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.