Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Reflecting on One Year

Those of you who are close to us don't need to hear us say that Peace Corps is not what we expected.  We arrived in country March 2010, bright eyed, bushy tailed and ready to save the world.  OK, so maybe it wasn't that bad, but we were pretty hopeful about what this experience would throw our way and how we would handle it.  Our previous experiences with AmeriCorps had been incredible and service has been a big part of our relationship.

I know that most things in life do not go as expected, if they did things wouldn't be interesting, you might begin to lose excitement for the potential of each new day, life would be predictable and no one really wants that, do they?  It's not that we were expecting this experience to be predictable or that we thought it wouldn't stimulate us, be we did show up wanting more.  I think we were wanting this to be AmeriCorps 2.0 - service abroad more than Study Abroad 2.0 - life abroad.  Instead of one or the other, it is a mix.

There is no denying that part of what brought us to Peace Corps was the opportunity to live abroad, experience a new culture and learn a new language, but we were thinking that the life part would be secondary to the service part instead of vice versa.  However, one of the things that we have learned is that it is practically impossible to do the service without doing the life.  You need to learn how things work in your individual community - training cannot teach you what your community's personality will be or how it will accept or not accept you.  You need to understand that things will not go as smoothly, as quickly or even as planned.  This has been a year of increasing our flexibility, both emotionally and physically (we've picked up yoga).  It has been a year of persevering when we want to give up and a year of trying to overcome endless challenges.

That being said, it's not that it has been all bad.  It's just that we've continually had to readjust what we want this experience to be and what it has the potential to be.

In the past year in our community we have made some great friends - they may be mostly under the age of 15, but we love spending time with them.  We've fallen into a comfortable routine with our host family.  We've learned to make new foods and love trying new foods.  We've learned new skills and we have taught others new skills.  We've been able to work with teachers to provide students with a more global education and have been able to introduce students to concepts that they may have otherwise missed.  We've been able to focus more time on our personal fitness.  We've been able to explore in ways that are new to us.  Thanks to technology we've been able to easily keep in touch with family and friends at home.  Thanks to technology we've been able to receive the support of friends and family at home when it's been needed most.  We've been able to pet sloths, hold birds, enjoy the sight of curious new chicks jumping from heights twice or triple their own and watch newborn calves play in the fields.  We've received milk, delivered on horseback and in old soda bottles.  We've offered endless camps to youth without anything else to do during school vacations. We've learned Spanish.  We've become members of the community.  We walk through town and it's rare to not have at least one person greet us by name.

In other words, we've done a lot.  Now we just need to keep reminding ourselves of that regardless of what we may think in our low moments.  

One year, it's a lot to digest.

Cahuita Character Study

Traveling has a way of introducing you to a wide array of characters.  If you aren't directly introduced you quietly sit on the sidelines and observe those who have made themselves at home in the places that strike you as completely foreign.  Our recent travels to Cahuita, a little beach town on the Caribbean coast introduced us to three memorable characters and gave us the opportunity to watch many others (one in particular).

Crazy Old Italian Lady

We stayed at a cute little hostel in Cahuita, the Shangri La'.  It is conveniently located next to the bus station and is also the least expensive place that we could find in town.  It came complete with a giant dog named Scooby-Do, an Italian ex-pat owner, hammocks and mango trees.  And the owner's mom (we assume).

The woman wanders around the hostel and speaks and eclectic mix of Italian and Spanish.  When she doesn't know the Spanish word the Italian slides right in and unless you're listening carefully you may not notice since every word that comes out of her mouth is dripping with a thick Italian accent.

Our real exchanges with her revolved around mangoes.  Every so often the laid back silence of the hostel was abruptly interrupted by the sound of a mango falling onto the tin roof.  She would look to us, establish eye contact and say "Mango!"  We would nod in agreement and carry on with our conversation.  After a while, she elaborated her "mango" statement to say that the squirrels were picking the mangoes and throwing them.  I haven't seen many squirrels in Costa Rica, but those that I have seen are not much bigger than a good sized mango.

Talk of mangoes aside, she soon got up, picked up some of the mangoes and told us that she would serve us mango.  We tried to assure her that it was OK, she didn't need to worry about it, but she wandered into the kitchen and returned shortly thereafter with juicy mango bits and a couple of spoons.  She walked around to serve the mango to everyone that was at the hostel (there were about 6 of us at that point, remember there were only a couple [2] of spoons).  Josh and Chris politely took some of the mango, I passed perhaps a little too wary of the fact that I hadn't seen how she had prepared the mango and with knowledge that the cat had been wandering around on the counters.  Reports were that the mango was very good, it appears that I missed my chance.

Throughout the rest of our time at the Shangri La' our Italian friend was seen wandering here and there, randomly checking in on rooms and entertaining the other guests.  The following morning we were offered more mangoes on our way to breakfast but were able to slip away before she started cutting them.

Upon checking out we were able to catch a "buen viaje" thrown in amongst a slew of words shouted our way.  She's surely a reason to visit the Shangri La' again!


With darkening skies and our watches betraying the hour, we headed out to the streets of Cahuita in search of dinner.  We weren't looking for anything fancy or expensive, just another plate of coconutty rice and beans, but we weren't really sure where we would find that.  Upon reaching Cahuita's "main street" we stopped to ponder which way we should go.  We didn't have to ponder for long though because Anthony quickly approached us and gave us a heads up as to where we should go.  We would get a great price, a lot of food, we just had to say that he had sent us.  We thanked him, but let him know that we would also like to check out some of the other restaurants in town.

As we started to walk away he politely asked if we smoked marijuana.  We told him no and continued on our way, but not before he was able to offer up a complete menu of an assortment of drugs.  We replied no as each new option rolled off of his tongue, trying to walk away.  We finally told him that we just don't use drugs and that we were going to find someplace to eat.

While we did check out the place that Anthony tried to send us to it was at the higher end of our price range and since all we wanted were rice and beans, we moved on to someplace a little less costly.

And so, if you find yourself walking around Cahuita at night and a very muscular black man with long dreads walks up to you to tell you where to eat, say thanks, but no thanks and just walk away.  Perhaps you can avoid the paraphernalia sales pitch.  And if you don't miss the sales pitch, just say no.  We joked that he would be the perfect undercover cop, there to nab unsuspecting tourists - you just never know!

French/Italian Baker

"Yes, but more importantly, I made the bread."  This was the response that Josh received when asking if our baker friend had made his own bike.  Its frame was overlaid with a wooden structure that provided enough support for two heaping baskets of freshly baked, homemade bread.

We had had a couple of hours to spare before our buses took us back toward our homes and went in search of lunch.  It was hot and wandering just wasn't doing it for us.  We were about to head down a dusty road when all of our problems were solved.  A friendly ex-pat of French or Italian descent rode up on his fantastic green bike and showed us his wares.  Even if we hadn't been hungry I think we would have made a purchase - it looked and smelled amazing!  It didn't hurt that it was still hot (although that could have simply been the ridiculous Costa Rican sun doing it's thing!).

Knowing that he had caught our interest he explained that he had baguettes, batard, fougasse (or perhaps focaccia) and pizza among other goods.  The pizza caught our eye with fresh basil and what was sure to be real mozzarella but we ended up going with personal sized fougasse with tomato and mozzarella (so, personal pizzas?) for the steep price of 500 colones (roughly a dollar).  They were delicious.  Thank you French/Italian Baker.

Topless Man

There was a man who fell somewhere in our age-range who was also staying at our hostel.  We never spoke with him, but we did see him around town - everywhere - without his shirt on.

We had noticed him the day of our arrival, but a man without a shirt in a beach town isn't really something unusual.  When we saw him at our hostel that night he was still shirtless, but when you're at a hostel it's supposed to be like being at home, we'll forgive him.

We saw him the next morning at breakfast.  He came into the wonderful little cafe sans shirt.  This was perhaps stretching it a bit.  Now we're talking businesses.  But, there wasn't a no shirt, no shoes etc. etc. sign and so he was served his food just like the rest of us.

When we left the cafe we saw him wandering around town again, this time with his towel slung over his shoulder ready to go into the corner store.  Still without a shirt.

We probably should have been keeping track of how many places we saw him go without his shirt on.  It seemed pretty ridiculous.  I don't care that we were at the beach.  Maybe Costa Rica living has rubbed of on me a little bit - you can be at the beach but still not look like a bum (maybe high heels is taking it too far, but wearing a clean shirt with your swim trunks is a pretty simple task).

Anyway, he may have taken pura vida to the extreme, but I think he was enjoying his beach vacation.

Want to do your own character study at the beach?  Come visit, we'd be happy to take you there!

Buen Viaje [a trip to the beach]

Flashback: February 2009 (or sometime around then)

We come together in Boynton McKay, a small cafe on Route 1 in downtown Camden, Maine.  It is here that we have chosen to say our goodbyes, our good lucks, drink ridiculously expensive natural or local sodas and eat good food.

We had arrived in Maine about a year earlier and as luck would have it we became good friends with one Mr. Joshua Hardester.  Now we were saying goodbye, this was becoming a theme - meeting amazing people in this little coastal town only to have them move on after a couple of months or a year or so (not that we can talk as we did the same thing).  In Josh's case it was different.  He wasn't just moving on, he was joining Peace Corps.  He was going to go to Costa Rica and save the world.  We had submitted our own Peace Corps applications a couple of months earlier and couldn't wait to hear about the adventures that awaited him in the tropical country situated between Nicaragua and Panama (that's right, Costa Rica is not an island, that's Puerto Rico).

We talked, we laughed, we ate, we hugged and we said goodbye.  Buen viaje.

Flashback: November/December 2009 (or sometime around then)

You're never going to believe it - we're going to be Peace Corps Volunteers in Costa Rica too!  That means we get to see Josh again!

Flashback: May 2011 (yup, that's right about now)

We get the text that says "I'm here" and smile.  We send one back saying we've made it onto our final bus for the trip and that we'll arrive in Cahuita in about an hour.

We've come full circle.  From wishing Josh safe travels in that little cafe in Maine to spending a weekend at the beach in Costa Rica to do the same.  OK, so Costa Rica is a bit hotter in May than Maine is in February, but we were still on the Atlantic.  We had a great time just sitting back and relaxing.  We took a walk through the National Park, ate copious amounts of Caribbean style rice and beans, enjoyed panbon (a delicious sweet bread from the Limon region of Costa Rica) while listening to the sound of ripe mangos falling from the trees and catching up on days gone by.

In other words, we talked, laughed, we ate, we hugged and we said goodbye.  Buen viaje.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Taking it Outside [Finally!]

Last week we had the pleasure of being able to spend the afternoon on the glorious Sarapiquí River with a couple of rafts full of friends.

We had initially heard about the trip a couple of weeks prior, but had had a goal-setting meeting set up with the kids running for student government in our escuela on the same day.  To our good fortune, classes ended up being cancelled for census training (school teachers conduct the census in Costa Rica, so they have four training days that lead up to the week long event) and our meeting was consequently rescheduled for a different day.

We met up mid-morning at our friend Rebecca's house in a nearby community and were able to catch up with friends that we hadn't seen since late January (or longer) and eat some delicious home cooking.  It was nice to hear what other volunteers have been up to and to brainstorm how to make some projects go a little smoother.  After lunch we headed up to the road with full bellies to catch the bus to the community of La Virgen where our rafting adventure began.

Donning PFDs and helmets we received a quick lesson on how to sit in the rafts and learned the basic commands used by our guide.  We had the usual forward and back as well as stop, then there was a new one that we hadn't heard before in our prior rafting adventures, floor.  Not quite sure what to think of with that command we dutifully practiced moving from the sides of the raft to the center.  And then we were off.

The water was great, cool and clear and moving right along.  We quickly encountered our first small rapids of the day, let out whoops of joy and success and then learned a new command, Pura Vida.  This one signified our survival after passing through rougher waters (where the floor command was used, getting us out of harms way), our paddles were raised into the air and we shouted, with smiles on our faces, Pura Vida!

After repeating this process a couple of times we were told that we could leave our rafts and take a break, floating in the swift waters.  Once we had all rolled or jumped into the water we splashed around and floated to where the rafts were being tied to the roots of a nearby tree.  At that point we found out that the tour also included cliff jumping.  Everyone quickly got out of the water and made there way up the steep climb to our jump off point.  

The first to jump was Sarah, who also happened to be a diver during school so she gracefully flung herself into the air, pulled off a beautiful flip and then plunged into the water.  Others quickly followed and the longer I stood on top of the cliff the more my knees began to shake.  One after another my friends were jumping into the water.  Chris jumped, spinning around and quickly disappearing into the water (camera in had of course!) and then a couple of others.  I was left with one other volunteer and our guides.  It was then or never, so I jumped.  It felt like I was falling for hours or even days before I felt my feet hit the cool water.  I instantly bobbed to the surface, my PFD doing its job and laid back to float downriver, allowing my heart to return to its normal beat (and reveling in the fact that I had been able to temporarily overcome my slight fear of heights to make the 30 foot leap of faith!)

The process of killing a shock + water proof camera:
1) Take pictures of friends on rafting adventure
2) Film yourself jumping off of a 30 foot cliff
3) Take more pictures of friends until the static takes over the screen
4) Turn camera on to purple and blue lines, viewfinder becomes useless

A couple of people jumped again and then we climbed back into our rafts to continue on our way.  We'd hit patches of rough water, shout pura vida, laugh out of pure and simple joy and paddle when our guide commanded it.  It was such an amazing way to spend the day that we didn't want it to come to an end.  We had one more break with cliff jumping and fruit (I couldn't bring myself to jump the second time, even if it was only about 8 feet high - what can I say, I'm chicken!) before hitting the last of the day's rapids.  

With the end in sight we hit our final rapid and lost our first and only paddler for the day.  We went through the white water sideways and in a slow motion instant I watched as Chris tumbled over the side and underneath the raft.  As our guide attempted to pull him back into the raft we ran into a rock wall and the rescue attempt had to be aborted.  A brief moment later he was pulled back to safety, at which point our guide informed us that we had reached our last swimming point before getting out of the water.  And so, we all tumbled back into the water and floated until we were told we had reached the end of our tour.

Then we wrapped up our adventure with big plates of Gallo Pinto, is there any other way to end an adventure in Costa Rica?

Now, back in the comfort of our home our camera is sitting in a bag of rice and our fingers a crossed that our adventure companion will dry out and come back to life.  If not, we still have another camera with us, it's just a little more delicate and more often than not, sits on the sidelines when the good stuff happens.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

April or How Has Another Month Gone By Already?

We know that this is a little late coming, but the pace of life has actually picked up here in the land of Pura Vida.  April came and went in a flurry of activity as you may have noticed based on previous blogs about dips in the river and playing with monsters.  There was a bunch of other stuff going on too; more mundane activities that make up our daily lives and that aren't worth a bog of their own, but come together pretty nicely at the end of the month (or beginning of the next).

April 1
We're glad that it's Friday - hard to believe another week has passed, even if it did leave us exhausted.

April 3
We had scattered showers which was pretty perfect for a day without power.  We even broke out the blankets because we got chilly this morning!  What a wonderful feeling - although, I guess it just means we're more accustomed to the stupid weather here.

April 5
The girls all felt great about their exams.  They're all hoping for 100s!

April 6
On the way home we picked up chip bags to add to the collection Chris had accrued at the cole over the past few days.  When we got home we opened them up and Chris rinsed them out - his response was that they had better make some pretty awesome bags. [note: chip bags are really pretty greasy and disgusting, even more so when they're not your own]

April 7
I would try to give some hints and tell someone to turn around and everyone would turn around even if they were already untangled; I would suggest going over someones hands and everyone would start trying to climb over hands - even if their hands were at the bottom of the pile. [regarding 6th graders attempting to do the human knot]

We went to Josselyne's church tonight and as seems to be our custom here, left before the message because it's just too late.

April 9
When I got home María told me that Puppy woke up dead.

Seems like rainy "season" has arrived.  Still not sure what determines a season here, but I'm keeping track of the weather in my planner.  So far about 33% of the days in 2011 have had at least some rain.  Maybe this week will augment that.

April 10
Well, there's nothing quite like starting the day with chocolate cake and peanut butter.  Except that it holds no nutritional value.

April 11
Happy Juan Santamaria!  It's a little like President's Day.  We have off, but don't really do much to commemorate the day.  Although a cardboard house was burned down on Friday.  We've never burned anything in honor of President's Day.

On the return trip I spotted a cayman under the bridge by Maria and Evelyn's.  I wasn't sure if I was really seeing anything more than a stump, so I did what any curious person (OK - maybe any curious child) would do and picked up a handful of pebbles to toss in it's general direction.  After a couple of tosses it decided to move.  My curiosity appeased, I too moved and continued running home.

Tomorrow may be a day that resembles something that we're used to; no promises though!

April 12
Yazmin and Francine got their exams back.  They both got 100%!  They thanked us, we told them that they earned it after all of their hard work.

Chris worked with Alberto a little on a writing assignment.  We haven't seen him for a while because he's teaching now! [note: Alberto has been studying to be an English teacher at the high school level and finally received a job placement!]

April 13
We're all set to do camp next week - we have a key to the gate and on Friday we can get the key to an aula (classroom).

April 14
We got a call from Orlando this morning in which he told us that Chic@s would be cancelled today because there wasn't English and there was going to be a meeting this afternoon.  Bummer.  At this rate we might be done in August.  I guess that's one of the fall backs of doing the program as a part of the school day. [note: Chicos and Chicas Poderosos is a life skills program for youth that we are doing with 6th graders]

When I took them to the school Susana asked me about aerobics.  I told her that if she got a group of women together I could teach.  By the time I left she had a minimum of 5 so we should be starting the Monday after Semana Santa.

April 15
Monster masks were just about as much fun as they sound.  The kids had a great time and they came up with some pretty great creations.

First we painted.  At one point we were painting a house at night.  When she saw that I had painted my grass green she laughed at me and when I asked why she said it was because my grass was green.  She proceeded to tell me that you can't see colors at night because it's dark.  Then I had to paint over the grass with black, but then to make it pretty I had to paint over the black with green.  I'm learning new things every day.  Then we played cards, she "read" books to me and then jumped rope.  I was pretty exhausted at that point so I took a nap after she left and before eating lunch. [note: she is Liseth, our 6 year old best friend]

The cookies from Linda smell incredible.

April 17
Plus, I got to see the cayman twice!  It was about 5 feet long and poised perfectly so that I could see the whole thing.

Camp starts tomorrow.  We've got a bag of art supplies ready to go.  We'll see how many kids show up.  There was a lot of interest on Friday, but who'll remember tomorrow?

April 19
I spent the two hours tracing coloring pages so that there would be enough for today and tomorrow.

Kids were running, they were having fun, but nothing else really went as anticipated.  Isn't that just the way things go here though?  Or rather, isn't that the way life goes?

April 20
She did a tomato sauce, I fried the eggplant - she worried the whole time that I wasn't using enough oil, I on the other hand felt that it was too much.  The whole time Rafa was doing his usual, picking on María for thinking I don't know how to cook.  Process aside, it tasted pretty good; Tico style eggplant Parmesan(ish) served over rice.

April 21
A house full of María's family and three pieces of cake - that pretty much sums up the birthday.

April 24
The day starting with some beautiful running; a great way to spend Easter, fully enjoying God's creation.

We ran in opposite directions on the Progresso loop and at our first meeting a cow was unfortunately positioned between us.  Chris was coming down a hill, I was leaving the technical part of the run and there she was, stuck in the middle, not knowing where to go.  After some moments of confusion and Chris and I not knowing what to do (she kept running back and forth over the width of the trail) until she thankfully jumped through the fence, finding safety behind the thin lines of barbed wire.

April 25
The first night of women's aerobics went well.  There were seven women, we may not have started until 5:30, but that still left 30 minutes for class.

April 26
Ademar was watching from up on the hill.  He was annoyed that he couldn't hear the music so he brought me a better speaker!

The work's coming our way...

April 27
A quiet day today, nothing out of the ordinary, with a few birthday wishes for Chris from the students.

Tonight's class went well - 14 people!

What a life we lead...

April 28
It has been stupidly hot, so even sitting still we were drenched in sweat, but no one floated away, so we'll count that as a success.

April 29
We actually had a nice trip to Puerto today, despite the bus leaving ten minutes early and spending a bunch of money (as is usually the case on our end of month trips!)

We had a great time catching up with Rebecca over pizza.

Oh, and as a bonus we finally received the care package from Jeremy!  Yay for Friday Night Lights and Spanish movies!

April 30
Go us!

There you have it, our April in a nutshell.  Questions, comments, doubts (this is how most classes/trainings end in Costa Rica), let us know!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

daily adventures

you can check out daily images and words from our adventures new and old at tarahandchris.tumblr.com
we'll continue to put longer posts here