Barbacoas Church in our community center

Friday, November 11, 2011

We are back and very sorry that it has taken us this long to post. We really don’t have a great excuse as to why we have not posted. One week turned into two and then before we knew it a whole year had gone by!!! Once again our apologies, so we are back now, and ready to update you on all our adventures!!! The last time we wrote Tony and I were on the verge of embarking on a new adventure; we were changing sites for Tortuguero to Barbacoas de Puriscal. We went from one beautiful place to another and feel very blessed to have the luck to live in two very different parts of Costa Rica but both equally gorgeous! So let’s get y’all acquainted with Barbacoas de Puriscal!!! We are located in the Central Valley about 1 hour away from the Costa Rican capital San Jose. Our area is very mountainous and has a ton of hills and beautiful views. Barbacoas the community we live in is on one of the higher hills, so we can see our entire big town center Puriscal. Being higher up also means we have cold weather!!! Which we absolutely love!!! Blankets, sweaters and socks oh my!!! Our community has a school, high school; EBAIS (clinic), CEN (Children’s Education and Nutrition Center) and we are about 15 minutes by bus to our big town center Puriscal. In Puriscal we can find all the things a major town center provides. And if it is not there the country capital is just an hour away and with the amazing bus service we have we can practically leave and come back anytime of the day or night :)
We started off living with a host family and were there with them for the month of October and some of November. Unfortunately the situation was not the most comfortable and instead of staying thru December we had to find a home in November. Since we did not stay the whole 3 months with the host family this caused them to be very upset with us and they demanded we pay them for the month of the December because they said we owed them. Thankfully my program manager was there for this big show down and she had our backs the whole way through. It was yet another stressful situation and made us once again question our service.
Thankfully we were able to find a home to rent!! We have been here for a year now and we love our home! It is perfect just for us. Our neighbors are kind to us, and my counterpart Maritza who lives one house away has made it her mission to care for us. The first week of living here she brought us groceries. She lets us borrow her washing machine, which is a God send because washing clothes by hand is not joke folks, she constantly sends us food she has prepared or invites us over to eat. Thanks to her and her family we have a television, couches, a desk, dinning table with chairs and even an extra bed for our guest room. Yes we have a guest room, and y’all are invited whenever you want!! So on the getting to know people front we have done well for ourselves. A year later we are developing stronger friendships and meeting new people. At times it is a bit frustrating that our fellow volunteers have had more time in their site and therefore more developed projects, but regardless we feel good about our service and where we are at this point. We hope to finish our service strong.
So speaking of projects here is what we are doing:
Tony is teaching English at a neighboring community school to 5th and 6th graders, I am working with 4th, 5th and 6th grade girls at our community school doing a project called Chicas Poderosas, which is about girl’s empowerment. Both Tony and I go to the local children’s shelter and do various activities with the kids. As the school year is winding down here in Costa Rica so are our projects. The school year ends in December and picks up again in February.
Other highlights this year for us were: taking a trip to Nicaragua with fellow Volunteers. We went to San Juan del Sur, Granada and Isla Ometepe. It was an amazing experience, we had a great time! Tony and I went to Honduras. Considering it was Tony’s first time in Honduras and meeting the rest of my family he did quite well. But then again who could not like Tony ;) I had not been to Honduras in about 10 years so going back was great! We had an awesome time and got very spoiled by my family!! We also went back home to California in February and took the opportunity to visit Tony’s parents in Mexico. It was my first time visiting that part of Mexico and we had an amazing time and we were once again spoiled by Tony’s family. We also had lots of Tequila and a ton of tacos :) And most recently Tony did some bungee jumping off a very high bridge here in Costa Rica, I waited for him at home and was very thankful when he returned all in one piece :) I also won a photo contest here in Costa Rica that was for all Peace Corps Volunteers here in country for the Peace Corps 50th anniversary!!! Over 200 photos were submitted and my picture was one of the top 25!!
It is so hard to remember the things we did this past year, but all in all we have had our ups and downs but we are still here! And we will be till the very end of service, Si Dios Quiere (God Willing--- A very common dicho( saying) here in Costa Rica). Speaking of the end of service it is approaching very quickly May 20, 2012 to be exact!!! Yikes time has flown by!!! Tony turns 31 next week on the 15th and I turned 31 back in August, which deserves another yikes!!! We also celebrated our 2nd year of marriage this past June. And last but not least we have a new address, and would love to hear from you any way shape or form!!!

New Address:
Tony Casillas or Patty Casillas or The Casillas-----As you wish :)
Apartado 159, 6000
San Jose, Puriscal, Santiago
10401-6000 Costa Rica

Anyway we promise to keep up the blogging this time around. Here are some pics

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

“I can see clearly now the rain is gone......."

When we wrote our last entry we could say that we were in a less than happy state. We are fortunate enough to say as Sam Cook’s song plays out, “there is that rainbow we’ve been praying for”. First of all, we are traveling to our new site this Friday, the 24th. But that isn’t the call for the entire rainbow. As I said before we are here to go wherever the Peace Corps deems necessary. With that said the last few weeks have been pretty stressful with not knowing exactly where we are going, starting anew and most of the stress has to do with breaking the news to a community that we are leaving and still live here for 3+ weeks. We thought we would leave here on a bad note because we are leaving to a new community, but the last few days here have been quite the opposite. Like with any tight knit large family the integration of an outsider is quite a process, and when you do finally begin to integrate as that outsider you are super happy :) This how we feel today, super happy. Literally so happy we skipped home. Let me be clear we have no complaints whatsoever about the treatment we received from our host family; they have been friendly, helpful and good to us. But we always felt, well on the outside of things. Like I mentioned above totally natural during integration process. So in lieu of our recent announcement of our departure we have been invited to a birthday party for our host mom, lunch and breakfast at host moms and breakfast at our host sisters. Yay!!! We feel that we have taken one very important step in the right direction .And feeling this new sense of comfort with them brings much joy to our heart, especially since we did not want to leave the island on bad or uncomfortable terms with our family or want them to think the move had anything to do with them. Being away from home makes us realize how much we really are family people; we love to hang out with our family and talk for endless hours, go to movies with them and basically are with them any chance we get. So it comes as no surprise that when we came here we just wanted that, but we forgot that this is a process. And now that we have taken one step closer towards this we feel super happy. We now have a new set of friends in Costa Rica, and this rocks! We are glad to end our time here in Tortuguero having accomplished one very important job task befriending host country nationals. We are excited for the move and have been informed by Peace Corps we will be going to Barbacoas de Santiago de Puriscal. Before physically leaving Tortuguero I wanted to share some funny anecdotes with you all that happened to Tony and I here in Tortuguero, I believe that laughter and happiness have super healing powers and can think of no better way to end this chapter in our life.

*While we were living in the cabinas host nephew Little J would come to our room in the morning and at our closed curtain window would say:
Little J: “Cuerpo de Paz, despiertense. Cuerpo de Paz yo los puedo ver”
Little J: “Peace Corps wake up, Peace Corps I can see you”

* While we were showing our wedding pictures to our host nephew he said
Little J: “ Y porque no me invitaron a mi? Yo hubiera ido y les hubiera regalado el regalo mas grande”
Patty: “Es que no lo conocíamos todavía”
Little J: “Pero yo soy su amigo Cuerpo de Paz porque no me invitaron?”
Little J: “Why didn’t you invite me to the wedding? I would have gone and given you the biggest present”
Patty: “We hadn’t met you yet.”
Little J: “But I am your friend Peace Corps why didn’t you invite me”

*During Patty’s visit to the CEN (village daycare) our host nephew Joshua who attends the daycare center runs up to Patty as she arrives and calls out to the other children:
Little J: “Acérquense guilas!! Que llegó el Cuerpo de Paz y se las voy a presentar”
Little J: “Come here little kids!!! The Peace Corps is here and I am going to introduce her to you.”

*At the village elementary school Patty played an alliteration game with the 3rd graders. The students had to say their name and say a word that started with the letter of their name. Patty went first to do an example for the children and she said
Patty: “Patty Pinguina”
Patty: “Patty Penguin”
From that day on when Patty sees any of those children around town they yell:
“Patty Pinguina!!!” and to identify themselves say “Soy yo Elizabeth Elefante!”
“Patty Penguin!!” and to identify themselves say “It’s me Elizabeth Elephant!”

The pictures we included this time are of baby sea turtles!!! Yes we were very fortunate to see them and it was an experience we will never forget!! They are amazing!!! Enjoy!!!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Patty & Tony Updates!!!

Missing in action, we have been! 3 full months at our site now! 6 months in country!
• My project manager has done his site visit here in Tortuguero
• Patty’s project manager has done her site visit here in Tortuguero
• Patty’s 30th birthday has come and gone, although she was a little sad about reaching 30, she looks just as great as the day I met her
• We spent 3 full months in Tortuguero, only leaving 3 times to get groceries and access a bank.
• After 3 months of stressful adventures we went back to our training communities and felt the love immediately with our training host families. It was a special time being able to spend a few days with them. God bless them for treating us like family.
• We then had In Service Training (IST) at a wonderful hotel in which we were treated really well in San Jose. It was a week long training event in which we received further tools to take back to our communities.
• We live in one of God’s most beautiful wonders of the world. We have so many different habitats surrounding us. I went out for an early morning walk (5:00 a.m.) and there is a beautiful, peaceful, Green Sea Turtle laying her eggs and slowly, but surely making her way back into the vast, dark blue ocean. There I was at the high school with my service learning group in the open air mess hall that’s right next to the jungle and 6 spider monkeys swing on by. A mother and her young on her back hung around (no pun intended) long enough for me to get a great shot of them with my camera. Patty and I were sitting in the privacy of our own kitchen when I poisonous terciopelos snake tried to make its way in. We have the beautiful Morpho Butterfly and so many different types of birds always flying around. When we are simply leaving or getting to the ¾ island we run into caimans. The life that inhabits this paradise is beyond amazing.

• During IST we found out that we are being moved to a different community here in Costa Rica. After both of our project managers did their visits to Tortuguero it was decided that a new site would be developed for us. I believe we are at least the 5th couple to be placed in Tortuguero (not every couple having a full two years). There just simply wasn’t enough interest from the community leaders. There are towns out there that have not had the chance at even one volunteer and could really use the help. We are here to go wherever the Peace Corps needs us for two years. So now we must go where there is a greater need for us as volunteers.
o Enough of the Politically correct version. We are fluent Spanish speakers. We might not know a lot of the Costa Rican or Nicaraguan terminology but we can get along in a conversation. This did not help us one bit when it came to integration. If you want my sincere opinion, I believe it hindered us. I felt discriminated against for not being your stereotypical American (tall, white, blue eyed, blond hair). I lost entirely way too much weight during these previous 3 months and if you’ve seen me, I don’t have extra weight to lose. We started thinking that it was our fault. “What did we do to them, what are we not doing”? We would ask each other. For 3 months we racked our brains, blaming ourselves. At one point we started questioning our reason to be in the Peace Corps. It looked a lot more enticing to be back home with friends and family. We started thinking of ways that we could go home. But we are not people to do something like that, we made a commitment and we plan to stick to our 2 years of service. I hear that volunteers in the past had a great time here, I’m happy it worked out for them, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of integration with this community. After having the experience of 4 previous volunteer couples, should it really be this difficult for the 5th couple. Sustainability is a word thrown around a lot when it comes to Peace Corps volunteers. After 2, 3 or even 4 couples here, the community still waits for the next round of volunteers. In my opinion there comes a time when a volunteer could actually hurt the community because of dependency issues. The place is beyond amazing; our house is less than 50 yards from the beach, instead of traffic we hear birds, howler monkeys and the ocean waves crashing against the earth’s surface. I wish that was all our work entailed, but we didn’t sign up for a 2 year vacation on the beach, we are here to collaborate and build relationships with host country nationals. Although the site change comes after 3 months of being in this community and will put us back at square 1 with the new community, we are thankful for 2 things; 1. That the Peace Corps and our program managers were able to assess the situation and do what was deemed necessary. 2. This has been a learning experience that we will forever remember and although it was difficult for us, we leave the community grateful for the experiences we had here.

So 3 announcements before we sign off:
1. Please do not send anything to us until further notice. Since we will be moving our address will be changing. If you have already sent something do not worry it will get forwarded to us.
2. Thank you to everyone who has sent us goodies!!! We appreciate the packages greatly!!
3. The pics we included this time are of the beautiful but deadly snake that visited our home, spider monkey with baby during Tony’s class at the High School and a pic of Tony and me in Empalme standing in front of a beautiful valley!! Enjoy!!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Our House In The Middle Of The.......Jungle

(Tony talking) Greetings to all! Last week we had the pleasure of moving into our new home. It’s a one bedroom apartment on our host family’s compound. We have found it quite spacious and it came with a futon. We have room to accommodate family and friends. We are a mere 100 feet from the beach, therefore feel free to visit whenever you’d like. Check out the pics below of our new place. We have been very happy being able to cook for ourselves and not having to worry about eating in a restaurant surrounded by tourists. Since we live in a tourist-based community it has made the Peace Corps volunteer process a little difficult. All that this means is that we must try a little harder to fit in and gain the trust of the locals. It will not be easy, but that is what being a volunteer is all about……doing things that others might not want to do.

On the flip side, Patty and I seem to be on a two year marriage retreat. In the states most people spend their first 2 years of marriage learning to get to know each others ways of living. One spouse might work outside the home getting home after an 8,10, or 12+ hour workday while the other is a stay at home spouse or now days it is more common for both to work outside of the home. My point is that you get home and haven’t seen your spouse all day and you are excited to tell your partner about your day.
Let me tell you a little bit of our first month here on this ¾ island. We were living in a little cabina or as we call it, “motel room”. The room had a small bathroom and a bed. Our days consisted of interviewing people/organizations/businesses, going to the schools, getting insight on the community. All of this that I just mentioned didn’t take long at all. We would try to do all of this together since we had to introduce ourselves to everyone as a couple, therefore we couldn’t go back and tell each other how our day was because we were together all day. We might be able to go to the school or the high school for a couple hours, take a walk on the beach alone, carry out a workshop alone, but the reality of it is that this work doesn’t take up a typical 8 hour day/ 5 days a week. Hence the “2 year marriage retreat”. It’s just her and I. Our conversations are interesting, we haven’t any friends (except a dog that loves hanging out with us, maybe because we feed him, but we won’t tell the owners that). We are in for quite a ride, but I couldn’t imagine sitting on this rollercoaster with anyone else.

We finally got a P.O. Box:

Antonio Casillas or Miriam Schutter-Casillas
Apartado Postal 85
Limon Pococi Cariari
Costa Rica

Feel free to send us any goodies we are volunteers and are always accepting donations ;) Need some ideas of what to send??? You are in luck we have a list!! And will add to it as time goes by....
corn nuts
sunflower seeds
beef jerky
sour candies
magazines...glamour, us weekly, ok, marie claire, allure....yes Patty has an addiction and she is working on it
We also work with kids and would be more than happy to get stuff for them..pencils, erasers, things you can get at the 99 cent store or dollar tree (which Patty misses ALOT)
Of course we would love to get letters, pictures , drawings by you or your kids, cards....we will take it all and put it up in our new place, we are in need of artwork for the place!!! Thank you for your love and support!!!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Twilight Zone

Today will be our 1 month anniversary here at our site Tortuguero. Although we have not officially begun any projects our time here has flown by. At this exact moment Tony and I are laughing at how back in the US at our former jobs with kids we worried about rainy days because we had to know what to do with the kids and knew that having them inside just made them a wee bit rowdy, now here in Tortuguero a rainy day means not knowing when your clothes will dry!! It can take up to a week during rainy season to dry clothes, especially when all you clothes in hanging inside your house!! Enjoy the pic below which shows this situation exactly.
So let me update you all on our 1st month activities. First of all let me start by saying that in the first 3 months of living at our site we must put all our attention to becoming integrated and writing a C.A.T. (Community Analysis Tool). The CAT is similar to an ethnography an Anthropologist would write about a community, but the CAT is a much smaller and condensed version. Having my degree in Anthropology I was quite excited about this process. I had read ethnologies and had gotten some outline in my classes as to how to carry one out and I had heard my professors in class talk about the work they had done, which was all fascinating to me. I really romanized the idea to say the least, but the reality of the process is another. You have to be part of a community before you jump in and ask about “community issues” which may or may not be sensitive topics. And we are Peace Corps Volunteers which brings another side to our research. We are here to assist the community in moving forward towards a more sustainable environment, one in which they community itself will be able to identify what they need and where they can look for the resources to help them. To complete this task it is very important for us to fully integrate with the people of Tortuguero. And this has proven to be a difficult task.
Peace Corps names a person in the community to be your counterpart. This person attends a workshop with you before you and your counterpart go to your site together. Where the counterpart takes you around town introduces you to everyone, especially community leaders and professionals. The workshop last 3 days and is really amazing, unfortunately for Tony and I neither of our counterparts showed up. So while the other volunteers had someone they already knew in the community which would take them there and show them the way, Tony and I had to do it on our own. Granted now that I have met my counterpart I don’t know if having them there would have made a difference, but the intention would have been nice. Also when we come to our site we are assigned a host family, the host family is also in charge of introducing you to community members and showing you around town. On this end we have also been let down.
So the process of fitting in to a community and becoming integrated has been tricky. We walk around town introduce ourselves and some people are interested and others are not. So this first month we have been walking around introducing ourselves, attended meetings with the school teachers in which we came up with many projects to do and trying not to be seen as a tourist but as community members. At times Tony and I joke we are in the Twilight Zone, on one hand we have this amazing site the beach and jungle at our fingertips but on the other hand we walk through town and greet people we have previously introduced ourselves to and they just stare at us with a piercing blank stare, after a couple of nights this became so eerie we just had to call it the Twilight Zone. Quite creepy it is. For the most part people are interested in what we will do for the community, which shows an interest on their part to better their community, but when they find out we don’t have web page management skills they cease to care. I should explain to you all that being a tourist town having a web page is quite the thing here. Everyone wants one but does not want to maintain it and we being the volunteers should be able to help them with that, since the previous volunteers created a website and still manage it from the US to them the web page is what will better the community. It is an individual need not a collective need. So when we converse with people in town our conversations begin excitely with people being happy we are here but when they find out we are not here with web page skills their interest and the conversation dies.
When we have these rough days, which are not everyday, we walk on the beach take in the beautiful jungle which is right up against it and let the waves take away our worries and concerns for that moment in time. And in essence return refreshed and anew, ready to continue our journey, knowing that these uncomfortable situations to shall pass as we become a part of this community. We have included some pics of the town enjoy!!!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

First 3 months in Costa Rica

Our first three months in Costa Rica…..We departed from our little spec of a town called Ontario long ago on February 28th. It really does seem very long ago that I was a substitute teacher at Kinglsey Elementary and Patty was an after school program coordinator at Sultana Elementary. Paving our way through and helping create our so called “destiny”, here we are in what is a spec of village called Barra de Tortuguero. What happened in the months of March, April, and May were the transformation of two typical Americans from southern California to trainees in the San Jose, Costa Rica area to eventually a full blown volunteer in Barra de Tortuguero, Costa Rica. My training was held in the rural community of San Juan Norte while Patty’s training took place in the urban community of San Antonio de Desamparados. We were approximately an hour and 15 minutes away from each other via bus. A basic week in training for both of us consisted of the following; Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were Spanish classes. Tuesdays were our technical training focusing on our specific projects. For Patty’s project (Child, Youth and Families) it was training on the Costa Rican educational system, being exposed to family resources, organizations and learning about the “Patronato Nacional de la Infancia” which is the equivalent of the U.S.’s Child Protective Services. My project is “Rural Community Development” therefore my technical training consisted of community development, building relationships, sustainability, Non-formal education, and service learning to name a few. Thursdays were the days that all 52 Tico 20 volunteers got together to learn about Costa Rican ways and Laws, gender roles, safety and security, medical information (common illnesses). Early on in the training Patty and I were sent to visit a volunteer in action. It was really a great experience to see such an awesome volunteer doing so much for her community. Some time later Patty and I split off and I spent a week down south in a little community less than an hour away from the Panamanian border. The learning experience was great, but the fact that I was able to go to the cleanest and most natural river that I’ve ever been to was breathtaking. The fact that right next to this river there are natural hot springs was icing on the cake. During my warm bath in the hot springs Patty was enjoying herself about 10 hours away from me further north in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui. There she was able to see in action one of the finest Peace Corps volunteers integrated into her community and found the volunteer that she would like to model after. Throughout the rest of training on the weekends, I went over Patty’s community or she came over to mine. We both had exceptional host families, therefore establishing lifelong friendships. On the same note we have met some great volunteers also establishing lifelong friendships. Towards the end of training Patty and I came to Tortuguero for a four day trip simply to get to know the community that we would be working in. Just this past Friday we swore in as Peace Corps Volunteers and I had the great honor of speaking on behalf of my RCD group. Among the people present were; host parents, Peace Corps staff, U.S. Ambassador, Costa Rican counterpart organizations and of course the volunteers. It was truly a great experience for both of us and now here we are in Tortuguero at the very beginning of our two years of service……We have included some pics of our training, Swearing In Ceremony and our future home Tortuguero!! Enjoy!!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hotel....Motel....Holiday Inn

Thanks all for supporting us by following our journey via internet (blog). It really does mean a lot to us especially being so far away from our friends and family.

As the title states we are at the Holiday Inn Georgetown in D.C. Really nice town by the way, definitely coming back to visit. It reminds Tony and I a lot of certain towns in Europe.

We just went through orientation today and tomorrow we set off to Costa Rica. Orientation was great!! We met lots of new people from all over the US, there are a total of 56 of us leaving to Costa Rica tommorow morning!!! And there are 5 couples serving which is very cool, we will definately be able to relate!! Training was filled with lots of icebreakers and skits where Tony was Jackie Chan and I was a reporter! We began training at 12noon and were finished at 7pm. After that we got to walk around Georgetown and found a pizza place to eat at. There is lots of snow all over town that has melted and its just awesome makes us feel like we are in a movie,just magical! So we will be arrving in Costa Rica tommorow around 5pm and will head right away to a retreat center in the mountains which used to be a convent and is still owned by nuns and apparently has a beautiful view of the capitol San Jose, we were told we would be awaking to the sounds of parrots!! We will spend 4 days there and continue bonding with our fellow PCV's (Peace Corps Volunteers, get used to the accronyms there are tons!!).