Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A little sour cream with that?

On the topic of food
Like a lot of chubby people out there, I like to eat.  Food is amazing.  This isn't to say I never eat just to eat.  Sometimes when I'm sad or angry I find solace in salty fast food fries, coupled with a  cheeseburger or two. Those are hard habits to break, but perhaps even harder is my addiction to butter. I can't say I'm ready yet. It's just so good.
It has been hard for me to have so little say in what I eat here. I love to cook. I like the preparing, I like the sizzle of garlic going into a hot pan with some butter.  Onions caramelizing. Oh my. The changes that take place astound me. Tasting a dish, thinking that something is missing and selecting a pinch of something unexpected is enthralling. Then enjoying food with friends who can taste the love, it's priceless. I don't want to imply that my host Mom hasn't made amazing food while I've been here. Entirely the opposite.  I still, after 8 months of rice and beans at least twice a day, love the food that comes out of Cecilia's kitchen. There is no shortage of fruits and vegetables here, and the food is flavorful and satisfying. I never had any idea that rice, beans, and a few slices of avocado could be so delicious. Add a farm fresh fried egg and you've got my favorite "country" food here in Costa Rica. Oh my gosh, add a few of those pan fried chips I get ever now and again... It's something to write home about, as you can see.  Maybe it's that I'm a control freak in the kitchen that makes me miss cooking, but really, food is magic and I love being able to interact with it.
I have four months left here (a little less even) and as much as time has flown by, I already find myself dreaming about the first meal I'll have in Orlando back in the States. I kinda want Indian food, maybe that spinach and cheese dish that I'm blanking on the name of. (Spinach is hard to come by for some reason, here in the land of green.)  I think part of what I miss is the amazing range of foods that one can get in the United States. A misconception here is that since we don't eat rice and beans at every meal in the United States we must just eat hamburgers and pizza all the time. Yeah, I eat that, but there is so much more to food in the US. But... Lest I digress.
There is some food here that I am going to miss a ton. Hopefully I can request the aforementioned meal as my last supper with my family, but on the day when it's just me getting a last lunch before getting on a plane, I want to eat a whole loaf of soft French bread with sour cream.  And I mean whole hog dipping.  Oh my gosh that's good. I vaguely remember that being a strange combination when I was first here. But now I know how good it is to dip fluffy bread into a plate of tangy sour cream, I really can't remember. Haven't I been doing that all my life?  I should have been if I wasn't. Hence the title "gordita," or "fatty" (said in a loving way? Though Ticas big and small carry themselves with pride, something that amazes me verses the US's stance on being overweight.)
Today I had some bread and sour cream with my coffee and started dreaming about how to reproduce it in the States.  Sour cream is totally different here: it's thinner but still full of flavor. The bread is, to be honest, a little lacking when it comes to crust for my taste. My mind is a tizzy of ideas about this combo. Sour dough bread?  Mixing  sour cream with a little water, little salt and possibly a smidgen of vinegar?  Throwing the sour cream in before baking? Oh what fun it will be. If anyone has any ideas let me know. Meanwhile I should probably focus on lesson plans for tomorrow....

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Los Besitos

The Kisses, if you will. Big way of greeting people here in Costa Rica.  Meaning it's really the only way when a woman is involved. Men will shake hands, "pound it," or even hug, but if there are two women or a woman and a man; this is how one says hello.  
A good how are you and a kiss on the cheek, what could go wrong, right?  In my life, where I have come to realize my "bubble" of personal space is almost a physical barrier (just ask my friend Marc about the time he tried to put his arm around me in a consoling manner and almost got kneed in an unpleasant place.... I don't know. Weird reflex?). Anyway, I can see it in people's eyes when they want to go in for a besito, but  fear is holding them back. (Maybe they have talked to Marc.) I can only imagine that there is a similar look in my eyes while I think "Oh, we're saying hello.  I should give them a kiss now?  Should I step in? How much?  Should I lift my hand to their shoulder? Should I do a side kiss where I don't actually kiss their cheek, but make a sound like I am kissing them? How loud do I make that sound?  Should I just go in full force and land one on their cheek? Are they moving away? Did I take too long?  Aww shit. Too late.  Should I try when we part? What are they even saying to me?  I should listen." Or something equally awkward.
I have a host brother-in-law who has successfully gotten me to participate in this custom, but only because he would say "Hola, LeeAnn," and turn his cheek and wait for my attack. My host mom is kind of the same way. Whenever I am leaving for a few days and we say goodbye, she kind of stands there with her hands clasped together in front of her smiling and I think bracing herself physically so I don't knock her over when I kiss her cheek. (In truth, I believe that if I'm going to kiss someone, I'm not going to make a fake sound, oh no.  I'm a lover deep down under this hard turtle-like shell.)
There are other people who have tried and I just seem to mess it up. My other host brother-in-law, for example, tried and got so far as to pat my shoulder and I just smiled and walked away, later to realize that was a  clear window.  A really nice lady was leaving the church today and she held her hand in a prime "let's pat each other's shoulders and have a nice greeting besito," gesture. I instead took her hand with my other hand and gave her what I would say was a great handshake. Her confused look as she glanced down at our hands kind of said it all. I'm a real bad kisser.
I've discussed this with some of the people in my group. Most of them have come to embrace these kisses and some of them never found these greetings strange to begin with. With these brave gringos supporting me, I'm going to make an effort towards change. I may flub it up about a billion times, but I'm going to throw my lips and my cheeks into the ring as they say. Well, I don't really think anyone has ever said that, but it's about time we do, no?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A tree of a different color

These awesome trees at the end of my driveway.  They look like they have been painted, but really as the bark peels new colors are revealed.  So cool.
Well folks, a friend was kind enough to let me borrow her camera and finally, here are some shots... I am having a real problem setting up the photos so there is no real order to them.  I apologize, but now you can see a bit of what I see along this journey.  So here you are, a few shots of Alto Varas.
My host nephew and student showing off a massive ant.  He was really proud and then proceeded to kill the ant to make sure that I could get a good photo...  A bit of a surprise.
This is a typical breakfast in my village.  Rice and beans, coffee, milk fresh from the cow and cheese and crakers or bread.  My Mom calls this a "light" meal.  I have convinced her that fruit is a more successful start for my stomach. 
Many a cow in my village, many a cow.
The view from one of my walks.
This is my school.  Awww, it's cute.
Another tree I like.  Ah, trees.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Squash falling from the sky!!!

I'm not saying that yesterday was an awful day, but if I were to say that both the child who cries pretty much everyday, and the teacher who cries every other day, met together on this day, that might paint a clearer picture for you.

All is not lost however.  At the pulperia (or small convenience store) for example, I have started to translate one fruit name in English a day.  Today was grape.  I have no idea how to say grape in Spanish.  I sure hope I was right.

Then later, while walking home from my host sister's house, I saw two bikes on the side of the road.  They were pretty small bikes, so I figured they were some of my students.  This was in fact the case, but who were they, and perhaps even more important, where were they?  So I kept walking up the hill and I saw this orange thing fall from a tree.  Oh, they're in the tree!  I see.  It was a pretty skinny tree and I was impressed to say the least. (Though you can ask anyone who knew me as a child, I have never been too adventurous when climbing trees.  We had an awesome tree in my yard as a child.  It was known as the "climbing tree."  Kids came from all over the neighborhood to marvel and climb.  I usually made it to the third branch, about two feet off the ground before I stopped.  These kids however would have put the whole neighborhood to shame.) 

So from in the tree I hear a bunch of mumbling, then "Teacher, Teacher!"  To which I respond, "Hola!"  Then there is more mumbling and a thud as another orange thing falls to the ground.  I move in a bit closer to investigate.  These orange things look a lot like squash, but why would kids climb up a tree to get squash?   It didn't make any sense.  So I asked, "What is that?"  The answer "Cacao." 

Wait, Cacao, that from which chocolate is made?  She answers, "No, you eat the seeds."  I have no idea what this is now.  I had just learned after all, what we think of as guava is guayaba in Spanish, but there is another long fruit known as guava in Spanish.  What it is, I do not know.   Therefore I took her word for it.  Ok.  Whatever, who knows what this awesome squash thing is.  Which by the way, I'm fairly certain they were stealing from another neighbor.  If this is ok or not, I do not know, but they did have a rather sheepish look on their faces when someone drove by on a motorcycle.

So I am gifted one of the "cacaos", if you will and was wondering how does one eat this thing?  I kind of asked, but I didn't understand the response.  I figured I would just take it home and ask my host Mom.  So we continue the walk into town and since they have bikes, I am carrying the loot if you will.  A bag full of squash, so I think.  We get to a fork in the road and they divide up the booty and one is still for me. Plus, the little boy picks out a small one that looks good and gives that to me.  Sweet, two squash stolen from the neighbor's yard.  I am unsure that I am presenting myself as a good example.

Later in the evening, I asked my host mother about these whatever they are.  They are cacao beans (or pods, if you will)!  They are what they make chocolate out of!  You do eat the seeds!  Kind of, I really just sucked the membrane off of the outside of the seeds (Or beans? Now I am terribly confused.).  I was told that the seeds were bitter (or tasted bad, I don't know the word for bitter.) and that they were the part that was dried in the sun and made into chocolate.  "Don't you want to eat it?" she asks.  Why yes I do, but first I photographed it.  Then I watched my host mom whack at the smaller pod with a big knife (I wouldn't go so far as to say machete.).  I should figure out how to make chocolate, there is another pod in the cupboard.

I have also found that the seeds have caffeine, as this is the fastest I have ever finished a blog.  Pura Vida.  Good Luck getting to sleep LeeAnn.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

This one is cheating, Don´t tell my students...

Turns out I am a lazy blogger.  Imagine that.  I have started about 4 more posts, with internet and in my journal.  Yet they have not been published.  I´ll put them up sometime I am sure.  In the meantime, here´s a little bit about my first few days of school.  It may look familiar to some of you.  I´m not going to say why in case it isn´t for all of you...

I had my first two days of classes last week.  Or I had my first two days of baby sitting while my director had
classes and I "got to know" the students.  The younger kids seemed to take to
me.  I was offered cold pizza some students had from the night before.  One said
"El pan es muy rico.  Quere, Teacher?" Or, the bread is really tasty.  Do you
want some teacher?  As he started to pull off a piece with his little grubby
hands. I considered, but how could I say no?  Then his brother followed suit and gave me a piece
of his, this one with cheese.  I think that's a good sign, right?  The older kids don't
seem to be as excited.  I tried to play a game with them and they looked at me
like I was a huge fool.  Sigh.  Then the next day, I asked them what game kids
their age liked to play and they said one that I had played the day before with
the little kids (the little kids are happy when Teacher plays with them) and I
was excited because it seemed like a fun game.  Turns out, Teacher was not
allowed to play because the teams would have been uneven.  Little brat sixth
grader.  I don't know why I agreed, but it meant that I stood with the REALLY
shy girl (she won't talk to anyone in English or Spanish).  Maybe the game is
fun to play, but it's not fun to watch for an hour.  I don't know about those
big kids.  They are too cool for school.  I guess I should just make class
really hard.  What pay back.  I can´t handle the stress of feeling like I´m in middle school.
I have to be the bigger person here, even though there are a few students taller than me... So
technically, no.  Adult, be an adult.

Altogether there are 22 (?) students.  The director told me there were only 20
and then there were more students on the first day.  It's nice that the previous
volunteer told me a little bit about the students, cause I know that they speak
more English than they let on.  Some kids do seem really excited to learn and to
be pleasing and polite.  If anyone has any tips on how to punish 6th graders... 
Man, they make me want to cry.

Speaking of crying, I did.  A lot.  While walking into my town from the bus
stop.  So the road is gravel and you know, along the side of a mountain...  I
was walking and doing ok, but it was the worst time to be walking in the sun at
this point along the equator.  I got right before this really steep part and
stopped to drink some water.  Seemed like a good idea.  Then I walked up the
really steep part, but turns out, though it's not as steep of an incline, right
after that part is a stretch that goes on forever.  I started to walk and took a
break in the shade for a minute.  Then I walked another 20 feet and stopped in
the shade.  I was trying not to cry during these breaks.  But people would
occasionally drive by and make no notice of the gringa having a heart attack on
the side of the road, so I felt pretty alone.  And I was thinking all of these
horrible things like "How come I can't make this walk when 5 year olds here can
make it?  When did I get so lazy?  What if my students don't like me?" and "Why
would I leave the comfort of my home, family and friends to do something so
hard?"  And I got to one shady spot and figured it was better to get it out.  So
I started to cry, then I pulled it together and moved on to the next shady spot
where I cried again.  And so went my first walk up the mountain.  All in all it
only took a little over an hour.  Pretty good time considering. I need to learn
not to book it inbetween shady spots.  That might help.  It takes about half an
hour to walk down to the bus stop, which is usually pretty peaceful and
uneventful though there are often times when I almost bite it.  Gravel is
slippery!  I haven't cried on the way down yet.  We'll see what happens when I

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Snake skin belts and cabbage, I'm moving on up.

Picture this if you will.  (No really, please.  Still no camera (ergh) and feel that now I must be more descriptive with things in written form...) Getting up at 4 o clock in the morning, chugging down a glass of orange juice with your aforementioned host mother, and running out of the house to meet your friend who is to be at your gate at precisely 4:07.  Who makes meetings specifically seven minutes after the hour?  Yes, LeeAnn does.

Last weekend, I spent my first night in my host site.  I'm not going to lie, I didn't even leave the house.  I know there is much to explore and learn about, the school, the church, the well, really that's about it.  But there was so much to learn about in the backyard alone, I'm getting ahead of myself though.  Let's travel then back to that morning.

I woke up at midnight and every ten minutes after that, except of course between 3 and four, hence the chugging.  I grabbed my bag and went around the corner to meet my friends traveling with me.  Then there was much waiting.  We got on the bus here in Orosi, standing with our luggage for the 45 minute ride up a mountain, and went into Cartago.  We wandered around for a few minutes and went to the bus stop in Cartago bound for Turriabla.  Here we moved up to seats and under the bus storage.  Pure comfort.  Though when the bus filled up there was a man a bit too liberal with the cologne standing right next to me which made it necessary to breathe a bit less.  You win some, you lose some.

At Turriabla and waited in the bus station grande, a really nice one where you could eat and sit and what not, and  so we did.  They also have a cappuccino machine where one actaully pulls shots instead of pushing a button.  Che Rico.  A little while later we were approached by a shorter, older, mustached man wearing a leather cowboy hat asking if we spoke Spanish.  He had kind eyes.  I knew instantly.  This was my year long host father.  He spoke to us for a while, about you know, rain and buses, most of which I did not understand.  We offered him a seat, he declined and said he was going to go walk for a bit and he left.  He would come in periodically to check that I hadn't gotten lost I think.  He would talk for a minute or two, the cows aren't producing much milk yet, there were mudslides just last night and then as abruptly as he had come, he would head off in the other direction, always with some sort of instruction to my friends, "Don't let her wander off."  He must have known I was a wanderer of sorts somehow...  As my friends met him, there were descriptors like, "he's adorable", "precious" and "what a bad ass".  Wait,  A Bad Ass?  "I love his belt."  What?  When he checked in again I saw it, a black and white snake skin belt and buckle. "I bet he killed that snake."  Probably, actually.  There will be snakes.  However, I should better knowing that this soft spoken host father can not only kill snakes, but he may also make awesome accessories out of them.  Sweet.  Finally it was time to wait get on the bus.  We stood next to each other awkwardly with nothing really to say, but without the same terror that there has been (for me, at least).  When we were getting on the bus I held a bag of his groceries while he put my suitcase up which I admit, was heavy.  Then I just sat with this white and pink striped bag in my lap.  I didn't know what it was but it was cold...  Then my friend got on the bus since she is in a nearby town and my host father's eyes just lit up.  I'd like to think it was because she speaks more Spanish than me and he was excited to have some way to communicate, but it may have been cause she's really pretty.

So we rode on the bus for a while and go off somewhere in the middle of the mountain at a road and a bus stop in the rain.  I was quickly ushered into a jeep of sorts and we turned around to go up the mountain.  I hate to say but I was told not to wear my seatbelt and as I know nothing of this nature of travel, I followed suit.  So we drove up the road a little bit and another gentleman get's picked up.  Three men in the car and I know one, but the beauty of the environment, even in the rain, overwhelms me, and I just look around in a stupor.  So we drive up the mountain a bit.  I think people were talking to me or they were only talking to each other, but the green, and the banana trees, and the fields that run nearly perpendicular to the road, and the occasional house painted in a bright teal or vibrant pink overtook my senses.  This was my street, paved or no, this was my street.  At a certain point the driver tells me Alto Varas, we are at my site.  Sweet.

A minute or two later we stop and I think it must be time to get out.  Instead, my host father comes around to the front seat and takes the bag of cold cans from me, then pats my shoulder to indicate that I should stay in the car.  He runs off to somewhere.  I do not know where, nor do I ask.  In a few minutes he came back up to the driver's side of the car and passes through a bag for me.  It's a cabbage.  The car starts and we continue up the mountain.  I no longer know any of the men in the car with me, but I have a cabbage and all is good.

We drive for a bit more, I am trying to memorize landmarks for distance on the days when I will be walking down this hill (mountain).  Then the driver points out the school and the church, this is pretty much all of the town.  Really.  We come to a driveway that goes up higher in the mountain.  This pink house overlooking the town will be my home for the next year.  I'm pretty much blown away.  The guy from the back seat takes my bag inside, turns out he's my host brother.  I kiss my host mother on the cheek.  She is exactly how I would have imagined her to be after meeting my host father.  Shorter, stout, but strong and able.  I deliver the cabbage.  She makes a salad.  All is good.

I talked to my host mother while I ate some rice and beans.  I say very little but there is laughter.  My host sisters claim to be crazy.  I went into the back yard and I wandered out toward the bodega (barn).  I walked to the right in the mud (my host father said I had to get a pair of mud boots so I could learn how to milk cows) and took a few steps.  There are baskets made out of sticks hanging over head with flowering plants, there is much mud.  There is also a precipice.  Ha ha, a few steps back and a look to the right.  Why, there's a baby cow.  Huh, I hadn't seen that coming.  Though I suppose I should have.  I guess that's all I have time to write for now, though there is much I want to share.  Keep looking right, there are always new things to see.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Speeeling decrease

No, that's not a typo.  It's actually an example of what's happening to my English language skills.  At first I just thought that it was reflective of my inability to type, but it has since come to pass that when taking notes by hand I spell words in new and creative ways...  Rools instead of rules for example.  (Which I must admit, looks pretty nice.  I hope it catches on as an alternate spelling.)  In addition to wacky ways of spelling, I have also found that I am literally creating new letters.  Hard to demonstrate while typing, even harder to review what I have written.  At this point, I have been able to catch most of these mistakes, but there have been words that have caused me to take pause.  How do you spell equiped?  Today I actually tried to look up Enklish in my pocket dictionary for the spelling in Spanish.  I don't know friends, but I hope I can keep some level of written communication.

My daily routine is likely in part to blame for this decrease in communication skills.  Along with culture shock, jet lag, a new diet, and learning a new language, of course.  Here's a look into my mind yesterday should anyone ever choose to act it out as if in a play.  Six a.m, wake up, prepare for the day.  Eat the breakfast that has been set out for me (Today a bologna sandwich with tomato, mustard and some other type of dressing, which I will call runny russian.  To drink, coffee, water and Tang.  Yes, Tang.  At every meal...).  Sit awkwardly with my host mother.  Listen to her explain to yet another neighbor that I don't speak any Spanish.  At all.  Seven thirty try and finish Spanish homework regarding irregular reflexive verbs.  Enter class at eight confused.  Try and absorb some of the hundreds of new words in my mind along with the way they may change due to tense, number, gender, or just their irregular nature.  Take coffee break.  Return to Spanish class, try and observe more verbs.  Go to a class in English about how to teach classes in English.  Eat lunch, chat with friends, check email, delete those from Detroit Public Television, more coffee.  Four more hours of classes in English, do skits, laugh loudly.  Another coffee break.  Get into small groups and discuss practice lessons taking place next week.  Decide that in comparison, you will be too strict of a teacher.  Wonder if you are a horrible person.  Finish with friends. Walk slowly home.  Walk into living room.  See that a friend of the family is visiting.  Say hello.  Wonder if you are supposed to introduce yourself.  Pause for too long.  Smile.  Excuse yourself to the restroom.  Breathe.  How do I spell English again?  Eat dinner with family and guest.  Put salad dressing on cabbage, Thousand Island by Kraft.  Feel a bit of pride that you have been able to correctly identify anything.  Listen to guest speaking very much, and very fast about something that had happened to him.  Finish food.  Wonder how long you have to stay at the table to be polite.  Sit.  Cross hands in lap.  Sit.  Smile at host brother.  Relax for a minute.  Have some more tang.  Think about scooting chair out a bit.  Wonder what guest is talking about.  Sit.  Recognize one word.  Death.  Get caught understanding.  Decide not to scoot chair out.  Recross hands.  Look at salad dressing bottle.  Feel proud again. Watch bull fight taking place on the television behind you.  Sit.  Wonder when it's polite to leave a conversation when the only thing you understand is death.  Assume that it's not.  Sit.  Put empty glass on empty plate.  Reconsider scooting out chair.  Wait.  The guest stands up to leave.  Wait.  Watch as he says goodbye to the family.  See his face freeze when he comes to you.  Smile.  Shake hands.  Say pleased to meet you.  Breathe.  Meet friends at bar.  Chat.  Laugh loudly.  Drink more beer.  Relax.  Group gets smaller.  New conversation.  Laugh.  Realize that it is 10 p.m. and the bar is closing.  Pay tab.  Stand out in rain.  Smile for photo.  Start walking with friends.  Gage interest in walking around for a bit more with group.  Find interest.  Notice car next to the soccer field with steamed up windows.  Point it out to friends.  Laugh.  Lean in to hear a story a friend is telling.  Get smacked in the face by a friend going in to high five the person across from him.  Look sad and walk away.  Laugh.  Another friend comes to give you a hug.  Instinctively knee him in groin.  Wonder why that was an instinct.  Bend over with laughter.  Walk more with friends.    Laugh.  Return to host families house.  Check watch.  11 p.m.  Take off wet shoes at door.  Sneak into room.  Get ready for bed.  Sleep.  Wake up next day.  Finish homework.  Have breakfast with host mother.  Repeat.

Really though, please don't think that I am only frustrated.  I'm just not that good at the imersion method of learning a language.  When I don't know one word in a sentence, my brain stops to try and process it.  So, I've been really confused a lot of the time, and I don't want to answer when I have no idea.  I do answer when I have some idea, but no idea, no.  I have had some great momentshere though and I am glad to be here.  I went on this awesome and really challenging hike into the mountains.  I've learned a bit about Spanish, fallen in mud, seen my first poisonous snake (dead, whew), had a banjo lesson with my host brother, and laughed a lot.  Real bad news, I lost my camera.  Or it was stolen, but as I've mentioned before, my brain isn't running at top speed.  I may have just misplaced it....  Cross your fingers, por favor.

I have to plan now to prepare for my first journey to my actual host village.  The group is splitting up, leaving the safety and comfort we have found in each other in these classes and new experiences.  I'm going to travel from Orosi to Alto Varas. I'm a bit nervous, but my stomach is settling a bit.  My second host father will be meeting me in San Martin so I will not have to make the journey alone with a big suitcase.  Good to know.  Also good to know, he is now planning to use a car for this journey and not a horse.  Excellent.  I apologize dear friends for not writing sooner.  Please understand that it is not because I have not been thinking about you.  In truth, there have been times already when I considered repacking and returning to you.  I believe however, it's important to work through the awkward and enjoy this time.  Adios, amigos!  Hasta Luego!