It seemed like destiny, but I know better now, it was the machine of the government agency that is the Peace Corps that resulted in my living in Turrialba, Costa Rica. But I still feel like I was put there by some degree of serendipity. Years ago when I was 16 and dreamed of joining the Peace Corps, I imagined myself living in a rural and dusty mud hut in the middle of an African village or living in a cold and adorned yurt in a snowy field in Mongolia, but never did I imagine living anywhere like Turrialba. When I applied I checked the box saying send me anywhere in the world. I received the letter that I’d be going to Costa Rica. During training I obsessed over the possible communities available within the country. Our site ceremony left me completely surprised with a turquoise folder with the shockingly unfamiliar name on its cover: El Repasto, Turrialba, Cartago. 8 years of waiting for my Peace Corps experience and there it was waiting for me, neatly printed and laminated. My first time in Turrialba fate stepped in again, and my counterpart dropped me off in front of a small bright blue house with a black gate. I walked in and was instantly overwhelmed by welcoming hugs, questions and comments about my huge backpack. I was supposed to live with the family Madriz Porras for only six months and stayed for two years. I remember gazing at a world map in my college dorm room envisioning all of the towns, villages and cities in all of the countries and provinces in the world where I could be sent to, and finally I was given a small spot on the globe that would be solely mine for two whole years.
Clear, hot mornings with bright white clouds framing the two prominent jagged drops of the eastern mountains would greet me as I walked towards my school, belly full of weak coffee and gallo pinto. The halls chaotically buzzed as students and teachers alike scurried into their classrooms made of cool pastel painted cement walls decorated with broken fans drooping uselessly. Teacher would recite a relaxed call of attendance even though the sounds of students chatting never fully subsided, it constantly floated in and out of your ears as the morning slowly strolled along.
As the sun rose into its high point in the sky, it always seemed to magnify and round everything in the valley as a fish eye camera lens would do. The light dropping onto the surrounding lush greens mountains, exaggerated the countless layers of leaves climbing their way up to the crown jewel: Volcán Turrialba. Familiar and warm, smiling faces passed by in the tranquil narrow streets, always ready to chat about the day or at least give a passing amiable buenas or adios. The heat and heaviness of the afternoon strongly tugged at the hems of everyone creating a universal drag– young eyes listlessly gazing out the window, at their latest WhatsApp message, at nothing in particular; gazing anywhere but the whiteboard.
Deep shadows in the late afternoon shifted and contoured each tree covering the wild mountains as the clouds began to move into the valley, relieving us from the direct sunlight. We drank cafecitos from old ceramic mugs, usually adorned with commercial art from the 80s or 90s, at the dark wooden table while telling stories of a past I was never a part of. Suddenly with little notice or warning the heavy late afternoon rains would join the conversation, saying nothing of particular importance.
Walking home in the twilight along the wet pavement, I watched the dark clouds roll into the West. Smells of plantano maduro, empanadas and coffee floated in the streets. Bumping reggae, salsa or bachata music blasted from tightly packed and colorful houses. Dogs, cats and kids roamed the side streets at a comfortable gait waiting to be called in for dinner — enjoying the cool breeze that the rains had brought.
Today is my last day living in Turrialba. I’ve said goodbye to everyone and then some, and this moment in life seems to weight the same amount as my two bulbous, monstrous bags that I have to drag around to complete the final leg of this adventure. By the end of the week I fill have completed a goal that I’ve had for almost ten years. With the Peace Corps now in the past tense, I am left with many fond memories, close friendships, an evolved perspective of the expansive world we all live in and a strange vacant space in me that holds nothing but a question mark.