It’s Not the Work …

It’s not the work. It’s the work it takes to do the work.

While probably true of most worthwhile endeavors, this statement has been a semi-mantra for me since January began and many changes occurred in my life as a Peace Corps volunteer.

The now buried lead to this post is that I’ve changed sites and therefore jobs. Since June I’ve been in Pocora working alongside a gift of a co-teacher (now friend) in the high school there and with a team working on the National English Festival which was hosted at nearby EARTH University in November. I was also squeezing in time with the national advisors of English and working on the English curriculum reform that’s underway.

As a result of my work on these projects we were able to introduce a new video at the festival that can be used with the new curriculum. Simultaneously, a proposed new volunteer that was to work with the national advisors of Ministerio de Educación Pública de Costa Rica didn’t quite work out. Since the advisors liked my previous work with the curriculum development and my work on the English video and festival, they asked if I could assist in the role left vacant. And that meant a site change from Pocora to near San Jose.

I’m now living with my first host family in a community called San Miguel and three days a week I commute to the MEP office to give input on themes, activities, vocabulary, etc. for the new curriculum. I am also assisting with the next national English Festival, video development, and a proposed new nationwide English campaign.

Being busy feeds my soul, so the fact that this was a hard first week had nothing to do with the amount of work that was accomplished (which was plenty).

The “ouch” is what you have to do to do the work – buses (LOTS of them), walks in heels (which I will be addressing in the future by changing shoes in the office), waiting on a computer that is connected to the Internet and therefore having to use mine and my phone data to connect, coordinating across cultural and language barriers with office mates and, to some extent, generational barriers with other volunteers.

Plus it’s rather expensive to live in the Capitol city. The other two days of the week will fortunately be out of my house so I’ll be saving on bus fares (sometimes taxis when the work goes long and it’s not safe to bus it) and some meals but I still have to pay rent and I hate that I can’t give my very gracious host what she really deserves.

So … this post finds me quite thrilled to be facing new challenges and slightly worn out as well.

Still the work is the thing and, gratefully, the work is rewarding. And, when all else fails to soothe or salve, I have time with friends … like today’s Super Bowl event, my yoga class, and a nice long walk!

Baggage Claim

Traveling isn’t what it used to be. Though I never flew when meals were hot and near restaurant quality, I heard stories of steaks in first class. I’ve seen films. I have had hints of traveling mercies —  like when I once had enough points to be bumped up and enjoy a freshly heated chocolate chip cookie and cold glass of milk before arriving in Seattle. Or the time when the international flight was overbooked and I was greeted in one country by a uniform-clad messenger and told I would be making my way to the next country with actual space between my knees and the seat in front of me (first class again).

But for the most part, travel in my time has been a chore.

When I flew to Costa Rica my new duffle bag gave up before ever leaving the staging hotel and I found myself at 3:30 a.m. trying to duct tape may way to some sense of security as the airport-bound bus was being filled with other volunteers and their two bags — all we were allotted. Though I had made a math class out of discovering if I was carrying too heavy of a load and knew with certainty that I would get a pass, I cringed when I saw my fellow trainees with bags wide open discarding and shifting and trying to cajole the baggage handlers who stood between them and expensive hair products which were destined to soon be in someone’s handbag or trash but weren’t going to San Jose.

And even though I’ve been to more than 20 countries, I still hesitate when filling out the required forms distributed on the plane before landing. I know I don’t have drugs, money, or contraband. I know that I haven’t been frolicking in cow pastures. I know that I’m free of disease and passport ready and yet I still fear that I will have to endure the glower of a customs agent, the frustration of a bored passport control officer.

What I didn’t realize when I made my way through the Costa Rican system, was that I should have left one item at the luggage carrier upon my arrival. That, of course, was my ego. I really have no use for it here. No matter how impressive I might think myself to be, language is the great humbler. I can make my way across country and secure deals and address hotel screw ups but my Spanish stumbles out like some drunken husband timidly fretting what his wife will say when he finally pours himself through the front door after an all nighter. My sentences don’t flow. My words have no rhythm. Even the drunk eventually finds his keys. The key to my language learning has yet to be discovered. I slur, reset, and repeat until both my confidante and I grow weary of the process.

So yes … I helped script and stage manage the National English Festival. Yes I wrote and helped produce a short video that may launch a social media campaign. Yes I taught high schoolers how to spell, present, and have a fun conversation in English. And yes I’m in the middle of launching a new social media presence for Peace Corps Costa Rica (on top of the other campaign) and yes, I have a new position with the national department of education and will be returning to the San Jose area.

But no, I don’t sound like I know what I’m talking about whenever I speak. No I can’t remember which is the word meaning “rule” and which is the one for “present” and I’ve asked close to 20 times. No, I’m not sure what the potential benefactor is offering in his WhatsApp messages to me, what my host mom just said she was putting in front of me for lunch, and exactly how to get to the yoga class that I still have to do with my eyes half open because I’m not sure if we are suppose to be deep breathing while standing or getting a grip on the light within.

At this point, my ego is sufficiently aware of what it is not, what I am not.

And though I’m not a fluent Spanish speaker, I am also not a quitter. So 2016, here we go. The only ticket I have for this phase simply says “mejor” so I will hold fast to the idea that this year, bruised ego and all, I will be better.

Signs you might be living in a rainforest ….

  • IMG_6816Your shoes are green – from mold
  • Your clothes have unidentifiable stains that you learn are from … mold
  • You notice a lizard on your wall while chatting with someone in the states and don’t even think it’s worth mentioning
  • Your room (shared with two others from the same region) was fumigated by hotel staff after you unpack clothes (see above and aforementioned … mold)
  • You are on your fourth umbrella in three months
  • You hear about a volunteer who was told she had lung cancer and later learned it was … mold
  • Make up? What make up?
  • You celebrate coming to San Jose – solely because your clothes are dry for a few minutes
  • You are in site for three months and have already planned a bonfire for when your service date is over and you can burn your clothes (And, no, they wouldn’t be good to share with those “less fortunate”)
  • You have no intention of packing clothes for when you visit the states but you are going to buy a Tote
  • While you might forget your cell phone or even your computer when walking to school, you will not forget your sweat rag and fan
  • Have I mentioned mold?

On being a FoKCer

Welcome to FoKCers, the online hub for Friends of Karen Campbell. While KC is on her initial 2-year tour of Costa Rica with the Peace Corps, is our virtual assistant.

Karen can post photos, write blogs, tell stories, share videos, etc., and so can we.

If you think you may be a FoKCer but haven’t yet been invited to the site, please contact us.

Coming soon: calendars, photos, designs, lots of great stuff.