Wednesday, August 29, 2007

64 degrees at 7:30am is the perfect temperature to wake up to. Beautiful blue sky and crisp sheets to lay on, it does not get any better than this.

Last night it rained hard, extended hours of serious white-out condition downpours with thunder and lightning. The hardest lengthy rain we have had so far this season. I can still at this moment hear the stream raging as the waters from the mountains flow down through the forest.

An early appointment today brought me to the farm for a closer inspection of our rivers. Tiny meandering streams were swollen from the abundant rain. The boxes of rocks we built for one problem stream are holding strong and fully performing to expectations. We could not ask for more. Today they were covered with large rocks that were not there just 3 days ago. Trees have fallen; some have been swept down river. Everyday the view changes, the river giveth and the river taketh away. You never know what awaits you and perhaps that is the excitement of being truly alive in rural Costa Rica.

Maria is down at our river looking for magical medicinal therapy rocks for use in massage. She found a suitcase full.
One of our cows fell down during a landslide and broke her leg last week so after checking with the vet who had just visited the herd on the previous day, she was butchered at the farm for meat. We gave all of the meat away to workers, neighbors and then took a cooler full to the Mission. It was perfect timing as there had been a large number of Indigenous staying with them and food was in short supply because they had exceeded their food budget for the month. Meat is expensive for Costa Ricans and they buy very little. Daniel and some men from the Mission took the whole giant sections and legs to the local butcher and he cut them into manageable pieces that could be packaged and frozen for future meals.

Maria, a Russian American woman who is a licensed massage therapist in Florida and learned the art originally from her Mother in Russia, visited the Voz Que Clama Mission with me on this day. We met with some of the patients who reside at the mission and Maria worked with several of them while chatting and receiving big smiles. Maria speaks Spanish, Russian and English, but these Indigenous speak no Spanish or very little; yet the big smiles tell you all that you need to know.

One young man has Cerebral Palsy and shares a room with his Mother at the Mission. He was placed on a tin roof and left to die by his tribe because they believed he had a bad spirit, both he and his Mother were taken into the Mission when they found him near death several years ago. Maria showed his caregiver how to gently stretch his legs and exercise them. He has feeling in his feet and Maria tells me that if he were to have excellent physical and massage therapy he could possibly walk and have some mobility in 2 to 3 years. That would be a blessing.

Another young man who suffered a spinal cord injury when he fell out of a tree was beaten with sticks by his family and left out to die in the Chirripo rainforest in adverse cold and wet weather because he was a burden to his family and they did not want him. He showed me his father’s cedula (social security card) with his father’s photo on it. Daniel the co-director at the Mission tells me that this boy loves his family very much and has forgiven them. He looks forward to their visits at the Mission and is warm and loving towards everyone.

I commented that I was not sure I would be able to do the same at this point in my life. Daniel said he knew he was not yet there. There are many lessons of love, commitment and forgiveness to be learned at the Mission and I learn another lesson with every humbling visit.
Thieves stole the phone wires to the town in the middle of the night, right by Casa Turirre, our 4 star resort. At 11pm I had phone service but none at 7am. The police, many of whom do not have a gun, will not take their car up the mountains so the thieves wave bye until the next time. Nobody in our surrounding little towns from that point on has phone service because of the break. How petty. I wonder how much a couple of low life ladrones can get for stolen phone wire that contains a minimal amount of copper? Enough for some crack or guaro perhaps. Drug use is a problem in every country. Costa Rica has the compounded problem of being the drug route out of Columbia on its Caribbean side, unstable employment opportunities, untrained uneducated labor, and little money to control, catch, punish, contain, the bad guys. I see crack sales happening in Turrialba by the old railroad tracks when we go to buy propane for our tanks. I always have the urge to do something to ruin their day, or capture them, but I am still thinking about that. My husband has commented that he doesn’t know how I have managed to live this long. They have ruined their lives, and I am sure that death will pursue them all too soon one way or another. “It is easier to give birth than to breathe life back into the dead.” That is why we must focus on the children and provide useable education for them.

When a lone policeman pulled me over because my 2nd license plate had fallen off the front of my car, rather than just write me a ticket, he preferred to hassle me looking for chorizo (a bribe of $20.00). Which in the end he received and I received a $4.00 ticket in exchange. I remember that he had a little pea shooter of a gun stuffed in his pants waistband, pointed at his manhood (my cowgirl gun when I was 5 was more substantial and I had a holster to go with it), and I pictured it going off the whole time he had me. It was an ugly vision. It is also more lucratively rewarding for him to pull me over rather than deal with real crime such as drugs and theft.

I look forward to my morning phone calls from my husband and that won’t happen today. He has another surgery scheduled for this evening at 8pm. What I hope will be the last of too many, and then he can come home.

Useable education, think about that for a minute. They teach French in the 7th grade in my area. I will only address my area in this instance as there is no consistency regarding much of anything in this country except to say that Public Education for the most part is severely lacking. I am being very kind, it actually sucks big time, and it is just a matter of is your area worse than mine. French, what is that about? How useless in the scope of things. If you are French I am not trying to insult you, we really appreciate the ambulances you donated. But you also speak English as it is the world’s business language and you are educated. Most all Europeans learn English in school, so when you are a poor Costa Rican child, and you do not know how to use your Spanish dictionary, phone book, do simple math, read, comprehend and enjoy a novel in Spanish, why in the world is your educational system wasting your time on French? All job opportunities requiring a 2nd language in Costa Rica such as Call Centers or tech support require English.

Shop class, an elective in the US, would be an extremely useful class (useable education) in rural Costa Rica. You can see where math without a calculator could come in handy in this instance and they could count their money all the way to the bank. French will get them….,what? Sorry, can’t think of a thing, because they will never learn more than a few words to start with, they can’t read Spanish sufficiently yet. They need to focus on useable, useful educational tools, asking every step of the way, “Will this get me a job or provide me the ability to make an honest living?”

This walking stick insect was found on the front wall of our home. You can see how giant he is from the amount of bricks he consumes with his body.

We recently built a small 3 bedroom 1 bathroom prefab home for our caretaker family. Here is Xinia standing at her back door. It has columns that the prefab concrete slides into much like interstate sound walls are made. The house is solid, dry, and they should be of good quality depending on who you purchase from and who the contractor is. We are getting ready to build another one, this time it is my custom design. You can customize them to your liking. The beauty of these homes is that they are completed from start to finish in 3 months.

You have many choices including but not limited to, the height of walls, overhang size for a veranda, and roofing material used. The columns are placed 1.5 meters from each other, or roughly 4 1/2 feet apart, so every 4 1/2 feet I can have electrical outlets. My walls are acceptably smooth and I used a finish with pigment in it so that no painting was required inside or out. The standard windows that were included in the price were fine for the caretaker house we built but I will install custom windows more to my liking in the next home. Because many foreigners such as myself have more kitchen expectations I custom designed a large kitchen with 2 refrigerators and large island with electric for my new home.

Most plans that are presented to you are with the Tico market in mind, but not limited to those plans. In my desire to simplify my life, I never intend to settle for less than what I want. Good use of space for our lifestyle is most important with the kitchen being the focal point. I have studied small space design for a number of years and this was a chance to do something special using local construction techniques and my imagination.

If the area you are building in is subject to termites, you can build a home with little or no wood. Don't discount the option of a prefab concrete home as I found it is both time and cost effective with good results.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Medical Treatment in Costa Rica

Since my husband’s accident about 3 weeks ago we have tested the emergency system and medical treatment at 3 different hospitals in Costa Rica.

The all volunteer 911 rescue Red Cross vehicle came in a timely fashion. We have no complaints about these folks for they must truly be dedicated professionals who love their job as there is no pay involved and they must sell lottery tickets on street corners to earn money for gasoline or diesel fuel to run the ambulance. We must also give thanks to countries such as France and China for donating the ambulances and various emergency vehicles.

How trained are the rescuers? I am not sure about that in all honesty. I came up with the scissors to cut my husbands clothing off and then a flashlight to see with. At one point when more lighting was needed I took the solar lights from the front door pathway and remember feeling like the Statue of Liberty holding torches. Our neighbor Gonzalo went in the back of the ambulance with Phil to regulate the tourniquet and try to keep him focused for the 20 minute pot holed ride. We are grateful for Gonzalo, as his strength has really helped Phil get through this ordeal. The ambulance attendant is also the driver, which limits his ability to care for a patient during transportation even if he had skills or medication.

My friend Bonnie was visiting us from South Florida, she was the first person to reach Phil when he cried out for help. Phil is a very lucky man, the moon and the stars were aligned properly and the Lord was not finished with him.

Our local hospital did the best they could, they saved his life that evening and then sent him on to hospital #2, located in San Jose, 2 hours away. They took a look and sent him back to Turrialba at 4 AM. He remained in the hospital for about a week. A few days after Phil was released we began to realize that Turrialba’s hospital was out of skills and the wound was deteriorating as cells were dying. We made the decision not to return but to instead take the bus to San Jose and go to Clinica Biblica. Our neighbor’s daughter made the arrangements and Phil met her there at noon saw the doctor and was admitted. That was more than a week ago.

Today my husband is having another operation. This one is to sew his leg back together and make skin flaps to replace the missing skin. This is his third operation since he has been at Clinica Biblica in the last week. We hope it is the last surgery and I eagerly await his homecoming.

I would post the many photos of his wound, but I have promised not to, and with good reason, they are not pretty. His leg modeling days are officially over.

The good news is that we have both had time to reflect on our master plan, and to remember what our priorities are, why we came here, and where we are going.

Our temperature was about 60 degrees at 6AM; it was another beautiful blue sky morning as I heard horses running up the driveway. The Rottweiler’s bark and chase everything so I ran out the front door but not before they heard the beating of hooves on the inclined rock driveway. Ms. Perla, the hunter, is always at the forefront of a pack chase. Sure enough they all went flying down the driveway barking and the horsemen had the good sense to turn around and retreat.

Yesterday Perla was hunting giant iguanas in the bushes. When she gets the scent of wild animals she comes alive and sniffs every inch of dirt and plant material until she finds something. Beware, do not violate Ms. Perla’s territory! Her house, her yard, her people, it is all about her.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

This is the church, or school. Volunteers sleeping at the reservation. Notice the beds.

Journey to the Cabecar Indigenous Reservation

It was a few weeks ago that my neighbor and friend Sara Gomez, a dental student at the University of Costa Rica, said that she had been home on vacation for only 5 days and she was bored already. I challenged her to journey to the Cabecar Indigenous Reservation with the Mission Voz Que Clama and photograph the trip. This was an important journey, important to me because I can not make this trip, important to her because it expanded her world, her mind, and I knew she could do it. It is also important that you learn about our rural Indigenous. This was probably her most challenging adventure yet, I knew it would be pushing her envelope but I left that part out when sharing the opportunity with her.

The hike to the Cabecar Indigenous Reservation is difficult and only the most athletic and physically fit are able to make the journey. There are no bridges, roads, or comfort, and it is mostly an up mountain climb. The roaring rivers must be crossed by sliding on a cable or fording the deep, cold, torrential river on foot. When you take a canopy tour you are secured in a harness with every safety precaution. Our Indigenous and volunteers sit in a sling, grasp on to their children and possessions while holding on for dear life and then advance hand over hand. At this moment Sara wanted to go back the same way she came, but that was not possible.

To this village the trip is 5 hours long on a good day. From my side of the reservation the trip is 8 hours long to the first village and often can not be made in one day due to weather and river conditions. The Indigenous walk those 8 hours to our farm for emergency help as our farm manager has a cell phone and there is no phone on the reservation. Recently he called 911 and a helicopter came and airlifted a very ill man from the reservation.

I read an article in We Love Costa Rica about Americans like me who move to a developing nation. It correctly said: "The influx of illegal immigrants from south of the border will continue until the economies of their homelands begin providing sufficient job opportunities. US emigrants help to create those jobs. They are America's most effective foreign aid program, but without the bureaucracy and waste. They share more than money. They share themselves. Taken together, they are helping to alleviate the root causes of illegal immigration. Americans bring their sorely needed money and wealth of professional expertise to the homelands of America's immigrants. That steady emigration from the US is thoroughly ignored, however, because relevant statistics are nearly impossible to find." My husband, a nurseryman, and I retired to Costa Rica to protect our rainforest that spawns and grows water. We grow bamboo, vetevier, and nitrogen fixing legumes as well as practice permaculture and biodynamics. We supply school materials to the rural poor and Indigenous children in our area. Currently we are looking for a volunteer teacher who will spend a year with us teaching English and how to read to the poor and Indigenous. We provide jobs to both Costa Ricans and Indigenous, sharing with them the skills that we know as they share with us their knowledge.

I know some of you know folks who have vacationed in Costa Rica and may have even stayed at our Marriott or other fine resorts or hotels and totally missed my part of our country. I have had Gringo's say to me, "I went to Costa Rica and I did not see any poor people." What a shame, those folks took a vacation and missed the best part of my country because they stayed at Disney World, but perhaps they did not know there was more to see. South of Turrialba, the Cordillera de Talamanca is one of Costa Rica’s best kept secrets. The only thing south of us, more or less, is the Indigenous Reservation, La Amistad International Parque and then Panama.

What I am sharing with you is one part of the many parts of the real Costa Rica. This is the land the Indigenous protect, it is a water shed, consisting of cloud and rainforest. So beautiful and yet difficult, these areas produce the purist water on Earth. Not a lot of pure water left on planet Earth unfortunately. Our Indigenous leave the lightest footprint possible on this land. They live with no electricity and wash their clothing in a stream. The children see occasional visiting teachers, and most Indigenous speak little or no Spanish, they speak their Indigenous language. They look forward to visiting missionaries such as Hector and Daniel, both Costa Ricans, who led this adventure and who are the directors at the Mission Voz Que Clama, .

I continue to feel an obligation to help the poor rural children, the Indigenous and the mission, although they ask for nothing. Our Indigenous have been ignored, they are the invisible people. I observe people walking around them when they come to town as if they were lepers. I can’t help looking at their beautiful brown faces and wonder their need and their story. They are mostly uneducated as we understand education and do not attend school because they do not speak Spanish and there is no school in their village. They are wise to the ways of the forest, its animals, medicinal plants, and how to survive. It is only in recent years have they been issued a Cedula, the national identity card (similar to a social security number). They now have free medical care, but little access to it. They often do not have bus fare after having walked down the mountain, as they do not trade in currency, for this is our way, not theirs. As our world continues to move forward encroaching on their lives, our Indigenous are left behind. We have two worlds going on, theirs and ours, they call us the others. Their world is a perfect one in the eyes of nature, not an easy life, but near perfect in many ways, and deficient in others. We are on this planet complicating their life with our greed, our need, and our affluence that sometimes allows us to run over everything in our way. As a global community we must all coexist and care for each other because if we do not, we will all suffer the consequences. So I will share my Wish List with you at the end of my story and ask that when you come to Costa Rica, please bring a suitcase of supplies for these people and their children. You can contact me and we will arrange for pickup at the airport in San Jose, or direct you to a nearby drop off. You are always welcome to come to us (you can drive to the mission) and see the other, real Costa Rica in the South Central Mountains. Mission Voz Que Clama, distributes the donations, helps to educate the children, delivers supplies, builds shelters, saves lives and makes regular journeys to the reservation with volunteers. It has taken years to build a trusting relationship and to be able to communicate with the village. The mission has a 501c3 tax deductible US charitable designation.

Mission Voz Que Clama is located in Tuis de Turrialba. They allow the Indigenous who are traversing to stay at their facility when they come down from the mountain. They also take in the handicap Indigenous who were put out to die because it is believed they have a bad spirit. The Mission provides for all of their living and medical needs in this well run clean, loving, facility with 24/7 staffed care. This is partially funded through the proceeds earned from their Spanish Language School in Tuis If you would like to learn Spanish while on your vacation and have a cultural experience in the heart of rural Costa Rica's mountains and rivers, as well as providing the best kind of foreign aid, this is where your life changing journey begins.

Thank you for caring and understanding, thank you for your support.


Wish list:

Used lap top computers in working order
tooth paste
Backpacks or small and medium duffle tote bags
twin or full blankets
battery-less flashlights (shakable)
notebook paper
pencil sharpeners
colored pencils
art paper
art supplies
craft paper
book bags
finger paints
powder craft paint
face paint
soccer balls
sweat shirts from the thrift store on 1/2 price day, sizes small and medium and children sizes These are small frame people. It is cold in the mountains.
good practical clothing, jeans, t-shirts, (small and medium sizes and children's sizes)
rain gear, umbrellas, rain coats, rain jackets
Baby clothes
Cloth diapers
gathered skirts for girls (they like skirts)
sneakers, children's sneakers, all sizes for children
good quality new socks
drum sticks ($2.00 a pair on the internet)
anything educational
flash cards
simple Spanish / English dictionaries
blow up beach ball globes of the world (they have never seen the world round, only flat)

Ginnee Hancock lives with her husband Felipe in Esperanza and Atirro de Turrialba, Costa Rica on their 1,270 acre rainforest farm.