This farm is absolutely wonderful. There are more things that I love about it than I could ever really explain in words, and pictures will only give you a hint of how amazing this place is. I suppose the best way to describe what I’m feeling is to compare it to what I wrote years and years ago on Facebook for my “About Me” section: “I’m waiting for the day when I can put everything I need into one bag on my back, hit the road, and escape society. We’ll build a community somewhere far away in the woods, where we grow what we need, trade for what we can’t grow, and spend the evenings making music and laughing around the fire.” I feel as if I have actually achieved this goal that I created for myself more than five years ago. Ok, we haven’t sat around a fire yet, and we haven’t replaced money with traded goods, but other than that, this is precisely what I wanted to find.

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Hot peppers and papayas growing outside our dormitory

The sense of community is something that has been the most important thing I have been seeking. This place certainly has it. We arrived by bus on Sunday evening a week ago, getting off in the dark on the side of the road and hoping that the farm was indeed at the top of the hill as the bus driver and a helpful American passenger assured us it was. When we got to the top of the hill, we were greeted by a table of seven volunteers, six of them from the United States (the term “American” is much frowned upon in Central America, since they consider all North, Central, and South Americans to be American) who were speaking in rapid Spanish. I immediately felt a wave of relief mixed with anxiety. These volunteers were serious about learning Spanish, so it was certainly the perfect place to immerse ourselves, but we could barely string a sentence together between the two of us. Over the course of a few days, we’ve been steadily expanding our vocabulary with incessant “¿Como se dice ___?” and “¿Que significa ___?” questions.

The other volunteers have been absolutely wonderful, and I know it will be much harder now that every single one of them has moved on, leaving Hannah and I with the family, who speaks only Spanish and the odd English word or two, and an intern, Nick, who has worked here each winter for three years. His Spanish is an intriguing blend of Spanish words pronounced with a distinct American lilt and English words pronounced with a slight Spanish accent. For example, the sweet potatoes grown here are called “comotes”, which he happily pronounces the way we would pronounce “coyotes”: something like camodees. His total lack of concern about knowing the correct verb tense, pronunciation, or even the correct word itself has made me more confident in speaking without worrying about what it sounds like, but I will miss the lessons in grammar and translation that the other volunteers provided. My Spanish is coming along quite nicely, despite my tendency to use German grammar, and I can’t wait until the new volunteers arrive so that I can have a conversation partner who is further along in learning than Hannah or I, since I need to look up most words that I want to say. I find it difficult to understand Javier, who is the incredibly friendly host who jokes and teases with ease, but doesn’t slow down much for the volunteers whose Spanish is rustier than the others. His wife, Raquel, is also really kind and an amazing cook, but I find her rather shy and I never know quite what to say to break the ice.

Anyways, back to the sense of community and the farm itself. We spent the last week working hard in the mornings on various projects and then relaxing in the afternoons and checking out the local waterfalls and national park. We cook in a community kitchen and decide what to make based on the leftovers and the fresh fruit and vegetables that we grow here on the terraced hillsides. What I’ve loved about sharing this experience with other volunteers is the support we’ve all had and given in the process of learning Spanish. The dictionaries that are always on the tables are constantly being perused by the volunteers, and we discuss the words we find or how to conjugate them in various tenses. Everyone has a journal-type notebook that they write in regularly with memories of the farm, useful words that they learned, contact information of other volunteers, doodles and sketches, and even glued in pressed butterflies, leaves, and flowers. My own journal has been much more neglected, but I’ve been filling the back pages with words, phrases, and verb tenses, and I’ve even attempted to translate the entries that I’ve already made into Spanish. I gave up on that when I realized that it was probably ending up like the essays written by Hannah’s students who wrote the entire thing in Korean and translated them word-for-word into English using google translate – not really the best way to learn how to use a language.

I think the type of people you find doing this type of volunteering will always be the kind who want to experience a community, to share ideas and skills, and to maintain a positive atmosphere. I’m glad that the people we’ve met so far have also inspired me to continue exploring my spirituality and maintaining a Zen-like state of being happy to be alive and experiencing each moment. In any case, with Hannah keeping the world up-to-date on Facebook and the blog, I feel quite comfortable to take a long break from the online world, now that I’ve finished my application to vet school. I will likely keep doing the odd blog entry or post on Facebook, but I find that I don’t really want to be perusing the internet when there is so much here that I have yet to discover and so many words that I need to look up and write down. So if you’re feeling abandoned without updates, just know that I think of all my friends in Canada and around the world often, that I wish you could all come here to experience this with me, and that I will send you a postcard or a letter if you gave me your address via email or Facebook. I can’t promise when or from where, but I will keep in touch eventually.

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