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!