While my Finnish friend Lisa and former custome designer had backed out of our elaborate plans to write an article for some fancy publication, my office mate Ross and I headed to MultiPlaza to find something to wear for Halloween… I bought a camera and Ross got some golden Bling-bling and the most expensive sweater he has ever bought. I found nothing in Multiplaza but fortunately, Yoko, a Japanese student lent me her kimono and I dressed up like a Geisha… supposedly a high class prostitute but I was wearing white watercolors in my face which is not exactly high class. Mohit, my boss, at another party, was worse than me though… his disguise was a “flasher”… imagine that… he was wearing a big coat and kept on flashing people – but of course he was wearing clothes (a picture of a naked statue) underneath.

Thomas, the Dutch, and his beautiful tica girlfriend Estibaliz gave a fantastic halloween party in their house located in the middle of nowhere! It was fabulous!

San José is a lot more violent than I thought

I was wrong, my hostmom´s right… I don´t have an allergy for mould but a simple traditional cold. My hostfamily is still fixing the wall next weekend. I had no right to complain – they´re spoiling me here! My hostbrother was telling me how his mom decided that he would take the nightshift waiting my return.

 As I was debating with my hostfamily whether they should be so worried when I go out the news section starts. A man was shot at the Pueblo where I was last night. El Pueblo is a collection of bars and clubs connected with tiny little walking streets – I love the setting. We were allowed to skip the weapons search as we entered. The guy was shot at three, half an hour after we left… we left because I couldn´t stand my new shoes any longer, they were hurting me so badly and I was planning on going home to burn them.

The news showed how the guy that was shot was brought to the emergency room in a critical state and I recognized him. As we had been sitting and chatting at one of the clubs, this guy and his friends were playing table-football… his girlfriend was impatiently waiting, wearing only her bra – I spoke to her because I didn´t understand why she was dressed like that, obviously not having fun and despite her good looks sitting there completely alone and ignored by all the men in the club that had no trouble harrassing us. At least 70% of the crowd were guys, walking around in packs. She pointed out her boyfriend (who was completely ignoring her) and assured me that she was having lots of fun and then continued posing – what for I don´t know. Those serious men playing table-football were quite a mystery to me as well. The news of this guy being shot is followed by a 24 year old woman shot to death in downtown San José… that´s about where we were. And then we got some 3 drunk driving traffic death accidents that nigh… at this point I had lost the debate with my hostfamily.

Costa Rica “el país de Paz”, the country of peace, the most developed country of Central America… the Ticos like to blame the Colombian and Nicaraquan immigrants for the violence in the country and of course everyone remembers better times. Like last night… all that violence was the “Nicas” fault… even though the only “Nica” involved was the girl that was killed. It looks like there are 1-2 people murdered every day in this country but more on the weekends. While I find this shocking, I was a lot more shocked to hear that 40% of all the world´s street children live in Central America and some of the Central American governments condone the social cleansing, the killing, of these children!

I was reading this book on social epidemics The Tipping Point by Gladwell. He explores a few interesting cases including the drop in crime in NYC in the 1980s, the sudden rise of suicides among youth in the island of Micronesia-and the increase in school shootings in the States. He talks about the power of the context and certain types of people in starting social epidemics. The book enourages a sort of alternative thinking when it comes to addressing social problems but like many other books exploring the unconscious it also creates this uncomfortable feeling that we´re not really as autonomous of agents as we would like to think we are. We like to believe our character and morals are constants rooted in our genes and upbringing but our personalities really depend on our environments and the people around at every point in time. How this knowledge can be employed to aid street children in Central America or stop school shooting and suicide fashion trends is an interesting issue to speculate over.

I can’t talk or breath… it’s getting serious!

After writing all those eulogies… I feel justified complaining just a little. As much as I love my hostfamily I’m not sure I can stay with them. Right now I’m sick and MUTE. I lost my voice gradually over a period of a few days. Being the Besserwisser (know-it-all) that I am, I believe my own theory regarding the cause of my sickness.

My house and the neighbours house used to share a wall. More specifically, the houses used to share the wall of my room that’s leaking! The leak causes a major build-up of mould. Over the period of 24 hours every thing gets covered with a lining of white dust which bothered me a little in the beginning but my hostmother does dust all my clothes, bring them outside when it’s sunny and refold everything. She told me that the mould wouldn’t affect my books and papers…. fine but the humidity is! I borrowed some books from Mohit and I’m afraid to give them back.

Then there’s the issue of how the mould affects my health… according to some webpages I’m likely to develop some neurological diseases because of the mould… they may exaggerate but the respiratory problems started showing after half a month and now I’m sick and my hair thinning at an alarming rate. Of course my sickness may be a simple flu but whatever! I want the mould problem fixed right away.

Another thing that’s starting to annoy me is the dog, little cute Orejitas. I have to admit I’m more of a cat person… well, everyone that know me knows that. The fact that the dog is living in the garden next to my room’s entrance and window means that I get experience first hand how much a hairy wet dog smell. My hostmother does keep this tiny garden very clean but when that dog does his thing – my olfactory sensors are overwhelmed!

And the dog is dumb as hell! He just won’t stop pulling me when we go out and it’s not like I’m not making the effort to teach him. I almost break his neck the way I pull back at him… still he’ll keep on pulling until he is making terrible choking noices and battering with his tongue out! When we get attacked by street dogs he just swings his tail happy and drooling while I defend for our lives with a big umbrella. Other people taking a walk, especially groups of local guys, follow me around making fun of my efforts when they think I can’t hear them, examining the sky when I glare at them, but running to my aid when I get under attack.

My Icelandic cat Kvaesir would have attacked the street dogs winning the fight… I’ve both seen him wheeling into big labradors and angrily retreating when faced by three week old kittens stealing his food. When my little brother was a toddler and repeatedly got a hold of the cat, torturing him, he would not move a claw, but he’ll attack me for not giving him the attention and food he believes he deserves.

 I don’t know what to do with my whole living situation here in Costa Rica. I can’t live  with all that mould and the stupid dog gets on my nerves. The mould is more of an issue right now but given how my hostmother seems to live only on the money I give her, I’m not sure she has the funds to bring in a professional. Should I offer to pay for the reparations of the house? Should I threathen to leave? Should I not say anything and just find another place? Should I find a chinese recipe, cook and eat Orejitas? Where was that recipe, dad? 

I think I’ll go to the doctor here at UPEACE, have him agree with my “mould-is-killing-me” theory, tell my hostmom what the doctor told me and then exaggerate my sickness while in the house to the extent that she thinks I’m dying (before that process starts for real) and then the whole situation will develop the sort of an urgency that she’ll either propose herself that I move or use her genius to force the neighbor to fix the leaking problem on their side.

SiggiMagg blogs

It seems like I haven´t been keeping my admin genius dad busy enough with solving my problems. Somehow he found the time to start his own blog where he intends to solve the world´s computer problems and hopefully share with us a few creative short stories and maybe some of his rather rightist opinions (sjálfstæðismaður) so I can debate him!

SiggiMagg is actually a pretty talented writer but of course he writes his stories in our old beautiful Icelandic. Jahá hann pabbi er merkilegur rithöfundur. Hérna er smá saga eftir pabba sem ég stal af Austurgötu vefnum:

Innsent efniSíminn var búinn að hringja fjórum sinnum þennan fagra júlí morgun. Hálfsofandi teygði hann sig í símann, sem að venju, lá á gólfinu undir rúmi. Þvoglumæltur hratt hann út úr sér; “halllóo – ó”. Þetta var mamma, að spyrja hvernig honum liði, nýbökuðum eiginmanninum.
Þá fyrst vaknadi hann til lífsins, timburmennirnir og ógleðin hurfu eins og dögg fyrir sólu; “mér líður vel”, stundi hann og lagði á. Hann reyndi að rifja upp hverjum hann hafði gifst, hann mundi óljóst eftir því að vinir og kunningjar hefðu kvatt hann kvöldið áður, með þeim ummælum að hann væri heppinn að ná sér í dömu, kominn á þennan aldur.
Kaffi ilmurinn læddist hægt og hljóðlega meðfram veggjunum og skreið inn um skráargatið, dillandi söngur barst með ilminum, þannig að til samans mynduðu þau dúett sem kæmi öllum til að brosa. En honum, honum kveið fyrir því að fara fram, hvernig lítur hún út og það versta af öllu, hver er hún eiginlega? Þvílíkt og annað eins “blackout” hafði hann aldrei fengið áður. Nú heyrði hann fótatak, létt en taktfast.
Hurðahúnninn snérist, en þó ekki nema hálfa leið, hann var að því kominn að stökkva á dyrnar og skella í lás. En þá, eins og töfrasprota væri veifað, fór hurðarhúnninn aftur í rétta stöðu og fótatakið fjarlægðist á nýjan leik.
Nú skipti hver sekúnda máli, hann æddi um herbergið í leit að einhverju sem gæfi til kynna hver hún væri. Hann leitaði í hverjum krók og hverjum kima, en allt kom fyrir ekki. Um huga hans þutu þúsund spurningar, sem allar höfðu eitt og sama svarið.
Hann ákvað að reyna að taka af skarið, klæðst og fara fram. Hann gat ekki beðið, hann varð að sjá, snerta eiginkonu sína. En hann var ekki reiðubúinn, kannski voru þetta mistök, kannski…
Hann læddist hljóðlega að hurðinni, óklæddur og opnaði upp í hálfa gátt, sólargeislinn blindaði hann, hann sá fram í forstofu, sá morgunblaðið liggja á gólfinu og feitletruð forsíðufréttin glotti íllkvitnislega á móti honum. Hann hrökklaðist inn í herbergið og lokaði hurðinni hægt og rólega á eftir sér. Aldrei á ævinni hafði hann hatað moggan eins og nú, hugsandi til hinnar grát-broslegu fyrirsagnar: “Eiginkonan brytjaði niður eiginmann sinn”. Kaldur sviti spratt fram á enni hans, hann heyrði hnífaglamur, kannski var það bara diskaglamur, framan úr eldhúsi.
Nú var leitin full af örvæntingu, hann skildi ekki hvernig stóð á því að hún var ekki hjá honum, af hverju var hún frammi -eða var hún frammi?
Fótatakið barst innan úr eldhúsi, hann hélt áfram að leita í herberginu, leit hinna dauðadæmdu. Hann snérist á hæli þegar hann heyrði glamur framan af gangi. Hún var að koma. Hann stökk upp í rúmið, þreifaði undir koddann sinn í örvæntingu, þar til hann fann kalt stálið rekast í fingurgómana. Hann greip um skaftið traustum tökum, hann vissi nú hvað gera skildi.
Hurðahúnninn snérist ákveðnar en áður. Augu hans opnuðust til fulls, könd hans krepptist um skaftið, vísifingur þrýsti fastar að gikknum. Þegar hurðin opnaðist til fulls sá hann ljósið.

A healthy lifestyle

Living a healthy life here in Costa Rica really isn’t all that difficult compared to home and Middlebury. My hostmother’s kids, just moved out, that is, they moved to the apartment upstairs, to begin a new independent life. Dona Marta, my hostmother that used to do absolutely everything for them now focuses all her energy on me. She spends hours cooking for me alone… when I wake up the breakfast is already on the table and everything smells of delicious coffee, she makes lunch for me to take to UPeace, prepares something with the afternoon coffee and then starts cooking as soon as I come back from the gym to have dinner ready. My laundry and  room mysteriously “clean themselves”, the clothes somehow get folded, my sheets changed and my shoes arranged… and she refuses to take any extra payment.

 Well, then there’s the fact that I told Dona Marta I’m on a diet so she sends me with pure carrots, cabbage, pineapple and strawberries  to eat at UPeace and the students make fun of me… then she “encourages” me to go to the gym… I’ll return hungry as a wolf from UPeace but she won’t start cooking dinner until I go to the gym… very very “encouraging”.

The second major factor contributing to my healthy lifestyle are the instructors at the gym Chulo and Erick. Chulo is just chulo (his nicknames literally translates as “cutie”), he’s the youngest instructor of the gym and is basically just there for the girls to look at him. Erick, on the other hand, is my self-appointed personal trainer, my motivation to show up to the gym. He teaches the yoga and kickboxing classes and then just hangs out there in the gym to greet and chat with people. What an excellent way to have people return month after month. In Latin America they make everything personal, they, the Ticos more than anyone else, make the effort to get to know you the first or second time they meet you and then greet you by name everytime they see you.

The Ticos are the friendliest people I have ever known. Well, that would still exclude the three gym instructors in Buenos Aires concerned with my “wellbeing”, that took this friendliness thing way to far, hugging and kissing me every time they saw me and then acting all hurt and disappointed if I didn’t show up to their classes but someone elses. I’m not exactly a people’s pleaser but in Buenos Aires I sometimes ended up staying 2-3 hours participating in their classes, for me, to the point of fainting.  Here in beautiful Costa Rica, I just have Erick, which is just about perfect!

Actually, the same contrast can be drawn between men in Costa Rica and Buenos Aires in general. In Buenos Aires they were aggressive to the point of being rude – every single guy just had to comment on my appearance… even if they were taking their children for a walk. Men in Costa Rica are a lot more tactful, every third one will smile and just offer you a good day, initiate a conversation, ask if you frequent that place often (be it a street corner, a store, a bar, a dance class), offer you drinks, teach you spanish, teach you new dance moves, have a great sense of humor… they’re basically just wonderful people, not to be ignored like the Argentinian machos in Buenos Aires (or some American guys in DC clubs attempting to hump you on the dancefloor!).

There’s no stress in Costa Rica… life here is pure joy! Still, this might change as I keep on adding to my responsibilities at an alarming rate.

United World College – Costa Rica

Today I visited the UWC of Costa Rica with Professor Eliana Carvalho and the Peace Education class. We met with Yaya, a former UPeace student, a Benin national, now teaching English and Conflict studies at the UWC. We got an introduction on the UWC movements, met some teachers and professors, ate in the cafeteria and then accidentally stumbled into the Former President of Costa Rica and Founder of UPeace, now appearantly a member of the UWC board. It´s funny how I keep on finding intersections between those two. Both movements have Nelson Mandela on their honorary boards among other Nobel Prize winners, both take such prize in their peacey orientation. When I arrived at UPeace I got this immense nostalgic feeling stirring in my guts but when I arrived at this little UWC, the euphoria was such that the students thought I was on drugs. Some students happened to be practicising their creative skills (part of their CAS activity) playing a number of different drum sets at once. These students complained about their higher levels and were worried about university applications… but how young, intelligent and idealist… they were beautiful inside out. We´re creating a buddy program between them and the UPeace students. Again, I´ll put up some video clips when I find out how to….

The TLC Referendum – the International Observers

Our International Observers mission, organized by the UPEACE professor Tatiana Benevidas, counted some 27 people. Given my unique “non-official” status as I was just going along, I was allowed walking around the election areas asking political questions and given how I looked as official as anyone else in the group I was allowed to go everywhere they went, including the evening reception where the preliminary results of the Referendum were presented by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones to the ministers, media, some international parties and us. I found the different voting sites very interesting and will hopefully, if I ever get past the technical complexities, be posting my favorite video clips from this day.

In many ways the Costa Rican people seemed to regard the whole Referendum as a sort of national celebration of democracy and people were just hanging around in and around the voting places… like for the presidential elections, there was a children´s vote in primary and high schools on whether to adopt the TLC or not. While I´m not sure what was their result, I hear they did not elect the same president as the grown-ups but one of his competitors. Costa Rica really does have a beautiful democratic culture and like Iceland they don´t have an army. Still, democratic participation has suffered a lot in recent years according to Tatiana. Before, the abstinance rates used be around 20%, for the last elections and for the Referendum some 60% participated.

The bus of International Observers opened up for bets regarding the results of the Referendum after visiting the fourth polling station. I put my money on 51% for the SI… but the Quarter-Icelander Shawn got the prize with his 52% for the SI when the results came in. The TLC was accepted by the national majority of 51.6%. Quite interesting given how the Catholic Church vocally supported the NO side together with all the consciously leftist political parties and student groups… but maybe not surprising given how much better funded the SI side was taking over television prime time with emotional pro-SI celebrities and distributing half the amazon forest in the form of ‘SI’ pamplets and flags. Half the crowd wore SI and NO t-shirts… so it wasn´t exactly a ‘blind’ guess when I made my prediction about the results!

While my host-family wanted to make the decision easy by just asking me for whom to vote, things got complicated when I could by no means make up my mind – I would answer their questions by debating myself on the issue coming to a different decision every day leading to the elections. In the end I felt like the Referendum had less to do with the economic pros and cons of the treaty than picking sides on whether to align with the capialist US or the Latin American Axis of Evil & Socialism.

The day before the Referendum, the White House released a press statement saying that if the Costa Ricans rejected the treaty, there would be no second chance. “The politics of Fear” the leftists called it and I agree that the SI campaign went a little over the line… and that´s not the only reason why I was leaning towards the ‘NO’. Given my own political stance, it was amusing how the ‘SI t-shirts’ celebrated my arrival at every polling station clapping and shouting “God bless America”…

San José clubbing and Cahuita beaches

Last night I went with two other blondes to Escazú, the most Americanized part of San José. We had some drinks at a salsa club that was full of couples sitting at small tables… then there were the three singles, that´s us, sitting at the bar. We moved to the next club and there was no shortage of people to meet. While other foreigners were quick to approach us, the Ticos were more hesitant at first. But once when the Ticos started approaching us we had them in an overabundant supply and they are fantastic dancers, eager to teach the moves and throw you around. Because we liked the other ‘couples club’ a lot better, we brought a group of American and Costa Rican guys over there. When we returned I was the last one to be dropped of by the taxi, the driver trying to convince me to go somewhere else with him at 3 am. I was so happy and relieved when he dropped me off at my house that I gave him an extra large tip. My hostmother hadn´t explained exactly how to open the gate so I stood there for a good five minutes all confused until I saw the curtains move and heard some loud giggling… my hostmother comes out in her pyjamas, still giggling uncontrollably. She wakes up at four every morning!

San José is not really that beautiful of a city, Ciudad Colón where I live is a lot nicer. The students basically go to San José just for the clubs which are pretty nice given the large number of cute Costa Rican hotties attending them. Still, they don´t compare with the beach clubs. Last weekend I went to Cahuita Limón and that was fantastic! I have all those tourist guide´s invitations to go on free trips here and there. Then I met a girl that´s just about to open her own restaurant café who invited me to come stay in the bungalow in her garden. She happens to live in the biggest house in town with the most beautiful garden… a cat, four dogs, a 8 year old son and an american husband. She´s going to teach me surfing next time I go… we´ll see about that… I actually have some friends I could bring who want to learn as well. The only downside of my trip to Cahuita… was how I kicked the water input of the toilet out of place and how our big room filled with water in matter of minutes, my roommates woke up all disoriented (I had stayed longer at the bar with my new Costa Rican friends) and I had to call the manager and help him and his wife showel out the water at 2 a.m (at 4 o´clock according to the manager):S

EWWWW…. a spider in my bed! Reminds me… my hostmother says they (or should I say ‘we’) have a problem with tarantulas in the summers! I may not be afraid of angry street dogs but if I one day wake up with a huge tarantula climbing over my face – I´ll have a fit.