School days my alarm goes off at 6:00 am, I can hear Kniccoa getting in the shower. I roll over until 6:15 or so, then drag myself out of bed and do push ups and crunches in an effort to counteract the amount that I eat here in Costa Rica. I turn the shower on as low as possible while still having enough pressure to power the water heater in the shower head – this is a delicate balance because too low and the heater doesn’t turn on, but any more than necessary will just dilute the hot water with more cold. Such is Costa Rica. I get dressed, often in a skirt with leggings, some sort of tee shirt or tank top, and put a sweatshirt, sweater, or fleece in my bag, I will need it for class. Ticas don’t wear flip flops so I try to mix it up with flats and some sandals I got here in el Mercado Central but they’re still my go-to. I also wear scarves in my hair most days, and/or some sort of jewelry but no big dangly earrings because ladrones might rip them out of your ears. When you’re a gringo, they assume everything you’re wearing is valuable because gringos have more money than Ticos. My host mom told me on the first day in Costa Rica that every day I should wear a strapless top, a sweater, and bring an umbrella because here you never know what the weather will do. It has proven to be true. Almost every morning is sunny, which is misconceiving because it still might cloud up and even rain that afternoon, or in half an hour. I’ve had days when I brought my raincoat to school in the morning but then took it out of my bag after lunch because it had cleared up, only to have to walk home in the rain. When Catalina (our mamá tica) calls up the stairs, “Chiquitas!” it is time to go down for breakfast, usually about 7:20. Heidi (pronounced like the country Haiti) brings out a big bowl of gallo pinto, the typical Tico breakfast of rice and beans (there is also a little olive oil and onion in there, among other things), and a piece of toast on a separate plate for each of us. There is butter on the table and a white cheese for the gallo pinto which is very mild in taste. Sometimes we have eggs, sometimes not. I get a banana; Kniccoa doesn’t like them. To drink we have what is essentially a smoothie of orange, pineapple, and papaya. The ratio of these varies, if there is more piña there is lots of pulp on the top, more orange hace más liquido, papaya is more viscous. This morning was piña heavy; I had to chew my beverage. Every once in a while (twice ever) we’ve gotten pancakes which are delicioso, and if the electricity is out or things are rushed we get Cheerio’s with UHT milk (in a box, like Parmalat... it’s how all the milk here comes). This hasn’t happened lately, which is nice – I really love Gallo Pinto, especially cuando tenemos huevos. When finished we say “Con permiso” if Catalina is eating with us, and go upstairs to brush our teeth, make our beds, and grab our stuff. Last week Catalina installed new doorknobs on our bedroom doors with locks, so now we lock the door except on Thursday, laundry day. I trust Heidi but Catalina says some little things have gone missing from the house so it is better to be safe and not have to worry about it. We were given little lock boxes upon arrival in Costa Rica, so my iPod, digital camera, cell phone, passport, and money all stays in there.
At 7:50 Kniccoa and I walk to school. If we’re lucky, the front door is open so we only have to open 3 more locks to get out to the street (two on the middle gate and one on the outer). I have developed a system to remember which color key goes to which lock – it was very confusing the first week. We get to school with about 3 minutes to spare so everyone mills around and chats in the hallway until we see our teachers arrive for class. Spanish class goes from 8:00 to 12:00, with a break from 10:00 to 10:30. I don’t know what I would do without the break. When we walk in class my teacher, Tatiana, writes the plan for the day on the board and gives us an overview. Everyone pulls the desks into a semi-circle: April, Reese, Anne, Kirk, Zoe, Melissa. We go over homework, learn a new grammar point (these last two weeks every day has one or two new uses of the Subjuctive), and then break into small groups to make up examples using the new grammar. Reese and April lie on the floor outside the classroom door, the rest of us sit at the stone tables downstairs in a little courtyard area and goof around coming up with the most amusing examples we can think of. Luckily most of the exercises are fairly well suited for this: describe your “principe azul” (dream guy) or make conjectures about the world’s smallest man, He Pingping (Kirk doubts that Pingping plays ping pong, Anne doesn’t think he can ride roller coasters). I’m always hungry at the break, sometimes I remember to ask for an apple before leaving home, sometimes I get a vanilla latte out of the Nescafé machine for 350 colones – when it’s less than a dollar, it’s so hard to resist! I’m slightly addicted to these machines. Also Snickers. I check email quickly and/or hang out in the Plazoleta trying to warm up in the sun. The second half of class goes by faster, especially because 10:30 usually turns into 10:40 by the time everyone motivates.
At noon I walk home for lunch. If it’s Monday, I go alone because Kniccoa has class and eats at school. If I’m lucky, the Catalina’s aren’t home and I get to chat with Heidi, who it turns out is 19, sings and plays the drums at her church, and has 2 sisters and 2 brothers. I would love to go to her church to see but it’s an hour away and I’m not sure how I’m going to make that work. It’s nice to talk to her because it’s good Spanish practice and she’s eager to learn English. If Catalina comes home she shoos me out of the kitchen to get back to work. Lunch is rice, beans, some sort of meat and some sort of vegetable. Often the meat is a stir-fried beef with onions. My favorite days we have platanos maduros, sweet ripe plantains that are stir-fried in butter. ¡Que rico! There is always fresh juice to drink – melon, pineapple, orange, or lemonade. “Double-starching” is not uncommon, for example we might have pasta with mashed potatos or rice and beans, or maybe all three. I always find this amusing. There is also this really good thing which is green beans wrapped with eggs, like a tiny omlette. If my host sister Catalina is home we watch Friends during lunch, which is funny but less social. If Catalina my mother is eating with us we chat with her in Spanish. It’s my favorite time. On Wednesdays we have a meeting at the ISA office, where we hear about our upcoming weekend excursion, cultural events, or optional weekend trips. If it’s someone’s birthday, they bring out a cake, and if you have mail this is where you pick it up. (Hint, please send me some mail!) After the meeting everyone goes out to lunch at one of the sodas (little restaurants) near school. Choices are: the Chinese place which is more expensive, Las Lenitas for Mexican, Soda Montague which is similar, or Soda D’Mary, where you get a Casado: a plate full of meat, rice, beans, some veggies, perhaps some platanos. Lunch runs about $2-$4, $6 at the most if you got a Fanta.
After lunch are the elective classes, all of which are in English for me. Monday and Wednesday I have my independent study in Tropical Design and Architecture from 1:00 to 3:00. My professor Max is this brilliant socialite who schmoozes with everyone in the Plazoleta (courtyard) for the first 15 minutes and then we find a room to work. My first project was a casa de las montañas, my second es una casa de la playa. The mountain house was a lot of fun, it includes a master bedroom, 2 kids rooms, a kitchen, living area, huge porches, guest room, bathrooms with outdoor showers, a studio for the artist mother, an office for the father, and a butterfly garden. ¿Por qué no? The beach house is a vacation home for a couple who likes sailing, surfing, and yoga, and is based on nautical design. A central mast holds the house up over the water like a dock, you enter from the beach at the point of the triangle floor-plan. The first floor is an open kitchen/living space with hammocks on the porch and an enclosed bathroom. The mezzanine is the bedroom, reached by a spiral staircase. The roof looks like sails. I’ve been working on putting the design onto the computer, and today started a little model out of balsa wood.
Last Monday Kniccoa and I ventured over to Bagelmen’s after class got out at 3:00 and this might turn into a tradition.. it’s amazing what a bagel with cream cheese can do to lift your day! Wednesday is Skype day, so I bring my laptop to school (terrifying, because theft is so prevalent here in Costa Rica) and call home and upload weekend pictures. That’s also when I usually try to update my blog. I have to leave before it gets dark because that’s the most dangerous time.
Tuesdays and Thursdays are my busy days. I have Intro Drawing from 2:00-4:00, History and Theory of Tropical Latin American Dance 5:00-7:00, and then we have free dance classes from 7:00-8:30. My drawing professor Jim is from New York but has been living in Costa Rica for the past 30 years. He has all sorts of interesting tidbits and stories that pass the time, and we also do a fair amount of gossiping because the class is all girls. He brings in music and we have worked on two-point perspective, the shading of bottles, faces (really hard!), baskets, flowers, and birds. Drawing is a very therapeutic class. Rosi teaches both the dance classes and she is CRAZY funny. The history one is for credit; we have to do 20-minute presentations (often boring), but sometimes we watch dancing movies and occasionally dance. The times we actually dance are far superior to the other classes, but I always learn something as Rosi is full of information about dance, which she weaves in with notes on the culture and history of Costa Rica. The night dance classes are a total blast. We work mostly on Merengue and Salsa, and have done a little Cha Cha (which here they call Bolero Son) and Suin Creollo, which is tied to Lindy Hop swing way back but now looks mostly like jumping and kicking. The Creole Swing is only danced in Costa Rica. These classes draw a smaller crowd than they did the first few times, but it’s good because the 15 or so regulars are getting really good so we get to learn more and more new moves. I just hope I can remember them when I get home! Since the class gets out after dark, there is a shuttle that takes everyone home after class.
Catalina serves us dinner but does not eat with us, as she only eats breakfast and lunch. Most nights it is rice, beans, some sort of meat (the ham thing is gross, the rest is usually good), some sort of veggie (broccoli, corn, peas, or chick peas), and either Tang or iced tea from a mix. Dinner is the meal most likely to contain variety. Often Catalina will include a new Costa Rican food for us to try, such as Yucca or a vegetable. She will tell us what the new item is, and I’ll try about 4 bites and Kniccoa will try one. I usually like the new items enough to eat, Kniccoa less so but she always tries. One night Catalina taught me how to make Tortillas Españas which are a much more labor-intensive version of an omlette with potato (papas). I don’t think I could reproduce the egg-whipping method if my life depended on it. We discussed them over dinner and Kniccoa commented that they would be good with cheese, and now we have Tortillas Kniccoas – with cheese. It’s a very good improvement, they were a little bland before. A veces tenemos quesedillas de pollo completa con sopa de Taco Bell, y otros veces tacos. I always find it amusing when we have these home-made quesedillas and then Catalina breaks out the little packets of sauce – I wonder if you can buy those or if you just go to Taco Bell and steal handfuls out of the bin. Every once in a while we get cheeseburgers and fries. The katsup here comes in a bag, it’s a little sweeter than at home. Twice we have gotten Mac and Cheese, AMAZING. Pretty much everything Catalina cooks is delicious, which might explain why I eat so much here.