Monday, November 7, 2011

Pig of the Month

One needs hobbies to keep busy during vacation, so with summer vacation looming i've decided to get back to work on my pig of the month collection. If you hav'nt had the pleasure of hearing about or seeing the collection, let me explain. A common craft in Costa Rica are ceramic piggy banks. They sell them all over the place, and for the most part, they're unpainted. So, back during the last vacation I bought a container of acrylic paint and decided to make a proverbial pig of the month club. Every pig would be painted differently, and hopefully all with puny names. What i'm looking for now are good pig inspirations. Please keep in mind, it would be better if the name was not only clever but conveyed an idea that was easy to paint. I've been holding off on painting "Pigzilla" for a while now because I think it would be a bit of a challenge, given i'd have to make something that is extremely pig shaped into a giant sea monster without it looking like a pig in a dyed alligator skin suit. Below are possible names, please add any you think of

Chancho Villa (Pancho Villa)

Chancho Panza




Hound of the Baconsville

Choricero (Traffic cop)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Comparitave Study of the Potential Annoyance Levels of Cows, Pigs and Goats


On the plus side: Cow lowing is lower pitch. If mooing is long and low enough, its almost relaxing.

On the down side: Mooing is never long and low enough to be relaxing. Cows don't moo to talk about how content they are. Moos are almost always tinged in panic or anger, and at a decibel range that is impossible to block out.

Average time of annoyance: All day, but most commonly between 3-5 in the morning

Annoyance level: High


On the plus side: There is no plus side. They don't even taste good.

On the down side: The only thing worse than the noise pigs make is how they smell. The only thing worse than how pigs smell is the noise they make. They smell like garbage and port a potties and they sound like people trapped in Dantes Inferno.

Average time of annoyance: Smell=Constant. Noise= In the middle of your darkest nightmares.

Annoyance level: Unseemly


On the plus side: They are few and far between

On the down side: Because they're not common, when one sneaks up behind you and starts bleating, you will jump a minimum of 6 inches

Average time of annoyance: Whenever you least expect it

Annoyance level: Hair raising

A steady, unrelenting rain:

On the plus side: Keeps the day cool and the dust out of the air. If theres nothing to do, gives you an excuse to stay reading in bed as long as you want

On the down side: Almost never rains on the days you have nothing to do. Almost always pours on the days you have lots of things in lots of different places to do (all of which require walking down muddy roads). Keeps the air too cold to be able to comfortably take a cold water shower, even in the middle of the afternoon. Makes you have to choose between getting wet and keeping sane by seeing other people. If rain is steady, means you'll hear the same noise all day for days on end. Impossible to block out, it quickly becomes a sound that triggers feelings of cabin fever.

Average time of annoyance: Unrelenting

Annoyance level: Oh thank god its raining for the first two weeks of rainy season. Oh my god its still raining??? From June-December

Diet Don'ts

In my life I have seen the birth and death of some pretty strange dieting fads. There was South Beach, Atkins, Master Cleanse, the Grapefruit Diet, i'm pretty sure there was even one in SkyMall that promoted loosing weight by only eating cookies. Now, these fads have been under attack recently with professionals calling them dangerous, unhealthy and ineffective. I'm here to say, give them a break. Whatever their respective problems, at least they're not as weird as this one.

I was first made aware of the following diet during the third week of my soon to be doomed community aerobics class. Suddenly, some of my most loyal members were missing the class. Tracking one down to ask what the problem was, they told me joyfully that they no longer had to worry about loosing weight. Then they showed me a piece of paper. On the paper was printed what can only be described as a chain letter diet. Now we've all seen some weird fads, but i'd like to nominate this for a special place on the mantel based on the fact that it includes all the must haves of any great diet:

-Don't change what you're eating! Thats too much work, just include this one new ingredient

-Whatever you do, don't exercise. Thats too much work, your body wont need it anymore

-Things have to be done at very specific times of day/days of the week or it wont work

-This diet is guaranteed to work in exactly the way its presented

-Huge amounts of weight will be lost in just a few short days

-Huge amounts of weight can be lost without diet or exercise

but….it also includes this special crazy bonus:

-The diet will only work for you if you make copies of it (the same amount of copies as pounds you want to loose) and pass them out to your friends

Keep in mind, the women following this diet are grown, educated women. Women who believed so wholly in this diet, they followed it to the letter including dropping all the exercise they had been coming to because it said so. Below i've translated the diet as it was presented to me (as a copy by a woman looking to loose 20lbs)

Rice Water Diet


1. In the morning, take a half cup of water and add the same number of grains of rice as pounds you want to loose

2. Don't put more grains than necessary because you will never gain these pounds back

3. At night drink the water, leaving the grains in the cup so you can refill it the next day


1. In the morning, refill the cup and drink the water, leaving the grains again. Once you're done, fill the cup with water and leave it.


1. In the morning, drink everything including the grains of rice


1. Keep the cup covered during the whole process

2. Make copies of this diet, the same number as pounds you want to loose

3. Start the Diet on a wednesday, but not before having passed out all the copies

4. You can pass the copies of the diet out to any person

5. Don't exercise during this process, the diet is infallible…

Even though the results seem incredible, this does work!

-Addendum: None of the women doing the diet ended up loosing any weight-

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Aquel: The fastest way between two points

Ticos are really good at skirting an issue. Not intentionally of course, but getting direct answers becomes sort of a puzzle, and asking simple questions becomes something that you have to put enough time in your schedule to accommodate. Directions are a classic case of this. How do you get to the office? Answer: You go uphill till you get to where the hospital used to be then you go right. And that's about as good as you're going to get. Everyone living here realizes, directions to one place never get asked just once. First one goes uphill, then asks where the old hospital used to be (usually at least 2x to get in the general vicinity). Once there, position yourself facing right and ask directions again. Chances are you only have to repeat steps 1-4 at least twice more. Take a look at my mailing address (or adresses, I have three, depending on which direction you're coming from):

1) 300 meters south of the Bar

2) 150 meters north of the soccer field

3) 500 meters north of the school

Now..maybe this would be different if I lived in a town of 100, separated by hours on a bumpy bus from the nearest city. Maybe thats the environment mailing addresses here got their start in. The trick however,is that I live in a Barrio in a city with very nebulous boundaries. Just knowing your in my barrio and not the one on either side is an accomplishment. Then find the reference point. (note: there are two soccer fields in my town, over 10 within 5 square miles) Then walk about that far. Then start asking at every house in the general vicinity for me. I suppose the general idea is that people inhabit houses for generations, extended families all live in the same city and most people rarely leave their home town. All the people who send you mail (the electric company) should already know where you live based on the fact you've always lived there.

That playful uncertainty also comes across in every day conversation. Conversations and manner of speaking grew up around just that fact, that everyone has always lived just where they're living now meaning everyone knows where they are and they know all their neighboors from the day they're born. This means, especially to newcomers, its hard to pin down who someone's talking about because people rarely out and say it since everyone knows anyway. Yesterday I arrived home to some juicy gossip: my neighbor had been at her job in the center and had seen one of the girls from the barrio there skipping school and obviously waiting for some guy. The whole conversation happened without ever once mentioning who the girl was by name or physical attribute. Everyone just already knew based on the fact that that girl WOULD be the one doing that. At the end of the conversation after waiting for any kind of clue, I had to finally ask who they were talking about.

The best example of vagueness though, has to be summed up in a conversation I heard a few weeks ago. Below it's reprinted, as faithfully as possible, from memory.

Costa Rican Culture summed up in one conversation:

"Esta embarazada"/ "They're pregnant"

"Quien"/ "Who?"

"Ese"/ "That one"

"Cual?"/ "Which?"

"Ese aquella que vive por alla. Aquel quien se pasa con aquella (pause to file nails) esa de acá, la amiga de ella. Ud sabe (pause to watch truck pass) es el quien paso quien era así como la otra"/

"That one that lives over there. The one that goes out with her (pause to file nails) the one from over there, the friend of that girl. You know (pause to watch truck pass) the guy who passed who was like that other one"

(Pause to look at dog)

"El malo?"/ "The bad one?"

"Aquel es"/ "Yeah, that's him"

And of course because my barrio is so supremely unique, here's a snippet from my town.

Daniel Flores summed up in one conversation:

"Who does that guy (Gaviota) think he is charging 15 thousand colones for a concert after he's populated our town with illegitimate children???"

Friday, December 3, 2010


A quick note about something that has nothing to do with my time here. Have you ever noticed Dove chocolate messages (the ones that come on the inside of the wrapper) are totally inapplicable to normal life? On getting some Dove while at the Automercado in San Jose, noticed most of these messages would actually have awful unintended consequences if followed. Therefore, Dove is obviously for middle aged, already settled women who would only smile, not actually uproot life to do its bidding.

Examples of some Messages:

-What would you do if you could not fail?

Skydive without a parachute, but that doesn't mean I should try it just because I have the power of Dove behind me

-Live every minute doing exactly what you want!

Until tomorrow where you live every minute living up to the consequences of your actions

-He who walks in anthers tracks leaves no footprints

Always follow someone else away from the scene of a crime

-Remember, mistakes make life interesting!

Nothing like serving time for reckless endangerment to give your life a new twist

-Give a smile, you'll almost always get one back!

Especially when you smile at the sketchy guy in the trenchcoat

-Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet

I only assume this means people who buy Dove are smart enough to use umbrellas when its raining

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Presidential sightings

Let me tell you a little story about the time i almost didn't and then almost did meet the president of Costa Rica.

I had been hearing a rumor for a week or so about a trip some students were going to take to an aqueduct. Now, I always like to keep in mind that often times rumor here is as good as fact since even the facts change every 5 minutes so I made sure to pay attention. In this case the rumor was that the sixth grade class of my school was going to the city's aqueduct to learn about water, which after a few days changed, becoming that the students in our dance troupe were going to the aqueducts to dance. One day before the event in question, I was with Morgan, another volunteer, who got a very excited call from her husband; the president of Costa Rica was coming to their town the next day and the choir he'd organized was going to perform for her. I kinda laughed about the fact that the president of Costa Rica just shows up randomly at places here, then went home to tell the story to my host mom. Her response was, "Oh yeah. That's why we're going to the aqueducts tomorrow so the kids can dance for her." This tells me, and you the reader, two very important things about my host mom: the idea that her daughter will meet the president isn't that exciting to her and that she feels no compulsion to share juicy gossip with me.

As sad as the second point might make me, and as much as it may hamper my ability to do my job (see rumor as fact above), what really struck me was the first point. When her granddaughter got home I asked her about it, mainly to make sure the truth hadn't changed since Gladys left the school a few hours ago. She confirmed it but was equally uninterested in the fact that in less than 24 hrs she would be meeting the leader of her country. In perspective, imagine you learned that you would personally be performing for Obama. And not in a highly scripted mass event but in a tent about the size of a two bedroom house, and your group would be the only one performing for him. Now whatever your politics, the fact that you were gonna meet the president i'm guessing means you'd be psyched at least about the ability to brag to everyone you know about how you one-uped them on 'Guess what Celebrity i've Met'. This girl, and all the kids I later talked to it about couldn't have cared less. I find this to be a really interesting symptom of Costa Rican society. So many meetings that were set in stone can change based on chance (see rumor as fact above) that the fact that you're meeting the most famous person in your country is just another strange thing that happened to you. Also, the country's so small that the president coming to our particular city to watch our particular dance group actually can happen seemingly by random chance. In the States, people are excited even to be in the same state as someone famous, and because there are so many of us, we would never just bump into anyone worth noting (which is why we even play Guess what Celebrity i've Met). Here a woman who leaves the house roughly 4 hrs a week can find herself shaking the hand of the president. The very fact that this could happen with no effort on her part probably suggests to her that it's not that rare and special an event.

Now, while integration into Costa Rican culture is very important to me, I must admit I didn't do that good of a job of it that day. Had I been integrated, based on the average reaction I saw, I probably would have learned this bit of knowledge, shook my head and then made dinner. As it was, I squealed and squirmed in excitement for nearly twenty minutes then fell into an all encompassing funk trying to figure out how I would in less than 12 hours convince someone to let me go. I say funk because when I asked Dona Gladys if she was going she responded that no one but the students would be able to go as it was on the outskirts of town and had to be traveled to in a rented bus. And, as further proof of my american strangeness at worrying about this, mentioned that after all did it really matter? If she went she wouldn't be able to sweep the floor that day so it was probably better that she sat this one out.

The big day came, as days are wont to come, and still deeply ensconced in my funk I made my way to the school. Here I should explain my strategy. I make up for the fact that many adults don't know what to do with me by hanging out with kids who don't seem to yet grasp that life can be complicated. I got to the school and promptly got swarmed by kids first asking if I had my camera with me (my camera is a large part of my appeal) and when I said yes, telling me that I absolutely had to come with them to the aqueduct. Not to see the president mind you, but because they wanted to take pictures of the big tanks of water. Surprisingly, most of the adults were also more interested in the water than the president. Priorities tend to shift, I suppose, when water becomes less of a certainty. Just like using old injuries to predict the weather, people use all sorts of indications including the squeaking of a parrot or the water pressure of a shower to try and predict when the water would cut out so they could fill up as many buckets as possible to hold them over. The fact that the city hold large buckets of water in reserve just like them probably does more than anything else to install confidence in government.

My attendance being a certainty now that the kids were in my corner, I went about trying to get myself in a car. I finally ended up with the school's music teacher who had earlier in the year become the school's dance teacher and who in conversation with her I learned was more upset about the school band coming in second in the regional music competition than excited about her classes performance that morning. We got to the aqueducts before the bus and so had time to park and pull out all the outfits and music player before being swarmed by kids. Making our way to the tent we quickly went about setting up for the performance. Sweaty men in shirts unbuttoned to their belly button ambled by, workers from the aqueduct who had a half day so they could come to the festivity. It was a rowdy crowd between the sweaty chested men, frantic teachers and kids trying to jump into the water tanks since they resembled swimming pools. The only group not represented in the crowd was any sort of security whatsoever. Not once was I asked by anyone there who I was or what my business was. The aqueduct opened onto the Pan-american highway and it looked like the most distinguishing requirement for entrance seemed to be the desire to walk uphill to the front gate. Upon her arrival the President was escorted around by two assistants, although neither of them looked particularly imposing and one seemed to exist only to open doors for her and help her get out of the car without rolling her ankle on the pebbled driveway. It seemed the only sort of background checks that were being performed was a head count in order to know how many McDonalds burgers to bring back for the kids.

Now when I say upon her arrival, you may believe that the event waited for her to arrive to begin. It didn't. The whole production in a nutshell had the itinerary: 1) Have adorable children dance awkwardly. 2) Give a 2 hr speech about water conservation. 3) Eat hamburgers. I was there of course because of my school's participation in event number one which had been sold to my school as "teach kids about being proud of their accomplishments by letting them perform for someone famous." While in my wildest dreams I believe I'll be famous one day, I don't think I count. After we were told the president would be roughly 2 hours late to the event (an event that would have taken 2.5 hours) the director directed us to have the children perform so as to entertain the distinguished water people for the next two hours. By the time the president showed up, the kids were danced out and consorted to hanging out and trying to take pictures of bald mens heads with my camera. Our distinguished guest's appearance was actually the least noticable part of the day. Arriving in a cadillac, shaking hands with my host mom and trying not to yawn while learning about the different dimensions of a drainage pipe, Laura Chinchilla acted just like any other figure in the crowd. I got a kid to take a picture of her for my personal collection and she left, all without me even feeling as touched by greatness as when the stripper cowboys came to my mall for a fashion show.

And so that is how I nearly didn't, then nearly did, then ended up throughly nonplussed about meeting the president of Costa Rica.

Or maybe im just secretly seething with jealousy that Jerred got to serenade her.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


The truly amazing thing about soccer is that I wasn't sick of it at the end of the Mundial. Soccer is fun just like baseball is fun and football is fun and its nice to go to a game every once in a while. Soccer, however, was amazingly still fun even when it showed up on our tv for three games a day (plus the hour long coverage of those games every night at six). Not that I watched every game. The first I watched via the glory of the Minister of Education of Costa Rica who declared it a cultural event and said that all students who wanted should be able to watch it in school that day. By a combined effort of the teachers in the school, a 10'' screened tv was found in the back room of someones house and brought to the school where about 20 kids crowded around it. The finale I watched in a sports bar with an odd assortment of gringos, most of whom were sadly rooting for the wrong team. (When in doubt, root for the color orange). I thought for a while that I was becoming freakishly enamored of soccer, but then i realized this is a common symptom ive developed since getting here.

In short: there is a line that goes from -oh, this is fun the first time -to- oh this is still going on?-to -oh well, this is still going on.. -to- what? its not going on anymore? Now what am I going to do? In other words, you get used to everything. I imagine this is a life saving revelation for people who find themselves far from home in a vastly different country. Like Siberia. For me it's more of a curiosity. I admit, i'm living a radically different life here than back home, but that's by my standards and taking into account the range of my life experiences. Probably the most radical change i've undergone is the ability to not only eat but crave eggs. Yup, that's my version of life changing.

Other changes i've undergone: I'm neat here, I wake up before 7, I watch the news religiously, I drink coffee both as a necessity and as a luxury. I attribute most of these to the slower pace of life here, and also the fact that my house doesn't have internet. When you take facebook out of the equation, folding laundry becomes something to do, and when your daily schedule becomes finding things to do, it suddenly becomes a luxury. Immediately after coming home, no matter how many times I know i'll be coming home or leaving that day I take my shoes off, walk to the back and wash the mud off before hanging them up to dry. Its very cathartic. Thats what I found with soccer. Aside from the first and last game all the rest I watched at the private soccer field in my town that had a tv installed in it that i've learned plays either soccer games or cooking shows whenever its on. (The field's owner is a big fan of the Naked Chef). When the mundial ended, even though Im still not a soccer fan, I was left with a certain feeling of- now what? Luckily i'm writing this in the future so I already know the answer to that. August brings dance classes and cooking demonstrations on a weekly basis.

In work news, i'm adopting a new attitude. My opinion of my town this past month has wavered between the town being a catastrophe and being far far too good for me. Through the eyes of my host mom and the health clinics stats, the former is true. My town, I say with a certain amount of certainty has the highest maddness per person capita in the country. Not only is it the 3rd leading illness in the town, but it seems every time I come home and mention meeting someone new my host mom's reaction is "oh, she invited you to that? its a trap, don't go, she's mentally deranged." On the other hand, from birds-eye (institution focused) view of the town, its really far too professional for me. Both the school and the daycare, for all their issues are run by successful, competent and highly motivated women. As fast as I can identify a problem to write up in my diagnostic they're either proposing how to solve it or have actually solved it. Most of my issues concerning me trying to find a job for myself go as follows:

Me: Director, I was wondering if I could ask you a question? You see i've noticed x issues in the school. Is this something important to the school? Is this something I could work on?

Director: I'm sorry, I just got back from my meeting downtown where I erased corruption from our governments and also put in solar power in every building ever so i'm a little distracted, repeat that again?

Me: erm

Director: Oh thats right, I had forgotten about that issue, hold a second (Director makes a 30 second phone call) ok, so that issue you brought up will be solved by tomorrow. Now what kind of projects were you thinking about doing here?

Me: erm

Director: Thats great. So I was thinking, I want a marching band. Can you get us some instruments and organize the kids? Also, would you mind teaching them how to play? The music teachers not available after school hours.

Me: erm

And no, I didn't just become the world's greatest screen writer. That's an actual conversation I have had. The current projects I am assigned at my school- form a marching band and build a gymnasium. Not daunted by the fact that our school already has one gym, they think it would be pretty sweet if we had another. You would think this was frustrating but no, this is the new attitude i'm creating for myself= I came here for people to have a better life, if at the end of the day people do have a better life I should be happy for them, even if my part in it mainly consisted of watching twilight movies, cooking pancakes and trying to avoid getting rained on. (I am willing to go to serious lengths for that last one. By serious lengths I mean I got to the bus stop one day to find an isolated rainstorm right over my town, so I went into the mall in front of the stop to watch said twilight movie and wait it out)

As for my problem kids i'm working with, this is the problem with living in the same community as them, I get to know them and realize there's nothing offensive about them. Just because a kid's loud and obnoxious at school doesn't mean that as soon as the bell rings he doesn't become the nicest kid in Mr Rogers neighborhood. When I see the kid helping little old ladies cross the street in front of my house, it really makes it harder for me to call them out in session for giving attitude in art class. When i see them stick up for a kid that they picked on not half an hour ago in class i realize that these kids are not isolated incidents but whole people. Just because they get antsy when stuck in a cement block for 7 hrs a day copying notes off the board doesn't mean they have anger issues. I don't share these revelations with the schools three psychologists.

I don't want this to come across as a negative post. I have had some pretty good interactions with my neighbors. Despite that they should know better by now, the kids in my town still think i'm interesting and beg me to give them english classes, even on their own time outside of class. I have the "gratitude of spiderman" or at least Nathaniel, a 4 year old boy dressed as spiderman. The naked chef aficionado came clean to me that while he comes off as machista and tough, his biggest delight in life is seeing a well prepared fillet on tv. Despite his best efforts, the parrot has still not been able to bite me (though he is glaring at me right now). I had some totally delicious coconut rice and not as coconuty beans at Jerred and Morgan's house. Roberth, my new favorite kid in school now that Ruddy was pulled out by his dad, walked home with me today in the pouring rain, singing and twirling in circles and being way too happy about being soaked to the bone. Finally, I have yet to be killed by Omar, one of the more dangerous of the mental illness/crippling alcoholic crossovers in my town. Weapon of choice- knife. Location of choice- across the street from my house. My solution- get a bigger knife.

One of the best things i've found in my life here? People here are kinda crazy. Crazy interesting. Did you know there's a laundry detergent here called simply "Terror"? Did you know the rhino toy they sell at the mall is called "Thunder Rhino" and the dog toy is called "Evil Clever Dog"? Did you know that the most common method for getting fruit down from trees is to hit them repeatedly with a metal pipe? Did you know that my host mom's response to my host cousins new boyfriend was "I don't like him, his truck looks like the truck the queso bandito uses. It could be him, and then what, you're married to a criminal cheese thief and one day the police will bust into your house and take him away"? Well now you know.

ps. did i forget to mention there's a cheese thief terrorizing our town?