Friday, December 24, 2010

Lady Centaur's Lament

The last time I was unable to ride my bike for a while (2 weeks waiting for it to get back from Kansas City) I remarked that I felt like a lady centaur, cursed to live as a human. That first ride once I got my bicycle back felt incredible- once again I was able to travel faster, further and taller than my merely human self. It has now been more than four months since I’ve been able to ride and my inner centaur is not happy. I’ve been looking for cheap, used bike but haven’t found one yet. And there are other potential obstacles:

  1. The rainy season=bad weather for biking, though thankfully that has now ended. However windy season is also giving me pause.
  2. Usually when I see cyclists here, they look like they are in training for something daunting, like the mountain stage of the Tour de France. They tend to travel in packs and they ride serious bikes, wear serious gear and have serious muscles. If that’s what it takes to be a cyclist in Costa Rica, I won’t have the time or the money.
  3. The drivers here drive very fast and they do not seem to care how close they get to pedestrians let alone cyclists. It’s as if every driver were a cab driver. I think this is why the cyclists travel in groupsL. It makes them more visible and increases the odds of there being someone available to call an ambulance.
  4. The road up to school has a lot of steep ups and downs, but not enough of the latter to push me up the former. In fact, someone told me it’s one of the most difficult mountain biking roads in Central America. Chicago, as many of you know, is flat. Flat, flat, flat. In order to actually bike to school, I would need to go into training. As if I were training for the mountain stage of the Tour de France. (I can hear my friend and fellow centaurian Laxmi right now saying, “Do it! Bike up the mountain! Come on!)

I’ll keep looking for a bike. Maybe a bunch of people will get new ones for Christmas and I can pick up someone’s spare. I could at least bike around town and I could work on climbing the mountain on the weekends. I want my lady centaur legs back.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Me & Diana at the benefit Christmas Concert. We were frequently photographed because of our adorable matching antlers. Avra Heller took this picture.

Even though it doesn't feel like Christmas to me here, I realize it's less than a week away. My poor grad student gift to you all is that I will try very hard to post often during the break and catch you up on my long overdue reflections on my classes and life in Costa Rica.

So for starters, a week ago Maeve and Ben (both coincidentally from the UK) organized a Christmas Concert/Open Mic to raise money for the kids at La Escuelita de Esperanza in San José. You can read more about them here:
I sang with the UPEACE singers and also helped out my friend Rosemary on "Oh Christmas Tree" so she wouldn't be singing alone. Oskar's (local bar) was our host and offered 2 for 1 deals on certain cocktails to help us get people in the door. Tons of UPEACE students showed up, dressed in Christmas cheer and we raised about $3oo, which is pretty great based on my experience of several New Suit fundraisers at The Spot.

Last night my housemates and I went to another Christmas Concert- this one at the little theatre/concert hall next to the church. It was very much a local, child centered event. There was a children's choir, a youth orchestra and youth string ensemble- all playing/singing Christmas carols, mostly in Spanish and quite charming. I'd say the songs were about half and half traditional songs that most of us know and Spanish or Costa Rican carols. I was surprised to hear "White Christmas" and "Sleigh Ride" just as I continue to be surprised to see snowmen and ice skating Snoopy decorations in the windows. It's really strange to me that Christmas in this super Catholic country is also associated with a phenomenon (cold) and substance (snow) that neither Jesus nor most people here ever experienced. What is that about? I understand why I associate Christmas with those things, but why on earth do the Costa Ricans? Unless the North/West has colonized Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Look, no one is forcing you to live where it's cold

This could be you if you come for a visit.
Playa Hermosa, my first black sand beach.
Prior to the Unfortunate Incident.

Yesterday was the first day of my holiday break. My original plan was to sleep in and then spend the rest of the day reading and relaxing but my friend Avra proposed a slight alteration to my plan. Instead of sleeping in, she suggested I get up early and catch a 7:30a bus to San José and then a 9a bus to Playa Hermosa and then spend the rest of the day reading and relaxing with friends on the beach. And that is what we did.
It was a gorgeous warm, sunny day so the black sand was very hot but once we got our feet in the ocean, all was right with the world. Fresh avocado, tomato and cheese wrapped in tortilla for a picnic snack and then casado con pescado at a beach side restaurant for lunch and piña colada at sunset before the bus ride back to San José. Thanks to a fellow student who purged her reading collection before heading home I got to read a somewhat recent New Yorker cover to cover in between trips into the water. We couldn't go out very far because the waves were intense but watching the surfers get in some amazing runs made up for that.
The one Unfortunate Incident of the day came when we got unexpectedly swamped on our towels by an ambitious wave. I fared pretty well, covered in wet black sand but rescued my bag before my camera got wet. Avra, unfortunately, didn't get to hers in time. Eventually water and sunlight cured everything but the camera woe.
Starting Monday I'll get back to work on my research project, The Vagina Monologues and other writing adventures so I can be relatively free for Rebecca's visit on Friday. We're going to Monteverde to visit the Quakers!
I'm sorry for everyone traveling right now getting stuck at snowed in airports but I'm feeling pretty good about my decision to stay in CR for the break.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Time is Swiftly Teleporting into Alternate Dimensions

I’m experiencing a lot of cognitive dissonance right now. We’re nearing the middle of December, there are Christmas lights and decorations everywhere and we’re all counting down the days until the long holiday break. But it’s also 70 degrees, mostly sunny, entirely green and I’m wearing the same summer dresses I packed in August. I’m starting to realize how much I have depended on the weather and corresponding changes in wardrobe mark the passing of time.

Which is not to say that the weather here hasn’t changed. We have definitely- and in spite of dire predictions- moved out of the rainy season and into the transitional windy season that precedes summer. The nights are usually clear now so I get to see the stars lying strangely a-kilter. The wind rattles windows and corrugated metal fences and threatens to blow my laptop closed when I work outside. This is how December and January will be, I’m told. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas or that 4 months have passed. And the more I see Christmas trees and read snowy statuses on facebook, the more it seems like I’m living in another space-time dimension.

In other time related news, I have finally acquired a past. A past tense, that is. In the last two weeks my Spanish class has reached the preterit tense, ending my ‘only the present exists’ Zen sentence constructions. “Yesterday, I buy food.” “Two years ago, I live in Burundi for a month.” “I write a paper last weekend.” The verbs accompanied by a hand motion of throwing something over my shoulder as gestural indication of tense. A tense mudra. (Laxmi and Ellen just laughed, probably Mara too.) I’m still not practicing often enough and my hoped for fluency seems far away- especially with time quietly evaporating behind my back.

It’s the University’s 30th anniversary and alumni are in town this weekend for the first ever reunion. We’ll all be hobnobbing with our counterparts from years past, looking for connections that may lead to jobs when we graduate before we know it in July. That’s the true reality, the past and the present and the future all wound up together in a tangle of snakes swallowing each other’s tails- or their own, but who can tell? Hmmm. Does that sound grim? It doesn't feel grim, just true.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Care Package

I got a care package!!! I can't begin to tell you how immensely and thoroughly happy I was when Edy told me I had mail today. I sprinted to the office and was literally hopping with excitement while they looked for it. It was sent by the wonderful Lauren (whose birthday is today, coincidentally- Happy Birthday Lauren!) with contributions from several of my other Chicago friends. I had requested cards or pictures to put up on my giant bare wall and terribly talented Tate came through with mixed media artistry and the watercolorful word art at the top right. Thanks to everyone at the LTC retreat who signed my card. (btw, the three pictures that did not come from the care package are the cornucopia and sailing ship- props from the Thanksgiving pageant- and the Japanese characters that spell my name- from Asia Week)

I am currently wearing the three friendship bracelets also enclosed and you know, these are my first ever friendship bracelets? I think I just missed that particular fad era of school. But now it's back! And I'm ever so very much looking forward to eating the chocolate and nuts, which are expensive enough here that they are luxury items for a poor indebted grad student like myself. Speaking of indebted, a thousand thanks to Lauren and Tate and everyone else, it really made my week and came just at the right time.

Now since I'm here and waiting for my potato pancakes to cook on this slow electric burner, I will tell you how things are: busy and borderline overwhelming but also really good.

We finished Research Methods and I spent the long weekend writing the research proposal for my final project. It may not bode well for the project itself that after six out of seven days hammering away at my proposal I was ready to mail it to the ocean in a bottle, never to be seen again. The class we just started is: Formal, Non-formal and Informal Education: Peace Building Action. I love this class and I love our professor who's methods match her message. Goodness I'm in an alliterative mood tonight. We're reading Paulo Freire- a real treat after the more scholarly and technical writing from the last class. When we start reading A. Boal I'll need to keep one hand free so I can constantly shake my fist at W&M for not requiring me to read him in undergrad. I just love this tension of being constantly torn between wanting to stay for at least another year to learn more of the everything there is to learn, and wanting to fly straight to a CPS school and start teaching right now.

In addition to regular class and Spanish class, I have choir practices each week to prepare for singing Christmas carols to children at an upcoming holiday event, I've volunteered to come up with some ideas and activities to make Orientation more interactive and engaging, I'm slightly behind on organizing the annual Vagina Monologues performance and starting to think about kicking some kind of job search into gear. It's a dilemma. I want to focus on my studies and do my absolute best work & sharpest writing. But I also want to take advantage of all the opportunities I have to do exciting/important/fun things. I know it's a wonderful dilemma to have, I just wish I could get to a more centered, peaceful place in accepting that I can't do everything.

Potato pancakes are almost done. Then I will eat. Then I will do homework. Then I will sleep.

If anyone else wants to contribute cards or pictures to my wall and inspire more jumping for joy in the DAA office, here's my mailing address:

Sara Gmitter

c/o Department of Academic Administration

University for Peace

P.O. Box 138-6100

San José, Costa Rica

Central America

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My cultural context

At school we spend a lot of time talking about our different cultural contexts, which is one of the great things about going to an international school. You learn to see things from entirely new and sometimes unexpected viewpoints. For most of my classmates, their cultural context is most strongly connected to the country they are from. For some, religion is their cultural context. I have a culture too, of course, and what I've been realizing is that my culture is not 'US' or 'Chicago.' It's theatre.
For example, in my culture the 'audience' (students in a classroom) is not supposed to talk during a 'performance' (lecture) unless the 'performer' (professor) invites them to do so. Whenever I hear people talking in class, even very quietly, I feel the urge to give them the 'irritated fellow audience member' look I give to people talking behind me at the theatre. And if someone tries to talk to me in class, my visceral response is to ignore them or make an "I don't know, pay attention" gesture exactly as I would do in the theatre. My culture also frowns on getting up to go to the bathroom during a lecture. Why can't that person wait until 'intermission' (mid-class break)? I ask myself. My culture is highly sensitive to distracting sounds like crinkling plastic bags. My culture expects listeners to 'give focus' and speakers to 'project.' My culture applauds that which it approves. I am the lone representative of my culture at UPEACE. I am a Thespian-American.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The following posts brought to you by...

Other people's pictures!

Sometimes, I forget to bring my camera. Sometimes I bring my camera but forget to take pictures. Sometimes I bring my camera and am too busy to take pictures. So here's a little catching up w/photos taken by fellow UPEACE students: Benjamas (Por) Boonyarit, Kendra Bruno, Marion Brastel and Samantha Wapnick.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Musical Afternoon (back when we had time for things like that)

My roommate Por took this picture, which I love! That's Por in the bottom left corner on the computer screen. Deepo is the other guitar player you see. This is from an afternoon months ago when Por and I went over to Kwanghee's house to sing and play. Haru joined us and we all had a blast. Deepo, Por & Kwanghee are all MUCH better guitar players than I am. But at least I was having a good hair day.

Asian Culture Night

Me at Asian Culture Night, sitting next to Diana (from Canada) with Diana (from Uganda) right behind us. We are waiting for the excitement to begin. Once it started we saw: a parade of fashion from some of the 14 Asian countries represented at UPEACE; dances from China, Korea, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and India; & a martial arts display. We also ate a large amount of amazing, spicy food. Kendra Bruno took this picture.

Cartwheel on the Beach

Marion Brastel (or maybe Rose w/Marion's camera?) took this photo on the beach at Santa Teresa. I'm sure Sylvia will say my hands should be further apart. But look how fast my legs are moving!

North American Culture Night (aka Early/Combined Thanksgiving)

Now before anyone gets appalled or offended, this picture is from a scene in the Thanksgiving pageant I wrote, pre-deconstruction (literal and metaphorical) of the racist and misleading stereotypes of the classic Thanksgiving pageant done in elementary schools. I made the 'hats' with help from some of my fellow Peace Ed-ers. I think the bonnets, in particular are adorable. Cast from left to right is: Sara F, Samantha W, Maricelly M, Mackenzie B-R, Haru S & Maham H. Not pictured- Sara G and Carly S. I'm guessing this photo was taken by Samatha's fiancé Arvil. The evening also included music by Sara F, Midori & Haru, a hip hop dance choreographed by Allison M (danced by yours truly, among others) and vats and vats of mashed potatoes, stuffing, mac & cheese (photo courtesy Samantha W), chicken (turkey too expensive) and vegetables. Also 41 pies.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Our 11 year old hero

I know you can't tell from the US news, but we're having quite an exciting time down here in Costa Rica. While everyone has been watching Tomás approach Haiti, wondering if the already beleaguered nation would get hit by more misfortune, we were getting pounded w/rains, courtesy Tomás. Yesterday we were sent home from school early, again because they were worried about landslides blocking the road. People living within 100 meters of the river closest to downtown (the one I cross on the way to school) were evacuated- rumor has it as a precaution in case the dam broke. We had no running water and so started collecting rainwater. Today has been thankfully rain free but sadly much of it was also water and electricity free. Around 7p as Diana and I were sitting in my kitchen around a candle wondering what we would do for the next several hours, we heard a knock on the door. It was Daniel, the 11 year old son of our landlords, come to tell us that there was light upstairs. He was home by himself and had set up the family's battery contraption to run a desk lamp. Once we got upstairs he suddenly said, "Idea!" He knew how to make the battery run the television and DVD player so we could watch a movie. From the selection of kids movies, Diana chose Herbie: Fully Loaded (w/a pre-disaster Lindsay Lohan) and Daniel thoughtfully switched the language to English for us. About halfway through the power came back on. 15 minutes after that, the rest of the family came home. His mom asked us if he'd been scared to be alone in the dark, but I'd swear he was more looking out for us than hoping we'd look out for him.
At the moment we've gotten both electricity and water back. It turns out there was a landslide on the el Rodeo road so we're waiting to hear if we'll be able to get to school on Monday or not. I guess that's the downside of going to a university with such spectacular views.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My new tradition

Bananagrams, girl drinks & good company.

All this for $17/night

Santa Teresa

Over the long weekend between courses I traveled w/a group of fellow students to Playa Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Coast. We rented a house (at a ridiculously low off season price) from a Swedish woman suspected of being a duchess. The house was absolutely gorgeous, with an open first floor- living room, dining area & kitchen- surrounded by tropical foliage, a hammock, a pool and a view of the ocean. Upstairs were 3 big enclosed bedrooms and an outdoor sitting room with a pull down movie screen for watching movies projected through the window of one of the bedrooms. Halfway between the house and the beach was a yoga pavilion. Yes. A yoga pavilion.
The first two days it didn't rain at all and we got to see a beautiful sunset. The next two day it rained on an off but we still managed to get to the beach and thoroughly enjoy ourselves.
We had fabulous group meals, played games and generally relaxed ourselves into puddles. I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

La Fortuna

For my first real trip out of Ciudad Colón I traveled with my friend Diana to La Fortuna near Arenal Volcano to relax in some hot springs. We got a super cheap room in a hostel and after being mildly evangelized by the woman who ran it we headed to the Baldi Hot Springs Resort, having gotten a great deal on admission from our hostess. For $21 US dollars we got an all you can eat buffet dinner and all you can lounge access to their huge assortment of hot springs (of varying temperatures) and cold pools. The next day we had wanted to go on a hike to the waterfall but since it was raining we went instead to Los Laurales, a hot springs frequented by locals. Well, locals, and us. That's the wonderful thing about hot springs; it doesn't matter that it's raining if you're sitting up to your shoulders in warm/hot water. Los Laurales is basically an outdoor park with a bunch of different hot springs and at least one cold pool. There are also tons of little picnic pavillions (complete with electrical outlets) so people bring their rice cookers, coffee pots, electric grills and crock pots to keep themselves fed during their day of lounging.
The picture is Diana holding the granddaughter of our hostess on the patio of our hostel. Diana was a fantastic traveling companion. Not only was she just as excited about Bananagrams as I was, she has a similar love of literature, is a font of information and speaks Spanish. It was nice not to be the only person reading a book while sitting in a hot springs pool.

In case you were wondering...

This is the kind of woman I am. The kind who plays Bananagrams while sitting in a pool at a swim up bar heated by hot springs, drinking a piña colada. At a certain point during this particular game I heard giggling coming from somewhere above me, looked up and saw the bartender and two other employees of the resort standing on the bridge leading to the bar in the center of the pool. I don't know if they were laughing at one of my words, or the fact that we were playing Bananagrams in the middle of a hot springs pool. I will let you be the judge. By the way, vanity compels me to say that this was not my finest hour of Bananagrams words. Aside from mew.

This Influx of Posts and Pictures Brought to You By: Surprise Day Off!

Many exciting and wonderful things have happened and gone undocumented because of busy busyness and my disinclination to look at glowing screens after a day of reading. So here's a quick catch up.

I have now finished 2 more courses: Theory and Practice of Peace Education & Change in Education Systems. We just started Research Methodologies and I have to say, I'm much more looking forward to it than I thought I would be. This is the class where we form our ideas and plans for our final research project/thesis. I'm already sensing an affinity for the case study as my project of choice.

I have been on a trip! Twice! My friend and fellow Peace Ed-er Diana and I went to La Fortuna near Arenal Volcano during a 3 day weekend in the midst of our last course. We spent the better part of 2 days soaking in hot springs. Then this past long weekend between courses, I joined 8 ladies from various programs for an excursion to Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Coast. More on both of those trips later.

I have also been taking a hip hop class, studying Spanish, preparing for North American Night (aka Thanksgiving 2 weeks early), started coordinating the annual V-Day performance of Vagina Monologues, lost my just repaired umbrella, played Charades, organized a series of performance/public presentation workshops (the first of which was supposed to be today), planted a tree and written the first draft of a Thanksgiving pageant. Plus study, study, study.

Life is full. And wondrous.


Escazú Landslide Leaves at Least 20 Dead, 10 Missing; C.R. on Red Alert / Daily News / News / Costa Rica Newspaper, The Tico Times

So, this is what's happening where I live today. We lost power last night around 10p and I woke this morning when one of my housemates knocked to say that school had been cancelled for the day because of landslides on the road up to el Rodeo. At that point we still had no electricity and only trickles of water. Fortunately, we have a really amazing landlord family who brought us a little camping stove and some bread after an out of town shopping trip. All of Ciudad Colón was without electricity (hence no bread at the local bakeries) and many were completely without water. Our house group (five students now that Kendra has moved in to Mai's old room) had coffee, ate bread w/butter and honey and discussed water conservation. OK, some of the discussion may have been more like arguing.

The rest of the day I spent reading and then took a nap. By the time I woke up an hour ago, the power was back and I learned through emails and updates that many people in Costa Rica did not have such a pleasant free day. Escazú is two towns away from us, towards San José.

The rain has mostly stopped for now and we believe we'll be back in school tomorrow, provided the roads are clear and the state of emergency is lifted. Now I'm going to try and finish the reading (for class) that was interrupted by napping.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Waiting for the 5:45

Oh friends, I know I've been a very inconsistent blogger; I'm so far behind in all the things I've been wanting to tell you. Right now I have just 10 minutes or so until the 5:45p bus back to Ciudad Colón. I'm sitting on the cafeteria patio, looking out at the mountains in the twilight. Because of the rain, it's not often we get a relatively clear view at this time. Right now it's merely cloudy and there are flashes of lightening in the distance. Past the trees at the bottom of the hill there are amber lights from houses and towns in the distance and they get more sparsely scattered as the mountains get steeper. It is just so beautiful.
I'm half listening to a conversation in French between a couple of African students and a student from the US. I've almost finished my Power Point presentation on GZT, a German development organization. On my way home I'll stop at the verdulería and pick up a tomato and some kind of green vegetable to make dinner. I'll read my assignment for tomorrow on education for special needs learners, work on our group presentation (educational reform under Michelle Rhee in DC) and read a little bit of North & South before I fall asleep.
As I walk across the little bridge towards my house I'll say to myself as I do every day, "I live in Costa Rica. I'm a student at the University for Peace getting a Master's degree in Peace Education. I am exactly where I want to be."
Here's the bus.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Making Chapati

I learned to make chapati in Burundi but then I must have forgotten because the chapati I made when I got here was all kinds of wrong. So one night Diana M. (left & right) came over along with Kendra (center, who will be moving into Mai's old room) and we all made chapati together. The soda in the background was left over from the potluck. This is my kitchen, by the way. Our chapati was delicious, which reminds me, I'd like to make some more.

The Less Glamorous Side of Life in Costa Rica

I was starting to detect signs of mold in my books so I've instituted a weekly dehumidifying session. Don't they look like little acolytes gathered at the feet of their messiah?
The books, if you're keeping track are: Thomas Cobden-Sanderson's "Credo" (more a pamphlet than a book); The Elements of Style (illustrated edition), a biography of Gandhi, 2 journals, Faith and Practice, and the AP Manual of Style (very helpful for reminding me to capitalize Internet, how to address Queen Elizabeth II and when to hyphenate). Wish I'd brought more books and few clothes. Clothes you can just keep washing and make do w/ a few. However, not enough books, is not enough books.


No time to write, so I'll post pictures instead. This is from the potluck we had a my apartment, almost at the end of our first Peace Education course, 2 or 3 weeks ago. That's Diana on the left, Maricelly playing Diana's guitar and teaching us a song about a cactus and a flower and fish in the sea. Destiny and Myo on the couch. Mackenzie on the floor in front of me. Soooo much delicious food. And I, as the host, cleverly ended up w/the leftovers.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My class!

This is my Peace Ed class and our Programme (we use the UN spelling) Director, Virginia.
From the front left Diana (Canada), Celine (Rwanda), me, Gobina (Cameroon), Rose (US), Destiny (US), Mackenzie (US), Marianne (Costa Rica). 2nd row from left. Rosemary (Zambia), Virginia (Philippines), Mercedes (Argentina), Camila (Colombia), Chisato (Japan), Ignatius (Zambia), Niina (Finland), Jessica (US- her sister was a wardrobe intern for Arabian Nights!), Maham (Pakistan/Canada), Carolyne (Costa Rica), Myo (Myanmar), Maricelly (US/Puerto Rico), Haru (Canada/Japan). The pink flags on the map show all the places we are from and as you can see, several people locate themselves in more than one country.
I am famous for my striped boots.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Doolittle Epistolaries

To the Lizard in my Window Well:

Please don’t look so concerned; I promise not to squish you when I slide the window open. In fact, I’m glad you’re here. Eat all the insects you want: somewhere, someone is making more.

Thanks again,


To the Ants in the Kitchen:

Let me begin by saying, I admire your work ethic. Really. It’s an inspiration to us all. I am supremely grateful that the cockroaches haven’t learned to follow your example.

Now then, on to business. I thought we had an arrangement. I agreed not to destroy you and your families on sight and further ceded to you the territory of the sink. Any of the food clinging to plates or forks in the sink waiting to be washed, you are welcome to. In exchange, you were to avoid the territory of the clean dishes and silverware in the dish drainer. Though it is helpful when you point out an insufficiently washed fork I would prefer that you and your brethren not take advantage of the opportunity to crawl up my arm.

I have no desire to initiate hostile actions, but if we can’t respect each other’s personal space, I fear it may come to that. If there is no trust in a relationship, I’m not sure it’s a relationship I care to maintain.



To the Spider I Found in My Bed the Other Morning:

Your insect eating services are not required at that location. However, if you wanted to open a franchise in the kitchen, I would be happy to suggest a few locations.



PS. Do you like ants?

To the Cockroaches:

Long time no see. I am ok with that.


To the Dogs. All of you.

If little Timmy has fallen down a well, or if there is currently a stealthy band of landlocked pirates crawling, knives clenched between their teeth, towards the unsuspecting, drowsy children of Ciudad Colón, please, disregard the rest of this letter.

If little Timmy is fine and the pirates are all in movies where they belong, then please be so kind as to knock it off. Or at least walk over to the dog you are conversing with so you don’t have to shout.

Thanking you in advance for you attention to this matter,

S. Gmitter

To the Monkeys (please forward):

Where are you?

In peace,


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Now I understand why the rainy season just got rainier

Since Monday we've been having even more rain than usual for the rainy season. No morning sunshine, rain starting before we even get to school and heavy downpours during class- so loud it's hard to hear people talking. Yesterday they cancelled the buses after 3pm and asked us to head home before that because they were worried about the road not being passable after that because of the rain.

Here's a link to the weather report, but don't worry. We sang "Here Comes the Sun" at the beginning of class today and it seemed to help. Didn't need my umbrella on the walk home this afternoon.

There have also been reports that the rainy season will be hanging out a bit longer this year- 'til December or possibly even January rather than November. I thought about this and decided I'd still rather have a rainy season than a Chicago winter.

Monday, September 27, 2010


It's been a very busy week and all signs point to this week being the same, so I guess if I don't post tonight, I won't get another chance til next weekend. Maybe.

Monday- the last day I was caught up on readings for class.

Tuesday- International Day of Peace! Great success, excellent participation from our class, I helped teach and lead the singing of a peace song in Spanish. Also attended a career workshop in resumé/CV writing.

Wednesday- finished writing a paper in time to attend Cultural Dance event sponsored by a bunch of embassies in Costa Rica. About 30 UPEACE students piled into a mini-bus and headed to Escazu to see our classmate represent Bolivia with some energetic dancing. While there, we sampled food from the nations represented (Nicaragua's chocolate drink was my favorite) and the man at the Russian table failed to be impressed that I spoke to him in Russian. Granted, it was only three words but he had know way of knowing I didn't have more where those came from.

Thursday- my first Spanish class and my Spanish nickname is now "gringa en las botas" because of my striped rain boots. Another career workshop in finding internships.

Friday- in class my group turned our summary of the plight of landless farmers in the Philippines, analysis of the underlying causes and recommendations for action into a 3 verse song set to the tune of "Memory" from Cats and performed for the class. Peace Ed is WAY more fun than International Law and the Settlement of Disputes, and this is why there are those who do not take us seriously. I totally meant to be social and join people for a drink at Oscar's but a guitar came to my house! So instead I stayed in, tuned Por's new guitar and when my landlord heard, he brought down his guitar. I tuned that too and he said I could borrow it since he's never actually learned how to play. One of these days I'll learn not to fall out of practice on the guitar because re-acquiring those fingertip calluses is painful.

Saturday- a trip to San José with Diana (not Ugandan Diana, Canadian in my programme Diana) to check out one of the San José markets where I find avocados at 2/$1 and we split a couple bunches of enormous rosemary leaves. I hacked away at the reading, trying to get caught up. In the evening many of us went into town to see our classmate Midori play the piano with a violoncellist at the local performance hall. Beautiful, world class classical music and quite a treat.

Sunday- reading all day. All. Day. Still not completely caught up but getting close. And I discovered what you do with cheese that doesn't melt. You cut it into small cubes and fry it and it's just like the baked cheese they have at the Andersonville farmer's market. Delicious with my beans, rice, tomato & red pepper concoction for dinner.

Tomorrow- I've been asked to read a poem at the memorial service for Robert Mueller who was one of the founding benefactors of UPEACE. And people who like to sing are gather for the first time to see if we want to form a group! I'm very happy about this. Now, back to reading.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Independence Day- Costa Rica Style

Wednesday was Costa Rica's Independence Day and I woke to the sound of drumming. The Independence Day Parade was moving through the center of town, down the street between the church and the soccer field. I threw on some Costa Rican colors (red, white and blue), grabbed my camera and went to see the celebration. I only saw the last 20 minutes or so, which means I can't make too broad a generalization.
What I saw were half a dozen youth groups either drumming, playing the bells, carrying flags or dancing in traditional dress. I think every child old enough to walk on his or her own was in one group or another. Michelle, my landlord's daughter, was one of the bell players and Daniele, the oldest boy, was a flag carrier. The final dance gave a chance for audience participation and each dance break brought more and more people from the crowd into the dance. Afterwards everyone headed to the plaza for food, cotton candy (which is not food) and more drumming. I ran into Maria, José and Pablo and they said they thought everyone in Ciudad Colón was out in the street.

And now, in honor of Costa Rica's Independence Day, a few of the many things Costa Rica has to be proud of:
Former President Oscar Arias Sanchez won the Nobel Prize in 1987 for his work ending the civil war in Nicaragua.
Current President Laura Chinchilla is the first woman to hold that office in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica and Great Britain were the two countries that sponsored the UN resolution creating the International Day of Peace on the 21st of September.
In 1948 at the end of its civil war, Costa Rica abolished its military and has not had a civil war or military coup since.

Plans for International Day of Peace

The Peace Education Programme is responsible for planning activities for International Day of Peace on Tuesday, September 21st. One of the things we're doing is teaching student how to make paper cranes and helping us make a bunch of them for an activity we'll do on the IDoP itself. Not sure what it says about me that I kind of love these colors- at least to look at. It's been nice to get out of my thinking brain for a bit and using my crafting head instead. Seems like the other students agree because they've been great about learning, helping and teaching newcomers. We've got a ton of other plans still in the works and that's what I'll be spending most of my weekend on. Except when I take a break to make a few more cranes.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Al Gore is not the only one in love w/Power Point

Apparently it is THE latest thing in NGO, NFP presentation making. Part of the instructions for our presentation assignment for the Foundation Course was to use Power Point, which I have never used, except when I was taking a test for a temp agency. Most of the other groups got fancier than we did. Not just bullet points but zooming into place bullet points, cross fades, graphics, movies. My section of our group presentation seemed a little My First Presentation in comparison. Just pictures with titles. I think I think of Power Point as the set, and I’m the show, where for others it’s more of a 50/50, PP and presenter are both the show.

I stand by my pictures though. Our conflict was the Tamil/Sinhalese in Sri Lanka and I managed to work in a pretty pair of Mandelbrots and a diagram of quantum truth vs. quantum uncertainty. I got metaphorical on them and had a great time. I suppose I understand why people don’t believe I’m an introvert because I really do love to perform- provided I have confidence in the material. To me, there’s a world of difference between giving a presentation (fun! thrilling! satisfying!) and meeting strangers or asking for directions or going to big party (not fun! I don’t want to! I’ll be the one standing next to the food looking uncomfortable!). It’s probably a control thing. Anyway, score one for team theatre, the presentation went really well, in spite of the bullet point deficit.

And now for the words

It is a measure of my love for you all that after working on a paper for 3 days straight I am once again clicking away at my keyboard to update my dormant blog. Well, my catnapping blog. If I haven’t used up all my organizational brain molecules on structuring my paper (Three Kinds of Violence: Challenges to peace for minority students in Chicago Public Schools), I’ll try to make this several short focused posts, instead of one long rambling one. I’ll start with:

Foundation Course, That’s a Wrap!

Friday was the last day of the Foundation Course. We did our group presentations in the morning and celebrated the end of our first course in the afternoon. Discussions at the party generally fell into one of two categories- What are you doing on the break? and What did you think of the Foundation Course?

Unfortunately my answer to the first question was, “Writing my paper, working on my group presentation for the next course and trying not to fret about International Day of Peace.” My answer to the second question is much longer. There was a certain cadre of people who did not like the Foundation Course. They either found it too basic (people who either studied this stuff in undergrad or have been working extensively in the field) or too far from the work they plan to do (pretty much everyone in the Natural Resources and Sustainable Development program and some of the folks in the Environmental programs). And all of that makes sense. For me, it was great- a combination of learning terms and definitions for concepts I knew without knowing I knew them and discovering totally new ideas and models. We learned a bunch of different conflict models, some theories on conflict persistence and escalation and the beginnings of methods for conflict resolution. We had some really interesting discussions in our seminar group (and to be honest some failures at having any kind of conversation, interesting or otherwise). The best part was hearing from classmates who’d been out in the field (Sudan) or were from a country with recent conflicts: South Korea, Indonesia. The perspective is very different and in some cases much more cynical than mine. It’s too soon to say if that’s coming from who they are or what they’ve seen.

Morning Walk up the Big Hill

Now here are the pretty pictures you really want to see.

I took a walk this morning up past where Avenida 2 stops being paved and becomes a gravel and dirt road running up the hill. All the way up on my left hand side is the cinderblock wall separating the fancy people from the not fancy people. You can see it in the picture below on the right hand side. I'm looking down the hill back at Ciudad Colón. The road is very steep and just keeps going up and up. I didn't set out provisioned for a long hike, so I turned back before I got to the top. Perhaps tomorrow, if no more exciting opportunities present themselves.

I think I've mentioned that there are a lot of butterflies. Here's two of them. I tried to get a picture of the black and green butterfly I saw, but he wouldn't hold still for long enough. These two practically posed.

I don't know what these gorgeous flowers are, but we see them all over the place. You can't tell in this picture, but they are huge.
Sorry the layout is a little boring. Weird things happen when I try to get fancy and change things up.

The Street Where I Live

These are some of the things you can see on the street where I live. There are many incongruities.

End of the road.

A cow lives here.
Not so fancy houses.

Fancy house.

No parking.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pictures from Poás

This is the main crater of Poás Volcano, the second or third highest volcano in the country. Underneath all that steam and smoke is a lake. The smoke comes out of little fissures all around it.

This is the lake that formed in one of the craters of Poás. The large plants in the foreground are called 'sombrilla de pobre,' poor man's umbrella.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

21 days, 0 monkeys

Sorry Griffin. No monkeys yet. But I did see a volcano. And a giant mall. And a $30 pint of maple syrup. I'm going for a hike in the morning, maybe I'll have better luck then. Pictures of volcano and nearby lake, coming soon.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why the blogging has slowed

Here are a selections of the reading I've been doing for my Foundations in Peace and Conflict Studies course:

Ramsbotham, Oliver; Woodhouse, Tom and Miall, Hugh. 2005. Contemporary Conflict Resolution

Mitchell, C. R.1981. The Structure of International Conflict.

Abdalla, Amr. et al. 2002.Understanding CR SIPABIO a Conflict Analysis Model.

Bohm, David. 1980. ‘Fragmentation and Wholeness’; ‘Appendix: Resume of Discussion on Western and Eastern Forms of Insight into Wholeness’ in Wholeness and the Implicate Order.

Escobar, Arturo. 1995. Conclusion: Imagining a Post Development Era’ in Encountering Development: the making and unmaking of the third world .

Capra. Fritjof. 1982. ‘The Newtonian World Machine’, in The Turning Point

Pruitt, Dean & Kim, Sung Hee. 2004. Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate and Settlement.

Grad school doesn't seem so glamorous now, does it?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Welcome to the 21st Century, Student

The last time I was a student enrolled in a university, Bill Clinton was the president. No one I knew had a cell phone or an email address. Laptops weighed six and a half pounds. When I needed to read a newspaper article for research, I looked it up on a microfiche and used a microfilm machine to read it. And although the Internet had been invented at that point, I had only ever been there to look up hints for how to help Gwydion escape from the evil wizard Manannan.

These days our lectures are accompanied by Power Point presentations and are broadcast to an overflow classroom. I take notes on my MacBook using the Notebook feature in Word that automatically formats notes in outline form and even gives you a tool to doodle in the margins. (I’m kind of in love with this feature and can’t believe I had my laptop for 3 years and never discovered it. It feels like one of those dreams you have that you find a new room in your house. Except I don’t have to wake up.) I read my chapters for each class online using the course reader posted on a Moodle. I send meeting notes to my fellow Peace Ed students simultaneously using a group I created in our gmail supported student email account. I arrange to meet up with friends to go shopping via facebook chat. I IM with friends back at home, 2200 miles away. I blog. And Barack Obama is the president. Life is pretty good.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sara v. Las Cucarachas

Some of you have expressed interest in the kinds of things I’m studying so I will illustrate my newfound knowledge by using the CR SIPABIO conflict analysis model to examine the conflict between myself and my unofficial roommates, certain cockroaches.


Las cucarachas and I have a relationship conflict caused by negative perceptions as well as repetitive negative behavior.

We also have an interest conflict characterized by competition for resources, in this case, space.


My issue is that I don’t want to see las cucarachas crawling around on the floor in any room of my apartment.

Las cucarachas’ issue is that they need freedom of movement in order to pursue their goals of eating and procreating.


The primary parties are myself and las cucarachas.

The secondary parties are my official roommates Benjamas and Mai. They may also have a primary party conflict of their own with las cucarachas but that will not be the subject of the current analysis.

Tertiary parties include the entire species of cockroaches, my landlords and the nation of Costa Rica.

You will also be introduced to a third party intervener- Ingmar, the dinner guest.


On my part, the attitudes are primarily negative. I feel mildly threatened by the presence of las cucharachas in my home because I have a need for cleanliness and health. I also feel apprehension about stepping on a cockroach in the dark and experiencing the unpleasant sensation of its carapace cracking under my foot. I have an expectation that the few cockroaches I see will breed many, many more.

Setting aside for now considerations of whether las cucarachas have the capacity to ‘feel’, I imagine they might feel threatened and fearful, judging from what I interpret to be their frightened scurrying when I discover them. I will dismiss for the moment any possibility that they have the capacity to form expectations.



  • On 4 separate occasions una cucaracha has scurried along the baseboards of my room within my line of sight.
  • On 2 occasions una cucaracha was seen crawling through the rug in the living room.
  • Two other cucarachas have been found either dead or dying on their backs.


  • One instance of mercy killing or cockroachslaughter (depending on your belief in the good will of the human party) when I threw a weakened cockroach (found on its back) into the toilet and allowed it to drown.
  • Several instances of stamping in a threatening manner while verbally assaulting the cockroach.


On one of the above mentioned occasions where a cockroach was seen crossing the rug in the living room, all three official roommates were present and our dinner guest, Ingmar was leaving. Said guest was induced to collect the offending insect and without killing it, forcibly evict it from the premises. Again this is conjecture, but I believe being pursued by a 2 meter tall German man wearing a black motorcycle helmet bearing some resemblance to those worn by the Nazis during WWII, may have been terrifying in the extreme even though lethal force was not used. Watching this spectacle did elicit certain feelings of empathy from me and I was able to envision a time when I might set aside my cultural baggage and view las cucarachas as fellow creatures worthy of at least as much tolerance as I give the ants in the kitchen.


The conflict has not been resolved but has moved from a manifest to a latent state.

Contextual Factors

In place of Ethnicity I will note Species as a contextual factor. I am human. Las cucarachas are cockroaches. The other applicable contextual factor is Culture. I was raised in the US where there are certain popularly held negative ideas about cockroaches and what their presence says about the house you live in. Las cucarachas on the other had were ‘raised’ in Costa Rica where there is an entirely different tolerance level to insects and other animals.


Bond- Does not apply in this case as las cucharachas and I have no special bonds of kinship or any other association.

Power- A key factor in this relationship is the asymmetrical power dynamic. I am much larger and stronger than las cucharachas and also have the advantage of the ability to use and access to tools, such as shoes and toilets. Las cucharachas have an advantage in numbers but lack the cognitive function to coordinate those numbers to form a threat.

Patterns- Though general opposed to violence of any kind, I do have a pattern of tolerating violence against insects.

Las cucarachas only patterns of any kind involve eating, procreating and scurrying.

So there you have it everyone, this is what I'm learning. Next week we start getting beyond analysis into actual conflict management, resolution and transformation.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Try Not to Be Mad

This is Hammock Row, a passageway between 2 classroom buildings. The steep roof keeps out the rain, the translucent panels let in light, and the sides are open and lined with plants. Maybe the best feature of a university campus ever. It is only empty because I was on the first bus this morning and got there before anyone else. There are at least 3 more full hammocks strung between trees in addition to the chair hammocks around the buildings and courtyards.
This was an initiative from the Student/Faculty/Staff Committee and they only finished putting them in over the last year or so. Thank you SFSC. Thank you from the tips of my toes to the top of my head.

By Request

I've been asked for more pictures so, here you are. On the left is the view from the Council Room where we have our lecture in the morning. Can you see the mountain? I think it's actually a volcano. I know at least one of the mountains we can see is a volcano. Because the morning lecture is broadcast to a classroom, they've papered over a bunch of the windows so Amr won't be backlit. But this is what we were looking at all during Orientation. On the top is the view from my seminar classroom. It's a bit washed out because it's so bright.