Friday, March 26, 2010

Week 18: ...the view from the top of the mountain...and the valley

I decided after my first ride from the top of the mountain in Monteverde to my host family in the San Luis valley that I could never walk UP La Trocha -- the steep, steep mountain rise pass. It takes aa fit, fit person a good hour to walk up.

BUT, I did decide I could walk down. So this last Wedneday was my day for adventure.

I finally had my chance to meet with the Quakers here on Wednesday. That's how I started my day. At 9 am they meet on Wednesday with the entire student body, teachers, and members of the meeting. As I sat in silence and looked out the large windows the cloud forest trees were moved by the wind. I sank into the silence, and into a deep sense of HOME that I did not know I had been missing. It was the home of a community meeting for worship, breathing the spirit together.

Following the meeting I was immediately befriended (makes sense with Friends!), and many connections and invitations ensued.

The Quakers came to this area 50 years ago to farm and find a peace not available in Georgia where a compulsory registration for the draft persisted. And, among other things on Wednesday like a lecture about peacemaking in community, a poetry slam at The Common Cup Cafe, and a "group sing," I also learned that there was an open Scrabble game on Friday afternoons that had been going on since 1951, and a Contra Dance on Saturday.

But I decided to keep my promise to myself and descend La Trocha. It was a clear and sunny day, and around the first turn I two Morpho butterflies crossed my path. Yes, this was the right way!

A Friend encouraged me to find a walking stick to support the stress on my knees in the 3 km downhill climb. Found one, and also found that "baby steps" were much easier on my knees. I took my time.

On the turns the vista opened. One can see down the mountains to the coast, across the Gulf of Nicoya and on to the Nicoya Peninsula. Glorious. There is a lookout to climb where I ate my lunch and hung on for dear life. The wind sweeps strongly through this mountain pass!

At the bottom of the valley I could clearly see "my house," and the family farm highter up, and still higher la catarata, a huge waterfall that is part of the source of the San Luis River. It is also part of my family's property. It seems clear that living in such a beautiful, and challenging place, shapes the spirit and culture -- of those at the top, and those at the bottom.

And it was also cleara that the green, green mountains as my back were very different that the dry, dry "winter" mountains below that had been cleared for pasture. Here many make their living with cattle for milk or meat. But the cost to the forests and watersources is graphic and sobering.

As I descended further I got hotter and very sweaty. Part of geting home, a one and a half hour hike, was plain old work. And a chance to ponder the significance of this paved divide.

The community below, San Luis, is very proud of the fact that they paved La Trocha themselves. Yes, that means they raised the money, and hauled the paving materials up the side of the mountain, and laid it down by hand. Makes me very aware of how I take safe paved roads for granted.

I am in between the culture of Monteverde -- tourists, Quakers, green, counter-cultural, artistic, educated, glad to have a job here folks -- and San Luis -- extended families, small farms, chickens, cows and horses, small coffee fields, schools and a tiny clinic. And at every turn a smiling face, probably of a relative. There is time for long coffees, long walks, and long hours preparing meals for all who happen to be in the house.

This week it is much easier for me to descend and be at home in San Luis that to own my identity as tourist and foreigner. However that green, artistic, educated, counter cultural community is the one I return to soon.

What will I take up La Trocha with me as I soon leave this new sense of home, language and culture?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Week 17: Living at the end of the rainbow

Friday was a day of wind and clouds and “pelo de gato” (or a fine mist, like “the hair of the cat”) all day. For breakfast my family -- Cristina and Geovanny (parents) and Daniel (13) and Miguelito (3) and Bolin (the tiny chihuahua puppy) -- had coffee, homemade granola, milk from the farm, homemade bread, and homemade jam of pineapple, papaya and raisins.

Danny headed off on his motorcyle up “la trocha.” This is the steep mountain pass between here, San Luis, and Monteverde and Santa Elena (the tourist area and the location of his private school). And I walked down the dirt road from our house to the main road where I got my own ride up the mountain.

While I am here I am volunteering at CASEM, a local women’s art cooperative, in the mornings (when I have a ride). While I enjoy that time and am inspired by their work, what I really love is living with my family in San Luis.

In one week I have become part of a rich rural network of conversation, cooperation, cooking and celebration! Geovanny is one of eleven children, and Cristina is one of fifteen. The valley and small farms of San Luis and the cloud forested mountains around hold the lives of their familes and friends.

On Saturday we began by shopping -- and greeting every other person, aunts, uncles, cousins, at every turn.

Then we headed down the rocky, dusty road to the family reunion of Cristina’s family -- a huge gathering of newborns to ninety year olds for food, football (soccer) and dancing that would last all day.

From there we went to the home of one of Cristina’s sisters for coffee, sweet bread and cream.

And from there to the meeting of the town assembly of San Luis where Geovanny serves on the junta or leadership team. After two hours of deliberation about how to proceed on road repairs, high school scholarships and safe water, we went to our next event.

And next? To the dinner at the University of Georgia extension site here that was planned to honor all the families who serve as hosts to students. We sat with two young women who had also lived with my family in weeks during the last three months.

And that was Saturday!

Today we began cooking at 6 am for a group of 25 that would visit the farm of Geovanny’s family. I won’t list all the dishes prepared, but it was the Costa Rican equivalent of a Thanksgiving dinner prepared by hand from scratch. We were ready about 1 pm.

Two dishes we prepared today are traditional for Holy Week, so I will tell you about them:

Picadillo de arracache y patatas is a dish made of a root (arrocache) and potatoes, finely chopped roast pork, a lot of garlic, cilantro and other spices. It is cooked very slowly over the wood stove until it is smooth and hot and “riquisima” (scrumptious). It is served in hot homemade corn tamales.

Mudo is a somewhat like a tamale: rich corn dough with garlic and cilantro rolled in banana leaves and steamed. Some are like a jelly roll with mashed beans inside. It is served in slices. Cristiana says that every house will serve this dish at coffee time (late in the afternoons) during Holy Week. We have some left over….Incredible!

The image for the week: living in the house at the end of the rainbow. During the misty days, the valley of San Luis was embraced from side to side with a rainbow that lasted for hours and hours. I could see it from la trocha blessing the valley of San Luis.

And sure enough, when I walked home after my work at CASEM on Friday, the rainbow was right over MY house, MY kitchen, MY family. Yes, another week of mi casa es su casa. While Cristina said she could surely use a pot of gold to educate her children, help pay for safe roads and clean water, there are surely many other treasures here.

It is indeed una olla de oro (a pot of gold) in this wonderful sabbatical of language and culture in Costa Rica!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Week 16: Final Week at Finca la Flor -- Mi finca es su finca; mi casa es tu casa

Photo: This week's new volunteers on a bridge across the La Flor River.

On a tour down the mountain to the river and back up again, led by Vinicio Gomez, we learned that the bosque or tropical forest that is part of the finca has grown up from pasture land IN THE LAST TEN YEARS. It is truly a wonder!

This was my last week at Finca la Flor. I am writing on Friday night -- my day "in between" -- from the bed and breakfast called Cinco Hormigas Rojas in San Jose. Donald and I will be staying here in three weeks. It is an amzing mini ecosystem in downtown San Jose, a forest that has grown up in the last 10-12 years -- the same time period Finca la Flor was restoring natural forest lands.

I am half way through my time in Costa Rica, with three weeks ahead of me living with a family in the Monteverde region. The final week will be with Donald on the Osa Peninsula in southwest Costa Rica.

It is hard to find an adequate photo or adequate words to reflect my time at Finca la Flor with Bri Daabe (director) and wonderful guides, cooks, teachers and volunteers making our global community.


Global grassroots hope through common work and community. (I was often reminded of the book Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming by Paul Hawkins. Volunteers in the past three weeks came from British Columbia, Quebec (2), New Brunswick (3), CA, FL (4),IN, Brooklyn NY (3), France, Austria, portugal, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan! Bri speaks German, Spanish, English and French and has the gift of allowing community to emerge gracefully and challengingly. And what becomes evident it the commitment to healthy and sustainable food and living in every case and in various forms.

AND the very real challenges of forging and global community in a very specific and personal context -- the little farm village of La Flor. As in all places, the lives of those who work at La Flor have all the joys and sorrows of humanity. And, as a host community, they also have the joys and challenges of seeing people like me come, attach themselves, make loving friendships, work hard, and leave.

I enjoyed immensely my conversations with everyone, but especially with Bri.

Maybe it was our similar ages (she at 62 and me at 57). Maybe it was our similar roles (she "on call" all the time for organizing, problem solving, playing, and working very hard). Maybe it was our similar dreams -- to live in community around the values and hopes we hold dear for the world. I am grateful that Bri plans to come visit the US and me! I have made many friends where I hope that "mi casa es su casa" is more than an expression but a reality.

And I convey to you one part of Bri's dream and longing:

She hopes that there will be more people from different cultures that will want to make Finca la Flor HOME. She is longing for a community that will sustain not only the vision and work of the farm, but her own soul. I have to believe that there are folks who will also dream this dream.

And for me...sleep...night dreams...and the new adventures of tomorrow.

I love your comments if you are able to send any!

Love and Peace to all. Nina

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Week 15: Tercera Semana -- Finca la Flor

Photo: The cooks of Finca la Flor with Ana Rosa Vargas Carranza, one of the founders, on the right.

On Monday, as I began my work as a volunteer at Finca la Flor, I wondered why on earth I had chosen to be here. It was one of the only HOT and sunny days and after a week of mostly rain, a new kind of dampness soaked me -- sweat!

My assigned task was to walk up and down a very steep hill in order to pull, push, shove and roll massive pieces of wood that we would later stack for firewood. This wood is used to cook our meals. But heck! This was NOT fun….And those of you who know me well know that this kind of physical labor is, what shall I say?, not my first choice in life usually.

But I end a very rainy week very inspired, full of life, and feeling I am in the perfect place this day.

It is due to a dream.

I dreamed that I was in a large temple. There was a priest in the front. He was trying to convey the “miseracordia” (mercy) of God to the people. And there were huge golden letters high in the air with the message of God, with the desire of God to hold the people and the world in God’s hands. But people were leaving the church. And the priest had no idea of what to do.

Then a wise woman in the temple approached the priest. She handed him a necklace made of the seeds of the earth. “It is this way,” she said, “that people will know God. If you work with them, with the earth, together, planting these seeds.” Then the golden letters fell from the sky. And the hands of God emerged, holding the whole earth.

This is my dream, but I did not dream it. This is the dream of Ana Rosa Vargas Carranza, one of the co-founders of Finca la Flor.

This morning Ana Rosa came from her teaching job in San Jose to gather all the Finca la Flor cooks for a meeting. The purpose was to share once more the original vision of Finca la Flor so that the cooks would not only cook well, but would see their work in the broader context of the dream, the vision of this place. I felt honored to sit at the table with these women and hear the many ways their work here has shaped their homes, their health, their hopes for their community.

I began to wonder how these same values might take shape in Flor-ence -- Church of La Flor! Here is my paraphrase of the vision:

Because this area is saturated with agricultural chemicals and has the highest rate of stomach cancer in all of Costa Rica, Finca la Flor will function as an organic farm, enriching the soil with organic materials only.

Because the forests of Costa Rica are being destroyed daily, Finca la Flor will protect a large area of forest, supporting the flow of water in the La Flor River.

Because animals are treated harshly in most contexts that produce animal products, Finca la Flor will tend and raise animals with respect and understanding.

Because the stress of daily living and work in modern culture resulting in stress and illness, Finca la Flor will be a community of mutual support with priority given to BEING and right relationships.

Because the concerns of La Flor and Costa Rica mirror global concerns, Finca la Flor welcomes and deeply appreciates volunteers from all over the world who come as guests, maintaining the farm and forming a network of common values.

Because our culture no longer values quality foods and quality time in growing and preparing food, Finca la Flor offers delicious and healthy meals made with natural ingredients from the farm and nearby.

Because it is difficult for small farmers locally to earn enough money to support their families, Finca la Flor gives the opportunity for dignified work without the need to leave the local community.

All the programs of Finca la Flor -- education of children and volunteers, organic farming, and alternative Spanish instruction -- are intended to benefit not only those who participate directly, but the local community who, ultimately, will lead Finca la Flor to promote the common good of all.

Brigette Draabe, the other co-founder was here my first week. I feel honored to know Bri and Ana Rosa, two wise and bold women. And I also feel honored to know and work and dance with the other women who work here like Eugenia and Lena -- strong women who left abusive relationships, stood against the counsel of the church to “submit” to such abuse, and who lead this community with passion and joy.

One of the women at the meeting today told the story of a volunteer who cried when it was time to leave. I think I will, too, when my stay is done at the end of this week. Meanwhile, I am off to the local restaurant and to dancing this evening in La Flor.

Pura vida!