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.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A New Discovery -- La Feria!

What’s my new favorite place to visit on Saturday mornings?  La feria (farmer’s market) in Guadalupe.  I have never in my life seen such a wonderful, vibrant, and deliciously appetizing array of fresh, local produce all located conveniently within an area about the same size as a football field.  Farmers from all around the Central Valley come to Guadalupe around 6 AM on Saturday morning to sell their fruit and vegetables to us city people until around 1 PM.  Canopies and boxes of produce create aisles upon aisles of vendors and food to choose from.  There’s even a cold section with meats, cheeses, and eggs.  I’ve now been introduced to all sorts of new produce including maracuya, cas, cherimoya, yucca, and chayote.  Not only is the quality of the fruit and veggies at the market superior to local grocery stores, but it is also generally much less expensive.  I end up walking away from the market with as much as I can possibly carry and wishing my arms were a bit stronger.  Visiting la feria is going to be my new Saturday morning tradition!
While we’re on the food topic, I guess I’ll mention that I have also been introduced to a few new entrees at Casa Maria in addition to the usually rice, beans, and spaghetti.   One day I was privileged to receive chicken intestine served over rice.  Not easy to stomach I dare say.  Another day I sat down to be startled by a battered pig foot that was happily nested atop my pile of rice.  The correct way of eating the specialty pig foot, I was told later that evening when I recounted the lunch to someone, is to suck on it and slurp the juices out each bone from its end.  I guess my palette is not refined enough to appreciate this treat.  However, my palette is just perfect to appreciate the lovely huevos rancheros, gallo pinto (beans and rice mixed together), and handmade tortillas that I got to eat this weekend when Marta, the physical education teacher at St. Francis College, invited us over to her house for brunch.  She is from Guatemala and is married to an American.  The couple lives comfortably in a gorgeous sunlight home with pictures of their two twenty-something year old children who are both currently attending universities in the United States.  Marta and her husband, Paul, were even generous enough to invite us over to their home for the American Thanksgiving celebration that they host every year!  I guess I won’t miss out on Thanksgiving after all this year (though it won’t be comparable to Thanksgiving at home of course).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Week of Growth

This week was a huge learning experience for me!  It was the first full five day week that I worked at Casa Maria.  Monday from 12 to 4 I was on my own in charge of the boarders.  After getting them up to their dormitory, asking them about 4 times each to change out of their uniforms, reminding them to put sheets on the beds, and practically waking girls who had decided to lay in their beds instead of change clothes, finally I was able to shoo them all out of the dormitory.  How does Sor Nela do it everyday?  It must have taken at least twice as long to get them all changed and downstairs than it does when Sor Nela is there laying down the law.  Maybe I need to get a habit and that would scare the girls into doing what I ask them to do!

Many of the dormers come to school on Monday extremely tired and full of emotion from the weekend at home.  They have extra bad behavior and just want to sleep the afternoon away.  They are not allowed to nap up in the dormitory as they are supposed to use the afternoon for homework or socializing.  This Monday, I had about eight girls lying on the floor of the large hall and on the landing of the stairs resting after they had finished their chores.  Sometimes I wonder if it might not be more beneficial to allow a half hour or hour nap time in the dormitory on Monday afternoons to rejuvenate them a bit for the week ahead.  Although on second thought, then they might not be tired for 8:30 bedtime!

Tuesday I learned just how hard it can be to teach English to a class of 25 disinterested teenage girls.  I had a lesson planned to present vocabulary about common illnesses.  My plan even included two games to help make memorizing and pronunciation more fun.  However, upon suggesting the games no one was willing to play.  It was even like pulling teeth to get any student, aside from one, to repeat or read the English words.  Though I was frustrated with the lack of enthusiasm and participation, I plowed on teaching the vocab.  After the class ended, I did see that some of the students had copied down all of the vocab and definitions.  Hopefully, something soaked in.

Here's some exciting news: I am now joined in the afternoons by another volunteer!  Her name is Wendy.  She is Costarican, and she will be volunteering at Casa Maria for about a month to fulfill her service hour requirement to graduate from her university.  She is 26 years old, and it is so nice to have another person on my side in the afternoon to make sure the girls all do their chores and don't get into too much trouble.  Thanks Wendy!

Now I am eating everyday with a few women who work at the gift store, cook, and take care of the chapel.  Before this I had been told to get my food from the cook and take it to eat in the teacher's lounge.  But all of the teachers usually leave at noon, so I generally was eating alone.  One day while I was getting my food from the cook, I misunderstood what she said to me.  I thought she asked if I wanted to eat with her, so I said of course I would love to eat with you!  Anyway, now I share lunchtime with Dori, Johana, Lourdes, and Gloria!

Friday was a celebration of thanks at Casa Maria, so classes were cancelled.  Right when I got to school, I received a thank you card and angel cell phone charm from the school director.  The festivities began with mass (where I read half of the prayers of the faithful), then tamales for staff and ice cream for students, followed by a two hour show put on by all of the various ministry sectors at Casa Maria including skits and dances by the daycare and students, plays by the students, and interpretive dance by the single mothers.  Every sector also gave the Casa Maria director, Sor Roxana, many gifts and thanks for all of her hard work, dedication, love, and care.  It was a beautiful celebration!  The day before, I worked all day on setting up the stage, hanging the curtains, and decorating which was all quite fun and full of laughter!  I was utterly exhausted by the end of the week...but I learned and grew more than any week so far :)

Five 7th & 8th graders wearing thier outfits for thier dance performance during the Thanksgiving Celebration. (The woman in the 2nd row is the science teacher.)

The curtains and stage we crafted for the Thanksgiving Celebration festivities.

Children from the nursery acting out the Works of Mercy.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Birthday Party Beach Escape

Last Friday when I got home from work, I was happily greeted with news that we had just been invited to go along with Yami, the admin asst at St. Francis, and her family to a Manuel Antonio (a national park on the pacific coast directly south of San Jose) on Saturday morning.   She said she and her brothers were taking a bus and had extra space for us to tag along.  So Saturday morning this big charter bus rolled up to our house at tico time (2 hours after said departure time) and full of about 35 of Yami’s brothers, sisters, their spouses, and their kids!  
We immediately find out that this is Yami’s brother’s 50th birthday party and he has no idea where we are going!  Hahaha the second family birthday party we didn’t know we were going to until we were on our way there!  Anyway, Saturday was all driving, eating at the open air hotel, birthday party, karaoke, and dancing.  The family was incredibly nice and welcoming, and I got to practice more Spanish with them as they patiently listened to me.  The hotel was actually situated in a tiny village about 30 minutes drive away from Manuel Antonio.  Sunday morning we headed over to Manuel Antonio, and we walked through the jungle on a short trail to the beach.  I saw a sloth hanging from a tree hanging from a tree way up high over the trail.  The beach was absolutely breathtaking!  White sand, slow lapping waves in the cove, rocks and palm trees all around, and the sun beating down… I could have stayed there all day! After about three hours we walked back to the bus, drove back to the hotel for lunch, then after a rest we headed back to San Jose.  We were warm in our beds by 10 PM ready for work the Monday morning. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

House Tour Video

On one of the first few days that we were here, Carolyn randomly decided to film a tour of our house to show everyone back home.  Since Molly and I were in the kitchen with her, we naturally became the tour guides.  Here's the links to our house tour:
Enjoy! You wont regret watching it, I promise :)

My First Week of Work

Wow!  That is how I feel. The past week was packed full with activity and the beginning work!  I guess I’ll start where I last left off.  On Thursday, we visited Casa Maria Axiliadora in San Jose.  Casa Maria is a multi-faceted ministry run by a group of Salesian sisters. The complex includes a daycare, school for at-risk girls from in 7th through 11th grade, housing for single women with children, classes for women in sewing and cooking, clothing donation area, and the convent.  Sor Roxana, the director of Casa Maria, gave us a thorough tour of the complex as well as provided some interesting history about Sor Maria Romero, the daughter of Maria Axiliadora, who was just declared a saint in 2002.  Her mausoleum and museum is located at Casa Maria.  It so happened that our visit was just in time to attend a birthday celebration for Mary at the girl’s school.  Our group sat right up in the front of a large hall, and all of the 120 teenage students were sitting in chairs facing us.  Since I work at the girl’s school, I was called up to the microphone, introduced, and asked to say something to the crowd.  I was so unprepared, but I managed to utter in Spanish, ‘Hello, I am very excited to be with you this year.’  Hahaha I was little embarrassed (you know me).  Next, Sor Roxana led the celebration with “Feliz Cumpleanos” on the guitar.  The party was complete with two large cakes full of candles which Sor Roxana proceeded to blow out by waving her guitar over them after the song was over.  Everyone ate cake and drank soda.  Oh my!  My first thoughts about working at the girl’s school were coated in fear.  All of the girls were shouting to each other, laughing and looking toward our group, and they just looked tough.  Soon, we walked over to the daycare to meet the kids where Margie works.  About half of the kids are refugees from Nicaragua.  We were greeted by the cooks who handed us each a large popusa and a cup of homemade fruit juice.  A popusa is this corn cake with a little bit of spiced sausage and onion inside then topped with cabbage.  It was quite tasty!  Then we walked a few blocks to Albergue San Gabriel, a doctor’s office that treats children with severe illnesses.  This is where Molly works.

Friday, we rode the bus into San Jose again to learn our way around.  We found some of the bus stations, the church, the market, and main streets.  We ate at a little ‘soda’ or café.  Sodas usually offer a plate called ‘casado’ or married.  It is a meat of your choice which is served along with rice, beans, some kind of little salad, and sometimes a fried plantain.  It was absolutely delicious! A typical Costa Rican lunch.  That night we had a house blessing.  The friars and some others associated with FrancisCorps came over to our house for the blessing.  Afterward, we enjoyed chatting and eating the hors d’oeuvres we girls had made that afternoon.

Friar Rick (program director) and I with the statue called Abundance in San Jose.

On Sunday, Nicole wanted to show us the city where she studied abroad last year called Heredia.  It took about an hour to get there by combination of foot and bus.  We saw the University and much of the city on foot.  Then we met up with her friend who ended up driving us to his friend’s aunt’s birthday party.  The party was at the aunt’s house on a dairy farm out in the countryside.  Who knew we’d find ourselves out petting cows with Costa Rican family on Sunday afternoon?   It was a relatively small party, so our group of four American girls provided a bit of entertainment when the uncle turned on his boom box playing traditional Costa Rican band music and insisted that we dance around in a circle with him.  Pretty funny!  Our hosts were extremely nice to have us (who they had never met) come to their party.  What a gift to be able to experience a family gathering here.

Monday was my first day of work at Casa Maria!  I left the house with Molly and Margie at 6:30 AM.  Our daily commute includes walking 8 min to the bus stop in Moravia, riding a bus for about 30 min to San Jose, then walking about 20 min to Casa Maria.  Monday was mainly all orientation. I now have a set weekly schedule.  Classes are held from 8 to noon and are 40 minutes each.  I am to help in a few technology classes, teach one conversational english class once a week, help in a couple civics classes, and work in the office.  I get to be in each grade level at least once a week, so that way I will get to interact with all the girls to some extent.  At noon, most of the girls go home.  There is a group of about 25 'internas' who stay overnight at the school in a dormitory for free.  At noon, these girls eat a lunch of rice, beans, and something else like spegetti or bread.  I also eat lunch during this time but in a separate room from the girls, since the nuns want me to establish myself as a teacher rather than just one of the freinds.  At 1 PM I take the internas up to their dormintory room on the third floor, so that they can change out of their uniforms.  The dormitory is a really big room with four rows of 10 beds spaced about 3 ft apart.  Then it's time for 'oficios'-- each girl has her own part of the complex to clean.  I am supposed to inspect each area and make sure that they have in fact done their chore...gotta put the fist down, haha, I'm not so good at that yet!  After chores are done I hang out with the girls, chat, and am there to tutor them if they have any homework that they want help with.  Also, usually Sor Nela is also there with me and the internas during the afternoon.  I leave at 3:30 PM to head home.

I've slowly been getting acustomed to being at the school.  A lot of the girls put on a tough facade, but I've already seen a couple of them open up to me a little.  They all come from hard family lives and/or are dealing with many personal issues themselves.  It is difficult to hear about the home lives of some of these girls.  Many seem not to care so much about their education, but rather are at school to fulfill the requirement or to get away from their problems at home.  I lead a 10th grade conversational English class on my second day of work, and my was it ever hard to keep those girls attention!  I'm going to have to get really creative to keep them interactive!  Oh, and I now have a 'husband' named Francis (a 15-year-old girl at the school with dimples), hahahaha what a little ham!

Thursday was 'el dia de la independecia' or Independence day.  There were parades in all the towns, and everyone had the day off.  Fireworks began around 4 AM!  All of the grade schools showed off their marching bands, dancers, and patriotism in the parades--music, crowds, homemade lanterns, traditional dress, and lots of red, white, and blue. Viva Costa Rica!

School girls in the traditional dance clothing walking in the Independence Day parade in Guadalupe.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My New Home in Costa Rica

Well, we touched down safe and sound in the San Jose International Airport on Sunday, Sept 5th around 1:30 PM local time!  That morning our Syracuse counterparts woke up early to drop us off at the Syracuse airport around 6 AM (Thanks Jules and Rebecca!).  Surprising the flight was quick and easy--2 hours to Charlotte then 4 hours to San Jose.  During the first flight we were entertained for a while by opening our goodie bags from Bro J.  He equipped us well with toy story word searches and candy along with some plastic bugs and retro goggles to get us ready for those Costa Rican critters and afternoon rain storms!

Once in San Jose, two of the Costa Rican friars, Tonio and Jorge, along with Yami, the administrative assistant of St. Francis College, picked us up in a minibus.  Driving northeast of San Jose on streets with no lines and through traffic signals that here are seen as mere suggestions, we arrived to our new home in Moravia! 

Our beautiful white house with green trim is located across the street from St. Francis College, a private bilingual prekindergarten to high school run by the four Franciscan friars who live at the friary connected to the school.  All of the houses in our neighborhood have big fences and bars surrounding them and ours is no exception.  We have a tall, green, steel fence complete with barbed wire at the top.  The combination of the fence, the large lock on the gate, and the lock on the house door makes us feel more than secure here.  Plus, every tico (Costa Rican) that I have met so far has been extremely welcoming :)

Our house is quite comfortable, cheery, and colorful.  We were greeted with two bouquets of gorgeous flowers on our tables when we arrived!  Thank you friars!  The house has three bedrooms.  I share a room and attached bathroom with Margie.  In the back of the house we even have a hammock and three banana trees, so no doubt we will be eating lots of fresh bananas this year...yum.

After dropping our luggage off at our house, we went straight over to the friary for a tour and a filling lunch of arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), black beans, potato chips, tomatoes with cheese and basil.  That night I fell asleep with a cooling breeze sweeping in from the large window and sweeping over my bed. 

At 5 AM I awoke to the loud chirping of birds followed by the sun filling my room.  I managed to lay in bed until about 7:30 AM, before giving in to the birds' continual wake-up calls.  In the morning, the FC directors gave us a grand walking tour through Moravia.  Moravia is a small suburb of San Jose, and we were able to see the church, the main streets, and grocery stores nearby.  I'll have to get used to the humidity here; it felt verrrry hot walking around.  We were all sweating.  And this is the rainy season too!  On our way back home, we stopped at one of the larger groceries to stalk our fridge and shelves.  In the early afternoon, I ran around the neighborhood, which was a great way to get my bearings in Moravia.  I found myself in awe of the beautiful and thriving plant life which covers every inch of available ground.  I also was admiring the style of homes and buildings I passed, which tend to have their own tico flare and are always painted in more than two bright hues.  Love it!  The thunder starting rollin around 2 PM and was accompanied by brilliant lightning flashes.  Soon the rain starting pounding our rooftop in buckets...the sound of the rainfall here is absolutely incredible.  It sooths me in the same way the sound of the ocean does.   The rain always comes in the afternoon, cooling the air, and it has super high intensity. You step outside and you are literally taking a shower.  Don't be fooled though; it never lasts long.  Sometimes it even gets sunny again after the rain stops.

On Tuesday, we walked about half an hour to a neighboring suburb called Guadalupe.  Here we toured Centeno Guell, the national public school for blind, deaf, and mentally handicapped children.  The school serves approximately 250 students.  I believe we were introduced to every classroom of students in the school!  (It was a looooong tour, but really informative.)  The children left a lasting impact on me.  Despite their disabilities, these children were generally full of energy, laughter, smiles, and bright eyes.  I wanted to stay at the school in one of the classrooms in particular.  This room had about six deaf five-year-olds.  A few of them came up to shake my hand, and I just wanted to stay and play.  One of our volunteers, Carolyn, will be working at Centeno Guell this year.  While in Guadalupe, we also stopped at the Lady of Guadalupe church, which is artistically decorated with tons of brightly colored stained glass windows.  After a lunch of handmade burritos filled with carne al pastor (que ricos!), we walked back to the house for some downtime.  I fell asleep on the couch to the sound of rain...quite peaceful.

Today, we toured St. Francis College across the street from our house.  All of the teachers were so happy to meet us and introduce us to their students.  The school has a primary section for the little ones and a secondary section for junior high and high school.  Since it is a private school, the students are expected to pay a high tuition except for those on scholarship.  St. Francis is a prestigious bilingual school--the former president of Costa Rica actually attended St. Francis College.  Nicole, my FC housemate, will be working in the Social Work office, facilitating service activities for each grade level throughout the year.

As I write this blog, I am sitting in my living room listening to the rain, the sound of St. Francis students playing soccer across the street, cars driving by, and others typing away on thier laptops next to me.  I feel like I have completely settled into the house, and I am excited for all that this year will bring as I begin work next Monday, meet more and more ticos, continue to learn about this lovely culture and my community, and grow along the way.

Volunteers in front of our house on our first full day in Costa Rica.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Get Your Game Pants On!!!!!!

Let me introduce you to my new Costa Rica family!  By pants from left to right we have Molly (highlighter yellow), Margie (hula skirt), Carolyn (stripes), me (flowery), and Nicole (hula skirt/jean combo).  Game pants and rainbow visors were essential in our round of "Jeopardy - Costa Rica", as El Sueno Imposible took on Los Monos Amarillos.  Nothing like a good dose of Costa Rican and FrancisCorps trivia paired with amazingly stylish apparel on a Wednesday afternoon in Syracuse!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

First Retreat with FC 13

We spent a few days on retreat at a beautiful retreat center located in the middle of thriving forests and farmland.  One day we were even able to walk a few miles to see several clear blue lakes and enjoy the gorgeous warm and sunny weather.  Days and evenings were spent doing workshops, listening to stories, getting to know one another, cooking and eating together, and relaxing.  Soon enough we headed to Seaside Heights on the New Jersey Shore--the location of another Franciscan friary.  We walked the boardwalk, ate Jersey pizza, played in the ocean, laid on the beach, and shared more time together in community.  When the hurricane warning was announced, we decided to flee from Irene and leave early back to Syracuse.  On the way back, we visited a Franciscan convent, where the nuns gave us a warm welcome and shared some of their insights with us.  Then after what should have been a four hour drive, which took seven due to the hurricane evacuation traffic, we got back to the Syracuse house late at night.  The following day, we finished up our retreat work and celebrated Mass in the Syracuse house with just our community in our living room.  The retreat ended with a lovely dinner at a local hole in the wall Italian restaurant with delicious pasta and wine.

The Syracuse group began work at their ministry sites on Monday!  The five of us who will be working in Costa Rica put our muscles to work by moving the FrancisCorps office to a new location.  Then we cooked dinner for the Syracuse group who got home after work and shared their exciting and crazy first day stories with us.

From here on out for the rest of the week, we are having "Costa Rica Specific Orientation", with plenty of time to relax and prepare :)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Beginnings in Syracuse, NY!

I arrived to Syracuse, NY yesterday for the beginning of my journey!  Why Syracuse you might be wondering? FrancisCorps was founded in Syracuse13 years ago, and this year seven volunteers will be living here in Syracuse and working within the community.  The Costa Rica location began service 7 years ago, and this year there are five of us who will be working in San Jose, Costa Rica.  During the next two weeks all of us are in an orientation and retreat session together, which is lead by three FrancisCorps co-ministers.  The eleven of volunteers are all staying at the Syracuse house--10 girls and 1 boy. Needless to say, he is just a tad out numbered! Don't worry...we will be nice and try not to scare him away!

Yesterday we were welcomed upon arrival to the house by the co-ministers with a delicious barbeque! After hauling my things up a steep, narrow staircase to my temporary bed, I started to realize just how humid and hot it was here! Nothing like arid Spokane. Windows wide open and fans on high, we cooled down a tad as we chatted with the other volunteers and their families. Mom and Dad came with me, so they were especially happy to have had the chance to meet the people I will be living and working with for the year. As my parents peppered the co-ministers with questions :) and I talked with the other volunteers and co-ministers, I realized how truely blessed and fortunate I am to have this service and growth opportunity amist such amazing people and with a strong support network.

Today we awoke in time for a little breakfast and chatter before heading out to Assumption church for our commissioning mass.  During mass we were each called up, blessed, and given a Franciscan Tao cross which officially marked the beginning of our year with FrancisCorps.

I am so grateful for this experience, and I am hopeful for all that the year will bring. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers.  I would love to hear from you throughout the year, so please don't hesitate to contact me and update me!

My snail mail address (where all mail will be received with arms wide open!):

Amanda Connell
c/o FrancisCorps Volunteers
St. Francis College
P.O. Box 358-2150
Moravia, San Jose
Costa Rica, C.A.

With love,