Someone Else's Extraordinary

OCTOBER 2018

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By Carly Stauffer Carly is a member of the 3-Month Costa Rica IMMERSION team that launched in August of 2018. This post was written as she and her teammates finished up their time in Shiroles, Costa Rica.

Today is Friday, September 28th, and I sit at the desk on the deck – which doubles as a living room – with a cup of café and a soundtrack of rain. It dribbles off of the tin roof above us like a hundred tiny waterfalls. The leaves on the orange trees seem to nod as they’re pelted by the drops.

It’s almost 4:00 in the afternoon, which typically means two things: it’s raining, and it will be dark soon. Though I still wear a watch here, I’m getting better at reading the time without one. If I hear the roosters begin to yodel, it’s probably about 3:30 in the morning. When I first hear my host mother’s Christian radio, it’s likely about 5:00 am. Plantains usually sizzle in the frying pan at about 6:30 am. Rain comes in the afternoon, darkness arrives before 6:00 pm, and then it’s time for another movie marathon with my host sister, Leti.

Monica and I spent the day in a neighboring village with some host siblings at what I can best describe as a marching band competition. It happens every September because this is the month of independencia in Costa Rica. The young men who pounded their drums as we arrived in Shiroles a week ago were practicing for this very contest. I enjoyed listening to all of the percussion, but I might have enjoyed the transportation even more.

First, we walked for about twenty minutes to get to Victor’s house. From Victor’s house, we met the rest of the group and caught a small bus which brought us to the river. At the river, we boarded a small boat – like a motorized canoe – for the brief passage across the water. Once we arrived at the other shore, we paid five hundred colones to load into the back of a large truck and ride to the village while we stood in its bed. We held onto each other as we rode up and down hills on the bumpy gravel road, passing the ubiquitous platano and banano farms. “It’s 9:00am on a Friday morning,” my team-member Mary-Claude grinned.

And where were we? Not stuck in traffic, or walking to class, or eating breakfast at the kitchen table, but riding down a dirt road in a truck bed to a music competition in a small village in the middle of the jungle in Southern Costa Rica.

Marie-Claude's question made me realize that I really need to work on being present right now. I’m having once-in-a-lifetime experiences that are almost other-worldly for a North American gringo like myself – and yet I find myself wondering, “How many more days?” again and again. It’s not that I am not happy here – my days are rich and tranquil and surprising and challenging and rewarding. It’s simply that I love home, for everything the word means – my people, and pumpkins in October, and conversations I can understand, and comfy beds, and pine trees, and silly things like peanut butter and cereal – and that we humans excel at wishing we are where we aren’t. My new exercise is to ask myself, “Where am I?” and to strive to be exactly there. (Easier said than done.)

Once we arrived at the village, we armed ourselves with cold drinks and proceeded to walk to the path along which the bands would march. After a lengthy opportunity to work on our farmers’ tans, the bands began to play. Some groups wore colorful costumes and some had dancers who twirled in their skirts and shook tambourines. It took about an hour for all the groups to pass, and I’m pretty sure I have hearing damage.

The very last group in the lineup was the group from Shiroles. It’s funny how, though I’ve only been here a week, I felt an acute sense of pride for those muchachos. I think they had the best sense of rhythm by far (but I suppose I’m biased). What we can all agree on, however, is that they were the only group with a set of gringo backup dancers. The sight had me and my host sisters cracking up.

As we hopped back into the truck bed, now soaking wet from the rainstorm that had begun shortly after lunch, I thought about how the experience – crossing a river to watch a parade of Costa Rican marching bands in the lush montañas of Talamanca – was likely to never happen again for me, and yet it is an annual event for my host sisters, a part of life. It made me think about how your regular just might be someone else’s once-in-a-lifetime.

It’s a good reminder to love your every-days, to be grateful for your normal—for perhaps it is someone else’s extraordinary.

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