Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reflecting on Peace Corps

When you think about a twenty seven month commitment it can seem like a long time. It can also seem like a pretty short period of time when you look at other time periods in your life. I mean think about it, a traditional education from kindergarten to twelfth grade is roughly one hundred thirty months. Even so, when we stepped off of the plane in hot and humid San Jose on March 2, 2010 twenty seven months seemed like it would last an eternity.

Training didn't make that time frame seem any shorter. In fact at the end of those eleven weeks it felt like we had been sucked into a strange time warp in which seconds last months or even years. We had some good times and made some good friends, but it left us questioning our decision to serve with Peace Corps. But, not having experienced the service aspect yet, we decided to stick it out.

The two years that followed were full of ups and downs. If you've been following our blog all along, this isn't news to you. We had moments of joy and sadness as well as moments of success and defeat. There were many moments when we questioned our service.

Those moments of questioning often came when we were feeling sad or defeated. It's hard to leave behind your family and friends, your home, a job where you feel you are making a difference, and your language. Thankfully we had each other. When everything else in life was throwing us for a loop we could rely on the love and support that has provided such a strong base for our relationship and marriage. We often talked about how amazing it is that so many people serve as volunteers by themselves (props to you guys!).

It was those challenging moments that made it worth it in the end. The endless frustrations of trying to improve the colé and wrap up the CRUSA grant, the drawn out process of starting up an academic support group, the low attendance rates at exercise class, and the slowness of the postal service when trying to do a cultural exchange. When the last of the CRUSA money was spent and the colé was a little more accommodating for students, it was worth it. When the students in the academic support group moved on to the next grade level (and asked if they could continue with the group the following year), it was worth it. When fifteen women showed up to aerobics and stayed after to thank me for offering classes, it was worth it. When students received letters from their pen pals in the states and excitedly wrote back, it was worth it.

This was just one aspect of our service though. On top of our many work frustrations and successes, there were also language and cultural successes. When we arrived in Costa Rica it had been nearly ten years since either of us had used our Spanish. We entered the country barely being able to communicate and left being able to hold meaningful conversations with our friends, host family, and work partners. We were even asked to serve as translators when a mission group came into town.

Culturally we experienced some challenges that most do and some that many do not. One of the biggest challenges that we faced was the fact that we are married. Being in a country that is very family oriented meant that we did not receive the numerous invites to spend afternoons with community members that most single volunteers do. We were not invited to join in with other families for celebrations. We are after all our own family. While frustrating, it also gave us the privacy that some volunteers long for. In the end though we broke through that barrier. We were invited to spend weekends away with friends. We were invited out to the family farm. We were brought copious amounts of food by community members so that we wouldn't starve during our final days in site after we gave away our rice cooker. We were embraced as members of the community.

Those challenging things to give up - family, friends, home, job, and language? You just learn to embrace the new ones laid out in front of you. You become part of a new family and make new friends. You create a new home for yourself. You make a difference through your new job. You learn and use a new language. They become a part of who you are.

So, that twenty seven month commitment? It flew by. Yes there were slow times, but in the end it was hard to believe that the end had arrived. As we piled ourselves and our luggage into our friends Orlando and Alejandra's car and drove to the airport at two in the morning we realized just how much can happen in two years. You forget how uncomfortable it was to leave the life you knew behind. You forget how long and drawn out training seemed. You're able to ignore the frustrations and focus on the celebrations. Twenty seven months is after all just that, twenty seven months. So why not do something extraordinary with them? It may not be anything like you imagined; it may be more, it may be less. But in the grand scheme of things it's life. The challenges and successes make it that much more interesting.

Friday, June 1, 2012

May [departures and arrivals]

Wow. May is done and over with. That is kind of hard to believe. It is hard to believe that another chapter in our lives has come to a close and that a new one has started full force. There have been a lot of changes during the past 31 days, and while we have been sad to say goodbye to one part of our lives, we have embraced the start of our newest adventure full force. We have said goodbye to jungle living and hello to desert living. We have left one country and arrived in another. We have left one family only to return to our family in the states. If you want to more, stay tuned. Here she comes, May...

May 1

Orlando called us at 8 to see if we had anything planned for the day. An hour later we were meeting up to head out to the San Juan River for a day of adventure!

May 2

We did parachute games and jump rope during the first recreo and played elbow tag during the second one.

May 3

Chris woke me up this morning and sent me packing to get some medicine. The medical office called in three prescriptions, hopefully I'll stop being sick soon.

May 4

We had fun in story hour, but the kids were a little distracted since a mama bird kept flying in to feed her baby birds - their nest is in the classroom wall.

May 5

We spent the morning walking around with Chamisa and showing her the banana fields and talking about the area. This afternoon we went to Orlando and Alejandra's for a pizza dinner and to upcycle!

May 6

We started packing bags. Scary.

May 7

Busy, busy. Bingo prep, hand washing charla prep, aerobics and more packing.

May 8

We had a lot of fun working with the kinder kids from Malinche today. We ran around, played a little and taught them how to properly wash their hands. Good stuff.

May 9

Chris met up with some cole guys to play basketball. I stopped by Ariela's to chat for a little bit. I'm not sure how this whole goodbye process will go.

May 10

Emptied our bank accounts this morning . Walked out the CTP to see Carlos and say goodbye. Prepped for our final story hour.

May 11

Yoga this morning followed by a million little kid hugs. Not a bad way to start the day. It was a mostly happy hasta luego, perhaps because we'll still be around for a couple of days.

Maria came to the door holding a dead fish in her hand. She asked if we ate fish and a couple of hours later she showed up with delicious pescado entero for our lunch.

May 12

We were blessed with more food treats today. Maria brought us pinto for breakfast. She brought us spaghetti for lunch and jello for dessert. On top of that Axel stopped by and we got some delicious bread!

May 13

Por Fin! The bingo event that Chris dreamed up during out Close of Service conference has happened. In a matter of 12 hours we organized, transported prizes, set up and hosted our final extravaganza in La Colonia.

May 14

We walked around and said some goodbyes today. It was hard to avoid tears with little kids giving us hugs and telling us that they loved us and would miss us. We handed out some thank you cards and gave a couple of gifts to some of the kids that were at every event that we hosted. 

May 15

May 16

We said our goodbyes to the PANI (equivalent of DSS) office this morning and then went back to the house to do a final cleanup. We rode out of town on our bikes, a great way to really see the banana fields one last time. 

May 17

Final day at the office. Full of business and goodbyes. We got back to Orlando and Alejandra's around 5:30 in time for a delicious dinner.

May 18

We ate an early lunch with Rebecca and then went out the hotel. We spent the afternoon watching the wildlife and then met up with fellow runners at Selva Verde for the pre-race meeting and some dinner.

May 19

Hot day for a run, but it was a nice one. We all enjoyed dips in the river when we finished (Chris a 50 miler, myself and some others a 15k).

May 20

Last day in Costa Rica. We ate pinto for breakfast and then swam for a bit. We had lunch in Puerto and then went back to Orlando and Alejandra's. We got in right before the storm and so I sat with Suzy for the afternoon since she was afraid and kept wanting to come inside. We had a delicious dinner and wonderful last night with Orlando and Alejandra.

May 21

Mission accomplished. We have officially completed our 27 months of service. It's nice to be with family again, feeling the love!

May 22

Project readjustment. Biggest complaint so far, American accents. I miss Spanish!

May 23

Called some landlords, emailed some principals. We're trying to get this next step in our lives figured out.

May 24

We had a wonderful afternoon in Lewellen. We ate delicious food at An Unexpected Place and then did some wine tasting at 17 Ranch. We spent the evening playing ladder golf, eating good food and playing Scrabble.

May 25

Another fun day with family.

May 26

Sarah left this morning and the rest of us went out garage sale-ing. Chris and I ended up with 19 new books, picked out about 16 from a box Linda bought, and a new bookshelf (we may need it!).

May 27

Last day in Ogallala. JD and Heather left after lunch. We had a nice evening with Bruce and Linda chatting and eating delicious pie.

May 28

New Mexico! New state, new home.

May 29

We looked at a lot of houses and some apartments today. Chris finally convinced me that it would be best to go small and inexpensive for now and save up for a down payment. So we put a security deposit on a two bed, one bath apartment and are waiting to hear back on a background check (their system was down today, so we'll hopefully know tomorrow).

May 30

We went to Red Rock Park this morning and hiked for a couple of hours. It is so beautiful here!

This afternoon we walked around downtown. Everyone is so nice. We watched some Indian dancing in the town square and grabbed some fry bread for dinner. Delicious! We walked back to Emily's and then went to watch a softball game that a bunch of other RPCVs/Fellows were playing in.

May 31

Another day, another hike. We also spent more time downtown and met more wonderful people. We heard back on the apartment, it's ours! Unfortunately we need to wait until Tuesday to move in. We were so hopeful that we could have it tomorrow, oh well. Another softball game this evening and then out with the team for a bit.


As you can see it's been quite the month. We haven't quite processed the whole moving back to the states thing yet, it's sure to happen once we actually get all of our stuff moved to New Mexico and we take a moment to sit back and breathe (before heading off on more adventures!). So much to do, so little time. We're excited about what is to come and can't wait to settle down in New Mexico!


The final weeks of our service went by a lot faster than we ever imagined they would. We had planned our close of service pretty thoroughly and had a calendar set up indicating what we would be doing each and every day during our last ten weeks in Costa Rica. True to our experiences during our time with Peace Corps, events were added, removed, and/or changed (several times). In the end we worked as long as we could and then we celebrated our time in La Colonia with bingo, actos civicos, karaoke, good food, hugs, and unavoidable tears.

Our despedidias (goodbyes) began on a Friday, during our final story hour with the materno and kinder kids. When we finished story hour we presented each classroom with a book, Huevos Verdes con Jamon to materno and De la Cabeza a los Pies to kinder. They in turn presented us with books of their own drawings and stories. We somehow managed to make it through the presentation, hugs, kisses and photos without tears. It was close though. The teachers had explained that we would be flying back to the United States and so the students bombarded us with questions about what it was like to fly, if we would be scared and how long it would take. Their curiosities curbed the pain of saying goodbye.

One of the drawings from our kinder kids (notice Chris' beard!)
A couple of days later we hosted a Sunday afternoon Adios Gringo Bingo for the community. We had acquired quite a bit during our service and we didn't want to bring it all back to the states with us. So, we sorted through everything - balls, toys, clothes, storage containers, school supplies, kitchen supplies and some electronics and prepared to give it all away. We didn't want to favor any given community member or family and so hosting the bingo seemed like a fun way to say some goodbyes and to thank everyone from La Colonia for their support over the last two years. With the support of our friends Orlando and Alejandra we secured all of the necessary bingo equipment and were able to spend several hours with roughly 150 community members that braved the rain storms to come out and play. Everything that we had prepared as prizes disappeared and found new homes with wonderful people.

Orlando helping to call numbers during our bingo
On Tuesday the tears started flowing. The escuela hosted two actos civicos (assemblies) so that all of the students would have a chance to say goodbye. There were many kind words, each class presented us with going away gifts and we received lots of hugs. We teared up and cried as we said our goodbyes, realizing that after two years we really were leaving the people that welcomed us into their community and their hearts.

Our morning kids

Our afternoon kids
The goodbyes continued that evening as the teachers from the escuela and cole and the school PTA hosted a dinner for us at a local restaurant complete with dancing and karaoke. We had good food and a lot of laughs. Orlando, Maikol, and Alejandra tried teaching us how to dance, we actually sang karaoke, and once again we were presented with little going away gifts. 

Goodbye dinner with teachers and PTA
The following day we packed up our remaining belongings (we had already taken some stuff to Orlando and Alejandra's), said some final goodbyes and then rode out of town. Literally, on bikes. People asked us when we were leaving and we would respond, "now," and they looked at us like we were crazy, shrugged it off, and wished us well. 

We kept saying goodbye over the next several days. We had a final trip to the Peace Corps office during which we had some final meetings, signed off on some paperwork and met up with some friends. We had a last lunch at a favorite restaurant with our friend and nearest fellow volunteer, Rebecca. We met up with a whole slew of volunteers at the Q50 race in Sarapiqui (I'm sure a blog is coming soon-ish from Chris about his latest ultra-marathon). And then, our final and hardest goodbye to Orlando and Alejandra as they dropped us off at the airport at 4:15am (what amazing friends to take us to the airport at 2:30am!).

Chris cooling off in Rio Sarapiqui after completing his 50 mile race
We were surprised to see our friends Nick and Monique at the airport. They were our fellow language group volunteers during training. We came in together, we left together (where were you Ari!). What a journey.