By Mitzvah Corps Costa Rica II Program Staff
Mitzvah Corps Costa Rica has been off the grid for the last few days. And by off the grid, I mean we have spent the last four nights living amongst an indigenous Costa Rican Bribri community in the middle of the rain forest right next on the Caribbean-Panama border, an area only accessible by a canoe ride up the Yorkin river. We’ve lived in wooden cabins with partially open walls and only our flashlights to guide us when it gets darks, eaten traditional Costa Rican and Bribri locally grown food, cooked over open flames, and met lots of new insect friends.
Being fully immersed in this culture has opened so many new doors for us; we’ve met many incredible new people, set foot in Panama (just a short swim across the river), and truly learned the meaning of hard work.
We were able to stay here through an amazing voluntourism organization called Stibrawpa, started by several of the leading women in the community. They saw an opportunity to greatly improve the local economy by inviting tourists in to stay, learn, and live in the culture. And wow, did we do all three.
On our first day there, we helped out by hauling bags of sand up from the river to spread on the muddy and winding trails through the forest, which is regular maintenance that must occur. The work was hot and sweaty, but we saw immediate gratification for all our schlepping.
The next day, our work consisted of learning how to weave palm leaves onto bamboo poles to create roofs for the buildings. Bernarda and Elio, our new Bribri friends, said we made enough to build a house. After our work was finished, we had a chance to purchase some local hand-crafted goods. As a staff, we decided we would purchase matching friendship bracelets for everyone to take home as a keepsake; we found one style we liked the most and asked if there happened to be 23 of them that looked identical. Alas, there were only the ones available on the table. However, Miriam, the artist, said she would be willing to specially make 23 identical ones for us.
As the days passed and our work continued tirelessly – working in the garden, hauling dirt, filling planter bags, and planting native trees – we wondered when, and if, there would be enough time for Miriam to complete all the bracelets. On Monday morning, as we were packing up our things to head back down the river, we were greeted at our front porch bright and early by Miriam with a newly woven basket and 25 brightly colored, oddly unique, but perfectly identical friendship bracelets.
Miriam told us of how she and her daughter worked at rapid speed in order to create this one-of-a-kind gift for each of us to take home. We only spent a few days of hard labor in Yorkin, but it was exhausting, physically demanding, and left many of us sore and in need of some rest and relaxation. This work was tough for us, but rewarding, and the Bribri people do it everyday as a simple part of their lives.
As we worked, Miriam and her daughter worked. We both accomplished something for the other’s community. We helped complete tasks that would’ve had to get done by someone eventually, but we happened to be there to help expedite the process. And Miriam worked to give us something especially for us, something that will keep us all tied together for a long as we wear them. A little piece of Yorkin, this amazingly remote, incredibly beautiful place filled with loving and caring people, to take with us.