Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I got a ticket to go to an RBD concert along with Julio and here is an article I wrote for the 'Diversions' section of the newly founded UPEACE student newspaper. The Diversion section is meant to be on the lighter side considering most people at UPEACE study conflict etc...
Diversions: Concert Review: RBD Tour Celestial 2007

Staff Writer Tom Ketteley (ILHR) reviews the RBD Tour Celestial which came to San Jose on 4 November

San Jose hosted the final concert of the Celestial Tour 2007 for RBD, the Mexican Latin-pop sensation. Although an invitation was extended to all the Mexican nationals on the UPeace campus, none of them were persuaded to join this historic event. Without their support, the 20,000-seater Saprissa stadium was unfortunately short of fans. An audience of 3,000 mostly 10 and 11 year-old screaming girls with their reluctant parents made up the majority of the spectators.

RBD was finally coaxed onto stage an hour and a half behind schedule. By this time, the organisers had invited all ticket holders down to the VIP area near the stage so that at least a respectable-looking crowd could be seen by the performers, even if the rest of the stadium lay empty.

The show started well with Anahi, Dulce Maria, Maite, Alfonso, Christopher and Christian bursting onto stage to perform Cariño Mio before calling out for the audience to forget about yesterday and tomorrow and live in the moment. RBD had energy and enthusiasm and the girls sitting near me were jumping from side to side as their fathers sank deeper into their seats waiting for the purgatory to end.

The dance routines had obviously been choreographed some time ago, as most of the set dance pieces featured at least one of the sextet either a few steps behind or, on a few occasions, doing a completely different dance. One would think they might be able to get it right after months of touring!

Yet this did not detract from the show. The evening progressed with hit after hit for over two hours including the classic Rebelde, the song which shot the group to fame back in 2004 on the back of the Mexican soap opera they starred in, as well as renditions of I Wanna Be The Rain and Este corazón.

Throughout the concert the group reminded the young crowd of the power of youth. Indeed during Tu Amor, Christian, who was recently outed as gay on the internet when pictures of his wedding in Canada surfaced on the internet, shared with the audience his thoughts that “sex, religion, and sexuality are not important” and that “everyone is equal.” Love matters most, he told his adoring fans.

Although the subtly of his plea for tolerance may have been lost on the young crowd, his words came across as truly heartfelt and the importance of such a message in Central America should not be undermined.

There was no telling if RBD were sad to be performing their final concert of the year or if they were glad to be coming to the end of a long world tour. Certainly, their acts looked tired at times. But the young Tica girls did not seem to mind; they were singing, dancing and dreaming with their idols for the night.
RBD is set to release its new album Empezar desde cero later this month, but after such poor turnout it is questionable whether RBD will be back in San Jose any time soon.

Costa Rican addresses

My Spanish classes are about 700m west and 100m north of the church ... there are no road names in Costa Rica so all addresses are given in coordinates from major buildings - the church is usually a good place to start from or otherwise bank branches, distinctive corner shops like the one owned by the Chinese family in the town know as 'China' locally and supermarkets. The more random location points include mango trees which may or may not still be there or other such like places of interest which are well known to the local man who has lived in the town for years but slightly more tricky for the foreign student. With no road names you count the street blocks in units of 100m - so walking two blocks is 200m etc until you get to long distances which are just classified as 1000m. Confused? Well it gets better because these directions only give corner coordinates so people make judgements about how far along the road the place is in 25m intervals with 50m being halfway between blocks. By now addresses should be crystal clear to anyone (or so the logic goes). Anyway the reason behind the explanation of Costa Rican peculiarities is that the other day I was asked by my friend to give him the address for my Spanish teacher so I told him the address and drew a map as well. What struck me after was a sense of this is not how you normally give addresses or directions but I could not for the life of me think how we manage to navigate our way around cities at home. The Costa Rican system has become so ingrained in me that I had completely forgotten that at home we have street names (a big help) and also to get us from one place to the other!
Since mid-October one of the fun parts of my walk home from Spanish lessons is that I get about 10 minutes of listening to the brass band practice Christmas carols. For the first few times I went home I could not work out why I was humming Jingle Bells later in the evening and then when I found myself trying to remember the words to O Come All ye Faithful it hit me. I hope the band improves a bit by Christmas because at the moment they are not in time at all with each other.
On the subject of Christmas on the 1 November decorations started going up everywhere. The Admin department at UPEACE even closed for the afternoon to put up decorations - tinsel and fake garlands with red bows. The number of houses fully decked out with lights and Father Christmas and fake snow is staggering. Some houses have so many clashing fairy lights flicking on and off I am sure they have induced epilepsy among people passing by. Even with the decorations though something feels a little strange about the weather not being cold....

Monday, October 08, 2007

In touch with nature

The week started with a bang when as I started to dry myself having come out the shower I felt something hard on my back and then seconds later felt something drop on my foot. With a little scream I looked down to find the largest cockroach I have ever seen in the world scuttling along the floor. When I say big I mean huge. Forget the small little 3 or 4 cm cockroaches you have have seen before this one was the size of a shoe and in my bathroom. I threw my town over it an pulled on my boxer short to make a quick escape. Outside my room was the cleaner who I managed to tell 'I am a biggest insect in my bathroom. I am not tranquil. Please'. Fortunately she was a lot more prepared for this than me and marched off to get a broom and dustpan and promptly threw the beast out my window. For the rest of the day I have been jumpy when things touch me and when my ID card which hangs around my neck rubbed my arm I let out a muted squeal in class.
I was told by my host family that they are not common inside and that the one in my bathroom was pretty big even for here which is comforting to know. Yesterday was the first day I dried my towel in the bathroom over the shower rain because I had a shower in the evening so the towel was damp and I guessed it would dry better in the bathroom with more space. What I had not banked on was it becoming home to this monster over the course of the evening. From now onwards I will be shaking things a lot more vigorously before use!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Someone once said there is only two weeks between a good and a bad haircut...
Being over seven weeks since I arrived it was definitely time for a haircut. Mohawks are very popular here and with the length of my hair was a real option for restyle and I figure best to fit in with the locals. So the choices on offer for the haircut were
  1. The grandmother of my Chinese next door neighbour
  2. A stylist in the American mall
  3. Local hairdresser

I figured I would go with a local hairdresser and when two friends came back with decent haircuts I plumped for Lillian who has a small kiosk in the market. I took Julio along as he is fluent in Spanish to explain exactly what I wanted. Lillian was really happy to see another of the students from UPEACE again and had a great conversation with Julio about UPEACE while attempting to cut my hair. This could have been where the problem started. Or maybe it was when I pointed to the poster on the wall of the 1980's hair model. She just chopped chunks of hair our from some places and didn;t touch others and in less than 10 minutes managed to scalp one of my ears and then proceeded to pour gel on my head. I was just wanting to get out from here range and I am not convinced Lillian has ever wielded a pair of scissors in her life. Julio insisted he told her what to do and that it looked good!

Back at Julios I washed the cheap gel out my hair and then frog marched him to another hair dressers to ask for them to salvage what they could of my pride! The woman pulled back my collar and laughed as the back of my hair was not only uneven but there was just a mark from where the electric razor shaved only part of it. So sh set about doing some damage limitation and said to Julio often she has to do this. I ended up with a grade 3 at the back and sides and 4 on the top so quite short and not the styled mohawk I was looking for but at least it is presentable now! (Mum before you worry it is not looking fine)

Arenal weekend - foundation course over!

With the foundation course over most people headed out of Cuidad Colon to explore parts of Costa Rica and I was no exception! Six of us loaded up a car and headed out to Arenal - an active volcano famous for hot springs - about 4 hours from here. I chose to head out with another girl by the bus while the others drove with our stuff but we all crammed in the car on the a way back because it was easier than navigating buses on a public holiday. The journey was amazing and it was the first time I really got to have a look at Costa Rica as we wound around mountainous valleys covered in rain forest. Needed the toilet for most of the bus journey there which will be the lasting memory of the bus journey I guess through.

By the time the bus arrived the others had got there and we went to a hotel recommended by one of our Tico classmates. Clean and quiet it had unspoilt views up to the volcano which was covered in cloud for most of the weekend (which is typical especially in rainy season). Best of all was the swimming pool and jacuzzi which we immersed ourselves in as soon as we arrived. We sat around talking, going wrinkly and drinking wine from cartons for the who afternoon even during the rain and only got out well after dark. A perfect way to spend the afternoon. Somehow we decided it would be a good idea to head out to a nightclub and, after a head start from the afternoons relaxing, we were soon enjoying local shots of sugarcane alcohol which is potent. Bodyshots... need I say more? Not drinking them again any time soon....

Sitting beside the waterfall

Sunday was spent jumping in and out of ravine with local kids and swinging from a rope swing into the river at an unspoilt waterfall off the tourist track but recommended by our Tico friends. Such a beautiful place. We spent most of the morning there just watching everyone watching everyone else playing around in the water. Being studious the afternoon was spent reading some of the materials for the next course on International Law and having a siesta before going out for a real slap up meal to end the mini holiday. Monday morning was sunny and without a cloud in the sky so we could see the volcano and even got a tan!


Will definitely come back to Arenal to go and see the volcano properly - at night when there is no cloud you can see the lava flows down the side of the cone - and to go to the spas which we never made it to as we didn't leave the jacuzzi in the hotel! A great weekend getting to know the guys I went with better - Jeff (Canada), Camilo (Colombia),Roshni(Kenya),Anna(Czech Rep) and Sarah (Norway) - and perfect break from work to refresh myself for the next course.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

First week over

First week over. A great time but hard work! The course is a foundation course and so having studies IR before I have a good understanding of the things we are covering from LSE. There is still a lot of reading to be done - about 60 pages a day - but some of it is familar. The real difference though is the class discussions and it is really true when you are told you learn the most from you classmates. With quite a good global spread in my group we are having some great examples drawn from Africa and Latin America which are totally new for me so something to go home and look at online for the next day!

Friday was a time for celebration and most people hit the bars in town straight after class. I actually went to San Jose to accompany a friend and go so drenched by the rain the umbrella was useless... the rain was seriously splashing back up to chest hight and the roads flooded everywhere so in about two minutes of the deluge starting water was over my trainers. At that point I just gave up trying to keep dry! Ended up going out to a club on in the evening until the early hours and the one lesson I learnt on Satuday was not to drink tequilla again in a hurry becuase I felt rought all day. My hosts had even cooked a typical Costa Rican poormans soup for lunch which I enjoyed but not as much as I would have done without the hangover.

Bad news is the road has not yet been fixed but I have seen some photos and work is progressing (it looks like a mud pit now rather than a road). Someone scanned the photo from the national newspaper which was taken on the day of the road slide so I'll post that up here.

First assignment - a conflict mapping exercise - is due on Wednesday so I have been working on that today and chosen to look at border disputed between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Ants under the road

Road still washed out up to UPEACE but did see some pictures in the national newspaper and also form another student. Looks like they are trying to repair it as fast as possible but will take at least a week. The mayor got up at the welcome party at the end of the induction week and said that the engineers had decided it was ancient ants nests under the road which weakened it and made the hillside underneath collape and I guess that is something you would not be making up so it must be true! So today we were all bussed to another univeristy in San Jose to have our first day of lectures and classes. Everyone is doing the same introduction course in 'Foundation in Peace and Conflict Studies'. This is not something I have studied before but some of the names and materials are familiar from LSE just looking at things from a different prespective. The course outline looks really interesting and we have 15 days of teaching with a 75 minute lecture each day and a same lengh class afterwards and between 40 and 100 pages of reading to do each day for the next day so quite intense considering on top of that there will be an essay, presentation and a conflict map to produce all by the end of the course. The class today was a lot more participatory than I expected which I enjoyed and I get the feeling that common to all classes so it really will make for a challenging and interesing time.

The weekend was fun. On Saturday night I went down into town about 5ish becuase Fernando and Ingrid were heading out so I caught a lift. I went round to my friends house where there are 4 people staying but noone was in and it was raining a lot. So I went to the house of another guy I know who was also not it which exhaused all my options (I have friends I just don't know where they live yet!). I was going to head for a bar to see if there was anyone around but then I thought I would try the supermarket instead. Luckily there was a girl I recognised in the supermarket and so I said I had come into town for the evening but was not having much luck in finding people. So she invited me back to her place which was a real treck out into the countryside and down a huge hill. It was raining and dark so the bueaty of my jungle trek was lost but I will go back becuase she said it was stunning. Arrived at her house which really is in the jungle and found myself in chrage of killing the scorpion which had moved into her room while she was away. It made me feel a bit better about randomly going back to hers havin met her in the supermarket so I stayed for a drink with her and her housemate and then headed back into town by which time the friends I had come to see were back and we knocked together a real feast ussing everyones leftovers. The lesson I learnt form this is to ring before you go visiting people to check they are in!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

First day back at school...

Just got home from my first day of UPEACE inductions and I had a fantastic day. Such an international and diverse group which I am really proud to be part of. Most of the day was spent getting to know people and introducing yourself – there are about 150 people so that is quite a lot of introductions to get through. Names, as it is for everyone, is a nightmare but slowly a few are sinking in and at least I recognised people I had met earlier in the day but when we all change clothes for tomorrows sessions I am not so sure of my abilities!!
Not actually made it to the UPEACE campus because overnight the road up to the site was washed away! This must have caused the staff some grief but they did not show it and we were relocated to a borrowed indoor basketball court with appalling acoustics but it really did not matter because everyone was there and I am sure this introductory session will go down in UPEACE memory as ‘that time the road was washed away’. People are living all over town and I guess on each street there must be someone living either with a family, in a flat or in a house so once we settle in the place will have a really nice vibe around town I think. There are people up also at the university, El Rodeo, and others out with me at Brasil de Mora and some I think even commute in I heard.
After general inductions we were given some teambuilding games and some get to know you type things (speed dating etc) and everyone was so eager to talk but often not about themselves which was refreshing – people are genuinely interested in you while you are interested in them! Makes an unusual conversation dynamic whereby you want to be the one listening! So had some great conversations today.
As we were in town were had to go find lunch and I commented I had been to this very friendly place so a small group of us went off there again and in the end the whole of the cafe for about 20 people was filled with UPEACE students. The ladies working there gave me a real welcome when I came in the door and an even more smiley goodbye after bringing so many people with me!!
A group of young dancers put on a small show for us in the afternoon and then we had some drinks before going over to someones house to sit down and get to know each other. Fun time but tired now. Was up well before my alarm at 6.30 this morning and so now feeling quite tired. Started to walk home after another classical music concert but ended up catching a taxi. Not sure what the fare should be so need to find out for next time but didn’t seem too high especially considering it was raining. Got home to really nice dinner of garlic chicken and pasta and watched the end of the football (Costa Rica v Peru – ended 1:1) with Fernando. Time to get some sleep before another exciting day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Happy Birthday to me!

Yesterday was my birthday so thankyou for all the messages, emails and calls. All much appreciated. I think the trick to birthdays away is to be with the time zones becuase whew you wake up you get birthday wishes from home rather than having to wait for people at home to wake up. Ingrid and Fernando made me feel very welcome and cooked pancakes for breakfast before taking me to a volcano for the afternoon. It was stunning - about an hour and a half drive into the mountains and then we arrive at this national park where the volcano is. It has a crater of 1.5km which makes it the second largerst in the world. You stand above it looking down and you are above the cloud line so clouds are spilling into the crater and the vapours are being let out from vents - mystical. Then we walked a little bit to get to an old crater which is now an acidic lake and was deep turquoise colour. Afterwards we went out for lunch and I tried a typical drink made from sugar cane and hot milk which tastes like the smell of camarmel when it is being heated. Very sugary but I liked it. Finally in the evening they had bought a cake from me and so I could blow out some candles. A really fun day!

At Volcano Poas...

Term is starting on Wednesday and I have to get the bus from the football stadium at 8am so today I am going to a test run to see how long it takes to walk there. I can also get a bust during term time but I an not sure about on this first day as we have been aksed to meet centrally in the town. I'm very excited about starting - I just can't wait to finally get settled down to some work. It has been almost 2 years in the perparation and is now so close.

Moving house

My language lessons ended on Friday and I finally managed to get onto study the past tense which now means I can say things like 'I worked', 'I studied' and 'I went' which makes my conversations flow somewhat better!

I arranged with my teacher to meet up with her and the Japanese guy I had met the weekend before for some drinks to celebrate my birthday. We were to meet on the third floor of the Outlet Mall at 7. So I got there at jut gone 7 and could only see a cafe, KFC and a cinema so I looked around and couldn't see a bar. Perhaps I got the wrong mall so I went and got a bus to the other mall nearby - Mall San Pedro - but here the only bars are on the ground floor. So I then walked to the language school to see if they were waiting there for me and the security gauard said that the teacher had left at 6ish. So by now my shirt is wet from sweat having been walking around so much and I resign myself to go home. When I arrive home my host mum says my teacher phoned and is worrie dthat I got lost. I give her a call and they had been in the Outlet Mall all along an were still waiting for me. I put on a bit/lot more aftershave and head out for round two. Had really fun evening in the end but it just took me 1 and a half hours to arrive!

On Satuday I moved to my new house near the university. I am living about 2km outside the town in a private complex with a young married couple who are both doctors. I have a nice room with double bed, desk and TV and the bathroom next door. Their house is very well kept and a stunning design - they built it themseleves. Over the weekend they really looked after me and took me with them to visit thier families so I feel very welcome. Everything is unpacked and my computer is set up, printer working and I am all set....