Animals with words

Today is the anniversary of the creation of the canton of Turrialba – which, when you think about it, is an extraordinary place. It’s home not only to Volcán Turrialba but also the epic Cerro Chirripó. It’s home to, well, queso Turrialba, and what Costa Rican diet would be complete without that? And it’s home to some of the country’s most extraordinary poets.

Jorge Debravo joined forces with Marco Aguilar and Laureno Albán to form the Circle of Turrialba Poets in 1959. Debravo would become the most famous of this prolific group, both as a poet and an activist (Wikipedia informs me that “it is well known that Debravo learned about communism at Norberto Contreras’ shoe shop,” which may be one of my favorite sentences ever on Wikipedia).

He wrote words like these:

I demand heat in my roots,
lunch in my belly.
I don’t ask for eternities
full of white stars.
I ask for tenderness, supper,
silence, bread, home…

I’m a man – in other words,
an animal with words.
And I demand, therefore,
that you let me use them.

Boom. Turrialba, ladies and gentlemen. Happy birthday.

A motherlode of inspiration

This piece came out elsewhere on Saturday, but it’s just so good that I want to make sure no one misses it and that it’s officially a part of the Daily Boost as well.

Here’s what my dear friend Pip Kelly Varela, co-owner of a lovely B&B in northern Costa Rica, wrote for my Five Questions 2020 project this past Mother’s Day (August 15th) about the results of an effort I first featured last week. This beautiful story will be lifting my spirits for many months to come, and probably forever. Read on:

Everything has changed this year. My husband and I run a tourism business, Casitas Tenorio B&B, in rural northern Costa Rica. At the start of 2020, I was doing what a lot of parents do: switching my brain into entrepreneur mode when my two daughters went off to school every morning, and then juggling between the two modes as soon as they returned. Activities, classes, our team at the business, our community of Bijagua, the needs of our guests and the needs of the animals on our farm. A demanding routine, but one that filled my husband and me with joy and satisfaction.

With the pandemic, that juggling mode became a 24-hour affair. Costa Rica entered “Season Zero” — borders closed, no tourists of any kind, in a country where tourism is the leading source of income — and, of course, school was cancelled. Now my focus switches every few minutes, it seems like, between my daughters and the business and community we are trying to sustain and rebuild. We have no income between us, and it has been like this for five months. We have spent all our savings. And we are not alone: a whole country full of small enterprises like ours is in the same boat.

The whole thing has made me even more sensitive to how hard it is for moms who are doing this juggling act under even more stress than me. When I lie awake at night worrying about how we’ll keep our family afloat, I know there are so many other mothers around me in my town, and beyond, doing the same. So when I saw that eight women from Bijagua had joined forces to create a Mother’s Day gift box, each woman contributing something special that she makes — from homemade candy and bread to hand-crafted gifts — I wanted to do whatever I could to help them achieve their dream, sell some boxes, and have some income for their families.

Image for post

Through our B&B we’ve met so many people who love Costa Rica and Bijagua, but don’t live here and wouldn’t be able to receive a gift themselves. So I posted on our B&B’s social media inviting people to “pay it forward” via PayPal, buying a box for $15 that we would then deliver to a mother in Bijagua.

When I posted this, there were only two days for people to order these in time for the boxes to be made by Mother’s Day, which Costa Rica celebrates on August 15th. I hoped that the women might sell 10 or 20 boxes through this scheme.

They sold 80.

That’s $1,200. I can barely explain the impact of that support on these families — support sent from around the world to a community that has lost almost all of its income during the suspension of tourism. It’s enough to ease a lot of sleepless nights. Some of the women had to hire additional women to help meet the demand, thus generating income for even more families. Kids were enlisted to help out, too, including my own.

I spent the day before Mother’s Day and part of Mother’s Day itself helping deliver the gift boxes all over town. Imagine two days of torrential tropical rains, and tears almost as copious! We made videos of the women showing off their handmade gifts in their kitchens: Lilliam Alpizar, Miriam Barrantes, Maryuri Soto, Kathy Soto, Maria Luisa, Karina Vargas, Nelsy Rodriguez and Jessica Morera. We boxed and loaded and drove through puddles to house after house. We put these gifts, which were full of treats but really full of love from all around the world, into the hands of women who have faced all kinds of challenges over the past six months (and in many cases, throughout the years before 2020 even arrived). Pregnant women. Mothers of newborn babies. Great-grandmothers.

Image for post

I saw tears of joy and shocked expressions when they realized that someone cared enough to do this for them. I met a lot of dogs. I encountered, as anyone who knows Costa Rica will understand, lots of funny directions: for example, “the second house after the hibiscus that’s painted the same color as wine.” (White or red?) We drove and delivered for 13 hours, down dirt roads aplenty and tiny lanes.

With each gift, we gave a certificate showing the recipient who had purchased the box for her. The grateful moms sent audios and WhatsApp messages to the women, often thousands of miles away, who had made their gift possible. Usually, the recipient didn’t know the donor, and a new friendship was made. a smile on the faces of dozens and dozens of mothers. Sometimes, though, when I told them who’d sent the gift, I was met with a happy cry of recognition. For example, Peace Corps Volunteers who served in our town more than 10 years ago bought boxes as a surprise for the families they’d known.

I haven’t cried so much in a long time. By the time we were done, our whole town was abuzz with excitement and love.

Image for post

What I learned this Mother’s Day in Bijagua, and want other people to know when they need help during this international crisis, is this: never underestimate the human spirit, or the need to feel part of a community. I would never have thought that in just two days, 80 people around the world would buy Mother’s Day boxes for people who, in many cases, they may never meet. I think they did it because we all want to feel part of something bigger than we are, whether that’s the town of Bijagua, or the country of Costa Rica, or a global community of mothers.

Sometimes, it’s just about opening the door and letting all that goodwill come through.

Five Questions 2020 is a short survey that’s collecting responses from people around the world about what they’ve learned to do, realized, or created during the year 2020. Participate by filling out the surveyor contact Katherine Stanley Obando at kstan.cr@gmail.com to recommend someone I should interview. Please follow the Five Questions 2020 project on Medium.

Pip Kelly Varela is the co-owner of Casitas Tenorio B&B, an award-winning rural tourism enterprise in Bijagua, Costa Rica. She is already planning a Christmas project for Bijagua microentrepreneurs. To donate, visit https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/Casitastenorio.

 

Remember the climate crisis? These Costa Rican leaders sure do

A couple of weeks ago, El Faro, an incredible media organization in El Salvador that I’ve long admired, contacted me and asked me to write a piece about the state of climate change mitigation efforts in Costa Rica. I am pleased to share it here because I think it will truly give you a boost to read about these incredible leaders, all 40 or under, who are shaping the future of transportation and urban development in Costa Rica.

As they observe in the piece, the COVID-19 crisis has created new challenges for environmentalists and sustainable living advocates, but it has also opened doors. I hope you’ll check it out here!

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; learn how to join my Overwhelmed Writers’ League, every Saturday at 1 pm EST; and please connect with me on Instagram or FacebookTo learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.

 

All hail the sloth mother

I’m in the middle of a Costa Rican downpour as I write this, which is one of my favorite places to be. My own daughter is within arm’s reach and is snugglable upon request (though she might squirm about, since it’s the highest-energy point in her day). The only thing that could improve my lot would be if I could give my own mother a squeeze on this, the eve of Mother’s Day in Costa Rica.

All in all, it’s an afternoon for a sloth-mother photo. I have developed an awfully big soft spot for sloth mothers in recent years, because that’s how I think of myself. My husband and I have tended towards inaction in some areas of parenthood. I continued waking up in the night to feed our daughter until, one day, she popped out of that phase. She continued to wear a diaper at night until we took a trip and forgot a diaper, from which date she never used one again. The other day, she announced that she had taught herself to play the piano – not because she is a prodigy, but because that’s how bored she had become. We didn’t set out with an intention of benign neglect and certainly have our moments of overthinking absolutely everything, but it sometimes does become our default; when it does, it works quite well.

I don’t know if the sloth is actually a fair emblem for lackadaisical motherhood. Sloth mothers actually seem quite attentive, and if you’ve ever seen the video of the sloth mother giving birth, you know that they’re incredibly capable as well. Still, when I’m slow to take action and my daughter ends up solving the problem for me, I think of the sloth mother in all her glory.

Wishing you a happy Mother’s Day Eve.

Imagine: User Manamana via Shutterstock.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; learn how to join my Overwhelmed Writers’ League, every Saturday at 1 pm EST; and please connect with me on Instagram or FacebookTo learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.

 

Congrats to the Powerful Ticas!

I’m so excited to learn that incredible Costa Ricans have been included on Forbes’ list of 100 Powerful Central American women. It caught my eye on the Facebook page of one of the women honored, “La Tica Polar,” otherwise known as scientist Melania Guerra. She summed it up thus:

Some are well known and such a list would be incomplete without them, like Mrs. Christiana Figueres, Mrs. Laura Chinchilla, Mrs. Rebeca Grynspan and Mrs. Elizabeth Odio.

Others are allies of my own battles, such as Marianella Feoli who leads climate mitigation and adaptation programs through FundeCooperación. Or Dr. Silvia Chacón Barrantes, an oceanographer at UNA who founded the tsunami warning system for our country.

But above all I want to highlight stories that reflect us as a truly diverse region, although not always sufficiently inclusive. We need to know more examples such as that of Dr. Mirna Román, the first doctor of the Ngobe ethnic group in Costa Rica, who is currently working on the front lines protecting us from COVID-19!

Thank you, Melania, for this summary, and congratulations to you and all these incredible women! Read the issue here: https://issuu.com/forbeslatam/docs/forbes_ca_agosto2020_dig.

And you can read my piece about Mirna Román here. A special congratulations to this Ngöbe leader! https://katherinestanleyobando.com/2020/03/03/fearless-ticas-mirna-the-trailblazing-doctor/

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; learn how to join my Overwhelmed Writers’ League, every Saturday at 1 pm EST; and please connect with me on Instagram or FacebookTo learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.

Do you miss this as much as I do?

I know, I know. There’s nothing to stop me from putting beans, rice, and the other components of a Costa Rican casado on my plate at midday.

But I just don’t. While the venerable olla de carne, picadillos galore, and homemade tortillas are all in rotation in my lockdown home, the casado remains, for me, a dish to be eaten at a soda for a workday lunch, or at a roadside restaurant when I’m traveling. Rice and beans: every week. But rice, beans and all the fixins’, down to the perfectly caramelized plantain and a dollop of ensalada rusa, is something I’ve really missed during this stay-at-home phase.

Do you feel the same? Or do you serve up casados at home on the regular? Let me know. Maybe I can get myself motivated (and set up for some mid-afternoon naps).

Featured image from user Esdelval via Shutterstock.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; learn how to join my Overwhelmed Writers’ League, every Saturday at 1 pm EST; and please connect with me on Instagram or FacebookTo learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.

By mothers, for mothers: a gift from a land between volcanoes

Miriam, Lilliam, Karina, María Luisa, Jessica, Kathia, Nelsy, Maryuri.

These are the eight women whose handcrafted baked goods, sweets and arts have gone into a special Mother’s Day box being sold in the northern Costa Rica community of Bijagua. Donations of $15 via PayPal (through close of business on Wednesday) can be used to provide a box for a local mother in this hardworking ecotourism hub, and support the women who have joined forces to produce the handmade gift boxes.

Here’s what local Costa Rican-Australian entrepreneur Pip Kelly (also a mom) has to say about how she’s connecting international donors with this effort from local business Entre Volcanes through a “pay it forward” scheme where you can sponsor a box for a local mother:

Pay it forward during these difficult times and help support women in rural northern Costa Rica this Mother’s Day! Here’s the updated payment link (please select US$: paypal.me/Casitastenorio. You can also make a donation using our email address: info@casitastenorio.com

Help support eight local women in our community by purchasing a box of local delicacies for Mother’s Day (15/08) for just $15… We can then present it to a deserving mother in our local community. While $15 might not be much for you, for these women and their families it makes a big difference, especially at this difficult time with the pandemic.

You can make your payment via Paypal and let Pip know if there is a special mother in the community who you would like us to donate the box to. If not, we will chose a deserving mother on your behalf! 🥰

Each box contains: Lilliam Alpizar’s famous homemade candy (cajetas), Miriam Barrantes’ homemade bread, Maryuri Soto’s delicious rice pudding, Kathy Soto’s amazing arepas, Maria Luis’s homemade jam, Karina Vargas’ desserts, and Nelsy Rodriguez’s handmade present.
All of this will be presented in a box handmade by Jessica Morera.

Please consider joining this lovely effort. Costa Rica is bursting with artisans and ingenious mothers, but it’s particularly nice to see how eight moms have come together to produce something bigger and better than they could have on their own – and how Casitas Tenorio B&B thought of a clever way that international supporters who can’t sample the treats themselves can create a Mother’s Day surprise for someone else.
I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; learn how to join my Overwhelmed Writers’ League, every Saturday at 1 pm EST; and please connect with me on Instagram or FacebookTo learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.

Wish I were there…

…Don’t you?

What’s the most incredible place you’ve ever slept in Costa Rica? This image, from iacomino FRiMAGES via Shutterstock and listed as a lodging near Puerto Viejo, has got me thinking. But with so many to choose from, I’ll have to get back to you on this one.

Sweet dreams.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; learn how to join my Overwhelmed Writers’ League, every Saturday at 1 pm EST; and please connect with me on Instagram or FacebookTo learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.

 

In case you need to see a friendly face today…

…here it is.

Image from user Natalie11345 via Shutterstock.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; learn how to join my Overwhelmed Writers’ League, every Saturday at 1 pm EST; and please connect with me on Instagram or FacebookTo learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.