Friday, September 25, 2015

A Common Culture by Willa Chen

You know, it doesn’t really hit you that you’re studying abroad until one day you find yourself hiking uphill through calf-deep mud in the middle of a tropical rainforest in the indigenous community of Kekoldi, and all you can hear is the downpour of rain and howler monkeys calling out in the distance.
Kekoldi is an indigenous reserve in the Talamanca region of Costa Rica.  Previously, when I thought of indigenous communities, I thought of a culture with traditional customs very different from my own.  While it was true that the language we spoke, the buildings we were accustomed to residing in, and even our beliefs in religion or the natural world contrasted, I realized that fundamentally, not everything was different after all.
During our tours with Sebastian, one of the first things I realized was that him and others from the community laughed at the same jokes, such as when a bullet ant was found in someone’s boot or a funny story was told, even if parts of the story were lost in translation.  I also could relate to a lot of their beliefs about nature, despite not sharing the same beliefs in religion.  For example, Sebastian often spoke of the interconnectedness of people and the environment, as well as of the importance of taking care of the earth.  Since we get all our natural resources from the environment, he spoke of the importance of sustainably managing these resources, which really resonated with me.
Another part of Kekoldi I identified with was the drive for social change and independence, which we learned about through their women’s cooperative ACOMUITA.  I admired how, despite their small beginnings, they have become a well-recognized and established group of women cacao farmers.  As shown in the picture, they even have their own headquarters building!  In a culture where the roles of men and women are clearly defined by religious beliefs, I enjoyed learning about the strength and independence of women.
As the first country I’ve travelled to on my own, Costa Rica has been quite the adventure.  I would have considered it quite the culture clash, but after spending several weeks here, I have come to realize that deep down it is actually not so different from home.  There are some things such as laughter, connectedness with nature, and an interest in social change that can be found in all cultures.

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