• Family is a very important part of Costa Rican culture. Most of my host family’s relatives lived very close to each other, and nearly everyday members of the family would get together for dinner or coffee. Often, it would be a very large group. Family members on both my mom and dad’s sides of the family gathered regularly, seemed to know each other well, and had fun together at parties. And, there was always a reason to have a party, including having a visit from me!
• Ryan, my friend who came along on the trip to be my personal assistant, and I were treated like family. Eduardo, Marianela and their daughter Marypaz welcomed us with open arms. On our first night, they had relatives over to the house and ordered a pizza for us. Each morning we shared with the family a homemade breakfast including delicious Costa Rican coffee. Each evening, we shared in making and eating a Costa Rican dinner, we chatted, and we played games. One evening, Ryan and I came home around 8:30 in the evening after a very long day. Our host parents were waiting for us, wanting to hear about our day and share the social process of dinner-making with us.
• Costa Rica has the largest gap between the rich and poor of any country in Central America. Like in the United States, this could be seen in our drives throughout the country.
• I was struck by the lack of healthcare resources available to the people of Costa Rica. In the physical therapy department at one rehabilitation center, the physical therapy equipment and the all the patient beds were located in the same room. The hospital seemed to have only the necessary equipment. There were no extra amenities or “fluff” to make the hospital stay more enjoyable - no therapy wedges, no toys for children, no DVDs or books or magazines for adults, no paintings on the walls.
• In Costa Rica, people take their jobs very seriously and are proud to work hard and serve their customers. On my first night in Costa Rica, my taxi driver, spent two hours helping find the best way to get me comfortably in his taxi. At the end of the trip, one of our bus drivers wanted a picture with each of the delegates, saying, “You are such a special group, it’s a pleasure serving you.” Police officers were very helpful in helping us cross through busy San José traffic.
• At one center that we visited, some of the residents had been there for a long, long time. Some spoke of family that couldn’t or wouldn’t care for them. Some cried a lot, and others were very, very happy to have a visit from our group. Seeing people living in these sad circumstances was sobering and disconcerting. I realized how lucky I am to have a personal, family, financial, technological, and community resources that I have. We need to do better at taking care of each other in our world, and sharing our resources more equitably.
• I found it interesting to hear Ryan’s reflections on the experience. Ryan and I hadn't known each other that well prior to this trip, and this was our first time spending an extended period of time together. Ryan observed that many able bodied people in both the United States and Costa Rica seemed initially scared of me. They did not know what to say or how interact with me. However, once a conversation with started by me, they realized that we did indeed have commonalities. (I, of course, know and experience this fact everyday, but it was interesting to hear Ryan's take on it. I was reminded of Christie Gilson telling me that those of us with disabilities spend a lot of energy making other people feel comfortable with us.)
Ryan also came away from the experience with a profound respect for people with disabilities and their personal assistants. He had no idea how much time and energy it took to perform mundane, but necessary responsibilities. During the trip, he almost always had tasks to do. Once he finished one task he moved right on to the next one.
• All in all, I’ve had a powerful experience that continues to and will continue to impact my thoughts and life decisions. Thanks to all who have supported me.
Music on slideshow: Manu Chao, Me gustas tu