Relief at my Costa Rican Home
I am finally in Costa rica and it is even more beautiful than I imagined. I am currently in Monteverde though we spent the first couple of days just outside San Jose. We did a tour through the market asking about prices so that we could see the cost of living differences between Costa Rica and America, but also get used to the exchange rate. The cost of living here is actually quite high specifically when you consider the buying power of Costa Ricans is so much higher than Americans. The average is that the cost of living here is 75% of what it is in the United States, however the people make significantly less. The money is also difficult to get used to because similar to the historic lira from Italy it has a bunch of extra zeroes. 500 colones equals one US dollar.
Two days ago we went to La Carpio, which is an area just outside San Jose that is full of mostly Nicaraguan refugees, but they are second generation now and officially Costa Rican citizens- though they were not originally. They live along an extremely polluted river, next to a landfill, and will soon also be next to the first Costa Rican sewage treatment plant. The houses themselves are frequently made of tin and other temporary materials and do not have floors other than dirt in many cases. While the landfill, run by ebi- a Canadian company, represents huge steps forward for the country as the first treatment of solid waste it has unfortunate consequences on the nearby community. However, there is also a very rich community along the other side of the landfill, but I do not know the differences in how they are affected by the landfill itself- La Carpio is much closer to it (you leave La Carpio and enter the landfill). The landfill treats its water and gas emissions, strives to reduce both, and overall is a move in the right direction for trying to mitigate damages. Once the landfill space is used up- in a few years- they will be turning it into a park (Gasworks or Union Bay anyone?) with consistent management and monitoring for 15 years.
While we were there we got to meet with the Director of the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation and her go to women gave us a tour of La Carpio and showed us several of their projects. The primary mission statement is to SUPPORT at risk populations (at risk meaning those who cannot reach their dreams or goals due to factors outside their control) so they can improve their quality of life. It is a nonprofit that has managed to great things in the community, because it has been there for 20 years. The founder has gained the trust of the community because of consistency, 20 years of dedicated time, in addition to results. She has systemized how the foundation has evolved and some of the local women are going to try and go to other at risk populations in Costa Rica and start new foundations. The foundation aims to meet the needs of the community in the form of food, improved shelter, and many other things. And donations can be dedicated to feeding a family ($20) or putting in cement floor ($100). The organization has also started several coops where the women specifically have learned various crafts and the foundation has helped them sell them including the San Jose airport with other professional connections. For more information see crhf.org. It is truly an inspiring tale.
Two days ago I arrived in Monterverde and I have to admit I was more than slightly terrified of meeting my homestay family. I do not speak enough Spanish to even justifiably say that I speak any and I knew nothing about them other than they were a family of four with a 12 year old daughter and a 3 year old son. However, my homestay mother met me outside with a giant hug and was very aware of the Spanish I don`t speak. Turns out the girl is in the private school and speaks impeccable English. She reminds me a bit of me when my German brother Toby first arrived in that within ten minutes she wanted to play cards. I brought Halli Galli and she loves the game, which is the game that Toby brought for us when he first came to visit. Yesterday I was barely through the door before she asked if I wanted to play. My Mama Tica speaks English well so she can say everything in Spanish and then tell me what I did not understand in English or for a few words have my host sister translate it. Overall, however the language break is ideal, because she is not more comfortable in English but can help me learn.
It has been a little strange eating so much American food right away, because my Mama tica has hosted many American students so I have had spaghetti, maccaroni and cheese, and pancakes in addition to other more Costa Rican foods. Yesterday after dinner she brought out a small kid`s book and had me read it out loud to her and ask when I didn`t understand while she painted my nails. She also lectured me on how I cut my nails far too short so it makes them unhealthy, which is honestly probably true, but it was pretty funny.
I also had my first Spanish class yesterday, which was all in Spanish other than the random Anyway that the teacher said. They evidently forgot to tell her I don`t know Spanish, which made for an interesting conversation in Spenglish for a bit. The placement test was kind of odd in that I have never guessed that much on a test in my life. But I think I will be able to progress quickly once I get enough of a vocabulary that I stop trying to speak in German, which at the moment is a huge problem. On the upside I have realized exactly how much German I really do remember.
Anyway, the adventure has begun and I am sure is only going to get better. I have already seen a morpho butterfly, howler monkeys, parakeets, and lots of dogs. There is a husky that actually lives at the study center named Tyra who is adorable as well as Meal who is a cat! YAY!