I promised you an introduction to the tasks and challenges I have this semester. One of the most immediate ones is VEGuary. Just like OcSober (click the category on the right for more posts on that), I got a great idea of abstaining from something for a month, found a great name, and found out that someone else had thought of exactly the same. So VEGuary is a vegetarian February. I have personally chosen the ovo-lacto-vegetarian way (so I get to keep eggs and dairy), others choose pescatarian.
And again, it's not about proving anything to anyone else, it's just to try it out for myself. That a bunch of people have joined in (e.g. on Facebook) only adds motivation. Tonight, a good group of UPEACErs went to a bar/restaurant called Henry's and had a great serving of Buffalo wings and BBQ ribs - with some drinks to wash it all down - to say goodbye to meat for the next month. (Yes, February is the shortest month of the year, but it's still a leap year.)
Let's see how that goes. After doing OcSober I feel quite confident that this should be doable. My wonderful friend Stephy from Bolivia gave a great presentation on the pitfalls and recommendations for a healthy vegetarian (or the next step: Stephytarian) lifestyle.
The other challenges are mostly professional and academic. This week is class-free for me, but I have a relatively short paper due on Sunday, and otherwise I'm working on two rather large projects for school.
To end my MA programme in Media, Peace and Conflict Studies (MPCS), I can do either a thesis or a 4-month internship. Right now I think I want to do an internship in order to get a foot in the door of a relevant organisation or media somewhere. So I'm spreading seeds around the Middle East and Vietnam. Let me know if you have contacts.
Another thing I have to complete for MPCS is a so-called practicum. This is some sort of relevant practical project (not an internship) that is worth 3 UPEACE credits (equivalent to one of our 3-week courses). My idea right now is to combine my work experience with my interest (and a pinch of lazyness) and develop a goal-oriented social media strategy for an institution I'm getting to know better and better: The UN mandated University for Peace. Yup, my own school.
They already have a Facebook page and several groups and a quite active Twitter account, all of which are growing steadily. But with some strategic considerations and a guideline, UPEACE's work with and results from use of social media could get a lot better.
Also, I want to take advantage of a nice little TV studio we have at school. I'm thinking about starting an online TV channel (probably using Vimeo) for UPEACE with little interviews, special lectures, promotional videos, etc.
Both of these things are supervised by my supercool professor, Julia. She's German and young, so she's strict, professional and understanding.
I will update you on my adventures in Vegetarianism. Expect an exhausted and perhaps cranky next post.
31 days and nights. 5 weekends. And now it's over. At 00:00 last night, I popped open the bottle of 10 years old Laphroaig that I bought at the airport in Newark and had a drink. My roomie Alvaro was there, as was my Mexican friend César and my Egyptian friend Marina. OcSober was officially over.
So, what has OcSober given me?
It was actually surprisingly, and increasingly, easy not to have alcohol. In the beginning it was mostly about fighting a reflex, and by the end of the month, it felt quite natural.
Missing alcohol never made me crave it which I interpret as a very good thing; I'm not addicted. It didn't make me more tense or grumpy (I think). Au contraire, it made me more relaxed and focused. A tiny bit more Zen.
I think I will drink less from now on. I learned that parties can still be fun, I can still be social, and I even sometimes dance - all without alcohol. That was nice.
But I also appreciate how non-drinkers feel in the company of drinkers. In this social context, I actually never really felt left out or annoyed by being one of the only people not drinking, but there were times when I wished I were a little tipsy in order to appreciate their ramblings or even their mood.
So, what's next? I don't have the genes to participate in Movember, but perhaps a Veguary or a No Starch March? Let's see. Feel free to provide me with ideas.
Last night, the circumstances let me reflect on the pros and cons of not drinking alcohol, besides feeling better the next day and saving money when going out. This is my tale.
My talented American friend Elizabeth was asked to guest star for an up-and-coming local reggae/ska band, and a lot of UPEACE people showed up to support her and hear her sing. She was great, the best singer in the three bands that played that night.
The venue was a restaurant/bar called La Cueva (the cave) in the neighbouring town of Piedades de Santa Ana. There were four or five bartenders behind the bar and a fair selection of booze, beer and softdrinks. Two of my friends had already gotten their orders of Gin and Tonic and Vodka Tonic, respectively, so I was fairly confident that I could order a tonic water. I didn't feel like anything too sweet.
So I asked a girl behind the bar. The band was playing so loud that we both had to step on something and lean towards each other to hear anything at all. I started by asking for 'agua tónica'. I had noticed before what was written on the bottles in the supermarkets, and I was proud to remember the word in Spanish. The girl, on the other hand, understood nothing. So I had to explain.
- Es como un Gin Tonic, pero sin gin. No gin.
- Quiere un gin?
- No, sólo tonic. Agua tónica.
Her face was bursting with incredulity, so I stepped back down, smiled patiently, erased the conversation with a waving gesture and asked for a grapefruit soda. Problem solved. Or, as it was, postponed.
The next couple of hours I ordered club soda with lime and salt. It worked perfectly, and the staff were attentive enough to offer me alternative salt shakers when they saw me bang them against the table. I listened to music, talked to people, and even played some games of Costarican-rules pool (the 1 and 15 have assigned pockets (!)) with peers and locals.
After a while, my (non-alcoholic) spirits were high, and as an act of optimism and a belief in human beings, I ventured again. I carefully avoided the girl from before and asked a guy behind the bar. After a very similar exchange of words and a very similar lack of (mutual) understanding, he went to the fridge, talked to another guy, and the other guy now brought me a bottle of club soda. I wagged my finger and tried to repeat to the new guy that I wanted an 'agua tónica'.
The guy stared through me with absolutely no facial expression, and I decided to go straight to the top. I had noticed that all complex drinks (anything including more than one ingredient) were made by one specific woman, so I asked the guy to let me talk to her. Por favor.
He nodded, and went to talk to her. The drinkmaker came over.
- Hola, Quiero un tonic. Agua tónica.
- Gin Tonic?
- No no. No gin. Como un Gin Tonic, pero solo el refresco. Tonica.
She nodded with a notable air of reluctance and went to the back. I crossed my fingers and waited. After two minutes, the drinkmaker herself walks up to me behind the bar and presents me with a tumbler with tissue paper around it and a straw sticking out of it. My optimism reared its happy-go-lucky head again. With confidence, she presented the product.
- Gin Tonic.
My frustration was now in the red. I kindly declined the freshly made classic, this lasagna of alcoholic drinks, and decided on two things. One, I wouldn't order anything more at this bar. Two, they probably wouldn't serve me any more at this bar. It was late anyway, and I wasn't thirsty. How much easier it would have been if I could have just ordered a normal Gin and Tonic ...
About half an hour later, my housemate/friend/landlord Álvaro arrived at the bar. He'd been at a wedding with our Egyptian friend Marina, and both were in a good mood. A very good mood.
As the crowd started dissolving, I realised that my most logical choice for a ride home was drunk. I thought drunk Álvaro would probably get offended if I took a cab or went with someone else, but I was ready to do it. Until Shannon brought up a solution that hadn't even crossed my mind. Why didn't I just drive? Of course. I hadn't touched a drop of alcohol in 15 days. So we quickly persuaded Álvaro to give me his keys, and I drove Maj, Marina and ourselves home through the deserted streets of Piedades and Ciudad Colón. When we arrived, Álvaro was very grateful, and I felt good and responsible. Not only did I drive us all home safely, but I also managed not to harm Álvaro's uninsured Honda.
I'm starting to get used to this non-alcoholism.
Friday night. I'm in the touristy beach town of Puerto Viejo. Next to me are Bryan and Elizabeth, two of my UPEACE friends from the United States. We're at a crowded outdoor bar called Tex Mex watching the Costa Rica-Brazil football match. Rarely have I wanted a beer more than at this very moment.
Fastforward to later the same night. I arrive at the bar-cum-nightclub Mango in the same town. I have just finished a chicken snack and see Elizabeth and Bryan going bonkers on the dancefloor with a plethora of blonde German backpackers and drooling locals with afros. I don't dance like this in places like this. Not sober anyway. I want a drink.
Fastforward to Monday evening. My roomie Bridgitt is Canadian and has invited all the Canadians from UPEACE over for Canadian Thanksgiving (yeah, they have their own). My other roomie Álvaro and I have been to PriceSmart to buy turkey roasts, and the kitchen is swimming in mashed potatoes, gravy, salads, vegetables (including a lot of corn), bread, crudités, and desserts. We're having almost ten people over for dinner, and everyone's drinking wine and beer. I need a drink.
It's now Monday night, almost 1 am on Tuesday. It just became October 11th. And I still haven't had a drop of alcohol since October 1st. But boy, have I wanted to.
So far (2½ days in), it's going well. Friday was my last night of drinking which I celebrated by first drinking a lot of Nicaraguan rum at a bar with my wonderful co-students from the Media programme (MPCS), then going to an Asian party at my friends' house which has been dubbed 'The Party House'. Before Friday I was wondering how it would be to drink until midnight and then stop. As it turns out, I fell asleep on an extra bed at 11:30 pm so I never found out.
On Saturday I went to the mall with the 'party house' crew. Got a haircut. Bought a T-shirt. Then went to a large supermarket where I almost accepted free samples of both wine and whisky. Close call.
In the evening, Diego from Ecuador (who not only is joining me for OcSober but is also a fellow CISV'er) and I tried out a Costa Rican non-alcoholic beer (or malt-based beverage, as they call it) called Kaiser. We got used to it pretty quickly and had a nice long night with a little bunch of people playing games in David's poolhouse and trying to stay quiet so his landlady wouldn't get mad.
On Sunday, Maj organised a triple-surprise party for three of our co-students who are born not on the same date, but on the same day. It became extremely chaotic for several reasons: Maj organised it for Saskia originally and didn't know about Elizabeth and Waan's birthdays being the same day. Then she expanded it to Elizabeth, but Elizabeth already knew about Saskia's surprise, just not that it was for her, too. Through an intricate web of deception, chaos and choir practice, we eventually managed to let Saskia see the birthday sign before we yelled surprise, and Saskia opened the door for Elizabeth and then closed it on her again while Elizabeth was saying happy birthday to her. We ended up having a very good time, and the Danish traditional cake-persons that Maj baked were a big hit.
Today, it's now almost 2 pm and I haven't gotten out of bed. This week is off for the MPCS class and I'm going to spend a good chunk of it not doing anything productive. The plan is to go and see sea turtles lay eggs in Tortuguero next weekend.
Had Kaisers on Sunday too - starting to like them. Thinking about bringing them to school next week and doing a non-alcoholic beer-bong at lunch, just for the hell of it.
It's decided. I'm going to try observing OcSober, also known as Sober October.
The first 6 weeks of university have been filled with alcohol here and there, and I don't think it's very good for me. So I am going to try (!) not drinking alcohol in the month of October. It's not about being better than anyone. It's not even about connecting more with those of my fellow students who don't drink. It's not about proving anything to anyone else, but proving to myself that I don't need alcohol, that I just like it. I drink once or twice a week normally and I think I have a quite good relationship to alcohol (especially seen from the perspective of a Danish (!) journalist (!) at college (!).
But what does it say about me that I'm seriously doubting I can pull this off? I'm feeling anxious about the potential defeat before I've even started.
Here are some things I will try to repeat to myself during the month. What if I end up as a journalist (or husband (!?)) in a strictly Muslim country? I'll have to abstain. Also, Muslims are much tougher going through Ramadan (especially when it falls on a summer month in Scandinavia). What about the CISV camps I've done in Sweden, Norway and the US (obviously, the greatest difference is that everyone around me didn't drink either)?
For those of you who don't drink, this post must seem absolutely pathetic. Why should it be so difficult to abstain from drinking for a month? It's not like eternal celibacy, veganism, or other drastic life-changing decisions. I don't expect you to understand why I expect to find this really hard, but you have to know how much alcohol is a part of my cultures: Danish people drink earlier and more than most Europeans, journalists drink more than most professions, and college students drink more than ANYONE, especially when trying to shake together a multi-cultural group of people.
There are also a bunch of social events coming up at UPEACE, and I have next week off from school. That's going to be a serious challenge.
Alcohol to me is a social thing that can be enjoyed over dinner, casually on a bench or at a crazy party - it doesn't mean getting drunk. And I already have one rule about alcohol; I am never the only one in the room drinking alcohol ("I never drink alone" is more catchy, but less concise).
I recommend that anyone from alcohol-drenched cultures like mine try this. If you want to try doing it with me, join the Facebook Event, and we can support each other. (If you already don't drink, it's not much fun.)
Wish me luck, and please support me.
(I actually thought Sober October was a pretty clever name and it fit my timing really well. As it turns out, so did a lot of other people. OcSober is a whole fundraising movement in Australia. I'm not affiliated with nor inspired by their concept.)
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.