Tuesday, June 24, 2014

In a land without an army

Beyond el Campo summer intern Cheyenne Pritchard shares her experiences living in Santa Cruz, Costa Rica.

I am in a land without an army and with coffee that does not need sugar. A honk is a friendly hello and unlike many students at Amherst, people walk with a bright smile and shout across the mountain, “buenas.” The sun is well in the sky before 6:00 AM, making for a much longer workday, and the voices of men in the fields can be heard from my backyard patio. The best way to describe this land is free. Although in some places mountains create a sense of barrier, here they remind me of the vast potential of our being. To say the people here are great would do them injustice, they are pure, and like the country motto suggests, my family truly lives una pura vida: a calm life led by the ability to let go of all they cannot control.

For example, this past Saturday I woke up with an extreme pain in my right arch. I looked down, finding a red area the circumference of a tennis ball and a red line following the path of a large vein. Past experience led me to quickly and quite frantically conclude that I had a Staph Infection. Despite my ability to usually communicate in Spanish, I could hardly form words due to my fear. My host mother, Nuria, calmly sat me down and tried to understand what was happening. Within the next hour, I was paying for antibiotics and heading back to Santa Cruz with our program director Sergio by my side. Although this was all quite stressful to me, I witnessed many acts of pura vida. First, every person I passed either in car or foot honked or waved. In the clinic, which included a small waiting area and one office, there was an aura of peace and understanding that one could not find in the impatient and pristine waiting rooms of the U.S. The doctor spoke slowly and said, “tranquila,” or “be calm” as soon as I sat down. When I returned to Santa Cruz, families I passed asked how I was doing, offered their phone to call home, and provided a warmth and friendly state of being that is utterly contagious. Thus far, my foot “trauma” has been the only imperfection of my trip and led me to a greater understanding of how the people of Santa Cruz work through life: with calmness, attentiveness, and an abundance of love.

This past week has been filled with computer room construction and many English classes. Monday through Friday, we teach English classes for “los niƱos,” ages 4-6. Right now we are working on basic introductions, colors, and today we made smiley-face puppets to introduce emotions and feelings. We pass many of the children in our classes throughout the day, and it is a joy to hear them say, “hello” or “see you” without being prompted. In addition, we started holding English classes for adults on Mondays and Wednesdays. Unlike my experience in America learning Spanish, there is little or no exposure to the English language in Santa Cruz, making it extremely challenging for the adults to form sounds and enunciate certain words. Regardless, they are making progress and in return are great Spanish teachers. Finally, every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday we head to the elementary school to work with first and fourth graders. The English teacher is very welcoming and open to any of our ideas and was happy to give us complete control over certain classes. More than anything, he was excited for his students to hear native English speakers.

Although re-doing the computer table created some problems and gave Lexie an allergic reaction, we are close to finishing the large and newly painted wooden table. The room has new windows and a beautifully constructed wooden door. This week we are painting the walls light blue with a green trim. The people of Santa Cruz are generously helping and community members living nearby have done a good deal of the construction. In a moment of creative genius, we decided to use the old books lying around the library to make a foot cushion and two small chairs. Made out of old books, two belts, a homemade wooden block, and cushions, we are doing our best to create stylish and resourceful chairs. Not to mention, we momentarily threatened the peaceful state of Costa Rica during our vicious fight against the giant spiders and cockroaches hiding within the boxes filled with old books. Yikes!

Within our first and very busy week, we managed to squeeze in a weekend trip to Jaco beach, about four hours away. Although the sun was hiding for most of the day, all three of us had a blast playing soccer with the locals and sharing chips and guacamole at a restaurant alongside the beach. The waves were big enough for surfers; so big, in fact, that while I was riding a horse in a small circle (go my touristy self), a wave crashed on the shore far enough to reach our bags. Sadly, I lost my phone, IPod, and had to buy a dress for the remainder of our trip due to the power of one wave. Nonetheless, the day was filled with four goals scored by your one-and-only, though Lexie would say the other team let me score (maybe that part is true), delicious ice cream, and a stunning bus ride back.

I have yet to unravel all of life here in Santa Cruz, and I doubt I will be able to before my eight weeks are over. What more could I want? As a girl who moves quickly through her day with practices, classes and other appointments in The United States, there have been very few, if any, things as rewarding as these first eight days. I can only hope that through my genuine excitement to teach the beautifully complicated English language and my desire to share my joy of reading that I will be able to return some piece of what they have already given me here in Santa Cruz.

As they say here, Ciao!

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