Friday, August 31, 2012

Life has a way of messing up your plans. How rude, seriously.

About 4 and a half weeks ago I was playing futbol cinco (indoor soccer) with my normal weekly group of guys. We’re made up of Ticos, Americans and a myriad of European dudes. I had come to truly love my weekly matches with these guys. Always competitive, aggressive, and super fun. That’s what soccer is all about to me. Near the end of the hour I was going full on for a header to goal. If I made this goal it would take us out of the tie and potentially win the game. Expecting the force and passion I always bring to the field, the goalie came out to block me and that’s when the agonizing pain blurs my memory. Basically I was slide-tackled unintentionally, the force of the blow impacting the outside of my knee and bending it inward, tearing my ACL severely. I knew it was serious immediately. I could not put any weight on my leg and my knee swelled right away. Despite words of wisdom from my fellow players telling me to shake it off and grab a beer, I called the Peace Corps medical duty phone and was advised to go to the ER. The goalie, feeling badly about the whole thing, drove me to the ER with my roommate Anna where I was poked and prodded, given an MRI, and wheeled around Clinica Biblica (quite fun, but be careful letting Anna drive a wheelchair!). The weeks that followed included a litany of appointments, procedures, policies and paperwork. And now it is official that I will be medically separated from the Peace Corps- ending my service early- to my home of record to undergo surgery and subsequent treatment.

As I complete my chapter on Peace Corps Costa Rica, a whole lot of brilliant new people open to the first page of theirs. I had the honor of attending the swear-in ceremony for Tico 24. It was the third swear in ceremony I have attended, including my own in May, 2009 and that of my pollitos, Tico 23, earlier this year. As I witnessed the familiar giddiness and anticipation on the bright faces of the newest volunteer group of PCCR, I reflected on my own service of the past 3 years. My two years as an RCD volunteer in the beautiful mountain community of Quebrada Grande, Guanacaste and the past year as the TEFL PCVL in San Jose. For all intents and purposes, I have completed my commitment and my work as a Peace Corps volunteer here. And I know that on my originally scheduled COS date in December I would have faced a torrent of emotions and feelings of loss the same as I am now.

But all this doesn't make me feel any more ready. The abruptness and lack of finality in my work pains me almost as much as not being able to say goodbye properly to so many people. I had a lot of plans packed into these last few months in Costa Rica, but I guess Dios no quiere. I can't imagine living anywhere other than Costa Rica. I can't fathom life without piropos, tropical down pours, kumbya, and gallo pinto. But I suppose these were things I would have had to face eventually anyway. So, on August 28th, 2012, I hit the PCCR gong to signify the end of my service, and received my completion of service certificate.
I recently went through my blogs and read the first couple I wrote regarding my Peace Corps experience. I wrote them in January and February 2009 as I anxiously awaited my departure for staging in DC on March 10th and Costa Rica on March 10th. My excitement and trepidation pours from the words, as does my organized, planner, type-A personality. That was back when I was even more type-A, not yet having had the three years experience in flexibility. In one of these blogs I made a list entitled, “Things I will miss while I am in Central America.” They included all my New Mexico favorites, family, friends, sports teams, gym, technology, etc.

So now I’d like to make a tribute to Costa Rica and all the things I will miss dearly about the place that truly became my home.
1. Futbol
   a. Futbol Cinco
   b. Futbol Cancha Grande
   c. The way in which futbol is practically a religion in CR
2. Palm trees and tropical flowers
3. White sand beaches and sunsets
4. Cheering for Liga, booing Saprissa
5. My host family in Quebrada Grande, La Familia Rojas Carranza and my second mothers Isabel and Carmen
6. Combate
7. Novelas
8. Gallo pinto
9. Hikes in the jungle and camping on the beach
10. Tico culture
   a. Respect and care for family and the elderly
   b. Patience, Pura Vida, and Tico time
   c. Quality time being valued over commercialism and excessive gift-giving
11. Fellow PCVs
12. PCCR office staff
13. CR Holidays and rituals such as the Dia de Los Angeles pilgrimage to Cartago
14. Living abroad and experiencing something new everyday
15. Speaking and improving my Spanish
16. Living in Apartamentos America with my awesome roomies Dina, then Anna, and neighbor Amber
17. The TEFL team
18. Working and living for the United States Peace Corps, an organization I truly love and believe in

Back in the States I await surgery and physical therapy while living with my mom in Oklahoma City. This is not the end to my Peace Corps service I pictured or planned. But it’s the one that happened and the one I will embrace out of necessity, while remembering and cherishing my time, accomplishments and experience in Peace Corps Costa Rica.
Phone: 505-270-2724
Address until January: 4717 NW 57th St. Oklahoma City, OK 73122

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Travels and more travels

It’s been ages since my last blog. It’s a mix of being busy and being lazy I suppose. Things have slowed down a bit now that the new group of volunteers- Tico 23 TEFL- have completed training, sworn in as official volunteers, and are in their 2-year sites. It was an amazing experience to go through with them as their volunteer leader. I enjoy volunteer support and I have truly enjoyed getting to know each of my “pollitos.” Now that they are in their sites I am available to them remotely through email and phone. I try to stay up to date as much as possible on how their new lives are going. It’s a huge change for them, and the first 6 months in country (three in training, and first three in site) are both challenging and important. But these kiddos are all amazing people with an incredibly diverse list of skills and assets they have brought to Costa Rica. They are spread throughout the country now, sharing their energy and talents with Costa Ricans in the banana country of Limon, the high mountains of Los Santos, the heat of the deep southern region, and the dry beaches of Guanacaste. I had the good fortune of being able to travel with staff to the majority of these locations and aid in identifying host families for these volunteers while also seeing the diversity of each site and region. I can now honestly say that I know more and have seen more in the country of Costa Rica than in my own USA. Prior to the arrival of Tico 23 I took advantage of a group trip to National Park Corcovado in the very southern peninsula of Osa. It was a backpacking experience of a lifetime. A large chunk of the Osa Peninsula is protected through and through to preserve the lush, natural rain forest. It is simply full of plants and animals that are normally sought out in vain by a typical tourist in Costa Rica. My favorite take-away was the Toucan I saw at eye-level. It seemed like it was pulled right off the Fruit Loops box! The hike was strenuous too though. The heat and humidity are intense and it takes a good 6 hours to get to the camp in the middle of the park where the most wildlife can be seen. Part of the hike out is on the beach too, which was beautiful and challenging. Overall, it was an experience I’ll never forget. In May I took a quick trip home to watch my quasi-brother Greg Arias graduate with a chemical engineering degree from New Mexico Tech. The kid is a genius and has worked hard. I wouldn’t have missed that moment for the world. I took advantage of the time in the USA to visit the parents, both sets of grandparents, the godparents, and a couple aunts. I spent time in both New Mexico and Colorado and was able to meet up with a beloved high school friend, Ashley Dunn to reminisce about the high school years that now seem so long ago. Soon after the trip, my godparents Charlie and Barb along with their two sons Greg and Jeremiah joined my in Costa Rica for a week-long trip. I rushed them around but was able to show them my city life in San Jose as well as the life I led before in the mountains of Guanacaste. I had a blast hosting them. Last week I took a trip to Isla Chira with my good friend and neighbor Amber Featherstone. It’s a small island on the inner side of the Nicoyan Peninsula and I’ve actually been there before since it’s not too far from where I lived in Guanacaste. The fun part of the trip was visiting my Tico 23 buddy Whitney Martinez. Her site assignment is two schools on Isla Chira. It was amazing to visit her and see how happy and successful she is in her new home and place of work. Next week I fly off to Colombia with good friend and roommate Dina Navar. This will be her week-long going away party because she heads off to the USA for good in July. I am sad to see her go, but know she is ready to move on. RCD Tico 20 volunteer Anna Baker will move in with me and be my new roomie until I leave in December. I look forward to fun times with her. I’ve had some ups and downs in personal life and have found it difficult to stay positive at times. I’ve realized I’m very intense… in everything really. I am passionate and sensitive, and when I fall (be it in love or simply flat on my face), I fall hard. I take things too personally and I don’t let things go that I should. And I become disappointed at any rejection, even if it’s not intended as a rejection. But as usual, the beautiful and talented Alanis Morissette describes my feelings far better than I can articulate: Song title: "So Unsexy". Oh these little rejections how they add up quickly, One small sideways look and I feel so ungood, Somewhere along the way I think I gave you the power to make, Me feel the way I thought only my father could. Oh these little rejections how they seem so real to me, One forgotten birthday I'm all but cooked, How these little abandonments seem to sting so easily, I'm 13 again am I 13 for good? I can feel so unsexy for someone so beautiful, So unloved for someone so fine, I can feel so boring for someone so interesting, So ignorant for someone of sound mind. Oh these little protections how they fail to serve me, One forgotten phone call and I'm deflated, Oh these little defenses how they fail to comfort me, Your hand pulling away and I'm devastated. When will you stop leaving baby? When will I stop deserting baby? When will I start staying with myself? Oh these little projections how they keep springing from me, I jump my ship as I take it personally, Oh these little rejections how they disappear quickly, The moment I decide not to abandon me.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Still Struttin' in the City

I closed out 2011 with a wonderful visit to my old Rural Community Development site, Quebrada Grande, Guanacaste. The two week trip was filled with birthdays, Christmas parties, and a new year’s hike to the beach with fellow volunteers. A community member turned 80 years old while I was there and the entire town came together for music, dancing, singing and general celebration. It was also wonderful to see how well Austin, the new Peace Corps volunteer in Quebrada is doing. He loves the town and the community loves him as well. He just moved out of the host family stay and is now renting his own home in town. At the end of my two week stay I headed down the mountain to Playa San Miguel, my favorite beach in Costa Rica with a group of about 10 volunteers from Austin’s group (Tico 22 that arrived in March of 2011). We kicked off the New Year with a giant bonfire on the beach and a rocket firecracker. It was great for me to get to know a different group of volunteers.

Since my last blog entry my life has mainly revolved around work. I did conquer Chirripo, the highest mountain in Costa Rica with some fellow volunteers. We did it over Thanksgiving, drinking wine out of a box and eating sliced pre-packaged turkey to celebrate the holiday. The trip was just as brutal as expected and we hiked much of the mountain (both up and down) in the rain. But it was a truly memorable experience.

As for work, I keep very busy. So many projects and support for current volunteers, and so much coordination and planning in preparation for the new group of 22 TEFL volunteers due to arrive in February. I am so excited for their arrival. Our project team is super busy planning the trainings and most importantly locating the sites in which these future volunteers will work. Locations we have identified are spread throughout the country, from border to border and coast to coast. I have the amazing opportunity to join my program manager on three of the site visit trips in the coming months. One of these trips delves into the indigenous reserve of Talamanca where we have a few sites for some very determined and committed future volunteers. I am so excited to see parts of the country I have never seen while representing Peace Corps and informing local communities of the TEFL project and its purpose.

I love working with volunteers as a support system, resource, and listening ear. I love working on a project team with two of the most fun and down to earth guys I know; one Costa Rican, one American. I love working in a bilingual office and improving my Spanish skills every day. I love working for the Peace Corps and truly believing in its goals and its work in Costa Rican communities. And with this passion in mind I have decided to stay in Costa Rica an extra six months beyond my originally extended close of service date in June of 2011. My program manager asked me to apply for the extension as there will be no TEFL volunteer available to take over the leadership position until December of 2012, the date when the current TEFL volunteers complete their two years of service. So if the application is approved, I will remain in Costa Rica until next December and continue my work with the TEFL project of Peace Corps Costa Rica. I again feel the excitement of the opportunity to stay longer in Latin America. More travel opportunities, more time to perfect my Spanish, and more time to narrow down my next steps.

I also continue my work with the counterpart organization Costa Rica Multilingue. Working with this foundation and the amazing people who form it has been an incredible experience. I have been the guest at many events, met incredible people and been a key player in the planning of many projects and activities. In April we are planning a 5/10k race to benefit the foundation and express a social campaign message of the importance of multilinguism in education.

I have also joined a women’s club here. It is called the Women’s Professional Network, a facet of the Women’s Club of Costa Rica. The club is very active in education in Costa Rica and is formed by a variety of incredible women from all over the world now living in Costa Rica. I am on the planning committee for an upcoming event in April at which we will host guest speaker Gloria Feldt, a feminist and women’s rights activist from the US. She is a pretty big deal and I am excited to be a part of the project.

Next week I embark on one of the final top sites of Costa Rica on my list to see; Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula. It is said to have an incredible abundance of wildlife and is one of the most well-protected national parks in the world. You must hike in at one side of the park and then trek through the jungle and beaches to the other side. It takes a couple days to complete the journey. Unlike the freezing cold of Chirripo Mountain, Corcovado is sure to hot and humid.
My new official close of Peace Corps service date is December 21st, 2012, which also happens to be my 27th birthday and quite possibly the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar. So, we’ll see what happens!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Life in San Jose, Costa Rica

I loved my site in Quebrada Grande de Nandayure as an RCD volunteer, but that didn’t stop me from whining about sliding down the mud roads in winter, having a pulperia as the only public business within miles, no hot water, a general lack of social activity, a (maybe) twice a week 5am bus out, and probably much more.

I yearned for the city life… sidewalks and gym memberships, multi-cultural cuisine and a reliable, constant bus service, hot water and a real washing machine. I knew by mid-service training I wanted to live in a capital city while remaining in a foreign country. I wanted the hustle and bustle, the routine, the full schedule. And here I am now, basking in the luxuries of the city since June of this year, living the city life and the office life as a PCVL, and truly enjoying the aforementioned perks. Yet, despite all my whining in those final months in the campo, and all the energy I exuded in excitement to be exactly where I am now, I miss Quebrada Grande more than ever.

Sure, now I have internet 24-7 and a slew of restaurants to choose from on any given night. There are dance clubs and theater productions, races and more. But what importance do these things have when you’re an outsider, never quite able to get in? More so here than in a small community, one is not given the chance to disprove the stereotypes attached to gringas. Every day I see new faces and I try to greet with the friendliness that worked so well for me in the campo. But I am mainly met with surprise and distrust, and there is never the time nor the opportunity to prove I am a normal human being with a healthy respect and knowledge of Tico culture, not some rich foreigner here on tour or retired.

I hate to sound too depressed and negative. The truth is I still need more time to adjust to the cultural shock of campo to city. I am reminded of my PST more than two years ago when Delia and Maru spoke to us in depth about cultural adjustment. The honeymoon phase, the crisis phase, the recovery phase, the adjustment phase, and then the repetition of it all in some ways. And it occurred to me that I never really experienced that in my site… at least not to a large extent. I definitely had a lot to get used to in a rural farming town of 152 people who have low education levels, practice Catholicism strongly, and live within the machismo that defines Guanacaste in many ways. But after only a month or so in Quebrada Grande the long, silent stares full of curiosity and consternation were replaced by friendly greetings and invitations to cafecitos and baby showers. Of course, this didn’t happen with every single person and it didn’t happen overnight. It took work to visit homes, attend groups and meetings (both formal and informal), put on a solidly happy face every day and walk around getting to know people for real in those first few months. But once that was established, the adjustment and acceptance I felt came easily. And the last year and a half of service were pretty much smooth sailing, especially in terms of friendships and social acceptance. So I didn’t much think about the training with the little chart of culture shock and “feelings”… until now.

Now, instead of long cafecitos on quiet porches chatting about the recent gossip and news, I read Facebook updates and click ‘like’ to the status of friends. Instead of strolling up to wide open homes and calling out hoopay, I briskly stride past endless iron gates and closed doors, my ears and eyes alert to any possibly approaching thieves. Instead of chilling out at a neighbor’s to watch the game or sing karaoke until late at night, I try to be home before dark and lock behind me the two iron gates and heavy wooden door that protect my apartment.

I feel lonelier among thousands than I did among little more than a hundred. But I am not alone in this according to the American Sociological Review: “Loneliness frequently occurs in heavily populated cities where people feel utterly alone and cut off, even when surrounded by millions of other people, experiencing a loss of identifiable community in an anonymous crowd. It is unclear whether loneliness is a condition aggravated by high population density itself, or simply part of the human condition brought on by this social setting. While loneliness also occurs in societies with much smaller populations, the sheer number of people that one comes into contact with daily in a city, even if only briefly, may raise barriers to actually interacting more deeply with them, and thereby increase the feeling of being cut off and alone. Quantity of contact does not translate into quality of contact.”

Add this to the transition from an intimate community setting where we have been trained as PCVs to become a part of the social network of the community, mixing work, personal, social and free time all into one. And add another sucker punch for being a giant macha gringa in a Latino city society. It’s amazing how having a small community of people know you personally makes you forget your physical differences. Here in the Chepe I am strikingly aware of the physical differences that separate me from Ticos. It is pointed out to me every day.

But in the end I know this is what I signed up for. I was naïve to not consider these factors and expect an easy transition. It may not be the reverse culture shock of going back to the States, but it is still a shockingly new experience that will take time for adjustment and acceptance.

The contrast and recognition also leads me to cherish more the time I had in Quebrada Grande. I can’t go back and extend there a third year there… that might make Austin a little upset. But I can learn from the experience to treasure the positives of my current state, no matter where I am. I’m working on that right now.
I’m also continuing to play soccer on a women 5v5 team about once a week. And I spend a lot of time at the gym. It has become a bit a social scene for me as I no longer have the pulperia or town meeting hall I had back in Quebrada.

During the month of October I signed up for four different 10k cancer awareness races. I enjoyed the experience and the unity of the events. I plan to take part in more charity runs in the upcoming months. I also took a leap of faith- literally- and went bungee jumping with a group of volunteers after a recent training. It was quite possibly the scariest and most thrilling thing I have ever done.

I really enjoy my job as the PCVL of the TEFL project. The people I work with are amazing and I truly enjoy being a resource and liaison for volunteers in the field. In February we will receive a group of 20 new TEFL volunteers and impart on the 3 month journey of PST. It will be crazy busy, but very rewarding.
I plan to spend my 26th birthday and Christmas in Quebrada Grande. The weather will be perfect for beach trips, river swims and mountain hikes. I am also excitedly awaiting a visit form my mom in November. This time she’ll get to see my city life.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Happy 50th Anniversary Peace Corps!

I am now fully integrated into city life once again. I have joined a gym down the street from my apartment and I’ve found a local women’s indoor soccer team that plays once or twice a week at a really nice indoor facility in a suburb of San Jose. Office life is great too. I truly appreciate a bit of a routine and enjoy my position as a volunteer leader. I try to stay in touch with the 20 TEFL volunteers to help them with anything they need in their sites, offer them support and resources, and act as a messenger between them and the office when necessary. We are also working diligently to plan for the next incoming group of volunteers which will take place in February. We will receive 20 new TEFL volunteers and we must not only find the sites in which they will work but also plan their 3 month pre-service training. I enjoy working on site development and narrowing down the goals and objectives of the TEFL project in Peace Corps Costa Rica. It is strange to think that there are 20 idealistic and excited people awaiting a letter of invitation to Peace Corps Costa Rica just as I did almost 3 years ago. It was in December of 2008 when I finally (or at least I felt like it was finally) received a formal invitation to be a rural community development volunteer in Costa Rica starting in March of 2009. And now here I am on the other side, feeling rushed to welcome 20 new members of our Peace Corps community.

My other work consists of my counterpart organization Costa Rica Multilingue, located in the President’s House in another area of San Jose. My major work with them involves expanding a grassroots project called Community Conversations. The idea of this initiative is to match native speakers of English (or other foreign languages) who live in Costa Rica, with local Costa Ricans who wish to improve their basic or intermediate level English through conversations. So basically I have been trying to do a lot of networking and media exposure for the project in order to connect people to form these groups. I have given presentations to several ex pat groups in attempts to find volunteers to participate in the project and it is moving along well. At CR Multilingue I also do translating work and fundraising research as the organization is non-profit even though it is governmental.

I spent a month in the USA in June and July and enjoyed an amazing family reunion and Fourth of July party. I was able to catch up with friends and family in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Rye, Colorado and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I actually drove from New Mexico to Oklahoma, and had a blast although it took some getting used to after two years not being behind the wheel. I also played a whole lot of tennis! It came back fast after a couple rusty hitting sessions, but I still have the knack and the passion. Hopefully it will come back again after my year long extension.
In mid-July I said farewell to North America and began my new life in the capital city of Costa Rica. Dina and I quickly made routines for ourselves and found we live very well together. We do all our fresh food and produce shopping every Saturday morning at the local farmer’s market where every fruit imaginable can be found. I go to the gym in early AM during the week and have discovered my new favorite workout (not including sports of course); Spinning. I am even considering buying the little clip bike shoes. I borrowed a friend’s mountain bike one weekend and went for a nice ride as well.

With the full work load I haven’t had many opportunities to take advantage of the easy transportation for travel from San Jose. But I was able to sign up with Dina and some other PC friends for a US Embassy trip to Tortuguero National Park. This was a National Geographic paradise. The boat tours revealed a wide variety of animal life, including many beautiful birds. And of course, we saw the turtles. We went during nesting season and were able to see the giant sea turtles laying eggs on the beach. They heave themselves up the sand, dig a giant hole and drop around 75 eggs in the hole before filling it with sand. Then they pull themselves back down into the water and never look back. It’s a very fend for yourself life for turtles. The experience was surreal. I stood within feet of the mother turtle as she went about her business with no care about my presence at all.

I also took a weekend in early September to go back to the place I called home for two years. Quebrada Grande hadn’t changed much from when I left, but I also saw a great impact from Austin’s work there now. He has developed and expanded the computer center to the point where nearly all the community kids have been adding me as friends on Facebook. And he has picked up right where I left off in teaching English in the school and to community members. After visiting with many community members during my visit I think it’s safe to say they are all very happy with their new Peace Corps volunteer.

It was of course bittersweet to me as there were things I miss. I took a few of my favorite hikes and enjoyed the calm quiet air and the views of the ocean from the mountain tops. I strolled from house to house where I was offered local coffee and was given all the gossip updates. And my dog (who I guess is no longer mine) greeted me as if I had never left and followed me around the entire weekend up until I boarded the 4:45am bus to come back to San Jose on Monday. I do indeed miss having an animal companion, but city life in an apartment just isn’t conducive.
This month and year marks the 50thanniversary of Peace Corps around the world. Washington DC will be alive with Peace Corps returned volunteers, advocates and supporters starting Sept. 20th. And here in Costa Rica we will be hosting a photo exhibit and party entitled “Costa Rica through the Eyes of Volunteers” where winning photos from volunteers will be displayed.

I am definitely proud to be a Peace Corps volunteer and I am proud of this organization’s work throughout the world. I will keep you all updated on my city Peace Corps life. But so far, so good!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Starting my new Peace Corps era

Here it is June already and as most of my friends and family know, I have received the job as Peace Corps Volunteer Leader in San Jose for the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) project. It is a year extension during which I will assist the TEFL program staff, office tasks and administration, and most importantly, the volunteers in Peace Corps Costa Rica. Currently I am in training with 4 other peers who represent the projects Rural Community Development (Dina, also my roommate), Community Economic Development (Theresa), Children, Youth and Family (Morgan) and Environmental Initiative (Kyle). We are all settling into our new lives in the city with relative ease. Those of us who have come from drastically rural sites have embraced the hot water and lack of bugs and mud. But I know I will also miss the small town feel of Quebrada Grande and its community members. I’ve traded in my easy going tranquilo lifestyle for the world of office work and a 9-5 desk job. But the work is still rewarding and interesting. Twenty-five percent of my time will be dedicated to an outside organization such as an NGO or other non-profit that shares goals with my project. Each volunteer must foster a relationship with such an organization and dedicate time to working with them and for them. My organization is called Costa Rica Multilingue ( , an organization that strives to create a higher level of English fluency in Costa Rican citizens in order to create job opportunities. The Peace Corps TEFL project is completely in line with the goals of this organization and this is why they will become my counterpart work. I will also assist with trainings and volunteer support issues when necessary. The current TEFL group is about to reach their mid service point, which will indicate a necessary training, and then a new TEFL group (Tico 23) will arrive in February.

I have moved into a 2 bedroom apartment with fellow PCVL Dina that is located only yards away from the Peace Corps office building. Living in San Jose is both more costly and dangerous than living in the rural areas of Costa Rica, but I feel mine and Dina’s setup is the best it could be and I’m loving the ease of constant internet and sidewalks.

In my last months of service as an RCD volunteer in Quebrada, I packed as much in as I could. I finished the 3 month long boys youth group entitled Chicos Poderosos and we took a hike up to Los Pinos with a picnic to celebrate. I participated in a sex education youth day in Santa Cruz with fellow Guanacaste Peace Corps volunteers. We each brought 4-6 youth from our communities and with funding from the US grant money PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDs Relief) were able to give a full day of sex education sessions with a variety of formats and information.

I participated in a large community fundraiser for the new Catholic Church in Quebrada. We held a Cabalgata, to horse show at which lots of delicious food was served while the cowboys of the area rode up on horseback to compete horse techniques and aesthetics. I wore cowboy boots and a western checkered shirt that was the “uniform” for the girls helping.

The following weekend Priscilla and I went to the National Voces Valerosas young women’s conference in San Jose. Priscilla won a position in the VV magazine for a collage she made representing women in the work world of rural Costa Rica.
We then held the second annual Kids Soccer Camp. This year we won funding from a Kids to Kids Grant and were able to hold the event free to all kids in the community while also giving each an event t-shirt. The male youth again volunteered to be the leaders of the soccer sessions, teaching kids soccer techniques and participating in the games and activities. We also ended with the famous water balloon fight which inevitably gets out of hand but is far too popular to cancel.
In early April my sister came to visit and we spent a few days down on my favorite beach, San Miguel, which was nearly void of people. It was quiet and peaceful and more than once we had the entire beach to ourselves. I bid farewell to the American owners of the bar/restaurant, telling them that my visits would no longer be frequent. But I am sure I will return there as it has become one of my favorite places.

Near the end of April was the Volunteer Action Committee (VAC) dinner- a very famous yearly event that falls during the time where there are the most volunteers in country. It was held right before Tico 19 volunteers began to pack their bags and fly out, and during the pre-service training of the newest group in Costa Rica, Tico 22. The VAC “dinner” always ends up turning into a wild dance party as there are so many people coupled with loud music and some delicious beverages. And for we Tico 19ers, it was our last hoorah before the majority went back to the real world of the USA. Some volunteers are extending for up to a year in their current sites, while a few of us moved to San Jose for the leadership positions. But it was definitely the last time we were all together as our unified group, and it was full of emotion. The RCD tico 19ers (17 of us) went out for a special goodbye dinner as some volunteers left in late April, and the rest left throughout the month of May. We listened to each other’s future plans consisting of immediately starting grad school, starting a new job, or just heading home and moving in with the parents until something exciting comes along. Those of us taking the PCVL positions still must say goodbye the way of life of the previous 2 years as a change from a rural environment to the hustle and bustle of the city and its busy work life is a large change even if it doesn’t consist of moving out of the country of Costa Rica. We RCD 19ers each filmed a short video clip in which we said goodbye to our peers and then our group techy Penelope made a slide show of pics from our two years of service that ended with the video clips of each. We all watched it together the night of the dinner. Tears were shed and about a million hugs were shared.

In my last few days in site I took the long hiking trip over the mountain to the beach just because I had wanted to do it for so long. I also went to southern Costa Rica where I met up with fellow volunteer Jessica Robinson to explore San Gerardo de Rivas and the Cloud Bridge National Reserve at the base of Chirripo, the tallest mountain in Costa Rica. I completed my English classes and youth groups, and began saying farewell to my community members. I requested a replacement volunteer and Austin Slaughter of Austin Texas came to visit in early May as a possible volunteer for the site. He instantly loved it just as I did two years ago and I was instantly confident he was the perfect volunteer to continue in my place. He started on May 16th and quickly became very active with the community Association and shared with me many feasible and wonderful project ideas he has for Quebrada in his two years of service. We overlapped for about 15 days before I finally took the final leap and moved the remainder of my things out of Quebrada and to San Jose on May 30th, leaving my dog (who I will miss as much as many community members!) with Maikol and his family who agreed to adopt him.

Before I left I was given three going away parties by different groups of people of the community. First there was the community association who had a little afternoon barbecue and presented me with a small and thoughtful plaque of recognition. Then the ladies and girls of both Quebrada and the neighboring town of Quebrada hosted a soccer game in my honor and offered me a toast over a whole lot of food they brought. And finally, the male youth of the community (who I probably feel the closest due to our almost daily contact playing soccer in the plaza and hanging out at the pulperia) told me their goodbye’s at a bar in the neighboring town of Los Angeles over lots of music and lots of beer. I danced the night away and took millions of pictures so as to never forget these once shy and quiet guys who somehow became my best friends.

Peace Corps has been a long journey that really isn’t quite over yet. But I’ve known for a while that it is time for a change and saying goodbye is always the hardest part of starting something new and exciting.


PCVL Kristen Woodruff
Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 1266- 1000
1000 San Jose, Costa Rica

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Second year coming to a close

I realize I have basically failed at being a good blogster. It has been months since my last post. No excuse other than laziness really and perhaps a busy schedule. But here it is, February of 2011, only a few months away from my close of service date- May 30th is the official last day of work for my Tico 19 group. All the clichés are true about time. It feels now like it truly flew by even as I remember times that it felt like time stood still and I wasn’t getting anywhere. I think the work of Peace Corps is the only job about which one can say they are both bored and busy at the same time. It’s a strange state of mind, and an oxymoron really, but I’ve lived it first had.
Since writing last I have had visitors and taken a few trips of my own. In October I traveled to Panama with fellow volunteer and friend Jessica Robinson. We explored Panama City, Bocas del Toro, and the San Blas Islands. In January I met my mom in Nicaragua and we packed into public buses to make our way to the Jinotega Highlands, the capital of Managua, the artisan town of Masaya, and the architecturally grand city of Granada.
In November Aunt Cheri, Aunt Lauri and Cousin Suzanne flew down with new shiny passports to experience my life here in rural Costa Rica. They stayed nearly three weeks and we spent significant time down on the beach as well as hiking the trails and swimming in the river of my site.
The travels and visitors began as the rainy season faded away. During the months of April through October, travel is not ideal as frequent downpours make roads impassable and dangerous. During this time I continued English classes to several groups. One group finished their course in December, winning a certificate of completion. My children’s classes continue and the other organized course is due to finish right before I leave. The kids school year just began and thus second year English has begun as well.
We hosted a 3 day drug education course for which a Costa Rica police official stayed in our town and gave presentations to the youth of the community. The children followed along with a workbook and graduated with a certificate in the end.
In April of 2010 we hosted a kid’s soccer day camp that was a total success. All kids came to the soccer field for a day of soccer technique training and fun with volunteer help from community youth and parents. We will be hosting the second annual kid’s soccer day camp in late March of this year and this time, we were able to get funding for t-shirts.
I completed Chicas Poderosas (the girls youth group) early last year and began the young women’s group entitled Voces Valerosas. This group was comprised of similar themes regarding self-esteem, health, drug and sex education, etc. The end of this course also included a competition of the works of the young women during the course. I sent in several homeworks from my participants and one of them won a spot in the soon to be published Voces Valerosas Magazine. She and I will travel to San Jose for the young women’s conference in March which will be comprised of all winning women throughout the country and their respective Peace Corps volunteers.
I flew home in December for a cold and slightly snowy Christmas at the home of Aunt Julie in Omaha, Nebraska. It was very nice to see the grandparents, parents, cousins, and aunt and uncle for a traditional family Christmas and delicious food!
The coming of the end of the year also brought the anniversary of my birth 25 long years ago. I now carry around with me a quarter of a century worth of experience on this planet. I guess that is supposed to make me an adult. ;-)
Right now the future is quite uncertain. I only have plans in place until May 30th. I should soon find out if I have a third year extension job in the Peace Corps office in San Jose that would begin in July of 2011 and span until June of 2012. The position is Peace Corps Volunteer Leader and involves living and working in the capital city. Several volunteers are applying, so we will just have to wait and see. Whatever happens, my next step is sure to be an exciting one.

a recent poem:


In my dreams I make love to a future

To a faceless perfection that holds me tight,
Defends my plight,
Gives me intelligent insight

That patiently accepts my passion and fire,
Listens with a smile as a scream my desire

Who calms my fear and anger,
Tells me everything will be okay,
And touches me in a manner
That my body simply turns to clay

Who sweats like me in the spirit of competition,
But can end the day with an intelligent conversation

About religion, politics, the existence of our species,
Knowing when a black and white answer is simply too difficult to seize

In my future I make love to a dream

Because perfection is not a real possibility