Costa Rica through One Student's Eyes

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Recuerdo de Amor

I realize this is a break from what I normally write about, but it’s a pretty big deal to me, so I need to share it.

I found out Monday night that two friends of mine from high school (22 and 21) were killed in an auto accident on Sunday night, on their way back to KU.

For those who didn’t know Jake and Stephanie, they were probably some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. I don’t think I ever heard anyone every say anything bad about them, because they never gave you reason to. They were kind, funny and friendly to everyone.  While I wasn’t super close with them, I wish I had been closer. They were truly great people.

They dated for seven years and were talking about getting engaged.  They were together a lot, and seemed to bring out even more great points about each other, but they never left those around them feeling left out.  As much of a cynic as I am, I believe that they had a true love that could and will endure anything, even death.

Their deaths enrage me for a number of reasons.  They were so young and had such a great future ahead of them.  But that was taken away from them in an instant, in a way they never could’ve avoided.  They had no fault in the matter whatsoever. 

I think one of the hardest things for me to deal with is Stephanie’s Facebook.  On Saturday, she posted that things were changing too fast, that everything just needed to stop for awhile.  On Monday, this previously humorous status took on a very grim light. 

She also posted a note in March, relaying a poem she wanted read at her funeral “in a hundred years or so”.  When I read that, it brought tears to my eyes. I know that everyone that knew them wished it could have been a hundred years from now.

One of my few solaces in all this is that at least they went together. I can’t imagine the pain if one had died and the other survived.  As cheesy as it sounds, it has been proven possible- I think the other would’ve died of a broken heart.

My mom and I talked about this on Skype on Monday night, right after I found out.  I cried. A lot. I told my host mom what had happened and she held me and made me tea.  Poor Angelina didn’t understand why I was crying so hard. At three, she can’t really be expected to understand the concept of death. She first asked me if I had a tummy ache, then if I had gotten a shot, and then if I fell down.  She brought me a napkin and tried to wipe the tears out of my eyes.  When she saw on the video chat that my mom was crying too, she tried to wipe her tears away as well. Granted, it was with a tissue she had just blown her nose on, but the intention was still precious.  She brought me tiny smiles in a time of so much crying.

It was really hard for both me and my mom, with me being here during this time.  I want so badly to be there to give my condolences in person, to be able to mourn surrounded by those who are also in mourning.  I wish I could be there to hold and try to comfort my friends, who I know are hurting tremendously.  I know it’s hard on my mom, because she wants to comfort me, put her arms around me and draw comfort from one another.  But, as that’s not possible right now, I’m relying on those close to me here and the internet to provide my comfort.  And, honestly, though it’s still not the same as being there, it is more helpful than I could’ve imagined.  My host mom told me to tell my mother not to worry about me, that I was her (my host mom’s) daughter and she would take care of me as such.  And she has.  Everyone I’ve talked to, both around here and back in the states has been incredibly supportive and there for me in so many ways.

It’s so hard getting used to the idea of them being gone. Before I came to Costa Rica, Stephanie was one of the only people who would respond to my Facebook statuses in Spanish.  Even though it wasn’t a regular thing, I have to remind myself that she’s not going to comment on them again.  It’s just hard to grasp that they’re gone, and that that’s not going to change. I know I’m not the only one struggling with this, and I know it’s much worse for others who were closer to them.

I wish things like this didn’t happen. It seems so unjust that such great people could have their lives cut so short, in a way so random and without purpose. 

The funeral is tomorrow. I know there will be many in attendance, because these two were so loved.  I wish I could be there.  

Even though I don’t know if any of you will read this, I want to give special thanks to Michael, for his bravery tomorrow. I know you’ll do great hon, and I know it will bring you and many others a lot of peace. I also want to thank Eric and all the others who have been and will continue to be there for Michael, Becky, Michaela, and all the other family and friend members who are in so much pain right now. 

I called this entry Recuerdo de Amor as a reminder not only of the love they had for each other, but of the love they showed everyone they encountered. 

I may update this more tomorrow, as thoughts continue rolling into my head.

Here’s to Jake and Steph. Their bodies may not be here, but they’re not gone. They will never leave us.

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Guilty

Yes, I know I haven’t updated this in forever. So, some stuff that shouldn’t be skimmed over will be skimmed over. Sorry.

So, El Día de Independencia.  Mine was GREAT.  We went to the beach. That was my first time in the ocean in about sixteen years. It was amazing.  I got VERY sunburnt, but it was worth it.  The drive out there was fun, with me, Mama, Henry, Dinia, Shirley and the dog.  Henry’s music choices ranged from Spanish stuff (I actually heard a Spanish version of “A Whole New World”) to Metallica, with a whole lot of Madonna mixed in.

The next weekend, a bunch of us visited Manuel Antonio.  It was absolutely gorgeous!  The hostel we stayed in, Vista Serena Hostel, was run by some awesome brothers from Southern California. It was super cheap and we met some great people. 

The next day, we went to Manuel Antonio park.  Our guide was great at spotting random birds and insects in the trees, so we got to see a lot through the scope.  We went to the beach there too, which was absolutely amazing and beautiful.  I got some lovely scrapes on my legs from rocks, though.

Not much worth mentioning happened the next week. On Friday, I left for my rural stay. My trip there was a complete fiasco.

Basically, there was some form of miscommunication and I ended up two hours from where I should’ve been. I ended up in Guatuso, spending the night in some hotel.  Then, while I was in the grocery store to buy dinner, the power went out.  Due to the looks I had been getting on my way to the hotel, I wasn’t exactly comfortable, so I went back and just locked myself in my room for the night.

Anyway, after that whole ordeal, I was picked up the next morning by my new host mom, dad, three-year-old sister Angelina and 24-year-old Juan.  We all went to Guanacaste to look for an apartment for Juan, who started working up there on October 1. While we were there, we stayed with another of my “siblings”, Esteban and his wife Xiomara. Everyone was supernice and I had a ton of fun. ^_^

Now, I’ve been working at the school for special needs children in Alajuela.  It’s been pretty interesting and unlike anything I’ve done before.  

Living here has been fun. I’ve met a lot of people, including another “sister”, Maria Mercedes, who lives about five blocks from the ACM building!

I’ve really enjoyed it here. Angelina is absolutely adorable and we’ve had a lot of fun together. My mama (along with everyone else) is super-nice.  We visited the family’s rancho up in the mountains, which had a beautiful view, and I slept in a hammock there. ^_^  Last weekend, we visited La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Peace Lodge. It was really nice and beautiful. I got to see tons of waterfalls and animals.

I am sad to leave, but also looking forward to seeing my San Jose family again. 

Well, I’m exhausted, so I’ll leave it at this for now. 

Ciao!

Viva Costa Rica!

Well, today has been a really fun day. 

We did a pre-celebration day for El Dia de Independencia (tomorrow) at school.  Learned about some traditional Costa Rican stuff.  I looked pretty adorable in my blue jeans, white shirt and red bandana around my neck, if I do say so myself.  We had some traditional Costa Rican food.  We watched the kids from the very nearby school (I walk past it between the bus stop and ACM) put on a little parade. It was very cute. 

After food, we had some professional dancers come in and do some dancing for us. That was really fun, and we got to practice a bit.

After I got home, Mama and I went to the park at the church a block and a half from my house and watched the faroles.  Faroles are… Hard to explain. They’re sort of like paper lanterns, in any of a number of shapes. Traditional designs are schools, carretas (the traditional cart of Costa Rica), and houses.  However, I saw everything from these designs to an airplane, a bumblebee, a boat, and even My Little Pony and Naruto shaped lanterns!  They sometimes have a light or candle inside them, though not always.  Young kids make them and carry them as part of the celebration.  It was really cool. They played the Costa Rican national anthem (Which is absolutely gorgeous, by the way), Noble Patria, Tu Hermosa Bandera and then the antorcha arrived. The antorcha, or torch, is a Costa Rican/Central American symbol of freedom.  Since Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua all declared their freedom from Spain at the same time, they all have the same Independence Day.  The antorcha starts off in Guatemala and is run all all the way down to Costa Rica by runners, much like the Olympic torch. It was really cool to get to experience. 

While there, we saw a few people my mama knew, and we talked to them a bit.  We met an elderly man, probably at least seventy.  My mama introduced me as “mi otra hija”- “My other daughter”.  That made me go “awww….”. 🙂  The old man was very funny and very friendly.  He asked me (jokingly) if I had a boyfriend, and if I wanted one. 

Well, I guess that’s it for now. Since there aren’t classes or work tomorrow, I think we’re going to the beach! ^_^

A Few of my Favorite Things

Yes, I know I haven’t updated this basically since I started classes, and I need to get to that. But right now, I feel like making a list of some of my favorite things about/in Costa Rica.

Favorite sight while I’m on the bus: We pass by a Japanese/Korean restaurant called Moby Dick and it has a picture of a white whale in a kimono. Very adorable.

Favorite Treat: Amazilia Chocolate Bars. They are absolutely amazing, made from organic cacao in an all-woman co-op. They have tons of flavors, both milk and dark chocolate, with tons of different stuff in it: ginger, cacao nibs, coffee stuff, peanuts, rice, all kinds of stuff.

Favorite Drink: Probably the hot tea with milk I have for breakfast every morning. Or Coke, with real sugar.

Favorite Food: That’s a tough one. I really love gallo pinto for breakfast on the weekends. Of course, having fresh fruit with breakfast everyday is pretty nice too. 

For lunch, I’ve mostly had sandwiches, so I can’t judge that much.  Although the director, Chris, brings in bananas from his farm every Monday, so it’s not uncommon, if you get hungry, to just step outside the sliding back doors of the main classroom and grab a banana from the huge bunch hanging just outside.

For dinner, I’ve had so many wonderful foods, though always with rice and beans. Luckily, I’m rather fond of rice and beans. ^.^  I generally don’t ask the name of anything, I just eat what my mama gives me. I have yet to have an experience where this didn’t work out wonderfully.

Favorite Unexpected Foods: Salad here is rather different than salad in the US, at least in my house. It’s much greener, and sometimes almost like coleslaw without the sauce.  I’ve also noticed my family tends to put mayonnaise on a lot of things we would never think of, like something I was surprised to realize resembled pickled beets.  (By the way, it was suprisingly good.)  It’s also not uncommon for me to be served an avocado half, to mix in with rice and beans, put salt on, or just eat plain.  I also love the torilla chips here. They’re thicker than the ones I”m used to in the US.

Favorite Distraction: Watching the hummingbirds in the beautiful garden behind the classroom.

Favorite Saying: “¡Está vivo!”- It’s alive! Said when you drop something, like a spoon. I’ve had this said to me frequently. ^_^

Favorite Thrill: Riding the city buses. This may sound silly, but riding the buses is actually at times a bit of a terrifying experience.  People in the area drive like I’ve never seen before, not even in Chicago or New York.  ACM really isn’t joking when they say their biggest worry is students dealing with traffic.  Even if we were allowed to drive in the area, I would NEVER.  I’ve seen a bus stop about a foot behind the car in front of it. It can be scary at times, but also kinda fun.

Favorite Random Moment of Gratitude: I believe it is at least partially thanks to my ballet class that I am able to successfully balance on one foot on a wet tile floor in the shower while laying my shin of the other leg against bar on the wall that is a few inches higher than my hips so I can shave my legs. Yes, this is the easiest way to do it.

Favorite Thing I Can’t Find a Word For: I really love having availability to people that I would never have a chance of being able to reach in the states.  For example, I didn’t realize until a few days ago that my music teacher is a pretty big deal in Latin America and elsewhere. He’s toured the Americas, Europe and Asia.  Look him up, Manuel Monestel, with his band, Cantoamerica.  He’ll be leaving for three weeks to go on a tour with his band. Our director, Chris, was key in helping the Oso Peninsula be declared a natural reserve.  Our dance instructor, Roy, coaches a couple that is competing on Bailando Por un Sueño, the national dancing reality television show.  The other day, I sat down and had a very informal interview with a woman who is a research advisor for ACM. I realized later that she is a fairly famous poet and dramatist. 

Looking through the list of other local research advisors, I realize that there are not only authors, researchers and professors (which is generally not unusual in a university setting), but also business owners, editors of an international scientific journal, founders of a wildlife management graduate program, and activists in a number of fields.  In short, important people who are making differences.

Now, I’m not trying to downplay what our home universities give us.  What strikes me more here is that we are such a small program, yet these well-known and acclaimed people take time to help us out.  Another aspect that surprised me is  how little fuss is made over these “celebrities”.  With most of these people, I didn’t realize what  big deal they were until after I met and talked with them.  This isn’t to say people aren’t respected for their work, for they certainly are; they simply aren’t fussed over.  They are who they are, and they are here to help us, so that’s that.

Maybe this is because it’s a small country, or maybe because of the sense of community. Which brings me to my next and final favorite thing.

Favorite Concept: Pura Vida.  Literally, it means pure life, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a sense of community, a sense of peace with life, of not trying to rush through things.  A concept they taught us about early on was “Tico Time”.  For example, if you get invited to a party that starts at seven, if you arrive much before seven-thirty, you will probably be the first one there and the hosts will probably not be ready yet.  In social interactions, time is more relaxed. Things aren’t as rushed as they are in the states.  Another aspect of Pura Vida is avoidance of confrontation.  In general, problems are addressed much more subtly and non-confrontationally than in the US.  This makes for a rather pleasant atmosphere, though you do have to be careful to analyze statements to ensure the person speaking isn’t “dropping hints”. 

Pura vida is heard often, sometimes as a greeting or farewell.  The taxi driver may wish you Pura Vida when he drops you off, or someone may reply Pura Vida when asked how they are.  It’s such a great concept, and something I really want to incorporate into my life as much as I can.

Well, that’s all I can think of for now.  I may update this as I remember more things I’m fond of.

Pura vida!

Day One

                (written on Sunday)

I woke up this morning with an overwhelming sense that I had made a huge mistake, that I shouldn’t be here. I did what I usually do when I wake up with these feelings, and went back to sleep. This happened at least four or five times, starting around six am.

 I finally got up at about 10:30.  Upon arising, I ate a delicious breakfast of gallo pinto (look it up if you don’t know what it is; it’s the national dish of Costa Rica), huevos con jamón y queso, banana slices, tangerine sections, papaya drenched in a lemon juice and honey mixture, a slice of Italian-type bread, hot tea with milk and some very sweet fruit juice.   It was all very delicious and very filling.  I talked to mamá, Don Fernando and Shirley, mi hermana, for a bit before going and laying back down in bed.  After a short rest in bed and reorganizing some of my things, I helped move some of the clothing that was hung in the midway to dry, because it started to rain.  I asked a few questions and took my shower.  While it wasn’t as hot as I’m used to (which I expected), it wasn’t nearly as cold as I supposed it might be. It was actually quite pleasant and refreshing. 

Going back, I suppose I should explain the reference to the midway and the laundry.  There is the main house, which has a gate before you reach the front door.  Right now, the main door is open, to help create a breeze throughout the house.  Out back, there is a small garden, with a number of tropical plants, which Doña Ligia refers to as her “bosque”, or forest.  There is no roof over this area, only a tarp over some of the pathway.  Out here is where they hang the clothes to dry, as long as it’s not raining. There’s a skylight in pretty much every room, which is very beautiful.  Beyond the garden is the recreation room, which I believe leads to the home of the other daughter and her husband.

Maybe it’s just because everything is so new and novel to me, but everything seems absolutely gorgeous, from the houses across the street to the clothes hanging in the midway.

While everything seems so strange, there are also some familiar sites.  While observing Don Fernando flipping through the channels this morning, I noticed that many of them are the same as ones we have in the US, just in Spanish. For example, he stopped for a while on The Dog Whisperer on Animal Planet.  There’s a picture of Sylvester and Tweety up in my room.  I discovered that one of my blankets has Winnie the Pooh, resting in a hammock under palm trees. 

Well, it’s about one o’clock now, and I need to spend time with my family and go buy a few things.  I’m sure I’ll write more later today.  ¡Hasta luego!

(Later)

Well, it’s almost five o’clock. I had a delicious lunch of arroz con pollo, ensalada, which had lettuce, peas, and corn in it, with tomato and hardboiled egg slices on top.  I also had some potato chips, which were more similar to kettle chips in the US, but less greasy, and something that I believe was pickled beets, but less intense than I’m used to.  Everyone in the family put mayonnaise on them, which I had never seen before, so I decided to try it. It was pretty good!  On the side, which I dipped my chips in (because I saw Shirley doing it) was something that looked a bit like chocolate pudding, except with a slightly more purple hue to the brown and a slightly different texture.  It ended up tasting like a bean paste of some kind and was very good.  We also had a refresco, basically a very sweet juice, with lunch.  I get the feeling I’m going to come back even fatter than I was when I left, but it will be a healthy fat, not like the deep-fried stuff I’m used to at school.

While Doña Ligia was preparing lunch, I showed Shirley and Dinia (the sister who lives in the apartment out back with her husband) some pictures of my family, friends, and a few sites in Kansas City.  This started a pretty good conversation between Shirley and me, discussing my family, friends, and Kansas City.  After lunch, I gave the family their presents: a bottle of KC Masterpiece and a cookbook full of recipes from Kansas City restaurants for Doña Ligia, a book of pictures of KC for Don Fernando, and a book of unusual sites in Kansas for Shirley, since she is fairly fluent in English.  They all seemed to enjoy the presents and the next few minutes were spent looking through the books.

Then, Shirley and I went to the supermercado, where I picked up some soap, shampoo, hair gel, and a few other things I had decided not to pack.  That was an interesting walk.  As I’d heard about, a few cars with men driving honked and we had one guy shout out to us, but it really wasn’t a big deal and I didn’t think anything of it except as an observation.  I was pleased to find many brands I recognized at the store, and got “my brand” of everything except hair gel.  On the walk home, we walked a different route, so Shirley could show me a nearby park and a few churches.  As I’ve noticed with most Catholic churches in my life, the “iglesias” around here are absolutely beautiful. 

Since we got home, I’ve been putting away my clothes and organizing my things.  (Can you believe it, Mom?)  After that, I spent some time watching what I think was American Gladiators with Doña Ligia in the living room and looking through my dictionary, reviewing verb tenses for my testing tomorrow.  Just a few minutes ago, I had a snack of rolls with butter and guava jelly and another cup of hot tea with milk and sugar.  I get the feeling I’m going to become a tea addict while I’m here.  And I’m perfectly okay with that. ^_^

Well, I think I’m going to play some Fable and review some more verb tenses before dinner. 

(Written just before bed Sunday night)

For dinner we had a dish made of rice, mixed with something and with chunks of something else I can’t identify, but seemed familiar.  In addition, we had leftover salad and beets from lunch and more chips, plus another delicious refresco.  As I’d heard, dinner seemed to be a smaller meal than lunch, which was perfectly fine with me.  During dinner, I talked about what I’d like to do during my rural stay.  I said that I would really like to work with animals, which led to a conversation about my time working at Operation Wildlife.  We also talked a bit about my classes at Coe.

 Earlier, I noticed that the family had a Kohawks magnet on the refrigerator, meaning one of their former students must have been from Coe too! ^_^  Shirley and I also talked about some of the pictures in the book I got for Don Fernando, including the pictures of Worlds of Fun and the Harley Davidson pictures.  I think I made my first joke with my family today.  It was pretty lame, but I’m proud that I had the courage to say it. 

After dinner, Doña Ligia and I sat and watched television for a while, and I ate a small bowl of ice cream.  Teletico was playing Johnny English, which we both had a few laughs at.  After that came on The Lookout.  I wanted to watch that movie, but decided that I needed to head to bed. Speaking of which… It’s almost ten now and I am getting up at six in the morning.

¡Hasta mañana!

(And to those of you who are calling me a fat kid in your heads for my intense descriptions of the foods, I have a few points to make to you.  1- Yes, I am a fat kid, and proud of it.  2- The food is very different than what I’m used to, yet similar in some ways, which I feel speaks very much of the experience as a whole.  3- All I’ve done today (culturally speaking) is eat, watch a bit of television and walk to the supermarket.  What do you expect?   ;-p

Well, here I am. I am writing this on Saturday night, having just arrived and gotten settled into the house.

                I guess I’ll do things logically, and talk about my trip first. 

                My trip from Kansas City to Newark was uneventful, except for stress-induced nausea.  But, after a while at the Newark airport, I started feeling better.  My trip to Costa Rica from Newark was pretty good. I decided to shell out the six bucks to watch tv on the plane ride. I’m glad I did. I ended up watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, followed by most of The Dark Knight.

                Now, lest you think I was just starting at a tv screen the whole time, I saw what was quite possibly the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen while we were up in the air. It went from pink to orange to yellow-ish, to an almost green color, to sky blue, to KU blue (Rock chalk!), to navy blue to nearly black, all at once, moving from bottom to top. It was absolutely amazing.

                Once we got close to San Jose, I could see the lights of the city. They were beautiful.

                After getting off the airplane and getting through customs and everything else smoothly, I grabbed my bags and met mi mama y hermana. They both pointed out places of interests as we drove home, including museums, hospitals (including the national children’s hospital and the oldest hospital in the country), and a number of gorgeous churches.

                Before today, I don’t feel that I ever truly understood the feeling of your eyes trying to soak up as much as possible. I wanted to look at everything; every billboard, street sign and person on the sidewalk. 

                It was very odd. When we were closer to the airport, if I ignored the street signs, I could almost see myself as being in a Hispanic district of Kansas City. Most of the signs were in both Spanish and English, a few in English only.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we would pass by a palm-type tree, something you would never see in KC.  As we got farther from the airport, I saw more Spanish and less English.  Then, just when it got slightly overwhelming and I felt like I may never see something that seemed familiar, there was a Quizno’s.  I saw a KFC sign in Spanish, which may have been (to my adjusting mind) the weirdest thing I saw on our trip home.  We passed by a skating rink and a few Taco Bells.  I noticed both a Japanese and an “Oriental” restaurant.  There are ads for “La cerveza de Costa Rica”, Imperial, EVERYWHERE. 

                Like I said, it was a bit of a culture shock, but I also saw some familiar things. I saw a number of young people on the sidewalks, hanging out or going to clubs, as you would in any big city on a Saturday night. The cheesy neon Chinese or Japanese symbols that you would see above most Asian restaurants in the US were present here as well.

                Well, as much as I’d love to keep talking, I think I’ve reached the point of tiredness will no longer function. (As illustrated in the previous sentence, in which I meant to write “where my brain” between tiredness and will.  No, I did not do that intentionally.)  So, on that note, I’m going to head to bed.   I’m sure I’ll post more later!

In about fifty hours, I will be arriving at Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José, Costa Rica.

As usual, I’ve managed to get most of my packing done in the past day and a half. Now that I’m putting stuff away and realizing I’m not going to see it for nearly four months, this trip is starting to feel truly real. I’m really excited, but the nerves are starting to set in hardcore as well.

Well, I guess that’s it. Not much new, mostly just an update on how my packing is going!

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