Thursday, May 5, 2016

Learning Experiences at La Selva Biological Station by Jesus Barreto

When leaving La Selva Biological Station, I pondered about my past couple of months. I don’t believe my study abroad experience was what I expected and, at first, it was definitely not what I originally wanted. For me studying abroad was a last minute shot in the dark for the last available program, as I needed a change from the status quo of being overworked at UNC. I wanted more of a carefree, travel the world, and meet interesting people experience, and while I definitely experienced some of that, I got a lot more that I did not necessarily want but definitely needed.
            I’ve realized that I have not been overly challenged in my life in two separate fields: academics and interpersonal relations. On the academic side, while I have always taken difficult classes and aimed to achieve the highest score possible, I cannot say I have ever put academics as my first priority for an entire semester. This semester has been the most academically challenging in the sense of constantly having to be working and maintaining an academic mindset, which is something I have never had to do.
            On the social side of things, I have always been and will always be as extroverted as a person can be. This extroversion has granted me a lot of ease in creating good relations with people and, for the most part, has made interpersonal relations come to me with ease. On the other hand, however, I have never had to spend four months with the same small group of people. This semester has been the most socially challenging as, for almost every day since the middle of January, I have been surrounded by eleven people who I would most likely not be around that much back at school.
            What have these challenges gifted me? I worked non-stop for the last two weeks on a research project that I actually felt passionate about. My body ached and my mind was ready to give at any second, but I learned to persevere through the exhaustion and had a hell of an experience at the same time. I developed a research project that I can see myself working on in the future and I felt like I got a glimpse at a side of Costa Rica not many people can say they did.

          In the end, no, I did not “go out” every month. I did not have the time of my life. I would not willingly choose to go through a semester similar to this again. What I did get, however, is a better understanding of who I am as a person, an idea of what I personally want to do as a professional in the future, and, most importantly, a maturity and confidence that I never knew I lacked, that will take me anywhere in the future. Thank you OTS.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Feeling and eating our way through ethnobiology by Lucy Sullivan

At La Selva Biological Field Station we participated in an ethnobiology activity at Jaime Alvarado’s farm in Chilamate. This activity was especially enriching because we learned about how to use plants in a cultural context by someone who grew up using these plants. When we arrived, we all received an Achiote plant, which we promptly cracked open. To our surprise, there were juicy seeds inside which, once crushed, could be used as body paint. The red paint is used by Indigenous communities throughout the Americas.
After all of the medicinal explanations of the different plants that our host showed us, we were all able to hold each plant to further examine the effects ourselves. My favorite effect was from the papaya leaf.  When we held the papaya leaf to our heads, the heat from our bodies went into the leaf. I loved being able to hear about Jaime’s grandmother who used the papaya leaf whenever her grandchildren had fevers. Learning about Costa Rican traditional uses of plants by a Costa Rican was an impactful way to learn, because I felt connected to the history of these plants and more connected to the power of the plants. Back when the host’s grandmother was young, she delivered all the babies of the town. She relied on plants for medicine because her town was too far away from a pharmacy with modern medicine.
This activity opened my eyes to the many plants I have access to, but never use. For example, I never eat any of the coconuts outside my house, though there are always a ton. After we were all handed a coconut, we discussed the many uses of the coconut, which include a source of water, help with digestion, a source of sugar, and fiber. It was easy to see how people would rely on the coconut for nutrients and as a source of hydration. The coconut was also completely delicious, especially on such a hot day. I am planning on collecting the hundreds of coconuts outside my house and in my neighborhood to eat and use for cooking.

Other plants that we interacted with that are in my backyard include ginger and basil. Both are great for digestion and adding flavor to foods. Basil also helps with anxiety, which is great to know because it is delicious and easy to make teas with. We also learned that the tomato can be useful for reducing fevers as it attracts heat.  I am tempted to try placing a tomato above my head next time I have a fever so I do not have to rely so heavily on store-bought medicine. I am very pleased with this activity and I am happy we had this opportunity.

Ants by Casey Poore

View of surrounding forest from our walk in Kekoldi to the tree house.
The sun was setting behind the green, primary forest of Kekoldi. The “tree house” we were staying in looked more like a luxury wooden house, and we could smell the food cooking downstairs from the porch we were sitting on. I let the sun light up my toes and looked up at the ceiling. It was in the corners, the little spaces, where you could see that this house had been built by hand. The ceiling and the wall didn’t meet exactly right, and harbored a black hole. The door needed to be lifted up when you unlocked it, and the wood creaked. But I swear, I have never seen such a beautiful house.
The house was built by the indigenous people, the Bribi, who use the space as a tourist center, or a bird watching tower for visiting scientists. We filled the space like so many leaf-cutter ants, smacking our feet on the wooden floor and shouting expletives.
Dinner was coconut-flavored rice and beans, with a dash of red spice. We ate as the sun set, and when it finally dipped past the trees our host turned on the generator. You could hear the loud hum over the sound of forks clashing with porcelain, over our rough English, over the sink and the shower and the creaking wood.
After dinner we gathered and listened to an introductory talk given by our host. He talked about the creation of the Kekoldi territory. In the early 1900s it was given to the Bribri by the Costa Rican government. As with most government land giveaways, there was someone already there- Black families with small-scale coffee and banana plantations. And so he talked about the relationship between the two, the mutual understanding both seemed to have for the struggle towards autonomy and land. However, something had to give. Many of the families living on Kekoldi land sold it to business owners in the U.S. vying for the booming tourism market, which prompted the Costa Rican government to fold on its promise to the Bribri.  Just like that the coastal land was no longer theirs. Although the government certainly holds more institutional power than the Bribri, that’s not to say this decision was entirely their fault. The neoliberal global economy was not created for the marginalized, in any sense.

We left the talk and continued our shouting, our creaking, up the stairs. You could hear the dogs barking in response. The bugs swarmed to us that night, and we left Kekoldi the next morning scratching our soft, pale skin. We streamed down the hill in a line of ants, carrying with us knowledge, respect, and stories instead of people or trees. Perhaps we are a shift.