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.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I Love School!

First day of class today. So wonderfully, exactly what my hopeful imagination pictured.

For the first hour & 15 minutes the whole class of 2011 (all 180+ of us) are together for a lecture. Or as close to together as we can get- most of us in the Council Room where Orientation was held; those that don’t fit in Classroom #1 with a video feed. UPEACE may be small but we rock the technology. Amr Abdallah, the Vice Rector, gave the lecture this morning about the beginnings of conflict and peace studies as an academic discipline. After the lecture we had a ½ hour break, then met in smaller seminar groups of 22 (minus, of course our African contingent) for discussion. So there we were, 16 of us from all over the world sitting in a classroom with windows all over three of its walls looking out at gorgeousity everywhere talking about the nature of peace and conflict and whether there is such a thing as a ‘Western’ or ‘Eastern’ perspective. Having exactly the kind of rich, juicy discussion that I came here for. The time flew by.

Over lunch I met with some of my fellow Peace Ed students to start brainstorming plans for our program for International Day of Peace on September 21st. I naturally took up the role of note taker and spent a ½ or or so after lunch typing up the notes and emailing them out. Then bus home to Ciudad Colón, talking with Manuel from Honduras/Montana about how our days had gone and how an influx of wealthy Californians is starting to liberalize Montana.

So yeah. I love school. I love what we’re reading about and talking about. I love the totally international group in which we are doing all of these things. I love the beauty of the location in which we are working. Love, love, love where I am right now.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Good news!

Just got word via my roommates that at least our 4 Asian classmates still awaiting visas have been approved! If all goes well they'll be arriving this Thursday or Friday. This is especially a huge relief for the rest of the students in the ALP who have been fretting over the fate of their friends. One of the students coming will be in the Peace Education program with me. His arrival will double the number of men in our group. The arrival of the Africans (fingers still crossed) will double it again. The female to male ratio at school is pretty high in general and particularly in our Department, which also includes the Gender and Peace Studies program. However the breakdown of our professors is slightly more males than females. So is our class a trend in the peace and conflict resolution field or an anomaly?

Once upon a time...

One of the things we learned in Orientation was the history of the University for Peace. Here’s what happened. Pardon me while I geek out for a moment. In December of 1980 the General Assembly of the UN gathered in Rivendell to adopt resolution 35/55, calling for the establishment of a University for Peace. Rodrigo Carazo, then the President of Costa Rica stepped forward to say, “I will carry the ring to Mordor!” A philanthropist by the name of Bennett then stepped forward to say, “You will have my wallet!” And then Costa Rica stepped up to say, “And our support!” They looked around to see if six more entities would step forward and there was an awkward moment while other countries and people with money looked at their shoes and mumbled things about needing to make a phone call. Then President Carazo and Mr. Bennett and Costa Rica all set off together while the UN waved goodbye and wished them luck and there followed many highs and lows including a dark time when it seemed all might be lost. But then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan flew in on a giant eagle to re-organize and re-structure the University so it would be a real place where real students could take real classes and get a real degree. Since then, other universities around the world have established partner relationships including the horsemen of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Korea, the tree people of Ateneo de Manilla University and the tower dwellers of American University in DC. And now we all live happily in golden light and slow motion, laughing and jumping on the bed.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


My roommates made dinner for us tonight and invited over another friend of theirs from the Asian Leaders Program, Munty. I have really lucked out. Everything was delicious though Benjamas kept apologizing that she couldn't find coconut milk so her curry was as good as it could be. We ate family style with four different dishes in the center of the table and each of us with our own plate of rice. I took a little bit of everything right from the start, like dishing up at a potluck. I noticed that they spooned one bite at a time from the center. Right now they are Skyping with another friend from ALP who is stuck in Manilla, waiting for his visa to come through.
Benjamas is from Thailand and is in the Media and Peace Studies Program. At home she's led workshops teaching various aspects of media. She says she is like many other people from her country because she is very outgoing and loves to talk. Mai is from Vietnam and is in the International Law and Settlement of Disputes Program. She's studied law in Vietnam and France. Benjamas jokes that she is a professional student. Mai seems always to be looking out for her friends and I'm glad that now I'm one of them. I wonder what will happen in March when all the ALP students return to Manilla. I think we'll all be quite sad. The whole school will get smaller and our apartment will be a lot emptier. But there's plenty of time to worry about that later. Meanwhile, I'll enjoy whatever food comes my way.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Just a quick post to say orientation is over! We met with our Programme (I guess we're British?) groups this afternoon so I finally got a chance to see who my Peace Education cohort is going to be- minus the 5 Africans and 1 Sri Lankan who are still awaiting travel visas. I look forward to getting to know all of them over the next 11 months.

We've already got our first group assignment too. September 21st is International Peace Day and the Peace Education class is in charge of coming up with a 45 minute program for the whole university to observe the day. Classes will stop and all eyes will be on us.

I picked up my reader for the first course, which starts on Monday. It's a foundation course in Peace and Conflict Studies that we all take together in the morning and then break down into smaller seminar groups for the afternoon for a total of 3 hours/day of classroom work. We'll spend the rest of the day on homework and organizing our group activities. The reader is enormous and I've already started tackling our first assignment.

This morning's trip into San José went very smoothly. We all got copies of our Costa Rican police records and turned in our birth certificates and home police records. Next step on Tuesday is fingerprinting. Then we wait to be processed and hope our colleagues waiting in Africa and Manilla will have a chance to catch up. Please send happy visa thoughts their way.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Orientation Days 1 & 2

See, this is what happens. A thousand things happen, which means you have a thousand things to tell but then you're exhausted from all the things happening and the thought of telling them all makes you more exhausted and then you don't tell anything at all. So what follows will be a few snapshot impressions, rather than an attempt to catalogue all of the last 2 days.

Yesterday was our first day of orientation. Because I’d somehow failed to reset my watch correctly, I left the house an hour earlier than I needed to in order to catch the bus. An hour earlier than 7:30am. After several times walking up and down the street where I thought the bus (and a bunch of other students) would be, I began to suspect my mistake. I asked the man sweeping the street what time it was- in perfectly good Spanish, by the way- and was somewhat disappointed when he felt it necessary to hold up 7 fingers, in addition to saying, ‘siete’ as if I might not know what ‘siete’ meant. The whole incident, however, serves as triumphant proof that I am a braver soul than I was at 15 when I once waited for a bus for three hours on the wrong side of the street because I was too shy to ask anyone why the bus wasn’t coming.

Speaking of shy, being delivered into a teeming mass of 185 strangers with no other task than to meet people is an excellent way to torture a shy person. I’ve been looking forward to meeting my classmates and learning all about where they are from and what they did before coming to UPEACE, but huge groups are really not my scene. It has to do with the approach. If I were stuck in an elevator, say, with one other person, I could successfully engage that person in conversation and be very charming. But show me a lawn full of people, all of whom seem to be already engaged in the most fascinating conversations of their lives with their new best friends, and I have problems. How do you cut in on that? So one at a time I sought out the other shy souls who seemed to be similarly at a loss. Now me, I love being rescued like this. Others are not talking to anyone because they just don’t want to talk to anyone right at that moment. By the end of the day I’d used up every once of my “faking extroversion” energy and gave myself permission to revert back to my natural state. We’re all going to be here for a while. There will be other opportunities in more Sara-friendly settings to get to know everyone.

Here’s the other intimidating thing about getting to know all these people. They are very impressive and accomplished individuals. And so are you, Sara, you’re all saying to yourselves because you’re my friends and you’re like that. And you know what, I even agree with you. However, I have never been arrested protesting for freedom of speech in Beijing. I do not speak four languages fluently. I have never bottle fed a baby elephant. My list of things to do just got longer.

The campus is so beautiful I can hardly believe it. As we sit in the Council Room- the back wall of which is all floor to ceiling windows and sliding glass doors- we can see mountains in the distance, green tropical foliage everywhere and huge birds of prey (hawks? eagles? rocs?) swooping not so very far away; it becomes pretty difficult to concentrate on the Power Point presentation about the Costa Rican health care system. The classroom buildings are built around courtyards so even walking down the hall there are gardens and fountains. And hammock chairs. Hammock chairs tucked away here and there wherever there’s a spare beam or substantial tree branch. I’ve found 6 so far plus a full fledged hammock out by the entrance.

We’ve been introduced to the staff and resident faculty. We’ve stepped through the Student Handbook. We’ve been warned about earthquakes, theft and skin fungus. We ended the day with sign ups for student activities. These are all pretty much in our own care with tons of support from the Student/Faculty/Staff Committee. And think about it- in a four year (or even 2 year) program, the seniors and juniors basically run things while the freshman and sophomores learn the ropes. But here, we’re all seniors and freshmen at the same time. So our groups and activities need to hit the ground running with people ready to be organizers, driving things forward. I’ve volunteered to organize the annual V-Day presentation of The Vagina Monologues to raise awareness of violence against women. Students and possibly some staff &/or professors? will be the performers. I won’t let myself get sequestered back or offstage though. My stopwatch stays in retirement.

Off to sleep soon now. Tomorrow we have an even earlier day heading into San José to get started on our student permits. For all the anxiety I had about getting my paperwork together, I see now how relatively easy I had it. Diane, who is from Uganda (north of Burundi and I know you all know where that is) had to travel all the way to South Africa to get her documents authenticated. There are about 20 more African students and 4 Asian students who haven’t even been able to get their entrance visas yet so we’re still awaiting their arrival. For me, just a few more bureaucratic hurdles to jump.

This is Where I'll Study

Conveniently located right behind the computer lab. There is also a fountain to the left.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Green Season

I didn't want the frightening shower head picture below to be the only picture on my blog of this beautiful country, so here's a view of the stream I cross over on my way into town. I'm much too tired to even begin to write about our incredible first day and have an early start again tomorrow. I'll bring my camera and take some pictures of the campus. It is truly breathtaking and perhaps the most idyllic setting on the planet for a university.

Suicide Shower

It looked like a bad idea, even before I knew what it was called. Yes, that's electricity, connected to water; two great tastes that usually do not taste great together. However, I have been assured by my landlord and the internet that this is simply how things are done, throughout Central and South America. There's no hot water anywhere else in the house- not for the sinks or the washing machine. Water for the shower gets heated right inside the shower head and requires so much current, it has to be connected directly. For the past 3 days I've been unable to get mine to work so I've had to make due with cold showers. But tonight José came over and made some adjustments and sure enough I saw the initial blue spark and dimming of the lights that signals the water is being heated. So tomorrow morning I hope to start my day by surviving a warm shower.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cena con los Morales

Last night our landlords made us a welcome dinner and they and their 3 kids joined us in our dining room. Michelle is 11, Daniel is 9 and Paolo is 18 months old. Like many kids his age, Paolo is very excited about his newfound ability to walk and spent most of the dinner exploring the apartment before climbing up onto the couch and falling asleep. At one point he proudly pushed the rolling dehumidifier into the dining room, just to show us he could.

Dinner was arroz con pollo, bean paste and ensalata de papas. All very good, especially the potato salad. I've never seen potatoes so white before, I thought at first it was jicama. Costa Rican's don't like things too spicy, in perfect accord with my own spice preferences. José and María told us they have been renting apartments to UPEACE students for the past 10 years. They started off with one apartment and one Italian student back when the school was much smaller. Since then they've added more apartments onto the building, which accounts for its piece meal layout. They've had many good experiences and look on it as an opportunity to meet people from all over the world and learn about different cultures. They also seem very pleased with their own country and happy to share it with visitors.

Benjaman and Mai (totally guessing about the spelling) both say they like to cook so I look forward to seeing how they adapt their Thai and Vietnamese recipes to the local ingredients. And Ben promises she won't make things too spicy. I, however, once again find myself without an oven so I won't be able to show off the greatest of my own culinary talents by baking for them. Fortunately, at least one of the studio apartments has a slow cooker and since I figured out how to make Tuna Hotdish in my crock pot when I was in Kansas City, I WILL be able to share some quintessential Midwestern cuisine. They have no idea what they've been missing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Settling in

Now that I've been in Costa Rica for a full 24 hours and have had a little time to settle in, I can tell you all something about where I'm staying.

I flew out at an insane early hour of the morning on Sunday. Many thanks to Marty & Mele for volunteering to pick me up at 3:45am so I and my 4 bags could get to the airport. I really do have the most awesome friends. All the air travel went very smoothly, everything on time, all my bags arrived and nothing adventurous at all happened until my taxi got to Ciudad Colón. The thing you need to know about rural Costa Rica is that there are no street names or addresses. So the directions I gave to my driver were- 'de la Casa Cural, 400 este, mano izquierda porton verde, casa beige al fondo'. Basically- 400 meters east of where the priest lives, on the left a green gate, beige house on the bottom. What are you supposed to do with that? You drive to Ciudad Colón and ask the first person you see where the Casa Cural is. You follow the first step of his directions. You ask the next person you see, where the Casa Cural is, you follow the first step of her directions. You find the Casa Cural, drive 4 blocks east and start looking for a green gate. The first one we tried was locked and no one answered our honk. My driver then tried calling the numbers I had for my landlords. No answer. Then he drove around a bit and just started asking people if they knew Jose Morales or his wife María. Eventually someone pointed us in the direction of another green gate and once it was opened, I recognized the patio of my apartment from the photo I'd seen online. All was well.

I'll be living in a 3 bedroom apartment with a nice living room, dining area and small kitchen. My two flatmates arrived today after traveling 27 hours from Asia. They are both part of the Asia Leaders Program and so have been studying together elsewhere for the past 4 months. Our apartment is at the bottom of a jigsaw complex that includes two studio apartments; the living quarters of our landlords, their kids and extended family; María's beauty salon and some kind of construction business. Most of our windows look out on stairways or outdoor storage areas but I do have a nice little window looking at the green field next door in my room. The view from our patio is currently a small cement mixer and a pickup truck filled with dirt. Not far beyond our house you can see steep green hills with the occasional fancy house nesting in a valley. I believe somewhere further up those hills is where UPEACE is located.

This morning I walked into town, a short 4 blocks, mostly downhill. I crossed over a little stream at the bottom of the hill and all along the way there's green everywhere and many different kinds of butterflies. Town is quite small, at least by my American standards. The area of shops and banks and etc. is about 6 blocks long by 2 blocks across. Lots of little storefronts selling fruits & vegetables, meat, baked goods. Two grocery stores. Two banks. I passed a pet store that in addition to puppies and a kitten had crates and crates of chickens (on the way into town I saw a lot of chickens roaming among the houses and into the street). The center of town is the Catholic Church with the football pitch in front of it. And by football pitch I mean of course, soccer field. I bought groceries at both supermercados plus a panadería and a frutería. Our landlords are making a welcome dinner for us tonight, so I'll soon get my first taste of Costa Rican cuisine.

I'm feeling pretty good about my adventures in Spanish so far. There are whole sentences where I know exactly what to say and I find I understand the gist of what people are saying to me even if I don't always know the words to answer them. I bailed into English once at the bank though if I'd taken a moment to think about it, I did actually know the words I needed. It's both funny (peculiar) and wonderful to think that the Spanish conversations, which now wash over me in line at the bank, on the radio and so on, in 11 months will be concrete images and ideas. I'm looking forward to that.

The weather was exactly as has been described to me. Warm and sunny in the morning, then just after noon light rain intermittently turning to heavier rain for a few hours. Now in the evening, overcast. It's quite humid but out of the sun the temperature is pleasant enough that I was far more comfortable today than I have been for the past sweltering week in Chicago. I think I see my first mosquito right now but it's staying safely out of my way at the moment.

I haven't seen many people biking, only two or three and maybe the rain has something to do with that. I'm still hoping to get a bike for myself here, both to explore further and to free myself from the UPEACE bus schedule. Once I've made the trip a few times by bus, I think I'll know enough about the route to determine how safe and ridable the roads are. I've just gotten the schedule for Orientation starting on Wednesday. Wish it were tomorrow. Listo. I'm ready.

Buenos Días, Costa Rica!

Buenos días rooster. Buenos días dehumidifier. Buenos días little stream I cross on my way into town. Buenos días butterflies. Buenos días hablando español. Buenos días todos verdes. Buenos días montañas y colinas. Buenos días lluvia en la tarde, cada tarde. Buenos días streets without names and dogs without collars sprawled asleep in the middle of the road. Buenos días handfuls of coins. Buenos días nueva vida.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Good night room

Good night sideways closet. Good night alley light. Good night wall of books and reading nook. Good night writing at Kopi and ice cream at George's. Good night puppet bike. Good night LFP. Good night Foster Beach. Good night Printer's Row, Bughouse Square, Magnificent Mile. Good night Jabin & Tate's pillow corner. Good night Griffin's curly hair, Wednesday lunches and Friendly dinners. Good night getting walked in. Good night winter, fall & spring. Good night, Chicago. Good night.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Now it's getting very close. I've already marked off my last Sunday, Monday and Tuesday in Chicago. I've gotten all my visa/student permit paperwork in order. My room is sublet. All that's left is packing and a lot of saying goodbye.

I said goodbye to my capital F Friends at Evanston Friends Meeting this past Sunday. They've been a wonderfully supportive community for the past 3 years and I owe so much of my inspiration and fuel for this new chapter to them. I said goodbye to my Lookingglass family last night over a delicious meal, enlivened by stories from the days of old, including 2 I'd never heard before, a thing I'd not thought possible. I bid farewell to my other theatre company, New Suit, on Monday at our last Company Meeting, officially downgrading my status from Tier 1 (Willing to put in a lot of time and be in charge of stuff) to Tier 4 (Out of town, in grad school, in a coma or any combination thereof). And every time I see one of my close friends I ask, "Will I see you again before I leave?"

One of those friends recently observed that I've been talking as if I'm leaving forever. Or dying. Things like, "This is my last Monday." Or, "This is my last chance to eat Ronnie's mom's delicious falafel." Or, "This is the last time I'll forget to see if there's a day game before biking down Clark Street." It's not that I don't think I'm coming back. I'm planning to come back. I have a return ticket. It's just that I like closure, marking the moments and acknowledging, "This has been meaningful to me." I think of it as if I'm leaving a party that Chicago and various communities within it have been hosting for the past 15 years. The courteous thing to do before leaving the party, is to thank my hosts and say good night.