Today is my last day in Costa Rica. It’s strange to think that tomorrow night at this time I should be home if all go as planned.

For a last trip I decided to go to visit a Poas Volcano. I checked into my hostel that’s close to the airport this morning and dropped off my luggage. Then I walked to the bus station and just barely made it onto the bus. I paid $2.50 for the bus.

After a little over an hour bus ride we arrived at Volcan Poas National Park. I paid the $10 entrance fee. The ticket guy asked if I spoke English. Maybe I could have lied and said I was a Costa Rican. Not that I would have, but it’s nice that they don’t immediately assume I’m a tourist. Someone one day asked if I was tica (I think my tan helps.).

Anyway, we hiked 400 meters to the crater viewing area. Here is a beautiful view of the crater we had.100_2620

Then we hiked 800 meters to the lagoon.100_2625

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No pavo, no turkey

Happy Thanksgiving
Well Thanksgiving really doesn’t exist outside of the US. It’s really not possible to celebrate a holiday when it’s only important to you. I have been surrounded by Germans, Costa Ricans, and Spaniards, and them today is just a regular day. I didn’t encounter any people from the US. Today was just Thursday, November 28. I had a cheese sandwich with lettuce at a typical Costa Rican restaurant. Dinner was a cup of noodles. Of course I reminisced a bit and felt longing for the traditional foods of Thanksgiving: turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, green bean casserole…Despite the fact I didn’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family or friends, I am grateful that I am in place that has wi-fi, and was able to talk with my family. Despite the lack of “Thanksgiving,” this is one Thanksgiving I will always remember because it is so different from the other Thanksgivings I have had. And tomorrow, won’t be Black Friday…just Friday. I’m happy about that.


Mosquito net or something please

Nov 23
Oh shopping! I’m not a big shopper and don’t really like shopping, but at times it’s necessary. Thursdays I help Luz vend at La Feria, an open air market, which is in San Isidro. This gives me the opportunity to use internet and shop if I want to. This past Thursday I thought I could get a couple of things before I head to the next farm.

After having lunch at a small restaurant I asked the server if she knew where I might be able to purchase a mosquito net. She said there was a shop up the street and added as I left that there might be one down the street. It was all rather a bit ambiguous. I thanked her and left. Headed up the street I searched for a place that looked like it might sell a mosquito net. Not seeing much at the end of the street I turned the corner and spotted some tents and fishing poles in a small store. This looks promising I thought. I asked if they had mosquito nets and they said no, but that the big store near the park might have them. Before heading to the other store, I looked around a bit and purchased a flashlight. I would have bought batteries for the flashlight there too, but they didn’t carry them. Hmm…how odd. The store has tents and fishing poles but no mosquito net. The store has flashlights but no batteries.

Still in search of a mosquito net and now batteries I headed toward the park looking for what was a “big store.” Nothing really looked like a big store, and I couldn’t remember the name of the place the cashier had given me. Not finding anything, I stopped in a clothing store and tried to ask if they knew where I could purchase a mosquito net. Now, I’ve been speaking Spanish for over a month, but the lady couldn’t seem to understand what I wanted. So, another gentleman who spoke a bit of English asked me what I was looking for. I know I speak enough Spanish to explain that I want a mosquito net, so I was a bit puzzled why they couldn’t understand me. Mosquito nets must not be common for Costa Ricans. Also, they don’t use the word “net” to describe it. The lady thought I was looking for a net that is put over a baby’s crib. The gentleman suggested I could try the store at the corner.

Here was a store that looked like it mostly carried clothing. I asked the sales lady if they had mosquito nets. She took me to the corner of the store to look for one. They only seemed to have one but it was way on the top shelf, and I couldn’t see what it looked like. I didn’t want her to have to get a ladder, so I just thanked her and left.

I walked around a bit more looking in shop doors and windows. The layout of stores and the things they carried in them all seemed arbitrary to me. Giving up on finding a mosquito net for the moment I went into a store looking for a towel and batteries. This store carried a variety of Christmas decorations and home goods. They had dish towels, curtains, bedding, but no bath towels. Seriously who organizes these stores?

Making my way back toward La Feria, I stopped in another store that appeared to have tools. I walked around for about two minutes realizing they didn’t have batteries. How convenient, a store with tools but no batteries.

By this time I had been walking in and out of stores for about an hour. I headed back to La Feria. I purchased batteries at a small grocery store connected to La Feria.

Memo with two other volunteers came a little later to join Luz and me. I went with Memo to purchase a mosquito net. We walked into a fabric store. There they had two types of mosquito nets: single or double. I purchased the smaller version for about $12. Had I purchased this in the United States I know there would have been at least five different versions to choose from, but I really had no other choice. So, a word of advice, if you know you may need a mosquito net, but it in advance.

Still, I have to admit that despite the difficulty I had in finding a mosquito net, flashlight, and batteries, I got to see a lot of San Isidro and get a sense of what shopping is like in Costa Rica. It was my little adventure for the day.

The Whole World

In Spanish “mundo” means “world.” The phrase “todo el mundo” means everyone, but it also means “all the world.” I find this quite descriptive of Costa Rica. Relationships are very important. In the countryside everyone knows everyone and if not, they simply have to ask a neighbor if they know someone. In this way news travels fast and reputation is very important.

I had a little adventure with collecting my green water bottle. One Sunday I went with the family to a party for the first communion of Luz’s niece. There, Memo took me to the next town to retrieve my water bottle, but the family wasn’t there. Then we went to take care of the cows and pick up some bananas. Memo asked a friend if he knew the Valverde family, and Memo’s friend happened to know where they lived and when they would be back at the house. So, we went back to the house and waited for them for a while. Unfortunately, they didn’t arrive soon enough for me to retrieve my bottle.

A couple of weeks later, headed in the same direction of the Valverde family, I called ahead and asked if they were home. They were, so Memo drove me over to their house. It turned out he knew the husband in the family, just didn’t know his name. I got my water bottle and came to the conclusion that Costa Ricans really do know “todo el mundo.”

It seems to be quite easy to know everyone, or at least know someone who knows someone. Here, people are very friendly. There’s at least five or more phrases to greet someone. For family and friends a kiss on the cheek is common for hellos and goodbyes. In the countryside people generally say “adios” (goodbye) when just passing by because “hola” invites more conversation. There’s no need to hitchhike in the countryside because you’re likely to get a ride without asking. The driver usually stops and asks where are you going and even if they can’t take you all the way, they’ll take you part way. Memo is one of those drivers likely to give you a ride. With all these little customs, it’s easy to meet people and know half the country.

A Lesson in Google Maps

This story is sort of funny, but mostly embarrassing.

When looking at what farms to go to in Costa Rica I narrowed it down to two options, Villa MastataI chose Finca Chinchilla because they did not charge as much and it seemed more family oriented. At Villas Mastatal there is room for fifteen to twenty volunteers. I don’t mind being in a group and working with others but I favored the family with four kids all around my age. Also, one little mistake lead me to believe that Finca Chinchilla was only thirty minutes from San Jose versus Villas Mastatal which is an hour and a half bus ride.

Here’s the mistake I made. On the website Finca Chinchilla didn’t have an address, but they did say they were located in La Ribera near San Isidro de General. So, wondering where the farm was, I typed in La Ribera on google maps. And bam there were directions to La Ribera from San Jose. However, this La Ribera was less than twenty miles away. This should have tipped me off immediately since it’s still in the city. But of course, I was excited and just glanced over the map to see where it was in relation to San Jose. I thought it was odd that there was farm so close to the city, but didn’t think anything else of it. Then I started thinking how easy it would be to get to the farm. I wouldn’t have to take a bus. They could probably come pick me up. Easy. And with those ideas in mind, I didn’t think to research it further.

I’ve been emailing with the family all summer, but usually have to wait a week for a reply. With about three weeks left, I was told that I would get directions soon (and the three following emails continued to say that).* So I waited and waited and continued to grow more anxious. Of course I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to make anyone else nervous. I had faith it would eventually arrive. I finally received the email tonight, two days before my flight to Costa Rica. The email is quite lengthy, with multiple steps, and phrases to memorize in Spanish. It turns out that Finca Chinchilla is a three-hour bus ride. Therefore I am going to have to figure out how to get to the bus stops and use a taxi. Well won’t this be fun…It certainly will be an adventure and one that I look forward to writing about. I’m actually thrilled the farm isn’t close to San Jose because I will have a chance to live in a rural area of Costa Rica. I’m excited to ride through the countryside and practice my Spanish.

So lesson of the story:  A 136 acre farm isn’t going to be located 15km from the capital city. Pay attention to details and double-check everything.

The situation really hasn’t changed much. Even if I had typed in San Isidro, Costa Rica on google maps I would only have known that it is a couple of hours from San Jose. I still wouldn’t know where the farm is exactly, and I would still have a three-hour bus ride, and I still would have found all of this out two days before my flight.

*This seems like my first taste of Costa Rican time, where I wanted the information a week in advance and expected it a week in advance, but I received it two days before my trip.



The Girl with Many Names

I have a dilemma. And this dilemma is one that I have created all in my head. In the grand scheme of things it’s not an issue. However, this decision, in some sort of odd way, defines me.

From the moment I was born to the moment I left China I already had numerous names. I was called something by my birth parents, something by the farmers who found me, something by my caretaker, and something by the orphanage. These names are lost in the history of my life, buried deep in the memories of those who I probably will never meet.

Now, I finally have a name that is written down, four in fact. And this is where my brain started over-thinking things.

My mother named me and chose the order of my names. She also decided to call me by the name the orphanage gave me instead of my American first name. As a child I didn’t think much of it. At school they called me by my Chinese name. All the way through high school people called me by my Chinese name and for the most part people embraced it and me.

Throughout these many years, I have had dozens of nick names, none of which I really mind. I actually like some of them or perhaps it is the sense of belonging and friendship I associate with the nick name. However, for all these years I have had to explain to people how to pronounce and spell my name. My name is not even that difficult to pronounce, it’s just that it’s different. People also could never seem to spell my name correctly. Now, to make things even more fun, the orphanage wrote my name wrong. They didn’t put a space between the two words, which means my name has a capital letter in the middle of it. I didn’t really start thinking about all the things “wrong” with my name until I got to high school. This was the point I decided to go by first name because then I wouldn’t have to explain my name. It would be simple. But at that point all my peers called me by my Chinese name. So only a few teachers called me by my first name.

Then I graduated and was off to college.  I decided this was the time to start fresh. I would just go by my first name. And I’m pretty sure that life was mocking me, because people still didn’t get my name right. I am not a Jessica! I am Jessie. Quite a few people used the two interchangeably. Also, since Jessie has multiple different spellings, my name was misspelled a few times. This was just the minor stuff though. After being affectionately called one name for fourteen years, the name Jessie just didn’t settle with me. I felt as if I was an impostor. I wasn’t being true to myself. It felt oddly disconcerting when people called me Jessie. I no longer had a name that was unique; I had a name that was rather average and too close to the name Jessica.

When I returned home from college, life resumed to FuChai.

And here’s where the dilemma showed its ugly head. Most people in America have a simple American name. I have this idea of what would happen if I were to become well-known? What name would I want to be known by? What name do I want written down in the history books? Well Jessie sounds professional. If I were a telemarketer I would go by the name Jessie because I could avoid the question to repeat my name. If I go by a name that is common, then I don’t have to deal with all the questions. So, I’ve thought to myself, well for business purposes I’ll just go by my first name. But then I got to thinking, what if in the future I go by Jessie and my friends at work start to mesh with my personal life. Then everyone is going to be thoroughly confused as to what to call me.

Okay, I’ll just suck it up and deal with all the conversations and proudly go by FuChai. Inevitably, I keep going back and forth as to what to do because I’ll watch the news and all these people have good ol’ American names. I’ll listen to the radio, no strange names there. Then I’ll change my mind again when I hear names from other countries.

And after much thinking this summer, I think I know why I am so conflicted. FuChai is not really a Chinese name. In China, I would need a last name because Chinese go by their last name first and first name last. Additionally, FuChai is actually pronounced fú cái in Chinese (not to mention it’s a guy’s name). When Chinese come to America, they go by some made up American name, because it’s too hard for Americans to remember or pronounce their name. But, here I am doing the opposite, going by a Chinese name with an American accent. In some respects I don’t feel like this is an appropriate name because I don’t feel Chinese.  I am  American, and Americans have good American names, so I should use my American name. When I travel to other countries, won’t those people expect me to have an American name? Won’t that make international relations easier? Won’t people have an easier time pronouncing it…?

“My name is FuChai.”

“Well what’s your real name?”

“That is my real name. I don’t have a fake name, but my American name is Jessie.”

I’ve thought about writing this post for sometime, but I didn’t feel I had an appropriate answer to “what name am I going to use?” Now I do. I have a unique situation that i should embrace. I can choose what name I want to use and for what circumstance. Not everyone is as lucky as me to have four real names.

A dandelion in the wind

Tonight I went to an outdoor concert with my mom and her friend. It was a bring your own folding chair kind of event, but we of course did not get the memo (we also arrived fifteen minutes late). Instead, we sat in the grass where a few other people were as well. The grass was dry and therefore a bit scratchy. A few songs in, a father and his two young children arrived and sat down next to us.

“This grass is itchy,” a voice spoke beside me.

I turned to the little girl and said, “It is isn’t it? But you can here sit on the cement.”

She responded frankly saying, “You’re cool.”

“Thank you,” I said, pleased and thinking to myself that would never happen with an adult.

“You’re welcome,” she said.

All I had done was listen and give a suggestion. I kicked off my flip flops and tuned into the jazz music that was being performed. I noticed that as the girl next to me began to situate herself, she sat close to me and took off her flip flops very deliberately. I smiled , thinking I have a new friend.

This little girl picked up a dandelion that was shriveled up and began taking it apart. She set the seeds in her hand and blew, watching the seeds land in the grass a few feet away.

“Did you make a wish?” I asked.

She nodded.

Then began about twenty minutes of the same little moment over and over again. We would find little dandelions in the grass and take them apart so she could blow them out of her hand. Sometimes I would put the white fluff from the dandelion in my hand, and she would blow them away. Other times she would set them in her hand and blow them away. Then she would hold them in her hand and let me blow them away. When we ran out of dandelions within reaching distance of where we were sitting I began to pull out the clover. I had such great fun watching this little girl get so much enjoyment out of such a small thing.

She asked me what my name was. I momentarily paused to think about what name I should tell her. Should I tell her my first name Jessie which is simple and generally no other questions are asked, or FuChai which is what I’ve been called most of my life. I chose the latter. And with the acceptance of a child, she didn’t miss a beat and said, “that’s a cool name.”

I then asked her for hers. “Jayda,” she answered. (I’m not sure how to spell it, but immediately I thought it was beautiful name).

“How old are you.”

“I’m five.”

“Are you in school.”

“I went to preschool.”

After some time had passed and we ran out of plants close by, Jayda asked her dad if she could go get more plants to blow. I think her dad must’ve said no, but he realized his kids were getting restless so he took Jayda and her younger brother across the lawn. Just as she was getting up and putting on her flip flops to go with her dad and brother, she handed me a dandelion and said, “here hold onto this.”

Maybe it’s just the music that made me think more about children and their wonderful innocence. Music seems to amplify certain moments in life. I sat there thinking about how children make you realize what is so wonderful about life. They make you appreciate the little things in life. They don’t need a ton of things to make them happy, just a friend to play with and a parent to watch over them. They can find enjoyment with almost anything.

I watched Jayda and her brother roll down the hill, chase after a red ball, and run around. It seemed to me that Jayda wanted to come back to where I was sitting, but her dad didn’t want her to go that far, even though I was sitting within sight. As I watched, I held onto the dandelion until the stem softened in the heat of my hand. When I realized that she wasn’t going to be coming back I tossed the dandelion back in the grass.

As the performers prepared to perform their final songs, I was getting stiff and wanted to walk around. My mom came with me and we walked around a bit. As we were walking down a path heading toward the river I turned around. The sun was shining right into my eyes and I could make out the silhouette of Jayda and her brother each holding one of their father’s hand walking to the parking lot. I gave a little wave goodbye. She didn’t turn around, but I smiled anyway.