Every so often, instead of class we have “outreaches”—opportunities to reach out to the community and give. Yesterday, I went to an orphanage to do some yard work. A group of us 12 girls got dressed in athletic shorts, tank tops, hats, garden gloves, sneakers, sunscreen and tons of water—anticipating the heat. We got to the orphanage and were immediately greeted with questioning looks. Unsure of what the problem was, one of the directors, Dina, finally told us that we were dressed inappropriately to be around children, “take this as a life lesson”, she said. “this is a Christian institution and we have certain standards. Also, many of the children have been sexually abused and seeing boobs and legs brings up too many emotions for them”. Though our pride was slighted by their lack of tact, we understood that they have rules, and we obviously didn’t want to do anything that would be detrimental to the children. So we all called taxis and went home, changed into pants and long sleeved shorts, and headed back to the orphanage.

Once there and eager to start working, we were greeted by a man—the other director. The first thing he said was, “where are all the men?” and “I thought they were sending us at least 1 boy”. He finally accepted that we were all he was going to get, and he talked to us in length about testimony of finding God and starting the orphanage. When he was 20, he had made a wrong and sinful mistake, and immediately after was in a car accident that paralyzed him from the chest down. “God was punishing me”, he said. So he changed his life, moved to Costa Rica and started the orphanage. He kept reminding us of how powerful God is. How everything he does is intentional. How we may not know God now, but in the future when we have broken hearts, or sick children, or when devastating, inevitable events happen, we’ll find him. And he’ll save us.

While the man was talking, I just lost it and started crying. It’s embarrassing thinking about it, and even now it’s hard for me to explain what exactly it was that effected me so much. Part of it was thinking of a God that punishes people for the bad things they do, and rewards them for the good—is that a God I believe in? Part of it was being told that we dressed inappropriately—the need for women to cover every part of them up—can you still tell I’m a girl? Is God ever a “she”? Part of it was the truth in what he said about the inevitable hard things that I’ll encounter in my life—how I wish I knew what those would be, how I’m afraid of what they are. And part of it was the dichotomy of the situation around me—how I so fundamentally disagreed with so much of what he so fundamentally believed in, but how we’re both there—working for the children.

I left with a heavy heart. But I can’t help but think that some kind of God was at work that day. The laughing of healthy happy kids. The labor of raking. The challenge of being around people so different from me, yet so alike. 


Finals for the next few days so I don't have much time to write--but this is a picture of Luis. The entire weekend he was on the go, trying to escape from anyone who wanted him to stay put. But right before I left the family, his mom thought he was cold and dressed him in 2 jackets, 2 pairs of pants, gloves, a hat and a scarf. With all the layers, this is the only position he could stay in. I couldn't stop laughing, so silly.


Well, I went on a home stay. I’m struggling as I think of how to explain it, I hope the pictures help. The part I’ll remember most fondly was at the end of the weekend when the mom gave me a really long and squeezy hug and said “you’ll always have a home in Costa Rica”. And the worst part was when their friend came over and they were talking (or gossiping) so fast—I couldn’t understand anything and I felt kind of embarrassed and left out. And a weird part was when this wild crazy man came over and read my palm. He said that I would have a long life, two lovers, and that I need to be careful because maybe my appendix was going to rupture. Oh also something about being careful of fruits with seeds (this was all in Spanish though so, my comprehension is…loose at best). And parts were also just totally hilarious and confusing and ridiculous—like when the dad tried to explain to me that their dog, Susie, was a Ms, not a Mrs. 
Who knew!

My host mom, Teresita, was this big, theatrical woman full of sass. The tattooed black rim of lip liner that ran around her mouth threw me off when I first met her, but we soon warmed up to each other. The dad’s name was Delfin, and they had 3 kids—Maria (19), Maresella (17) and Juan (12). Maria was the only one who knew a tiny bit of English, and with our combined skills were able to chit chat quite completely. Both Maria and Maresella have babies. I was totally and completely enamored with them and I spent most of the weekend just playing (as baby-talk is a universal language, you know). Whenever they asked me a question that I didn’t understand, we would both just shrug and make faces and laaaaugh with the babies.

At first, I was confused about who everyone’s parents were. The 17-year-old girl (Maresella) who had baby Celeste, seemed kind of withdrawn and aloof. She didn’t try talking to me at all. Her face was so young but her body was so clearly a moms—Celeste fit perfectly in the crook of her hip. Her room d├ęcor hadn’t been changed since she was little, totally pink with mini mouse curtains…but everything in it had been shifted around to accommodate a crib and baby toys. And Maria, who was 19 had Luis. At one point Luis (who’s brand new at walking) tried to reach for something in the grass but instead just fell right down on his rump. At first we laughed at his cumbersome motor skills, but then we realized that his legs were completely covered in fire ants. Maria instinctively grabbed him and sprinted to the pool and dunked him right in. The ants washed away before they could bite him even once. She was always aware but not overly hovering and she just spent hours and hours making him laugh. I loved watching them. They kept asking me if I was married or had kids. I didn’t know how to explain that I still feel so reliant on my own parents, I couldn’t imagine raising a baby anytime soon. Regardless of the mother’s ages, the babies were happy and healthy and beautiful. Maybe I’ll write more about this later, I’m so tired tonight. Today marks 1 month in Costa Rica!

Dad, Luis, Teresita, Me!


Happy babies 


Our group thought of these things to help us remember ways to live sustainably. Maybe you'll like them too:

I will turn off all lights and fans when I'm not using them.
I will recycle what can be recycled, and compost what can be composted. 
I will hang my clothes on the line to dry (even if it makes them stiff).
I will take only what I can eat.
I will reuse things as much as possible (like tin foil and plastic bags!)
I will bring my own grocery bags to the store.
I will share with others things I have too many of, and ask someone to share with me before I buy something.
I will use biodegradable soaps, shampoos, and detergents.
I will not eat meat on Mondays, and try to never eat meat in excess.
I will "let it mellow".
I will take cold, 5-minute showers.
I will make use of daylight, and sleep when it's dark.
I will try new and local foods.
I will always drink beer on tap.
And I will try to teach others about living sustainably.

Making use of daylight


Every morning at 8:00—after breakfast and before class, we have RAP—Reflections, Announcements, and Physicality. Each day a different person reads a quote for us to think about, goes over the schedule, and facilitates a game.

Today, Hannah read this,

“And in response to people saying you can’t go back…well what happens when you get to the edge of a cliff and you take one step forward, or you take a 180 degree turn and you take one step forward, which way are you going? And which way is progress?” – Doug Tompkins 


In the time I had at home between Clark and Costa Rica, my mom and I had a heated discussion (though she may call it something different) about rhetoric. One morning, I made some offhand comment to my parents about how I thought someone was “lazy”. This upset her. While I was just trying to explain someone’s indolence, my mom’s argument was that my word selection was insinuating something about the persons character. That “lazy” was a charged word—a “name-calling” word, an aggressive word. We pulled out the dictionary, the thesaurus, and even “Non-violent Communication” to make a case for our points—it was a good discussion (and mom, though I didn’t let up that day for the sake of argument, in retrospect—you’re right). Since I’ve been in Costa Rica, I’ve been thinking a lot about that conversation. Here, I’m grasping at straws to communicate in Spanish and I’m sure sounding like a complete complete complete idiot. As I scrape together any combination of poorly pronounced and seriously fragmented words to hazily get my point across, I can’t help but think of the hundreds of nuances I am missing. That morning, my mom and I quarreled for at least a half an hour about the minutia of one word. How people can know another language so well to be both eloquent and thoughtful in their word choice is incredible. I’m just in awe of all you bilinguals.

Some young love birds I walked behind in the market


This is a picture of a baby hummingbird! Not a baby…a fetus. We came across this nest when we were hiking; little one was secure on the base of a palm leaf. Itty-bitty life.

This is Poaz volcano. We were so fortunate to go on such a clear morning, but every day at 11 am, clouds lower down--just like clockwork. It amazes me how nature can sometimes be so predictable and other times so surprising. While we were there we had to ask eight people to take a survey about their experience as a tourist. We’re compiling the data and writing papers about people (locals and visitors) perception on the impacts of tourism. We had a script of things to mention to people before they took it—our name, what we’re doing, where we’re from, that it’s anonymous and will take 5 minutes. I was so nervous to ask people in Spanish, but everyone I talked to was really sympathetic and nice. I saw one woman who looked friendly so I walked up to her and then I realized that I’d lost my script! So I freaked out and forgot all of my Spanish and all I could say is “encuesta?” (survey?) and she said okay and filled it out! How nice! It gave me so much empathy for anyone who ever asks me to fill out a survey ever again.

And finally, here are some ants carrying food up a wall! Many hands make light work! I’m learning that a lot here. All 34 of us have the same assignments due at the same time, the same 5 am wakeups, the same farm chores, the same Internet connection that doesn’t work. In solidarity, though, things work out. 


I’m hot. In the torrid blistering heat, we drove to El Sur. This town of only 13 families is on the Pacific coast, circumscribed by Corcovado national park. Years ago, the town was thriving with cattle land and hectares of pastures. In the 1940’s, in an attempt to encourage people to expand their farms and continue developing the country, the Costa Rican government allowed squatting. Any person could claim uninhabited land, and after a few years, the government would legally give it to them. So forests got cut down and towns established. But in the 1970’s, when Costa Rica realized that their natural biodiversity was attractive to foreigners (and the cattle market crashed), the government decided to take this land back. In a lot of ways it was great—converting pasture and agriculture back into forests reduced tons of environmental degradation. But it was also cruel—giving people land and then grabbing it back as soon as they’d established there. Though the government said they’d pay people back, they were also in debt and even today have thousands of people to repay.

So El Sur had most of their land converted back into forest, and are now trying to figure out how to sustain their tiny town. We visited one of the only industries they have there—a little sugar mill. Three men, of three generations showed use how to make sugar. First, they used oxen to crank these big presses that squeeeeeeze all of the juice out of the sugar cane. Then they heat the sugar over a fire in these huge cauldrons and it becomes a sweet gloopy thick syrup.

They cool it off a bit, mix in some leche and pour it into molds. 

Some of it they sell, but most they eat. White granulated sugar that we buy in the states is heavily processed and chlorine and other chemicals are added to make it pure white. This sugar is sold in blocks and people can shave it off or slice out slivers or just eat it as candy, like we did. The grandfather kept saying how healthy the sugar was. How it’s natural and unprocessed and straight from the ground into our bellies. In the united States, we know that eating natural is healthier. We know it because of scientific studies, and because higher prices at Whole Foods tells us which is best, but people here know it for other reasons. They know it’s healthy because the sugar cane stalk is tall and hearty. And because its smooth and pure when they heat it. And because it tastes good. I have so much to learn.

On this Friday night we’re making banana bread, and reading. This semester is so different for me, and so healthy. Smells wonderful.


Sunday was off day and beach day! A handful of us bussed out to Playa Hermosa, a beautiful beach on the pacific coast. The sand there is black from a nearby volcano and sticks to you like honey. The waves were giant and enveloping and warm. I played for hours—I haven’t been in waves like that ever. 

Beach treasures


I was able to call Stephen and Mom and Dad today—I was feeling a little homesick (is this the kind of thing you write about in a blog? I’m not sure). Our schedule here is so stuffed, which doesn’t give me much time to conjure home. That makes it easy to be here, but the instant I had a free second--I missed them. I keep thinking about paco sitting up on his throne on the couch and Annies macaroni and cheese and playing banana grams on grandmas dining room table. It’s silly to get homesick when you’re 20, I don’t know why this still happens to me. Everything in its own time, though. Right now, it’s okay.  A rare afternoon rain cooled the evening off—we’ll get a good sleep before an early start tomorrow.

Morning light

Afternoon rain


The center where we all live (professors and their families, our coordinator and interns, and students) is Rainforest Alliance certified. We’ve slowly been learning about what this means and what things we can and can’t do in order to abide by the guidelines to keep the certification (as an auditor can come at any time and revoke it). The rainforest alliance is an NGO “working to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices” …environmental jargon—it basically has this certification program to promote socially responsible management of institutions and farms and helps to educate people about what it means to live sustainably. Here at the center we don’t have any water heaters (I will never get used to freezing showers—no matter how hot it is outside. I’ve recently descended to just leaning my head back and washing my hair. It’s gross, really. I just don’t know what else to do), use only florescent and motion activated lights, no clothes dryers, eat only food bought from Atenas, hire only local workers, use only biodegradable cleaning products (including for our own bodies. Another hurdle. Today I bought biodegradable baby disinfectant instead of laundry detergent. What’s baby disinfectant?). We also have this bike that you ride and it charges a battery that you can plug things into (!!) and the small farm/orchard we have here is totally organic. And new baby piggies just came to feed our compost to! 

Some swingin' on the porch


Each week we have a few days of lectures in ecology, resource management, economics and culture and then we go away for a few days into the field where we see and touch the things we’ve been learning about (logical, right?).
Our classroom
 On Thursday we went to a small organic farm on the eastern Caribbean side of the country –Manu. It felt so good being there. This family of 6 has been farming this land forever, and 10 years ago converted it into an organic farm. Part of their land is just forest, which the Costa Rican government pays them a small amount to preserve. The program is called PES (payment for environmental services) and they give landowners rewards for any carbon sequestration, watershed, or biodiversity that they protect. Despite its incredible biodiversity and conservation efforts of today, Costa Rica has a history of enormous deforestation. In the 1990’s, they passed a law making it illegal to convert any forest into pasture. This made things really hard on landowners who now had no potential revenue from their land. PES’s were a great solution to that. At the farm, they made us a giant and delicious meal using exclusively things they’d grown (80% of the things they eat every day are from the farm, they sell what’s left over!) It’s hard, it’s their whole life—they spend all of their time laboring. But it’s so beautiful, and they’re so proud of it.
 Wormies from the farm
The next day, as a contrast to the little organic finca, we went to the Dole banana plantation. We drove through miles and miles and miles—as far as you can see in every direction of banana plants. In the 1890’s, the Costa Rican government couldn’t afford to finish the railroad that they were building to bridge the western with the eastern side of the country. So a man named Minor Keith said he would complete the railroad if the Costa Rican government would give him 6% of Costa Rica’s land for 99 years. They conceded, and with his new land he grew lots and lots of bananas (creating the United Fruit company). Today, Costa Rica is the largest exporter of bananas in the world (and it’s so small—only about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined!). The tour glorified the banana industry (including a shot of banana liquor at the end), but we had to struggle to hear over the roar of pesticides being sprayed all over the bananas wrapped in bags on the trees. I was really inspired and challenged by this trip. The Dole plantation is feeding into the massive agro-economy that both built up and destroyed Costa Rica for so many years, but it also provides hundreds of jobs to local people. And at the organic farm it was absolutely inspiring meeting people who eat and grow healthy hearty food right from their land, but the effort they put into it—is it practical or even possible on a larger scale? It feels good to be thinking. 

Dole plantation