by Jordan T. Walters, African and African Diaspora Studies/History Junior
On three separate occasions we were told “mi casa es su casa” (my house is your house), or variations of it, by people who had never met us in their life. The various communities we have visited have taken us in as their own and invested in us a wealth of knowledge that we can now take back to our communities in the United States.
First, the community in Cahuita, which is predominantly composed of Afro-descendant Costa Ricans, embraced us in multiple ways. Enrique Joseph gave us a history of Cahuita and its transition from being a settlement predicated off the exploitation of nature to one focused on preserving nature. Kendall Cayasso explained to us that the youth in the area are taught at a young age to be aware of their footprint on the Earth and also stand firm for what they believe in. Laura Wilson discussed the intersectional experiences of Afro-descendant women in Costa Rica and ways we can be better allies.
Altogether, these three community leaders took time out of their day to inform us of the dynamics governing their community, and they made us feel even more comfortable with the people we would soon interact with.
Second, the Bribri indigenous community, near the border of Panama and Costa Rica, invited us to their dwellings in the forest for an experience we will never forget. Before starting with the day’s plans, they told us that their home was also our home. Immediately we felt like we were in good care with good people. While there, we learned about the variety of plants they use for medicines and beauty products, how to make chocolate (the real stuff), and some background information on the Bribri people. They even prepared food and drink for us, and while we ate we sat in a circle reflecting on what we had done throughout our time in the space. It was truly a moment where I felt connected to the nature surrounding us, the rest of my cohort, and other human beings who simply wanted to introduce us to their beautiful world.
Lastly, Dr. Umberto and the folks at the aquifer in Carrizal were immensely informative. They opened our eyes to the effects climate change has on the environment, but also to just how powerful a community working together can be. They told us about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of their work. After that, we traveled through the jungle, up and down mountains, to witness the beauty of nature and their community water sources. From there, we had a snack and planted two trees named Epsy Nong Bumphus (after VP Epsy Campbell Barr, TA Nong Xiong, and Dr. Bumphus) and Big Javi Bebe (after TA Javier Wallace). After it was all said and done, one of the amazing members of the board of directors let us know that we were welcome to the community anytime.
Though these three communities were in vastly different places, they each left a huge impact on us. They inspired us to think more critically about how we use our natural resources, to think about our roles in our own communities, and how to bridge the gap between the two so that we can create spaces that are welcoming to others while maintaining the integrity and life around us.