Thursday, August 19, 2010

~All great things must end~

Thursday August 19th
Quote of the day—“Beauty is bread; it is food for the soul.”
Journal by Susan

Today is the last day of our work at CASEM. My hope is that we leave something behind (beside old t-shirts). I hope that we´ve made some kind of difference. Certainly, we´ve made some progress on the furniture for the diner, although someone else will need to complete the tables. While we came here to impact the lives of the people of Santa Elena/Monteverde, we realize that we will go away from this volunteer vacation more impacted than the people of CASEM. I want to spend this last day on the job absorbing every memory of the people and the place—the exuberance of Jose Pablo, the playfulness of Leidy, and the dignity of Nery.

We began our day at CASEM with a local rum cake contributed by Valinda. The only positive of the last day is that I will no longer be encouraged (demanded) to eat at least five meals a day!

The morning was spent alongside the local women, including Miriam who walked two hours to get to CASEM from a neighboring town, Maritza, and Edith. We worked feverishly to complete the sanding of the table tops. Although Valinda was ably attempting to use the power sander, our efforts were stymied once again at lunch by a persistent rain shower. Go figure! We spent a short time in the rain attempting to plant flowers, but to no avail. The last resort was an attempt to teach Edith, one of the non-English speakers, the proper technique for shooting a basketball. A picture, or in this case, a demonstration, is worth a thousand words! Even though we had no basketball, she seemed to get a kick out of practicing her form.

All great things must end. After taking turns purchasing our baskets of souvenirs, we participated in the traditional exchange of gifts and appreciation speeches. All were eloquent and heartfelt. It was extremely tough to say “adios amigos,” especially to the children.

The group of five headed out for the celebratory dinner at Johnny´s Pizzeria where we also celebrated Valinda´s birthday (on August 21st). Great food and reflections on the experience.

You never leave someone behind, you take a part of them with you and leave a part of yourself behind.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Finishing things up...

Pciture: Artisan Gallery @ CASEM

Wednesday August 18th
Journal by Andy

Today was our second to last day at CASEM. The weather was pleasant up until the usual rainy afternoon and we got plenty of work done outside. Faustino was showing my mother how to attach the seats to the chairs and I was mostly using the power sander to smooth out the tabletops. Even with a mask, it has to be done in fairly short increments so that I don´t completely coat my lungs with sawdust.

Lunch was cannoli things whose name I believe was close to cannoli (cannelloni) and they were quite good. The food has been excellent since we`ve been here but I will probably need a break from rice and beans when I get back to the States. I picked out regalos for the rest of the people I needed gifts for and we cut the day short because the ladies were hitting the ziplines.

Tomorrow is the last day at the CoOp, and while I am ready to return, it will be incredibly sad to have to leave CASEM and all the amazing people I’ve met while I’ve been here. I genuinely hope to return one day and eat at the finished diner on one of Faustino’s fine chairs, and off of a table top that offers me the taste of the local cuisine, rather than sawdust.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Amigos Nuevos/ New Friends!

Tuesday August 17th
Journal by Pat

We enjoyed our usual casual breakfast. The conversation picks up gradually as we have our coffee. Interesting topics always emerge. One of the topics this morning was the effect of immigration on Costa Rica – mostly the downsides of being such a popular country.

So, as per usual, we left a bit late for CASEM – pura vida! The morning started out with clear blue skies so we were able to work outside on the table legs, and eventually, the table top. Initially, I worked next to Damaris. She was a perfect match for me. She knew enough English to help me learn some Spanish with occasional help from my Costa Rican Spanish book. Dennia could also speak English. Damaris learned English in school, Dennia, while working as a babysitter for an English speaking family.

The girls from the Coffee Coop and 2 American exchange students from Japan (Yoko and Yuri) were also volunteering at CASEM. I think they just walked in and volunteered to help. Yoko and Yuri went with Andy, Susan, Nia, and I to the Chocolate store. Once again, the rains came – surprise, surprise – and we were stranded at the Chocolate store where we had a delightful time drinking tea, eating chocolate, and visiting. Nia took advantage of the opportunity to plan a pretend trip to Japan, finding out where to shop cheaply and what to see. We finally decided to slosh back to CASEM in the rain to put in an hour of work before taking off on other excursions.

After work Susan and I walked to the Children’s Reserve where we were drenched once again. Alone we entered the dense forest with strange sounds – a little eerie. We were searching for monkeys and toucans – maybe next time. We did see Guans (big turkey-like birds) and coati (mammals with long snouts and long tails that travel in trees and on the ground).

Valinda went to the orchid farm. Andy chilled. At dinner we tried to tease him about his after dinner outing with the Coffee Coop volunteers to some unknown (to anyone) bar, but we couldn’t get a rise out of him. The rest of us spent the evening resting up for tomorrow.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Returning to CASEM...

Monday August 16th
Journal by Valinda

After an eventful weekend and Sunday night, we settled back into our Global Volunteers routine. Three lovely women – Olga, Ivonne, and Mariaelcida – joined us. At first, we waited for Tarcisio, who is Sury and Ipsi´s father, to join us because he was going to show us how to use the power sander on the tabletops that had been cut from tree trunks. Unfortunately, he didn´t appear, so Pat, Susan, and I spent the morning labeling display shelves in English and Spanish. Andy and Susan also hung another set of pictures on the stairwell wall. Andy was bereft without los niños, who apparently stayed home to prepare for the return to school on Tuesday.

During the morning coffee break, we practiced Spanish with our new friends. Lunch was a savory chicken stew and a delicious rice drink called horchatas. After lunch, we had an interesting conversation with Patricia Jimenez, about U.S. politics and the Tea Party movement. During lunch, Pat and Susan´s new friends from Wisconsin (Annette and Cindy) arrived to see CASEM. I learned how to wash dishes in cold water.

The afternoon was filled with new activities. Some of the niños, including José Pablo, showed up, so Andy played a couple of futbol matches with them and Susan. Neidy joined in for a little while. The niños were pretty talented. Andy thought he would have had a much harder time if he wasn´t three times the size of the boys. Susan was a tough competitor, but she puzzled us by yelling jump ball at odd moments.

Back at work, Monica showed us how to use the electric sander and Andy and I had fun working with it on the table tops. ¡Power tools for todos!

After work, we were able to return to Los Cipreses to upgraded rooms with balconies – or what Nia called Beverly Hills. Dinner was a traditional Costa Rican soup with a spiced molasses-based drink (agua dulce), served hot. We had a spirited conversation about movies and dreams, with Andy trying to explain how we could have lucid dreams. Very Twilight-Zone-ish. We ended the evening with wine, cheese, and silly police t.v. shows. A good time was had by all. ¡Pura vida!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Weekend fun!

Weekend August14th-15th
Journal by Susan and Valinda

Off on a vacation weekend to Arenal. We made the “Jeep-boat-jeep” trip to Arenal, the site of the most active volcano in Costa Rica. What an experience! We traveled the extremely bumpy, pot-hole road in a mini-van with fabulous views of coffee farms and lush mountainous farmland.

The second leg of the journey was across Lake Arenal, the largest man-made lake in Costa Rica. It was created from a dam built after the disastrous eruption of the volcano in 1968. Pat and I were then transported to our hotel, La Pradera del Arenal, which had lush gardens and an inviting pool and Jacuzzi. After taking a power nap, we ventured out for a hike to Arenal with a personal guide named Yeode (Jody). While trekking through the lava fields with gorgeous views of the volcano and surrounding countryside, we encountered parrots, howler monkeys, and a bird called a yellow-tailed something-or-other! We heard several eruptions with one visual lava slide. Our guide had us wait until after dark to view a bright eruption after dark which never came, but we knew he was just buying time for our transportation to our next destination.

Andy and Valinda stayed on the other side of La Fortuna. Both the reception desk and the dining room were outside under a deep porch roof, and hardly anyone there spoke English. The owners put fruit out for the parrots, and Valinda saw a blue parakeet and a large yellow bird while she waited for Andy to get ready for lunch. They went into La Fortuna and ate at a neighborhood soda called Soda del Rio. Andy and Valinda also hiked around the volcano and saw some new wildlife, including a pair of toucans. They ended up at a different viewpoint, but saw much of what we saw – smoke from the volcano, lightning, a rainbow, and a brilliant sunset, all within about 30 minutes.

What a weekend!

Friday, August 13, 2010

My how quickly time passes!

Friday , August 13th
Journal by Pat

Quote of the Day: `We are not all called to be great. But we are all called to reach out our hands to our brothers and sisters, and to care for the earth in the time we are given.`

We started the day with Nia´s birthday watermelon slice and our 2nd rendition of "Happy Birthday." After our sad send off for Michelle, Art, and Daryl, our meager team of 4 headed for CASEM with our fearless leader, Nia.

I was actually rather proud of how we navigated the day. Maybe it was just my perception, but I engaged in more conversation with the associates and CASEM volunteers. I didn´t have Nia and Michelle to run to. Faustino started our 1st Spanish lesson by telling us about the guava jelly (jalea de guayaba) his 90 year old mother makes which he brought to share with us on crackers (soda).

Our attempts to complete the chairs was cut short by rain. We finally moved the chairs inside to dry over the weekend. We went to plan 2: Susan, Valinda, and I continued the task of straightening the shelves; Andy continued creating animals for the mural. I was slower completing tasks because I spent more time enjoying conversations with team members and associates, especially Patricia Jemenez who speaks very good English. She was very verbal about the plight of women in Costa Rica.

Andy, Valinda, Susan, Fio, and I walked to the cheese facory after lunch for ice cream. Valinda bought a tub of ice cream to share back at CASEM. Susan and I walked on to the Friend`s Meeting House and school. On the way back we followed a heard of cows.

Leidy taught Susan, Andy, Valinda, and myself to make balls of yarn. Leidy is quite a comedian. We laughed a lot as we fumbled with these little balls of yarn. Like most of the day, many mini Spanish lessons were injected into this simple activity. We were `loco catos.´

The evening went fine, though not as planned. Dinner was in town. We climbed the hills back home twice so we should sleep well.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

~Feeling at home at CASEM~

Thursday, August 12th
Journal by Susan

Today was my day to contribute the thought of the day. I have been very impressed by the tranquility of the Costa Rican people and the patience of the women of CASEM, so I chose the Serenity Prayer. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Our days in the Global Volunteers CASEM project are chapters punctuated by meal-times—breakfast, 2nd breakfast, lunch, siesta, dinner, and sometimes after-dinner. Today, after our 2nd breakfast, we continued on our project of working on the chairs for the diner—cleaning the sanded chairs, applying the 1st coat of lacquer, 2nd sanding, cleaning the sanded chairs, then applying the 2nd coat of lacquer. Pat and I agreed that neither of us have the patience to do this kind of project at home, but somehow it did not seem tedious today, especially working outside on our first sunny day! I enjoyed working along with Ipsi and Sury, two school girls who attend the Friends School and speak perfect English. Before the day was done, we had completed what we could thanks to lawyer Valinda´s checklist of completed tasks!

The day at CASEM ended with a touching ceremony honoring the three team members who are leaving after the first week. After viewing our first striking Costa Rica sunset, the group brought closure to a fulfilling week (and celebrated Nia`s birthday) with a scrumptious dinner at a Latin fusion café. Dinner was followed by a concert of Flamenco music and dance performed by Cardamomo, a very talented local band, at the Music Garden.

How have we managed to pack so much into one day, much less one week! Those of us who are staying another week will genuinely miss what our three departing compadres have brought to the team—who will be left to scrape the bark off the wood, to translate when our Spanglish doesn´t work, and to get Pat out of the bathroom?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Andy, Resident Artist!

Picture: Andy and Juan Pablo with their masterpieces!

Wednesday, August 11th
Journal by Andy

Today I went straight to work on my armadillo drawing and I soon came to the realization that I would be spending much of the trip doing artwork. I spent the first two days at CASEM helping Art and Daryl with plumbing as well as doing a bit of chair sanding. Once the women of the COOP found out I had attended art school, however, I was quickly put to work creating drawings for a large mural, as well as smaller cartoons to be used on shirts. With the help of Fio, Catalina, and Jose Pablo, I came up with several comical representations of native Costa Rican animals.

This is not at all what I expected from this trip and it brings me great joy to not only be able to reconnect with my visual arts that I have ignored for almost two years now, but to also learn from the other artists in the community, both young and old, and share skills and ideas.

CASEM is a wonderful organization and it is held together by some of the kindest, most talented individuals I have ever encountered. I am incredibly lucky to be able to work here for two weeks, and even though I must soon attend to my life back in America, there is a large part of me that wishes I could stay here for much, much longer.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Plumbing projects, yes I can!

Picture: Faustino, the furniture extraordinaire

Tuesday August 10th
Journal by Art

I woke up in the morning with a headache, either thinking about the plumbing in the back bathroom at CASEM or just a lack of water. It should be gone after eating breakfast.

When we get to CASEM, as we make our way to the back room, we are introduced to Faustino, the artisan who made the chairs we are sanding. As we work outside, sanding the chairs, we talk with the other artisans or CASEM staff. We learn from each other, teaching Spanish and English and how to sand and scrape using local tools. Before break, I am working with Edith and Irma.

After break, I get the hose to fix the back bathroom. It doesn´t look the same as the old one but I tried it out anyway. SUCCESS – it worked! The headache is gone.

I continued working on the chairs with my little group, trying to understand Spanish. If I could not understand it, I asked Daryl for help.

Lunch was a great time for all of us to get together and “break bread.” We had salad, rice with chicken, black beans, and fruit punch. The food was great and it really hit the spot. After lunch, part of the group went to the cheese factory. As for me, taking a nap was better – a much needed rest after a big meal.

Back at work, Valinda and I were talking about the tools CASEM had to use. We shave bark off the chairs with old dull knives. We sharpen them with sand paper but some can´t be sharpened very well. We talked about stopping at the hardware store in the morning and buying a hand planer, if they had one. (Later, Nia explained that it would be preferable to continue to use the tools that the CASEM associates were used to working with.)

As we ended the work day (number 2), it made we happy that we had finished the work we had been asked to do.)

That evening, dinner was quick with a sandwich and fries so that we could go to the night walk in the rain forest. It was great! You just had to watch your surroundings. But the best part was as we are driving out. That’s when the van in front stopped; we saw the riders jump out and point into the trees. They had spotted a large sloth. We watched it for several minutes. A perfect ending for a great day. Pura vida!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Start to the week!

Monday August 9th
Journal by Daryl

Yesterday, I started the morning with a much needed cup of coffee. I expected a hectic work schedule and was surprised how laid-back and easy the day was. That was when I remembered that this was still a vacation. Visiting the artisan would have been a great experience for anyone who went. The landscape would inspire any artist and the home of the artist was a curiosity to someone who lives in a suburban neighborhood; with the workshop. The plumbing job I had next I would describe as distinctly Costa Rican, using materials normally not used for irrigation and digging up treasures such as machetes and Andy`s favorite animal, the tarantula. Most of us ended the day with a stroll through downtown then went back to our room to check for insects.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Costa Rica--PURA VIDA!

We have come from all regions of the United States—from the East Coast to the West Coast, from the North to the South, all to be greeted by the ever hospitable ``PURA VIDA`` mentality of Costa Rica and its friendly Ticos and Ticas. We are anything from students, to coaches and lawyers, technicians, entrepreneurs and retirees and yet all seem to slightly resemble eager kindergarteners; everyone anxious to learn about our assignments, meet our new friends and quickly find where all the nearest bathrooms are!

Our first days here have been, in my opinion, very enjoyable. We seem to have all found our way to Las Orquideas one way or another on Saturday. That evening we enjoyed a casual and relaxing meal together before retiring early to the sounds of our new rainforest wildlife choir including our noisy neighbor Fred and a few motos zipping down the street.

Sunday we woke and feasted on a delicious breakfast complete with fresh fruit, tamales and everyone’s newfound favorite: Salsa Lizano. After breakfast, Nia gave us an informative orientation session to brush-up on our team policies; review the Philosophy of Service and of course to refresh our Spanish skills.

After lunch, we set off for the ``X`` on the map—the treasured town of Santa Elena in the Monteverde Cloud Forest…and boy did we ever see clouds…and rain…and more clouds and more rain! Our skilled driver Rolvin safely navigated us through the twisty-turning paved roads, over the extremely bumpy gravel roads and up and down the cloud-laden mountainsides. Once our feet were all firmly planted again on stable ground, we all agreed that he did a great job!

Upon our arrival, some of us hopped back in the van for a shorter ride to a nearby music festival where we enjoyed a glass of wine and an acappella group from where else but the good old USA…ha! Talk about ironic. Either way it was delightful! We then ate quick games of cards and it was off to bed to catch some Zzzs as the next day would be our much anticipated first day at CASEM. Off to wage peace and promote justice! Go team 201!