May 25, 2012

Speaking of languages

One of the things I love about Costa Rica is how open the Ticos are to me, this girl from the US who decided to plop herself down in the middle of their lives and doesn't want to leave. Everyone's been super friendly, and they all seem truly interested in getting to know me. Along with the usual questions (where are you from, how long have you been here, do you like Costa Rica), I get asked a lot if I like Spanish.

It's a simple question with a less simple answer, an answer that I have a hard time translating with my limited language skills. But I think that the response is relevant enough to this blog to post here, because it has everything to do with understanding cultures and what not.

In short, my answer is "Umm, I guess so. I mean it's just a language..." Let me explain why:

When you don't understand a language, you hear it differently than if you were to be fluent in it. You can't listen for content, so you listen to the sounds. You hear speed, pitch, intonation, kind of like when you listen to a piece of instrumental music. And, like with music, you can find it pretty/ugly/lively/what have you. When we were first picking languages in 7th grade, I chose French over Spanish because I thought it sounded nicer and generally liked it better.

But now that I speak both Spanish and French (and English), I really don't like any one better than the other. Because now, instead of hearing a bunch of sounds, I hear words. I can't notice all the musical-ish parts, because all my brain power goes in to comprehension. Think about it. Excluding things like poetry and those moments where you go "Hehe, that's a weird word...kumquat...hehe", when was the last time you stopped to think about how the English language sounds, whether it's pretty or dull or anything.

Now, they're all the equal, and the important part is what people are using the language to say.

In the event that you actually wanted an update on my life, here's the low down. Everything's going swimmingly. I like my family, I like my job, I like that the rain has made the landscape greener. Tomorrow I'm probably going bungee jumping, which is utterly terrifying. I watched the Champions league final in a German club with German AFSers, which made it all the worse when Munich lost. I've been attempting to teach the parrot at home to whistle Harry Potter.



May 18, 2012

A Day Just Like Any Other

6:00 AM. The alarm on my phone goes off. I blindly reach under my pillow to shut it off, but can't seem to find it. I reach around some more. The beeps continue. I force myself to open my eyes. I become aware that the reason I can't find my phone is that I (and my pillow) have somehow become oriented with my head at the foot of my bed. I flop back to my usual position, find my phone, and silence it. I struggle to sit up, then to pull myself out from the blanket cacoon I've made myself.

I stand up. As always I'm surprised at how it's not actually cold once I'm out from the blankets, a feeling I've somehow held on to since leaving Maryland in the dead of Winter. I head out of my room to the kitchen/dining room region of the house. My host mom's off doing something, but there's a plate of home made bread and tamal asado on the table and a pot of coffee. I pour myself a mug, adding powdered creamer and sugar, then sit down to eat. My host mom comes in, says good morning, and then goes in to give my host sister her first wake up warning.

I grab my clothes for the day then head into the bathroom to shower. I head right back out because I realise I forgot to flip the power switch so that I can have hot water. Finally get to my shower. Get dressed, count out 180 colones for the bus, make sure I have my phone in my bag and head for the door.

7:20 AM. The bus to San Ramon approaches the stop, but doesn't show signs of slowing down. The bus driver smiles at me and holds up two fingers to let me know that there's another, less full, bus a little bit behind him. I don't mind waiting another 5 minutes or so if it means that I have a chance at a seat and not just a spot in an already overcroweded aisle. The second green and white school-turned-public bus comes by, and sure enough there's some space open in the back. I stear clear of the seat right in front of the ever open back door, still scared of falling out as the bus bumps around corners. A few stops later a guy about my age in the pink school uniform shirts of one of the near by colegios takes the seat next to mine, but neither of us says anything. The bus stops in the main bus stop in San Ramón and we all get off. I make my way to the park to sit and kill some time.

8:00 AM. I head over to SiNEM, a walk that takes all of 2 minutes. The door's locked, so I'm once again the first person there. I wait out side. People walking by look twice at me, the gringa just chilling out outside a shut door. Finally Jackie, the secretary, shows up and unlocks the door. She runs to the alarm to disarm it before it starts to make noise. I drop my bag off under the counter in the office area and then start to collect all the folding chairs and music stands from the orchestra rehearsal last night.

Jackie says that there isn't much for me to do until José, the guard, gets here and I help him put plaques on music stands, so until then I can play piano or go online or whatever. I grab my sheet music and head up to the piano in the back corner of the balcony, the one with the least amount of sticky keys. I end up playing for a while.

12:00 PM. Lunch time. I grab my bag and head to the park to eat my lunch and listen to some music. One  of the stray dogs running around lies down near me and eyes my food with longing. I keep my distance, unsure of how safe he is.

1:30 PM. José finally shows up. After saying hello he starts wailing about how it's un día menos for me in Costa Rica. I laugh it off, and say that I'm not leaving until Julio, but in the back of my head I know that it's less than 7 weeks away. I start taking music stands out of boxes and marking them with white out where José needs to drill holes for the plaques.

3:00 PM. Yinni, the do-everything woman of SiNEM, calls from upstairs that it's time for coffee. Everyone sits together at the little table in the closest thing to a staff lounge that the school has. They ask me to tell my talking donkey joke to Alvaro, the piano teacher, and the only one that hasn't heard it yet. The guitar teacher talks about the upcoming Champions League final game. They tell me to eat more.

4:30 PM. I head back to the bus stop. There's already a long line even though the bus doesn't come for another 15 minutes. I check with someone to make sure that this is the line for Piadades Sur. It is. The bus comes, and the driver asks everyone what stop they get off at. He looks at me and says "Barranca?". "Si." I find a seat on the right side of the bus. If I sit on the left I don't see the sign for a rabbit farm that lets me know I'm close to my stop. The bus leaves the station.

A few stops down my sister Ivania gets on. Luckily, the seat next to me is still empty. We talk a bit. When we near our stop, she makes me decide when to pull the chord just to see if I know where we get off. I do. We pay then head home.

7:30 PM. Ivania and I are in the parent's room watching TV while she works on some homework. This is the only TV with cable. My host mom calls us out for dinner. She already has plates of rice, beans, some form of meat, and platanos on the table. She pours us glasses of fresh fruit refresco, and we all start to eat. My host dad teases me about eating quickly, and I bury my face in my hands and pretend to sob. Ivania has to go study, so we all disperse. I grab my copy of Comer Rezar Amar I've been working my way through and try to get through another segment.

9:30 PM. I can't keep my eyes open anymore, so I say Buenas Noches and fall into bed.


May 13, 2012

Photos! (Phinally...)

Sorry for the title, sometimes I try too hard to be phunny...


Alright, let's start here. These are my main partners in crime here. We started out as room mates at Finca la Flor, but we've had tons of adventures together since then. All of my stories wouldn't be nearly what they are with out them, and it'll be a really tough goodbye when the time comes. From left to right we have Allie from New Zealand, Kayla from Australia, me, and Anna from New Zealand as well.  
Now we're backtracking a bit since we have a lot of land to cover. This is Finca la Flor, where the language camp was. On the left is the Salon de Yoga, where my class was held, and on the right is the cabin we lived in. 
This was a pretty typical sight from our cabin in the early morning at the finca

The waterfall at Finca la Flor

This was my Spanish class for two weeks

All of us AFSers on our last night before heading to our Families

Welcome mocktail in Tortuguero with AFS

Two thumbs up for the Carribean! 

Looking out from the town of Tortuguero

5 AM is a little early for my tastes, but there's no denying the canals of Tortuguero were awesome

Some of the group in Tortuguero. Check out the size of the tree behind us! 
My first host brother, Nathan

Tamarindo Beach

This is the town of La Fortuna with the Volcan Arenal behind it

This is SiNEM, where I spent all day every day. You can sort of see what I was saying with the balconies instead of rooms
Making empanadas with AFS San Ramon!

These are the parrots at my new house
Looking out the back from my new house. Isn't it beautiful?

Dear Playa Conchal, some cheesy romance novel wants its cover back 
MONKEY!!!!!!!! It's worth mentioning that my camera doesn't have some sort of crazy zoom, the monkey was just this close

Boat dock in Nicaragua 
Study abroad with AFS and you too could have friends like these! 
So, one night in Nicaragua this kid came up asking for money, and after we told him we didn't have any he kind of just attached himself to our group. Then the next night we were out walking and we found him again, and he decided to chill with us some more. He says he's 12, likes Real Madrid better than Barcelona, and that I have a pretty face.  
Token AFS picture
And last, but certainly not least, my new host family! This is my sister Ivania 

And here are my host parents!

That's all pholks! (Sorry, couldn't help myself)


May 7, 2012

This is what it's all about

I don't want to say it out loud out of fear that I'm wrong (after all, I'm only 18 and still very young and naive), but I think I've figured out what life is about, what the point of it all is. I think that in the end, the goal (or meaning or whatever you want to call it) is to be as ridiculously, incredibly, head over heels happy as you possibly can be in the very moment that is right now.

I've been thinking a lot about everything lately. The big things, the little things, everything. I changed families about a week and a half ago, an event that came up very quickly and took all of three days to happen. My host family hit some unexpected problems, and it was decided that the best option for me was to change to a new home. My new family is very different, but I think it'll work out very well. I now have a new set of host parents and an older host sister who is much closer to my age than Nathan was. I live farther out into the country than I used to, but it's beautiful. There's a huge farm, lots of family right near by, a dog that can carry my shoes, and a parrot that can bark like a dog. They've hosted before, so they know what it's like for an exchange student. More than anything, they're nice, welcoming, and after only a few days the Matamoros household is starting to feel like home.

It's a lot of change though. I lived in the house frente a la iglesia de San Juan for more or less 3 months, Although my time had its highs and lows, it still made an impression on me. And with a new address I now have to change up my routine and take the bus. Which is still a little scary, not gonna lie.

My midstay orientation in Nicaragua was the past couple of days. It was really good, as it always is with the AFS kids. We were in Grenada, which is actually really pretty. We walked got to see the city, go to a lagoon, go to a big market where I haggeld my way to a $9 hammock, and go out dancing twice (once in a club that had a pool that of course my friends had to push me in). Despite all the Tico trash talk of Nicaragua, I found it quite nice. It was super hot, and you could see how much poorer it was than Costa Rica, but it was still beautiful.

But in between bus rides and orientations and time spent laying in bed in a new house I've had a lot of time to think, like I said, about absolutely everything. And I think I just may have figured it out.

I thought about the past, about everything I've done, everywhere I'e gone, everyone I've met. I have so many good memories and so many things I'm glad happened exactly the way they did, and just like everyone else I have tons of regrets and what ifs. But dwelling on low points wont make them better, just as living in the best moments of the past wont make them happen again.

And as I thought about all that, my mind drifted to the future. Now normally that's just fine and dandy, dreams are cool, but I started to notice that there are so many things that have happened to me that I never dreamed of in the past, and I realized that my future is just as utterly unimaginable.

 And then it hit me. In all the thoughts of moments gone by and moments yet to come, the moment that is happening right now is slipping away, I'm in Costa Rica, a country that was never part of my plan, with all these people I never could have predicted meeting, doing things that I never even considered doing. But it doesn't matter that it was never something I could have thought to think about. All that matters is that it's happening.

This moment, this one right now, is only here for an instant. But in the instant that it's here, it's all that matters. And once it's gone, it's not a big deal, because there's another one, another right now. And this instant should be perfect, it should be exactly what it should be, because it's the most important thing. Forget about the past, forget about the future, and just be happy. Because right now,  right now, nothing else matters.

I've done so much. I've spent a year in France, a semester in Costa Rica, a season as a nanny, and a summer taking trains across Europe. I've met so many people, made so many  friends, seen so many things. I can't even begin to cover it all, to tell all the stories. I've had experiences that I thought never happened to "people like me" and learned that "people like me" is just in my head.

And I'm so happy that it happened, all of it. But more than that, I'm happy to be in this moment. I'm happy to be sitting in the internet cafe across the street from SiNEM in San Ramon, where it's raining and the person next to me is speaking Spanish a little too loudly into a cell phone. And I know that it'll be impossible to always appreciate now, to not have my heart in the past and my head in the future, but I'm sure as anything going to try.

It's a crazy life. But it's a life worth living. And if every "right now" is full of happiness, there'll be no need to be stuck in any other time for more than just a quick visit. There'll be no regrets, nothing to be ashamed of.

This second, the one that is currently happening, is what life is all about.