A Volunteer's Time in Talamanca

By Collin D.
Aug. 1, 2019

Before completing his 2-year Peace Corps service, PCV Collin reflects on his time living in an indigenous community.

It’s interesting when people ask me what’s it like living in an indigenous community.

I get the sense that they’re expecting me to compare it with the rest of Costa Rica. Of my 24-month stay in Costa Rica, 21 of those have been spent in Talamanca in a rural indigenous Bribri community. It’s my second home and what I know best in Costa Rica.

Yet it’s perceived as this counter-culture; different, foreign.

While each community may represent a unique experience due to internal dynamics and occidental influences, in two words, my experience has been “Bua’ë Bua’ë.” That’s Bribri equivalent of pura vida.

I live in a family-oriented neighborhood that is named after the family who populates it. there is an ingrained belief of collaboration and support in their work and community. A poignant example is a form of work called mano vuelta.

Whether it’s family or neighbors, you’ll link up in groups to work each other’s farms in whatever task is deemed necessary for whose land they’re working. The next day, they work a different member’s farm, and so on and so forth. There’s always coffee.

Banana, cacao and plantain are the three main cash crops. However, corn and beans, cassava and other tubers, squash, pumpkin, and many a fruit tree are abundant. There are pigs and chickens in the patio, perhaps some cows grazing in the pasture.

Basically, the community and families practice sustainable permaculture before the word was invented. I believe, in large part due to their connection with the earth, their land, and respecting their roots. There is a display of pride and humility when sharing with family and foreigners alike. Everyone has always been incredibly open to sharing their culture with me.

They taught me the language, took me to the farm, made traditional food, and even indulged in my surely annoying requests to make chocolate and any sort of natural plant or fruit derivative. But they always did it, con mucho gusto y mucho amor… y, siempre con café. (“with pleasure and a lot of love… and always with coffee.”)

To me, my community, the Bribri people, they’re as Tico as Tico can be. Because now and forever, when I think of Costa Rica, I’ll think of Talamanca and my wonderful experience with amazing people.

At the very core, I have learned from my community the essence of being Costa Rican: Living harmoniously with the nature and people around you.

It’s important to recognize and respect the divide of the sub-cultures throughout this little, yet diverse country. But I also think it’s important to embrace and celebrate it, all of it, for being quintessentially Costa Rican.

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PCV Collin with local community members.
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