Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Nine Years Ago Today, April 24, 2004

I was 21 years old.  I had been living in Auckland, New Zealand for about two months.  I was in class and I knew something was terribly, terribly wrong.  I could sense it; it was palpable.  I couldn’t understand it though.  I remember getting these fleeting images of me laying on the floor of my dorm room crying.  Just weird flickering images going through my head, like a spliced movie reel.  I was confused by the foreshadowing I was predicting on myself, without even having control over those mental images.  They just kept passing through my mind.  After class had ended, a history class or a poetry class, it slips my mind now, I was walking home and just started crying.  What was up?  Why?  Why was I crying?  A guttural instinct was kicking in, I knew something bad had happened and I knew I needed to check my email to find out.  Chills were running up and down my body.  Something was terribly wrong. 

There it was, in my inbox, an email from a friend from home, “Bill died today.”  No explanations, no nothing, just a brief email.  Something like, “I’m so sorry to tell you this but our Bill died today.”  He was 20; he had just turned 20 four days prior.  I was in a computer lab in the building I lived in.  I remember staring at the screen in disbelief and then a huge invisible cloud sucked me into a vortex and I couldn’t hear anything above the din of grief and disbelief beginning to rage in my head.  I signed out and half walked, half ran to my room.  I remember opening the door and falling to my knees and weeping, choking, sobbing, unable to catch my breath.  The same scene that I had seen in my head in class earlier.  Why?  How?  What the fuck happened?  No.  No.  No.  Everything hurt, my heart felt like a giant fist was squeezing it, draining all the blood.  The pain was all-encompassing.  The pain was visceral. 

And whom do I turn to?  Whom do I go to?  I’m the only person here who knew Bill.  How do I grieve when I have no one to grieve with?  This was the first time in my life that a close friend had died.  I remember my grandfather passing away when I was 13, my great uncle when I was in my later teens.  I knew what death was, but I couldn’t comprehend someone close to my age dying.  This happened to other people, not me. 

It’s not an easy day for me to reflect on.  I didn’t find out until a day or so later what actually happened.  He had mono and his spleen ruptured.  Instant death.  No suffering for him, but the rest of us would suffer for sure.  I was incapable of doing much that afternoon.  I think I tried to cook myself dinner but could barely choke it down.  I do remember texting my relatively new friend, Gerald, someone I didn’t know too well but who was always so warm and kind whenever we hung out.  I just needed a friend.  I couldn't do this alone.  He didn't get my text until the next morning but he called me and said, “come over here now.”  I remember walking to his apt in such a daze.  I remember holding back tears the entire walk.  I remember the shock, seeing the sun shining and not realizing that it was a sun or that it was shining or that I was walking and breathing.  

When Gerald opened his door, I burst into tears.  He pulled me inside and hugged me.  He didn’t say anything; he just hugged me.  There’s not much you can say to someone when they are in grief and most of it is so trite, it never makes you feel good in that moment.  Time heals everything.  He’s in a better place now.  At least he didn't suffer.  It’s all bullshit.  You don’t want to hear it.  You want your friend back on this earthly plane, you want to return to two days ago and never allow tomorrow to come.  Gerald didn’t say any of that though.  Instead, we sat on his bed while I cried and he held my hand and hugged me.  When I was able to speak, he said, “tell me about Bill.”  So I did.  I told him all the funny stories I remembered about his quirky personality.  All the little nuances that made Bill, well, Bill.  I didn’t even know him that well, we weren’t best friends by any means, but we were friends nonetheless.  He was the type of person that everyone gravitated to because he always brought sunshine into a room.  And still, there was a gaping hole in my heart for a long time after he passed.  If you knew him, you would feel the same way.  

I still remind Gerald every year around this time the lasting impact his kindness had on me.  How, whenever I’m holding a grieving loved one, I try to not say the stupid, commonplace advice that everyone says when someone dies.  I still thank him for taking care of me when our friendship was just a little seedling barely above the ground.  I am living in Costa Rica now, so far away from where Bill was from in upstate NY.  So far away again from anyone else who knew him.  Sure time allows acceptance and healing but time doesn’t make you forget.  Nothing makes you forget.  I went to a yoga class in his honor tonight, I spoke a few words to the moon for him, I flicked my lights on and off and said, “this is the laser light show, the laser light show.”  If you knew Bill, you’d know exactly why I did the latter.  If you don’t know Bill, then the latter is simply proof of his silliness.  He was charming and he was hilarious.  So tonight, despite the sadness, I will go to bed smiling while I reflect on his sweet soul.  Death is incomprehensible for most of us, but I no longer ask, “why Bill?”  I just try to say, “thank you for the time I knew you.”  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Three Weeks in Costa Rrrrrrrrrrrica!!

Volcan Poas

You will have to pardon my tardiness with posting on my blog as of late.  I have been busier than I can ever remember getting certified to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL/TESOL- it's the same thing).  I arrived in Barva-Heredia, Costa Rica on March 30 and two days later started my TEFL course.  Barva is a safe and sleepy little town outside of Heredia, which is a bigger town outside of San Jose, the capital.  In case you need a quick briefing, I’m getting my certification, which is recognized worldwide, so I can teach English to non-native speakers.  In Costa Rica, you are more likely to be teaching people who are learning English for business and you are most likely going to be teaching at a school designed solely for that purpose.  I won’t be going to high schools or elementary schools to teach, there are TEFL schools all over the San Jose area specifically for learning English and nothing more.  I've got a plan to try to find work near the coast which is more difficult and competitive but I heard somewhere that patience is a virtue and when there's a will, there's a way so I'm going to give it the ol' college try.    

My observations so far on this course?  It’s difficult and time consuming.  It is much easier to float through life speaking English and never knowing the why’s and how’s as opposed to deconstructing everything and then having to teach it to a class of Spanish speakers.  English is quite baffling and often times I’d much rather prefer to tell someone, “well this is just the way it is in English so just memorize it and stop asking questions,” instead of actually having to explain verb patterns or reported speech (English teachers out there know what I’m talking about).  I was extremely fortunate in college in that I relatively breezed right through it.  Yes, of course, I put time and effort into my creative writing skills however, I never felt an impending weight of urgency or that I might be sprouting some grey hairs over the mass amount of work I had to get done.  This TEFL course is typically taught in a college semester.  We are doing it in a month.  If I haven’t sprouted a few grey hairs from being so incredibly overwhelmed yet, I have at least drunk my body weight in coffee everyday and I have also tapped into my lacking attention span in a whole new way.  I’m either so out of practice with being a student (I graduated from college eight years ago) and my attention span has suffered as a result or my possible attention deficit disorder has increased tenfold the older I've gotten.  I went to college right after high school so I had spent the majority of my childhood and teens sitting in classrooms habitually paying attention.  However, after college, the random classes I may have taken here and there didn’t require the workload that this course does.  My attention span and I are very out of touch.  We are like distant relatives calling each other from different planets speaking in tongue twisters and rhymes. 

Paying two grand for a TEFL/TESOL course
gets you a personalized mug!!!!

And coffee tastes better because of it!!!

Keeping my lack of attention at bay is more challenging than not allowing myself to swim if I was at the beach.  I find myself at home at night, working on a project for about 20 minutes and then I decide that I deserve a break so I go onto youtube and watch three Beyonce videos which snowballs into watching a random break dancing competition and then all of a sudden 30 minutes have gone by and I’m watching a video of a cat attacking a watermelon.  Youtube didn’t exist when I was in college and facebook was just emerging, these two engines provide countless hours of procrastination that I guiltily deem appropriate because I worked really hard on something for all of 20 minutes.  It usually goes 20-30 minutes of sort of working hard on homework and lesson plans, then 30-45 minutes of youtubing.  Last night, the internet wasn’t working and I was amazed at how much more work I accomplished.  Of course, every ten minutes I interrupted my own workflow to try to connect because I really needed to see an obscure video of a lion attacking a person on an elephant that someone had told me about.  After unsuccessfully trying to connect to the internet, I would look at photos on my computer or walk around my bedroom much like an animal paces behind its cage in a zoo.  It’s a chore for me to concentrate on anything, school work related things even more so.  Even when I’m in yoga class I find my mind drifting when I’m supposed to be concentrating on my breathing.  Just the other night in a yoga class here, as I diligently tried to clear my mind and focus on breath, my mind started wandering to how little I liked the music that was playing, which made me think of taking yoga classes without any music, then I thought of being a kid in gym class and how our teacher would always play, “When the Saint’s Come Marching In,” which made me think of elementary school and how one time the custodian let me and a few other kids check out the supposedly haunted attic above the stage in the gymnasium which made me remember singing Christmas carols in the gym which made me think that schools probably don’t let you do that anymore since it’s discriminate against all those that don’t celebrate Christmas…….you get the point.

I’m living with a host family here, Maria and Fernando.  They are the kindest and sweetest people I
La Paz Waterfall
have met since I’ve been living in Latin America.  My first night here, Maria said to me, “mi casa es su casa,” which I thought was only a saying that Americans put on placards on their kitchen wall to denote a cute sense of tchotchke-ness, however, I was tickled pink when she said it to me.  The homestay option through the TEFL school is great; I get three meals a day, my dirty clothes laundered and my room cleaned.  It’s like living in a hotel where you’re the only guest and the proprietors really care about you and treat you like one of the family.  It does feel a bit strange though; being 30 years old and having someone serve me three meals a day, do all my dirty laundry (in case you don't know how I feel about other people washing my underwear you can read it here) and change my bed sheets.  However, I am so bogged down with work for the TEFL course (as well as all the youtube videos that I have queued up for procrastination purposes) that I am incredibly thankful for it all, despite the fact that it’s taking me some time to get used to. 

The real upside to my homestay is that I get to continue speaking Spanish every day when I’m not in class.  One month in Guatemala and I felt pretty confident but now I fear my Spanish has taken a bit of a beating because I am speaking English in a class for 8 hours 5 days a week.  By the end of the day, I’m so mentally drained that it takes me twice as long to think how to speak in Spanish.  I had the preterit and the imperfect tenses down (they are two tenses in the past that are challenging for me) by the time I left Guatemala and now I butcher those tenses every time I speak in the past.  I mix up verb endings, I say things I don’t mean to say at all, and even some simple vocabulary has retreated to the dark corners of my brain so I grasp at the first word that comes forth even if it's completely wrong.  The other day I told Maria that I had skyped with my sister and it was great to see her hair.  I meant to say it was great to see her face.  I realized this several hours later and never bothered to correct that mistake to Maria.  She very well could be thinking that every time I skype with my sister, I am excited to see what her hair looks like, not excited at all to see a familiar and loving face on the screen.  Needless to say after this course is over, I plan on enrolling in a Spanish class again so that I don’t tell someone I’m chatting with that I like to see my sister’s hair when we skype.   

I have decided to stay here and look for a teaching job in Costa Rica.  I initially thought I would get certified here and go elsewhere, however, I really like it here.  There is a cultural politeness that far exceeds most other countries I’ve ever visited.  I could stand to learn a few things in that realm.  People are more relaxed here too, there’s less stress.  I’m still learning how to chill out and relax; Ticos (what Costa Ricans call themselves) are good teachers for that.  This is the last week of my TEFL course, next week I set out to search for jobs on the coast.  As I mentioned, they are scarce and competitive positions but I'm determined to live my dream here which consists of three objectives; teaching English, living near the ocean and continuing to progress in Spanish.  One of my favorite Rumi quotes is, "Whatever you are seeking is seeking you," so keep your fingers crossed that those three things I'm seeking are perhaps also seeking me. 

 A little day trip to La Paz Waterfall and Volcan Poas warranted some yoga.

TEFL/TESOL certified teachers coming soon to a beach near you!
Puerto Rico meets USA meets Canada!