Week One: Settling In
In Heredia, Costa Rica. Settled in fine. Hope Robby has fun at prom.
Obviously this is not all that I can say about my time here in Costa Rica so far (that, and my mother would never allow such a thing). After arriving last Saturday I’m happy to say that I have already met so many amazing people, expanded my gustatory horizons and gone to some places “muy lindos.”
Coming in on Saturday I was a bit nervous. There wasn’t much of a chance to meet any of the people I was going to be traveling with for the next six weeks. I got off the plane, mozied through all the airport motions and stepped outside to a sea of people. There were arms waving, women smiling, lots of shouting and men asking me if I’d like a taxi. Focusing my eyes on the white paper signs some people held, I searched for the one that said “SOL.” Eventually, up strolled Jessenia, my future trip director, who eagerly hugged me while I stood awkwardly with my 54 lb. suitcase. With a big smile, Jessie directed me and another student to a cafeteria where everyone else was waiting. She asked about our flights, if we were excited for the trip, and at the moment the rush hit. I realized the air was perfectly warm, the people were lively and even the cafeteria food smelled amazing. Settling in to this lovely feeling, I opened up my mind to the Costa Rican experience.
If I was happy then, meeting Ubelia made my day even better. When I arrived at my new university (La Universidad Latina), there were a slew of Costa Rican women waiting. They stood around chatting rapidly, slowing down the conversation as the bus rolled in. Again I was searching the crowd, this time not knowing what sign or what face I was looking for. Jessie began pairing people off, and I watched as my possible different Mom’s walked off with their new children. It was a very strange situation, kind of like a mixture of being picked for a team in gym class and getting lost in the grocery when you’re a kid. An uncomfortable and scary situation that triggers the human interest to figure out the unknown. In the midst of it all, Ubelia suddenly recognized my face and started toward me saying my name. She hugged me eagerly and pulled me away from the crowd and toward a cab she had waiting.
I knew I liked Ubelia because of her hospitable attitude. She reminded me precisely of my Dad’s sisters: women who fussed about their guests making sure their every need was satiated. Ubelia, who is 5’1 and about 65 years old took my suitcase from my hand and insisted on toting it in the house. Although it was a bit of a struggle for her, she still refused for me to touch it. She was the same with everything, if I wanted food it was served to me until I was “satisfecha.” If I needed something for a class project she would search around the house for hours, through all her trinkets, until she found it. Although she had three grown daughters, grandchildren of her own, and countless other exchange students, I was still her main priority.
Ubelia and I live alone for now. I get to experience “only-child bliss” for awhile. All my laundry is done for me, my lunches are packed for excursions, Ubelia cooks me meals without plantains and “carne de res”…LIFE IS GOOD.
“…if I wanted food it was served to me until I was “satisfecha.”
The week was wonderful as well. Although there was an initial mix-up with my classes I settled in to Advanced I with my professor Arturo. To me, Arturo would fit in perfectly sitting in a coffee shop in San Francisco in the 1960’s, calmly write angry, deep poetry. What I’m getting at is that he should not be teaching us grammar, and for the most part he doesn’t. Sure, we have packets we work on, but they aren’t accompanied by any lesson. Arturo talks about writing, literature, and music. The class is interesting, but his voice is so calm and smooth that it tends to lull us all to sleep.
As for activities, the first week we went to Volcan Poas, visited Heredia center, and took a cooking class. The volcano was on our second day of the trip, and so I talked with my fellow students while looking at the bubbling lagoon. There are about 25 of us in the first group, and only seven boys. About 50% of the people are from Texas, the rest coming from Oklahoma, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, and (of course) Connecticut. For me, it’s a culture shock within a culture shock being the only person from the Northeast. I’m quickly being schooled in all of Texas A&M’s traditions, why “y’all” is better than “you guys,” and what a “Chuy’s” is. However, I love all the people, and am excited to get to know them.
Going back to the activities, the cooking class was an experience I will never forget. I have a tendency to book cooking classes when I travel, so it was wonderful when SOL offered one as part of the program. We drove out to a woman’s house in the middle of the Alajuela province. Flor, our teacher for the day, has continuously opened her home to teach SOL students about traditional Costa Rican cooking. Since she lived in the country, she had a beautiful yard and garden. In fact, the cooking class took place in an outdoor kitchen with a cement, wood-fired oven. Purple flowers strung themselves from the wooden beams of the kitchen, and we all sat at a long table as Flor taught. Tortillas, chimichurri, gallo pinto, coffee, empanadas, and costa rican fried dough were among the things on the menu. Overall, had I had a normal week at home, this would have been the highlight.