5.09.2012


These past last few days of my semester have been filled with anxious “change” energy-- of my parents coming, of the program ending-- and a million goodbyes.

We all got up at 4am to say farewell to those (most) who were off to the airport (the rest of us were being met by parents, or traveling on). My friend Carlee expressed it well by saying that we’d phased in our relationships with one another—day after day learning more about each other, experiencing more within and between each other. We spent all of our time together—eating three meals, cooking, cleaning, farming, playing, learning, sleeping. And then we all leave. There’s no phase out, or slowly, naturally, seeing each other less and less. We piled everyones things into the car in the still dark morning, and said goodbye. To some, we said “I’ll be seein you”, and meant it, but never again will this community, these people, this energy and trust that we’d built be felt again.

With space and time, maybe I’ll have more profound and measurable quantifications of what I’ve learned, how I’ve grown, how I’ve stayed the same, things that I’ve changed, and things that have changed me.

But for now, here’s some things I’m taking home with me:
I’m taking home the ability to jump into a cold shower. I'm taking home darker (angry) skin, and lighter hair. And I'm taking home an embrace of this inescapably inevitably messy, tangled hair. I'm taking home a little spanish, the ability to "chat" a little, or at least the courage to try. I’m taking home a new found and unexpected pleasure and understanding of music. I'm taking home, I think, a belief in God (or something) (which sounds really scary and serious but I think is just fine and normal and right for me). I'm taking home one million stones and shells from the beach, the smell of the water, the feel of the waves. I'm taking home a few special souvenirs for my loves and some new hair scrunches. I'm taking home albums and albums of pictures, an attempt to never forget. I’m taking home a fierce and true belief that you vote with your purchase. The money I spend, just me, on biodegradable shampoo or organic milk is sending a message. I am taking home an understanding of day-by-day work. Of a small, do-able, and measurable mindset. I will do the best I can for the earth and my body today. I will eat less meat, run more, drive less, smile more today. Tomorrow, I’ll worry about tomorrow. I am taking home a true appreciation of my country. Of all that its given me, the opportunity I have there, my creature comforts. And I’m taking home the knowledge that I’m a homebody. I knew that, probably. But now I really know it. There is a thrill in traveling. Of seeing the most incredible sunsets, and meeting the most interesting people, and tasting the sweetest flavors. But I do love home. I’ve missed my family and friends in a way that makes me tear up just thinking about it. I have been given an incredible incredible opportunity and I think that I seized it.  I took chances, made (a few) risky decisions, and stepped out.

Mary Oliver wrote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I am so glad I did it.

Sunrise, my last morning.

4.24.2012


All that stands between me and Rod and Tracy's Costa Rican adventure is this paper:

But we're all getting a liiiiiittle nutty

Even our professors 




4.23.2012

Costa Rican soccer is mediocre at best, but the energy at the game we went to was just thrilling. 

Here's the girls. We play soccer too!

In our *modest* stadium

4.20.2012

I think this is interesting:


http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/is-facebook-making-us-lonely/8930/ 


Also something about this reaches me:


“The unending paradox is that we do learn through pain.” 
― Madeleine L'Engle

And this, isn't she wonderful?

“I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.” 
― Madeleine L'Engle


And finally, this:



4.19.2012


I’ve been reading Obama’s book, Dreams from My Father. It’s the 6th book that I’ve read since being here. I love being able to quantify time by the number of books I’ve read—feels so different from how I spend my free time at Clark. And his book is so fantastic. After only a few days, I’ve almost finished. It makes me feel foolish, having not read it before now. He’s our president, and I hardly knew anything about him! This sounds cheesy but I feel some kind of personal connection to him. Reading is like this moment in time when the reader and the writer touch, you know? I like thinking of it like that. But so much of what he says is so honest and sincere—I keep thinking, yeah, I’ve felt that way before too or, Or yeah, I know what you mean Barack!
This is getting silly.
But I just think that the book is wonderful, and I recommend it.

(And here’s a little passage I like)
“The study of law can be disappointing at times, a matter of applying narrow rules and arcane procedure to an uncooperative reality; a sort of glorified accounting that serves to regulate the affairs of those who have power--and that all too often seeks to explain, to those who do not, the ultimate wisdom and justness of their condition.

But that's not all the law is. The law is also memory; the law also records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience.” 


4.16.2012


I’ve been doing internet-less research all week so haven’t been able to upload things! But here’s some thoughts I had while away: 

This is what my setup has looked like for the past week. I’ve spent my days hunkered down monitoring hummingbird feeders, or out catching and measuring them. It’s almost unbelievable that we’re in Costa Rica, as the temperatures been around 50 degrees every day (because we’re at 9,300 feet (this high altitude is outrageous! I feel so out of shape, sucking wind just walking up a small hill!)). The first day we got here, it felt like my body went into shock. My skin was transparent and blue and I had to miss our first afternoon because I just couldn't warm up. But as the week went on, I acclimated. Layers, layers, layers. We’re staying at this funny motel/rest stop/humming bird scientist’s Mecca. You would never guess it by looking, but people come here from all over the world to study hummingbirds! The establishment hangs feeders all around, and every day this little man comes and unhooks them, one at a time, and fills them with fresh sugar water.

I know this is boring, but these are the 4 types of hummers we studied this week: Magnificent, Volcano, Fire Throated, and Green Violet Ear! 



We’ve got mist nets set up—it's this verrrry fine netting attached to two poles, kind of like a volley-ball net. It’s near impossible to see them, so the birds fly into it and kind of drop down into its excess . Then we rush over and untangle them (“It’s like taking off a very tight jumpsuit”, my professor says, “First the feet, then the body, neck, and last the head!”). It sounds sort of cruel explaining it here, but the birds never get hurt (you have to be a certified ornothologist to even get mist nets, because if people aren't careful, they'll leave them up unmonitored and if the birds sit too long they can get hurt). But the net is gentle. Our professor, Geraldo, keeps telling me not to touch the birds because my hands are “too chilly” (they could die if they get too cold when they’re being handled) so I have to keep sticking my hands under my arm pits to warm them up before untangling them. Then we measure their beaks, trace their wings, swab off some pollen they’ve stored on the beak, weigh them (which involves kind of stuffing them into this little cone, and putting them on a scale, they don’t seem to mind the small space), and then we paint their little tiny ity bity toe nails—to make sure we don’t catch the same one twice—and release them! It’s pretty fun, we’ve gotten really good at identifying them quickly—species and gender.

Can you see this? It's hard to see, but it's a mist net! 

Untangling

Isn't she beautiful? WOWOWOW

Maya, organizing our science station!

Wing drawings

Besides the mist-netting, we also do feeder monitoring—looking at hummer interactions and counting the number of times they take a sip. The feeders are on the other side of these great big glass windows, there’s no heat here but the sun rises early and beats through the glass. It’s slow work, but not so bad. We start early, one minute of observation, 4 minutes off, one minute observation, 4 minutes off (ad infinitum). I try to make the best of the 4 minutes of rest we have—like read as many pages of my book as I can, or sometimes when things get really slow, I like to imagine what It’d be like to have a beak like they have. It would be a huge nuisance, really.  On some of these hummers, the beaks is about a third of the length of their whole body! Can you imagine the things you wouldn’t be able to do if you had a 3 foot long beak sticking out of your face? 
But in all, it’s been a nice time to just sit. With all the chocolate caliente I want. Just me and the birds. 



4.10.2012

We’ve had school off for the past week for Semana Santa (holy week). I’d never heard of this before, but that’s just my religious ignorance because it’s a really important holiday time all over the world! And here, it seems like the whole country goes on vacation! We went to the Caribbean coast (along with every other Costa Rican, it seemed), and how different it was! Muggy, for one, but also so much reggae music and beads and people with dark skin and sweet flavorful food—it was refreshing. We stayed in a hostel that was just bonkers! The entire place-floors, walls, ceilings, tables—was mosaiced in tiles and mirror. It was dazzling and confusing and mesmerizing and I can’t imagine having to clean all that grout, but it was wonderful. One night there were 400 people staying there! There are huge spaces of rows and rows of hundreds of hammocks, and floors of tents, or bunk rooms. I expected it to be mostly young tourists, and there were a few hundred of us, but there were also a lot of Costa Ricans—a kind of magical glistening place for young people to meet up. There was a constant bustling hum of energy and noise. One night there was a full moon fiesta, and another night a big bonfire at the beach with an impromptu drum/accordion/voice/dance party. It was really refreshing meeting other kids studying abroad in Costa Rica who also had break for Semana Santa, there’s so many of us! We beached for a lot of our time, and rented bikes and went on a long morning ride—and got caught in the rain, and just generally enjoyed the Caribbean culture there that’s so different from what I’m used to on the other coast. Only 3 weeks left, yikes.




4.08.2012

Feliz cumpleaƱos brother!! I love you I love you I love you. (And a small birthday goodie is coming via the very, very, very slow Costa Rican mail!)


And look at this beautiful angel food cake mama made her Easter baby! I could smell it even through skype. Grandma would be just delighted that her birthday cakes live on. 

4.03.2012


Today, it poured--for the first time since December 16th! It hit our tin roof with such gusto that we had to stop class because we couldn’t hear our lecture. Everything seems smaller, the ground has swollen up and the trees branches have sunk with water weight.

A rainy empty clothes line, for once!

Some flower dissection in prep for the hummers




4.02.2012


This weekend we got away to a nearby surf town. A handful of us got a hostel there filled with other beachy folk. I’m fascinated by these hostel people we meet. They seem to just be bummin around—escaping their lives in the states, or looking for something else, I guess. Most of the guys at this hostel were surfers—what is it about the water that lures people to drop everything and ride? I suppose they’re attracted to the whole culture of it, too.

In the morning Stella, our friend Sara, and I took a three hour surf lesson from one of the guys we met. It was soo sos o sososo sooo so much fun. And exhausting. And silly and exciting. And cool. I’ve always been afraid to fall (like I never stray too far from the railing when I ice skate and I never dove for a ball in soccer or slide tackled an opponent). But the water is so forgiving and soft and we fell so many times but it wasn’t scary at all.



At night we went out to a club. We had fun just dancing around and being goofy. The music and space felt just like being in an American club, circa 1999 (not that I was going to clubs in 1999 (or in 2012, for that matter), but I’m imagining) (and that’s how my mom and I often felt in Kenya—similar to the US, but dated). All around the edge of the club were loungie areas that were reserved. We didn’t understand at first, but slowly got filled up with older American men with really young Costa Rican women, presumably prostitutes (I wouldn’t assume this or write it here if I was uncertain of the relationship, but I really do think this is what it was. One man told us that it’s called “sex-tourism”, people who come solely for that). Each of these bald aging men had one woman that was dancing on them or drinking and laughing with them. I’ve been to the red-light district in Amsterdam and seen prostitutes walking in new haven and Worcester, but this felt different. I think it was watching them interact, the casualness of it, how happy both parties looked. These men didn’t look bad or malicious, they looked like any other male I know.

AND THEN these two American like 30 year old guys came over to us and said, “Hey girls, so we don’t really know how this thing works, but…are you girls working?” I can’t even explain the pure shock on our faces. Are you kidding me?? No we’re not prostitutes!! We were all dancing so awkwardly clutching on to our purses, clearly tourists! And we were all wearing Birkenstocks and chacos!! I just started laughing at the absurdity of the situation, but the guys ended up being really embarrassed and apologetic. We left soon after. In all, a thrilling weekend.
Also, found this little buddy next to our dorms (he's suffocating an iguana)!

3.30.2012


I watch the sun rise and sun set most days here. It comes up slowly but sets quickly, understandably exhausted from shining with such gusto all day long. And for some reason I keep taking pictures of it, they all look the same on film but feel so different in person. And the silliest part is that I never even notice the sun at home! I like that part of being in a new place—paying attention to those benign things you don't otherwise think of. I hope that when I’m back in the states, I’ll keep seeing things with these fresh eyes.





3.28.2012


Finals finally finished. I was not anticipating the workload and rigor of this program, but now that it’s over I can begin appreciating it. I’ve never had so little down time in my life. College at home has so little class time and so much free time. The procrastination that I’m susceptible to from this kind of schedule wasn’t a problem here. With shorter deadlines and tons of work, putting things off until the last minute wasn’t an option. In less than two months I’ve written five major papers, had eight exams and had hours upon hours of class and field work. Saying this all now feels satisfying, a colossal weight has been lifted! For the last month of the semester we work solely with a professor on a directed research project. I’ll be working with hummingbirds! 


3.25.2012


I hiked up my 5th volcano! I’d never even seen a volcano before Costa Rica, and this one was especially wild. It’s called Masaya and it’s massive and it constantly sending up sulfur dioxide gas. Today, I guess it was really bad. It smells like hard boiled eggs and it makes you cough and you even taste it in your mouth and it stays on your skin and in your clothes. Our professors said that if we’d been in Costa Rica, they’d never let the park stay open, but Nicaragua’s a little more lax about these things. But it was stunning, and took my breath away-- in more ways than one.




3.24.2012


The past few nights we’ve been staying in Grenada. Grenada’s the fourth largest city in Nicaragua, with about 110,326 people. It was established in 1524 by Cordoba, and allegedly was the first European city in all of mainland America. It’s the first time since being in Central America that I felt like I’ve been in a really old old city—I love it. Granada has grand antique churches and all of the buildings, though decaying, have curly-Q molding and trim and intricately painted tiles. Each house is painted a different vibrant color. It makes me think of when my friend Sharoda’s parents painted her house canary yellow with royal blue trim, amidst a neighborhood of only bruise colored houses. People were not happy—if only they could see how nice it is when every house is bright!





Each night we walk from our hotel (it’s very nice, $ goes much further here…) to a street full of restaurants and shops to eat. There’s a wide-open space in the middle where children perform—dance and run around with giant puppets. It’s more obnoxious than anything else, they beat these giant piercing drums and yell and then ask for money. It’s hard to know what to do—to give them money, to say no, to buy something from them. But our teachers told us, and there’s a flyer that many restaurants put in their menu, that there is a soup kitchen that can feed every singly hungry child in Granada. But because tourists give money and food, they continue begging instead of eating at home with their families or going to the soup kitchen. Living on the street at such a young age, they say, then just makes them more likely to use drugs or prostitute later on. When I read this in the menu, it made a lot of sense but it also seems to very neatly fit in with what the restaurants want—more kids begging means less business. I suppose it’s just not very common that public interest and commercial interest align.

Our Nicaragua home



3.21.2012


At the hostel we've been staying in on Ometepe, the manager requires all staff to bring a bottle filled with trash to every pay-day. It gets people to pick up trash as they walk to work, and then they’re able to built things with the bottles! I’m not totally sure how it works, but here are some pictures of it as a work in progress!





3.19.2012


I just listened to a This American Life called “Continental Breakups”. It was about the creation of the Euro and how it’s affecting the European debt crisis (A well worth hour, if you’re interested http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/455/continental-breakup). But they say that one of the major reasons for the creation of the euro was because the countries realized that a united Europe would be stronger than any individual country would be alone. And this isn’t a new thing, Victor Hugo said in 1871, “let us be the United States of Europe, let us be the continental federation. Let us be European liberty. Let us be universal peace”. That was so long ago! So this is a dream that has resonated in the back of visionaries heads for a long long time. So then World War II happened, and after this tragedy Europe didn’t want any more war between their countries, ever. So years and years later (and for more economic reasons, like the German wanting to prevent inflation by all means—thus acting as the “rule” to how governments should run their economies) and after much negotiations, the euro was made! And though the euro hasn’t solved the problems that economists hoped it would, it did unite these countries into sharing a single currency—for better or worse.

We’re in Nicaragua for the next week or so. As we drove over the boarder, all 34 of us changed our dollars and Cordobas to Colones. I thought of this podcast as we calculated complicated exchange rates—not only because of the logistical ease a common currency would bring, but the unity. When the euro created, it came with the acknowledgement that if one country was weak, it would bring down the rest, but if one was strong, it could lead the rest. What if we had that in South America? I know that there’s too much strife between countries now for this ever to work, but it’s a nice dream. Crossing from Costa Rica into Nicaragua, we are crossing boarder of the most drastic income disparity between any two countries in South America. And it’s not just an arbitrary GDP thing—you can see it. We’ve been staying the past few nights on an Ometepe—an island in Lake Nicaragua. Each night we swim at sunset—black silhouetted heads bob in the water against a bright orange sky, wedged between two huge volcanoes. But one night after we’d swam, we think these two little girls came and snagged Stella’s swimsuit. It could have been so much worse and was more of an inconvenience than anything, but I feel different here than in Costa Rica, as bathing suite theft isn’t something very common there. Nonetheless, it’s incredible being here. And I’ve hardly had any time to write here! But I’ve been thinking a lot about the two years that my Dad spent here in the Peace Corps. Though I’m still doing school while I’m here, it feels like vacation. I feel proud and inspired when I tell people that he spent all of his time here doing service—what I guy. And I love the cyclical feeling that I’m getting being here—walking and seeing and smelling the same things in my 20’s that he walked and saw and smelled in his 20’s!