Wow, it's been almost a week since my last post. I have been very busy, reading for my classes (we're all going through the Foundation Course right now) and getting to know my fellow students. Over the weekend I attended three different potluck meals.
There are two primary things to share in this post.
Firstly, I've decided to move. The place I live now is a spacious, chill house with a large living room area and a full kitchen. But it's a bit far away from Ciudad Colón where all the other students live, and as long as I don't have a scooter or anything (keep an eye on this blog for more news on that), it's a hassle to get between home and the town. We're four people living in this area, and after fighting for our rights for some days, we managed to get the UPEACE school bus to come to our house which is great in the morning but only one of the afternoon buses goes there.
The place I'm moving to is at my new pal Álvaro's house. It's in Ciudad Colón in a little gated community called Las Palmas. My new room will be a LOT smaller but the house is a lot neater and cleaner, and Bridgitt from Canada and Álvaro from Costa Rica who live there are very nice and cool people. (So are my current housemates by the way. Especially Gayatri from southern India is an amazing and generous cook and just loads of fun.) The new house has a few other advantages compared to my current house. It has hot water in the shower and in the faucets (and not an electric heater in the shower head), and it has an actual house number. Not that it matters much, but oddly, it comforts me.
Secondly, I have been stripped of my democratic rights. When I left Denmark, I decided to "emigrate" and not have a Danish postal address. This means that I can still receive my student grant (SU), I save 0,67% in (church) taxes, but I still pay income tax. To a system which I now have no influence on. That's right: I can't vote.
Maj and I have been talking to Martin Nielsen, the Danish honorary consul in Costa Rica, and because Maj kept an address in Denmark, she can vote. But I can't.
That's it for now. If you made it to this line, thanks for your patience and interest. Feel free to comment on my blog posts and ask questions.
Yesterday, a couple of people had the sympathetic idea of inviting everyone at school to go to a local bar in the nearby town of Piedades to have a few quiet beers on a Tuesday night.
Then some guy at the bar brought out party hats, plastic leis and whistles. Then this happened:
After a while, a local guy walked in. He was middle-aged and wearing a black hat, sunglasses and finger gloves. And even though we were all sure that he was Gaddafi (who had decided to escape to the only country without an army), he thought he was Michael Jackson:
Here are a bunch of pictures from our Orientation days at UPEACE.
And here's some video I took from my room with my lovely new camera:
I'm quite tired now. It's Saturday night, and I have just returned to my house after an afternoon in San José and watching an Argentinian movie without subtitles. Luckily, my American friend Elizabeth and I were accompanied by César from Mexico and Tito from Spain who willingly translated and explained what happened.
Wednesday was the first day of orientation at UPEACE. As overwhelming as it was to meet about 150 new people from all over the world, it has been three interesting, fun and exhausting days.
Since the last post, I have: taught some newbies to throw a frisbee, planted the seed for a local Peace Film Festival, bought a blazer for 10 colones (around 2 U.S. cents), partied, bought my lamp (but not yet a bulb, had a conversation in Vietnamese, spent a small fortune on taxis, tried both pizza places in Ciudad Colón, gone to see a Korean string quartet from Germany, witnessed an elementary school band and a samba group in the same day, eaten a bunch of rice and beans, and today I managed to hunt down an Asian store in San José where I could buy Vietnamese rice paper and fish sauce.
As a special service, I will elaborate on one (01) of the experiences mentioned above. Leave a comment and let me know which one tickles your curiosity.
I know, pretty lame headline, right?
Today I had my first warm shower since I arrived. A short guy called Jorge arrived and fixed the electricity in the shower head so the heater worked. Here in Costa Rica, most showers heat the water directly in the shower head, and ours hadn't been working since I arrived last Thursday. So yeah, warm shower + new hair treatment + not outside in the rain = good hair day. Which was perfect because my UPEACE roomie Gayatri and I invited all the UPEACE students we "know" from Facebook to our place for a B.Y.O. party. We were somewhere between 10 and 15 people and we had a great time. Our house may not be smack in the middle of Ciudad Colón, but it's perfect for having a party: several comfortable couches, an icemaker in the fridge and lots of space. Tonight we met great people from Lebanon, Spain, USA, India/Italy, Denmark, Costa Rica and Kenya. Tomorrow, some of us will head to San José, the capital. To see the town and hopefully get me a lamp.
Friday I didn't really go grocery shopping. But today I thought I should check out the little convenience store five minutes from my house. So after I had been sitting in the living room with my laptop with something inane on the TV (that's right, I feel at home already), I decided to take a cold shower (since the shower head's built-in heater isn't fixed yet), shampoo my hair, put some anti-Jewish-genes-tropical-humidi-fro gunk in it and venture out. I made it to the store all right, and their selection of soaps and snacks was much larger than of any other group of products. After having picked up some Bimbo bread and some eggs in a bag, the sky opened. I have experienced tropic rain many times before, but having lived far from the Equator and having spent summers in the Middle East, the impact and wetness of every raindrop still impressed me. I would usually never admit to actively thinking of a Coldplay song, but as I walked home with my phone in a plastic bag in my pocket and my grocery bag getting heavier by the second, I couldn't help thinking of 'Every Teardrop is a Waterfall'. Welcome to the tropics.
48 hours ago I didn't know Maj. I was dimly aware of her existence but we had never met. But I'm glad I did.
A week or so earlier, my friend Tais called me and asked, 'What was it called, the university you'll be going to?'
'The University for Peace.'
'I thought so. My colleague is going there, too. I'll email you her contact info.'
I was surprised. I thought no other Danes had even heard of the university.
'When are you leaving,' Tais asked.
'In the morning.'
'Yeah, she's going to be on the same plane.'
Quite a coincidence.
When I checked in online and had to pick seats, Maj had already emailed me her seat numbers. I wasn't sure how to interpret this. As I didn't know her, I had no idea whether I was supposed to try to get seats next to her or not. Neither of us had really prepared for flying 9+6 hours "with" someone we'd never met so I figured there'd be a slight chance of 15 minutes of smalltalk followed by more than half a day of polite awkwardness which could potentially cripple our relation. I decided to pick some other window seats and then tell Maj that I couldn't make myself get middle (not aisle) seats when I could choose windows.
It turns out Maj is a very nice girl. She studied sociology and political science and has travelled a lot so we have hit it off quite well. At UPEACE she is taking the 'International Law and Settlement of Disputes' MA programme. And when we landed in Newark Liberty International Airport, she had decided to join me on my wacky camera adventure.
Rewind to around a month before takeoff. I wanted a new SLR camera and thought, maybe I could make it from Newark to New York City and buy a camera at B&H (the huge photo store on Manhattan run by orthodox Jews where photo equipment is amazingly cheap) and get back in time for checking in for my connecting flight 5 hours later. And if the first flight was delayed, I could just cancel the whole thing.
Turns out it wasn't that easy.
I had decided on a Canon EOS 60D but B&H didn't have it in stock the week before takeoff. So I decided to order it at Adorama (a competing orthodox-Jewish photo store), have it shipped to my Danish friend Johanne who lives in Brooklyn and then meet up with her, pick up the camera and return to Newark. A good plan except for a few things: Johanne didn't have a phone. And a few hours of delay would screw the plan and I would have a brand new camera stuck in New York. So Johanne and I had to do something very 1998: make an actual appointment.
When Maj and I landed in Newark, the plane was right on time, and Maj told me that even though she had said earlier that she didn't think a few hours in New York was worth it as her first visit to the Big Apple, she had now changed her mind and wanted to come with me. So we shared a car service for $75 and were at the Starbucks on 8th Ave and 16th St just in time to see Johanne lock her bike to a lamp post. The plan had worked! And now we had less than two hours to do a bit of sightseeing. So we took a walk on the West Side High Line and took the train back to the airport with plenty of time to go through security and get to the next flight, and I had a new camera in my bag.
My wonderful friends Meli and Alonso picked us up at the airport and took us out for a beer and food, and then took us to our houses in Ciudad Colón, the town 20 km from San José where the University for Peace is located.
My Year in Costa Rica
I'm studying an MA programme (Media, Peace and Conflict Studies) at the UN mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica 2011-12. This blog is about my experiences here, in and out of school.