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Nov. 8th, 2010

The "I'm traveling" Look

Its a Sapo life

Good morning Sunshine
I wake up to the birds, there are lots of those around here. My host mom informs me that they are eating a papaya that took a steep fall from the tree last night. The culprit was strong rain that fell for hours, lulling me to sleep... But it is the morning now, time to rise and shine. I hang my feet over the bedside and blindly search for my trusty “house only” flip-flops with my freshly painted toes- violet. Found! I slip them on and start to make my way around the a.p.t.; wash “night” out of my mouth and “pillow” off of my face.

I roll out my squishy yoga mat on my freshly cleaned floor and lay down as my back crunches as it stretches straight; ah, relief. The muscles relax into place, reforming after a night on 12 inches of foam-squish-sink. I would spend my nights sleeping on the floor- what I prefer- except I am in Costa Rica and the creepy crawlies are everywhere. I will take my chances on foam-squish-sink, where chances of creepy crawlies crawling directly on my body are more limited.

Knowing this, I turn my head to the side and see a shadow, some kind of bug for-sure, I think to myself as I finish my stretching. I stand up and open the curtain, shedding some more light on the situation as I take a closer look. It is not a bug, it is, as it appears, a little doo. Yes, indeedy do, it is a poo poo. Now let’s consider this for a moment. It is indoors. We do have a dog, but he is part Rottweiler and lives outside- aka the side of this doo is way too small for Bongo and he does not enter my apartment. Said doo is about 1.5 inches long and about ½ inch wide. Other perpetrators?
1. Cat? Nope, don’t have one, don’t want one.
2. Rat? Nay, don’t think I have one, don’t want one, doo is too large for a rat.

*Now this is the best part of realization of the culprit- I’ll just put that out there so that you are prepared because I do realize that sometimes my stories lack a punch line, so here it goes:

For the last week or so we have been having some unwanted visitors in our corridor. They find their way onto the nice clean tile entranceway and then refuse to leave. Now these must be some strong-willed creatures because I have tried everything in order to advance their departure time to “sooner” rather than “later.” I have tried a “stomp and scare” tactic, nothing. “Fast movement in front of your eyes” nada. The only success that I have has been a simple but undesirable “remove yourself, or I will” tactic.

Now, am mostly unfamiliar with said creature’s comings and goings but, as I learned earlier in the week, they are not wholly loved by the community for one clear reason; their doo. And what is this creature you may ask? Why it is a toad! Yes, you read me correctly, a toad. But not just any old sapo; a large, 6 inch wide, 3 inch tall, black-as-night toad. You’d be surprised to learn just how strong-will they are.



So here I am, sleepies still in my eyes, coming to the realization that there could be a large toad located somewhere in the abyss of crannies and crevasses of my room, possibly ready to leave more gifts for me in unseen places. Great. Well, I guess that is why a clean floor doesn’t stay clean for long. That is Costa Rica for ya.


Hope all is well and that everyone enjoyed (or is still enjoying) Halloween and it´s respective festivities (sweets!).

Chau!

~Jess
The "I'm traveling" Look

Programs lists and more Programs!

Hi all!

I hope things are going well for everyone. I have been quickly filling my days with errands as I feel the time that remains of my PeaceCorps experience, quickly flying by. As you know, if you have been following the thought flow of the last few entries, I have focused my time here on initiating large programs so that the work that I accomplish will be sustainable (or have more hopes of being sustainable, at least).

I have written about the Evening Elementary School program; their school year will soon come to a close and the 6th grade level will take their “graduation exams”, deciding if they can continue on, to study High School with the program that I am currently working on starting-up. There are a select few that have stuck it through to the end and they will be taking the exams at the end of this month. I will be wishing them luck but I honestly believe that they are well prepared.

So what it comes down to, for me, is that I am juggling 3 different enrollment lists, on which is continuing the Elementary School programs, one that is starting up an adult high school education program (also in the evening) and the third is for the “National Learning Institute” classes.

Costa Rica offers free courses for its natural an naturalized citizens in order to promote job opportunities within the country as a whole. The classes are offered in places where “the need” is expressed. Currently, in my community, there is quite a need but there is a lack of initiative to begin these types of programs.

As a result of all of the complaints and requests for English classes and computer classes, I have decided to find a solution. For me, the best solution is to start up classes, obvio, but I am not willing to do it- for a number of reasons that are irrelevant to the end result. The National Learning Institute offers both of these courses but the problem that citizens of my town faces is that the center is located in the next largest town, a 45 min bus ride away- a question of time and money makes this option unreachable for many residents.

My end plan is 1. find the students because the National Learning Institute has told me that “where there are students, we will come.” Well, ‘show me a students’ is easy enough, so that is what I am doing- tracking down students who want to participate. For many people, it is just TOO easy, just “sign-up” and your-in! I am a hard-AskMeKnowMoreQuestions, a strict person, so I decided to require a “motives essay” for people who want to sign-up for these highly desirable classes that provide a highly saught-out skill set. I am hoping that requiring an essay will deter those who would not have stuck with the class to begin with. He who starts as a slacker, ends as a slacker, so here I go, attempting to weed them out before they de-motivate the others; another way that I am hoping to make the program sustainable.

So that is what I am up to lately. Cracking whips and taking names, in a purely figure-of-speech kind of way because, at the same time, I am promoting education and world peace. :oD

Okie dokie, so that is the low-down and all recent news.

I hope that was informative and I wish the best to all of you there in the colder parts, starting off fall with a bang of color.

Hasta luego!

~Jess


Always save some time to play with kids! (host counsins and their chalk drawing)




Helping out a group of mothers- making empanadas, filled with cheese and sugar, to raise money for their childrens´ school group, yum!

Sep. 9th, 2010

The "I'm traveling" Look

Back to the grind, but the not the coffee, just the work

Hi all!

It has been a couple of weeks since my time in the states and, dont’t worry, I am forgetting how to properly speak English again- or is that speak properly... ? I also wanted to thank all of the Golub gang for coming out for the quick, but quite delicious, BBQ. It was nice to get to see all your smiling faces, however short the visit was. It was also really nice to see the Sullivan crew at the Cape b-day/reunion so thanks for coming out ya’ll. :o)

As for me, its been back to the grind as Program Coordinator (I have unofficially acquired an official title through the National Ministry of Education). Thanks to many hours of talking up the program, in buses, and filling out forms, the evening Adult Education program (2 different classes) is finally running smoothly and 8 students will be taking the 6th grade exams at the end of October.

For these 8 students (all older than 22- most middle-aged), achieving this certificate of completion will open up unlimited doors of opportunity in terms of jobs, pay caps, and other educational opportunities including high school and certification courses (computer tech, artisan work, bartending ect). Not to mention, the students are gaining priceless knowledge about basic math (multiplication and division), sex-ed, and about social rights and cultural history. Education, in this case, was the best gift that I could possibly give to this group and to the (hopefully) future groups of students. Education has proven, over history, to be the gift that keeps on giving.

In my small rural community where illegal immigration is the norm, illiteracy rates are over 15%, domestic violence is through the roof, alcoholism is killing, and drug trafficking is suffocating the community; education is the best area in that I can invest my time. More information is power. Educating women in the town raises self esteem, awareness of how to prevent pregnancies and self sufficiency in terms income- one of the main reasons that women in the area stay with their abusers. Better job opportunities also help the nuclear family by providing better nutrition, less stress (stress in many cases= violence and chronic illnesses), and more options for children- they can study instead of dropping out of school to work and continue the cycle.

Self esteem is an issue, overall, for a large majority of the population. Self-poisonings are up as the preferred form of suicide. Last week 2 people in my town drank poison and both died; one a distraught girlfriend when the father of her baby (less than a year old) decided to leave her and the other an older husband father of 2. In my opinion, education is the best remedy to touch the largest amount of people that I possibly can. Students have higher self esteem because they consistently receive support from their peers and teachers, can consistently get positive feedback and feel capable.

All of these small factors, that we often take advantage, are essential. This “in class” motivation is nothing compared to being able to say to neighbors/family members/friends when they are asked the typical “What are/were you doing walking in the street? Being a vagabond? (Aka- up to no-good)” and the student can respond “No, I am studying, actually. I am working my butt off to get ahead because I want something “more”.”

So, with that, I have decided to continue to work in the area of education. I am working on starting an evening high school for adults. There is currently a day high school and a high school for adolescents, at night, but nothing for anyone over aged 22. Day high school, the drop-out rates are undeniable. More than half of the students who start in 7th grade do not return the next year. This means that, at age 15, there is an influx of adolescents that start looking for jobs with only a 6th grade education.

En fin, I am currently working on an evening high school for adults so that more people have the opportunity to study and become professionals; bettering their situations and those of their families.

Si dios quiere, as they say here, god willing.

So I hope everyone is doing well in their respective areas of work and living. May your days be filled with calm moments and smiling eyes and that you recognize the great power that you all have as educated citizens of this earth.

Cheers!

-Jess

Jul. 13th, 2010

The "I'm traveling" Look

Business!

Hey all!

I hope everyone had a fun 4th of July! Unfortunately I spent my 4th of July with a bad stomach virus but I am up and moving now! Life has been uber busy! I can not believe how fast time is flying by. Before I know it, I will be seeing all of your smiling faces, in just about a month now.

In the meantime, I would like you all to know that I have been mostly in good healthy and quite busy with my main education projects. As I wrote before, the adult elementary-ed night classes are going quite well. I have had a couple of hiccups with one of the classes’s teachers and I have ended up filling-in for her for the past couple of weeks, but on it goes!

I am now working on phase 2 of “educate for a better future.” (Well, I made up that title, but I am on phase 2.) So right now I am working towards an evening high school that will start in February of 2011. I am making this my major goal for the rest of my service because it is one heck of a job! I am doing all of the publicity (which is not easy), office work (with the list of students), and a lot of work- that should technically fall on the shoulders of MEP (Ministry of Education) employees-like filling out forms and checking out requirements so that the program will work.

As of life in general, I thought I would share this fun picture with you all. I think I have explained this before but if not, laundry is done in 4 steps here. 1. Put your dirty clothes in the washer with soap and water.
Step 1 is the wash cycle where the machine rotates your clothes back and forth in soapy water for a while.

Step 2 is manual, you must rinse your soapy clothes in clean water. Most people here take out each article and transport it to the pila (long flat sink) then rinse each item separately. I; however, am way too lazy to do that, so I just turn the water on (located over the washing machine) and rinse each item so that the soapy water falls back onto the soapy clothes. It works for me.


Step 3: transport each item to the separate part of the washing machine that people here call the “dryer.” Your clothes do not end up dry, but they do end up “dryer” so I guess that name almost works. This part is top-loading and once you put the top on, the machine spins your clothes like a salad spinner- saving you the “wring it out” cycle.
Step 4 is hang your clothes up to dry. Here in Costa Rica, the best dryer is the sun. When there is a good strong sun that dries the clothes fast ( ½ - 1hr), then they still smell clean and like detergent. If there is minimal sun, they might smell a little damp still. If it is raining, well, good luck- you might as well wait until the next day because you may have to wash them again because of the humid smell.

So step 4: We had (had being key word) a nylon cord that ran from the house to a tree that is out in the backyard; however, irony being as it is, the same sun that dries the clothes so clean-smelling and soft also rots nylon strings. So as of 2 months ago, we are without said nylon string (outside that is, there are still a couple of strings that are inside the covered “pila room” (washroom) with open- but barred- walls). As a result of this said string rotting and falling down, and with nowhere to hang my clothes to dry quickly and smell good, I have resorted to creative measures:




Jun. 8th, 2010

The "I'm traveling" Look

(no subject)

Hey all!

Can you imagine that I have already completed a year in my site?! It is crazy how the time flies! I am preparing myself this week, tying up loose ends with pending projects and letting people know that I will be MIA because next week I will be in San Jose for my Mid Service Training with all of my fellow volunteers. I have not seen many of them in many months and it will be nice to catch up a bit.

So what have I been doing? Well that is a loaded question and I find myself digging each time to find the answer. Time has been flying by but I have been involved in various projects. My largest logro (acomplishment) so far has been the adult education program where I organized a group of about 30 adults who had not finished elementary school.

The majority, 20, are studying 6th grade and will take the test at the end of their school year to see if they can pass and receive a certificate of completion for elementary school. The other group, of 10 or so, vary in education level with almost half of the group starting from square one- learning letters and beginning to read.

Just recently one of these students finished the 1st book, the equivalent to first grade. She is a older woman, over 50, and when she started, she could not read and now she can! In a matter of less than 4 months she learned to read and is now studying the 2nd book, the equivalent of 2nd grade. I am so proud of her and the Ministry of Education does not recognize students when they finish these lower grades so yesterday I printed up a nice certificate of recognition and we had a little ceremony in the classroom. It was great! :o)

The next project that I am working on right now is the development of a night high school. Currently there is program available for adolescents to finish high school at night but nothing for adults. The high school was only constructed less than 15 years ago there is a large population in the town that never had the opportunity to go to high school- they would have had to travel 2 hours round trip on a bus to study in a high school (which is what both of my host parents did).

So I am currently working as the key organizer, taking names, numbers and other important info, then pulling all of the strings in the high school so the teachers start moving and shaking. The idea is that the program will start in February of 2011, when they start their school year, but it takes a lot of planning to get it done. So here I am, printing up flyers, coloring them in (it is wayy too expensive to print up posters in color), posting the posters, talking to people, making banners, and taking names.

I hope that was helpful update and as I prepare to head to San Jose, I hope that I can re-connect with family and friends that I have not talked to in a while as I will have internet at the hotel for all of next week (I hope).

I hope all is well
Take care all!

~Jess

May. 8th, 2010

The "I'm traveling" Look

Trips to Liberia: Heat Central

The sun has just risen but it is now ... not drip-sweat hot, not yet, but almost. If there was no breeze from the open windows then we would be required to use our carefully stored sweat-rags. For the moment it is just a too-warm-for-7:30am-breeze.

I know it’s not from me when the smell hits my nose- tracing my memories back to school-days. Big-yellow-bus-riding days. It was the “sun on seat on a fall afternoon” smell when I was a child. Now it is similar but the context is hot-shoulder-vs-brown-pleather-seat in the heat of a Guanacaste morning. Hot/Dry season.

Not five minutes later- now much involved in my school-bus memories- happily bouncing over pot-holes left from winter snows, in the last row, the single seater (only for the few lucky ones who were at the end of the bus route)- and a second smell racks my brain and I switch gears.

I register it as “subway hands on metal handrail”. The metal-smell that seeps into the life-lines of your palms and stays with you for hours unless you wash with hot water or good-strong-antibacterial-liquid-soap. I only have access to purel for the next hour and half. Metal-on-hot-hands smell is not an option for me. I will stick with brown pleather seat- that mostly disappears with purel- so I grab hold.

I am glad to be leaning against a seat- today is not completely over packed. There is breathing room for us cattle. We are in cowboy-land after all.

My oversized bag is resting on the seat across from me. It is mostly empty because, after a day of Liberia’s suffocating sun, a heavy bag is like an elephant that you want to drop with one of the street vendors. “Here- I’ll trade you these brickbooks for those hot pink rubber sandals.” I don’t even like pink.

I make sure not to lock my knees for the hour ride because I heard once that the average person lasts 15 minutes standing if they lock their knees- until they faint. I have gotten light-headed before ... I do my best to learn from my mistakes.

The ride is longer in the morning. We stop every few minutes to add more hot hands to the mix. Not to mention I am standing up. This automatically makes it longer. I am glad that my head is clear- my personal space is secured with my popped-out-hip and opposite hand-on-hip action. Relax shoulders and enjoy the silence; although sleep would be nice. I have saved the caffeine consumption until I need extra hydration and something cold during the day. Limited cash flow forces me to take these factors into account.

Gatorade is my helpful working assistant and best friend throughout the morning; under the blanket of Liberia’s oppressive heat. Iced tea comes next in line, supplying the extra sugar-jolt in the afternoon. While the last ¼ of my was-solid-ice nalgene is saved for the 2 ½ hr journey home. I always have the same issue- it is warm, it tastes like nalgene-plastic, but I need it ‘cause its liquid. And it’s free. Avoid dehydration and avoid the usual headache.

Every day is a test. What will it be today? Headache or sufficient hydration? As I stroll into my house after the 12hr day, my now white-stripped black tank top is tired of being stuck to me. I feel like a marathon runner, minus the pasta. It all makes sense- why salt is a spice here. The body craves it, leaves you small hints and clues, from potato-chip-fantasies to the pretty new salt design on your most “lightly dressed” tank.

The day has finally come to an end. A typical PANI working day.
Life in CR- roundtrip my site to Liberia, Guanacaste: 2010.
My Peace Corps experience.

Apr. 11th, 2010

The "I'm traveling" Look

Where has Jess gone and What in the world is she doing?

Hola Familia, Amigos y Amigas,

I hope everyone is doing well. I can not believe how fast the time is flying by. It seems as though yesterday was February 1st and now we are at the end of March, I can not even believe it! The month of February flew by so fast that, by the time March 6th rolled around, I had not noticed that the month had changed thus forgot to pay my rent! Woops! Apparently that was not the only bill that I forgot to pay, seeing as ICE (phone/electric company) shut my cell phone off last week because I had forgotten to pay my February bill that was due on the 5th- woops!

Well, other than forgetting to pay my bills on time, things are going well. I have now officially accomplished SOMETHING, in my eyes anyway. I did it all myself, the running around, finding info, contacting people, taking names and cracking the whip, just kidding, this is Peace Corps, there was no whip cracking, but there was movement- yay! What did I accomplish you may ask? Well, good question. I will tell you but first I will give you the background as to WHY I chose this specific project.

I live in a quite rural town- the main source of income is the agriculture industry; however, the population of the town is big that there is really no possibility that all of the farmers can be employed at the same time, the ratio of land to person is just not sufficient. Ok, tangent. Well, the point is that most of these farmers left school early on to work the land with their families; therefore, the general formal education level of my down is quite low. Especially considering the fact that the now existing high school has only been functioning for less than 15 years, beforehand the closest high school was 1hr away.

So here is the stat that I was looking at when I started this project, see if you can think of what I wanted to do by analyzing the following chart:


edu chart



Did you guess it? Yes, I decided to work on broadening the educational opportunities for residents of my town. The Ministery of Education (MEP)- all governing power for all things “school”- offers some adult education programs but none of which were available in my town therefore the older population who, in their time, did not have the opportunity to finish school, still did not have the opportunity to finish. I decided “well that’s quite enough of that” so I did something.

I met with the local MEP office that asked a million questions about how the go about starting this program. They didn’t have most of the answers so I just started anyway. I created and then posted 45 flyers advertizing the sign-up, talking to each business owner about the class I asked permission to post the flyer on their wall.

I held the sign-up meeting, took names, numbers, and other important info and ended up with 20 students. In the days that followed I was overwhelmed with people calling me and stopping me on the street to sign-up – those who were unable to attend the meeting. I ended up with 36 students! That was enough interest for 2 classes!

Next step: find the teachers to teach who want to, and have time in their schedules, to teach this class 3 times a week from 6-9pm (after a 7-5 day). Oye! That was a challenge. Then, fill out all the paperwork. As my mum would say “Man, I hate all these forms!” It certainly helps to know what you are doing when filling out official paperwork- woops! Too bad they were not very explicit when explaining how to do this whole process, I ended up filling out the forms 3 separate times. Mind-you, all forms had to be signed and stamped (officially) by my school director, each of the teachers, then my regional director. Oye! I have never encountered such red-tape in my life, but now I know some of the tricks: Never sign in black, always in blue, and always ask a million questions before doing anything. Aka ser necia (be annoying) :oD

So anywho, after many weeks, trips, forms, and errors, they finally approved one of the proposed classes and the students have started. I ordered then picked up the books and they are all working on improving their level of education and reaching towards a more educated future. The levels range from 1st grade (learning to read) all ways to 6th grade. They are an awesome group and I hope the best for them. And guess what- I help make it happen :oD

Yay!

So that is where I have been for the last month and half or so, buried in forms, taking names and numbers, and using my fast-walking skills to expedite the process- thanks for the long legs dad! I have also been working on helping out high school students with English questions and assisting an English teacher in a couple of lessons. All the meanwhile, I still work at the orphanage in my local “big city” (2 hrs away) twice a month, and support the Development Association groups with meetings and projects. So yes, I am now getting busy, but that’s a good thing!

So I hope everyone is doing well and sorry for the long delay in updating. Hopefully more to come soon!

Take care

Chau!

Jess

Feb. 9th, 2010

The "I'm traveling" Look

Tamales!!!! Finally :o)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySiEFRKoT7o



Check out the long awaited Tamale video!!! :o)

Jan. 26th, 2010

The "I'm traveling" Look

(no subject)

Hi all!

I hope everyone is doing well. Here in Costa Rica, rainy season is officially over, with a capital O. The sun is out at full force, 8 times stronger than anywhere in the states, and the wind, which comes through for a couple weeks on the tail end of the rainy season, is slowing down. Soon we will be left with no rain, no wind, simply sun- and that means a ton-o-sun!


(picking- and test tasting- coffee in San Jose)

In the season of “sun”, the heat is incredible. I have had trouble realizing exactly how hot “que calor” is but recently, when visiting a friend and fellow volunteer in Nicoya, the weather was a good 95 degrees during the day and, when it finally cooled off at night, it was about 88. No wonder I was lacking in the energy department, the sun was stealing most of it, and the part that was left went to strategically calculating ways to keep my body cooler and use the least amount of energy as possible. So how do I deal with it- constantly dripping with sweat and fighting the sun’s beat-you-down-strong rays? Well, good question. Here are some best practices that keep me a bit more comfortable:

Rule #1: Cotton towels are not nice to use in my site.
During the rainy season they constantly smell moldy (Yes, moldy- worse than musty. Musty is reserved for dry clothes). During dry season, you do not want to automatically wrap yourself up in a nice warm fluffy towel as soon as you get out of the shower; that simple pleasure is reserved for climates under 50 degrees. Just the though of a nice warm fluffy towel encompassing my body at this moment gave me a hot flash.

Here, in the 90 degree heat, after you take a nice cold shower and finally manage to lower your body temperature a bit, you want to keep it that way as long as possible. Answer to all of your prayers: a sarong. A nice thin material that is light and soaks up water as quickly as it releases it. Jackpot.

Rule #2: Go ahead, fan yourself!
After coming out of a nice cold shower, the last thing you want to do is start sweating immediately. I mean, for me, I try to hang onto that “clean” feeling for as long as I can. That is how I came up with step #2 of bathing: fan drying. It goes like this:
1. Take shower
2. Use sarong to dry off
3. Stand in front of fan to dry any remaining moisture
4. Turn fan on high and carefully dry hair.
Using a hair dryer in this heat is like asking for indoor heatstroke.

Now this brings us step number 5 which is also rule number 3 so here it goes:

Rule #3: Baby powder is not only for babies. It is also your friend.
This rule is simple: apply where possible. Baby powder helps in areas where skin touches skin- inside of elbows, back of knees, armpits (after deodorant)- and where your body releases lots of heat- neck, feet. Apply when needed. Apply liberally. If followed correctly, this step will keep you feeling fresh for up to 1hr more than non-baby-powder days. That’s something to smile about :o)

Rule #4: Jeans are NOT your friend in hot weather.
When choosing clothing, choose thin, quick-dry clothes that are loose fitting for maximum air-flow. Self explanatory reason: jeans are not 90 degree weather attire unless you like to walk around feeling like you fell in a lake with jeans on.
Side note: Jeans should come with a dehydration warning when worn in temperatures over 80 degrees. You have been warned!

Rule #5: If you are in Costa Rica, carry your umbrella year-round.
As you already know by reading my previous entries, I have come to appreciate the beauty of umbrellas that I naively wrote off in earlier years of my life. Nowadays I clutch my sombrilla so tight you couldn’t pry it out my hands. If I was ever in the situation where someone wanted to take this comfort from me, I would simply give the “Don’t-mess-with-the-sombrilla-man, it-is-my-health-and-wellness”-glare, and they would back off. Problem solved. “Get your own sombrilla! These stripes are mine!”

Ok guys, that’s all of now. I hope that when you plan your next visit to Costa Rica, you follow these simple but very useful tips and save your sanity. Mum and dad, take note, you guys are first!

Chau!

Jess

Jan. 5th, 2010

The "I'm traveling" Look

Holiday Season- Happy New Year!!!

Hi All!!!
I hope everything is going well. I know it has been a while since I have updated so I will fill you in on a few things that have happened. Mid-December, on the first day of Chanukah, Tico’s kicked off the Holiday season with a parade through the middle of San Jose, creative floats and all. Lights began to appear on some houses and the municipality of San Jose decked out all of the walkway-overpasses and parks to reflect the holiday spirit. Some other big cities joined in on the fun and decorated a large tree or central park.


My town is small and doesn’t have a municipality, mearly a Development Association, with a role similar to a town council in the states. The main Catholic church was able to organize an impressive “winter concert” (in 75 degree weather) where they transported and housed an entire orchestra and choir. The concert was awesome- not because could be compared to the Wang Center of Boston or because they played famouse pieces, but because they were able to bring something new and culturally different to the people here. For many of the residents here this was their first time experiencing a live orchestra.

In order to experience a live orchestra here in Costa Rica, you have to 1. travel to San Jose (from my site it is 6 hrs and $7 one way) then 2. pay for the presentation or be lucky enough to see a live public performance during some sort of holiday and 3. find lodging- because the trip is so long and buses are scarce, you can not go, see a concert, and get home all in the same day. The two main obstacles in this situation are money and time, because, for many families, job oportunities are rare and are not turned down when they are available. Also, a large percentage of the town has low education levels, directly resulting in the low salaries.

As for X-mas/my B-day? Well, I took my first vacation, aka, more than 2 nights out of my site. I went to San Jose and stayed with my training host family. It was a really nice low-key couple of days. The volunteer from the previous group also came to visit for a couple of days with her parents and sister. We ended up doing a good amount of translating for her parents, haha. On the 23rd we started the process of making tomales: hike up to the top of a mountain to chop down huge banana leaves, smoke them over a fire (to make them more pliable), zip the leaves off of the branch with a machete, fold up the pieces and lug them down the mountain in a large sack. ::Step 1:: haha ;o)



On the 24th I bet you can guess what we did, yes, we did the whole process of making tomales, and yes it is a 2-day process, and yes, I have tons of pictures and videos so I am compiling them in to a video so you all can enjoy the lengthy process of tomale making :o)

After a morning and afternoon of hard work making tomales, the evening of the 24th was fun filled and low-key. With threats of a full-on-egging by my host aunt and cousin, I was a bit on edge, but it worked out all-right. I convinced them that this tradition of theirs could not possibly start before it was my actual birthday and they complied: the egg-bath could wait until it was officially midnight. It was only then that I was fully able to relax, and with 5 minutes to midnight, I hid the basket of over 30 eggs. Muah haha ha. No egg-bath for me! It was not until 12:10 that my host aunt realized that the eggs were missing. Sitting calmly on the sofa, I watched her scour the kitchen for the basket. Don’t worry, I made sure to put on the most inoccent face I could muster. Good thing she didn’t ask ME where they were, I don’t think I could have kept that face for long :oD

The next morning, eggs still safely hidden, I asked my host mother if she was planning on using the eggs for breakfast. Her answer was no- thank goodness for breakfast tomales haha! Well, we did make 350 packets of 2… so there were plenty of tomales to be eaten! So they eggs stayed safely hidden after this exchange with my host mom:
Me: So, are we going to need the eggs at any point today?
Aracelly: Well, no, why?
Me: Because I have the eggs hidden and I am trying to figure out if I should keep them hidden.
Aracelly: Hmm
Me: So basically, I will only take the eggs out of hiding if you can promise me that they will not end up on my head.
Aracelly: Well, I can’t promise you that someone in the house will not use them against you.
Me: Ok, so eggs will stay hidden today :oP haha

The day continued with threats of many yolks covering my body but I somehow managed to avoid the disaster. I made deals: raced a small did in a short sprint, traded “eggs” for “punches” (in the shoulder, in true Dan and Matt form) and made promises of baking delicious cakes. In the end, I was not egged. Phew! Sorry mum and dad, no messy pictures this time.

After spending another day hanging out with my host family and picking some coffee, I parted ways and met up with a fellow volunteer and a couple of her friends that had just flown in from the states. We spent the next couple of days being touristy and american and it was a nice little break from the norm. We spoke english, laughed till our sides hurt and danced up a storm. The next we went white water rafting and rowed till our arms hurt and, again, laughed till our sides hurt. All-in-all it was quite a good time and a nice little vaca.



I headed home the next day on a 5hr bus ride sans seat then another hour ride before I finally made it home, tired and sick- and sick and tired of the distance. It seems as though I picked up a little something while I was in the (now) chilly San Jose. I slept a total of 25 hours in the next 2 days to kick the cold but no regrets here! That was the first time I have been sick since I have been here- not bad I’d say. Thanks for the good immune system mum! All those dirt-pies we made as kids have paid off. Haha, jk

As for New Years eve, I spent that with my family here- at my host mother’s brother’s house. We did a BBQ and just hung out. I provided the sweets with some home-made hot fudge sauce + ice cream + fresh strawberries. Yum! We kicked off the New Year with 12 grapes for each person (one for each month of the year) and made a wish for each grape that we ate.

To everyone reading this, I hope that you all had a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Years! I will be kicking off the New Year with a new cell phone!!! Well, not exactly a new phone, but a new line, so now I can be reached 24/7… or as long as I have service. Contact me or my family to get the new number.

I hope all is going well with everyone. Let me know whats going on (but please sign your name if you leave me a message here).

Take care all!!!

-Jess

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