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!


aaron wk said...

O! M! GZ! the map looks SO GOOD! we were certainly blessed by our week in La Colonia. it was as intellectually stimulating as it was culturally challenging. THANK. YOU. for a great week and all of the sacrifices that went into giving us the main room in your home for a week. we were enriched by the confrontations with new realities and ways of life and i (for one) will never be or think the same.

it is clear to me after returning that our week in La Colonia made our Costa Rica trip more than a study abroad experience - it made it a comprehensive global confrontation because we experienced and grappled with more than just the affluent, educated San Ramón (which is a wonderful city in its own right). instead, we also got to know rural Costa Rica, which, if anything is a close parallel to the USA's Nebraska. we came to understand much more than the average Costa Rica visitor or international student, and you guys are to thank for facilitating that breadth of interaction.

thank you. you are special people in my life, and we will meet again.

SDorsey said...

What a great example of collaboration and work on all 3 Peace Corps goals all at once! Thanks for making the week special for your visitors and for the community. You guys rock!