This is the journal that I took while I was on the MIUSA trip down to Costa Rica. I have only edited it slightly...
First day. We are in Houston for orientation. Getting here went well, except that I almost missed my flight out of Logan. There was a big, long line at the Delta terminal, and I would have missed my flight if I didn't cut a ton of people. I'm liking the trip so far. We really do have a diverse group of delegates; people of different nationalities and from different parts of the country, etc. Debbie is from Montana, Jeremy grew up on a dairie farm in Kentucky, Andrea is from a Hopi reservation, etc. We went over stuff about the trip. I'm anxious to meet my host family. What will they be like? What kind of a house will they have? I don't know anything about them yet. I did some swimming, too. Houston is consistently hot in the summer, unlike Boston where it's called a heat wave if it gets hot. I felt like I was in Phoenix again with it still being warm at night and the pool water being warm enough to stay in. Well, more orientation tomorrow.
Well, I'm actually writing this in the airport on the morning of the 14th. I was feeling too lazy and tired last night to write. We had more orientation yesterday and went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner (a real Mexican restaurant, not a taco bell -- which is good because Taco Bell is being boycotted because of the wages paid to the tomato pickers in Florida). It was nice and warm again yesterday, but I didn't swim any. I still don't know what to expect. I'm just anticipating everything. And I have to leave for the gate.
Well, we're in Costa Rica! Or so they tell me. It almost seems like I'm still in the U.S. People keep speaking English to me in and around the hotel, and it's the Best Western Hotel, and we're eating breakfast at Denny's tomorrow morning. Ick. It seems odd to have people speak to me in English. Maybe it's because I'm at a hotel with a lot of tourists. But then I don't know enough Spanish to really understand people well. The hotel is interesting. The room is kind of smallish with brick walls. And we've seen a couple of cockroaches. It might just be me, but it seems that the building is better insulated than a lot of the buildings in the U.S. Or maybe builders in the U.S. just have to make design decisions because the temperature varies a lot more. Or maybe I'm just spending too much time looking for things to be different. If you spend enough time looking for something to be out of the ordinary, then you'll find it to be so. Well, I've rambled on long enough.
Today we got up, ate breakfast at Denny's, checked out of the hotel, and went on a bus to the rain forest and got on a tram. It was neat; we got to go up into the trees. I probably missed out some by not being able to see everything, but I could hear the crickets and feel the leaves. There was this plant with huge leaves, probably a couple feet in diameter. Never seen anything like it before. The tour guide was telling us that the rain forest was reforested and was only 50 years old. 10 years ago, about 40% of Costa Rica was covered by rain forest, and now about 60% is, if I understood him right. They are trying to conserve it. But then tourism/eco-tourism is the country's biggest industry. Then we went back and met our home stay families. I'm staying with a husband and wife, and the husband is blind (I think he has a very small amount of vision). They have no kids, and the husband's father is living with them. They are very nice, but it gets stressful trying to communicate with them. He will ask me questions, and I might ask him to explain a word that he used, and he will try to explain it and use other words that I don't know. I don't know if it will become less stressful or not. He just speaks a little English, but it seems like he wants to learn. So we are both learning, I guess. At least I know some Spanish; we can usually get our points across, but I feel bad that I often don't understand them.
I was Leader of the Day today, so I got to give an opening thought, relay messages to the group, and give gifts to people who hosted us. We saw a video on Costa Rica that we were supposed to see on Saturday. It really seems like a neat country. There are things that Americans have that they don't, but it seems that a lot of them have everything that they need. The people I'm staying with aren't starving or anything, or at least I don't think they are. They don't have electric driers or hot water all the time (those are the things I noticed so far), but you don't really need those things. And the temperature stays the same all the time, so you don't have to heat or cool your house. And Costa Rica has socialized health care, unlike the US. I'd think that, if Costa Rica can do that, than the United States can also. Or maybe it would infringe on people's freedoms too much. It seems that you can have democracy, or you can have freedom, or you can have neither, but you cannot have both. After all, what if most people want the ADA? In a free society, it would be considered to infringe on people's rights, wouldn't it? In a free society, the restaurant owner would be free to tell a blind man that he can't bring his dog into the restaurant, the employer would be free to fire an employee for trying to organize a union or not to hire a person because he has a disability, the store owner would be free not to build a wheelchair ramp onto his store, etc. A free society could not allow the majority of people to take away the freedoms enjoyed by a minority, even if the said majority feels that doing so would make society better over all. In a democracy, the people would rule, whereas in a libertarian society, no one would rule. Well, you'd have the golden rule: "Those with the gold get to rule." The day got kind of messed up since it was the first day of school, and I think that they were doing some construction or something. We didn't get to see the school for the blind and the deaf, but we saw a school for children with cerebral palsy. Then we had lunch and had some activities where we discussed disabilities. We watched a short video on the ADA. Pepsi got sick, and Mary Ann had to take her to the hospital, so she couldn't continue with the activities that she had planned. Eric gave us a Spanish lesson, then a few people talked about trying to organize an outing. Then we were done. I finally got a chance to talk to Azulai a little today. It turns out that she is staying with Rolando's sister, Maria, and her husband, Geraldo. I met Geraldo this morning at the place where people sell lottery tickets. Like in Spain. Better to sell lottery tickets than to be unemployed and living on something like SSI, imo. I wouldn't support using a lottery as a way for a government to raise money (too regressive of a tax), but I don't think I can criticize an organization of the blind selling tickets. [Now that I think about this more, I'm not sure what I think of their lottery. I've asked Oscar what he thought of the lottery, and he thought that it hurt people since they would not be encouraged to get an education and be all that they could be, since they could drop out of school and make a decent amount of money selling tickets. He pointed out that people often decide to take a year off from school to make some money first but then never wind up returning, and maybe their families would encourage them to sell tickets to give them some income rather than try to do something better with their lives. So I can see where he is coming from; maybe the U.S. is better off without it. Rolando seems okay with the lottery being there, though. I don't think he had the chance to go past primary school; he grew up on a farm, and I think he said that he couldn't get to a school that would take him. Apparently anyone can sell lottery tickets down there, but there are organized cooperatives of the blind, for instance, who sell tickets and get good spots.] People are a lot more physical here than they are at home. At least some of them are. This morning, Jorge [another guy I met at the lottery coop] was hugging me and patting me on the head. Anyway, I'm going to sleep. I wouldn't think I could get to sleep on this bed (it is harder than I'm used to), but I got to sleep last night, which was good.
Yesterday we went and saw the volcano. It was cold -- sort of like late October or early November in Boston. But then it is 9000 feet above sea level. Then we had a big lunch at a church, which was good. Rudolfo brought me home after we got back to the school since my homestay family was working the lottery. Then I got sick, so I didn't write last night. Apparently I'm like the third person to get sick, for whatever reason; not sure if it's a bug or the food or what it is. I sat next to Jeremy on the bus ride back to the school. It turns out that he is reading A People's History and wants to go to grad school for history and teach it at the college level from the perspective of the oppressed. And he had friends in Seattle for the WTO protests. Interesting that the person I met who seems interested in these sorts of things would be the farm boy, out of all people. He thinks that most people in his area aren't that interested in politics or vote republican because they are Christians and oppose things like abortion, not because they look at the economics. And his high school was classist, but then most high schools probably are. Usually the only people going to college were the people taking honors and AP classes (who usually came from families with higher income).
Today we taught English to the students at el Colegio de San Jorge. Jeremy and I taught grades 6, 7, and 9, but we weren't prepared, and they knew a lot more English than we really thought they would. Then we had lunch and went to the house of Luis Fernando Astorga. We talked with people from his organization about the Costa Rican disability law, passed in 1996. They think that it is a good law, but it hasn't been enforced, and accessibility remains poor, especially for people in wheelchairs. And the blind seem to have the same problems as the blind in the US (lack of access to Braille materials and instruction, difficulty finding work because of attitudinal barriers, etc). And you have the paternalism that you have a lot of other places with persons with disabilities being treated as charity cases, etc.
It turns out that Rolando's sister is Azulai's homestay mom. Rolando had told me that he had a sister who was blind and that her husband was blind, but I didn't put two and two together until he told me that.
Today we visited the National Rehabilitation Center. Then we went to a museum, then we hung around in the park for a while. We went back to the school and had a check-in where people could say things that they felt that they needed to say. So people were complaining about the actions of anonymous others and stuff like that. I never knew if I should take any of it personally, but then I guess everything applies to all of us. Still, I would prefer that, if a person has an issue with something done by one or two particular persons, that the people bring it up directly rather than bring it up at a check-in. Well, it wasn't all bad, though. This way the people know exactly what they are doing that is offensive.
Oscar seemed pretty dissatisfied with the services given to the disabled in Costa Rica. The rehabilitation center will perform surgeries as necessary to save lives ande will provide hearing aids but will not provide canes or wheel chairs. He was saying that they budget $100000 per year to keep up the lawns and the area and that they buy computers and hire more secretaries but don't have the money to hire an occupational therapist. He thinks that their disability law requires their social security system to provide canes and wheel chairs since it requires people to be fully rehabilitated. They might have to go to the courts, but then they are currently fighting the Supreme Court since it is not wheel chair accessible. The court agreed two years ago that it needs to make itself accessible but hasn't done anything yet, so they will need to take it to the International Court of Justice. Still a lot to be done, it seems.
It's been a while since I wrote anything. On Friday, we visited the National Institute of the Blind and met with Marietta Quesada (president of the National Association of Blind Women) and others. Marietta's organization tries to help women who are blind with finding employment; they started in 1991 and ran a bread-making business for seven years, but they shut down after Costa Rica signed a free trade agreement with Mexico and a Mexican company came in with big capital and ran them out of business, so they have been struggling since then. Globalization once again showing that the people who pay for it are often the most vulnerable in society. And the blind in Costa Rica seem to have many of the same problems as the blind in the U.S. A lot of people don't want to learn Braille since they want to hold on to the little sight that they have. We also visited a national park and got a tour. Friday night, Rolando told me that the family had been invited to a birthday party and asked me if I wanted to go. We went over to Horacio's house and listened to music, and people were dancing. I chatted with a few people. But I wasn't expecting to be out until 3 in the morning. Apparently it's pretty normal for birthday parties to go that late in Costa Rica.
Yesterday we visited Cartago and saw an old church. Then we had lunch with ANURE and took a tour at a garden. Luis (Rolando's brother) was over that night, and I showed him my computer.
Today I went to Ojo de Agua with Azulai and her family (except Geraldo, who was selling lottery tickets along with my family). It was neat; there were a couple of pools (one was olympic-sized and had a couple of big diving boards) and a water fall. Diving off the high boards was fun; it's a weird feeling jumping off and falling through the air for a couple seconds before you hit the water. Then we all came back to my family's house; lots of people were watching the soccer game between Costa Rica and Uruguay. Costa Rica lost, unfortunately. So I got to hang out with Azulai a lot. We're going to Jaco tomorrow, and I'm not bringing my computer, so I'm not going to write again for a while.
(actually I'm writing this the next morning): Not much to say, really. We spent three nights in Jaco. I liked it there; it was very warm, and it didn't have all the traffic and bus fumes that San Jose has. We went to the beach on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the water was warm (not what I'm used to), but the current could be strong. It definitely was at the beach we went to on Wednesday. Riding the waves is a lot of fun, though. We had a delegate-lead discussion on Wednesday night, and we ended up talking a lot about isolation and the need for persons with disabilities to interact with society.
Yesterday we went to the University of San Jose, which was nice. We had a panel discussion on technology and perspectives on disability. Two panelists spoke from each country, and I was selected (just as the panel was getting started) to give the technology presentation. It was okay; I was probably the natural person to do it, but I didn't have much time to prepare. Adaptive technology is fairly new to Costa Rica, but they are trying to give people access to it. From the perspectives discussion, it became more apparent that people are victim to many of the same attitudinal barriers that affect persons with disabilities in the United States. The Costa Rican panelist talked about people who park in front of wheel chair ramps or take spaces reserved for people in wheel chairs. Really no different from what my grandmother goes through. Later on, we went down to the university's radio station where they interviewed a few delegates. Then they showed us a biology lab with some electronic microscopes.
Today we did evaluations and a closing activity where everyone got to say what he thought. Then we went to the hotel to check in. A few of us went to the mall (I got my Calua cd). Later on, we had a farewell party with the families. It was sort of sad since I don't know if I'll ever see my family again. I have their phone number, though, and I'll call on the 7th to wish Sara a happy birthday if I remember to. I wonder if they'll have a party for her and be up until 3 in the morning. They gave me a glass and a wall plate with a picture of a Costa Rican house on it. I'm starting to feel a little sad that I'm leaving, even though part of me wants to go home. I don't know if I'll ever see a lot of these people again. This has definitely been a good experience for me, and I hope that I can somehow help MIUSA in the future. If I ever go to Ghana with Geekcorps, then I would like to find some of their disability-related organizations and see if they would be interested in working with MIUSA or anything like that.