Thursday, December 30, 2010

The quite gift exchange

Its really interesting here because between the meals that I get and the general lack of entertainment in the village I have no reason to spend any money outside of my bi-monthly payments to my host family.

Another awesome piece of news is that I have also located a suitable home for when my 6 month host stay is up.  finally I will have my freedom, privacy, and dominion over MY OWN KITCHEN!!!!  The plus side is that it is right on the main road, so I will actually have more access to the people that i need to get in touch with the most.  Where as now I am good romp through puddles and coffee plants to get to where I am.
I guess if now I am in the rhythm of spilling the beens, yesterday I went to my counterpart's house to what I thought was going to be a small gift exchange that they do every year.  A couple of hours passed with no one showing up but then all of a sudden a caravan of cars and pickups came to deliver toys and clothing to the children and villagers.  It was organized through a church in San Jose that comes every year (how they didn't know where to go is beyond me).  Anyway, I clearly stuck out among the masses of indigenous people in the village that come to receive clothing and the few ticos that were organizing the operation.  So bit by bit I start to introduce myself to them.  A few could vaguely recall the name Peace Corps, so over the course of the couple hours that it took to figure out the logistics of organizing the distribution of stuff I have ample time to explain the organization and what I would be doing here.  More then once I was asked the same question of "so how long are you going to be here" (probably expecting something on the order of a regular tourist).  "Two years".  That pricked their ears up!  Once we have decided that this whole operation would be most better suited to be go on in the local school, I had sufficiently informed a number of people enough that the words John Foss, Peace Corps, Economic Development Facilitator, and 2 years in Grano de Oro began to snowball around the church group.  They had graciously come prepared with lots of food to feed the crowds, but it still needed to be prepared.  Being someone who is now very good at feeding large crowds of people in pinch and under pressure, I instinctively offered to help.  I jumped right in cutting what looked like an eight foot coil of sausage meat (salchichon).  The whole gender role thing is so funny some times, because it totally caught the middle aged lady who was preparing cups of soda by surprise that a man (to her a giant gringo no less) would make such an offer to help with the food.  After everything was cut and hot food started to come in from the grill (which was actually a tire rim with rebar pipes
wielded onto the sides with a metal grate hinged to the top... I thought it was a rather clever recycling idea), we started serving plates to people.  They don't smile that often, but indigenous children have to be one of the most adorable human beings on the planet when you gift them something.  Every tooth in their mouth has a good 2 millimeters of clearance between the next, their hair is this shimmering jet black, and their eyes look like one giant pupil.  I can't exactly say the same about the adults who seem to be well accustomed to receiving hand-outs.  In fact, I get the sense that they might be passed the point of gratitude and more or less expect things to given to them for free.  This is a topic to explore later. At one point the grill needed a relight, which caused a real cramp in our supply chain.  I wish that I had my voyageur hat at the time because I shooed away the 5 people that were ineffectively adding more and more charcoal and wondering why it didn't just burst into flame, redistributed the coals so their was some air holes, and gave a couple strong blows into the ambers at the bottom to rekindle of the flames. 20 seconds later and the grill was roaring again with the help of fat drips from the salchichon.  I went back to helping serve food, but caught out of the corner of my eye the silent nods of approval from the previous fire tenders.
Everything ended rather abruptly as the last few Grano de Oro residents got some food and a last spokes person made a last prayer of thanks.  I made a couple contacts among them from people who were excited to share their stories of when they traveled to the states. Its interesting because those who had that opportunity are among the better off socio-economically in the group.  I am not sure what good will come out of knowing them, but a growing friend base in country is inevitably valuable, and through them I sure to meet some influential people.
When I got home, i learned that I had missed a visitor that had come looking for me.  Apparently their is a college students in town that learned that I was here and wants a diagnostic on her English.  I have
yet to meet her, but am sure that I can give her a few pointers.  This could turn into another interesting contact because I learned that she is going back to Turrialba to start classes again in 3 months and I
dearly want to make connection with the University of Costa Rica.  If they have a business school on the Turrialba campus that would be even better!

December 30, 2010

My first great breakthrough!

I just had a great conversation with one of the local fuerza publicas.  By pure chance I walked in looking for your number in the event that PC office needed to call me en case of an emergency.  Two hours later, I finally have a local point man that really really understands the importance of getting the community organized.  From him i learned more in 2 hours then this whole past week and site visit.  Costa rican institutions wont even blink an eye at your if you don't represent a larger good or group of people.  Unfortunately, and logically, because he is a police officer he is forbidden from becoming an official member of any local organizations, but he is free to give me some advise from time to time when I am in a rut (tredding lightly of course).

AHHHAA! Finally a good breakthrough in this place!!! It took a fucking week to find it, but now the snowball will start to role!

Some of our discussion points included that following:
1)Many of the organizations appear to be ineffective or inactive. They haven't achieved very much at the community scale. The cooperative is the success so far and is probably the closest to achieving official national recognition. It could be an organization that State institutions will deal with, where as the Associacion de Desarrollo integral has been inactive for 6 months now.
2)Apparently it is really taxing to organize people. And inbetween the organizations that due exist, there is no communication between them.
3)The Students in the town are very discouraged because there is very little to do here and as such they turn to drinking and drugs.
4)Those that don't take up work in the village (timber, coffee, or a local deal) have to leave the town to find work. Dissatisfaction as to the options that exist here.
5)The internet is a great tool, but probably only for finding information. MIS is not an essential tool among the businesses here and none of them currently use computers. The costs make a computer as sizable investment for something that doesn't have much practical use yet.
6)The coming aula de computacion would be of great interest to locals.
7)After age 14/15 kids are legally able to work (and many do given the pressures within the family). The number of students that go on to University is pitiful. It would be even more interesting to asses what is the population that commutes into Turrialba each day for school and for what.
8)There is the interesting theme of introducing more tourism into Grano de Oro. The Hotel Moravia is well out of the way and appears not to want anything to do with the rest of the town. Unfortunately it is up to Grano de Oro to provide a pull for these tourists that come in private bus loads.
9)There are a couple of good ideas on the table that HGDO should consider regarding tourism:
1.Lodging (bed and breakfasts/hostel/cabinas/motel/rural tourism homestays),
2.internet cafe
3.Souvenir shops,
4.wood work artisan shops,,
6.indigenous heritage museum,
7.historical museum,
8.alternative public transport to the one 6am bus.
December 28, 2010

Excerpt from a Christmas Letter Home

"Thank you very much for your message it really really makes the day and I am thinking of you too in this... well... much less than "winter wonderlandy" environment.  I had a great long talk with mom and dad and alex this morning mostly about opportunities for things to come.  All us volunteers walked into this experience knowing that we are starting our service essentially on Xmas weekend and that is was going to be really hard.  So far I have dodged the mental breakdowns and am making progress getting to know my family and I think we are integrating well.  I had one great breakthrough today with one of the locals, Luis the father of my host mother, who with perfect punctuation described the true value of having a volunteer in the site.  That my presence is not just an integration of myself but as a bridge between the host country and the united states.  And that this interaction exposes them to new ways of thinking that they might never have come up with on there own. They used the phrase, “nadie es profeta de su propio tierra.” If I understand this correctly, it highlights the importance of someone coming in from the outside. Although few and far between, these small revelations and breakthroughs remind me why I am here (despite the fact that this time of year is almost universally reserved to be with your own family).  I do dearly miss all the Christmas things from the north country; walks up old route 3 with heavily snow laden fir trees, a stiff eggnog with Bourbon, lounging around the fireplace at the humble Foss farm after a good trudge outside, and great discussion about the goings on of friends and family." -December 25, 2010

Swearing in Ceremony

The following is an excerpt from a letter home:
"Just shooting a quick message out there that I have finally arrived at my official site in jungle (Grano de Oro) and I am here to stay for the next 2 years.  Also I thought people would appreciate a photo update which I have attached.  It is taken at our swearing in ceremony at the US ambassador's residents in San Jose.  It was a great ceremony, although I wasn't expecting that part of the oath would be "to defend the constitution of the United States"... but I guess that was a nice touch, and it was fun to hear the kind of words and enthusiasm from our directors.

Now is going to start an interesting Christmas session in a new house with a new family and a totally different scene then what I have gotten used to around the capital.  I am still trying to find my place in this house and there is a short list of people in the village (actually only maybe 2) that I can really lean on for some direction.  For those of you who don't know, my site is an indigenous village of about 1500.  Unfortunately the Christmas season in this country brings everything to a screeching halt, so I really hope that some organization comes up that I can simply jump into and try get my name passed around. 

Fun things that could only happen here: on my bus ride up Grano de Oro yesturday part of the way we had to get pulled by a tractor (the road was falling part...its cool.. no biggy), got woken up this morning by the sound of the "chicken truck" where a man come through selling chickens too old to lay eggs for a dollar a head (presumably to kill for food), in order to open a new mailbox we had to make 4 trips back and forth through Turrialba... along the way we found a source of dutch cookies!"

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The PCT update

Excerpt from a letter that gives a decent snap shot of life in the CR
"Thus far Costa Rica is Amazing!! I couldn't be happier with the group of volunteers that I have landed with, all of whom come from a cornucopia of backgrounds and experiences. Its even more exciting because everyone is fully deserving to be a volunteer in this role. Training has also been very rewarding, although everyday is a struggle. If Peace Corps loves to do one thing in particular, it's push us out of our comfort zone. Three days a week we have spanish classes (which are unlike anything I have ever done before). The methodology includes lots and lots of interviews with the community and often times with complete strangers that we pass on the streets. There are 45 volunteers in total, but we are divided into groups of 4 and spread around the villages to the south of San Jose, so we very much working on our own. Twice a week we all conveen in my town of Tarbaca and have all day technical training seasons that are specific to our programs. Mine happens to be Community Economic Development, where the main focus is on helping communities discover their own internal resources and building up from there. It has actually been a fascinating experience learning just what exactly we are going to be doing, when in reality that are training us to be like a "tool box" for the community to help itself. I am rather impressed with this idea because its a much more sustainable way of doing things as opposed to just waltzing in giving a ton of money to some random poor village.
I am currently living with a host family in Tarbaca that has fully integrated me as a son of theirs. Even though I won't ever have to worry about starving to death because of mountain of rice and beans (which I have to say is my newest FAVORITE FOOD EVER, no joke!!) they serve me every day, I also have to hike up (and down) a ravine to get to class and tech training. Life is great in the house with two children, a boy of 12 years and a girl of 10 years. There is a mother that does... well... everything... and a father that does... nothing when it comes to house chores. I am trying to set a good example by at the least offering to clean the dishes and help out with taking care of the farm animals. Ohh yeah, I wake up in the morning to rosters and goats! This exotic life is AWESOME! I am going to through away my MBA in Favor of a coffee farm. Ohhh yeah again, they drink coffee 5 times a day! Uhh! Be-still my heart! We are about to complete a full month in Costa Rica this Friday and going to celebrate at our directors house in San Jose as well as get to meet some of the current volunteers. If anything that I have said above sounds over the top, just wait till I give you a report from the field. Everyone of the volunteers that I have meet so far are absolute tigers. Over the course of 6 months to a year, some of them have totally revamped the economies and business of their pueblos, given womens groups a way of making a living, rebuilt schools, openned mobile computer labs, done HIV clinics, taken the death toll by dengue fever from several people a month to zero, mean while teaching english to local school kids and reducing the highschool dropout rate. I am appauled by them and can't to see what happens within another 2 months of training. The rubber hits the road on December 17th for me when I am officially sworn in as a volunteer and given a site assignment. "

For those who find it in their heart to write me!

John Foss PCT
Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado Postal 1266-1000
San Jose,
Costa Rica

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Assignment Received

At long last my email inbox beheld a message baring the domain of  A lady by the name of Maureen Hermon wanted to call and speak with me in a final interview.  Somewhat unexpected and nervious we talked about some pre-departure and the usual culture shock stuff.  When I had an opportunity to break the flow of the conversation, I asked where she had served.  Paraguay.  AhHAHA!  The peace corps clearly had come around to there senses and Latin America was back on the menu!  This must have been a formality of checking up on the volunteers to make sure that nothing dramatic had happened over the year of WAITING until they were about to be sent over seas.  I learned three things from this interview, although the specific country couldn't be discussed over the phone, the departure date was October 4th, the job was Community Economic Development, and the region was Central America.  With those three points and the website, the is Costa Rica!

Now that my head is realligning towards a job in a Spanish speaking country, my brain is on overdrive thinking in two languages.  Every action or command required additional effort to formulate the phase in Spanish.  Would have been nice to now about this while attending the best school for language training in the world, but I am overjoyed that after 27 months my Spanish will be through the roof.

More to come as progress is made.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pre-Assignment thoughts

Having now spent a semester at MIIS and still no word about my assignment my attitude has relaxed considerably.  Having meet and talked extensively with RSVP's, many of which served in Africa, I am much more calm and actually a little intrigued about the idea of serving in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Maybe it is my notions of what the continent is like, but most of the economic indicated point to Africa as needing the most work development wise.  My notions are also that, if I prove to myself that business development projects can be doing among the poorest of the worlds poor, they can done anywhere in the world.  So service in Africa all of sudden is taking on an element of challenge that would be liberating to me. It would also help be develop a more global repertoire.  Although I had originally planned to claim my expertise as specializing in Latin America (which is still where my current strength lies), this would expand my horizons as someone more international.  There is strength either way.  I am unfortunately still on the ropes about what is the best strategy and am unable to choice.  I have resolved myself for moment to take whatever assignment that the Peace Corps gives me with full enthusiasm.  It doesn't matter anymore where I go.  I can handle anything.  And whoever it is that it is in the most need to help, I will do whatever I can for them.

So from now on, everything will be present tense and updates on where I am and what the experience is like.  No more background information.  ETD is in T minus 3 months and counting.