New York, New York- 17 September 2010

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I will go back to writing about Gandoca- but the end of project got a little exhausting and my blogging started deteriorating……

Friday I’m sitting on the S shuttle travelling between Times Square and Grand Central station. My landlord has asked for rent in a money order and I’m thinking about the logistics of that. I also begin to realize that I should’ve been getting the shuttle all week and not the 7 train. It’s less walking and no stops.

With an awareness that I am learning how to navigate this enormous city, it suddenly hits me. I’m living in New York. I can feel tears stinging my eyes. Tears of joy, tears of relief, tears of pride. It’s been tough work getting here. Visas, flights, insurance, health checks, academic requirement and of course the seemingly endless search for housing.

I’ve been sleeping on Suz’s couch in West New York, New Jersey. Starting as acquaintances I can firmly say now I have a friend in New York. Suz and I met in Costa Rica- for a total of one night. She stayed in the hostel in San Jose while I was trying to work out if I needed a visa. We hit it off straight away. When she offered her couch as first contact point, I told her I would probably take her up on that offer, and if she didn’t really mean it she should retract it there and then. She didn’t retract it. And when I eventually emailed to say when I was coming, she was accommodating and enthusiastic. Even when my flights was delayed and I arrived at her place at 1.45 in the morning……. she was either going to love or hate me. Glad it was the former.

So now I have an apartment, I’m actually sad about leaving her, despite the couch as my bed.

House hunting in New York is an absolute nightmare.

Actual statements in ads for share housing include:

  • I would prefer someone that wasn’t here much.
  • Room for rent. No cooking.
  • We don’t have guests, overnight or otherwise and we expect the same for you.
  • There is a train stop right next to the window, but it’s not that bad really.
  • Must be 420 friendly… (google it)

Norv says that it’s a city that will chew you up and spit you out if you let it. After a week I’m happy but exhausted and hoping it starts to feel a bit easier….


Letting our hair down-25 July 2010

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Saturday we break the rules. We have a party. With alcohol. I haven’t organised it, but I’m happy when I find out. We are past the half way point of the project, and as yet, I’m the only one who has even had a beer. The group have proven they are very responsible and willing to do whatever it takes to work well with the community. They deserve a night off.

Charlie has skipped his studies and stayed with us this weekend. I’m not sure if it’s because Seattle is here, or because we are having a party. I’m pretty sure it’s one of those reasons though. If the group is drinking, one of the leaders needs to remain sober in case there is an accident of some description. He volunteers to not drink, and I happily accept.

None of the community are invited to our party. We make our sarongs into screens across the open air garage and set up the table on the other side. The girls make up a ‘punch’ from soft drink, ‘tang’ and vodka, and we begin to get into our costumes. We all have completely inane superhero names. I am ‘need a knife Nina’. I dress in leggings with my undies on the outside. I tape butter knives all over my outfit and tie my long scarf into a cape.

Someone has pencils taped to them. Billy has first aid supplies stuffed down his pants. Someone has blown up gloves strapped to their head in a rooster fashion. Audrey and Penelope have made black zorro style masks from old leggings. Some people have toiletries taped to them, including tampons behind the ears and pads used as ‘wonder woman style’ wrist and ankle bands. It’s a sight that immediately creates hilarity without needing any alcohol.

At the end of the first drink, we already have a sugar high. We pose in the doorway for individual photos, akin to a wacky year 12 formal entrance. The first drinking game is animal poses and progresses quickly to include noises also. Sonia is instantly transformed to the most extreme kind of actress. Every action she makes is so over the top that we are not very successful in keeping up with her. When the next drinking game requires an action for a sex act, she is most definitely the most enthusiastic. And it’s her that adds the noises to every action around the table.

Half way through Charlie and Seattle return. It is clear that Charlie is stoned. When Seattle begins to get very paranoid about being seen by the community, it becomes obvious she is stoned too. Ordinarily I would be very upset. Clearly however I am already intoxicated, because despite thinking that we really need a team leader who is not off their face, I continue drinking.

Kings starts the revealing conversations with ‘never have I ever’ and it quickly degenerates into telling stories rather than drinking games. It’s a much nicer vibe. Of course I am quickly on trial now people have the opportunity to find out more. I try and answer enough questions to ensure they are satisfied, but not so many that I will be uncomfortable in the morning.

Charlie has disappeared for a shower. Half way through our game we are aware of Charlie and Seattle are having a conversation. When I go up to check things out, she is going to the toilet, while he is showering- in the same room. Penelope coaches me not to say anything. It’s just a shock tactic she reminds me. She is looking for attention.

Luckily I also have an escape hatch to the drinking and the conversations. I am on dinner duty. I try reheating food for dinner. Half way through I am interrupted by the interpretative dance being created and performed on the front deck. It’s a ‘dance of the turtles’. I watch as one of the girls writhes around in a mock egg laying. One of them is the leader- dancing around the turtle collecting eggs. The other two are ‘tortugitas’- slowly crawling out of their eggs to the surface of the sand. The leader comes and helps them into the ocean. They dance/swim around in delight.

It has all of us in stitches. I am taking video footage on my camera but there are no lights on the deck and it’s really hard to see.

Shortly after 8, Lucho shows up. By now we are all quite drunk. While I am concerned about him being there, I don’t want to turn him away either. He says the bar is closed and proceeds to sit at our table. I dismiss the suggestion of the sex positions drinking game. That would just be too provocative. It’s simply not appropriate for community members in a developing, mostly catholic, and rural community.

By about 9.30 the party winds down but some of us are still wanting more. Luckliy for us though, everything is closed. EVERYTHING. I can’t believe it’s Saturday night and everything is closed. I don’t understand but figure it’s probably for the better.

Charlie on the other hand- despite saying he would be our responsible person on duty- has been in bed for the last 4 hours.

In the morning we are summoned to Gladys’ house. I’m concerned she knows about our party, but it has nothing to do with the party.

I am not really part of the conversation. Charlie has been invited and takes me along for security. Because of this, I am unsure about my role in the meeting. However like many conversations, what starts as direct feedback, turns into a much broader conversation about the group and the project. But Charlie isn’t translating for me, and they are speaking really fast. I try to catch their attention on a number of occasions but they are on a roll. Being tired, I get progressively more grumpy and start fantasising about just getting up and leaving.

Deciding that would be incredibly unprofessional, I stay. However I continue to be unsuccessful in requesting information. At the end of the conversation he has consented to leading the construction project and to no longer have meetings with the association. I am more than a little angry. And I haven’t even had a conversation about drug use yet.

It seems that the group are suspicious of his behaviour, not being very consultative in his approach and asking for a lot of information… he’s put the group off-side. I could wring his neck- but decide that is probably not helpful for group harmony…..

Frustration- 18 July 2010

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Doña Cata and Magdelena have been making bread all morning. Penelope questions why they are making so much. Braulio explains they sell it. Today they have an order from the volunteers from the other organisation who are doing something at the school.

I spend most of the morning helping Braulio with his English homework. Later Braulio suggests I come to the primary school with him. Why? I ask innocently. He tells me, the volunteers are painting the school. I bite my lip to stop the annoyed expression forming on my face. It’s been raining all week. Harry would really like to be doing more physical work, but there is not much to offer. Or so we thought. A painting of the school would have been a perfect project for the man with the fidgets.

I wander over through the molasses of humidity. The volunteers are hard at work, along with at least 3 of the leaders. There are other local people there helping, including most of the boys from our house. All the walls are now a soft beige with brown and black trimming. The poles are white. It appears that most the work is done. I can feel the anger in the pit of my stomach. I swallow hard on the words that try to escape and tell myself it doesn’t mean anything.

It seems like such a small thing, but the lack of communication is doing my head in…..

Sloth Sanctuary Visit- 17 July 2010

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Saturday is a free day. We have organised a trip to the sloth sanctuary. I’m not looking forward to it. The group all want to go, so I agree to go along. They can’t go without a leader, and none of them speak Spanish. They need an interpreter, even if my skills are lacking. Increasingly, I would prefer to spend time with the community. But the group seem to be looking for time off.

We do at least find the Rodriguez family in the taxi. They are on their way to their exams in Bri bri. I watch the girls jostling for positions next to Pablo. I’m trying to work out if he knows how popular he is among the group. He’s the kind of person that is simply pleasant to be around. He’s always making jokes, and like all the Rodriguez family, he has a smile that lights up a room.

The bus is much longer than the group expects. I am surprised because I thought they knew how far away it was. We get there at exactly 11.30. Having been told that the tour is around 3 hours long we hurry to catch the starting now.

Seattle, is still wandering around aimlessly as the group moves off for the tour. She hasn’t paid for the tour yet, and is surprised when we ask if she is ready. When she does pay, she is given the wrong sticker and we struggle to argue for her to be included in our tour. I have to laugh to myself. I wonder how some people manage to float through life.

The canoe ride is peaceful, if not particularly filled with wildlife. The movie they show us is the ‘sloth ballet’. It is simply strange. The sloths they are rehabilitating are way cuter than anticipated. They have long soft hair and agile, deliberate manoeuvres that defy their reputation. In Spanish the word for ‘sloth’ is the same word as ‘lazy’ but close up they don’t seem lazy at all.

I am quite taken by these funny creatures. We get to pat a sloth and watch them being fed. The babies are out playing, though we are not allowed to touch them.

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Catching the bus back is a bit of a nightmare. Part of the rush for the bus has been that people are hungry. Despite being gone all day nobody has brought food with them. I think they are insane. I’m more than a little annoyed. I am more than happy when people vote to go straight back to Sixaola, rather than stop in Cahuita to get food. There is nothing in Cahuita but a bus stop, and the Costa Rican equivalent of truck stop food.

Plus I am hoping I can get onto a computer in Sixaola and enrol for my university course.

When we get to Bri bri, the Rodriguez family are waiting to return as well. Seattle has saved a seat for Pablo, despite a number of people having asked to sit in that seat. He lasts about 20minutes and then gives his seat up for an older lady coming onto the bus. I would expect that kind of polite behaviour from him, but I can’t help wondering if Seattle’s body odour is also a part of his decision.

When we get into Sixaola, I run off to the internet despite the warnings that everybody will want to get on if I go. I am desperate, so I go anyway.

I am followed closely by Pablo, and Harry behind him. I grab one computer and Pablo the other. I find I can enrol and am finished quickly. But I continue when I realise Pablo is going to be a little while. Eventually Pablo asks for my help. I offer up my computer to harry.

When Penelope comes is saying people are hungry and grumpy I tell her we will only be 3 minutes and rush to hurry Pablo along.

After dinner I pull out the icecream I bought the other day. It’s a really big hit. The group are ridiculously happy about such a small gesture.

We have arranged with some people to go out but after dinner the group are tired and nobody wants to go. I can’t believe I’m 10 years older than most of them and I am the only one who wants to go out. They cannot be coerced. In the morning Braulio asks me why I didn’t go out. I respond in Spanish. I wanted to go but the group didn’t. I was annoyed and disappointed.

I like that I can speak to him without the group understanding. Gotta love languages…..


Getting started- 2 July 2010

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Thursday morning the team go about their work, organising themselves around their various projects. Charlie and I are trying to find time to see the school principal. I sleep late after my late shift. I’m happy to find I can sleep, even in the heat.

We go to the high school after lunch but there is a football (soccer) match on. We track him down at the match but he is obviously distracted. I don’t realise how much until after the ‘meeting.

The meeting is short, because there is so much going on. He speaks to Charlie. He is speaking very quickly. I am saying very little. I have to admit I am not following all of it. Half way through a car pulls up right next to us and starts a yelled conversation with some people on the other side of us. Nevertheless I have faith in Charlie. We have been really clear about what we are prepared to offer, and not offer.  We even wrote a little script and list of questions before we left.

When we stop, Charlie gives me an update. I haven’t followed the conversation well at all.

Thursday afternoon we run a debrief for the group. We have decided that Thursday, before Charlie leaves for the weekend, will be reporting day. So we finish the reports in the morning, debrief strengths and improvements, and identify any other needs. Then we can add them into the report.  The group is doing really well. When I collate the reports I am surprised at what we have accomplished this week. Of course mostly that is due to the president’s organising not our own, but that’s ok in my opinion.

We give an update of the meeting. The update I give is frequently corrected by Charlie. After the 3rd or 4th occurrence I turn to him and ask what is going on. His response is ‘It’s not my fault if your Spanish isn’t good enough’. ‘But you said to me ……’ I retort.

He starts the next sentence with ‘sweet heart’. I quickly tell him not to use sweetheart with me, especially when I am annoyed. I change topics, suggesting that we need to clarify our position a little more.

After the meeting, but before we do our weekly phone meeting with our ‘supervisor’ in the capital, I simply say- ‘I don’t know what happened today…. I try to get a response from him about whether our unrelenting desire to have some direct and solid answers is realistic. In true Tico style, I realise later he never really answers that question either.

In my conversation with our supervisor, I tell her that we had our first experience of culture shock. She just laughs. We also talk about food. She says she has no more budget. I reinforce with her how important it is that we have some food at night. She suggests we need to change the way that we organise our food with the president if we want something at night instead of breakfast.

Friday morning Charlie is gone early. He catches a ride with the ‘Frenchies’- who are actually high school students from Quebec. They are leaving town. I have to admit I am a little relieved.

Friday night brings a turtle witnessing. The beach is divided into two patrol’ areas. Tara and I have the larger. Wilfredo is our leader tonite. He has come to the house in the morning and meet us all. He seems more receptive to chatting. It makes the time go a lot faster. Somebody must have heard me sing because there are requests for songs. I suggest when it is dark I might sing something. When we finally sit, Wilfredo hasn’t forgotten this comment. I ignore the request initially but eventually find a favourite tune I can remember the lyrics to. Tara soon joins in. We sing for at least half an hour before we run out of ideas. Wilfredo thanks us and tells us it was good. I think he is just being polite and tell him so… at least I think that is what I say.

On our way back, we see a red light flashing at us. All the lights are red so as not to distract or scare the turtles. the red light seems to be pointed at us and is flashing on and off. Wilfredo says it is a signal for egg laying in progress. I break into a run immediately. After about 50 metres I decide this is a silly thing to do, in the middle of the night, with no moon on a black sand beach with a lot of debris around. I change to a brisk walk.

Slowly the night reveals the turtle. It’s ridged leather back reflects the moonlight. We approach from the back. Though I want to see it’s face I don’t dare. It’s about a metre and a half long and almost a metre wide. It’s fins flail about looking ineffective. In actual fact, with one sweep of it’s fins it can move itself or substantial amounts of sand. Slowly it turns itself with it’s fin and heads toward the ocean.

One of the brothers is telling me that Harry is not dressed appropriately. He is wearing a shirt that is apparently grey. But in the moonlight, it looks completely white. Light coloured clothing is also a no-no. Luckily the brother has generously offered to switch shirts with him. When I look back after this conversation, the turtle is gone. I reassure myself that I have now seen one. I feel very satisfied despite the fact I have actually done nothing but observe.

Saturday is a day of lethargy. Some of the group are feeling a little down and the lack of morale spreads like wildfire. In the afternoon when fruit and ice-cream is suggested the group jump at the opportunity. It seems to be just the thing we need. The group come back reenergised. But the next day, we are back to feeling flat. It’s becoming a pattern. I’m a little concerned.