Hi, this is a testimony-report by Marilyn Valverde, she was part of the group who visited the community of Alto Katsi on January. It was written in Spanish...
This is the story of my trip to Talamanca with my mom, my uncle, my uncle's brother in law Roger and me, when we went to leave donations from the Red Cross comity of San Ramon de Alajuela to a small elementary school.
On Sunday, January 18th around 8.30 am. We left the hotel in Cahuita in Bribri to the camp in Bambú. At nightfall our guide Danilo took us to a small trip in the village. We passed by the most important places in town, the soccer “field”, the bar, and the edge of the river (in which 14 houses existed before the river destroyed them) and finally the retirement home Santa Luisa. That's where we met Cassy, a north American that fought for 17 years for its construction, and in which she's been working for 20 years now. (the home its 3 years old).
A hard working, example of a woman, who explained to us that not only Indians live there, but also black and white people, the majority abandoned by their families.
We saw a very sad case of an 80 year old man, that because of his age is now blind, and the nuns had to tie him up so he wouldn't hurt himself. The only thing he does is cry... Its a HOME for these people, when you enter you feel an air of tolerance, respect and love from the people that work there, that give their service and attention without any kind of discrimination.
We went back to the camp glad of having shared time with this people,that in their tired glances you see the profound affection that they feel for the persons that visit them, and at the same time, you wish to get a bit of the wisdom they have achieved through the years.
On Monday, January19th, at 7.30 am. we took the bus that dropped us off by the river Telire, which we crossed to get to Amubri. From there a pick up gave us a ride to the center of Amubri. Then we walked 15 minutes to get to Justo's mother's house. (Danilo's brother). The Conic House or Casa Cónica was completely amazing, and which is unique in that region. First we went inside Dona Natalia's house. Without knowing us, she gave us food and juice, even though it was delicious, we were so full from our breakfast that we couldn't eat much of it.
We met Rosita, Natalia's younger daughter, that even though she finished elementary school and she's been given the chance several times to go finish her studies, she doesn't want to go study away from her parents, she's scared of the unknown, of facing the White's people world alone.
Rosita took us inside the Conic House and her father told us that this is where they celebrate their traditions and rituals. She took us to a mini Conic house where there are 3 big and plain rocks where the women crush cocoa and corn, there's also a small “tinamaste” where they also make coffee to drink while they work.
Justo decided to take us to a vintage point, 30 minutes away walking from the Conic House. From there we decided to keep on walking 30 more minutes to get to Suqui's bridge.
Suqui is a remote place to get to, you've got to pass rivers, huge rocks, hills, downhills, that leave you breathless. Around the bridge, were only a couple of cabin's, and off course, the 300m long Suqui river. Rosita and I went to the other side of the river and the old stairs of the bridge.
When we were leaving, we had to wait for Duke, Rosita's dog that had crossed the river minutes before and now wanted to get back. Poor thing, the current almost drowned him away... while we were waiting for the dog, and Indian woman passed by with her two kids. It seems they keep their old traditions, for example, where the woman doesn't speak, and we noticed so because when she saw us she put her head down and her children were scared of us.
When finally Duke was able to cross back to our side, we headed back to the Conic House , where again, was plenty of food and juice awaiting. Natalia asked me if someone showed us the inside of the Conic House, and I said yes but we didn't know what the things in it mean, so she walked us inside and explained to us a little bit.
There's a small bonfire in the center of the house that is always on but at night. On top there's a small basket that hangs from the top of the house, that every six days they swing to honor the spirits. They also use it when a newborn child shows uneasiness, a Chaman takes him and rocks him to sleep on top of the smoke from the fire.
She showed us a puma skin (with claws and all) and a small drum they use for the ritual's music made of bamboo and snake skin. Afterwards she showed us how they crush the corn for the chicken. There my uncle bought some cocoa and we took pictures.
We thanked Dona Natalia for her courtesy and hospitality, we left to Amubri's center and waited almost two hours for the bus (the only bus that has to stop several times around the town).
Back at the river, we took a tour in panga (boat) directly to Bambú. It was pretty bumpy because the currents were strong and when it didn't push us, the low level of the water would make us bump in the rocks.
We passed by the bar (which in a wall has the prices from one up to 17 beers) to buy a cool drink. Then we headed to the camp.
On Tuesday, January 20th a young man arrived early in the morning to pick us up and take us to a farm, where a horse was getting ready for me to ride it. Meanwhile, we saw a couple of baby crocodiles, a toucan and a sow that just dropped 6 babies. Finally, we took the tour through the cocoa plantation to get to the 8 hectare banana plantation. There I was able to ride “Palomo”. Dona Toribia, the owner of the plantations was nearby and kindly she showed us her land, while having a pleasant conversation with the people accompanying me. We went to the river, back to Palomo's stable and then went back to the camp. A short but nice tour.
On Wednesday January 21st, my mom arrived from Cahuita along with all her equipment and uniform of the Red Cross. Although this past days it's been sunny, it started raining A LOT, and this made our work harder.
We filled the car with the donations from the Red Cross and after a cup of coffee we took off. My uncle and his brother in law Roger sat in front, Danilo, my mom and I in the back seats and with the donations and little air to breath, Justo.
It didn't take long before we were at the river bank. Meanwhile we were downloading the car, a truck filled with bags and a pick up with a bunch of people arrived. It was a group of young people with a Bribri's priest that were bringing donations for a small town nearby, much closer than the one we were heading to. My mom and Justo helped the people carry the bags to their panga, while my uncle and Roger were parking the car in someplace safe away from the river's bank. When they were back we crossed the river in our panga. We told the “captain” if he could take us directly to Katsi, but he said he wouldn't go with the bad weather.
So, we had to walk a few kilometers in until we found an old truck “out of order” that couldn't even turn on. We stopped there and waited a few minutes until the “Ferrari” was fixed to give us a ride to Katsi. Along with the donations and bags full of rocks, we were all in the back of the truck. The driver would stop in the way to take more people, until the truck couldn't no more and it turned off. Luckily, minutes before a bus had passed by (walking backwards).
We thanked the driver and passed the bags from the truck to the bus. This one took us to Katsi, where the Indians from Alto Katsi were waiting for us. (it was clear that on the way to Katsi we witnessed the destruction that the passed floods left behind. Some lost everything.)
Anyway, the teacher of the elementary school was there, very shy (almost hiding) but little by little came to talk to us. All of us there took a bag, even the younger ones, and started off walking. A few meters away we crossed the Katsi river and started walking into the mountain. With mud to our ankles , looking out so the others won't fall in the mud. After walking the three longer kilometers in my life in a HARSH land we arrived to the “school”.
I stopped and stayed staring at the “educative institution” for some long seconds. It is completely breathtaking, a small shack without walls nor windows,class was maximum 3x3 meters, with a pile of wood under the “floor” and the tiniest blackboard with “happy graduation 2008” written on it. A few meters away thrown in the grass, was a big piece of wood that said “Welcome to Alto Katsi school” and a few sticks that mark the soccer field. Wow. An image that I describe in such a minimum way, that I can only say that Roger ended up crying...
In the “classroom” we putted the packages while waiting for the rest of the people to come with the missing bags. Only I stood in the classroom, because Lorena, the teacher, said that if we all went up in there, it would just fall on our heads. She also told us that every year she fills up the government applications writing everything they need but the things never come.
Danilo and my mom put a couple of boards on the grass to put the things and start giving. At the beginning the people were very shy, but it went away fast. It was pretty easy to see the happiness in the kids and their mothers faces, holding big bags of clothing. Maybe it was the first time it did so. When mom finished giving away the clothes, I put the notebooks and some school stuff on the boards. Danilo gave a super speech in Bribri/Spanish so we all understood a little bit. He said much things that impress me, but the one that impacted me the most was that we were the first “white” people that went up there to give donations to the kids. After he said I was the school's godmother, i said a few words not to stay short.
We gave the things and it started to rain so we said good bye. They showed us their gratitude and love. A man gave my uncle a bow with an arrow and a man that they call a.k.a. “chino” gave me a hand made traditional hat.
Its amazing how this people without having much, give what they have without interest but with true love to the fellow person. I heard Danilo telling my uncle that this people receive 45 colons ($0.09)per kilogram of plátano (type of green banana used as a vegetable), when in the farmer's market you buy it at 400 colons($0.80), almost 9 times more of what they get.
Justo took us to his ex wife's house, which he has two kids and a kind relationship with. In this house they keep the chairs and tables of the school (to protect them from the rain as the school roof leak bad).
They served us a humble chicken soup, that even though simple, i dare say it was the best chicken soup I've had in my life. We appreciated it from the bottom of our hearts, not only because we were hungry, but they killed that chicken specially for us. The most surprising thing and which impressed our little explorer group, was that they all got together and sent 22,500 colons (about $40.00)to a bank account for the victims of the past earthquake (January 8th). Love indeed!
We stayed for over an hour eating oranges and talking to the women. After announcing that we were leaving, i headed off to the latrine and said good bye.
The comeback was easier obviously without the bags, but it was still exhausting. We got back to the camp soaked to the bone and dirty like pigs in the mud. It was going well until Roger slipped and to avoid the fall, grabbed a pejibaye tree, sticking 12 prickles in his hand, that the next day took out in the clinic.
We found the Ferrari again, and it drove us back to the river Telire. Off course, with a little help from the passengers, that made maneuvers of weights and counterweights to stabilize the truck. We took a panga, which my mom, fearing the water, was almost not breathing from the “happiness”.
In the other side, we got on my uncle's car and went back to the camp. Tired and sad at the same time of seeing these people situation, that live like in the XIX century.
On Friday, January 23th, we decided to go back home (one day before scheduled).
We were awfully tired, we preferred going back home to San Ramón than staying one day more in Cahuita, near the sound of the weaves and the beach.
I learned so much, i truly feel something inside of me changed. Not only as a person, but as a future Costarican citizen. There's a lot of work to do. We think that the most needed ones live in the “ghettos”, but we also forget what's hiding behind the Talamanca mountains.
It was a nice experience, from which i learned more about my own roots, that I hope never forget and keep in my heart and mind.
In this past few days we've been very busy thinking and collecting funds for the construction of that elementary school. Danilo has been talking to a important woman in the government friend of his and she got half a million colons for the construction and said that was going to take her architect daughter to make the design of the school.
Like the saying goes- just do it! Or better, like my uncle says, to get something from the governments, you've got to put pressure on them, because it is only when the filth comes out that people get embarrassed and work.
I hope people keep on getting embarrassed of their egocentrism and work hard to start helping the people that really need it.
It is only with kicks in the behind and claims that Costaricans will get the nation we dream off?
Will it be “God's Will” if we do?
Maybe the situation will gets better... maybe. Who knows???
Marilyn Stephanie Valverde Salas, 16.
San Ramon, Alajuela
On January 21st Michel and his family (a group of travelers from Coffee and Cacao Lands) went to Alto Katsi with donations for this small and poor community. They were the first non-indigenous group visiting this village and the people were really excited for their visit. They brought donations to all the kids in the village and they had a small activity with them.
The trip was really interesting as they should take a boat then an old truck, they crossed a few rivers using hanging bridges and finally they should walk a few kilometers before they could arrive to Alto Katsi's school.
As they could confirm the school's condition was almost inhuman and now different colaborators are trying to make this public in order to get help. A friend from the community already got an important donation to build a new structure and in a few weeks she will go to Alto Katsi with an architect in order to draw a plane for a new school.
We are very grateful with Michel and his family for their willingness to help this community and go further with their holiday. We also thank them for their great pictures. The "Comite de la Cruz Roja Costaricense de San Ramon de Alajuela" also helped to make this happen as they brought a big portion of the donations.
They stayed at the lodge for 5 days and took some tours in the area.
Mike and family will come back again in around 4 weeks with more help.