Saturday, May 7, 2011

No Glass Windows; No Windex

The Cutting of the Banana Tree!

Here we are four months into our year of adventure and service in Costa Rica.  What have we learned?  Have we done any good by being here?  Is this place better for us being here?  Questions such as these are daily discussed between the two of us, and we are finding them much more difficult to answer since leaving the Alajualita church building site.  When we were there it was easy to look at a completed wall or poured floor and know that we had helped construct a house of worship for God.  Now, I only wish that we could look into the future of each of our students and know that the English we are teaching them will benefit them some day in a way that will greatly improve their lives.  But alas, we can not know that.  Have we done any good by being here?  

We have recently realized that we are not going to receive any great encouragement or thanks from the Ticos (Costa Ricans).  It isn’t really in the culture of the Caribbean Coast to freely give out thanks, and we can’t expect them to understand what we have given up to be here.  More often we find that we take flak for being in a place where we are always thought of as tourists-that-can’t-speak-the-local-language.  But, “pura vida” (it’s all good).  We know that this is part of our learning experience.  We are all called to do good to the “widows and orphans” (James 1:27) and those that won’t be able to repay us with anything (even words).  We are working on it!

We continue contemplating these things and trying to adjust our course so that we are doing everything we can to help while we are here.  Thank you for all of your prayers.

It is not a law in Costa Rica that a person must carry identification.  Regardless (or irregardless…I always think it’s funny when people say that.  If you are one of those people, you should stop saying that because it isn’t a word), it is common knowledge that it is a good idea to carry a copy of your passport because the police like to look at it and shake their head (or nod, if you’re lucky).  Well, we were recently headed into Limon from Cahuita on the 8:00am bus for Jenn to tutor at 9:00.  The bus got stopped and boarded at a police checkpoint (another thing that Costa Rica has that the US does not; you guys don’t know what you’re missing!).  The policia quickly passed over the Ticos and headed straight for us, the tourists.  We provided our passports copies as we’d done before and we were immediately ordered off the bus.  The bus left without us and we were pointedly told that our copies were only good 200 meters from our place of residence, an erroneous claim.  I believe that this particular policia was just having a bad morning, but it caused our landlord to have to drive to the checkpoint and hand deliver passports to the two dangerous volunteer teacher tourists that were being detained.  As we boarded the next bus we were told we had to pay for another bus ticket.  We argued with the bus driver for some minutes while the whole bus waited.  Eventually we just said we weren’t going to pay and that we were going to sit down.  The bus driver finally gave in and drove on once we said that we might pay at some point and appeared to be reaching for our billfolds.  We never did.

During Semana Santa (Holy week, the week before Easter) the entire country basically shuts down and everyone goes to the beaches.  We went the other direction and spent Easter with the Baits family in San Jose (Woot Woot…that’s for you Gary).  It was a wonderful time in which there was a spectacular party, and we ate like royalty.   That’s exactly how a holiday should be; we’re still running those desserts off.  Quick tidbit, we eventually found a Catholic service to attend on Easter, but the first large church we went to wasn’t having mass because the priest was tired.  Hmmmmm….obviously Good Friday is a much bigger deal than Easter Sunday for the Catholic Church.

Since we didn’t have teaching that week, we were able to have a lot of play time.  I cut down my first banana tree to get a bunch of about 75 bananas.  It was spectacular, and since then I’ve already cut my second.

We went to Manzanillo (Mahn-za-nee-yo) Beach, a gorgeous picturesque beach about 25 miles from our home.  We actually got to do some snorkeling (Jenn’s second time)!!  It was very nice.  We got a little hungry at one point, so I just found a long stick, got a coconut down, and somehow opened it with my hands Castaway style.  It is incredible how full you can get on one coconut.

Jenn has still been tutoring Danie, the little six year old that is originally from the States but has been here long enough to not like speaking English.  This has been a wonderful way to help us offset the cost of transportation into Limon.  But, we’ve finally discovered that goods are expensive here (similar to prices in the States), but services are dirt cheap.  Common prices: tutoring is about $6 per hour, karate lessons are $20 per month, psychology and lawyer sessions are $15 per hour.

Cacao Pod
I’ve successfully made chocolate TWICE!  And a lengthy process it is.  First I tromp around in the rainforest collecting Cacao pods, crack them open and ferment the beans for 4-7 days.  The beans are then dried for a week then roasted until a few of them pop out of the pan like popcorn.  I then winnow the husks off of them, blend them, and add powdered sugar and milk.  We then enjoy an incredible dark chocolate paste that others have described as “marketable” and “I ate the almost the whole thing last night and my girlfriend yelled at me.”  Obviously these are words that prove its incredibleness!

Roasting and Winnowing

Powder with sugar


1. Everyone assumes we’re not married.  Strange considering we moved here and live together.  But, not so strange in this culture where that is not uncommon.  Just weird to us.

2. One of our second graders (Denskel) demanded we bring back A LOT of snow when we come back from our trip to the States in August.

3. We make a fruit smoothie pretty much every day now that we invested in a cheap-o blender…hopefully it doesn’t fry on us.  We eat soooo much fruit!

4. Doors don’t have doorknobs.  A key must be turned to open a door.

5. Windows with glass are beginning to seem strange to us.

6. We mostly always have water now that we have two wells!

7. I consider eating a mango seed as my flossing for the day.

8. We’re obviously getting used to the heat here.  In San Jose we actually felt COLD! (San Jose=70 degrees and dry-ish; Caribbean Coast =85 degrees and HUMID!)

9. We’re finally being recognized by certain Ticos around town.  The security guard at the bus station is my best bud (after the bike transport) and gives me a good fist in the air with a, “Pura Vida” every time we walk by. Yesterday, the guy at the panaderia that we frequent said he was starting to wonder where we’d been after we hadn’t been in within the last week or two.

10. We wonder what the monkey are thinking when we howl back at them.

Blessings to all,
Christopher (and Jennifer) Savage