Friday, March 27, 2009

my stomach was not made for this

My stomach was not made for this. This is one of the phrases that I think I’ll always remember about my semester abroad. Actually it’s not what you think; the majority of the food here is amazing, but on the other hand the amount that’s given to you is way too much. Let’s look at some examples:

San Jose family—they’re pretty good about letting my serve myself my own portion sizes, however I always get harassed for not eating enough. It’s a battle to make sure that they understand that you like their food; it’s just that if you eat another bit you just might explode. Then again there’s always the time when my mom just scoops more food onto my plate, as I try to fake a smile.

Nicaragua—Nicaragua was a bit different. In orientation we were warned, ‘you have to eat everything they give you [to avoid a major offence].’ There was no option here. Some families had had LASP students in the past and knew that gringos didn’t eat that much, but not my family. In fact I had the hovering mom who would watch to make sure I ate and liked everything. Here was my secret for surviving: skirts are great for hiding food, especially if they have pockets. I became a pro at hiding tortillas, bananos [this is not a spelling error], and the waxy vegetable in my skirts. Yet there was one thing that you couldn’t get around—the rice jello. Fortunately my family couldn’t afford it, so I only had it once at a neighbor’s house.

Grecia—when I thought they gave us a lot of food in San Jose, I was wrong—it doesn’t even compare to Grecia. Every day we have cafecito around 4, which consist of coffee (I’m all for that), a sandwich, some sort of bread, and sometimes something else. This amount of food during cafecito is what I would eat for a normal meal. But then around 7 we have a full blow dinner too. Fortunately I’ve figured that if I only eat crackers for lunch and only eat a sandwich at cafecito, I can make it through most of my food at dinner.

Spanish class in Grecia—the other two days of the week, when we don’t have work, we have Spanish class. We already arrive with full stomachs after a massive breakfast. Then at 10 we have a snack, which would be the equivalent of my lunch. Still an hour and a half later we have a massive lunch. Don’t forget there’s still cafecito and dinner when you get home too. Allowing our stomachs to survive Spanish class has become a team effort. For the snack time we all try to take something different, so it looks like a bit of everything was eaten. Then at lunch we figure out who likes what, and literally sit there eating off each other’s plates. For example, I’ll eat some of Brady’s salad, Brady will eat some of my potatoes, and Melissa will eat some of my rice. Katie also came up with another brilliant method to make it look like we eat more—cut your food into smaller pieces. Generally it’s a secret for anorexics, but it works well for us too.

If we all come back 20 pounds heavier you will know why—the LASP 20. I think we’re all looking forward to being able to have the choice to not eat. But by we’ve all become expert food smugglers. And who knows, maybe these tips can help you when you’re having to eat way too much food in Latin America.

holy gertrude!

I don’t think that I wrote about this earlier, but I’ve moved cities yet again. For the next three weeks I will be living with a family in the Grecia area, have classes two days a week, and work at a high school the other three days of the week.

We’ve only been here three days, but I think that this is going to be the best part of the semester. My family lives in a little town called Santo Gertrudis (aka Holy Gertrude, I think it’s hilarious). I am loving being with this family. My sisters are seven and three, and as cute as can be; we spend a lot of time playing and doing ridiculous things. Both of my parents are very relaxed and easy going, which is a great change (the opposite of my family in San Jose). The area itself is gorgeous, and the way of life is so much more laid back than that of San Jose.

Time will tell about life in Grecia, but right now it seems to be pretty good.

so close...

Today was so incredibly close to being one of the highlights of my time with my family in San Jose. Why you ask? First let me give a little background information.

My bedroom in our house is right next to the wash/laundry room, also home to our two dogs. Bonita is a cute little, floppy black thing, but then there’s the other, Pookie. Pookie is one of those little white dogs that always seems to have some dog body fluid staining his fur and that likes to bark. Every morning at 5am I don’t need to set my alarm clock because Pookie will promptly start yipping and crying is that high pitched howling. The thing is that I’m the only room close to Pookie, so it really doesn’t matter to anyone else. So there you have the history.

Today, like many days, my tico dad took Bonita and Pookie out and left them on their little leashes that are nailed into the ground. I was walking back to the house and saw that the neighborhood police, a neighbor, and my mom we all on our porch. I soon discovered that Pookie had escaped. I’m not going to lie, I was a little excited about this. I’ve actually thought about what would happen if I accidently let Pookie out of the house one day. It wouldn’t be a bad thing—he could join a group of dogs that roam the neighborhood and be able to run free. So you could say that I’m trying to look out for the best intentions of Pookie.

After half an hour I was ready to officially celebrate the escape, but it all came to a crashing halt. There was a knock on our door, and there was Caesar, our neighborhood police guy, and Pookie. I thought Caesar was supposed to be on my side after all the times he tries to hit on me. I should have called his phone number that he gave me the first day (see ‘can i have yo numba’).

That is how today was so close to being a tremendous highlight, but no, the prodigal dog had to return—lucky me.

Some of you might be reading this thinking that I’m a horrible person for having such thoughts, but really, I do like animals. I won’t try to free your dog because I think it is annoying. It’s just Pookie, really.

Friday, March 20, 2009

can i have yo numba?

So now that we’ve been here in Latin America for a little more than two months now, I’ve been able to make a few observations—observations about things like cultural values, cues, differences, all that good stuff.

Let me share with you one of my favorite observations.
What is the number one question that I’ve been asked by men of all ages here?

Do you have a boyfriend?

Upon an answer of no to that first question a bit of small talk will ensue ultimately leading to the question, “can I have your number?” When you try to explain that you don’t know it, they are all too willing to give you theirs.

After a few months of this, I’ve come up with my solution. I’m just going to start making up crazy stories when they ask:

¿Tiene un novio? [Do you have a boyfriend]
No, en realidad tengo tres—dos en Estados Unidos, un de Costa Rica porque necesitaba alguien para comprar cena para mí. [No, acutally I have three—two in the States, and one from Costa Rica because I needed someone to buy me dinner]

There you have it, my new response. We’ll see how they respond to that one.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

a prayer

Dear God,

I am so afraid to open my clench fists!

Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?

Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?

Please help me to gradually open my hands and to discover that I am not what I own, but what you want to give me.

And what you want to give me is love – unconditional, everlasting love.


a prayer from Henri Nouwen

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

beautiful and tragic

Spending time in the campo, I was a bit surprised at the way of life there. I expected it to be a lot harder, but it was actually a bit relaxing. We would wake up at 4.30am every morning and my dad and sisters would milk the cows and make sure all the animals were fed. My sisters went to school from 8-1:30. During the day my dad would work for a little while, come back to the house, rest for a long time, do a little more work, and be done for the day. And it was practically the same routine for my mom except in the house.

Life was easy and simple. There was one choice of food, no electricity, three pairs of clothes for everyone, and an outhouse out back. Much of the day was spent on the porch simply being. It was a very restful and natural way of life. Something beautiful.

However we came to know that this simple and beautiful way of life is also the most tragic. Back in the US we have surrounded ourselves with buffers—health insurance, saving accounts, grocery stores. But there in the campo there are no buffers; life is tragic. Children in my community die of fever. In another community that a group was at, a five-year-old fell and literally had a hole in his head—a sizable piece missing. They simply cleaned it out and used some of our Neosporin to fill the hole and stuck a bandaid on it. If a disease spreads through the farm animals the families are left with nothing.

Their life is simple and beautiful, but so very tragic. But which is better? Living this simpler life is more natural and closer to the reality probably. However it is the buffers that we have created that often give us a safety net to prolong the inevitable many times.

Which is better?
I haven’t decided.

a bit of a summary

I’m back once again. Sitting here writing on an English keyboard I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten so used to typing on a Spanish keyboard that it’s now hard to type on an English keyboard—wow.

We made it back from Nicaragua, and it was undoubtedly two weeks that were well spent. The first three days we were in the capital, Managua. It’s an interesting place for a capital, because it’s not at all what you would expect. Back in its day, Managua used to a bustling metropolitan area, but after the earthquake in the early 70’s most of the city was destroyed and has not recovered since. Many places throughout the city literally felt like a ghost town. While we were in the city we had some amazing speakers including a woman presidential candidate and was a top general in the revolution, got to see some remarkable sites, go to a protest site made up of shanty town, and surprisingly have some time to relax.

After a few days calm in Managua the real adventure was ready to begin; it was time for the campo. Leaving a 4am, my group took a 7 hour bus ride from the capital to a town called Rama. From there we took a long boat for about 45 minutes down a river, follow by a 45 minute walk and hour on horse. When the man who was on the other horse, who I later found out was my dad, opened the door I had made it to my house in the campo. I spent the next week living there in the community of Concha 2. Most of my days were spent on the porch playing with my three-year-old-cute-as-all-get-out brother, going to school with my sisters (10 and 12), going to church, or doing absolutely nothing. We slept on the floor making every night a sleepover with my sisters, cooked on an open fire in the house (no electricity), took care of the farm animals, ate rice and beans for every meal, let the sun dictate when we slept, and enjoyed a much better pace of life.

After a week in the campo all the small groups that were spread all throughout the country met in the city of Granada for a few days of reflection and recuperation. We were all pretty worn out for life in the campo, but I know I wouldn’t replace it for anything. It is a moving experience. Granada was a perfect place to recover and process. It’s an old city right off Lake Nicaragua with all of the old buildings brightly painted and cobblestone streets—I loved it along with everyone else in the group.

On the way back from Nicaragua I was dropped off, and went to the beach at Tamarindo with some friends for a couple of days. Now I’m burnt and looking like a lobster, but it was great.

So that’s a bit of what we did in Nicaragua. It’s a hard experience to describe, however I’ll try to share a few thoughts later. For now here’s some pictures from the trip...