What would the world be like if we all pulled together?

What would the future look like if all of our cities and towns used the global pandemic as a chance to pull together? How would the world change if we truly understood that we’ll all succeed, or we’ll all fail?

The community of Bijagua, Costa Rica, is showing us part of the answer. Its families have spent decades building an ecotourism industry that protects rainforest and wildlife in a critical biological corridor. Their latest effort, a new fundraising campaign, seeks to help those families keep food on their tables during the worst crisis Costa Rica’s tourism industry has ever faced. And it’s pursuing that goal with a relentless fairness, making sure each community member has a chance to chip in with whatever skills or resources they’ve got.

“The thing is, this crisis is like a river,” rural tourism entrepreneur Donald Varela told me a few months back. “Everyone in this town is standing on one side of it. And if we’re going to get to the other side, we’re going to have to cross that river together.”

As an old friend of Donald’s and his family’s, and in my role as an impromptu emergency fundraiser during the pandemic, I’d been proposing that Donald get some support for his extraordinary rainforest conservation project, Tapir Valley. His response, in effect, was: “Not without my whole community.” As president of the Río Celeste Chamber of Tourism (CATURI), he wanted to make sure that any emergency fundraising in Bijagua was shared equally, across the board.

This was, of course, the right approach. But given the intense strain every single rural entrepreneur has been under in Costa Rica since the total suspension of its tourism industry in March, I find that kind of solidarity rather breathtaking. “Solidario” is an essential adjective in Costa Rica, and one without an exact English translation; maybe there’s a reason for that. At any rate, it’s the adjective that describes every aspect of the campaign that the community launched this past week through the U.S. nonprofit Amigos of Costa Rica: Río Celeste Forest Stewards.

CATURI’s board and affiliates worked carefully for months to come up with a campaign that would benefit as many community members as possible. You might be familiar with the concept of payments for environmental services, where, for example, landowners who protect forest are paid by the acre. CATURI sought to do something similar in terms of rewarding local families for forest conservation, but without excluding anyone – without leaving anyone behind on the side of that river.

Large landowners receive the same amount as a family protecting a few acres of forest. That family receives the same support as a naturalist guide who’s helping monitor species (and essential activity to help sound early alarms on poaching or logging). If you don’t own any forest, and can’t do species monitoring, you can receive support for working to create a tribute to conservation at the heart of town. They’ve made sure there’s something for everyone.

To provide all this urgently needed support, they’re asking for U.S. tax-deductible donations on the Amigos of Costa Rica site. This support will keep a town afloat. It will send them a message that their hard work and sacrifices – their choice to protect their forests rather than turning a profit through logging, hunting or development – have been worth it. And it will help them continue to protect their ecosystems until the rest of us can visit them in person to enjoy them once more.

Throughout this terrible year, we’ve witnessed terrible acts of selfishness, recklessness, hatred, and divison. If we’re lucky, we have witnessed extraordinary acts of selflessness and teamwork. To me, the Río Celeste community’s approach to emergency fundraising is right at the top of that list. Despite each family’s individual suffering, they’ve kept their eye on the big picture. They’ve remembered that they must all cross this river together. That’s not just smart, and right, and realistic. It’s also the foundation for a whole new world, don’t you think?

I hope you’ll check out what they’re up to, here. Not just because they need and deserve our help – but also because the rest of us need and deserve this kind of inspiration.

What would the future look like if we all pulled together like Bijagua?

Let’s find out.

I run the virtual volunteer community Costa Rica Corps and am the co-founder of the new, bilingual media organization El Colectivo 506. I also work as a freelance grantwriter, fundraiser, and communications coach, and write essays, articles and books. I live in San José with my husband and daughter. Sign up at top right to receive an essay in your inbox each Sunday morning: a chance to dominguear together (a lovely word that literally means, “to Sunday,” and describes a leisurely trip or ramble). We’ll explore a project, changemaker, community, or idea I’ve come across, or just watch the world go by. See you next Sunday!

Welcome to Sunday rambles: domingueando

Why, hello there. It’s nice to see you. I thought that, as life turns a bit of a corner, I would take a moment to introduce myself.

I am unusually lucky in that, this month, the frenetic energy of the past year or two has started to settle. The frantic, perpetually-behind feeling of homeschool has relaxed into benign neglect; a million unrelated projects have converged into a few big ones; ongoing rage about what’s happening in my home country, the United States, grows every day, but there is at least plenty on my to-do list both there and here. Finally, my daily blog has stretched out into a weekly affair. I’m thinking of this space as “Domingueando,” that beautiful Spanish word for “Sunday-ing.” A relaxed drive or trip or stroll. A pleasant wander. A nap under a tree with a straw hat over your face. That kind of thing.

I hope that those of you who’ve had a daily coffee with me over the past year (a coffee that sometimes was served, cold and hastily, at 11:50 pm) will now pour a refill, or maybe a mimosa or a Bloody Mary, and join me on Sundays for a more leisurely conversation.

You can’t do that with a stranger, so here’s who I am in September 2020. I’m a 41-year-old writer, journalist, nonprofit jack-of-all-trades, mother of a seven-year-old who is obsessed with spies, and husband to the most mellow Costa Rican ever to dig into a plate of pinto. These days, I’m focusing in on three main projects. The first is the Costa Rica Corps, a virtual volunteer initiative I launched in April with two other intrepid old friends, Travis Bays and Ana Camacho; we match people who love Costa Rica and would like to donate their time and talent, with community organizations for online service. After some time spent treading water, I’m now gearing up for a 12-week push – with amazing support from Returned Peace Corps Volunteers – to create volunteer trainings and tools that will allow us to “reboot” the Corps in early 2021 and recruit virtual volunteers for specific tasks. Please follow along on our website, Facebook and Instagram, because there’s much more coming from this new initiative.

Second is El Colectivo 506, the new media organization I co-founded last week. It seeks to support in-depth, quality, “slow journalism” while also showcasing Costa Rica’s rural communities through a national directory. We’re trying to raise $15,000 by November 15th to get the party started and launch our website on Jan. 1, 2021. I wrote more about this here and hope you’ll follow us and get to know my intrepid co-founders and old friends Mónica Quesada and Pippa Kelly.

Third and finally, I’m a writer for hire… and for myself. I’m writing grant proposals, websites, and fundraising campaigns – both paid freelance gigs for people and organizations I admire, and work I donate to communities and organizations that need the help. (After all, I’m a Costa Rica Corps Virtual Volunteer, too.) And I’m writing freelance journalism, personal essays, and a pesky old pipe dream of a novel.

So, that’s me. Mucho gusto. As they write so elegantly in Spanish: Without anything else for the moment, I bid you farewell. I’d like to wish you a measure of peace this Sunday. An extra coffee. A spot of sun. I look forward to seeing you next week to rest, ponder, and dominguear.

Featured image by Rebeca Bolaños via Shutterstock. 

I run the virtual volunteer community Costa Rica Corps and am the co-founder of the new, bilingual media organization El Colectivo 506. I also work as a freelance grantwriter, fundraiser, and communications coach, and write essays, articles and books. I live in San José with my husband and daughter. Sign up (top right) to receive an essay in your inbox each Sunday morning, perfect a leisurely exploration of a project, changemaker, community, or idea I’ve come across. 

Fare thee well, Dery Dyer

Isn’t strange how you can be thinking about someone for the length of their illness – gaining some perspective on the life lived, measuring the legacy with your hands – but the news of the death itself always comes as a bit of a shock? Surprising, abrupt? Shaking loose, in the hours and days that follow, a new set of reflections and realizations?

So it was, for me, with my former boss Dery Dyer, whose family created The Tico Times in 1956 and who led it herself for decades. We’d known she was ill for some time. Groups of former employees had sent messages to her husband, gathered to make an audio recording of favorite memories, sent in video greetings from around the world. I’d looked at those offerings and marveled at the depth of her impact, as well as the sheer quantity of marriages she had indirectly made possible by drawing together so many young journalists from around the world. (I spent only three years in her employ; two of my fellow reporters married each other, and three more met their spouses through the Tico. The number of children her newsroom indirectly brought about over six decades must be upwards of a hundred.)

But the news of her death broke open a new set of musings. By the time I arrived at the Tico as a reporter in 2004, she was still the owner and publisher of the paper her parents had founded, but was no longer involved in the day-to-day of the newsroom; it’s the reporters from previous decades who truly knew her and have the juicy stories and personal insights. However, I realized on Friday that her example had a profound effect on me nonetheless.

I also realized that her leadership as a female media company owner means something very different to me now – at 41, post-Weinstein, mid-Trump, ten days after launching my own media company – than it did to me in my mid-20s, when I worked for her.

I did so in the wooden house that The Tico Times called home at that time; it is now, to collective chagrin, a parking lot. The newsroom was on the second floor, filled with stacks of small manila notebooks, perpetually dusty. It had two rooms for the reporters joined by a bathroom, and space for the editors across the hall. Dery came in almost every day but didn’t need a lot of desk space, so she sat in a pleasant spot at the end of the hallway, near a window looking out onto Avenida 8. Near her desk was a little bed for Snuffy, the newsroom dog with an underbite that he occasionally sank into offending ankles (such as those of the U.N. Peace Ambassador when he visited the paper for an interview – but that’s another story).

Dery was practically nocturnal and would slip up the stairs at three or four pm. “Slip” is the definitive word to describe the movement of that small, slim figure with the pixie haircut. Always pleasant, always very quiet upon entry, but bringing with her a gravitas that was unmistakable. You’d look up and notice she had appeared at her desk, reading the papers or a letter, and the newsroom felt different somehow.

When our editor-in-chief went on maternity leave and I was asked to step into her shoes – I was 26, had lived in Costa Rica for less than a year, and was about nine months into my first year reporting job ever – I got to see how Dery gave her weekly feedback on the paper. On Mondays, when she arrived, she would sit down privately with the editor and go over the previous Friday’s print edition, her copy marked up in red. I was now the recipient of these weekly comments.

She brought that same lightness, that same calm gravitas, to these sessions. She also brought an eagle eye and uncompromising principles. “This was fantastic!” she would say of one page adorned with a single red exclamation point. “So was this! Just watch the translation of that acronym – see there?” She’d continue flipping, perched on the edge of the wooden seat: when she turned towards me and settled back, that’s when I knew that something was either particularly well done, or very wrong.  “Ah! Now this was bad. Reeeeally bad,” she’d say, and back she’d go in the chair. So would I, ready. She’d come down hard but so swiftly and crisply that I never felt demeaned. I’d always leave those meetings feeling smarter than I was when I went in – because I was.

I didn’t realize, back then, what a gift she had. Now, I see how her lack of ego, her quiet confidence, and her total focus on the task at hand made her criticism easy to absorb and impossible to ignore.

As everyone notes in any comment on Dery, she was famously resistant to technology and change. I wonder how many other editors in the entire world were still required to lay out a newspaper with a pencil and ruler in 2005. We reporters rotated coming into the office on Sundays to update our website with news stories for the following day; when we finished, we had to call Dery and read her the pieces over the phone. One afternoon, I was nearing the end of my recital into the silent receiver, reading off a boring AFP short I’d translated about the Central American presidents issuing a statement on some atrocity, when I said “The presidents condone…”

The phone sprang to life. “CONDEMN!” she said, waking me up. I’d lazily mistranslated the word, using its exact opposite. It’s neither my finest moment as a news translator nor a particularly interesting story, but to me it was very Dery: quiet, but paying close attention to every syllable. Amid the distractions and multitasking of 2020, it’s hard for me to imagine performing an oral edit of a whole daily news edition with any sort of precision.

If Dery had been less resistant to the writing on the wall for print media back then, maybe The Tico Times’ story might have turned out differently (and maybe not, given the fate of so many media organizations around the globe). But then she wouldn’t have been Dery. We would come in after New Year’s to find extra layers of sediment on our desks and keyboards because she had smudged the office; she once had reporters pass around a conch shell in a mediation session to resolve conflict; when we redesigned the paper, which I think somehow coincided with my period filling in as editor, I got to know her meticulous nature as she pushed back on each change until it felt right.

We got frustrated sometimes as journalists in our 20s. At 41, I look back and see a woman running her own company – in a country, and an industry, led by men – exactly the way she wanted to. With a light hand but scrupulous attention. With a quiet presence and deep authority.

I think of her, sitting in that hallway, her young newsroom just a few feet behind her. I could see her straight back from where I sat. She could hear us: weary in the late afternoon, punchy as our print deadline approached on a Thursday, working and joking and braying and forming friendships that would last for the rest of our lives. She heard our varying accents and proficiency, our blunders as we interviewed leaders over the phone, our goofy comments to each other. She could have swiveled in her chair a hundred times an hour to correct us, but she didn’t. Like all the best leaders I have known, and the best parents, too, she understood that her job was to guide us just enough so we didn’t fall off a cliff. By holding back, she protected our exhilaration and our sense of autonomy. That’s how she made sure we followed in her footsteps by falling in love with journalism for life.

She taught me a lesson I didn’t articulate until the moment that news came on Friday: that the most powerful leadership comes from a deep love of the work itself. For Dery, that work was print journalism, and her love for it was bottomless. When that is what drives you, ego and bravado fall away. When that is the well you’re drawing from, your title, your salary, even your individual accomplishments are just not as important as your bigger purpose.

And ironically, when you go, the legacy you leave behind will be all the greater.

I run the virtual volunteer community Costa Rica Corps and am the co-founder, with fellow Tico Times alumna Mónica Quesada, of the new, bilingual media organization El Colectivo 506. I also work as a freelance grantwriter, fundraiser, and communications coach, and write essays, articles and books. I live in San José with my husband and daughter.

One year on, the journey continues: Welcome to El Colectivo 506

I want to start this final post of the Costa Rica Daily Boost – in its current form – with a heartfelt thank you.

Thanks for putting on your imaginary boots, as I asked on Sept. 15th of last year, and roaming through these many words with me. Thanks to those who read once in a while, popping up with a friendly comment just when I needed it most. Thanks to those who read regularly, like a discipline, riding the waves of long rambles and short, just-before-midnight, gotta-get-something-up messages. Thanks for understanding the needs, dreams and frustrations that drive a mother-writer to throw down any gauntlet for herself to try to carve out creative space; this has meant so much to me during a time in my life in which not one, not two, but three passion projects came abruptly to an end. (So did the world as we know it.)

Finally, thank you for sharing your love for Costa Rica and its people so warmly and openly in your comments and emails. Your love of this country has renewed my own, and led me to a new venture that I didn’t expect one year ago today.

As you’ve seen if you’ve followed me here, writing about Costa Rica for 248 continuous weekdays has taught me some lessons and reminded me just how many stories there are to share in this small place at the heart of the Americas, this country whose success or failure is so critical as a pioneer or model. In August, I decided to gather up the notes I’d been doodling in the margins for these many months and attempt to turn them into reality. I asked two dear friends to come along: rural tourism advocate Pippa Kelly, who has been featured many times in my proverbial pages, and extraordinary photojournalist Mónica Quesada Cordero. I’m very lucky that they said yes.

Today marks the pre-launch of our dream: a new, bilingual media organization based on the support of readers and of tourism communities eager to connect with the world in new ways. El Colectivo 506 is named for Costa Rica’s area code and the collective, shared transport that, in many parts of Latin American, allows group taxis and buses to take the slow route, stopping wherever that day’s travelers need to go. If you’ve ever taken el colectivo by mistake instead of an express bus, as I once did during my early days in the country, and found yourself winding in non-air-conditioned splendor through unexpected detours, awash in the easy conversation of those who hop on or off, you’ll know the kind of journalism we’re aiming for. Slow. Unhurried. Deep explorations of people, places and issues at the heart of Costa Rica’s towns and neighborhoods.

Katherine Stanley Obando

Alongside this in-depth, independent journalism, El Colectivo will connect rural tourism entrepreneurs and nonprofits with local and international travelers through a national, bilingual directory. Eventually, their small-scale annual support will make us sustainable, but as Costa Rica continues to reel from the impact of COVID-19, we plan to donate this service to the sector as a way to support the reopening and reinvention of the tourism industry. Readers will be able to navigate fresh, authentic itineraries through Costa Rica’s communities and find a wealth of stories, opinion and information as El Colectivo builds storytelling capacity among local leaders and youth. That’s why our motto is “Costa Rica from the inside out.” It’s a site by Costa Rica, for Costa Rica: benefitting, but also sourced from, the heart of its communities.

And yes, there will be a Daily Boost. When we launch on Jan. 1, we’ll begin complementing our in-depth coverage with daily photos, inspiration and more.

Via Shutterstock

As I did on this day last year, I invite you to come along for the ride. As a first step, we need to raise money to support the Costa Rican artists and designers who are creating our brand, logo and website (some of whom I met through the Boost!) and to get ready for the journalists and rural entrepreneurs who will bring the site to life. Please visit our campaign page, donate if you can, and share as widely as possible; I can’t thank you enough for any of the above. Of course, I hope you’ll also follow us wherever you like to read, whether that’s on our website, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. And please share the news as far as you can.

As for me, I plan to continue posting weekly, here on my own site: my usual ponderings, writing news, and reflections on the various ways in which I’m working to make connections in the world and build new pathways for expression. Among the projects on my table right now are the development of a national volunteer corps, new ways for travelers to connect with ecotourism champions during the pandemic, a novel, and, well… it’s been a creative year. As Mr. Rogers used to say, “You’ll have things you’d like to talk about; I will, too.”

Until then, may the journey treat you well. Thank you and gracias, con todo mi cariño.

Feliz cumpleaños, Costa Rica.






Independence and interdependence

My favorite night of the year in Costa Rica is upon us. It will look very different in 2020, to be sure. No festive parades of children holding lanterns, although I’m sure many families will recreate the tradition alone or gather in spaced-out groups. No crowds following the path of the symbolic torch as alternating athletes carry it south from Guatemala. No impromptu choirs standing shoulder-to-shoulder to sing our anthems at 6 pm.

My faroles on this Independence Day weekend were the fireflies at Tapir Valley in the hills of Bijagua. My antorcha was the powerful flashlight that owner and guide Donald Varela Soto used to showcase the animals he spots in the dark as if by magic, drawing on his knowledge of every inch of the vast terrain. Instead of feeling a rush of excitement as a runner streaks by en route to Cartago, leaving a blaze of firelight behind, my thrill this year came when I got to see a tapir in the wild for the very first time.

I walked the paths that night alongside a group of visitors, masked and distanced, cautious and excited. We were led by Donald and his family, who have preserved and reforested Tapir Valley through their hard work and grit. They made sure we were in the right place under the fruit trees deep in the reserve when a female danta came snuffling along for a snack. It was breathtaking, quite literally.

Famously calm, the tapir ate her meal just down the path, as naturally as if she were a cow and we her farmhands. But we weren’t. We were awed humans in the presence of an animal who maintains the biodiversity of the forest by spreading fruit seeds. An animal that has been hunted and endangered by development, but who, thanks to the respect and protection of people such as the Familia Varela Kelly, have slowly, carefully begun to venture further down the mountains.

Later in the evening, Donald told us how decades of environmental education and the slow growth of ecotourism in this northern Costa Rican community have had a visible, positive impact on the wildlife in the area. Seeing a tapir, he explained, used to be a rare experience. Today, hardly a day passes when a farmer or guide doesn’t spot one. This doesn’t mean the challenges are over: this majestic animal draws more tourism, requiring local leaders to maintain the right balance between growth and conservation. But the prevalance of the tapir in Bijagua today is a marker of what a community can achieve.

Donald didn’t mention the pandemic that closed down Costa Rica’s tourism industry in March. However, it was a presence in the conversation, lurking just outside the circle of light cast by our headlamps. While the country is now reopening, the crisis cut off the income of hard-working ecotourism leaders on whom we depend to preserve places like Tapir Valley. Next month, I’ll post a story here about an effort to support the efforts of Northern Zone environmental champions.

Costa Rica is beloved around the world for both its people and its wildlife. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the start of our bicentennial year than by honoring the connection between the two. Amidst the fireflies and the frog songs of the Costa Rican night, they stand watch. Against the odds, they live their lives among the interdependence that, perhaps, we will not now forget so quickly.

Featured image by Mónica Quesada Cordero. Read more about Tapir Valley Nature Reserve here. And stay tuned for the big announcement tomorrow of a new project – inspired, in part, by the hard work and leadership of rural tourism entrepreneurs!


Truth is stranger than fiction

Three days left and I’m thinking about the many strange facts I learned this year.

The iconic Isla del Coco as a penal colony? A renowned poet who learned his Communist underpinnings at a Turrialba shoe shop? A refuge where Cuban exiles could seek protection and grow sugar cane?

Costa Rican history’s got it all. And we’re just barely scratching the surface here, the lightest of Wikipedia browsing. Imagine the vast sea of surprising stories that is out there.

What about today? Horse serum developed at a snake-bite facility that could change the way COVID-19 is treated? Talamancan leaders feeding women’s soccer players through the crisis? Curioser and curioser. Better and better.

Good enough is good enough

Down to day four on the countdown: This was the year I let go of any remaining perfectionism from my teens and twenties. Parenthood took care of most of that, but publishing daily blog posts did the rest.

What does this have to do with Costa Rica? Well, I think perfectionism and national origin intersect in interesting ways. I know plenty of perfectionist Costa Ricans; in fact, I’ve had more discussions than is really necessary in life about how the country’s rather serious approach to karaoke than the boisterous, silly U.S. approach. There are many areas where people from my country are probably looser and more relaxed, or just plain negligent by comparison, as in the case of children’s hair grooming. (Trust me on this one. I’m lucky no one has ever called social services because of the low standards I maintain in the braiding department.)

On the other hand, as I’ve written before, there is a certain straight-laced-ness to North Americans that I don’t find here. I’m often less comfortable than the people around me to wing it, or make up a homemade solution, or try at home something that in my book is only done by authorities holding the proper permits, like a major fireworks display. I’m from the land that created square-jawed Superman; Latin America is the home of el Chapulín Colorado. So I like to think that by shedding some of the caution of the editor and the straight-A student, I’ve leaned a little bit into the culture I’ve chosen.

I used to keep my scribblings to myself, never good enough to show anyone at all. It’s been instructive, over the past 12 months, to sometimes throw something up on the screen at 11 pm, as I am tonight. I apologize to those who’ve read my less coherent musings. At the same time, I recommend it highly. I wish I had a better closer here – but this’ll do.

Scientists, artists, athletes… and badasses

Courtesy of Soy Niña

Six days left to go, and today I want to celebrate what yesterday’s post was supposed to be about (until current events took things in a slightly deeper, darker direction). Really, it’s just a sunnier side of the same street: the power of Costa Rica’s women.

The bras in this house were already getting a little nervous at the start of this past year. As I’ve written about quite a bit, recent events had driven my feminism to a new level. The election of a president who boasted about sexual assault. Facing conundrums in my work as a journalist that unveiled a fiery core I hadn’t known I had. My first experience having men talk around me in a meeting I was running, for an organization I directed, as if I wasn’t there.

But what really fired me up was, during this past year, seeing the stories of brilliance and bravery all around me. I barely had to look outside my field of vision to be gobsmacked by excellence. Women’s soccer players stepping up during the pandemic. Environmental advocates Christiana Figueres and Melania Guerra. Tomorrow’s leaders on the rise at Soy Niña. A brave doctor and a whole bookful of other rebel girls. The list goes on and on.

I think my epilogue to yesterday’s post on the horrible murders of women in Costa Rica is this: when those deep waters and currents of sexism are too much, one way we can rise into the air above and take a long breath of fresh air is simply to fix our sights on these endless sources of inspiration. They aren’t just a demonstration of why we must curb this violence: they are the pathway out of it. Whether not they’re directly engaged in women’s rights, they’re showing women, girls, boys and men what womanhood really means. From a lab or a stage or a running track, they’re making us safer.

Investing in their talents is perhaps the surest solution we have.

Featured image from Soy Niña.

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.


Our daughters and the poisoned apple

“I want to disappear,” my daughter said.

“What?” My hand, resting on her shoulder, tightened its grip instinctively to match the squeeze of my heart.

“It’s not fair, Mom. I want to disappear, too.”

We had just turned around on one of our quarantine walks on a dirt road near the top of Volcán Irazú to find that my husband, about a hundred feet back, had been completely subsumed in a sudden fog. Cartago is known for las brumas that sweep through its hills, and this one had made him disappear completely. My daughter, her pink sweatpants half-tucked into unicorn-patterned rubber boots, had made to run off into the mist herself, but I’d stopped her. He was crossing a rickety bridge over a deep gorge, and a car might pass, and we couldn’t see him, and I was afraid. I was afraid in ways that had nothing to do with anything around us at that moment. I was more afraid than I could ever express.

“I don’t want you to disappear,” I said, just as my husband’s faint form finally became visible. I tried to say something more, but I couldn’t.

The only word on my lips was Allison.

Allison Bonilla. The girl who did disappear on March 5th of this year, walking through the cool night just a short drive from where we were standing, heading home from class in one of the most beautiful valleys of the most beautiful country. The girl whose mother left their house to meet her daughter halfway as she walked home from the bus stop.

Allison never arrived. She was just 18. She just wanted to go to class, and to come home again.

Their neighbor confessed to her rape and murder this past week.

Allison has become a name on millions of lips. She has become a chill in the blood of all her country’s mothers, all mothers of girls. When we read that her mother had been waiting for her, patiently, in the dark, just feet from the place where their neighbor snatched her away forever, the chill ran through us from head to toe. When we saw her mother’s face in the paper, her eyes over her mask as she stood, arms crossed, watching the killer as he was escorted through the halls of the Judicial Branch, we felt it again. This whole, small country has a knot in its stomach, a nausea.

I am sorry to say that I didn’t know the word “intersectional” until after the 2016 election. That’s when I started to learn about the times when white feminism failed to connect to other struggles for justice. I started to learn about the idea that while each struggle is different, that while you can’t compare Costa Rican femicide to the ruthless murders of Black citizens of the United States at the hands of the very law enforcement officers who should protect them, you also can’t care about one without caring about the other. I learned that, in our brains, we must make room for all these movements, rising, to converge.

If you are reading this, you probably live in the consciousness of both those realities, the U.S. context and the violence against women in Costa Rica. You understand this intersection between Allison and Breonna. Between María Luisa and George. Between those chains of victims’ names – awful, relentless, ever-expanding – and the worlds they represent. Between the discussions these deaths have started, over and over, and of which we are so profoundly tired.

There is a recipe for it, a dance that’s pre-choreographed. In Costa Rica, when it comes to femicide – feminicidio, the murder of a woman because she is a woman – the recipe looks like this. The victim’s name becomes a hashtag; women put filters on the profile pictures with heartbreakingly simple assertions like “We want to live”; some men put up posts like “nací para cuidar a la mujer” – I was born to take care of women; women try to explain that we don’t want to be taken care of, thanks – just not murdered; other women criticized those women for never being satisfied, for trampling on those nice men’s nice gesture, for being so hard to please; and still other men publish, “We get murdered, too.” Women aren’t the owners of pain. All lives matter.

These are currents that push back and forth against each other, washing back and forth, sad and angry, wise and foolish. They are the same kinds of currents that wash back and forth in my own country surrounding racial injustice. All the while the victims lie beneath, among the smooth stones on the riverbed, unknowing, unseeing.

It is all so foolish, and it goes nowhere. We keep on losing. The stones keep dropping through the water, the next name, the next hashtag. The next life snatched away from a mother standing watch. At times, we just want to sink down there with them: not for death, but just for silence.

How do we rise out of the water altogether? Into the air, gasping for breath? Breath. A loaded word – and doesn’t that say it all, the fact that breath is a loaded word? The breath that has been denied, so ferociously, to Black women and men in my country, who are required to live in fear not only of random strangers but also of those who are supposed to protect them. The breath that a different kind of blind hatred and contempt choked from María Luisa in Manuel Antonio earlier this year.

What pulls us out of the water is love. I think I first fell for the sensations of this country: its sounds, its sights, the way its air felt on my skin. Later, I fell in love with the way it talks, its culture that spooled out in front of me along endlessly twisting and interesting tunnels and curves. But my latest love affair, developed over the past year of writing daily posts about this country, has been with the women who live here. The artists and scientists, the activists and authors. A group in which I include myself, through presence if not citizenship. I pour the past 16 years and my deep admiration for the women of this country into a proud, tentative “we.”

We, the women who live their lives in this land, are extraordinary. And we are being murdered in such quantities. We march, we post, we mourn, and, somehow, with Allison, we reached the end of our breath. The wind has been knocked out of us. We ask, what else can we do?

The answer, perhaps, is: nothing. Just as the burden of anti-racism should fall on white shoulders, and the burden of ending homophobia should fall on those who are straight, it is up to the men of this country to figure this out.

Not to take care of us. To take care of yourselves, in the toughest sense of that phrase. The sisterhood is in place. It’s time for the brotherhood: a brotherhood of self-questioning, of raising the bar, of pushing back against each other as Vinicio Chanto outlines here.

As you do the work, your sisters will continue to disappear. Disappear. Just hearing my daughter say that word made my heart contract.

What hurts the most, I think, is the knowledge that while, for now, I can keep that fear within myself, a sort of poisoned apple in my heart, I will have to share it with my daughter as she grows. I will have to hand it to her for her to try, nibble by nibble, taking that poison into herself so she can protect herself.

When I was in seventh grade in Dunbarton, New Hampshire, I’d sometimes be dropped off before anyone else was home. I’d put on some boots and take our dog, Max, into the woods behind our house. We’d walk around, muck about, sometimes go as far as the dike that stretched high above the wetlands. I don’t remember anything too specific from those walks: I wasn’t learning the names of all the trees and plants, or building forts. I don’t remember any fear or worry about wandering on my own with a dog who wouldn’t hurt a fly. I just remember the space, the cold inhale in winter, the slushy mud in early spring, the look of the wetlands glinting through the trees.

My daughter won’t have afternoons like that. I hope she won’t walk alone late at night as I did during university, either. I don’t think she’ll travel alone quite as widely and freely as I did. She will be robbed of something I once enjoyed through my privilege as a white person and my ignorance about the dangers facing women. What’s more, I will be the person who robs her of it, by instilling in her a necessary caution.

I will take it from her bit by bit in the talks that will fall to me to lead, the precautions it will fall to me to teach her. I will steal from her what has been stolen from me. I will rob her of her innocent aloneness, her privacy, her ability to feel free and safe all by herself, to walk where she likes without a thought, to stroll the woods without a care, to go home from a night class on the town bus without stepping into a heavy legacy. I will rob her of certain chances to nurture that space between her ears, the unencumbered breath in her lungs.

I will be the thief, but I will not be at fault. I will teach that to her, too. I will teach her the power of boundaries, of analysis, of assigning blame where it belongs and deflecting it where it doesn’t, deflecting it along with the blows of an assailant. At her side, I’ll learn how to throw a punch and gouge out someone’s eyes. I will have to raise her powerful, confident, strong, and angry. Because if she looks at this world as it is and doesn’t feel anger amidst all the other emotions – all the love, gratitude, excitement that I hope she’ll also feel – then I won’t have prepared her well. Anger on her own behalf. Anger on behalf of others.

What do I have to offer her in exchange for all this taking? A voice she can raise at a moment’s notice. She will have the possibility to connect to other women anywhere in the world. When we got home after our walk in the mists, I watched Alexandria Ocasio Cortez show us her morning makeup routine. I was right there with her, in her bathroom, learning how she creates her signature red lip. This YouTube mix of color corrector and commentary on the patriarchy dropped into the jangling chords of my mood in a strange way.

I thought: it is a consolation prize, I suppose. This community. This sisterhood. Perhaps it is not something we can touch, women we can see in the flesh, but they are out there, and we can hear from them.

Is it enough, these virtual connections in the face of all that we lose in terms of physical safety? Is it enough, being able to scream any way we want, scream and rail and testify?

Will it get us through while our brothers fix what’s ailing them?

It will need to be. Our daughters will have to make it so.

Featured image from Facebook via Andrea Terán.

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.