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Published: July 18th 2013
Although I’ve never served my country in armed combat, I feel like returning home from a long trip to far-away countries is in some ways very comparable to returning home from battle. Both provide a transformative experience that changes a person - sometimes in small, subtle ways and, other times, in big, barefaced ones. Yet, I would venture to guess that no one ever nonchalantly asks a hero freshly home from the front line, So how was it?
But this is exactly the type of question that returning travelers face - questions that reduce an entire life-changing, mind-opening experience to a frivolous How was it?
And travelers, unable to express an entirely new outlook in a passing conversation, have no choice but to respond with equally meaningless superlatives, Wonderful!It was awesome!
Both parties leave the exchange feeling unsatisfied.
Maybe I’m generalizing, so let’s make it personal. How can I possibly describe the energy around the Bodhi tree? What words do justice to a train ride during rush hour in Bombay? How can I explain the nuanced ways in which these experiences, and so many others, have changed me and changed the way I see the world? Even if I
can somehow manage to paint a pretty portrait, how can I make someone truly understand the meaning behind each color, each brushstroke? In other words, I’m normally pretty quiet when I get home from a big trip.
Besides a strong dislike of depreciating an inexplicable experience with generic statements, there's also the fact that when I'm freshly back, I’m still unaware of all the ways in which my journey has touched me. It takes me a while to download all of the input I’ve received on the road. And once that information is taken out of context, it’s a whole other story.
Well, I've been "back" now for six months. But up until I left to go away again for a little while, I wasn’t at all ready to talk
about anything. I wasn’t ready to write about anything either. I wanted to, and I kept meaning to write something
, but I found it too difficult to write something with meaning
Perhaps it was the somewhat abrupt end to a journey that was meant to last much longer. Or perhaps it was the quick return to work that disallowed adequate time for introspection. Or perhaps it was
that as soon as I got back, I made a big mistake.
I'm a big fan of making mistakes (how else do we learn?), but I found myself making the same mistake I'd already made many times before (how am I ever going to learn?). I saw it coming, and I knew better, but I still chose to involve myself. Worse, I continued to meddle long past the point when the lesson had been learned (again).
My world slowly closed around me. In my world, everything was okay. I was doing nothing more than helping those in need - but all I was really doing was saving fish from drowning. Naturally, from this crestfallen position, I had nothing of any good use to say. I had let myself down and felt like I had let everyone else down too. Now, I'm happy to report that the lesson has been learned (period). I'm truly back
Maybe I should back up a bit, before I go forward, and answer a few questions… So how was it?
It was great! Just kidding! But, really, it was. And much more. How is it to be back in Costa Rica?
Malinche Tree, Coco Beach.
I love the vintage quality disposable cameras lend to pictures.
The only thing that differentiates this question from the previous one is its tense, but in general, I find this one much easier to answer. Most obviously, it’s been a bit of a cultural shock.
Coming from the Middle East and India, where it’s rare to see a shoulder or knee, I'm now confronted by women of all ages shamelessly wearing 5-inch stiletto heels, booty shorts and tight tube tops for nothing more than a six-hour bus ride. And, this style is not reserved for only those with bodies tight enough to grace the covers of magazines, but for women of all shapes and sizes. In Costa Rica, muffin-top has a whole new meaning.
With everyone walking around half-naked, it’s not hard to imagine that sex is everywhere. It hangs in the air, thicker and steamier than the water vapor right before the rainy season, saturating people with a whole different kind of heat. Combine that with a strict Catholic culture that doesn’t do much towards sexual education and what you get is a teenage pregnancy rate of 19%! (MISSING)
But the people here are very calm, and almost always happy - even when they are dealing with
a wind that isn’t so. During the dry season the wind is angry! It rips through houses, shaking windows and rattling doors. It throws grit in your ears, eyes and mouth, and pulls your hair in every direction. Dust, dust, dust. Then, in a few months, mud, mud, mud. But it’s a lot more beautiful than I just made it sound! :D What are you doing?
I’m living a “normal” life; teaching math and science to third - six graders in a small private school, in a small town in northwestern Costa Rica. I love it. Some days, it's all I can do to crawl into bed with my eyes blood-shot and burning, my back tense and contorted; with papers left ungraded and lessons left unplanned, but I love it. Some days I complain, but really, I have nothing to complain about.
Actually, I have really great news! As of last week, I’ve been living with my brother and nephew, who is now a kindergartener at my school. I can’t tell you the joy I feel in hugging him everyday, in watching him grow and learn. He loves sharks and likes to inform me, with the solemnest of
looks, "They don’t eat guys
, Tía! They only eat fish!" Oh, how I love this little man!
And that’s about all the news from me. I’m smiling, happy, and life is good!
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