|Springtime in Playa Samara, Costa Rica|
Ciara, the Italian, grew up in Milan. Danica is Serbian and grew up in Kosovo. She had painful stories of going to university during NATO's bombing campaign. They both work for UN aid organizations and have worked amid natural disaster, large scale death, civil wars and other things that are just stories in the news to me and the folks I know back home. Ciara & Danica met in Haiti, one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in the Western Hemisphere. "The living conditions were terrible in Port-au-Prince," Ciara told me, "but at least I had my own apartment; not like in Libya where we all lived in a secured UN compound." Both women were in-country before the earthquake and stayed for its terrible aftermath; Danica is still stationed in Port-au-Prince.
We had dinner together at La Vela Latina, a mellow beach bar here in Samara with expensive but good burgers. Prior to arriving in Samara, they had gone to a seven day yoga retreat near Nosara that wasn't anything like the vacation they expected. They had to put up with four hours of yoga per day, no drinking (which they disobeyed anyway), no smoking (Ciara chain smoked, like many good Italians), and no meat; both women made it a point to order hamburgers for dinner the night we ate together. But it wasn't all bad. They're certified yoga teachers now. Yay!
Over dinner, the conversation strayed into their work and life in Haiti after the earthquake. The two women were adamant about how the earthquake changed their outlook on life. Danica survived because she was unable to attend a meeting. Her contact was in an office building during the earthquake, the same one Danica would have been in. Danica's contact did not survive, nor did anyone else who attended the meeting Danica missed. Ciara survived because of dumb luck also, though now I forget the exact details. Surviving an earthquake that killed tens of thousands, and by dumb luck no less, humbled them greatly and caused them to reprioritize their lives. Both forcefully stressed to me how fragile all our lives are and how little control we have over them, despite the near complete control many of us assume we have. Danica especially told me how she sees that status, opulence and consumerism are a waste of time. “You can't take those things with you,” she admonished me between drags on her cigarette. "And besides, so many Hatians have nothing but each other and they find joy in that." Danica also mentioned how the earthquake made her think about starting a family because children meant part of her would continue after she had passed away. Both women told me they don't make big plans anymore because life really can't be planned. They had plenty of friends, locals and aid workers, who had plans but will never see those plans to fruition because those friends died during the earthquake.
One of my best friends back home told me to make sure I live in the present during my trip. They thought that was good advice for the trip and for the rest of my life.