Central America Costa Rica North America

The Uncomfortable Relationship between Low Probability and Possibility

We are nearing the halfway point of our travels here to Costa Rica. We’ve just moved to a new house where we’ve been for 5 days now. Last weekend we went to Volcan Poas and Manuel Antonio National Park. And today, we’re supposed to go visit the orphanage here in Atenas to see if we are “good enough” to volunteer.

I have a generalized feeling of stress and I believe it is coming from the interactions I’ve had so far with the orphanage “ladies” here in Atenas. They have successfully communicated that our family is just not “good enough” through subtle but still objectively quantifiable statements and behaviors. As with many radically Christian organizations, this one provides a sense of its true beliefs through insinuations rather than honest and straightforward statements. There was the insinuation that all men are sexual deviants who will molest young children if left alone with them for any length of time. Then there was the insinuation that we could not handle ourselves around children without fluency in Spanish. “We just simply cannot use you in a professional capacity without the language ‘piece’.” One woman told me yesterday over the phone.

I have mentioned several times that we were not interested in working as “professionals” (we’re only going to be here for another 5 ½ weeks, after all). We just wanted to see how the orphanage works and spend some time there. We’re not trying to save the world. We don’t believe that we’re providing some heroic sort of service. We just wanted to learn something about how child welfare works in Costa Rica because we function occasionally as foster parents at home.

But the judgment may be too harsh. Too familiar, in fact. It feels an awful lot like home.

There are spiritual questions that accompany my stress-reaction to the orphanage. Should I confront this visceral reaction that I am having to these Good Christian People and try to overcome the feeling? Or should I listen to my intuition and find a different volunteer opportunity perhaps; one that makes me feel at least neutral rather than bad about myself? The idea that volunteering at an orphanage would make me feel like a bad person does sound like a red flag, now that I’m writing it down. I think my advice to another person in a similar situation to mine would be to turn tail and run.

I don’t have to call “Helen” back at the orphanage. But it feels cowardly not to. What if my impression of this place is askew? Perhaps I’m wrong about these people and they’re actually really kind and just very protective of the kids in their care. But if that were the case, they would be asking me more questions about myself to learn more about me before offering me a tour of the place. Instead, they are preying on the little tidbits of information they can get about things like my language skills and bashing me through subtle hints and facial expressions.

I’m probably not wrong about the place, but I’d like to be wrong about it, I guess. And this is why I’ll probably end up calling Helen back despite my inner resistance to it. I want to be wrong about these people. I don’t like to be right about things like this. I want to romanticize the orphanage and believe that it is a loving, caring place that draws in dynamic and helpful volunteers from all over the world to help make these kids’ lives better. But every organ in my body says the probability of that being true is very low.

Somehow, I always find myself working within the realm of low probabilities of success and I think it has to do with my desire to find magic, to stumble across serendipity amidst ugly circumstances. Low probability of success is not the same as impossibility. While my whole body is saying that the orphanage situation will probably go poorly, my mind says that there is still a possibility of finding something of value through the experience. And this is often all it takes for me to get drawn in.

So I’ll call Helen and she’ll probably be mean to me and John and Lydian too perhaps. Maybe a different person will be mean to us this time. But maybe I’ll meet someone else worthwhile or just learn something that will be valuable to me in the future if we go through with the whole ordeal and just go do the volunteering at the orphanage.  Or I’ll leave after the first day with nothing good to say about the place. It’s hard to know in advance, but I suppose not knowing is what makes it truly interesting. Not knowing is where possibility lives and though it may be a dark and frightening place sometimes, it at least never fails to be interesting.

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