My #PeaceCorpsHome Tour: A Room Attached to a Snack Bar in Costa Rica
During the 11 weeks of Pre-Service Training and for the first six months of service, Volunteers in Costa Rica are required to live with a host family. This coexistence helps Volunteers adapt to the community, culture, and practice the local language. If independent housing options exist, Volunteers are able to live on their own after the required home stay period ends.
That is just what PCV Sara did. She describes her #PeaceCorpsHome in the questionnaire below.
Country of service: Costa Rica
Peace Corps job title: Youth Development Specialist
Type of home (apartment, house, hut, etc.): Bedroom behind a snack bar (a type of small, fast food restaurant known as “la soda” in Costa Rica).
Describe your neighborhood: Extremely rural (400 residents), surrounded by livestock (mostly cattle, but also chickens, goats, and pigs), quiet, rainy, peaceful, green.
Square footage (estimates are okay!): 400 sq. ft.
How long have you lived here?: 8 months
With whom do you share your home? I share the patio and the laundry area with my next-door neighbor, who is the high school counselor and one of my counterparts. I share the kitchen and bathroom with a 25-year old girl who owns the high school’s soda (snack bar), which sells fountain drinks, “chiriviscos” (homemade ice cream in a plastic baggie), chips, sandwiches, empanadas, and french fries, amongst other fast foods.
Describe your house’s style in 5 words or less: Open, cozy, bright, welcoming, stocked.
What’s the most functional thing in your house? (Mosquito net, wood fire stove, etc.): The broom -- great for sweeping out whatever critter that comes crawling into my room.
What’s your favorite bargain find in your home? My hammock, bought streetside from a man in a town super close to the border with Nicaragua. Bargained the price down from 20,000 colones ($40) to 5,000 colones ($10). Another time, I bought a used water heater for 3,000 colones ($5) from a fellow PCV. Because Costa Rica is such a small country, it’s pretty common for PCVs to exchange items with one another, sometimes even traveling across the country to deliver the items. I ended up traveling 3 hours by public bus to pick up the water heater and ate a good ol’ hamburger with the PCV before heading back to town in another 3-hour bus ride.
Who/what was your most interesting house guest? A toad the size of an American football on the floor of my bedroom. Somehow, he found his way inside and managed to leave a little gift of digestion on my bedroom floor.
Proudest DIY: A soap holder made from a plastic bottle.
Biggest indulgence (did you buy a couch? A fancy cooking gadget?): A toaster oven, which I bought on sale on Father’s Day. Even on sale, it cost about 20,000 colones ($40).
What advice do you have for PCVs looking to create a home they love? Make use of the natural light. Everything feels warmer and "hygge" with sunlight.
How does your home compare to your expectations before service? I never thought I would be living in a snack bar. In fact, the snack bar was never intended to house anyone. When I first moved to town in October 2018, there was only the kitchen and the bathroom. As the six obligatory months of living with a host family were coming to an end, I began looking for an apartment. A couple of houses in the town were available, but completely unfurnished, and in less than ideal conditions. By this time, in early 2019, I had become friends with the girl who owns and runs the snack bar. Her partner used to work in construction, and when they heard about my mostly fruitless search for independent housing, they offered to build me a bedroom and let me live in the snack bar. They began putting down cement blocks on March 3, 2019, and by March 30, they had built me a whole bedroom behind the snack bar. Completely furnished, with a bed, blankets, curtains, pillowcases, even a wardrobe and a bench that they built for me using surplus wooden planks. All this, along with an offer to lend me the appliances in the snack bar for my own use during the closed hours, and a rent comparable to those of the empty houses. The kindness that the people of my community have shown me fills me with so much gratitude and warmth.
What are other homes in your community like? How do they differ from yours? Be honest. For the first 6 months of living in my community, I lived with a host family. Their house, like most others in my town, was made by local townspeople using planks of wood and blocks of cement. Due to the humidity and the rugged terrain, it’s common for cockroaches and other critters to crawl in through the cracks between the wood planks. My home has tiled flooring, which is more of a luxury, as well as glass windows and bars, which are less common in other houses.