Sunday, January 30, 2011

There is no place like home for the Holidays!

Now as you read the title of this blog entry...some of you might be a little surprised because some of you know that I was not exactly home for the holidays. But at the same time, I was "home" for the holidays.

It has been five months since I have been down here in Costa Rica... wow right! How time flies! Throughout those five months I have been able to form relationships and take part in experiences that I never thought I would have. Over these past 5 months or so, I have been able to to call this place "My Home" No it cannot replace my loving family, great friends and my actually home back in MN, but it has become a place I have felt comfortable enough to feel at "Home." Feeling this made it a lot easier when I decided to spend my Christmas here with in my "Costa Rican Home" with my "Costa Rican Family." As well as spending my New Years in my "Guatemalan Home" with my "Guatemalan Family." Not going to lie... it was a tad bit sad knowing that I wasn't there to eat Grandma's stuffing or remind her the corn was still in the microwave as we were pretty much done eating. Or not taking part in opening gifts from youngest to oldest, as we would play a little wrapping paper basketball with Grandpa as he held the bag open for our incoming shot... maybe "accidently" missing! Yea.. it was a bummer missing out on these traditions but then again... with my "Home" here I was able to take part in some new traditions! Here is a little insight:

For Christmas Eve and Christmas I was invited to stay with the Friars here in Moravia. They set me up with a room, or more like a suite, in the Friary. I accepted the invitation glady, just because I didn't want to hear it from Brittany as she told me I couldn't wake up on Christmas morning alone...nah only joking because I didn't either. That night, Christmas Eve or Noche Buena (Good Night) as they call it, I headed off to mass and a beautiful mass it was as they carried in Baby Jesus and placed him on the foot of the alter. I was then invited over one of the Friar's Family house for the nightly celebration...and boy was it a fiesta!

As soon as I entered the house, I was greeted with open arms and a lot of smiles! I knew it would be a good night. I was soon sitting in the middle of the living room with lively conversation flowing around me, a drink in hand and tasty hors d'oeuvres calling my name. Good thing Fray Jorge gave me a prep class on all their names before hand because it made it a lot easier to feel right at home. As soon as 12:00 a.m. struck the clock, we gathered around the manger scene as little Arturo carried in Baby Jesus with a few of his cousins holding some sparklers. A passage was read from the bible and a few petitions were read. Fray Jorge bless the stable and all of us and our families. This was truly an amazing experience to be part of.

After the blessing we were handed our plates which would soon be covered with a beautiful Christmas dinner of pork, potatoes, and salad. The chefs for the night definitely got two thumbs up from me. I would have gone back for seconds but I was forewarned that we would be eating another meal of Tamales shortly after. I could risk being full for tamales so I paced myself.

After everyone finished their plates, we gathered around the Christmas tree as Manuel, Fray Jorge's Brother, played Santa and handed out the gifts. The family has "Invisible Friends", like our version of secret Santa and they all had three guesses to figure out who had who. With chanting for the person to open their gifts right there on spot, to the laughter that filled the room, it was a pretty lively event. I even received a few gifts from Niños Dios.

Soon after the gifts were all handed out, plates of tamales were being spread about. Tamales are a traditional plate during Christmas in Costa Rica as well as other Central American countries. I was still a little full from the first plate, but I couldn't go without my Christmas Tamale. Shortly after the tamale, came dessert and I couldn't pass up the wonderfully prepared pudding/banana/strawberry/whip cream concoction that Nader had designed. My stomach definitely agreed to it too! After dessert, a couple delicious plates of Christmas food, a few drinks, great conversation, it was about that time to head home. At about 4:00 a.m. I was finally all snugged in my bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. What a great Christmas Eve!

Christmas Morning came pretty fast. I woke up around 8 and had to do a little preparation for my trip to Guatemala the next day. After a few loads of laundry, a a chat with the family, I gethered with the Friars for a Sea Food Medley Lunch. From shrimp to lobster and everything between it was truly a feast. After lunch the Friars gathered around their Christmas tree to exchange their Invisible friend gifts. I felt pretty privileged that they allowed me to celebrate Christmas with them. That night was able to connect with the family back home over skype and virtually participate in the opening of Christmas Gifts at Grandma Jane and Grandpa Ernies's. Between this and the Christmas at the Friary... I definitely felt at home!

The next morning came pretty fast as well. I made sure everything was packed up and prepared for my travels to Guatemala. It wasn't too long after that I was saying good bye to Costa Rica and say hello to Guatemala. After a wonderful flight, I landed, hailed a taxi, jumped on a bus and headed to Xela. I was greeted by a good friend of mine, Pedro who I played rugby with, as he agreed to meet since it was late and a dark. We grabbed a burger and beer and chatted it up for a while before I headed to my host families where I would once again stay.

Knock on the door and was greeted by my host brother Jordan who had grown quite a bit since the last time I saw them. They welcomed me and showed me to my room once again where memories from two ago came flowing back.

Over the next nine days, I enrolled in Spanish lessons at Celas Maya where I had the privalage to take spanish lessons with Tania! She was an absolutely amazing teacher even though most of the time I would try to get her off the subject of subjunctive and just talk about random things. We had many laughs and made memories that I will again never forget! She was amazing. This also gave me the chance to reunite with all the rest of the teachers. We went out to have coffee, lunch, ice cream, BakeShoppee... all the good stuff that we used to do. I cannot thank them enough for their kind hospitality and friendship! I cannot wait to go back and see them all!

Here I also was able to take in a Guatemalan New Year. It is normal to shoot off fireworks for New Years here so I went out and bought some for me and my host brother... with permission of course from my host mom. Soon enough the clock struck 12:00 again and you could hear and see for miles, the fireworks lighting up the night sky. Jordan and I, along with some of his cousins, scurried around the roof of our house, joining in on the nighttime fun. After we finished we all gathered in the living room to greet everything with a hug and Happy New Year Greeting. We dressed Baby Jesus and placed him in the Manager and headed to the kitchen to have the New Year's dinner.... Tamales! Being the honored guest, I had to pour the Quetzalteca shots for everyone. Again with good conversation and good food, the night had started off with a bang.

After dinner I headed out to meet up with some friends to continue the celebration. Hit up good old La Rumba like the old days. It has changed a little bit but same atmosphere as before. I actually called it an early night... 4:00 a.m. since I had a wake up call at 7:30... why?

Because I met a few other students at the school from around the world. They had talked me into climbing Volcan Tajumluco with them. The highest point in Central America... call me crazy... yes! I wasn't too prepared but I did it anyways. It took us about 3 1/2-4 hours to climb the first day to our camping grounds. It wasn't the warmest as I had to use socks for gloves, used every layer of clothing that I had brought with me to Guatemala, and the fire in front of us, I still managed to have a good time and stay warm.

The morning came soon as we woke at 4:30 to start our climb to the top. We started early so we could catch the the sunrise and man did we catch it! Even though it was again freezing with winds blowing at tremendous speeds and frost forming on the rocks, it was one of the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. With hot chocolate on the burner and a sleeping bag for warmth we watch the sun rise over the landscape until it was in full view.. .man what a sight!

That same day we made out descend. The trip back was kinda horrible... after an hour or two descend, we caught a Chicken Bus and headed back to Xela. We couldn't take it so we stopped at a bus stop. After waiting for about an half hours, some bags almost getting shoved onto another bus by some crazy, we hopped on a microbus and finished our journey back. I made it back just in time for Sunday lunch with my host family, and the new students from CSB/SJU that were doing their study abroad. Ate some, talked some, and did some sleeping!

Time was closing in on the end of my journey in Guatemala which was sad because I had to say goodbye to those people I love once again. The teachers prepared a dinner for me and another students because we both would be leaving soon. It was absolutely delicious but what was even better was the company! I couldn't have ended my time better in Guatemala as I felt right at home. That night before I fell asleep I made sure to thank God for all the wonderful people in my life!

The next morning came fast again as I woke at 3:00a.m. to catch my bus at 4:00 to Guate City. Now this is where it gets interesting. My plane leaves at 12:25 that same day and Jordan thinks he has enough time since it only take about 4 hours to get to the city in bus. 1) Well my bus arrives an hour late, which isn't too bad since I still have some time to make my flight. 2) The driver decideds to make stops along the way which I didn't calculate. 3) The worst of all, we get a flat tire. It is about 9:30 when this happened and we basically have an 1 1/2 left on this trip. I was going crazy! This is when I started prayer for a NASCAR team to come in and change the tire, but no the bus driver lights up a cig and take his time. After about 3 cigs, the tire is changed and we are again on the road. Luckily I had had about an hour left before we arrived in Guatemala city. I jumped off the bus, hailed a taxi and was in the airport by 11:00. Enough time to relax little bit, grab a coke and wake for my plane to leave.

Soon enough they called us onto the plane, I was watching Glee, and eating pretzels. I landed safely in Costa Rica ahout two hours later and back in my home greeted by Jelly, Mateo and Brittany all snuggled in their beds talking about their vacations. I ran and jumped on them as we normally do and I thought to myself...

Man did it feel great to be back Home!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It is what it is... A Moment to Say "Thanks!"

So as I sit here in the airport for the next 8 hours or so, I thought I might have a little time to spare to write a new blog. I am super sorry I have been majorly slacking on it… but I did forewarn you all. But that is hardly an excuse that I should be using. Also, since I have 8 hours to pass… I promise I won’t write a novel.

It has been nearly two months since I have last updated this thing and a lot has occurred since then. I will just give you a brief run through.

· Monteverde: Zipling, Super Crazy and amazing fun! It was the second time there but just as fun as the first if not more.

· Bro. Jim visit: Great orientation, beach time, mountain climbing, catching the rays, and doing a little dance.

· Work: Still working and loving it every day. My schedule stays the same pretty much every week but a few things change here and there. I have taken part in Dia de los Maestros… which is celebrating the day of teachers, a march in regards to stopping violence against women, and a few birthday parties. This month I will be attending a party with my four year olds and the school will be having their Christmas party on the 15th of December.

· Sign Language: The vocabulary is growing. I am up to numbers, food, anything related to the calendar, occupations, and colors. It is nice to have my kids to practice with on a daily basis!

· Spanish: Is still getting better day by day. I threw out a few Tico words the other day and a lady told me I was learning fast.

· Birthday: WAS AMAZING!!! Ate a wonderful dinner consisting of Mac and Cheese and French Fries cooked by Tomas. Recieved great gifts one being a Machete! We then hit up Harry Potter and then went to celebrate in San Pedro. The next night we had a little fiesta at the house for all the guys since we all celebrated in November. Good company, good games and even a bonfire with S’mores.

So those are the events that have pretty much kept me busy my last couple months. It may not sound that exciting because I didn’t write ten pages about each one but they all have been a blast.

Some of you might be wondering why I am in the airport right now and this the main reason for this blog. This past Friday I received new that my Grandpa Differding had passed away. He had been in the nursing home for the last couple years and suffered from Alzheimers and the effects of a couple strokes one being just lately. The death of my Grandpa was expected sooner than later but was still a shock when it happened. I started looking for tickets the next day and was on the plane at 2:00 Sunday afternoon. I reached Houston at six that night and ran to my next plane that brought me to Minneapolis where my parents were waiting with open arms. As soon as I jumped off the plane I could see my breath. If it wasn’t for Grandpa I was ready to jump back on that plane and head back to my 80 degree weather in Costa Rica. This was suppose to be my year without snow but I think Grandpa had other plans for me. Honestly it was quite beautiful… so Thanks Grandpa!

The death of my Grandpa was a tough one for me with being so far away from my family, especially my dad. I did though, and I cannot say THANK YOU enough, have a great support system from my Costa Rican family as well as those up in Syracuse. If I did not have them, I don’t know what I would have done. The emails that all of you in Syracuse sent were absolutely wonderful and so heartfelt! I even showed them to my family back home. You all are truly amazing and if there is anything I can ever do… let me know! Be expecting a little Thank You here in the next couple weeks J

Now for you all in Costa Rica… I don’t know if I can express how thankful I am for you in words… But I am going to try!

Brittany: The smile and hug you greeted me with the days after I found out were my favorite! I am such a sucker for a hug and I sure got great ones from you. It actually reminded me of my hugs from my mom because you two are about the same height. You are so caring and thoughtful especially when you lent me your rosary. When I read that you try to fix mine and then went and lent me yours, the waterworks definitely started. I have never known anyone that would every do anything like that for me! Before I took off on my first flight I said the half the rosary on yours and half on the rosary Mateo sent with me. I hope you don’t mind but I wore yours ever since I opened it on the plane because it reminded me of your caring heart and warm hugs. Thanks Brittany!

Tomás: You definitely were a perfect partner in crime this past week. You were pretty much at my side during all that I was going through. You witnessed most of the plane ticket fiasco and you being there was super helpful. You saw me go crazy a few times but if you hadn’t been there I probably would have been a complete disaster. Your presence was much needed whether that be just sitting next to me listening to how ridiculous some of those people were that were trying to help me or assisting me with numbers, advice and definitely laughter. The advice throughout these two days helped me choose the right decision so I thank you. I also thank you for keeping me in the loop while being gone. I felt like I was still in the house and not missing a thing. Thanks Tomás!

Jelly: Muchos Lovies a Usted! The morning I asked you what you would do if you were in my situation, was one of the points that drew me closer to going home. Your quick and honest response made me think that there should be no question to what I should do. You reminded me that how important the family is and I think because there was so much going on I was not seeing that. You helped remind me of the importance. Along with these words, your hugs and maybe a few tears in your eyes… even though you don’t cry…I knew you understood what I was going through. That understanding is what I needed at that time! Thanks Jelly!

Mateo: You were right there along with Jelly when it came to reminding me of how important the family was. With so much going on upstairs this past week, you really helped clear things up. I am so happy you were there that morning to help me out. Also, I cannot express how much I loved your letter. I don’t know if all of that is true but I will continue to work and strive for it. You have given me hopeand something to work for. I am also so grateful for you lending me your rosary…. Especially that one! I felt like I was holding something sacred. I want to let you know that I said half the rosary with yours and half with Brittany’s before I took off on my first flight Sunday. Then with you in mind, I offered to head the Rosary at my Grandpa’s prayer service, while sitting next to my Grandma. I did an intention Rosary like we did in the house one night and everyone loved it! I have you to thank for that idea but I have you to thank for just being there with me this past weekend! Thanks Mateo!

Bro. Jim: I need to thank you for being in your office at just the right time. All your help that you offered me and my family was overflowing! I thank you for being there to assist with everything and sending your prayers up to the big guy for my family. I also need to thank you for placing these four wonderful individuals in Costa Rica and Syarcuse. The support system you created is wonderful! Thanks Bro. Jim.

Fray Jorge: Gracias por todos! Me ayudó muchísima! Mi mente estaba muy lleno con cosas que no sabia que hacer. Cuando hablamos juntos, usted clarificó muchas cosas muy importante y compartió sus historias conmigo para entender mejor que necesitaba hacer! Usted no solo escucha con sus orejas pero con su corazón! Por eso… estoy muy agredecido para tener usted en mi Vida! No lo podía hacer sin usted. Espero que algún dia podré repagar el favor! Gracias Fray Jorge!

A big thanks to my family for helping me get back so I could be there to help celebrate the life of Grandpa Alvin. I was completely honored to be able to give the Eulogy and I want to thank you each and everyone for helping by sharing their wonderful memories that will continue to live within all of our hearts! You guys are all so very special to me and it was great seeing you! Love you all!

Finally Thank you Grandpa Alvin! You were a wonderful man and incredible grandfather to me. I will never forget the many things you have taught me and the numerous memories you have shared with me. I am so happy to Carry on the Differding name because you have established an amazing foundation for us all. You may be gone but you will always have a special place in my heart! I will miss you but I know you will continue to look over me and the rest of our family!

It is what it is… Right!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Preaching the Gospel Without Using Words... Literally!

So rereading my last couple blogs I have noticed I have not opened the door to a day/week in "Mi Vida en Costa Rica." I bet you have all been pretty sad, eh? Well it's your lucky day that I am going to enlighten you with the work that puts a smile on my face every single day of the week. Hopefully it will put a smile on your face as well... if not then pretend!

So I have been volunteering at a school called Centeno Guell. This is a completely free school for kids that are deaf, blind or mentally handicapped. Many of the students that I work with on a daily basis have a couple of these disabilities if not all of them. This school was started 70 years ago by a man named Fernando Centeno Guell.The school started with 8 kids and now has grown to a population of 500+ students. The population it serves starts with babies all the way up to 21 years old. I have given you the gist of who and what the school serves but I have added a link to more information if you are interested. I must forewarn you it is in Spanish. I tried to search for one in English but I could not find one. For those of who that don't know Spanish...copy and paste it into a translation machine on the internet somewhere:

So I have been volunteering for three weeks now and each day is better and full of new surprises! The main department that I will be volunteering is with the visually impaired students, although many of my students are partially deaf and have some mental disabilities as well. I work in a classroom with Profe. Andrey and seven 14-16 year olds. I have yet to see all seven of the students in the school at the same time. Because of the "winter" months we are having and the immense amounts of rain, many of the students get sick and it is advised for them to stay at home. The most I have seen on a given day is four. Some of the students are Hillary, Julio, Jessica, Freideri, and David.

The work that I do with the kids is pretty simple but it is a blast. I work with these kids Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the morning. The Prof has me doing the daily agenda with them which consist of a piece of cardboard with two lines of velcro on it. Within the timeline are concrete objects velcroed to the cardboard that represent the schedule for the day e.g: a ball to represent Phy. Ed, a spoon to represent both breakfast and lunch, a little wood table to represent the arts and crafts we do at the classroom table, a wooden guitar for music class, a bell to represent recess and a wooden house to represent the time to leave. What I have to do is take their hand and move it from object to object so that they can feel as I explain, because they cannot see very well, what they will do through out the day. They have to rely on their sense of touch and hearing to know what the day will hold for them. This is done after we complete something and before we go on to the next task of the day. It is such a simple concept but one that I have never seen or heard of before.

Other work that I get to do with my students is helping them with their Phy. Ed Classes such as helping them walk from one point to another point, throwing a ball back or forth. I had one girl who thought it was a lot more fun to not throw it in front of her where I was but instead throw it behind her so I would have to run after it every time. The way I look at it, I am getting my exercise too. I also help them with their Arts and Crafts in which I am getting to be a pro at painting the cardboard roll of toilet paper and making flower pots out of them. As well as weeving pages of newspapers together to make carrying cases for the pencils and makeup. Let me know if you are interested and maybe we can have Arts and Craft time when I return. I also get to help feed the kids that need it. I am usually placed with David, who is secretly one of my favorites. He is partially blind, deaf and mentally disabled and has to use a wheelchair. It also takes a lot to get him to eat, it's a slow process. The other day I was feeding him breakfast but music class was going on at the same time. While I was feeding him in between bites I would make him dance by moving his chair and his arms along with the music. He was getting into it as well and was really liking both the music and dancing. Soon enough he was dancing on his own by just moving the upper part of his body. I was in awe that he was doing this because this is not like David. David is always crying and slouched over but today he was ripping up the dance floor... he was moving to the music! It was a sight to behold! At that moment, he had me cracking up and it made my day!

One day none of these kids showed up because of the weather so I got the chance to hit up an amusement park with another group to assist with moving wheelchairs and go on the rides with the little tykes! We hit up the spinning tea cups, the train, semi trucks and one rafting ride. It was pretty exhilarating. You can see the pictures below.

After the kids left I was asked to stay behind at the park with three other assistance to go on the big rides. I said why not! So one of the moms that was with us gave me her wristband and I slipped it on and soon enough I was was upside down and spinning in circles! A great day at work!

Ok ... back to the schedule. On Tuesday mornings I get the chance to work with four year olds who are visually impaired. There is one girl named Genesis who is completely blind and is pretty funny! The first day I worked with her she decided to play "Copy Cat" with me and repeat everything I said. She would say the same things as me even if I said them wrong, she cleared her throat when I did and laughed when I did. I have also gotten to be pretty close to Esteban, who is this little guy with the thickest glasses you will see and his hair all spiked up! He usually likes to play cops and robbers with me so that he can handcuff me and put me in jail. Then when I have to put him in jail... yea he just runs away!
These are my kids racing their cars during recess this past week!

On Thursdays, there are teachers for the school who work out in the schools of neighboring towns and I get to go with them and help out for the morning. I have only been to one other school so far and I worked with Brando and Lucia, both who are visually impaired. That day I was able to help them with identifying objects and working on their motor skills. Basically we got to run around, jump like frogs and play hopscotch. For me that is a pretty productive day! This last week I was suppose to head to a school in San Jose which is about 30 minutes on bus. Well after an hour and half of waiting for the teacher she didn't show. I thought it was my fault because I actually couldn't remember if it was 7 or 7:30 (go figure right?!) but I guess her students weren't in and no one had a way of contacting me. It was a little bit of a bummer but it was a good spot for people watching!

So that pretty much covers my mornings. My afternoons are pretty much a blast too. When I first started at the school, I was initially done at 1:30 everyday because that is what time the visually impaired students get done. I asked my director if there would any chance I could work more in the afternoons with any of the other groups that were in the school until 3:30. She, along with everyone else in the office looked at me like I was absolutely nuts. Why you may ask? Because I wanted to do more work when I could be going home to rest! If you ever want a job that lets you have about 30 minutes of a coffee break or rest period in the middle of the day for God only knows how long, move to Costa Rica and get a job.

So after a couple weeks of trying to get things figured out I landed a position in a classroom with 12, 10-11 year old deaf kids. These kids are full of energy and pretty much off the wall but I really enjoy working with them. The first day they started asking me questions... the only problem it was through sign language and I had no idea what they were saying. There hands were moving all over the place and my head was just spinning! At that time I knew one sign and that was for "Buenas Dias"... that wasn't going to work! I soon got introduced to the class and they got the chance to ask me questions such as where I am from, how old I am, how many brothers and sisters, if I had a girl friend, if I always have facial hair... ya know the typical ones! Then soon after, they decided to pick out a sign for my name. Instead of always spelling out their name, they pick a sign that represents them individually. For example, one of the girls has long hair so she points to her hair and drags her finger down along it or one boy has glasses so he points above and below his glasses. The sign they gave me that represents my name is to touch my earring that I have on the top of my ear.

After introduction they get back to work with their science class. The interesting thing about these kids I found out that day, is that Spanish is their second language as well, sign language being their first. Also if you didn't know Spanish sign language is different from American Sign Language. It is called LESCO: Lengua de señas costarricense It was really helping me because I was able to see what signs corresponded with what word. I even was trying my hand at signing along with them... no pun intended! Yea they was laughter going on at this time, but I would be doing the same thing if i were them watching this big gringo throwing down Spanish signs. Hell, I was laughing with them! They were also laughing because I had to squint to see the board... the joys of being with 10 years old again right!

Another story was that I was helping them with their math one day and they are doing basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It's been a while since I have done that and I may or may not have gotten a problem wrong for a kid...whoops. To my defense it is really difficult to try and explain how to subtract numbers especially if you have to borrow. It's hard enough to explain someone in English, let alone Spanish and in sign language... UFFFF DAAA! Oh well, it must not have upset them too much: 1) being that this kid didn't seem to care too much and 2) their teacher told me they always ask if I am coming each day. I am technically only assigned three days a week but I worked my charm with the teacher and she said any day that I wanted I could come it! Cha-Ching! I am also working on my sign language from a few books I was lent. I will also be starting to take sign language classes with one of the Friars that use to study LESCO once a week. I am super excited for this opportunity! This will truly be a test of preaching the gospel without using words!

The weekends here is Costa Rica are pretty chill. We usually all hang out together and keep ourselves busy somehow. Doing a little exploring of neighboring cities, bleeding Blue and Gold during the Notre Dame games every Satruday as we cheer on the Irish or enjoying a nice siesta on the hammock while we listen to the rain hit the tin roof and the thunder crack in the distance.

It's crazy to think that tomorrow will already be a month that we have arrived in Costa Rica. If anyone has the ability to slow down time... please do so now! I, along with my roommates I am sure, would greatly appreciate it! Even though it seems like it has gone quickly, we have been taking each day as it's own and appreciate the blessing we have been given.
Until next time... Paz y Bien!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

FrancisCorps arrives in Costa Rica for Another Year...PURA VIDA!!!!

Alright so I guess it's time for another blog to go up... I suppose I should let people know what's going on and that I am not lost in some jungle in Costa Rica....but if I was, I definitely have learned some pretty "handy" survival skills from one of my roommates... thanks buddy!

Well anywho... I have been here for three weeks but I feel like I need to separate these blogs because, basically a lot has been going on! It wasn't too long ago that I was sitting in the Syracuse house, sweating profusely either from just the hotness of Syracuse or the incredible dance party our last night there. I think I am still hearing a little T-Swizzle and MGMT ringing in my ears. It wasn't too much longer after, that we were saying our goodbye to those 6 wonderful people that would remain in Cuse and boarding the plane to our far away destination...

After a safe and smooth ride we finally arrived in Costa Rica... the place I will call home for the next year.... not too shabby eh? Myself, the 4 other volunteers and Bro. Jim walked out of the airport being aware that the taxi drivers could smell the Gringo blood from a mile away with the attempt to get our business.... Roy, a close friend of the program, was there to rescue us and take us to our home. A home, that as soon as we all walked in, our jaws dropped to the ground. It is absolutely gorgeous... close to the nicest thing I have ever seen in my life. Check out the pictures and see for yourself... your a little jealous... I know!!

The View of our house from the front. A typical Ranch house and no Jelly there are no horses to be found here...
Let's take a peak at the Brittany and Jelly's Room...

I thought a picture tour would be a little bit better just because they do more justice than what I probably would tell you. It is probably a little less boring as well :)

We arrived Friday and started getting settled into our house which soon enough started feeling like a home. One of the best feelings in the whole world was FINALLY not having to live out of our suitcases. Three weeks doing that was a complete misery... the joys of traveling though eh?

That night we hit up the Friary for the first time to have a little meet and greet, as well as dinner with the Friars. The Friary is another extraordinary looking place. The food was nothing less then excellent and the company of all the Friars: Victor, Jorge, Walter, Maury, Francisco (aka. Chico), and Nader, was great! It was a awesome first night in Costa Rica... one of many to come!

The start of my very first full day in CR started off with a pretty interesting experience. I was in my normal routine of getting out of bed and headed to the bathroom to do my usual and jump in the shower. The shower was amazingly warm which is hard to come by in Central America but we have all had pretty good luck with temperature. After I finished I see the toilet hadn't gone down and try to flush it again... but soon realize the water is raising a little to far than I would ever wish...the only thing that comes to my mind is oh DIOS MIO! I run to get some towels to clean it up with. I start to clean it up but notice the small puddle was turning into one of the Great Lakes. I then notice water is still spilling over the over toilet due to the fact the stopper in the tank had not closed...I quickly fix that and it finally stops while standing knee deep in toilet water and maybe more but I will leave that up to your imagination. I run to get the mop and more towels to finish cleaning the bathroom up. Great start... but wait it gets better!

So I then take the towels and go to our laundry room where we have a Pila... or cement sink. I begin to wring out the towels and rinse them off with water...soon to be feeling something cool running across my feet. I look down and see a nice stream of water coming from under the Pila starting to create another lake from under my feet... I am actually starting to feel like I am back in Minnesota.... only 9,998 more to go! I look under the sink to two holes in the pipe greeting me with spewing I greeted back is probably not appropriate for the reading eyes. Once again I grab my towels and mop to clean up the mess I have waiting at my feet... what a great way to start my first full day in Costa Rica!

The rest of the day goes pretty well and pretty entertaining. Had fun sharing the morning story with Bro. which he had to have his hand at trying to conquer the throne... let's just say.. Throne 2: FrancisCorps 0! See pic below!

We then headed out to have our first CR grocery experience. I would say it was a success mainly because the people were of great service and there were samples in every aisle. I think, hands down our favorite aisle was the one shown below...

We soon checked out and headed home because we couldn't be late for the Notre Dame football game. Tom is trying to convert me to the dark side and become a might be working but I can't give him too much credit! Soon after the game we cooked our first meal together which was chicken sauteed in red wine and mushrooms... it was pretty delicious. We ended the night with a gathering on Brittany's bed laughing histerically at pictures from the previous night's dance party as well as confessing that no matter how much we say "si" and nod our heads... we have no clue what people are saying in Spanish. Oh the joy of a second language!

Sunday we headed to mass for the first time. Beautiful church, great homily... for what we could understand..., not so great of music. First of all, it is played off of a CD, second of all it has the beat of Disney music, but is 1000 times worse! We had lunch with the Friars like we will most Sundays. Fri. Victor made some delicious beef, sausages and Potatoes. Do delicious it turned our vegetarian into a carnivore! We bummed around for the rest of the day and probably had another Glee marathon. (I am having a brain fart on the rest of the day actually so I am assuming that is what we did... the problem with not keeping up... sorry!) The picture below is of the group in the garden of the Friary after Sunday mass. Good Looking group!

Overall the first weekend was pretty great as well as pretty chill. It was great to be able to slowly get settled in without it being super overwhelming. Even the plumbing issues weren't the worst thing in the world. Hey... let's look at it in a positive light... if the whole Med School things doesn't work out... I might have a pretty good start with a plumbing career. More stories about that to come as well... so be ready.

I am a little behind so I will try and get the next one up a little quicker... be patient with me... porfa!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Basin of Dirty Water, Fist Pumping and Brother Sun: Welcome to FrancisCorps 12

August 21st was the day that I started my new journey of life. I arrived on the step of Court Street 1015-1017 with a few butterflies in my stomach not really knowing what to expect or who to expect. I was instantly greeted by a fellow volunteer named Mike and a family with a think accent, right away knowing they were from Long Island... or should I say "Strong Island" Jeannie? Soon enough everyone was trickling in from their specific corners of the country. I soon met Mike from Albany, Jeannie from Long Island, Amy from Buffalo, NY, Tim from Binghamton, Jelly from Laredo, TX, Brittany from Indianapolis, Matt from Durham, NC, Molly from Fairhaven, MA, Monsy from Miami, and Tom from Chambersburg, PA. A group that throughout this past week, we have formed a pretty strong bond. It has been quite an interesting ride bringing 11 recently college graduates together for one common purpose. One can say it is like college all over again with your closet friends but minus the homework... which makes it a pretty ideal way of life!

Orientation started off pretty good besides the fact it rained on us for almost two days. To keep things positive though we were here when Syracuse experienced the most rainfall in history with mas o menos (more or less) four inches of rain. This allowed for a some great group bonding time and a two/three hour game of Apples to Apples. Even though I didn't come out victorious... it LITERALLY was a blast. Hoping to get out of the rain, we headed up to Alverna Heights for a few nights for some more orientating and team bonding.....

... and did we for sure get both of those covered! We not only learned the life and times of the other volunteers, we learned who has the best knack for taking people out in the game of Mafia as well as who has the best acting skills. We also learned that a dirty basin of water can be lesson many of us can learn from. All 11 volunteers were so humbled to have their feet washed by Bro. Jim and Sr. Ann as way to remind us that we need to wash the feet of those around us. Not only in our FC (FrancisCorps) community but everyone around us. We have seen Jesus set the way for us, and now we must go out and continue this "washing" to those around us. Through this washing we can form a community, which can be represented by the gunk at the bottom of the basin. We all have our own way of doing it but in the end the gunk settles and it comes together at the bottom forming the community feeling. (Disclaimer... This is kinda an odd way of looking at community but I am trying to remember what Bro. Jim said during this time but I might have butchered it somewhat...bare with me :)

So after a couple hours of Spanish Taboo and a few more games of volleyball and a riveting game of Sardines, we packed up our bags and headed back to Syracuse. In about twenty minutes, we had our bags repacked and jumped back into the vans for a five hour drive to Seaside Heights...a.k.a..... Jersey Shore (insert fist pump here).

After a little traffic here and there, Lead-Foot Jim and Captain Tom parked us safely at our great beach house just a couple blocks from the infamous Jersey Shore Boardwalk and Beach. We spent the night enjoying the biggest pizza I have ever seen and playing a few games out on the porch while Sister moon laughed the night away!

The next morning, as well as for the rest of the week, Brother Sun was there to wake us up for another exciting day ahead of us. We did our orientating in the morning which consisting of working well within community, being good listeners (yea you heard me!) and figuring out our personality types. One morning, which was probably a favorite of all, we met the Poor Clares. A group of Contemplative sisters who live in community with each other. They are a group of amazing ladies who are working towards fulfilling the mission of St. Clare and St. Francis. Someday I will dive a little deeper on both of them. The afternoon was mainly for more group bonding which primarily took place at the beach...not a bad place for that to happen eh? Played a little volleyball, did a little swimming and body surfing, a few napskies, chasing after Snooky, and J-Wow... nothing too big. A good chance to really get to know the other members of the group.

For a couple of nights we stayed in to cook for ourselves, grillin up some delicious Shish Ka-bobs and enjoying the company of Crazy Uncle Bud and Aunt Coors. We also headed out to the Boardwalk for a meal. We had to wait a while to get our seats, but only because they were clearing the tables that Pauley D and The Situation were eating from... again no big deal :) After dinner we attempted to win ourselves the 13 member of FC 12 but some little kid was a sharp shooter on the water gun game...we believe it was rigged. The night ended in some quality dancing and fist pumping... even a little wrestling. We even caught the sunrise the next morning.

Saturday was a Free day with us so we really got a chance to get to know Brother Sun and Sister Water. We are all pretty much best friends but soon had to say goodbye once Sunday came about. We celebrated a wonderful mass with the parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and talked with a few parishioner after mass. Soon after we jumped back into the car with Lead-Foot Jim and his Co-Captain, this time Monsy, and headed back to wonderful Syracuse... hoping to bring the sunshine back with us!

After hours of Disney music, Madonna, Alaina Morsette and Jewel... we successfully made it back to Cuse. Unpacked the car but soon enough jumped back in to hit up a stellar chinese restaurant for dinner. Just don't get the Beef Chow Mein... not the greatest. After dinner we popped in Dead Poet's Society and chillaxed for a while. It was the first day of work for the Cuse Volunteers the next and some more orientating for us going to Costa Rica.

The rest of the week consist of some more "housekeeping" items for the CR (Costa Rica) volunteers while the Cuse Volunteers work diligently at their new post. It is sad to see that the time together with both CR and Cuse volunteers is dwindling down but the relationships have formed and it looks pretty hard to break these bonds.

We head to Airport at 6:15 on Friday to book it out of the country so please keep us in your prayers during our journey. Please keep the other 6 volunteers here in Syracuse in your prayers as well as they continue their ministries.

I will keep you posted as life goes one but until then remember....

Continue to wash the feet of those around you, have fun and fist pump when ever you can, and thank Brother Sun and Sister Moon every chance you get!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's all getting Closer...

It is absolutely crazy how fast the summer has gone by. I see that I wrote my last post at the end of June and now it is the middle of August... HOLY MAN! It all started off a little slow but soon enough it zipped past our eyes like no other. I only have three days before I start my orientation in Syracuse for my year of volunteering in Costa Rica. I thought I better fill y'all in on a few things that I have accomplished... or well at least attempted to accomplish before I get too far behind.

Here we go:

I actually didn't do too much this summer besides train for my half marathon and study for the not soo fun of a test MCAT. I worked a few odd jobs to get a little cash flow. Got a few dirty looks from the kids I called out on a pitch that might have been a little over their head...oh well it was only Summer Rec. Tasted a few good samples for Schwans that landed me $15 bucks each time. Stayed cool in the midst of the power washers while cleaning up those trucks and lastly worked on my tan by picking rock and bailing straw for the Regniers... haha thanks Chad! Anyway... they all helped out over the summer and who doesn't like a little physical labor here and there!

I mentioned that I studied and took the MCAT... not the greatest experience in my life...all I can say is better luck next time? I find out the score here at the end of the month so who knows, maybe it wasn't too rough. It was a difficult test but now I know and if need be, will be even more prepared for the next time I need to sit in front of computer for five hours and pull my hair out.

One of the highlights of the summer was running a successful half marathon. I think it was easier than the MCAT. I would have never thought... as would many others... that I would run 13.1 without stopping.. WHEW! I did it though and in a time of 2 hours and 15 seconds. Not too shabby! I ran it with a few friends from school and we all did great! I am thinking of keepin the training up while in Costa Rica. Go run a few mountains or volcanoes and come back and do a full marathon... don't hold your breath though :)

After taking the test and running marathon... it allowed me to focus on my packing for Costa Rica. I took my test the 5th of august, ran the 7th and was leaving for the east coast on the 11th. I didn't pack at all until after I was done with my test and the run so... I was cutting it close. I didn't have too hard of a time this time around unlike when I went to Guate. Packed my backpacking bag, a carry on and my book bag. Hopefully it will be enough... we will see!

So the 9th I spent my last night at home for the year which was a weird feeling. On the 10th I left home to head up to the cities to have one last family outing before I got on my plane to leave for the east coast. I had a great time hitting up the Mall of America and sitting in long lines for some rides. Was a blast! Also we hit up the links on the mini golf course and then ended up losing Mom in the mirror maze and having to call in the rescue team! We then headed out to Joe Sensors for dinner where Kirby, Becky and Megan all joined us for supper. Thanks again guys for being their to spend my last night in Minnesota! After a goodbye to my brother, a quick trip to Walmart of some essentials, a struggle with a sleeping bag (in which it won) I closed my eyes and to my last night in Minnesota.

It was an early wake up to catch the shuttle to the airport to stand in more long lines. Soon enough it was the time I had been dreading... saying my goodbyes to the people I care about the most. One of the most difficult things I have had to do! It was my luck that the lines started to go faster too so I was even rushed. It was quick goodbye but it maybe was for the best.. I probably would have been a huge mess otherwise.

Soon enough I was through security and kinda jogging to my gate because I was a wee bit late. Jumped on and was on my way to Allentown PA where Mary Todd was there to pick me up. We headed out to Trail's End Camp where I spent four days hanging out with some more friends before I leave. Had a blast seeing my campers from previous years and hittin up the Big A with those friends that I see once in a blue moon.

After camp Sara Fetterfoof and I got in the car and road tripped up to see Corey Bailey. I am currently in Good Ole Elmira NY, livin the dream. Did a little site seeing of Mark Twain and Ernie Davis' grave, did a little putt putt, walked a Gorge and hit up the Sand Dollar. Corey has been a great tour guide that is for sure!

Tomorrow we are headed up to Buffalo to relax on a lake and then off to Syracuse to begin the long awaited adventure! I have been truly blessed with such a great summer and family and friends that mean so much! No one could ask for anything more! I will keep you posted when things get a little closer...

Till then!