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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Visit to Don Juan's Organic Farm, Costa Rica

Don Juan, Organic Farmer

Don Juan used his hands a lot to while speaking to us.

In the back of this photo, you can see the roof
of the pavilion where we were served our
lunch which featured foods from the farm.

They grow from the ground, not trees.

Don Juan showed us cacao. We
each got to taste a seed from this plant.
The taste is much different than the
familiar processed chocolate.

Don Juan joked that American
footballs are grown on this tree!

This plant can be used to wash your hands if
they get dirty while gardening. The over-
sized leaves naturally catch raindrops.

This unusual shaped plant is poisonous.
I don't know why it's grown there.

These flowers are planted at the ends of
rows to keep bugs away from the plants.

At the end of our tour, Don Juan
gave us these sweet treats to sample.

Pressing Sugar Cane Juice & Other Don Juan Demos

During our tour of Don Juan's organic farm, each of us were chosen to assist with one of his demonstrations. One woman held a cacao plant in her hand while he used his machete to slice it. She was a brave one, though I noticed he used the flat edge to strike with rather than the sharp blade. One lady pulled up a yucca root and then washed, dried, and perfumed her hands using other plants. Other people picked lettuce and radishes.

I was chosen along with another woman to use the red stain found inside the plant shown in the photo above as cosmetics. But not for ourselves. No, we were directed to apply the stain as lipstick, blush, and eye shadow to the faces of two men who had to keep their eyes closed. Once we were finished, they opened their eyes, took one look at each other, and burst out laughing. They looked like clowns! As you can see, this was a lighthearted, entertaining tour.

One of the most physical tasks demonstrated was pressing sugar cane into juice. In the video below, you will see how hard this is to do. Naturally, the strongest men in our group were chosen to help with this.

We drank the juice collected in the pitcher shown in the video. It tasted super sweet!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Communicating at Don Juan's Organic Farm

I wanted to give you an idea of what it was like for me to travel in a Spanish speaking country while on a tour with deaf adults who communicate in sign language. This very short video made at Don Juan's Organic Farm will give you a glimpse at my experience. Keep in mind that I know some Spanish, so when Don Juan spoke I tried to listen to him and watch the ASL interpretation. Fortunately for my comprehension, at many points a hearing member of the tour restated what was said in English.

Here's the text of the English portion of this video:

"...smell different things together.

So now I need one more person to volunteer.

something with yucca

Come on down. Put you to work."

Don Juan's farm was a beautiful place to be and his demonstrations were very visual in nature so if I missed some of the details of organic farming... Oh well... I had a wonderful time anyways.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Telling the Story of My Sign Name

I recently posted about receiving my sign name from a class of students at a deaf school in Costa Rica. At lunch that day, I was asked by Discovering Deaf Worlds to tell my story on video. I did so using as many signs as I could. By the end of this narrative, my words had run ahead of my signing ability and I had made several signing errors. But I hope you can ignore that and enjoy the story anyways. My delight in receiving a sign name shines through despite the mistakes.

An Irish Blessing

From my house to yours, Happy St. Patrick's Day!
[I posted this early for my friends in the UK.]

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Zip Lining in Costa Rica

My chance to zip line in Costa Rica seems to be one of the most amazing aspects of my recent trip in the minds of my family and friends. Some people don't quite know what zip lining is. I've explained that it's hanging on a wire and putting yourself out into a void. The photo above illustrates what I mean.

Everyone wants to know if it was scary. Of course it was! I have a fear of heights and fear of falling that added to my terror. But I was determined to use this opportunity to conquer these fears or at least not let them hold me back.

Here I am equipped with my harness, helmet, and pulley. I'm putting a brave face on it although I've chosen a hot pink rain jacket in case I fall off and have to be found among the green of the rain forest. Ha, ha.

We got to the top of the mountain riding in these cage like cars called the Sky Tram. Normally that would be scary enough for me but with the greater thrill to come, I managed to enjoy the 20 minute trip up above the trees.

We received a lesson on proper zip lining technique and then were given the opportunity to ride across two short lines as practice before we reached the point of no return. The first two platforms were easy to reach as you can see from my smile in the photo above. It was the third one where you couldn't see the ending point that was scary. I'm proud to say no one in our group backed out of the zip lining. For me there was strength in numbers and knowing I wasn't the only one nervous about it.

It began to rain hard and we found ourselves soaked and chilled as we waited our turn at the remaining six platforms. Brrr. But no one could tell if I was shaking from fear or the cold.

In a way having the view obscured by the clouds and my rain-blurred glasses helped me with my fear. Even so during the first moments of release on each line, I kept my eyes closed. Once I was fully committed to my course and on my way zooming through the air so fast that the rain pelted my cheeks painfully, I actually enjoyed the thrill. It was like flying. The little girl inside me cried, "Whee!"

When the guide announced we had come to "Big Daddy" the longest, fastest line I got nervous again. But I shouldn't have. That line was actually the best of all of them. Below you can see actual photographic proof that I zip lined! In the picture I am slowing down to reach the final platform. My thanks to Dave Justice of Discovering Deaf Worlds for sharing his photos.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Visiting a Deaf School in Costa Rica with DDW

Our first day in Costa Rica, the Discovering Deaf Worlds group visited a school for the deaf in San Jose. As you can see from the sign above, the deaf school is part of a special education center which also provides education for the blind and the mentally retarded. Students who are deaf-blind and students with multiple challenges are educated here as well. If you are interested, you can read more about Centro Nacional de Educacion Especial here and more about its founder, Fernando Centeno G├╝ell here (Google can translate these pages from Spanish for you.)

Welcome sign near the front door of the school

Upon entering the school and being warmly greeted by the principal, we were invited to get back into our tour bus and drive to a theater so we could attend a performance with the school's students. Flexible people that we were, our group had no problem adjusting our plans to experience this unique opportunity.

Once we arrived and took our seats, a translator from Costa Rica sat next to me and explained that there would be no dialog for this play. Instead the performance featured animals of Costa Rica including a frog, a dragonfly, a butterfly, and a snake among others. The animals were painted with day glo colors and the actors holding them and manipulating them were entirely dressed in black. With a black backdrop the actors disappeared and all we could see were the animals writhing and jumping about on the stage. A soundtrack of music and sounds of the rain forest accompanied the action. The volume was set to LOUD. I enjoyed feeling the vibrations of the music and sounds. After the play was over, the actors came out with the animals and showed them to the children and us. The kids thoroughly enjoyed the performance.

Back at the school, we were led on a tour of the classrooms so we could meet the students and learn about their studies. The school educates children from preschool age to 6th grade. One of the ladies in our group hails from Australia. She had brought a bag of tiny koala and kangaroo stuffed animals for the smaller kids at the school. It was really moving for me to see her interact with the kids, inviting them to choose just one from the bag, and then teaching them the Auslan signs for koala and kangaroo. She was a big hit with the children and brought smiles to their faces with her gifts.

In this photo you can see the school's director on the left and a local sign language interpreter on the right. The fish was one of the art projects for the day. A balloon was blown up and then strips of paper were laid over top with paste and then decorated. We were also shown art projects made from recycled materials such as pop can tabs.

We spent the most time with the 6th graders at the school. One by one our group introduced ourselves by finger spelling our names, sharing our sign names, and telling them where we live. When it was my turn, the students were concerned to learn that I didn't have a sign name and decided to remedy the situation.

For those of you who don't know, in deaf culture a sign name is given to you by members of the deaf community. It is not something you choose for yourself. It usually is something simple that represents an aspect of yourself. Using a sign name is more convenient than continually finger spelling a name.

That day I happened to be wearing a big floppy sun hat. One of the students suggested hat for my sign name but was overruled by the others because I don't wear this hat everyday. An animated discussion in sign followed. Then a student asked if I wear my glasses everyday. When I replied yes, the students decided glasses would be my sign name. [Glasses is signed by making a letter g sign at a 90° angle next to one's right eye. Or to describe it another way, by holding the right forefinger and thumb up to the right eye so they could touch the bottom and top of a pair of glasses.]

I was so touched to receive my sign name this way and in this place. Glasses is a perfect name for a librarian who wears bifocals, wouldn't you agree?

At the end of our visit, we had lunch in the school cafeteria. We were served rice with chicken and vegetables, salad, and cantaloupe. I was impressed by the healthy fresh food. I wished my son were fed this way at his school.

Before leaving we gave the director a donation that was raised through the price of our trip. She accepted the money graciously and told us the door to the school would always be open to us.

"I can be all that I want to be" sign on the playground

Monday, March 7, 2011

For My Birthday

This year for my birthday I gave myself a fantastic present. I took a trip to Costa Rica with Discovering Deaf Worlds from February 24 - March 5.

This was an opportunity for me to push myself way out of my comfort zone. I traveled with a group of people I had never met before, most of whom were deaf and communicated solely by sign language. During the trip, I hiked in the rain forest, zip lined down a mountain, and climbed to a waterfall. I was tested mentally, physically, and socially.

A fellow traveler asked what drew me to taking this trip with Discovering Deaf Worlds. My answer was that since receiving my diagnosis of hearing loss, I have had the benefit of hearing aids, assistive listening devices, CART captioning, and other technologies. I have had the opportunity to learn ASL and watch interpreters at several events. Truly, I feel blessed to live in this country where help is available. I wanted to travel to a less fortunate place and see if I could be of any assistance or encouragement to the people there.

In the days to come I will write several posts describing the journey and what I learned in Costa Rica. But for now, I'd like to wrap up with this anecdote. At the farewell dinner the last night of our trip, I was asked what I would take away from this experience. I replied two things came to mind. The first was that I was grateful for all that I could hear. At home my focus has often been on what I miss or don't hear correctly. But in Costa Rica, I was amazed by all that I was able to hear. I could understand bits of Spanish. I could hear environmental sounds that my fellow travelers couldn't.

The second takeaway from the trip for me was that I need to open my heart to people more. At home I tend to isolate myself and avoid difficult communication situations. In Costa Rica, I learned the joy of interacting and that it's okay to say that I haven't understood what was expressed. One of my proudest moments on the trip was when I had breakfast with a deaf man from Costa Rica who signed LESCO sign language and a deaf woman from Australia who signed AUSLAN sign language. Despite our differences, we were able to have a real conversation. That morning I could have easily stuck to English speakers or ASL signers but I would have missed my chance to get to know two amazing people better.

In the year to come I hope I can continue to move out of my comfort zone and push forward. As they say in Costa Rica, Pura Vida.