Thick condensation obscured my view out of the thin pane of the bus window, giving the dark grey clouds that were hanging densely onto the forests that carpeted the mountains just outside of the capital a fuzziness that hurt my eyes after a while. The three months I had spent in my training community of San Francisco de San Isidrio de Heredia were about to collide with the three months I had been away in my official home of Turrialba. A misplaced and disorienting case of nerves and sudden homesickness seemed to settle into the humid air that slowly expanded into the interior of the bus. Transferring from one old, white, rickety and recycled school bus to another to complete the last leg of the trip to another came effortlessly as muscle memory took over. That same invisible, gentle force led me past the old soccer field, past the turquoise pulpería and down what I used to consider my street, to the doorstep that so quietly guarded my first impression of this country I now call home. With one word (Upé!) the door flung open and a familiar figure flung her arms around me as the same familiar voice offered me food, dry shoes and a room of my own.
Time diluted my sense of continuity (which has been a struggle for me in general during my time in Costa Rica) as we fell into our old routine: I sat in my spot at the counter while drowning my gallo pinto in Flor’s homemade chili, I drank fresh coffee from my favorite mug as she chattered on about nothing in particular and asking me the occasional question about my new life in Turrialba that had suddenly become vague. Her absence for the past three months had magnified all of her habits I had interchangeably charming and annoying: her subtle stutter, the way the fly of her pants was always down, her dramatically apologetic requests for simple favors. As the minutes in her house and her presence passed so did the immediate and pressing reminders of my work and challenges back in Turrialba. My worries seemed to slowly osmose into her warm beige walls from which family pictures hang with pride, into her soft, worn-in maroon sofas that had hosted so many eye-opening conversations over cafecitos, I even feel as though some of my most miniscule worries still lie in the creases of her squeaky bar stools. Small reminders of training were hidden all over her house like an Easter egg hunt– the familiar smell of her laundry detergent triggered for a downpour of memories: our semi-circle of wooden desks during the long, tired and stretched hours of Spanish lessons in the small light blue community center, my shared daily snack of fruit salad that contained a very high percentage of papaya, the strong and momentary clap and flash of the frequent tropical thunderstorms, the sense of comfort and security I felt knowing that my fellow trainees were less than a five minute walk away. The next day some of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, who were also visiting their old host families, and I went on a hike while exchanging stories of “site”, a term, for that day, seemed to have the incorrect definition: a parallel universe. We laughed over cultural misunderstandings as we strolled through neatly lined coffee fields and vacant, poorly paved streets up to a cool mountainous vista point where we all shared a moment of calm and tranquil silence, reflecting on how our companionship might be the one thing holding our sanity together… until the moment was shattered by the stings of a vicious black wasp that drove us to stumble our way down the muddy hill we had just scaled.
At the bus stop the next morning to go into the city for our In-Service Training Conference we flashed each other with natural smiles that emulated the pale orange sun catching particles of the diaphanous smog that hung over the urban sprawl of San José. As we watched the city thicken through smudged bus windows I thought of how special those first three months were– in such a short amount of time I had found a sense of safety and home anchored in not a place, but almost perfect strangers. In the middle of the chaos that embodies the first few months abroad somewhere new, we had managed to find a fleeting peace in our little safe nest of Heredia.