Friday, July 17, 2009

"El respeto al derecho ajeno, es la paz."

July 17th, 2009


Well, I have given up on updating my blog on the things that are going on here in Costa Rica. The main reason is because, frankly, it’s not all that exciting. The day to day life here can become monotonous. I help out when I can, travel, have a good time, spend time with my friends, drink coffee, have the occasional beer, things that I feel that all my friends back home do as well, but since it’s in Costa Rica that I do this, some people might find it to be a little more...exotic. I don’t mean to downplay my time in Costa Rica, because it has been an unbelievable learning experience, certainly the 17 toughest months of my life, and I wouldn’t change anything about it, nor would I do anything different. It’s just not that exciting. I have met nice people, not so nice people, people that work hard, people that hardly work, made some amazing Peace Corps friends along the way and have tried to do what I can for Guarari. And I feel now, with 14 months in my site under my belt, that the work I have done here isn’t going to change the world. Now, don’t think that I’ve lost all of my idealism, but you realize the scope of your work, and you adapt to it. You really have to focus on the small victories, and although your work here may not change the world, you still have the opportunity to change a life. I feel like I have connected with some people in my site, and if anything that I’ve told or taught them leads them to make a positive change in their life, then I would have done my job. I hope anyone wanting to do the Corps, isn’t turned off by my analysis of my job, because as always, I speak for myself when I write. I would still recommend the Peace Corps to anyone who is interested, and yes, bring all the idealism in the world with you, because you’re going to need it. After 17 months, I am happy, I am healthy, I am having fun, and I feel like I have learned a lot, so I can’t complain too much, can I? I would also like to use this space to thank my friends that have taken the time to come visit me here. I sincerely hope that you guys had a good time and a good mixture of fun, along with a good idea of how I live and the work that I have done. I hope that there are still some of you that haven’t forgotten about me, and hope that maybe you’ll come visit me one day too :)

Well, as I have already written, I have been in Guarari for 14 months now. Which means that I only have 10 months in Costa Rica left. Crazy, right? Two Februaries ago, I was embarking on a journey that many, sometimes including myself, thought I couldn’t do. Now, I realize that there is plenty of time left, but I feel like I have made it further than I ever thought I could. The job is not over though. I cannot become complacent and I still feel that there is plenty of work to do during my time here. But along with that, ten months is not a long time. So now, more often than say, last July, I find myself thinking about my future, my life after the Peace Corps. Where it will take me, I really am not sure. There are several things that I am sure about, which some of you might already know. I know that I ultimately would like to continue studying, traveling when possible, teaching, being happy and most importantly, being with you. Yes, you :) Along with those plans, there is still something in the back of my mind that needs fulfillment...living in Mexico! Now, those that know me well, know that Mexico is a subject that I hardly ever breach :) hehe. Or maybe, I talk about it too much...either way, I am dedicating the remainder of this post to my love for my “patria”.

Since arriving in Costa Rica, more so than any other time in my life, I realized that I lack a true identity. I think I’ve known that for most of my life, but it has become increasingly pronounced during my time abroad. When I have spoken to Costa Ricans, after they realize that I am not from their land, they ask, “So you’re not Tico, where are you from?” I have developed an answer, one that in El Paso, Texas you seldom have to use. “Well, I was born in Mexico, but at the age of six my family decided to move to El Paso, Texas, and I am now a citizen of the United States.” That answer suffices for most Ticos, but some of them have follow-up questions or comments. Normally, they’ll say something like, “Oh, so you’re not really Mexican”, or “so then you’re American”. The latter of the comments I have learned to accept because it is actually true. I am American. I am a citizen of the United States and am very proud of that. It has granted me and my family a great opportunity, and let’s be honest, if I wasn’t a citizen, I wouldn’t even be in Costa Rica right now. So yes, I am American, but there is another part to me, one that I feel I have lost touch with during my time spent in the United States, which is why I found the comment that I’m not really Mexican offensive, but also true to some extent. In my time spent in The States I, along with my family have adopted most American traditions. From celebrating Thanksgiving (which is one of my favorite holidays), to my favorite sports being baseball and football (American style, of course), to the clothes that I wear, to the music that I listen to, I am fully American. I don’t mean to make it sound like I am unhappy about that. That is the person that I have become and I am very proud of it.

What I’m not so proud of, is that during that time, I have lost touch with my Mexican culture and heritage. I get incredibly excited when July 4th rolls around, but am ambivalent when it’s September 16th, and that is something that I am not proud of. Being older, more aware, and certainly moving to Costa Rica is what has made me realize my lack of identity. I need to be aware of both of my cultures, I need to understand that when my family crossed the Rio Grande when I was 6, my Mexican identity didn’t stop and cease to exist. It was still there, lingering, although I almost lost it entirely. I remember being young, maybe 7 or 8 years old, and my cousins, to bother me, would tell me that I was born in Mexico, and I would begin to cry and tell them that it wasn’t true...I would ask my mom, and to humor me, she would say, “Yes, mijo, you were born here in El Paso.” (All in Spanish of course). I would run back to my cousins and give them a triumphant response, “See, I told you I was born here!”, and then run back to play with my Ninja Turtles. I’m sure that showed them. As the years have passed though, my interest with reconnecting myself to Mexico has exponentially increased and peaked now that I am here living in Costa Rica. Seeing Costa Ricans display their pride to their land and their flag has made me long for my own. I am proud of the Stars and Stripes, but I need to remember that my flag is red, green and white. And so, with my newfound interest in Mexico, I asked my mom to send me books on Mexico that I could read during my time here and try, at least through books, to learn more about how my country came to be about and it’s struggles along the way. Even more now, as my beloved Ciudad Juarez, along with Tijuana and Sinaloa and other parts of the country are being torn apart by murder, extortion, corruption, I feel like I need to be there. Even more now, as the indigenous people of Mexico suffer from starvation, poverty, and eradication attempts, I feel I need to be there. Even more now, as my beloved Tri-Color is struggling to earn it’s trip to the World Cup, I feel I need to be there! (I have only recently become a die-hard Mexican football fan. I even cheered for the U.S. during the 2002 World Cup game versus Mexico) See, I’m torn!

But even with the books, there is still more that needs to be done. Whether I live in Mexico at some point or not, remains to be seen. Maybe I will, and find it not to be as rich of an experience as I had hoped, or maybe I will never leave. Maybe I don’t go at all, and return to the States, live my life out, study, be happy and just be more aware of both of my identities. Who knows? I really don’t know the answer to that. I just know that as time goes on, and I become older, I know that I will forever be proud of my Mexican culture and heritage and maybe even one day be able to form my own identity in the world.


"El respeto al derecho ajeno, es la paz." - Benito Juarez



Much love,
Mario.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Making things happen...

11/25/2008


Well, where to begin? It has been about two months since I’ve updated and I feel a lot has happened since. First off, as Peace Corps volunteers, we technically work for the U.S. government, which means the President is our boss. So allow me to say, the fact that Barack Obama is our new boss, makes me even more proud to be serving the United States. November 4th gave me a new hope for our country. I sincerely believe, along with basically every other volunteer, that Obama will lead our country back into prominence. I don’t intend on making this a political blog, so I will stop there. Back to the initial objective of this blog, which was to talk a little bit of what has been happening in my life lately. Since we last spoke, I believed that work was slow to come by. Now, I feel comfortable in my work, and more importantly, with connections I’ve made in my community that will allow to do more efficient work in my Guarari.

I just recently completed a course with all the sixth graders in my school about the importance of staying in school. Whether or not this actually keeps any student from dropping out remains to be seen, but I am hopeful. I feel like I made connections with the kids and presented to them the importance of an education. For them, growing up in this community, where their parents didn’t usually finish school, it’s hard for them share the same enthusiasm for school as I have.

Now, my attention moves to more sporting and recreational activities. Vive Futbol, a non-governmental organization has taken a great interest in Guarari and wants to develop activities with our school. Their organization provides an outlet for kids through soccer. It provides communities where children and adolescents are at risk an opportunity to stay active and off the streets. This organization has worked with us before in planning tournaments for the school, but now wants to start a soccer camp and they want me to participate in the planning. I feel that these are the type of activities that I can thrive in, so I am very excited for this opportunity. Along the same line, I will be having basketball camps in my community during January. I want the kids of my site to understand that their are in fact other sports other than soccer. Who knows, maybe I can find the next Kobe Bryant here in Guarari (maybe a little far fetched).

The biggest strides I’ve made are with our local ADI (Association for Integral Development). ADI’s are the fundamental organization of any community. All the members live in the communities, so for the most part, they understand better than anyone what the community needs. I had the opportunity last week to speak to the president of the ADI and we started sharing ideas of plans we had for Guarari. I threw out my idea for a skate park in my site, and turns out she already had this idea and already had the wheels rolling on it. So now, her and I are collaborating and should be brining several skate parks to my site, which is really one of my bigger goals while here. Peace Corps explains to us that as Children, Youth and Families volunteers, we don’t necessarily focus on the infrastructure of communities, which basically means we’re not here to build. Seriously though, as a Peace Corps volunteer, one dreams of leaving something tangible and of value to their community. Which makes our job as CYF volunteers that much more difficult. The fruits of our work aren’t immediately apparent. We help kids and families try to become better people, and sometimes that means that the results won’t be obvious long until after we’re gone. Needless to say, the opportunity to build something, something that the youth of the community would use and appreciate is something that every volunteer hopes for.

Other things that I’ve been up to: I have been going to the orphanage more often and am enjoying my time with the kids very much. We’re having a good time playing soccer, playing guitar, and making bracelets and now I very much enjoy my time there. I felt at first that I was going to the orphanage simply to please PANI, our counterpart. Now, to be completely honest, I don’t care about PANI or what they think. I will continue to spend time with the kids and hopefully start taking field trips with them soon and not worry about pleasing PANI. Everything I do, I want to do for the kids and for myself. I want to be happy in what I do and as long as I’m helping, I will do it.

I also am planning an activity for World AIDS Day at my school. This is a subject that is very polemical in such strongly Christian communities, so I’m being careful as to how to plan this. It’s amazing that a country so conservative and with such Christian values has so many children out of wedlock, legalized prostitution and gambling. So essentially, what I’m doing, is soliciting the help of my local clinic and having them donate a doctor for the day to come to the school and give talks to the sixth graders about myths, methods of transmission, ways to protect and to answer questions the students might have. I hope this is successful, but I’m cautiously optimistic, which is pretty much my mentality with anything I do in this country.

Ok, so I’ve talked about work more on this post than any other. Mostly just to show anyone who reads my blog that I do in fact work :) My job may not be 9 to 5, but it still is tough and tiring. Which is why sometimes we need a little bit of rest and relaxation! This Thursday is Thanksgiving and I am a little sad about not being able to spend it in El Paso. This will be the first Thanksgiving I spend away from my family in my life! To keep me from getting too depressed, 30 or so volunteers have decided to rent a house by the beach and bake a turkey, watch football, spend time together and all those other great traditions we have as Americans.

The holiday season is my favorite, so even though I won’t be there for Thanksgiving, there was no way I couldn’t be back in Texas for Christmas. I am incredibly excited about this! I will have to kiss the Texas ground once I get back. I’m sure being back will be very interesting for many reasons. It will be strange to travel everywhere by car, to not see mountains of trash on the streets, to see more than 4 different beers at a bar to drink, to not wake up to reggaeton, to not have to go to an internet cafe, to see houses that don’t look like prisons, etc, etc. It’s unbelievable to think that I have been here for almost 10 months. I still remember what I did the night before I joined the Peace Corps, and it’s really crazy to think to back then. I know a lot has happened back home, so I have to prepare myself for things to not be the same as when I left. Either way, I’m excited. Much Love and cheers to sippin’ Pabst Blue Ribbon in Austin in a couple of weeks! See you guys soon!


This one goes out to my mom, whose birthday is today. Love ya’ mom!


From the urban jungle,
Mario C.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

settling, settling, settling...settled.

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008



That very simple quote, by a very simple man, Michael Scott, really sums up my Peace Corps experience incredibly well. The entire process of settling, to the customs, to the culture, to your host family, to the food, to the people, to the bus rides, to the work, to the problems of your community, can be extremely draining and time consuming. But...at some point...you just settle. I really am afraid to say this, because I don’t want it to come back and haunt me later, but I think I am settled to the “Tico” lifestyle. I certainly don’t enjoy every aspect of it, but I accept it for what it is.

The customs...people will say they will be at a meeting, but if it rains, you better accept the fact that people won’t go. They’re afraid to get their feet wet, because we all know that wet feet means the “gripe” is surely to follow. At first I didn’t believe that, thought it was all hogwash, thought to myself, “there is no way people would miss a meeting because of rain!”...until it happened to me just last week when I planned a meeting for the community members who were interested in English classes. I accept it though. I mean, really, what could I do? I told the people, “we’ll have the meeting in a couple of days”, and sure enough, we had the meeting and it was ultimately productive, albeit not exactly how or when I planned it. So yes, prepare for things to not go exactly how you plan it, but regardless of what it is, it will happen. Costa Ricans are people of their word, another thing I’ve grown to realize and appreciate.

Costa Rican culture, people will tell you, is indirect. I don’t buy it. I have found that in my experience, and as always I speak for myself, is direct. They will tell you when they don’t like something or find something weird or enjoy something, and they have no repercussions about doing so. Essentially everything I do, everything I wear, everything I listen to, the movies I watch, becomes a topic of conversation. I don’t mean to say that they talk badly about me, because they don’t, but they definitely like to tell you what they think. I take absolutely no offense to this, because I accept it and know they do this with everyone. Another way Ticos are direct is with illnesses. My family, and by family I really mean my host mom, has told me about every illness every family member has ever had and the extremeness of it. I must say it definitely makes me feel apart of the family when Gloria and I are looking over X-Rays that she had done that very same day for an unfortunate injury. (Side note) Her and I will be going to the hospital tomorrow to make sure she is okay, which I hope she is. Maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t think my mom back home would share something as sensitive as that with anyone other than family, which is why I don’t mind. I feel integrated : )

Now on to the delicious portion of my post...Costa Rican food! On this, I am also settled. I realize that the food options will be the same everyday. The first couple of months I was hoping that the menu would vary considerably daily, but that was not to be. This is not to say Costa Rican food isn’t good...because it definitely has its high notes, such as Gallo Pinto. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it in a previous post, but Gallo Pinto is certainly worth mentioning twice, maybe even three times. Beans, rice, cilantro (or culantro as it is called here), onions, tomatoes = deliciousness. Add a little chilero salsa and you have yourself an exquisite breakfast. Of course you have to add the coffee and your choice of bread or tortillas. Take note that my host mom, Gloria, makes the best gallo pinto in Costa Rica. That is not a hyperbole, that is just a fact. So needless to say, during breakfast I definitely don’t mind the monotony of choices, it’s during lunch when it gets tricky. At my house, we have white rice, and red beans. Everyday. I am not exaggerating. I wish I was. Maybe it’s just because I’m biased to my moms pinto beans and spanish rice, but I really can’t eat too much more of white rice and red beans anymore. Along with the rice and beans, we have three choices. Carne en salsa, pollo en salsa, and bistek. I hope you guys all know the translations to that, so I won’t bother. Then they have salad. The salad I enjoy here is shredded lettuce, two slices of tomato, lime juice and salt. Which is actually good, just maybe not every day. I know you might be asking yourself, “but you live in a rough neighborhood that suffers from poverty, so maybe your family can’t afford other things so they just need to have the same three items on the menu?” I have asked myself this as well, and maybe that is the case, but my family does well. Both of my host parents work, and in Guarari standards, I’d say they’re middle-upper class. Plus, I’ve eaten at several other houses, outside of Guarari, and they have they same food...so that answers your question. I do happen to like the 3 options, I just wish that one day my host mom would whip out something like fettuccine alfredo, lasagna, flautas, menudo, spaghetti, hawaiian pizza, general tso’s chicken, mongolian beef...okay, okay maybe that’s a little too much to ask for. My host mom does make mean patacones though, which is basically mashed up and fried plantains. Simple and delicious, but of course...seldom made. My family does enjoy to go out and eat though, something that not many Guarari families indulge in. Sometimes we make family trips and go to nice places to eat. For Gloria’s birthday, we went to this great, authentic Italian pizzeria, in which I proceeded to eat an entire pizza by myself. So now, to this day, my family thinks that I only like pizza, and that it is the only food that I will eat in excess, which could actually be true. I mean, it’s pizza.

Continuing on food, since I’m sure your highly interested...my situation at home has caused me to...well, cheat. See, being in a more “developed” country provides you the chance to enjoy things you might not otherwise be able to. So yes, I’ve cheated, and please don’t judge me. What I mean by cheated, is that at almost every chance I’ve gotten, I’ve eaten at Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Quizno’s, and yes...even McDonald’s! I know! Please don’t judge me. It’s just been tough, and seeing those golden arches just reminds me of driving the streets of Texas and I get all nostalgic for a Big Mac. I think, although it might be close, that I have eaten more fast food here than I did in the States. At least they don’t have Whataburger though, or else I might be there on the daily. Only my Texas peeps can relate to that! That chicken strips dinner with gravy and fries...my oh my.

Okay, turning serious for a second, this last paragraph was somewhat of a message to future volunteers that may end up in Costa Rica. I don’t know if any will read this, but if you do, keep in mind you will be in a country that is highly Americanized. You will either be psyched about it, or completely detest it. There is usually no in-between. You may run into tourists more than you think, but don’t let that fool you. Costa Rica is a great country with a lot of natural beauty and one can understand why there would many tourists. It has incredible beaches, amazing forests and jungles, wildlife beyond belief, but this doesn’t mean that Costa Rica doesn’t need our help. There is plenty of help needed and thankfully plenty to go around. So don’t let the sight of American influence deter you from your willingness to help out, or don’t let it lead you to believe that you are not needed. Not every one here can afford the Golden Arches. And this, I have come to accept.

The problems of my community I have spoken about at great length in previous posts. They are many, and they are extreme. This has easily been the toughest aspect to adjust to. Hmm, maybe that or the rain, but either way...I know El Paso has it’s tough areas, and I realize this. But I just can’t say that Nancy McDonald, my street in El Paso, has many crackheads. There may be the occasional herb smoker, but, at least to my knowledge, crack is not an epidemic like it is in the “Guar”, as it is colloquially known. Also, I realize that there is violence in Texas, so again, I credit this to where I grew up, but guns and gun fights aren’t something I can say that I feared for. Here in the Guar though, just last week, there were gun shots right outside of my house. On one occasion, no more than one hour after I had just gotten home from Heredia. I can’t say that I live in constant fear, because thankfully it hasn’t gotten to that point yet, but I just realize that I can’t be too careful. Trust no one! Well, maybe that’s a little extreme, but you get the idea. I do feel the Peace Corps safety and security staff has adequately prepared us for safety hazards that might arise and how to act upon them, or more importantly, how to avoid them. I can honestly say though, that the problems, have now, instead of making me hesitant, only strengthened and increased my motivation to work here. I asked for this site, and it is exactly what I expected. It’s ghetto and tough, the complete antithesis of what I am. Sure, I’ve had times when I’ve asked myself what I could possibly do in a community that is this problematic, and I will not lie, there have been days when it has been tough to find the motivation.

The kids are what motivate me though. The kids that constantly call your name and give you thumbs up, and deviate from their path just to shake your hand or give you a fist pound. The kids that smile constantly, and get excited about the simple task of teaching them how to make bracelets, and manage to overcome and forget, even if it’s only during school hours, the conditions that they live in, or any family problems that they may have. Some of these kids live in houses and conditions that you wouldn’t believe. You would honestly not believe the dirt floors, the one room “house” holding 5 beds, the broken washing machine that prevents the kids from having clean clothes, the lack of water, the lack of food, the lack of clothes, or electricity, the flooding, the tin roof that will always leak during the rainy season, or the smell of the river that is polluted beyond any reasonable or practical way of cleaning it.

But even through all of this, they’re constantly smiling.

Well, I’ve digressed to the point that I have made this post far too long...and went the entire time without actually talking about work. Either way, I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed it.

From the concrete jungle that is Guarari,

Mario

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Pancakes...

08/08/08



In site for almost 3 months now. Conventional wisdom says that these are the toughest 3 months for a Peace Corps Volunteer. The reasons, I would imagine, are because this is the first time you’re actually alone in country. During training, you see your colleagues every day so that certainly helps the effects of when you first arrive in country. Also, once you’re in site, at least in my case, the days are definitely a little slower. Your days are very scheduled during training, 8 to 5 daily, with a ton of work to do each day. Once in site though, you make your own schedule. You arrive in site, and it doesn’t really sink in that you’ll be here for 2 years. Everything absolutely slows down. Every volunteer experience is different, so I only speak for myself when I speak of my experience. Every volunteer manages their time differently. The first couple of days I was afraid to leave my house. I didn’t know anyone in my community, and I also wanted to get to know my family as well as I possibly could. Now though, I feel comfortable enough to wander around my site, (not all areas), and feel fine about it. I’ve made some great connections with people from the school and also with people around my community. The fact that I’m following up a volunteer though, certainly helps. As I’ve said before, I don’t have to continually explain the reasons why a Mexican American has decided to spend the next two years in a community like Guarari. People in my community know, and seem to trust the Peace Corps thanks to Matt (my predecessor), and are comfortable with the idea of having another volunteer. Having Matt has definitely helped my integration into my community, although the people of my community will certainly ask me, “¿Y Mateo?” on a daily basis, but I’ve grown to accept that. I also hope that they’ll grow to accept me, and I think that shouldn’t be too big of an obstacle. I’m certain that for a while they’ll compare me to Matt, I’ll just have to relay the fact that I’m a different person and will do certain things differently. But, I digress.

The reason for this post was to vent, somewhat. So back to the first 3 months of site...I can understand now why Peace Corps has led us to believe that these are the most trying times of our service. One really doesn’t know how to occupy themselves with so much free time. I essentially went to the school on a daily basis, but I certainly didn’t spend the entire day there, so I had to do something to occupy my time. People back home usually ask me what I do on a daily basis, but every day is different, so I’ll paraphrase. I’ll wake up usually around 7:30, have Gallo Pinto and coffee (that’s basically the same every single day). Then I’ll go to the school and ask if the Interdisciplinary Team needs any help or I’ll go pitch some project ideas...which I will delve into in a second. So, I’ll talk to them for a while, go home and eat lunch. My host mom usually has a great selection of lunch items being that she runs her own little restaurant. Then, I’ll go to Heredia and go to an Internet Cafe and kill some hours there. I return home, and that’s when it gets slow. I’ll have my afternoon coffee, or milk and some cookies with my host mom as she’s closing the restaurant and helping my host sister, Larissa, with her homework. I’ll tell them about my day, maybe share an anecdote of living in the States, because they love that. I really can’t say enough about how incredible my host family has been. They are incredibly supportive and I get along with all of them very well. The past couple of weeks have been a struggle for me because I felt, for the first time, actually homesick. I didn’t feel like packing my belongings and going home, but I was feeling despondent, and my host parents could tell. They constantly asked me if I was doing okay, and I told them I was, but their concern certainly makes me feel like they like having me here. In a previous conversation with my host mom, I had mentioned the fact that I really enjoy pancakes and bacon for breakfast...so during my tough week, one morning I woke up and went to eat breakfast and to my surprise my host mom was making me pancakes with bacon (even if they think it’s a ridiculous breakfast combination). To say the least, that certainly lifted my spirits and eased the homesickness considerably. With this experience that I’m having, who would have thought that pancakes could go such a long way? Sure, we had pancakes that same day for lunch and dinner...but I still greatly appreciated it. As for the reason of the homesickness, which still lingers a little bit, is because I felt that I haven’t been doing enough in my site since I arrived. Fellow volunteers have helped me put everything in perspective though and I realize that it is still very early in my service and even though I have no concrete projects completed, I have made great strides in my community and feel that project ideas will surely start to develop soon. Another reason I was down was because we were planning a Talent Show, that I mentioned in my previous post along with the student government, but that completely fell through. The government showed interest when we presented the idea, but when it came down to it, they wanted the adults to do all the work for them, and that’s not what it’s about. We have to make sure that they participate as well, so when they fell out, we had to cancel it. Now though, the teacher and I have decided to go a different route and have a talent show next month, hopefully with the support of the government.

I feel that I have plenty of ideas, but until I actually accomplish them, that’s all they will be. Is ideas. My main project idea for now is to start a Guarari monthly newsletter, written by the kids of the school. I think this project could work and be sustainable if I make sure to do it correctly and have someone from the community help me. Another big project idea that I have is a mentoring program that would place one university student with an at-risk child in the school. These kids lack, more than anything, someone they look up to. I’m hoping that the university student can dedicate one day out of the week to spend with the kid and convey the idea that staying in school should be a top priority. The drop-out rate in Guarari is absurd, and sometimes I wonder what I can really do to help a community where it seems that sometimes the parents don’t even worry if their kids stay in school and get ahead. Another project idea is to build a skate/bmx area where the youth in the community can practice their extreme sporting! I see kids everyday on skateboards and bikes but they can only ride on the streets and with the streets here, that’s probably not the safest thing to do. So I do have project ideas, I just have to give it some time, it just needs a little time.

Alright, enough venting. During my spare time, I have been reading a lot. I have read 7 books in 2 months of service, which is a lot for me, believe it. I highly recommend the Autobiography of Malcolm X, which immediately became my favorite book. He brought to light the fact that I truly know nothing about myself, my heritage and culture and it certainly got me thinking. I also recommend “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, although it may be a little dark. If you have any book ideas, please let me know...or even better, you can send it to me. Sending a care package never hurt, right? Try not to forget about me, friends! I really miss you all very much and, si Dios quiere, I’ll see most of you very soon. I officially asked for my vacation days and I will be in Texas, if all goes according to plan, from December 17th to January 5th. First to Austin, then to El Paso! Ohhh, it feels so good to say that.

Warm regards,

Mario C.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bright lights and the big city...

Hello boys and girls, Mario again. So I’ve been in site for about a month and a half…and I must say that things are going very well. I’m really enjoying my community and I feel like I am being productive…although maybe not everyday. Ummm…I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of my friends from the States lately and it seems like everything is going well back home…which is good to hear. I've been spending a lot of time at the school, getting to know the kids and teacers and that has been great. Some projects that we've recently worked on was the Feria "Guarari en Accion", which was a smash hit. I coached some kids at soccer, and well...we didn't do too well, but it was still a nice experience. We also had a school clean up recently...which was also a success, and I somewhat helped.


Now, we're focusing our efforts on a Talent Show that will be next month for the kids in the school. Other project ideas we'd like to develop soon are to build a small area for kids to skate...because that is huge here...and also some sort of photo project, where the kids would take phots of their community and outline the problems, assests and resources and just have fun with some cameras, which many don't have and then frame them and present them to the school....which is still in verrrrry early stages of development.


I realized I hadn’t updated my blog in a while, so I thought I would post a blog with a list. It’s not particularly interesting. But either way…enjoy…

Things I now realize/accept/like/know after being in Costa Rica for several months.

1. ICE (pronounced EE-SE) has got to be the worst phone company in the world. Ever.

2. My host parents will poke fun at how I dress (IE cardigans, striped hoodie, tight jeans)

3. It rains a whole hell of a lot.

4. But still, the Central Valley climate is really nice.

5. It will always be hard to explain exactly what the Peace Corps does.

6. Accept that my nights, even Friday and Saturday will usually be over by 10 o’clock.

7. Regardless of how long I am here, there will be days when I really miss Texas.

8. I really do miss my friends from training.

9. San Jose is actually a nice city, once you give it a chance.

10. That even though it’s only rice and beans, gallo pinto is pretty damn good.

11. I will always be short on money.

12. That the kids in Guarari are the coolest in Costa Rica.

13. Two years will probably go by faster than I can imagine.

14. The beach is never more than 2 hours away.

15. I will wake up to allergies. Everyday.

16. That I can’t wait until my host family comes to visit me in the States.

17. The Peace Corps was definitely the right choice.

18. The Peace Corps office is a cool place to chill.

19. Even though I’m not living in a mud hut, this is still very difficult. Regardless of what some people might think!

20. The Fuerza Publica is not that reliable.

21. Just how big soccer is all over the world.

22. I took a lot of things for granted back home. (internet, car, cable, AC)

23. No matter how much I hate reggaeton, it will be a part of my life for the next 2 years.

24. Costa Ricans really love scary movies. Bad ones at that.

25. For the most part, Costa Ricans don’t like W.

26. Nicaraguans are awesome.

27. Pura Vida will become an everyday saying for me back in the US.

28. The world is fucking huge.

29. That I will run into a lot of Americans while I’m here.

30. Peace Corps does offer a lot of freedom.

31. There are a lot of former Peace Corps volunteers out there.

32. That I will always have to explain how I could possibly be “American”.

33. My friends back in the US are the greatest people in the world (I technically already knew that)

34. I will probably be great at ironing by the time I’m done.

35. That a lot kids will know my name!

36. I will more than likely never want to ride in a bus again.

37. That soccer is just not for me.

38. That I will never want another Imperial after two years. Ever.

39. Saprissa is king.

40. Making a trip to the Auto Mercado an awesome event with my family.

41. Costa Rica really is a beautiful country. Word.

42. Sayings like, “que dicha”, “tuanis”, “chiva” are coming back with me.

43. Cell phones are ridiculously expensive here.

44. Raspberry fresco is unreal.

45. Heredia really DOES have beautiful women.

46. I will never find authentic Mexican food.

47. I need water proof shoes.

48. Costa Rican men are keeping hair gel companies in business single handedly.

49. Guarari is great neighborhood.

50. Heredia is a cool fuckin’ city.

51. New meaning for the word soda...

52. Living in a soda = great food

53. Young men say “mae” wayyyyyyy too much.

54. Nothing is off limits when having a conversation with a Costa Rican.

55. The music here...it isn’t good.

56. Fanny packs are cool here. I’m not joking.

57. Surfing...or attempting to surf could be dangerous.

58. Bubba’s fish tacos in Jaco are un-fuckin-believable.

59. Tico 18 is by far the dopest Tico group.

60. Beer is cheap.

61. Costa Ricans really love English.

62. I will always be compared to Matt (the other volunteer in Guarari)

63. But I will learn a lot from him.

64. It’s not a good idea to walk through the entrance of Guarari alone...at night.

65. Costa Rica has bigger and much, much nicer McDonald’s.

66. I’m going to hate motorcycles after the Peace Corps.

67. POPS is amazing!

68. That a lot will change back home while I’m gone.

69. It’s never too soon to think about the future.

70. Stay out of the Hotel Del Rey...unless of course you’re looking for prostitutes.

71. Bob Marley is everywhere.

72. I have to go to the Osa Peninsula.

73. I will come back loving coffee.

74. I’m no good at teaching English.

75. The newspapers here are garbage.

76. I will show up 10 minutes late to everything...and still be one of the first ones there.

77. Chifrijo is the bomb.

78. Mohawks are all the rage.

79. Call center jobs are actually coveted.

80. To make sure that all taxis have "maria's"!

81. The streets have no names!! Giving directions is an adventure.

82. Every meal will have rice and beans...even breakfast.

83. Fresca is the greatest drink ever.

84. I have a lot of places to visit in Costa Rica.

85. I will learn a new spanish word everyday.

86. Everyone thinks the Peace Corps is affiliated to a religion.

87. On that note, things will only happen, "si dios quiere".

88. Not having a military does not make Costa Rica peaceful.

89. You have to be careful with the dengue!

90. There's no such thing as separation of church and state.

91. Having coffee is just part of the job.

92. La Liga sucks!! hehe.

93. Tons of American influence here. Tons.

94. Being a millionaire here does not mean you're rich.

95. I know what a teja, tucan and a rojo are.

96. The fruit here is great.

97. I no longer have any sympathy for stray dogs.

98. Even if it's sunny when you leave...take an umbrella. Trust me.

99. I will try to read at least 100 books while I'm here!

100. I'm really not that far away from home.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ain't going to the town...

It's May 14th, 2008. I've been in Costa Rica for almost 3 months now. Training is almost over. The journey to becoming a volunteer has almost come to an end! It's insane to believe that training is over. By this time Friday, I'll officially be a Peace Corps volunteer. In all honesty, it's bittersweet. I've reached a solid comfort zone here that I thought would take a lot longer to reach, and I've made great friends along the way, so those things will be hard to leave. Even so, I feel prepared to become a volunteer and actually start working. As it stated in my last post, I specifically asked my Program Director during an interview that I wanted the site Guararí in Heredia and luckily for me, that's the site that has been chosen for me. A little information over my site...It's apparently the most urban site in Peace Corps Costa Rica. It has approximately 50,000 people, which in the States might be small, but here, it might as well be a metropolis.
It has a many resources but also many problems, which is exactly why I wanted the site. I wanted a site that has work that needs to be done, but I also wanted a community that felt the need for a volunteer and a community that is willing to work with a Peace Corps volunteer. Which is exactly the case. I'll be working a lot with the schools and orphanages in the community preaching healthy lifestyles, importance of education, and of course making sure that all of this is sustainable. That's the Peace Corps' key word. Sustainability! I'll also be following up a volunteer who has been in this site for almost two years which I see as a blessing. I intend on learning as much from Matt as possible and hopefully the community will get to the point where they like me as much they do Matt.

As for my future family...they're great. I went to visit them about 2 weeks ago and it was a good experience. I will be living in a "soda", which is kind of like a diner...but in a house. It's difficult to explain, but needless to say, the food there will be great. Also, for the first time in my life I will have younger siblings. I will have an 18 and 8 year old sister and 14 year old brother. They, for the first time, made me feel like a novelty. They had so many questions about the U.S...and Mexico, since they can obviously tell that I have some Hispanic heritage. They made me feel very welcome and I look forward to living with them. My host dad, Edgar, is a great guy. He is a contractor, and he drives a black pick-up truck that he loves to show off. He is also a great person to talk with, as is my host mother, Gloria. I will be moving to my site this Saturday when my host dad comes to pick me up. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I'll be living about a 40 minute bus ride from San Jose, which is kind of crazy. I can see downtown San Jose from my community which is somewhat surreal. Not only am I in the most urban site, I'm also in the site closest to San Jose, which means that anytime a volunteer needs to come San Jose, chances are that they will see me.

As you can tell, I changed the name of my blog. I think it's more appropriate seeing as how I will be working with kids these next two years. Damn, two years. Seems like a really long time. I'm glad I've made it as far as I have, I know many people back home had their doubts that I would even make it this far...but I know that this is just the beginning and I welcome the ups and downs that will certainly come in the next two years. But alright my friends, that's all I got for now. Hope you're all doing great...and having fun during your first days of summer break. I'll be back soon with pictures of my site.


Mario

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The long and winding road...

well, I know it's been a long time since I've posted. So that technically means I should have a lot to write, right? well, we'll see how that goes. So now we're 6 weeks into training, or about half way done. I can't believe how fast this has gone. This Friday we're all finding out our sites for the next two years! I'm very excited...and by very excited I mean I'm a nervous wreck and I can't wait to find out and I spend almost all day thinking of where I'll be for the next two years! But I think I'll be alright. The last couple of weeks have been a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. We've gone on two field visits to visit some volunteers who have been here for a while. We went to Ciudad Quesada, Los Chiles, and Herradura to visit Amy, Rebecca, and Max respectively. Those trips were incredibly useful and insightful to see how volunteers really live, and I have a much better idea of exactly which site I would like. I won't say the name cause I don't want to jinx it, but I'll tell you guys on Friday if I got it or not. Alright, I digress. Back to the field visits, the trip to Los Chiles was amazing. They have an area known as a "precario" where people live in levels of poverty I have never witnessed before. Most of the population of Los Chiles is Nicaraguan because well, it's right by the border. A lot of the families are undocumented and suffer from many of the problems that Mexicans and other immigrants in the states suffer from. On a side note, Costa Ricans are great people and I believe they're really nice, I really do...but the way they talk about Nicaraguans gets me more and more angry each time. They'll say..."I'm not racist...but those Nicaraguans...(insert racial rant here)." So when they say they're not racist, prepare to hear a story about Nicaraguans. It especially strikes a nerve with me, being from a border myself, and having people in my own country talk so badly of another race. It's really frustrating. But ok, I'lll stop my rant here, since I do have to watch what I say on this blog.

Ok, moving on, the trips were great! In Herradura, I visited Max, who is quite the cool cat and we visited several beaches and had some great food and conversations along the way. He'll tell you that Chicago is cooler than Texas...but we all know that ain't true! Haha. We went to Jacó, a beach town that has a grip of tourists, which was pretty surreal. Either way, I'm just glad I got to finally visit a beach, aaaaand I'll probably be heading back there with some homies this weekend. On another side note, Herradura is hot...very hot. Words of wisdom...don't sleep in a tent, on the floor, in a house in Herradura...haha :) It gets to be a little warm. And now I'm back in San José and back to training tomorrow. I really think I've handled it much better than I could have ever imagined. There are times that are tough, don't get me wrong...but I believe that fate has brought me here and I intend on making the best with this opportunity. Aaaaaand I'm actually slowly getting over my fear of bugs...very slowly. hehe. I feel I'm also realizing that I'm more mature than I give myself credit for sometimes. I'm also trying to have some more confidence in myself...which has been tough believe me. But with the help of my Peace Corps friends, I think I'm starting to trust myself and my decisions more. Sometimes I find myself asking "how much help can I possibly provide Costa Rican people?" And I still don't exactly know...but thanks to some insightful conversation...I have to go in with the mindset that if I help just one person while I'm here, I truly believe I will have succeeded. That's what it's all about, right? :)


Much Love,
Mario!


And oh yeah, send me some stuff, yes?? I think I'm the only Peace Corps person without one piece of mail! Where's the love?? :(