I took two steps out of customs and walked into a country I’d never known. Bienvenidos. I was ushered in with blank stares and courteous hello’s from the airport employees.
My bag was heavy. It hurt to carry my high maintenance wardrobe. There were only a few more steps before I reached the door. A stoic security guard watched me as I struggled in all my glorious American stereotypes. Primped hair. Huge luggage that I couldn’t carry. Dazed look. My eyes scanned through the window at the crowd outside. I didn’t see them, but they were there, maybe watching me as I was looking for them. I took my first step outside and, once again, scanned the crowd.
Jota was the first to run up and hug me. My stomach did somersaults. I was in Costa Rica. I flew across the world to hug my best friends and I was there..
“Can I hug you again,” I asked Jota. I didn’t wait for his reply. I threw my arms around him and hugged him again. It didn’t feel real.
Josue and Gabo walked over and I hugged them too. Real bodies for real people, filling in the spaces between words and pictures.
“What do I say to your dad?” I asked Josue. Butterflies taunted my stomach.
He looked at me curiously. “Hello, Victor. That’s all.”
I laughed. Of course. But how do you say, Hi, I’m the American girl you’ve never met who is the friend of your son and his friends and I’m going to be spending the next couple weeks in your house. Thanks! You’re awesome. I’m glad we’re not strangers anymore.
“Hello, Victor,” I said when I saw Josue’s dad.
“Nice to meet you,” he said in his brilliant Tico accent, before giving me a big hug and a kiss. His English was choppy, but he spoke well, and he loved to practice with me.
The whole ride home Victor talked in all the English he knew, and Jota often took over the conversation, adding his hand motions. “Church.” He made a church with his hands, just in case there was any confusion, as he talked about Renuevo and a million other things. Josue translated as best he could and Gabo just smiled. He talked in Spanish every once in a while. The guys would chuckle and I would just smile back. We didn’t understand a word the other was saying, but we were friends just as much. I eyed him with silly smirks and he did the same. We laughed together. That we could understand.
Josue smiled at his joking friends and began to tell me about all the things we were passing… the stadium, the old church building. He laughed at the way the others tried to talk to me. We were all so excited in the midst of this strange scene — four Ticos and an American girl, experiencing our in-person friendship for the first time and attempting to communicate in Spanglish. We didn’t stop talking the whole ride home and even until late in the night after I’d met Rosaura, Eri, and Jahred.
I woke up this morning with this giddy memory at the front of my mind. I couldn’t stop smiling as I replayed it over and over. The next time I arrive at the airport in San Jose I won’t be hugging strangers. I’ll hug some of my best friends.
(Twenty-five more days.)