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!