Finding Community

Heredia Travel Blog

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“There will come a day when they get the point; they’ll know we’re not leaving,” she said that first night they sat in the bar.  She was new to this place, everyone could see it in her face.  She was white and timid.  Her name was Lily.
    A man walked by with poofy pants, a sash, and a long goatee wound up tight in colorful threads.  “Look, it’s a pirate!” she said, giggling to the girl, Nadia, beside here.  They had just met, and were still unsure of each other, but were glad to have at least an acquaintance to talk to in this new place.  They sat there in the bar, the questioning eyes of the locals stuck to them like leaves to a sappy tree, fidgeting with the “Imperial” bottles in their hands, waiting for this awkward phase to pass.

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    When I first arrived in Heredia, Costa Rica, I was nothing more than a visitor, a tourist.  When people asked me where I live, I responded, “California,” and they nodded and walked on.  When people asked if I spoke Spanish, I responded, “no,” and they nodded and walked on.  When cat calls followed me down the street, I bowed my head in shame and frustration.  It was unbearably hot, the shower never had enough pressure, and my bed was uncomfortably firm.
  When I first arrived in Heredia, I was like a cat in the sea; I was plainly out of place.
    Little did I know at that point that that first bar I nervously fidgeted in on the first day would become my home sweet home, the bartender my local father figure.  Little did I know that the pirate looking dude would become my closest friend, we would adventure like sea explorers across the uncharted streets of Heredia.  Little did I know that those crazy wine-loving mechanics would hug me, love me, and swear we were of the same blood.  Little did I know that the questioning eyes would fade, and be replaced by familiar and loving twinkles.  Or that my acquaintance, Nadia, would become a sister who mysteriously understood my life and could predict my latest cravings.

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    They had just stepped of the bus from a long trip, visiting some friends in Puerto Viejo.  “Ahh… I love Heredia, feels good to be home,” Lily said with a sigh.  From the bus stop they walked up two blocks and over one more.  It wasn’t a planned trip, but both girls knew the first place they wanted to be after a long trip away.  They walked right into Taverna Quizz where they were greeted by the familiar salute of Juan Carlos. “Juan!!! ¿Como está? ¿Como estaba?”  They sat at the bar and Juan set two cold beers on the counter.  They were always on the house when the girls were back in town after a while away.  They joked around, tossing paper wads at each other, taking shots of water, and drawing little cartoons on napkins.  Soon the bar was full of friends.  They were more like family at this point.  Francis, William, the mechanics Ricardo and Chepe, Santa, Lawrence; everyone was coming home to Quizz after their day of work or classes.  They put their feet up, told some jokes, and relaxed to their favorite music: a big, dysfunctional, wonderfully joyous family.
    This is what Lily’s life was like in Heredia.  She joked around with everyone, and never stopped laughing.  Spanish wasn’t a problem for her.  Everyone knew that she was still learning, and they would help her out when she started sounding stupid.  Instead of feeling violated by sleazy men, when she walked down the road, Lily would hoot right back at the construction workers and wave to the boys in the car wash when she walked past in the mornings.  She soaked up the sunny days, and shivered through the chilly ones with the rest of the city.  She took a nice cool low pressure shower a day, because it made her mom happy when she was clean and primped, and, though she knew nothing of the significance of prayers and sins, helped her brother fix his rosary necklace each time he broke it.  Lily was proud and happy to say that she lived in Heredia, and people stopped asking, “how long are you visiting for?”  They knew she wasn’t going any time soon.

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    I am so happy here.  And I think I’ve got things figured out.  Costa Rica has influenced my life in a way that is hard to explain.  In a way, I’ve learned that success never comes without risk, and in order to obtain any sort of belonging, or have fun, or connect with others, you must take a risk.  This risk could be trying to speak in a different language, or with no language as I did with a dear Tico friend who is deaf, or it could be as simple as just saying hello to a stranger.  Costa Rica presented a whole truck load of challenges, and to overcome each, I had to take risks that upon arrival, I didn’t think I could handle.
    A school with no grades, no deadlines?  I had to exert myself and cope with my ever present procrastination.  I had to be responsible for myself, and my own actions.
    An extraordinarily Catholic host family?  I had to keep an open mind, and let the energy flow through me without disturbing my spiritual balance.  I had to explain why being called a witch is extremely offensive.  Witches were women, like myself, killed by the Catholic church in an attempt to destroy the holiness of womanhood and the practice of paganism.
    A life with no mother, father, no sister, no family?  I had to build a family.  I had to trust those around me with my soul. And I had to learn to take care of my body and to look out for myself.
    A job at a school where the students speak no English?  I had to overcome my self doubt.  Learn to throw away embarrassment and nervousness.

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    My semester in Costa Rica has been amazing.  I have been inspired here to continue my life with vigor, and without inhibition.  I will progress, and succeed.
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photo by: diisha392