Monday, February 20, 2012

A surprising end...which is really just another beginning

What a crazy month it has been!  During the week and a half after the retreat, I worked in the daycare at Casa María and the Albergue San Gabriel where two of my housemates work.  I enjoyed playing with the children and talking with parents.  Unfortunately, I got sick with the flu halfway through the second week which kept me home in bed for a couple of days.  I had been planning to take vacation the first week of February to go spend some time in Guatemala with Mom and Dad and to visit the communities in Sololá supported by my hometown church, St. Mary’s, and the Catholic diocese of Spokane.  So still feeling sick I got on a plane and flew to Guatemala.  I spent the 9 days trying to see and experience as much as I could while having to share my time with letting my body rest and fight being sick.  Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my 9 days in Guatemala, met many wonderful and inspiring people (including two amazingly healthy and positive 80 and 90-year-old nuns), and learned immensely about life in these rural Guatemalan villages.  I was able to stay in the highlands in a small village called Santa Caterina Ixtahuacan, the Sisters of Charity house in Novillero, Panajachel on Lake Atitlán, and Antigua.  In addition, we side-tripped to several other villages to visit schools, businesses, or programs supported by people in the Spokane diocese.  Some villages were harder to reach than others… I quickly became accustomed to riding on curving, bumpy, hilly, dirt roads.  Haha!  We even visited Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, an orphanage in Chimaltenango, where my friend Kristina is working for the year.  Throughout my entire time in Guatemala I couldn’t stop thinking how beautiful are the land and people of this country!  I truly wish I could have stayed longer.
The day after I arrived back to Costa Rica, I walked over to the CEN-CENAI daycare in Moravia for my very first day of work at my new job.  When I got there the director sat me down and told me that she was so sorry, but her boss did not grant her permission to allow me to work at the daycare.  She said she really wanted me to work in the daycare, especially to share my English and environmental knowledge, but that her boss had tightened up regulations this year concerning who could work in these governmental institutions.  Utterly shocked, I walked back home and told my directors and community that the job had fallen through.  Meanwhile, I was still feeling very sick and needing to rest most of the day.  Within that same week, I actually ended up in the emergency room again.  This time I was told I had a sinus infection, had an IV hooked up, and sent home with lots of medications.
After many conversations with my community, family, and directors along with a good amount of prayer and contemplation, I decided that it was time for me to go back home to Washington State.  The main reason for returning home was my health, and what triggered the decision was no job.  From the very first week that I arrived in Costa Rica, I began battling various health issues.  I had severe allergies which even affected me when I was taking a strong daily allergy medication.  My body seemed to be extra susceptible to foreign bacteria as I got sick many times and ended up needing to see the doctors one time when it was particularly prolonged.  These health issues affected my daily life, and at their worst had me in bed missing out on certain activities or work days.  With no set job and realizing how sick I had been throughout my six months in Costa Rica, I felt that the best choice for me was to take the opportunity to go home and get healthy.
All of this happened so quickly—within one week.  At the end of the week, I was on a plane to the United States.  I had only been taking my new sinusitis medications for a couple of days, and I was still feeling very sick.  When I arrived home, I slept and slept and slept in a comfortable bed and quiet home, with warm water in the sink, no mold growing by my bed, and good drinkable water from the tap.  I’ve been home for one week now—just resting, sleeping, and eating well.  I am feeling better though still nowhere near normal.  The fact that my recovery is slow has been extremely frustrating for me as I am so ready to get going and moving again…sometimes I feel that patience with myself is harder than with others.  I do miss my community, the people with whom I was working, and of course the natural beauty of Costa Rica.
Honestly, I am sad to have left the FrancisCorps program and Costa Rica earlier than expected, but at the same time I feel so blessed to have spent six months in the program working in Costa Rica.  Despite the challenges I faced with my health and in my workplace, I loved the experience! My experience in FC gave me a whole new perspective from which to view the world, expanded my spirituality, taught me the meaning of strength/perseverance, and will be integral in shaping my future.  The focus on service, spirituality, and community is what really stands out to me.  I feel I positively influenced many of the girls that I was able to work with, and I will always remember my time with them.  Through my work I learned immensely about myself, others, tico culture, and the way in which institutions can be both constructive and dysfunctional.  Also, the opportunity to volunteer quite a bit in the daycare at Casa María and the Albergue, the work sites of two of my housemates, furthered my experience; I was able to serve different populations, make connections with more people, and gain insight into how these other sites functioned.  Learning about Franciscan spirituality, witnessing it in practice by the friars, and being on retreat was interesting, inspiring, fruitful, and reinvigorating.  Community life—sharing daily meals, activities, and prayers taught me how to live in, build up, give to, receive from, share with, learn from, and value each member in my community while at the same time build relationships on deep levels.  I am extremely grateful for the support and time shared with my community of four lovely ladies, the Franciscan friars in Moravia, my program directors in Syracuse, New York, all of my friends in Costa Rica, and of course the people with whom I worked for letting me be a part of their lives for a short time.
My time volunteering with FrancisCorps in Costa Rica has left me with all sorts of memories that I will never forget along with marks, thoughts and feelings that will continue to develop and contribute to shaping my future! 
Thank you to all of my family and friends who supported me and have made this experience possible :)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A New Year

Well needless to say, a lot has happened since my last blog post.  I finished up the school year helping in the principle's office at Casa Maria's high school until December 15th.  Mainly, I was organizing and collecting data to help with the selection process of students for the new school year which starts in February.  My other four housemates left to go back to the U.S. on December 17th.  I used the next three days to relax, read, run, clean the house, and get ready for Juli, Kevin, Isabel, and Luke to come stay with me here!

They arrived on December 20th after a red-eye flight.  Fray Jorge, Roy, and I met them at the airport then came back to the friary for a delicious typical tico breakfast...thanks Fray Jorge!  After a couple of days at my house touring Moravia and visiting the Children's Museum in San Jose, we headed to La Fortuna which is located next to the Arenal Volcano for Christmas. I absolutely loved spending Christmas with them and getting to share in Isa and Luke's excitement.  It was such a blessing to be able to share this special time and travel in Costa Rica with Juli's family. The day after Christmas, we headed to a gorgeous beach on the Nicoya Peninsula called Playa Carrillo.  It looks just like a postcard-- lined with coconut trees and no development on the beach at all. We spent our days there playing in the water and sand, swimming in the little pool at our Bed & Breakfast, eating good food, and watching the sunsets.  When the time came for Juli, Kevin, Isa, and Luke to leave, it was of course hard to say goodbye.  They had all loved the trip and were even using some of the typical Costa Rican sayings like 'Pura vida!' which literally means 'Pure life' but is used to mean 'Everything is great!'.  I wished they could have all just stayed here with me in Costa Rica :)

However, I was not lacking in company for long. The same day that Juli's family flew back to Washington, Mom and Dad came to visit me!  We went to a few beautiful beaches and also up to a cloud forest called Monteverde, which was on top of the mountains and brimming with all sorts of plants and life.  At Monteverde we got our fair share of rain and cold, but it was more than compensated for at the beach in the sun and heat!  After the trip, Mom and Dad flew to Guatemala to take an intensive language class.

Right away, it was time for our re-orientation retreat for the program.  Our director and sub-director from the U.S. came to lead the retreat.  It was a great retreat at the friary in Alajuela again.  After the retreat, we were surprized with a quick trip to La Fortuna where we bathed in a thermal hot springs and walked on hanging bridges in the forest. What a treat!

This past week I worked at the daycare at Casa Maria.  I have a big change to look forward to beginning in Febuary.  I will be starting work at a daycare in Moravia near my house called CEN-CENAI.  It is a goverment run daycare that serves an extremely low-income neighborhood.  The reason for the change in my job is to have more daily interaction with those I serve and be in a better work environment.  I am so excited to begin this new position and work with the kids in this daycare who are ages 2-6.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

School Update
Regular classes for the 2011 school year finished up this past Wednesday.  The students are now officially on summer break until mid February, and the staff continues working until mid December.  However, this Thursday there is a mandatory ‘fiesta de alegria’ or ‘happiness party’ for all of the students.  This includes a thorough cleaning of the classrooms followed by a donated lunch.  Quite the coincidence that the party falls on our Thanksgiving Day!  The following week there will be another set of exams for any student that failed a class and wants to try to take a harder exam in an attempt to pass the class. Then in mid December there will be the 9th grade and 11th grade graduations. 
On the last day of classes, last Wednesday, Sor Nela and I took 20 internas to a private home pool as a goodbye/ end of the year party.  We rode the bus which meant that the girls all stood in the aisle of the already packed bus.  They were yelling and screaming and creating quite a ruckus for the entire half hour ride to the pool house…I felt bad for everyone else riding the bus with us, but still I couldn’t help but laugh a little at the whole situation. Twenty teenagers screaming every time we rounded a corner in a usually silent bus J hahaha!  The weather was rainy for the entire afternoon at the pool, but that did not stop those girls from thoroughly enjoying the pool. They loved it.
This week I am doing more paperwork for the principal.  I’ve also got to call the parents of prospective students to set up interviews, as well as fill out confirmation certificates for the upcoming confirmation on Saturday.
Only in Costa Rica: Random Occurrences in My Daily Life
At 5:30 AM on a particularly cool Thursday morning, still half asleep I turned on the shower and got in.  I grabbed my shampoo bottle that was sitting on the shower floor.  As soon as my fingers touched the bottle, I felt something hard and soft underneath them that felt nothing like the smooth plastic shampoo bottle.  My arm jerked, I dropped the bottle, it hit the floor, and to my horror I saw a coaster-sized hairy spider on my shower floor.  Scared, wet, in a hurry to get to work, and not wanting to touch the spider to get it out of shower, I decided to quickly take my shower and try to ignore the spider less than a foot away from my feet.  After 30 seconds with hair sudsy, I looked down to check that the spider had not moved from its spot on the floor.  But it was on MY LEG! I let out a blood curdling scream, jumped, swiped the spider off my leg, and fell hard on the shower floor. Ouch!  I was completely shaken up and squeamish now with a soapy head of hair and a few good bruises.  Apparently, the swipe at the furry beast sent it flying against the shower wall where the impact killed it and left it sprawled out in the corner of my shower.  I quickly rinsed my hair and ran out of the shower.  It was a good two days before I braved the now contaminated spider shower again. I am happy to report there have been no instances to report since that awful Thursday morning.
Teatro de la Calle
One Sunday afternoon, I got to experience a street theater performance in downtown San Jose.  Eight women wearing brightly colored clothing ran and walked around a two-block radius in the center of San Jose, acting all the while, singing, and dancing.  They were accompanied by a man playing the drums and a famous guitarist.  At times the women split up into subgroups that ran to different places to perform.  The viewers had to choose a group to run and follow, then crowd around to hear and see the show.  All of the acts were a comical spin on everyday life in Costa Rica.  The group was extremely talented and entertaining.  Plus, the scurry from place to place and city people walking by, through, and in the show added a whole new dimension to my theater viewing experience. One of the actresses in the street theater stared in a recent Costa Rican written and directed movie called ‘El Regreso’.  Experiencing street theater was a unique and fun way to learn more about the culture here.
El Clasico

We went to a huge soccer game where two rival teams, Saprissa (from where I live) and La Liga (from a nearby city, battle it out.  The entire stadium was sold-out, and it was hard to filter in through the crowds, let alone find seats.  It was a great game; final score of 2-2.  It was complete craziness amongst the fans.  At one point, the La Liga fans lit red flames (their color) and held them in the air smoking for about 10 minutes.  The night was completed with a stop at McDonald’s on the walk home for oreo blizzards. J
Cooking Class
I am proud to say I now know how to make a tasty arroz con leche (dessert with rice, milk, sugar, and cinnamon) and savory chancletas (literally ‘sandals’, but he dish is a potato-like root stuffed with a creamy, cheesy, mushroomey filling).  A friend from church came over to teach us how to cook these famous tico plates.  Buen aprovecho!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Big Change Is On Its Way at Casa Maria High School

Believe it or not there are only two weeks of classes left until the end of the school year at Casa Maria!  Everyone is starting to have that end-of-the-school-year mentality already.  In fact, I’ve been helping a lot with administrative paper work to wrap up this year and look towards next year.  This work has included inventories of things in the classrooms and counting up absences and tardies for each student. 
Throughout October there was quite a bit of drama and speculation amongst the nuns and professors about the future of the high school.  There was a rumor that the high school was going to close completely for the coming year.  The closure was proposed by the nuns for several reasons.  The major reason is that, according to some of the nuns, the high school is not functioning at an adequate level. Many of the students lack respect for the professors and nuns, desire to learn, attention in class, good behavior, and punctuality. Classes are not only hard on the professors and volunteers, but the presence of the school as part of the larger project (which is all of Casa Maria) affects the daily lives of the nuns and all of the people who live there. Also, the nun who takes care of the dorming students does not like her job and finds it too challenging and tiring.
The director of Casa Maria went to the provincial Salesian conference one week ago. The province is composed of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama.  While at the conference, the director proposed the closure of Casa Maria high school; however, the closure was not approved.  Instead, the mother superior suggested down-sizing each class to around 15 students. So how will the students who get to continue at the school be chosen? They are currently being evaluated by the professors and administrators in the areas of behavior, punctuality, grades, and uniform (if you can believe that last one or not). The idea is that the classes will be easier to handle and that the learning of students will increase with the smaller, more selective student body. Hopefully, the change will create an improved environment at the school—one that supports greater growing and learning, happiness, order, and peace.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Vamos Saprissa - El Monstruo Morado!

I got to experience my first Central American soccer game the other weekend! And it was not a disappointment. Nicole's friend invited us to go with him to see a game that was part of the national league. The location could not have been much better-- just a 30 minute walk to a neighboring town called Tibas. The special fan section played music, sang, and jumped throughout the entire game. Our team, Saprissa, won 2 to 0. I'm looking forward to going to more Saprissa games soon!

We won 2-0!

The routy "power and pride" fan section that did not
 cease to play music and jump thorughout the entire game.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Banana Feast Anyone?

Banana bunch freshly cut off of tree.

Abundance of ripe bananas!

The double banana.
Well about two and a half weeks ago, I was feeling adventurous and craving bananas ….so I decided it was time to ripen one of the three huge banana bunches hanging from the banana trees in our backyard.  I read online that you can cut a bunch of bananas from the tree, put it in a bag, and leave it to ripen for a week or so.  With cleaver and chair in hand, Carolyn and I ventured out into the backyard.  After blood curdling screams when a huge grasshopper sprung out from the bundle of bananas and after a few failed attempts to cut all the way through the thick 4-inch branch, the bananas finally fell to the grass with a thud. Next came the challenge of lifting the dirt covered 30 pound bundle and placing it in a large black garbage bag. When all was said and done, we closed up the bag and left it outside under an overhang.  When I checked on it a week later, a raunchy rotten smell engulfed me, and I had to cut two black, moldy, half-eaten bananas of the bundle…yuck! I lost hope that my experiment would yield good results. I should have had more faith though, because a few days later we were eating ten ripe bananas from our bundle. After forgetting to check on the bananas for another 4 days…SURPRISE! The entire bundle was ripe; we counted over 100 bananas total! All ripe at the same time! It was officially a banana overload for the week…banana bread, chocolate covered bananas, bananas with yogurt, bananas for snack, bananas for breakfast, and fried bananas with dinner.  We still have way too many bananas in our freezer even after giving large quantities to the people we work with. J  Well, it won’t be necessary to cut down and ripen another bunch of bananas for a while!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rain, Rain, Rain

The term ‘rainy season’ has taken on new meaning for me.  The rainy season in Costa Rica is said to last from May to November.  Well, when I arrived here early September and the sun was shining every morning with temperatures reaching into the 80’s and the rains only coming in the afternoon, I thought ‘The rainy season in Costa Rica really isn’t bad at all!  It’s 100 times more comfortable and cheery than the rainy season in Seattle.’  The month of October has proved that September was exceptionally dry this year and that I hadn’t really experienced Costa Rican rainy days yet.  October has brought with it clouds, rain, and cooler temperatures all day every day.  I hear this is more typical weather for the season.  Also, October has brought many illnesses passing around at Casa Maria, mainly colds and flues.  For me specifically, the change in weather has kept me sick…possibly a combination of cold and allergies.  I’ve started taking an allergy medication recently, so fingers crossed that it will do the trick!
A Quick School Update
Work has been going well.  It is definitely challenging for me, but I learn something new each day.  Lately, I have been subbing for Sor Nela in her religion classes.  This mainly entails explaining to the girls what they should be doing or a new assignment and then supervising the class.  When I’m not in classes or running office errands, I get to be the master decorator.  I trace and cut out large letters to create sentences and draw then cut out various scenes to paste to the walls of the school as decoration.  I get to use my artistic side a little!  In the afternoons, I still monitor the internas and talk with them.  Last Wednesday afternoon was particularly exciting.  The washroom was turned into a beauty salon!  Three hairdressers came to Casa Maria and cut, dried, and styled the girls hair for free.  The girls absolutely loved it.