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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Our first week here has been incredibly full and filling. My eyes can’t eat another bite of this lush scenery. I have two fast friends, instant soul mates; Jenna and Noah. Noah is going to be working on an urban project to promote art and music as a means for high school dropouts to make money. It’s meant to derail the rapidly growing drug selling and stealing trends. He’s one of those people who is so full of ideas and plans and projects, they spill out of him constantly. His clear eye for art and natural ability to befriend people is wonderful to watch. And he is constantly taking photos, bending on one knee or leaning at odd angles to get the shot his mind sees.

We all three sit side by side on buses and benches and curbs, trading stories and goals and beliefs. As we tour the area, we soak in a bit about the culture here. Tourism is a huge part of the economy, evident by the many guides and expeditions and transportation and accommodation businesses that have sprung up all over. The costa ricans are smiling and eager to use their english. They seem happy to see us, and it feels good to bring our business here. We visit a coffee plantation and learn about the process of growing and roasting and selling the beans. It’s so beautiful and colorful. And the rich coffees taste aromatic and luscious.

We have arrangements for a bike tour with the group, but we three decide the ditch the group, claiming we need to catch up on internet and the like. Instead, we seek some off-the-tourist-map fun. We take a long walk through some neighborhoods. There’s a lot of wrought iron fencing: separating yards from sidewalks, windows from yards, schools from streets. They all have gates and even some windows in them; for what? Passing food through? One woman is leaning through such a window and chatting animatedly with a friend. I try to catch some of what they are talking about. I get the words for husband, car, and not much else.

We find a little tiny store and walk in and buy cheap ice cream sandwiches. The store is completely packed with individually packaged foods, many of which have a fine layer of dust on them. They even sell individual eggs out of a carton. I awkwardly pay with the coins I am so unfamiliar with. It feels like a kid not knowing if a nickel is worth more than a dime. The coins are heavier and more solid in my pocket than american change. I like the feeling. The store clerk is incredibly patient with my bad spanish and points us in the direction of a park. He asks us where we are from and lights up when we tell him why we are here. Gracias! He says. Thanks for coming to my country. I love the people here.

We walk with our treats to a small park overlooking another neighborhood. There is very worn grass, a dirt field with soccer goals with no nets, and some gnarled trees. I stare at the ground and find a tiny maze of paths where ants have worn down the grass with their walking. It makes me feel so disconnected with what is really happening in the world.

 

The next day we go on a hike in one of several national parks, walking and talking with some conservationists and non-profit workers. We learn that preserving biodiversity and land conservation is a huge priority of Costa Rica. How incredible! If only more countries had this approach. We discuss it’s correlation to tourism, how more people come here if there’s a jungle full of birds to visit. I also learn that there is no military in this country. I am eager to settle down into some research about the history of the politics here. It seems so unique. Everyone finishes our group discussion jazzed and thrilled to be here, in such a progressive and beautiful place. We channel that energy into finding a small local bar. It’s called the Pavo Real (which apparently means Peacock). The sign for the bar is the name in simple lettering over the now-familiar Imperial beer symbol. As the red and orange sun sets, we dance on a concrete patio out back, buzzed with cheap beer, feet shuffling on the fine dirt, giddy with laughter.

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All I can keep thinking is: I’m here!  Wow, it’s great to be here.  Wow.  It’s only day two of training and I have several new best friends and have fallen in love with this lush country.  The airplane ride was even great- the view as we got closer was a vibrant green, and the ocean lying next to it a bright blue.  Although, I did have to strain to lean over and see it from the isle seat.  Usually I pick the window seat no matter what.  I did, actually.  And then this kid and his dad sat next to me.  And the kid crept farther and farther over my lap,bouncing in his seat to see out the window; he looked so excited I couldn’t help it: I offered to trade. His eyes lit up and he bounced even more and then about three minutes later, before  we even got on the runway, he pulled down the shade and started playing his nintendo.  Great.  I stared at the kid for a while, his round features lit up by the little LED screen.  And then I turned back in my seat and closed my eyes and tried to focus on arriving.  Which of course, now I’m here and everything’s, just, well, great!

At the airport I was greeted by a tall bald man and two girls that looked to be about my age.  The man’s name is Richard, or Rick, he’s the program assistant.  He’s Scottish and has a hysterical accent when he speaks Spanish.  The girls are fellow volunteers, so that explains the big eyes and big smiles- fear and excitement covering their faces as if they had it slapped on with wet paintbrushes.  The one girl had about six bags- two of them big enough to fit all four of us in.  The other girl just had one (apparently stuffed) backpacking backpack, like me.  I smiled at her as we helped heave all the luggage away.  I looked around the airport.  There were huge posters espousing the various tours and locations one should go to.  And absolutely the most enormous ads for a beer company I had ever seen in my life.  It was yellow and red with a medieval-looking dragon/bird.  Imperial.  For some reason, this does not connect with the images of rainforests and beaches and wild jungle animals.  As we passed the souvenir shop I saw the logo all over the t-shirts, mugs, etc.  Does a beer company run the airport or tourism department?  We walked outside into the warm humid air and a bus passed by with an ad for Imperial too.  Maybe they run the whole country.  The four of us got into a van and excitedly introduce ourselves.  The driver’s name is Esteban, and he refers to Rick as Ricardo.  We are told he is the driver/ maintenance/ fix it guy of the volunteer office.  The girl with a lot of bags is named Kailey, and the backpacker is named Jenn.  Jenn says she can’t wait to get out of Touristville and see the country.  Kailey looks wistful- like she’s ready to stay where half of the people speak English.

We were taken to the building that will be home for the next two weeks.  Inside there’s a lounge room complete with sagging green couches and a 1990’s tv set; a classroom full of chairs and a white board; a dining room that looks like something from elementary school; and two rooms full of bunk beds- one for girls, one for guys.  It’s like summer camp all over again, which makes me wonder: at the time it was such a big deal to be away from home (for a whole week!) without mom or dad and all these people I didn’t know.  In hindsight, summer camp was fun and passed by so quickly it’s but a blink in my past.  I am eager to discuss this idea with the other volunteers.  We put our stuff down and say Hi to the four or five other volunteers who are already here.  There were two more airport runs and a total of six more people coming.  Eleven of us total.  That night, when everyone was here, we sat in the lounge and had an informal introduction.  Rick said that tomorrow we will meet the director Shelley, and the two teachers Kris and Maria.  The first week is intense language immersion training, the second week is orientation to the area and some down time before we are each taken to different sites to start our assignments.  A couple of us squirmed at the word assignment.  I did because it makes me feel like a reporter or secret agent, which is kind of a bad frame to put on what I hope to be doing here.  But the faces on the others squirming showed a look of discomfort prior to vomiting.  Luckily, they didn’t.  That night, a few of us stayed up late talking about our projects and hopes for the year and the reason we came.  Jenn would be working on a community environmental education project in the same town as my orphanage! I immediately daydreamed about meeting up at the local bar to drink the national advertising beer.  Drunk with the joy of finding like-minded people in the world, we all felt the instant solidarity we were looking to create- and in subtle ways, we all promised each other support to visualize our ideals.  Phrases like “the hardest time of our lives” and “difficulties sure to arise” made no sense right now.  Life was opening it’s arms to us and we were vaulting to embrace it.  We all went to bed knowing sleep would be hard to find because we had charged ourselves up too much with anticipation and fervor.  Gnashing of teeth and ripping of clothes has never  made as much sense to me as it did now.  I felt like an atom bomb at the moment just before the protons split.  The potential energy was building like pent up kids with cabin fever.  I saw myself as a lion in those old school nature documentaries.  I crouch in the grass and the narrator’s voice is hushed and feverish.  And suddenly like a spring exploding, I bound and leap and chase- the release!  Through the grainy film, you see the lions eyes blazing like white holes.

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(How’s the packing going? What are the most important things (material or non-material) that you feel you need in order before you go?)

It’s all a little overwhelming at this point. I feel like I am being pulled in about twenty different directions at the same time. Picture ten people pulling on a piece of saltwater taffy until it stretches so thin in the middle it softly and quietly falls apart. All at the same time I am trying to: say goodbye to my friends of many different groups, take in and appreciate familiar experiences while I can, eat as many of mom’s dinners as possible before I leave, organize the details of visa and travel and arrival arrangements, decide which belongings are important enough to come along without going over the 50 pound limit, and mentally prepare myself for what might be ahead. Actually, the suitcase serves as a pretty good analogy for all of this. I can try and stuff in as much as possible, but at some point either the zippers will give and explode open, or some item won’t make the cut. At the end, it looks like any other piece of baggage, that with a simple glance one could not suspect the strain, the heartache, the joy and hope that went into it. I guess I like that about packing, it’s an exercise in hope. Hope I packed the right ratio of warm to cool clothes. Hope I can do without those boots because they won’t fit if I want to take the film camera. Hope those few books and photos will serve well enough as comfort. Hope airport security doesn’t steal my peanut butter as contraband. Hope the other volunteers and staff don’t see my luggage and think I am high maintenance! On every trip I’ve ever been on, I have brought something that never got used, something I wish I had more or better of, and have realized that most things can be purchased or replaced when I am there because, yes, they have stores in other countries that sell toothpaste and socks.

Mostly, I am daydreaming about what I think this will all be like. I picture the adventures I will go on with fellow volunteers, trying not to get lost as we explore. I see kids giggling and asking eager questions as I teach them in a small but colorful classroom. I passionately and intelligently advocate for the children of my class to go on a field trip. I imagine being sad about missing Christmas at home, but finding happiness in re-creating some holiday traditions abroad. Maybe it’s all a little silly, that instead I should be doing more research about Costa Rica, and reading what people have written about similar experiences and making specific plans or goals. But I figure, I have a whole year to get it all sorted out. I feel the most important thing is to leave home without regrets or lingering doubts; to be ready to get off that plane and commit all my thoughts and energy to being and working there, and not pulled back by homesickness or wondering what I left behind. I want to jump in, day one, and swim around my new life and taste what it feels like to call it home. What philanthropist or advocate for change can do a complete job if they don’t have total focus and drive for the task at hand? How could I positively impact the minds and lives of these disadvantaged kids if I had anything holding me back? So far, my education has been very theoretical and abstract and book-based. I am looking forward to finally putting my beliefs and ideas into action; to using my hands and feet more than a computer and a brain full of thoughts. Mentally, emotionally, I’m ready. Even if you couldn’t tell that by looking at the mess around my unpacked suitcase.

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