One of the most rewarding experiences on this trip was staying with my home stay family. They were one of the most humble, caring and patient human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. My initial feelings of nervousness completely fled after meeting Betty, Williams, and their three-year-old son Issa. Through this stay, I was given an everyday cultural experience that many who have visited Costa Rica cannot claim.
Eating dinner was when we were all able to communicate the most. Valerie eased through Spanish speaking with both Betty and Williams while it took me some frequent translations and my handy Spanish phrase book to be able to effectively communicate. On the first night that we stayed in our homestay family, we were enjoying an amazing dinner of rice, beans, and salad. Suddenly, while enjoying the meal, I felt a sharp jab at my back and a tiny voice yelling “Zeet!” followed. I immediately turned back in my chair only to be peering at the eyes of a giggling three year old with a knowing smile planted on his face. Before I could react, Issa raced off on his scooter to the opposite end of the house. I turned around to continue my meal and before I had time to process what had just happened, I felt him again, “Zeet!!”. Betty laughed as he skirted by me once again to the other side of the house. I leaned over and I asked Valerie if she knew what Issa was saying. It appeared we were both at loss in trying to understand the game Issa had set out for us. The next time Issa came around I was prepared. Before he stuck out his little finger and yelled “zeet”, I beat him to the punch. “ZEET!” I playfully yelled back at him. I honestly had no idea what I was saying but I took this game as a version of “Tag” so I went along with it. Issa’s eyes widened and his smile grew wider. This was now a competition. We went back and forth like that until Betty, Williams, Valerie and I finished eating dinner. However, Issa still wasn’t done having his fun, while Valerie and I were washing dishes, Issa came back with a vengeance.
While we were all getting to know one another after dinner, we heard a bird in the distance, in the forested area. Williams immediately peered up and informed us that the bird we were currently hearing is called the Búsqueda bird. Williams said that legend has it that if you follow that bird late at night in the forest, it will purposefully get you lost. Both Valerie and I’s eyebrows shot up, when learning about this myth. It was a piece of information he gifted us that allowed us to understand the place we were visiting that much better.
While we were getting ready on our last day of homestay, both Valerie and I just met the orange sky and were preparing ourselves for a day of hard labour. In order to do so, we were applying sunscreen and spraying a lot of bug spray. When Issa saw us doing this he frantically yelled to his mom in Spanish, “They’re like Aunty Victoria!” Seeing our puzzled looks, Betty explained that she has a sister from the U.K. who comes to visit and she always puts on bug spray before she goes anywhere. Hearing this not only made me smile, but also reminded me of Marcos and Jenny and how they never put on bug spray. This then led me to think about the Western influence of chemicals and how the culture in Costa Rica is more about just accepting what comes with the natural world, the good and the supposed bad.
One of the most touching moments from listening to Issa was when we were all just admiring the night sky and an airplane comes gliding through. Seemingly out of nowhere Issa says in Spanish, “I wonder where they’re going”. Hearing the curiosity and wonder from his voice was inspiring, and made me wonder about his future, and whether he’d ever get on a plane and travel somewhere, and another kid one day can look at the plane he’s on and wonder where he’s going. This is also another reality for the people in Mastatal, not all have the luxury of leaving the country.
Through my homestay experience I discovered that you learn from listening to people from different cultures, and not imposing stereotypes. This philosophy is one I intend on living out and teaching to others. Throughout this trip we learned about the people and we learned about nature, but in our homestay family we go to see what happened when the two married. We got to see a glimpse of what it truly means to be Tico, from their children games, their myths, and through their interactions with one another and with us foreigners.