I reported to the Abriendo Mentes office at 10 in the morning on the 15th of January of 2019. I was so excited to hear about all the (communication) projects I was going to help out with that I came over-prepared with all possible utensils I might need in my 30l backpack. I had with me a thick purple notebook, my agenda, a pen, my camera, five different cables and chargers, my classes and a water bottle. Rachael, the executive director, and Martin, my Argentinean housemate, were waiting for me in the office, which was cooled by an ultra powerful air-conditioning system in order to keep out the heat from outside. I learned later that day that Martin, the new development and communications associate, and I would be working closely together on the 10-year anniversary campaign of Abriendo Mentes that would be the main communications project I would be working on.
I got a thorough introduction of the organization and its values as well as the do’s and don’ts while working and living in the community. I had to be careful not to walk alone at night or carry valuables on me just in case I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I could go out to this one bar at the beach called Brisas, especially on Wednesdays when they organized a ladies night but it was heavily advised to always go to and from the party in groups of more than 3 people, preferably including males. During the round of introductions of the team I met Karen and Erica, two lovely middle-aged Costa Rican women that were working at Abriendo Mentes, one as the site director of Potrero and the other one as youth development coordinator and English teacher. They were both extremely sweet and friendly towards the newcomers and I felt I would be learning a great deal from them about how to engage and learn more about the local communities of Brasilito and Potrero. They both always had a big smile on their faces and transmitted an extremely relaxed and positive energy. It was probably the “Pura Vida” that shaped their character in this way. It made me feel accepted and at ease with myself, propelling me to be daring, make mistakes, learn from them and grow from the work I would be doing in the communities. I have to admit that that my boss Rachael, even though she is American, had always a character as patient and relaxed as the rest of the ticos.
I got shown the little building next to the ‘salon communal’, which was the main classroom of Abriendo Mentes in Potrero. The communal hall or ‘salon communal’ is a place where the members of the community can get together for different kinds of activities and festivities, but it is also used for indoor clothes and food market every Thursday morning, for Zumba classes every Tuesday and Thursday night and sometimes it is lent to Abriendo Mentes for the organization to host its program activities. I have never seen a room with absolutely nothing in it have so much use and fulfill so many different purposes for a community. I entered into the small colorfully painted building that was the classroom and stood surprised at how beautifully it had been decorated from the outside as well as from the inside by the paintings and crafts of the children and older students. I kept thinking in my head I had never seen such a fun and entertaining classroom until this moment. During our first meeting as a team in the classroom, I met my fellow volunteers from the United States, Mike and Courtney, who had given most of what had been their life from what I understood to come live and work in Costa Rica. Camille, the other volunteer, was half French and British and had moved together with her family to live in Surfside, an expat community of Americans and Europeans near Potrero.
We sat around the one table that stood in the classroom, introducing ourselves while we ate a delicious ‘arroz con pollo’, which was offered to us by Rachael from an exquisite local cook that drove around the area selling his home-made meals to the citizens of Potrero. We also got some ice tea, which, to my surprise, was packaged in small plastic bags. You had to open the pressured bag with your teeth and drink the liquid from the bag without it spilling all over you. Trust me, it was way harder than it looked. Most of the newcomers, especially me, had spilled the ice-tea all over the table.
After lunch, Karen gave a short but powerful presentation about her culture, including the way people like to greet each other here in Costa Rica, typical food and festivities that were common around this area. There is a culture in Costa Rica, in which being direct in your way of speaking to a person is considered rood. When addressing a person, even if you know them or just want to ask for a pen, you have to start by saying, “Good Morning, how are you today? I hope you are fine.” Whatever you could ask a person normally in one sentence in Europe, for example, has to be at least three sentences long filled with nice and friendly expressions here. The one element of the Tico language that caught my attention the post was their two-worded expression: “Pura Vida”. Literally translated it means pure life but the expression contains so much more than that and probably means different things to different people but most of all it is a way of life. What I interpret in it is living an authentic life, true to oneself and one’s one values, being thankful for what one has and enjoying the beauty of life day by day.