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Awkward Learning

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

It’s hard to say if I ever had so many bug bites in my life. If I think back far enough, maybe I might find something comparable, but the itchiness of my body leads me to believe this may be a first. Here in Costa Rica, we don’t just have mosquitos that bite. No, no… Mosquitos you can see. They can, mostly, be easily identified and annihilated (and there’s a special sort of camaraderie that comes from permissibly smacking the person next to you and sharing the satisfaction of a bloody mosquito left mangled against your hand). Along with mosquitos we also have tiny, almost invisible flying insects that land, entirely undetected and leave small, painful bites all over your body.

Legs around here might have you thinking there is a serious case of chicken pox going around, many of us going about like flea-ridden dogs, constantly scratching at bites that don’t intend on providing any near future relief. My roommate earlier remarked on how all she does is take benedril and cry anymore. Of course, she was being dramatic, but there is some real truth to this.

My mentor groups One Meaningful Goal from this last program. Pick up trash! Make eco bricks!

On the flip side, after yesterday’s catamaran/snorkeling adventure my tan right now has me doing double takes in the mirror… like damn! Who is thaaat. I haven’t been this tan since I was living my sorority days rocking the spray tan, and even then, I probably wasn’t this dark. To note, I’m comparably still the whitest person here, but I am for sure a horse of a different color compared to my usual.

We worked hard for these cold beers.

We’re just finishing another 10-day program, with a portion of our 48 students already at or on their way to the airport, and the others set to leave the eco resort where we live within the next half hour. My co-worker Blake and I are counting down the minutes until we can go up to the bar and crack open an ice-cold, well-deserved cervesa. This is my second program this summer, with another two to go.

Originally, I was only going to work one more 14-day program north of San Jose, but I managed to find someone who was willing to switch with me so I could stay here. I have all the feels that I landed here in Junquillal with the people I work with, and am excited for another month to grow in relationship with each of them.

I woke up this morning with a mission to compile a tropical vaca playlist. I’ve never compiled a real playlist in my life, which is embarrassing to admit as an adult over the age of 30, but If I’m going to be living on the beach I may as well have a musical soundtrack that reminds me I’m living my best life right now. Red Red Wine by UB40 is currently playing with Hot Hot Hot by the Beautiful Barbados up next.

I’m realizing a lot of these songs remind me of the better days of my childhood. It was the 90’s- I was too young to be aware of people’s problems or the issues of the world. From what I remember, my family did a pretty good job of having regular pool parties, BBQs and singing a whole lot of karaoke. I can still remember the smell of Banana Boat sunscreen, marinated chicken cooking on the grill, my parents dueting to Love Shack by the B-52s. That first decade still rings pretty damn pleasant in my mind, a welcome montage compared to what the second decade was like.

First attempt at sexy grasshopper-on-face photo shoot. Almost nailed it.

The years have swiftly passed since then. And now similar songs play in the background as I sip this cold Beach Beer Golden Ale, overlooking the ocean, a salty wind blowing through our covered patio as I cheers a few of my co-workers over the table. There are horses down below us munching on grasses and hundreds, if not thousands, of grasshoppers in a variety of colors and sizes chewing up all of the bushes.

I actually tried to do a photo shoot with the grasshoppers on my face the other day (once I get a proper photo you’ll wish you were brave enough to put large insects all over your face, too! Haha). The kids I recruited to place them on me were a bit squeamish as they tentatively tried dropping the flighty little guys in the right position quick enough to snap a shot. I only managed to get three on at once, and it wasn’t graceful, so I guess I’ll try again next week (but here is a sneak peak at this magic! LOL).

Time moves in a strange way now in days. I wake up at 6:00am most mornings and don’t go to bed until 10:30 or 11:00pm. We’re constantly on the go, moving from one activity to another. Sometimes I’m able to sneak in a nap, other times there’s coffee. It feels like I’m performing at 60% constantly. While I’m able to get the job done, my brain to mouth function is apparently slower than usual. This is partially due to flipping between English and Spanish in my brain, but my Spanish doesn’t seem to be improving and I think my English is suffering from it as well. I have no idea how I’ve been coming across on the outside, but on the inside I feel like I am constantly saying “weeeooow” to myself at the amount of times sentences are left unfinished, words are mixed up, or said incorrectly all together. I’m primarily referring to speaking English here… Spanish is a whole other level of disaster.

All of this is helping (I’m going to proactively choose this word to maintain some positivity) me to identify where my particular genius lies, or more accurately where it does not lie. I know it’s in there, but most of the time I definitely don’t feel like the sharpest tool in the shed. I say this not because I’m looking for words of encouragement, because there is nothing more offensive to me than getting advice when I wasn’t looking for it.

My point is to normalize the fact that there are people out here in the world struggling through the day-to-day, making it look easy or glamorous when in fact there are some significant challenges present. The point of getting out into the world and trying new things is to give ourselves new opportunities to grow, and the best growth often comes from wherever our discomfort is found. And let me tell you… the discomfort is real. I’m probably always awkward, but this trip has me feeling especially…. special. So yes, me speaking to this is my way of working to normalize that aspect of the human being experience through my own vulnerability and to remind others you can join me here in authenticity if you so choose.

My first attempt at making an empanada. It looked like crap, but tasted great!

As a healer, and a deeply spiritual person, I’m also here to help other people on the path to lighten up a bit on the woo woo narratives, and perhaps to remind myself to do the same. The point of the human experience is to actually live the human experience and not just use spiritual escapism to override the lessons we’re here to learn (or more commonly to override or discount someone else’s experience). People are often highly uncomfortable with being uncomfortable, or watching other people be uncomfortable, and yet it is from these times where we can discover some of the juiciest of lessons. There’s nothing to fix, just curiosity to bring to the situation as we continue to watch the learning unfold.

I also want to note, the purpose of discovering our truths is not about developing hard, rigid belief systems, but the opposite. If we can grow into discomfort, into living within the unknown, into being okay with not knowing (because there will always be SO much we don’t know) we’ll be all the better for it. True wisdom comes from walking our own internal labyrinths, discovering our own gems of understanding and living our way into the next evolutionary version of ourselves, and letting go of the expectations of what that might look like for myself and others. My truth doesn’t look like your truth. My answers are not your answers. Therefore, in growing as leaders and healers it’s not about always trying to be right, or coming across as the all-knowing, but instead becoming better at asking the right questions to help others find their own personal answers and truths. In thinking we always having the right answer, there’s also a level of humbleness that fails to show up and makes it harder for deeper connectivity between two people or a group.

Love the staff out here at Beachside Service-Learning Adventure!

I reflect on this regularly as I work with my students. If I’m feeling tired I hear myself speaking to my own truth, instead of being mindful of how I can bring the question back to the student or the person in front of me. As a facilitator questions are everything, and while I can read off a paper and get the job done, the best questions come from when I can be totally present. In this space I’m in total in flow with what is being said in order to respond from a place of conscious awareness, rather than from some sort of pre-programmed agenda which fails to cultivate an authentic space. It’s not about showcasing what I know or what I think I know but rather teaching the person in front of me how to think for themselves so they can tap into their own intrinsic wisdom. This requires maintaining an extremely open mind and being absolutely okay with someone else being and thinking in a way that is entirely different than what I’m used to (while still calling out and bringing light to injustice, bigotry or self-deprecating behaviors in a loving manner when those opportunities arise). It’s an ever-developing art.

So maybe I’m not learning what I’d hope to be learning at the speed at which I’d like to be learning… Like mastering Spanish. I’m still hoping to find that sexy Spanish speaking man who will provide the right kind of carrot to help me to learn properly. And by carrot I mean the opposite of the stick… and I’m realizing both sound sexual, but what I mean is a healthy level of motivation (Weeoooow, Drake… Oi… I’m sure my grasshopper photo shoots will really help me in this pursuit… haha).

Anyway, in the background of the day-to-day my gears are still turning, and I am indeed growing in many ways- as an educator, a leader, a collaborative co-worker, a traveler, a community member and a more expansive, empathetic and transformative human being. Sending my love to everyone else out there who is making that upward climb towards their next peak! The views are great, but it’s the awkward journey to get there that makes it all the more worthwhile. Pura Vida!

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