A walkabout is a rite of passage- a person will go out into the wilderness to discover his or her identity and purpose, and then return home.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Atenas- Intro and General Life

I guess it´s about time I posted about the second part of my time {of service} in Costa Rica- I have been here for two weeks (since October 5th) now....

So alrighty, I´m now stationed in the small, mountain community of Atenas, Alajuela, Costa Rica.  The town is one hour west of the capital (San Jose), meaning it´s located nicely in the very center of the country.  The town itself is pretty sleepy and uneventful- there´s exactly one {unpopular} sports bar, one church, one "mercado," and one bus station.  Although if you were looking for shoe stores or dental clinics, Atenas is the place to be.  But I didn´t realize exactly how small it was until I set out my first day here to explore the place, and ended up walking down every street in town in less than two hours.  Definitely a change from the Twin Cities.

While the lack of activity and excitement at first made me hesitant about whether or not I was going to like it here, I´ve decided that the comfort of a small town is a much better place for a home base than some large, crazy city.  Especially after a fun-filled weekend of traveling (<-- more on this later), having a safe, quiet town to return to {and recover in} is quite welcome.  And it´s nice to be able to walk around at night (though, yes, usually with at least one other person), and not feel like I´m going to be molested by every guy I see.  {However, while the guys´ manners here are better than on the beach, or in San Jose, walking around is still always accompanied by whistling/hissing/honking- men in Atenas just don´t feel the need to enter your personal space as much.}

Familia Nueva
So what exactly is my home base like?  Well, I live with Arelis Rodriguez (my "mom" while I´m here) and her two boys, Alejandro (17) and Fernando (almost 16).  They´re a middle-class family who have a house only five minutes from the center of town.  I´ve also gotten acquainted with the grandparents, aunts, cousins, etc., since staying connected with {extended} family is a big thing here.  And interestingly enough, no one in the family really speaks English.  They´ve been having {primarily American} volunteers living with them for at least five years now, but from what it sounds like, there´s always been some communication issues, since most of the volunteers haven´t spoken much Spanish.  They were happily surprised that I could hold at least basic conversations.*  And my Spanish has definitely improved since being here.  I just need to work on verb conjugations and some vocab, and I´m golden.

*Funny story: the first night at dinner, I was sitting at the table alone (having been served first).  The younger brother grabbed his plate and sat down awkwardly next to me, and then looked up and asked in Spanish if anyone else was going to come sit at the table.  When his mom asked why, he replied "So I won´t have to eat alone."  I looked at him pointedly, and said in {halting} Spanish, "You are not alone.  I´m here."  It caught him so off-guard, and everyone started laughing.  He mumbled a sorry to me while looking down at his plate, cheeks red.  He confided to me later that he had no idea I could understand what they were saying.

From speaking with other volunteers about their families- and specifically their host moms- I´ve realized there are two general types: those where the host mom babies the volunteer, and those where the host mom doesn´t.  I´m experiencing the latter; it´s a good thing.  I´ve just come from 18 years of having a mom {I swear, nothing negative is implied here, Mom}, and it´s a nice change (plus what I´m sort of looking for in my year off) to be an essentially independent being.  Arelis is nice and I like her a lot (and she´s a good mom to her boys), but besides cooking and changing my sheets, she lets me take care of my own shit, sola.  Which is just how I want it.   I mean, I´ll soon be traveling entirely alone in Europe, and it´d be a lot harder to visualize taking care of myself  if I´d been under motherly care up until that point.  {I think the reason she´s not a babier is because she´s pretty young (about to turn 33), and still has kids at home, so I in no way represent a chance to have a child living at home again- she´s currently got two.} 

I have my own room upstairs to sleep in, but when I´m at home I generally spend time downstairs in the living room- reading, talking, using the computer, or watching dubbed American movies/over-the-top dramatic Spanish soaps on the TV {which is almost always on}.  Besides the first few days, I haven´t spent too much time at the house.  Generally I´m out volunteering, at the community center through which the volunteer program is run, taking dance/exercise classes, running, or hanging out with the two other volunteers currently living here.

Right now, I´ve completely settled into a good routine here, and am really happy with how everything is going- but it wasn´t always like this.  The first three days I was in Atenas, I was miserable.  I felt homesick, awkward, unhappy, uncomfortable, bored, etc.  It was just not a good point in my trip- but I´ve found that´s pretty common of {my} transition periods.

I think I was feeling so down because I´d just come from the turtle project, where I´d gotten familiar with the routine, I had met some great people, and I was having a lot of fun.  Instead, I found myself in a small, boring town {with no beach} where I didn´t know anyone, was living in a home full of strangers who spoke only a foreign language, and {since my time at the orphanage didn´t start until Tuesday, and I arrived Friday afternoon} I had essentially nothing to do all day.  I found myself doubting my decision to stay in one place for a whole two months- a lifetime, considering I´d only done a little over two weeks at the turtle place.  Plus, I could finally make contact with my family (and friends) through email, facebook, and Skype, and I suddenly felt an overwhelming need to speak with my family, and hear their voices.  

But luckily, literally the day after I Skyped with the fam for my first time ever {a horrendous ordeal... long story short, bad internet connection + confusion about whether or not to press the microphone button on the headset when speaking = major frustration/possible tears}, it all changed for the better.  I had my orientation with the volunteer coordinator, was given a mini tour of the town, met both Lindsay and Dean {which was an amazing experience, considering just learning of their existence filled me with joy, aha}, had my first Spanish class, and went out that night to the sports bar where I ordered my first "legal" beer.  A life-changing day, let me tell you.  And from then on, I´ve been in an extremely positive state of mind.  It´s amazing the difference one day can make {<-- a thought I´ll be storing for later use in Europe}.

{Week}Day in the Life {of an Orphanage Volunteer Living in Atenas, Costa Rica}
This is my general schedule Monday-Friday morning:
5:30am- wake up {usually naturally- it gets light/loud outside early}
6:00- run
7:00- shower, eat breakfast, fill up my water and grab a snack for later
7:45- meet Lindsay {more on her later} and walk to the bus station
8:00- get on the bus to Palmares {where the kids´ home is located}
9:20- arrive at the childrens´ place after a 20 min. walk from the bus stop
9:30-11:40- play with kids!
12:15pm- catch the bus back to Atenas, eat aforementioned snack
1:20- arrive home for lunch, write emails/blog posts, read
2:30- head to the community center Su Espacio with Lindsay for Spanish classes (the first week)/ independent-study (now)
4:30- Spanish studying ends, leave either for home or to the town center {if I need to buy something}
After 4:30- dinner happens sometime between 6 and 7, and some nights I´ll go out to dance/spinning classes, to the sports bar, or out to hang with Lindsay and/or Dean,  Otherwise it´s more writing/reading/relaxing.
8:00-10:00pm- bedtime occurs within this window, on average around 9:00 or 9:30, but last night it was 7:30, and the night before it wasn´t until 11:00 {since I was watching the Costa Rica vs Guyana "futbol" game- veerrryyyy important; luckily they won}

The weekends are when the schedule goes out the window, and craziness ensues.  I´ll have to go over those in a different post, haha.

Other {Important} People
Not sure how surprising this is, but I may actually interact more with the two other volunteers stationed here right now than my host family.

Lindsay and Dean are the two other volunteers in Atenas right now, and with whom I´ve been spending lots of time with (especially {as Dean likes to point out, in a total show of FOMO, aka fear of missing out} Lindsay).  They´re both American, in their early 20´s, and pretty cool.  Lindsay is not only volunteering for almost the exact same period of time as me (she´ll be leaving only one week earlier), but she´s also working at the childrens´ home- we´re together a lot.  Dean is teaching English in the community center, and actually only has about 1 1/2 weeks left here in Atenas.  But Lindsay and I traveled with him last weekend, and I´m pretty sure we´ll be doing so again this coming one, so I´ve definitely gotten to know him.  It´s fun having the three of us together- we´ve got a good dynamic going: Dean meets people, who then invite Lindsay and I to go do stuff, and we bring him along.  It´s also become a thing to make fun of him, so Lindsay and I are a little worried about how we´re going to pass the time once he´s gone....

I´m so glad there are those two to hang out with here, because like I learned at the turtle project, it´s the people who really help make an experience.

So yeah, that´s my situation for the past few weeks now.  I´ve officially been in Costa Rica/away from home for more than a month, and I honestly couldn´t tell you whether it feels like I´ve been away for shorter or longer.  My perception of time has gotten so screwed up here.  But however long it´s been, I´m not ready for it to end anytime soon.

Off to a spin class with Lindsay {Dean, feel the FOMO}.

xoxo, Cleome

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