Yes. I totally am! Every day. Sometimes more – sometimes less. But every day I voluntarily queue up and look forward to get on the roller coaster. While I stand in line observing the roller coaster, I know that I sign up for a variety of things. The thrill. The adrenaline. A touch of fear and short moments where you wonder: what am I doing here? While being on the roller coaster that I ride daily I come across highs and lows. Phases, in which emotions drop down to a low within seconds and phases in which you regain some stability and calmness. Suddenly the ride goes up high and I am delighted by it, I enjoy the view and I’m thinking: I want to stay here. Time stops. But in the back of your mind you realize that highs cannot exist without lows. If there is no rise and fall, no low point and maybe no stagnation as well.
The best thing about this is that every day I get on a new roller coaster ride.Not knowing what’s in store for me. Not knowing how the ride will play out. Despite short panic attacks, thinking that you’d rather not sit in this roller coaster that makes a 180-degree-turn. Or when you have enough of the changing heights and long for putting your feet on the ground – an oasis of calm. Or when you notice – whilst in a loop – how exciting it is seeing the world from a different angle. And also wishing that the last turn would be repeated or when you pray that the wagon would go a little slower so the moment won’t pass or so you won’t feel dizzy. When I then step out of the roller coaster wagon, agitated, totally amazed but also exhausted I am suddenly overjoyed to have experienced the ride in all its facets. To have had the courage to get on the ride. To have accepted the challenge.
I also noticed, that it’s the best feeling going into new things and surprises without having high expectations. “How are you?“ I often hear this question. Sometimes I reply with this roller coaster metaphor here in Costa Rica or also how I am feeling in that moment. After almost four months full of new impressions and experiences I can definitely say that I built a life here – with new habits, hobbies, new friends and acquaintances and a new working schedule. By now I accepted this life as my reality (of course I still experience moments of amazement and feelings of surrealism). In short: this is my everyday life now. Before I give you an impression of my life and my peers and of Christmas time in Costa Rica I’d like to talk about my area of work. By now I have gained a good overview of my area of work (through a survey among other things). Because it’s not easy to overlook all the things that Centro Cívico por la Paz has to offer.
About the project
Many organizations and ministries are based in Centro Cívico por la Paz in Guarari/Heredia. Each has its own place but they also work together on some shared projects. Additionally, Centro Cívico por la Paz offers room for events from other organizations. Most of these organizations seek to help people from the neighbourhood, strengthen their talents and interests and create a space for community and encounters. Education, pedagogy and counselling during conflict are the main areas of the centre. This way the goal is to get people off the streets, criminality, drugs, discrimination and violence.
There are many offers: art classes, music classes (guitar and piano lessons, choir), PANI (an organization which supports children up to 10 years and offers education, recreational events in the fields of play such as arts, sports etc.), sport classes for fitness, endurance and Zumba, LigaFEM (football for girls and women), a public skate park and two football grounds, table football, dance classes, playground, drama classes and a library including “club de la lectura” (literature club), legal counselling for refugees and much more.
An important part of the centre is „la casa de la justicia“ (house of justice) which offers people from the neighbourhood counselling during conflicts. That means that for example in the case of a conflict between neighbours or between a married couple they try to civilly solve the conflict with professional counselling.
Events at the Centro Cívico or la Paz
I already attended and organized events like the March of Peace and the opening of the exhibition in a cultural centre for culture in Heredia Centro “¿Quién soy Guararí?” (who am I Guararí? – Guararí is the neighbourhood I live and work in): I painted around 100 posters or helped constructing the exhibition (by art projects of the children, youngsters and adults of the centre) and accompanied the opening.
Once a month there is an event for youngsters and young adults that’s called “Juventud hablan“ (Youth Speaks). Within its framework an event focusing on human rights and other social topics takes place. Here I attended an event where youngsters and a woman from the ministry of culture spoke about the issue of suicide. As a volunteer I work in different areas. I teach private lessons, hold handicraft workshops, support art and sports classes and helped out at events. I also help a colleague from the office once a week with upcoming projects. I’m looking forward to offering dance and gymnastics classes next year.
Because the Centro Cívico por la Paz is in a neighbourhood where a lot of violence, discrimination, drugs and criminality is present, the Centro Cívico por la Paz is guarded by security and surrounded by a high fence …
20 metres from my Costa Rican home I step through the high gate of my work area. I throw the guards a short "buenos días" or "buenos tardes", some familiar faces get a “hola“, I greet the cleaning ladies with a "Cómo está?" while they clean the hallways and I get my stuff from the cupboard. Having fetched the keys from the guards I step into the room in where I usually teach private lessons. But today I don’t sit in front of a desk with work sheets, games I prepared and behind the blackboard that has “Welcome” written onto it – today I am scattering handicraft items on the desk. Since last week the Ticos, that’s how the natives refer to themselves, are on summer break. Don’t get it confused – the Christmas holidays are summer holidays around here because of the hot dry season and they also mark the end of the school year.
For the Ticos holidays mean: sleeping in, relaxing, being lazy.For me and the project this means: less visitors and students to make use of our project’s offers. But today I’m lucky. After only a few minutes a lot of kids arrive. These “few minutes” often expand to half an hour – the Ticos don’t take being on time so seriously, keeping with their slogan “pura vida“. In the next three hours the trees will be decorated with paper balls. A sigh is let out as the glue lands on the wrong side of the paper star and Christmas wishes to Mamá and Papá are being written highly concentrated with their tongue stuck between their teeth. Eventually I say goodbye to the kids who leave the room in a good mood, packed with their 3D paper stars, their colourfully drawn Christmas trees and their Christmas cards. Here and there I get a hug from some of the kids and I get a warm feeling when they squeeze me and I watch how proudly the kids show their parents their handicraft work.
Next to the handicraft classes with kids, youngsters and adults Christmas time here is accompanied by flashing fairy lights that embellish the buildings and by loud Christmas music coming from the shops. Instead of the smell of freshly baked cookies you can smell tamales here when you step into the houses. Tamales are banana leaves filled with a mix of meat, rice, potatoes, grain blend and spices. Among houses and countries (in Guatemala where my host mom is from tamales are also part of the Christmas tradition) these ingredients vary. But everywhere they are sold, produced and eaten.
Christmas in Costa Rica
I will spend Christmas Eve with my host family. Together with my already grown-up host siblings we will celebrate a Costa Rican Christmas tradition: “amigos secretos“– you can compare this to the tradition known in Germany as “Wichteln“. What I will miss a little bit is the Christmas church service on Christmas Eve. This doesn’t take place on the 24th here but already on Sunday the night before in the church (where my host parents are pastors). That’s because a big part of the church members is from Nicaragua and they visit their families in their home country. Last Sunday there was a celebration for the children of the church and others from the neighbourhood. Here the children were given food but also presents and sweets that were raised before hand. The children get a free meal every Sunday at church because their families often cannot afford it. Let alone Christmas presents, that’s why the children were overjoyed by their presents. This reality of the people here in Heredia really makes you reflect on the consumer behaviour that a lot of people have, the worth of material things, on appreciation, gratitude and a lot of other things. As opposed to the “Christmas decoration mania“ of lots of Ticos starting already at the end of October, my host mom only started at the third Sunday in Advent decorating the house – no Christmas tree.
Christmas trees and snowflakes
Overall there are a lot of Christmas trees in Costa Rican households. Next to imported real fir trees from Canada they often set up Christmas trees made of plastic here. And by the way: there’s also snow here! You see glittering snowflakes everywhere: snow-covered fir trees, snowflake garlands, Christmas card depicting snowbound villages – obviously snow was imported from countries with a colder climate …
In the end even a Christmas tree wouldn’t exactly give me a Christmas feel – it’s hard when you’re surrounded by short clothes, exotic fruits, summer weather and without a traditional visit to the Christmas market with hot spiced wine and steaming chestnuts. Even if I miss the warmth of my family and relatives around Christmas time I can finally answer the question: “So? How are you?“ In this moment I am actually really good. I definitely want to stay longer and get on many more roller coaster rides! I’m always in the mood for a roller coaster ride. And this mood won’t go anywhere soon.
Kind regards from the warm Christmas time in Costa Rica!