Rags. Torn soles. And torn souls.
Every morning they had one choice: the same shirt everyday, and the same pair of shoes they had owned for years. Their main goal was to survive until their next meal. Malnourishment was eating away at their stomachs.
Garbage was scattered everywhere; their streets were crowded and looked sloppy compared to my own neighborhood with freshly cut grass, nice landscaping, and a garden. Backyards didn’t exist; their front doors touched the edge of the mud street. As my team of 50 traveled to La Carpio and Cote, the two cities we were going to serve that week in Costa Rica, we were warned that the area was purposely avoided by ‘sensible people.’ Both cities had reputations of extreme poverty and danger, especially La Carpio.
La Carpio was extremely difficult to reach. It lay about thirty miles from San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. Our bus had to cross a narrow ridge; the city was hidden near the top of a mountain.
Sadly, this remote location was no accident. The farther from society, the ‘better off’ society was. No one dared to enter La Carpio because of its reputation; and therefore, the needs of its citizens had been completely forgotten.
These people are Nicaraguan refugees who have fled from the civil war of their home country to neighboring countries like Costa Rica. In return, Costa Rica shoved these illegal, unloved Nicaraguan fugitives into one area, La Carpio and Cote. The roads were piles of dirt bulleted with potholes full of murky water.
The missions building itself had cement flooring–which was considered a sign of wealth. Right next to this church was a landfill where the country’s waste was thrown. The stench was horrifying; you could almost taste decay.
These people breathe and eat with it everyday. It was sickening, but their nostrils had grown accustomed to it. An average home in La Carpio was simply four thin sheets of metal, miraculously connected at the corners by other slabs of material.
A carpet of mud serves as a floor with, at most, two pieces of beat-up furniture. In the front of these houses were tall, metal fences to protect every home with a series of ugly, black bars. Everything about the houses looked hostile. If a family was connected to a small shop from which they could earn a small profit, they were considered wealthy. But even if that were the case, the average income was $1.50 an hour, usually less. My team and all those who supported us in the United States were able to supply these people with shoes, sports equipment, money, bags of hygiene, and bags of gifts, and, most importantly, our love. I could sense the irony of ‘Pura Vida,’ the Costa Rican phrase which was literally translated ‘pure life.’ The people explained, ‘In Costa Rica you live well.’ Hundreds of innocent eyes of hungry, hurting, despised children are imbedded in my memory forever. This was considered life at its fullest? My team was able to tour breathtaking mountains, hot springs, and rainforests; however, that part of the trip meant almost nothing to me in comparison to the impact the people made on my life. The indescribable, majestic beauty of Costa Rica is what the tourists see when they stay for a week. But the people of La Carpio and Cote are overlooked. Around our hotel there were gorgeous butterflies. The wings reflected a shiny aqua, the color of the sky. I was told by a Costa Rican gentleman that these butterflies were known as the common Blue Morpho. However, I noticed that the bottoms of their wings are a dark brown color. Every time I saw a Blue Morpho butterfly, I pictured it as a symbol of Costa Rica. The country is filled with beautiful tourism, but some of its people are oppressed by harsh living conditions. By the end of our eight-day trip, we reached over eight hundred kids! The blue was emerging in La Carpio and Cote. Now when I think of the Blue Morpho butterfly, I picture myself. My life before Costa Rica was self-centered, darkened in a figurative sense. But I have found color in my life, and I have discovered that life is about reaching out to those who are less fortunate. My life was transformed in Costa Rica. Now, I am spreading my wings for take off. I am ready to embrace a future as bright as the sky.