Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Long Update on the First Days

Sorry this is going to be very long!

First of all, all I can say is I have never seen so many dogs in my life!  They literally just wonder the streets, and I swear EVERY house has at least one.  Mine doesn’t…But the rest have enough to go around.

The past few days have been crazy.  Good crazy.  On Saturday morning we had a small orientation at our hostel (El Escondite) until about 2:30.  A bus came and picked all of us up, which wasn’t easy because we had a LOT of luggage.  We went to our school site to meet our host families.  We were all VERY nervous from not knowing exactly what to expect or who.  We came into the building and stood in the middle of all of these people sitting in chairs.  It was so awkward.  Everyone was talking, we were looking at each other like “God help me”, and then one by one a person would understand the name on our chests and one by one we went off.  My mom was helping with the food and drinks so she wasn’t in the room at that moment, but she found me soon enough and gave me a looooong long hug.  She introduced me to her granddaughter Ariana who speaks English so we talked a little, but not much.  It was very awkward.  Then after being fed more food, we left with Ariana’s mother who came to pick us up. 

My house is very small and my room is about the same size as my kitchen and living room.  My mom did a lot to make it perfect for me and I’m so grateful.  She is so nice, but I will admit it’s been really difficult trying to communicate.  She speaks very fast and while I try to understand as much as I can the first time around, I usually don’t. 

I unpacked actually really quickly and then met my neighbor, Cody.  He graduated from Eau Claire in May and has been living here next door (with my Mom’s niece Nathalia) since June.  Saturday night I went with him, Nathalia, her 7 year old Mateo, and her father to a “repaso” I believe it’s called.  I may be wrong though.  Cody was under the impression that we’d be there for a couple hours at most and told me I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into by agreeing to go.  Turns out he didn’t know what he had gotten himself into either.  Apparently a “repaso” is very, very common.  Family members gather at a specified members house for a prayer.  What they are praying for, I couldn’t tell you but it was quite an experience.  We got there at about 7, and at about 7:15 a mariachi band showed up and began to lead the prayer service.  There was a small nativity scene prepared in the front and chairs lined one on top of the other.  I kid you not, at least 70 people were there.  All family members.  For an hour the mariachi lead everyone in praying the “Hail Mary”. It took me at least 30 minutes to figure out what prayer they were saying.  After that, the family whose home it was started passing out a dish called arroz con pollo – rice with chicken.  It came also with chips and beans and then later some coleslaw.  And after that an eggnog, which I cant remember the name of, and then after that a jello dessert.  For three more hours, the mariachi played and people danced.  I was so tired that I didn’t dance but it was really fun to watch.  By the time we finally left it was after 11. 

On Sunday I went with my mom, Maria Elena, to an outdoor fruit and vegetable market.  We met up with her sister and her daughter Carol and her two small children Jimena and Vladimir.  Another girl in the study abroad program, Elizabeth, lives with Carol so she was there too.  It was very interesting to experience and helped me practice with understanding the conversion of dollars to colones (which is the monetary unit in Costa Rica).  500 colones is just a little bit less than a dollar and most of the things in the marketplace were three for 500, some things were per kilo, but most everything was very cheap.  This was where I got my terrrrible, terrible sunburn.

When we got home, my mom’s daughter Jency (don’t know how to spell it) came over for lunch with Alex who is one of the guys in the study abroad program.  He lives with her.  We ate lunch together, Cody too, and then when we finished, Alex, Cody, and I went for a walk.  While walking, Cody saw some friends and we went with them to one of their houses.  Then, a few more of their friends came, and then a couple more who were host brothers to a couple other girls in the program.  After sitting around talking in English and Spanish, and taking shots of a really nasty Costa Rican liquor, we went to ANOTHER girl’s host families’ house to watch the Vikings-Saints game.  Some of the Ticos (Costa Rican guys) went to buy food for everyone so that we could grill out.  I watched half of the first quarter and then spent the rest of the game outside with the Ticos who weren’t interested in American football.  I felt like my brain was about to explode after an hour from all the Spanish, and mostly slang of course, but it was really good practice and they were all very patient with me, while still having quite a few laughs at my expense.  Ask if you want more details.

Then today was our first day of “class”.  We had to take a test in Spanish to see what level we were all at – it was 15 pages long at least.  It was terrible.  None of us were stressed out about it, we just couldn’t believe how long it was.  After that, we divided into groups to do a scavenger hunt around the city near our school site.  Basically we just had to find some stores.  It was not the most enjoyable experience for me because we were walking around in the sun for 3 hours and I, being already really sunburnt, was wearing a black long-sleeved zip-up sweater to protect myself.

Some notes on culture : Everywhere we go, people stare.  When we’re walking on the street, 9 out of 10 cars honk at us.  It’s really awkward to walk and see people craning their necks to stare as you go past or looking back if they walk by you.  We had to walk past a construction site this afternoon and all the workers yelled things at us.  I heard several times in English “WE LOVE YOU!”  I know it’s one of those things that won’t get better with time, like communicating with my family, so I just have to get used to it.  Also, I have never eaten so much in my life!!  I’ve eaten three full meals all the days I’ve been here so far, and I’m pretty sure it’s not a “Welcome” gift.  The amazing thing though, is I am never hungry in between meals.  At home, I eat a meal and 15 minutes later I want to eat again.  Today I ate breakfast at 7:30 and when it was time for lunch at 12:00, I could have easily waited another 2 hours.  Everything is so good.  It’s probably been the best part so far.

Sorry this is so long but I’ve had a lot to catch up on.  If you cared enough to read it all then I applaud you.  Until next time!

I'm Here!!!

I wrote this on the morning of our second day, but I just got internet last night so I've been behind in posting it.  I will be writing another post in a little bit about the past couple days.

Saturday, January 23 :

It’s 7:38 am and we’re about to start Day 2!  Yesterday was a verrrry long day.  My flight left at 6:30 yesterday morning, and Mom, Dad, Erin and I arrived at Lindbergh airport in Minneapolis at about 3:15 am.  Unfortunately, we didn’t realize you couldn’t check-in until 4:00.  After finally checking in and getting through security at about 4:30, I waited at my terminal until 6:30.  My flight was on time and from there we went to Houston and had a layover of about an hour and a half, then we flew on in to San José, Costa Rica!! 

Once we got through immigration and customs, we found the other group of students who had arrived at the airport an hour ahead of us and went outside to find Ana and Maria, our program coordinators, who would be picking us up.  The weather was 86 and breezy – absolutely perfect!  We were all dying though because most of us were wearing pants and zip-up sweaters.  We climbed into a little bus and started our way through the city.  We dealt with the fact that there was no air conditioning by opening up the windows.  The breeze felt nice but the smell of the city wasn’t that pleasant.  Mostly it just smelled like a lot of gas fumes, which was not surprising after seeing how many cars were around.  The driving wasn’t as crazy as I had initially expected.  Lots of honking, but there weren’t many near-death experiences.  The city itself, from what we drove past, actually reminded me a lot of Los Angeles – lots of little shacks and an obviously very Latin American feel to the design of the buildings.  We made our way through the tiny streets and arrived at our hostel. 

The hostel is absolutely gorgeous!  Costa Ricans are so lucky because their houses can be as open as they want, and if they’re accepting of the bugs, then they have nothing to worry about.  We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting at a long table on the patio, just talking as a group because by this time all 14 of us had arrived.  Carlos and Lesley, who own the hostel, prepared dinner for us: Lasagne.  Very cultural.  It was really good food but we didn’t eat until about 7 and by that time a lot of us were ready to pass out, especially me because I hadn’t slept since Wednesday night. 

Now it’s morning and breakfast starts at 8 and goes until about 9.  We’ll be having an orientation after that where Ana and Maria and the program assistant, Courtney, will go over all the important info we need to know.  When that’s finished they’re going to take us to meet our host families!  Yay!

Here are some photos of the hostel:

It was hard to get a good picture, but the mountains were gorgeous from this view.

The photos don't give this place any justice.  It was seriously one of the most beautiful places I have seen, and I'm sure there are many more to see in the next 10 weeks.  

Monday, January 18, 2010

Service Learning

I'm on a blogging roll tonight apparently.

We've been getting a lot of updates in our e-mail the last week or two with some last minute tips and information before we set off.  One of these e-mails contained the long-awaited info on the site of our Service Learning trip.  [UWEC requires a minimum of 30 hours of community service before graduation.]  One of the main reasons I chose Costa Rica as my study abroad program was because of the Service Learning project, so I had been anxiously awaiting to find out where we'd be going.

The program coordinators, Ana and Maria, chose the proposal to help the Yorkín Women's Project in the Carribean/Talamanca region of Costa Rica, which is about 6 hours south of San Jose [refer to last blog post for a map of the country :)].

I can't even express with the best words how absolutely ecstatic I am to do this.  It's going to be incredibly hard work but the pay-off will be much greater for this community.  The Bribrí women came together to develop The Yorkín Women's House project sixteen years ago in efforts to help their community become independent of outside influences so as to retain their culture and reverse the effects of alcoholism and machista attitudes that were quickly taking ahold of the community members' lifestyles.  They created their own resources by beginning to grow their own food and developed new sources of tourism-based income by educating themselves and building three rustic lodges to welcome and accommodate visitors.  About a year ago, one of the lodges was destroyed when a nearby river flooded.  We will be spending 10 days in the jungle with the Bribrí indigenous community helping to rebuild this lodge and also to teach English and Art to the community's school-aged children.  Just two quick reasons why I'm pumped:  1) After the drive down, we will be traveling another hour by canoe to reach the community, and 2) There is no electricity in this village.  How many people are excited to have no electricity?  'Cuz I am!!!

This is going to be one of those events that really shows both yourself and others what you're made of deep down.  It's not going to be easy to rebuild this lodge; it's going to take a lot of patience and a lot of diligence.  I think about the little things I complain about each day and the things I constantly take for granted and I really can't wait to go and have it all put into perspective.  I can't wait to wake up every morning knowing that I'm going to go work on a project that is having a positive effect on someone's life.

Can You Walk There?

Today my dad asked me if he could walk to Costa Rica.  He was kidding, of course, but he didn't know if he'd need to cross a body of water to get to me if he ever decided to take on the challenge.
So I decided it is probably a good idea to post a map or two for those of you reading this who aren't very good at geography (Don't worry; that's a lot of people).

Costa Rica is in Central America and is bordered by Nicaragua (to the north) and Panama (to the south).  I believe it's about the size of West Virginia, but don't quote me on that.  We're taking a trip to Nicaragua sometime during the four months, I can't remember the exact date, and I'm also considering traveling to Panama for Spring Break.

Here's a map of the country itself.  San Jose is the capital, and where I'll be staying is a small city about 10 minutes outside of there called San Isidro de Heredia.

I know this is kind of boring stuff, but if you're a geography nerd and like to know where places are (which, if you're a true geog. nerd you should already know but I'll let you have this one) then this was for you.