Knowing What I Know Now

I’ve been meaning to write one final note on my Costa Rica experience for a while… the summary of all summaries. It’s been sitting in my mind. I guess I don’t like the feeling of not finishing what I started. My colleague Charles finally motivated me to do this today. “Knowing what you know now,” he asked, “Would you do this again?”

If you were following my blog, you know this about me already 🙂 the answer’s at the end..

Have you ever tried to touch the burning flame of a candle? Months ago I was the type of person who wouldn’t think of such a thing. The desire never crossed my mind and even if it did I would have thought it would be unsafe. So a big NO! Seriously, who goes around touching burning fire anyway?

Yet my host family in Costa Rica  challenged my thinking otherwise.

One evening the electricity went out. My host sister Irene lit up a candle. Then she decided to wave her hand over the fire! She touched the flame and she flicked it, with her bare hands. Maybe I was one of the only few last people on earth who didn’t know this was possible. I freaked out! This turned into a good 15 minutes session of my host family – mom, sister, her 6 year old kid (!) and her fiancé trying to convince me this was safe. “Trust me,” my host mom said. “If you move your hands fast enough, you won’t feel a thing. No quema!”

I wasn’t convinced and decided to try anyway, very timidly. Sure enough! It was fine…. Then for the next 15 minutes, I was fascinated with my discovery! I didn’t do everything my host sister did, and I didn’t feel I needed to.

Why am I telling this story? A tiny part of my great experience. For me it captures the essence. I was the sort of person who wouldn’t risk touching a burning flame. In my mind, this was a pretty straight forward ‘cause and effect’ scenario. Fire = Burn = Pain = Stay clear from it Sayma!

When I finally chose to trust my host family, and give this a try, it took some mental work, some getting used to, AND It turned out just fine. Even when I had flicked the fire, moved my hand over it several times, I remember noticing part of me was still in fear. Not terrified, but you know, just a small quiver of fear “maybe next time it would hurt.”

I can say the same about the rest of the trip and a few other aspects of life outside of Costa Rica. I was quite aware of this ‘potential for pain=stay away’ pattern of thinking in other examples of my decision making. After all it was conscious action on my part. Except now I notice a shift. Ever so slight. But it’s there.

Turns out, even when something seems obviously unsafe like touching fire with your bare hands, it can be safe if you know how. Knowing how is very key. Equally important is finding your limits and knowing when to stop. I apply that learning almost subconsciously now.

I also learnt that fear is relative.

The “eureka” moment came when I was hanging from a crate waaaaay high above gushing rapids in a canyon at a zip-lining tour. My only support was a rather thin rope hanging from another rope above. I remember looking down at gushing rapids dozens of feet below and not feeling scared at all. This wouldn’t be so extraordinary if I wasn’t really really scared of heights normally. I have trouble looking down from the balcony of a three story building. Yet, after about an hour of zip-lining from tree to tree above a rain forest, rappelling down mini waterfalls, hanging from a crate above a canyon didn’t seem like a big deal.

I wanted to go on a volunteer trip for a long time. I chose Costa Rica because it seemed like the safest of all my options. I didn’t want to dive into something ‘too dangerous’. Even as I prepared to leave for Costa Rica, I honestly felt scared more than anything.

I can tell you at least a dozen events where I thought, it was possible that as a consequence of what I am about to do next, I just might severely hurt myself. Possibly even die. Events that were probably very normal to some people’s every day life. To me however, they were adrenaline pumping, or scary, or crazy or insurmountable at first.

In Costa Rica I was forced time and time again to decide whether to be afraid or to trust. When I decided to trust (people, God, myself, the zip-lining ropes, the tour guides) and give it a try anyway, I had the opportunity to broaden and deepen my experiences.

Now some of those choices, I will not make again. Like get on a truck in the middle of the night with a drunk man drinking beer while driving. Even if it’s the only mode of transportation at the time, which it was, I wouldn’t do it again. I might try zip-lining again but not venture into a white water rapid when I don’t know how to swim or what to do if and when my tube flips over, which it did for a lot of people!

Having said. Sometimes, fear is just that, fear.  It’s subjective, it’s relative and for me, often an excuse. I discovered some variables I will now consider in making future decisions. Dare I say that I needed to experience all of it, so that I now know better.

My experience has been mixed. We laid some important groundwork for Los Jasmines’ future – I’m looking forward to the computer room opening up a whole new world of knowledge and opportunities for the community. Hopefully the nutrition and sexual health seminars we held will help enhance their quality of life. The kids will continue to learn more English. I’m hoping our efforts, a small part of the larger development goal, were large enough to cause a ripple of positive developments for Los Jasmines.

I am proud of and am really grateful to share my experience with everyone who were a part of it. I have a few people I am very grateful to for entertaining my crazy idea and supporting me with my dreams. The leaders at Bayer who made it possible. My loved ones for not demanding I put an end to this madness and for lending their ear and support in every way I needed it. My colleague and friend, Alana who sent me to Costa Rica even before I got there. Her advice was invaluable. I am humbled by all the help, support, encouragement I got from family, friends, colleagues, Youth Challenge International and many wonderful people who I have met. In six weeks, I noticed over 1300 hits in my blog. Thanks to YOU for following.

Now that I am back, It’s hard to believe some days that it actually happened. I have greater appreciation of my blessings, which I know I have many.

Life in Costa Rica was simple. There is something very addictive about it. I must say I miss waking up to beautiful mountains and greenery around.

Knowing what I know now, would I do it again?


Perhaps slightly differently.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Gord Johnston says:

    Thanks Sayma. I knew it would be life changing. Had a similar experience and it shaped who I am today.

  2. suzanne wan says:

    What a beautiful and touching experience! You have grown so much!
    And I am reading your summary in the hospital, in the middle of the sleepless night, at the bedside of my dad who has not eat or drink for 4 days!

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