world, we do have the best culture and I believe it is something to be appreciated and NOT EXPECTED.  Entitlement robs us of the joy that agency gives us.  If someone CHOOSES to be nice, be grateful because THEY DON’T HAVE TO BE NICE TO YOU.  I know.  It happens to me daily.  I sure miss being treated nicely.

I also think that the married, white male is the minority of the world.  I truly hurt to see the way they are treated, mocked, made fun of in public, on television, in movies, in ads and on the internet.  Fathers are considered to be worthless and are usually killed off in entertainment programs, unless the mother was already.  Fathers and husbands are viewed as dopes and are shown to be unfaithful and 2 faced.  What a sick society we have.  Truly sick.  I wonder what the cure will be and what immunization can be invented to help the future of our children.

Although I dislike being ignored, excluded and even being talked down to, I KNOW that I have a husband and children, a father and mother, siblings, in-laws and friends who value me and value my opinion.  I also know that I have a Heavenly Father and Savior who love and value me, so much so that I was chosen to be put on the earth at this very moment.  Don’t lose heart Wendi.  We all make mistakes.  But what is the truth to handling these situations?  Do we say something?  Do we not?  Can we honestly just sit idly by?

Well, I say NO to feeling that the USA is a waste land and that women are nothing because if you look around, how are you treated everyday?   Do people still let you walk through the door first, do they even hold the door for you?  Do you hold the door for them?  Dare I say, even a man?  If we want equality, are we willing to treat men as equals too?  Or do we just demand the best life only for ourselves?

How are you being treated at home?  Are people respectful of your home?  Do they wipe their feet or remove their shoes when they enter your home?  Do they compliment you on how you have chosen to style or make your home comfortable?  Are you invited into conversations AND able to offer advice and people not only listen but consider your advice?  Well, if you have said yes to even one of these questions, than you are one of the richest women in the world.

No matter where you live, be thankful for the beauty that you do have in your life.  Let the selfish and ignorant things of life go.  Let the mistakes we see all around us teach you but not belittle or hurt you.  And let life be a moment of joy, instead of focusing on the un-fair and painful.  It is hard to do, but “Put your Shoulder to the Wheel because the road is long but it must go on!  Put your Shoulder to the Wheel!”  (That’s for you “K”).

 

All my love,

Wendi

 

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