Apr 24, 2012

What a Wonderful World

I'm sorry about how ... oddly written ... my last post was. The thing is, I wrote half of it one day and half another and then tried to make it sound like it was all from the same train of thought.

Things have really started to come together here for me. I'm starting to feel really comfortable at home, and even though I still don't have much to say the silences don't feel quite as threatening as before. My family is really young (my only host brother is 4), so the dynamic is very different than what I had in France, but I'm finding that (once again) different isn't neccesarily a bad thing. I just have to appreciate it for what it is, not make judegments based on what it's not.

 Work is also better. I've realized (with the help from some very wise people who put up with my stressed venting) that I really am helping the school. I've been doing alot of secretary-type things (all of this week I've been filing contracts), and I get the feeling that they're the sort of things that keep getting put off even though they're actually necessary to keep everything running smoothly. And I love every one at the school. With out realzing it, they've kind of become like a second family to me. Drinking a cup of coffee together at 3 (like everyone in Costa Rica does every day) has made it feel a lot less like "Oh, these are people older than me that I work with" and more "These are the crazy people that spend all day here, like me". (They're all completely loco. Everyone in Costa Rica is. I love it.)

And what have I been upto lately? Let's see... This weekend I went to La Fortuna, home of Volcan Arenal, with some of the AFSers from San Ramón to spend the day at Termales Los Laureles, AKA volcaninc hot springs! There were all sorts of pools filled with water ranging from normal pool temperature to 44°C. We spent the day going from hot to cold to hot to warm to cold to freezing and back to scalding again. It was a blast, but I found out that all that will melt away sunscreen in an instant (which is bad, because I burn in like 2 seconds). When we got back we went to one of the host sister's 24th birthday party, which was a blast. Next weekend I'm off to spend the weekend in Guanacaste with Anna, Allie, Kayla, and people from Kayla's AFS chapter in Grecia, so that should be fun.

I've been in the sort of mood lately where everything seems beautiful. I'll be walking to work and notice how pretty the blue sky looks against the colored houses, or how the light during a rain storm makes all the tropical-ish plants extra dramatic looking. I really like Costa Rica. It's so different from Towson and Lyon and Millery and Paris. Everything is smaller and seems a bit faded, but it's so full of life, full of nice people, full of danceable music and last minute plans. It's really lovely. And for all the moments when I feel totally out of my element, homesick, lost, what have you, it some how has a way of bringing up my spirits in spite of my best efforts to wallow in self pity. I guess there's just something about the sun, the ticos, the pura vida.

All in all, life's pretty nice right now! Once I go through my pictures I'll try to put some up =)


PS, Since I posted my college essay I probably should tell you about my decision! Say aloha (or hola or bonjour or hello) to the newest member of the University of Hawai'i Class of 2016 =)

Apr 8, 2012

Pura Vida, Mae

[Insert obligatory comment about time flying here]

I mean, one would think that it would be the sort of thing that stops being surprising after a while. My year in France flew by, then senior year followed in it's footsteps, so I should be used to life passing quickly. Yet here I am, wondering how the heck it's been over two months already. Time has a way of keeping you on your toes like that.

Once again I'm finding myself in this strange warp where each day seems to last a week and each week seems to last a day. I don't do much in my project. That's a lie, I do a decent amount. Sometimes. I don't know. I really don't know what I thought I was be getting myself into when signing up for a Community Service semster, but I guess I was expecting to be solving problems or something, rather than just being extra manpower. Now that I think about it, though, just being extra man power is probably what my project needs the most...

Let me back up. I should probably explain more about what my project is, since it's where I spend the majority of my time. I work in the music school in San Ramón, refered to by everybody as Sinem (because it's the local branch of the Sistema Nacional de Educación Musical). Sinem is in this big building that my host family tells me used to me a pretty popular night club, and it's not like any music school I've been in. It doesn't have rooms with closed doors so that each student gets a quiet atmosphere and feels individualized, but rather has just one big hall with a few different balconies. It's open from 8 AM to 9 PM, and the number of people there at once varies depending on what teachers are there at a time. Generally, there are a few students around in the morning, it's empty around lunch time, then around 2 the flow starts to pick up. By 5 PM it's crowded and noisy, with everyone playing all sorts of instruments and talking amongst themselves. Some nights the orchestra practices, but even during their rehearsals you can hear lessons going on in other corners of the school.

I mostly work at the computer in a little office upstairs. As it turns out, I'm halfway competent at making sheet music in Finale, and since there's a ton of music that needs sheet music made it's become my job. I also come in when the orchestra rehearses to pass out, collect, and generally be in charge of the concert folders. Sometimes there's other little things I do, like making sure all the folders have all the music they need, helping music lessons be playing the piano accompaniment, putting away chairs and music stands, digitalizing the entire music library, and making copies for people. Since the school only has 2 computers, I often have to give up my spot so that more important things can get done (like directorial stuff). At those times I often find myself just playing piano or sitting and talking with the other people that work here.

I often don't feel like I'm doing much, because I'm not doing anything huge. I'm not building houses or saving turtles or teaching underprivileged children the joys of the English language. But I'm doing things that need to be done in the school. The sheet music has to come from somewhere and someone has to be at rehearsal to make sure folders are where they should be. Now that I'm here, they have that somebody, and people who have more pressing things to deal with can deal with them. (That being said, it's still boring at times. But so is anything you do 8 hours a day, 5 days a week).

And I am happy with my project. I love that I get to live and breath music, because that's what I like doing. All of the people in the school are slightly crazy, but they're all fantastic. They're accomodating, and willing to repeat themselves 29 bajillion times so I can finally get what they're trying to tell me. They help me with my spanish technique, with my piano technique, with my general living technique. It's all good. Pura vida.

"Pura vida" is like the official phrase of Costa Rica. In my Costa Rican culture cram sessions I had before leaving the US sitting in the café at Barnes & Noble flipping through travel guides, I read alot about "Pura Vida". But I'm a bit wary of travel guides(they always seem to be for the "shallow" traveler, the person that just wants to see a place, not become part of it), so, I thought that it was probably just some touristy thing that wasn't really relevant to what I was going to do. But was I ever wrong. Litterally translated, it means pure life. But it means so much more than that in reality. It's a greeting, a way to say thank you, an expression of how you're feeling, a way to say everything's OK, and probably other things that I haven't picked up on. And everyone says it. ALL THE TIME. They also say "mae" all the time, which pretty much means dude. And by all the time, I mean all the time. If you're planning on coming to Costa Rica, expect to hear it a lot.

Most of my time is spent at my project, but I've gotten to do some really fun things in my time off too. One weekend, I took an AFS sponsored trip to Tortuguero, on the Carribean coast. It was really fun, despite having some really early morning starts (5:30 AM canal tour, anyone?). I got to see tons of animals I've never seen/never seen outside of a zoo, like crocodiles, monkeys, iguanas, and "Jesus Christ" lizards (they can walk on water). We went to the town, cleaned the beach, and took walks in the forest. We were staying at this really nice resort/lodge with a turtle shaped swimming pool and welcome mocktails upon arrival, and it was really fun to just kick back there with my AFS amigos when we weren't out and about.

I also went to the Imperial Music Festival with alot of the same people. It was a blast, and we got to see bands like Maroon 5, Skrillex, LMFAO, Cage the Elephant, Gogol Bordello, Major Lazer, and tons of others. This trip was definitely not AFS sponsored, but it was a great way to have some AFSer bonding, and was a well needed break from the pressures of our normal Exchange Student life.

This week was Semana Santa, which is basically the Costa Rican spring break. I went to Playa Tamarindo with my host family, which is on the Pacific Coast (opposite side from Tortuguero). Sun, sand, and temperatures in the 90s, que rico! We were only there for 2 days, but that was plenty of time to get my fill of lounging and basking in the heat. It was funny though, because everyone around us was speaking English! Apparently, it's one of the more touristy areas, and a hot spot for Americans. (Naturally, this meant that I refused to speak English at all. Whenever we went into a shop, and the people tried to help me in English, I adamently insisted on speaking Spanish with them.)

I've been having fun when I'm just chilling in San Ramon, too. I've made Chiverre Empañadas with the local AFSers, gone to the movies, taken up knitting (again), written a new song, and more! I've been hanging out with AFSers a lot, both local San Ramonites and my friends from orientation.

There's something to point out to anyone considering the CS program: Since I'm not in school with people my age everyday, I haven't been able to make friends like I did in France. That's not to say that I don't like the people I work with, it's just that I'm not constantly with people my age. I've made a few Tico friends, but mostly I've been enjoying the company of the other exchangers. Which isn't a bad thing, just something worth noting.

I'm not sure what else to say about everything. If there's anything you want to hear about, let me know!