Tech Week is the name given to the preview we trainees (or as we are known in Peace Corps Costa Rica — aspirantes of Tico 29) get of the jobs we will assume once we are sworn in. Our Tico 29 group of would-be volunteers (each training group gets a number and it’s a cherished identity) set off last Sunday for various locales in the country. My cohort was Evan and you’ll see him in the photos I’m posting with this entry. The volunteer we were assigned to is Taylor. He’s been here a year. For some reason (perhaps heat exhaustion) I didn’t get an action shot of Taylor but this is him with his host mom in Nandayure. He has his own place now and I did capture a few shots of it.
The first big deal of Tech Week is getting there. Fortunately, Taylor was in San Jose (where we need to go for cross country buses) and Evan and I met him there for a short walk to the station. We waited in what is known as a soda (small cafe) and chatted. Then Taylor and I got to know each other even better on the bus ride — 4 hours. Our first night together was getting creative with what he had in his fridge and we mustered up some quite acceptable eggs with onions and sausage (kinda) along with mango salsa and tortillas.
We agreed that the first day of classes would be a “let’s see what happens” experience. Taylor had arranged a schedule but he knew that with the kids taking their English oral exams it could mean that we’d be sitting and waiting … or that we would dive in. Guess who got practice in diving? I was ready though … I had my essentials: water bottle, bandana (for wiping the copious amounts of water that fell from by body throughout the day) and my fan.
I was introduced to Luis, the 7th grade teacher and said I would be happy to assist him in his class, and within minutes he had explained his teaching plan, showed me his resources/games/computer link, and was soon stationed outside the classroom with his first exam of the day. I didn’t really have time to worry about the next four hours (the time allotted for English class each week for these students) as I was attempting to maintain some sense of control with a group much more interested in their notes, cell phones, and hassling of one another than anything I had to say. However, I had it much better than poor Evan who had no plan at all! Fortunately, there are breaks and I gave him some of Luis’ material. We made it through but I thought this prayer in the Teachers Lounge was very appropriate for the day. We spent the rest of the day with another group of students who are part of the classes preparing graduates for tourism or admin jobs, etc. We were the special guests for presentations on how to have a meeting.
That night we had content for what the 9th grade kids would be tested on the next day so we worked on lesson plans. “Always, sometimes, and never” were the words of the day along with sports terms. We were observed during part of yet another 4 hour marathon by our Program Director who advised me to learn some Spanish profanity since some of the boys had let it fly and I had no clue. I had already had that experience with the 7th graders the day before as they practiced some F-bombs and sonofabeach questions for me, asking the meaning while knowing full well. I declined to answer them but definitely made sure their later taunts of one another for being “gay” would not be tolerated!
We watched Taylor do a masterful job of teaching local employees of the Ministry of Health that evening.
We knew it wouldn’t be easy — 4 hours of vocabulary review with one of the toughest classes who rarely participate in attempts to teach them English on the excruciatingly hot Costa Rican Wednesday afternoons when they gather in a room with two fans simply stirring the heat. Plus the teacher would be taking students outside one by one and administering an oral exam. And finally we, too, were to be evaluated on our progress. Unfortunately, that meant the program director was on a tight schedule of visiting other teachers-in-training so he wouldn’t appear until we were halfway through our plan and, most suspected, we would have lost what little attention these 9th graders deigned to give us. And then it happened. Planning manifested into true moments of connections. “I go skiing using what? Skis!” Games netted us those beautiful (if fleeting) “ahas”. Evan, my co teacher, and I were teaching sports and hobbies but we were living the dance – experiencing choreographed ecstasy of knowing we were hitting our marks. At the close of the day as sweat poured freely down our faces we really didn’t need the evaluator’s confirmation (though it was nice to hear) because we already had the greatest “passing grade” — the students had indeed improved their scores, the regular teacher asked how to receive training on how to teach (since her university training had focused more on what than how), and students were asking if we would be returning next week.
The vistas are different here. The heat is a constant source of conversation. But life … well it’s life. And Wednesday night we celebrated four hours well spent!
Our last day of classes allowed us a peek into what it means to co-teach. Though Taylor had told the English teacher that he would prepare the materials and we would watch and help as needed, she came with a plan as well. So some of the teaching time was spent coordinating what we would and would not utilize. Ultimately, we spent some time on vocabulary related to health tourism and heard/sang/watched a Madonna video on Isla Bonita. By the time the two back to back classes were over, I didn’t really want to hear about her “Spanish lullaby” anymore but I had made some progress with my small group knowing why tourists would come to Costa Rica to get work done on their faces and teeth!
If you have read this far, I’ll give you a bit of a bonus in that I don’t always serve up the gory details in my Facebook posts. But you, fair reader, deserve a little somethin’ somethin’ for reading this far. So here’s one BIG truth I walked away with this week. This part of Costa Rica is hotter than the hinges of hell. I woke up most nights (using no covers … not even a sheet) with sweating pouring off of me. At times in the day, the kids are laying on top of each other and I cannot fathom how. One ride we got in a small car with air conditioning meant the three of us in the back seat with another woman. The car was small — very and the ac was on but totally undetectable. Yet we had the windows up because it was “on.” I literally slid off of Evan’s thigh when we emerged at our destination and even that ride was better than walking with the sun bearing down like some ticked off tourist who didn’t get the lime they asked for at the 4 star resort.
The survival technique is to simply give in. Admit it’s hot (or as we chose one day, say “it’s cold” every time we meant it was scorching us). Find the fans. Drink the water and wait because soon enough it may be a little less hot than it is at this moment. I know I can survive it if I’m assigned an area like this. But if I am, there will be fans in every room of my abode!