Missing our Karma…

29 05 2011

Karma-Sita. We miss you.

Dharma

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Gandhi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she
would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.

-Billy Collins

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Staff appreciation: Ambassadors really know how to let loose!

22 05 2011

Before we ever signed official contracts or sold just about everything we own to move to Costa Rica, we sat in a hotel room with 6 strangers and had an awkward, but eye opening “orientation” session to prepare us for what the teacher community of Country Day would be like.  As the images of classrooms, smiling children, band leaders, and staff housing flashed across the projector, I remember wondering if the pictures did any of these things justice.  Then, I saw a picture of the staff appreciation party from the previous year.  A man was dressed up as Paul Stanley from Kiss in full makeup, and another woman was in hot pink spandex and poofy hair.  They had their backs together and played air guitar with full gusto.  Paul had his mouth open as if he was singing at the top of his lungs… Needless to say, the picture stood out among typical classroom and apartment shots.  The person presenting mentioned, in passing, that this was a photo of the staff appreciation party, and that usually everyone went all out for it.  He explained, “This particular party was a ‘Rock Star’ theme.” and with that he casually said, “Next Slide.” He continued his presentation, but that image was burned into my brain, and most certainly stood out as something I could look forward to.

10 Months later… we were preparing for said staff party.  Miguel and I both struggled with how to dress for a Caribbean themed party at the U.S. Ambassador’s house.  They don’t teach you these things in school.  Would it be totally blasé to show up in a bathing suit?  What about these flip-flops?  Would the Ambassador approve?  After making conservative clothing choices (given our range of options), we headed to a friends house before the party and made double sure everyone else was dressed similarly to us.

The Pre-Party Party

We had a couple of drinks made by the pirate hostess (our outfits would obviously not be faux paux).  We all piled into Tedd’s car and headed for the Ambassador’s house.

The entrance gates have always been a pretty significant landmark in Escazu.  Mainly because it is heavily fortified, and you can never see through to what separates the U.S. Ambassador’s house from the normal world.  So, after presenting our identification and signing in, we were left to marvel at the wonders that lay beyond.

Tedd and the security guard. We were on "the list"

The ambassador's house.

We entered the Ambassador’s house and were promptly greeted by a receiving line.  The line consisted of The Ambassador and her husband (yes we assumed the ambassador was a man as well… lesson learned), the director of the school and his wife (Greg and Melissa),  and about four other people whom I was too nervous to remember their names.  The receiving line went by in a blur of awkwardness.  I couldn’t help but think as I grasped everyone’s politely offered hand in my own sweaty paw, “Thank God for Greg and Melissa!”  If not for their familiar faces, I would have been entirely overwhelmed by the whole procession.

After fumbling our way through the entry way, we entered the back yard of the house.  Immediately, we were greeted by all of the wonderful women from the Parent’s Association, the master planners of the party.  We were offered door prizes, and ushered to the tables and dance floor area.

Lasagna and salad... so delicious.

Dancing like an idiot, my favorite pass time

We were served a wonderful dinner and partook in an obscene amount of dancing.  Later on, we were surprised with Caribbean dancers and an exciting drum line.   The dancers wore amazing feather headdresses and colorfully revealing underwear.  Overall, it was an amazing night, and I left the party feeling an amazing amount of appreciation and camaraderie from our community.  We are lucky to be part of a great school community.  I just hope they won’t be showing my picture to the next group of incoming teachers.

-V

She wasn't too thrilled with her job.

I think I'm snapping and dancing here... smooth





The Great Bug Massacre

15 05 2011

It was a typical Monday evening, a slight drizzle pattering on the roof, car horns echoing in the distance, when Vanessa and I arrived back at the house after a long day of work and working out. Little did we know that we were about to be thrust into…THE GREAT BUG MASSACRE OF 2011!

The Enemy

The battle ground was to be the living room, the enemy was laying in wait looking for the right time to lay siege.  Vanessa unwittingly continued to prepare dinner and I naively shuffled through music.  As the clock struck 7:26, the unassuming doomsday hour, the bugs battle plan began to unfold.

It started simple.  Vanessa casually asked me to come kill a large flying ant that was crawling up the side of the refrigerator.  I had just shifted in to that perfect spot of comfort on the couch and so, with great effort, I begrudgingly sauntered into the kitchen to assess the ant situation.  I was a bit surprised by the size of the ant, it was about the size of a fingernail.  Without much thought I extended my index finger and squished it with the pad of my finger.  This ant, now a martyr, set off a chain of events I will not soon forget.

I started back toward my haven on the couch. But, as I exited the kitchen, Vanessa, almost prophetically said, “You know, I have seen a lot of those guys around lately.”  It was then that she looked down toward her feet and noticed that more of the ants were around.  With slight concern she warbled “Miguel! Look at them…there are more…”  So, I turned back toward my wife and with my bare feet started to kick at the ants  scurrying across the tile.  As my eyes focused and the black dots became more clear contrasted against the spotted off-white tile, I thought: “Wow, there are quite a few of them” and then my eyes followed the the line of them through the kitchen door into the living room.  I began to follow it, Vanessa trailing just behind me.  It was there, as we gazed down at the floor that we realized…holy shit…they are coming for us!  In that moment I know how Lionitas, the Spartan, felt as he and his 300 men heroically gazed at the far larger armies that were attempting to take their home.

Surprisingly, Vanessa was the first to act.  She shouted commands as she steadied herself to attack.  “Miguel! Quick, under the sink there is some Raid.”  With that she turned her head, pulled her hair back, and with fury burning in her eyes, a battle yell emanating from deep with in her soul, she charged forward and started to STOMP!

With great haste I threw open the cabinet door under the sink and found my weapon: a can of “Mata Todo!!- Fumigacion Profunda”.  The green can felt solid in my hand.  I braced my nerves as I quickly rounded the corner and entered the fray.

Trusty weapon

In a second, I assessed the situation.  Vanessa, although the first to act was quickly being over taken.  The bugs seemed to be moving in from the back door and had pushed her to my left toward the front .  This was to be a crucial decision but knowing almost no war strategy I just followed my instinct and circled around the bugs, sealing what I thought was the entrance point with the spray.  I fought from behind, moving toward Vanessa.  Seeing me take action gave Vanessa a burst of strength and soon enough, 100 bugs lay dead or injured at our feet.  The war was over…or so we thought.

As any good humanitarian would do, I grabbed the broom and began to sweep up the corpses of the fallen and returned them to their outside home.  I returned to my sanctuary and Vanessa, though shaken, started the path back toward nourishment.

a pile of the dead after the first battle

Yet, there was still an uneasiness in the air.  The second attack was to be far worse.  They attacked quietly.  The silent army of flying ants caught me in a moment of husbandly weakness.  I had abandoned my lookout post on the couch to assist in the kitchen.  They moved in quick and with greater numbers.  By the time we discovered the covert operation, we were facing an army of what seemed like 100,000.  Already shaken from the first battle, tears began to stream down Vanessa’s cheeks.  She drew her knee upward, leveled her foot, stole a fleating glance at me and began STOMPING into the living room.  She was a machine.  No stomp was wasted, each thundering footfall eliminated 5-6 bugs.

Shoeless at the time, I sprinted upstairs and grabbed sandals.  From below the haunting cries of V pushed me to act faster.  Upon returning I knew we had made a mistake in the first battle; we had not actually taken out their point of entry…but where was it?!  I scanned the movement of bugs, looking for a pattern to their attack and then it hit me.  Their plan was brilliant.  They had set it up days, even months in advance.  They had set up base in the end table next to the couch.  With heavy feet, I fought my way toward it and gingerly opened the drawer.  What emerged was overwhelming. A sea off black bodies and spindly legs scuttled out.  My vision blurred, my feet throbbed, my knees ached and my hand smelled like pesticide…a moan of determination crossed my lips.  I knew what I had to do.  I glanced toward my partner, her face scrunched in determination and I knew, I had to do this for her.  Simultaneously, I continued the ground battle while stomping, I used the green weapon in my right hand to spray cover.  I waited one second and then I grabbed the enemy stronghold with both hands, bugs threatening to overtake my body, and I ran out the back door.  I emptied the rest of the can into their fortress and then returned to help my comrade.

Knowing that we had eliminated the point of production, the war ended quickly.  Vanessa continued her straight forward attack and I flanked from the right.  It was messy, it was a massacre, but we had done it.  We had won! And not a moment too soon, because dinner was ready.

M-

Sandal of death

we won!- enemy stronghold





What are your plans for the summer?

8 05 2011

Miguel and I have begun madly preparing for our summer trip through Central America with Pam and Brian.  Planning for a trip like this is turning out to be both torturous and enjoyable at the same time.  Torturous as in, we have a ton to prepare for and look up; enjoyable as in, soon we will be done preparing for this trip and we will actually be there!  We are both really looking forward to seeing our friends and having an adventure.  And, perhaps, taking some normal photos together…

Hamburglar and Grimmace

Pam, always hilarious! I miss her!

Almost as equally exciting as traveling through Central America this summer is our trip back home.  It has been almost 10 months since we have stepped on US soil, eaten Chipotle Burritos, and partaken in some good ole micro brewed beer.  We are headed back around the beginning of July and will spend a few weeks in Colorado enjoying our summer days in the mountains with friends and family.  Until then, we will make the most of the month we have left in Costa Rica and attempt to keep our minds in the now; although, I am already dreaming of the mountains and my family.

-V

Crested Butte Mountains are poetic and beautiful. The stuff dreams are made of.





Three days and two nights with 55 twelve-year olds: Where do I sign up?

1 05 2011

Rincon de la Vieja: waterfalls, 6th graders, and FUN!

I love field trips.  Usually, when other teachers hear the words field trip most recoil in fear and have an instant headache. There’s something about the thought of taking a large number of pubescent pre-teens to a public place to “have fun” that causes nausea in most. Granted, field trips are hard and beyond exhausting, but to me they are one of the most rewarding and fun parts of my job. It is because of my love of field trips that my hand was one of the first and few that shot up when the staff was asked, “Who is willing to go on the class trip with the 6th graders?”. Three days at the northern most provence of Costa Rica with 55 twelve year olds, YES PLEASE!

The trip consisted of a five hour bus ride to Guanacaste, the “desert” of Costa Rica.We stayed right next to the national park, Rincon de la Vieja. Adventures Under the Sun (the program coordinators) had a very packed itinerary planned for us. We had three days and two nights to work with, and they made the absolute most of it. While there we hiked (a lot), saw boiling mud pots from a volcano, zip lined, lounged in hot springs, milked cows, and swam around a huge waterfall. Now that I write all of those things down, I realize how cool the trip sounds, but it doesn’t even come close to how awesome it turned out to be.

My small group of students,

The canopy tour: Tarzan Swing!

A student milking a cow. So so cool!

Baby Cow!

Mud Pots

Bridge crossings on one of the hikes

I have very little to measure this trip against. In Colorado, I coached and I took a few field trips with students to local places, but they just don’t compare to being outdoors with students overnight for several days. I learned so much about the people that they are, and they in turn learned so much about me. I could go on and on about the details of the trip and the fun I had, but it’s just too much and I wouldn’t be able to do them justice. I loved all of the planned and the unplanned time we had together.

The highlight of the trip was most definitely “the long hike”. A few weeks ago we were told there were two choices for hiking while on the trip. We could individually choose between a hike that is 2 kilometers long to a waterfall and swim or we could choose a 13 kilometer hike to another waterfall and swim. There wasn’t really a middle ground. I had heard that the long hike was to one of the coolest waterfalls in Costa Rica, and thus, my decision was made. We told the kids to only sign up for the long hike if they were sure they could make it. Out of 55 kids about 45 originally signed up. As the weeks progressed, names dropped off pretty quickly and we ended up only taking 30 on the long hike. 30 was a good number it turns out, because the hike was challenging, and the space was limited at the waterfall.

The long hike group ready to go!

The hike there was great. We went through rain forest and saw monkeys, bugs, and colorful birds. We also saw Costa Rica’s desert side which is not a very common sight to see. The kids told me jokes, we talked about life, and laughed at each other. When we got to the waterfall, I was impressed. I haven’t really been in a setting like that before. The path opened up to a huge waterfall with a giant pool below.

The amazing waterfall at the end of the long hike

Once we settled in, we were able to take our sweaty hiking clothes off and jump into the huge pool at the base of the waterfall. Shoes and bathing suits were required (of course).

Changing on the rock face

We swam around for awhile and some of the kids climbed behind the waterfall to check it out. After playing in the water, we had some snacks, reapplied our sunscreen and headed back to the bus. The hike back was much different. While on the way to the waterfall I had a large group of kids around me chatting and hanging out, on the way back, I had a core group of a few kids who whined a little, but were mainly quite and tired. I pushed them and reminded them that whining was not going to help… the coach coming out in me, I guess. When we made it back it was an amazing feeling. I knew that, for those kids, it was probably the longest and hardest hike they had ever done, and it was a huge accomplishment. I was so happy to be apart of that and it was such a good feeling to see the pride they had. You could see on their faces that this was a memory they would value for years and years.

After the long hike

I can see why some teachers stay away from field trips. It’s even taken me awhile to recover. Although I got back Friday, I still have a headache from being so busy, and yesterday, Miguel and I spent almost the day in our pajamas. But, if asked to do it again, I would say yes a thousand times over. This field trip was one of the most fun things I have done as a teacher and I feel so much more connected to my students because of it. I’m already dreading saying goodbye to these kiddos at the end of the year. I have grown so close to them and it will be quite hard for next years group to compare. I’m super excited about moving up to 8th grade, although, I worry that my standards have been set pretty high. However, I hear the 8th grade trip involves white water rafting, surfing, beach soccer, and feeding crocodiles…Ha! Can’t wait!

V-








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