Monday, May 27, 2013

Things Change

It is 1pm and I am sitting in my borrowed plastic chair at my borrowed plastic table filling out a grant application to build a play area for the local elementary school. I am drinking dark steaming coffee out of a brand new mug (I broke the other one a few days some things don't change). Its one of those afternoons where the sky is dark and looming, and every few minutes it tries to convince me that a downpour is imminent. But I know better now. I will leave the clothes hanging in the gentle breeze until the late afternoon, when the sun will subside to the cloud's demands and the rain will hit the roof so hard that not even the cicadas will be heard. 

Some things have certainly changed. Hot coffee never sounded good on hot afternoons, until it did. The coffee alone makes me sweat, but I don't mind because the caffeine helps prepare me for my favorite part of day. When the sun begins to set, and the sky paints itself with blues, reds, pinks, oranges, and my favorite - purples. The temperature settles into a comfortable 80-something degrees and the breeze gently passes leaving behind a slight chill. The first breeze of the late afternoon always makes my arms break out in goose bumps, not from the cold, but from the anticipation.

I still crack my knuckles though. That hasn't changed.

I don't chew ice anymore, the lasting effect of my prolonged fridgelessness.

I always knew that I loved hammocks. I do miss plush overstuffed sofas and down comforters. But it was a solid trade. 

Local fresh produce. If I want lemons (which are green outside and orange inside), I go to the tree down by the stream. Oranges and cassava come from the neighbor two doors down. There are platano trees in my side yard and coconuts and mangos in the back yard. Eggs come from my host mom's hens, and natilla (its sour cream like, but better) and cheese from her cows. Fish come from the river, or a long afternoon bike ride to the Tilaperia. Papaya, corn, passion fruit and the like are common gifts from neighbors after a late afternoon visit. I still shop at grocery stores, but I have developed a gratitude for local and fresh produce.

I never do my hair. So if you see me when I'm visiting, be kind with the "Are you leaving the house like that?" comments. 

My feet are always dirty. Actually, now that I think about it, perhaps the doesn't represent any big change. 

I speak Spanish now. And when I speak English it is usually with other Spanish speakers, so I throw in Spanish vocabulary casually. I will probably continue to do this and find myself lost searching for forgotten English words.

I have adjusted (adopted, internalized) to a slower pace of life, that is more focused on people and less focussed on accomplishments. Work is important, and no one who makes their living farming will tell you otherwise. But there seem to be secret corners of time, that once found, can only be filled with personal connection.

I will probably say "Upe," instead of knocking on doors. I will lean in to kiss your cheek to say hello. I will say "Ciao," instead of goodbye. I will ask for "Permiso," when getting up from the table, and answer "Excuse me" with "Propio."

As I stare down the days approaching on the calendar and contemplate stepping onto the plane that will temporarily whisk me away from my familiar - I just thought it deserved to be said. Things change. I look forward to sitting down with you, and learning how you have changed....and how you haven't.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Saying Goodbye and Returning Home

Tico 22 set our alarm clocks, crawled into our unfamiliar hotel beds and tried to catch a few winks of sleep before our early morning flight. Sitting in the lobby at 2am the next morning, dreary eyed and anxious I began a journey with 32 strangers. Over two years later, only 22 of us have held on for the ride, a rather fitting number. In the months of April, May and June our journey will come to an end. We have fulfilled our 27 month commitment. My Rural Community Development peers have become my adopted family. We celebrate holidays together, we support each other in times of need, and we make the daily phone calls- just to check in. I am grateful to each an everyone one of them, in ways they know and will probably never know.

Saying goodbye to my fellow volunteers was difficult. I am excited to begin my new journey as an extension 3rd year volunteer, but every time I look at my cell phone and pass by all of the numbers that represent friends who I can no longer send a text to, or meet up with in San Jose, I feel disconnected. Life in my site continues as normal, English classes, grant writing, computer classes and the like. But every once and a while I stop and think about my adopted family, who are now back in the United States, eating delicious foods, hugging family and confronting the uncertainties of life. They have always been the people who understood me, they knew what culture shock felt like, how frustrating language learning was, how challenging isolation could be, and how exhausting it can be playing the motivator. And now they are undergoing new challenges and readjustments. And I am in my house, washing dishes, wishing it would rain.

I am lucky that there are other volunteers in my region, and I am looking forward to further developing friendships with them. And I have wonderful relationships in my community. So I will be fine, in this next year I will have the opportunity to work with motivated community members, execute important development projects and delve even further into rural Costa Rican life. And I wish my adopted family the best of luck, we may drift apart as the years pass on, but you will always be part of my transformation in Costa Rica.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Rainy Season Ends Again

First three months completed in my new site. I am slowly but surely establishing my work and becoming a community member. I have a successful English class, which at least for the moment I am really enjoying (side note: historically I have not always enjoyed teaching English). I was introduced to a breathtakingly beautiful river, 10 minutes from my house, which is perfect for swimming or fishing. I continue to get to know the women in the women's group and have started an inventory project with them. I see familiar faces when I go on walks around town, and I'm pleased with the number of people who can greet me with my name. And most importantly, having a small toaster oven and blender has transformed my culinary life!

As for the holiday season, I enjoyed Christmas in site with my extended host family, and tried to recreate some home tradition (like cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning, stockings, and delivering Christmas cookies to my neighbors). On the 24th I attended a family party with singing, dancing, eating, fireworks and merriment. The music may have been cumbia and the food arroz con pollo but it was a wonderfully festive way to celebrate Christmas. On the 25th I exchanged a few small gifts with my host family, made (unsuccessfully) cinnamon rolls, and played English Christmas music on the computer.

A few days before Christmas I participated in the traditional pig killing and tamale making (I didn't kill the pig, but I did have to help carve the dead pig). We executed the entire process by hand, and it was a long process!! First the corn has to be peeled and cut off the cob, then cooked and passed through the grinder (twice!). Then we added the broth from the boiled meat, some pig lard, onions, garlic and cilantro.  And cooked the masa until it was thick. The meat had to be boiled, taken off the bone and shredded into bite size pieces. The shredded meat was then seasoned. Rice had to be cooked, but not completely, it was a little crude when we added it to the tamale. Finally my family adds hard boiled eggs and potatoes, but those are only two of the many things that one can add to tamales. The banana leaves had to be cut down, cleaned up and ripped into appropriate size pieces. Finally the assembly! Two banana leaves, masa, rice, meat, potato, boiled egg, wrap the tamale and tie it up. Boil to cook and ta-da! Needless to say it took all day, but they were delicious.

For New Years I joined a group of 12 other volunteers in the West Coast of Costa Rica to explore some caves. It was not something I would have organized myself, (seeing as I am still irrationally frightened of the dark), but in the end I am very glad that I went. It was great to spend some time with other volunteers and the caves were impressive. I even convinced a few volunteers to join me on the way home for a beach stop off :-)

Now as school vacation almost comes to an end, I find my days filling up a little quicker and time passing by without my even noticing it. Moral of the story: I'm happy and life is good.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Who can say...

With another year almost passed, I find myself looking forward instead of backwards. 2013 is going to be another year begun (and hopefully ended) in Costa Rica, and it holds more possibility than I can imagine.

But for reflections sake, I wil admit that I struggled this year with feelings of uselessness, lack of purpose and incapability. But I am done with that now. My naivety is long gone, but I have a newfound sense of being able to conquer the world, if I just put my mind to it. When I graduated from high school my Mom made me a very special quilt, and she stitched jokes, poems and beautiful messages throughout the seams. She wrote "you are a mountain mover." At the time, it made me tear up, but it seemed logical enough. (I know how that sounds, but hang in there with me) Up to that point in my life, all of the challenges I had encountered were conquerable. I may have come a little short of the desired outcome a few times, but I had never felt useless. I had never thrown my hands in the air and completely given up.

I can admit that Gallo Pinto made me give up on more than one occasion. I threw my hands up, and planted my ass securely in my hammock. I stopped having high expectations, I stopped feeling capable and I confronted persistent failure. Although I never gave up for more than a day at a time, I will admit that my previous site was the first challenge in my life, that wasn't conquerable. And even after leaving, and moving to a completely new environment, it was difficult to kick that gnawing sense of incapability.

I don't know exactly when, why or how - but its gone. I'm a mountain mover again and it feels good.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Day 1 (take 2)

Today I begin a whole new chapter of my Peace Corps Service. Yesterday I loaded my (not nearly as meager as expected) belongings into the back of my boss's car and unloaded them in what (in the coming weeks) will become my new home. After just over a year in my original site I am transferring to a new site. Big change huh? Although I will always reflect positively on my time in Gallo Pinto, about a month ago I came to the (difficult, but necessary) realization that my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer had come to an end in the community. Gallo Pinto is a community with a long list of development needs. Unfortunately my work in the community was limited by the small unmotivated population and the minimal transportation resources. Reflecting back I do know that I made an impact in the organization of the local groups and the youth in the community. I leave the community a few friends richer, and with quite a bit more knowledge about the workings of rural Costa Rica.

My new town is a hop skip and a jump from where I was. I will be living with a family again (for the first few months) and I get to start from square one- getting to know the local groups, the friendly faces and in what I will be working. I am pleased with what I know so far about my new community. The town is a little bit larger than Gallo Pinto, although it is still rural. The town is more spread out, although it has a great center. My new family consists of a Host Mother, Host Father, a teenager sister in high school and a 22 year old sister who attends a University in a larger nearby city. The house sits beautifully next to a river and the family has been extremely welcoming.

Hopefully with this fresh start I will update my blog a little more regularly. Sending love and blessings back home


Monday, September 17, 2012

Such is life...Asi es la vida

The longer that I live my Peace Corps life the longer that it feels less like "my Peace Corps experience" and feels more like my life (without quotation marks). I often hear volunteers say, "I want to go home." We don't always say it in the throws of an emotional breakdown. Sometimes, its just another sweaty day without water when we wish we could wear fall fashions and see the leaves changing color. In these past few months I have heard my fellow volunteers recite this familiar cadence, but it has left me feeling confused. Because the desire to "go home" (for me at least) has always been about escaping the tough stuff. "Going home" becomes a fantastical NeverNeverLand. But the more that my life in Costa Rica takes root, the more I am left wondering, what would it mean to actually "go home."

"Home isn't a place anymore, its about the people." "Its people that make the places important." These are quotes from friends here and at home. They speak to something that I have known for longer than I have been able to verbalize the words or even identify with them. Home is the connection I feel sharing stories with my parents, or sitting down to a cup of coffee with a close friend. That feeling of connection, understanding and acceptance, that is what home is for me. So what does it mean to go home? Is home holding on to the love that you have in your life or acknowledging that wherever you go in the world you will find love? Where do I go now, to find my home?

And I'm not just looking for a sense of home, I am seeking adventure. Which only serves to complicate what was not a simple problem to begin with. I could fill my life with people that I love and care about, but what if  my personal fulfillment comes from leaving the places where people love me?

So there you have it, the ramblings of a slightly discontent, but still committed and entirely uncertain Peace Corps Volunteer. Enough about the future, lets catch up on the present. I am still working in my community, although work is painstakingly slow and frustratingly uphill. I still live in the same home, my fishbowl on school grounds. I still fill my weekends playing with the soccer team and the nearest bus stop is still an hour walk away. I still eat rice and beans daily, and the water still goes out at least once a week. I still wash my laundry by hand and share my home with unwanted pests (not pets) of all shapes and sizes. I still attend daily meetings and combat machismo and apathy. But there has been a new development, for a while now I have been dating a man from a nearby town. And even though so many things remain unchanged, having such a good friend and support system in town has given a 'rosy tint' to all of the tough stuff.

Well friends, family and the Internet, that's all of my personal thoughts and meanderings for now. Sending loves and blessings :-)

Friday, July 20, 2012

hardening of the heart

I just looked at my last blog post. May 30th. That means it has been almost two months since my last update. I apologize, although honestly, it is because things have become pretty mundane. I wake up in the morning, coffee, hammock and reading time. Yoga, breakfast, email, housework and then see where the day takes me. Meetings starting around cafecito time, and then its time to head home, make dinner and do the dishes. Watch a movie or chat with someone from home and then its time to tuck myself into bed. Another day gone by.

The title of the blog post, and probably one of the most eventful happenings of the past month, was the death of Piper my 4th Costa Rican pet. I don't know if I have told this story before, but either way I am going to retell it, because it is uniquely applicable to the situation. During training back in April 2011 a group of 6 trainees and myself spent a week in another volunteer's site. We stayed with host families and followed her around for a week learning about her work. One night we were all sitting on the floor in her house and as her cat was suckling on her dog, she told of the stories of her pets in Costa Rica. I don't remember the specifics, but it was horrific, the quantity and the ways in which they had all died. What I remember (distinctly) is that we laughed. It was uncomfortable laughter, I guess we felt like there was no other way to respond. It was such awful luck. It was just too horrific to take seriously. And here I am, just over a year later. Sugar was stolen, Cricket was eaten by a dog, Gidget was poisoned and Piper got distemper and I had to put her down.

Piper had been walking strange for a few weeks and I spoken with more people and vets then I can count about how to help her. In the end, she couldn't stand up, and although she continued eating, she just laid on the floor, limbs splayed in all directions bobbing her head to eat her food and sleeping in her own excrement. Because she couldn't walk, and the bus stop is an hour away, I had someone in town kill her. They were kind enough to dig her grave and end her life. I sat in my room, on my bed, with my knees tucked into my chest, my hands over my ears and I cried.

I have more offers now than I know what to do with for more pets, but at least for today, my heart feels just a little bit too hard.