Last September after being away from Katsi for almost 7 weeks, I returned to Katsi expecting… some unwanted guest. I was aware, that leaving my house unattended could lead to creatures thinking it was their home. Once after coming home after being away only a week, there were three bats who thought it was their home…

So I came prepared, I begged my PCV friend Whitney, Snake killer extraordinaire to come with me to Katsi. I lured her with promises of fried chicken and boxed wine, afternoons swimming in rivers, and a nice relaxing week with me.  None of that happened…

Upon getting to my house, we realized it needed a DEEP clean, so we decide to start with my bedroom, sweeping and dusting and such. As we move the bed, a GIANT rat flies about from behind it and zips to the kitchen. I swallow my panic, look for it, and quickly come to the happy conclusion that it had escaped, out of sight, out of mind. We kept cleaning, moved to the living room, cautious for more rodents, luckily we found none. We started in the kitchen, washing dishes, cleaning the counters. Whitney, a much better, more thorough cleaner than I, decides to lift my counter top  gas stove to clean under it, at which point RATS START SWARMING ALL OVER HER FEET. I screamed. She screamed. The stove was dropped. Hot mess.

I ran down to get my neighbor, who laughed, came up with a broom, and when Whitney lifted the stove again, he started whacking them. After about 5 minutes there were 3 dead baby rats, the rest of the nest had gotten away. It was disgusting. But it didn’t end there.  When we lifted under the stove to finish cleaning we found three more waiting, Whitney handled it. I realized that I’m useless when it comes to rats. (picture me having a panic attack while my friend and neighbor swiftly massacre a family of nasty rats.)

I’ve since gotten rid of them… I think! Took about three weeks but I haven’t seen any, or traces of them in a few months.

What else did I find in my house? Two different sets of bees making their hives inside my home, one in my bedroom! And ants also wanted to grow their larva in a box in my bathroom… guess I have a welcoming home party!

It’s not much, it may have lots of unwanted tenants at times, but it’s home. It’s the Pacio Palacio.

So what’s the lesson learned? 1 – Whitney can kill anything, and she can also stay calm and convince me to stay calm, even when she knows its nasty as hell. 2 – I’m not meant for hand to hand rodent combat, my style is and always will be letting poison do the dirty work for me. (Poison or Whitney)

Tips for rodent control:

Poison is best.

Probably best to avoid sticky traps as they require you to dispose of whatever you catch.

Befriend Whitney

Don’t leave ANY food outside of plastic boxes if you live in the campo.

pacio palacio

Last March I hosted 4 volunteers from the organization Partners of Oregon. They came to teach English at the elementary schools, in part to test the possibility of them sending more long term volunteers. While they were here they told us about a possible exchange opportunity for high school students. Every year 25 U.S. students travel to Costa Rica for two months in July and August to learn Spanish and participate in a culture exchange, and 25 Costa Rican students travel to Oregon for two months in December and January.

I immediately thought of several of my students for this opportunity. A chance to live with an American family, go to a local high school, spend the holidays abroad is life changing. After discussing with a couple of families, and discussing the steps necessary, it was only possible for Erick, my host brother, to apply for the exchange.

One of the best parts of my service has been getting to know my 16 year old host brother Erick. From when I first arrived he was my buddy. Though a bit shy he loves to talk, share and ask questions. He showed me around the different communities, took me to the best swimming hole, and eventually became an amazing ally in town. He’s helped me with my game days and sports camps, and although he can be a brat at times (standing outside my bedroom door at 6am making noise so I’d come out and play) I can say he’s a pretty amazing kid.

The application process lasted almost 2 months, and in October we found out he’d been accepted and also that the program would half the cost for him and the other two indigenous students. They are the first three participants from Talamanca. Throughout the months of October and November Erick participated in workshops and activities preparing him for his trip in San Jose. Meanwhile, his parents doubled their efforts to save some money, and I helped set up a page online to fund-raise the remaining costs for the trip. His parents also had to make several trips with him to San Jose for the training’s, the passport and visa appointments, something that was costly, time consuming and no easy task with two kids under 3 years old. The last step in the process was getting a visa for Erick. I was almost hesitant to talk about his going abroad until the visa was secured because it was something that was 100% out of our hands… but then three weeks before his trip, he was given the visa and so it was official, Erick was travelling to Oregon.

He left on December 7th, he’ll spend one month with the Merrill family in a rural part of Oregon, he’ll attend high school with his host brother, and spend his 16th birthday and Christmas with them as well. Then, in January, he will switch to another family in an urban setting. He’ll hopefully get to see the previous PC volunteer that lived with him and his family, Dan, who lives in Seattle. He’ll explore Oregon, each new foods, and with some luck, come back with a better grasp of English.

I’m proud of him for going. He’s shy but is doing something different, putting himself out there in ways most teens would never do. Travelling to another country, where they speak a different language, by yourself at 16 isn’t easy, especially if you’ve barely ever left your home town. He didn’t even bat an eye lash when it was time to go.

It’s been a week and he seems to be having a blast. I’ve been keeping up with him via his host mother’s facebook. He said it was cold right after landing in Oregon, while still in the airport! I hope he sees lots and lots of snow…. So far he’s been to school for a week, had delicious bacon and other yummy foods, helped his host family find their Christmas tree, and found that he loves the family lazy chair. He is with an incredibly welcoming and warm family, with two host brothers he seems to be clicking with, and two awesome host parents who are really making him feel at home.

Thank you to everyone who supported Erick during this process, I believe this will make a tremendous impact on the rest of his life.

erick beard

erick cutting downa tree

erick eating bacon

erick family christmas pic

erick hot chocolate

erick lazy chair

merrill family

All the volunteers I know who have hosted a JumpStart always say it flies by and they are right! It’s been three weeks since JumpStart Katsi launched and so far it’s been great. 31 kids from the area come every day at 7am, some walk over an hour just to get to the high school.

The first week was fun and challenging. Getting to know the kids, getting a feel for their educational level as well as setting the rules . We started with the basics, “hello, what is your name, nice to meet you etc.” A few of the kids had received some English from me for a few months, and for them, this was a breeze, others had never spoken it at all, and it was significantly more challenging. I had three amazing people helping me, PCV Carl, PCV America and a friend from Spain/England Raquel. Having them was great, it felt like we could be everywhere at once.

IMG_6086

IMG_6105 IMG_6089 IMG_6161 IMG_6193 IMG_6191

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My JumpStart team included Fabian a University Student and Erick, Jasmin and Yerlin, two high schoolers. Fabian is studying to be an English teacher and is helping with the camp Monday through Thursday. He asked if he could participate in order to gain teaching experience as well as practice English. It’s been great having him, and also to see his English improve. I also asked some local teens in the area, Erick, my host brother, Yerlin and Jasmin, two 7th graders to come help. They help keep the kids in order and also have an opportunity to practice English.

IMG_6427 IMG_6429 IMG_6114

 

The first week also included Halloween, it’s typically not celebrated here so the kids really loved it! We did scary voices and talked about it being the most magical day of the year, and then of course, masks and face paint!

 

IMG_6668 IMG_6504

IMG_6238 IMG_6230 IMG_6220 IMG_6211 IMG_6205 IMG_6201 IMG_6197 IMG_6196

IMG_6648

 

Every day starts with the “good morning song” and a review of the rules, and ends in giving out the homework for the next day and a delicious lunch prepared by my host aunt. 

The second week was a bit more challenging. At this point it was clear which were the more outgoing students and which were the quieter ones. The kids themselves started to relax and out came their nasty side. The unfortunate side of working with preteens and young teens is that they are MEAN! The girls were quite harsh to each other, and really good at giggling and making fun of others in the class, and the boys are just rough. All of this was expected, except it culminated in one girl threatening another little girl. What surprised me was that students who were shy and would stay silent when asked to participate would then laugh at the students who tried but mispronounced the words. Week two felt like a never ending session of me talking about empathy, respect and the rules. One mother even called me to tell me she was pulling her daughter out of the camp because of the bullying which led to me having conversations with other mothers and students and the little girl herself asking her mother to be allowed to return, which luckily she did.

PCV’s Brittany and Alicia, who will be doing a JumpStart in their sites in January, were with me during the second week, and their patience and hard work was much appreciated. They made really awesome materials, did great small group work, and helped give the kids more one on one attention.

IMG_6338 IMG_6332 IMG_6336 IMG_6327 IMG_6326 IMG_6324 IMG_6313 IMG_6318 IMG_6321 IMG_6322

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third week third week felt like the kids and I were really clicking. Aside from your expected issues (locked out of the kitchen until almost lunch time… ooops!) it was great. It seems kids are learning not only the English we are teaching, but also getting into the stride of studying and learning. Whereas the first week many wouldn’t do their homework, now almost no one misses it, they follow the rules, they ask questions, and even the shiest kids are raising their hands to participate.

PCV’s Lauren and Sonia are here,  and have been troopers through our first solid rainy week. They even helped me switch classrooms in the rain! The kids love competitive games, and work hard for stars (students with the most stars receive a prize every week) and also are starting to help each other understand the activities and worksheets we do. Teambuilding among the students was one of my primary goals, since they will all be classmates for the next 5 years.

This week we also invited the High School Student Government, led by the English teacher, to present to the class; they introduced themselves, explained a bit about what life is like in high school, answered a couple of questions, and took us on a tour of the high school as well so the 6th graders could meet their future teachers.

IMG_6404 IMG_6411

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have one week left, I’m starting to feel like it’s not enough and I find myself wishing we had at least one more month to get through everything, but as Lauren said, I’m sure I’d always feel like there is just a little more I could be teaching.

IMG_6104 IMG_6137

As part of my outreach in organizing in the surrounding communities for Jump Start, I asked the Directors of all the nearby schools to invite the 6th graders parents to the the High School for a meeting. Out of 34 children, only 7 had parents attend. It was, needless to say, a slow start. I decided to take the show on the road and went to visit some of the schools myself. I went to Namu Wokir, which is about 4km, and spoke to 5 parents, I went to the houses of two parents in Alto Katsi, a small school with only two 6 graders, both moms were enthusiastic, and then I went to Bris.

 

 Bris? What’s so special about Bris?

Let me back up… I work at the Liceo Rural de Katsi, which is a small high school in a small town of about 300. The school has about 85 students who live in 6 of the surrounding communities. One of these communities is a very small town named Bris. The center of Bris, like in most rural communities, is the escuela, the elementary school, which is about 1 hour from the border of Panama, and that is where I found myself on Tuesday.

About 20 students come to the high school every day from Bris, but rarely do people who aren’t from there make that trek.  To get to Bris, you must walk up a mountain, up a dirt path, which eventually turns into a muddy clay path.

I’d only been once before, last July, and after that first trip the people from Bris earned my utmost respect. The community is devoted to their student’s education and has done incredible things to make it the best they can. Two years ago, when an organization came into Talamanca, Bris was told that if they could transport the materials up the mountain, they could have a new school, and so they did just that. The community came together and carried by foot and on horse every piece of wood, every screw, all the cement, everything needed, to give their students two beautiful classrooms. I was tired just carrying my backpack; I couldn’t imagine lugging heavy machinery as well.

This is the entrance to the school:

IMG_5992

 

I asked the director of the small school, to accompany me. Lorena has been the director of this school for almost 4 years. It is an unidocente, which means it has just one teacher, who also serves as the director, for the 25 students, ranging from first to sixth grade.  

We left at 5:30 in the morning, and within 15 minutes I was mentally praising Lorena for doing this every day. In my head I kept wishing that every teacher at the high school would go to up to Bris, at least once in a while, to realize the lengths that their students go through just to get to class. Maybe then they’d think twice about cancelling classes  often and so freely.

 IMG_5989 IMG_5986

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About ¾ of the way there we met a little girl who always accompanies Lorena on her way up, the little girl was shy but surprisingly started chatting with me when we arrived at the school. She spoke to me in Bribri, so most of it, I couldn’t understand.  The little girl is in first grade, and like most small children there, doesn’t speak Spanish yet, she’ll learn that in school, and eventually, if she makes it to high school, she will struggle to understand many things because Spanish is not her maternal language.

After that she put on my boots and then made fun of how big they were. Thanks Mayori.

 

IMG_5994 IMG_5996

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The meeting was scheduled for 8am, so naturally it didn’t begin until 9:30, of the 6 children 2 had parents present. One father was extremely enthusiastic, and seemed very eager; the other liked the idea of the camp, but was hesitant because his son had said he didn’t want to go to high school. I told them that this would be a good trial run, a way for him to test it out, and also, study something new.  I wanted to shake him and tell him it shouldn’t be the child’s choice, but that’s not how it works here, why force your son to study, if he doesn’t want too, if he stays home, he can help on the farm. The other father filled out the form right away and told me he’d made sure his daughter went. 

As I walked (slipped) back down the mountain that afternoon, I asked myself if it was worth it, spending a whole day trying to convince parents they should send their kids to a free English camp that would make the difference in their kids high school education; I can’t answer that yet, I guess I won’t be sure until Monday when I can see which kids come, which, if any, make the long trek down for the camp.

 

IMG_5998

 

 

Tonight I was sitting at the little bus stop across from my house, talking with my counter part, Jackie, when a young drunk guy stumbled up to us  saying “sorry, I’m sorry” and that he didn’t deserve to be around us IN ENGLISH!!! (Rarely can random drunk men form sentences, and much less in English!) He   then sat and proceeded to have a slurry conversation with us in basic English. He addressed Jackie by her name so I asked her if she knew him, she said she did not. Turns out he is from Namu Wokir (near Katsi) is 22, and was drunk as could be.

I pressed on and asked him where he learned English, and he said with Jackie and me, but told us that we wouldn’t know it. Huh? So he explained that his “old lady” and brother in law studied at the high school (where we teach) and had been teaching him what they learned in class with us… he told us he really liked English, we told him to go back to school and keep studying it…. but then most of what he was saying stopped being understandable.

That was a pretty cool thing. Super cool for Jackie, for his “old lady,” who is unfortunately no longer at the high school, and Brother in law, who is actually one of the top students.

Then it was time to go because he started being a bit touchy and it’s not good to sit at bus stops with drunk guys, even if they do say things that make your day.

Oh hey there blog! It’s been a while!

Life over the last 6 months has flown by! Here’s a tiny bit of what’s been happening…

I hosted a second sport/games/arts camp with the help of two amazing PCV’s Jon and Carlitos, over 30 children came to participate, and this time we also incorporated reading and art into the camp!

IMG_4793 IMG_4255 IMG_4862 IMG_4763

camp katsi

I visited home twice, which was amazing, a bit crazy to believe how long it had been since I’d wandered around NYC… got to see my sister, surprise my mother for her Birthday, meet Kevin’s two awesome sister’s, see my niece graduate from 5th grade, and her little brother be born,  eat all the food I’d been missing, catch up with my dad, and also turn 29 NYC style

sil dad e mom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mateo sofia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

park joanna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My lovely friend Sarah came to visit, and we traveled north to explore a bit of Guanacaste, showed her Katsi and she helped teach my community class!

sarah guan

 

 

 

 

 

 

sarah monkey sarah class

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, I’m back in Katsi, the school year is winding down, and I’m working on what will probably be my biggest and most challenging project: Jumpstart

JumpStart is an intensive 4 week  English Language camp for rising seventh graders who will be entering high school with no previous English education. 45% of elementary schools in Costa Rica currently don’t offer English, although my law, all should. 100% of elementary school in my area do not offer English.

Here is a video (in Spanish) about JumpStart!

Traditionally JumpStart is held during the month of January when students have vacation, however, in this area, that doesn’t work, because during vacation many families leave, with their children, up into the mountains to farm many things they will need throughout the year, rice, beans, etc. After speaking with one of the school directors I decided to host the camp during the month of November, which is traditionally a slow month in the schools, as teachers are more often than not called out for workshops and end of year trainings.

In September I did an online fundraiser in order to be able to afford the books, supplies, transportations and lunch for the camp, and had an amazingly positive response. I had 23+ donors give and we went over the goal and raised $1,500. This is amazing, thank you! I am so grateful for all the support that people back home have given, over the last 18 months, and especially in this project.

Thank you: Cilia L, Kim P, Cathy S, Tali L, Maryann F, Clara M, Kristi and James R, Deana P, Steven G, Abbie K, Michael D, Christine K, Eric N, Silvia P, Naomi A, Annie B, Cielo M and Dino P, Oliver M, Anna S, Miriam A, Linda B, and anyone else who donated anonymously!

Without you , this camp simply wouldn’t be happening!

15 days to go until day one of the camp!

International Book Day was a week ago on April 23rd, and as someone who grew up with books being a huge part of my life, I was excited to celebrate this occasion. Unfortunately, reading isn’t a huge part of the Costa Rican culture and even less so here in Katsi. People tend not to have books, or even want to read in general.  My host brother Erick had to be bribed with pizza by the last volunteer to read the Harry Potter series (he’s currently on book 5…. but since he’s seen the movies, he’s in no rush) the picture book I gave my smaller host brother was the first he’d ever had read to him, the Elementary school has NO books, neither does the Spanish teacher, or any other community members I asked, and no schools or communities in the area have libraries. 

Inspired by my good friend Mari’s two daughters who go to an elementary school in NYC, which has 4th and 5th graders read to 1st and 2nd graders, I recruited 8 high school students to volunteer to spend an hour reading to younger kids at the elementary school.

Finding books to read wasn’t easy. I bought a few, borrowed a few more from my counterpart, and one from my host family, and with that, we had 8 books total. The day before Book Day, I practiced reading out loud with the high school students. Reading to younger children is something they’d never done, and it was fun to watch them read to each other. They practiced holding the book up, reading slowly, pointing out animals and characters in the story, and incorporating Bribri whenever possible.  Although the books were children’s picture books, it was good to have them practice because some of them had trouble reading. Reading out loud is something they rarely do.

IMG_2997

IMG_2998

IMG_2999

IMG_3001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day of, I split each teenager up with 4-5 kids and rotated the books around. A few children had written their own stories in celebration of book day, and so we read their books out loud as well. We read a few classics, such as The Three Little Pigs, Alice in Wonderland, and Pinocchio, (the three little pigs was by far the favorite among the little ones)

IMG_3006

IMG_3012

IMG_3027

IMG_3023

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The children really seemed to enjoy it, but for me, what was most rewarding, was seeing the high schoolers own it. They got into it with voices, they told the story both in Spanish and Bribri, they asked the kids questions throughout the story and pointed at the pictures, to keep the children interested.

IMG_3010

IMG_3016

IMG_3030

IMG_3024

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it was over, we had a quick conversation where all the readers said they’d like to do this again, either at the same school or at other schools in the area, something I’d REALLY like to do.

People here say that kids don’t like to read, but I disagree, I think most kids here like books, they’re just rarely exposed to them, and reading is a hobby that takes some time to develop. I hope to be a part of that development for kids here in Katsi.

IMG_3031

For most Peace Corps Volunteers, one of the hardest things throughout service is being away from our friends and family, the people we’ve left at home. That consistent social interaction with people who really know us, can understand our humor, language, mood swings etc is suddenly gone, and we’re left with a big hole… So you can imagine, how happy having visitors can make a volunteer. I was lucky enough to have my family travel from all over the world to spend Christmas and New Years with me.

Dino Does Katsi:

My father came mid December, and it was awesome. I picked him up in San Jose, we spent a couple of nights there, then a night in Cahuita, mostly to break up the trip from San Jose to Katsi. He spent almost two weeks here in Katsi with me, came to my community class where we had a potluck holiday lunch, walked to Alto Katsi and other communities, just getting to know the area, shook hands with everyone he met, and became good friends with my host family and downstairs neighbor. We also had a lovely dinner with my counter part’s family who invited us over for Rice and Beans,

IMG_1383

An interesting part of having him here was realizing how many small things I’ve adapted to that I hadn’t even realized. For example, being careful with what I say, and when I say it in Spanish. I live above a pulperia, and my apartment may as well be mic’d because everything I say is heard perfectly downstairs. As they say, “Pueblo pequeño, infierno grande.” Small town, big hell. People here like to talk, they like to gossip, and they like to share. More than once, I’ve had conversations with my counterpart in my apartment, and a few days later, discovered that someone had heard what we were discussing and passed it along. I’ve learned this, I’ve internalized it: when I skype with my parents or anyone who speaks Spanish, if the topic becomes something I don’t want to share, I switch to English. I do the same now with Jackie, if she is here, or if I’m on the phone with her, and we discuss something more private, I do so in English.

When my father and I would be having conversations, I would always insist/nag at him to “speak English” if the topic was a sensitive topic. Something that in NYC, in our apartment, you never have to think twice about.

Another example is how accustom to the roads I’ve become. The truth is, the roads are awful and getting around is difficult. However, I’ve accepted it as part of life, there is nothing immediate that can be done. Partially the problem is that the weather is bad, and if they do fix the roads, they crumble with the heavy rains. But that’s just part of the problem. I believe another part is that the local government, which is in charge of roads, knows they can get by without investing in them, and the people allow it. I’ve gotten use to the bumpy bus rides, having to get off and back on at tight bends to allow the bus to continue, roads being closed, creeks being too high to cross, etc etc. This however was something that SHOCKED my father. He could not believe how bad they were and talked to anyone and everyone about it. However, I think most of the reaction was like mine, yes the roads are bad, but there are bigger battles to fight, and there is very little that can be done about it. It’s a conversation my father and I had many times throughout his stay. I told him that I would prefer the government invest more in the education system of Talamanca (send English teachers, provide better training for teachers in general, make sure schools are fully staffed, etc) or in the health system (we need an ambulance in Katsi, a 24 hour medical center on this side of the river, more rural community outreach etc.) My father argued that roads are a basic necessity in any semi developed country, such as Costa Rica is claimed to be. I told him that unfortunately, Talamanca is rarely held to the same standards as the rest of Costa Rica.

Having my father here was an amazing experience, it was great spending time with him, and showing him Katsi, where I live, the work I do, and that overall I’m pretty happy here.

Mama Linda, Silvita y Keeeeeevin…

On Christmas Eve my mother, Sister and brother in-love Kevin joined me and my father. I picked them up in San Jose, we jumped in a car and headed to Cahuita. We spent a few days there and in Puerto Viejo, ate at really great restaurants where I usually don’t have the funds to eat, walked around the National Parks, relaxed at the beach, and spent some much needed quality time together.

P1000157

P1000119

IMG_1250

IMG_1260

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, we loaded up (with lots and lots of awesome things they brought me… thank you!) and headed to Katsi! I’ll admit, I was a little nervous bringing my mother to Katsi. What if she thought it was too remote? What if she didn’t like me living there? The last thing I wanted was for her to spend 15 months worrying even more than she already does. But once we arrived, I realized I worried for nothing because my mother loved Katsi. We swam in the river, chatted with some of my students, did a tour of the schools and had a really great lunch with my host family. One of my favorite nights was when my counterpart, her kids, my host brother and my family all sat around and had dinner. We played some board games, Jenga and UNO, and just hung out together.

DSC_0385IMG_4442

IMG_4450DSC_0496

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wish my mother and sister could have spent more time in Katsi, but their trip was short, and I still wanted them to meet my training host family, so headed back to San Jose, took the most terrifying drive through the Zurqui, and eventually made it in time for dinner with my old host family, where my training host mom had called the entire family to meet mine. It felt great for my family to meet my training family, especially host mom, who has always been sweet and caring.

IMG_4470

We all spent New Years together with a few PCV friends, had a great dinner, and brought in the New Year with some champagne. We each went around and shared our favorite memory from 2012, my father said his was experiencing Katsi, which for me, was incredibly touching.

IMG_4484

All in all it was waaay too short, and I wish they could have stayed for longer. Peace Corps was something I’ve dreamed of doing for many years and my family has been incredibly supportive throughout the entire process.Having them here, made it more complete. It was tough saying goodbye, particularly to my sister and Kevin who live in Nigeria and I won’t see for a long time, but I’m really glad they came out and got to experience Katsi and see my life here in the Peace Corps. I’ll never forget my mother’s face swimming in the river, or her telling me she really liked Katsi and was happy I was here.

IMG_1314

Summer vacation came and went in Costa Rica and lots has happened in that time…

Although school officially ended December 12th, classes basically stopped the first week of November. Seniors had their exams, teachers stopped coming to school, and just in case there was a chance learning might still be happening, there was a teachers strike in December. I’m not sure about what, and when I asked teachers who attended, none gave me a straight answer…

On my end, the teachers workshops finished, 6 teachers completed enough hours and work to receive credit! I moved out of my host families house, my parents and many friends came to visit, and I hosted a sports and art camp for kids in Katsi!

The idea to host a camp started last July during the two week school vacation when I realized kids really don’t have much to do around here when school isn’t in session. Mostly kids go swimming in the river, hang out at home, and many times get caught up in smoking pot and drinking chicha.

And so began to organize for Campamento Katsi:

First things first: get help!

I wanted the camp to be for younger kids, ages 5-13. In order to include older kids, I recruited my host brother and a few of the high school students to help me run the camp. I didn’t want it to just be my camp, I wanted it to be their camp also. My host brother really stepped up to it, and went around with me promoting the camp to the different schools and communities.

I also asked Eric, a youth development volunteer in Bribi to come help so we could incorporate art into the camp!

I asked several women in the community if they could come to help prepare the food, my host mom, her two sisters, and the elementary school lunch lady came and made us delicious food.

Finally, because I knew I needed more adult hands on board, a very good friend from England came to help. Although Oliver’s Spanish is a bit limited, his enthusiasm and great speed made him a hit with the kids.

Next – get the word out!

Before the school year ended, my host brother and I went around to all the elementary schools in the area to let them know about the camp, to play some games with the kids in order to get them excited, and also asked the principals to speak to parents at the graduations.

I put up flyers in all the Pulperias and at the Ebais, and had the local radio promote the camp as well.

Finally, the week before the camp, my host brother Erick, Oliver, and I set out to the different communities and went door to door inviting  people personally to the camp.

The camp lasted 5 days, 7am- 12pm, the local stores donated some food, friends from home sent board games, balls, and art supplies and also I had really great support from friends, and friends of friends which allowed me to hire the bus to pick up and drop off the kids who live farther away, and also to bump up the snacks!

We did team building exercises in Spanish, English and Bribri, we played capture the flag, freeze tag, blob tag, ultimate Frisbee, and kick the bottle. The goal was to try new games they hadn’t played before!

IMG_4724

IMG_1656

 

 

 

 

 

 

The town doctor came by on the first day and talked to the kids about the importance of hand washing before meals:

IMG_4734

Three times during the week we played board games  most of which the kids hadn’t played before! Twister, Jenga and UNO were by far the favorites.

IMG_1718

IMG_1668

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eric the volunteer led an art section where the smaller kids made dogs out of paper, and the bigger kids made bracelets.

IMG_4745

IMG_4743

IMG_4746

IMG_4749

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The biggest hit was kickball. Though it took a couple of rounds for them to understand the rules, once they, they got very competitive!

On the last day, we had a special lunch prepared, Ruth, my host mother came and made Arroz con Pollo and Rice Pudding.

IMG_1719

IMG_4729

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m really proud of the teenagers who helped, I had two boys and three girls take turns during the week, and their leadership really helped motivate the younger kids and helped bring them out of their shells a bit.

IMG_4725

IMG_4721

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The biggest challenge of the camp was the organization of it! It was difficult trying  to get people excited for it, hard to spread the word, and a bit of a battle trying to get the Pulperias to donate food.

It is also, by far, the most fun I’ve had in any activity I’ve organized in Katsi! It’s been a while since the camp, but when kids see me, they still ask me when the next camp will be, if Eric and Oliver will come back, and if I would organize a round of kickball!

I hope to be able to repeat it in July when school is out for two weeks and would like to get the schools involved, more kids to come, and more teens to help! I’d also like to include something about recycling and bullying as well.

Thank you to everyone who helped out in any and every way, it was a HUGE success, and I couldn’t have done it without your support and help!

When I was 7 years old I spent part of my summer in Colombia with my grandmother. At that time there was no hot water in the shower, so every morning without fail, there would be a struggle between me, my grandmother, and the shower. First I’d go into the bathroom, and stare at the cold water shooting out…. I’d wet my hair, wrap a towel around myself and wait about 5 minutes than march outside and claim I had showered! My grandmother was much smarter than I, and could see through my charade, and would promptly grab me and toss me back in to make sure I had a real shower.

I think of this quite frequently when facing my shower here in Katsi because the they are COLD. I dream of training and how I use to scoff at the slightly dangerous electrical water heater that alternated between warm and not warm water… how I miss that sometimes warm water. And if it didn’t work at all? Well my host mom would warm up a bucket of water for me and that my friends… was like a spa day.
I know I live in a hot place. I am aware, but you know what? Cold water is cold no matter how hot it is out… I try to be smart and shower in the middle of the day when it’s incredibly hot, but more often than not I find myself having to shower first thing in the morning or right before bed, when it’s cold out. (cold = mid 60’s! Like the artic!)

My not so full proof way to shower:

  • Enter bathroom, run water, stare at water, contemplate not showering.

  • Undress, shiver, and contemplate not showering again.
  • Get into the shower as far away as possible and stick tip of foot under running water. Debate whether or not that counts as showering.
  • Realize that a semi clean foot doesn’t equal having showered, grow some guts and decide to go for it.
  • Back out immediately and proceed to start to splash water on the least amount of surface area possible by cupping water and tossing it at myself.
  • Realize this isn’t working, jump under, jump back out, lather.
  • Stare at lathered body parts cursing myself for washing my arms and back of neck and all those places that require really really getting wet. Wishing my grandmother was around to just make me do it.
  • Jump back under rinse off. Jump out
  • Realize that I’ve missed a whole section that is still soapy (always happens) Jump back in, whimper.

And finally I’m clean!

I NEVER wash my hair unless it’s smack in the middle of the day, and still, I stand as far from the water as I can and dip my head under, usually accompanied by lots of complaining which is usually followed by host mother who is on the other side of the wall, laughing saying I’m worse than the two year old. But what the hell! I have long hair and have to dunk my hair under 3 times to get it wet, shampooed and all the conditioner off!

The shower I stare at…    and my friend the spider who lives in the shower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So to my grandmother – thanks for preparing me for these showers, if I’m mas o menos clean these days, it’s because of you.

To my old shower at home – I miss you more than you’ll ever know.
To the bucket – I’ll always have a special place in my heart for you.
To the electric heater with sparks – you were worth the possible electrical shocks.

I asked some volunteer friends for advice and here is what they said:

“ I have never had tricks up my sleeve on how to avoid standing in it and freezing. Just on, off…soap…on, off. – Whitney M. (they just… let her in?)

“ I put one hand under the water and spritz my body with it or run in circles in the shower letting the water hit me a little each time. Seriously, take the dive quickly while chanting ‘the water can’t hurt me’”- Bradford B. Aka Daddy T

“Don’t do the toe test. It leads to fear and ultimately depression. Its all-in or nothing. Get the stinky parts first. Do something hot first so you’re sweaty and ready.” – Liani, Patua Speaking volunteer

“Work on a backward bend. Then hop play the hokey pokey to get all parts wet. Pee as a last resort to stay warm…it works” – Taylor, La Macha

“First, wet hair by leaning forward, without allowing any other part of your body to get wet. Shampoo. Rinse hair using same hair wetting strategy as described. Second, wet and wash face without getting any other part of your body wet. Third, insert entire body under the freezing stream of water, standing with your back to the showerhead. Wash, rinse, and get out. “ – Nate, who smells like poop
“Just lower your head, let it hit your neck first, let out a bellowing scream, and let it happen. . Pains over in three seconds” – Carlitos, who spends enough time in the ocean to make up for these 3 second showers.

“Go on a run first. Take deep breaths to get over the initial shock.” – Darien, Healthier than you.

“Workout beforehand. doing squats before you shave helps you warm up enough to avoid razor bumps. and showers after 4 pm in the rainy season in the mountains can be hazardous to your health” – Jenny, I actually saw her doing jumping jacks before a shower…

“Shower together. It warms you up.” – Hanna, is the coolest

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.