On the last day in Pacayitas, I woke up to rooster sounds like every other morning this week (no alarm clock needed!). Doña Emilce was already up and busy at work. We made tortillas together as she had taught me Monday morning. Our first activity was with the nutrition board and other involved parents, about nutrition programs and priorities in the school and in the community. It was encouraging to hear about the importance they placed on nutrition and nutrition education. The school leaders prioritized and saw the importance of providing well balanced, healthful meals, along with nutrition education. The group expressed that they had sufficient government support to maintain these programs. They are providing an essential need while raising up the next generation to be responsible and informed eaters and producers of food.
An awareness and practice of a balanced diet is important not only for children, but the entire community. There was a discussion about how alternative and often “healthier” products (ie. low-fat milk and whole-grain breads) were not readily available. One of the major reasons appeared to be because of a lack of demand and higher prices of these items. The difficulty of obtaining these products in the community struck me more personally because of a conversation I had had with one of the mothers earlier that morning. She had expressed the health concerns of her daughter and her desire for good nutrition for herself and her family. She shared how difficult it was to obtain these food items that had been recommended by a doctor. It taught me a lot about the need to analyze the bigger picture and balance health concerns with important cultural practices and dietary habits.
One important and special cultural practice and dietary habit, is the processing of sugar cane for candy! As strange as it might sound to the conventional nutritionist, learning about healthy food choices and then significantly munching on pure sugar products, are the types of “contradictions” that cross-cultural exchange and learning are all about. We were invited to learn from a family of experts about the start to finish process of making sugar candy in a way that maintains its traditional cultural integrity. Don Peto and Doña Maritza taught us about the hard work of planting sugar cane without machinery, and the expertise needed to grow varieties for the perfect combination for candy making. Taking us to their processing facility, we came to appreciate how they work with horses to power a machine to squeeze the cane to produce pure sugar juice (it is as delicious as it sounds!). There is a long and careful process of then purifying and boiling the juice to create a honey to then harden in molds. Seeing how much the staff used intuition and practiced skill in creating the candy made me appreciate how this process was more of an art form than a mere production practice. They continue to produce sugar cane candy and juice without machinery, mostly because they prefer it that way.
My time in Costa Rica ended much as it began, learning and being inspired by two of the amazing women of the community (all of the people I met during this time were amazing and wonderful people!). Lindsey shared with us her greenhouse garden and all the hard work and knowledge she has applied to grow fresh produce for her family and possibly to sell. Doña Rosario invited us into her beautiful home, introducing us to her family and gardens.
Running late as usual, I finished the day with a high: eating dinner with my Costa Rican family. It is an incredible joy to sit and chat with them about the day and local news. As I looked around the table at Doña Emilce, Carolina and her sister Marionela, Jimmena and Catalina, with Don Carlos in the background, I couldn’t believe I got to be a part of this amazing family for a week. They had welcomed me into their special unit of people and I will forever be blessed to have known them.
As a finale to the trip, we went to Fabian’s house for a party with our group and host families in the Rancho. Each day I had greatly appreciated our reflection time, but the final reflection of the trip and what it meant to each one as we shared around a fire, was the perfect closing to the week. I really enjoyed hearing how each person was processing our very special time in Costa Rica. Our brilliant leaders, Paige and Elizabeth, came up with superlative awards for each person that made us laugh and reminded us that each one brought something different and needed to make the week what it was. Without being overly cheesy, I cannot express my deep gratitude to each person that impacted me this week including: our hosts Fabian and Alex, leaders Paige and Elizabeth, each member of our group, our host families, and every community member we had the pleasure of meeting. From each of them I learned about hard work and expertise, determination, kindness, hospitality, and about pursuing dreams and goals that don’t just benefit you but are a blessing to the community you are a part of! Thank you Pacayitas, you will forever have a special place in each one of our hearts!