lunes, 19 de diciembre de 2011

that's all folks...for now.

So this is the last blog entry of this experience. Perhaps I’ll continue blogging though…tell the tales of the food I cook, the messes I make, and the adventures I have. Though there might not be too much excitement in my life until American Samoa…anyway, I guess I have to start way back to the last weekend before the technical end date of the program…the weekend after La Fortuna. Well there was a Thanksgiving celebration for our program at the beautiful house of our director, Teresita. But I had a gira (class trip) with my Geosciences class to Venado Caverns and Rio Celeste so I couldn’t go…So initially I sat in that class terrified and anti social, not talking to anyone, and using all of my brain power to understand what was going on. And everyone seemed to have their own friends, so aside from the occasional lab conversation and smiles in the corridors, I was friendless. However, a few months before the end, we had to do a quiz in pairs. And, being the only American in the class, I did not want to subject anyone to having to work with me. So then a student came up to me and asked if I needed a partner. And he didn’t even have to do it. He had a bunch of friends in the class. And he was extremely good looking, really smart, and really friendly which definitely helped. So from then on we became good friends, a friendship that was similar to that of Marco and mine, consisting of him making fun of me pretty much incessantly, but in good humor…I think…and so then I befriended one or two of his friends, and I had fun every time I came to class. And had people to save me when I got unbelievably confused (which happened a lot…) and they actually took me seriously and used my input on group work and it was great. So anyway that was the back story to say that I had friends going into this trip. Anyway, it ended up being SUPER AWESOME. We went to these caves where there were several feet of water at some points and at some points we had to shimmy on our stomachs to get through certain spots and we got to climb up formations and touch anything we wanted…a little different than caves in the US…and then the next day we went and did a 15 kilometer hike to and from Rio Celeste and the hot springs near by (seriously the color of this river was UNBELIEVABLE). We learned some and the night in between the two activities we slept about two hours because the professors are super lenient and we just hung out, and I became super popular. Everyone made fun of my accent, tried to speak English, christened me with the name “Atun” (meaning tuna fish…) and joked around with me. I went from being terrified of everyone to feeling really confident and comfortable around all of them. It was awesome.
            So then I had finals (which for me was actually just one intense final for Geosciences and one final presentation for my dance class where I had to cook patacones with Anna, dress up in this silly dress with fake braids put in my hair, and attempt to shake my hips). And then there was saying goodbye to everyone and last-minute trips to FoFo and Mira Flores…and salsa dancing in FoFo with my new friends from Geosciences even though it’s a bar with no space for dancing. And eating Marco’s food and breathing in the air and trying to burn everything into my memory when it felt like I had just gotten there and already felt like just a dream. Then Anna and I were planning on doing volunteer work in the indigenous community in Talamanca I had gone to with my class on an earlier occasion…and I had more phone fiascos which made me not have a phone for a week and we never heard any details about our volunteer work even though I had started talking to my professor about it months ago until a few days before we left. The plan had been to do Environmental Education and English lessons…but that’s not exactly what happened. We got to the bus stop and met up with the man who owned the building we were staying in and was responsible for tourism in the very remote area, and he said we could take a bus to the community or we could walk. We asked him if it would be a far walk; he said no of course not. An hour and a half later, after climbing up the mountain with our 25 pound backpacks on our backs and soaked and dripping with sweat, we arrive at the “house”. It’s a huge, super cool looking structure built out of fallen trees with a roof of banana leaves. It’s entirely open, and has minimal electricity, cold running water, and a wood-burning stove. In other words, pretty neat. It had capacity to sleep hundreds on thin mosquito net surrounded mattresses on the wooden floor, but we were the only two guests. We met Jorge, the 19 year old nephew of Danilo (the owner) who would be basically our personal assistant for the five days we were there. There was another man, consistently in short shorts and a button-down shirt with one button closed over his large tan potbelly. Danilo’s sister cooked most of the meals over a wood fire, and her son, Lucas, was the sassiest most confident 4 year old we had ever met. I’ll list the rest because I like lists.
  1. We volunteered every morning for four hours in a nursing home for poor people, mostly people abandoned by their families. It was intense to say the least. The place was very simple but very well-maintained. With a few good-natured nuns and one middle-aged, nimble, energetic, consistently positive, American woman from Massachusetts running it. Some of the people were in pretty bad shape, mentally and physically, and some weren’t. The issue was that there were so few people taking care of them that some people would sit alone a lot. The funny thing is, at the time I thought about how much better nursing home’s in the US are, but after talking to my parents about some of the places my grandparents have been in, I feel like that’s not true. There may have been less people working at this place, but their hearts were all 300% in caring for these people, unlike many workers in the US. There may have been crude beds and no furnishings, but they were sitting outside most of the day, surrounded by birds and a garden. There may have been no servers nor nice dining room, but the food was home made and Costa Rican, meaning actually delicious. And there was fresh food every morning. Anna and I met Don Tomas, a 94 year old Nicaraguan man who would go and get a broom to clean things up when Brasileo spit his orange seeds on the floor. Brasileo, from El Salvador, reminded me a little of my grandfather, so sweet and so genuinely excited to see us and just to sit with us for a little while. He always shared his fruit with us and consistently proposed to us (as apparently he had done to the nuns when they arrived…) telling us if God permitted him to get better he had money saved up to get married. Clara, affectionately called Clarita, was determined to complete 12 paper mache balloons by Wednesday to make decorations for Christmas. She also consistently took care of her friend, who was blind and suffered bouts of confusion. Another man from the Caribbean side of Costa Rica was raised speaking fluent English along with his Spanish, and liked to come into the craft and exercise room to sit and listen to music and talk with me. There was a man who was pretty with it but who we couldn’t easily communicate with because he didn’t have hearing aids. We colored with him, spoke to many others, made decorations with Clara and a few other people, and helped out in their morning exercises at eleven. They didn’t even have enough glue, Anna and I had to go to the small convenience store and buy it, but they found satisfaction and hope in life. It was both extremely sad and beautiful to be there, knowing we would have to leave and just be more people to abandon them, knowing that they were playing with blocks and coloring in coloring books and taking pride in it, making us painfully aware of the similarities between them and children.
  2. Most afternoons we picked up garbage along the river and the road. There was SO MUCH. And by the convenience store there was a little landfill they had made, unregulated, and we would be cleaning up all around it, without gloves on, with people brushing by us and just dumping more in. A big issue they have there is with the plastic they use to protect the bananas and plantains being discarded into the area around the river or beside the road. The crazy thing was after a while the place ran out of garbage bags and we went to the convenience store and bought our own in the following days. People looked at us like we were insane to be cleaning things up; environmental education is virtually nonexistent there. Additionally, we went to an activity at the church one day. We met some people from very remote communities, without any access or exposure to modern amenities. They were given candy and threw the wrappers on the ground without a second thought. Which makes sense. When people who are used to growing their own food, building their own items out of natural materials, there is no such thing as waste that will not biodegrade. So when they are given synthetic materials, why would they not think it was okay to discard them on the ground, why would they think it was polluting?
  3. The food was all really good, but them understanding my no-animal-product diet was a challenge. They were really good about it, but I did eat some form of egg salad one day, and Anna not being vegetarian meant that they would make her the same thing they made me and just add meat to it…sometimes deep fried steak or hot dogs…Our fruit and vegetable intake was interesting…one morning we had just deep fried bread and fried plantains for breakfast, and another day we were given an entire pineapple as part of lunch.
  4. We learned that the structure was made of unfinished wood, that when the banana leaves that comprised the roof rotted from weathering, they weren’t removed, new ones were just added on top. In other words, it’s probably not too healthy to stay in their long term. And the day that we cleaned the place as our volunteer work, I do not even want to mention the color of my rag after wiping down the wood.
  5. There were killer ants. And possibly bed bugs. I had trail mix in my bag which caused thousands of these tiny black ants to infiltrate our belongings, and they bit, hard. They were so bad that the owner decided to fumigate our beds…
  6. We went for several runs through the road, and hence remote mountains. The view was breathtaking, isolated, peaceful, baffling.
  7. The people were just so friendly and patient and easy going. They would stop on the street and hold a ten minute conversation with us even though they didn’t even know who we were.
  8. I realized I could never live there permanently, but we had a lot to learn from them.
  9. Religion, religion, religion. It baffles me. Maybe that’s the reason for such contentment in the face of such hardship. It gives meaning to things. It helps resolve conflict and find common ground. It draws boundaries and creates conflict. It promotes ignorance and stagnancy. It inspires. I have no idea how I feel about it.

The last few days I spent with Anna and Maria hanging out and exploring a few last things, with my host family going to a family church activity, learning how to make sushi with Marco, going to the Feria (the best farmer’s market in the UNIVERSE with hundreds of stands and a 3 minute walk from my house), feeling sad and excited, packing, having life chats with my host mom, and generally feeling confused about leaving and weirded out that so many people were already gone. I thought I was done crying when I was sitting at my gate in the airport, went to the bathroom and asked a man to watch my stuff, he was American and older and told me he would keep an eye on it but couldn’t make any promises. That made me break down. It made me think of all of the things I would miss about Costa Rica. Starting with the fact that if I had asked a Tico to watch my stuff, they would have said, “Claro, con mucho gusto”. Even if they would have stolen it, they would have been friendly and upbeat and sweet.

Since being home things have been a little weird. Reverse culture shock. Trying to speak to people in Spanish, throwing toilet paper in the garbage, that sort of thing. I’d like to think I’m more laid back about things. But it’s a fact that things are more intense here. In Costa Rica problems seemed frustrating, but there was no problem that was the end of the world. And that was comforting. But here issues seem so much more real, so much more definite. Probably because it is my real life. And Costa Rica was a dream that I will definitely go back and revisit. But for now I need to look to the present, look to the future, be productive yet find enjoyment out of each moment. I need to appreciate my family and friends and do my best to make them and myself happy. And I cannot lose that Spanish no matter what happens. But I am home. 100% comfortable to roam around and scavenge my house. I can say whatever I want, and if I step on anyone's toes, they will always forgive me. Because they're my family. 

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