Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010!

December 2010
Hello and Happy Holidays!

As we sit here in a hot and tropical country, it is slightly difficult to believe that Christmas is upon us – even if our host family's house has been decorated with wreaths, trees, and little Santa Claus figurines since before Halloween! We hope that this finds you doing well and that you have had a wonderful year. It really is hard to believe that yet another year has passed, considering we are living in a perpetual summer.

This past February we said good-bye to family and friends before embarking on our current adventure – Peace Corps. We found ourselves in Washington D.C. on March 1 we officially began the Peace Corps journey by sitting in a conference room (for about 10 hours) with everyone else that was bound for Costa Rica. We went out for a nice dinner to celebrate what was to come and first thing the following morning we were piling into a bus and heading to the airport.

We spent March, April and May sitting in long training sessions and trying to learn Spanish. It was a frustrating time for us as a lot of training had to do with how to work with youth – which you know we have been doing for a fair number of years! We had our ups and downs, but it all came to an end on May 21 when we became official Peace Corps Volunteers – complete with a trip to the U.S. Ambassador's residence. On May 22 we loaded up our belongings, hopped on a bus (or 3), and several (4 or 5) hours later arrived in the comfort of our current home in Colonia, a small community in the middle of a banana plantation!

The seven months between then and now have also presented us with challenges as we try to figure out how to work most effectively in a new country. Every day is a new experience; whether we are going to cultural events at the school, hanging out at the playground and basketball court, walking through town or working with English classes at the high school we tend to finish the day in disbelief thinking, 'what just happened?' This is our new life. We're learning a lot – about Costa Rica, about how to adapt to a slower pace of life, and about ourselves.

Some of the highlights from our time here include (but are not limited to):

  • Doing a cultural exchange with a Spanish Service Learning class from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and students from our high school. This included letter exchanges between the students and culminated in a video chat through Skype – our kids were so excited to look into a classroom in the U.S., it made their day and we were so glad that we were able to provide them with that opportunity. Thank you Professor Aaron Chambers and class for making a difference in our community!

  • Chris teaching the kids how to play Knock Out, Around the World, and O-S-O (a shortened version of H-O-R-S-E) and then seeing the kids organize themselves to play on their own.

  • Playing games with our neighbors. The boys are 6, 10, 11, and 12 and can't get enough of card and dice games. Over the course of seven months we have seen them go from being shy boys who would reluctantly say hi, to quiet boys who participated in camp activities with us, to outspoken boys who shout to us from their houses whenever they see us and have no qualms about stopping by the house, peering into our windows and asking us if it is time to play yet. They also tell us that we're their best friends. If we're having a bad day all that we need to do is keep an eye out for them and soon enough we're all smiles.

  • Camp. During July the students had a two-week long vacation and we spent four hours a day playing games with them. We averaged about 25 kids a day. This was our first real attempt at doing anything in the community and it was a great success. It broke the ice between the kids and us. Their shyness was forgotten and they started hugging us, hanging on us, and acting out – in other words, acting like we know kids do! It was wonderful. This also showed us that the parents we had been saying hi to at every opportunity trusted us enough to let their kids spend the day with us.

  • Wednesday night English sessions with our friends Jorge and Alberto. Sometimes there are more people who show up, but these guys are consistent. They joke around with us and also help us with our Spanish, ensuring us that we're all together to learn from each other. It's pretty great.

  • Making friends from around the U.S. and Costa Rica. We have met some pretty incredible people throughout this journey. They have made all the difference in our time here.

So, in a nutshell, it has been a very interesting year. We have pushed ourselves and have benefited from the challenges that we have faced. It is hard to believe that we will soon be approaching our year mark here in Costa Rica. We are actively planning for the year to come and cannot wait to see what opportunities we will be presented with.

If you want to learn more about what we have been up to or want to keep track of what exactly it is that we're up to when we're not sitting around to avoid sweating, check out our blog: – we try to keep it relatively current!

Many blessings to you in the year to come! We hope that it is adventurous as ours is bound to be!

Be Well,

Chris and Tarah

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Surveying The Water Levels
Colegio Students Out For A Swim

Rain, Rain, Go Away...

December has brought with it more rain than our community's numerous drainage ditches and lazy rivers and streams can handle.  While most volunteers experienced flooding during November we had come through the effects of Tropical Storm Tomas with little more than an occasional shower interrupting our normally sunny skies.  That is being made up for now.

Yesterday (Wednesday) as we were going to the kitchen to eat breakfast María, our host mom, told us that Rafa, our host dad, had called to say that he couldn't make it to the Colegio and was on his way home.  When Rafa got back he told us that the water had been over the bridge by the Colegio and María encouraged us to go out and check it out.

We pulled on our rubber boots and raincoats and opened up our umbrellas and stepped out into a wet, wet world.  We started out in the direction of the Colegio and soon saw that the road that we would need to take was indeed under water.  We decided to try an alternate route, but didn't have any better luck.  

The Road Through Company Housing
We turned back to the main road through the company housing and were cut off by a couple of guys from the Colegio who were excited about the opportunity to go for a swim in the street.  The water reached mid-thigh on most of them and one student tried riding his bike through, but had to stop when the water covered his tires.  We laughed and took some pictures, and then followed a group of students on their walk to the school (even though classes had been cancelled).  

Needless to say, our rubber boots were no longer effective by the time the water had reached our thighs.  We made a few stops along the way, talking to students and a couple of families whose kids we regularly play with.  We asked questions about how often floods like this occur [note: we had asked these same questions upon our arrival in the community and were told that there are never floods, or at least nothing that can't be handled by donning your rubber boots] and were told a variety of things: never, every once in a while, not since my daughter was a baby (she's 10 now), last year it was worse - they brought boats in and everything.       
The Road Out Of Town

We pondered these responses and why we had heard differently six months ago and can only figure that people didn't want us to worry.  We had even asked in the local police station if there were any environmental concerns or natural disasters that have occurred in the area - everyone said no.  Well, we know now that flooding does happen.

Walter In His Raingear
We had also asked if an emergency committee existed in town, and were told that no, we don't have emergencies.  Someone did mention that the Junta (town council) takes care of things like that if need be.  On our walk though town we witnessed the president of the Junta opening up the church to be used for emergency shelter.  He then opened up the school cafeteria so that food could be made for those who would be without the comforts of home for the night.  María later told us that he was also the president of the Emergency Committee.  It's amazing what you can learn once you are actually integrated into your community.

We spent some time with our neighbors who wanted to show us the flooded farmland behind their house.  We ended up staying at their house for a while so that they could take pictures.  Then we went out to the road in front of our house to check water levels.  The water had covered the road, and we couldn't see dry land in front of us.  They took a couple more photos, including the one below of people after they made the journey through the flooded road so that they would have a dry place to spend the night.  We played some games until dark at which point we were left to be entertained by our endless supply of podcasts.  Due to the lack of power we also had a romantic candle-lit dinner!
Our Neighbors Standing At The Water's Edge
After Crossing To The "Dry" Part Of Town

When we went to bed the rain still hadn't stopped so we were hoping for sunny skies in the morning.  Instead we woke to the sound of more rain.  We had a couple of moments today when we thought that the sun might come out to play, but in reality we've spent another day under a storm cloud.  

There has been some slight improvement in conditions, water levels have lowered despite the continued rains.  The power has come back and we only lost water for a couple of hours this morning.  Unfortunately, for those who live in lower areas of town they will be spending another night on the floor of the church and will have a dinner of donated food prepared in the school cafeteria.  One wonderful thing that we have been able to see in all of this is how the community has come together so naturally to help one another.

We are thankful that we live on a hill [don't worry family and friends - we're safe] and that aside from our few walks through town we have been able to remain dry when so many have not had this luxury.  We're keeping our hopes up for sunshine tomorrow, or at least for the rain to stop falling.  

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

6 Months [in site]!

So we realize that a couple of months ago we posted a blog called 6 Months...Really?!, but that was just time spent in country.  We have now officially been in our site for 6 months, meaning 1/4 of our time here is done.  We have had days that seemed like they would never end, we have even had weeks that were drenched in the same feelings.  However, we have also had days and weeks that have flown by, and looking back on things, we occasionally wonder where whole months have gone.  So, to give you all a glimpse at all that has passed since that last 6 Months blog, here is another peek into our journal and photo album.

September 4
We discovered our current dream for when we return to the states.  Western New Mexico University.

September 6
There were discs and boomerangs flying all over the place.  It was a safety hazard - it was wonderfully entertaining!

September 9
I don't get it, we were there, we looked through the drawings and essays in the hour + that we waited.  Did no one see us or remember talking to us?

The bands here are amazing.  We're working with some pretty special youth.  We're luckier than some.

September 12
Fail.  Or success.  It all depends on your point of view.

I got going a little too fast downhill, hit a rut/hole and took a tumble over the handlebars.

September 14
Then the kids promptly began setting their creations on fire.  Several small bonfires ensued with multiple faroles being set to burn together, kids started jumping over the fires, the crowd grew and so we decided it was time to go.

September 15
We were up at 3 and started hearing Mike's firecrackers shortly thereafter.

What a great community we live in!

Oh, Independence Day, you have left us exhausted!

September 16
It was hot and sunny, then cloudy and thundering, then hot with sprinkles, then windy, then hot and sunny, a quick burst of hard rain and never failing, hot and sunny.

September 17
He asked us if we would like to teach English to about 40 children who attend the church.

If anything, we have met someone who we think will become a great counterpart as we develop community - youth projects.

September 20
While we were in with 5th grade another storm came.  All of the kids slid their desks close together and as far from the windows as they could get - they mostly stayed dry - however, half of the classroom had a standing layer of water by the time things eased up a bit.

September 23
Who doesn't want to spend their weekend with 60 teenagers that speak a different language (in more than one way!)?

September 24
Some games played today included charades where students acted out TV shows such as MacGyver (complete with a gun made from a watch and some sunglasses), CSI (which was not guessed correctly because the students failed to indicate the correct city - New York), and Superman (with actions of flying and dying from kryptonite).

October 1
Wow, October is already here.  This means we have completed 7 months of service, are starting our 8th - are midway thought our 5th in site - essentially a little more than 25% of our way through service.  20 months left.

October 3
We had our first English class this afternoon.  There were about 25 people.

October 7
We had a video chat with one of Aaron's classes today, it was pretty awesome.

They taught us the Costa Rican version of M.A.S.H. (P.M.R. - Pobre, Millionario, Rico).

So yeah, today was a smile day!

October 13
Today we had two great charlas with kinder and materno students.  We had fun playing "Soap and Water" Tag where we captured the bacteria (kids) in our soap bubble and eliminated them.

October 19
In all, even with the frustrations, today was a good day.  I think the big thing is reminding myself to laugh in moments that would otherwise frustrate me like crazy!

October 21
We went with her after school to check in with her mom who said that if we were going to be at camp then Yanet could go.  That made us feel pretty good.

October 24
So, the overall camp experience was pretty great.  We really saw some young leaders emerge and Michelle and Yanet were involved all weekend.  Yanet came out of her shell and was a group leader and in one activity was selected as someone special to the team.

October 25
My [Tarah] crazy rashes have come back again.

October 26
I [Tarah] spent the day travelling to and from San José.  My rash got checked out and I was basically told I'm allergic to the sun.  Go figure.

October 31
Happy Halloween!  We dressed up as hikers and walked the Progresso loop.  

November 1
It is so nice to have conversations with relatively like-minded people. 

November 2
It was a little sad to see Megon and Kevin go this morning.  We had such a good time with them - we're keeping our fingers crossed that they'll be placed near to us [side note: they'll be less than an hour away!]

We got the cards from Aaron's class!

Today we also picked up a package of photos from Peter - so awesome!

November 4
Today presented us with some highlights for our service so far and also brought some disappointing news.

During lunch today we did a video chat between colegio students and Aaron's class at UNL.  The kids were so incredibly happy to get to talk to students in the US - to see the people they had gotten post cards from and who they had written to.  They ended up using all of Aaron's class time - but we couldn't deny them the chance to talk.  After all, when else are they likely to have the chance to look into the US and talk to someone (in Spanish?).  Smiles all around!

When we got back Susanna met us on the street to tell us that we needed to call Peace Corps.  The rains/floods in CR have moved us to steadfast.  All plans for the weekend are now cancelled.

In other news another CYF volunteer decided to leave the program today.

November 6
It may not have been the Saturday we had planned, but it turned out to be rather fantastic. [see link above]

November 8
The house was full this morning as María and several students worked to fill every imaginable container they could come across with water.  The cuadrantes have been without water since Friday and they needed to be able to clean the bathrooms.  Then it was back here to prepare lunch in our nice, clean kitchen.

November 11
I hope we've seen the last of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and camp in general. [students prepared a dance to this at camp in September, we had seen it about 15 times over the course of that weekend, on the 11th it came back for a community presentation]

November 12
We returned home when school ended and left again around 3 to go to the planchel.  We played and played and around 4:30 Elvin showed up saying we were going to dinner tonight.  So we finished up our games and around 5 or so we went home to change and headed out with Elvin.

November 14
So much food, too delicious to turn down.

November 15
Olympics are ready to print and present.  Summer camp plans are in the works.  Ideas for how to occupy our time next year have begun to grow.

November 19
Curiosity has struck the colegio and it seems that students are already discussing which class is the best.  Hopefully this will lead to a good participation rate with the Olympics come to town.

On the walk home we were given a new yummy fruit to try.  It's purple and round and grows in the tree at the turn for the cuadrantes.  I'm sure with that description anyone could tell us the name since I can't remember it!

November 20
There were aguaceros several times today.  Once when Chris was getting ready to go on a bike ride - but when he couldn't see across the road he called it off.

November 21
It was raining when we woke up this morning and I'm pretty sure it's still raining out there.

Today marks 6 months as volunteers!  Tomorrow begins our 7th month in site.

November 22
A day at the hot springs!

November 24
We went to the escuela and worked with two second grade English classes to do a letter exchange with Hannah's [a cousin of Tarah's in 2nd grade in NY] class.  

November 25
The food was amazing and mostly vegan.  The tofurkey was delicious and flavorful, there were sweet potatoes with nuts and craisins, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, deviled eggs (obviously not vegan) and yeah, it was exciting!  We had pumpkin pie and apple pie with ice cream.  Our stomachs were all very happy! [THANK YOU DORSEY FAMILY!  We had a fabulous time!]

November 26
It is beautiful here.  I miss the mountains.

November 27
We spent the morning exploring with Megon and Kevin's family.  We climbed a little hill into the middle of a forest and played soccer until the ball rolled all the way down the mountain.  It was successfully retrieved after quite some time - but that was our sign to move on.

It's nice to be back, but we had an amazing time.  A "vacation" that was well worth it!

November 28
There were clowns.

November 30
We woke up to the sound of a downpour and promptly rolled over and went back to sleep.  When we eventually made it out of bed an hour later we started making rain day plans for Friday [olympics].  Let's just say we're really hoping for sunshine!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Change of Plans

For the last couple of months we had been planning a weekend away from our site - an unusual thing for us (something we have yet to do for anything other than trainings) - and so, we were rather looking forward to it.  However, life happens, or in this case, weather happens, and as a result things don't always go as planned.

Our plans had involved a trip to Puerto to see a kind of battle of the bands at the high school there and we were then going to stay in town overnight.  Then Saturday, today, we were going to go to San Jose for a picnic to welcome the newest group of Peace Corps Trainees.  But, as I mentioned, weather happens.  In this case it was rain, and lots of it.  The government declared a national emergency and as a result volunteers received calls from our Safety and Security Officer letting us know that we were not allowed to leave our sites between Friday and Monday. 

There have been some parts of the country that have received four days of rain and as a result are severely flooded.  There have been landslides and floods, and as a result a lot of infrastructural damage.  In our hot little banana fields we have fortunately been spared an overabundance of rain and have happily settled into a change of plans.

David rolling big numbers.
Yesterday we had a gray day with frequent rain showers, and took the opportunity to play games with our neighbors.  Last weekend we were visited by two of Costa Rica's amazing trainees, and they taught us a new dice game called "Amish Dice."  We had a lot of fun learning, and even more fun teaching our neighbors, David and Luis (Thank you Megon and Kevin!!)

Luis trying to decide if he should keep rolling
The boys called the game casino and quickly showed themselves to be risk takers.  In a game where you can pretty much go all or nothing, the boys would sometimes roll away up to 3000 points in hopes of earning even more.  The looks on their faces were priceless - whether expressing intense concentration in trying to figure out how to best use their points, showing surprise after throwing a big roll, or the look of utter disbelief when they failed to gain any points.  We had a ball, and they returned this afternoon with another neighbor, Andre, and explained to him how to play (sustainability!!)

Learning with Dominoes
We've also been playing cards, dominoes, pick up sticks, and jacks.  The kids float in and out, always excited to try a new game or return to an old favorite.  On deck for tomorrow is more Amish Dice and Uno.

Other adventures that we were privy to as a result of not being able to go into San Jose today included seeing baby chicks make their way out of their shells, watching Maria and the boys harvest yucca, and painting with one of the girls from kinder while her mom helped Maria out around the house this morning.

Chicks working hard to hatch (yes, they're in a Santa hat)

Maria with Yucca

David with Yucca (he almost fell over when the soil finally gave way!)

Yucca! Yum!
Liseth, La Artista

It has been an unexpected weekend, but maybe that has made it even better!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Global Handwashing Day!

Friday, October 15 is Global Handwashing Day.  This campaign is geared toward motivating people around the world to wash their hands using not only water, but soap as well.  One of the many things that Peace Corps Volunteers do during their 27 months of service is give "charlas" or chats on a wide variety of topics.  There really aren't any forbidden topics for charlas, though some partnering agencies may have you edit content to be age or culturally appropriate.  We took advantage of this global event and prepared a handwashing charla to give to our beloved preschool and kindergarten students today.

If any of you can remember your preschool or kindergarten days, the first thing that probably comes to mind is nap time.  In order for anything to sink in, it has to be fun.  That being said, you may be wondering how on earth you make something like handwashing fun (without making a mess).  We began our charla with a couple of short videos, because who doesn't love a good cartoon with soap, hands, and water?  We talked about what kids need in order to wash their hands, when they should wash their hands, why they should wash their hands, and how they should wash their hands. 

After the videos, things started getting pretty boring - you can only rub your hands together so many times before you start thinking that you're going crazy.  So, we decided to play a game of tag with the kids.  This wasn't your everyday game of tag though.  This was "Soap and Water Tag."  We played the roles of soap and water and worked together to clear a hand (the floor) of germs and bacteria (the students) living on it.  We essentially formed a "soap bubble" around groups of kids and shuttled them to the space that was designated as a clean hand.  After several minutes of running and screaming, we successfully cleaned the hand of all of its germs.

Having learned why, when, and how to wash their hands and acting out the process, it was time to get dirty so that we could practice washing hands.  The getting dirty party was fun.  Each child was able to put their handprint on a poster for their classroom that has the things needed to wash your hands, when to wash your hands, and how to wash your hands.  We talked about these posters and every student agreed that it was a "contract" stating that they would use soap and water and wash their hands after using the restroom, after playing with their pets or other animals, and before eating.  We kept things somewhat tidy by painting their hands for them before they made their mark (this is also a good paint saving technique!)  The end result was quite beautiful, and both the preschool and kindergarten classrooms now have lovely posters to remind them of how to wash their hands.

All of the kids loved this activity and had a great time pointing out their handprints to us after returning from washing their hands.  We really enjoyed the day and are glad that we have teachers in our school who are more than happy to take us up on our offers to do crazy educational activities.   

For more fun photos click here.
This is one of the videos that we showed the kids - enjoy!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Goal 2

As you may or may not know the mission of Peace Corps contains 3 simple goals:

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women. (Tarah and I are trying our best!)
2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served. (Here’s where you can help)
3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. ( &

We need your help with goal two. As you can imagine, it is nearly impossible to explain the vastness and grandness of a country as large and diverse as the United States, especially to children in a country approximately the size of West Virginia (the 41st largest state in the union) that has less than half the population of the Chicago metro area.

It would be great if you could send postcards and/or photos from your part of the country (or places you have visited). You can also send interesting facts about your city, state, the climate, the topography, your family, yourself or anything else you think is interesting about the USA. Some things that the kids would love to know about are animals, jobs, languages you speak, schools, typical/favorite foods, music, hobbies, family life, weather…

Postcards, letters, cards, pictures and packages can be sent to:

Chris & Tarah Hall
Apartado Postal 04-3069
4101 Puerto Viejo, Sarapiquí
Heredia, Costa Rica
Centro America

Also, please pass this message on to anyone else you think would like to participate.

As always you can read about our adventures at

Thank you for your support,

Chris and Tarah Hall
Peace Corps - Costa Rica 2010-2012
Children, Youth and Families – Niños, Jóvenes y Familias

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Independence Day...

or week, or month, or year. It all depends on how you look at it!

September 15 is the day of independence in all of Central America. After a childhood of celebrating our nation's independence with a picnic or quick BBQ, some fireworks and perhaps a couple of hand-burning sparklers, we jumped, head first, into the experience of independence in Costa Rica.

We started hearing about Semana Civica (Civic Week) about a month ago. This is a week of assemblies that are geared toward teaching kids about the national symbols, the history of independence in the country, and of course learning and singing Costa Rica's patriotic songs - all 4 of them (the Hymn of the Flag, the National Hymn, the Costa Rican Patriotism song, and the September 15th Hymn). As Independence Day got closer, we learned that Semana Civica is really more like Dos Semanas Civicas. This is a great way to learn more about the history of a country as a foreigner, and a great way to get out of copying notes for an hour if you're a student!

One tradition that we took part in was the running of the torch. The torch signifies the passage of the message of independence from Guatemala to Costa Rica. We went with a group of escuela and colegio students to a community about 7 miles away to wait for the arrival of a torch from another town so that we could run with it back to our own. In all we had about 10 students run the whole distance, there were others that rotated in and out of the bus that was following us, running as often as they felt capable. The run was not the easiest as it took place at 12:30 in the afternoon (not exactly the coolest time of day here), but everyone involved was enthusiastic. There were parents cheering us on alongside the road, some community members jumped in and joined the fun, one woman even chose to run with us while holding onto her puppy (whose bottom half was wrapped in a plastic bag, should it feel the need to go to the bathroom). We arrived at the escuela, hot and sweaty, after about an hour and a half to participate in yet another acto civico (assembly) about independence in Costa Rica.

Another one of the traditions here is the Parade of Faroles. On the eve of Independence Day it is said that the message of impending independence was passed through a town in Guatemala and as people were informed they lit candles and lanterns (faroles) and joined in the spreading of the news. In the most basic sense, those of you from the United States can think of the story of Paul Revere spreading the word that the Red Coats were coming.

In 1953 the Costa Rican government declared that all education centers will participate in a parade, reenacting this event at 6pm on every September 14. So it was that at 6pm we were at the school surrounded by faroles listening to the national hymns and waiting to march down to the plaza. The students lifted their faroles with pride, showing of their (or their mother's) hard work and creativity. As darkness fell the faroles were lit and we were surrounded by glowing cars, ox carts, stars, houses, torches and anything else that you can make out of Popsicle sticks and plastic. We walked together as a group, hoping that there would not be any unintentional fires set, and finally arrived at the plaza.

We had been expecting a little ceremony in the plaza, but the arrival was the end of the formal events. Informal events quickly began, however. Youth began kicking their faroles, causing them to become engulfed in flames. Parents showed their young children how to put their faroles in the flames near-by to create torches. Students started jumping through newly formed bon fires. We left before becoming witnesses to what we feared would be accidents resulting in 3rd degree burns and whatever else may come of a soccer field full of small fires.

Independence Day, the 15th of September, came quickly enough. For us, it began at 3:30 in the morning. It a tradition here to go around town making as much noise as is possible to wake everyone up early and remind then that Independence Day has arrived. We had been forewarned that this would happen (thanks to our counterpart being one of the organizers) and we were ready to join in the festivities. The first fire cracker went off at about 3:20 and at 3:30 drums were being handed out to community members. The band played in the street for a couple of minutes before climbing into the back of a cattle truck to play as they made the rounds through neighboring communities. This journey ended back in our town where we walked with everyone through the neighborhood shouting "Wake Up, Wake Up!" and culminating in another mini concert in front of the police station. A couple of fire crackers were thrown a little too close for comfort, some "special drinks" were being passed around, and most people took a crack at the drums. This was quite the experience (and we'll probably be OK passing it up next year in favor of a couple of extra hours of sleep!

After returning home, eating a quick breakfast, and taking showers, we headed out to Puerto Viejo for the parade. The parade consisted of bands from local escuelas and colegios and one float from a local pre-school. We may be biased, but our escuela went first and set a standard that others were not able to meet. They are an amazing group of kids that are highly talented and that has the support of many in the community. They were decked out in purple uniforms, followed by the dance team, and were ready to rock. Our colegio was second to last and they took the parade out in style. They showed up with a banner, a horse, their flags, dance teams and band. Without knowing it, we never would have been able to tell that this band was formed roughly 2 months ago. They were great.

Our Independence Day (week-month-year) culminated with us crashing after lunch. I love that we are in a country that is so passionate about its history and customs, but there is something to be said for that picnic or BBQ and being able to climb into bed after a quick presentation of fireworks!

Friday, September 10, 2010

6 Months... Really?!

It's rather challenging to give insight as to what our lives really look like here, and so I have pulled some phrases/blurbs from our journal and created a couple of photo collages in an effort to sum up our experiences over the last six months. That's right, six months. Time has flown by, even though at times days seem to consist of a lot more than 24 hours. It's safe to say that we are settled into our community, are starting to do “projects” and are looking forward to whatever the next 21 months will bring!

March 2

“Finally, it's here – WE'RE HERE!”

March 5

“OK, so last nights 'earthquake' was really just a tremor.”

March 10

“In CR they like to be helpful – even if that means giving wrong directions.”

March 11

“Our bus ride home took us to the last stop – Linda Vista – that place we were told not to go after dark – AFTER DARK!”

March 21

“We were able to sit in the shade of coconut trees and also go play in the bath-like Pacific.”

March 28

“At one point I saw the shorter man look around him, start singing again, raise his arms, take a quick glance over his shoulder, and then 'faint.' After confirming that an usher was behind him to catch him if he fell, he decided to 'express how the spirit overwhelmed him.'”

“It is known for ensalada de frutas – which is not fruit salad as the name implies. We had one with bananas due to my allergies, but the rest of the 'ensalada' consists of two scoops of vanilla ice cream, two scoops of strawberry ice cream, and a huge scoop of red Jell-O. It tasted amazing, but later it turned out that that was our lunch.”

April 4

“At the same time, a group of adults were encouraging (and helping) the dogs burrow under a tress in search of squirrels.”

April 12

“Of course, we left class at 10ish because my jaw popped out of joint. We bought queque de queso during descanso and when I tried to take a bite my jaw locked. What an experience.”

May 21

“We're Volunteers! Yay!”

May 22

“From the moment we walked in the door here, it felt like home.”

“We saw more fruits tonight than we've seen in the past 3 months – and we were told to eat whatever we like, so delicious!”

May 25

“I went to the left today, through the farms, and it was beautiful. Cows, horses, rivers and rolling hills.”

“After second grade we found ourselves in the middle of a swarm of Tico children – just staring.”

May 27

“I must say that the hardest part of the day for me is when the kids have recreos. They're so curious that they come up and stare, but mostly aren't sure what to say to us. Of course, we don't really know what to say either, so for ten awkward minutes we kind of talk, kind of stare, and I let out a sigh of relief when the bell rings. This will get better though, right?”

May 29

“We're not really sure, but we saw the eyes and know it was something of respectable size that is scaly.”

May 30

“It was a great afternoon, flying down hills, splashing through puddles, we couldn't help but smile.”

June 3

“Of course, all of this happened with the warning to watch out for crocodiles since it is mating/nesting season.”

June 4

“We were invited to eat lunch with the teachers, but then we were kind of uninvited since we don't eat chicken.”

June 13

“They bought Welch's grape juice for us and call it our wine. So, we had it with dinner last night and tonight. I'm not sure if they think it's alcoholic, but Rafa refers to it as vino or vinito, so we'll refrain from drinking it for breakfast for now.”

June 19

“He rode the loop through Progresso which, with its lack of road in some parts, was quite muddy. At least that's what I gathered from the state of his bike when he returned. He was also covered head to toe. He said that he sunk up to the bike's pedals a couple of times.”

June 20

“Today I was hit by a drunk driver. We were both on bicycles.”

June 29

“Our phone is on vibrate and at first Chris thought it was a cow mooing.”

July 1

“Then people were on stage leading dance moves and exercises and eventually we fell into a game of limbo. What at night.”

July 4

“They had never imagined eggplant fried before – in a world where everything seems to be fried this strikes me as funny.”

July 7

“I'd say another success has been that kids have taken to waiting in front of our house for us, and today Anderson asked Rafa, “donde estan los muchachos que hablan ingles (where are the guys that speak English)?”

July 16

“Next thing you know, we've got a caballero frantically trying to tame a toro – or at least get it into its designated pasture. Needless to say, we turned around quickly, telling the kids that we can ride tomorrow.”

July 23

“We went to Civics class today, which was about traffic lights. It's crazy that most of the kids don't know what they are and have never seen one. They also talked about the proper way to cross the street in the city. We're really in a different world.”

August 2

“Along the way Yuli pointed out a plant that only causes a reaction if you touch it while breathing – hold your breathe and you're good to go (Yuli bravely demonstrated this.)”

“The only discernible paths I saw were those from the cutter ants.”

“Climbing proved to be a noble effort on Batazaars part: he was wielding the machete in one hand and holding Yuli's hand with the other, simultaneously clearing trail and helping her climb.”

August 3

“She loves butterflies so much that she pulled the legs off of the one she caught, pulled its tongue out and then folded it into a piece of paper and put it into her pocket for safe keeping.”

August 10

“Steven and a couple of guys came by the house this morning with a baby sloth.”

August 15

“We started the day watching Rafa kill some chickens. Then we ate pizza and cake for breakfast. Kind of an odd way to spend the morning, such is life.”

August 16

“We did laundry this morning, but in the whole process of setting up the washing machine forgot the one little step of hooking up the drainage hose to the tube to the backyard. This meant that when the washer started to drain water came rushing into the kitchen.... It took about 30 minutes, but eventually this was mopped up and we were able to go about our day.”

August 21

“Considering the out and back to Los Arbolitos is close to 30K we thought we'd see what this 25K loop would be. For starters it was more like a 40-45K.”

August 25

“We settled in with PB&J and some milk and called it good.”

September 1

“Happy six months in country, go us!”

*If you happen to be curious about any of these blurbs, feel free to ask, we'll be happy to share!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cat Traps

Our neighbors have been very focused these last couple of days on a mission given to them by our host mom: catch the black cat, and receive 1.000 colones each.

José David and José Luis (they have informed us that they are both named José because they are brothers – obviously) spent all day on yesterday building and setting up a cat trap. It looks like a pyramid and is only held together with a piece of cord strategically tied. They have balanced one edge of the trap on a piece of bamboo; in theory the cat will enter the trap looking for food (there is a bowl of bread under the trap), hit the piece of bamboo and the trap will fall, detaining the animal that likes to enter the kitchen at night, knocking baskets of eggs on the floor and biting into any bread or bananas accidentally left out when everyone goes to bed.

Last night as we were washing up after dinner María called out to the boys to say that they had caught the cat. Everyone ran outside to see what we had. It was not the black cat, so unfortunately the boys didn't get their money, but one of the black cat's kittens had been caught. Of course, this was a process. The kitten hadn't actually set off the trap, it just got scared and started meowing. José Luis was able to corner it, but didn't want to get scratched so he scared it back toward the trap. María was there waiting and knocked the trap off its post when the kitten entered. She and Rafa then put it in a bag and Rafa took it to the cuadrantes where they say a family will take it in. So, one kitten down (there are 5 more that are currently living in our attic), one black cat to go.

This morning the boys decided that the cat would not be strong enough to set the trap off, so they tied a string to the piece of bamboo and sat at their house, watching and waiting for the black cat to enter their lair (this was their plan for the day as there is apparently no school). They lasted a little while, but by the time we had returned to our house at 8AM, they were no longer sitting in wait. Around 10 we heard them working in our side yard again. This time they had sequestered the help of André. They had decided on a new method:

Tie a box to the window bars where the cat frequently climbs into the attic. Place a little bit of food in the box to lure the cat in, and make sure the box has a whole in the bottom. Place a bag under the box and in theory when the cat enters the box for food it will fall through the hole in the box and into the bag. They have a piece of cord situated around the top of the bag and it is rigged so that once the cat in in the bag they can tie it shut. Of course, they had to watch the trap if they wanted to tie the bag after the cat fell into it, and instead they decided to come inside and talk with us about the US.

So, we still have a black cat wandering around the premises – but there are two traps waiting for it, and two boys anxiously awaiting its capture so that they can be 1.000 colones richer (approximately $2).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Butterfly Battles and Sloths for Sale

Yesterday we had the brilliant idea to move into the front room of our house. It is a smaller room, but it has two windows – which in theory will result in fresher living space. The two windows also mean that there are twice as many opportunities for creatures to enter our room.

One of the creatures that entered our room was a giant butterfly. It was kind of like a welcoming gift. We looked up at the ceiling when getting ready for bed, and there it was hanging out by the light. Chris tried to take a photo, because this is seriously one of the largest butterflies we have ever seen. Unfortunately his movement scared the butterfly, it went crazy. Its flight in front of the light-bulb created a unique type of eclipse and the sound of its wings on the ceiling alerted us to its incredible strength. I was certain that if this butterfly lost control and hit one of us on the head it would result in a concussion. I did my best to protect myself by utilizing the duck and cover drills that we would do in elementary school. I curled into a ball and covered my neck and head and laughed until I ceased to hear butterfly noises. When at last the butterfly settled, once more on the ceiling (much to my displeasure), I was able to take a quick photo utilizing the zoom. We turned off the light and hoped that we wouldn't be attacked during the night.

(It may look small here, but the plank it is on is 8" wide)

Unfortunately, I had to get up and go to the bathroom a short while later. I got out of bed in the dark to grab my headlamp – only to step on the butterfly. This caused it to fly up into my hair, bounce off of my head (thankfully it did not have enough force to cause the aforementioned concussion,) and start sputtering around the room, once more bouncing off of the walls. This all happened as I was turning on my headlamp, and when I could finally see well enough to locate the butterfly it was staring at me like a menace from the door that I had to walk through. I was brave and flung the door open – hoping the butterfly would have the decency to leave during my absence. But no, when I returned it had only managed to crawl closer to the lock on the door. Not wanting to put my hand that close to it, I grabbed a pen and tried to provoke its departure. Unfortunately, this just caused the giant beast to start flying around again. I quickly shut the door and proceeded to run to the bed and once again use my duck and cover skills.

The night passed without incident, though I did wake up several times to the sounds of the butterfly bouncing off of the walls again. In my sleepy daze my mind wandered to those creepy movies such as Mothman, where those that see the moth end up dying. Thankfully, this was a butterfly, not a moth, and I wasn't just seeing it in my dreams. We survived the night and the creature was gone in the morning. I imagine it left through our window – I just hope that we don't have a repeat performance in the near future.

One of the benefits of our new room is that we are able to see out into the street with ease now. This morning I happened to look out the window to see a couple of the guys from the colegio (high school) walking down the road. They were carrying a broken tree branch with one of their uniform shirts draped over it. We see all sorts of odd things in town, so this wasn't a particularly strange sight, but they came directly to our house. This was a little strange due to the fact that we mostly talk with these guys when we are at the colegio or when we're playing Frisbee with them. They proceeded to take the shirt off of the branch and present us with a baby sloth.

A baby sloth! YES – a baby sloth. It was really adorable. We asked where its parents were – it was abandoned (or at least that's the story we got). Where did they find it – it was just hanging out (the lack of specifics makes me wonder about the validity of its being abandoned). It's so cute, can we touch it – of course. So today, we petted a baby sloth. It was much softer than we had expected. Cool, we saw and touched a sloth. This is what being here is all about right? New experiences. We were good to go, we took some photos and were ready to send the guys back to school. That's when the real purpose for their visit was revealed.

What are you going to do with it, we asked curiously – we're trying to sell it. Do you want it? DO WE WANT A PET SLOTH???? Were they being serious, you better believe it. Being curious as to how much a baby sloth costs I proceeded to ask how much. 10,000 colones was the reply. What?! We could buy a pet sloth for $20. What are the chances! We did have our wits about us though and told them we regretted that we were not able to have pets (a slight untruth, but more polite than we don't want pets) due to our lack of money and we are only renting a room, so we wouldn't have space. They eventually left our front porch, a little sad that they hadn't been able to sell their sloth, but we had gained a new story to tell.

(What could have been ours)

As an aside, you might wonder, what does one do with a pet sloth? We're not really sure what you would do. I guess stay up all night to watch it be active. Otherwise you would just watch it sleep. I don't think they make the list of the most exciting pets you could have. We had both had the thought of buying it so that we could take it into the jungle and set it free – but then we'd be short $20 and not have a baby sloth (of course we could always tell stories of the one time that we had a pet sloth).

An additional point of interest: in Spanish a sloth is called perezoso. This makes me smile because perezoso also means lazy. How fitting (I suppose this is the same as the dual meaning of sloth in English, I just like the way it sounds in Spanish a little more.)

And so, these are our animal adventures as of late. Hopefully we'll have more (as long as they are not attacking butterfly adventures.)

*Please note, the sloth was given to a gentleman who lived near a wildlife reserve. To the best of our knowledge, the sloth is living a happy life, dangling from trees and eating as many leaves as its belly will allow.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Dogs Bring Work, Chickens Bring Food

Let me explain, when we moved into our house two months ago we had three dogs. Through the process of giving dogs away and new ones being born, we now have eight dogs (note, none of these dogs are actually ours, they belong to our host dad – the chickens belong to our host mom). Over the course of the past two weeks we have been able to witness the process of giving dogs away, first they are left off of their chains for a while, are encouraged to run around the community, and then when someone realizes that this is a dog being set free from previous owner (and wants to make it theirs), they consult with that owner and have themselves a new pet. So, two big dogs have gone away. The third dog is really the pet of the house, she was pregnant and now we have seven little puppies laying around as their eyes are still not open. We have been informed that these dogs will be sold as soon as they are ready (which will be before most puppies are ready because they have a really good mom). We´ll see if we´re down to zero dogs in a couple of months or if Noa, supper mom, will still be around.

This brings us to the chickens. There are roughly twenty chickens out behind our house. When they are counted at the end of every day they are put into categories, gallina, pollo o gallo. This means, they are chickens, they are being raised for food, or they are roosters. Hence, chickens bring food, not trouble. There are also a couple of turkeys out there, the female lays some really big eggs! Anyway, in my opinion the dogs are chickens are of equal labor, but evidently the chickens are more worth it (I must say I enjoy knowing exactly where our eggs are coming from, and I wasn´t exactly sad to see the two bigger dogs go – they barked a lot at night. I do however think the puppies are pretty cute right now as they are about the size of my hand.)

So, after all this time I'm sure you´re thinking we have had to of had more experiences and learned more interesting things than the fact that dogs bring work and chickens bring food, but truth be told, that is not the case. Just kidding. We've been spending our days observing in the escuela (elementary school) and colegio (high school), walking around the community, asking people what they do or don´t like about the community and riding bikes.

We have learned a fair amount about education in Costa Rica through our observations, the main thing being that schools lack resources. For those of you who attended school in the states, consider yourself lucky. That's not to say that education is poor here, it's just different. The students spend their time copying notes off of the blackboard, which I know many of us did in our youth, but we also had books to reference. In general the teacher has a book and will copy material onto the board, then the students copy, have some practice questions, and are on their way. With the lack of books it is difficult to question what is really important and investigate the issues that students find to be interesting. None the less, the students do learn, it just may not be as much as we are accustomed to cramming into one day of school. One experience relating to the lack of resources occurred when we were observing a music class. The students were learning about Jazz music, but the teacher was not able to offer them an example to listen to. How do you learn about music when you can´t even hear it? That is where we come in, we have a fair amount of Jazz that we are ready to share – we just need to wait for schedules to line up again.

Our walks in the community occur on a daily basis, sometimes twice if there isn´t sweltering heat. We more or less walk the same route (there isn't much that we can change about it, we are in a small community after all) and I won´t go so far as to say that kids wait for us, but they surely keep an eye out for our passing. “Chris – Tarah,” we frequently hear shouted from windows, when we're lucky the kids will actually be outside so we can see who it is that knows our names (by now it is a majority of the kids from the escuela, so it's getting rather difficult to use their names in return). Sometimes we receive shouts of “Gringo!” but those have started to come less frequently as we have been spending more time in the schools. Parents smile and nod, and for the most part everyone at least says “Adios” which may seem odd, but really it´s the polite way of saying “Hi! I don't have time to talk with you right now.” Needless to say, the walks are important, both for us to know the community and for the community to know us.

Our bike rides are probably one of the more exciting things that we do. We almost always invite kids along, sometimes they come, sometimes they don't (next week we´re going to post fliers for weekly standing rides to see if that boosts participation), it is definitely more interesting when the kids come along. A couple of weeks ago we rode with a couple of kids out to the river. I had advised them to bring along some food since it is a pretty hilly ride and can feel quite long when you´re ten (and when you´re 28!). They took my quite literally and brought along gallo pinto (rice and beans) and some meat. They are serious about their food. Anyway we stopped at the river and enjoyed hearing the kids pick our invisible crocodiles and took some photos, it was really a lot of fun. Also, when we ride with the kids it gives Chris the opportunity to act like the kids, riding with his feet up in the air when we're flying downhill, and me the chance to ride slowly and enjoy the views. The general idea is that we're having a blast with the kids and those are the moments when I think to myself (most frequently) “This is why we're here!”

A photo of us with some of our kids by the river.

Other fun and exciting things from the past two months have included leading an aerobics routine at the escuela for a cultural exchange day and sparked an interest from the kids in exercise classes. We will start offering those next week. We'll see how it goes, hopefully the kids are still excited after a class! Our other big project thus far has been running a vacation camp for kids over their two week vacation (appropriately named, Vacation of 15 Days). We spent two hours every morning and every afternoon with the kids. We played traditional US games, soccer, and just plain had fun. It was a good two weeks. Sure there were moments of frustration, but they kids were so excited that we just kept hopping along.

Games with the kids...

So, there you have it. We really are working here, we're learning about our community and discovering opportunities for collaboration over the next couple of years. Have no fear, we are alive and well, just without regular internet access.

Just for fun: When we went into the kitchen for lunch the other day and this bull was standing on our back patio. Thankfully he left before we had to get to the sink behind him to wash our hands!

Be well!