Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Black Market Taxi Ride

So... I have to report my experience with the black market of Costa Rica.

Today, three of my friends and I needed to catch a cab on the way to our language class. It is about a 15 minute drive and usually costs 2500 colones, or about $4. We walked out to the curb, and immediately see a red cab driving up the hill. What luck! Normally we have to wait a good 5 minutes to find an empty cab, but this one pulled right over and asked if we needed a taxi. I noticed that the yellow triangle on the side of the cab that has an identification number was covered up with black duct tape. This seemed kind of weird to me, but I figured there must have been a hole or crack in the car which required duct tape. Naivety, I know.

So we get in and tell the guy where we are going. At first he seems somewhat confused, but then says he knows where it is. I also noticed that the meter (la maria) was hard to read and seemed broken. I asked him to reset it, and he did to the normal amount.

We then begin the craziest taxi ride I have been on yet in San Jose. Swerving around curves, slamming on his breaks, and also talking a hundred miles a minute about everything. I felt kind of nervous and uncomfortable, but he kept looking back at me (while driving!) and tried to get me to talk more to him. The driver spoke English and was way more chatty and sociable than any of the other drivers I have met. Halfway through the ride, he said, "Oh, you need the Indoor Club! It's that way!" And completely shifted his route. (I had noticed that the route seemed different than usual...)

By this point I am feeling a little weird about this whole thing, and figured he was ripping us off. It still didn't occur to me that he was a fake cab driver though. We finally ask him to let us off before our final destination, and he charged us 3000 colones (1000+ what it should have been, but nonetheless only a few US dollars thankfully.)

When we got out and discussed our observations, one girl said that she noticed that he took down the little taxi light on top of the cab when we got in. Everything made sense then, and we laughed about the fact that a phony taxi driver had just taken advantage of a bunch of stupid gringos. I'm sure it made this guy's day that we fell for his trick, but it also made for a good story the rest of the day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

First pics from Costa Rica

These first three photos are the place I have Spanish class every day. The other two are the LASP office up the street from my house. I definitely do not mind class or studying when it is done in such a beautiful garden! :-)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Smiling in Costa Rica

Today my mom (Costa Rican mom) said something that would make my semester worth it if it ended today.

I went with her to see her mother today a little south of San Jose. I love my mom and love spending time with her. I am definitely closest to her in the family. Anyway. We are standing at the bus stop downtown, and she just kind of says nonchalantly, "Hannah, estoy muy contenta con usted." -Hannah, I am very happy with you. And I wasn't sure what she meant, so I said wishfully, "Con mi espanol?" Haha. What a joke. No, not my Spanish. But even better, "Con su persona"- with your person. Wow. That meant so much to me. I told her again how happy I was to be living with her family, and that I have the best family out of all the other host students. It really has been such a blessing to me.

Haha, and the funny thing is, when I first picked my host family (we drew our families out of a hat...), I was very nervous about it because I thought that my host sister was a boy! Haha. Because my dad is Chinese, all the kids have Chinese names. So all it said was Chuck- 25, Beiy-Sim-20, and Diego- 2. And I felt like I would probably feel awkward and out of place in a house with three boys. Well, as it turns out, I have one sister who lives with us, and Diego- my host nephew- is the cutest kid in the world and I love when he comes over every day. And an older brother, Chuck, who is married to a former LASP student from Seattle! So I totally scored the best family in San Jose.

Anyway. Other things from my week. As a stream of consciousness, this is what my week looked like.

I had a colony of ants living on my bedroom floor for several days. They also decided to inhabit my MacBook. Yes. They were living in my computer. Every time I opened my laptop several of them would be crawling across the keys and OUT OF the keys. I would just kill them, but after a few days of wondering where they were coming from, I searched under my desk and found the little colony. I debated for a few days telling my mom, but when I did, she pulled out a handy bottle of ant killing spray, and within an hour they were all gone. Today a few more crawled out of my computer, but hopefully this will end soon. :-)

I was lighting a candle the other day, and because I am incompetent at using matches, it took me a few tries to light the match. I was doing it too gently. By the time I lit the match, it collapsed in two and the lit part fell on my leg. So I have a nice little red welt/streak on my leg now.

I think I am getting better at hearing and comprehending Spanish. I really hope so. That is my biggest prayer right now. I just want to know Spanish so badly. Every day when I am here I am just dying more and more to fully comprehend it. I read the paper in the mornings in Spanish and look up words I don't know, I read my Spanish Bible, watch TV with my family, watched the presidental candidates debate tonight on TV ! (the election is in February!) obviously talk all day long with my family... I hope hope hope all of this is slowly building up in my mind. But there are days when I wake up and feel like I have regressed. Other people report the same thing, so it must be normal. Even one of the Spanish profs here said that you get worse before you get better. Definitely experiencing that some days.

Eating: I eat so much. The food is great. That is really a blessing- my host mom cooks delicious food and I really like the food here. Of course, I eat way more carbs than any person should, but its great. Today for breakfast I had a papaya smoothie (I have either papaya or pineapple or watermelon everyday for breakfast) and some homemade (made by yours truly) limeade for dinner. For lunch I ate several kinds of bread and for dinner rice, beans, and pasta. So I am definitely eating and enjoying everything!

The other day we were talking about things we missed- one thing that I didn't realize I miss is being able to just walk outside so easily and just really trust (or hope to trust) the people on the street. Here, once I am in my house at 6 pm, I really don't leave. Also, everything here is behind gates. I feel a little imprisoned. Both of my schools here and my house are both behind a tall fence with a lock. It is kind of sad. Whenever you see kids or dogs playing in their yards, they are separated from you by a high metal fence. Security isn't the greatest here... they tell us not to take pictures or bring our cameras with us because they will probably be stolen or at least highlight the fact that we are Americans and probably have cash or money on us. So I haven't taken any pictures yet. :-( So I definitely miss being able to walk outside freely and not live so fenced in. Also, I miss being able to walk down the street without getting tons of "piropos-" that is the Spanish word for cat-calls. I am not trying to sound snobby or cocky, because every single woman here gets a fair share of them. You will just be walking and guys will honk or yell out their windows anything. It isn't flattering at all. Blah.

Other things... um, I am reading this fascinating book on Nicaraguan history called "Blood of Brothers." I am writing a paper right now about US-Nicaragua relations. Very very interesting. The book is written by an American journalist, but he definitely criticizes the US's actions throughout time in Nicaragua. There are some things we did here that are embarrassing to read about, especially since some of the things happened in the past few decades. For instance, the fact that the US supported the Somoza dynasty which was completely oppressing and later on even brutalizing the people... however, the Somoza family was anti-communist, which was appealing to the US during the Cold War. So I'm learning a lot about Latin American history and politics. However, it is making me love my major, which is a blessing, because I frequently feel out of place within my major.

Well, that is my week in a nutshell! I will try and take some pictures of my family and the place where I have language classes. But I am doing very well. Missing you all, and hoping that life is treating you well. Love you very much!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

first week

The past week has flown by! It's hard to believe that I have already been with my host family for over a week now.

This week we started classes. Every afternoon for 3 or 3.5 hours we have language class- that has probably been my favorite thing so far. The place we take classes at is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. My class has four other students in it, and we meet in a small "classroom" in the garden. When I look around me, I can't believe that I am learning Spanish, in Costa Rica, in this gorgeous garden. (I will have to add some pictures later.) The Spanish classes are going well- it's very conversational, and I am hoping that after six weeks I will be much more comfortable with the language.

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning I go to the LASP (Latin American Studies Program) office and have class there. Each day we have someone come in and give us a lecture about something new. Today we had this man who grew up in the dumps of El Salvador. He had the most beautiful way of talking about his life and what he has learned overtime. (He is now a painter/security guard in Costa Rica- I actually bought one of his paintings! So beautiful.) However, he did not take an angry approach towards poverty and inequality. He emphasized that it is not a fight between the rich and poor, or between governments and the poor, or other actors. He rather talked about the importance of creating relationships and hearing others' stories. He feels that in those relationships Christ can become recognized and whole again. He also said that the most important thing one can do is learn how to feel in this world. Also, knowledge and wisdom are more important than any material wealth. He said that the only difference between an educated wealthy man and an educated poor man are a few material possessions. He didn't sugarcoat what he said, and he said that not all who grew up in the slums have the perspective he does, but he was a joy to meet and listen to.

One thing that has been difficult to learn about are the ways that the United States really damaged Latin America. I have to learn more about it, but we are hearing a lot about the dictatorships that the US propped up during the Cold War and the ways in which the US really hurt Latin America. I am reading a book for one of my classes called "Blood for Brothers," and it is all about Nicaragua during the 1970s and 80s. Also, regarding American influence, one girl today in my small group talked about how her host sister desperately wants to be an American. This girl (and many others in CR) does all she can to embrace and live out the culture that she sees on TV and in Hollywood. She wants white skin and blond hair and blue eyes and American music and food, etc. It is really sad that some cultures have been hidden or pushed aside by American culture- a culture that those of us who live in America frequently hate! (Sex, Hollywood, consumerism, obsession about being thin and beautiful, etc.)

Ready for this weekend. The days really tire me out here! Even just listening to Spanish all day makes me really tired.

I hope you are all well! I will write more later. :-) Much love.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

cultural faux pas #1

My life is awkward.

Gagggg. I think I committed a cultural faux pas tonight, and I don't know what to do about it! I feel nauseous thinking about it.

Ok- so this is what happened. I went with my mom to a baby shower- it was basically a family reunion with 30 or so family members. It went until about 11 pm, and was a combination of very fun/very overwhelming. Of course, 80 % of the time I did not really know what was going on- however, I participated as much as I could and actually had a good time. We played musical chairs, musical hats, lots of games... there was lots of screaming (in a good way) and laughing and craziness. They are very expressive in their culture and very affectionate/loud/excited about different things. Most of the time I just sat there and smiled, and when I could, participated. It was slightly overwhelming, especially towards the end, since I really can not understand much Spanish, and sometimes there would be several people at once trying to explain or tell me something. One thing that was really nice- the uncle whose house we were at came over to me and said, in English, "I would like to show you my garden." I went with him outside and he showed me all the plants and things in his garden. It really was beautiful and I expressed that as much as I could.

So, at the end of the night, it came time for us to leave and say goodbye to everyone... meaning 30 or so people. By this point I was starting to feel very exhausted (spending 4+ hours in a setting with complete strangers who speak another language can be really tiring!) I know basically none of them, but knew that I should still walk around and hug and kiss people goodbye. I am still a little bit unclear if the whole hugging and kissing thing is necessary between men and women. Between women it is totally normal, but I don't know about between women and men. A kiss on the cheek this is, but still. So I started walking around and most of the women immediately offer a hug and kiss. Some of the men offered a hug and kiss, and I did not feel too uncomfortable with it. HOWEVER, there was this one cousin or something who was probably 30 years old. Earlier during the night I caught him staring at me during dinner, and talking with his buddies at the same time. I felt somewhat uncomfortable with this, and did not want to give off any wrong impressions. So when I walked around to say goodbye, he said "Chao," but did not initiate a hug. I said "Chao" as well, smiled, and continued on my way. Immediately, he walked over to his mom or aunt, and I think... I think, told her that I didn't kiss him, and I think she said something across the room about me not kissing the cousin. She asked if I thought he was ugly! By this point it seemed to be too late to do anything... I was following my mom out the door and was not even really sure what was going on.

AHHHH. I don't know what to do. I didn't want to initiate a hug/kiss with him just in case that was inappropriate, but I think not doing it was a lot worse. I am already a very non-touch person, especially when it comes to men, but here that is different. I thought following his lead and not hugging would be ok, but apparently it wasn't.

Well. That was my night. I feel like a jerky, culturally insensitive, and a snobby American. HELP!

Love you all. :-)

la siesta


So we finished orientation week, and have a relaxing weekend with our families. Yesterday I got some of the details that were intentionally vague before about the program and what exactly I will be doing. Wow... this semester is going to be intense but hopefully really rewarding. After a month here, where we take language classes everyday and listen to speakers, we go to Nicaragua for about 10 days. No clue what goes on there. After that, we have spring break for four days, and then we break up into our concentrations. I am on the Latin American studies track, which means that for two weeks or so I will have regular class with 15 or so other students, and will then go for ONE MONTH by myself to a rural area of Costa Rica and live with a family. No gringos, no professors... just me and a family. I will either work on a farm or at an orphanage or some type of place like that. I am a little nervous about this month alone... I am mostly afraid that the rural area and too much alone/down time will make me feel lonely and homesick. But I know that it will be a good time just to press into the culture and learn more about rural life in Costa Rica. Then we come back, go to Cuba (hopefully, if the US sends the visas, which is not a definite...) and then come back home.

Wow. Anyway, this morning I went with my mom into town and went to a huge market outside to buy lots of fruits and vegetables. It was beautiful- tons of colors and people and smells and everything. We are now taking a siesta, and later I am off to a baby shower for my host cousin!

Lots of love.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

exhausted but happy after long day!


Today I woke up in my new home at 6:15 and got ready for a long but exciting day in San Jose, Costa Rica. First of all, I am living with the best family I could possibly ask for. They have a daughter who is 20 years old. The father is Chinese and the mother is Costa Rican. They have three older children, one of whom is marrying a former student on the program! Five years ago, this girl came to Costa Rica with my program to study- she spoke no Spanish, but met Chuck, my host brother. (She lived with another family but met him through friends of her host siblings.) They fell in love and are getting married this March! I really hope I am here for the wedding. Of course, my host sister now wants to get me a Costa Rican boyfriend- a Tiko, as they say. This makes me nervous. :-P

In the house I have my own room. The house is located within walking distance to our school, and about 20-30 minutes bus ride to San Jose. For the first month, I will be going to a language school- that is about 30 minutes outside of San Jose, so I will commute for about an hour each day to go there. Luckily there are other students who live in my area. It is crazy though relying on public transportation and my minimal knowledge of Spanish and the city. It is one thing to do that in San Francisco, but another thing to do it here! I am excited though- today my mom (my Costa Rican mom, but I call her Mama!) took me on the bus to San Jose. I think I know (I hope I know!) how to get there, and once I am there where to go, etc.

Today our group went on a walking tour of San Jose. I was brought back to the second day of my semester in San Francisco when we went on a walking tour of that city. Those two tours could not be more different, yet remind me of each other. We had to find things that will need during our semester- the ATM, bank, post office, pharmacy, phones, etc. We met one of our professors for coffee, and also had interviews with our Spanish instructors at the language school. I can not wait to start the intensive Spanish training on Monday- first of all, the location of the language school is absolutely beautiful. It is in this beautiful building with stone floors and a beautiful garden in the center. Also, the teachers are very nice and the classes only have four or five students in them. I think the classes are 4 hours a day for the first month! Woohoo!

A funny thing that happened today- the three people in my group were eating ice cream in the Cultural Plaza and this guy approached us. I expected this, since we completely stand out as Americans, and it would not be uncommon for men to do this. However, this man just wanted to talk about culture and politics and Obama and many different things. The funniest part of the whole encounter though was his comment that I do not look like an American- I look like a Tika (a Costa Rican!) The two girls with me had blond hair and blue eyes, which may have seemed more American to him, but he told me that I did not seem American. He kept asking whether my parents were gringos... am I sure they are gringos? There must be a mistake! Or maybe "el lechero"- the milkman- is my true papa and lives in Latin America! Ah! So funny. (Sorry Mom and Dad... yes. He did say that.) However, I think my lack of much Spanish ability made it clear that no, I am not a Tika... I am indeed an American.

I really really love living with a family. That was my biggest fear, but it has been so wonderful so far. I do not feel awkward around them at all, even though they have to repeat everything they say a few times to me. I help my mom with preparing the dinner and cleaning up afterwards, and tonight my sister, mom, and I played a card game together. Imagine explaining the rules of a card game in broken Spanish to a silly gringo. Yes. That is what happened. But in the end we could play the game without much difficulty. I also have a host nephew... he is 3 years old, and the cutest boy in the world. His name is Diego, and he comes over to the house everyday while his parents go to work. Diego and I speak at almost the same level. :-) My host sister is amazing- quiet but so kind and patient. It is funny to me that I actually feel less alone and more comfortable when I am with my host family than the other Americans- I do not know why, but so far when I am with the other American students, I feel pretty out of place and homesick. But when I am with my family I feel like I could live here forever. This is a good thing, because the program really emphasizes relationships with the family above the other students.

Well, I love you all and miss you. I hope that you are doing well. Also, please pray for Haiti and my dear friend Keziah. She is a missionary nurse there... she survived the earthquake, and is now helping hundreds of people in need. Pray for strength and assistance for her- she is running on little sleep and few supplies. Please pray for her and Haiti- that is a situation and place very close to my heart.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hola de San Jose!

Hello friends!

I am finally in San Jose with my host family- I have a sister who is 20 years old and two parents. All is going very well so far- I have unpacked all of my things in my room and have had some broken conversations in Spanish with my host family. They are very patient and gracious, which is a huge blessing since they have to repeat almost everything they say to me! But I think I will really enjoy living with them. I am already going to a baby shower this weekend with my mom, and going with them to their Catholic church as well.

Last night we stayed at a retreat center in San Jose and got to know the other members of the group. There are 33 people here altogether from all over the US. No one else is from Gordon- in fact, most of them had never even heard of Gordon! Most of them go to school in the South or Midwest.

This whole week is orientation, so tomorrow we are going around San Jose in small groups finding various things and getting acquainted with the city. Then we have a language placement type thing, and more time with our families!

One of my fears right now is feeling lonely, which is inevitable, pretty much anytime throughout your life, but feels like it could be especially difficult here. Pray that I stay strong during those times when it is tempting and easy just to cry, because I can totally see that happening! Haha. Even when I am on vacation in a foreign place there are times when I just want to break down because I feel out of my comfort zone. Anyway.

Westmont friends- I met Anthony! It is funny reminiscing about everyone from Westmont that we mutually know. :-)

Ok- I love you all! My prayers and thoughts are with you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


It is 6:20 in the morning, and I am heading to the airport in 10 minutes? I can't believe it. Of course I barely slept last night... there were so many last minute thing to do, and then once I got into bed, I was wide awake. So I probably slept for four hours max.

I can't believe that tonight I will be arriving in San Jose, meeting lots of other anxious but excited students, and beginning the first night of our journey. I want to enjoy every minute of it, even though right now I am very tired, and very worried about the little details.

Say a prayer for me!

Much love,

Sunday, January 10, 2010


A quick word about my blog title- last year, my roomie was the RA on our floor, and the theme was "bloom where you are planted." I just love that idea... it really encouraged me to "be here now," as they say on La Vida, and embrace the moment at hand. That is one of my goals in Costa Rica, and for the rest of my life- to really embrace the moment I am in at that very time. Whenever something ends, like a semester or a summer at Chop Point or a great trip, I always regret not having relished every moment. I think back on the times that I was frustrated or negative, and wish that I had realized that I would remember that time, and those moments, for the rest of my life. Do you know what I mean? So when I was in San Francisco, I really made it a point to pause in my day and just say to myself, "I am loving this moment that I am in right now... I am not thinking about the past or feeling anxious about the future- I am simply living in the moment I am in right now." And it really did help me to live in the moment. And... when the semester ended, I knew that I really did try to live each moment along the way. So while it is so sad for things to end (I still really miss San Francisco and the people I met there...) I know that I embraced the time I had.

That being said, I know that God is bringing me to Costa Rica for a reason. And I will "bloom where I am planted..." I will bloom in Costa Rica. Make my roots there, and really delight in everything God has to offer there.

Anyway... things are coming along. I spent four hours shopping this afternoon, and think I have everything I could possibly need. And I have started saying my goodbyes... :-( But in 48 hours, I will be landing in San Jose, Costa Rica, ready to begin the next chapter of my life!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Kansas City

So I am in sitting in the Kansas City airport, looking out on a very snowy runway, wondering how I am all of the sudden at the end of my break, and about the begin the next chapter of my life. But first... my week in Kansas City!

Well, one of the sweetest girls I know happens to live in Kansas City, MO. I never thought before I started college that Kansas City would be on my destination list. But... this is my second trip here, and I absolutely love it. Pretty much I went during the coldest and snowiest week. At night, the wind chill was around -15, and during the day it reached a warm 9 degrees. :-) But that's ok, because Lacy and I spent the week sleeping in, chatting all day long, drinking coffee, making banana pancakes, watching movies, and even managed to squeeze in a trip to a yoga class and the movies one night. So it was a wonderful week in Kansas City and a perfect way to end my break and get ready for next semester.

Right now, I am most worried about living with a host family and not knowing enough Spanish. I really, really desire to learn Spanish, and will invest as much as I can into learning it, but I guess I am worried about that awkward stage where you are still a toddler when it comes to speaking.

I am also always apprehensive about transitioning. I have done a lot of transitioning in the past few years, and while it does keep things new and fresh and exciting, it also comes with sadness of leaving an old place and old friends behind. So I miss San Francisco, Gordon, Chop Point, and all the wonderful people I have met there, but I know that this next chapter of my life has just as much in store. :-)

Thursday, January 7, 2010