On a humid beach in Panama, I sat rubbing sand off my legs and wondering whether or not I really wanted another Margarita. I felt fatigued, sunburned and slightly annoyed by the toothless, beach-dwelling man who was currently hovering over me in effort to sell me cocaine. Needless to say, I was leaning towards yes on the second margarita.
I had been abroad for almost an entire year. I had spent the spring living in Budapest; stepping on sea-urchins on Croatian beaches, posing with fake-Gladiators outside of Roman ruins, having suave men buy me pints of beer in Ireland. I had been lucky enough to live with my closest friends in a European city. I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t a four month long party.
But my fall was different; a complete 180 from the urban trendiness of Europe. My fall was spent speaking Spanish in a small, rural town in Costa Rica. There, I spoke only Spanish, all day, everyday. All of my classes were about the Spanish language, taught solely in Spanish, by native Spanish-speakers. Overwhelming? Uh, yeah!
I will always remember my first day of classes in Costa Rica. I was nervous as all hell. It felt like kindergarten. I didn’t know what to wear. I tied and re-tied my shoes. I wondered if I’d make friends. I’d hoped my teachers would like me.
I had left my host-family’s house and walked out on to the poorly paved street. A large cow with a collar made of old, purple rope, stood there standing in the middle of the road, directly in front of my family’s home. The cow stared at me. It was stationary in the hot morning sunshine, with its soft-brown eyes affixed to my own. There was not a person in sight and I had no idea what to do. Should I touch this cow? Pull it by its cow-collar out of the street where it would most likely get hit by a car? Should I walk on by? Perhaps this was a stray cow…is there such a thing?
After about 10 seconds, a short, shirt-less man appeared running down the street. He ran directly up to the cow, yelling Spanish profanities and smacked it repeatedly on its head. He turned to me and apologized. Seeing as I was not Costa Rican, he spoke to me in adorable broken English. He explained that this was his family’s only cow. They had owned other cows but all of these cows had done just what this one was doing; escaped from their yard to stand in the street. These other cows had been hit by cars and died. He asked me, if I saw this cow again, could I please take it by the collar, and lead it back into his yard? I obliged and agreed to participate in the suicide-watch of this cow.
At least three times a week, I would leave for my classes and find the cow standing, immobile in the middle of the road. I would lead it back to its yard while telling her that she had so much to live for, that life as a cow couldn’t be that bad, that I was there for her, if ever she needed to talk.
Near the end of my semester there, the shirtless man’s family had saved up enough money to install a new fence around their yard. Thus, the cow was safely contained and my mornings of saving the cow’s life were over.
Before I left to return home to the US, the shirtless man approached me on the street. He hugged me and thanked me for all my help. He said that for all of my efforts to protect his cow, his family and he had decided to re-name the cow after me. Now although this may seem stupid and absurd, I felt so touched. My eyes welled up and I couldn’t help but shed a few tears.
While I sat on the beach in Panama, I thought hard on not only this cow-saving occurrence, but everything I’d experienced in the last year.
I had been nervous to come to a “third-world country” alone. Hell, I’d been nervous to go to Europe with a whole bunch of friends! I had expected things and people to be so extremely different outside of my safe, little American-girl world. But I found that anywhere you go in the world, people are people. When it comes down to it, we’re not so unlike each other. While we might think we’re different; divided by countries and religion, sexual preference or skin color, but no, we are all the same. We all fear, we all love and we all, sometimes, need help.
I’ve found that some of the most important things you can ever learn in life are best learned by stepping out of your comfort zone. It is so much easier to roll through life in a safe routine, then to take a chance. But in this rut, in this safe routine, how much do we ever really experience? How much do we really ever learn about ourselves?
So although things can get shitty, and although it’s much easier to be scared than to be brave, be willing to take a chance. Have faith. Take a breath. And order that second margarita. And if things get hard along the way, know that it is ok to ask for help. Whether its help starting a new life in a foreign country or just keeping your runaway cow in your own damn yard ; )