Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Crocodile Christmas

I spent Christmas in Jaco with my friend Lynette from the states and her two friends; Erica and Alexandra from Columbia. Despite the lack of snow it was a very enjoyable Christmas. We saw Crocodiles which almost never happens back home. We played in the waves... I think I even "caught" a couple of them, but mostly they caught me and I ended up with sand in every crack and crevice. So worth it!

The 26th was Maria's birthday so we met back in San Jose and managed to find an Irish pub. We drank Irish Car Bombs in remembrance of Maria's time in Ireland. I had one of my favorite Peace Corps momments when I realized I was sitting in an Irish pub in Costa Rica looking at a picture of Che Guevera positioned next to a picture of Oprah. You just can't make this stuff up.

Hope everyone back home also had a Merry Christmas. I have to say that it wasn't home, but I really can't complain.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

It's Begining To Look Nothing Like Christmas....

Well, things have slowed way down here. Hard to believe but there is really nothing going on. The school is closed. The PANI office is closed. And I am just about ready to get things started. I guess it can all wait til February. :)

I went to the Kindergarten and 6th grade graduation at my school. It was very much like our graduations, long and tedious and long. I think the fact that every kid here has four names may have had something to do with it. It was nice though. Two of the girls graduating from the 6th grade were pregnant. So, I guess that gives me something to focus on for next year.

I have been trying to get something set up to do in the schools for next year, but have been having a rough time. There just really isn't a whole lot of motivation to do anything toward the end of the year. Not very different than the states except that the attendance the last two weeks of school was riding at about 25%. That is pretty low. Hopefully, it will be better when we start school again in February. Who knows, maybe by then I will actually have an idea of what is going on. Wishful thinking? Quite possibly....

I thought I would give you a couple of culture details that will hopefully paint a clearly picture of Costa Rica. The first is the extremely laid back attitude that prevails here. More than once I have been on a bus when the driver deviates from the route to swing by his house so his wife or child can run out of the house with a cup of coffee or lunch. No one seems to mind so I guess that's fine.

Food is also a big issue here. The main course of every meal is rice. You have Gallo Pinto (rice and beans mix) for breakfast. At dinner you have rice with something and at dinner you have rice with something else. The next morning the rice is back in the Gallo Pinto. What is the perfect accompaniment to spaghetti? Yup... rice. The other day, I was packing a lunch to share with Andre and Scott and I was explaining to my host mom that we were all going to bring something. I was bringing salsa, Scott was bringing avocados and Andre was on chips. She looked at me the way you would look with great pitty at a poor little kitten stuck in the rain and asked me, "But who is going to bring the rice?"

Well... It is the 21st and it is raging hot and looking to get hotter. I got a little red at the beach the other day but it seems to be clearing up. It's a pretty rough life. I will keep you posted. I am headed to Jaco for Christmas. My friend Lynette and her friends from Columbia will be here to partake in Tico Navidad. Then I am headed to San Jose to hang with El Cinco for a night. Hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Tico Snow

I am in San Jose and have ended up staying a little longer than I had planned. My friend Zoey is in town and her friend is visiting so I decided to stay to hang a bit. Time-wise I'm good to go, money-wise it's a little tight, but sometimes you just gotta bite the bullet.

Last night we stayed at the Bouli (Boulevard Hotel). It is right downtown off of Avenida Central. I had to run to the grocery store and inadvertantly ran into a Tico Snow storm. The equivalent of a U.S. quarter will buy you a bag of white hole-punches which one is able to sprinkel and/or hurl at fellow passers by. We got pelted. I am still picking paper out of everywhere. If you squinted a little, it almost seemed like snow. It was kind of cool if you didn't stop to think that it is actually a lot of litter.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Maybe it's best Dara and DeeDee skip this one....

I kicked a dog for the first time today.

Before you call me in to the humane society, let me just say that it is a "cultural thing." We even addressed this at staging. Seeing somebody kick a dog in one can communicate very different messages from one country to the next. For example, in the states, if you see someone kick a dog you think "That horrible, heartless asshole! Someone should kick him/her." Whereas, in Costa Rica, if you see someone kicking a dog you think "That yippy little bastard is lucky he/she wasn't carrying a gun!" It's subtle, but there is a big difference. I must say also, that it was totally in self defense. I was running down the street, minding my own business when a pack of (okay two)little yippy chihuahua dogs came after me. You must also keep in mind that the dogs here are taught to be guard dogs as in, it is perfectly acceptable for a dog to tear apart a guest because, that is the dogs job and it is not expected to be able to tell the difference between a guest and an intruder. So viscious barking and biting is generally encouraged. Add to that, that smaller dogs are not confined to their yard, so you don't have to be a guest or even anywhere near the property to be a target. I guess the philosophy behind that one is that if they are small enough to squeeze between the bars, how much damage can they really do? So, it got kicked, it wasn't hard. He didn't even yelp. Just enough to establish contact and send a message. That message being; "Oh shit! The gringa is acculturating!"

Friday, December 02, 2005

The wheels are startin' to turn....

I have already been back in my site a week. I think I have hit one of those times when the time actually starts to move. The week went by pretty fast. Not too much to update on. I have volunteered to be on the Cadena committee. The Cadena is the PC Newsletter. I am going to start on the editing comittee in February. I get a free, semi-expenses paid long weekend in San José. I am actually pretty excited. I have decided that one of my "personal projects" is to start writing mroe and to start trying to get stuff published... beyond the blog at least. If for no other reason than to give Grandma and the Professor something to talk about. :) It's good to have a fan base!

I had my first site visit. That means that my boss came out and spent some time at my site mostly just to touch base. It went pretty well. I actually learned that the school also has an after-hours program that I was not aware of. What's more, I guess the big lesson there is that I need to ask more, different, and/or better questions. Live and learn I guess.

December 1 was International AIDS awareness day. Hope you all were paying attention. I spent the morning at the hospital pinning red ribbons on people and handing out condoms... Don't tell the Pope. I spent the afternoon making home-made tamborines out of broomsticks, nails, and pop bottle tops with the Albergue kids. They actually turned out quite well.

Thought I would also throw in here that I am reading a couple of incredible books that have the potential to mold my work and experience here. They are "Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered" by E.F. Shumacher and "The World Is Flat" by Thomas L. Friedman. Together, they have really got me plotting out new theories; and just in time for the holiday cocktail party season. :)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Acción de Gracias

"Acción de Gracias" is what they call "Thanksgiving" here even though they don't actually celebrate it. Those of you that refer to the day as "El Día de Gracias" are, in a word, wrong. :)

The VAC retreat was held at a boyscout camp in the mountains above Cartago, Southeast of San José. It was COLD. It wasn't just Costa Rica cold either, it was freezing-see-your-breath-cold. I was very THANKFUL that I decided to bring my sleeping bag because I was the only one that was not hording blankets like jailhouse cigarettes. It was actually a nice break from the increasingly hotter weather in Puntarenas and was the first time it actually felt like the holiday season.

The conference was a lot of fun. I got to hang out with people I havn't seen since training and met other PCV's I havn't had a chance to get to know yet. I learned that although I have found a host of small insects and reptiles in my room, it could definately be worse. One guy said he has trouble sleeping because the rats scurrying around his room at night are quite loud. He did say that he does have a little game he plays with them, when they run accross his chest he pulls the sheets tight and catapults them across the room. Now that would be something to see.

There was an "American Idol" style talent show on Wed night that was a riot. There was singing and dancing and an incredible impression of Simon, the "rude" judge (I've never seen the show but I understand he did quite well.) A group of Tico 13ers won with a powerful display of, if not talent then, creativity including a a guitar, a human beatbox, a guy doing yoga and headstands, two guys throwing verse, and two guys waving a blanket. They were called "Funky Shannon and the Magic Carpet." I think it was definately something you have to see to appreciate.

Thanksgiving dinner included the staples, turkey, stuffing (never as good as home), potatoes, cranberry sauce (shipped from the states) and salad. We had a bonfire afterwards, sang campfire songs and roasted 'smores. (Those of us who could still move anyways.) It was the most fun you could have in Costa Rica for Thanksgiving. As hard as it is to be away from home, it really reasserted my reasons for being here. There are a lot of incredible people here doing incredible things. This Thanksgiving, we were reminded that there are a lot of people in the world who don't have a fraction of what we do and that even though it feels like we are removed from most of it, what we carry with us, what we do, and what we stand for is beautiful.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

La Fortuna

El Cinco reunited in La Fortuna this weekend. La Fortuna is the closest town to Volcan Arenal the volcano that has been errupting for the last few years. It was a pretty good time although we learned quickly that there is definately a tourism industry here and you have to pay to do anything. We were able to talk our hotel guy into a cheap tour of the volcano and a short hike. We were also able to swim in the thermal waters. There are a number of resorts set up but you have to pay $25+ to get into them, so we swam in the river next to the parking lot. It was perfect. I feel sorry for the saps that pay. Of coarse, we had to deal with Scott's uninvited skinny dipping, but I guess you get what you pay for...

We also ran into a Peace Corps Volunteer from Nicarague and ended up hanging out with her one night. It was really cool to get perspective on what PC is like in other countries. We also have someone to stay with when we travel in Nicaragua.

We got back to San Jose last night and Maria and I opted to stay in a hostel rather than the usual hotel down town. Good call. The hostel is much nicer than the hotel, has free coffee and internet, the ambiance is incredible, and we saved a buck. Doesn't get much better than that.

This afternoon we are headed to the VAC retreat. We are excited that the weather is "cold." The temperature has dropped down to 20 degrees C (68 degrees F) so we are bundled up.

Happy Turkey Day all!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Costa Rica Small Animal Zoo a.k.a Kelley's room

Last night I went into my room and discoved a new roommate. He was actually smaller and less creepy than the last house guest but he still had to go. He was a little frog. I am not sure how he got in there. I was able to snap a photo before I coaxed him out of my room with a manilla folder. Sorry, Dara, no standing on the bed but I still couldn't bring myself to touch him. He was quite the jumper though.

I am working on getting some ground work done so that I can start some projects after the holidays. I have been told over and over that NO ONE works here until about February. So I have decided it is vital to my assimilation process that I hold out and take it easy for a couple more months. I did get a lead today though. I attended an AIDS (SIDA) charla and found out that of the 2000 residents in my barrio, there are 32 diagnosed cases of SIDA. So, I spoke with the presenters and they seemed really excited that I am here and willing to help out. Sounds like fun. In the least, sounds like a great health topic that will most likely be riddled with political overtones. My "especialidad!"

Friday I am headed to check out the volcanos. The Jack man gave me strict instructions to send home pictures of lava. Specifically from INSIDE the volcano. That sounds rather uncomfortable so I think he will have to settle for pictures from a "reasonable distance."

Tuesday is our VAC conference at a boy scout camp outside of San José. It is suppose to be cold so I am thinking it may just drop down into the low 60's. I will probably freeze. The other day as I caught a chill from the air conditioning, I starting thinking that my re-acclimation process when I get home may be kind of heinous. Anyway, I will be out in the jungle for Turkey Day and I'm not sure I will have communication access so Happy Turkey Day to all!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Moving right along...

Well, in a surprising twist... I was actually kinda, sorta busy there for a while. Looks like it might even carry into next week. Let me pause here a momment and explain that though I have things to do, meetings and workshops to attend, I am lost and confused approximately 85% of the time. So, to say the least, not so much has changed.

I did present my first Charla. The good news is that, with the possible exception of them throwing rotten things at me, I can't see it getting much worse so there is no where to go but up. They basically looked at me like I was from another planet, clammed up during questions and talked among themselves during the presentation. So, all in all, they are exactly the same as 5th graders in the states. Yehaw!

I did think of a "culture" thing that I thought would be fun to share. I'm not sure I am ever going to get used to this one, but in Costa Rica it is perfectly acceptable for cell phones not only to be turned on but to ring, be answered and have a conversation during any sort of meeting. I have even been at a workshop where the speaker interupted their own presentation to anwer the phone. Very, very interesting.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Big Spider... HUGE!

Well, I had my first run in with icky wildlife. There was a huge spider in my room last night. My family assured me that it is friendly and only eats other insects. So I guess the most danger I was in was that I nearly took (another) digger and fell off my bed trying to avoid the spider. It was really, really big... and hairy.

Today I had three meetings scheduled with my PANI office. So, what happened was that I showed at the office and found out that two of the three had been cancelled. All except for the last one of coarse. For future reference, it is always best to call and confirm all meetings. Just because you havn't received a cancelation notice/call does not mean the meeting is still going to happen. Oh, Ticos...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Tick, Tock

Things are still moving pretty slowly here. It's getting better though. I actually have some things to do this week. I actually have my first charla or workshop on Thursday. I am doing a self-esteem charla with 50 6th graders. I'm a little nervous and may be wishing for a return of my days of boredom, but it'll be fine.

Other than that, not a whole lot to report. There is an All-Volunteer conference at the end of the month in San Jose that I will be going to. It is scheduled over the Thanksgiving holiday so we will even get to eat turkey. I'm looing forward to it. I will also be visiting La Fortuna the weekend before that and checking out Volcan Arenal. That should be pretty exciting.

I did get a flu shot last Friday. That was pretty exciting stuff. My first ever. I'm sure there is a shortage back there again. So I feel good that I took the dose that could have gone to a young child or old person that really needs it. I don't really believe in them anyway, but I wasn't asked either... just injected. I guess that's all for now...

Oh... I almost forgot. The Esteban relationship did not survive the move. It was fun, but now it's done. I guess the deal-breaker for me was that he LOVES Vanilla Ice and thinks that Eric Clapton sucks. That's just not gonna fly in my world. So... if you were worried that I would never come home due to meeting a man (Pa-lease!) you can rest assured.

I thought that I would start sharing some of the weird cultural stuff that goes on down here that is really hard to adjust to. The problem is that I am drawing a blank right now and can't think of much. I must be overdosing on the air conditioning. I guess one thing is that I generally go months between meals that I eat with a fork. I eat most of my meals out of a bowl with a spoon. That includes any meats or things that need to be cut (read: torn).

I will try to come up with something better for the next entry...

Monday, October 31, 2005

Meeting Maria

Well, I have had quite the logistical adventure in the last week. Maria and I had planned to meet in Cahuita to get away and have some "girl time." We were supposed to go on Thur. but I had to put off until Friday because my PANI office scheduled a meeting and gave me one day notice. I tried to reschedule but as the meeting was my Bienvenidos Party (Welcome) I kind of looked like an asshole trying to reschedule. So I cussed and cried and then moved on with rescheduling. Then Thursday afternoon, PC called a "Stand Firm" due to Huricane Beta coming our way. That means we are not allowed to leave our sites. More cussing, crying and broken-heartedly trying to reschedule with Maria. The rescheduling takes on a whole new meeting with Maria because there is only one phone in her town and the people whose house it is in are kind of snooty. She also has no access to cell phones, pagers or email.

So, Fri monrning I am taking my time wondering what the hell I am going to do with myself all weekend. 8 am Maria calls says the hurricane shifted North and we can go. 8:15 I am packed and out the door. 2 taxi's, 3 buses and 6 hours later we are in Cahuita. The place we end up staying is beautiful and perfect. The weather is perfect. We hiked in Cahuita National Park and saw monkeys and even a baby. (I will post pictures on Friday.) Anyway, I think I will be able to make it through the next three weeks until we go to the Volcanos and the weeklong Thanksgiving VAC conference.

On Sunday, before heading back to Puntarenas, I welcomed Lisa and Kevin for their honeymoon. It was wonderful to see her and fun to show them some of San Jose. I also got a wonderful package from friends and family back home that should sustain me and keep some of the homesickness at bay for a while.

Now, it's back to the grindstone. (HA!) I wondered into the school and am trying to figure out what I am going to do here. The wheels are turning very, very slowly. I figure at some point things will start to fall into place. Veteran volunteers say that is what Year Two is for.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Surviving Wilma

Well, with all of the weather excitement going on around here, I finally have a story to tell. Not really that exciting but, as weather goes, the really exciting stuff seems to be pretty devestating as well so I think I'll stick with boring. Anyway, I was in San José on Friday and barely caught a bus back to Puntarenas. It is generally a 2 hour ride but this one stretched out more than a bit due to excessive rains. Although we are generally geographically sheltered from the brunt of the hurricanes, we sometimes catch the tail end of them and get a lot of rain. As in, "¡Que lluvia!" It's a good thing I can swim. The bus drops me off about 1/2 mile from my house. I have to walk across an airstrip. (I thought it was abandoned but I was informed that every once in a while a plane lands there. I will keep an eye out.) The airstrip resembled what we call in English a "river." There was really only about 4 inches of water so it was more wading than swimming but I thought it would make a better story. Either way, I was soaked by the time I got home.

As drainage is generally a problem even when we are not experiencing hurricane-inspired rains, the streets also resembled rivers, as did our kitchen. There were a few inches in the house, but it was isolated and I only had to put down a few newspapers to absorb the moisture in my room. My tico dad informed me that raising the floor in the house would be a good summer Peace Corps project. So, I should have something to do in just a few more months. It was worse in other parts of the country though. A part of the Pan American Interstate washed away in the Southern part of the country. ¡Que torta!

Other than that it has been pretty "tranquilo" around here. You may be interested to know that Costa Rica has qualified for the World Cup. That was a big day. For those of you who are American; The World Cup is the world championship of Soccer. Soccer is the game with the black and white ball that you kick. It is a very popular sport everywhere else in the world.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Another one rides the bus

I am back from my weekend "paseo". Nothing too exciting to report, although I did watch a French film with Spanish subtitles and understood it. Yeah!! Other than that the visit with Zoey went well. We mostly hung out and caught up. Her site is gorgeous. She is in the middle of coffee country, so lots of rolling, green, green hills. The bus ride back was pretty exciting. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get on the bus because it was a holiday and the office was closed so I couldn't buy a ticket. When I got to the stop there were about 25 people waiting for the bus and only about 10 of them had tickets. But... this is Costa Rica. We all got on. There were about 7 of us that didn't have seats, but I was just glad to be moving. I figured standing on the bus was better than standing at the bus stop. The only problem was that at the next towns, there were people with tickets so we ended up doing a lot of shuffling and about 15-20 of us ended up standing in the aisles. I am sure it was all up to code. :) So the big lesson I learned is that there is no Spanish translation for "The bus is full, you cannot get on."

Friday, October 14, 2005

Carnage and Moral Decay

Well, I've nearly made it through week two. Only 102 weeks to go, but who's counting? It's not that I'm ready to leave, it's just that I have an incredible amount of free time in which to calculate such things.

Making some progress... I was able to go to the Albergues (residential centers) this week. It was fun. There is a little girl there that is going to be incredibly hard not to adopt when I leave, but I guess I have two years to get attached to her before I leave. Yeah! The albergue was very similar to those we have in the states. As in that the experienced staff is over-worked, under-paid, under-appreciated and when they quit they are replaced by employees that meet the bare minimum requirement... they possess a pulse. I guess I can't criticize too much as that is how I got my start, but it did seem to be a precipitating factor in arriving at the albergue to discover one of the kids on the roof, refusing to come down. My co-volunteer André eventually talked him down but ended up in a wrestling match and the police had to be called. Traumatization all around.

The other exciting thing that happened this week is that I took a digger getting off the bus Wednesday night. I have a HUGE scrape and welt on my right shin. It was pretty cool. I actually have pictures because, yup you guessed it, I have lots of time in which to take digital fotos from multiple angles of my battle wounds. I'll try to get those posted ASAP as I am sure you are all chomping at the bit to see some carnage. :)

I'm taking a break and going to San José and San Marco this weekend. It is a 3 day weekend for "el día de la cultura." Esteban has dengue so I may not spend too much time in San José as that doesn't sound like much fun. My friend Zoey is in San Marco so I will initiate the series of PCV site visits. That's about it for me...

Monday, October 10, 2005

What to do....

Well, after the initial excitement of nearly being eaten by one dog and passing out watching another lose his testies... the rest of the week was pretty, damn dull. As in... how do I fill my time between naps? I was warned about this repeatedly, but it still is a toughie. Basically, we are sent to our sites with these instructions: "Go do good, Do-Gooder!"

So.... here I am. I'm going to go hang out at the Albergue (Residential Center for kids removed from homes) this afternoon and maybe do some shopping. I am going to buy peanutbutter. I wasn't a big peanutbutter eater in the states but I think it's going to happen for me here.

It's raining. It does that a lot here. Oh... here's a fun and exciting fact about living at sea level: When the water table rises, as it is wont to do as it is not very far down to begin with and it rains a lot, the toilets don't flush. Yup, stuff just sort of hangs around and waits for dryer conditions. That's pretty cool. :)

Well, I'm off! I've got this thing...at this place...in Spanish...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Oh, Peace Corps....

I guess one of the best things about my "job" is that you never know what the day is going to bring. Yesterday morning I woke up wondering what in the hell I was going to do with myself for the next 12-14 hours before I was back in bed. Little did I know.

I happened across a group of people that called themselves (roughly translated)the 'Organization for Saving the Animals of Puntarenas.' Apparently their main project is castrating pets and strays at a massive discount for marginal barrios. I'd heard of these campaigns before, and there are many people who think efforts should be focused on people before animals, but as I wake nearly nightly to the sounds of mangy, half-starved canines viciously tearing one another apart, the idea pro-people project.

The doctors volunteer their time as do their assistants. Many of the volunteers are from the local University as every student is required to complete 30 hours of community service to earn their degree. I think this is great! So, I stop at the booth and ask for some info about the group and the minute I mention that "I am a volunteer for....¨" I am whisked away to help out. I don't have anything better to do so I play along. I end up in the 'operating room' which consists of a folding table in what seems to have been someones office just hours before. When I go in, a small cat is sprawled out and tied to the table while the doctor performs the opperation. I am introduced all around with the expectation that I learn to assist the opperation. Boy Howdy! So, I hang out, watching the opperation, chuckling to myself about the turn my day has taken. I watch a cat get her tubes tied and a dog get clipped. The doctor was working on the second cat when I passed out.

Yup... I must have turned green or started to swoon or something, cuz the last thing I remember the doctor's eyes got really big and he was saying "Aye! Ella, Ella!" and people literally got up from the operating table to take me out of the room. I fell to one knee trying to get out of the room, but managed to make it to a little couch in the next room dragging my shredded dignity behind me. At least I keep telling myself there were shreds left. So, I guess there is no future for me in Veterinary Medicine. Sorry Dara.

So that was Day 2.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Day One

Let me just assure you that as much fun as moving normally is, it is even more fun to do when you have to carry (or drag) everything you own. Even more fun when you do it in the rain! Thus begins my Puntarenas adventure... A little known fact about Puntarenas; it is probably the only city in Costa Rica whose main national bus station is eerily taxi-free. Generally I have to weave through over anxious taxi drivers to get out of a bus station, but not here. So I got to drag my 80+lb. suitcase through the rainy streets of Puntarenas, after dark, in the rain. Some guy ran out from a bar and offered to help me. He offered in English, too. (I'm not sure what gave me away.) All ended well. I got a taxi and got "home."

This morning I went for a run. Due to the rains last night, there's a ton of standing water everywhere, including the path I was on between the abandoned airstrip and the main road. These are wonderful conditions to breed Dengue-carrying mosquitos but less fun to run through. As I was calf deep in water, trying to walk on plants and watching a million bugs fly up to bite me, I started to think that this too, may be something that could be used to identify me as a foreigner. My suspicions were confirmed when a tica passed me on her bike and looked at me as if to say, "Que pinche gringa." I responded with something witty like "Sure is wet, ain't it?"

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my family has a very protective dog that nearly wets himself trying to jump over the back fence to, assumably, rip me to pieces. I say "assumably" because I went into the kitchen by myself this morning and the back gate was not locked and "Binky" came tearing out, barking and growling. I had only a broom to defend myself and I held him at bay for about .03 seconds when he broke free and began foroutiously licking my hand. To say the least, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that his bark is, in fact, worse than his bite. I then thought of doing laundry as I was curiously in need of a change of clothes.

I spent the rest of the morning, getting settled, doing laundry, etc. I then caught the bus into Puntarenas to run some errands, which brings us up to date in hour 31 of my Peace Corps Service.

Pura Vida

Saturday, October 01, 2005

730 Days and counting...

The swearing in ceremony seemed to take on the air of a graduation or wedding as we all posed and smiled and looked like Botox had been slipped into our vaccination regime. The Ambassador's home is massive and elaborate. The ambassador has not yet arrived so he/she was not at the ceremony. The Charge d'Affairs is a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer). We chose Constance and Mike to speak at the ceremony to represent us. Constance delivered a beautiful and very moving speach. She is from New Orleans and was able to go home for 5 days after the floods. When she returned, she was invited to a party at a discotech in San José on a night when all the benefits from the evening were donated to relief efforts in New Orleans. She said the experience has defined her service as an exchange rather than a gift.

My first full day as a volunteer. We stayed in San José last night to celebrate the end of training and the beginning of our volunteer service. Tomorrow we disperse to our sites. We stayed out late and got up early, reunited for breakfast and coffee to gorge ourselves on the chisme (gossip) from the previous night knowing the picking will be slim for quite a while. Saying goodbye to everyone this morning seemed to hasten the reality of our futures. We've had three months to bond and rely on one another and now we are setting out alone. That's a lot of reality over coffee. We said our goodbyes with reluctance and excitements and set off to pack our things.

Here we go...

Friday, September 30, 2005

Swearing In

A quick entry before our swearing in ceremony. Today I will transition into an official Peace Corps volunteer. Pretty exciting stuff. The ceremony is being held at the home of the U.S. Ambassador. That's right... tons of security and marines with no necks or expressions.

The last week has been pretty busy wraping things up. The primary focus has seemed to be restating what we have been hearing for the last three months. It's all good though, starting Sunday I will have plenty of time to think about and miss having something to do.

I thought I should also mention something about the weather. It is the rainy season, or as some say, the "wet" season. I havn't looked into it thouroughly but I believe the naming was derived from the fact that the weather has been rainy and wet everyday. I have experienced what is called and "aguacerra" which means that it is raining so hard that everything, EVERYTHING becomes soaking wet. When it rains in the afternoon, it is so loud in my house that I often can't hear the phone ring or hear music I've got cranked while I'm sitting next to the speaker. There was also quite a bit of flooding last weekend. Many roads were closed and people's houses were flooded. Apparently Puntarenas Central experienced some flooding but I called my new family and they told me they didn't get much where they are at. That's good. So begins the drama of living 10' above sea level. Ten feet is good, as long as the sea doesn't come to you.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Okay... I finally got the fotos to load. I know you all have been breathlessly awaiting pictures of the architecture in the National Theater. Wait no more...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

No Fotos

You have noticed that there are not, in fact, any photos on the next entry... having technical dificulties... will have to get back to you with those. Grrrrr.....!

Pepe Romero

Things are slowing down here a little bit... and when I say that I mean that my entries are beginning to slow because I have been quite busy but none of it really seems worth "writing home" about. The MAJOR exception being that we went to a concert at the National Theatre and saw Pepe Romero who is a flemenco guitarist from Spain. He is very, very "conocido" in Spain. Tickets to see him in New York go for $100 a pop. I was able to see him for $8 and unlike if I were in New York, I actually got to see him and didn't have to watch a speck producing music. He was really amazing. I posted a picture of the theater. It's a little blurry cuz I couldn't use my flash and I am not really suppose to take pictures, but the theater is very impressive as well.

You may have also noticed that, by popular demand, I posted a picture of myself and Esteban. So far, so good, still hanging out. We'll see what happens when I move again. He's very sweet though and we have fun trying to figure out what the heck the other is trying to say. I think he gets a kick out of teaching me "pachuco" (slang) and bad words... I get a kick out of his English vocabulary which consists mostly of song lyrics... "Ice, Ice Baby" being one of his favorites. (Sometimes U.S. exports are shamefully shameful.)

We have just over a week of training left. We have come to the conclusion that they are helping us to get excited for our sites by making the last weeks of training as excruciatingly painful as possible. It is working. Let me give you an example... today we started the morning watching a movie (Maria Llena de Gracia - Maria Full of Grace). Wonderful movie. I was very excited that I was able to understand it in Spanish. (We also had Spanish subtitles, which helped immensely.) We watched about 85% of it when they said "sorry not enough time... gotta move on to the next session." We then spent the next hour hearing presentations about our program. This would have been pretty okay the first week, but after two and a half months of training, I feel like I have a pretty good idea about the program I am in. I'm more than ready to go. It will be hard to not be able to hang out with "el Cinco" but I think it is time... It will just make it that much more fun to travel and visit each other's sites.

I would like to take a quick momment to say a big WELCOME to Annalyse Kathleen Brenzikofer. Annalyse was born at 1:37 am on Sept. 16, 2005 to Chad and Allison. I'm very happy for you both and am very excited to meet her. She should be just old enough to begin the corrupting process when I return. :) Congratulations and much love!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Back in the Cuidad


I made it back to San Jose yesterday. Am trying to get back into the swing of things. Which means that we are back in sessions... long, long Friday sessions. Not so bad so far, we all have lots of stories about our sites. One guy got to watch pigs mate. So it has been interesting. We have sessions again tomorrow and then we will be out on the town again. Should be fun. I'll keep you posted.

Also wanted to send out a big public congrats to Lisa and Kevin for their BIG day tomorrow. I am thinking of you much and love you both. Any word on honeymooning here?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Como se dice "hooked up"?!

Wow! I have got to say that I am spending quite a bit of time pinching myself. So far, I absolutely adore my site. I feel incredibly spoiled. I can walk to the beach (granted it's poluted but heh...), my new family is really awsome, my room is huge, I have my own bathroom AND cable TV. I get to watch the news in English! I am bloggin from the school... yes... there is free internet access in my barrio! I am amazed. I am totally cheating... most people join Peace Corps and end up in B.F.E. Africa... I get paradise.

All that aside... I know there is balance in the universe so I am expecting some really rough projects. The barrio is pretty rough and has a huge drug problem. So... there is actual work here as well. But in the very least... I'll have a comfortable 'home base' from which to deal with all that.

Yesterday, I rode the bus into Puntarenas Central to meet Scott and Andre. (Andre is a current volunteer that has been living in the area for the last year. He is super cool.) I got on the bus and the driver asked me if I was the one running through the barrio that morning. I told him I was and he said it was better to run on the beach. "Welcome to the fishbowl," I thought.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Houka Lessons....

Apparently some Houka clarification/education is in order. The houka is a middle eastern water pipe for smoking TOBACCO. And by "tobacco" I mean that no drugs are involved. It is all perfectly legal and took place in a public Lebanese Restaurant. They are also available in the US if you are open to exploring Middle Eastern cultures. I highly recomend doing so.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Quintiscencial Peace Corps

The foto is a picture of Zoey and I in front of the "Food Court" (That's a Spanish term meaning "American food like items"). That's right, we decided we did not have enough time to bus anywhere natural and still have time and money to relax so we opted to go to the mall. You scoff... but let me just say that I had my first glass of wine since being in country and IT WAS WONDERFUL! Zoey is also really, really cool so a weekend full of hanging and partaking in great conversation was exactly what I needed. We watched a movie, and saw a Brazilian and a Cuban band. We danced met lots of international people which was kind of cool because we all had to converse outside of our native languages. Zoey nearly died as she stepped in front of a car trying to avoid a sketchy homeless guy, but she did't so we considered that a plus for the evening. We rounded the night out by stopping at a 24 hour chicken place and then stayed in a hostel whose entrance is only slightly less conspicuous than that of the bat cave. Thouroughly enjoyable weekend.

Monday and Tuesday we were at a retreat above Tres Ríos just outside of San José. It was held at a monestary and the grounds were huge and gorgeous. We met our counterparts, which are the agency and community representatives we will be working with in our sites. I had two counterparts at the retreat, one was a teacher from 20 Noviembre and the other is a worker in the PANI (Social Services)office in Puntarenas. It was a good experience although I had a moment of panic when the realization surfaced that I will have to be doing everything in Spanish. It's better now that I have repressed that reality.

I was in a hurry packing my things when we left and I forgot my journal at the retreat. I called and they said they couldn't find it so I spent most of Tuesday evening in a deep and dark depression. I called again on Wednesday and they had found it so I feel much better now.... assuming that it was my journal and not some other book. I will know on Friday when I get it back.

Okay.... I don't think Lisa is going to let me off the hook on this one so I will make it official. I have been dating a Tico. His name is Esteban. He doesn't speak any English which is good for advancing my Spanish but may not turn out so well if we find out that once we are able to understand completely what the other is saying, we don't like what we hear. Last night, we watched the Costa Rica v. Domincan Republic soccer game at one of his friend's house. It was a lot of fun and definately a cultural experience. Costa Rica is the playoffs for the World Cup. So it was quite exciting.

On Saturday I go on my site visit. I spend six days in Puntarenas and then return on the 15th. One of my objectives is to check out community resources a.k.a. find internet cafe so I should be able to write before I get back.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


I have titled this entry logistics, which I think is very appropriate as it tends to occupy much of my time. There are the things that you plan, and there are the things that actually happen. It is definately the number one area in which cultural adjustments must be made. For example...

Today I was planning on going to class in the morning, getting on the bus and going to the Peace Corps Office (PCO) to 1) Get a check-up (routine) 2) get a credit card out of the safety deposit envelope (!) so that I will have some money to go on a short trip this weekend 3) Upload pictures (for free) onto the internet so that I can send them to anxious friends and family and 4)turn in receipts.


The check-up is not at the PCO, it is at a hospital, which means that I will need to figure out where the hospital is, and most likely spring for a cab. Okay do-able. So I will just got to the hospital from the PCO, I still have a couple of hours of free internet. I call early so that I will be able to have access to my valuables. Hmmmm.... Luis won't be in the office til Thursday and he's the only one with access. So we're down to internet time... still pretty okay. I mention this to a fellow PCT and she tells me I'd better think again because the current PCV's are working on "La Cadena" the PC newsletter and they have reserved the computers and have made it quite clear that PCT's are not welcome. So, that leaves me at the internet cafe, paying for access and trying to figure out what would be the best (aka cheapest) bus/taxi combo to get me to my doctor's appoitment. Flexibility will beat out efficiency any day.

More about my site....

To give you a peek into PCV life, the second most important factor in site selection, after the proximity to the beach, who are the closest PCVs. In this area I have also lucked out. I will be one of the very few PCVs to have a site mate. That means that there is another volunteer within minutes of my site. His name is André and he has been there for about a year. I will also be very close to Scott, who is in my language group and is in the "in" crowd (Scott, Adam, Kelley, Mike and Maria). So that is very, very good. Less fun is the fact that Maria will practically be on the other side of the world. She has to take a couple of buses, a boat and swing across a river to get to her site. It will be great for her, but will mean we will not be able to hang out as easily, but we are making plans to take trips. Mike is near Maria, so he's pretty far. Adam is floating around in the middle. Spreads us out quite a bit, but the good part is that give us a lot to work with when we are ready to start visiting each other's sites.

I guess that's it for now... Keep sending emails and making comments... I love hearing from you!!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Y me voy...

On October 1, I will be moving to Puntarenas. I am pretty excited. It is the site I would have picked out of all available so I guess you really can't ask for any more than that. Now I just have to hope I like what I asked for. I like this site because it is VERY urban, ie. it is very inner city. It is a very tough site I have been told over and over but that is what I asked for so...

Puntarenas is about 2 hours by bus from San Jose. It is a port city. It is also located very near many beautiful beaches so that should provide a pretty okay escape when things get overbearing. I will poste more details later, but for now I need to go to San Jose for a tour of a drug rehab center.


Monday, August 29, 2005

Dia del campo

Okay, today is the big day we find out where we are going. We are headed to a Country Club to spend the day recreating. We were told that in the past, they would hand out assignments and then send us to classes but they learned quickly that that really doesn't work out very well. So we get the day off. I am anxious to see where I will go. I had an inside line on where I was going to go, but the word on the street indicates that may not happen. I have learned very quickly that there are no secrets in the Peace Corps. It's all good though. I will post when I know what is going on next.

Better get moving so I don't miss my bus!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

And I'm back...

Okay, as you may have guessed I have made it back from Sabalito. The first picture is from the VAC dinner. More about that below. The second picture I took on the way to Sabalito.

Sabalito was very nice and very relaxing. It was good to be able to talk to a current volunteer about their day to day stuff. I also got to participate in a senior's aerobics group with her. It was a lot of fun and surprisingly turned into a geriatric dance party. The Zona Sur is also extremely beautiful. I am hoping to get some pictures up soon, but it may be a while.

We also went to the VAC dinner Saturday night. We ate at a Lebanese restaurant and had the whole place to ourselves. The food was very good. We ended the night at "El Pueblo" which is a small village of tourist stores by day which turn to bars at night. It was a TON of fun, probably too much. But the best stories generally begin with the words, "You're not gonna believe this... " Let me just say that a houka (sp?) was involved, booties were shaken and the rumor mill is a buzzin'. Let me reassure that no laws were broken. :)

I also got a tip on my site assignment. Word on the street (La palabra en la calle) is that I will be placed in Puntarenas. I would be very, very happy with this assignment but I am not yet banking on it because things can change, and my director had indicated that that site was going to my buddy, Mike. I am also experiencing a little guilt for stealing his site, but hey, he'll get over it!! It does indicate some major beach time.

That's all for now...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

One more thing before I go....

Well... I found a minute to update again before I leave. I do at least know where I am going now. I am going to a small town in very, very south Costa Rica called Sabalito. It is almost in Panama and is a 7 hour bus ride. So I will be spending a good part of Sunday and Tuesday on a bus. It's not nearly as much fun as it sounds as there are not many buses in this part of the world built for people over 5' tall. I am excited though to get out of town a little bit and have some down time.

Thanks everyone for you love and support. I appreciate it. :)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Day in the vida...

Wow... I guess it's been a while since I posted... Debrah Jo must be going nuts!! So here's the skinny...

It is Thursday. I am finished with my language class and am supporting the local internet cafe. We had interviews with our program director today and it is, I think, the last one before we know our site assignments on the 29th. To update you on the issue of site assignments, let it be known that it is a subject much talked about... okay, much OBSESSED about in PCT (Peace Corps Trainee) circles. I have researched, guessed, speculated, hoped, prayed, second-guessed and finally exhausted myself of the subject. So, now I am going to wait ten more days until I actually know. At that point, I can begin to research, guess, speculate, hope, pray, second-guess and exhaust myself over something more relevant, like figuring out how to get as much beach time as possible on a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) salary.

This week went by pretty quick. Monday was a holiday so we had the day off. Just in case any of you are thinking that this is a cakewalk, I will also add that I had a pretty good bought of homesickness and culture shock. There is a reason that 99% of the population doesn't do this... it's not because we're any better or stronger or smarter than anyone else... the general consensus is that it's because we are slightly more masochistic than your average Joe. Let's just say that I no longer laugh when I hear stories about volunteers breaking down and crying trying to buy a coke. I no longer take for granted all the little things that I did without thinking because it was familiar. Things like walking, talking, bathing, laundry... It's tough to go from 29 years old to 3. But...

That being said... I'm not going home. I have absolutely no intentions of leaving before my service is up. We've lost two girls is the last two weeks and granted we have been extremely jealous that they are currently sleeping in their own beds and eating familiar foods, but there is a whole lot of reality there that isn't much fun either. So... here I am. Wouldn't be anywhere else. Just wanna be able to order a coke without having an emotional breakdown. It's coming.

Bueno... the itinerary for this week is classes in San Jose on Friday. We are going to a VAC (Volunteer Action Committee) dinner on Saturday. Basically it is a welcome party for Tico 13 (my group) and a headed home party for Tico 9. I am excited to meet more volunteers and to have a night off. Sunday I am headed somewhere (I don't know where yet) and I am going to stay with a volunteer at their site until Tuesday. I will be going on my own and I am excited to travel a little less conspicuously than the Gringo Bus has allowed. I am also hoping to have a couple of days to do "something real." I'm not sure exactly what that is yet, but I am hoping to get a lead on it. At some point, I'll realize that it is ALL real, but I'm keeping that reality at arms length.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Poco a Poco

Well, I am officially four weeks into my training. If you are one of those counting types, yes, I have actually been gone for five weeks but they don't count the first one since we spent three days in D.C. and four at a resort. So we're at week four. Our language facilitator will change next week which is a bummer because she is super cool. When I can speak Spanish better I can forsee us kickin´it.

My language groiup is down to three people. We started with five. One girl left last week to be with her boyfriend and another girl is headed out soon cuz she just found out she is pregnant. It is really too bad because we had a really great group and I got along with both of them really well. So now it is down to me and the two guys. I have assured them that I will be much harder to shake.

Other than that, the big news is that we have discovered a great coffee spot. It is actually a "soda" which is basically a restaurant/cafe type place. They serve typical Costa Rica dishes and, of course, coffee. The owner is a wonderfully sweet woman named Conchita that has already adopted us and continually reminds us to speak Spanish so that we can learn quicker. She is a lot of fun.

Speaking of which... it is time to go drink said coffee.

Saturday, August 06, 2005


Phew!! What a trip!! I was in the province of Lí­mon for four days visiting sites of current volunteers. It was a pretty good trip, saw a lot of stuff but was also totally exhausting! We stayed with three different families all three nights. We left on Monday and went to Bananito. It is a town that is actually owned by United Fruit or the Dole company. We referred to it as "Pleasantville" because it appears very suburban. All of the houses are the same. There is a soccer field, basketball courts, gym, etc. It is considered a rural site and is very picturesque. By that I mean that it is constructed as part of the tour given to gringos who want to see where bananas come from. Even a lot of the signs are in English. It is actually kinda creepy in that everything looks too perfect and you know that if you scratch the surface at all, it ain't so pretty.

The family I stayed with was very nice. My mom was what we call here a "chismosa." It's kind of like a "reporter." She sits on her porch and watches the goings one and then reports them to whoever will listen. I got updates on the comings and goings of everyone in town. We did N.F.E's (Non-Formal Education) with some of the kids. Basically, we played games with them andstumbledd through explanations in Spanish. We also watched a soccer and baseball game.

The second site we went to was in Límon Central. This site was much, much less picturesque. It is called Los Lidios and was originally a squatter town. It was built on a swamp so the mosquitoes were applenty. The house I stayed in was made out of plank boards and consisted of two rooms, one of which was divided by a hanging rug. I slept on the top bunk of a bunkbed which I shared with a colony of ants that feasted on me for most of the night. I'm not complaining though cuz the girl next door shared her's with a rat. My family was incredibly warm and hospitable. Límon has a significant Afro-Caribbean culture. My family actually spoke English in the house although it is a form of patoi, very similar to Jamaican English. I spoke Spanish most of the time because it was easier to understand.

We spent the day in the school and learned to make Beans and Rice, a very distict Caribbean dish. They also attempted to teach us to dance Carribé but quickly learned that we are very gringo. Some of us got our hair braided and we drank fresh coconut milk. It was my favorite site. The hospitality of the people far outshadowed their poverty.

The last site we went to was in Guacimo. It is about an hour drive from the coast back toward San José. By the time we got there we were all pretty exhausted and unfortunately were not nearly as excited to meet yet another family as they were to meet us. We were able to go out that night, have a couple of beers and sing Kareoke. To say the least, it was not pretty. I did get to salsa dance a little though so I was happy. The singing did not go so well, but it was fun.

We spent our last day in an "albergue" whish is basically a foster home. The main government agency that we work with is called PANI and it is the equivalent of Social Services in the states. Except that they are even more overworked that the caseworkers in the states. There are up to five people in each office and they serve a population of over 200,000. It is pretty out of control. The big issues they deal with are domestic violence, child abuse and the sexual exploitation of children. Kids that are removed from their homes for any of these reasons are placed in an albergue. They are set up to hold about 10 kids, the one we visited has 20 living there. I am hoping that there will be one near my permanent site as they need a lot of help.

We were back home Thursday afternoon and I couldn't have been happier. I had cafecito with my tica mom and spent the rest of the day reading a book. I did watch "The Exorcist" that night, not the wisest choice as I am really a big baby when it comes to scary movies, but I wanted to be social. So that's the extent of it. I have the weekend off and am going to learn to make tortillas tomorrow. Yeah!

I'll get some pictures sent out soon.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Como se dice "bureaucracy?"

We are pretty busy this week. I am into San Jose four days this week. I think I have spent an entire days wages on bus fare already. In case you were wondering, I get about 1700 colones per day which is the equivalent of a little over $3. j We went into the city yesterday to get fingerpinted for our residency permits. There are 33 in our group and we were all lined up outside the office waiting to get processed. About 10 of us got through without any problems and then someone decided that the pictures we had were not good enough and that they needed originals. So the rest of us had to go across the street to a shopping center and get new pictures taken. I think someone wanted a "cafecito" and figured that was the quickest way to get rid of the line. Awwww... the power of the bureaucrat. I can't say that I blame them too much though... the office is a lot like every Latin office you see in any movie, flashing florescent lights, small desks crammed between huge file cabinets holding real life paper files, the nearly forgotten sound of the typewriter, tap, tap, tapping....

We eventually finished and then spent the afternoon at the U.S. Embassy. We met staff and interns and then got a security breifing by the security officer. He had a pretty impressive resume. His speel went back and forth between nasty scare tactics and reassuring us that we are really in a safe country. We are in fact in a very safe country... the biggest threat is getting your stuff lifted from the bus. Most crime is petty and avoidable.

Back in San Jose today for our typical Friday training session. We are going on site visits next week in groups. My group is going to Limon, the main port city on the Carribean coast. It should be pretty cool although I am told we are kept very busy and it is very, very hot. We will stay with three different host families in four days. This is a lot of adjusting but I am not too worried about it. I figure one night a piece should just about estinguish my Spanish skills and I won't have to worry about trying to translate new jokes. :)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Llanta desinflado

I'm not sure that I have sufficiently described the land transportation system in Costa Rica. Let me start with explaining that everyone here is of the philosphy that each car is equiped with at least two pedals and you must be slamming one of them at all times. Also, traffic laws are not "laws" so much as they are "suggestions." As in "Thanks for the suggestion, but I think I'll pass."

For example, the other night I went to Alejuela with my Tica aunt and her son. The son was driving and he was talking with one of his friends out the drivers side window. Not necessarily unlike American occurances until you take into account that at the time, the truck was in the far left lane, facing oncoming traffic coming out of a blind corner in the calle principal which means "the main road" as in "THE main road." I'm sitting in the passenger seat watching buses, taxis and cars flying into view, slamming on their brakes and veering around us. The best part is that no one even honks... it's that common. No honking, no yelling, no gestures, nothing. Just near misses and back on their way. Needless to say, I have made peace with the fact that when I am in transport, my life is out of my hands. Que será, será.

Speaking of which... on our way back from Alejuela. We got a flat tire. Not too big a deal as the nephew works in a tire shop. And yes, he did have a spare tire. Unfortunately, he does NOT work in a jack shop. So we sat just off the main highway coming from the airport and waited for someone to pull over and help us out. Again with the near misses in traffic. Finally, a taxi driver pulled over and leant us his jack and the tire was changed. I'm still not quite sure how it all worked out as the truck was your typical high clearance truck and the taxi, and subsequently the corresponding jack, was roughly the size of a Ford Pinto. In this country there is definately a "can-do" attitude even in the face of substancial obstacles.

So... if you are wont to worry needlessly, the trafic situation here may provide some more productive material.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


I'm back and I think I have photos. The pictures I posted are of my room. Yes, it is very small. Do you see my suitcases taking up half the room? It's been kind of amusing, some people have been having a really hard time adjusting to their houses because privacy standards are not up to what they are used to in the states. Most of the walls in the house stop about two feet below the ceiling. This means that there really are no sound barriers between rooms... this includes the bathroom. Luckily, many years of trailer living has prepared me for this experience so I have really not been to bothered by it. I guess growing up in South Central Sutank does have it's advantages. :)

I have also sent out invitations to look at pictures through the Kodak website. I think I got everyone but if you did not get anything from me, email me and I will get on it.

A little tidbit of everyday life... The house I live in has solved the toilet seat problem (Men leave up, women want down). That is... there is no toilet seat. Think about that...

On a "let's remember why I'm here note" the first thing you notice when you get off the plane in San José is a miriad of posters warning about the legal (and emotional)implications of participating in the child sex trade. Apparently Costa Rica has the second highest incidence of sexual exploitation of children. This is very much a result of Costa Rica's "modernity" in that the tourist industry tends to cater to the whims of affluent tourists and investers and when mixed with the poverty and desperation that still exists here, you end up with an advertising campaign promising prosecution IF you get caught. PANI is a government organization here that deals with families and infants, that has sponsored the campaign. It is one of the major organization that the CYF team works with. So, that is one aspect of the reality of life for the poor in Costa Rica.

On a lighter note... I am definately being spoiled. I went for a run this morning and when I got back to my house, my Tica mom was waiting with a cold glass of aqua con pino or chilled water with a touch of fresh pineapple juice. There are definately aspects I could get used to.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bienvenidos a San José

We took a field trip into San Jose yesterday. It was pretty nice to be back again. I feel a lot more independent now that I've been able to get out of my house and move around a bit. The bus system here is pretty interesting. Ticos are extremely laid back in every area, expect for the buses. You can relax and take things easy 99% of the time but you had better have your fair and be ready to move when it comes to buses. Most of the buses here are American buses that have been "revamped for high capacity." This means that handle bars have been installed along the aisles. So whereas in the states the capacity runs about 75, here capacity is easily 200. It works.

We went to the Peace Corps office and to the UCIMED (Medical University of Costa Rica) so that we could orient ourselves to the bus system and find our way to our Friday classes. We will be solo after this. It was kind of cool because the PC office and the University are near where I lived when I was here before. It was nice to see familiar things.

My Spanish classes continue. Every once in a while I feel like I am doing okay and then I try to accomplish something and it all goes out the window. Today we had to leave class and ask random people the meaning of local expressions. I did pretty well and ended up with a local guys email address and his assurance that I could email him for "qual quiere" which losely translates as "whatever you desire." I'll keep you posted...

Monday, July 18, 2005


I have a home, at least for the next three months. I am staying with a family in Ipis de Guadalupe. It is about 25 minutes by bus from San Jose. So far so good, I have found an internet cafe a couple blocks from my house so I should be able to keep in touch. I think I may be able to upload pictures soon too. It may take some kissing up with the guys that work in the cafe, but I think my Spanish is up to it.

I met my family on Sunday. Lots of smiling and nodding, but I think it is going to work out well. My family consists of my mom, Doña Olga, her granddaughter, Stephanie (7) and her neice, Estelle (20). I also met her sister and friends and lots of kids when I first got here. I realized immediately that I have severely, and somewhat shamefully, overpacked. My room is pretty small, between my suitcases and the bed there is really very little room for walking. I've actually only unpacked about half of my clothes. I think I did some emotional packing. Oh well. I won't get rid of anything until I get my site just to be sure, but I think I will still be donating quite a bit to the local second hand stores, which are appropriately called "Ropa Americana" or "American clothes" cuz they generally come from the states.

My language class is going well. We are working on giving and receiving directions and finding our way around. This is very appropriate because although, in some cases, the streets do have names, no one knows what they are. So, if you wanted to know where the post office is, you would be told "walk three blocks South from the church, then seven blocks east, next to the pharmacy and across from the supermarket." I'm not kidding... the address for the Peace Corps office is; Sabana norte, from the Banco Inerfin, 200 meters west, 100 meters south, Corner house, diagnoally from the Spanish Ambassador´s residence, in front of the park. It's a relative of efficiency.

Our group has been divided. There are two different programs; Children, Youth and Families (CYF) and Micro-Enterprise Development, so we are divided by program. We have been further divided by language ability. The youth program has three groups and the micro group four. I am in the intermediate group with four other people. Each group is placed in a community, mine is Ipis. There aren't any groups in San Jose but we are all within a bus ride because we all meet together on Fridays. Overall, I have been impressed and satisfied with the training I'm getting. I guess after 40+ years you would expect Peace Corps to have learned a few things. I like the people in my group also although I have quite a few friends in the micro group that I would like to see more. It's good prep though as in October we will be dispersed solo like leaves in the wind. We still have no idea, nor any clues about where we will go or what we will do. During training we are also being evaluated as to which positions will be best filled by whom.

Last night I watched "El Guerra de los Mundos" or "War of the Worlds." I am assuming it was a pirated copy as it is still in theatres. The TV was a little rough so anything that took place at night was real tough to see. So for the most part, I heard it more than watched it.

I believe that is about all of the excitement... Tomorrow, I take the bus into San Jose so that should prove to be exciting. We are going to go to the PC office and then check out the Medical University where we will attend training on Fridays.

For now... much smiling and nodding. Pura Vida.... Oh! I almost forgot.... I learned how to say "Dude" in Spanish... the transition is nearly complete.

Friday, July 15, 2005

¡Pura Vida!

I made it! We arrived in country on Wednesday at about noon. We have been staying at a hotel in Heredia, about an hour North of San Jose. The hotel we are staying in is pretty koosh so I am soaking up my last momments of warm showers and relatively bugless nights. The scenery is breathtaking. I have been taking pictures and hope to be able to find a way to post them soon. If all else fails, the Peace Corps has an IT guy.

So far, it feels more like a leadership conference than "The Peace Corps" but that should all change on Sunday when we move in with our host families. I will stay with the same family through training. We are sworn in for official service on September 30. I had a momment of panic yesterday when we started spending time with the in-country staff and I had to speak Spanish. I have a really good start, but it is still really hard to translate my witty and intensely complex thoughts, i.e. "Dude! Check out that purple flower thingy." or "This place is the shiz-nit!" I want to skip the "learning" part and step right into the "knowing" part. But as a wise band once said, "Life's a journey, not a destination."

So... some of you may be interested in what I am actually doing. Our schedule so far has been to have breakfast at 7am. I have gotten up at 5:30 the last two mornings to run (okay we walked this morning). There have been four of us each day. We ran the first day, but we have to do laps around the hotel because the only road is a highway and it's really not a good deal to even say "pedestrian" on a Central American highway. We can't seem to agree on how to measure grade, but it is very, very steep so a couple of laps left us pretty tired and just sore enough to know we did something. We sit in sessions all day broken only by two "cafecitas" (coffee breaks) and lunch. So it's really not so bad. The coffee is awsome and flows freely.

Today we met other volunteers that have been in country and the American Ambassador. We have also been presenting our own life stories to the group. As much as I hate to talk about myself, I went ahead and got mine out of the way yesterday. It was really a smart move, because the girl that went after me, was born in a Tai refugee camp to a father fleeing Vietnam and a mother fleeing the Khamer Rouge in Cambodia, was sponsored to come to the states by a church group when she was 8 years old, learned English, graduated high school with honors, and received her citizenship a month before she joined the Peace Corps. She was inspired to join the Peace Corps by a volunteer that she met in the refugee camp and is finally fulfilling her lifelong dream. Glad I didn't have to follow that one. So to say the least, the group has very diverse backgrounds. It's actually a pretty cool group of people, I am glad to be hanging with them and will have a hard time splitting from them on Sunday.

So, now we are on a field trip to Heredia. We are at an internet cafe a couple blocks from the University. We got our first introduction to the Costa Rican rainy season drenching, so I will go find an umbrella when I am done here. :) That's all I got for now...

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

It's the Eye of the Tiger...

I am up trying to get some last minute, stateside things done before we head out to Costa Rica in the morning. When I say "morning" let me just clarify that we have to have our luggage in the lobby by 3:30 am, DC time. That would be 1:30 am, Mountain time. Not gonna get a lot of sleep tonight.

I have completed the staging segment of my training. It was pretty exciting... not really. But, it's all part of it and we are out of country tomorrow. I have met some really interesting people. There were 33 people in the group. We've already lost one to a medical condition. The average age of the group is 22 so I am definately an elder. I am not the oldest though, there is one woman who is 33. Everyone else seems really young. They'll be fun to watch.

The really cool part is that they have already given us money to cover our expenses. That is soooo cool. Very different from the non-profit world I have been living in.

When we get to Costa Rica we will be at a retreat for 4 about an hour outside of San Jose. Then we will live with a family for the rest of the training (til October). I have been told the training is pretty intense, I will keep you posted....

By the way... this morning I got up and ran at about 6 am. I have found a running partner. :) We ran down the the Mall, around the reflecting pool and WWII memorial, up the Lincoln Memorial, sang "Eye of the Tiger," ran back and collapsed in my room. I sure dig humidity. I was a big ball of sweat... which insidentally did not keep the firemen from cat calling as we ran by their station. I consider that a success.... I mean, come on... .their firemen. :)

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Incidental Tourist

Did the tourism thing this morning. The "big" attractions are only about 14 blocks ro 7 Starbucks from my hotel so I was able to walk down and spent the morning taking in the sites. I saw the Washington monument, Lincoln memorial, the Wall, etc. I met a guy named Don who volunteers at a kiosk selling POW pins and patches. He suggested I stick around till next week when the temperature gets up into the hundreds. I politely declined.

I saw the Whitehouse just on the other side of a metal fense, concrete blockades, secret service stations and the press corps. But the BIG attraction was a little tiny woman with a huge helmet of hair and few teeth that has been holding a peace vigil on the sidewalk accross the street from the Whitehouse since 1981. I was thinking she is probably a little nutty until I realized she's homeless can't be "moved along" by law enforcement because she is protected by the first amendment. I love that! I also thought it was rather interesting that there were about 5 times more people gathered around her than at the Whitehouse. They started heckling her (because it's cool AND productive to hassel those with diminished capacity) but were strangely unable to just walk away. hmmm...

I'm just about to go to the orientation and begin the actual "Peace Corps" portion of my trip. :) Stay tuned...

Sunday, July 10, 2005


I am in Washington, D.C. for the "staging" portion of my trip. It is basically an orientation. I expect legal IV drug use (vacinations) and am hoping to get my passport back. I hear it's useful for internatinal travel. I am slightly more awake than I was in Colorado this morning but time will tell. Gotta go am being charged by the minute!!!

Last dance with Kelley Ann

Sunday morning 7:30 am. I believe I am awake. Bags are packed and I'm on my way. Had a Cyr worthy send off last night including a late-night dance party AND fireworks. Good times.

Peace Out

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Four days

I'm back in Ft. Collins. Made it back on Monday. I spent the weekend in New Castle, Glenwood and Snowmass. Wrapping up as best I can. This all feels a little strange to me. I applied to the Peace Corps almost two years ago. My experience is not typical. I applied 15 months before I wanted to leave. I wanted to wait until Byron was back from Korea. I figured one of us out of the country at a time was enough. So I postponed, then I postponed again and then they postponed. So, yeah, two years. I've been talking about it for so long I think I am having some difficulty coming to understand that this is really going to happen.

It's all fun and games when you are just talking about it. I've been riding this bubble of sorts. Namely that I have been planning to do something pretty big but have not, until now, had to follow through on it. I've always been a little (only a little;) uncomfortable with everyone making a big deal out of it. It doesn't seem like much to me, I don't see it as anything bigger than what anyone else does. I know people that have never lived more than 50 miles from the place they were born that seem to live better, fuller and more beneficial lives than I've ever thought possible. I keep thinking... "Why wouldn't anyone if given a chance?" But, it's getting real. Having to say a lot of "goodbyes." Some of them pretty tough and feeling kind of permanent and I think, "This is why."

I am so incredibly blessed. I have more wonderful and loving people in my life than I am sure I deserve. "Am I going to leave this?" It's tough, it's what keeps many away, but it's all part of it. There's something more and I'm not ready to stop looking yet. I can't fathom any other way.

So for now, I'm tucking away the memories of rubber chickens, the Brew Pub and amazing friends, giggle bellies and a gymnastics expo, love, tears and laughter.

Four days.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Mt. Garfield

Had dinner with the Nelson's last night and then played pool with Ryan. I took last game for "All-Time Champion." He asked for a re-match but we finally compromised when I promised him we'd call it the "All-Time American Champion" and he could have my title in two weeks when I go international.

This morning I climbed Mt. Garfield with the Michigan Couch Surfers (That's a great name for a band if you're looking Stu... Josh can be your first groupie). The trail is four miles round trip, the kicker is that it is a 2,000 foot elevation gain. "Steep" doesn't begin to describe it. Add to it the fact that you are totally exposed to a 'rapid descent' for at least half of that and you get why the guide book describes its foot difficulty as "Difficult-Insane." There is probably about 20 sq. feet of shade on the entire trip and between 11a-1p, none of it is accessible. It's hot.

The boys smoked me but we got'er done in less than three hours including soaking in the incredible view at the top. You can see everything for miles in every direction. Looking West along the Bookcliffs, it feels like a life-size topo map and you should be able to run your fingers over the textures. Before you are too impressed, I will also add that it is an extremely "do-able" climb and that it gets an incredible amount of traffic year-round. However, you still earn the view at the top.

Josh also learned that lizard's tails come off when they are trying to escape predators. In this case the "predator" was a 22 year-old Jesus look alike. Did you know their tails keep flopping after it comes off?

Good luck guys...

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Prayers and Pistols

Said "farewell" to the Sefcovic clan amid much food, beer and love. I walked away with a rosary, St. Anthony metal and pepper spray, or as I like to refer to it, my "Freeman First Aid Kit." I was told all I need to do is call and they'd come running with anything I needed (including firearms). My aunt reassured everyone that "ain't nothin' gonna happen to her, the Sefcovic's done prayed." My favorite; love through laughter.

Thank you.

Saturday, June 25, 2005


I'm officially unemployed again. Last day of work was Thursday. Did well all day. Had a minor emotional break at the bar narated by a co-worker. But hey, if you're gonna do it, it's really best to do it some place public and involve as much alcohol as possible. :)

Drove to (Grand) Junction yesterday and hung with the El Salvador gang. We reminisced about third world emergency rooms, intestinal distress and Jalalajara the night club where we spent our last night in country. I think the best way to desscribe the club is by stating that the concept of "liability" does not translate. Anyway, rockin' bunch of people. Oh, I was also groped by a former client's mom. That was a little funky.

Two weeks tomorrow.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Close enough....

Last night I stopped by the restaurant I used to work at. (grammer check) I wanted to give an invite for my going away party to my friend Chata who's tending bar. She hugs me and introduces me to the bar line-up. Chata is amazing. One of my favorite people. She and I volley back and forth in Spanish. Well, her part in Spanish, mine comes and goes. She tells everyone I am "totally fluent." I tell them only in Bar Spanish.

"This is Kelley," She says, her accent surfaces when she says my name and it sounds like 'Cally,' "I'm so proud of her, she's going to Costa Rica with the Peace Corps." They nod and smile and one of them points to black braids touching just past my shoulders and tells me I remind him of Pocahantas. "That's a new one," I tell him. I chit chat while Chata works the room. Pooring drinks, calling customers by name with a sing-song familiarity. She tells them I'm saving the world. The guy next to me, introduces me to his buddy and says, "This girl's goin' to Puerto Rico with Green Peace!"

"Something like that," I grin.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Jet Plane

Reservations have been made. I fly out of Denver to DC on Sunday June 10 at 10:50 am. For those of you paying attention that is, in fact, the day after my Ft. Collins goodbye party, not to be confused with the Grand Junction or New Castle farewells. Byron was kind enough to describe the traditional Korean GI flight ritual which, apparently, involves boarding the plane intoxicated because "it's the Army, it's what you do." As much as I am into "international" experiences, I think I'll do my best to pass on that one.

Would have liked to get in some "me" time before I left but that may have to be put on hold until after my training when I am culturally and linguistically isolated and suffering from "Ian withdrawals." (Symptoms include sobriety, general lack of harrassment and uninterupted enjoyment of Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews. Oh and many, many tears.;)

For now... I have two days left of work. Then two weeks to soak up all the Kelley you can.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The big envelope

I recieved my staging materials today. I will call tomorrow to book my flight. I will spend two nights in Washington, DC for a quick "orientation" type thing prior to heading to Costa Rica. I had thought I would be staging in Miami but apparently not. The whole thing was a little anti-climatic. I thought I would get contact info for other volunteers but there was none that I could see. I am a little worried about my luggage situation: I get 80 lbs checked, no one bag can weigh more than 50 lbs. That doesn't seem like much for 2 years. I figure at least half of that will be shoes and tampons. I also have to worry about being able to carry it all between airport, hotel and site. Ah, legistics! This part isn't so romantic. Three weeks! Going through a lot of "lasts."

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

In the beginning....

I have come to view this assignment as a "cosmic do-over" of sorts. I was in Costa Rica for three months in 1997. I went there with my roommate and the mildly psychotic boyfriend she had picked up on a community service trip to Nicaragua. Needless to say his psychoses were not immediately apparent, but with time, they blossomed with the delicate grace of the purple budded thistle. I moved there on a week’s notice at his insistence that the job he’d found me was only available NOW, when I arrived we traveled in Nicaragua for two weeks because “When will you be here again? Your job is fine. Don’t you trust me?” In all fairness, I cannot totally rule out the possibility that the entire episode could be chalked up to a translation mishap. Is it not plausible that “My father is an important government diplomat” could easily be confused with “My father is the night security guard in a government building?”

The unraveling of his web of deceit was hampered only by my own staunch denial that I had actually followed a psychopath into the third world with no backup plan other than relying on the kindness of strangers in a doe-eyed “she too dumb to be a threat” manner. It became apparent that the longer I was associated with him the more likely it would be to emerge from a language hangover* married to one of his cousins. I had been working* in the office of a Diputado (equivalent to a U.S. Senator) and his assistant ultimately took pity on me and let me stay with her until my visa expired and I returned to the states.

Now, knowing all of this… I would do it again in a minute. I learned some Spanish. I snorkeled. I navigated the bus system. I saw cockroaches the size of tennis balls. I learned to ask for references.


Language Hangover: involves understanding very little of what is being said but being too tired or generally uninterested in asking people to continually repeat themselves and/or engage in elaborate charades until you do understand. Symptoms include excessive smiling and nodding.

Working: In this case to mean taking drastic measures to look busy and not understanding that due to cultural and linguistic differences, there were never any expectations for actual productivity.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


26 days til departure (give or take... no actual "official confirmation" but I'm nearly certain). Notice has been given... emotional distancing has commenced. No more $2 avocados, they shall fall from the sky like great big falling avacados. Until then however, jaded cynacism in the work place to establish my discontent with their abilities to function without me.... AND continually checking and rechecking the mailbox. Welcome to a government job.