Vision screenings, entertaining children and appreciating my surroundings….

Our back yard.
These adorable girls…. (I’m careful to not include faces in the photos due to privacy issues)

Today was day 3 of the vision screenings.  We get more and more efficient with each day and I’m getting more and more comfortable with my Spanish, as I muddle through directions to the kids, who speak little to no English.  When they understand me, and follow my directions, I’m always a bit surprised, as if I finally found the key that fits in the lock.  No doubt that I sound like a 4 year old to them with my Spanish, but whatever I can get, I’ll take it.  The one thing I’ve learned over the years is that if I’m ever going to become proficient at another language, I’ve got to be willing to toss the pride out the window and go for it.  Children are far more honest in their responses to me that the adults are.

This is the first place I’ve volunteered where English is not taught in the schools, or at least not in this school.  It may be different in higher grades, but not in the lower ones.  Trying to understand the kids when they give me their name, then trying to find it on my roster, is the harder part of the screenings for me.  Today, every other boy seemed to be either Sebastian or Cristian and they all have 3 names, which they say so quickly that it sounds like one name.  When I finally think I’ve found their name, and will repeat it back to them in my own pronunciation, my words are often met with a giggle or a quick glance over to a friend. When I add “cerca?” (close?), I usually get a smile and a “si, cerca.”  So much communication happens without any words…. especially with children.

I had some concerns the past two days as the boys,  aren’t faring nearly as well on the screenings as the girls have, with about 1/3 of the boys failing.  I’m reallly curious about this and will likely get an answer in the next few days when we accompany those who failed the screenings to the eye doctor either Thursday or Friday.  I’ve got to wonder if they are confused with the testing or if they really do have vision problems.  Basically, the students are to match what they see on the computer with letters on a card, while seated the appropriate distance away from the computer screen. They put on glasses that have one dark lens that they can’t see out of and the other with no lenses, to test one eye at a time.  If they miss one or more out of the four letters, the next screen shows larger letters.  The computer then gives a “pass” or a “fail” and those who fail will be the ones that will see an eye doctor.

Today there was a lot of down time with the kids who seemed to be “at recess” most of the morning.  Lynette and Michelle got them going in copy cat type games with signing and mimicking superceeding all language barriers with a focus on the language we all know – laughter, which they do very well.  We later learned that the kids were on an “extended recess” because their teachers had left the school.  To do an errand?  To go grab a snack or a coffee?  No one seemed to know.  They seemed to think that since we were there, we would tend to the kids, who fortunately were very well behaved in their absence.  They did return a bit later.

There are only a handful of teachers at the school due to a teacher strike that is going on all over the country.  It started in September and there’s not end in sight.  The strike is over the high taxes the teachers pay when the businesses in the country pay no taxes at all.  Unfortunately, it will be the kids who will bear the brunt of the strike as they will all fall behind in their education this year.  It also means that there are many children whose teachers are on strike who are not coming to school and consequently won’t be able to be a part of the vision screenings.  In listening to the principal explain all of this to us this morning, I came to realize that whether Ghana, or the refugee camps in Greece or Costa Rica, or even the United States, we all share the common thread of concern for our children and their well-being and our frustration that more is not being done.  It’s universal, regardless of where you reside.

It’s pretty hot in our room at night and I’m struggling with sleep.  The roosters are a good alarm clock and I’ve been waking up before 6 and will go out and walk before the heat sets in but the restless nights make for low energy days, which also means I’m headed to bed early.

Yesterday we went to a pottery studio set in a beautiful outdoor setting in a nearby town. The process of using a manual wheel made from old motorcycle parts was fascinating and the end product, which we will pick up after it is fired in the kiln, wasn’t too bad.  Today, we’re going to spend some time on a dairy farm and will learn how to make cheese.  CCS continues to excel in sharing the culture of other countries through the activities that come after the volunteering.  Every day is truly an adventure.

Lynette entertaining the kids…

Oh, and if I didn’t mention it yet, we’ve figured out the shower, which is a thin trickle of cold water.  It gets the job done, but I can’t imagine washing my hair in the drips of cold water, so it doesn’t look like I will.  Hygiene standards are slipping.

My cave.

Pura Vida!

Santa Cruz, Costa Rica

First impressions….

I miss the mosquito netting… go figure.  The billowy fabric that I tangled myself up in nightly in Ghana, I’m missing.  So much so that I woke up in the middle of the night and thought someone had taken it.  It took me a few minutes to realize that I’m in Costa Rica, not Ghana.  It is hot but not near the heat I experienced in Ghana and I do have the mesmerizing whir of the fan in my face at night like I had in Ghana, so it does feel somewhat “familiar.”   I’ll learn to live without the netting, but will have to find a new way to make my bunk my “camp.”  Our room is huge and is only occupied by Lynette and me with another volunteer coming from Canada to do the vision screenings with us tomorrow.  I’ve stacked and restacked and organized my small pile of belongings until my nest felt like home.  This is a very important part of my entry into a new culture and something that I enjoy very much, even though I’m only dealing with a couple of stacks of clothes and a bag of toiletries.

The house is big and our room is huge with 5 bunkbeds and as of tomorrow, will only have 3 of us sleeping in them.  The bathroom is almost as big with a large walk in shower that we couldn’t figure out how to get water out of last night, and were shown this morning how it works.  I’m guessing it’s the Costa Rican touch as neither of us could get it to work tonite.  We will probably need to get this sorted out before too many showerless days get underway.  We were forewarned, however, that there is no hot water in the house so showers are cold, as is the water where we hand wash the dishes after every meal.  Some things you just can’t think too much about.  Our house is a 10 minute drive from the small town of Santa Cruz and is tucked away in a rural setting with a mountain backdrop and cows and horses for neighbors.  It really is quite beautiful here.

The coffee is amazing, which was a wonderful surprise for me as it usually has been a disappointment (instant) and more than once while on a volunteer trip, I’ve made the switch to tea because of that.  I like it so much that I’m skipping the milk and am drinking it black…something I’ve not done in a very long time.

I’m going to be very happy with the food… simple, basic, good.  El gallo pinto, the national dish of beans and rice, has been present at every meal so far (4) as a side, and is the main course at breakfast.  I may feel differently after 2 weeks, but right now, I’m happy.

Lush and very green is the best description I can come up with regarding the topography.   I’m loving the gentle rains, which I’m told is good as I’ll likely see it every day I’m here.  It’s light and intermittent and really very pleasant.  My hair doesn’t care for it, but oh well.

We had a 2 hour Spanish lesson this afternoon and it had been a while for me, but I was pleased at how much I remembered and remembered how happy it makes me to conduct conversations in Spanish.  I hope I’ll fare as well with the kids, who I’m told will speak little to no English.

Very, very friendly.  Our in country manager, Franklin, said that is in part because we are in the country and the people here are more “humble” than in the big cities.

And most importantly, we can brush our teeth with the water directly from the bathroom faucet!  But no flushing toilet paper, which isn’t surprising.

Costa Ricans seem to have a sense of humor…as witnessed in the signage around the house.

Tomorrow we begin our vision screening in a nearby school.   I always feel a bit anxious on the first day, hoping I’ll remember how to do the screenings (the computer program specifically) as it looks like Lynette and I will be giving the tutorials on how it’s done to the other volunteers.  That first day is always an exciting one.  I’ve yet to be disappointed.

Pura Vida!!