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....

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It looked like mud

Costa Ricans are to rice and beans as Kazakhs are to porridge! Apart from rice and beans being far more palatable than porridge the variation of the beans theme tonight looked more like mud or a thick chocolate sause than beans. This was served up with what I think was turkey but the closest I could come to identifying it with the maid was but saying was it a 'big chicken but not a chicken
' to which she laughted and agreed with me.... but I never did find out the actual word. Still trying fruits that I have never seen or heard of before!

Braved Office Depot to buy a printer after classes today. I hope this is a smart move becuase it will mean I don´t have to reply on the uni for all my printing especially at the weekends butI think it will be a more expensive option expecially considering the toner was more expensive that the lazerjet itself (the lazer jet was not much more than the inkjet). I even managed the conversation without too much pointing although inevitably there was a little!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

El Balcon

Monday night I was invited to my families Mothers Day family gathering taking place at the grandparents house five doors down. I was warned that the family was quite large but for about two hours I was introducing myself to different people as a steady stream of people arrived most of whom looked slightly alike! There were well over 40 people and just three generations but they seem to have been keeping the family name alive quite well! Intrestingly they all speak fluent English and some have studied in the US but I didn´t really get to find out too much about them as the aunts kept on shouting over whenever anyone spoke to me in English so I was left to deduce what I could from my smattering of Spanish.

This week the Spanish seems to have suddently come on a lot. I spent quite a bit of time at the weekend reviewing what we had done in the week and also for the first time in my life I have sat down and learnt verbs and vocabulary - I don´t think I ever had that resolve at school! So today my teacher had printed some info from the UNHCR website and so I translated a document all about refugees and migrantion in Costa Rica which is definitely not something I would have thought I could acompish in such a small space of time. Great teachers who have really pushed me along with one to one classes have really made the difference.

I have been having trouble with the shower in that I can get it on but can´t get it hot with days ranging from luke warm to icey cold which is not such a bad thing when it is quite close anyway (I don't think I am fully aclimatized yet) but whenever I run the tap for a glass of cold water all I can get is lukewarm even though in both my bathroom and the kitchen the hot tap is not hooked up... I think this is one of the mysteries of plumbing which is too complicated for me to look into but thought it worth a comment.

The other thing that I have been coming to grips with is the time difference. I have worked out it is now 7 hours different. This is the first time I have really been ahead of the UK and it feels a bit strange becuase you all have your days while mine is stretching ahead. When I go to bed I flick on to CNBC (for Sarah) and watch the opening of the Australian markets or the warm up to Europe and then lots of things happen while I sleep and then I wake up with the Amerian markerts. So it kinda feels that my day is playing catch up the whole time because I am trying to email/ get in contact before people go to bed.

Sent an email to my next family over at UPEACE in Spanish and awaiting the reply to find out their exact address. With all my bags I am going to take a taxi over and so need a full address and to find out what time is good for them.

Going to try my Spanish out and buy a printer for my computer tomorrow or on Friday. Went browsing on Sunday and they seem for inkjets to be from 25 pound upwards so I think that would be a good investment for the year. I´ll try to pracitce a bit in my lesson before being unleashed onto Office Depot sales assistants!

Been eating lunch in a place called Él Balcon. There are only 6 small oine tables to 2. It seems to be a family run place becuase there are family photos and they look like younger versions of the cooks. The place is really popular with the business men and women around and i have overheard German so I think they were from the nearby embassy. Not only is it one of the cheapest places for lunch but also the plates are full with rice, beans, fried plantain, salad, cooked vegetables and tortillas and I have it with grilled fillet of fish ususally but today I had a great Spanish tortilla with it. Taking my teacher there tomorrow becuase she has not been before and wants to try it out.

Moving to UPEACE on Saturday like i said so the adventure is about to begin.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Hola Costa Rica

And for the next installment..... COSTA RICA!

After a few months in the UK which gave me a chance to put on some weight, spend time with family and friends and catch up on what has been happening in the world I have relocated out to Costa Rica for the next year. This time I will be studying (rather than working like in Kazakhstan) which somehow makes things feel a little less daunting. Perhaps it is knowing there is the university to back me up and that I have a flight home for Christmas or maybe it is that I have done leaving the UK before but whatever the reason the feeling before I left was different. I feel a lot calmer. James said that I didn´t seem too excited when we met just before I flew out and I think that was a mixture of not wanting to leave again but also that I have been leading up to UPEACE now for almost two years so I have got over that initial excitement a while ago. I have however taken the bold step of leaving the London network and joining the Costa Rica network on facebook!

Anyway I am now out here in San Jose, the capital. I´m based here for two weeks to study Spanish at the British Institute (which also run a very well respected language course with the focus on professional teaching rather than learning Spanish through salsa). I have one-2-one classes for 4 hours each day which are hard going because there is no time to switch off but now, the end of my first week I am able to introduce myself and say a few insightful things about me and my like as well as understand quite a lot of what is going on around me - I just can´t reply yet. Spanish speaker speak VERY fast which is a definite impediment to practicing in shop and cafes! Still I am sure it will come. Lessons are fun and I have made a few gaffs - wishing my teacher ´my sincerest apologies´when she sneezed and when tyring to make a list of good and bad emotions I listed ´marriage´ as a bad thing which, as my teacher is a divorcee, got a laugh (I had been meaning to say casado which is tired rather than cansado which is married).

I´m staying with a very welcoming family - a mother, a daughter (22), a son (20) and a Nicaraguan maid who I find very difficult to understand so I think her name is something beginning with L but that may be wrong. The house is spacious and I have my own room and share the bathroom. Costa Rica is more Americanised than I was expecting with lots of TV channels having signed rather than dubbed programming which means that there is no end of choice on TV when it is raining outside... but i will make sure that watching TV is a luxury rather than part of everyday life when I move to UPEACE. If for any other reason so I pick up more Spanish. Luckily I didn´t pack the DVD boxset of Cold Feet because it is being shown on TV here was well as Ali G and his Borat sketches!

Last night I was invited to my teachers house for a party to celebrate the birthday of one of her other students, a Japanese guy working out here genetically modifying the plants for export (there must be a whole thesis in the ethics of altering the genetics of plants in one of the most biodiverse countries globally). She lives outside San Jose and she was cooking food typical from the East coast where she was born which is a lot more Caribbean than the food we get in San Jose. Each meal though is complete with rice and beans which make the local staple food. I have tried various combinations so far and up to now have no complaints but I guess the novelty will wear off soon enough. For the party we all sung karaoke! Expect the one English disk was just a copy of music videos from MTV with no words. I had a good crack at the Bangles ´Eternal Flame´and was asked for an encore later in the evening just before the salsa started! My teachers son, 26, was amazing at salsa and with his sister preformed routine after routine in this very basis front room which, unlike my attempts, were a pleasure to watch.

Been out walking around the area near my house today - not much here and San Jose doesn´t seem to have too much to offer but then I am here to study rather than be a tourist at the moment... that can wait for the weekends during term time! Here until the 18th and the moving to the town nearest to UPEACE. Can´t wait.... then things will really begin.