How Living in BriBri Helped Me Wrap My Arms Around Who I Really Am

This post is contributed by Deidra Razzaque, a SPS Featured Blogger.


You’ve probably never heard of BriBri.

Located on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, it’s in what I think of as the warmest, wettest, poorest, most culturally diverse part of the county. It is unlike any other Costa Rican town.


In BriBri, there is no neatly laid-out town square near a church with a steeple. There are some ramshackle, brightly-colored buildings with the jungle behind them, a line of taxi piratas with their owners trading stories in the dust, and local buses that will run you to the beach or to the indigenous reserve.

Maybe it’s kind of a surprising place to fall in love with.

I was originally sent to the capital of Costa Rica as a Peace Corps volunteer. But I found myself feeling increasingly frustrated because the people I worked for changed their minds every single week about what work they actually wanted me to do—so I never got started with anything.

I began to research places that might need me more. I felt drawn to the region of Talamanca, and decided to tell my Peace Corps supervisor that I wanted to go there. When I ran this idea by fellow volunteers, they said, “No!! You can never tell him where you really want to go. He always sends people to a place that’s totally different from what they ask for. Say you really want to go to the north and to the mountains, and maybe then he’ll send you somewhere on the coast.”

But I went ahead with my plan. And instead of saying no to my request, Juan said, “Well, I’ll only send you there if you’ll stay three years instead of two.”

Sit with that for a moment. Not only was I sent where I felt compelled to go, but I was asked to stay longer than originally intended. When a place calls to our soul and we listen to that call, we will get there somehow.

What place has called to your soul?

How well have you listened?

I know that a lot of people believe that we can be ourselves anywhere—everywhere. And to some extent that’s true. But in an article for Spirituality and Health, Anneli Rufus writes about how, on a trip to Hawaii, she recognized, “[H]ow intimately our identities, our relationships with ourselves, connect with our surroundings….What fulfills some folks drains others in the exact same place, whether they realize this…or not.”

Whether we visit for a day, or live in a place for years, I think the reason we love a certain place is because we love ourselves more when we are there.

Before I moved to BriBri I was living in Washington, DC–a pretty amazing place. I lived in a neighborhood where there were native speakers of over 36 languages. As a result of all those cultures, I ate amazing food, heard delightful music, and had fascinating conversations. There were myriad opportunities for activism around causes that were important to me. There were miles of art museums that I roamed for hours each weekend.

I was having a great time. I thought of myself as a quintessential city girl.

After a while in Talamanca, I discovered that what I had loved about Washington was that there were so many marvels around me. There was so much to see and do that my whole focus was beyond myself.

In Talamanca, in contrast, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. So I learned to look inward first; to understand myself in a way I never had before. I had to figure out what I enjoyed, what I could make, and what I truly wanted to contribute. Doing this helped me to feel validated, and to validate myself. So when I did connect with people and experiences in Talamanca, I felt like I was doing so from a deeper, more genuine place.

Here are 3 things I discovered:

1. I am beautiful, inside and out.

I grew up a brown, full-figured, curvy girl in a neighborhood of thin, white people, and I was constantly told to eat less and exercise more. That growing up molded me, so that even years later I felt awkward, ugly, and like I could never quite measure up. I usually thought that the wrongness of my appearance meant that I was wrong on the inside, too. I would wear dully-colored clothing that was two sizes too big, and I looked at the ground a lot.

But when I stepped off the bus in BriBri, I practically fell over because there were so many women who looked like me, and they were wearing bright, beautiful clothes that hugged their curves. I suddenly felt permission to look like I looked. Because I could stop wasting my energy thinking that I didn’t look right, I channeled that energy into doing things that made me feel right.

2. I am wild about slowness.

I love all that can happen when time opens up; when we let go of our expectations about how much time we have or how much time something should take. Tico time, island time, call it what you will. To me, that fluidity is like greeting all of life with a huge embrace. At first it was shocking to live with time in BriBri. I would plan workshops that began at 4 pm and people would actually start strolling in at 5 pm—at the very earliest. I know that the first few months of this confused me, and sometimes brought me to tears—were people going to show up or were they not? Certainly, if it was raining they would not. But if the sun was out, chances were good that they’d be there eventually, with big smiles on their faces.

Soon I grew to like this. If I ran into a friend on the street, we could always stop for cafecito before continuing wherever we were headed. Now it is a balm to know that, at least in BriBri, there is always enough time to do what matters most right this minute.

3. I am creative.

I’ve always created things—poems, collage, dance; anything that could tell a good story in a compelling way. But being in BriBri took my creativity beyond “art” and turned into how I live my life. Because when I was there, I wasn’t constantly going out to experience concerts, poetry readings, and art exhibits, like I had in Washington.

Instead, I discovered that I could be an artist every day in ways that I might not previously have considered artistic.   For example, I learned how much fun it is to make my own surroundings beautiful. I also did a lot of work with kids, who are natural artists and lovers of life. So they constantly showed me ways to be more creative. As a result, I began to relate to everything in my life in more innovative ways. I felt more curious about the people I met, and I began to appreciate the story in every experience.

What about you?

Think about the things you have learned and who you have become in the place that makes your heart sing. How can you celebrate that place and all the ways you’ve grown there?

And if you haven’t found that place yet? Well, that’s precisely why you’re on the travel path. It is deep. It is wide. It will take you exactly where you need to go.