The first time I ever traveled anywhere without one of my parents was in 1961, when I was 18 years old. It was also the first time I got on an airplane. My destination was Germany. A young handsome soldier who was in the Army had given me an engagement ring just prior to shipping off to Germany. We had been engaged for one year and he decided that he wanted to get married before his tour of duty was up.
It is hard to remember what was more exciting – the thought of getting married or the trip to Germany. The day I left Omaha, Nebraska, you would have thought a movie star was taking off from that small airport. Every relative I can think of was there sending me off. It was one of the most exciting days of my life. I had to fly from Omaha to Chicago and then to New York. When the plane took off from New York, excitement began to set in about my new adventure in life. I never really thought about people speaking a different language until I had to change planes in Belgium. While on the flight from Belgium to Frankfurt, Germany, they gave me a meal on the plane that was lox, cream cheese and a bagel. To a Nebraska girl, the lox looked like raw fish. It was at that moment that I began realizing that I was not only leaving my town and my country, I was entering into another world.
It is very hard to visualize a different world, when your world has been the town you live in and the communities surrounding you. Even though my family traveled to California, Missouri and Tennessee, I still saw some of the same things in these areas as I saw at home in Omaha. There was not a lot of difference – the dress was the same, the language was the same – the only thing different that I remember is that in Tennessee they ate grits.
In 1961 there were no African Americans working at the airline counters, none were working at the ticket counter and there were absolutely no black pilots. The only black person I saw was the guy handling the luggage. From Omaha to Germany I saw one black person who worked in the airport. When I got on that airplane my world turned white and the first black person I saw was Charles when he picked me up at the airport.
What a world it was. That first experience of meeting the challenges of the unknown are unforgettable. Someone spoke to me in German and all I could do was smile and hunch my shoulders to indicate that I did not understand what was being said. They eventually sent one of the airport attendants who spoke English over to help me.
It was then and there that I was hooked for life on traveling. My world became so much bigger. Traveling is exciting, educational, rewarding and liberating. Things I’d read in books about Germany and about people in other countries just seemed to burst open in my mind. I was never a good student in geography or social studies, but, if after that experience it would have been possible to take those courses again, I would have done great.
This is why when people write and ask me “how are black people treated in Costa Rica?” I almost laugh. My world changed from seeing some black people (because in Omaha at that time, black people were less than 1% of the population), to seeing all white people. Plus the people spoke a different language, one I did not understand.
Now we are living in a time where you cannot board an airplane and not see black people. The thought that we would now stay home and not visit other countries because we are unsure of how we would be treated is amazing to me.
I never will forget, when I was in Germany, the old lady who asked me, “did we grow tails after dark”. She asked me that because that is what the white soldiers had told the German people about the African American soldier. You see, the African American soldier was restricted from being off-post or off-base after dark. The Germans wanted to know why and the white soldiers told them it was because the African American soldiers grew tails after dark. In order to prove myths like this and others as lies, we need to travel and tell our own story.
We so often lump everyone in the same basket. Our opinion is that everyone who speaks Spanish is the same, with very little variations. People who live in New York or Miami know the difference but most people outside of those states believe that all Hispanics are Mexican. A lot of my visitors come over looking for Mexican food only to be very disappointed. Costa Ricans do not eat hot spicy foods. If you go into many of their restaurants they do not have black pepper on the table. There are some Costa Ricans that add a little spice but not many. Costa Ricans are more reserved in their dress and their actions than Mexicans. Costa Ricans are not “party people” in comparison to many other Latin cultures. Their music has a similar beat but they are a little more conservative.
Traveling teaches you so much about people and their way of life. There are a lot of things young people would enjoy when visiting Costa Rica. There is so much to explore and to learn. Unfortunately, most of our visitors go for things that are tourist “fun” attractions and hardly ever venture off the tourism path. Costa Rica is much more than zip lines and the beach. Costa Rica is exciting, and traveling here will give you an opportunity to discover the people, the climate, the culture, the country, and its rich history.