Happy TunesDay: Collection 24

“Better late than never” is what they always say, right?

I really need to work on consistency and timing for my TunesDay posts, but at least I didn’t skip completely!  That’s something, at least.

This week, I compiled some of my favorite mellow & jazzy Spanish songs to keep me focused on learning Spanish and to keep me motivated before I leave to Costa Rica in June with two of my good friends, Diana and Cesar.  The tunes are from all over Latin America and the Spanish-speaking diaspora.  I included a band based in Portland, Y La Bamba.  Honestly, they’re one of my fav bands, and it totally makes sense that they’re based in Portland because their sound is so relaxed & effortless, yet incredibly funky.  For a good English song of theirs, try November.

Anyway, if you don’t know, I’ll be returning to Mastatal, Costa Rica for the third time to work on a bird preservation documentary.  Diana, Cesar, and I have all been to the community of Mastatal twice before through UCI’s Costa Rica Program, and we have the immense privilege to return and work with Marcos, the founder & owner of Finca Siempre Verde.  Once created, the film will be donated to La Cangreja National Park & given to the local primary and secondary schools as an educational resource.  We’re incredibly excited, nervous, and super ready to return to Mastatal and the community that has welcomed us so warmly time and again.

Learning a language is incredibly difficult, and I’m super grateful to my pals, Diana & Cesar, because they will have to be amazingly patient with me as I practice my Spanish in Costa Rica!  Even though I don’t have a lot of time to brush up on my Spanish, I’m confident I’ll get by…maybe.

If you have any favorite Spanish songs, please recommend them!  I’m open to all genres, but if you have any indie/pop/jazzy vibes, that would be tremendous.

pura vida y muchas gracias mi amig@s,

Christina

On Reinventing and Finding Self

I am doing my utmost to remain positive, or neutral. I’m not sure which.

It has only been a day in Canada, traveling for the first time really on my own, and I am faced with an overwhelming sense of everything and nothing at all.  Everything in the sense that the world is big and people are many and they all have ideas, some good and some bad.  Nothing in the sense that I feel as though despite my best efforts, I may not contribute anything worthwhile.

I thought that coming to a new environment, away from the normalcy of my everyday life, would provide clarity–that I would, in essence, become a different person, wracked with new ideas and newfound confidence.

Much to my chagrin, and I will reemphasize that yes, it has in fact only been a day, I am not a different person from when I was on US soil to when I stepped into the friendly land that is Canada.

I think I romanticized the notion of the intellectual and that by surrounding myself with esteemed academics, I too would be able to bounce off my ideas and criticisms of the injustices of the world.  Throughout the day, however, I found myself second-guessing everything I thought and everything I wanted to say.  I desperately wanted to contribute to the dialogue, ask a question, or provoke further conversations.  And in my desperation, I think I holed into a shell of my normally vocal and vivacious self.  (I have never described myself as vivacious…I probably won’t do that again.)

Even though I was sent here through a career grant given to me by Keds, appropriately titled the Brave Life Grant, I don’t feel so brave.  I don’t know what it will take for me to stop feeling self-conscious and really believe that I too have something worthwhile to give to the room, regardless of where that room may be and whoever may be in my company.

I guess only time, and a lot of self reflection, can move me forward.

Costa Rica Revisted. 2015 Global PEACE Program Initial Reflections.

I’m feeling a surge of emotions.  I think that happens a lot with me.

I’m happy, sad, and feeling an overwhelming sense of loss & purpose at the same time. I feel like one minute I could cry and the next, I’ll start laughing.  It’s like puberty all over again.

Going back to Costa Rica was a completely new and enriching experience for me. When you go to a place for the first time, everything is exciting.  All of your senses are soaking in new details.  But, when you return to a place, especially after some time — a year, in my case– different things happen.  You begin to analyze the things you never really noticed before.  You see a lot of good things that you saw before, but you also begin to evaluate other nuances.  It’s something I never really experienced before because I’ve never been to a foreign country more than once.  And out of the things I’ve learnt from this trip, I’ve learnt that revisiting places can be a very valuable and important thing.

I feel like I will say this about every place in the world I’ll travel to, but I can say with confidence that Costa Rica will always hold a very close and special place in my heart. I learned a good amount from the people I’ve met there and the friendships I’ve cultivated.  And, I’d be lying if I said I weren’t getting a bit emotional as I’m typing this whole thing.  I’ve only been in my apartment for less than an hour and I’m already dreading so many things that come with returning home from somewhere else.  I am thinking ahead–thinking of ways to return to my home away from home, to a place where I don’t think I’ve ever felt more at peace with myself and my place in the world, even when I don’t speak the language completely.

From Alajuela to San Jose to Caldera to Mastatal, each and every person I had the privilege of interacting with have given me so much strength and joy.  I am so grateful for the group of peacebuilders I worked with and to the many individuals I’ve met along the way.  I think of them and I am filled with so much happiness, and I know that that is what peace is.  That it is powerful and capable of doing so much good in the world.  Because what happiness I feel inside of me, I know I can use to motivate others around me.  It has shifted and guided me, even when I am 100% sure that I do not know what journey I will take to attain my goals in this world.

When I left, I told my peers that I did not want to go back to the US–that I did not want to return to reality. But, upon reflection, I know that sentiment to be flawed.  My reality is what I choose it to be.  Costa Rica is a lovely, wonderful, powerful reality for me.  I learned about peace as a system from professors and citizens alike.  I learned that demilitarization cannot be the only answer and that every government has its flaws, but that people everywhere are resilient, beautiful, unique humans.  And that gives me an amazing amount of hope about our world.  I am amazed at how at home I could feel in a foreign place from only being there for a short amount of time, and if I could feel that connected to people and places in less than two weeks, I am so excited to think of how much love can flow from person to person with more time than that.

I don’t know what will happen in my future, but I know that I am capable of doing and creating great things in the world so that others can learn what I have learnt and live purposeful, extraordinary lives.

All I know is that I will do everything in my own power to return to Costa Rica again, to work with and perhaps live amongst the families and friends I have met there, and to create a more peaceful & prosperous global community.

Even though I am thinking about my future and how I can return again to Costa Rica, I know that living too much in the future can do no good for our present.  Although it will be an internal struggle for me, I’m ready for today and cannot wait for the many tomorrows we all have to build a kinder world together.

With peace, love, and pura vida,

Christina

What’s In A Year?

It has been one year since I departed from my home, to Denver, to Toronto, to Kenya and spent an amazing twenty days surrounded by wonderful people in an equally wondrous place.

It is strange to think that it has been an entire year. While it feels like it’s been more than a year, it also feels as if I was just in Kenya yesterday.

When people ask how Kenya was, I still don’t know how to explain everything.
I’ve had a year to contemplate the trip and winning Microsoft’s Challenge for Change competition alongside four driven, funny, talented, intelligent people. I know that the world is full of issues of which I am very aware, but I also know that based on the people I met and people I still keep in contact with, I have a great deal of hope that we can work together to tackle each and every one of them.

Kenya gave me a lot of things.
Courage, mostly.

I thought I was courageous and independent before the trip, but it really took me being away from the US, from my family, from my friends, from everything I had known before, to truly feel the kind of courage I needed to improve some really difficult things in my life.
I thought I was empowered and wanted to change the world before. It took Kenya to push me into really knowing that was what I wanted and needed.

I think a lot of times people get big ideas and huge dreams, which is a great thing. It is necessary to have dreams to accomplish anything in life. But I also think that changing the world can seem like an impossible task. I think that people still see things in black and white–that you either change the world for the better or don’t do it at all.

But everything is trial and error. When people want to improve things, it can’t be immediate. And even the best of intentions do not do what they need to do for the people that need it most.
And admitting that, especially when you have big dreams and big goals, is a really difficult thing. People don’t like admitting the things you’re trying to do to improve things is actually not making things better. Especially humanitarians. Especially people who are seen as selfless, strong, good people. Especially me.

And it has been a year.
A whole year.

A long time, but a short time. And I have realized that I have made contributions, good and bad, to this world. And that the impacts I have on the people around me are large and varied, and important, even if I don’t think they may be at the time.

Kenya gave me courage to cut the things from my life that were holding me back, making me sad, giving me strife. It also gave me the courage to admit my initial goals and dreams may be flawed and self-righteous. It then gave me the courage to look inward and start from scratch.

Starting from scratch can be the scariest thing in the world, but sometimes, a lot of times, it is necessary.

A year ago, I thought humanitarianism and international development were clear cut. I thought if you give things to poor people, it solves everything. I was much more eurocentric, less critical, less understanding of different perspectives. I don’t think I was ignorant, but I was set in my ways because I wanted so badly to do good for the world. And being set in your ways and being convinced of your own do-goodery can be the worst thing for the people you are trying to uplift.

A year ago, I didn’t know or understand that completely.

In Kenya, I saw firsthand how that kind of sentiment can be so detrimental to everyone involved–both beneficiaries and benefactors.
I realized that it is GOOD to be critical, as long as you can supply and work towards a shift in mindset. It is not negative to question structures that are in place, especially in a non-profit, development situation. It is necessary, in fact, to push the envelope, question what people’s intentions are, and give the impoverished a space to use their OWN voice.

A year ago, I was very proud of my accomplishments in terms of Microsoft’s Challenge for Change and my research with a close professor. And it’s not to say that I shouldn’t have been proud or that I am still not proud. But being proud slows down the process. It’s not that you shouldn’t be happy and confident of your skills or abilities. But I think that a year ago, the prize was at the forefront of my mind, not the journey or the process. And the process is a long and arduous one, no matter what social justice issue you’re tackling. A proud accomplishment is just another step on the ladder. You are never done with the work you are doing, and in a way, that is a very nice thing. There is always something to improve, some injustice to battle, some minds to shift. It gives you things to work towards. A year ago, this idea would have been very frustrating for me.

A year ago, I did not know the wonderful people I would come to befriend and grow so much from. Being one of the oldest people on the trip, I did not know what to expect. I thought I would be a mentor and source of guidance. I felt a little entitled, to be honest. But I learnt a great deal from everyone on the trip. I got into so many situations that angered me, from seeing poverty porn in action to the oversimplification of some of social justice issues in the modules we participated in as a group. The anger I felt really showed me how much poverty alleviation and inclusive social justice is a passion for me. And, the best part was that I could air out my frustrations with my close friends on the trip and they knew, understood, and allowed me to have a safe space to engage in conversations about everything that bothered us.
A year ago, I didn’t have these friends.
Now, even a year later, I still do.

Kenya was honestly one of the best trips and experiences in my young life. A year later, and I can still say that. There are, of course, details that are fuzzy in my mind. Sometimes, names blur from my mind, but I have Facebook to assist me with that. But there are very poignant moments from the trip that I don’t think I can ever forget. I will still remember the Kenyan salesman at a gas station that tried to sell me a painting by speaking Chinese to me. I will still remember the multitudes of late nights, laughter, huge bugs, mosquito net mishaps, toilet adventures, and dancing to Shakira. I think some of the most memorable things were those that I could have done anywhere else in the world, but it wasn’t anywhere else in the world. It was in Kenya. It was in the Maasai Mara. It was in Mwangaza, where a part of my soul will constantly remain. And I was thankfully with an amazing bunch of kiddos that I am so glad to have met, befriended, and bonded so deeply with.

Kenya and each person I crossed paths with gave me the courage I needed to do the things I needed and still need to do.

A year later, and I am still and always will be grateful.