Monday, June 27, 2011


It's been a bit since I've written anything, I've never been much on sharing things much less feelings on the internet where they are open to all, so I'll try to keep this emotionless and obscure as possible. That's supposed to be a joke... The last 5 months, I guess its been that long, have been interesting. My parents visited me in April/May, it was refreshing to see them in person after so long. Their excitement for me rubbed off a little a bit and they left me feeling confident in my Spanish and my work, but thats what parents are for. It was the first time I've ever left them at the airport, its always been the other way around, me going off to travel or to university. It was a strange feeling, lonely mixed with something like proud independence. I got back to my community uncertain of myself. Right before they came a friend from NYC came to visit with his buddy, and in the month before that I had a 2 week training in San Jose, a trip to Chirripo (the tallest mountain in Costa Rica and I think in the 50's worldwide), and another 2 day training. I was afraid my intermittent absences would reflect negatively on me, we were told in training of the "Cuerpo de Paseo" a play on words for those who don't know spanish changing Peace Corps to Passing or Vacationing Corps. Luckily it didn't but my 3 english classes fell casualty. I was upset at first, I had told my classes exactly when they would resume and somehow everyone forget. The intro to administration class I had planned to start on my return also fell victim.
Thinking about it led me down a darker path to doubt. All they were were english classes, something I had not been terribly excited about doing in the first place, if I wanted to teach english I would have signed up to do so. If that was all I was doing in the community then what was the point? I liked living there, the people and the nearby park, I liked traveling and the idea of doing more of it in the future, I liked all the other volunteers that I had become close to but without it being professionally rewarding it seemed empty. And somehow it all came together after that, like all it needed was just a little more time. I thought that by 3 months I would be working on big projects without realizing that I wasn't working on my timeline anymore. That I was thinking in the timeframe of days but the people I were working with were thinking in terms of weeks and months even if they told me different. I didn't want to teach too much English and now I didn't have to and without the awkwardness of canceling a course, I still keep a weekend community class. One day during a monthly Tour Guide meeting i realized that I was relevant with a respected opinion when I heard some of my previous comments reiterated by the members. A local cooperative that told me there were going to buy more computers to create a space for members and community class, well they haven't yet but they asked me to start with giving the board of directors computer instruction and eventually helping with understanding financial statements and expanding business skills. Last week, I led the introductory meeting to start a "Empresa de Credito Comunal," a community owned and operated micro-finance business that combines the formation process with an educational program for the shareholders going through every aspect of the business. An organization that I will support and an educational program that I will teach or to be more Peace Corps correct an educational program that I will facilitate. And there's talk of helping the local agricultural center (that represents more than 100 local farmers) with project development (think bio-digestors, implementing farming and livestock techniques, and researching crops to introduce in the area that would add value and diversity).
So I find myself now suddenly satisfied, excited about current and prospective projects. June 17th marked 6 months of official service with only 18 months to go. All I can say is that none of it turned out like I expected but that doesn't mean it isn't something I want. I took an intensive introductory French course my last semester of college expecting to be sent to West Africa, and I remember when being told Costa Rica feeling put off about the whole thing. Here I am now, while I feel like I somehow cheated the system and got Costa Rica, I can't really complain that the US Government is paying me to live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. (That is not to say that it does not benefit from or is not in need of Peace Corps service.) I don't think I could take a weekend or a day off and go surfing if I was volunteering in West Africa. I admit I used to feel anxious the first couple months that the service would pass too slow, that I wouldn't achieve anything, and that the world would pass me by. Now i feel anxious that the next 18 months will pass too fast, that I won't see the effect of my projects or won't have the time to adequately explore central america while I'm so close by.
Admittedly, I write this on a good day after a good week. In the month ahead my brother will visit me and I will finally move out into my own house, which makes me think positively of the future. And while I make light of my experience sometimes, talking about beach weekends or surfing, it can be trying. I know in the future as in the past there will be times when I miss New York or Montreal, and the people in them. That some nights its hard not to remember that I am living alone in a foreign land, a feeling made worse when I have had a week without much work or where I felt ineffective. It can be frustrating when my spanish skills fail me, its not exactly professional to go searching in the dictionary while teaching an english class. It can be frustrating when working on projects with organizations and doing in 2 hours what could have taken me 5 mins because the passing of knowledge and skills is as important as the completion of the task. Sometimes, you go a little cabin crazy and need an night away, a beer, and the company of other volunteers to break out of it. In the interest of staying sane and not losing all my university education, I try to read a lot (a task made easier now with a kindle) and signed up to take the CFA exam in December. It also helps to have something to work towards, a family or friend's visit, a weekend trip, or even a trip back to the States, which in my case wont be until Dec 22nd.
So in conclusion for anyone concerned I am still alive and doing well, although every day is a battle with the heat that causes you to sweat even when you are sitting down at your desk doing absolutely nothing. You would think the daily rain would cool things down but it doesn't.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Today marks one month of service, another 23 to go. Taking a moment to reflect, this first month of service passed by fast. Some days quicker than others, if I had a meeting with a local organization or played a little soccer in the afternoon. Many others passed by slower, with nothing planned and either intense rain or intense sun keeping me from straying too far from the house. I can't remember what I expected a month ago to have happened or to be feeling right now. I feel comfortable here most days but I'm not so foolish to realize that I've only been here a short time and to most people I'm not yet a permanent fixture. It makes me impatient to start projects or classes when I really need to start out slow and get to know the community more. I guess its been a hard month in that sense, first with the holidays when life slows down so there's not much to do but to think about my family and friends celebrating and contemplate my commitment. Afterwards, there is the waiting, waiting for people I have met to call, waiting for meetings, and then for follow up meetings. But I guess that is part of the experience, most likely rife with life lessons and one I'll be all the stronger for having.
Hopefully in the future I'll have more positive things to talk about in relation to work. Although I have met a lot of good people and as time passes I'm confident that it will all come together. I'm excited in particular to work with a group of tour guides in the area, if nothing else because they'll show me all the awesome waterfalls and spots in the area. I'm reading my first book in spanish by a Costa Rican that my host father lent me, it's slow going because I have the book ("A Ras del Suelo") in one hand and the dictionary open in my other hand. In general my Spanish is passable, although I need to expand my vocabulary and practice my grammar before I develop some bad habits. I've been to the beach a couple times, surfed and gotten a little color, it's nice to have little mini-vacations and step away from my community and host family and have that time for myself. I'm getting a little better at soccer, it's a great way to work of all the rice and beans I've been eating.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Finally made it to my site after 2 ½ months of training. Technically speaking today is already day 6 of 730 of my service, already almost 1% done, seems almost short in those terms. Things are going well with my new host family, although it will take some time to adjust to my new life. During training there was always something to do and because of our proximity to San Jose the pace of life just seemed faster. Its a different feeling being here not quite knowing yet what my place in the community will be but I guess that's part of the experience.
Since my last post I have visited Piedras Blancas for a couple days before actually moving here, had a family party for our previous host families, wrapped up training, and officially swore in as a Peace Corps volunteer. The days passed quickly, while training seemed tedious at times I'm sad that its over. Swearing in was interesting, kind of surreal, it felt like I was graduating from college or high school again. One of my favorite parts of the ceremony was swearing to defend the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, seemed a little odd given our work and that they don't give us guns. The next day was weird, saying quick goodbyes to other volunteers as we all went our seperate ways, catching buses to different parts of the country. It's a little lonely knowing that we're farther apart and that for most of us there aren't any other gringos in the area. Before I become more integrated in the community and actually start projects it's hard not to look forward to seeing the other volunteers again for New Years, a regional volunteer meeting, the Superbowl, or mid-service training. Which is not to say that I'm not excited to be here and become a part of the community.
My community is located off the Interamerican highway, a little more than an hour from Panama. The whole southern coast of Puntarenas is dominated by palm and wood plantations, and national parks and private reserves. The bus ride to my site is 6-7 hours, but its not bad as long the bus takes the coastal route and you can see the beach and the ocean every now and then. The window in my room looks onto my host family's palm farm, which borders a national park when it hits the river. The town is more of what I imagined when I thought about Costa Rica before I arrived, spread out houses, dirt roads, and hot. Although the heat makes me appreaciate the cold showers I used to fear in the mornings when I was living by San Jose in the mountains.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year because I doubt I'll write again before then. It's hard not to think about Christmas with my family around a tree or New Year's Eve with friends spending way too much time on the subway.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The second half of training is going by a lot quicker than the first half. I went on a weekend trip to San Jose a couple weeks ago, it is really bustling in the day but at night the downtown area gets empty. I feel like I generally know my way around it now and feel comfortable getting around on my own. It was nice to get away from my training community for a bit and hang out with the other volunteers. The weekend after we used our other out-of-site weekend to go to Puerto Viejo in Limon, and that's how after over 2 months in Costa Rica I finally made it to the beach. It was interesting to see Limon, even if it was at more of a touristy spot. The beaches were beautiful and the weather was more or less agreable. I won't go into the bus ride, lets just say it was long but some things can't be helped, and there are going to be many more to come so there's no use complaining.

It's weird to think that 6 months ago I was still in Montreal. I miss it sometimes, the people, the city, not the winters though, it all feels so long ago and that makes me think about the things I did and wish I had done. And just when I was set on becoming a New Yorker again, bam I end up in Costa Rica. I don't mean to give off the impression that I'm anything but excited and happy to be here. I guess I'm only reminiscing because I found out my site for the next 2 years, and its hard to think about the future without considering the past. I like my training community and my host family, but I'm really excited to move on to the next part in my journey. I'm going to be living in the South of Puntarenas, in Piedras Blancas in the Osa Province. I'm excited about it just from looking where it is on the map and reading the info they gave me on the community, I can't wait to actually see it and live it.

Possible goals/non-work related ways to pass the time over the next 2 years: learn to surf, learn to play the guitar, study for the CFA (kind of boring but might keep me sane), get Messi good at futbol (thats soccer for you gringos), suggestions are welcome

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Went on a site visit to Guancaste last weekend. It was enlightening to see how different life is in more rural areas. It was good to talk to a current volunteer and get an impression of the challenges and opportunities that I may have to face in the future. I think what struck me the most was how people can adapt to technology but keep other elements, for example everyone seemed to have a TV but they still cooked on wood fires. It was also important to have something to compare life in my training communities to. Here everyone commutes to San Jose to work while the people in the town in Guanacaste still rely on fields and pastures to make a living and have a different set of economic and social issues. Guanacaste is beautiful too, a lot hotter though. I also got my first exposure to how much Costa Ricans love soccer. I heard it a million times but I didn't really believe it until my 2 hour car ride to another town, where they played and watched soccer for 6 hours, stopping only when it was too dark to see the ball.
The trip was exciting and informative. I thought that being in the campo and meeting new people would be my "welcome to costa rica," turns out my real "welcome costa rica" would be the trip back to my training community. A 6 hour return trip turned to 14 when the river flooded onto the road and the only bus leaving the site I visited decided that it wasn't up to crossing that day. After wading through the thigh high water, waiting for an hour for a bus to Santa Cruz, and waiting an another hour to get on the bus to San Jose I thought that I would at least be home in time for dinner. Only to be disappointed when a semi broke down at the entrance of bridge forcing the bus to find another way around, a detour that added 2 hours to the trip. The battery in my Ipod ran out shortly after. I got home late and tired, but not dejected or disillusioned instead proud that my spanish didn't fail me when I needed it and prouder still that when push came to shove I rolled with the punches and made it back.
I'm writing this on the 4th, exactly a month after I got on a plane to Washington and started this 2+ year adventure. I found that I've really settled into life here. Heavy rains have caused all sorts of problems in Costa Rica, the least of which are that Peace Corp training classes have been canceled for the rest of the week. While school children nationwide are probably rejoicing I found myself disappointed. I was rather looking forward to the classes, so that I could work on my Spanish, see the other volunteers, and learn more about the country. I don't think 2 years will ever stop seeming like a long time but with each day I feel more prepared, more excited, and more confident that I will be a good PCV.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Survived my first two weeks of training living with a host family in a town about an hour bus ride outside San Jose. I'm their fourth volunteer which makes the transition easier. They are all very nice and being surrounded by spanish can only help me learn. It's funny that no matter where you go and how different the culture is, mothers are still mothers, and kids are still kids. I've settled into a nice routine and so far all the food agrees with me, simple but tasty. I have classes Monday through Friday, and soon will have activities on the weekends too. Some times class feels like school again but thats usually just a sign that I need more coffee. It's a little weird for me to be sitting in a classroom that's not in a high school or university and to be learning to learn not just to pass a test. It's a good feeling. It's nice to be responsible for your own education and to be motivated to learn because you will need to the skills to excel in a job that is within sight. We went into San Jose in on Wednesday, it was weird being in a big city again. Especially one that's very different from NYC or Montreal, it was a good experience though and we got to go to the Peace Corps office.
Although it's only been about 3 weeks since I left it feels like more, probably because the two worlds are so different. It's hard to think that my friends and family are far away and that I'll be missing important parts of their lives. For the moment there is an internet cafe in my community and that helps. While NYC will always be my home, I'm really enjoying the change of scenery. To be surrounded by mountains instead of skyscrapers, fresher air, to see vast areas of green diversity and the odd farm animal. I've done a lot of walking, the roads are hilly because we're in the mountains but that just makes for better exercise. Even the busier road (no s) is beautiful and has its share of views, finally started to remember to always pack my rain jacket. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I imagine that the arrival for a Peace Corps volunteer in any country must be surreal. After going through customs we were whisked to a retreat for orientation where as many questions where answered as news ones were created. The goals and methodology of our respective groups and the peace corps as a whole were drilled into our heads, as they most likely will be for the rest of training and after. It is easy to find solidarity in fellow volunteers that hail from all walks of life but are united by our incomprehensible decision to take the same path. Before we could get accustomed to what will in the months to come seem to be a cushy life at the retreat, we moved in with our host families in training communities that we will call home for the next 10 weeks. True to the Peace Corps philosphy of immersion and integration, it seems to work as I have spoken more spanish in the last couple days than in a year of class in high school. I would say more about visions and technical skills but I don't feel justified having spent barely a week here. No matter how much I would like to say different I am a beginner here, to the culture, to many of technical skills, and to the language but I'm excited and motivated to learn. Ultimately it was a week of firsts. It was the first time I considered myself to be moved out of my parent's house, because college doesn't really count. The first time I had gallo pinto and many other Costan Rican foods. So far I haven't found any that I dislike or had to deal with Montezuma's revenge, that probably isn't a politically correct term. I used my new rain jacket for the first of many times. I survived my first earthquake and my first ride on Costa Rican public transportation, both without injury. Maybe with time I'll grow tired of the rice and the beans and the rain, but for now it's all new to me and I'm looking forward to tomorrow and the days after.