VEGuary passed, and it went well. To celebrate, I went to a restaurant in town, Maya Lounge, and had a beautiful bloody steak. Nice.
This will be a short update. After much waiting and a crashed hard drive (where I backed up almost everything on Backblaze, so not a huge loss), I finally got the videos of me singing at the latest Open Mic Night at UPEACE. The first one is a song from High School Musical (with Verena from Germany) and the second is the Elephant Love Medley from Moulin Rouge (with the ever-present Elizabeth from the States). Enjoy:
50 UPEACE students just went to El Salvador (30 hours and 3 border crossings from Costa Rica) to observe the elections. I am preparing a photo essay on this - stay tuned for more here on the blog.
Just thought I'd give you a quick update on how it's going with the whole VEGuary thing. Not surprisingly, a lot more UPEACE people joined this than OcSober. I guess most people are more attached to their ethanol than their sarcoplasmic proteins. A good couple of handful of my fellow students decided to give up eating animals for 29 days, and mostly it has been going quite well. We have enjoyed the support of each other but also of the array of already-vegetarians. At a University for Peace, you can probably imagine that there are quite a lot (another similarity with CISV).
Thanks to Stephy's introduction (see previous post), I have personally gotten through the first 3 weeks without any scarring on my soul or physical symptoms. I've been tired at times, but that's not new. I've eaten more cheese (I bought six kinds (parmesan, cottage, cream, Gouda, fresh Costa Rican and Danish blue) at the supermarket one day in early February) but not extreme amounts. I don't know if I've lost weight but if so, not a lot.
The hardest thing has been the raised consciousness. As I don't have any (known) allergies, I usually eat whatever and spice it up with whatever. Now I can't. I can't add beef or chicken stock to the food, and I have not tasted my beloved nuoc mam (fish sauce) for three weeks!!! I haven't even opened my glass of Omega-3 fish oil capsules. And of course, there's the constant saying no to stuff. I haven't faced serious dilemmas like some of my co-Veguarians have, like host families cooking steaks specifically for them or being at an all-meat Latin American barbecue, but as this is my first time trying this, 'without meat' feels even more strange coming out of my mouth than into it.
On the school front, I just finished two weeks in the company of the knowledgeable, sympathetic and witty Gerald Caplan, one of the world's leading scholars in genocides. The topic was the media's role in the Rwandan genocide. I didn't know much about the 100 days in 1994 where between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi and Tutsi sympathisers were butchered, mutilated, raped, and displaced before, but I know a lot more now. Even if the whole story is so complicated that not even Gerald Caplan knows anything near everything (which he openly admits).
These weeks, I have a course with our Head of Department, French professor Victoria Fontan. She's a very interesting personality with a deeply sarcastic tone and generally a very pessimistic view of world politics on every level. Kind of refreshing, actually. The course is called 'Media, Terrorism and Insurgency', and I'm sure that all the students are now (if not before) on the CIA/Facebook watchlist after sharing questions about the readings on our course Facebook group (which include the communication strategy of Hezbollah and a collection of speeches by Osama bin Laden). Good times.
Oh, finally: In an hour I have a Skype "date" with a guy from CARE Denmark's office in Hanoi. We have been talking about an internship to finish my MA, and communication for a Danish NGO in Vietnam would not be bad. Tonight is just about sharing information about the programme and myself. I'll let you know how it goes.
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.
It's called entrapment. The longer I went without writing on this blog, the larger and more insurmountable a task it became. Now I break the silence.
Since November, a bunch of things happened. Most of it can be told in pictures and videos, so here goes.
At UPEACE, we have cultural nights/weeks, and back in November, our many African students hosted a huge show and party for the university and whoever was interested. Here are some pictures (click to go to the album) - a picture says more than a thousand words, so here are more than 42,000 words:
Around the same time, my American friend Ragan (no E), Canadian friend Atkilt and I cooperated on a project for our class on Media Ethics. The result was a little slideshow with pictures of two Colombian families that live and work in San José. Some came as refugees, some did not. They feel at home in Costa Rica but miss their homeland:
Shortly thereafter, I joined a very short (too short) trip to the northwest corner of Nicaragua. A group of UPEACE students drove to Isla Venezia, an almost deserted peninsula (I know) where this Canadian guy Kyle lives with his girlfriend Jessica in a house on the Pacific coast, doing open source wind turbines for private and public clients. I was at their amazing house for less than 24 hours but it was gorgeous there:
Another cultural night happened, the so-called M.A.P. Night (Middle East, Asia, Pacific). A tight-packed show with singing, poetry, great food and - especially - dances. After the show we had a short dance party:
On the 13th of December (Lucia Day), the few Nordic students (and one intern) at UPEACE (except for our Swedish student) hosted a nice little Nordic Christmas. The teaser/trailer looked like this:
I spent Christmas in Panama with Suroor, Elizabeth, Jennifer and Ricardo, and I already shared pictures from that trip. But I didn't share this video of José Augusto rolling my ten 50-cent cigars (the price, not the rapper) while chatting about his dad and their lives:
For the rest of my nice long break I mostly relaxed. But I did do one nice little Costarican trip with my Indian friends Bijal and Suroor (Gayatri, her sister Purnima, and her friend Jared joined us for part of it), and my Kurdish friends Sivan (from Israel/USA) and Hemn (Iraq/Australia). Elizabeth and her family guest starred, and we met a new friend, Sophia from Portugal/Switzerland (wow, so many /'s). We started in the mountain town of Monteverde but it was too cold for all the non-Scandinavians (read: everyone else than me), so we went south to Quepos and Manuel Antonio, a touristy but beautiful beach not far from Ciudad Colón (where we live).
Unfortunately, a Dutch woman travelling alone, was robbed of her hand luggage on the bus and lost everything (passport, cash, camera, phone numbers). So Sophia and the UPEACE group helped her out which brough Sophia into our crazy little crew. Somehow she seemed not to be judging us too much, so we all got along pretty well. (The Dutch woman is fine now, NOT thanks to the Dutch embassy.) Here are some pics:
All right, that brings us more or less up to speed. Oh, and I got a new haircut. Kind of a wide mohawk I had made in Panama. I'm removing it soon, though. Sick of it already.
Watch out for a post about my next/last semester and the challenges ahead.
And that's what you missed. On Glee.
Happy birthday to me. Sunday was my time to shine, so I copied my cousin Martin's concept of hosting an all-day open house where people could bring food and drinks fitting the time of day. As a fun addition to the concept, I decided to take a group picture of the party every hour:
The party went great, a lot of people came over, even people who had big papers due at midnight or the next day. That's love. Thanks guys.
More pictures from the birthday here (click to go to album):
The night before Sunday I came back from four days in Nicaragua. A few of our programmes were supposed to have gone there this week to monitor Sunday's elections, but Nicaragua cancelled the delegation so I had the week off instead. And on Tuesday, I decided to pack my stuff and go with my Ethiopian/Canadian classmate Atkilt to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.
As we didn't plan the trip properly, I didn't get to see a lot of Nicaragua's popular sights but we had a good time. Thursday night Atkilt left for a 6 hour bus ride and a 4 hour boat ride to the secluded Caribbean town of Bluefields to do research for a documentary he's doing with some of our other classmates. Luckily, we had met some nice backpackers with whom I hung out until I had to go back to Costa Rica on Saturday. The backpackers were called Josefine and Kerstin from Germany and Nick from Canada/Colombia. They look like this:
The big thingy in the background is a huge "acoustic shell" designed by the American Glen Howard. It was overlooking a huge square (Plaza de la Fé) filled with empty merry-go-rounds and other rides. We were let in by a lazy security guard and took some nice pictures.
More pictures from Nicaragua (click to go to album):
Kerstin, Josefine and NIck had rented a car and were going north west to the town of León where two of my UPEACE friends (Jasmine, US, and Dobrawa, Norway/Poland) were supposedly staying. So I caught a ride with them and wrote to my UPEACE friends that I was coming to León. Our Costa Rican phones didn't work in Nicaragua so when they never replied on Facebook, I didn't really know if I would even meet them there.
When we arrived in León, I checked into a hostel and stayed there a bit with the backpackers. Suddenly Jasmine and Dobrawa walk in the front door. They hadn't gotten my message, they just saw someone they knew. Unfortunately, they were on their way south, so I decided to hang out with the backpackers a bit longer and go to the beach for the night. We made it to a rustic beach cabin and spent a nice evening eating seafood and playing pool. Next morning I had to leave and travelled all of Saturday to make it home in the evening.
Nicaragua was interesting, and I will definitely go back. Next time with actual plans. It's more exotic than Costa Rica, in a good and a bad way. There's much more life around you and street stalls selling food but also a lot of begging and - reportedly - a lot more crime. I was paranoid about my nice big Canon EOS 60D D-SLR camera, and that's why I took so few pictures.
A last little anecdote. My friend Elizabeth (of former blog post fame) texted me that the last buses from San José to Ciudad Colón left the Coca-Cola bus station (yeah) around 10:30 pm. This was around 9:45 pm and I was still in the bus on the way to the Tica Bus terminal. (The bus was scheduled to leave Managua at 12 noon but left at 1:30 pm and took forever at the border.) So when the bus pulled up, I jumped out, waited impatiently for my luggage and jumped into a taxi. "Coca-Cola por favor," I said. The driver thought I was another tourist so he offered to take me all the way to Ciudad Colón. It would only be around 8,000 Colones. 8,000, I thought. "OK, let's go if you can do it for 8,000," I told him. In Spanish. But the guy didn't turn off the meter. "Are you going to leave that on? Because then it's going to be at least 16,000. I live there. Otherwise, let's go to Coca-Cola." After a few grimaces, he turned off the meter and took me all the way home to my casa for ... 8,000 Colones. Booyah.
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.
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.)
A lot of things have happened since I last posted. The most recent dramatic development was a death on campus. The head of the Environmental Peace Department, Dr. Mahmoud Hamid, sadly passed away from a sudden heart attack during class on Tuesday. The entire university was shocked, and the class he was teaching are still trying to figure out what to do until the next class starts. I personally didn't know him, but many of the staff, faculty and students are very sad these days.
More cheerful events have also happened. Last weekend I went on a 3-day trip to the lazy reggae-loving beach town of Cahuita on the Caribbean coast with three great guys: Tito from Barcelona, César from Mexico City and Gregorio from upstate New York. Here's a picture of the four of us at our hostel:
Generally we just had a nice relaxing time. Spent some time in the pool and at the beach, had some amazing chorizos and seafood, met up with other UPEACErs in town and just relaxed. I was supposed to do some reading for school but that never happened.
School's been really good. The Media, Peace and Conflict Studies programme is now in its first real course, Media In Conflict - Introduction. Our teacher is Álvaro Sierra, a Colombian journalist and academic who has lived in and reported from many different countries and conflict zones around the globe. Today he is the editor of Semana, Colombia's main newsweekly. He's very knowledgeable and a very nice guy even though our readings are sometimes unrealistically long.
This past weekend I went away again, but only for about 24 hours. My Belgian/U.S. friend Saskia's family has an apartment in a gated community near Tárcoles by the beach on the Pacific coast, and she kindly invited four of us (my Costa Rican roomie Álvaro, Norwegian/Polish Dobrawa, Elizabeth from Wisconsin and me) to come visit her. It was wonderful to relax in an air-conditioned apartment with an out-of-this-world view, three bathrooms, a coffee-maker with built-in grinder and several swimming pools. On the way to the place we stopped at a bridge to spot crocodiles - here's a pic I took over Dobrawa's shoulder:
Today I tried to give a little lunchtime session on the privacy settings in Facebook. Out of almost 200 students, 5 turned up but they were good students. I think I'll host one again soon and try to promote it a bit better.
Until next time, pura vida.
When I don't post here for a while, you should generally take it as a sign that I'm keeping myself busy with school and socialising. As is the case now. Went to a party last night at a very cool place near the university where they have a hot tub and a pool, and a bunch of us went in. Great party - I came home at 5 this morning.
This weekend is not about fun, though. To round up the last three weeks' Foundation Course, I have to write my first academic paper. It's only a 2,000 words essay but I'm still a bit intimidated. Haven't written essays in English since I studied at Concordia in 2008. It'll probably be fine, though.
Next week we start our actual MA programme. As you may know, I'm in the Media, Peace and Conflict Studies (MPCS) programme, and I'm glad that we are starting now. The first course is aptly named "The Role of the Media in Conflict - Prevention and Peace Building - Introduction". Thursday is the national day of Costa Rica, though, so we hope to get a four-day weekend. That may open up for some travelling, perhaps to the beach?
My father should be glad to hear that I play sports at least twice a week. On Mondays there's volleyball, and on Fridays, Ultimate Frisbee is becoming a big thing. I brought a disc and helped start it up, and people are loving it - such a fun sport. If it catches on, I might try to get it started in the local community (inspired by my first club, Hanoi Ultimate Club) as a way to let the local youth mix informally with all the international people from UPEACE.
Oh, and I moved. Love my new place. I can walk to town, my roomies are cool, and I started cooking much more and having friends over for dinner. Maybe I'll bake something tomorrow. Not having to choose between water pressure and hot water is great. I feel so clean now.
Some of you may have seen my Facebook status: "... just sent an application to the UN." The UN has a programme called Young Professionals Programme, and I applied for a position in Public Information. If they like my experience and application, I will take a test at UPEACE in December and perhaps qualify.
Last thing; I made a group presentation on a conflict (mining in Costa Rica) with a great group of people. We used Prezi to make it, and you can see the Prezi itself here (without comments).
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.