But I'm afraid it's impossible.
I wish I could sleep right now, but I can't, not until I've expressed my gratitude publicly (on Cacebook no less)! Heh.
To catch up with things a bit, I write you from Valparaiso/Viña del Mar (they're 10 minutes apart), Chile at 2:30 on the morning of my twenty-fourth birthday. I've never felt so alive; it seems as though the very blood within my veins is speaking to me, cheering for me, pumping from the pure exhilaration which is its source.
For the first time I celebrate my birthday in the winter. I managed to sneak away from the Liceo for winter holiday and my friend Taylor came to visit me all the way from Missouri. We planned our wintery excursions, part of which included a desire to see Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, Chile's proudest view of the Pacific Ocean. I was on Facebook one day a couple of weeks ago and was browsing through the emergent church groups trying to find one to join, mostly to secretly but amicably spite my friend (that's you, David Hamilton). I was surprised to stumble upon Iglesia Emergente, an emergent church based in Valparaiso. I requested to join the group and immediately the administrator of the group-slash-pastor of the church contacted me, thanking me for joining and anxiously asking me questions about myself. As we continued to talk I mentioned that I had planned to visit Valparaiso with a friend soon and inquired about cheap hostels in the area. I received a shocking reply: this pastor and some of his friends welcomed Taylor and I into their homes to stay for free to help our embarrassingly economical travel budget. A little hesitant, but even more desperate, I took up the offer.
We began to plan things. Hector, the pastor, and his wife Macarena, live in Viña del Mar, and their two close friends and fellow church members, Carlos and his wife Kati, live down the street. Taylor would stay with one couple and I'd stay with the other. At this point I knew nothing of anyone but Hector, and I didn't even know the ages of any of these people. One side of me was concerned for Taylor's life and my own well-being, but my stronger, adventurous side was raging feverishly.
The day of departure to Viña del Mar arrived. We were given specific instructions regarding which bus to take, what to tell the driver, which stop to get off at, etc. We failed completely. We got on the wrong bus, the driver said he couldn't take us to the stop, and we wound up on the complete opposite side of town at the main bus terminal. Frantic and feeling like utter disappointments, Taylor and I tried to find a pay phone to call Hector (because my cell phone decided to completely go kaput just 2 days prior). After about 15 minutes of failed pay phone attempts, we finally got in touch with Hector (this was the first time I heard his voice, might I add). There I was, this complete stranger, breaking the news that we completely screwed up the instructions and that we were actually nowhere near his house, but we were more than willing to take a taxi. Finally he told us he would come all the way out to pick us up. Unbelievable. Sometimes that kind of kindness makes you feel awful.
From then on things have been nothing short of completely phenomenal. I can tell you in all honesty that these 4 Chilean emergents are the most servant-hearted believers that I have ever known. They have been so kind to us, paying for every last bit of our transportation, surprising us with little snacks they buy for us in secret, feeding us numerous meals in their homes, of course letting us stay with them and making sure we are completely comfortable, planning three days' worth of activities for us to all do together, showing us around Valparaiso and Viña for hours and hours on end, taking care of Taylor when he was sick, helping us organize our travel plans, and finally, tonight.
Today Hector, Macarena, Carlos and Kati took Taylor and me to Viña del Mar to see the ocean and the mall and the markets. We walked and walked and walked. Walked by the ocean, walked around the mall. (P.S. I found a book that I absolutely would kill for: How to Survive in the Chilean Jungle. All the Chilean slang anyone could ever want to know. And slang is a big deal here. Like, a BIG deal. I've been trying really hard to learn it lately. It's a lifetime process. Anyway.)
They were so patient with us. I was obsessed with standing and watching the waves because I haven't seen the ocean in years, and I think they preferred to walk around the mall. Then Taylor fell very ill for a mysterious reason and they took such good care of him; they took him to a pharmacy and found the perfect medicine for him and made sure everything was okay, cutting the evening's plans short for us in order to go home instead because Taylor felt bad. Hector was even there for Taylor when he had to get off the bus early because the jolting was making him sicker. When we got back to Hector and Macarena's house, we all ate a dinner that Kati and Macarena prepared for us, then we watched a movie (Los Conquistadores, aka..... Pathfinder?). So much fun. I was starting to feel like I had known these people for years.
Then it came time for Carlos, Kati and me to go home. As we were about to walk out the door the lights were turned out and there were some comments about how it was raining outside, how cold it was, how Kati forgot to put on her coat, etc. And before I knew it, I saw a little glow in the darkness and Macarena was coming around the corner with a birthday cake, candle and all, and I think my brain finally kicked in around the last few words of the Happy Birthday song. I couldn't believe it. These people I hardly knew had bought me a cake and were singing Happy Birthday to me. I even got the cake-in-the-face tradition. Classic. Someone turned on the lights and there was Carlos, gift in hand. Wrapped and everything. (It was wrapped beautifully. Anne Marie.) Wouldn't you know they bought me the Chilean Jungle book? I couldn't believe it. I started crying. I've never had such a special birthday. My eyes are welling up right now. These four people that I've only known for a matter of days spent so much time and effort to make my birthday special. This day stands as one of the most unforgettable in my life. Few other times have I felt so loved. I'm writing this through tears even now. When we sat down to eat the cake together I asked Hector (who speaks English fluently) how to say "I can honestly say that this is the most unforgettable birthday I've ever had," and I started to cry again. Estaba muy, muy, emocionada. And we had birthday hats!!!!!!!!!!!
So I stayed up an hour later to say thank you. Thank you Hector, Macarena, Carlos, Kati, and Taylor for absolutely everything. I never imagined any of this would happen, I never imagined such a special birthday in my life. I've never felt anything like this before. I hope that we all stay in touch for a very long time after this. All of you have impacted my life tremendously. Here come the tears again. Thank you for being such servants. Thank you for all that you've done, for opening your home, for trusting complete strangers, for treating us like royalty, for the incredible birthday and the book of course, for all the great times and the laughs and the vulnerability and the friendship. Thank you. There is no way we could ever repay you (I've been racking my brain trying to think of ways). You all will be in my prayers and I hope to see you again for New Years or sooner, God willing. Thank you again. I love all of you dearly.
P.S. Hector, you'll have to translate this for everyone.