Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Subletting Era, On the Flip Side

When I moved back into my apartment, after nearly seven weeks away, I was very, very ready to be in my own space.  The fact that my roommate had changed since I'd left wasn't really foremost in my mind.  Mostly, I was thinking about sleeping in my bed, in my apartment, without having to wake up to an alarm clock, do breakfast duty, and clean before even heading out the door.  When I left for Costa Rica for the summer, I had expected an adventure not without hardships, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I spent my first two weeks in Costa Rica taking Spanish classes and living with host families.  This was fine, fun even.  I took classes in the morning and explored the cities I was in in the afternoon.  In Monteverde I went ziplining and hiked through the cloud forest.  At Playa Flamingo my afternoons were spent on the beach perfecting my tan.  One weekend we went to Volcan Arenal, went hiking and spent hours in the hot springs.  Not a bad way to spend a few weeks.


Sunset at the Playa

 At the hot springs

This lovely tourist's existence of lazing about and experiencing the natural wonders that Costa Rica is known for sadly didn't last.  You see, the real reason why I went to Costa Rica was to volunteer teach for the summer with a non-profit.  I knew that the accommodations weren't going to be up to US standards, but I've lived in a lot of places, and wasn't really worried about it.  In fact, the physical amenities weren't that bad.  I actually took a video of the University dorms that we stayed in:

No, the problems really all rested with the organization I worked with.  While I agree, in theory, with their mission to promote social justice through education, I didn't realize until I got there that the organization was more interested in imposing rules on its volunteers than ensuring the promotion of its principles.  There are serious flaws in the idea that we were doing great and indispensable good by teaching kids art appreciation and team-building activities for one hour-long period and then waltzing away to another school to do the same.  The thing that bothered me more was that there was this pompous sense of almost divine purpose in what we were doing -- that the image and reputation of the organization had to be protected at all costs.  And that's where the rules came in:

Las Reglas
  1. Everyone must be up at the same time in the morning and ready for breakfast.
  2. Everyone must do their chores.
  3. Any outing must be done "en grupo," so no one gets left out . . . even if they'd rather not go.
  4. We must have meetings four times a day to ensure unity of the group.
  5. Roommates are to be one local and one estadounisense.
  6. No alcohol.
  7. No relations with people of the opposite sex.
  8. No buying food that isn't part of the group purchase.
  9. You must be back and on time for dinner.
  10. No talking after lights out.
  11. No sitting on the second floor and playing cards, because what if someone thought you weren't playing cards?  What if someone thought you were drinking?  Even though you aren't, you can't socialize in a place where you might be thought to be something as untoward as drinking a beer.
  12. No skirts above the knee.
  13. No tanktops that expose your shoulders.
  14. No shirts that might show your cleavage if you lean over.  Not sure if you're appropriate?  Don't worry, there will be spot checks in the morning before leaving for school.
  15. No shorts when you're picking up trash with the kids on a Saturday.  What if a parent saw that you have legs? 

Cleaning the baños with cloro.

 Teaching (or saving the lives of) three students through a 45 minute discussion of Van Gogh's Starry Night" or "Noche estrallada," as we like to call it.  Not sure how that shirt made the cut.  Looks pretty inappropriate to me.

Needless to say, I came back to the US (via my brother's college graduation in Alabama) wanting nothing more than to be left alone.  It was hard enough to live through that, knowing that I was wasting my summer with an organization that was doing very little good, but I also harbored a great deal of guilt for asking my friends and family to sponsor my trip through donations.  Where was their money really going?  The organization certainly wasn't doing any harm, but the good it was doing was negligible.  I'd left my home and my friends right after the last day of school thinking I would come back with stories of great adventure, but instead I came back conflicted, confused, and sad.  It was with this attitude that I moved back into my apartment and started my tenure with Yvette.   


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