Everyone’s got a story. When I travel, I like to meet new people, but not in the casual, small-talk kind of way. Talking about trivial things bores me silly. If I am going to spend my time with someone else, I want to hold a conversation that means something – at least to me. This week I learned so much more about some of the people with whom I have been spending this month in Samara.
I am much better one-on-one or in small groups and usually shun the company of crowds or really loud places where people have to shout at one another to be heard. There are plenty of those places here. Lots of ocean front bars and local watering holes which are quite nice and very friendly but also prefer to crank the sound system. One favorite spot for students from school is Arriba!, an open-air bar that serves good beer and cocktails but also has a big screen television to show sporting events and programs from the US and other countries. Of course, it is a hit with ex-pats and those who are homesick for the Superbowl or a plate of nachos (which do not come with melted cheese!).
I went to this bar a few times with women from school in the hopes of getting to know some people better. As the night progressed, the music got louder and conversations were yelled at one another over beers, becoming more and more fragmented as people drank more, danced more and spoke less. Sometimes I find this atmosphere fun, too, but I much prefer the intimacy of a private conversation, one where I can talk directly with someone. These situations do not always present themselves and not everyone is comfortable in them. Sometimes, I am not either. It really depends on my mood; but if I am in the right frame of mind for a good talk, one that explores topics far deeper than the weather or one’s career, nothing beats a quiet spot, a glass of wine and the right person to get to know a bit more.
This week I had several interesting conversations and learned more about a couple of students at school. I met a women who has lost her job in the States and who is currently separated from her husband. She came to Costa Rica to escape the realities of her life in New York and to live Pura Vida for while. She is lively, wears big, colorful pieces of jewelry and hopes to extend her time in Samara by a few extra weeks. Another person confided in me that she is taking 2 months off from work because the stress was so severe that she was hospitalized and needed blood transfusions. She came here to regain her strength and to get healthy in the warm, hospitable climate of Central America. She talks with candor and sincerity and I can tell we will keep in touch. I also spent over an hour conversing with a man who said he was from Canada but now lives sometimes in Shanghai. He manages a large company worth millions (!) and speaks 5 languages now that he has finished 2 weeks at Intercultura and can add Spanish to his list of French, Mandarin, English and Arabic. While interesting, our conversation was a bit lopsided as this man seemed to enjoy hearing himself speak, and when I did chime in, he countered quite swiftly. In our chat I also discovered that this man only feels at home when he’s on a plane, makes airport personnel quite nervous, smokes but is not addicted to cigarettes, has children, an ex-wife and ex-lover, is a Libra (he thinks I am one too but I really said “I am a liberal…” It was too difficult to explain the difference and I didn’t think he’d hear me anyway) and that he often cries when he speaks to God….I wonder why so many people tell me so many personal things but it fascinates and compels me.
Lastly, I shared a few hours doing homework and sipping wine with another remarkable women who is totally redefining her world. I had been in class with her for 2 weeks but knew little about her until we met over a glass of wine and she told with me more of her story. She was living the “American Dream” on the west coast: married for 20 years, big house with an even bigger garden, children, a vast network of friends…occasional work when necessary. She had been in the same town for 30 years and expected to be there always until her world radically altered. She told me of the unexpected death of her son five years ago and how difficult she finds it to tell people about her life, her recent past. She wants to be honest but doesn’t want pity. She wants to move forward but misses her son and the life she thought was defined. She began to cry as she shared this with me, saying that all the casual, typical questions in class, like “Tell me about your family?” “Do you have any children?” where almost impossible for her to face. How do you answer this question in a room full of strangers, trying to communicate in another language? I know we often spoke of family or loved ones in our classroom, and I now know how difficult it must have been for her to answer, not to leave the room crying, to reply calmly and with a smile that she has a daughter.
After her son’s accident her marriage fell apart, too. She is now without a home, living for a time in Costa Rica before she returns to America to begin college…and then hopes to complete graduate school to become a social worker. I was in awe of her courage and her ability to recover from heartbreak and tragedy. She says she still struggles with bouts of anger and questions a universe where so much sadness and inequality can exist. But she is also studying yoga, expanding her world, traveling solo and planning a future far different from the one she originally assumed would occur. I marvel at her spirit and resilience. I had dinner with her this past weekend and she was planning a short jaunt to Brazil, alone, to continue her quest. She’s hungry for something more now.
This place is full of people and every one of them has a story – or more – to tell. It’s been amazing to watch the ebb and flow of students, of people arriving at the school and departing, of friendships and cliques forming and disbanding. It’s a smorgasbord for someone like me who prefers to observe, usually listen, and occasionally, if I am lucky, find someone to talk with beyond the typical flotsam and jetsam of daily conversation.