Books That I have Read So Far....

  • I haven't read any more books cuz I'm dedicating my free time to learning the ukulele
  • Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  • A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan
  • Finding Fish by Antwone Q. Fisher
  • The Memory Keeper´s Daughter by Kim Edwards
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  • The World According to Garp by John Irving
  • Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

La Escuela Del Oriente...

I have been working at a new elementary school since March. I felt like last year was a constant struggle working at the elementary in the center of my town (where I did the world map and the read-a-thon). The crappy principle and uncooperative teachers just really wore me down. I heard there was a small school located on a farm at the edge of my town, about 4 kilometers away in a place called El Oriente (the orient). I decided that at the beginning of this school year in February I would go introduce myself and see if there was anything I could help with. I was going to wait a few weeks after school started to visit to let the beginning-of-the-year excitement die down and let them get into the swing of things. However, during the first week of school a man in my town told me that the principal of the elementary had sent him to ask me to come out there to talk about possible projects. I thought, “YESSS!!!! WOOOO!!!! YAY!” It was a great feeling to know that I was thinking of them and they were thinking of me!

It’s a school of 3 classrooms, a kindergarten room, and a cafeteria. There are 40 students from kindergarten through 6th grade. Kids come from various small communities in the area. Some walk for an hour to arrive at the school. The majority of the students come from very low-income families. Some are children of migrant workers in town for the coffee or sugar cane harvesting season. The school is located on a farm owned by a rich Costa Rican. The owner has sugar cane, cows, and high-class horses that are bred and sold. There are about 10 families that live on the town and are employees. The owner is hardly ever there, I met him once and he seems rich and nice enough.

The principle also teaches the 4th 5th and 6th graders in one room and the other teacher is with the 1st 2nd and 3rd graders in another classroom. Once a week they have PE, Music, and Religion. These teachers are ones that are assigned to give classes in all the schools in a district. In the district of Pejibaye there are 4 schools (Pejibaye, the one in the center of my town, the one up the hill in El Humo, El Oriente, and one in a place called Las Vueltas which is about 4 km away in a different direction). So, for example, the PE teacher teaches in Pejibaye Monday and Tuesday, then in El Humo on Wednesday, El Oriente on Thursday and then Las Vueltas on Friday. The principal and I talked and he mentioned that they want to paint something on one of the walls that faces the road in front of the school with the name of the elementary and a symbol of some sort. We would need to raise money for this to buy the paint etc. The school is in pretty bad condition; in one classroom parts of the ceiling are falling down, there is major paint chippage going on, and there is hardly anywhere for the kids to play during recess. As time has gone on, I have really come to regret not going out there earlier in my service. I could have used the few resources that Peace Corps provides to fund projects to help them out. Now its too late and the deadlines for the grants have passed because I have so little time left.

It just so happened that the volunteers in the Central Valley had decided to coordinate an event called Arte Por la Paz (Art for Peace). This consists of volunteers working individually giving anti-violence and pro-peace art workshops in their schools. Then, the volunteer selects a group of students to prepare different kinds of art within the same theme of peace and anti-violence. Then, all the volunteers and their groups come together to share the art, etc. I started working with the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders from El Oriente in the beginning of March and after doing 3 or 4 workshops with all 20 of the students I selected 10 students for my group. There are 3 doing visual arts, 1 doing poetry, and 6 doing dance. They have been preparing their art for the past month and on May 15th we will attend the “Arte Por la Paz” event together with the groups that the other volunteers are bringing.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Well, I know its been a while….I’m not going to make any excuses.

The 5th graders raising money to paint the lines on the basketball court was a success. We raised all the money by December and then had to wait for the climate to cooperate with us. During December and January we had a lot of rain and the court was saturated so it was impossible to paint. In February we finally had a week full of sun so we took advantage and painted.

The mini-company project with high school students went fairly well. They chose to make greeting cards. There were 19 students in 8th grade. Ideally, there should have been a professor from the high school to work with me for supervising purposes and also to become familiar with the program to continue it later on after I am gone. No professor could be convinced to sign on but I decided to do it alone anyway. I think the students learned a lot but we ended up losing money in the end. Selling shares to community members financed the company for $3.00 each with the idea that at the end we would have profits and be able to give more than the $3.00 they had invested. We ended up giving about $2.50 back to each shareholder. The program finished in late November.

In March, I started the same program with a different group in the high school. This time, I selected 12 students after conducting interviews with about 60. There is one student in 11th grade, six students in 10th grade, two in 8th grade, and three in 7th grade. We have decided to make a candy called “cajetas” which is a fudge-like candy made principally from milk and sugar. We are focusing on 4 flavors: coconut, peanut, milk, and Pejibaye (which I think is beach nut? I don’t know I’ve never seen it in the US. But my dad knows what it is! He tried them!). Anyway, this program ends on June 30th and then it will be up to us to see if the group or at least some of them would like to continue to make cajetas.

Another thing I´m working on is an event called Arte por la Paz or Art for Peace. I am working with 11 students from a small elementary school on the outskirts of my town. I really like working at this school because its smaller, the children come from households that are more rural and they have never really had contact with someone from a different country. Also, the administration is more cooperative than the elementary located in my town where I did the world map. So, Arte por la Paz is an event being organized by the volunteers in the central valley region of costa rica. There are 12 of us who are all working in schools giving workshops on peace, anti-violence, and conflict resolution. At the same time, our students are preparing art (visual arts, poetry, theater, or dance) within these themes. I have 2 boys doing poetry, 2 boys and 1 girl doing visual arts, and a group of 5 girls and 1 boy doing dance. We have been practicing and preparing our art to take to San Jose the day of the event where it will be shared with the kids of the other 11 groups. We will do workshops there, possibly listen to guest speakers, there will possibly be prizes, face painting, etc. It will be a great celebration of art and peace. The hardest thing has been trying to coordinate transportation to and from san jose. It costs about $100 to contract a mini-bus for 14 people which is a lot for a community/school to try to raise. I asked the local municipality for funding and was rejected. Now, I have asked the owner of a local bus company and he ¨said¨ he would lend us a bus for that day but since nothings written down I´m nervous....

March was full of visits. My dad came in the beginning of the month. Manuel Antonio, my site, and then Playa was a fabulous trip. I think we set a record of 1,600 miles put on a rental car. AND as far as I know we got away with putting a huge scratch on the back bumper because I was clumsey and backed into a ditch....
Then my brother came for his spring break at the end of March. We enjoyed time in my site as well as Cahuita. There were many girls, ladies, women, and grandmothers who were in awe of his presence and I have since received many bribes if I am able to convince him to come back and be a boyfriend to them.

Only 4 months left in my site....time has gone fast.....there are parts of me that are really ready to leave and get on with my life....however, the state of the economy scares me and makes me nervous to search for a job.....also I dont really know what I want to do. I´m glad I have a degree in Marketing but I feel like this experience has really changed my priorities. I would be interested in working with international aid or sustainable international development. Finding a job where I would be speaking spanish is key. Maybe working with immigrants....but i dont know if my studies qualify me for that. Its tough...

More to come later....hopefully sooner than later!

Much Love, Hope everyone is well.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Woke up at 7:00, ate breakfast (empanada with cheese inside and coffee). At 8:30 I went to the elementary school to try to film some of the fifth graders saying introductions and greetings to send to the class in the US. However, I had some technical difficulties (battery wasn’t charged), so we decided to postpone the idea until next week.

On Saturday and Sunday, I used some of the paint that is leftover from the map project to paint a hopscotch on the ground in the school. I brought my host sister and two of her friends to help out. I was rather disappointed with them because they weren’t really motivated and just wanted an excuse to play around in the school. I guess I assumed that they would be super stoked to do it with me and so I just kind of told them to come along without even asking. Anyhow, the hopscotch turned out good – I finished it on Sunday – and today when I went to the school it had been used so much that the paint is already wearing away!!!

I’m also still working on the whole Read-A-Thon idea to do in the elementary. I’m not exactly sure how psyched the teachers are to try to promote it with me but I’m going to keep up the enthusiasm.

I also went to the High School to try to make some copies but the copy machine wasn’t working. Next week I am starting a Junior Achievement program with a group of 8th graders where they will pick a product to make and learn about Finance, Production, and Marketing at the same time. They will basically be forming their own company, selling stocks, electing a board of directors, doing a marketing plan, production plan, etc. There are many other groups throughout the country participating as well and there are three times that we will all go to San Jose to meet. Once, to do a product launch fair, then to sell the product at a product fair, and finally to have the closing/awards ceremony.

In the afternoon, I went to the meeting of the Board of Directors of the Elementary to ask their permission to use the computer lab in the elementary to give my computer classes. I had also asked permission of the High School but they said no. Their reasoning was that the computers were very old and that there was no security guard in the high school at the hours that I wanted to give the class. I wanted to use the high school computer lab because it has a video beam which makes it easier to teach the classes because I can connect a computer that I work on to the video beam and the students can see what I do before they try it themselves.

Later on I attempted to make donuts to have with afternoon coffee…they turned out pretty well!

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Woke up at 7:30 and ate breakfast (empanada with beans inside and coffee). I headed out to ride my bike for exercise and ended up stopping by and visiting the womens group that makes bamboo souvenirs. They are preparing products for the church fair that starts this Friday and lasts two weekends. I helped them out for a while painting. After finishing the world map I have really started to miss painting. They gave me lunch (rice, black beans, noodles with canned corn, fried banana, and lemonade). At about 12:30 I headed off to finish my bike ride, which took me through sugar cane fields and over two rivers before arriving home. Took a shower. Then headed to the high school to see about making the copies I had wanted to make yesterday. After waiting about a half hour just standing there looking stupid the lady finally made my copies. Then I went to the elementary school to introduce the World Fair activity to one group of the 6th graders. They formed pairs and chose their countries. They seem fairly interested in the idea. Tomorrow I will go to talk to the other group. They will be able to look for information about their countries in Encarta during their weekly computer class and I also think there are some Encyclopedias in the library they can use.

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Today woke up at 7:00 and took a cold shower. Now I am used to the cold showers we have here…..its the same temperature as the river which is pretty cold. I feel cleaner and more refreshed with cold showers. Besides, its too hot here to be taking hot showers because you would leave the bathroom sweating just like you entered. I ate breakfast, which was an arepa with mashed up banana mixed into it and coffee.

I went to the Center for Nutrition to talk to the lady in charge. This is a place where new mothers go to learn about taking care of their babies. The center also offers meals to little kids and a kind of educative day care/pre kindergarten. The kids who frequent the center are between 2 and 4 years old. There are also times when the center gives out powdered milk to the mothers for their little kids. To be able to work at the Nutrition Center, the lady in charge needs me to write a letter asking to be able to participate that she has to turn in to her boss. I went to find out her boss’ name to get the letter done and turned in. I know she is interested in me doing some paintings on the walls of some of the rooms inside the center. Like just about everyone else here, she thinks I am a painting expert after she saw the world map and doesn’t know that I had to rely religiously on my grid method to not mess up! But I think things will be fine because whatever kind of thing we decide to paint can be applied to the wall using the same grid method. I would also like to do some kind of activities with the little kids…..maybe some arts and crafts, sock puppet hour, or read to them….who knows.

Later on, I got an ice cream and sat in the plaza. Two girls who are in 6th grade and participated in painting the world map came over and sat with me and we chatted. One girl lives way up in the surrounding mountains and it takes her about an hour to walk from her house to school. She has to leave her house at 6:00 am to get to school here in the center by 7:00 am. We watched as some guys came in a big truck and started putting together a big tent that will be used to cover the dance floor for the church festival that starts tomorrow.

I visited the elementary school later on to talk to the librarian about the Read-A-Thon. We finished up the description/outline of the activity and asked for permission from the director to be able to introduce the activity to the rest of the teachers at their staff meeting on Monday. He said yes, and has seemed to have forgotten about trying to limit the read-a-thon to only first through third graders, which is great because we are going with the idea of including second grade through sixth grade. So, on Monday the plan is to introduce the activity and ask the teachers to arrange a meeting with the parents of their students to give them information (because the kids will be reading in their houses and the parents will need to be monitoring them). We will also pick a start date and figure out what kinds of awards we want to give out. The librarian had a different take when it came to awarding the prizes and I found it kind of hard to communicate with her. I had planned on giving each kid that reads the number of pages assigned for his/her grade a prize (a book of course). This way, the kids have a specific number of pages they are shooting for as a minimum and they know that if they reach it they will win something. However, the librarian wants to have a test for all of the students that supposedly reach the goal. She wants to have them read out loud to evaluate if they have improved enough and to judge if they should get the prize. I think this is ok, however, I would imagine that most of the reading the kids will be doing is silent so judging them on how well they read out loud would not be a good way to test if they have gotten better. On the other hand, my host sister cant read silently because she hasn’t developed that skill and I think there are many kids that are the same way. If this is true and the kids would be reading out loud then the test would be fine.

At 2:00 I went to the high school to help out with the group of kids that are working on making the community newsletter. When I got there the professor in charge said that most of the kids had left because they have an exam tomorrow. However, I saw a bunch of them just sitting at a pick nick table in the high school. I think the professor didn’t want to have the newsletter session because he was working with some other kids on something else. A lot of the professors here are like this, the projects are run almost entirely by them and if they don’t want to have class they just cancel and the kids don’t do anything about it. In the case of this newsletter, the sessions need to happen regardless of whether the professor can be there or not. I find these kinds of subjects hard to approach because I don’t want to seem like I am telling the professors what to do. But seriously, in the end this professor will eventually end up leaving the high school and if the group of kids making the newsletter depend too much on him then the project will never survive.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Woke up at 5:00 am with a terrible sore throat. I have had a bad sore throat for the past couple of days. I think my tonsils are flaring up. I stayed in bed and dozed on and off until 7:00. I ate the usual breakfast (arepa and coffee) and went to the elementary school to talk with the other group of 6th graders about the World Fair. This group seemed equally enthused about the idea. The elementary school kids had classes only from 7:00 am until 9:00 am and then were going to march in a …..ahem…..Pro-Life March throughout the town……ahem. Yeah.

At 8:30 I stopped by the high school to coordinate the schedule of the Junior Achievement class I will give to the 8th graders. We decided on Thursdays from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm and Fridays from 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm. The classes start on September 4th and go until November 18th.

Today started off really hot and sunny until about 1:30 when it started to rain and cooled down a bit. That is the usual weather pattern during this time of year. I like it because we get the hot during the day and then at night its cool enough to sleep with a blanket. There is nothing I hate more than feeling all hot and sticky at night while trying to sleep so I feel lucky about my situation.

After going to the high school I didn’t have anything else to do and didn’t want to just hang around my site for the rest of the day so I decided I would go to Turrialba to use the internet, go to the bank, and mail a card. I ended up getting a free ride there AND back from the Catholic Priest here in town. As soon as I got in the car the priest started scolding me (more or less) because I had not helped out with the church festival. This frustrated me because I had tried to help out! He had told me about a planning meeting for the festival about 3 weeks ago and I showed up but there was no meeting because not enough of the members showed up to be able to make formal decisions. Then I asked the lady who is in charge of one of the main activities if there was anything I could do. She told me she would get back to me and then never did. This is something that I deal with a lot….people or groups say they want help…..I go to help them….they aren’t there or aren’t prepared to tell me what it is they need help with…..and then they get mad and put the blame on me when I don’t end up doing anything with them. I think there are a lot of communication errors still and with time this will get better. So, anyway, we went to Turrialba. It took us 15 minutes when it usually takes an hour in bus. We got there at about 10:45 and left at 1:30 to come back.

Later on, I went to the town center where everything is set up for the church fair. There are mechanical rides, trampolines, food stands, crappy toys stands, a bar, and a dance floor. I sat on a bench along the soccer field and watched my little host sister play soccer for a while and then gave her a ride back to the house on my bike.

Saturday 30 / Sunday 31, 2008

This weekend was the start of the church fair. I helped out in the kitchen serving food and cleaning. I was surprised at how many people from outside Pejivalle came to walk around and buy things. There were a few stands of local producers selling things. I was happy to see that one lady who I worked with and convinced to rent a stand in the last community fair had rented a stand for this one as well. She makes clothes like pajamas, shirts, curtains, etc. It’s great that she is having success and I hope she continues participating in other fairs in the future. The women’s group that makes souvenirs out of bamboo also had a stand, as well as women who are taking a class being put on by the International Institute of Apprenticeship on how to make fruit concentrates, jams, and marmalades. In this fair, all of the proceeds from the sales of food in the kitchen go towards fixing the church.
Monday, September 1st, 2008

Today I woke up at 7:30 and ate breakfast (arepa and coffee). At 8:00 I went to the elementary school to sell some ice creams that the group of 5th graders in the project to repaint the basketball court made. At 10:30, I went over to my host mom’s mom’s house because my host mom’s sister and her friend had asked me if I could practice English with them. At 2:00 I went to the staff meeting at the elementary to talk to the teachers about the Read-A-Thon. The idea was that each teacher would organize a parents meeting that I could go to to introduce the parents. They all raved about the idea but then when the time came to tell me when their next parents meeting would be they all told me they would let me know which isn’t a good sign in Costa Rican culture. At about 4:00 I went up to talk to a parent who had asked to talk to me about starting a Boy Scout group. She had worked with a group of Boy Scouts that her son was participating in for about 10 years. Then their family moved here about 3 months ago and she wants to start a group here. I think it would be a great idea because a big problem in my town is that there aren’t enough things for kids to do here. We left off in that we are going to go talk to the director of the elementary school (my best friend!) to see if he can help us promote the idea to kids and parents. Afterward, I headed back to my house and stopped to buy a deodorant along the way and to check to see if the Development Association (DA) has a meeting tonight. I have been going to their meetings with an elderly man (named Manuel) because we are interested in trying to put in a small post office in our town. The DA is the association that needs to send official cards asking the national post office to put an office in our town. We have been going for about 2 months now and the project has not moved along. The DA has a pretty bad reputation right now because they hardly do anything. Manuel and I (and everyone else in our town) know the DA isn’t going to do anything any time soon so we want them to let us form a committee to do the work. They are basically the local government, which means that the people here should be able to look up to them and go to them with their ideas, comments, and concerns. Right now they are not setting a very good example for the community. Anyway, their meeting ended up being tomorrow at 6:00 so I will go with Manuel to see if they have done.

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Today I went with my host sister and host mom to work at the greenhouse that is owned by the women’s group my host mom participates in. They mainly have sweet peppers planted, but they also have cilantro, green beans, beans, lettuce, chives, mini squash, and hot peppers. I was working with my host sister and two other members of the group to prepare a patch of dirt and then plant lettuce.
I got a call from the secretary of the board of directors of the elementary school saying that I could start my second round of computer classes!!! YAY!!! I’m going to be teaching pretty much all week long from 5 to 7 pm starting next week.

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Today was weird. I woke up with a kind of sore throat. The sore throat I had had faded away yesterday and now this is more of a beginning-of-a-cold kind of sore throat. I went to the elementary to sell more ice creams at the 8:20 to 8:40 recess. I sold 8 including one that I ate. How barbaric…eating ice cream at 8 in the morning! Then I had to go back to the school at 10:00 to meet with the director and the lady who is interested in starting a boy scout group here. When we entered the director’s office, the director decided to address a conflict that had happened between the woman’s daughter and the daughter’s teacher. They ended up talking/fighting for a good half hour during which I sat there not really knowing what to do….sit there…go outside and wait for them to finish….how awkward! I ended up more or less sitting there. While sitting there, I started to feel my cold getting worse because it was so hot inside the office. I sneezed about 8 times in a row, was sweating, my nose started running, and my soar throat intensified. We finally started talking about the Boy Scouts idea. The director seems all for it and we left off in that we will start promoting the idea to the students and their parents. I went home and immediately took a shower and then lay down on the couch, which helped a lot.