I need more chains such as this

First day at Colegio: excited and ready to work! The sun is shining and the wind is blowing. After a tour, some waiting and some introductions, Thor and Mary head off to an English classroom, and the rest of us get shovels into our hands, along with a couple dozen seventh graders. I cheerfully think of us as the chain gang.

We set to digging the narrow, deep ditch for the pipe that will take the pig poop downhill to the biodigester. A few students work, but the majority chat with each other and manipulate their handhelds. One student, not from this class, plays a guitar nearby (isn’t there some class he should be in?). Jorge, our project leader and an agriculture teacher, digs industriously and so do we gringo volunteers, but progress is slow. The sun shines on, and the wind keeps blowing.


The trench we dug

At lunchtime (11:30) we learn Colegio’s restaurant is no more; the new contract for it fell through. Maggie, our leader, has risen to the occasion; we feast on delicious lunches of casados with fish from a restaurant in town. We eat gratefully under the Costa Rican sun.

The afternoon’s chain-gang work is more successful. The students are a bit older –freshmen and sophomores — and are more willing to wield shovels and the heavy axes that break the tough sod. We work while talking, and talk while working. My Spanish, worthy of a first-grader’s conversation, is well received, especially by young Alejandro, who is eager to practice his English. The ditch starts snaking impressively down the hill, turns a corner, and enters the cow pasture while the sun keeps shining and the wind keeps blowing. I’m almost sad when Jorge tells us we are done – terminados – for the afternoon.


Laura, Alison, and Mark busy at work

At the dinner table, we talk about the best parts of our days. Maggie loved the warm greetings from students she’d met on past projects. Laura adored the shower she just took. Mark was tickled by the long, energetic explanation Maggie made to our student coworkers about his status back home: (yes, he is actually a house-husband! This happens in some cultures! No, it’s not a joke; it’s really true!) Mary was delighted that one of her English students touched her shoulder affectionately. I treasured the compliment Mara had given me that afternoon, that I was really good at digging ditches. Being a competent chain-gang member is deeply satisfying.

Of course, the only chain that exists here is my need to be of service. It’s a light, airy chain that is connecting me to the sweet, sociable Costa Ricans, and their sunny, windy land. I need more chains such as this.

Entry submitted by: Alison

Message of the Day – Maggie: “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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