Literally Leah

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Snuffy and a Cockroach January 27, 2010

Filed under: costa rica,Travel — The Under-Analyst @ 10:56 am
Tags: , , ,

I was a dirty little kid.  We lived on a farm until I was 8.

We had two dogs; Cassie (looked like Lassie) and Snuffy (an old mutt who came with the farm when we moved in).  Both Cassie and Snuffy served as a furry buffet of delight for the swarm of wood ticks living in our meager acreage.  It was up to us kids to relieve our four-pawed siblings of their blood sucking tenants.  We had a jar, the wood tick jar (I now shudder). One by one we placed the plucked creepers into their clear jail cell.  I was taught to pull as close to the dog’s skin as possible, to ensure I would get the whole tick and not just rip off the body leaving the head still embedded in their skin. Sometimes this task was very difficult because the tick had been feasting for so long it had become ridiculously fat and tan colored (I never understood why they changed colors as they got bigger?  I assume it was the blood?) so I had to be careful not to make the little guy explode during extraction. Once the jar was relatively full we burned them.  Wood ticks, when thrown into a fire, make a little popping sound similar to those small fire crackers that you throw on the ground.  Sometimes we would simply dump the whole jar into the fire pit at once and other times we would throw them in one by one or in small groups.  The bigger ones were always louder and my brother made sure he got first dibs on the fatties.  Often during naps or at night I’d have vivid nightmares of my bed full of crawling wood ticks. Upon waking, and after a significant amount of crying, I’d realize my bed only had the typical dirt or cookie crumbs that naturally cling to a young filthy child.

I bring this up because two nights ago as I pulled my blanket and sheet back two, not one, but two little creepy bugs scuttled about on my sleeping quarters.  I immediately stripped the bed and shook out my sheets.  But where did they come from?  Did my mattress become a host for some exotic jungle flea population!?  I couldn’t find any of their friends but regardless I was severely disturbed after turning off the lights and snuggling in.  Last night as I opened my armoire (yes I have a wooden armoire in my tin-roofed room) a cockroach the size of a baby’s foot calmly made his way through my clothes and into the back left corner. I didn’t know what to do.  The last time I spotted a cockroach in my room I used a piece of paper to shoo it out through my bedroom door, after it went through the hinge crack I slammed the door shut, re-opened it and discovered his sad lifeless body had been crushed from the door impact (apparently the little guy hadn’t quite made it through in time).  I honestly felt a little bad.  After reading Charlotte’s Web so many times as a kid I’ve always tried to spare the lives of little bugs, spiders and insects (except for mosquitos). So I stared at the corner of the closet and I could see his long pointy antlers moving around.  I was too tired to move him and just hoped he wouldn’t defecate on my apparel.

Sleep did not come easily as the rain pounded loudly on the shanty shelter.  As I was just about to fall asleep I felt something move under my blanket to the left of my feet.  I ignored it and began to drift off until it moved again, this time I could feel the blanket’s weight shift.  I jumped up and screamed that high pitched ‘I’m dying’ horror movie melody.  I immediately ran for the light switch and cowered near the door staring at the foot of my bed.  Nothing stirred.  I carefully nudged the blanket a few times and then bravely lifted it up.  Nothing!  Where the hell did the little effer go!?  And more importantly what was it!!!!!?  I looked under the bed, empty.  I glanced over at the bathroom, nothing except those ugly black worms that crawl everywhere in my room.  I stood there, panting for several minutes before deciding whatever it was had found a decent hiding spot.  I turned off the light (a little worried that my death screams hadn’t awoken my host family… what if I was really dying?) and crawled as close as I could up to the head of my bed, laying in the fetal position. I awoke only hours later to my host family going about their morning rituals (every day at 4am…. Although usually I sleep right through it).  I got up to go pee and saw two more of those little nasty bed bugs from the night before scuttling about my tile floor.  I grabbed a shoe and with an, “Eff you Charlotte,” I smashed both of their little brains in.

The days of Cassie, Snuffy and midnight cookie crumbs are looking pretty good right now.  At least there aren’t any wood ticks here.


A Tica Life January 19, 2010

Filed under: costa rica — The Under-Analyst @ 2:39 pm
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I am writing this as I sit barefoot enjoying the bliss of wireless internet and overlooking the Sarapiqui river with her small raging song. How can my office possibly be this beautiful second story porch where Tucans appear in trees and monkeys have been known to play?

the outside office


My English classes do not begin until February 8th and so I must instead scramble to organize my Becados Scholarship 2010 program.  I was hoping to spend my birthday (a saturday) at the beach for a weekend trip to the Pacific coast… but instead I will be here from 9-3 meeting with all of my scholarship students and their parents, signing contracts, writing letters to their sponsors and participating in a service project for the center.  Not exactly the perfect birthday, but definitely memorable!  My goal is to double the size of our sponsorship this year and I am already brainstorming ideas on how to most effectively contact various organizations and institutions with the details of our program (if anyone thinks they might know someone/church/business that might be interested in providing an education to a deserving student let me know!)

I went rafting!  

Yes, my weak long arms manipulated the angry rapids of our intoxicating Sarapiqui river (with the help of an oar, a guide and five other rowers).  It would seem cliche for me to simply say I cannot begin to describe the surrounding rainforest scene and so I will instead post a few photos and compare my new home to that of the animated film Ferngully (so much greenery).  As a new bird enthusiast I chanced upon several Snowy Egrets, Turkey Vultures, Kingfishers and my favorite, the Montezuma Oropendola.  While the rapids aren’t extreme here the river was slightly more aggressive after the torrential rains that I so divinely avoided (apparently it rained a week straight before my arrival).  I brought the sun from Minnesota?!

I promptly gave up on appearances after realizing that life here is akin to permanent camping.  My feet are always dirty, living in flip flops.  My hair is a frizzy mess of sticky curls because of the humidity and is always back in a disheveled ponytail/bun.  All of my clothes smell like musty dirt even after being just washed.  

my shower head made up of plastic piping and a little string


Basically all I need for my day is a deodorant stick and my Burt’s Bees chapstick.  I haven’t abandoned shaving although the freezing showers make this difficult. I did paint my toenails the other morning and the toe nails of little Jessica who then insisted on painting my fingernails all by herself.  Needless to say my nails look amazing!  I had a good laugh when the other night, at Kaity’s birthday barbecue, John (a rafting guide) commented on how it may be difficult for me to maintain my manicure here (it was dark outside).  So I showed him more closely in the light and replied that it wouldn’t be a problem since I have a five year old nail technician living in my house. 

This place is undoubtedly changing me.  I am comfortable inside my tin shanty now and wonder why we really need all of those big rooms back home anyways.  That carpenter guy from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition could go crazy here with the amount of people needing a new roof etc… And yet they are all so incredibly happy and nice!  Women wave, baby on hip, as I walk my little route home on the death highway.  This death highway is the main road connecting Chilamate (our town) to the surrounding towns.  It is 2 lanes and hosts a wide variety of cars, trucks, semis, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians.  There is a small section near the local school in which a sidewalk is available but other than that we are all supposed to share this paved thoroughfare.

mi casa


the part of the house with no walls, just a fence


up in a tree


the inside of my house! I LOVE the pink!!!


the kitchen at the center. We take turns making lunch for everyone during the week but Hilda makes lunch for us on Mondays and it is always amazing! We also suck down a lot of amazing Costa Rican coffee throughout the dia.


Little Juan Paulo during our day camp activity making signs for the Chilamate Jungle Reserve


La Pura Vida!! More stories and photos to come!


First 24 hours in Costa Rica January 15, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Under-Analyst @ 4:50 pm

I landed in San Jose at 2:30.  The sun was shining and the temperature was around 80 degrees F.  My luggage came out of the baggage carousel right away, which was something unexpected and welcomed!  I breezed through customs with zero questions.  I hailed a taxi and asked him to take me to the Caribean Terminal.  Oscar (pronounced Oh-Skerrrr)  was a friendly driver who enjoyed practicing his English with me.  He took the side streets of San Jose and that is when I started to wonder if I had made a mistake in coming here.  The city was cramped and dirty with shacks of all shapes and sizes littering the sides of the roads.  Even more disheartening were the metal bars surrounding the shack windows and doors.   These shanties were colorful however, bright yellows, blues, pinks and greens.  He dropped me off at the bus terminal and I moved slowly towards the ticket booth. 

I was starving.  I hadn’t eaten anything since my egg mcmuffin at 5am.  I bought my ticket to Puerto Viejo de Sarpiqui and purchase some chips at the little tienda nearby.  A nice man helped me put my suitcase under the bus and I secretly wondered if after I got on the bus he might have gone back and taken it (as if I had valuables, hah!).  The bus was a smaller and older version of a greyhound.  I managed to get a seat next to the window (which was open).  An old man sat down beside me and proceeded to sleep the entire trip.  I watched as we headed out of San Jose.  I saw the following:  chickens walking precariously close to the highway , unaccompanied, a truck pulled over by the cops with caution tape around the whole vehicle and a group of young men on the hill with handcuffs on (there were dogs in crates in the bed of the truck and I wondered if they were dog fighters), beautiful waterfalls cascading down steep cliffs as we drove up the winding mountain, people of all ages and sizes walking to who knows where…. I saw many things.  I was astonished by all of the greenery.  I became nervous when the bus started making stops roughly an hour into our trip. I was told that it would take 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to my destination, but I was afraid I might miss it.  The bus driver wasn’t announcing the various stops so I leaned over to the sleeping man, poked him in his side, and asked “Puerto Viejo?”  He mumbled something in Spanish that I couldn’t understand and then made the hand signal for ‘up that way.’  As people exited the bus he moved to another seat and I was able to stretch out my legs a little.  It was very dark by the time we finally made it to Puerto Viejo.  A young man helped me with my luggage and I was relieved to see that it was still there. I then looked around and Kaity (the coordinator) came swooping in with a hug and cheek kiss, welcoming me to la Pura Vida.  I was introduced to Don Gerardo, the director, and put into the car. 

They were taking me to my host family’s house where I would stay for the rest of the evening.  We didn’t have to drive too far and we pulled into a grassy yard.  My house!  How can I possibly describe my house?  It is small, but larger than a shack, I suppose.  The inside consists of a living room/kitchen, 3 small bedrooms, a bathroom and a laundry/dining area.  Basically it is all in the same area.  AND  part of the house doesn’t have walls, well it’s a wall but it’s actually a fence made of metal.  The roof is made of tin.  But my shack is nicer than some because my family has a television!  And a stereo! And an oven!  My family was very welcoming, they had killed a chicken from their backyard in my honor!  There are four of them, well five total but their eldest son Tony (12) is gone studying in San Jose.  Mom is 27, I desperately tried to do the math on how old she was when she started having children but gave up and returned to that thought later (15, wow!).  Dad is 34 and so smiley and happy.  Jose is 8 and Jessica is 5.  I immediately fell in love with all of them, but mainly with Jessica who followed me around the whole time talking in Spanish that was mumbly and hard to understand.  My room is big, well big for their standards and has a twin bed (with a Pokeman blanket) and a dresser.  I get my very own toilet and shower in there!  But I was told that this room was only temporary and that at the end of the month I am being moved into the smaller room in the front, ohwell.  We ate rice, beans, peppers and chicken for dinner.  It was lovely.  I gave the family some candy I brought with as a gift and the kids were beyond thrilled.  By 8:30 I was exhausted and excused myself to my bedroom to unpack and go to sleep.  My house is conveniently located one house away from the bar Los Portones.  And so I drifted off to sleep to blaring bad Karaoke.  I woke up in the dark to the television on as loud as I imagined possible.  What the hell?  Maybe Papa couldn’t sleep?  I looked at my watch and sighed as it read 5am.  Oh yeah, I forgot, they get up at that time.  I managed to fall back asleep (I didn’t have to be at the center until 9:30) and woke up at 8.  I had a moment of panic as I opened my eyes and they focused on a tin roof!  Then I remembered where I was.  The family was all gone except little Jose who was told to stay and make sure I found breakfast alright.  Breakfast was sitting on the stove and consisted of rice, tortillas with cheese and fried bananas… yum!  I am convinced already (by their portions and choice of food) that I will surely gain weight while here. 

The center is a five minute walk from my casa.  It is amazing!  It is overlooking the beautiful Sarapiqui river and is full of green wildlife and trails.  I met my fellow volunteers and they are all amazingly nice.  I helped make lunch in our outdoor kitchen.  We made an American meal of Tuna Melts, Salad and Potato salad.  It was delicious.  I then was shown my first big Iguana that was hanging lazily from a tree.  Heidi (the other ESL teacher) and I sifted through various materials in the office and discussed what classes we wanted to teach (I chose beginners).  I sat in on a crafting meeting with some local women and Ann (a volunteer from Canada, leading crafts).  I met Daniela, a local girl (15) who I immediately adored and she taught me various Tico words that were necessary to know… Que Dicha-Cool, Mop/Mae-Dude, Que Tierna-how cute etc…   I saw a Rufus Hummingbird and some other kind of bird that was friendly looking.  Birding is huge out here and I am determined to become a birder, traversing the great topography of Costa Rica with binoculars in hand.  It is Friday and Kaity is taking me to the Chilamate Jungle (a bar), where I will get acquainted with the Tican beer and some of her local friends.  I have gone from wondering if I made a mistake in coming here to thinking I could live here forever in the course of 24 hours.  La Pura Vida!

Photos to come