Tuesday, June 7, 2011

First Physical Challenge: Valle del Silencio

Six months of living without a host family has served me well. Health related, my consumption of vegetable oil has decreased significantly. Yep, it did feel like vegetable oil had become a large side dish at every meal. Without weighing myself, I felt the difference just by the fact that I did not feel so heavy during the day. After weighing myself, I’m proud to say that I’m back to my pre-Peace Corps weight!

Several women, in their Tica honesty, have commented on my weight loss and have credited it to my walking everyday. In responding, I diplomatically leave out the vegetable oil comment.

These same women (all housewives) have decided to walk every day in an attempt to become healthier. Walking with them, I gain admittance into their social lives and complete my own goals: become healthier and prepare myself for the mighty Chirripo (the highest mountain in Central America.)

This past weekend, I tested my readiness for Chirripo by hiking Valle de Silencio in la Parque

Amistad Internacional. 8 hours to climb; spend a day at the peak and hiking to a natural garden (total of 6 hours); and hiking down in 6 hours. I passed with an 80. jajaja.

No, but seriously. It was the hardest hike I have ever completed. Most of it was a relentless steep climb. Within the 1st 3 hours, my left thigh cramped up to the point where I could barely move it. Putting all of my weight on my right leg, I avoided all movement that would require me to lift my left leg higher than an inch. Refusing defeat, I continued on. That night, I spent an hour stretching my left leg…it still had two days of hike left. Luckily, the climb down was easier (although slippery.)

After Parque Amistad, I think that I’ll have to reconsider Chirripo. But then again, the photos and memories remind me that the hike was still AMAZING!!!! Enjoy the photos

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Favorite Tico Words

In PC Costa Rica, we have a magazine created by volunteers. In every edition, it features a couple of volunteers and they give basic information. For example, they list their favorite Spanish word. Thinking about what I would write if featured, I created this list of favorite Spanish words. Some of these words are self explanatory. Others are cultural and therefore I include examples.

Pereza—Almost synonymous with lazy. However, its more respectable and a valid excuse. It means that there is something that you could be doing or should be doing. But to do it is so boring that it makes you lazy.

Example: It’s raining outside and you have to clean the house, but you’re not in the mood to do so. One can say “Que pereza.”

Example: You have to study for an exam but a tv show is about to start. Que pereza.

Example: I just woke up and am looking at my task list. However, I make myself a couple of coffee and just stare into the mountains. “Tengo (I have) pereza.”

Your next door neighbor invited you over but you don’t really want to leave your house. “Que pereza.!”

Its not procrastination or being lazy. Its pereza!

Ooopay: People don’t knock on doors here. That’s probably because the front door is kept open to give a steady breeze. So instead, the visitor sings “ooooooooooooooooopay.” I love it and insist on naming my next dog “Oopay.” That way, if someone sings this, the dog will great them!

Carapichi: By far the most vulgar word on this list. It means “dick face.” My neighbor is proud of herself for teaching me this word and my easiness to use.

Diay: So many uses.

Example: You and your friends go to the mall but you disappear on them. When they finally find you they say: “Diay Q, what happened to you?”

Example: You and your friends go to the local store. One person says, “Q, buy me an icecream.” You respond “Diay!”

Fue Puta / Fue Putica: Literally, it means “that was a bitch.” It’s appropriate for all age levels: the 1 yr old learning to talk that accidently drops his bottle on the floor to the 95 year old man that accidently slams his hand in the door.

At part of my community integration, I’m proud of my ability to pull these words off. When I say them correctly and at the right moment, my neighbor glows with pride at “dirtying” my Spanish vocab.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Gossip—a defining characteristic of every culture. Paparazzi. Blogs. He said/She said. Bathroom wall writings. Passing of notes. High School. Lunch breaks. Train talk. Work gossip.Grandma knows everything and tells everyone. Family “secrets.” Watering of the flowers. Taking out the trash. Nosey neighbors.

One thinks he/she is above it. But loves to hear it. Ask questions that confirm/deny. Love knowing that our fellow being is capable of being sinners. Try to hide our own dirty laundry.

Shows such as Desperate Housewives, Housewives of Atlanta, 90210 and just about every US sitcom confirms it in US culture.

Still, I never considered it dangerous. Perhaps because our social circles are big. One has to be an active player in order for their home life to be mixed with their work life.

Living in such a small town, chisme (gossip) has its own life. Work, home, school, church, social all involve the same people. One action (done or presumed) is soon known throughout the town. Finally, those that did not witness the action ask questions to confirm or clarify events, thus involving the actor in the chisme.

As I write this, I think about chisme that I accidently created / took part in yesterday. Yesterday was a complete day of pereza (too lazy to do anything….I should write a blog about this concept as well.) Interestingly, I was bored out of my mind and wished to do something…something that did not involve MonteCarlo. I wanted something exciting to happen. That wish came true.

Around 5pm, I went to my neighbor’s house. Mari (previous blog about her slaughtering pigs) is considered an outcast of the town and she prefers to keep it that way. After I arrived, her mother-in-law arrived just to say hello. Mari then notices a group of people walking up our street along with a cross and guitars. CRAP!

It’s a religious tradition: Every house is supposed to place a cross in their front yard along with a purple cloth. A church group then comes to their house, says a prayer and sings a song. The house members then join the crowd and they continue throughout the community.

On my street, only 1 house (out of 5) placed a cross in the front yard and it wasn’t Mari nor mine’s. Keeping with tradition, the group should only approach the houses with crosses so I made sure I didn’t leave Mari’s house (I was in short shorts and a tank top and she was in the shortest of pajamas shorts and a tank-top without a bra…not appropriate for the church group to see) and Mari avoided being seen as well.

However, bc Mari’s mother-in-law knew she was home, the group decided to come to Mari’s house next (despite no cross). As I saw them standing in front of the house (but still on the “sidewalk”, I dropped to the ground, hoping they did not see me. Mari immediately followed as well as her daughter. Outside, they sang “Forgive this town, Lord.”


Protocol required Mari’s household to come outside and greet the group.

Once they left, I went outside to where they were standing to check to see if you could see through the blinds. I couldn’t (or so I hoped.) Afterwards, I realized that I may have caused problems for myself. Problems, not really. Just chisme. I can read the headlines now:“Devil-serving Gringa hides from church group.”

Darn-it. It’s so much easier hiding from Jehovah Witness’ in the states!

I’ll have to keep you all updated as to how this turns out, but I can’t help but laughing as of now.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Circle of Life

Recently, I twisted my face into that classic Q expression of “disgust.” Actually, it occurred 3 times and all of them included animals.

Hearing the noise of my neighbor (Mari) at 7 am, I jumped out of my bed thinking something was wrong. She is a woman that sleeps until 11am everyday, so her beating me out of bed is alarming. Opening my door, I ask her what’s wrong. She bubbly states that they’re going to kill a pig. Great.

Since arriving, I have refused to eat many things involving animals. A few are on Costa Rica’s endangered list and the rest usually involve pigs. At the top of the list are mondongo (chitterling soup) and chicarrones (pig skin fried).

Mari and her husband raise pigs to supplement their income. She recently closed her pulperia (corner store) and her husband does random work, mostly physical labor. Like many, pigs, chickens and cows only purpose is as food (and subsequently a source of money.) Wanting me to understand this value, she invited me to witness the pig slaughter: to understand the source of food and to understand that is done humanely.

I didn’t really have a choice but to attend. Actually, I did. But from my house I would have heard the pigs cries, so I might as well attend.

Her husband brought the pig to the assigned area and lifted a heavy hammer. Lifting it above his shoulders and preparing to swing, I readied myself for the upcoming sight. As he brought his arm down, I ran. Hearing the pigs cries, I forced myself to return and watch the rest. He then stuck a knife in the chest to allow the blood to flow free. With the help of his wife, he lifted the pig to a table so he could clean it. Adding boiling hot water, he shaved the hair off of the pig. Now that the pig was dead, I watched calmly, but refused to obey any of his commands to help. After cleaning it, he harnessed the pig to a pole so that he could cut it apart.

At some point, I stopped viewing this pig as a living creature. I guess that point is when it was dead and could no longer be considered living. I watched emotionless as the pig’s skin was separated and the meat was left exposed. But as he placed a knife to the rib cage and used a hammer to break the cage, I made my face of disgust.

Then, Mari offered me more explanation in the necessity of this. They bought a piglet for 30 mil (about $60, the initial investment) Every week, they had to buy food for the pig (along with 2 other fully grown pigs. They fed the pig until it weighed about 120 kilos. At this point, the pig has reached its maximum weight and would no longer grow bigger. It’s maximum weight was also the maximum price. While they could sustain the pig’s life, they would only lose money. A basic economic problem. At the time of death, the pig’s life had the highest value possible. Not only would they lose money in continuing to feed the pig, but the pig’s meat would harden with age.

Throughout the day, members of the community called and requested parts of the pig. At the end of the day, all was sold and Mari counted the money. Satisfied, she set a portion aside to buy her daughter’s school supplies. Another portion to fix her husband’s motorcycle so he could continue working. The final portion to keep ready for the next crisis they faced.

The next face of disgust occurred a couple of weeks later when the slaughtered pig’s mother gave birth to 9 piglets. This time, Mari and her family ran out of the house at 1am to attend the pregnant pig. I declined. While a birth may be a beautiful experience, I’m not to eager to see it. I suppose that if I ever have children, I’ll experience it firsthand.

But the next morning, I walked to the pig pen to congratulate the new mother and the owners. At this point, the mother lay resting between a metal contraption and the piglets outside. Mari explained that the frame was to keep the mother from rolling around and suffocating the babies. If one of them died, Mari’s family would be hit financially. In a month, she would sell each piglet for 30 mil. In total, the pigs were worth 270 mil ($540.) One the floor of the pen was the afterbirth of the last born and blood mixed with dirt. Face of disgust. Yeah, definitely a beautiful sight.

The pig barn also included 2 other pigs. Mari proudly explained their purpose. One was pregnant and due to give birth in 3 weeks. The other was destined to be food. As I write this (a month after), I remember that the pig was killed.

A couple of days ago, I went to Mari’s house to watch my favorite telenovela. As I’m sitting there, she hands me a plate that she describes as a dessert. Trusting her completely (she is a great cook), I put a full spoonful of it in my mouth. Face of disgust. I sit there for 5 seconds not sure what to do. Spit it out in my hand, back into the bowl? Force it down? I run to the sink and dispose of it. Then I drink a glass of water to wash it out of my mouth.

Mari and her family are laughing when I return and I calmly ask them what was that. It turns out that the night before, one of their cows gave birth and therefore they are enjoying this specialty tonight. The first 2 days after the cow gives birth, she produces a special type of milk. It is considered a delicacy and some eat it as is while others add honey to eat.

In the past month, I can honestly say that I have seen the circle of life: birth to death and the in-between. Not sure how I feel about slaughtering animals for the benefit of humans, but I will say this. A couple of nights I saw a movie and it involved a slaughter house. Comparing the method used by mass-scale US producers, my neighbor’s method was more humane.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


My apologies on the lack of blogs but the past couple of months have been extremely relaxed and filled with mostly social activities.  So what’s new?

December 1st, I moved into my own little house. Anyone that has talked to me via chat or email understands how important this was for me. Well, the house is tiny: 2 bedrooms and an open kitchen room / shower. The bathroom is pretty big and best of all, it has a ducha. What does that mean: hot / warm showers!!! It also means that my electricity bill will be a little higher every month, but its worth it. Water bills will also be higher now that I can shower at night as well as the mornings. My house is located between to great families! They are Pura Vida and I spend my evenings in their houses.

      Question: So what is the housing prices in Costa Rica? Well, I live in a rural community, so housing is pretty cheap. I pay 25 mil per month ($50) for rent. 2 mil ($4) for water. 2 mil ($4)for electricity.  The water and electricity prices are basic, so I’m extremely environmentally (or budget) conscious.

Christmas 001Christmas 009

Above: My bedroom (with the lovely mosquito net) and living room/ kitchen.

Dec 15 was the last day of school and the kids were treated to a party. As an end of school year treat / my Christmas gifts to the community, I made candy apples with the help of my neighbors. Starting at 8pm, we did not finish until 1pm (I apparently did something wrong. But luckily my neighbor considers herself a professional cook and was able to fix the problem.) The kids absolutely loved the candy apples. Most left with red teeth and the mixture stuck to their faces while leaving school.

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Above: The cook (Mari) and completed candy apples.

The graduating class also decided to make me one of the 3 “Dedicated” for the graduation. Their given reasoning: giving English classes and starting projects in the school. The real reason: They wanted to see me in a dress.

Christmas 044 2 of the 3 “Dedicated”

Dec. 20th-28th: Home for Christmas! It felt so good coming home for Christmas. However, Collette was 2 hours late picking me up from the airport. Next time, I need people to read the itinerary. I was so tempted to return to Costa Rica. jajaja.

Anyway, the luxuries of home (paved roads, diversity of restaurants, hot showers…etc) was refreshing. I won’t bore you with the details or photos. But sigh, miss it a little already. Wait, there is snow in DC right now…I don’t miss that.

NYE: After returning to Costa Rica, I raced back to my site to drop suitcases off and spent a couple of nights there. Then for the 30th, I went to Boruca to visit fellow volunteer Kelly. Boruca is an indigenous reservation and have one of the biggest NYE celebrations in Costa Rica. The 30th marked the start of the Juego de los Diablitos. (Game of the Devils.) It’s a 4 day celebration and represents the Borucans defeat of the Spaniards. It also meant a lot of tamales (made out of arroz…the BEST tamales in Costa Rica) and chicha (a smooth home-made alcohol.) Unfortunately, I couldn’t take photos of this event because it was sacred.

The rest of this month has been real tranquilo. Days at the river with community members. Beach trip with Peace Corps volunteers. Meetings….

I think that covers everything. Missing you all dearly and waiting for you to come visit!


Thursday, December 2, 2010


Dear Family and friends,

I hope that you all receive this postcard on Thanksgiving. I have missed you all dearly and nothing reminds me of my absence more than spending Thanksgiving without you. I imagine waking up to text messages and phone calls wishing each other a Happy Thanksgiving. You all spending the day slaving over the stove, opening the front door despite the cold November day. Dressing in cozy sweaters and jeans awaiting the arrival of other friends and families. Saying thanks as you gobble down your 3rd plate. Games, drinks and snacks after dinner. Preparing your plates to go (or if you’re my grandma, preparing your tubberware containers). Instead of writing about my Thanksgiving, I’ll share these photos. Enjoy!



Wednesday, November 24, 2010


A branch of the town’s family tree is headed by a 70ish year old man, Saul and his wife, Teresa. Saul was born in Cartago and worked on various coffee farms throughout his youth. In a tiny city of Cartago, he met a young girl named Teresa and fell in love. At the age of 18,they decided to marry but when they asked for their families’ blessing, the two families insisted they were too young to marry. Disobeying family wishes, the couple married. Hearing of good coffee crop in the south and following other family members, the young couple migrated to MonteCarlo.


Together, they raised 9 children 6 boys and 2 girls while living off of Saul’s wagers as a coffee picker. From this couple, more than half of the town can claim relations. In the elementary alone, majority of the kids identify Saul as grandfather or uncle.

The sons picked up the same trade, working on the same farm as their father and migrating to the US to help buy land for a house in MonteCarlo. Retiring, Saul maintains a tradition of making baskets to supplement his government pension.

Early in the morning, he walks into the mountain and collects the material. Washes it. Dries it for about two days. Weaves it into beautiful baskets and sells in the community and neighboring towns.

    Saul is the only person in town who practices this tradition. Neither his sons nor other family members have picked up this dying art. On the other hand, the 6 sons and father formed a singing group. During the year, they randomly serenade the women of the town.

This past Saturday, I rode a buseta filled with Saul’s immediate descendants (sons, grandchildren & daughter-in-laws) to hear the group play at a senior citizen home. I went expecting only to hear them play.

However, I received 5 invitations to dance with men over the age of 70. Serious dancing. They went crazy over salsa, kumbia, and corriente. One of the invitations was from a man with a walker. He could barely walk but insisted that I dance with him. When I declined, the girls teased me about my new “boyfriend.” Failing to get a young lady to dance with him, the elderly man magically turned his walker into a woman. Moving him and stepping with more pep than he walked.