By Shaneda Destine
As we navigate through the unpredictability of our daily lives (both figuratively and literally) this election cycle, police killings, intense bigotry, racism, homophobia, transphobia, environmental challenges in our communities, and an overall disregard for our being, I am in constant search of an oasis. A place where I can be Black, woman, queer, an academic, a yogini, and stress-free.
I know from my studies as a sociologist that everything that oppresses us stems from a capitalist, white supremacist and hetero-patriarchal system, where our political-economic system deems greed as more important than humanity, and being both white and male privileges one above all others, specifically queer bodies of color. I understand that this is a global pandemic and the increasing global connections through imperialism have solidified this occurrence in very insidious but often blatant ways.
However, after the shots ring and another Black child, man, woman or queer body lies lifeless on a cold street or when another trans sister is knocked down by the rage of a transphobe or 50 relatives of my extended LGBTQI family are gunned down in what is most often the only safe space offered to us, I dream of this oasis.
I might have stumbled upon this utopia six months ago during an impromptu trip to Costa Rica. Here are six things I learned about the limitless possibilities of self-care while there:
1. My blackness is a source of unity.
When my wife and I got off the plane in Costa Rica, we stepped out onto a packed curb of brown folk. We heard Spanish in full swing. There were loud horns and cab drivers ready and willing to take us to our destination. My wife and I stayed at a small bed and breakfast in San Jose and drove 30 minutes through vast forests and volcanoes to our destination, using the little Spanish we knew to learn about the best restaurants and historical sites to visit. Though much of Central and Southern Americans are descendants of indigenous and Spanish ancestry, there was a sense of community that I found. As a product of a Cuban-Haitian father that passed very early in my life, I felt I was a part of this larger diaspora. I felt my dad’s espiritu.
My wife and I had researched and planned to visit a little town called Puerto Viejo de Talamanca during our stay. We walked the dirt roads of Puerto Viejo hearing Jamaican patois, Spanish, and English all in one conversation. Most of this town’s inhabitants are Jamaican descendants, who traveled here to farm, fish, live, and build community decades ago. This town is devoid of your average tourists and often has a hippie or two walking barefoot through its three-mile length. While here we visited a local library that held capoeira classes at night, ate rice and beans with coconut milk, pescado y ensalada. We visited a local restaurant called Tamara’s everyday and stayed in a small room across from the ocean, which rocked us to sleep in our loft bed nightly. We laid in hammocks outside our room in the day, went to the beach and drank strong caipirinhas and cervezas throughout the night. Throughout my travels, this has been the closest thing to an oasis I have experienced.
2. You can’t make assumptions about acceptance.
There are countless moments in the U.S. where I have experienced homophobia and racism from family members and friends. However, as my wife and I traveled through this predominantly Catholic country, with little Spanish, in our skin and queerness, we did not feel one ounce of hate. We spoke with cab drivers, the owner of our hotel, our tour guide, and more. We even had a recommitment ceremony at our hotel in San Jose, where the owner officiated. There were no hard looks or uncomfortable gestures in our seven days there. Still, this was our experience. Although Costa Rica does not recognize marriage equality, they are a social democracy that puts their resources into education, healthcare and preserving their natural resources since they disbanded their military. An expat told me, “It’s amazing what you could do when you stop funding wars.”
When we got to our hotel, we noticed that the ceiling inside was open. Parrots, monkeys, and vegetation filled the space. As we traveled throughout the country, we realized that there was a value for other forms of life here. I was reminded of this when our tour guide waited for a dog to sniff something in the road as we went up a mountain to visit an animal sanctuary. Costa Rica preserves about a quarter of its land. The land that they do develop, builds around the waterfalls, forests, volcanoes, and natural habitats of our friends in the animal kingdom. At the animal sanctuary, I saw fewer cages than I have seen at any American zoo and a concerted effort to preserve the natural environment.
Costa Rica’s value for natural resources and life forms was an overwhelming experience. There was a respect for one another and less of a hierarchy. In my short visit, I understood what environmentalists and animal rights activists have been protesting for decades. We are more connected than we realize.
4. Everything tastes better with coconut milk and Costa Rican limes.
I can’t help but notice the diaspora through the ways we cook and the ingredients we use in every travel experience I have had. As I eat, I pay tribute to the resilience and strength of my ancestors near and far. My wife was very nostalgic about Puerto Viejo because she was reminded of her Jamaican family as we ate, laughed, and experienced this wonderful town. The coconut milk added to rice in Costa Rica’s signature casado dish was one of the greatest reminders of the diaspora. From Crown Heights, Brooklyn to Costa Rica, we everywhere!
The first time I had caipirinhas was last year in London at a small neo-soul spot called Juno’s in Shoreditch. I must admit it was pretty good then, but I can’t ignore the improvement in the taste when Costa Rican limes are added to this drink. Costa Rican limes are a product of their climate and the elevation of the country. It is both sweet and sour, green outside and orange inside. Mmm, it is divine. Rum, Costa Rican limes…and please don’t forget the sugarcane.
5. Connection is our common language.
People spoke multiple languages and dialects in this sacred space. Even the guy renting bicycles on the island, bartered with us in patois, English and Spanish. Good thing one of us knew a little of each. From the capoeira practice in the local Marcus Garvey Library to the Colombian food served at a small bar, to the brown and black faces that flooded the town on surf boards and bicycles, there was a connection that went beyond words. It was the first time we felt such a strong sense of home.
6. Every problem can be washed away in salt water.
My wife told me that her Jamaican grandmother used to say that all problems can be washed away with a little salt water. My mom would have me gargle with salt water when my throat was sore and we often wash our produce in it, but didn’t understand why. As we went to a public beach on the Caribbean coast, we were reminded. There is something healing about being on a beach with children, men and women of color, hearing all the languages, seeing all the joy and identities we share. At night, I fell asleep every time my head hit the pillow in our room across the ocean. It was all the calm I needed.
Our stay in Costa Rica was short but unforgettable. An oasis, a safe haven, is integral to our existence in this increasingly hostile world. No matter how brief the visit, we need that space as much as we need oxygen.
Shaneda is a wife, aunt, godmommy, sister and friend. She is currently a Ph.d student in sociology at the illustrious Howard University and her research focuses on black women activists’ self-care. She is an undercover poet, chef and yogini. Shaneda writes to empower and influence all women in love.