Thursday, 18 February 2016

The Caterpillar Club debacle

After another 3.30am wake-up call courtesy of De Mama's foghorn, I update the blog bleary-eyed and decide to get ready bright and early for our exciting project, as Tatiana from Maximo HQ said there will be plenty of interest, as she's been promoting our Caterpillar Club locally for some time.  The showers here heats via an electric coil, so you have to have it barely trickling in order for it to get hot. Afterwards, I plug in the hairdryer but give up after about ten seconds as it's only 110V here and the airflow is about as powerful as a sloth blowing gently onto my tangled locks. Great. I feel 2 weeks' worth of bad hair days coming on. No wonder backpackers all end up with dreadlocks.

I hear a yelp and guess that Andy's winding up Chiky again, but no, it's actually his squeal of terror as he makes an error of judgement with the communal doors (as both bedrooms open onto the adjoining bathroom) and has walked in on a naked De Mama. Yikes!

Unwilling to risk negotiating the San Jose transport system again, we've got a bit clued up now and have done a deal with a local cabbie to chauffeur us about for the rest of the week - one who assures us he runs to real time rather than Tico time and won't let us down. True to his word, he rocks up early and we arrive at the project before 8am.

Victor, our eager student from yesterday, arrives soon after with one of his 3 brothers in tow, each clutching a new notepad, hair slicked back and smartly dressed for their next English lesson. I find this incredibly sweet, until I attempt to engage the brother in conversation and realise he has the personality of a turnip. The lights are on, but no-one's en casa.


Mum and I prep the classroom with all our books, pens, crayons etc whilst Andy pumps up the new football and fashions a makeshift goal from bamboo and rope. I make a sign welcoming the hoardes of children that are surely going to round the corner any minute now. Bienvenidos!


Only they don't come.

We wait.

And wait.

By this point Mum has worked her way through several language books and an entire pack of flash cards with the two chicos. Victor's eyes have begun to glaze over, and his brother is virtually catatonic. Andy livens things up with a kick-around but it's evident that word hasn't got around sufficiently for the project to succeed just yet. Crestfallen, we pack up the classroom.


Tatiana obviously feels bad for us, apologising profusely and making calls to get us relocated elsewhere, and we soon arrive at our new project, The Playhouse.

 We are greeted at the centre by the most adorable set of huge doleful eyes and I instantly fall in love.....with a dog. Lola the Sausage is as sweet as a Starbucks Festive Special, and I have to push past the gaggle of needy kids to get to her.



This place is chaotic and soon we're knee-deep in baby bottles and sticky-fingered toys, the kids chasing Lola around and around the garden, squeezing her between their clammy little mitts. Lola's only 3 months old and thinks she's one of them - we even catch her going down the baby slide of her own accord.



The Three Muskahounds are then split up - De Mama definitely draws the short straw with the baby group, and I later catch a glimpse of her juggling about five babies, feeding 2 more and rocking another with her foot.

I'm in with the two to three year olds, whilst Andy is across the street with the over fours. The charity explained that we may not agree with all the practises we see, but our role is to support rather than to implement change. I bite my tongue as rows of wailing babies are left sliding down in their highchairs unharnessed, toddlers rub their toothbrushes in the dirt, clean each other's trainers with them before queuing up to "clean" their tiny teeth.

I step in when I find that the mischievous Aaron has obtained superglue and scissors from a too-low craft shelf and is preparing to gouge out his amigo's eyeballs then glue his eyelids shut. Relieved to have prevented a scene reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs, I turn around just in time to see a cluster of my charges about to charge themselves, as they are doing their best to wedge their wet little fingers into ankle-high plug sockets. Clearly Health and Safety doesn't feature highly on the list of priorities here...

On the plus side, the children are so innocent and accepting that they are soon clambering all over me, clutching my hands and jabbering away in Spanish, their doe-eyed expressions filled with curiosity at this huge gormless gringo before them. It is heart-warming yet exhausting, and when it comes to the end of our shift we are in need of a stiff drink...

With hindsight, the couple of swift afternoon JD and cokes were a mistake, but we were in need of liquid refreshment after our challenging first day at the project, plus we thought it might liven up the impending Spanish lesson a tad...

Sitting down in the boiling Spanish classroom with Faye and a young girl from NYC, it quickly becomes apparent that we have the attention span of a gnat and are not getting into the learning groove. When the teacher chooses To Sing as the verb to kick off the lesson, writing and reciting "Yo cant" (I sing) on the whiteboard, Andy and I dissolve into giggles and it's all downhill from there...

Although Mum doesn't touch a drop of alcohol, she is equally as distracted, as each day is so full-on and we're all still jet-lagged, so staying awake late into the afternoons (which is the middle of the night back home) requires matchsticks for our bulging boiled-egg eyes. She excuses herself from class to grab a coffee from the cafe downstairs....and never returns.

We later find De Mama face-down asleep and dribbling on the cafe table. When we question her about her lack of focus, she merely explains that "I'm nearly 64 years old, why do I need to know whether a cup is male or female?"

To be fair she has a point - Alexandra (pronounced Ally-hand-rah) the Spanish teacher is attempting to teach us the genders of every word in the language, along with conjugated verbs, reflexive pronouns.....life's too short! If anything, it's making communication with the locals harder, as we struggle to work out the correct verb endings and genders before speaking. 

It's rendered us mute. 

We grab a quick beer in a cool and buzzing local bar before heading home for dinner of fish, rice and salad with Nancy and the family. I see Mum chatting animatedly in the kitchen with Host Mum, figuring the Spanish classes may actually have helped her after all, but then I catch her making wild hand gestures to the sky and loudly saying "scorchio."

Andy is rolling around on the floor in a vain attempt to entertain Chiky, who simply curls her lip and rolls her eyes at him in disgust. We are so exhausted that we excuse ourselves and retreat to our rooms for another early night, the three of us out cold within minutes....






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