Friday, August 5, 2011

When it Rains...

It doesn’t always pour, but when it pours:
·         No one leaves their houses
·         The electricity goes out a few times
·         The quebradas (which supply our water) overflow with mud, meaning our water becomes extremely silty if not completely red
·         Afterward you can hear the rushing of the rio from our house, though it’s probably over half a mile down-mountain
·         We get in a new channel from Panama

Speaking of Panama, the volunteer from San Cayetano and I went to go see Harry Potter (there was no line, though we went to see it the day it came out. I was utterly stunned) a few weeks ago, and while we were waiting in line, I was told that I look very much like a Panamanian. Now, this needs some back-story:

Many Costa Ricans are unaware (let’s put it that way) that people of African heritage (to be utterly PC) live in the United States. On the day we were traveling to our site I went to the grocery store to buy a phone card. After much confusion—the person who sells phone cards was on their breakfast break and no one knew when they would be returning—I sat waiting for the phone card-vendor to return. While we were waiting, one of the cashiers, probably realizing I needed a card to call the States, who had been helping me, asked if I could speak English. I was utterly baffled and took it as a compliment to my Spanish. I realized later, though that this was most definitely not the case. Many (most?) Costa Ricans truly believe that the United States is populated only by Caucasians. Which means that anytime someone inquires where I may be from, their guesses are usually: Nicaragua, Limón (a Costa Rican province on the Caribbean side which is home to many black Costa Ricans who—at some point or another in their ancestry—emigrated from the Caribbean Islands), or Panama, all Central American places home to darker-skinned Spanish speakers. One of our field staff told us a story about how when she was a volunteer, her host family had asked her if there were black people in America. It would appear that they just don’t know. But anyway, back to waiting in line.

We had been speaking with a woman who had gone to a bilingual school in Costa Rica so, though she had never lived in the States, she spoke English fluently. As a result, we were asking her a lot of questions trying to figure out various things that Costa Ricans did that we had yet to understand (as stated in previous posts, asking our host families usually produced the answer: “Es así”: “That’s just the way it is”). One of the things that had been pressing on our minds after being in the country for almost 6 weeks (and after a few more instances of being asked if we could speak English) was how we were believed to be everything but American. “You speak very good Spanish,” she’d told us. “Most of the Americans we encounter here don’t speak Spanish at all.” After thinking for the slightest moment she added, “And, you look just like a Panamanian,” she then turned to the other volunteer who was also black, “and you look just like you could be from Limón.” She then turned to the other woman (who didn’t speak English) who we had also been talking to and asked her if she agreed. As we’d expected, the woman exclaimed her agreement in the usual Costa Rican way.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Despite the overabundance of bananas (works cut down piles of them every day), I was surprised at their lack of incorporation into food. Occasionally they are eaten fried (which don’t taste nearly as good as fried plantains), but other than that, they are pretty much only eaten in their original form. A few weeks ago I figured I would take it upon myself to enlighten my host mom to the deliciousness of pan de banano. When I first explained it to her she was absolutely enthralled. A bread made out of bananas was something she just couldn’t fathom (in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have translated it literally, but called it a cake—or queque as they call it in Costa Rica—instead).  “You have to make that for us before you leave!” she had told me and I readily accepted. Despite the fact that we don’t have an (electric) oven, I figured I’d try to find someone who did but my host mom wouldn’t hear of it. We have a woodstove in the back of the house and that is what I would be using to make my banana bread.

Finally, yesterday I was able to gather all the ingredients (for some unknown reason we didn’t have bananas for a long time) so I made us some banana bread. My host dad struck up the fire in the stove and pretty much did all of the real hard work—all I had to do was make the batter. I had no idea how it would turn out considering I didn’t know if the temperature was at the allotted 375o or if the flames would give it steady heat all the way through, but I figured, people made banana bread before electricity. Long story short, when it looked about ready (much faster than I had anticipated), my host dad removed it from the fire and brought it into the house. After doing the knife test (came out perfectly clean, to my surprise), it was ready—and time to dig in.

Now, I don’t know if it’s just because it’s been 10-weeks of living of rice and beans in small-town Costa Rica, but I’d have to say that that banana bread was probably one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made. Wondering if it was maybe just the shock of having something that reminded me so much of home, I helped myself to a second slice. And I still thought it was the most delicious thing I’ve ever made. My host family thought so, too. By this morning the entire loaf was gone.

There’s currently another batch in the oven.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I'm starting to get really sentimental. Especially because the Nina is sick so I don't get to say goodbye to half of my students because they won't be coming in for the rest of the week. It makes me very sad. :(

Friday, July 29, 2011

School's Out For....

So one of my biggest problems for the first half of the summer was missing school. The very first week I got there, I only had two days of classes. The last week before mid-service I only had one day, and not a single full week of classes in between. Since there are only 2 teachers at the school (not including me), anytime they have any sort of teacher’s meeting or director’s meeting, school is cancelled. It seems to me that the school directors (sort of the principal and many times the only teachers in the Costa Rican escuelas) pretty much have free reign. I’m not sure if they have an allotted number of days that they have to be in school, but I’ve just started to assume not because some of the reasons that school is cancelled lead me to believe that they can do whatever they want.

Reasons school has been cancelled:
Teacher’s meetings
Arts festival in San Isidro
*Christian has a soccer game
The Niña had a doctor’s appointment

Just to name a few. And for some reason if only half the school doesn’t have class (because each teacher teaches half the school), the next day the other half won’t have class, just to keep things “fair,” I guess. As a result of all the days of school we missed during the first half of the summer, I wasn’t able to finish Unit 1 and had to finish it last week. As much as I hate to say it, I’m extremely skeptical as to how much the kids in these schools are actually learning. For instance, in one of our first Charlas about Costa Rican teaching and education, we were informed that we couldn’t really be guaranteed that our kids would be able to read or write until at least second grade, if not third grade. I noticed that first hand when I realized how long it was taking my first and second graders to write out the full date in English each day. Since then, I’ve cut down on how much I have my first and second graders write. I try to print out handouts with the words on there and then have the students draw accompanying pictures.

Though I wish I had more training and expertise in helping some of the problems that my students have with learning, I do what I can. I’m extremely lucky, at least, that all of my students truly enjoy learning English and even if they don’t learn as much as I want them to, they’re getting a good basis that will certainly help them later in life.

*Christian is a 5th grader who plays on the county soccer team. Every time he has a soccer game during the week, school is cancelled. I’m still trying to understand this.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Another Hill to Climb

Or, two, actually. The volunteer who lives San Cayetano (about 12 minutes away) and I spend a lot of time together since we live so close. Since we both had a long weekend (Monday was the Annexation of Nicoya and today there is a teacher’s meeting), we decided to spend it visiting some people from her school. Sunday we went to the house of her school cook, Cecilia. We weren’t entirely sure where her house was, but we knew the general direction so we started our journey and figured we’d just ask along the way. Of course as we began asking we found out that her house was “muy arriba.” Considering we live in such a mountainous area we shouldn’t have expected anything less. It was about a 50 minute hike up the mountain. A stroll, really, in comparison to some places I have gone up the mountains (and especially in comparison to where we would be going the next day). As it turned out, I found out that Cecilia was my host mom’s sister-in-law. I should have known. Everyone here seems to be related in some way or another.

Yesterday we went to the house of Emili, one of the other volunteer’s students. The other volunteer had been to Emili’s house before so she’d warned me that climbing the mountain to their house was quite a feat. I figured I’d seen my fair share of steep hills so I’d be somewhat prepared for it. Wrong. The volunteer, her 19-year old host aunt, and I spent almost 2 hours (counting rest breaks) conquering that mountain. The hills were steep, long, and didn’t provide very good footing which overall made for an incredibly unpleasant (and extremely sweaty) experience. When we finally arrived, we found that it was well worth the traversing. Emili and her family lived in a big, beautiful wooden house at the very top of the mountain. The air was cool and refreshing. Both of Emili’s parents had lived in the states for a few years, so their house had many of the American comforts we were used to (hot water, microwave, electric stove, toilets that could flush toilet paper, etc.). It was about as American as you can get in rural Costa Rica. We had a delicious lunch of salad and spaghetti with meatballs (apparently one of her mother’s many jobs in the States had been working as a chef) without rice and beans. I can count the number of meals that I’ve had without rice and beans (including breakfast) on less than one hand. Once again, being there really reminded me of home. It was also really nice speaking with Emili’s parents because since they understood the difficulty of trying to speak a foreign language, they would always stop to make sure that we understood certain words (usually she was spot on to which word’s we’d never heard before). Eventually (and most unfortunately!) our visit had to come to an end. We were looking at an hour and fifteen minutes of descent so, despite the pouring rain, we had to get going before it got dark.

I thought I’d figured out all there is to know about Costa Rica (or at least, all that was possible for me to know), but in these last few days, I’m still figuring out that I have quite a bit to learn.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Community Service Project

I am about to have my first class for the adults of the community as part of my community service project. Despite having almost four weeks of teaching under my belt and a lot of practice with teaching my host mom in Spanish, I’m still a little bit nervous. This will be my first time really getting to know some of the members of my community. I had so many plans to be as visible as possible before I arrived in Santa Marta, but once I actually got here I chickened out. I’m trying to make the most of my last three weeks, so I’m glad that I am now being forced to put myself out there. I’d hate to return to the States regretting hardly leaving my house for 10 weeks.