Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Husker Help

In Costa Rica the month of July starts with a two week long vacation; in our case it starts with two weeks of "summer" camp.  This year we had the good fortune of being able to spend the first week of "vacation" with a crew of seven from the University of Nebraska.  We had a great time showing the crew around our community, introducing them to our host family (I don't know who enjoyed that experience more - our host parents or the crew), playing with the youth that we have come to love over the past year and hanging out with them in our almost non-existent free time.

We crammed so much into their one week visit that it's hard to decide where to start: perhaps with the delicious dinner at our favorite pizza place in Puerto Viejo and amazing conversations with intelligent and inquisitive minds, maybe with standing on the street and watching everyone try pipa (young coconut) for the first time, sitting in the plaza on a Sunday afternoon watching soccer and goofing around with kids, or with the filling of our bedroom as luggage was carried into the house when we first arrived in La Colonia (seriously guys, you brought more stuff for your five weeks in Costa Rica than we did for two years!).  From start to finish we were running around getting the most out of our time together.

Monday through Friday we spent our mornings at camp.  It was an incredible experience to see everyone jump in and play with the kids right away.  The youth of our community were able to share some of their traditional games with our friends and that sharing of knowledge was reciprocated through the teaching of some common North American games.  Questions were asked, information was shared, friendships were made and the end result was having difficulty leaving camp at the end of every day because no one wanted it to end.

All in a day's work!

In the afternoons the crew worked on a project to "give" to the community.  Over the course of the week they created two beautiful and educational murals that are proudly displayed on the front of our escuela (school) for all to see when they enter town.  The first mural completed was a world map.  This is one of Peace Corps' global initiatives for good reason.  Throughout the process youth and adults alike would ask what we were painting; for most it was the first map of the world they had ever seen.  We would ask people to venture a guess as to where Costa Rica was and inevitably someone would point to Russia since it is the largest country.  As color was added to the map we could ask pondering minds what they thought other countries were called and we could help them locate countries that they had only ever heard of before.  Chris was also excited to point out that while Costa Rica may be small, this map can be used to show everyone all of the places that tourists come from and how far they travel to come to this special place.

World map in the making

The second mural is perhaps even more important to the youth here than the first.  It is a map of Costa Rica and it's provinces.  While Costa Rican maps are pretty prevalent at the beginning of the school year (in February) by now (the mid-point of the school year) those maps have long since been used to draw pictures on, used to pass notes in class, have been thrown out or have been burned.  Now there is a map that students can look at every day if they so choose.  We have had some individuals ask if this map is of all of Central America or if it is a map of the United States and so it is a way of educating not only the students in our community, but their parents and visitors as well.

Creating a map of Costa Rica

Then there was the "down" time.  After long days of playing and painting we managed to squeeze a little more energy out of the crew and take them to some of the hot spots for youth activity in our community.  They spent an afternoon playing soccer in the plaza; time at one of the playgrounds shooting some hoops, piling onto the teeter-totter and swinging; an afternoon at the baseball field (of course, not playing baseball); and walking to a nearby community where the congos (howler monkeys) put on a glorious display of jumping from tree to tree (in surprising silence).  On top of all of that fun we would sit down and reflect on our days when the sun had gone down.

In the "down" time

The crew was treated to a couple of special meals by our host parents.  A chicken from the back yard was loving killed in their honor for what we heard was one of the most delicious chicken dinners ever.  A lunchtime carne asada (BBQ) was in store one day and piles of meat were grilled, patacones (plantains that are fried and smooshed - and fried again), tortillas, beans and homemade salsa were served.  We managed to round things off with a tres leches (cake made with condensed milk, evaporated milk and whipped cream) on their last night in town.

The week also brought with it the introductions of a couple of the members to pen pals that they began writing to last fall.

To say the least it was a great week.

The two murals and the crew
The maps after some final touch ups

Thank you Aaron, Lea, Katie, Michaela, Becca, Emma and Alexis!  You guys rocked our socks off!

Friday, July 1, 2011

...and another one bites the dust...

Another month that is!  June started in the midst of a camp, took us on a field trip with the tenth grade class, gave us a temporary home in an outrageous hotel in San Jose for a week and brought us back to our community for some charlas (chats) and the down time that comes with exams.  It has been an interesting month, flying by at times and standing still at others.  Like most months it presented us with ups and downs - and now July is upon us.

Top: Hellen with her paper caterpillar, Cindy the snake model, Chris teaching "upcycling", Stiff (in English - Steve)
2nd Row: Snake in the trail, Rañita Roja (Little Red Frog), Bat, Liseth
3rd Row: Kids playing flutes made out of straws, José Eduardo with his pet octopus, Makeing God's Eye Crafts
Bottom: Giant Beetle, Tarah teaching "upcycling", Domingo the snake model

June 1

They enjoyed making their crafts and left with their hands full; in the case of Carlos, overflowing - he kept dropping stuff and at one point Sheirys' dog got his octopus and took off running.  He got the octopus back, it was just a little slobbery.

Aerobics was great tonight... we kept on dancing, moving and jumping.

June 2

There is no time like the present to make snowflakes.  Chris taught everyone what to do and they were fascinated.

June 3

The field trip experience here did not resemble any other school field trip I have ever been on before.

June 4

Chris got his trek of the La Gata loop in this morning.  A good test to discover everything he does not want to use or wear in Tres Rios.  Which was pretty much everything.  That's what test runs are for, right?

Our taller (workshop) went well.  We had 5 and the first hour was on fusing plastics, the second on making chip bag chains.

June 6

We found our way to Decatlon and had a great conversation with the race director.  His words of advice to both of us were to bring trekking poles.  To Chris he kept on saying "Es duro, es duro" (it's hard, it's hard).  It's also supposed to be beautiful.  And, if needed, there is always the possibility that Chris could be rescued on horseback.

June 7

We got up for early runs in the park and followed up with delicious breakfast foods.

We won site rat awards, getting certificates and cookies. (i.e. awards for rarely leaving our site)

It's been nice to see people and chat, but slightly overstimulating; our schedule is all out of whack and we're ready to go home. [note: this week was spent at MST - Mid Service Training in San Jose in a crazy nice hotel with the ~50 other volunteers that make up our service cohort]

June 8

After sessions I went to what was supposed to be a Tae Bo class with Nisha and Sarah.  It turned out to be more of a polymetrics class, which was fine, it was hard and a great workout, just not quite what I was going for.

We went to dinner with Megon and Kevin tonight... we ate delicious Lebanese food and chatted.

June 9

This evening we had a good time hanging out with everyone at Christine's going away party.

June 11

Joy of joys, I twisted my ankle running in the park today.  It figures that after a year of running on crappy roads I would hurt myself on the one rock that was present when I turned off of the sidewalk.

June 12

I think shopping went pretty well. [note: on June 11 we began preparing our own meals, previously our host family was doing all of the food shopping/cooking]

June 13

So what we thought was going to be a crazy busy week is not.

I learned how to cook beans (in a pressure cooker).  It was a debacle - there was no gas so we had to wait, then Maria was gone.  Eventually, a couple of hours after starting the process, beans were cooked and we have enough broth for sopa colorada (red bean broth soup) tonight.

June 14

5 charlas de la sexualidad (sexuality talks), 178 estudiantes (students) y casi una orientadora (and a guidance counselor, almost).

When I got there Ariela was waiting with Stiff (pronounced Steve) and he yelled my name, running excitedly to meet me at the gate of the school.  Nothing quite like that to put a smile on your face!

June 15

On the personal front we have the itch to be out on our own again, but we're going to try and stick things out. It will hopefully make sense financially and we'll hopefully be busy enough that we aren't at home all of the time; when things slow down (theoretically) our parents will show up and then we can plan some January and February trips.

June 16

After the afternoon session we checked in with Jose Angel and ended up spending 40 minutes chatting with his mom and sister.  We walked away with two malangas and five eggs and ate and drank pipa while we were there.

June 17

Nothing major today except that Chris FINALLY got the last piece of the CRUSA puzzle!  Now we can take a deep breath and wait. [note: Chris started working with our community's governing body in March to put this grant together]

June 18

When Chris got back we had a big old breakfast with pinto, huevos and tortillas. Yum! [note: our tortillas were made from scratch, go us]

June 19

This afternoon we filled our imaginations with outdoor goodies by watching The Season.  Makes us want to be outside again - in the mountains, in the woods, on rocks, in the water - we want it all.

June 21

English classes, studying charlas, FEA (student arts festival) practice, English club and aerobics - oh my!  We had a pretty full day today, starting with work outs around 5:30 or so and not ending until 6ish after more exercises.

When I was getting rice out of the fridge a whole lot of beef blood juice splattered the floor and my feet.  Apparently there had been a leak in yesterdays beef delivery and it landed on the lid of our rice container.  What fun.

June 22

Winner!  Chris' crew is moving on to the next level of FEA.  They were by far the best escuela group in drama - the only group the projected at all.  Those that were paying attention seemed to love it, laughter was abundant.

Thank goodness for a week that feels "normal."  Last week was a hard adjustment back to our reality so we're glad to be back in the swing of things.

June 23

Studying charla, chic@s, lunch, studying charla, chic@s, dinner.  A pretty patterned day.

At lunch I started preparing malanga while Chris prepared our meal.  As a hypoallergenic food it sure caused my hands to feel like they were on fire.  Benadryl and Hydrocortisone later I finished cutting it under water and that seemed to work well.

Had a delicious dinner - salad, mashed malanga and sloppy soy/pepper/carrot joes on bollo (pretty much a baguette).  It may require some work on our part, but we've had some pretty delicious foods these last two weeks.

June 24

This morning we prepped happy teeth and sad teeth and the foods that make them happy or sad for charlas with materno (pre-k).

We got hit with quite the storm this afternoon - Chris went for a run in it but cut it short since there was a fair amount of lightning.  He continued to tempt fate by trying some uncooked malanga during dinner prep.  Turns out you can't eat uncooked malanga.  He downed some allergy meds though and thankfully nothing major happened.  We did end up with a delicious dinner though - steamed tilapia and veggies and malanga fries.

June 25

We did long runs this morning.  It was a mostly overcast morning and slightly cooler than usual - about as perfect as it can get when it comes to running here without a light drizzle.

June 26

FNL marathon with food breaks.  Had a delicious pancake breakfast, leftovers for lunch and sopa colorada with cheese and eggs for dinner.

June 28

STRIKE!  No work for us.  Just kidding.  We strained our eyes coloring our world map printouts so that we're ready and raring to go [next week we'll be painting a map of the world with Aaron and crew].

...due to rent being raised to 100 mil (100,000 colones, roughly $200) a month.  Now they're looking at buying a house and need to be around next week in case an assessor is available to check it out... If they get it will there still be space for us?  How quickly might this move take place?  What will our future living situation look like?

Oh life, you're funny sometimes.

June 29

I used power from Nelly's classroom and thanked her after class (aerobics).  In true Tico fashion the thank you turned into a 30 minute conversation, which was great - except I knew Chris would be worrying.  Just as I was saying my good-byes he showed up and walked me home.

Aaron and crew get here Saturday!

June 30

We ran this morning and that's about as exciting as things got until around 4... Then we decided to go for a walk.

Elvin was there with a group of women.  Then the women started running laps.  Elvin's youth have arrived!  He says he has about 60 boys who are playing and they've been practicing for about two months.  The female group is smaller and roughly in their late teens - they've been practicing for about three weeks.  He wants help!

So there you have it - June in a nut shell.  We've surpassed the mid-point in our service and things are hopefully going to continue to come together.  We anticipate an exciting July, starting with two weeks of vacation (the first of which will bring seven wonderful individuals from the University of Nebraska to help with our camp - Go 'Skers!)  Stay tuned for exciting updates, and in case you were wondering, we have a little under 11 months to go.  ¡Pura Vida!