Thursday, September 28, 2006

There's the official story and then there's the truth....

Quick update....

I made it through MST (Mid-Service Training) It was a little early, October 1 is my official anniversary date. The year did seem to fly by and everyone says the second goes by even quicker. I will let you know. Anyhoo, training went well. It was nice to hang in luxury again. Although it has made it much harder to come back. It is amazing how quickly you get re-accustomed to not having to pick bugs off of you.

Speaking of which...

I ended up having to go back into San José yesterday to get x-rays on my toe cuz I jammed it big time. It is actually not that big of a deal, nothing is broken and the official diagnosis is "ugly". I have pictures... you will see. I know you are all probably wondering how this could have happened. Well, the official story is that I was attacked by a band of 40 thieves. A struggle ensued wherein I had to fight them off with my Jackie Chan-esque fighting technique. In the struggle, I suffered a sprained big toe. Yup... that's the official story.

The truth is that I got into the shower and when I turned on the water I startled a mouse that had apparently been hanging out in the shower curtain. He ran across my foot, I jumped and came down on top of my big toe. Little bastard! I am hoping that this will even out my rodent karma after tossing the rat over the fence.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

3rd World Living Lesson #184

Have you ever tried to burn a pile of tropically-moist leaves and grass? It takes a good amount of lighter fluid and produces a significant amount of smoke which naturally wafts directly into the house.

I happened to have some lighter fluid lying around as I mistakingly assumed that "alcohol multi-uso" was the Spanish translation for "rubbing alcohol" and not "lighter fluid." To say the least, my new earrings are sterile.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Web links

In addition to Tom's rural Costa Rica website project that includes tourism opportunities to see the "real" Costa Rica, I also posted a link to a website for a coffee co-op that Zoey has been working with. You can order coffee online that is environment and humanitarian friendly. It is also really, really good coffee.

Check them out and support the cause! :)

Poop on a bus

Here's a little something they didn't mention in the brochure...

I complete my first year of service at the end of the month. Which means that I will be in San Jose next weekend for Mid-Service Training (MST). Basically this entails those of us that have survived the first year (25 of 32) get together and try to figure out how to report what we have accomplished... as in... how do you justify the fact that your biggest accomplishment so far has been learning to point with your lips. The other fun part is that we will be hit with a barrage of medical exams and consultations to make sure that we are still alive and, relatively, well. These tests do include three consecutive days of getting a stool sample analyzed. The kicker is that you have to get the sample to the lab within 4 hours of its creation. As fun as that is normally... let me just tell you that it makes navagating transportation that much more fun.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Campo exchange

Quick update. We finished up in San Jose with the Cadena (PCV newsletter). All went well; good reviews from the director and no "revisions for content" required. I thought you all might be interested; a fellow PCV and Cadena editor, Tom, has set up a website for the women's group he is working with. The address is It is in English as well for those of you who are Spanish impaired. There is also a really great pig picture. :) I will put a link up on the right side of the blog.

Anyhoo... I am back in my site and although I am missing the bourgeois living I did at the hotel in San Jose I am happy to be back in dance classes. I am actually teaching my instructor to do Country Western dancing. It is quite amusing. Mostly because I don't know it very well and in order to describe the the Country Western "technique" I have been referring to many farm animals. As in: "Stiffen your arms and elbows like a chicken" and "walk like you you've been on a horse for two days." The hardest part is explaining to him that there is no hip motion. It's a ton of fun though. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Barrio Silvestre

You don’t have to be a PCV for long before you discover that there are certain aspects of Peace Crops life that are indisputably distinct from your former existence. My “Treaty with Urban Wildlife,” as I have come to refer to it, is a good example. It runs something like this: Spiders are welcome in the house although physical contact is highly discouraged. Webs are left in tact except when erected in high traffic areas. Cockroaches are prohibited within the house and trespassers are swept outside. The occasional toads that wander in from the rain and are gently escorted to the nearest exit. The presence of mice and ants is also banned but compliance is erratic at best and negotiations continue. I am rather proud of my harmonious co-existence with the barrio creatures. I sometimes think of myself as the “Ghetto Goodall.” I am significantly less interactive and amorous with my wildlife subjects than the renowned primatologist but I am living with nature… sort of.
However, in the past few weeks, rodent treaty negotiations have intensified and are putting into question my “Goodall” status. Gnawed masa bags and nocturnal scampering escalated negotiations to full combat operations. I had resorted to setting out poison after my efforts of dissuasion and bartering had gone unheeded. The poison was only out a short time before my Buddhist sensibilities began to get the best of me. (Interestingly enough, my Buddhist sensibilities have not evolved to the point of vegetarianism, although I have developed a personal policy of not condoning the killing of any creature I am not personally willing to eat.) I finally decided that I did not want to be responsible for the karmic repercussions of destroying a living creature, even if it is a vile living creature. All illusions of having avoided butchery come to a halt when I walk onto my back patio and discover a dead rat lying under my sink precisely where I place my right foot to brush my teeth. My immediate reaction is a jerky, disjointed spastic dance. Once that is accomplished, I reassess the situation. It holds that there is a dead rat under my sink precisely where I put my right foot to brush my teeth.
I live alone, so this is not a problem I can ignore and hope it goes away. At some point I am going to have to brush my teeth. What exactly is the Standard Operating Procedure for rodent carcass removal? I check the PCV Handbook and find no answers. I figure my best bet is to burn it with the trash. Cremation sounds karmically acceptable; ashes to ashes, blah, blah, blah… I need a shovel to transport the corpse from beneath my sink to the trash pile. I look around and I’ve got nothing at all shovel-like. Then it hits me…BAM! I am a woman living alone in a machista culture. I so don’t have to deal with this. Granted… I don’t have a father, brother, husband or boyfriend BUT no importa, I can borrow my neighbor’s. Suddenly tolerating all of Fat, Nasty Bar Owner’s catcalls will pay off. I go next door and with all of the innocence and feminine docility I can muster I ask how one goes about removing a dead rat from under a sink. The marido takes the bait.
I show him the carcass and he exclaims, “¡Hue’pucha! ¡Qué grandota!” He kinda makes a face and I can tell that he really has no desire to remove my rat carcass either and is probably wishing “que no me hubiera dejado el tren.” He looks around, and then, apparently not finding whatever he is looking for he picks up the rat by the tail and holds it away from himself exactly as if he were holding a dead rat by the tail. I am thinking about rodent diseases and am about to remind him to wash his hands when he swings the thing down and then tosses it like a horseshoe over the concrete wall and into the neighbor’s yard. I stand, mouth agape, and as I watch it tumbling through the air head-over-tail over head-over-tail and then disappearing from my life forever I can’t help but feel like my entire plan has backfired.
Okay, let’s make the best of this situation. What I have now is an opportunity to teach, to challenge the status quo and instill higher values. That’s what I’m here for anyways, isn’t it? I ready myself to explain that “out of site” is not “out of mind,” that we need to work together as a community to solve these pressing concerns, that environmental and sanitation issues especially require collaboration and cooperation. We can’t just toss our problems into our neighbor’s yards and expect that we won’t experience repercussions. I take a deep breath and say:
Well…. it was implied.

Herein lies the problem, somewhere between intention and execution. Apparently all that first world, liberal-educated indignation with which I watched the rat fly over the wall was significantly overshadowed by a stark sense of relief. In reality, my number one priority was removing the carnage from my dental hygiene staging area. Punto.
Puro Peace Corps. We arrive full of bright-eyed idealism. There are answers. Take my hand. I’ll show you. We’ll do it together. We begin and there is buy in. There is energy. There is excitement. There is cafecito. Then it starts to crumble. There are obstacles. There is conflict. There are excuses. There is pereza. We think we’ve failed. We think we’ve failed because we have failed. The problem is not failure. Human beings are a flawed species. Our collective failure and frustration are born not from our inability to realize the Utopia we’ve imagined but from trying to escape the fallibility of the human condition. One day one may travel thousands of miles from home to “make the world a better place,” and the next toss a dead rat into a neighbor’s yard.
In regard to a treaty with the untamed human barrio creature…negotiations continue and are conducted, as often as humanly possible, with patience and compassion.

(The above is the article I wrote for La Cadena, the CR volunteer newsletter.)