Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mid-Week Musings


In my freshman year of high school, I was standing in line when a teacher motioned for me to come her way. I'd been queued with friends and had just repeated a story I'd been told. She'd overheard what I'd said and asked why I thought the story was mine to tell. While I hemmed and hawed and insisted what I'd shared was true, she reiterated that, true or not, the story was not mine to tell. Her words stayed with me and over the years there've been occasions when I've had to stop and ask myself if the story I'm about to share is actually mine to tell.

When you travel with a group you hear lots of stories. Some are told by lonely people seeking affirmation. Others are told when tongues are loosed by too much wine. These are the stories that must be rewoven before they can be told. And sometimes, as they are reworked you realize that there isn't much to tell. Many stories were shared on our long coach rides in Costa Rica, but, on examination, they belong to others and are not mine to tell. I can, however, share with you impressions, two in particular, that were garnered on our trip.

A bit of backstory is necessary here. In 1948, Costa Rica abolished all branches of its military and diverted the money used to support a standing army to education. As a result, the country has a literacy rate of 98%, but its educated citizens no longer want to do the hard physical work its coffee, sugar and banana plantations require. Migrant workers, approximately 1,000,000 of them from neighboring Nicaragua, are brought into the country to handle the planting and harvest of export crops. It is hard, back breaking work and men, women and children all participate. On coffee plantations they are paid by the canasta, which looks much like a small laundry basket. Because the canasta is tied around the waist, it's not uncommon to see mothers with small children in the fields. A full canasta weighs about 25 pounds and each basket is worth about $2.00. Costa Rica takes care of its citizens, but, despite protestations, life in the migrant camps is rough. We spent the better part of a day on a coffee plantation following the beans from their planting to a coffee cup. Our tour ended as workers were coming in from the fields. My final observation was that of an obviously weary, nursing mother carrying a baby in a makeshift sling along with a toddler at her side. She probably made $2.00 that day.

On a more upbeat note, we were able to meet the wife and the young daughter of our tour guide. Family size in Costa Rica has dramatically decreased over the past 40 years and homes with 1 or 2 children are now the norm. Children, while doted on, are not spoiled and these small families are closely knit. Diego's family met us for lunch halfway through the tour. He travels a lot and when he got off the bus his daughter hurled herself at him and darn near knocked him off his feet. They had a private lunch and when it was time to leave she did something that I've seen only once before in our travels. There was, of course, the big kiss and hug, but she then made the sign of the cross on his body rather than her on. No tears, just a blessing for safe travel. Her spirit is as beautiful as the country in which she lives, but only parts of her story are mine to tell.

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