Sunday, February 28, 2010

our baby kitty

We have some sad news in my house: our beloved kitty, Luna, has gone missing! My parents think that yesterday when they left the house and no one else was here she must have followed them outside and been in the garage. They didn't notice her, and it's possible she either escaped or someone came by and beckoned her to come out. :-( My sister just made a bunch of flyers but our dear dear kitty is missing!

Nicaragua: Managua

I don't even know where to begin... my trip to Nicaragua couldn't have been more perfect. God really blessed me with an incredible family there and fascinating insight into a new part of the world.

We spent the first few days in Managua, learning more about the political and historical background of this country. Probably my favorite part of Managua were all the graffiti for Daniel Ortega and the FSLN. Daniel Ortega is the current president of the country, and is part of the Sandinista (FSLN) party. The FSLN overthrew the Somoza dynasty in 1979, fought against a US backed army during the 1980s, and after fifteen years of right wing presidents, Daniel Ortega became president again. He does not enjoy support from the US, but rather enjoys support from Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Recently Ortega has changed the Constituional law that presidents can only serve two nonconsecutive terms and plans to run again in 2011.

Anyway... I read an article that talked about how Ortega sent the Sandinista Youth out into Managua to graffiti pro-Ortega/FSLN messages. They are EVERYWHERE. This was my favorite.

We also got to visit this village of people who have serious health defects because of a chemical called Nemagon. It is very controversial, because in the 1980s ish, US fruit companies like Dole and Chichita, had workers in Nicaragua and other countries use this pesticide on bananas and other crops. The chemical, which was known to cause serious health problems, was banned in the United States, but not abroad. So even though these fruit companies knew that the chemical was hazardous, they still had these foreign workers use them. The workers were oblivious and unaware of the effects, until years later when they started noticing many health problems. They put it together and realized that they were tricked by US companies. As many of 7000 Nicaraguans have been affected, and over 2500 people have died. Many of the survivors are sterile or have serious diseases, like skin cancer. It is so devastating.

For the last 17 years this group of workers has been trying to lobby to the fruit companies to give them some type of health support or housing. They have heard nothing back from these companies. They were also working with a US lawyer, who ended up taking their money but not helping them at all. They have all moved from the north of Nicaragua to Managua, and have a camp set up across the street from the corporate buildings to protest.

Much more happened in Managua... it was a pretty intense introduction to Nicaraguan reality and issues. More later on my home stay and Granada.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Hello friends!

I am back in San Jose after an amazing week and a half in Nicaragua. I am actually off again for two days to a rainforest area south of here for some canopying and waterfall hiking and such. But wanted to say thank you all for your prayers and thoughts during the Nicaragua trip. It honestly went perfectly- I couldn't have lucked out more with my family or experience there. I was totally healthy the whole time- ironically healthier than I have been in Costa Rica- and had a great family, beautiful town, interesting insights into American and Latin culture, and the chance to meet the former president's son in law, Antonio LaCayo, who is a pretty high up figure and may run for Nicaraguan president next year!

More updates later. And pictures. But wanted to say Hi and I love you all!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Framework I Needed

I just wanted to quickly comment how studying and living in Costa Rica has given me such a hunger and excitement for knowledge. I can't explain it, but I am just loving learning and really pressing into the issues and topics around me.

I want to really understand international politics and economics, and how the United States affects those.

I want to master the Spanish language.

I want to learn about different cultures and get a glimpse of the world through others' eyes.

I want to see what Christianity looks like around the globe, and broaden my own perspective of God, His people, and His plan for the world.

There are so many things I want to learn... I really could just spend a lifetime reading, questioning, and experiencing all these different issues.

I think I really needed to come to Costa Rica to get a framework for all of these issues. Now, when I go back to school, so much of what I study and learn will make sense, because I can apply it to this context. Does that make sense? When I read about neoliberalism, it will not just be a term to me: it will be something which drastically changed the Costa Rican economy and welfare of the people here. When I read about American intervention abroad, I will view it more critically, because I know how much our actions affected the NIcaraguan people and country. When I see a Latin American immigrant in the United States, or hear about immigration, I will understand just a little bit more where they are coming from, and what type of political/economic structure and system they may be fleeing from.

I can't explain it, but I just feel so excited and happy to be back at Gordon next year. The first two years of college were weird for me- I just had a hard time seeing the point of sitting in a classroom and learning about lots of subjects. I didn't always see the relevance or long term point of things. However, being here has completely changed all that. Next year, when I take Developmental Economics, Theories of International Affairs, Global Political Economy, New Testament, and lots of other classes, I will be committed to them because of what I have seen and experienced here.


Hiper Mas

Almost every week I go to Hiper Mas, which is the Walmart of Latin America. Literally. It is owned or sponsored by Walmart. It feels so out of place here in Costa Rica. I went there today with two friends to buy some last minute things for Nicaragua, and we all remarked that we felt strangely comforted by this Walmart type store in Costa Rica. Comforted, yet also somewhat disturbed by that comfort. High ceilings, bright lights, rows and rows of cheap, Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers merchandise, dozens of cashiers, nail saloon places, tons of families and people scurrying around... why is there a strange comfort to that? I would much prefer to go to the farmacia or ferria around the corner. I would much prefer (and my family prefers as well) to buy their fruit from the outside market (ferria) each Saturday, when organic farmers from the San Jose area come to sell their weeks work.

There was a coffee shop in Hiper Mas, and I bought two lattes. (Brady lady, I wish you were here with me so that we could coffee shop hop every day...) One of my friends went to buy lunch, and had trouble finding a seat. This one woman, who was sitting with her son, invited my friend to eat with her and they engaged in conversation about Costa Rica and our experiences so far. I came over at the tail end of the conversation, and was able to interact with this woman and her son, and tell them about some things in Costa Rica that I really appreciate and enjoy. I love the openness of strangers.

I found a book in Hiper Mas, in Spanish, about the repressed lives of homosexuals. After having lived in San Francisco and interacted a little bit with the homosexual community, I am very interested to learn more and allow myself to be stretched and challenged by the questions. The book is a little above my reading level, but I bought it for a good challenge. It isn't too long, and I think I will be able to understand it with the help of my handy Spanish dictionary. (My new best friend in Costa Rica.) Being in the book aisle made me want to learn and master Spanish! I can't wait until I am able to read books written by Latin American and Spanish authors and poets. So many people here have a very poetic and beautiful way of speaking. I can't wait until I can really understand and interact with them.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Last minute preparations for Nica

Weather Today in Nicaragua: 91 degrees F, feeling like 100 degrees.

The next two weeks look about the same.

Nicaragua: Here I come.

Friday, February 12, 2010

final exams and other things

I have been in Costa Rica one month from today! It is so crazy to think about boarding the plane in Miami a month ago from today, not knowing anyone, never having met my Costa Rican family, and arriving on a rainy, but warm night. That was a month ago. In some ways it feels like yesterday... I can't believe that I am almost a third of the way through my program. But at the same time it feels like years since I have been in the United States. I forget about certain things that seem and feel so normal at home, but that I have not experienced here. Hearing English all the time, walking around outside after dark, driving on highways, seeing SNOW and having snow days!, eating cereal for breakfast, lots of things. It's not that I need those things. I definitely do not miss snow and cold weather. But that all seems so far away and so long ago that those things were part of my daily routine. Time is weird: I feel like I have been here forever, but then at the same time I feel like time is flying by and escaping from me.

So today my first class ended- it was an extremely compressed class, but demanding in terms of time and work. It was 8 hours a week, plus a weekend trip to Limon, plus two papers. But... today we had the final exam, and it was actually the most interesting final exam I have ever had. We were in groups of 6-8 people, and given instructions to confront one of Costa Rica's problems and solve it with certain resources. Each group was given $500 of real money and two and half hours to come up with an action plan. At first I thought that the money was theoretical, but we actually did have five crisp five one hundred dollar bills! Pretty cool. My group decided that we wanted to create a means for people to grow their own food, organically and sustainably, like we saw on this farm last week. We contacted the farmer, and he is amenable to giving classes to poorer families in his church. We are going to subsidize the classes with the money we were given, and hopefully connect some of those families to him so they can learn about how they can grow some of their own food with limited land and resources.

I am actually getting excited about Nicaragua. I kind of like how so much of it is completely ambiguous. I am getting in a bus Monday morning, and will drive 10-12 hours in Nicaragua. From there, the details are pretty fuzzy. Later that week I will drive out (hopefully into the country) with a pastor and two other students and be placed with a family. I have no idea what each day will hold, but I am excited to see what God shows me and teaches me through all of this.

I miss you all. I really do. You will be in my thoughts and prayer while I journey around Nicaragua!

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I am coming to the end of a very, very long week and feel beyond exhausted. More tired than I have felt in a long time. It's a combination of having very little sleep the past four nights, plus the feeling of just overstimulation. Being here definitely keeps me on my toes: when I go out into the streets, I have to be aware of my surroundings, keep an eye on my bag, and try to ignore all the cars and people that comment or honk at the gringo girl walking down the street. When I am in class, I am also very engaged, listening to controversial speakers and ideas, or speaking in Spanish. At home, I am either with my host family, talking, and more often listening. There is so much around me to be stimulated by: new sounds, a new language, new ideas, new cultural customs, and new relationships. Another thing is, I do not really get alone time here, which normally I just take for granted. I am never alone here. Maybe my five minute walk in the morning to LASP, but other than that I am always with people and having to be completely engaged. I miss just time to be alone and think. I feel a little overwhelmed, especially thinking about the next step of this journey: Nicaragua.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


So I just wanted to make a few comments about my experience so far being immersed in a Spanish speaking country and desperately trying to learn the language.

1. It has given me such an appreciation for people who immigrate to the United States and are not able to speak the language. I can not imagine. Thinking of that makes me so motivated to really learn Spanish, so that one day when I am a nurse somewhere, I can communicate with Latino patients who feel overwhelmed and out of place in the US.

2. I think the Spanish is definitely coming along, but there are days when I wake up and honestly feel like a five year old. No, younger than that. Three year old. I feel like I am at the same speaking level of my four year old cousin, except that I am trapped in a twenty year old body. The most frustrating feeling in the world is wanting so badly to understand, but being physically unable to do so. There are times when I feel like I have a blanket over my mind, and there is this disconnect between hearing and understanding. I understand more than if I were hearing Chinese, but there are so many details and things that I am not getting. Frustrating.

3. Our family has a new cat. This has completely changed my perspective of speaking to animals. My family is always talking to the cat, and telling it things that even I do not understand. They will say, "No Luna, you can't sit on the chair, you must sit and the ground... Are you hungry? You just ate an hour ago! Luna, where are you? Come out from under there! That is dirty- don't eat it!" And I just smile to myself because I can barely understand what they are saying, and of course this poor cat has no idea! She is more lost than I am in this world of foreign words and sounds. What is also funny is that I feel weird talking to the cat in English. But I could just make up jibberish and it would be all the same to this cat. Spanish. English. Jibberish. No difference at all.

4. Probably one of my proudest moments so far on the trip has been explaining my symptoms to the doctor at the clinic in Spanish. The times when I have really needed to use my Spanish, in real life situations, has been so rewarding to me. I can't wait to continue that, and hopefully in the future, be able to use Spanish with my patients wherever I work as a nurse.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I need a distraction from my paper. And I just spent the last half hour looking up random statistics on random cities and countries in the world. For instance, did you know that San Marino, CA has the world's safest roads, or that South Korea has the World's Best Airport (Jae!), or that Overland Park, KS (this one is for you, Lace) is ranked 3rd for least stressed people? Anyway. Enough of that.

So, I will tell you about what I will be doing next week! I just found all this out today. (Everything here is very last minute, and intentionally so. We never really know what is going on until right before it happens, which is partially to keep us in the moment, but partially because that is the way things operate in Latin America...) On Monday, our entire group will travel to Managua, Nicaragua. It is about a 10-12 hour bus ride to get there! Woohoo! Luckily we will be on a private bus that our program uses. We will spend three days in Managua learning about US-Nicaragua relations and seeing some famous sites. Then, we will all be split up and will go to all different areas of the country! There were two choices: urban area or small town. The only details they gave were that the urban homes would likely have indoor plumbing and the small towns would not. I checked off small town, and surprisingly, almost everyone in the group did! We have all been living in the city here, and I think most people want a change. Plus, the small town feels like a more realistic Nicaraguan experience.

Then we will split into groups of 3-5 and go with a pastor to some area of the country. Each person will live with their own host family, but there will be a few other students in the area who likely go to the same church. That is somewhat reassuring to me. And for that week, we will pretty much just "be," as our professor told us. I am a little nervous about that, especially since this guy I know who went last year told me that Nicaragua was the only part of the trip that he really cried from loneliness and isolation. Ah. And I am very prone to that, and very prone to crying when I feel like that, so I am a little nervous that that will happen. Who knows? It could be the greatest week of my life. But I know that it will be difficult. It will definitely be a different standard of living than San Jose, and also, I know that people almost universally get sick there. But I also know that it will be an incredible experience and one that I probably won't have again. So I need to embrace it for all it is, and know that it will show me a new side of life and the world that I have not seen before.

So that is next week, and then when we get back, we have spring break! It is so hard to believe that already four weeks has gone by.

Ok. It's after midnight now. I should get back to my paper! Missing you all down here in Costa Rica!

taking a step back

Do you ever have those moments where you just step back and look at where you are, and are just in disbelief at the current scene of you life? I remember once in India I was in a rural village at nighttime, watching people perform rituals to the Hindu gods, and I just paused for a second to ask myself, "Am I really here? Out of everywhere I could possibly be in the world, what are the chances that I am here?" It is the coolest feeling just to step back for a moment and realize how bizarre and amazing it is that you are in the exact place you are just happening to cross paths with some people who you probably never in your life would have been able to. I can't explain the feeling, and it really could happen anywhere- not just in a foreign country- but it is just so surreal.

Well, I had one of those moments today.

As you know I am writing (or I need to start tonight!) a paper on US relations with Nicaragua. This has been such a fascinating topic to explore, especially since I feel like it is one of America's best kept secrets. Our relationship with Nicaragua, especially during the Cold War, is extremely controversial. Just a quick history lesson (and I need to prep for my 7-10 page paper due in less than 36 hours which I have yet to start!): skip this part if you just want my cool story of the day. From 1936-1979, the Somoza family oppressively ruled Nicaragua. Unfortunately, they had the support of the US during most of this time. They controlled almost all of the major industries in Nicaragua, and were worth about 1 billion dollars at the peak of their power. While they were not democratic per se in the way that we view democracy as being linked with human rights, they were not communist, thus enjoying our support. After the success of the Cuban revolution, a Marxist group called the Sandinistas formed in Nicaragua. They overthrew the government in 1979 (after several years of horrific retaliation by the Somozas and by the military which they controlled. During this retaliation, the National Guard (controlled by Somoza) ruthlessly bombed villages, killed innocent people, and tortured and killed those who challenged their authority.) However, in 1979, the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza government and declared themselves leaders of the country. They were idealistic and hopeful that they could bring about the Nicaragua that had been taken from them for many years. Unfortunately, as often happens, the Sandinistas were very disorganized, inexperienced, ideologically diverse from one another, and thus unable to bring about many of the changes that they hoped for their country. There were intense food shortages after redistribution/government control of farmland, among other issues.

Anyway. The most important part of the story is this. The US funded a counter-revolutionary group called the Contras to go into Nicaragua and initiate a civil war. These contras were Nicaraguans who had fled the country (many of them had been in Somoza's National Guard) and wanted to fight against the Marxist government. The US secretly funded these contras, since Congress forbade support via the Boland Amendment. Even though the contras had no chance of winning against the Sandinistas, the hope was that the conflict would eventually require intervention by the US, which would allow us to install a pro-US/democracy leader. Over the course of 8 years, this war cost the US $350 million dollars, and cost Nicaragua $15 billion dollars and 30,000 lives. However, the US supported and funded this war in the name of democracy and the elimination of Marxism in the Western Hemisphere.

Ok. So that wasn't brief. Sorry! But that got me all fired up to write my paper.

So... my professor put me in touch with a Sandinista who lives right down the road from me. She is almost always a host mother for LASP, but this semester does not have a student. Two other students and I had the chance to go over to her house tonight and speak with her about her experience growing up in Nicaragua. She was somewhat emotional while speaking about her past there, and even about the situation today. Her father was imprisoned by the Somozas and tortured. They would go and visit him every 3 months and see him stripped naked and bleeding from tortures and beatings. As you can imagine, it had a huge effect on her sister and her, as they were only 5-6 years old. I am a little bit unclear about how she worked with the Sandinistas (all of this was in Spanish, so I only comprehended some... but I will get details tomorrow from the other two students.) However, she spoke a lot about the tragedy of the Somozas taking so much for themselves and the few in their family, and leaving the millions of Nicaraguans completely poor and helpless. She also spoke about the war on ideologies- the Sandinistas were communist, yet they were also people who wanted to bring about change to their country. It was a wonderful opportunity, she emphasized, yet in many ways it was stolen from them by the US who launched a war via the contras at the beginning of Sandinista rule. Some Sandinistas believe that the Marxist government could have prospered had it been left alone; some are not as hopeful. She also spoke about the situation today, where many Nicaraguans emigrate to Costa Rica in order to find jobs and make a better life. However, they are discriminated against here and very much looked down upon by Costa Ricans. (Much in the same way that many Americans look down on immigrants in the US...)

**There are many many other things she said. Some of which I got, and many of which I didn't, but one thing that just completely struck me the whole time was her openness and hospitality to a group of American, AMERICAN, students. Students from a country that supported an oppressive dictator and funded the war that killed many of her friends and fellow country men. A war where she fought on the other side of the US and democracy. It was just amazing for me to take a step back and see what was happening: this beautiful woman, welcoming us into her home, giving us tea and cake, and sharing, tearfully, the story of her country and her people.

Out of all the places I could have been this afternoon for two hours. Wow. That is all I have to say.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Election Day!

Yesterday was the Costa Rican presidential elections, and it would have been worth coming here just to see how enthusiastic and passionate this country is about democracy and about voting. Seriously. I already wrote about how before the elections, I would see tons of cars and flags and rallies going on in the parks and streets. Well, yesterday was all of that taken to a whole new level.

Yesterday I woke up and my family just had such a gorgeous breakfast together. Papaya, cantalope, watermellon, hot dogs, ham sandwiches, COFFEE, and freshly squeezed orange juice (this is one of my favorite things about Costa Rica... a few times a week my mom gives me freshly squeezed orange juice.... just the juice from about eight oranges or so. most delicious thing in the world. If I don't have that, sometimes I have a strawberry and milk smoothie or a papaya milkshake. Mmmmmmm.) My mom prayed for the elections, and that God would guide the voters and the future president. This is another thing I really appreciate about my family and just about the culture in general. People really trust God with decisions like these.

After breakfast, my two older sisters came over to the house with their husbands and my one nephew. Some of them were wearing the colors of their preferred candidate and national party. Everyone in my family was voting for Otton Solis.

We got into two cars and drove across town to the polls. It was crazy! As we got closer and closer to the polls, there were more and more cars and demonstrators. It was all very peaceful and good natured though. Whenever we would see people with Otton's flag or colors, we would honk the horn loudly and cheer and wave out the window. It was crazy!

We went to vote, which is all done by written ballot. I tried to go in with my mom to vote, but they forced me to leave. :-( But I still got to see the setup. All the people who live in my town voted at one school. Outside of the school there were tons of tables set up for each candidate. I read in the paper that 300,000 volunteers gave their time around the country yesterday for the election. That number seems fairly large, but that is what I read in the paper.

Anyway. After we voted we came home and decided to walk downtown to see all the cars and people there. This was probably the craziest part of the whole day. We went to el Parque de Guadelupe, and there were hundreds of people standing along the road waving flags at all the cars and buses on the busy street. It was a fiesta!

Some people wore masks, including one of Ronald Reagan!

Another thing I loved: my older sister and her husband brought their dog, Argus, with them on the walk, and he sported the colors for Otton. Tons of kids and people on the streets got a huge kick out of that, and came over to socialize and show their support for Otton as well.

After finishing our walk, we went to my older sister Beij-Hiu's house, and ate lots of bread, fried plantains with refried beans and guacamole (also the greatest food in the world... panacotes as they are called- basically a smashed plantain fried twice.) We also took part in the great American tradition of watching the Superbowl. Woohoo. I am way more clueless about the NFL than my Costa Rican family. Haha.

When we came home, we tuned into the results, and at about 8:30pm, it was announced that Laura Chinchilla won the election with about 46%. Otto and Otton both took about 20-25%, and the other four candidates split the rest. My family was disappointed in the results, but it is kind of cool that Costa Rica has their first female president! And I got to be here while it all happened!

Saturday, February 6, 2010


One really unique thing that is happening during my semester are the elections in Costa Rica! It is so exciting to be here during the campaign process and on election day, which is tomorrow.

Right now there are four main candidates for president, including one woman- Laura Chinchilla, who is the current vice president for President Oscar Arias. She is predicted to win the election tomorrow, and become Costa Rica's first woman president. (It is amazing to me that the US has never had a female president while many countries around the world have.) There are definitely some Laura fanatics in the country, but many people who feel that she will just be a puppet of the current administration. My family supports Otton Solis, who will probably take 3rd place tomorrow.

One thing that is really cool is how passionate the country gets about the elections. For the last few weeks, I have seen tons of cars waving flags for their political party out the window. There are also lots of demonstrations on the streets and in the parks for different candidates. Today, when my mom, sister and I drove home from the movies, there were cars everywhere waving flags, and people on the street and in other cars honking and cheering out the window. It was pretty much a constant stream of honking and cheering on the way home today. In the US, you see a lot of people with signs in their windows and yards, which doesn't happen here. But the car thing and passion on the street is a new thing.

It is also encouraging because voter turnout is fairly high here and people are always talking and debating about politics. I come from a family that takes the civic responsibility to vote very seriously. (Since I have turned 18, I have voted in every single local, state, and national election there is... including elections for town council, school board, town mayor, etc. I probably would have missed the local elections had it not been for my parents who arrange for absentee ballots to arrive in my mail at Gordon. Which I appreciate, Dad! :-)) Anyway, it is refreshing to be in a place where people take the future of their country seriously.

I am excited about tomorrow. My mom said that it is a fiesta all day long. When I asked if I could come with them to vote, my mom was like, "Well, OF COURSE you are coming! You must! It is the most exciting and beautiful day!" Haha. I didn't even have to ask- they assumed that of course I would come with them to vote and take part in the democratic traditions that this country proudly upholds.

Tacos Chinos

Every once in a while, my parents make "tacos chinos"- Chinese tacos. My father is Chinese and every once in a while our Costa Rican food has a little bit of Chinese influence. Case in point: when we had spaghetti the other night, all of us had spaghetti with meat sauce and parmesan, except for my dad, who had plain spaghetti with soy sauce.

My family started talking about the tacos chinos a few days in advance. They said that it took a lot of time and preparation, but that it was very delicious. I didn't really know what they meant, and thought we would just make tacos with some different ingredients. However, we ended up making homemade spring rolls! They were so wonderful, and the process was a great family bonding activity as well.

Basically, it takes about three hours to make. And we made 50 of them! First my dad prepared the dough, and then spread a very very thin layer on a frying pan.

He made dozens of very thin, almost pancake type, tortillas. Then, my mom, sister, and I placed inside some chopped cabbage, carrots, and pork. They showed me how to roll it up very tight and seal it with some pasty dough.

Then, my dad fried them all, and after my older sister and her husband arrived, we all feasted on tacos chinos at 10 pm (after having a huge spaghetti dinner!)

I never really cared much for spring rolls, but I definitely have a huge appreciation now for the work and time they require! And they actually were very delicious.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My family!!!

Here are a few pictures of my family. You can see my parents, my older sister Biej-Cheng, her son Diego, and the newest addition to our family: Luna! A little kitten. Luna has only been in the house for a few days, but we all love her. She is so tiny and just sleeps all day long, but she is so cute and hilarious. I need to post pictures of my other sisters later. But you can see my wonderful parents and sister and nephew. One thing that is neat is how close the families are here. My nephew comes over the house every single morning, and sometimes in the afternoon as well. My two older sisters, who are both married and in their 30s, come over the house as well almost every day. Diego, my nephew, has so many parent figures in his life with his grandparents and aunts and uncle who are all very involved. Anyway. Just a side note. :-)

More Updates on My Life

So I never gave many details about my weekend in Limon, but it really was a wonderful weekend. On Friday we stopped at coffee, pineapple, and banana plantations. Those were so interesting. Most of the food they grow is exported to countries like the US, and it is controversial whether farmers should be using so much land just for exports, as opposed to using the land for the people here. We arrived in Limon, which is the most important port in Costa Rica. However, even though most of the country's trade happens at that port, and so much money and wealth passes through there, the area is actually very underdeveloped. It is on the Caribbean side, and has a Jamaican/Caribbean influence. The center of Limon itself is very rundown and underdeveloped.

My favorite part of the weekend was Friday night: in groups of three or so, we had to go around Limon and interview different people about their perspectives of poverty and discrimination in Costa Rica. We were supposed to get a wide range of people, including men, women, indigenous, black, old, young, etc. It was so fascinating. I went around with two friends, one who speaks Spanish fairly fluently and the other who speaks very minimally. The three of us had a great time and were able to pull our brains together to fully understand everything that we were hearing. It was exciting to speak Spanish to people in the streets and have conversations with them about things that matter. And I was actually able to ask questions and understand a portion of what I was hearing.

The first person my group talked with was a man named Rudolpho who was homeless and missing one leg. It was so sad, because he said that he has been trying to get a new leg for a while but has had little success with the government or other health agencies. We had a great chat with him and got an interesting perspective on the lack of faith that some Costa Ricans have in the government. We also got to talk with an indigenous man, a Nicaraguan, some young women who were anti-indigenous, and some other individuals as well.

The next day we met with an indigenous woman in this beautiful rainforest area. She spoke about her life and about the plight of the indigenous people to keep their land and protect their resources. It was sad because she spoke about how sometimes the government will come in and take part of the land that should be theirs, and in return give them a less desirable piece of land. For a while the iguanas, which they use for food and religious ceremonies, were being killed by outsiders. The indigenous had a hard time standing up for themselves against these outsiders who would come in and kill their plants, animals, and other resources. Luckily they have set up conservation efforts and have the support of different non-profit groups now.

That night, after a nice day at the beach, we had a typical Limonese dinner. It was rice and beans, which is the typical dish in Costa Rica, with coconut! So delicious! We also had a live Calypso band playing. It was a private event, so only our group, and we danced and ate the night away. It was a really nice way to bond with the group and get to know people better.

Other things going on: Today I visited an organic farm, which was probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I felt like I was either in Napa, CA or Tuscany. We drove an hour from our school and drove up into the mountains to this house and farm that was pretty secluded. This one man grows tons of fruits and vegetables and other herbs on this huge organic farm. It is so beautiful and so sustainable. He uses most of the food for his family, but is able to sell some of it as well. He was such a fascinating person. Just very in touch with God and the earth and a natural life. I appreciated his approach: he did not condemn traditional agricultural practices (even though he is against their environmental practices,) but humbly showed us the way that he has chosen to live his life on his farm. Afterwards we had fresh strawberry juice (one of the best things I have ever tasted...) coffee from his farm, homemade banana bread, papaya, and watermelon. So good.

In a little over a month I will leave San Jose and spend an entire month, BY MYSELF! on a farm somewhere in the country. I was really nervous about it, but today made me really excited. I have no idea what I will be doing, but I am excited to be outside everyday, working with a Costa Rican family on their farm.

Another story from my week: yesterday I woke up very sick. This has never really happened to me before, but when I opened my eyes the room was spinning. I was so dizzy and could barely get out of bed. I didn't know what was wrong with me, so I told my host parents that I didn't feel well and that I had nausea and dizziness and chills and all that. I threw up a few times, and my mom took me to the doctor. They ran a blood test and didn't find anything unusual. They did give me three kinds of medicines, including a 1 liter bottle of intense electrolytes. I drank the whole thing in one day. The more I think about it, I think I was soooo dehydrated. I walk about 6 miles everyday to class and back in the hot sun, and also have had some stomach problems that have caused me to lose a lot of liquids in the past week. So, needless to say, I am glad that I realized that before it got even worse!

Oh, but the one highlight from the whole visit to the doctor was the fact that I was able to explain in Spanish my problems to the doctor. Because my mom does not speak English, and the doctor said she did, but really only knew a few words like "pregnant" (no... no estoy embarazada (pregnant)) and "pain." So this was a real life situation where I was able to utilize my Spanish!

I am much better now. And yes. I will start drinking more water.

Hope you all are well! I have some other pictures and stories to post later this week!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Weekend in Limon

These are just some pictures from my wonderful weekend on the eastern coast of Costa Rica in Limon. I will post more later... And Brady lady, I took that picture with Wally for you. The guy in the picture with me is from Westmont College, and knows many of my friends from there from last semester. We instantly bonded over the 22 mutual friends we have from Westmont! That church was a beautiful Catholic church in the center of Limon- from the outside it is just this huge gray concrete block, but on the inside it is rather beautiful.