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Escuela Shuabb

  • “Good morning”
  • “What is your name?”
  • “My name is BELLA!”
  • “Your name is Bella. And where do you live Bella?”
  • “I live in SHUABB!”
  • “I love you Bella.”

Bella is six years old. She is one of 15 students, ranging from six years of age to 13, who attend Shuabb elementary. I am a gringo. I am working on my doctorate in anthropology from the University of Alabama. I work at the elementary school every weekday. The students here take classes in their native Bribri language and culture. They also have classes in traditional subjects such as math, science, geography, history, and Spanish. I teach English, supervise an ethnography project in which the older students are creating video blogs, and offer workshops in other subjects ranging from ethnobotany to cosmology.

The community of Shuabb lies within the poorest district in the country of Costa Rica. The school receives minimal assistance from the government and relies on outside donations to keep itself functioning. The school provides breakfast and lunch to the students who attend. The value of this service cannot be overstated, as for many of the students this provides nutrition which would otherwise be lacking. We have chalkboards and chalk, old desks, a nice concrete building that should last for a while, a traditionally made Rancho that needs repair both on the floor, side railing, and roof, computers which have a couple of basic learning games, and electricity.

One day I asked Esteban, the director, if he had a magic wand, what items would he like to have for the school. He replied, fans- sometimes it is so hot that the teachers and the students do not want to work. Three fans would be sufficient – one in the concrete classroom, one in the Rancho, and one in the kitchen area. Computer software on disk – learning games, reading and typing applications, and science and history software. A microscope! Botany collection supplies. New desks. These desires are not extravagant- only basic materials all schools should have.

The medical anthropologist Paul Farmer writes about how inequalities in standards of living and delivery of medical care lead to unequal outcomes regarding infectious diseases. Jonathan Kozol writes about how Savage inequalities in resources and delivery of public education in the United States has a crippling effect on the nation’s poor. My students deserve a level playing field. I cannot accept the status quo in which some children are offered the best of resources and the best opportunities, while other children are left to fight over the scraps that remain, and struggle to gain equal footing in a rapidly changing world. I believe that I am my brother’s keeper, that the rent we pay for living on this earth is the service we do for others. Teachers are fond of calling their students “my kids.” I understand this. And I want the best for my kids. I was raised to never ask for things for myself, and to this day I find it very difficult to ask for any kind of help. But for these kids, I will ask for anything. So, I’m not shy or ashamed to ask for any and all assistance to help provide the students in Shuabb the same educational opportunities that are afforded their more affluent counterparts throughout the world.

Why not me? Why not now? Why not here?

Greg Batchelder, Shuabb Talamanca, Costa Rica. March 2017.

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It’s been a while since I posted a blog so I thought I’d give you all an update on what’s been going on the last couple of months. I spent my first Christmas and New Year’s here in Yorkín all the while longing for the snow and Christmas trees of Colorado. Christmas was pretty uneventful, although there was a group meal of beans and rice in the Stibrawpa lower kitchen and quite a bit of chicha drinking going on at various houses throughout the community. In the morning I walked up to some friends’ houses to give some small toys to the children. I played guitar for a while and drank some chicha with the adults. At the lower kitchen I gave out some more toys and holiday cards and shared some cheese and crackers, nuts, and Danish cookies. Later on I went out to another friend’s house and learned how to make fresh tamales and drank some more beer and chicha. The tamales were delicious and I saved a couple to have for later.

New Year’s was rung in with more chicha and beer at various houses. There was some music and dancing at the Stibrawpa upper kitchen, but I spent the last couple hours of the evening at another friend’s house eating, drinking, and waiting for 12 o’clock. At midnight some fireworks were set off on the elementary school grounds and my hostess passed out cake for everybody. I slept in late the next day and don’t really remember what occurred on New Year’s Day.

The 4th of January was the first day of Jumpstart English camp for the fifth and sixth graders in the community. The local Peace Corps volunteer organized the camp and asked me to be a co-instructor. It was loads of fun and it was great to get to know more of the children in the community. Three weeks later we had a graduation ceremony. Many of the parents I did not know really well or had not met at all came up to me afterwards and expressed their gratitude. Now I greet the kids that I met in camp in English and also say “Roll Tide” because they all learned the Alabama slogan due to the fact that Alabama won the national championship while the camp was going on and I couldn’t control myself.Jump Start

I watched the National Championship game at a friend’s house here in Yorkín. I bought a case of beer, a couple bags of chips, and extra gasoline for the generator. Nobody here knows the first thing about American football. I didn’t waste my time trying to explain the game to them, other than when something was going really good or really bad for Alabama. At around half time, one of my other friends showed up with some chicha and after the game kept urging me on to sing more and more renditions of Rammer Jammer. It seems I could be heard throughout the village as people commented on it the next day. Now whenever we’re drinking, I am usually urged to sing another round of the Alabama victory song.

Around this time a stray dog, who I later named Chi-Chi (which means dog in Bribrí), started sleeping on my porch. Now he’s pretty much a house dog, except he is really overly territorial and protective and I need to watch him when other people approach my house. He is now about 6 to 7 months old, and I’m not sure what went on in his younger days and only time will tell if I’ll be able to change this behavior. But I really love the little guy.

Red Frog BeachOn January 14th I went into Puerto Viejo to submit a National Science Foundation grant and then went to Bocas del Toro in Panama for my three-month visa renewal trip. I found a cool little eco-camp on one of the islands of Bocas that was situated right on the beach. They had canvas tents and a dorm set up back in the jungle and a bar and restaurant right where the trees met the sand overlooking the waves. I spent three very relaxing days there and didn’t get any work done as there is no Internet or Costa Rican phone service there. Just what I needed.

On February the 5th I traveled back to Puerto Viejo to do a lunch time talk for the anthropology department via Skype. I really enjoyed talking about my research so far with other academics. That is one of the things I miss the most about being here. It was great to be challenged intellectually by my colleagues at the University of Alabama and see people’s faces and hear their voices. Roll Tide.FABBL

While I was in Puerto Viejo I was contacted by a backpacker who got my name from some other backpackers who came through Yorkín a month or so ago. I offered to walk her into the village and spent the next three days being her guide. She even came to my friend’s house to watch the Super Bowl with me. I brought a couple six-packs of beer, some chicha, cheese and crackers, and chips to share. Again, none of the locals really knew what was going on but I got to go crazy as I watched the Broncos win their third Super Bowl in eight appearances. It was the first time in my life that my college team and my pro team both won the championships. I had so much fun showing my new friend around and sharing my knowledge of the community with her that I decided to create a brochure aimed at getting more backpackers into the community. I put myself down as the English-speaking contact and listed a price for meeting people in Bambu and walking them into the community. It will be interesting to see if we start getting more backpackers. I always enjoy spending time with the few that we do get.

WP_20160215_002On the 16th of February I celebrated my birthday by sharing a pig that I had roasted in a pit and a few cases of beer. I had help digging the pit which was great but the day I was supposed to get the pig everybody was busy as we had two giant groups visiting the community and I ended up walking 2 miles to where the pig was and carrying it back to my house on my shoulders. It was 35 kilos and by the time I got home I was exhausted. I was late getting the fire started and we ended up putting the pig in the pit after dark when it was very difficult to see what we were doing. The next day at about four in the afternoon I dug the pig up to find that it turned out pretty good. There was one portion that ended up getting a little burnt and there was one portion on the other end that wasn’t done enough; but other than that it was great. We ate pork and boiled bananas and drank beer on the porch and I felt pretty darn satisfied.WP_20160216_001

It is now the last week of February, and I just realized that I’ve been here for seven months. It definitely doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. My hope is that I can be here at least another year and maybe two, spending the second year writing my dissertation. I need to go into town again in a couple of days to submit the paperwork for two more small grants. I look forward to having a hamburger and a couple of mojitos as well as reading Woody Paige’s post-Super Bowl columns and re-watching the Super Bowl and the resulting coverage on ESPN via YouTube.WP_20160216_008

Senuk Buae and Roll Tide.

A quick final note: I just finished reading Doris Stone’s book on archaeology in Costa Rica. I did not see any mention of a corn God or any patriarchal type of God similar to Sibö in the pre-Columbian past. Could it be that the cosmology surrounding Sibö arose after contact with Spain in 1502? Could the idea of Sibö and the mythology surrounding him be a reorganization of more ancient beliefs which arose out of a response to imposed Spanish oppression backed by the Catholic Church? A type of revitalization movement? It is a sensitive subject that requires more research.