Today–just for fun–I’m posting an excerpt from my memoir describing my time studying abroad in Coast Rica. I’m hoping it will one day reach the public eye in some publisher-endorsed kind of way, but for now, you get to be my test audience. Thanks for reading!
I was sure that I had forgotten something vitally important. Like underwear or tampons. I had heard from a few friends that it was difficult to buy tampons in Costa Rica. At 4:00 a.m. as I scrambled to wash my face, brush my teeth, and pack up the car, I was sure that I had forgotten tampons and would be forced to spend my period sitting in a corner yelling “unclean, unclean” while I slowly bled to death. It didn’t occur to me that I didn’t even know the word for unclean in Spanish, and I was going to Central America, not prehistoric Israel.
The stubborn escalator leading up to the maze of airport security beckoned me; I grimaced as I gingerly stepped onto the moving stairs that jerked me upwards, pulling me away from my mom and dad until the black biting teeth fit snugly together again, flattening and disappearing into the floor. My mom had cried and my dad had told me to be safe.
I shifted from my left foot to my right foot, then back to my left, just a teardrop in the stream of restless passengers in the overburdened security line. I wiped my one renegade tear and readjusted my backpack, dense with the weight of my laptop, Spanish/English dictionary, and packets of reading material on Costa Rica. I could do this.
Location: Central America.
Capital: San Jose.
It would be like a vacation of sorts.
I could do this.
“Como es su familia?” “Que piensa del gobierno estadounidense?” “Que es su comida favorita?” “Que piensa de la guerra en Irak?”
How is your family? What do you think of the U.S. government? What is your favorite food? What do you think of the war in Iraq?
In the United States people’s number one fear is public speaking, even dying rates second on the list. People would rather die than look stupid. My eyes scanned the barrage of oncoming cars, and I was hit with the sobering realization that there would probably not be a single moment the entire semester in which I did not feel stupid.
Even Max, the family dog, understood more Spanish than I did. My host dad, Don Pedro, surprisingly white for a Costa Rican with light eyes and a hint of possible freckles, would yell some seemingly unintelligible command in Spanish and the dog would obediently run, stand, or lie down according to my dad’s latest whim, whereas I couldn’t even figure out how to wash my underwear.
That night after shy introductions, a strangely silent family meal, and an uncomfortable discussion about politics, I was finally too overcome with exhaustion to feel stupid anymore. I pulled my fuzzy blanket up to my chin and was filled with ecstatic thankfulness that I could say a goodnight prayer to God in English and He would understand.