I am reminded of a poem (?) that growing up my Dad would ‘recite’ to us like a broken record…Corny and funny sounding even to my ESL ear, but bare with me, I promise you there’s an incredible lesson in it. A lesson I don’t think I’ve fully grasped yet to this day!
“Standing at the foot of the hill
Looking at the sky
How will you climb boy (“erm… daddy I’m a girl” I’d say, then he’d correct himself)
If you do not try”
Of course I’d put up a facade of rolling eyes, and secretly I’d take in the delight of him dancing his eyebrows as he’d recite this, and countless other poems, monotonous songs and stories. Definitely some of my most favourite moments of growing up!
I’ll explain in a bit why this has been on my mind.
As we rounded up to week 3 or the middle of our project, Monica Salas from Reto Juvenil came down to check up on us…. she wanted to hear about our experience, work, thoughts, suggestions and of course Complaints… Complaints she said a few times…please feel free to share.. And we looked at each other. I immediately thought of the horror I felt watching a baby chicken run in and out of my house with a giant cockroach, and then eating it bit by bit right in front of me! Even writing this is making me sick!! You know what this means, don’t you? LOL Thank God I became a vegetarian since I got sick.
Sure I have many more such horror stories ….please excuse my melodramatic tone, but I have never experienced this before! But complaints? I can’t think of one. Suggestions and stories, absolutely. So we poured our hearts out and told Monica of the many things that we found amazing, hysterical, insane and plain horrific. Being here in this community of Los Jasmines has been nothing short of a privilege.
I sound crazy even in my own head… but Monica gave us a missing piece, without which I think I’d only understand a portion of what we’re a part of.
Monica recalls her first project with Reto. It was in this town of Los Jasmines seven years ago. She looked around her in disbelief and to me seemed like she was struggling to find words. Seven years ago, every thing around her was a distant dream. Reto had partnered with World Vision for a one-time project at Los Jasmines to host a workshop on nutrition and self-esteem.
Los Jasmines was and still is, a poor community very close to the border of Nicaragua. There’s very little job in the area and in surrounding Nicaragua. So the men in Los Jasmines moved to different parts of Costa Rica in search of work. Other families from Nicaragua migrated to Los Jasmines, Costa Rica for the same reason. Essentially, Nicaraguans packed whatever little belongings they had with them and walked across the borders in the darkness of the night. We saw a few of their make shift houses, barely houses, where the families that migrated live. To think this is a better life than they had before! I don’t have enough imagination to comprehend it.
The community ended up being a mixed amalgamation of what remained. Mostly women whose husbands left them in search of work, and never returned. Left with their kids, and no work or husband to support themselves, the women did what they could to survive. The community hall, the school, the greenhouse that is today, was barely imaginable even a few years ago. Monica recalls how shy the women were when she met them. She is in awe of the difference in the women today. They are confident, smiling, talking away, running their own business from their office and the greenhouse – these women are organized and the lifeblood of their community. Simple changes Monica noticed – the women who never spoke up were joking with us, making us roar with laughter; they’ve lost weight, they put on make up, they care for their own selves – little things even our group took for granted. We were surprised to hear how shy our moms used to be.
Today these same women are the glue that’s holding the community together. These are the women who are in control of their future, they plan and find help to meet their next community need. They have only just begun.
Monica told us none of it would be possible if it weren’t for the volunteers being in the community. The volunteers and organizations provided crucial labour, funds, credibility and legitimacy. Which makes it then possible for Reto to go out and find sponsors like the Australian Embassy who is funding our computer room project. The Los Jasmines kids watched the volunteers – male and female who travelled from around the world to come to Los Jasmines. The kids came to have role models to look up to. To know there’s a world outside of Los Jasmines, and they can be a part of it. I couldn’t hold back my tears. Monica was already failing to hide her own.
I am very grateful to Monica for that story, a big piece of why I am here –an important piece of the human side of the story was missing for me up until then. With the unexpected death in the community, and just plain frustrations getting our English classes started, I was beginning to feel like this was a holiday in a place I would never pick to have a vacation. I expected to do much more. I secretly know I have gotten a lot out of my experience, just by virtue of being here. I’m not sure how much of a difference I have made.
Monica made me realize that when I was complaining about not having privacy, the kids may have been looking up to me for inspiration, to learn about a world were women can travel unknown places to volunteer. I’m reminded that my parents set it up so that I have the confidence to leave everything I knew at the age of 18, and settle down in Canada, alone, look back and think it was no big deal. In fact, au contraire, I think I haven’t done much of what I´d like to accomplish yet and I am still in training.
With his poems, stories and ridiculously monotonous songs, my Dad managed to give me that vision, strength and courage. In her own ways, providing me with the opportunities to learn to cook, to take care of myself, to know what’s right from wrong, my mom helped me become an independent troublemaker. It´s heartbreaking as I am reminded that no matter what I said or did, and for how long, the little girls here would not have the same privilege to roll their eyes as their Dad went about his subliminal messages of encouragement, knowledge and strength.
If it weren’t for those subliminal messages, I would not get to find out how much fun it was to rake leaves in the garden when my sister mowed her entire lawn with a weedwacker and Oscar followed me around with his yellow pickup truck picking up the piles of grass/leaves/twigs I had gathered. We wouldn’t stop to pick up a twig to see how far we could throw it or stop to teach Oscar how touch-me-nots in his garden are fun to poke at. I would never get to be part of the fun and wonder in the world of my six year old nephew!
The crazy thing about Los Jasmines. I had to get on a stinky overloaded bus after five hours of insane bingo, to have the most amazing bus ride home – spontaneously singing and dancing and being cheered on by the entire bus! And I had to brave down the hill, over treacherous liquid cow poops and ditches, up the muddy, slippery hill in pitch dark night with Megan holding one arm, and Esteban the other, Shayan leading the way with his dim flash light, only to find the most breathtaking night sky I have ever seen, on our way to drop off Megan to her house. Just when I am sick of the madness I have put myself through, I am rewarded unexpectedly with something I’d not get otherwise.
At this point, none of us think we’re going to put ourselves through this again. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. 🙂