Sunday, April 7, 2013

Still Okay

I remember arriving here, exhausted and excited, nearly four months of unknown hovering in front of me. Now I sit here, looking back on my experience, with less than a month ahead of me. Less than twenty days exist between me and a plane back home. When I first arrived I had a thought- that this experience would not last very long- but in those first few days, it felt like I would never go home. 
Even a month ago, I still felt like my life had gotten caught in some weird dream state, where the familiarity of home was a distant memory and I was stuck here in this strange and beautiful place. Now my time is ticking away. The end rushes forward like a strong wave, and I can see it approaching, ready to spirit me hundreds of miles away.

I’m torn. I want to go home. So badly do I want to go home. I miss my friends and my family. I miss my long skirts and my girly shoes. I miss kissing my dog’s nose goodnight. But I don’t want to leave. I don’t miss them yet, but I will miss my little sisters and my host mom. I will miss Xinia’s tired ‘¿Como almeneció?’ when I finally crawl out of bed. I will miss fumbling my way through a conversation with my littlest sister as she giggles and corrects my Spanish- ‘Cuchillo. Es hombre.’ I will miss the flora and the fauna and the mountains and the forest. 

I will come back. Throughout my experience here, whenever things got hard or I got blindsided by homesickness, I consoled myself with the thought that I would be going home. Now, I’m comforting myself with the thought that I will be coming back. I will come back, and Maria Jose won’t have any more baby teeth. Camila will be in college. Xinia will still make fun of me for wanting egg sandwiches.
Though it did happen, rarely did I ever really feel cut off from home. I was welcomed here with open arms and the classic Tico-cheek kiss. Like going off to college for the first time, this has been another puddle for me to wade through. The water was a little murky at first, but things cleared up pretty quickly and life went on. I lived my life and took advantage of everything Costa Rica could offer me.

I was struck the other day with how far I am from home and how long I’ve been gone when I got handed six dimes. It had been the first time I had paid for anything with American cash since Panama. I accepted the change without preamble, thinking only that the coins I immediately shoved in my pocket felt tiny and light. When I pulled the shiny silver coins from my pocket later, I was startled to find that they weren’t some strange new colon. They were dimes. Just dimes. It was like picking up an old toy after so much time has past- their weight should have been familiar, but it wasn’t.

I have had a real adventure here. Things have been gritty and sweaty and hard, but that’s what makes it so interesting and worthwhile. I’ve seen and done things I never thought I would. Yesterday I threw myself off a bridge and trusted my life to a bungee cord. A few weeks ago, I travelled this country accompanied only by friends and a sense of adventure. We keep talking about how everything back home will be easier now that we’ve done this. 

I have no lingering fears of traveling alone, of being lost with minimal language skills. I can get around by myself. I can make friends no matter where I am. I can be away from everything familiar and still be okay. 

And in spite of everything- or perhaps because of it- I am still okay.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Family Matters

My birthday was a few weeks ago, and my wonderful mother worked very hard to make sure that it was known. (Thanks, mom!) From my experiences, birthdays in La Virgen don’t seem to be much of a cause for fuss, but for most of us in the United States, they are important - especially one’s 21st. 

In the days and weeks leading up to my birthday, cards continued to roll in, as did several donations from friends and family. Some folks had wanted to give me a gift for my birthday, but instead, my mom suggested making a monetary donation, which I could then use to purchase something needed by my host family.

My host family of 5 only has two chairs at a counter in their home at which to eat. Initially, I had wanted to buy them a real dining room table and a set of chairs, but in reality, there isn’t a place to safely put those things and I think my family is happily accustomed to how they conduct their mealtimes. 

A few weeks later, I found out that my host family is planning to open a restaurant (‘soda’ in Costa Rica) by the end of this year. My host family already owns a small store (‘pulpería’ in Costa Rica), but they wish to expand it in order to increase their income and give their children better educational opportunities. I felt that this was the perfect destination for my funds.

This morning, I told my host mom that I had $200, which thanks to my wonderful friends and family, I am able to contribute to this small enterprise. I have never seen such a look of gratitude and relief. She is very excited about the soda, but I know that a business venture such as this for a poor family is a dangerous decision, and could lead to financial ruin. 

I would like to continue raising money for this family that has been so kind and welcoming to me, patient as I learn to speak their language, and eager to ensure that I am comfortable and taken care of. If anyone would like to make a donation, please send me an email at I will post in the near future what I was able to purchase for their soda with the donations.

my host family and I at my surprise birthday party

Monday, February 25, 2013

Be Here.

So we've all been here for over a month, and I think everyone has finally settled down. Everyone's personalities are starting to show, and we have a cluster of strange and wonderful people here. I'm sure we're going to (and probably already have) get on each other's nerves, but in the long-run I think we got lucky. For ten strangers who thought a semester in Costa Rica would be a great experience- we seem to be working very well together. Things could have gone very wrong very quickly, but I think that it takes a certain kind of personality, or at least some tick- to leave home for a semester and go somewhere entirely new. Because this country is very different from home- and without that tick, I don't think any of us would make it.

After a month away, there are a few things I've come to miss. I miss a few things very profoundly, and I miss a lot of stupid things.

I'd have to put familiarity at the top of the list of things that I miss. There's something very comfortable about knowing a place or a person. Here, the people, the place, the food- it's all new. I am not afraid of the newness, but it is exhausting. You don't have to work with things that you know. You don't have to figure them out, to learn them, adjust to them. My home is not my home, my friends here are not the friends that I have known for years. They're strangers that I've known for a month.

Do not misunderstand, I am still enjoying myself. I just ache a little (sometimes a lot) for my mom's hands, my papa's mustache on my cheek, for my roommate's morning fumblings, the clinking of my dogs's collars.

I don't miss many things. I don't miss my iPhone. I don't miss my bed. I don't miss my desk or my shower or my car. I miss my kitchen. I miss remembering things with my friends.

I miss leftovers. I miss judo. I miss English.

Among the stupid things I miss, my kitchen, pause-able TV, and flushing toilet paper probably top the list.

These little bits of homesickness crept up on me like a sunset. Inching little by little towards the horizon- into my awareness- until suddenly the sun has disappeared- I am struck with how little I have here and how much I left at home.

The entire group now has jokes revolving around our experience. I am sure that when the time comes to leave, I will not want to go. For now, I am trying my best to roll with the punches. I am not letting my longing for home intrude upon how much I am enjoying this experience. For now, I am trying my best to be here- and love it.

Not quite sure what this is, but it was pretty!

The oldest cathedral in Cartago, "Our Lady of the Angels Basilica". 

Alyssa's 21st!
My family minus the oldest sister, Camila.

Hot springs with Sam and her sister

Something pretty in the Tallamanca Mtn Range.

Something pretty in the Tallamanca Mtn Range.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Informal Economy

Although this video focuses on Africa, I'm sure everyone in the group can relate many things we have seen on this trip to what is spoken about in this lecture.

Everyday we are here, especially when we go on our trips, we see many examples of informal economy situations. The informal economy here is what keeps people going. There aren't enough jobs in the area for everyone to have a "real job." Without the lottery venders that wonder around La Virgen and the fruit sellers in traffic jams, many people here would not have any form of income.

The example of the cell phone company in Nigeria is parallel to the cell phone company situation here. The Kolbi cards we buy to make our local phones work are sold in the exact same way as discussed in Nigeria in this video.

What is the problem then? This is illegal in most situations. The government can't collect taxes on these people because their set up is so informal. In places like San Jose it is very dangerous to be an unlicensed street vender because the police are likely to shut you down. But what are the other options?

The informal economy is very important. If the police cracked down in cities like La Virgen the economy would literally shut down. The informal economy is what keeps the money moving in Latin America.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

This trip marks the first time I have ever left the United States.  Ever since I can remember, I have  dreamed of traveling and seeing the world.  Due to my being a Geography student, I have spent hours upon hours studying other cultures and other ways of life.  Then the time came for me to finally leave the classroom and actually embark on the journey I've always wanted.

(This is my room)

When our plane was landing in San Jose my heart began to race.  I thought to myself, "This is actually happening, I am about to set my feet on foreign soil."  I immediately began to search for these cultural and physical differences that exist in a foreign country.  I remember being very displeased when one of the first buildings we saw on our bus ride to Sarapiquí was Walmart.  Little did I know, three weeks later I would find extreme comfort in seeing Subways, Walmarts, Starbucks, and any other American business or brand that reminded me of home.

(This is guanabana and it's delicious.  It grows in our backyard.  My mom cuts it up and blends it with water and sugar.  This is called a fresco and we drink it almost every night for dinner and it's delicious.)

I thought I had come to Costa Rica without expectations, but I unconsciously had had millions of expectations.  For example, I guess I had assumed that nearly everybody in the world enjoyed hot showers.  I was sadly mistaken when I took my first shower and froze my butt off.  I am proud to say I have finally gotten used to these cold showers, but I have also trained my body to do this back-bend sort of maneuver to avoid being directly hit by the cold water.  So far, this trip has taught me that there is a huge difference between a want and a need.  I thought I had known the difference before my arrival in Costa Rica, but I honestly did not.

(This is in the Central Market in San Jose.  This is an herb stand so all of these different plants are used for natural medicine)

I have lived a very cushioned life in the United States and I never appreciated it to the fullest until I was forced to live life with much less.  I can finally look at my native country with a fresh pair of eyes and realize how lucky I am to have been born there.  However, life in Costa Rica is much more simple.  The locals here live without all of the fancy gadgets and luxuries that American's depend upon daily.  Therefore, they have a much more intimate relationship with nature.

(This is a poisonous frog I saw while in the rainforest doing volunteer work with Tirimbina)

This is a beautiful concept.  Almost everything you eat here is grown and produced in the same town.  The milk, cheese, coffee, fruit, vegetable, rice, beans, eggs, and meat.  Most of the fruit in our house is from trees in our backyard.  My host brother will casually take a machete and wack some fruit off the tree whenever we need it.  Also, the fruit is so much more fresh and sweet because it's straight from the tree.  Of course, living this closely with nature has its drawbacks such as huge bugs and snakes and scary howler monkeys.  However, even though we are still in the beginning phases of this journey, I have developed a greater appreciation for nature along with so many other things.

(This is the local organic farm at Pozo Azul that I volunteer at.  We grow literally everything from herbs to vegetables to fruits to sugarcane.)

If I wouldn't have come on this trip, I would never have realized what a beautiful family I have waiting for me back in the United States.  I would never have fully appreciated my life and the people in it like I do now.  This alone makes me feel like I have already matured more than I have in the past two years of college. 

(This is my boss on the farm, Nicho.  He is using a machete to shave the bark off of sugarcane.  After a long days work, he gave us some fresh sugarcane to chew on.)