My Neighborhood

Today as I was walking home from school, I was thinking about how incredibly different the neighborhood environment is here in San Francisco de Dos Rios... I mean, different than what I have experienced before. I mean, if you're currently living in the States, you might have giant oak trees lining the street or freshly paved roads and sidewalks or nice fences around your yard. You might have a dog that barks at everyone who walks by and you might have your car parked in the street. Maybe you even feel secure enough in your neighborhood to leave the keys in the car (I'm not sure many of us anywhere feel that secure anymore... but I hear it used to be like that). 

Hmm... The only thing on the previous list that is the same is probably the dogs barking relentlessly as you walk by. There's plenty of dogs -- both house dogs and street dogs -- that love barking here in CR. 

So what's so different? Well, all houses are behind a combination of steel bars and barbed wire. As I walk home, I have to consistently watch my step as there are holes and cracks everywhere in the sidewalk. A Nicaraguan guard welcomes me to the Sauces neighborhood (that's pronounced "Saw-oo-seis", not like your spaghetti sauce) with his toothless smile while the other guard sits in the guard shack reading his paper and chain smoking. The street I live on is relatively quiet... except for the hourly bus that roars down the road. Any of you who have talked on Skype with me know how loud that bus is! The bus shakes the whole house whenever it drives by... usually it just feels like another minor earthquake. 

As I walk home, I notice a tiny dog sticking his head under the garage door, waiting to nab the passer-by ankles. All cars in the neighborhood are parked inside the steel and barbed wire garage. It is rare to see the cars outside. Garages have mega-volt sound system alarms that can be heard for miles... these alarms are rigged to set off is anything in the garage is fishy, and I mean anything. Like I stand in the garage for too long, for example, and RRRRR-rRRRRR-rRRRRR. Oh geez. I enter my house through 3 locked doors. THREE. And the family house dogs welcome me home with their shrill barking. Welp, glad they're excited to see me. 

On the bright side of things, instead of oak trees like in the States, palm trees and hibiscus flowers line the sidewalks. Parrots and doves are seen daily ... although parrots are quite beautiful, they sure do squawk. Doves on the other hand have much prettier songs. There's also a park right down the block that I've spent time at in the afternoon studying my Spanish verbs. There's also a neighborhood council that has various fundraisers for members and organizations in need. I answered the door this past weekend to be greeted by some women handing out the Sauces newsletter... I'm not sure I've ever received a neighborhood newsletter before! It informed us of, well... gossip perhaps? Ha, I was reading it and thinking, woah! didn't know that about all these people! Ha, whoops. I think the gossip section was just a small one. The rest of the newsletter was about how the council is using the donations and raised funds (paying the guards and donating to funerals...). 

Someone once asked me, "Why are gringos so... well, mean-looking?" and I asked, "Well, when do you usually see gringos look mean?" She told me she sees them walking in the street looking mean. I responded, "Well no wonder! I mean, all this barbed wire makes us wonder how safe we really are!" 

Welcome to my neighborhood. It's, well, different than neighborhoods I've been part of before. 



I recently made Sunday lunch for the family... Here's my "gourmet" stromboli (a traditional Siscoe dinner), sauce, and salad. Judit helped out with the brownie dessert. We claimed we were celebrating "International Mother's Day" even though it was only Mother's Day in the States as ticos celebrate it August 15th. The whole family gobbled up the stromboli!!! :)


Scrambled Brains

So my brain is consistently mixing up the two languages these days. Like I speak Spanish to my students and I speak English to my tica mom... without thinking! Oops, I need to keep my mind straight. 

I made a pact with Judit that during lunchtime with my students I would only speak Spanish as I was complaining to her that I don't have many opportunities at school to speak Spanish. We brainstormed ways that I could incorporate more Spanish into my day, and this was the conclusion. So I've been speaking Spanish with my students at lunchtime (it is allowed for me to do this at lunch but not for the rest of the day) but then Friday I spoke in Spanish during our Writing lesson as well! Whoops, the students were quick to let me know that I was breaking the rules! 

Then Judit and I have been doing language experiments... She speaks only Spanish and I speak only English. We both gain confidence in our abilities to understand the other language without the extra burden of formulating our own words in that language. So tonight we were in the grocery store and attempting our language experiment, but I kept switching back to Spanish! It was like I couldn't think in the two languages right then! So finally I became accustomed to listening to her in Spanish and responding in English (you should have seen the look on the cashier's face as we were talking in line! haha, we were laughing on our way out of the store!), then we arrived home and Blanca spoke to me in Spanish of course and I responded in English! She speaks phrases but not much English, so I quickly switched and translated. AAAAHHH! My brain is so confused! 

Spring Break Destination #2

During Spring Break, I was also able to visit my family's house (more like a tiny cabin) in San Mateo. It was an intense 2 days of Spanish but well worth it as I am progressing steadily. Here's a bee's nest that enters their bathroom. Kind of strange, I know, but they are the tiniest bees I've ever seen and they don't sting. 
I was playing with my camera on a super-slow shutter speed and the bright moon. Here I was trying to write my tica sister's name.. but it didn't work out so well :).

Here's the tiny cabin. It's literally 3 rooms... camper size. Mom and Dad, like your camper, but a house. 
And my house set up behind the family's house :)
A hummingbird's nest we found! 
During my visit to San Mateo, the neighbors came over to welcome ManRi and Blanca back to the area, and they brought delicious tortillas and picadillo. Turns out that the couple lived in Florida for several years and knew some English, and the husband had grown up half time in New York and the other half in Puerto Rico. Quite the mix. So he wanted to practice English with me, and we're all sitting around in our camping chairs and talking in Spanish and then all of a sudden he switches to English and starts telling me about how he lived in New York and basically his whole life story. I felt really awkward about this language switch because even though I understood perfectly, I knew my tico parents weren't understanding much and I wasn't sure about this man's wife... so I switched the conversation back to Spanish. Later, when Blanca asked me about why I hadn't wanted to speak English with him, I explained that I felt rude speaking in a language that not everyone could understand. I thought that if it was just a one-on-one conversation, the language switch would have been just fine, but I didn't want to make a show out of it to people that couldn't also participate in the conversation. I was thankful when she understood. 

Judit also came out and joined us at "the house". She brought her favorite food... raw salmon with biscotti. Quite the sophisticated food... but I still can't swallow it. I tried to... but it just wasn't happening. Judit and I shared the tent :) and that was quite the adventure. She made fun of me talking in my sleep in English as she believes that when I am fully fluent I will talk in my sleep in Spanish. Maybe it's true... but those were the only nights that we shared a "room", so I may not ever know when I am truly fluent, according to Judit. 

We went to the beach and then to an amazing restaurant called "La Leda" that had a great rice and shrimp dish. Little did I realize that when I asked what they recommended at La Leda is that we would all get the same thing... we all ordered plates piled high with fried rice and shrimp. YUM :). 


Spring Break Destination #1

Woohoo!!! 5 days and $80 later, my computer is almost as good as new! It had a virus since December apparently, but I kept plugging away, thinking everything was alright... vamos a ver que pasa ahorita (We'll see what happens now!). 

Here's some photos from the first destination during Spring Break. I went with the Diem family (my good friend Becky, her husband Steve, and their boys Josiah and Elliott) to help with some construction in San Vito, deep in the south of Costa Rica. In fact, San Vito is only about 20km from Panama. So we went and we helped... and well, it was quite the experience to say the least. Ha, maybe this is a story for in person someday. :) Anyway, here's some photos from the week.

One of the houses we were working on... in really poor shape, obviously. Benjamin helped us out for a few days and he thought I needed the most help, ha, so here he is sawing a frame for me. 
Tons of Trackers here in Costa Rica! I actually drove this one... another interesting story.
Yup, that's right, she's buying chicken in a plastic bag... um, sanitation anyone?
Pineapples grow on bushes? Who knew?
My favorite of the week.
A sheep baaa-ing at me.
Drive-by photo shoot
The most ginormous tree I've ever seen.
And Jimena. I seriously almost adopted this precious little girl... that's another interesting story. 


Saturday Morning

I love Saturday mornings. There's so much potential for a great weekend!

Judit and I took my computer to a DELL shop on Thursday... we have to return to pick it up on Tuesday. Until then... I'm using the family computer from 2000... amazing how quickly computers change.

It was a good week, although very tiring. Like I mentioned before, I had 2 new students, and I don't know if it was that or just school in general, but I was so tired by 6 o'clock every day. Like, falling-asleep-at-dinner tired. I mean, even all the Spanish last week didn't have me that tired.

I taught the Bible lessons this week for the whole elementary, and I tied in art history with a reading strategy of using our 5 senses. We would read the story (Luke 24:13-32) of the two disciples walking to Emmaus and Jesus joins them. We were thinking about our five senses and what we heard (voices talking), saw (Jesus but we didn't know it was Jesus!), tasted (dust from the road), smelled (sweat from walking so much), and touched (the dirt road, Jesus). Then I showed this painting from Caravaggio... I loved learning about him in Art History. The disciples are seeing Jesus. Caravaggio captures the moment when they realized that Jesus was right there with them, and I love the expressiveness of their postures. One guy is pushing himself up out of his chair, and the other is so lost in excitement that his arms are thrown up like they might on a rollercoaster. The guy standing is still absorbing the thought that it is Jesus... maybe he's skeptical still.

I was acting out the men's reactions and then I snapped my fingers, paused... and said --and then Jesus disappeared!!!-- I loved the looks on the kid's faces, imagining what they would have felt with their 5 senses. The first grader's looks were the best... like it was Christmas morning or something.

Thanks to Professor Miller in Art History for introducing me to Caravaggio!

I also taught about how Paul's conversion wasn't quite as exciting as the disciples' encounter with Jesus. I linked the story in Acts 9 with Caravaggio's interpretation. Again, the kids were mesmerized.

Changing subjects dramatically, Mom, did you get your Mother's Day present in the mail yet? I'm super excited for you to get it!

I hung out with the girls last night... we just ate pizza and played Taboo. Ha, what living in a foreign country does to you, I guess... gives you cravings for English and pizza.

Today, I'm going downtown to scope out some thrift shops. Tomorrow, church with the tico family. Have a good weekend!


I'm Alive!!

Just a quick post to let everyone know I'm still alive! My computer is giving me serious problems again and I'm really concerned because I just started all over with the software and everything in January. I spent 4 hours last night on the phone with Dell agents and we resolved that it is not my hardware or software... so maybe it's a virus? My tica sister and I are going to take it to a local computer store on Thursday, so for now that's the plan. Until then... I'm computerless in the evenings.

We had a week off for Spring Break, so I travelled with my tico family and friends from the Institute. It was an intense week of Spanish and now starting school again (and teaching all in English) is somewhat bittersweet. My worst fear with learning so much Spanish is losing the ability... and teaching in English isn't helping my Spanish. Ha, not that I am capable of teaching in Spanish at this point (who knows if I'll ever really be ready for that??), but I would love to speak it with the students a little bit...

It's the start of a new trimester for new families moving here to begin language school, so I have 2 new students. Both girls!! Now we're at 11 girls and 1 boy. Poor boy. Oh well, he's a tough cookie; I think he'll be fine!

Alright, I'm on my teacher break right now and I have to go! Thanks for keeping track of me :) I promise photos from Spring Break when my computer is recovered... For now, pray for peace as communication with family and friends in the States is a bit more difficult without the resource of a personal computer.