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.