This summer I have had the pleasure of living in Costa Rica. While the first half was focused on academics pursuits, it was the second that truly changed me. I became a ´tica´, living in Atenas and integrated into the life of everyday Costa Ricans.
One of the things that I love about this place is ‘Adios.’ You might be wondering, what does saying good bye have to do with anything? Well, being here, it has a common place as a greeting especially when you pass by someone down the street whether stranger or friend. Throughout my many walks through the streets of Atenas, I have had the pleasure of giving and receiving this salutation. From someone coming from the States, I love that people here recognize, smile, and greet you. In the States, we all have a place to go and things to do that we become so caught up in schedules that we forget the simple mannerisms that define us as human beings.
To build on from the previous paragraph, everyone here is kind but they also know each other. You may say that is common especially of little towns but for me it is a contrast between day and night compared to the States. There were many mornings when my ‘tico’ parents would take their children to school and me to my internship that they encountered at least a half a dozen people that they know. Recently, I was walking back home with a new friend from my neighborhood, or here it is called barrio. I asked her if she knew all the people that lived in the vicinity and their names. She confirmed that she did and as we passed each house, she told me a little about them. I could not help but compare my own lacking situation: I do not know the names of my neighbors, nor are we friends; we simply did not have that kind of familiarity. We do not visit each other; rather offer lukewarm greetings when we encounter one another. Here, on the other hand, my ‘tico’ neighbors would come in and out of our house, from early morning during the breakfast hour to late at night. And they did not have to call to receive permission. Our front door was always open, ushering people in and out from the time it was opened to until bed time.
It was also during this time that I made my runs around the neighborhood. I met Maria, a woman who makes crafts by sewing whether it is blankets, pillow cases, or art work to decorate a wall. I spent time learning from her as she helped me make gifts for my friends and family rather than buying all my gifts from the gift shop. I had the pleasure of going to a family reunion up to the mountains where I met a family that lived off of their land. While there, we cut the corn that grew on the farm to make tamales. We ate meat from the pig they grew. While to some that my sound foreign, I embraced it! I saw where my food came from and I helped make the food. We worked for half a day to prepare the meals for our guests and ourselves. We tried to use every part of the corn and if we did not, it was not thrown away rather reserved for compost. We ate fruits that we picked from the trees. We recycled the banana peels and that of every fruit or vegetable that we ate. Compare that to the States where a majority of our food comes from groceries stores. We have become so out of touch that we do not know where the most basic of our products come from and how it grows. We do not know the process behind it, but take for granted that it solely there for us to eat.
Being here has taught me about the value of cherishing what you make. For many, money is not as disposable as it is for us Americans. There were many times in discussions that I heard the phrase ‘no mucha plata,’ in our case not enough money. However, where money lacked, their creativity soared. If they could not buy food from the market they would grow it on the land. If they could not find work, they would work with their hands. If they have ripped or old clothes, they do not throw it away, they mend it or find another purpose for it.
Learning these simple but powerful values have done much to teach me more about life than sitting in a classroom. I cherish my accomplishments from learning to make tamales or ‘cornbread’ out of scratch more so than the highest grade I ever made. I witnessed something done that ultimately benefitted others.
We took care of each other. When one of our neighbors got sick, we cooked her lunch and watched over her. My ‘tica’ mom to me exemplified this characteristic the most. She has a friend who works two jobs that has two children of the age of five and under. A majority of the time, while I was here, she took care of them while their mom worked. I was impressed. She already has children of her own that are in their late teens but she chose to take care of them anyway. She even involved me in the process and I helped her to care for them as well. She embraced a stranger from a foreign land and treated me like I was her daughter. She and others trusted me and I became a part of their life.
I am not claiming that these things do not happen in the States, rather they are so few and far in between. I came here and was exposed to it all day every day. I have learned to live here, with a schedule and without and have enjoyed every moment. To some, they come here on vacation to escape the demands of life in the states for a week or two. For me, it was not an escape rather I learned to live beyond the defined norms of society. I regained back something that was lost in the myriad demands of student life that I became a robot and not a living being. I learned to cherish everyday here, both lows and highs. I learned so much about life and what it means to enjoy it every single day.
*This was written during my last week in Atenas.
Ruth lives in Oklahoma and attends Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. She is originally from Kenya and volunteered for 5 weeks on a marketing internship with Tristan & Newton Real Estate.