The last month has gone by faster than any other so far since I joined Peace Corps. That very well may be in part because I spent one week in San Jose and then two weeks of it in Spain….
IST – In Service Training
Three times during Peace Corps service, volunteers are pulled out of site for a mandatory training, they say they hold them around the most likely times volunteers freak out and quit. The first of these trainings lasted 5 days and included a variety of sessions on TEFL, health, security and some non TEFL activities/camps we could do at site. They set us up at a pretty nice hotel where I may or may not have bullied my way into snatching the big bed from my suite mates (thank you Taylor and Whitney!!!) I pumped the glorious AC every night effectively creating an ice box and giving myself a cold, took 30 minute scalding hot showers and watched mindless TV in bed with my friends during every single break. We cooked our own dinner a couple of nights, drank some wine, made burritos, grilled cheese sandwiches and some delicious spicy peanut sauce, basically just filling our food souls with some of the things we miss.
Essentially, we were living it up.
The two highlights for me were
1- on the first night when we split into groups and gave 10-30 minute presentations on our sites. It was great to hear about the different places other volunteers are, to hear the challenges and successes, many of which were similar.
2- Getting to be around my friends again and be goofy. I often feel like I have to be a serious more “grown up” version of myself in Katsi, I have to be some version of my NY 9-5 self 24/7 which can be tough sometimes, so it was fun to pass silly notes and give each other raspberries and other stupid fun things.
Towards the last few days of IST I started getting antsy because the day after we finished I was catching a plane to Spain….
The main purpose of the trip was to see my very good friend and study abroad roommate, Raquel, get married, but I went a few days earlier and got to see some friends and family I don’t see very often.
I spent my first 5 days getting spoiled by my aunt and cousin, eating my foodie hearts fill of Manchego, chorizo, tortilla, rabbit, pimientos de padron, pulpo, delicious bread and lots of other favorites. My aunt would often ask me if whatever I was eating at the moment was something I had in Katsi, “Raiola, en Katsi comes queso/pan/chorizo etc??” to which I’d answer truthfully, NO! She’s feel terribly for me and say something along the lines of, “oh that’s why you’re eating so much of it,” then give me a second or third serving of it. Yes, that’s right, I shamelessly milked my jungle living situation.
My wonderful cousin Ana also made me some favorites and didn’t judge my cheese over eating, with her, it’s always fun and easy, my master plan is to convince her to move to NY someday…
I also spent some nice QT with my little cousin/godson, (little punk insisted on eating large amounts of all my favorites also…) I only get to see him every couple of years and every time he’s taller and smarter. This year I decided would be scary story time so one night when the lights went out, I took him to the darkest part of the house and told him a zombie story. He seemed pretty scared, but since he didn’t wet the bed that night, I consider it a failure.
From there I headed to Salamanca, where is studied abroad 8 years ago and lived it up like I was 20 years old again…. Salamanca is a place that whenever I go, I don’t want to leave. I may or may not have at points hugged the columns in the Plaza Mayor…
From Salamanca to Madrid where I said goodbye to some friends, and picked up one of my best friends, Jonathan who came from NY to meet me for the wedding and spent a few days just catching up.
Finally I arrived in San Vitero, a tiny town near Zamora for what was an incredible 5 day celebration. The groom is from London, and my friend is from San Vitero so the wedding was a totally fun mix of Spanish-British-SanVi traditions. There was lots of singing, dancing, eating, drinking, and the atmosphere was one of constant bilingual celebration.
The wedding itself was fabulous, and the celebration started at 5am when all the men in town get together and start setting off fireworks around and inside the grooms home looking for him, drag him out of bed, fill him up with liquor and light more fireworks. The groom then gets about 5 hours to recover… After the ceremony was a meal that can only be described as a succulent feast, filled with rowdy singing from the Spanish table, and a speeches given by the best man and groom.
One of the town’s terrifying traditions included “el Carro” where they hoist the newly weds and the padrinos of the wedding onto an old donkey cart, pushed/pulled by the drunkest of wedding guest. In this particular case, the Madrina couldn’t go, so they decided that the best man would go instead.
Up he went:
Until this SOB starting shouting that the tradition is for it be two men and two women.
So the bride called out a name… and then this fool went up:
All in all it was fun but scary as hell because they don’t just pull the cart, they stop every few feet and tilt it until you’re positive you’re going to fall out. Looking back, I still think it’s a miracle I didn’t fall out, dress over my head, skull cracked.
The wedding continued with dinner, dancing, more food and drinks until about 5 in the morning.
I’ll stop rambling, basically it was a blast, spending time with some of the people I love the most in the world, meeting some really amazing new people, and being on vacation meant that returning to Katsi was extremely difficult, not because I didn’t want to be in Katsi, but because I wanted to rewind two weeks and do it all again.
But then, before I knew it, I was back under my mosquito net, back in my classroom, back in meetings about what can be done to turn the school into a functioning institution, and back to rice and boiled bananas.
Back to Katsi
Big things had happened in my three week absence including:
- The school now has electricity for the first time in 6 years!
- The Aqueduct committee has turned the schools water back on, which means the bathrooms work again
- An organization donated chairs, tables, plates, cups and utensils, so now the lunch room is basically a functional lunchroom (before kids brought in their own plates, cups spoons etc)
- There have been biweekly meetings about the high school and the changes that need to be made in order for it to be up to standard… a new schedule is being made, the regional supervisor is getting more involved… basically the school has been a bit of a mess and the Department of Education is finally getting involved. You can read more about it here, in the national new paper!
I came back to Costa Rica just in time for my 28th birthday, which I celebrated in Cahuita National Park with some of my fellow PCV’s who made the trek to spend a few days at the beach with me.
Día de Independencia
This weekend is Independence Weekend in Central America. This means that we had daily acto’s civicos, which in my school consist of the students singing the national anthem and 3 or 4 other patriotic songs. On Friday September 14th, a torch is passed from town to town. Students run half way to the nearest school, which in our case was about 2k, light the torch, then run back and pass it to the next school. This has some pretty important historical significance from back in 1821 when a torch was passed from Guatemala down to Cartago here in Costa Rica. At 6pm, the national anthem was sung again, and children lit up faroles and went on a little parade around town. On September 15th, we all got up and went to school so that at 8am we could once again sing the national anthem. I heard other schools had bands and other activities, but Katsi keeps is simple (re: doesn’t prepare anything) Seeing kids running with flaming paint cans and cardboard boxes with candles inside (which I saw catch on fire quite a few times) still shocks me and goes into the category of, en serio????
Y ahora que?
What’s next? Well I’m still trying to figure out what my role is here… in the high school, in the community, in my host family. In two weeks we start our teacher training workshops, which is really exciting… and in three weeks my sister from another mister, Tali, comes to visit and I’m really looking forward to showing her Katsi and the my life down here.
Lot’s to do, lot’s to look forward to, and lot’s of amazing pictures from the last month to look back on and smile at.
P.S. – I wanna give a big big big thanks to Kimberley Pape for sending me a water camera! It was really too generous and if you’re reading this… THANK YOU!!!!