Monday, March 15, 2010

Off to the farm

So tomorrow morning, at 5 am, I will leave my comfy home in San Jose and head off to San Cristobal, Costa Rica, where I will live and farm with a family for ONE MONTH! Part of me feels completely ready to go- I am excited to invest myself in the work there, get to know a new area and new family, and learn more Spanish and more about life in Costa Rica.

At the same time, I feel completely unprepared. First of all, the last few weeks have really worn me down... a combination of family parties, outings with friends, lots of papers and assignments, and just preparation for this trip has really exhausted me. I have a cough and a slight cold, and am wondering how the heck I am going to wake up, EARLY, every day and head off to farm. I really pray that God just gives me the strength to fully invest myself there and enjoy all the work ahead.

Tomorrow morning this is the plan: take a taxi at 5 am with one other girl to San Jose. At 5:45 am, I will board a bus that goes to Cartago. We should arrive within an hour, and then at 7:00 am, I will board a second bus to San Cristobal Norte. From there, I will meet my new mom and head off to my new home. Even though that other student lives in the same town as me, I do not think we will be spending much time together. It's possible none at all.

Another thing: I will have no internet at my house there. So I will be minimally in contact during the next month.

But you will all be in my thoughts and prayers... everyday, as i wake up early to go pick tomatoes and onions and who knows what! Love you guys!

Friday, March 12, 2010


So this was my last week in San Jose! It is really sad.... Today we finished our language class and had our graduation. That class has been every day, for 3 hours, for the past 6 weeks. It was really beautiful to take classes in a garden and get to know the different Spanish professors. I actually had a ton of fun in class with the three other girls in my class and a new professor each week. Probably two of favorite parts of Spanish class were the walks there and the 30 minute break during class. (The academic part of it was fun too... of course.) Everyday, a group of between 5-10 of us would walk to the class together. It was 45 minutes each way... and some days, VERY HOT. But in between stopping for ice cream/gatorade/cinnamon rolls, discussing our faiths, dreams, awkward cultural exchanges, and hundreds of other topics, and some days getting some very interesting comments or cat calls from Costa Rican men, I became very close to the other students. Also, everyday during class, we had a 30 minute break, where everyone would drink delicious Costa Rican coffee, buy sweet bread or cake, and sit out in the garden and chat. It was so relaxing and beautiful, and a good chance to see everyone at once. I'll really miss that.

Here are some pics from the last day. Brady lady, Anthony/Wally/Antwone/Antonio and I took a photo shoot just for you. It was pretty hilarious. Hope you enjoy the pics. :-)

This is my last weekend with my family in San Jose. On Tuesday morning, I will leave to go and live on a farm for one month. I have no idea what my life will be like there. It is also possible that I will not have my computer and not be able to update frequently about my life. I return on April 13th, and am home here for three days, before (hopefully... fingers crossed...) I HEAD OFF TO CUBA! More details on that when it gets closer, but it sounds like it is going to be fascinating. There is another group of students going this Monday from our program, and their orientation for the trip was so interesting. I think Cuba will be one of the most unusual places I will ever go.

Anyway. So the rest of this weekend is R & R (I have actually come down with a cold due to all the business of the past week...) and a few family parties again!

Keep me in your prayers. I am very nervous about this whole month in the farm thing. I will not see the other students the whole time and just feel a little insecure about this whole thing. I KNOW it will be great... for many people it is the most powerful part of the program. So I'm sure it will be fabulous and incredible and everything. Just keep me in your prayers!

Love you guys!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Note about Language

It is so fascinating to think about how a different language offers a whole new perspective. A different language is not just a word by word translation- it is an entirely new way of thinking as well. I think about this when my brother and his wife communicate- there are probably some things that make more sense to say in English, and others to say in Spanish. And depending on which language you use, it communicates something entirely differently.

The other day in class we were telling my teacher that we all had procrastination issues. She didn't understand procrastination, so we looked it up in our dictionary, only to find that there is no noun for procrastination in Spanish! The verb procrastinate is translated as "dejar para mas tarde-" to leave for much later. That doesn't really communicate the connotation we associate with procrastination. In English, and in American culture, we are very familiar with the concept and flaw of procrastination. We need to be efficient and productive and get things done, and thus view procrastination as a weakness or flaw. However, in Spanish, there really is no word for it. Maybe I am overanalyzing that, but I'm curious as to whether it has some cultural explantation. In Latin culture, time is viewed much differently than in American culture. It is not strange or rude to arrive late to something (with some exceptions) since people here are more relaxed about time.

I have also been thinking about ways we describe ourselves, our feelings, and our current states of mind. In English, we pretty much just say "I am..." I am Hannah. I am from New Jersey. I am a student. I am her sister. I am tall. I am hungry. I am tired. I am nervous. I am jealous. Etc. However, in Spanish, there are three categories in which those statements fall under. There is one, the verb "ser," which describes permanent things. Your name, your nationality, your physical characteristics, your occupation, and your relationships to others is in this category. Then there is another verb, "estar," which describes temporary emotional and physical states. I am sick, I am tired, I am frustrated, and others like that would fall under this category. The third one is my favorite. The verb "tener," meaning to have or hold, is used in certain expressions. For instance, rather than saying "I am jealous," you would say "I have jealousy." Rather than "I am afraid," it is "I have fear." Rather than "I am 20 years old," I would say "I have 20 years." It is interesting to think about jealousy, fear, and age not as something you are, but as something which you hold, temporarily. It is not a permanent characteristic, but rather something that you are holding within you.

I just think that is so fascinating! Sorry to bore you with a language lesson, but if you dissect the way we say things in English, it reveals a lot about ourselves and our culture. And the way we say things is unique to our language and the way in which we view the world.

Hope you all are enjoying this Sunday morning. :-) Miss you.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Gringos, Chinos, y Ticos

Last night, my brother and his wife came in from the United States. My two older sisters, their spouses, my nephew, and my other sister's boyfriend came over. All together there were 12 of us and it was a night with lots of laughter and reunioning after a three month absence. When we sat down to eat hamburgers (my brother's favorite...) my father made a comment about the gringos, chinos, and ticos (local word for Costa Ricans) sitting down together as a family. I just loved that. It really is so neat that we can be from different backgrounds (my dad was born in China and immigrated here as a child, my brother's wife I are from the States, and the rest of my family is born and raised here...) but we can sit down and enjoy each other company and share a meal. Plus just the fact that all of our paths are here right now in Costa Rica is really beautiful.

I love watching my brother and his wife interact. She is from San Diego originally (mom and Bot... yet another reminder of this place that is so amazing and wonderful and that I must visit!!!) and studied here five years ago with my program. She lived with another family but met my brother and they kept in touch when she went home. After many years of visiting back and forth, my brother studying in the US, and lots of writing, emailing, and skyping, THEY ARE MARRIED! By now they are both bi-lingual (in the beginning they were not...) and they speak both languages to each other. It's really cool. I always wonder how they pick which one to use. Obviously around my family and around me they speak mostly in Spanish, and I only talk to them in Spanish as well. (It is so tempting to speak English to Laura, but I only speak in Spanish.) But they have a fun dynamic and Laura really fits in well with them family. She chases Diego around and teases my other siblings in a fun and comfortable way.

Anyway, this week is FIESTA FIESTA! Today we are having a family BBQ with my immediate family and tomorrow the entire family- chinos and ticos- are coming over. It's going to be CRAZY! But I'm excited about it.

Much love to everyone. Thanks for your prayers and thoughts during this time. It's been a weird week of emotions and events but I am loving it and learning so much.


Friday, March 5, 2010


Tonight I felt the stronger temblor yet in Costa Rica. Since I have been here, I have felt three tremors (not an earthquake, but a definite shaking of the earth...) including tonight's. The other ones were fairly weak and actually kind of fun. Each time my family got a kick out of it and laughed and joked about it. This time however, it was much stronger and actually pretty scary. The world has seen some of the craziest weather patterns and natural disasters this year- I think that that made my family even more alert when the temblor started.

Basically we were all just sitting in the family room talking after a very exciting night. (My brother and his wife from the USA are here- I love them! The whole family came over my house tonight and we celebrated their arrival and my sister's birthday.) Anyway, all of the sudden there is a very stronger tremor. It was much stronger than before and there was even a clattering noise outside in the street. My mom ran underneath the door frame and started praying out loud to God. All I heard was "Dios, Dios..." Then my dad, who is very quiet and reserved, put his hands in the air and started saying a prayer and call out to God as well. My brother ran over to comfort my mom, and then it ended. My mom looked like she was going to burst into tears, and was very shaken up about it for probably 10 minutes. She kept saying how scared she was that it would be like Chile's earthquake last week.

A few minutes later we watched the news and they said that it was measured 3.5. That is relatively weak comparatively, but strong enough to definitely feel it and get a scare.

My Crazy Tica Spring Break

Right after Nicaragua ended, we had a four day spring break. I travelled about an hour and a half south of San Jose with a few friends to an area called Los Santos. Our professor connected us to a very small company that is committed to providing tours in a environmentally and culturally sensitive way. This guy, Jonathan, created this company to show tourists and students the beautiful area of Los Santos while also involving local farmers, restaurants, and people in the process. It is less focused on making a profit and more focused on involving the community and educating people about the culture and environment of Costa Rica.

The trip was CRAZY! The first day we did a bunch of canopy type stuff... I jumped out of a 90 foot tree on a Tarzan type swing and even got to climb up another 90 foot tree on the inside. It was crazy. Here are some pics are that day.

Probably the most fun part of that entire day was the ride home from dinner. Basically, in order to get out of the mountains and rainforest, we had to drive on these crazy bumpy roads. We had about an hour drive at the end of the day to get to our hostel. We are all in this 15 passenger van driving in the dark on these narrow mountain roads. All of the sudden the car was unable to go any further- the tires were spinning and we had no traction. The roads were pretty wet from rain earlier in the day, and the car simply would not go any further. Apparently we had about a km until we got out of the national park.

Our tour guides told us to hop out and start pushing the car. We were all laughing so hard at the situation but nevertheless tried to push this van up the mountain. It would not budge, so the driver backed the car down the mountain about 100 feet (meanwhile there is a sheer dropoff just behind us...) and told us to all get in the back of the car and just jump. This caused us to laugh even harder, but we did as our tour guides told us. Another failed attempt to move the car anywhere.

We decided to take another route, which was just as bumpy and crazy. At one point we heard this horrible noise coming from the bottom of the car- we looked out the back and saw that we lost a spare tire! The drivers stopped and went chasing after this tire as once again, the silly gringos tried to hold in their laughter at the hilarity of the situation. Luckily our guides had the best sense of humor and found the whole thing completely comedic as well.

After a one hour ride turned into three hours, we arrived at our hostel, only the find out that the lady who owns the hostel was not there! Ah! So we went down the road to a pretty nice hotel and I had my first hot shower and good night's sleep in a while. Sigh. Bliss.

The next day we followed a man with a machete through the rainforest the get to this hidden waterfall. It was so gorgeous. Not many people know about this waterfall... we went with a local who knew about it, but he refuses to tell huge tours companies about it so that the beauty of this place will not be ruined by tourists and cars and paths. So beautiful though.

I tell people I spent my spring jumping out of trees, pushing a fifteen passenger van up a mountain, and following a man with a machete through the rainforest.

And that's not far from the truth. In fact, it is the truth.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


The past week or so has been the most up and down week of the semester for me. I don't know why... maybe it is just a weird transitional point in the semester. We are almost done with life in San Jose, and will soon split up for the remainder of the time to live and work in different areas. There are moments of everyday where I feel like I am on Cloud Nine, and feel like I could live here forever. But then there are other moments where I feel so discouraged and upset, and don't think I'll make it until the end of the semester.

It has been a weird week. One of the students who was a good friend of mine had to go home because of some family and personal issues. It was really really sad to see her go last night. But anyway. I am still learning and experiencing a lot of new things.

This weekend should be fun and crazy... my brother and his American wife are coming tomorrow from the US. It is also my sister and mom's birthdays this weekend, so we are having fiestas on Saturday and Sunday! Sunday will be the WHOLE extended family, which is slightly overwhelming to me, but I know it will be fun too. :-)

Love you guys and miss you a lot. Thanks for keeping up with my blog and encouraging me along the way. It has been quite the journey... this entire year. One which I could not complete without such a supportive group of friends and family at home.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Nicaragua: Granada

So the final few days in Nicaragua were spent in the beautiful colonial city of Granada. It is the oldest city in the Americas, dating back to the 1500s. It is gorgeous and has recently gone through a lot of renovation. We had a lot of down time just to relax after the busy week and catch up with each other. I had the greatest pancakes and smoothies of my life. And pizza too. I know... pizza is not authentic Nicaraguan food. But I can tell you that some of the greatest pizza I have ever had in my life has been in foreign places. Not exactly sure why, but that has been the case.

On the last day, we had a surprise carriage ride and boat tour of Lake Nicaragua. There are tons of islands in Lake Nicaragua, many of which are owned by rich families from Nicaragua or even the US. It boat tour was so beautiful. We even had some monkeys jump onto our boat, which was very entertaining.

P.S. Westmont kids: Antonio, aka Anthony/Wally is in that final pic. But that up just for you guys. :-)

Mi Familia en Nicaragua

So the most valuable part of the Nicaraguan trip is the home stay experience. I was VERY NERVOUS about this part. Basically what happens is everyone gets broken up into groups of 4-5 and sent off to cities or towns all over the country. For those five days, you are invited to "just be." Not to really do anything, but just to be with your family and experience the NIcaraguan reality more intimately.

I had heard from some former LASP students that this was the loneliest part of the trip for them. I knew it would involve a lot of down time and just hours to sit with the family. I was super nervous and really dreading it.

The night before the home stay, our professor invited the pastor/bishop who is in charge of all these Brethren of Christ churches to come speak to our group. The pastor expressed how happy all the churches would be to receive us and that we could really expect anything. Our professor added that we might be asked to preach, sing in front of the church, or really anything. Oh boy. Super nervous.

I ended up going to a small town called "Santo Domingo" about thirty minutes outside of Managua. My professor told me that the town was very beautiful and that the church was also very warm and welcoming- they were the only church in our group that had a female pastor.

The next morning was crazy. We woke up early and one by one the pastors began to arrive to take the students to their respective towns. Some people would be traveling almost five hours north to towns along the Honduran border. Others would be going to small fishing villages along the Pacific. Really people could expect to go anywhere. My pastor arrived and we were gone in about five minutes. We were allowed to take several items, like medicine, mosquito nets, soap, and water. I grabbed a one gallon of water, but at the last minute decided to leave it behind and risk it. Our prof had said that some of the towns would be totally fine in terms of water. I decided to risk it.

Of course, I am immediately regretting this decision and panicking that I would not be able to drink water for a week. So that was my first fear: not being able to drink water for a week.

I arrived to the town and was dropped off at my new home. I met my mother, who is a widow of the last sixteen years with two older sons. Her sons are 21 and 24 live at the home, but go to university during the day. Her home was actually quite comfortable- we had running water, indoor plumbing, electricity, and an indoor kitchen. I soon found out that the water was completely fine to drink.

The next five days were great. Everyday I woke up and helped my mom with household chores for about three hours. We swept, mopped, cleaned clothes, watered the garden, cooked lunch, and other things. We normally worked in silence, since it is really hard for me to multitask and speak Spanish, but I definitely felt very close to my mom. Nicaraguans do not express their affection like Costa Ricans do, so she never hugged me or anything, but she would tell me how glad she was to have me there, since she is alone almost all the time during the day.

The other students lived closeby, and one of them was actually my cousin, since her mom was my mom's sister. We would visit frequently and attend church together every other night. One day, the pastor took all the students to this volcano nearby and another beautiful town. I really felt so lucky to be where I was- I was with wonderful people and was very well taken care of.

The food was spectacular- best food I have had since being in Latin America. My mom grew plantains and avocados in the backyard, so we had those at almost every meal. I also had freshly squeezed orange juice or other fruit juices. The only thing hard to eat was the cheese... but other than that, I ate very well. Very little... it was a huge difference from CR, where I seriously eat 3 or 4 times more than I normally would. And past the point of full. There, I had really small portions, and some nights I was still a little hungry, but it was perfect.

I spent my free time during the day asking my mom and brothers about their lives in Nicaragua. That part was really cool- I felt very competent with my Spanish and able to talk about politics, issues of employment, education, and safety within the country, the Somozan dynasty, the civil war, the United States, and so many other topics. I also got close to my brothers and got to hear a little about Nicaraguan youth.

One thing I also wanted to say: before we went to Granada to meet up with all the groups, I was feeling a little guilty that my experience in Nicaragua had been so easy. Some students really were roughing it for the week and were living in much lower living standards than I was. The point of the trip was not to rough it or to live in poverty- the point was to create relations with Nicaraguans. And I definitely became very close to my mom and siblings. And the day before I left, my mom thanked me for being her companion for the week, since she is often alone. Again, because Nicaraguans are not super affectionate and lovey dovey, she just said it very matter of factly, but it meant a lot to both of us. I miss her a lot and hope one day I can go back and visit her.

Here are some pics. Thank you so much for your prayers. Really, the week was wonderful. Could not have gone better. I feel so lucky and blessed.