What I´ll Miss.

Back in October, a friend of mine asked me what I´ll miss about living in Costa Rica. Since this friend doesn´t happen to live in the same country as me right now, I had to respond via email. Here´s what I wrote her:

1. The landscape. Every time I look at the view in back of my house on a clear day, I can’t look away for at least a solid 30 seconds. The infinite shades of green, textures of plants and terrain, the
mountainous background and the bright blue sky… all so beautiful it
breaks my heart just a little, every time knowing that my access to
this view has an expiration date.

2. The way it’s rude if someone walks into the room without greeting everyone with at least a “Good Morning”. It seems like such a simple, obvious common courtesy that doesn’t always happen back home.

3. The way it is appropriate to offer and imbibe coffee at any hour. Coffee is fine at 8:00 pm, why would it not be? I mean, really, it wouldn´t ever, like, keep you from sleeping or anything would it?

4. The way my host family (especially my host mom) laughs at herself. All. Of. The. Time. Being able to recognize and appreciate how, at least 83% of the time, the things we humans do and say are ridiculous and/or ridiculously funny is a quality I´ve noticed and started loving about a lot of the friends, fellow teachers, and students I´ve met here.

5. Just how frequently conversations are legitimately started by
commenting on the current state of the weather. Or how the weather
was yesterday, or this morning, or how it is supposed to be tonight.

6. The way that I can’t look anywhere outside without seeing coffee plants, yet no one in my town knows what Starbucks is.

7. We get our eggs from my host dad’s parents, our chayotes and bananos from the backyard, and when we’re in need of plátanos, we just have to ask José’s brother for a bunch. Oh, and we need some yucca? Our neighbors have a few extra from their garden, so they’ll let us use them, especially since Eliza asked for a few chayotes yesterday. And if we need some bread or cookies for cafecito, whoever’s in town running errands in San Vito can swing by La Flor, the local panadería that is constantly exuding the scent of freshly baked goods. It’s such a natural way of food acquisition here that I’m sure that they would think the gringos were extra-crazy for having a special term to categorize the way in which Ticos (well, the ones in my community at least) are in the habit of obtaining food: they are, according to Michael Pollan and other like-minded folks, locavores. As in, a group of people who don´t regularly depend on food that has been shipped from thousands of miles away. It just seems like such an obvious way to acquire the basics of life…

8. Speaking Spanish all the time. It´s not that I dislike English. Needless to say, I´m a lot more eloquent in my native toungue, but Spanish is just so much more fuuuuun.

9. Getting besos and abrazos from my first graders. Talking to (some of) my students. The small but random daily events like seeing huge hairy spiders on the side of the road; spotting toucans (or toucan-like birds?) from way far away outside my bedroom window; chatting with random people from the community and feeling like I´m sorta kinda a part of my pueblo instead of just an outsider spending a year here; being totally unphased by things like buses having to stop and wait until a herd of cows gets done crossing the highway or when the hot water heater stops working and you have to shower with cold water at 6:00 in the morning. I guess what I´m trying to say in all these random examples is the lifestyle that I´ve experienced here — not all of it, because there are definitely things I won´t miss — but the small things that make a bad day become a good one, and really, the things that make being here worth it.

The End.

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How many calories an hour do you burn playing marbles?

Cuz that´s kind of what I did yesterday afternoon instead of going for a run. That´s not to say I didn´t try, but really, Costa Rica didn´t let me. Why you ask?

Well, I started on my run, but about 3 minutes in, I ran past 4 of my students playing soccer on Cristian´s front yard. After being beckoned with calls of “Teacher, Teacher, venga a jugar!!!“, I joined in a played for about 10 minutes until Cristian had to go inside and took the ball with him. Alonso and Javi told me to come hang out at Alonso´s place because then we could go play bolinches. I found no reason to say no, so I made the short walk to Alonso´s front yard where marbles were retrieved and the two started to teach me how to play. It was kind of great, especially because apparently my thumbs lack the dexterity to aim marbles and Javi had to show me multiple times how to hold the marble before shooting it. No, Teacherrrrr! ASÍ! I got roped into one game, then another, then another. Pretty soon it was pitch dark (aka 5:45) and had to make my way home trying not to trip on any hidden rocks or anything of the sort.

Anyway, I´m just trying to enjoy/remember to enjoy all the small, random but fun activities that happen here in La Isla before I return to the States in ONE WEEK, and since I forget stuff unless I write it down, I thought I´d share.

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I hate when I jinx myself

In the post I did last night, I wrote that I like surprises.

Two hours later when I got home from Italian class, there was no water.

This morning when I woke up, there still wasn´t any water.

In other words, el agua se fue, otra vez. Probably for a couple of days. Otra vez.

Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!

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Unexpected

I love surprises. Especially when they´re good ones. Actually, I don´t even mind that much when they´re bad ones because that means that they´ll usually make for a good story later on. But today I got a nice surprise when I found out that tomorrow is El Día del Educator. Naturally, classes are cancelled so we can all celebrate how great teachers are.

Yay three day weekend!

Random sidenote: now that I have Friday off, that means I have 7 more days of teaching before I head back stateside. Craaaaazy.

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I can´t think of an appropriate title.

Okay, so sometimes I find lists like these really annoying, but since I am responsible for creating this one, it´s an exception to the rule. What list? Oh, this one right here, actually:

You know you’ve been a WorldTeach teacher living in rural Costa Rica for 10 months when:

– Water from the faucet only comes out in a slow trickle, your first reaction is to fill up as many bottles, buckets and pots as you can get your hands on, antes de que se vaya el agua.

– School gets cancelled for reasons such as: there’s no running water in the school, the Ministerio de Educación Pública cancels classes nationwide because of flash floods and landslides, it’s national Día de no-sé-qué so a 30 minute acto civico will replace the full day of classes, the town is having Fiestas and the kids can only enter for free in the mornings, so we just won´t have classes today, etc.

MeyAyGetWaterPLIS, MeyAyGoTuThaBatroomPLIS, and Wattymisit? are three of the more common English phrases you hear on a daily basis.

– It’s an exciting occasion when, throughout the course of the day, you’ve consumed both a fruit and vegetable.

– Your brain actually continues functioning when there are 7+ students crowded around you with their notebooks all asking the same question at the exact same time.

– Waking up at 7:30 on the weekends is “sleeping in”.

– Most nights you get in bed at 8:30 (or earlier).

– You carry an umbrella with you at all times and use it for protection from both the rain and the sun.

– When find another English speaker to talk to, 95% of what comes out of your mouth is a story about teaching, what happened during class, or what your director did/said yesterday/last week/etc…

– The language you are most fluent in is Spanglish.

– When you finde a couple of ants in the sugar during cafecito, you just kind of ignore/avoid them. And that´s totally fine.

– You’ve played more bingo in the last 12 months than you’ve played in your entire life.

And my final sign that you´re a seasoned WorldTeach volunteer is:
– You regularly introduce yourself to new acquaintances as Teacher instead of your real name.

Any fellow WorldTeachers who happen to be reading this feel free to add on by making a comment… I’m sure I’m missing at least a few! 🙂

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What didn´t happen (but could´ve).

Now that I’m in my last month here, I’ll let you all in on a secret: I was going to quit.

No really, I was. I had had enough. More than just feeling isolated, I was tired of feeling like I wasn’t doing a good job teaching, tired of the paralyzing surge of anxiety that would choke-hold my stomach every day as the kids came in the classroom, tired of feeling like oh my god why am I here, and most of all, tired of not wanting to take care of myself. Not to go into too many details, this last “tired-of” encompasses one of the really challenging things I’ve been learning to negotiate in the last few years – a process that is easier said than done, especially when one’s access to their support system is an echo-y telephone connection that costs $.30 a minute and requires a pre-arranged call time to make sure that person isn’t busy with their own life. That, plus I’m fairly certain we can all agree that self-empowerment is a whole lot easier not only when you have friends and family around, but also when you aren’t a guest living in someone else’s household, and you can make simple decisions like what you want to prepare for yourself for dinner.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I felt like what I was feeling was more than your typical “low-point of the culture curve blues”, and that I needed to take action that would set me on a better path than the one on which I was headed. I was ready to make a really selfish decision that would benefit me, but would be a detriment to a lot of others.

But I didn’t. This was back in July, during the couple of weeks when my good friends were visiting (excellent timing, I know. Sorry, friends… hopefully I didn’t ruin the whole trip?). It was so great to get to have a piece of home come to me, but being with them 24/7 was a constant reminder to me just how beautiful, wonderful, great they are, and catching up with them meant hearing all the exciting things they have going on in their lives. In short, it made me want what they have. They just seemed like they had it all together, so happy and confident and comfortable with themselves, that I questioned even more why I was doing what I was doing and why I was where I was. I wanted to go home and start working on myself to be able to start living with the same happiness that they possess, because really – why should that ever be something you deprive yourself of?

Knowing I kiiiind of have a tendency to sooometimes overreact and blow things way out of proportion, I set up a trial period to see how things went once I got back to La Isla. Six weeks came and went and, happily, things were going fine. And I started doing things for myself like getting out of the pueblo (see: Hotel Chirripo) to just hang out and not have the pre-assigned identity of “Teacher”, see other WorldTeach volunteers (see: TESOL ), and not worry about getting everything done 100% perfectly (just like, 93% of the way there. I mean, it’s still an A, so I’m satisfied), etc.

Everything hasn’t been perfect since that meltdown back in July – in fact this week it has been hard to get out of bed and make myself get going – but I really do feel better about where I am, a lot more okay with not having control over the actions of others (see: It´s good to be back. Maybe.), and more accepting that even though I’m not the person I’d like to be in my head, I’m still okay.

Even more than the corny self-discoveries that I’m getting really embarrassed about having admitted, I´m glad I´m still here because I would have missed out on so much if I had gone home halfway through. I’m talking about the really fun events like Independence Day, my school´s Día de las Culturas celebration, the baile my school is hosting, etc, but I´m also talking also the small things that make me feel like I do have a place here – like how three of my first grade girls screamed “te quiero Teacher!” from their porch as I walked home from school today, or how Marvin the bus driver for La Isla always makes me sit up in the front of the buseta so he can talk my ear off/bug me about whether yo he echado un novio todavia o no, or just how cool it is when my students actually get it and are actually speaking English and applying it in new and different contexts that I didn’t teach them instead of just parroting it or flat out refusing to take their notebook out of their backpack.

My flight home is in less than a month (I’m going home a couple weeks after final exams, but a couple weeks before graduation – I’ll never understand why there are multiple weeks more of classes after finals), and I’m getting to the point where there are a lot of contradictory emotions – excitement about coming home, but nostalgia about how good living here has been. I’m sure the emotions are just going to get more and more mixed up here in the upcoming weeks, but one thing is clear: quitting halfway would have given me much less than half of the experience I’ve been so lucky to have here. Thank goodness I didn’t.

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It´s raining, it´s pouring….

Finally, the rainy season is living up to its reputation and I´m not pleased about it. It´s been raining for the last 3 days straight. As in, 72 hours. Without stopping. Once. I don´t want to sound like I´ve forgotten my roots or anything, but I feel like rain in Oregon means… oh, well, it´s going to be wet, but let´s go ahead and do everything like normal whereas here, rain = stay inside and do nothing otherwise you are going to get soaking wet and then it will take your clothes ten years to dry (and you´ll get sick and have to go to the hospital, if you´re thinking Tico). And the type of rain is different. PNW rain has that nice steady drizzle thing going on, whereas CR is more of a holy shit the rain hitting the metal roof sounds like thousands of bullets pummeling the ceiling for hours on end. This obviously means forget about any kind of exercise. I´m pretty sure people here already think I´m enough of a weirdo for going running sometimes, but running in the rain?!? No, I´m too afraid of the scandal that would cause. Besides, it probably isn´t really the best idea what with the whole rocks + mud + slipperiness of the roads… I´ve sprained my ankle twice when it was perfectly dry, so I don´t forsee chancing it as being a good calculated risk. But maybe I´m starting to be brainwashed after all? I don´t know, but I do know I´m being whiny and self-absorbed. It´s just that I just don´t like having a 100% sedentary lifestyle. It means I have no daily catharsis, which, when I have it, makes me a much nicer, happier person. (I know, my story is tragic. Everyone feel sorry for me, please.) (Please know I am being sarcastic in the previous parentheses. Please.)

In other more noteworthy news, in the last 24 hours there have been numerous landslides and floods in various parts of the country. Fortunately, San Vito hasn´t been affected, but it´s a real problem in other parts of the country — 20 confirmed dead, 30+ missing, and who knows how many are now homeless. Bridges have fallen and even the main highways are closed in parts. The story that really tugged my heartstrings was the one about the car that was unearthed by rescue workers and an entire family was found inside, obviously trying to flee the landslide.

Sorry for being Debbie Downer in this post, but basically I hate when things happen and you have no power to change them.

Thanks for listening.

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