Living Deep in Coffee Country
See Grace Carroll’s transition from a student in the libraries of Notre Dame to a teacher amidst the rural coffee fields of La Esperanza, Costa Rica in only one week!
The looks of confusion and bewilderment that I have received since my arrival to La Esperanza a week ago have confirmed what I already knew; it is not normal that I do not like coffee! Since I am living in the hub of coffee production in a country renowned for its coffee, I am a small minority. In fact, I am probably the only one. Coffee farming is the way of life here and I am thankful to have learned more about its production process by talking with people who take great pride in what they do.
La Esperanza is, in every sense, a campo. It is more rural than I could ever have imagined. The relationship that the people of La Esperanza have with the land and the animals is extraordinary. Although I dread the rooster’s wake-up call at 3 am every morning, I admire the stewardship and resourcefulness of the Costa Ricans that I have met. Nothing is ever wasted! Sitting on my host family’s porch, I can see banana trees, plátano trees, coffee plants, and the garden with lettuce, cilantro, tomatoes, and much more. I can hear the cows that my host sister milks at 5:30 am and 5:30 pm every day (I’ve helped her a few times – it is much harder than it looks!). I can hear the pigs and chickens that are fed from the land before they became our Sunday dinner.
Last week was my first week teaching and I had a blast with the students! I met a few of my students on Sunday before I started and the first thing they said was how long they had been waiting for an English teacher.Their eagerness to learn and vivacity for life are inspiring. Since the remainder of their day is characterized by copying notes from the board, I want English class to be a space and time to have competitions, sing songs, ask questions, and be silly. I have to be realistic about how much English they can learn in two months, and so my ultimate goal for the summer is to inspire long-term learning and hope they pursue the study of English moving forward. I believe that this will take them further than dry memorization and recitation of the days of the week. By making English classes varied and exciting, the students respond enthusiastically and, in turn, they are more eager to learn.
The past ten days have been a time of transitions from being with the other WorldTeach volunteers to being on my own, from being in an English-Spanish environment to solely Spanish (a very fast Spanish, I might add, that is rampant with Costa Rican slang), from running every morning to getting out of breath walking, aka hiking, the hills to school, and from eating a mix of American and tico food to eating a combo of rice, beans, pasta, bread, and potatoes at every meal (can never have enough carbohydrates in Costa Rica!). There have been times this week when I’ve wanted nothing more than to be with my family, to eat an apple with peanut butter, or to run around the lakes on campus. Yet, each day, there is always something that reminds me of how fortunate I am to be in Costa Rica, like my student Marlon drawing a heart for me and giving me a hug on my first day or Doña Virgita finding the keys to unlock the Church for me or my host sister, Hazel, asking to join me on a morning walk or the kids meeting me for a game of soccer at the plaza when school was canceled or being invited to attend the town’s youth group meeting or my host mom, Doña Ignacia, beaming as she made me a plate of food without rice. One of the most beautiful moments last week occurred when Marlon kicked his shoe on top of a house’s roof. For the next thirty minutes, a dozen kids strategized in squeals of delight about how to get it off. With kids on people’s shoulders, large tree branches, and many failed attempts, the shoe finally was rescued to many cheers. As the sun set, the kids departed for dinner shouting, “See you tomorrow, Teacher!” The little things helped make the big things not seem so big.
Other little tidbits: Every Costa Rican wants to know three things about you within five minutes of meeting you: Do you drink coffee? Do you have a novio, a boyfriend? And, are you Catholic? You’d better hope that you can answer “Yes” to one of them or they’ll think something is seriously wrong! Tomorrow I am starting classes for adults in my town who want to learn English and this weekend I am meeting up with fellow WorldTeach volunteers for a beach weekend at Playa Dominical!