Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Costa Rica Makes Me Smile Because...

This past month has definitely presented us with some challenges. Primarily it would be a singular challenge: SPANISH; but there have been the every day challenges that simply come with adapting to a new culture – a new schedule, new food and new customs. Some days everything is perfect, but there are also those times when we are tired and it really just hurts to try and think in Spanish. We are being assured that those days are normal – it is a part of culture shock – and are also told that they will become few and far between because we have the skills to appropriately cope with what is going on around us, as well as an amazing network of individuals who have gone through the process or are going through the process with us. Peace Corps really is an interesting experience.
These challenges are completely worth it because of all of the amazing things that we are also experiencing. Today I was sitting on the patio and studying Spanish when my mind started to wander. It started with this: Wow, our neighbor uses barbed wire for clothes line. I thought that this was very interesting because it makes perfect sense, there is no need for clothes pins because the clothes won't move anywhere when there are pieces of wire keeping them in place. Granted, I enjoy having clothes pins because that means I should end up with fewer random holes in clothes, but I thought it was a great idea – even if I never plan on using the method. This mental process was quickly followed by thoughts of other things that have just made me smile over the past several weeks, including:
- Our one-eyed parrot. He was attacked by a cat. He survived, but is now without his right eye. This makes him very entertaining to watch – he can tell when there is a bug nearby, but can never quite figure out where it is when it is on his right. His head starts bobbing and he starts dancing around – I have yet to see him actually catch a bug he was “chasing.” I also enjoy that the family calls him Pariquito Rico.
- The woman who owns the local libreria (bookstore). She is really sweet and doesn't mind the fact that our spanish is mediocre. She actually jokes with us that she will teach us spanish for free if we teach her english in return. Unfortunately we don't have much free time at this point in our lives. After we finish training it would be a different story; however, we will no longer be living in this community after we have been inducted as actual volunteers.
- The neighbor of the libreria. The other evening we went into the libreria looking for a map of Costa Rica. She only had small ones, similar to what we already have. While we were talking to her about wanting a larger map her neighbor waited patiently to finish his conversation with her. Then, the next morning we happened to be walking past his house and he said “Buenas” and essentially, “You're the guys that were looking for a map, right?” We confirmed this and after a broken conversation and much confusion on our end, we ended up with an old map of Costa Rica, which was exactly the map we were looking for (perhaps a little outdated, but it does the job!).
- Our local panaderia. I think it is by far the best panaderia in the country (or at least out of the 5 or so that we have grabbed delicious bread from.) They have sweet breads, ones filled with sweet cheeses and fruit, others with dulce de leche, there are pizza breads and sour doughs – pretty much anything that you could really want. The woman who works there is incredibly sweet and has started to expect us on our breaks from Spanish class. The other bonus – these delicious goodies cost about 550 colones or roughly one dollar. Sometimes when I think about this I feel bad, but then I see the news reports that the dollar keeps losing value on the colon.
- Our Tico Family. Everyone is so nice and they are always checking in on us to make sure we: have had enough to eat, have slept well, are staying cool enough, are getting our studying done, need help with anything, or want to watch TV. Really the list goes on and on. They are wonderful people and they want to make sure we are adapting to the culture here. I also love that they continually assure us that at the end of three months Spanish will no longer be a challenge. I'll keep hoping they are right, but also keep studying and know that I really have two years to get the language thing down. I know it will become easier before then, but also that we will continuously learn new words, phrases, or rules.
The list goes on, but I will save the other goodness for a later date. After all, we can't have visitors until after training ends and we don't want to give you all of the good stuff in one shot. We'll keep it coming until you are able to book your ticket!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Volunteer's Life?

This past weekend we had our first out of training community visit. We spent time near Nicoya on the Pacific side of the country and stayed with a second year volunteer and her host family. It was definitely interesting to see the difference in interacting with a host family after living with them for two years as opposed to two weeks! We had a great time talking with the family and they were fantastic about speaking slowly with us and correcting our mistakes.

We were able to see a couple of projects recently completed by the volunteer - a hydroponic garden and a green zone at the elementary school. Both projects were community initiated, but required the help of the volunteer in terms of writing grants and minor project development. Both were completed in a relatively short period of time (after grants were approved), so I can only imagine the number of smaller projects like this that Chris and I might be able to do during our two years of service (if our future community is in need of such things). On Sunday they actually did a harvest of the lettuce in the hydroponic garden and were preparing it to sell to the community.

After visiting the garden on Sunday, we headed to Samara, about an hour outside of the community we were in. The beach was amazing and Chris was able to play in the Pacific for the first time. Walking into the ocean was like walking into a bath, it was that warm! We spent most of our time hanging out under coconut trees so that we wouldn't fry under the tropical sun - it was a nice break from endless days in training. We ended the day by grabbing lunch at a little establishment on the beach and then headed home. We were fortunate to have missed the bus and find a nice taxi driver who charged us only slightly more than the bus - and we made it home in half the time.

It was an interesting glimpse at what life as a volunteer could be like - spending time with family, embracing the culture, working with the community, really learning the language, starting new projects and the occasional vacation. We keep reminding ourselves that it will be what we make it.

All in all things are going well. Our spanish is slowly improving and one of these days I'm sure it will be smooth sailing (I'm not saying how far away that day is - just that in the next two years I am sure it will happen!). Next week we have half of the week off for Holy Week and we will be one month into our training. It's crazy how time flies!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Two Weeks, Two Months, Two Years...

Time has become and interesting phenomenon in these past two weeks. It flies by, yet it seems to take forever for a week to come to an end. Our days are full of language classes, technical training sessions, and policy meetings. We meet with officials from counterpart agencies and spend time with our host family. We get up before the sun comes up and go to bed long after the sun goes down. We are stuck in this limbo called Pre Service Training (PST).

It is an interesting experience to live in a new culture and try to absorb everything that is affiliated with that culture. Our biggest learning experience in this culture (at this point at least) is the language component. While we spent many, many hours studying prior to departure from the US, it is a challenge to be immersed in the Spanish language 24 hours a day (OK, not really 24 hours a day for us since we revert to English when our brains are fried and we really need to express what we are feeling.) While it was easy enough to converse with the computer and provide the appropriate, prescribed responses, comprehending random bits of conversation becomes a headache at times (like when we have been speaking Spanish for 6 hours straight and our brains just can't take it any more).

Aside from the basic challenge of learning a new language and the idiosyncrasies of common cultural phrases, life is great. Sure there are daily struggles when Chris's philosopher's mind comes out or when I over-analyze a situation – but the people here are wonderful. We have met some incredible individuals; other trainees, Peace Corps staff members, and through our broken conversations, Ticos. All of these people make each passing day more interesting, sometimes more challenging, and generally cause us to laugh at least once a day. It's pretty good stuff.

With all of the craziness that is going on, it is hard to imagine all of the other things that our trainers are able to throw into the mix. One notable event coming up is a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) Visit. This coming weekend (3/20 – 3/23) we will be visiting a volunteer in the Province of Guanacaste. We have six hours of riding a bus to look forward to – and of course a weekend of fun before we get to work on Monday. We will hang out in town Saturday and go to the beach on Sunday – then we will check out some of her projects on Monday and visit a counterpart agency on Tuesday before heading back to our town in the outskirts of San Jose.

Other milestones that we will encounter during this new adventure called Peace Corps include: Two Months – the reveal of our real site assignments and Two Years – the time we will spend in those communities. Two seems to be pretty important here, especially since there are two of us!

The two of us outside of Tres Rios, where we stayed for the first week.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Costa Rica Living

We have been living in Costa Rica for a whole week now and are quickly
adapting to the culture. Our language abilities are slowly coming
along and our Tica Mama Olga assures us that in three months time when
we are preparing to move into our service communities we will not have
any problems with language any more. It is nice to have that support.
We are living with our host parents and two sisters (19 & 26) and have
another sister who is married and has a 7 month old (it will be nice
to spend some time with the baby since we'll be missing the first
couple of years of our expected neices/nephews lives.) Our house is
quite nice and we are eating a lot (perhaps more than our stomachs
want) of wonderful food.
Sent from our iPod