Sunday morning I was hiking through my host grandma’s coffee fields to the forest up the mountain to look at the Pacific Ocean, when my host mom handed me a machete and told me to take it with me to protect myself from the snakes. It was in this moment I laughed out loud and decided it is time to give you all an update.
I’ve now been in my community for a month. It feels much longer than that, especially when I get on the bus and I hear my name and greetings called out as I walk down the aisle. It feels much longer than that when I am walking to the corner store and have to stop several times to kiss people’s cheek and ask the how their kids are or how their coffee crop is doing. It feels longer than a month when I go to the “big” city of San Ramon and I end up running into 5 or 6 people I know in just one afternoon.
My community is about 40 minutes by bus from San Ramon. It is a small, tranquil mountainous town with about 250 families living in the area. It is surrounded by beautiful fields of coffee and most the people that live in my community work growing and harvesting coffee, tomatoes and chiles. We have a paved road leading into our town and we proudly have 4 paved streets surrounding the “plaza” (the soccer field). The community literally and figuratively revolves around a soccer field in the center. On one side of the field is the church, the other side the elementary school, the other side a health clinic, and the other side the high school. There are two corner stores the sell the basics (rice, beans, milk) and a restaurant/bar. There is a community hall and a bull fighting ring. That is it.
What the community may “lack” in services it certainly makes up in natural beauty. From my community you can see the Pacific Ocean which is about an hour west. There are breathtaking mountainous views and beautiful mountainside pastures for our most popular residents…the cows!
This past month has been full of games up jump rope with the elementary school kids, learning how to milk a cow with kids from my high school and morning hikes with neighborhood women. I took a trip with my host family to the volcanic hot springs and visited with volunteers for a weekend at the beach. I’ve attended more first communions in the first month than I have in my entire life. I’ve been to many birthday parties, soccer games and more soccer games. My host siblings surprised me by dressing up in halloween costumes for Halloween and I got to teach them and a group of high schoolers how to Trick or Treat. I celebrated the 100th anniversary of a Costa Rican’s poet by dancing around in a cemmentary with masked figures.
In the past month I’ve seen a pod of whales swimming close to the shore, turtles hatching from eggs on the beach, monkeys eat guava in the trees at my grandma’s house, lizzards the size of small children, wild macaws and bugs that look like aliens. That is only after one month, I can’t help but wonder what will be added to that list over the next 23 months!
They say the first three months in your community are some of the most challenging and this first month hasn’t been all volcanoes, whales and cafecito. There are moments when this is hard. Despite the beauty of the people and the nature in my community, there are times where I really miss certain things that I left behind. Family and friends are the number one. I miss people knowing me as me and not as the gringa who is going to be living here the next two years. I miss that deeper level of friendship. I miss having personal time and space and mostly not having to be “on” 24-7. When I think about the upcoming holidays or the Cardinals in the World Series or Pumpkin Ale’s and Forest Park’s trees in the fall it can be hard. These moments come and when they hit me, they hit me hard. Sometimes they linger for just a brief moment or sometimes all morning but they always pass. It doesn’t take much to be reminded of how amazing of an experience this is. The people, the natural beauty and a life mas tranquila humbles me to the core.