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!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Life is Good!

We have been living in our community outside of Puerto Viejo for a whole month now, and life is grand.  We love our host family and are slowly adapting to the heat.  Afternoon (or all day long) rain showers are very welcome as they cool things down for a little bit.
We´ve been working in the school trying to learn what we will do in the coming years.  We have some ideas but still have a lot to learn.
Spanish is coming along well, though we still have a lot to learn.
I only have 5 minutes left of internet time, so I will share just a couple of sights that have made me smile:
3 year olds knowing how to ride on the cross bar of a bike since that is their main mode of transportation.
14 year olds easily manouvering motercycles or pick up trucks.
Kids arriving to school on horseback.
Sitting on the ground while a swarm of kids engulf you and start talking really quickly so that you can´t understand a single word coming out of their mouths.
As I said, life is good.  For the next two weeks we´ll teach North American games to them over vacation.

Read about our adventures at: