November 30, 2010

Living with open windows

Category: Things Jim hasn't figured out.

Turns out this is a broad, broad category with many, many things of various shapes, sizes, and importance. Importances? That can't be right. Add basic grammar to the list.

One of these things is Puerto Rican weather. It's still very hot. It is the tropics, after all, but I don't know if this is going to last forever. Maybe it gets comfortably cooler someday. In Juana Diaz, the average high drops from 91 in summer to 87 in winter. Apparently, that's enough of a change for Puerto Ricans to shy away from the beaches and buy jackets at Old Navy when they put 'em on the racks. But: I'm learning what it's like to live with your windows open, all the time. I sleep with the windows open, the atmosphere creeping in through the shutter slits.*

When people nearby are burning things, I smell campfire. When someone starts their car in the morning just outside my window, I get a deep breath of exhaust. And each morning, there comes this point shortly after I come out of deep sleep but long before I need to get up, when my sense of smell brings me out of my dreams and back to the reality that I'm living by the ocean, and as I lay there I can smell the salt in the air and there's a peace about it. And I hear everything: The ocean, the cars whizzing down PR-1, cats fighting mere feet away from my sleeping ears. Turns out the Marshall cat is a bully.

Add Going to the Movies in Puerto Rico to the list. Yesterday, Julio and I went to see Unstoppable. Fantastic movie, by the way. A timetable:
2:05: We sit down, and there's nothing on the screen. iPod touch time.
2:15: Posted showtime. Still nothing on the screen. No music. Nada.
2:17: Commercials/previews begin. They're mixed in with each other.
2:48: AFTER 31 MINUTES OF COMMERCIALS AND PREVIEWS THE MOVIE FINALLY STARTS. I thought maybe something was wrong. I wanted to go find someone and ask them why there was no movie, why we were only seeing previews and commercials when I had paid $3.50 to see Denzel Washington race against time to stop a runaway train carrying toxic chemicals in this non-stop thrill-ride also starring Chris Pine and Rosario Dawson. All the while, we were freezing. You would people living in a tropical culture would prefer keep the thermostat a little higher, like out of the 50s. People bring sweatshirts and coats to the movies. Maybe ones they bought at Old Navy. Also, it was too loud. But I don't want to complain.

Really, I don't.

I am not a curmudgeon. It's a Grace Adventures-ism to choose your attitude, because when you begin to be cynical and skeptical, you can only view the world through that lens, and everything gets flavored a little more sour than it really is. I feel compelled to tell you I like it here a lot. But it's the peculiar stuff that is worth mentioning. After all, no one wants to hear that I spent Sunday afternoon lying in a hammock between two coconut trees, reading the Hobbit. Without a fruity, frozen beverage.

People who get to come here for a few days or a week usually can only take a handful of reactions home. A few that are easy pickins': The people are really crazy, dangerous drivers. They only eat rice and beans. It's so hot. There are lots of fast food places, and they're not fast. There are lots of bugs, and some of them are really big. The movies start late and they crank the AC so you freeze. There are mangy dogs everywhere. Some of the cats are mean.

Those might very well be the first things on kids minds when they return home and are asked about their mission trip. But I hope they've had much deeper reactions than a few natural and cultural oddities. That's not why they come, that's not we host them, that's not what missions are about.



Speaking of things I don't have figured out... But that's a topic for later.

*Not to be attempted as a tongue twister, ever.

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