Episode Forty Four – The Juggler Who Couldn’t Catch

It’s true – during my last couple of years of high school, this was what they called me.

My group of friends was something of an offshoot from the main clamour of students. Most of us were not part of the ‘elite’ classes you always find in secondary education; nor, I like to believe, were we looked upon as nerds or outcasts (for the most part). For the lack of a more universally-accurate description of us, we were generally known simply as ‘The Jugglers’. I think I started going to Duncan’s Juggling Club in my fourth year, and I learned a few new skills, made a few new friends, and achieved my original goal of operating in the same circles as the boy I liked, back in the day.

Give me three hacky sacks, apples, clubs even; and I’d be able to knock your socks off with 3-ball cascades, inverse tosses, showers or even the occasional flash. But throw a projectile my way with as much warning as you please, and I would miss it every time. It’s not difficult to see why they called me the juggler who couldn’t catch.

And for my next trick... Juggling in a motorcycle helmet!

But it’s a good job I took the time, all those years ago, to learn to juggle in the first place. I have a lot on my plate right now, what with all these responsibilities I seem to be acquiring left, right, and centre: a lot of balls in the air, you might say. If you, like me, were determined to implement a juggling metaphor in your most recent blog post, that is. These days it seems like I’m experiencing the same ‘juggler who can’t catch’ phenomenon as I did all those (three) years ago: hand me some duties, some challenges, some new situations, and I’ll manage to keep them all afloat. But hurl something foreign into the mix, and even if it was predictable in the first place, everything else will come crashing down and I’ll break down in despair for a good half hour before trying to pick it all back up again.

And I am having plenty of predictable projectiles thrown my way over here in Costa Rica, which does cause some occasional misery and tantrums as I try and occasionally fail to keep the following five main responsibilities in the air. ‘Responsibilities?!’ you say, ‘You’re a student on your year abroad! What responsibilities could you possibly have?!’ Well, I’ll tell you.

I know, any excuse for a sloth picture. I can make it relevant!

This was me, just starting university: not so any more!

1) Work. It’s a volunteer job, not a career, but I made a commitment to MUSADE to perform certain duties, including showing up to work between 8am and 5pm every weekday, and presenting 12 weeks’ worth of material for my marketing workshop. This is the most rigid responsibility I have, because while I’m not paid, they can still sack me, and if they sack me I’ll have no way of proving to my university that I was here doing worthwhile things for the required 15 weeks. Plus, I’m hoping I can still get a reference from my boss for any relevant future work I take on, and I want her to want to say lovely shiny things about me.

2) University. Yes, I’m on my year abroad working 40-hour weeks and living and breathing Spanish, but that doesn’t mean I can shirk my work for my course. Hell, no. What it does mean is that the EIGHT Cervantes novelas, SEVEN other works of literature and the hardcore, 230-page textbook I was instructed to buy for $40 and work through during this year, have to be studied in my spare time. ‘What spare time is that?’, you ask? Damned if I know.

A typical double-page spread from the textbook. Nice of them to throw in a picture to break up the text.

3) The Year Abroad. Who would’ve thought I’d feel so much pressure to make the most of my time here? To be perfectly honest, I actually don’t feel a huge desire to travel the length and breadth of the land. I put this down to the almost six weeks of solid backpacking and hostel-hopping I was lucky enough to fit in, along with my mum and my boyfriend; and the fact that San Ramón is a lovely town and I’ve made a few good friends here. However, I feel like I really ought to get out there and see some more: because this is my one chance to ‘do’ Central America – and if I don’t see and do enough cool stuff, I’m worried I’ll look back and wish I’d taken advantage of it all.

I do not want to be missing out on this.

4) The Spanish Language. This and the ‘university’ responsibility really are two separate things: one involves poring over dusty old volumes of La Ilustre Fregona and solving grammar problems within the confines of my own room, while the other involves interacting with the locals, focusing on using the correct verb tenses in my own speech and asking for help mid-sentence, and generally just exposing myself to as much spoken Spanish as I can. This is becoming less and less of an effort, I’m proud to announce, as I begin to tune in to the different uses of words I used to only superficially understand. Example: ‘dar la vuelta’ basically means ‘to turn around’; but it can mean anything from somersaults to changing your mind to ditching your girlfriend for a younger babe.

5) My Loved Ones. Yes, this is last on the list for a reason: I read in a very sensible book/article/blog whose name I can’t recall, that the last item on a list or a debate is the one that sticks out in the reader’s memory, so this is where you should always put your most compelling argument. Debating lesson aside: I’m finding that staying in touch with those important to me is one of the toughest ‘responsibilities’ to fulfill. I try to Skype with Grant every day, and I’m pretty sure I’m managing to do so without compromising too many other important aspects of the Year Abroad experience; but due to the 7-hour time difference, I can only ever call my family on the weekends; and even then, making specific plans to talk is a pain, so I often end up calling home to get no answer, or at a time when my mum is the only one around and I end up missing my wee brother. I should do better at writing emails and updating this blog; unfortunately, now that I’m off Facebook and I can’t retrieve my MSN password, I have none of my friends’ online addresses, so Tommy, if you’re reading, I have an 8-page letter ready to be shipped out to you as soon as I make it to the Post Office!

It's astounding to me how few pictures I have of me with my family: excuse me for repeating.

So there you have it. The five main responsibilities that have been thrown at me over the course of the last four months. You’ll notice that some things are missing from the list, such as ‘health’. Thankfully, I have a 1-km walk to and from work every day, which is steeply uphill in the morning and steeply downhill in the afternoon (both of these take just as much of a toll on my poor legs). Plus, the rice-and-beans diet, while not exhilarating for my taste buds, tends to fill one up nice and full and provide a lot of protein with not a huge amount of fat. In fact, the only health concerns I currently have are for my teeth, which require urgent orthodontic attention the day after my return to Scotland; and the high possibility of catching some horrible infection from either the squelchy and uncovered coughs of my host family’s kids or the germs running rampant around the bathroom bin (I repeat: you can’t flush paper here).

This is how I start my work day at 7:45am. If you need some perspective, check out the red fencing on the left.

One day, I swear, I’ll join a gym and take up a boxercise class or whatever; but something tells me that now is not the time for that. Right now, at least, I’m still learning 5-ball juggling: I’m not going to take on anything more until I can catch the No-Internet, Creepy-Bugs-Everywhere, Phone-Network-Down projectiles I’m occasionally tossed, without collapsing in a heap and letting go of all the things that really matter.

The very best to you all,



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