Where in the world is Megan Humphreys?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

25 and counting

The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect
any position of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.

I turned 25 two days ago.  That sounds a lot older than 24.  But I suppose at least now I can rent a car.

A lot has changed in the last six months.  I passed the one-year mark of my service, and am coming up on one year and six months in my community.
I visited my family in Florida for a week and had one of my best family vacations ever.
I attended my mid-service training in San José with other volunteers and presented on a computer class, Intel Learn, that I gave in my community.
I joined the Peace Corps Costa Rica ICT committee and helped write part of a Peace Corps manual, Nave Computacional, to teach kids how to use Microsoft Office.
I took the GRE and got my scores back (I'm happy).
I bought a horse.
I climbed Mount Chirripó (and vowed never to do it again).
I signed up to take the LSAT in June.
I lost a good friend.
I gained a few new ones.
I completed an Intel course in a nearby community and got to know many people there that I wouldn't have met otherwise.
I helped build a library in my community and I open it twice a week.
I've gotten to watch kids that never paid much attention to books discover new stories.
I painted a World Map in my community with the help of 18 elementary school kids and 4 high school girls from Tennessee.
I've introduced the awesome-ness that is the Harry Potter series to a few local kids (thanks to my mom who bought the books in Spanish and brought them down here).
And I've celebrated my birthday in a way I never have before: with many, many people.  I've never had so many celebrations, so many candles to blow out, so many "happy birthday"s sung.  Its been amazing to see how many people I know and how many people care enough to make the effort of celebrating my birthday.  I'm not sure I'll ever meet another group of people as large, as welcoming and as loving as I have here.  Thanks to all those special people who made my birthday special, too.

And now, I think I should finally post some pictures.

 The beach at my site.

 My site host mom, Aurora, host sister, Raquel, and me just after I cut my hair.

My training host family.  Martín (host dad), Tito (host brother), Jazmín (host sister), Ana (host mom).  The oldest daughter, Jenifer, isn't in this picture.
 Sookie and Buttercup sunbathing on the front porch.

A monkey looking for food in the trees outside my back window.

 Me at the beginning of the Mt. Chirripó climb.

Me at the end of the Mt. Chirripó climb.
 Sunrise on top of the world (or at least on top of Costa Rica).

                                                Chirripó park.

 My intermediate English class.

 Some primary school kids using Nave Computacional.

The Intel Learn computer class in my community.

The Intel Learn computer class in a nearby community.
 The World Map project in my community.

All done!

                                       The finished product.
 The library with the world map on the wall.

My Intel group in the nearby community when they surprised me with a birthday cake.

The primary school kids in my community with whom I do English and computer classes.
 My happy place.

More from my happy place.

                            My happy place continued.
 Pictures from treks around  my community.

 Local wildlife.


Local roads.

                                                      More trekking.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In the not-so-distant future...

The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect
any position of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.

The end of service always seemed so far away. Life after Peace Corps - I can't imagine it. Probably graduate school. I'm looking forward to studying and learning again to a degree I wouldn't have thought possible when I graduated with my bachelors degree two years ago. Two years.
I suddenly feel like I need to prepare for the next 30 years of my life when I haven't finished preparing for my English class next week. I need to take the GRE, I need to decide what grad schools I want to apply to, I need to figure out whether I should go to law school or just get a masters in International Relations, and I also need to make sure I buy a can of tuna for my dinner before the pulpería closes at 7.
My head is still in Costa Rica; I'm still figuring out the Costa Rican slang and the names of all the fruits that grow wild here. I'm still trying to get the 4th graders and their parents to commit to Junior Achievement classes and start a Community Credit Bank in a nearby town. And yet I feel like the end of my service is flying at me. I haven't done everything I wanted to do yet. I haven't helped any micro-entrepreneurs start a business yet. I haven't changed the world yet.
When I started my Peace Corps service, I set the bar for success so high I couldn't even see it. Some days I feel like I've failed; like I haven't lived up to my most unrealistic expectations. But on other days, I realize that I didn't fail; I just succeeded in a way I that I didn't understand a year ago.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect
any position of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.

Some recent/current projects I'm working on:

Spay/Neuter Campaign

A 2-day, 2-town spay/neuter campaign that offered the operation as well as vaccinations, de-worming medication, and general check-ups for 6,000 colones (about $12), or free of charge depending on the means of the owner. With the collaboration of the SASY! Organization (Stop Animal Suffering Yes!), 51 dogs and cats were spayed or neutered. The veterinarian and assistant will be returning in January (hopefully) to follow-up and perform more operations as needed.

English Classes

Thanks to the support of the hotel, eight hotel employees are able to attend English class twice a week. Starting with the alphabet and numbers, we are now translating signs, letters, hotel information, and even sayings on t-shirts.
I also have an Intermediate English class of six adults in my community. We have a textbook that we follow, but we also do other fun activities like listen to and translate a song every week. Some recent songs: Beat It by Michael Jackson, Yellow Submarine by The Beatles, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by The Darkness, and Stop, Children, What's That Sound by Jefferson Airplane.

Nave Computacional

Nave Computacional is a computer class for primary school kids that was developed by Peace Corps volunteers in Costa Rica over the last couple of years. The kids work in groups on one computer and play computer typing games as well as games about computer security and cyber bullying. They also have small projects to complete like creating a group flag in Paint.

Intel Aprender

An Intel program, Intel Learn, designed to teach computer skills to under-privileged youth in the United States, has been translated into Spanish and has rapidly spread across Central America. Peace Corps Costa Rica has worked closely with the program to train Peace Corps Costa Rica volunteers in the curriculum to bring it to the developing communities in which volunteers work. After attending a Master Trainer course in San Jose, I have since trained 12 other volunteers in the program.
I am also on session 11 of 15 of the course with a group of six people from my community, aged 12 to 40, and it has been very successful in my opinion. They are currently working on the final project for the course, which involves creating a PowerPoint presentation and importing images and documents from Microsoft Paint, Word and Excel. They complained in the beginning about the scope of the project, but I had to basically kick them out of the classroom after the first day of working on it. They didn't want to stop.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Wildlife Chronicles

The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect
any position of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.

I realized I forgot a couple.

I used to teach classes in the local "salon comunal" which is like a community center building most towns have for public meetings, parties, etc. My classes went from 5 pm to 7 pm. Around 6 pm, it gets dark, and so that was when the bat that lived in the salon comunal would start flying around. Because I was standing at the front with a light shining on me, it would fly around by my head. This happened for several classes, until one night it was feeling particularly frisky and flew directly at my face, causing me to duck, cover my head with my hands and squeal. My students found this very amusing. I now have that class in a different building.

About 2 months ago, my host dad and neighbor caught and killed a lizard. It was maybe 3 1/2 or 4 feet long. I watched my host mom skin it and cut it up. She then cooked it and we ate it for dinner with rice. It tasted like chicken.

This morning, I was sitting out on the patio with my host mom and we noticed a couple of rats running around the detached garage that's about 3 feet from the house. She said that there are a ton of rats that live there that come out at night , but I thought it was strange that I'd never seen one during the day before and now we saw two. We found out about an hour ago why the rats are running around during the day: There's about a meter long black and bright yellow poisonous snake crawling through the walls hunting the rats. My host mom is waiting for it to come out again to try and kill it. I'll let you know what happens.

I love how much my life has changed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

With 4 months under my belt...

The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect
any position of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.

I've now completed 4 months of service at site. I've heard people say that training is the hardest part, and that felt true during training. I've heard others say the first three months of service are the hardest, and that felt true during the first three months. Others have said that the first six months of service are the hardest, and that feels true now. The truth is, service is a continual process of highs and lows, the same as life I suppose.
Pre-service training is behind me, as is mid-service training (9 days of training after the first three months of service). Now comes the part where I actually need to start projects, provide results, and report successes.
I never realized how hard it is to work without an office, without a boss looking over your shoulder, without set deadlines and structures of what projects to do and when they need to be done by. To be sure, Peace Corps has reporting deadlines, projects that are strongly recommended, and monitoring processes in place; but day in and day out, you feel alone in your site, like what you accomplish today and tomorrow and the day after is entirely on your shoulders.
I thought I would find that sense of autonomy liberating. And I do. But I didn't expect that feeling of responsibility, that feeling of success or failure being entirely your triumph or your fault. I didn't realize how hard it would be some days to get things going, how hard it could be to motivate your community, and how some days you feel like you'll never accomplish anything.
I love my community, I love my project, and I love the ideas and opportunities that are available to me as a volunteer. But service is a lot more difficult than I gave it credit for. It's much more about incremental steps than big successes, which makes it hard to see what you are actually accomplishing.
This is the most challenging experience I've ever had. There are a lot of days when I feel like things are going so slowly, that I'll never see any results. But that only makes the small successes that much more valuable. Having a 4th grader telling me my English class is his favorite class, having my host mother ask me for advice on an idea or project she has, having the PTA committee listen to my ideas for the future with respect and attention. I'm not sure those things would mean as much to me in a faster-paced, performance-driven world.
I look forward to the future; to the next milestone in my service, to the end of service, to the time after-service (as I believe I will classify the rest of my life). But right now, no matter how frustratingly slow the process some days, I wouldn't rather be anywhere else.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Wildlife Chronicles

The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect
any position of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.

February 15, 2011

I walked into my bedroom and saw a lizard on my bed. It was a brownish color and less than 2 inches long - just a tiny thing. It moved too quickly for me to get a picture.

February 18, 2011

A frog jumped into my room late at night. I spent several minutes coaxing it out from under my bed and out the door.

February 28, 2011

My host mom found a GIANT spider on the wall in the kitchen. It was black and about the size of my hand. I didn't even attempt to take a picture of it as I went running in the opposite direction as soon as I saw it. My host mother (who picks up bugs with her bare hands) cringed and sprayed it with insect poison before running out the door. It climbed back up into the roof. We're assuming it died.

March 4, 2011

A poisonous snake was hiding out in my neighbor's (aka my host sister-in-law) laundry in her house. Both my host parents went running and after an anxious 10 minutes with 2 machetes and a grill fork, came out with the snake on the end of one of the machetes. Then they cut its head off and went back to watching their soap opera.

March 10, 2011

There was a cockroach on the wall of the kitchen which my host mom sprayed with insect poison. As we were looking around to make sure there weren't any others, a cockroach crawled out from under the cabinets and crawled across my foot. I'll never forget that feeling.
Later that night, I woke up late to go to the bathroom and I saw a cockroach on the floor next to my flip-flops. I tried to step on it, but due to my delayed reaction and fear that it would crawl toward me when it saw the shoe coming, it got away and ran under my bed. I sprayed insect poison under my bed, went to the bathroom, and came back and laid down. About 10 minutes later, I see something crawling on the mosquito net that I sleep under. I wake up and turn the lights on, and the cockroach had crawled up the INSIDE of the mosquito net. As I waited for it to crawl to a place where I could squish it, determined to kill it this time, it crawls across my bed and sheets. It took a good 5 minutes of standing next to my bed and consoling myself that this wouldn't happen twice in one night before I could lay down again.

March 23, 2011

This was a Wednesday. I was in San Jose at a hotel with other volunteers to attend training. It was 5:30 in the morning. First, I will give some background information.
I had packed my bag Sunday night. Before I packed my tennis shoes, I threw them on the ground and kicked them around a few times (common practice to ensure there is nothing living inside). Nothing came out, so I stuffed socks inside and packed up. Left early Monday morning, spent Monday night with my training host family outside of San Jose. I arrived in San Jose Tuesday and unpacked everything (including socks from inside tennis shoes) Tuesday night. Wednesday morning I woke up early to use the hotel's fitness center. I put my socks on, and then my right sneaker on. Then I put my left sneaker on, and felt something in the front near my toes. I stuck my hand in, thinking it was part of the laces or one of the socks didn't come out...and pulled out a scorpion. I dropped it on the ground immediately and stared at it in shock for about 10 seconds. Then I proceeded to smash it with the same tennis shoe, at which point my roommates woke up and started saying "Oh my god". I remembered to take a picture of this one, after it was dead and in the garbage.
Someone told me I'm not a real Costa Rican until I've been bit by a scorpion. It was dumb luck it didn't bite me the two times I touched it. I think that should count.
Needless to say, my tennis shoes are now kept inside plastic bags.

April 6, 2011

Mom and Dad were visiting. For this special occasion, my host mom decided to kill one of her chickens for lunch.
I watched this time, because I wanted to see how she did it. She ties the legs together, flips it upside down, puts a broom handle over the neck, steps on it and pushes the body forward. It was surprisingly quick, although it continued to flap its wings for about 20 seconds afterwards.
It tasted good.

April 12, 2011

So, I walk out of my bedroom and see another giant spider on the wall. Luckily, my host parents were up late that night (otherwise I would've had to wake them because I sure wasn't capable of killing it).
The last time, my host mom said they don't come in the house very often. I wonder if she just said that to comfort me.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Rain, Rain, Rain

The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.

November 8, 2010

Some of you may have seen about the rains we had in Costa Rica. It was raining for about a week, from last Saturday to two days ago. We all just made it back from our site visits on Tuesday. A couple days later and we would've been stuck at the sites until the roads were cleared so that was lucky timing. On Thursday morning, my family as well as people all over the country woke up without electricity and without running water. The telephone lines in my community were fine, but most people only had phones that needed electricity to work, and so we were without landlines as well.

We were lucky in my community because we got electricity back the same day at about 2 pm. The phone lines had trouble the next day, but that was fixed quickly as well. Some people are still without phones and water. Running water was a little more complicated as the aqueduct piping had been severely damaged, so we were using mostly rain water for about four days until that was fixed. I was showering again with a bucket like I did in India. I had forgotten how little water you actually need to bathe. One large bucket is enough compared to all the water you use when the shower is running continuously. It seems like such a waste now to go back to the regular way.

Getting all of these basic services back up and running became even more complex because many of the roads were impassable due to landslides. It took crews from Thursday to Sunday to get all of the roads cleared. It was a quiet long weekend for Costa Ricans without work, buses, etc.

Other places weren't so lucky. Provinces like Cartago and Puntarenas are dealing with massive flooding and damage to homes and businesses. It will take a long time to clean up and recover from all that water damage.

I've been impressed with how organized the government is in getting basic services back online, clearing the roads so life could return to normal today, and the minimal loss of life. Peace Corps has been in contact with every volunteer individually to make sure we're all okay and to see what the status of our house is. Some staff even drove out to training sites to check on volunteers in person. They've been very attentive and have made sure we're not only physically safe but also mentally healthy.

Obviously, this has put our already tight training schedule behind by several days. We'll find out soon how we'll be making up the time we've lost. But that's nothing compared to the fact that we're all healthy and safe.

On a lighter note: my training community group and I have been taking dance lessons from my host sister. So far we've learned the basic steps for cumbia (a Costa Rican dance), merengue and bachata. We're hoping to learn salsa next! It's so much fun! I'm looking forward to practicing more.

P.S. I have some photos of damages and other things on my flickr site if you're interested. www.flickr.com/photos/travelmonger

Volunteer Site Visit

The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or Peace Corps.

November 2, 2010

Just returned from a site visit today. All of the trainees went out to visit current volunteers in their communities to observe what life will be like for us in a few weeks! I went to visit a volunteer in the southern part of San Jose province. Its not really that far, but first I needed to take a bus to San Jose which is a little over an hour, then a bus from San Jose to San Isidro, another big city in the south of the province, which is 3 hour bus ride, and then a half hour bus ride to the actual site. Unfortunately, it turned into a much longer trip than that due to the fact it was a Saturday and the buses were busy.

I left my training community on the 11 am bus, and got to San Jose around 12:20. I had directions to walk to the other bus stop, but silly me, I started out walking in the wrong direction and so quickly got lost. I figured it out in a few blocks when the first part of the directions didn't make sense, and after asking about 5 different people (thank God Costa Ricans are so friendly!), I found my way to the bus station. It should've only taken 10 minutes but took me closer to 25 which still isn't that bad.

I arrived at the bus station with plenty of time. I needed to get to San Isidro before 6, since the last bus to the site leaves at 6 pm, meaning I needed to be on a bus that left before 3. Since I got to the bus station at just before 1, and buses leave every half hour, I though I had plenty of time. Not so much. All of the seats were sold out until the 3 pm bus, which would be too late to catch the bus to the site. So I went “a pie” meaning I didn't have a seat. I got on the bus right away and was able to claim a space on the floor in the handicapped area so I didn't have to stand, so it was fine.

I made it to San Isidro, met up with the volunteer, and was at her house by 7 pm. We had a quiet Saturday night.

On Sunday, it was warm and not raining in the morning, so we walked around her site and up to a huge river on the outskirts of town. We stopped at a little restaurant and I had my first burger and fries in almost a month. It was a little different since the burger had a slice of ham on it and the fries were actually “salchipapas” which just means its fries with little pieces of meat that taste like hot dogs. It was ridiculously satisfying.

Monday, I met her counterpart, which is the person in volunteer sites that volunteers work and coordinate with closely. We had lunch at his house, and then we prepared for her English class that night. Since I was going to be teaching it, I read over the lessons she'd said to do, and read the teacher's manual part. It all seemed very easy – until I actually got to the class and had people sitting in front of me. Everything went ok, just a little rocky. I relied pretty heavily on the book, and picked up a few things from the volunteer on how to explain things more clearly. I realize now that I need to prepare and plan out activity by activity next time, but still leave room for tangents. For example, we were reviewing body parts vocabulary, and I had the students read off the words. When they got to knee, they were pronouncing the “k”, so I stopped and explained that the “k” was actually silent. I probably should have gone more in depth and explained this rule by showing them other words like this, like “knock” and “knife”, so that they would understand better. Now I know. Even though it's a lot more work than I thought it would be, I think I'm going to enjoy teaching English.

I also learned that, depending on my site, I will need to wear my heavy duty rain boots. It was raining quite a bit, and the roads were all rocks or grass, so it was pretty muddy. The volunteer didn't really have a walkway to and from her house, just rocks and a couple of tree stumps to jump on. One time, when it was raining pretty heavily and had been for a while, my foot slipped off the rock and my shoe landed in the mud – and stayed there. I was able to hop in my bare foot so that I didn't go down face first, but we had to go back to the house to wash off my feet and shoes. I made it across without incident the second time. I also went home with two pairs of pants that had rain splatters all the way up to the butt. But now I've experienced it, and learned my lesson, and that's all that matters!

The return home was smoother, but still a long day as I left by 7:30 and didn't get back to my host community until past 2 pm. I was glad I'd decided to take the morning bus and not the afternoon one because I wouldn't have gotten home until late evening.

It was a fun trip and now I have a better feel of what the next two years will be like. Looking forward to my own site assignment!!