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.