Thursday, November 17, 2011

Giving Thanks

If you have been reading our blog then you know that October kind of threw us for a loop. It was a rough and tumble kind of month. Since then I have been trying to reflect daily on the positive events are going on at this point in our service. I remember being so excited when we reached our six month mark here in site and I am now a little shocked that this coming Monday will bring us to yet another six month mark in site, six months left. With this exercise in positive reflection, the realization that we really do not have much time left in La Colonia and the coming Thanksgiving holiday I have decided to share what I am thankful for (I'll admit, I have been inspired by our friend Rose (and procrastination) to create this post.).

I think that what we are most thankful for, here in Costa Rica, are the kids that we work with. They are faced with hardship every day and live in conditions that would be considered impoverished by most standards (at least in the United States) and yet their faces could light up the night sky. They are so full of joy and have boundless energy. We are blessed to work with them. Whether it be in an academic setting, at a recreational camp or just walking through town these kids are a constant reminder of why we decided to join Peace Corps. We wanted to make a difference. And while we may not be making the kind of a difference that we had once envisioned every time a child asks, "Do you remember when we ...?" we know that we are in deed making a difference. They make us smile and for that we are thankful.

A handful of the amazing kiddos that we work with

I am thankful for the women that I work with. I lead an aerobics class three nights each week and the women keep coming back, and they have started to bring their friends. They show up on time. They request songs for class. They laugh at me when I am still smiling after doing 20 Frankenstein toe touches. They shout with joy when a particularly challenging moment has passed. Their kids (yup, they show up too) weave in and out of the group getting their own exercise through play and keep us on our toes as we attempt to not trip over them. These women motivate me to do more, to meet their needs and to make working out fun. 

Teaching a group of women how to fuse plastics
I also work with one woman on an endless craft project. We get together most Saturdays to fuse plastics and create coin purses, little zippered pouches and totes. She lets me know if she is not going to be able to come for some reason. She is always pushing herself creatively and trying new things to make her bags better. She comes to me and tells me that she believes she can do anything now because I have taught her that she can. 

Some completed bags
We have been blessed with a school director that supports us fully in all that we want to do with the students. He gives us copies of keys to the spaces that we use most frequently. During school vacations we get the whole key ring in case we need to get into more than one classroom for camps. Whenever I see him he asks me how I am but really just looks at my face for the response. He tells me "I know you are happy because you are wearing your carita feliz (happy face) today." 

Origami camp at the school
We are thankful for a community counterpart who somehow finds time to meet with us almost weekly to talk about what we are doing and what we can do in the school. He is the school guidance counselor and squeezes about 60 hours of work into a 40 hour work week with constant interruptions from students and their families and still manages to smile (almost) constantly. He makes sure we get the permissions needed to do projects in classrooms and he signs our vacation requests. 

The culmination of a dramatization of Where the Wild Things Are with 3rd graders
Chris has been struggling with using the funds received from a grant that he wrote to improve the high school. While he always walks away from meetings feeling like things are moving in the right direction a wall always seems to pop up. Now he is thankful for a new high school director who has dealt with this same type of situation in the past. He has reached out to his contacts and checked the books twice and has pushed where Chris was unable to. We have now heard that construction will begin this Friday. Thanks be to God!

Ready to finish this guy and improve the rest of the high school
We are thankful for our fellow volunteers. While we tend to remain in our site about 99% of the time we know that we have peers who are going through the same situations that we are and that while physically distant we are emotionally close. We know that someone who can relate or help us out is just a phone call (or email) away. We are a part of a community here that cares about one another so much that recently over $1000 were raised in response to a fellow volunteers house burning down. For those of you fellow volunteer's who read our blog, thank you for being you. We really don't say it often enough.

The volunteers of Peace Corps Costa Rica, classes 20, 21 and 22
We are thankful for the friends that we have made in our community, for the support that they give us  and for the conversations that we have with them. While most of the really close friends that we initially made in site have since moved away there are still others that are always happy to have us stop by and chat for a little while. The family that we rent a room from engages us in crazy cultural conversations and gives us free food on occasion. These people make us feel at home in a place so far from home.

Maria and Rafa (our host parents) with one of our neighbors (she wasn't too happy)
There are the things that leave us giving thanks at the end of every day. We have power and water here. We have access to an ever growing library in the Peace Corps office. We have access to internet in our house. We have a roof over our head and all of the privacy that we want. We can buy peanut butter at our grocery store. 
Lots of water! Really though, we have running water too.
We are also thankful for the Peace Corps staff that keep things running and listen to our problems. They make us smile and help us understand the things that frustrate us. They have amazing life stories to share and treat us with respect.

The list really could go on. I have been doing a pretty good job of coming up with things that I am thankful for on a daily basis. I could keep you reading forever if I really wanted to, but I won't. Instead I will end with what I think we are most thankful for at this point in our lives. We are thankful for our friends and family that support us in the crazy adventures that we take on. More specifically, at this point in time we are thankful for our parents and the fact that they will be visiting us next week for the Thanksgiving holiday (yup, all four of them at the same time!). We are thankful that after 21 months of not seeing them we will be able to spend roughly two weeks with them, catching up, sharing our community, teaching them some of the crazy things that we have learned since our arrival and of course playing lots of games - Bananagrams, Amish Dice (thanks for teaching us Megon and Kevin!) and Canasta anyone?

With our moms and dads!
OK, I lied. I'm not quite done. We are thankful for each other. We frequently say that we don't know how all of the single volunteers do it. We are on the adventure together, we support one another, listen to one anothers' successes and struggles, we celebrate together and mourn together. We are blessed to have found one another and to be on this great big adventure (you know, life) together.

Celebrating 4 years (and a couple of weeks) of marriage at Chirripo National Park
And now we want to know, what are you thankful for? 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Rough and Tumble [October]

Wow, as I write this I realize just how rough October has been for us. We have had our fair share of struggle, both due to internal and external factors. We have had to deal with how our reactions can effect a situation and sometimes make it worse that it actually is. We have had to deal with institutions working against us (or not working at all). We've had the emotional stress of spending time with 130 of our peers (always a good time, but emotionally draining and stressful).

We've also had small successes. We've lead fun workshops for pre-school and kindergarten students. We've read stories with students. We've seen improvements in students that have been struggling this year. We've laughed, played and truly enjoyed life here.

Unfortunately, those highs just didn't come often enough this month. As much as we tried, doors kept getting shut as we approached them. But, as the saying goes, "when a door closes, a window opens," right? And with this sentiment we head into November. A time that will bring us a vacation with our parents, the end of programs we have been working on all year and more planning for the future (both short and long term.).

The further we get into our Peace Corps service the more we experience the highs and lows that come with service in a foreign country. Those highs and lows have changed over the course of time, but now we find that little things that didn't bother us before are more apt to bother us now. The little things that used to make us happy still make us happy, but the euphoria doesn't last for quite as long. This is our reality. This is our life. It is no longer a whimsical idea of saving the world.

And, on that note (sorry that it is such a heavy one), here is a look into our experiences during October.

October 1

Went for my long run this morning. After yesterday this added exertion really knocked me out. After breakfast I blissfully napped until lunch.

We learned a lot and even got to touch a bat!

We had a great walk back to the house. We played a couple of rounds of Bananagrams before heading to bed.

* Bat fact from a four or five year old: Bats eat babies but not suckers. [not really a fact, but oh so cute]
* Bat fact: Some bats grow to have a wingspan of SIX feet. [really a fact, stay away from the Philippines]

October 2

It was a little strange to be in a house without the radio blasting. We cherished every moment of it! [Thanks Rebecca for hosting us on this bat and Bananagrams filled adventure!]

October 3

We now have white boards, reusable alphabet boards, and boards with grids, either for unassisted alphabet practice or math.

After lunch we discovered that Chris' backpack had been stolen. He went to talk to M's family and a short while later her brother-in-law came by with the bag. The bike pump was there but his dictionary, 501, the chalk bag (our favorite), and notebooks were gone. [M is a community member that lives a life of addiction. She frequently steals in an effort to support her addiction. This is why Chris immediately went to talk to her family (she was also at our house about 30 minutes before we noticed the backpack was missing.).]

While we were eating dinner Maria brought in the chalk bag. Someone in the community recognized that it was ours when it was being sold and returned it to us. Also, someone supposedly has Chris' books. An overwhelming community effort in retrieving our belongings.

October 5

Hopefully the rest of the school year isn't as dysfunctional as this week has been.

After lunch the cole had a soccer tournament. Chris had been asked to play on the professors' team so we went for the festivities. The guys are pretty awesome players; the girls are catty and vicious. The professors won their first game, but lost their second. Chris mostly tried to stay out of the way and avoid injury. Still, his foot became reacquainted with the joys of being stepped on by cleats.

We had delicious stove top beer bread pizza for dinner.

October 6

Strange day. I guess that makes it normal in the grand scope of things.

The meeting was mostly frustrating with talk of policy and such, but still no one would say anything that answered the question of what we could do. Chris finally confronted the lady to find out what she was really trying to say. In the end we found out that we cannot build. We can however make improvements to the structure that is already there. Now it's up to CRUSA to tell us if we can amend our proposal.

We came home and made root beer floats. Sometimes you just need to do things like that.

October 7

Chris went to Puerto without his wallet. He ended up walking about 5k toward home before one of our student's parents offered him a ride back home.

October 8

In news pertaining to our futures we have officially been accepted to WNMU; no more conditional acceptance for us. Woo hoo. Now on to the Fellow's application.

October 9

Darn it, my foot hurts. I felt it last weekend after the long runs, but today it made me stop after about 9km.

Today we lucked out, the rain held off until our clothes were inside and about 99% of them were dry! That's a pretty big change from the last couple of weeks - a welcome one too! [of course it wasn't a completely sunny venture, the washer stopped working on the last load so sheets and towels were finished by hand today]

I made egg and cheese empanadas for breakfast and now Chris is working his kitchen magic. I tried to figure out what might be going on with his numerous containers and pots, but all he'll tell me is that he's making dinner. Whatever it is, it smells yummy! [he made soy burgers on corn cake buns with sweet potato/carrot mash and homemade baked beans on the side]

October 10

I somehow ended up babysitting Liseth during lunch. Integration complete. However, when there are other things that I should be doing and I unknowingly agree to babysit it is kind of annoying. Rafa asked me if I was planning on leaving during lunch, which is a pretty common question. I said no, which is my usual response. He relied good, that means you can watch the baby (Liseth, she really isn't a baby, she's 5). I love her to death and she is probably my best friend in town, but it was unexpected and threw me off - we did enjoy a playing games on the iPod, doing card tricks and talking about Santa.

I didn't realize how late it was and we were supposed to have a meeting with Student Government at 2:20. The beans didn't finish cooking until around 2:30. And it was pouring. I didn't go to the meeting. Chris was out at the cole and I figured he would understand. He got home around 3, the meeting didn't happen. No one showed up.

When I got home Zaida and crew were at the house. She told me I looked chubby. While statements like this are a cultural norm here, it is one that will never make sense to me and that I don't think I will ever be able to accept. It drives me crazy. Especially when it happens right after I come home from exercise class.

October 11

Seven months, that's all. Can we make it?

October 12

I think this week is making me anxious. Not the best of feelings.

I want to be doing big things and can't. I want to be running, teaching, playing outside. It's all just a little out of reach right now. Next week puts us at 7 [months]. I hate that I always seem to be counting down. I know that New Mexico won't be all rainbows and butterflies, but at least there will be work, we'll have our on place, we'll be leading our own lives. We'll have deserts, rocks, mountains and water.

Until then, we have La Colonia.

October 14

We had our first hand washing workshop at 8am and the second at 1pm. We had a total of 39 kiddos and they all finished the session with nice, clean hands. Most of the kinder kids remembered information from last year and all of the kids were super excited. I'm glad we were able to do it again.

It's exciting when they get the right answers without help, but their behaviors are frustrating. I know why Nelly has trouble with them in class.

October 15

We had a nice long talk with Maria and Rafa after dinner tonight. It's nice when that happens.

Lessons learned from this conversation:
* [North] Americans eat fast food
* The Japanese are smarter than Americans (they invent everything)
* Ticos are behind the times
* In Costa Rica a ranch is where you drink guaro, a field is where agriculture takes place (both livestock and produce)
* If we want American food, we should visit Grecia

This conversation also included Rafa explaining to Maria that Americans like pumpkin pie, he went on to describe the recipe that was used at the restaurant that he used to work at. Maria's response was guacala (that's gross).

October 16

Maria and Rafa were gone for most of the day so we turned the radio off. Chris worked at the table and I read on the porch. It was nice and quiet. One day we'll control our own music, have our own washer (and DRYER!), have desks to work at and comfy couches and chairs to sit and read in.

October 17

I had 6 for class tonight. It was nice, especially since I wasn't expecting anyone to show up. I had some newbies and some regulars. There was good energy. That always seems to happen when I'm about to leave town.

October 18

We were excited to get into town so that we could spend the late morning/early afternoon at the rock gym. Unfortunately when we got there we were told that they wouldn't open the gym until 1. With events starting at 2:30 we decided to wait for later in the week.

We had lunch with Kevin and Joe, it was really nice to catch up with them.

Sweets with Steve, pizza party and trivia night. We had a nice evening. Our team fought back from a disappointing first round to be tied for first after the final. Unfortunately we lost the tie breaker.

October 19

After lunch we had the craft and bake sale. We got a couple of items for our future home. A painted half-gourd from Joe's community and a print from one of the other volunteer's women's group. We also enjoyed mint chocolate brownies by Steve - DELICIOUS!

They wrapped up with a performance of Thriller, led by Steve. I wonder, how many other country directors know the Thriller dance?

October 21

We're home!

Chris got new running shoes this morning. It's always nice to stop in at Talamanca and catch up with Fidelia. She was such a help before Irazu and she always remembers us when we stop in now.

We got back to Puerto in time for lunch and were disappointed to find that Pizzeria Mana is closed and cleaned out. Maybe we'll discover that they have simply relocated again or maybe this time they are gone for good.

October 23

Laundry day with a broken washing machine means work! I washed and Chris hung things up to dry. All in all it didn't take much longer than doing two loads in the machine, but I imagine that if these clothes are caught in a rainstorm they are going to get all sudsy!

We ran this morning. Chris did the Malinche loop and I did Coyol. My foot started hurting at about 6km. I'll try to at least do maintenance running up until the marathon.

October 25

Chris brought From Head to Toe to grupo this afternoon and the kids were super excited about reading. They may not know their letters, yet they can read.

Aerobics was great tonight. Susuana and I were the last to arrive at 5, though we are usually the first ones there. We started shortly after 5 and there were 10 women there! They were all spread out - we used half of the planchel (court). Having so many people gave me an energy boost which was much needed with today's heat. We were practically melting.

October 26

I washed clothes this morning. I must say that it's not too bad when we don't have a week's worth of laundry piled up. It's slightly meditative. As an added bonus the sun was out today and with the exception on one pair of socks everything is dry and put away! It seems like it has been months since that has happened.

October 27

We had a good trip into the office today. We talked with Amanda about just about every concern that we have had during service (on a general level)... It was refreshing to have this conversation with someone other than each other and to gain a new perspective.

We stopped by medical and also chatted with Morgan for a bit. With a bag full of books and Halloween treats from Christine in hand we ventured out into the city and ended up at Vishnu for lunch. We had excellent veggie burgers and were ready to head to the bus stop just as the rain picked it up a notch. We made it to our bus soaked from head to toe thanks to poor drainage and cars sending sprays of water right at us.

We made it home safely, glad to be able to take our wet clothes off but sad that we had eaten all of our candy on the bus ride home.

October 28

It's so nice to have the house to ourselves! Happiness is not needing to hear Christian talk radio (and remember, it's in Spanish) blaring throughout the house prior to 7am. It's even happier when there isn't any music blaring in the house all day long!

It's great to get a taste of what life on our own will be like (I guess it's really more of a reminder of what life was like on our own). I think we sometimes forget how important some really basic things are to us. We've got seven months left to embrace the good parts of living with Maria and Rafa as we know that we will miss them. But it is helpful to have these moments of having the house to ourselves!

October 29

Chris left nice and early for a long run (he returned 6.5 hours later!).

On the way home I stopped to talk with Yuli and stayed at the shop for about 30 minutes. It was one of those moments of 'yes, I really can speak Spanish!' It happens so infrequently that I sometimes forget.

Snippet of my conversation with Yuli:

Y: How old are you?
Me: 29
Y: And you still don't have kids?
Me: No, maybe one day.
Y: I'm 28 and I have 2. I win. But, it's not a contest.
Me: silence
Y: You know Miguela. She has 5 kids and she's 26. She beat me. But, it's not a contest.
Me: silence
Y: And my sister-in-law, she's 24 and she has 2 kids. She beat me too. But, it's not a contest.
Me: No, it's not.
Y: Are you going to have kids some day?
Me: I don't know. We need to have a house first and jobs, you know...
Y: Yeah, that's smart. But really, are you going to have kids?...

I guess I should be happy that this is the conversation I deal with. For single volunteers it is more along the lines of do you have a boyfriend, when are you going to get married, have you met my cousin/brother/nephew/neighbor, ect. No match making for me, just questions about kids.

October 30

We started thinking a little more seriously about our future this afternoon and all of the steps that are going to go into moving stuff from two states to one (one that we have never even visited before). We've got a lot of work ahead of us. Seven months sounds like a long time, but we've seen how quickly these first 20 have gone.

October 31

Happy Halloween. This evening I had the image of us dressed up like giant bananas running around the banana fields scaring the workers. It was pretty amusing until I thought about the fact that the banana workers use big, sharp machetes - that was scary and not amusing. Still, the thought made me smile.

Talked to Orlando this morning and it looks like we'll have a big recreational activity with sixth graders the day or two right after we return from vacation. Yay, work!