Josie & Costa Rica

My Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer

Rock

Who am I? How far can I go? What is success for me? and loneliness?

Through all the worries and harassment, the people of San Cristóbal Norte will finally have a night school in town. Tonight was the “acto de inauguración” for my project. The coordinator and professors came, said a prayer, made speeches, sang the national anthem, provided rules and schedules, and hopefully, motivated the people.

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Whether it’s a celebration or misery, I realized that I’m on my own. I have to be my own rock. Whether the rock is being polished or being beaten, it’ll have to stand still, on its own, alone. PC takes self-reliance to whole new level.

So Buddha once said, “in the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins; not through strength, but through persistence.”  How persistent is this stream of mine?

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Happy Anniversary to Me!

Today, I celebrate my 6-month anniversary in San Cristóbal Norte with much joy!

After putting in many hours,  being the annoying “I will not stop harassing you until you answer and help me” person, sending endless texts, going door to door to tell people about the program, I think we will finally have our night school in San Cristóbal Norte.

Long story short: We couldn’t use the elementary school to hold the night school because the pilot program and the school are in two different districts. Of course I wasn’t made aware of this until the day of the meeting. Meeting went great. Many people showed up considering the 2-day notice. (It’s also crazy how many people are without a high school degree)
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People are excited but now we have to rush to find a place to hold the classes. The only other classroom ambiance we have in town is where the catechism classes are held. We had to talk to the Padre but he’s busy day and night with the Semana Santa prayer group and he is scheduled to leave out of town within days (today to be exact).  Thank goodness I have a person in my town, who is willing to help me, even though she’s not going to “benefit” directly from this night school. We show up during the group’s lunch on Sunday to ask the Padre for his help. He was very nice, and said he will talk to the others and discuss the request. He finally got back to us late Sunday, around 8pm, requesting a signed letter from the Ministry of Education. On Monday, it took me literally the entire day to get in touch with the MEP coordinator of this project. We spoke around 7pm and I finally got the letter by 10pm.

I finally delivered the signed letter today. We now have a place to hold the classes.  Now: registration.

If that wasn’t enough to make my 6-month anniversary great, we finally drafted the ‘contract’ for my new home. I say we, because I typed the letter and added my two cents 🙂 I also got him to reduce the monthly rent, slightly, so that it’ll cover the cost of water and electricity that I didn’t know I had to pay.  By the way, I’m paying 1/3 of the price others have said he’s charging, and 1/2 of what he initially offered. I’m a happy camper!

This will be my new home in 4 days!
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Pura Vida.

“The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love” – Peace Corps

Beneath the Surface

We don’t know a person until we live with them, hear their daily conversations, until we see them without their perfectly applied makeup.

Long story short, in the past view days, I have been searching for a new place to live. My plan is to be out by March. This is definitely unnecessary, but unavoidable stress. It’s difficult finding a place in the campo. Just yesterday, after being on the bus for an entire day, I dropped off my stuff and went out door to door for two hours looking for a place to rent. There were 5 casitas options, none were vacant. But…there is this “mansion” that seems to always be empty, so I gave it a shot. After going through numerous people, I finally talked to the owner. Though the (initial) price offered is doubled from what I’m currently paying, I’m lucky she’s willing to rent out a room. Although I may have to wash all my clothes by hand and cook all of my food on a double burner (to reduce electricity, therefore reduce the rent price), I am ready to move out (unfortunately it will not be ready until the end of next month). Another positive aspect, we agreed that I can adopt a small Tico puppy to keep me company in the big house! For those who had never been to Costa Rica, almost all dogs stay outside of the house, they almost never sleep inside.  Right after my conversation with the owner of the big house, I was told there is another house, where I can get the entire casita for about the same price.  Vamos a ver!

On a different note, I finally bugged the person at the Ministry of Education enough that he offered to come to SCN to talk more about the Colegio Nocturno project (Night school – HS).  This is the project that I have been told numerous times that it’s already “set and done”.  It’s amazing how things change so quickly. I spoke with him last week and he told me everything is all set and to call him back on Friday for the start date (it was Tuesday when we spoke). I called him Friday morning (3x), nada. I called him Friday afternoon, nada. I called him again Monday morning (2-3x), nada. Again, Monday afternoon, nada. Finally, today, we spoke and he tells me that there is a rumor that they were going to start a night school in a nearby town. WHAT?!! No, no, no.  I think after all my “why’s” and “but you told me…”, I think he realized I wasn’t going to let this go so easily. So, we scheduled a meeting for this Thursday.  I’m supposed to make sure all interested parties will be present.  We have a list of names, but the list is also 3 years old. Apparently they’ve been trying to get this project up and running for over 3 years.

Another project is also about to take off. The Adultos Mayores is about to reconvene this Thursday and we’re going to discuss how we can start the building process for their very own casita.

I do hope I stay this busy (most) of the time and successfully carry out all the projects.

Days like these…

(Friday) I headed to Cartago in the morning to catch a bus to a different town for an evening meeting. Of course, can you guess? The meeting got canceled while I was on the bus. Nonetheless, I enjoyed a delicious mint mochachino and ham/cheese sandwich with fries at a café shop (well…I made it a café shop, but I’m sure they think I’m pretty weird staying there hours at a time with an order of just one drink – which is all this PCV can afford). On my way home, with a migraine, right when I was getting off the bus, I was approached to tutor a kid for his final 3rd grade English exam. I know this boy, he’s adorable, pudgy, and sweet, even with my migraine, how could I say no? (Actually I couldn’t say no since she was holding on to my wrist the entire time lol) I have to say, tutoring little children is pretty rewarding, especially after you walk him home, you go home with a cabbage in your hand!

Cabbage

Cabbage


(Saturday) Finally sweated – sweated! We played for almost 2 hours straight, 4 on 4 fútbol, then introduced them to a game of Ultimate Frisbee, they loved it! But also realized, either I’m out of shape or I’m starting to feel my age playing with these teen/young 21 year olds!

(Sunday) I was invited to go to a Trucha, a place where you would fish your own trout and they would prepare the dish for you. I went with, who I consider my closest friend/family in town, Doña Natalia. She called me last minute as I was making my cabbage soup. How can I say no? It’s fish! and great company. It was one of the yummiest food ever, in Costa Rica! Then at night, I had a movie date with el azucareño. An end to a perfect day.

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(Monday – today) I stopped by the escuela last week to ask the director if someone from the Ministry of Education contacted him about a night school program (long story – that’ll be for another blog), of course the answer is no.  So to make small chats, I told him “I would love to work with the school”, and it appears he loved the idea, so he invited me to come back, today. Long story short, one of the teachers is out due to an illness, and the director is supposed to be covering for him, well… What happened? We discussed that I was going to “assist” and to “observe”, but today, after observing one class, I ended teaching two!

Observing a class

Observing a class


First I sat to observe, then he asked me to help him write some things on the board, then he gave me the book, then he told me he has a meeting to go to, and then told me to review “these pages” with the class. I taught them, of all the subjects possible, Spanish! Yes, moi! The person who is LEARNING Spanish is TEACHING it to 23 students! I was giggling to myself the entire time since I did not know what I was doing or even saying, but I improvised, it went well. Then next period, I thought he would take over, the same thing happened, except this time he didn’t use the meeting excuse, he just gave me the book. At least this time it was Math! I’m saved!

Spanish (1)

Spanish (1)

Spanish (2)

Spanish (2)

Math

Math

I value $1 like never before (right now: do I have to have milk this week?), my comfort zone is expanding each day, I learn how to improvise in a different language, and I’m not only a motivator for others, but also for myself, in a completely different level.

Days like these make all the hardships worth it.

ToughER

I want to apologize if I’m boring you with all the bug (spider) posts, but here’s another, but possible the last since I finally killed one WITHOUT my Raid! The heart was still beating faster than normal and stomach a little woozy, but all is well.

First attempt with my sandal (and really praying that he doesn’t jump onto my hand): I ‘hit’ him but he squeezed himself to a corner wall, failed. Second attempt: I readjusted the position of how I swing my sandal, ‘hit’ him again but failed, he scattered away, fast! Third attempt: I semi-threw my sandal at the little bugger as he was fleeing, I succeeded.

I’m sorry to those who are bug lovers, but below is the before and after picture. (If they did not continuously wait for me outside my bedroom door, I would just avoid them)

Before

Before

After

After

More

What is it that makes some of us feel the need to go out and do/be “more”, while others are happy and content with exactly where/who they are? Is one better than the other? I guess it’s all about perspective. Although the desire to always wanting “more” pushes individuals to go further than others would go, the question is how far should one go? Whether you’re competing with others or with yourself, will you ever reach your “-er”? Will you one day believe you’ve actually reached your goal – bettER, fittER, smartER, etc.? Will it ever be enough? How much are you willing to lose in order to gain more? Will you one day get everything you’ve ever dreamed of or realize you’ve been chasing your own shadow all this time?  Is it possible to have a middle ground?

What makes us one or the other?

Adaptation

Approaching my 8th month in Costa Rica, I’ve adjusted and adapted to my new way of life.  One, I feel like I’m finally defeating my insectophobia. This little bugger greeted me right outside my door a few mornings ago. To my surprise, I actually wanted to take a picture of it, completely opposite of my past reactions (sweating, heart beating uncontrollably, dizziness, “running away”, etc.).  I gave it a little squirt of my Raid to chase it away from my door, but of course, instead, he turned around and went inside my room, probably pretty upset that I sprayed deadly chemicals on him. Long story short, my host mom hates it when I use my Raid, so she came in and killed, i.e. smeared, the bugger all over the floor (which I was trying to avoid).

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Another adaptation: postponed and canceled meetings. 8 months ago (well, really only a couple of months ago), I would be so upset, shaking my head, and to be honest, judgmental.  How can we get anything done, or how can I be of any help if we don’t meet?! But now, I’m more tolerant and a little bit more understanding. I challenge myself to find other ways, other means, to make sure we meet and be productive, somehow.

Another, finding productive activities to fill up one’s day. It’s pretty challenging when you’ve been working for a decade and used to having 8-10 hours of your day “planned out”. Knowing what needs to be accomplished, knowing the set meetings you’re going to attend to, knowing exactly what, when, where, and who you’re going to train, basically knowing your schedule.  I was aware when I joined Peace Corps that it will not be a 9-5 job, but it’s tougher than what I’ve imagined.  To be productive in Peace Corps, you have to constantly be the “motivator”, even to those who initially sought you out.  If that’s not demanding enough, try doing it all in a foreign language. I am grateful though, I’ve never thought of myself as one who stays much inside of one’s own comfort zone, until I was “forced” to contact strangers via phone!  Another reason why a PC work hour is so fantastic, I’m able to learn more about what I’m interested in or review a course I haven’t taken in over a decade. Hopefully this coursera.org online classes will be as useful to me as I have hoped. Today I start with my first 3 classes: Energy 101, Introduction to Finance, and Critical Thinking in Global Challenges. I’m excited!

On a different (less stressful) note, being in Costa Rica has given me a chance to meet new friends and discover new places.  It also helps when you get visitors, another reason to travel. I’ve traveled to a remote island in Nicaragua, beaches of Uvita and Manuel Antonio (2x), and even to a remote, privately owned “island”, Punta Coral.  During one of the micro-lender meetings, I met a guy who created the financial software system that FINCA is currently using. Long story short, I was invited to go to this “island” with his friends of friends. Being oversees as a PCV not only opens up so many more doors and opportunities, you also get to meet people on the exact opposite side of the socioeconomic spectrum, some you wouldn’t normally meet and converse with.  It has been an uplifting experience, in addition to being a humbling one as well.

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Leap of Faith

What is a leap of faith? Wiki defines it as “the act of believing in or accepting something intangible or unprovable, or without empirical evidence”. I joined Peace Corps believing in its missions, to promote world peace and help educate one another.

By taking this leap of faith, I’ve learned so much about myself and all the people in my life.  I look back at the decisions I’ve made in the past that led me to this day.  We create new friendships while losing old ones, opening unknown doors while leaving behind our comfort zones, replacing a lifestyle to one you never would imagine before, changes are inevitable as a Peace Corps volunteer.

A leap of faith of doing something good can also mean some sacrifices, so much how should we lose before we start gaining?

 

Not so Pura Vida

I’m not sure if it was dropping Johnnie off at the airport two days ago, or, Matías’ first birthday is today and everyone but me will be at the party tomorrow, or, finally going back to the “real world” to  a quite community, with “nothing” to do, or, maybe it’s a combination of all three, but today has been definitely a super bla day, to put it mildly.

I went to look for the handout Peace Corps gave us during training that talks about the “Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment”. All these months I thought I had it all, I was motivated, meetings after meetings, happy, determined…apparently I was going through an emotional issue of seeing things in “black and white” since I feel completely the opposite today.

Engagement (Month 4-8)
Emotional Issues: seeing the world in “black and white”, excitement/fear, anger/fascination, depression/joy, work/fun, anticipation/regression, loneliness/new friends, idealization/prejudice

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Well enough of the sad blog… I’ just going to tell myself – “who wouldN’T feel down after vacationing on an island in Nicaragua – with the significant other – after not seeing him for over 6 months, then eating lobsters everyday, un mónton de ceviche, diving in multiple places, beaches galore, then spending NYE on the street of Quepos with great friends??!!”  The End.

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6-month Anniversary

Time really does fly by…I set foot in Costa Rica exactly 6 months ago!

For a couple weeks now, I’ve been reflecting on my life and my work as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

“Have any of my goals changed?”… “Is Peace Corps really for me?”…“Was it worth leaving loved ones behind?”… “Am I really making a difference?”

Fortunately for me, choosing to be a volunteer has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  I’ve been tested in all aspects – mentally, physically, and emotionally – but I’ve gotten so much more in return.  We are truly privileged to be volunteers.

Am I really going to make a difference? Ticos’ most common response to everything: “Si Dios Quiere” (If God wants it) and I always reply to them, “Sí Dios Quiere” (Yes God wants it), which I hope is the answer to my question.

There are a few more projects I’ve been asked to facilitate, but the two biggest ones are creating a meeting space, i.e. a house, for the senior citizens and starting a high school in the community.  Where do I start?

After 3 months in site, we have a training called IST (In-Service Training), in San José and currently staying in a hoTel, not hoStel! It just makes me realize more and more how much we take the “little things” for granted, i.e. good hot water pressure showers, no bugs, TV in the room, comfortable pillows, and a gym (next door)!  What does this mean? Josie stays indoor.

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