Saturday, November 28, 2009

Back from the Milk Farm....

27 noviembre 2009

Hello! It’s been forever since I’ve posted, I know…a full 4 weeks I think. But, rest assured that I made it back safe and sound from the milk farm, and it was an incredible experience. And wow…I don’t even know where to begin. I guess we can start with right now and work backwards. I got “home” to San Jose on Wednesday afternoon, and went immediately to an internet café to catch up on everything that had been going on in the past 22 days since I had had any kind of internet or communication with home, besides one night when my parents surprised me and called me from home. Then, Thursday, Thanksgiving day, I had class from about 8-12. And, although it sounds cruel, it was actually great to see everyone all together again and to share stories about all of our very different experiences. After class, in honor of thanksgiving, some friends and I went downtown and ate at KFC – fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits and sweet tea. Not quite the normal Thanksgiving feast, but still gave us a little comfort of home.

Currently, I am in the middle of packing up everything and preparing to say goodbye to my family on Sunday afternoon – which I am not at all looking forward to. They truly have become like a family to me here, and saying goodbye to them is not going to be easy. However, the goodbye Sunday will be made more bearable by the fact that after they drop me off, I will be on my way to the airport to fly to CUBA where I will be spending the last 8 days of the semester before heading back to the states. I am EXTREMELY excited about this trip, to say the very least. It’s been a long process getting this trip approved, and throughout most of the semester, it has been up in the air whether we would be able to make the trip this year or not. But in the end, I guess that just adds to the excitement that we all have now that we are finally going. We have special visas on the basis that our program LASP is a religious organization, and while in Cuba, we will be staying at a Baptist center and will be having various site visits, lectures, etc. Our professors have emphasized very clearly that this is not a vacation, but a part of our academic semester.

So…the part I’m sure you’re all more interested in hearing about is my 3 ½ weeks on the milk farm. I am now a true, bonafide cowgirl! My sister Anna’s first question was, “Did you actually milk cows?” Yes, I did. Lots of them. Among many other things. My family had 35 milk cows, 1 bull, about 20 calves, 4 horses, 1 HUGE mother pig, 8 baby pigs, about 25 chickens (plus 7 chicks that hatched while I was there), 4 dogs, and a pet crocodile that lived in our laguna, was named Coco, and came when they called it. My family consisted of my mom Marcela, dad Jorge, sisters Evelin (12), Maria (10), Julieth (8), and a 18 month old brother Mauricio. They were a very loving, very fun family. I will not lie and say it was always easy having 4 little siblings around the house (especially because 1- since I didn’t have classes, I was with my family from sunup to sundown, literally, and 2 – because I was like their new favorite toy). Nevertheless, they were sweet and adorable, and I truly grew to love my family.

At the lechería (barn where we milked the cows), my main two jobs were generally washing the cow utters before milking – they were generally caked in mud, because it rains constantly there – and putting a chemical called yodo on them after milking, to prevent infection. I also learned how to properly rope a cow’s hind legs (to prevent being kicked while milking), how to inject the cows, how to milk by hand and by machine, how to take care of the calves, and most importantly – I became highly proficient at shoveling large piles of cow manure. Who needs LA Fitness or the Sawyer Center when you could just carry pounds of cow manure and sweep out a cow barn instead? The only problem with this scenario was that whenever we were not at the barn we were in the kitchen, so any benefit gained from the work was immediately lost upon arrival at the house. However, I did learn how to cook a lot of traditional foods – gallo pinto, empanadas, tortillas, rice and beans, traditional soup, bread, arroz con pollo, and fried yucca (like potato chips, but with yucca plant instead). So that was also very fun. Other than work, cook, help around the house, and study, I watched a lot of Spanish TV with my family. And, in a spirit of honesty, I must admit, that I am officially a heathen, because not only have I net been to a church service in three weeks (mass only happens once every other week in my town and was canceled the one time we were supposed to have it while I was there…which my family didn’t seem terribly upset about), but in addition to that sin, I also became painfully addicted to my first soap opera. I don’t think I can recall watching more than 5 minutes of any soap opera previously, but my entire family, from my 8 year old sister to my 34 year old dad, cleared their schedules to watch Doña Barbara at 6pm every Monday –Friday. Such is the life of a small town I suppose.

I could write for days and never finish telling about my experience, but I’ll just save you the pain and tell my favorite memory here. You can ask me about all the rest when I get home (in less than 2 weeks). One day one of our calves died, and apparently you can’t eat them if they die on their own, so, logically, they decided to feed the dead calf to Coco, our pet crocodile. And of course, my sister Maria insisted that I come watch and take pictures. So, watch I did, as my dad drug the calf down to the laguna, and my grandpa sliced it open with a machete, reached in and grabbed large chunks, called the crocodile, and threw the chunks out to her. Then, my sister insisted that cow intestines are apparently exceptional fishing bait, SO, naturally, we took advantage of the situation and went fishing. I won’t lie and say that didn’t make me slightly queasy; however, I caught my first fish ever (which I also learned to scale, gut, and fry) , so I suppose it was worth it.

Anyway, my time on the milk farm was a blast in many ways. It definitely had its hard days, as it is not easy living for 22 days not only in a completely foreign context, but without any contact with friends or family, or even any English-speaking person for that matter. I had a lot of time to reflect, and learned a lot about myself, as well as learning about and experiencing a reality and way of life so completely different from my own. It was a blessing in many ways. I am still processing the experience in many ways, and in addition, I am sure I have left out some important details, but for now…that’s a brief summary of what has been going on in my life since I posted last. I would love to talk more about it in person, but for now, that’s the story of Erin on the milk farm! I hope all of you were able to enjoy a great Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends, and I will look forward to being in far closer communication with you all when I return to the States in two short weeks. Thank you as always for your prayers and support. God bless.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

off to the wild blue yonder...

1 noviembre 2009

Wow – I can’t believe we’re already in November! It’s kind of hard to keep up with the changing months, especially when the temperature here still ranges from about 60-80°F every day. I’m going to be in for a shock I’m sure when I return to the states in December and realize that there has been a drastic climate change since I left Dallas in August! Anyway, I hope you are all doing well, and also hope that losing an hour of sleep last night didn’t hurt you too badly. I’m appreciative of the time change, because now those of you in Texas and Oklahoma are on my time, since daylight savings doesn’t exist here! :)

Well, I wanted to get one more post in before I head out for 3 ½ weeks. Tomorrow morning I leave my house at about 8:00am to embark on my newest adventure. I’m honestly not sure which will be the greatest adventure – the transit (which looks roughly like the following: bus ride, taxi, loooong bus ride, taxi, bus ride, hopefully to be met on the side of the road by the woman who is supposed to take me the rest of the way to my final destination), or what awaits me when I finally get there. I will be spending this part of my semester living on a dairy farm in a very rural town called San Pedro de Cutris de San Carlos de Alajuela. For those of you who by chance don’t know exactly where that is (let’s be honest – I don’t really know either), it is in the northwest part of Costa Rica, probably an hour or two south of the Nicaragua border.

These 3 ½ weeks comprise the biggest part of my Latin American Studies concentration. We are all going to be living in different parts of the country outside of San José, in order to experience another reality or another way of life that is possibly a better picture of the Central American reality in general. In addition to my school work – assigned readings and papers – I will be helping my new family on their farm, or whatever else they have for me to do. We have been told, however, time and time again, that whatever “job” we will be doing is not the purpose of the trip, but rather is more of an excuse to live and experience life with these families.

Anyway, due to the fact that my new home is very rural, I will not have access to internet until I return to San Jose on November 25 (the day before Thanksgiving, which I am very sad to be missing out on). So, this will be my last post for a while. I would greatly appreciate your prayers in these next few weeks, as I don’t really know what awaits me. I trust it will be an great experience, and I know without a doubt that God has a lot to teach me, and can do that no matter how far out of contact with the “rest of the world” I may be. Pray that I will have an open and humble heart, and also pray that I will be able to keep my focus on this experience, rather than on December 10 (which is when I come home!). I would also appreciate prayers for good health. Today half of my family is sick with a stomach virus, and I would not like to add that into the mix of the adventure tomorrow! :)

I’ve posted a few pictures of some of the “everyday” places I go around San José, because I have been trying to capture all of these places since I only have a few days left in the city after I return. Also, one picture is of Sarah and me last night at her birthday dinner. HAPPY BIRTHDAY SARAH!

Thank you all, as always, for your prayers and support. I will post again when I return! Wish me luck! :)

PS. pictures from top to bottom: Rhea, Destry, Humberto, and me at the National Theatre, my mom buying vegetables at ¨la feria¨, me downtown at one of the many gorgeous parks, Sarah and me at Cafe Mundo, our new favorite restaurant.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fall Break

26 octubre 2009

Well, I am now officially halfway done with the semester! We finished up Core Seminar on Thursday with our group presentations, and then this weekend was our fall break. We had Friday and today (Monday) free, and then tomorrow, I start the “Latin American Studies Concentration” part of my semester.

As I mentioned in my last post, I traveled to La Fortuna, the town that is the home to the Arenal Volcano, this weekend. I went with 5 other girls from the program, and we had a blast! It was good to just relax and spend some time together before we all split up into our different concentrations for the next month.

Almost all trips here begin with a not-so-fun bus ride, and this one was no exception: four hours of curvy mountain roads with, of course, no AC. But, considering that it costs about $3 to travel this way, we endure! We arrived in time for a late lunch in a little typical “soda,” which was delicious. (In fact, we liked it so much we went back for dinner the next day!) It’s going to be a rude awakening to return to the States where a delicious meal (of seafood no less) for under $4 is not so easy to come by!

One of the biggest attractions of La Fortuna is the famous hot springs. Now, when I was envisioning “hot springs,” I had in mind like a little hole in the side of the volcano filled with hot water; however, I was mistaken. They are really man-made pools, but the water is heated by the volcano and some how transported to resorts and such to form a paradise of hot tubs – basically. It was incredible. And the best part is, if you are cheap college students like us, you can stay in a cheap hostel, and then just pay a little bit to go enjoy the hot springs at the expensive resort for an evening. What a deal! :) And we even got a buffet dinner complete with a chocolate fondue fountain. Needless to say, the evening was a success.

Saturday morning, three of us set off to go white water rafting down the Balsa River. Rafting is something I have wanted to do all my life, so I decided that…why not make that happen in Costa Rica? We had a blast. We were accompanied by three Tico guides, and a Russian-American family of three. It was definitely a fun mix (especially since, for all except my two friends and me, English was a second language). Rafting was every bit as fun as I had made it out to be in my head, and I think I may have a new obsession. :)

The rest of Saturday afternoon and evening were spent relaxing and having “girl time” – aka, playing games, eating cookies, drinking coffee, and reliving our junior high slumber party years. All in all, it was a great weekend, and I am so grateful for the sweet girls I got to spend it with. (In the picture, from left to right: Rachel, Alyssa, Kacie, Liz, and Sarah). I returned home yesterday, and am spending the day today just relaxing and spending time with my family on my second to last weekend here with them. This morning I did “crafts” with my little sister Sofia – you can see my handiwork in the “muñeca” (doll) she is holding in the picture. And I am about to make blueberry muffins for my family this afternoon (apparently those are hard to come by here).

Anyway, I hope this post finds you all doing well. Thanks as always for your support! God bless.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

slightly overdue...

21 octubre 2009

Well, I realize that a post is long overdue! It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, so I hope you’ll forgive me. :) This week finishes up the first half of our semester, which means, of course, lots of papers, presentations, and projects. We “graduated” from our Spanish classes at ICADS (the language school we have attended every afternoon) last Friday, which was fun. The first picture I posted is of my Spanish class (yes, that is what our school looks like – a tropical paradise; it can actually be distracting at times!). From left to right: Liz, Emily, me, Xinia (our professor these past 2 weeks), and Jon, the lone hombre. The second picture is of my “twin” Erin and I, very proudly holding our graduation certificates. We had a little ceremony followed by SNACKS!! (my favorite part of any event). I was thrown a little surprise when the director asked me about 30 minutes before if I would say a few (Spanish) words in front of everyone thanking the professors for working with us, etc. I think it went okay, except that I thanked them for all the good “arguments” we were able to have, rather than “discussions,” which is what I intended to say. False cognates – get me every time.

Aside from Spanish, we are also finishing up our Core Seminar component of the semester this week; thus, our big “position paper” was due this week, and tomorrow we have group presentations. My paper was about poverty reduction in Central America, and our group presentation is about the marginalized in Central America – both very broad but very pertinent and interesting topics. The best part of this week is that this weekend is fall break!! And then next Tuesday begins the “concentration” part of our semester, when we will be splitting into 3 different groups – Business, Language and Literature, and Latin American Studies.

Needless to say, it’s been a busy time of the semester, BUT all that is okay, because...I was lucky enough to get to see my BOYFRIEND this past weekend! Phil came down for about 4 and a half days to visit me over his fall break...which was, of course, a huge blessing. He had the joy of going to my classes with me on Thursday and Friday, but the weekend was a little more exciting. We, along with Destry, Sarah and Rhea (the rest of the SNU crew), got to visit the QERC campus (SNUs science research campus in the cloud forest about 2 hrs outside of San Jose), which was ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS! We got to hike around, see two waterfalls, cook pancakes...doesnt get much better than that. THEN (after a couple of painful, nauseating bus rides), we got to visit Manuel Antonio, which is a national park beach on the Pacific coast. Incredibly beautiful as well. Combine tropical jungle and gorgeous blue ocean and...voila! Manuel Antonio. Anyway, it was a great trip.

Well... that about catches you up on my life the past 2 or so weeks! I should have more pictures and stories to share after my trip to the volcano Arenal this weekend! I hope you all are doing well. Thanks as always for keeping up with my life here! I appreciate your continued prayers, especailly as I prepare for this next big part of my semester.
Pura Vida!

Sunday, October 4, 2009


4 octubre 2009

Hello! Good news – I survived my 2 weeks in Nicaragua, and I am now back safe and sound at “home” in San Jose. It was an amazing trip and an experience I wouldn’t change for anything; however, I was nonetheless thrilled to return to my family here in Costa Rica. I don’t even really know where to begin, and I can’t possibly include everything in a blog post (especially if you want to be able to read it in one setting), but I’ll do my best, and that’ll have to do until I get home and can share stories and pictures face to face.

Well, first of all…the trip from San Jose to Managua, Nicaragua (the capital city, where we spent the first 3 days) took over 12 hours, including stops and border crossings and flat tires and all. But we made it! And we spent from Monday night to Thursday morning in Managua, where we had different lectures and special speakers and “field trips” to different monuments. I could talk for hours about just those two days, but instead I’ll just share the 2 things that stuck with me the most. One is that we visited the site of a protest camp of people who worked in banana plantations (owned by US multinational corporations) and were affected by the use of a chemical called Nemagon, which has proved to have terrible side effects on both the workers and their offspring for up to 3 generations. The worst part is that the use of this chemical had been outlawed in the States because its effects were known, but it was nonetheless used by US companies in these Nicaraguan plantations. The people have been camped out (living in “houses” constructed of wood, tarps, and any other odd materials they have access to) in an area close to the national legislative offices for 3 years now! They are attempting to sue the multinationals and are seeking the help of their government, but they remain practically ignored. This was difficult to see, to say the least. We got to talk to the leaders of the protest group, and also with some of the people who have been physically affected. To see the conditions in which these people are living and to realize the hopelessness (in all reality) of their fight was heartbreaking.

Another part of the Managua experience that will stick with me for a long time (and slightly less depressing) was a talk we had with a political leader named Dora Maria Tellez. She was a leader in the Sandanista Revolution (at age 22) in the late 1970s, and now she is the leader of a minority party here. Some years ago, she was actually offered a position as a professor at Harvard University, but the US would not grant her a visa, because she is considered a “terrorist” threat (leftover from the Red Scare) because of her participation in the Revolution 30 years ago. Anyway, all that to say, it was fascinating to talk to her; we had an open floor to ask her any and every question we wanted, so it was a very good conversation. I could also talk more about that for hours, but now on to the most important part of my trip: the homestay!

Thursday morning I was sent off to live with a family for a week in “el campo” (the country – RURAL community) living with a Nicaraguan family. Now, at first I was nervous, because I am a busy body, and for this week, my only task was “to be.” Our sole purpose was to live with a family, to get to know them and their community, and to experience a way of life far different from our life in the States or even in Costa Rica. And that it was. It was unlike anything I’ve ever done in my life, but it was amazing and I loved it. I learned for the first time in my life what it truly means to ‘live simply.” I had absolutely none of the comforts I am used to at home – TV, computer, running water, bathroom, mattress, washer machine – you name it, we didn’t have it. But the strangest part is; you can actually live that way – and even be happy doing so! Weird huh? I also learned the meaning and the importance of just being rather than doing. I spent my days either playing games such as tic-tac-toe and hangman, reading my Bible or the 1 book I brought, journaling, talking with my “mom,” sitting and watching my family live their lives. It was a strange feeling at first, but I grew to appreciate it. Definitely 100% contrary to my North American busybody nature. I learned more doing nothing than I would have ever thought possible, and when I get back, I would LOVE to go deeper into all that, but for now…some highlights?

Some “firsts” for me were: bathing from a bucket outside in the open air behind a concrete wall, witnessing firsthand the death of my lunch (a chicken), sleeping under a mosquito net (and waking up one morning with lizard poop on the outside of it), washing my clothes by hand, drinking Coke 5 times in 1 day (that’s apparently the hospitality offering of choice there), going to church and seeing a live chicken seated on the platform the entire service, eating white rice for 19 meals straight, and…I’m sure there were others, but those were definitely the most memorable.

All in all, it was a very thought-provoking and humbling experience, and as crazy as it sounds, it was harder than I ever thought possible to say goodbye to my new family whom I had grown to love so much in just 6 short days.

After several tearful goodbyes, I met back up again with the rest of the students in Granada, where we spent the last 2 days relaxing before returning to Costa Rica. Granada is a beautiful city, and is located on the Lake of Nicaragua – biggest body of water in Central America, 2nd biggest in Latin America, and like..7th? in the world; also, one of the (if not the) only bodies of freshwater that is the home to sharks! Fun fact of the day. Anwyay, one of the activities we got to do there was take a boat tour of the islands in the lake (over 130 islands, formed by the eruption of a volcano located in the middle of the lake). One of the islands we stopped at was some sort of monkey haven, and a couple of them actually boarded our boats, walked (on 2 feet) up and down the isles, digging through bags in search of food. One found a fiber bar in a girl’s bag, opened the wrapper, and proceeded to eat it sitting on my shoulder – another first for me. Also, in case you were wondering – yes, monkeys do actually peel their bananas, because this one did that as well.

So….I’m going to call it quits there, because I’ve already written a novel, and I know your time is valuable, but…that’s a brief summary of my life the last 2 weeks! Now it’s back to the grindstone. I have about 5 papers/presentations due in the next 2 weeks, so…pray for me there! I hope you all are doing well and that life at home is great. I miss you all and, as always thank you for your prayer and support!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On to Nicaragua...

20 septiembre 2009
Well, it’s been another crazy busy but very good week. I managed to get both of my papers done, so those are off my chest now. And I had another good weekend. Friday was Rhea’s (for those of you who don’t know her, she’s one of my good friends from school) 21st birthday! So her family threw her a huge party and invited a few of us over. It was great! I mean, I can’t think of a better way to spend my 21st birthday than here in Costa Rica, with a 5 course meal (consisting of dinner, pineapple pie, ice cream cones, birthday cake, and a candy bar to go!), balloons, party hats, party MASKS, paper birthday horns, a bilingual “Happy Birthday” chorus, and even confetti! Haha. It was awesome.

Saturday, 5 other girls and I decided to go hiking in this area we had heard was really beautiful up in the mountains. After a few humorous mishaps, we made it to our destination and had an amazing time enjoying God’s awesome creation. And why do I live in the brown state of Texas, I ask myself?? Haha. It’s the people that I love – that’s my conclusion. :) Anyway, I got to enjoy Saturday evening relaxing at home with my family. I even learned how to make super easy homemade ice cream (no rock salt or churning necessary)! So I can’t wait to try that one out when I get home.

Today, Sunday, was maybe best of all. Sarah and Rhea (SNU friends) and I decided to visit the church on the Nazarene Seminary campus, which was SUCH a nice taste of home. It was so nice to worship with fellow Nazarenes, singing familiar songs in Spanish, etc. In Sunday school they were even studying the Nazarene manual! We met a woman named Shelly Webb, and she and her husband are missionaries from the States. She showed us around the campus of the seminary and told us about some of the stuff they have going on and plans they are making to add on in the near future. Although I had been on the campus before, it was fun to tour it again and see what new is going on since I was there 3 years ago. Anyway, all that to say it was so nice to be in a Nazarene church to worship this morning!

Well, that’s about all the news I have to tell. I leave tomorrow morning (6:30 am!) for Nicaragua, and I’ll be there until Friday October 2. So, I’ll be out of the touch for the next two weeks, but I will fill you all in on that trip as soon as I return. In Nicaragua, we will be spending the first few days all together in the capital city of Managua, visiting places, having lectures, etc. Then, for about 6-7 days we will be split into smaller groups (4-5) and sent to live with individual families associated with different churches throughout the country. We will spend that week just living with the people, working with them, doing whatever they do, observing and experiencing a new culture and a different way of life – different probably, even than life here in San José. Then we will all come together again for a few days in Grenada, another major city in Nicaragua, before we return to our homes here that Friday.

I am looking forward very much to this trip. I think it will definitely have its challenges, and may even be difficult at times, but I know that I have a lot to learn, and definitely feel like God will use this experience to teach me. Pray for me that I will be open and willing to listen and learn. Thanks again for your faithful support. God bless!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009