Mi vida en Costa Rica: la primera semana

I don’t think I can adequately express how this past week has been–in either language.

Overwhelming. Divertido. Unpredictable. Alegre. Motivating. Vergüenza. Awkward. Adventurero. Beautiful. Lindo. Treasured. Simpático. Rewardimageing. Apasionado. Humbling. Real.

This past week has been real. I spent my first few days in Sa
n José shocked that I’m here. Everything was as real as real gets when I enrolled in class last Monday. I’m not a tourist (well, not completely). I’m a student. At the Universidad of Costa Rica.

Monday was also the day:

  • I thought the world was going to end.
  • I believed I would be okkay.
  • I walked around San José extremely overwhelmed.
  • I laughed with classmates as another Costa Rican student joked with us and we didn’t understand.
  • I realized my entire life in San José is in español.
  • I wanted to just hop on a plane and go home.
  • I felt at home here.

I’ve thought a lot about those who come to the United States, for various reasons, whose first language is not English. Although I have a taste, I cannot imagine how overwhelmed they may feel. In my experiences, I have not seen them welcomed into the country and supported while they do their best to survive.

Costarricenses have definitely welcomed us with open arms. Prior to coming here, I had been told how friendly the people are. This couldn’t be more true. Even with a language barrier, people have done so much to help us in any way we need.

I am extremely grateful for my host family. They are wonderful people who are extremely patient with me day in and day out. My second morning here, It took me almost an hour to work up the energy and motivation to get out of bed and jump in to the day. Spending every moment of the day immersed in another language is exhausting. It is so difficult. But, it is also rewarding. In one week, I have seen improvements in my communication (which is the area for me that needs the most improvement), along with my vocabulary and written language.image Other aspects of my host family have been extremely rich as well. We have all our meals together (which is yet another opportunity to speak and hear spanish) and have our lunches sent to school with us. I live with one other student from KU, Allison, who will be here until the end of June. I enjoy the family dynamics and my Papá Tica usually spends time every evening patiently talking with me As each day goes by, I notice our conversations go a little deeper in content and my language comes out a little more fluid. As someone who likes to talk, there are times that are difficult. If I can’t say it in español, I can’t say it at all. I struggled in the beginning because my conversations went from being rather complex and detailed to very surface-level and simple. image Those of us from Kansas and some of our classmates traveled to Manuel Antonio this past weekend. It was nice to spend a lot of time with friends and see the beauty of Costa Rica outside of the city. During this trip, I realized when there is a need for spanish, I’m able to make it work and communicate. We had a few bumps in the road, which were all worked out, but I further grew in my confience of navigating the world. image Las montañas outside our hostel. image image La playa de Manuel Antonio. image All I wanted was to climb this rock and get a picture. And the daily downpour begins midway. image image Fam Din! image The National Park was really beautiful. I love nature.

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We saw many monos y bebés!

image image Can you spot the cangrejo?image These were some of the biggest palm trees I have ever seen. image Our iguana friend also wanted some sun at Las Gemalas. image We always find the best places to eat with great food and smoothies too! image I absolutely do not like spiders. But this big guy was pretty cool. He was almost the size of my hand. image San José at night. Returning home.

This week I have learned a lot. I’ve grown each day. I am so extremely thankful I’m here and excited for the rest of the summer!

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¡Bienvenidos a Costa Rica!

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As most already know, I arrived safely in San José, Costa Rica! My flight was rather enjoyable and I’m somewhat in shock that I’m here for the next two and a half months!

One of the first things I saw upon my arrival was the landscape. It’s so beautiful! Pictures are worth a thousand words, but reality is much sweeter!

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I have been pretty uneasy about my spanish abilities, and as a good friend and mentor, Mauricio, reminded me several weeks ago–“You don’t have to be confident, you just have to be competent.” I’ve reminded myself of these words often. I navigated through immigration and customs with ease in Spanish, and I’m feeling rather proud. It was also cool to find a sign with my name on it!

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Later last night, Eva arrived! We had such a blast exploring the city today. San José is divides into two parts–old town and new town. We’re staying in old town. There are so many museums and things to see!

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The last photo is of the Italian Embassy-which is where many of my friends are now!

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Food was one of the most difficult parts of of our day. Our meals cost about $3 each. Once we began looking for food, we couldn’t find anywhere other than pastry shops or markets with raw meat. By the time we arrived here, I was soo hungry. The way my day fell into place yesterday, I missed all meals.

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After ordering, in español :), we waited until our food was lowered down to where we were. It was pretty cool and maximized their space for seating.

There is artwork, graffiti, and paintings all over. I enjoyed how colorful everything is.

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This says Arte=Libertad, or Art=Freedom

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We stopped at the Universidad Político to enjoy the view.

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It’s amazing how varied the scenery is.

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We thoroughly enjoyed the day, with all 9 miles of exploration! The sun rises at 5am and sets at 5pm, which is an adjustment! I’m sure I will rise again with the sun!  Hasta mañana!

Field Action: Is there poverty in your America?

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Thus far all of our time has been spent in Mumbai. We ventured out into the rural community of Karjat. We visited Disha Kendra, which is an agency that works with 135 tribal villages offering various types of support.  They have a family counseling center that works on resolving issues before they are driven to court. Also, children are able to receive a sponsorship to help meet their educational and medical needs.

One of the biggest accomplishments of Disha Kendra is the elimination of money lenders. Farmers would borrow money with 30%-50% interest to buy crops and other necessities. If it was a bad year and they could not repay, they would oftentimes lose their home or equipment as collaterol. The agency collaborated with the local bank to replace this system with more security. Now, farmers are able to borrow money with 4% interest and prevent the loss of their homes.

The first village we visited was Tamnathwadi. There are about 500 people total living in an area about the size of an American footbal field. A major benefit for these families is that they own their own homes and they cannot be taken away. Recently, the government gave the tribe 35,000-40,000 rupees to build a paka (brick) house with solar lamps. It is one of the few paka homes in the village.

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Because of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), the men and women are guaranteed a minimum of 100 days work. They cultivate the rice for about fifteen days and make bricks for six months time. They also raise goats to seel for 4,000 rupees each.

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During this time, the children must accompany their families as they migrate to be closer to work. This is difficult on the students because they miss six or so months of school.

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Electricity in the village costs up to 15,000 rupees, which the people cannot afford, so they go without. This also influences other things like work and study because very little can happen once the sun goes down. Imagine living every day without electricity. It changes life drastically.

The families have a ration card which allows tghem to buy staple items such as rice, wheat, sugar, and kerosene at a subsidized price; however, the amount they are allotted is not enough to live on, and it is a struggle to be able to afford additional products.

I have so many feelings in response to this visit. We were welcoming with so much excitement and everyone wanted to sit with us. It felt as if we were placed on a pedestal and it was difficult to communicate directly because of the language barrier.  The poverty I know is so much different.

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The older girls taught us one of their traditional dances. It was a lot of fun to watch and learn. Everyone had fun laughing with us as we messed up so many parts. Without saying words, we were able to connect with these girls on a deeper level just by dancing.

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The leader of the village, Seetatai, asked us if there is poverty in our America?

This broke my heart. Yes, there is poverty in America. It is not better or wose, just different.

These people know there is more out there. They are not living in poverty because they don’t know any different, or are lazy (which is a stereotype I hear often). They work so hard to provide for one another and their families and are extremely resourceful with what they do have.

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They lack the resources to move out of poverty. The distribution of food does not fill their stomachs. For them, it comes down to having enough food to eat.

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It is customary to walk with your guests when they leave. Seetatai is in yellow with some of the precious children who walked us out.

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We also went to the Phanaswadi Village.  This village was very different than the last. The village contains about 60 households that live in an area that is about the size of six or seven football fields with a running river.

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The river is obviously a major advantage to the people for bathing, washing, and fishing. They have two wells to pump water for drinking.
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All of the children go to school and have a scholarship to do so. When the families travel for work, the students stay at the leader’s home so their education isn’t disrupted.

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Each household averages around 2,000 rupees per month (equivalent to $40). All of the families have a ration card, but some families have and APL (above poverty line) card and some have a BPL (below poverty line) card.

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A government medical mobile hospital centre comes to the village offering free medical care every so often, and one of the men is skilled with traditional medicine in case of less severe issues, such as a snake or scorpion bite.
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In the last ten years the village has seen major improvements. They have gotten electricity for everyone in the village and access to water and stable housing. Every one in the village has a voter card (each time someone votes they are paid around 100 rupees) and an identity card.
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In the next ten years the village hopes that everyone will have a paka house and for better roads. They also hope that everyone will have an education.
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Two of the girls sitting with us spoke English. One was in 11th grade and the other was in 12th grade and the village is very proud of them. They hope to become a banker and a lawyer. As someone who also wants to become a lawyer, I can’t even imagine her journey. At first, I found myself thinking they wouldn’t make it. Shame on me. But they are exactly who needs support. Having a career like that will have an impact far greater than the assistance from the government can have. I hope and pray these two girls go farther than anyone can ever imagine.
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One of the last things one of the ladies said was “My dreams are the same as your dreams.” This really hit home for me. Despite the circumstances we are the same. We’re people with dreams. Dreams to become lawyers. Dreams to be happy.

Day Three: Poverty and Social Protection

Dr. Rohit Mutatkar

Tuesday morning we were in the classroom for a class on poverty. I was saddened right from the beginning. At this point, it had nothing to do with poverty, and everything to do with us as westerners. Our Indian professor struggled as he prepared for our lecture in fear that this information would be used to negatively exploit India.

Poverty is commonly associated with India, and sadly it is a major issue, yet I don’t want to portray poverty as the single story of India. 77% of India’s population is living on less than 20 rupees a day, this is equivalent to 32 cents in the US. I bought a Sprite last night for 30 rupees, or 47 US cents.

I find my feelings toward poverty in India changing as each day passes. The looks on the faces of these people aren’t ones that I will forget. There is a widening gap between the wealthy and the poor and we learned about many programs designed to help this vulnerable population.

Since India’s independence in 1947, a major objective of the central government has been to eliminate mass poverty.

Beginning in 1992, the central government conducts the below poverty census. This is divided into three parts: income, expenditure, and type of house.

The poverty line begins with an income of 11,000 rupees ($174) per year. The size of the family is not taken into consideration, so an income of this could look different depending on the families.

The type of house a family rents or owns is very important. Families with a Paka House (brick house) are automatically not included as poor.

Additionally, the belongings of a family are recorded. The more Sari’s one has determine wealth.

Poverty alleviation policies have largely been relief driven and unable to address the structural causes of poverty.

45% of children ages 0-6 are malnourished and sadly this is underreported. Because the central government regulates the reports, it is a well maintained record. But, in order for the worker to get paid, the percentage needs to be low.

The failure of at the state level has led to a response from Civil Society resulting in movement for rights based legislation.

Right to Food Act
All state governments introduce cooked midday meals in primary and secondary schools until 7 standard.
This is not a food security bill, but established one’s entitlement to food.

National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) (2005)
Provides 100 days of work per house per year
Pays 100 rupees for women in rural Maharastra, 150 for men, and 300 in urban
Men and women’s pay varies based upon the intensity of their work.

ICDS Programme is similar to headstart and provides young child with nutrition, health awareness, and education.

National Social Assistance Programme
Pension to the elderly, widowed, severely disabled, and family experiencing the death of their breadwinner. Must show proof of age and be over 65. 88 million (7%) of India’s population is 60 or older.

For families living in the slums prior to 1995, the government will provide water with proof of paid rent.

Day Two: Healthcare and Mental Health

Dr. Asha Banu

The healthcare system in India is constructed completely different than the system I know. Within India, there are three major areas, the urban, the rural, and the slums. Healthcare varys drastically depending on the area in which one lives.

The healthcare system is a vertical program with three parts. The first level is the Primary Healthcare Centre. These locations are free for those in rural areas and provide basic medical care. The urban population pays a small fee if they are not covered by insurance. For every 30,000 people, there is a centre.

These are oftentimes not located in rural areas, and doctors will not travel, so patients will come to the urban areas for care. This is very expensive, costing around five days worth of income, forcing many people to forego treatment and continue to work.

There are secondary and tertiary centres as well. If the primary centre cannot treat a patient, he/she is sent to a more specialized location. I believe treatment is free at these centres as well. 

There are 7 cancer hospitals throughout India. These are private, free treatments centers. This is made possible through support from the rich. Cancer patients are not required to pay taxes as a way to further support them in this difficult time.

Many patients are told to return in one, two, three months and cannot afford to return home. This leaves them sacrificing a home to live on the street and find a temporary job in the same city. Many times, they are then exploited and paid less becaused they are from another state and speak a different language.

Aside from these centres, the central government runs many programs to meet the needs of it’s people. These include programs for malaria, leprosy, blindness, cancer, tuberculosis, and AIDS.

Mental health is not included within this system. Patients cannot receive services in a government hospital and they must pay out of pocket for them. 

Despite various successes such as declining death rates and improved quality of life, there was still a sense of shame in this system. It is difficult to see past the immediate need of your people in order to focus on the strengths, yet there are many to be highlighted.

Day Two: Intro to the Indian Welfare System

Monday was our first day of classes at TISS. Professor Manish Jha introduced us to the Indian Welfare System, which is both similar and different from what we are accustomed to. Social Welfare is introduced in the Preamble of The Indian Consitution with the ideas of justice, liberty, and equality; however, the it is not crafted in the  language of one’s entitlements and rights. It is left as more of an aspiration.

One landmark movement is that of free education. Children are required to attend school until the age of fourteen, at which point they may choose to continue or stop. A lot of the funds for these schools comes from the central government (federal). Because of this, teachers may improperly record grades if a student doesn’t complete the year in order to secure a paycheck. With that in mind, there are numerous things happening in the US that are considered wrong.

80% of Indians work in the informal sector which provides no type of job security or benfits.

For those who are working in the formal sector,  once one becomes a Senior Citizen, they are no longer allowed to work (formally) as they are required to retire. Depending on the state retirement age is around 60.  We learned about the act of ‘witch hunting’ in which senior citizens are sought out and sadly killed.

Food has always been a major concern of the social welfare system. In the 1960s, a public distribution system was created to provide food at a marginalized cost. Seed was provided to cultivators, who then recieved fair payment in return for the crops, which was then distributed to the poor. While this was a strong programme,  it was only considered an initiative and not a right.

In 2001, rates of starvation continued to rise. This was brought to court in hopes of holding the government more responsible. Starvation, seen as a denial of food leads to the denial of life, and life is a fundamental right. In response, the Food Security Act of 2014 included the entitlement of food as a right.

Another strength for families is maternity and paternity leave. Mothers can receive six months paid leave to stay at home with her child. In government positions (including teachers), childcare leave is also available. This is paid leave for up to a total of two years until the child turns eighteen. Fathers also are granted 15 days of paid leave.

Until this point, I found myself assuming that many of the programmes and iniatives we see in the US are prevalent in India, but this is not the case. Some of the same issues are identified in both, the needs of the people in order to combat these problems are different, but the methods and interventions resources are different to meet the differing needs in each country. While maternity leave may be found in both countries, my eyes have been opened to the varying needs of the people of India.

In both the US and India, some needs of the people are similar. Our basic neccesities don’t change. Rather the resources and obstacles surrounding these people are different leading to varying methods and interventions. While maternity leave may be found in both countries, my eyes have been opened to see through a new lens. While something may exist in the US, it does not automatically exist elsewhere, nor does that make one country ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

Day One!

Sunday was a full day of touring Mumbai. It was also Mohammed’s birthday, which is a holiday, so there were many people out and about.

We began by going to The Gateway of India. The Gateway was originally build to welcome the King and Queen upon arrival into India for the first time in 1911. It served as the entrance and exit point for the country. In 1948, following India’s independence from Britain, the last of the troops passed through The Gateway as they left.

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This area was very crowded with multiple vendors who approached us continually. For some of the girls, this made them very uncomfortable and they didn’t know how to react to their persistence. They was definitely a difference between their tactics and those in Spain; however, I felt more at ease having experienced this before.

My favorite stop, The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, was right across the street. It was such a beautiful building.

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Prior to India’s independence, the Indians could not stay in a hotel that was built by a white man. To show their value, they built the Taj Hotel in rebellion. The same founder of TISS, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata from the state of Gujarat (which is where my first roommate at KU is from), also founded the hotel.20150104_104751_2

It is the most expensive hotel in India, costing up to 185,000 rupees per night. The interior was beautiful.

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Flowers are an important part of local Indian Culture. The lieu below are often used to greet guests at the hotel.

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We ate lunch at the Delhi Darbar Restaurant. We had Tandoori Chicken with various sides. While it was rather spicy, it was still very good.

We visited the home where Gandhi lived. We learned about his impact on the Indian People.  20150104_154244 20150104_154851 He, among most of the Indian population, chose to live a simple life with very few material possessions, which really stood out to me. The staff at Tata have been very hospitable  and diligent in trying to provide for us and make us as comfortable as possible. As a population, we expect so many more luxuries that some people may not even desire, even if they had the opportunity to live the way we do.

“There come to us moments in life when about some things we need no proof from without. A little voice within us tells us, ‘You are on the right track, move neither to the left nor to the right, but keep to the straight and narrow way.'” -Ghandi

One of the last places we visited was the Sri Sri Radharasabihari Temple. Which I cannot pronounce! It is a part of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

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The visit to the Temple was the most overwhelming part of the day for me. There were people every and many people stared at us. We seemed very out of place. This was also our first experience using an Indian Restroom, which also brought some attention to us. Dr. Banerjee’s daughter, Badeesha, was on tour with us and she reminded us that many of them may have felt as out of place as us, with the recent urban migration.

Inside we were able to see the tradition and excitement of the people, which was really phenomenal to watch. I struggled with the lack of understanding of everything that was happening around us.  The experience was very authentic, and I am glad we went. Religion is very important in Indian Culture, and experiencing in this manner helps us to gain a better perspective.