Finally, Pictures!

August 15, 2012


This is a link to my photos on Facebook. Not sure if you can see them if you’re not my friend but give it a try, won’t you? I set the album as being public.


And let me know if it works.



I’ve been home for a few days now and it’s not what I expected. I thought I’d be tired, riddled with a bad case of culture shock, and wrinkly-white fingered from standing in a hot shower for longer than necessary.

On the contrary, I feel rested and ready to start up my normal routines again, no culture shock to speak of, and long, hot showers are just as boring to me as they always were.

Our travel day was interesting until we started the whole airport thing. We took a boat from Arbolitos to Puerto Viejo where we saw monkeys and iguanas in the trees, then a van the rest of the way to San Jose. The driver stopped several times for pictures and JUST WAIT till you see them. Totally breath taking. We drove over the mountains, and maybe a volcano too, not sure. The views were unreal.

Then airports: longs lines, long flight, delayed second flight an hour and half, last flight only forty-one minutes…then finally Richmond International Airport and in the arms of Dale and my wonderful parents.

I was shaking with the relief of being home, dry-droopy eyed, and muttering mostly nonsense.

I did in fact lose 5 pounds while I was away! Dale couldn’t believe the change. My commitment to keep it up lasted…5 minutes. I did sort of miss junky food. However today I did begin actually taking note of what I’m putting into my body.

Also, I’m EXCITED to get started on the book version of this blog. I’m trying to wrap up a few freelance projects first but as soon as I have the spare time I’ll get cranking on that. There are probably a dozen things that I wrote about after the fact that will be added in, plus pictures and drawings. Stay tuned!

I finished painting the guest house today! It was my project of the day, I worked on it from about 8 AM to about 4 PM, with a break for lunch and a break to walk over to Ruth’s store to check on the others. They were sorting the new clothes that Franklin Baptist brought with them. Ruth has told the locals that the store will be open on Monday, apparently they’re pretty excited. Men especially, Ruth didn’t have a ton of men’s clothes before.

It was hot today. So hot that I had Mariana teach me how to say “I’m hot” in Spanish. She hung around the guest house for a while as I painted. We can’t talk much, but we whistled and laughed to keep us occupied. Sometimes we taught each other words in our respective languages. When she wasn’t there I listened to a Sherlock Holmes audiobook which was thrilling, as always. Twice, I listened to a couple showtunes and belted ‘em out. The only living creatures around me were cows (besides snakes and bugs and lizards and birds but they don’t count) so I wasn’t embarrassed.

Day Ten – 7/27/12 @ 3:32 PM,

I remembered today that it’s Stella’s birthday. She’s two now.

Guess what! Jerry just fixed my camera! Just like that. Apparently there was a little piece of something blocking the receptors of the SD card, which is why my camera kept giving me an error message. I took a picture of that annoying piece of gunk with my now working camera and I will post it later, probably in this book I’m thinking of doing.

This is really great… I needed something good to happen.

Same Day @ 8:47 PM,

Wow, I was tired today. So I rested! I haven’t rested—meaning taken a few hours to do nothing—since I got here. Yesterday and today were my hump days. Tomorrow starts something new.

Here in the this very rural part of Costa Rica, on the edge of a rainforest or jungle or whatever I have learned many things. Firstly, that everything is relative. Dry is relative, hot is relative, clean is relative. For example, tonight, I am clean, but there’s mud caked around my toes, my skin is lathered in bug spray, and my clothes smell a few days old. But it’s cleaner than I was this afternoon! I can’t remember if I wrote this to Dale or on my blog but I think I’m obsessed with feeling clean. It’s all I can think about, and I apologize that half of my posts now are about cleanliness in some way.

Wendy, Jerry and I have worked really hard to make some good changes here in the guest house. Jerry and Carlos put in a ceiling, we can’t see the previously exposed beams anymore, which Wendy and I found quaint but it let bugs and lizards in. At some point, Ruth wants to seal up the house, she told us. The walls seem to be the last step. Right now there are cracks between the vertical boards where the wood shrunk after it was put up. Some of the cracks are the size of a quarter slot, some are bigger.

We also put up the curtains over the bedroom doors, fixed up the kitchen a bit (cleaned it, put in shelves, set up the microwave, etc), Jerry sealed the lower, cinderblock half of the walls and started to paint (lovely gold color), we hung the clothes line, and much more. Then there’s all the work Wendy and I put into organizing the art supplies (nine blanket boxes full, one box with only poney beads!) and setting up for workshops and classes here, not to mention the days we were actually teaching.

Something else that takes a lot of time is simply living. Cooking, cleaning, going to the bathroom, showering—it all seems to be more work and take more time here in Costa Rica than I’m used to. For example, trying to do the dishes takes ages! No dishwasher, of course, but also the water pressure is pretty weak and the sponge is disintegrating. I’m not sure what that bright yellow stuff in the old butter container by the sink is, but Ruth said, “It cuts the grease really well,” and she’s right.

I’ve been watching He’s Just Not That Into You on my laptop, a good little dose of Americana. It’s much needed. Anyway, I’d love to finish it tonight so I’m going to do that now.



Day Eleven – 7/28/12 @ 9:47 PM,

Today was my big challenge day and guess what: it wasn’t so bad. The worst part was getting Ruth’s car stuck in the mud, and that happened as a totally separate event well after I got back to the guest house.

Crazy morning, as you can imagine. Wendy and Jerry and my mother and sister were packing and cleaning and eating and running around. I was a little too sleepy for all of that so I helped a bit but mostly I stayed out of the way.

Side note, I haven’t been sleeping well lately, probably because I was nervous about today and feeling homesick on top of that. I felt truly sick yesterday—physically, I felt sick. I’ve been waking up in the middle of night, confused as to where I am, getting up to get things and then realizing I have no idea why I’m up, but most interestingly, I’ve been talking in my sleep in Spanish. Last night, I remember waking up partially and thinking someone was standing there. I started to talk to them, and they answered me. We had a conversation. I was not being mumbly and groggy—I was speaking normally, except that it was in Spanish. Apparently it woke my mother, or maybe she was already up. She stuck her head around the curtain of a door and asked if I was awake. I assured her that I was. She asked if I was alright. I said I was just fine. She asked if I realized I was talking in Spanish and if I realized what was going on. I told her, “I don’t know up from down right now,” and lay down and went back to sleep. I felt heavy-eyed all day, I’m hoping for better sleep tonight.

Isn’t that part of the immersion experience? Dreaming in the new language?

But back to this morning: I’m still confused on what the plan was, all I know was that Carlos was taking everyone but Ruth in the boat upriver to Puerto Viejo, while Ruth was dropping me off in La Gata, taking her car to the shop, and joining the others to finish the journey to the airport in a rental van plus driver.

However, the first thing we noticed when we got to Ruth’s was that river was AWFULLY high. Ruth was concerned about getting the car to Puerto Viejo safely because she needs to cross so many little bridges.

Meanwhile, Wendy and my mother agreed that I must send them a Facebook message from La Gata letting them know I’d arrived safely, so I jogged back the guest house for my phone (didn’t wanna lug my laptop around all day) and by the time I got back everyone was loading into the boat, including Ruth! She told me, “Your mom said you’d have no problems driving so why don’t you get yourself to La Gata in my car. I can’t risk it, I gotta go with them in the boat.”

Well. This did not bode well for my big day. But my uncertainty lasted less than a moment before the thrill of this added adventure set it. Plus, having the car with me meant I could leave whenever I chose AND I could stop and take pictures along the way! Boy, this was gonna be SWELL!!! Ruth showed me how to use 4WD in case of mud but I was too excited to pay attention (mistake). From somewhere far away I heard my dad’s voice very faintly, “details, Sarah, details…” but whatever I’d figure it out.

So I hugged the gang g’bye, hopped in the car (not a Landrover Thingy, my bad, some kind of Nissan X-Something), and I was off! Right away I realized Jerry was right about the brakes being touchy. A dog darted around in the road in front me, totally unsure of where he should be standing. I tried to tap the brake gently just to be safe but I ended up skidding about thirty degrees to the left and ending in a screechy stop. A man walking nearby thought it was hilarious.

I won’t bore you with more details about the roads but I did take a video on my phone, which I will add when I’m back in the states (can’t upload pictures, and certainly not a video, unless you shrink them way down and frankly I don’t feel like it.) The point is, I arrived in La Gata without any trouble at all, but there were some disconcertingly steep hills which I didn’t notice as a passenger and made me a little nervous as a driver. Moving on.

Ana welcomed me in immediately, while Salvador made a big deal about me driving. Found out this evening from Ruth that most women don’t drive around here and hardly anyone has a license but that doesn’t keep them off the road. Milana (age 16) and I hung out for a while, teaching each other Spanish and English, starting with the word hammock. I already forgot the Spanish word for it but it sounds basically like hammock. Then it was breakfast by Ana which was rice and beans, of course, plus fried plantains and fresh avocado but I politely refused the—

I was just interrupted for a reflection time with the Franklin Baptist group. It was delightful! Brent (the pastor) asked everyone about things they noticed today, what their expectations were, and more along that track. It was thought-provoking for me. Firstly, because I got to know my new housemates a little better and I got to see this house and his country and these people through their eyes. Their eyes are fresher and more excited than mine. It’s very welcome. Secondly, it occurred to me that this entire experience has been percolating my mind, as old things settle new things are added. My brain has no rest from all these unusual sights, smells, tastes, textures, experiences, attitudes, words, and faces. (However, last night after I finished He’s Just Not That Into You, I watched about half of Seinfeld season 8 and that’s a welcome break, let me tell you.) Home is starting to feel very small and very far away. My body doesn’t feel like my own anymore because I’ve definitely lost weight and I’m used to feeling dirty now. Even my mind doesn’t belong to me, it’s been totally infiltrated, shaken up and dumped out, no organization at all.

I’m starting to feel like I’ve always been here and I’ll never leave…except when I read a message from Dale. Something about seeing the little red bubble with a “1” in it when I log into Facebook every third day or so gives me a feeling in my chest that reminds me I’m excited to be home.

But where was I? Ana’s breakfast, including fresh avocado, which I politely refused. I dislike avocado. Salvador asked me the English name for avocado and I told him. I am flattered when someone asks me the English name for something, it shows they’re interested in my culture and my life and that makes me feel good. Sitting in Ana’s kitchen, eating and listening to Salvador chat with two other men, watching Ana prepare things, having driven myself there and feeling proud of it, I suddenly realized that THIS was the experience I was looking for.

I’d been around La Gata long enough to disappear into the daily humdrum if I wanted to. I was slightly less exciting and just as dirty around the toes as they were. They were my friends, my sudo-family for the day, I knew a few habits, a few quirks. My senses weren’t flooded by my surroundings. I simply sat there. I ate my food. I was living as they were, I was seeing what they saw, I was eating what they ate. It happened so silently, so stealthy-like. When I woke up this morning, I was a square peg in a round hole, but I was now a square peg whose corners had been rounded until it fit.

Gently, I’d found my place, peacefully I started to belong.

It was still early, like 7:30 AM, and Greivin had just arrived so I did a practice run of the art class with him, Milena, and Michael. I tried to tell Michael that it was also my brother’s name, but I said sister instead of brother and everyone got really confused. I wanted to do a practice run so that Greivin and I could make sure we on the same page with translations and such. Also, he can interpret better if he knows what he’s doing. The class was supposed to start at nine so by 9:15 Ana and Greivin’s mother (her name will not stay in my head but I like her very much) and Greivin’s brother Marco had filtered in. I was excited to see people semi on time. We waited another ten minutes to see who else would come, then I figured we could just start, so we did.

Greivin did a wonderful job. He prepared all week, he said, learning words like paintbrush and all the colors and a few shapes. Three other adults and two kids (all people I’d already met) strolled in after a while and wanted to join. I let them sit down and gave them a frame (we were painting frames that Ruth had received in the mail by mistake that said “father-daughter ball 2009” on them) and I started to explain what was going on but after the fifth time it was easier to tell Milena (who did two frames) she could be teacher for a bit, or tell Greivin to explain the five basic things: don’t mix the pure colors in the cups only mix on the plate I had given them; how to clean their brush; creativity is very important; do a base coat first; and anything they do is good, don’t be afraid to put paint on the frame, worst case scenario you paint over it because it’s acrylic and it dries in like five minutes.

Ah, base coat…that was a long conversation between me and Greivin. I asked him if he understood what I meant by a base coat and he did not. You can’t just say, “it’s the first layer of paint and it’s called a base coat” because that doesn’t always make sense. Greivin’s a smart guy and he knows A LOT of English but some of these words are just really hard to explain to someone with any kind of limited vocabulary and different experiences to yours. I explained what a base was: it’s the bottom of something, it’s the foundation. That was pretty easy. Then coat: coats are something you wear in the winter, I said, then I backtracked. Winter in Costa Rica is a rainy season and summer is a dry season. Sometimes you can have winter and summer in the same week, according to the locals. So I had to try again, coats are something you wear when it’s cold outside. Oh wait, he’s never probably experienced anything colder than sixty-eight degrees in an AC-ed something maybe once in his life. I clenched my lips in frustration here but I was determined not to give up. Coats are things that cover other things, I said. Like a coat of paint, or a coat you wear. He nodded, good sign. So a base coat, I said, would the first coat of paint. Then he understood. I explained it’s very important to base coat these frames because they’re shiny and paint doesn’t stick that well, but it will stick to a base coat, IF YOU DO ONE. Not everyone felt it was important to follow my clear and simple directions.

After a while, I was too hungry to keep teaching so even though there were still people working, Greivin and I left. I was invited to his home for lunch and it was delicious! It was glorious to feel full, as usual. Greivin’s mother was extremely gracious and warm, she also let me take pictures of her kitchen which will be posted soon.

Halfway through lunch we got very quiet, focusing on our beans and rice, when suddenly I remembered a dream I’d had last night where someone said, “this ain’t your typical egg-salad sandwich situation!” which made me hungry enough that I woke up. I woke up wanting an egg-salad sandwich so badly that I got out of bed and made my way towards the fridge. Then I remembered where I was and there were no egg-salad sandwiches for many miles. Trying not to think about how my stomach was eating itself, I went back to sleep.

This thought made me giggle, then laugh. Of course, I had to explain why I was laughing but it’s a hard story to tell if you are dealing with my fraction of Spanish and his slightly-larger fraction of English. The story fell flat but I don’t care. It’s still making me chuckle.

The rest of the day was easy. There was supposed to be another painting class at two but nobody came so I said my goodbyes (took a few pictures) and left. The drive home was uneventful, I parked in front of the library, cleaned the guest house, hung out with Mariana, and I had a pretty decent conversation in Spanish with her mother about how I’m alone today and Costa Rica is beautiful and her daughter is so lovely and helpful.

I got Ruth’s car stuck in the mud when a truck-full of men beep-beeped to let me know to move the car. I made the mistake of pulling into the driveway of Ruth’s clothing store where I sat in sticky mud until the truck-full of men realized I needed help, showed me how to put the car in 4WD drive (helpful to know), and pushed while I steered, the end.

Then dinner with Franklin Baptist which includes Brent the pastor, then a married couple called Jeff and Diana, and lastly a woman named Maggie. I’m getting confused between the women’s names because Maggie looks so much like a Diana. They seem like lovely, warm people and I’m excited to get to know them better.

Good news, I’m over the hump! Franklin Baptist has a strong, positive energy and today was an excellent day. I’m in better spirits than I was yesterday. I’m fresh and excited. I’m strong and healthy, slightly tanner, and totally bug bitten but I’m starting to care less and less. Soon, after Jeff showers, I will pop in and rinse off and be slightly clean. Tomorrow we’re taking the boat to church and that will take all day, kind of, and I love riding on the boat! And I love church here!

Goodnight jungle, you were delightful today,



Day Twelve – 7/29/12 @ 10:20 AM,

Rain this morning.

I made pancakes! Ruth bought the mix while she was in Puerto Viejo yesterday.

My church has been sending me a devotional magazine each month since I graduated so I brought one with me and started to read it today. It’s about resting on the Sabbath. I skimmed it, but it was a nice read.

We’re listening to the only English station I know of which is soft 80’s pop with some 90’s as well and one modern hit (Jason Mraz’s I Won’t Give Up, random, I know) so it’s all good music.

It’s been a lovely morning so far!

Day Thirteen – 7/30/12 @ 7:44 AM,

Forgot to mention the other day that we found the hard drive! When Kerry and I unloaded her suitcase we grabbed it with the boxes of energy bars—it’s exactly the same size and weight. The morning the four of them were trying to pack up and move out, I really had the taste for some chocolate so began shuffling our food around in desperation. That’s how I found the hard drive. I asked the group, “Um, did y’all find the hard drive? Why did you put it with the food?”

AHHHHH!!!!” said my mom, “you found it!”

I guess my chin was on the floor with surprise because Wendy and Jerry thought the whole thing was hilarious. I was pleased to have a restored faith in humanity. The hard drive wasn’t stolen after all.

And we all lived happily ever after.

Yesterday I was nearly killed by a bull.

No really, hear me out. He was huge, angry, and white with horns thicker than my arm and firey black eyes. I had stayed behind at Ruth’s to get online but something seems to be wrong with my AirPort card and I couldn’t connect. This afternoon I’ll have to put my word document on a thumb drive and use Ruth’s laptop, just to make getting online even more inconvenient.

Anyway, the others finished lunch and headed back to the guest house, leaving me to walk back alone. So there I was, strolling along, looking for interesting rocks in the road, when all of a sudden a low pounding rumble caused me to look up. A man on a horse was galloping behind a heard of about ten cows and bulls, lead by the huge white one with sharp horns and terrifying eyes.

I had no idea what to do. The road I was on had barbed wire fences on each side and I was nowhere near a cross street. So I kept walking forward, but I moved to the right side of the road. The heard of cows also moved to the right side of the road. Something like panic began to itch the back of my neck but I kept walking forward and I moved to the left side of the road. The heard of cows, lead by the huge white bull, also moved to left side of the road.

I was in trouble, clearly. I had no place to go, I had to stay on the road and that bull had his shiny black eye on me. I kept walking forward but I moved into the ditch with the idea of standing against a fence post so I could roll under the barbed wire. However, I still had my laptop with me and I didn’t know what to do with it. Throw it over the fence? Use it as a shield against the bull? What would you have done?!

Then, the heard split, half of them lead by the bull and the other half lead by a speckled brown cow. The group led by the cow went along the fence, leaving me stranded in the ditch. Those cows rambled right by me, didn’t care at all. But that bull was focused, about only about 50 feet away from me. I stopped walking, clutching my laptop over my rapidly beating heart. The bull kept coming. I knew enough not to make any sudden movements but I began to wonder if I should make myself big and threatening. At the same time, I saw no reason to cause Mr. Angry Bull any extra anxiety.

So I stared him down. What else could I do? With my eyes I dared him to try something funny. The bull began to slow up. For the first time, he rolled his head to the side to see what his friends were doing. He looked back at me. He was only ten feet away. I looked him right in the eye and said out loud, “Move along, sir. There’s nothing to see here.” The bull stopped. He looked at his friends, who were passing him now. I could’ve reached out and touched his slimy nose.

Finally, he stepping to the side, mumbling and groaning he stomped on with the rest of the cows and bulls.

I started walking again, and the man on the horse passed me with a smile and a “buenas!” I smiled back and replied, “buenas…”

Adrenaline was coursing through my body at a rate I can never recall feeling. I said out loud, “I’m done.” And I was.

Same Day @ 5:15 PM,

I can’t believe today is day 13. It’s gone by both fast and slow.

I’ve been here long enough to fall into a routine, which is pleasing to my soul. Today we went back to the farm, which I promise I will write about later tonight. I don’t have the time right now. We’re walking to dinner in about 30 minutes.

I’m charging a laptop that Franklin Baptist brought with them (paid for by Ruth) to try getting online using that. I think I’ll take a quick shower and then give it a shot. Mom and Wendy are anxious to hear how Saturday went! Well you two, I TRIED to upload yesterday. I tried.

I’m thinking pretty hard about turning this journal into a book. I’ve started designing it in my mind. Think of this blog as a rough first draft. So thank you people who are reading this. I may ask for your input later, if you could be so kind.

I Think Today is Day Fourteen, 7/?/12 @ 6:10 PM

I am sitting up at the school in the dark. The keys of this PC don’t light up so I’m holding a flashlight in teeth so I can type. It took me thirty minutes to login to wordpress because the connection is so slow. Hopefully this post will actually upload so I can join my fellows at Ruth’s for dinner. I am starving. And now it’s raining again and I have no umbrella to protect the precious PC. Awesome.



Snakes and more mud

July 27, 2012

Day Seven – 7/24/12 @ 6:10 PM,

Yesterday, something happened that I had been hoping, probably praying, wouldn’t happen. Those who know me can guess.

Jerry found our first snake.

I’d love to not go into the details but for the sake of my readers it is necessary. It was small, maybe 12 inches, with a black and brown pattern. I didn’t get too close, of course. Why would anyone get close to a snake? But Jerry played with it for a while, then picked it up! He turned to Carlos and asked, “if it bites me am I gonna die?”

I’m standing 15 feet away like, are you crazy?? Every time we turn around Ruth is saying, “Don’t touch that, it’s probably poisonous,” but there was Jerry holding this little snake! Well. That was not ok with me—I have a true phobia of snakes! I don’t do it for attention, I didn’t have a bad experience as a child. I almost didn’t come on this trip because I was worried about the snakes but I figured, no, this is the trip of a lifetime. So as Wendy took pictures, Carlos watched, and Jerry let the thing wrap around his hand, I shivered and hyperventilated and gagged. Finally, Jerry tossed it towards the road and that was that.

I’ve been watching my step ever since, worried that there are snakes under the boards through the mud, behind the trashcan in the library, and under the toilet or IN the toilet! However, all things considered I think I’m doing quite well. I can’t hole up in my room because a snake could very easily be there too! No exaggeration there. So I am forced to be brave, to stomp around through the weeds and up the dark road at night after dinner at Ruth’s. If I see a snake, I will live. If I get bitten, I will probably live. A young friend of Ruth’s was bitten by a poisonous one in the field by Ruth’s house and she survived.

I’d rather not think about it anymore. I’ve done my writer’s duty. Moving on.

Today was rainy, sunny, rainy, sunny. When it’s rainy, its torrential every time and when it’s sunny it’s like a sauna as all that water evaporates into the air. I prefer the rain because it’s cooler, the air feels cleaner, and the bugs give it a rest. I love it when it rains during the night for all those reasons plus the sound is so soothing. I will miss it, without a doubt. I might start playing rain sounds while I’m trying to sleep when I go back home, who knows. Stella might like it too.

Wendy and I had a mission today: deliver invitations to all the women on our street. Ruth drew up a map with everyone’s name plus the word “upe!” pronounced “OO-pay” which is how you attract someone’s attention when they’re inside their house. No doorbell, no knocking, simply “Upe! Upe! Upe!” Also, in case you’re ever in Costa Rica you will need to know this: it’s rude to walk through someone’s doorway without being invited so don’t do it. However, Salvador and Ana from La Gata told Wendy and me that we didn’t have to wait to be asked in, which is Costa Rican for “you’re always welcome.” We’re flattered.

During this mission up the road we saw many interesting things. Fruit that sort of looked like apples but growing directly to the truck of the tree. At the end of the road was the river and it’s huge and muddy and fast. A variety of houses, every single one was different. Some are on poured concrete but the ones that are built in the lower areas must be on stilts for when it floods. All the houses around are made of wood. The people get wood by going into the jungle and cutting down a tree. Using a chainsaw, the cut it into boards. Carlos says it takes a lot of practice—yeah, no kidding. After the boards are cut they are left in the jungle to dry. This takes months. When the wood is dry, it is lighter, one by one these folks carry the lumber out of the jungle.

It was a very muddy day and on our way back, it started to rain, of couse. Not just rain, but RAIN. It rained and rained. Wendy slipped in someone’s driveway (don’t worry, the camera was fine!) and her rear was covered in mud. After a few minutes of watching the rain and talking about how she needed to wash her pants she suddenly stepped out into it and said, “let’s just shower this way.”

Why not, right? It’s the same water we normally shower in only better because it wasn’t a single stream. I was hot and sticky, I’m always hot and sticky, so I did it too. It’s the closest we can get to going to swimming, you know. Yes, we’re right on the river but that river has crocodiles and giant shrimp and probably things worse than those. Standing in the rain was marvelous. That’s the cleanest I’ve been since last Wednesday morning when I took my last hot shower. I felt amazing. I sat in a puddle and scrubbed my feet until all the orange mud was gone, gloriously. Of course, ten minutes later I was muddy again but oh well. I’m in the rainforest/jungle. It’s to be expected.




Day Eight – 7/25/12 @ 10:38 PM,

A lot happened today. It’s in my paper notes. CRAZY AMAZING DAY, wait till you hear. I will write it down here later. I’m still thinking about doing a book of all this with bonus content, like this post completed, pictures, and more.

First of all, Mom and Kerry arrived last night. It’s nice to have them here. However, a piece of bad news: Mom and Daddy donated a hardrive for…something, but it got stolen out of Mom’s suitcase along the way. Honestly, people. Please just be nice.

We went to Ruth and Carlos’s land downriver from us. IT IS A PARADISE. Period. I can’t wait to describe it for you. We also hiked through the jungle, the true honest-to-God jungle!! I have photographic proof that I was there! I conquered a fear doing that. Also, I probably enjoyed the boat ride there and back as much as anything else this entire trip. I understand why Ruth likes living on the river so much.

During the afternoon Wendy and I led a painting/bracelet making workshop with the Arbolitos women and it went really well. Ruth interpreted for us. On Saturday when I’m in La Gata alone I will do the same workshop with Greivin (correct spelling?! I don’t even know) as my interpreter. I am still nervous to be alone but truly I won’t be alone at all. I have friends in La Gata and they will help me as much as I need.


Day Nine – 7/26/12 @ 2:16 PM,

Today marks the halfway point of my stay and I have to admit I’m a little homesick. I miss you, America. I miss being comfortable and clean, and I miss Dale and Stella and Daddy and my brothers and my friends. Ah, homesickness hurts.

And GOD, TODAY WAS IT HOT. There was no relief from it, no AC, no breeze besides our fans which don’t do much. I had sweat dripping off my face and down my back, even my legs and arms were sweating. Kerry said, “aren’t we supposed to be in a rainforest? Where’s all the rain?” I explained that actually we were right on the edge of the rainforest, I believe we’re in the cloudforest zone. We’re also not actually IN the jungle—sort of on the fringe. I told her she missed all the good rain and exciting storms and she frowned at me. Hey, it’s not my fault.

The only good thing about the heat was that our clothes dried really fast, like within minutes, unlike earlier this week when my shorts took three days to become marginally wearable. Last night Wendy and I sent some clothes to Ruth’s for her to pop in the washer (the smell was getting a little too vivid). I’ve set aside a clean outfit for Saturday. I don’t want to be remembered as the smelly art teacher.

I forgot to mention that my camera isn’t working. When I put my SD card in, the screen read that the card was damaged. Well I was bummed but honestly I don’t like carrying around my camera (it’s huge), Wendy’s been doing a fabulous job with the pictures.

In fact, I’m going to link to her blog next time I have internet if anyone wants to read her version of events. She’s better at writing about what happens each day and what we eat and stuff. When we get home we’ll post all our pictures and I’ll update and revamp my blog then.

Anyway, I got Kerry to bring me a brand new SD card when she came to Costa Rica but I got the same error message! I’m going to Google the problem as soon as I have internet again. I have no idea what’s going on but I’ll be disappointed not to have a camera once Wendy leaves. I do have my phone but it doesn’t hold much and I’d rather not lug it around and risk it’s injury or Daddy’ll kill me.

This morning us ladies prepped for my class on Saturday. I feel good about it. We stopped by La Gata again today and Salvador and Ana are just so lovely to me that I’m certain I’ll be just fine.

This evening was church in Las Marias (translation: The Marys, yes, I’m confused too) and it was somehow hotter there. We were miserable. However, this is my second time going to church here in Costa Rica and I find it very enjoyable. The music is so raw, nothing fake about it. People just sing into the mic, no background music, and the congregation claps and sings along. It’s such a beautiful way to worship.

The pastor today was a man named Franklin (not to be confused with Franklin Baptist coming day after tomorrow). Ruth seems to have a lot of respect for him and so do I. You cannot imagine how he and his wife Yolanda and their young boy Wesley live unless you see it. Hopefully Wendy took pictures. It’s literally two “walls” and a tarp stretched between some palm trees. They have a toilet and some electricity, but they also have a dirt floor and hardly any protection from the elements. Readers, they are poor. They have each other, the tarp, and a little dog and not much more. But Franklin is an energetic man of God with a purpose and a calling and a family and a congregation. He seems…sort of content. His face is the most peaceful one I’ve ever seen, I don’t know how. Yolanda too, she didn’t look stressed and tired. She was smiling and merry-eyed. I can’t explain it but there is something special about that couple. My parents have decided to sponsor him some money each month.


I have had plenty of time to think about things. I’ve been thinking about my faith a lot, and I’ve shared some of that with you. I’ve also been thinking about why I came here. For the people? Or for me? And does it even matter?

I will go home a different person, I’ve known that for years. But I didn’t understand the scope of it, and probably never will, until I started seeing the poverty for myself.

It’s not ok.

People shouldn’t live this way. There is too much depression, too much sickness, and not enough hope and encouragement. If a person isn’t happy with their lot in life there is little to nothing they can do about it besides smile and keep working.

I don’t mean that everyone needs a buffet of options or paved roads to be happy but this…this is not ok. I admire Ruth and Carlos for their sacrifices. I don’t know where they get the energy and encouragement to keep going all day, all year, but it’s inspiring. I hope it’s inspiring you, faithful readers, as well. My job here is to a paint you a picture so that you can be here with me from your air-conditioned, bug free living room. Maybe you’ll decide to help Ruth also, with your time or your gifts or your prayers.

If you would be so kind, take ten minutes and pray for the people of Arbolitos, La Gata, Jerusalem, and Las Marias. I don’t care who you pray to or how you do it but ask that they get the help they need and the opportunities they desire. Then, pray for all the people of rural Costa Rica, asking for the same things. Ask that God soften the hearts of the leaders to ease some of the corruption and poverty. Then, pray for the Rama Indians living in Nicaragua not too far from here. They have even less than the people of Arbolitos. Then, pray for the world. Please pray for the world. Imagine your prayers create a golden halo around the entire earth. Lastly, drop in a good word for Ruth and Carlos, and Carlos’s mother Concepcion who has been cooking for us, and Franklin and Yolanda. Ask for restful sleep, full bellies, and good energy. They need it.





Day Ten – 7/27/12 @ 10:32 AM,

Tenth day. Eight left. More than halfway home.

In an earlier post, I mentioned a fruit that looks like apples but grows directly to the bark. I have since learned they are called mansana de aqua  or water apples, but they seem to be in the pear family to me, by the texture. Mariana’s mother gave us three the other day. Wendy was not a fan but I’m craving them today!

This morning, I burned our trash. It was a horrible experience. It stole my appetite and made me nauseous. As you know, we can’t put our toilet paper in the toilet, we put it in the trash. Every other day or so we burn it. Well the bathroom trash in the library hasn’t been burned for too many days and the smell today was a problem. So I took it on and you can best believe I will squirrel my way out of ever doing it again. Many apologies in advance, Franklin Baptist.

Today is a wrapping-up-loose-ends day. Mom has a few projects she’d like to get done, we’re all going to clean up the guest house, and later a walk around town for Wendy and Mom to take lots of pictures. I’d like today to be as peaceful and restful as possible. I’m going to hit the ground running tomorrow.

“Stay dry!” should be a greeting here.




July 25, 2012

Day Five – 7/22/12 @ 9:31 PM,
It’s late and I’m tired. It’s 11:31 Richmond time and I’m definitely still on Richmond time. I go to bed around midnight and wake up around nine (Richmond time), which is normal here (up with the sun and down with the sun) so that’s nice. Every morning I wake up on my own at my own time. My body loves me for it. I also eat until I’m full and no more. Wendy and I both feel we’ve lost weight but I’m not too worried whether I do or not. I’ll get back on my better-body-image routine when I get home.
Routines are typically my staple. If I have nothing else at least I have that. Here, extremely simple things at home are luxuries here and I appreciate them. I don’t need my routine because I’m so glad to have these other things like running water, electricity, screens on my windows, bed raised off the floor, osolotaing fans (or ovulating fans, according to Jerry), and planks on the path between the guest house and the library to keep my feet out of the mud. At the end of the day, I want to be clean and full, and usually I am. And it feels great. I love having the windows open at night, I love breathing real air (not airplane air, or AC-ed air), and I love seeing something new and learning something new.
However, at night, I have Spanish phrases going around in my head. Phrases I don’t even know sometimes.
You’re probably wondering what I do all day. Well it’s hard to explain because something that takes one hour at home takes three hours here. Timelessness, remember? So rather than write about everything I did today, I just want to write about two things: church, and the roads.
Firstly, the roads. A good road here is still worse than a bad road in the United States. Ruth is only able to drive fifteen miles per hour at best. They are mostly dirt but river rocks are used in an effort to keep the dirt in one place. Some of these rocks are normal gravel sized and some are as big as my head. Imagine driving over rock after rock after rock the size of my head. I think I already explained about how workers do a horrible job on the roads on purpose so as to have more work for later? On some areas of road, the people need to actually pay the government if they want to try fixing it themselves (just a little more insight on the corruption going on). The potholes are not simply holes but little ponds and frogs live in them, frogs as big as my foot. If I caught, killed, and stewed one of these frogs I could eat him for lunch and have leftovers for dinner. I do not kid. Please imagine the size these holes must be if massive frogs could actually live in them.
Sitting in the back of Ruth’s Landrover Thingy, I can almost feel my organs sloshing around and I can definitely hear my bones rattle against each other, which has me feeling unscrewed and desperately in need of a chiropractor.
As for church, well that was lovely. Ruth described it as “a few poles and a roof” and I thought “surely that’s an exaggeration.” Well. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Ruth it’s that she tells it like she sees it. And this church was truly only a few poles and a roof. There were probably fifteen people there today excluding the pastor who couldn’t make it due to motorbike malfunction issues. One of the men there preached in his place, with a short message at the end by Ruth. Sprinkled generously over the whole mess was lot of music, not music like I’m used to but rather a few people came up to the front one at a time, put the mic to their lips and sang praise songs that everyone seemed to know. The congregation clapped and sang along. The singing wasn’t good, but it was beautiful. Ruth told us later that the pastor’s message was a fire and brimstone one, which I have never been able to appreciate.
What interested me was how even though he was using a language I didn’t understand his inflections and gestures were familiar, so remincent of pastors I’m used to. I really loved all the music. Praise music always leaves me feeling closer to God than any sermon or communion ever has and ever will. I felt God in that humble little so-called sanctuary, with mosquitoes eating me alive, mangier dogs than before wrestling under my pew, and the sun setting behind a palm tree to my left. Sure, I was sticky and sweaty and I couldn’t understand anything anyone said but it was powerful to know that we were still praising the same God. It’s probably the only thing we had in common. Isn’t it amazing how it can bring people together? Religion causes a lot of strife, war, pain, and death but it shouldn’t. Religion should be more like it was today. It should be a personal walk with God—however that is for you—that makes people feel loved and happy. It should help build communities and set morals in place, and it should help each of us find our purpose in this life, our reason for being. I don’t care if you’re Methodist or Catholic or Jewish or Buddhist or polytheistic or some mix of things or no mix of things, in some way God is showing himself to you. What you know to be the Truth is your own personal Truth and no one can say that it’s wrong and no one should try to take it away from you.
My Truth is that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead for my sins, and these folks in the middle of Costa Rica’s forgotten semi-jungle believe that too and that makes me feel good. That’s all I care about.
Well, it’s 10:41 PM now and there’s a huge bug rattled the ceiling above my head and I’m starting to feel quite sleepy. I think it’s time to hit the sack. (Do you see now why I only chose two things to write about? So much to say!!)

Goodnight annoying bug.


Day Six – 7/23/12 @ 6:55 AM,
Raining again this morning. Cloudy skies makes it hard to tell if it’s really morning or not, however, it also makes things much cooler. Last night, I got a little bit cold with the fan and the window.
I can’t believe it’s been six days already. They are flying by.

Same Day @ 8:45 PM,
I do not feel like writing tonight. I feel like reading a book and letting someone else do the talking. It was a hot day, I had no sense of what time it was as Wendy and I worked and talked.
I woke up early today, sometime around 6, I think. I was hungry so I got up and ate a protein bar. There was no point in going back to sleep so I went over to the library to start working. I had my juice box and my ipod and I started to make some jewelry that I had been itching to try. Since I arrived here in Arbolitos (which, by the way, isn’t on any map so don’t try looking for me) I have been collecting special road rocks and keeping them in my pocket. I found a few on the road between the guest house and Ruth’s place and a few in La Gata. Then I wirewrapped, glued, beaded, and strung them. I think they turned out pretty good, for my first try, and it was a great way to start the morning. Helpful little Mariana joined me after a bit and we listened to my ipod together while we beaded. She’s five or six and Ruth says, “she’s basically my slave,” because she hangs out and loves to help and Ruth will sometimes give her little things to say thank you. Apparently her mother is helpful and kind as well. Marianna’s mother also never asks for things so Ruth is more willing to give, or sell extremely cheaply. The problem, Ruth says, is that if you give, give, give, people will expect free things all the time and they will beg for them. That’s not being a good model to follow, she says. I think she’s right.
I haven’t described to you the library yet have I? When I get home I will post pictures (connection is too slow here). The three of us are staying in the guest house which is about two blocks away from Ruth’s house. Dale would say it’s “two Richmond blocks, or one DC block” but whatever. You get the idea. The guest house is next door to the library, but to go between the two you have to walk through a HUGE mud pit that doesn’t dry out in the sun because it’s shaded by a tree. It’s been sunny the last two days so most of the puddles have dried up but not this one. A couple days ago I made us a sidewalk through the mud with pieces of lumbar (I didn’t feel bad about putting perfectly good lumbar in the mud because had been outside since we arrived so it wouldn’t be dry for months anyway.)
But that’s a tangent. The library is pretty big, I’m horrible at guessing feet so just go with pretty big relitive to what’s around here. One half is a true library and the other half a project room, where Wendy and I spend all our time. Except today I did spend 20 minutes or so playing with Ruth’s keyboard which is on the library side. I played some Phantom of the Opera, a little something I made up, and some Praise music just to round things out. I wish I’d brought my Wicked the Musical book but it was too heavy.
Geez, I am all about tangents today! The project room has SO MUCH STUFF IN IT. Ruth, like all the women around here, saves everything because it will come in handy one day. Wendy and I spent a good amount of time crossing things off our Goal List today: organize plastic bins of supplies (she has an entire blanket box of beads, just beads!), make a rug to put our dirty shoes on in the guest house, make a tic-tac-toe game for the kids (instead of X’s and O’s we did frogs and chamelons), and some other stuff I’ve forgotten it now. We were productive. We also talked a lot.
I had an ah-ha moment this afternoon. At lunch, Ruth let us know that the internet was working and Wendy and I freaked out, as Jerry predicted we would. School let out around two so we snuck under the barbed wire fence (to keep out the cows, I guess, it doesn’t work too well on people) and we sat under the awing in front of the caferteria to check on life back home. Wendy finished first and let me hang out with her ipad for a while. I took my time, I wrote Dale a little note and made sure my mother was all set to come down here to rural Arbolitos tomorrow and I started heading back to the library about two blocks away down the not-as-muddy road. And let me tell you, I was powerwalking, I knew I really had to hustle. As I huffed back to base, I started thinking about everything we HAD to get done today. As I hobbled and halfran I passed the woman who I know to be helpful little Mariana’s mother and I thought about what I must look like to her: a sweaty white girl who walks too fast. Well I waved and said “hola” and slowed down. It was too hot to walk that way. I tried to walk like the natives do, slowly swinging one foot around to pass the other, only a notch faster than standing still. Suddenly, an amazing thing happened. I realized that I was stressed. The thing about stress is that it’s about as useful as a typewriter to a goldfish. I bonked myself in the head and said outloud, “you are in Costa Rica, Sarah Lapallo, be a Costa Rican!” so I did. I got back to that library when I got there and not a second sooner. Wendy and I worked steadily and with care, not rushing and making stupid mistakes. We did good work and guess what: at the end of the day we started crossing things off the list that we’d done and it was a lot. Good feeling, let me tell you. If I take only one thing home from this trip it will be that life is too short to rush around and miss it all.
Tonight I was very excited, as usual, for the shower. It’s only a chilly, single stream of water, like standing under a weak hose. There’s also a risk of running out of water if someone doesn’t make sure to run the pump at the well for a few minutes everyday. What we do is rinse, water off, soap up, water on, rinse off. At the end, I stand under the stream for as long as I can in good conscience before I reach up and turn off the nozzle on the shower spout. I don’t miss hot showers, but I do miss taking them for as long as I please, which back home, isn’t that long. It’s just so glorious to feel clean.


Day Seven – 7/24/12 @ 7:08 AM,
I had weird dreams last night. I woke up four times not knowing where I was. The first time this happened, I stood up and clicked on the light. Slowly the room around me began to make sense and I let out a little, “ohhhh…” and went back to sleep. Strange, right?
Ruth has probably already left for San Jose to pick up my mother and sister from the airport. The two of them will be staying for about four days, leaving the same day as Wendy and Jerry. When Ruth drops off my mom, Kerry, Wendy and Jerry back at the airport, she’ll also be picking up a group of five from Franklin Baptist. I don’t know their names or what they plan on doing here but I do know we’re one bed short so someone’s matteress will be right on the floor.
Wendy and I want to rig up curtians on the doors today. We’ll also be delivering invitations to all the women on our street for an art workshop tomorrow.
On Saturday, when Ruth leaves with the rest of the group, I’ll be dropped off in La Gata for the day to lead a painting class all by myself! I’ll be Salvator and Anna’s daughter for the day, Ruth said, and I’ll be eating lunch with Graiven (still not the correct spelling but it’s closer) and his family. Graiven knows more English than I know Spanish so he will be very useful in helping me speak to everyone. I also have a feeling I will learn a lot of Spanish on my feet. I need to know words like paintbrush, stripes, and mix. I also need to know “now you do this” and “please follow along.”
I already know my colors and some other helpful words plus I already know a lot of people from La Gata and I like them and they seem to like me, but there’s a little knot in my stomach which means I’m nervous. If not for the langague barrier, I could do this whole thing in my sleep but trying to think in Spanish has my brain on overdrive. I feel like I keep burning out my motors or something. I’m certain everything will be fine when all’s said and done.
Last night, I fell asleep to a massive storm. It was right over our heads for a while. Huge, continuious thunder rolls, then lighting which struck over and over so that I could’ve read a book by it. Wendy described the rain as having “the force of a dam” which is an excellent way to say it. I have been through tornados and hurricans all over the United States but I have never experienced storms like these Costa Rican ones. Never.


Same Day, 6:10 PM,
I only have 3 minutes to write/post this one but I wanted to mention that today, Jerry found a little black and brown snake but I handled it quite well…from far away. Truthfully, I was hyperventilating and dry-heaving but I stood there as Jerry played with it and he didn’t die which mean I need to chill ouuuuuuuuuuut.
Also, Wendy and I showered and washed our clothes in the rain. We stood there in our clothes and scrubbed down. It was amazing. I’ve felt clean for the rest of the day!! More on all this later 🙂


It’s so nice to shower because I’m getting wet voluntarily and afterwards I am somewhat clean. Tomorrow morning I will step in a muddy puddle first thing and I will no longer be clean, but for now, I am clean and it is good.

Today, Ruth and Wendy and I went to a town called Lagata (yes, it means “the cat” and there’s a long story to go with it) and we set up the clothing sale. Ruth sold a decent amount but not as many as she wanted because the river flooded so there was no school. The high school has about 70 potential customers that we lost but we’ll try again tomorrow. So much depends on the weather here.

So we spent some time this morning in the home of a very nice family, friends of Ruth, talking and playing with their pet birds and drinking DELICIOUS coffee (I’m not a coffee person and all they added to it was sugar). Wendy and I practiced Spanish/English with a sweet young man about my age named Graven (not the correct spelling) and I explained to him that I learned Italian because my family is Italian and that made learning Spanish very difficult for me. But I have to say, this day of mingling with only Spanish speakers really made a huge difference for my education!

After the coffee hour, we set up the store, which took a while, then hung around and tried to talk to people. Everyone was gracious about our limited vocabulary and willing to help us learn. A few were trying to learn little bits of English so we spent a lot of time trading knowledge this way.

Strange for me be writing and thinking right now. My brain is so over-loaded with new words, new faces, new ideas, that my words feel forced and….can’t think of the other word I need. Please don’t judge me, it’s been a long day. A fun day, a very fun day. But long.

Wendy used the word “timelessness,” I think, and it suits this place. Time passes and nobody cares. Forty-year-olds are finishing high school, thirty-year-olds are deciding to move out of their parent’s homes, sixteen-year-olds are having babies. During the day, I don’t think about food until it’s on the table and then I realize I’m hungry. I don’t know what time it is and frankly I don’t care. Timelessness.


I cannot believe I am actually here. It hit me again today as I stood in the crossroad of Lagata, seeing the town again for the first time. I saw the dirt road with two curves, one to the left and one to right, two kids walking up it, strolling really, sort of up a little hill. The weird, cobbled houses, using random materials and held together with prayer (and rope and nails, glue doesn’t seem to work here because it will never dry) are sprinkled around here and there. Everything grows, everything is green. You cannot imagine this green unless you see with your own eyes. It cannot be caught on film. Even the air seems alive. I feel alive.


We did things today. We played Uno. We visited with the Kindergarten teacher and her live-in boyfriend (the son of the man she’s renting from). We laughed with the kids. We learned Spanish and other things. But I am too brain-tired to write about it all now.

I would like to say one thing about the Kindergarten teacher (whose name I did not remember.) She’s from the city and she’s very different from the other people here. Her house is different, her things are different. For example, she has a set of matching glasses, matching plates, matching mugs. She uses a pretty, lacy tablecloth. She wore makeup even though it was a normal day. She had a collar on her dog, which wasn’t mangy but clean. The four of us women talked about how we were all teachers, and the Kindergarten teacher grew misty-eyed telling us about when her father passed away, forcing her to move here. She had a different outlook.

Things I Want To Write About When I Feel Like It:

Playing Uno


The huge frogs (bigger than my fist!)

Ruth’s work with the people (living by example, teaching them about having a business through the clothes store)

Setting up this house for a couple to come live here, the things it needs, the things we’re doing

The boys we played Uno with

The women building a dressing room


Good night, Jungle.


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