The seven days I spent in Salitre, Costa Rica with the Bribri community and Courts for Kids were full of memorable connections and life-changing experiences. Going into the trip, our primary goal was to build a multipurpose sports court with the help of Peace Corps volunteers and locals. However, I felt that we accomplished so much more than that. While our days were consumed by rigorous labor and tireless hours in the beating sun, only halted by daily downpours, the countless interactions we made within and outside the working grounds made this trip truly special.
The work itself was both mentally and physically demanding, but we all fed off each other’s energy and would constantly hype each other up. Shoveling gravel, carrying bags of cement, and wheelbarrowing concrete all with little rest was certainly a task, but countless jokes and spontaneous conversations made it all enjoyable. It was awesome seeing many locals take time out of their days to work with us toward a common goal.
In our downtime, we had the opportunity to meet kids of all ages and form lasting relationships with them. I’ll never forget our first workday, when during lunch, a swarm of young children rushed out onto the grass field. I finished my plate and walked over, only to be swarmed by ten or so kids. Even with mediocre Spanish-speaking skills, I was able to comfortably talk with them and many more children throughout the trip. I became especially tight with Hiro, one of the boys in that group who challenged me to a race that afternoon. Even through the simplest of conversations or quick handshakes, our friendship was evident.
The following day, a few friends and I noticed three boys sitting by a porch across the field, so we decided to walk over in the pouring rain to say hi. It turned out they were all cousins: Franklin, Eric, and Brendan. The three 11-year-olds were clearly amused by our Spanish and would occasionally say things to each other that we could not understand, probably making fun of us. We hung out with them for almost half an hour, talking about popular songs, places they wanted to visit, girlfriends, and soccer.
Playing soccer after work was something I always looked forward to. That was how we met 17-year-old twins Kaylor and Kayben, who invited us to play with them one day. We were so caught up in a game that I did not realize it was almost pitch-black, and an authentic Costa Rican dinner was being prepared in the kitchen.
To touch on the cuisine, I was surprised by how quickly I adjusted from the food I was accustomed to back home. It wasn’t long before I found myself taking seconds of foods I had never previously tried, although we all eventually longed for a taste of America. From breakfast empanadas to black bean soup to fried plantains, eating traditional Costa Rican dishes gave me a feel for an important aspect of their culture (we quickly learned that rice, beans, and yucas are staples in their diets).
Overall, staying in Salitre and immersing myself in the Bribri lifestyle was an eyeopening experience. We had the opportunity to learn firsthand about their indigenous culture, including their language, religion, traditions, values, and ancient beliefs. The Bribri people welcomed us into their community with such hospitality and friendliness that rarely did we feel like outsiders observing them. This paved the way for so many friendships that I hope to maintain through messaging. Finally, being in Costa Rica opened up my eyes to a new perspective on worldly challenges that are not so prevalent in America. I came to appreciate what I often overlooked or took for granted back home — things so simple as the beauty of a preserved nature. A trip like Courts for Kids is something I strongly recommend to others and would definitely do again.
-Chandler Naylon, Loyola School NYC Student