If you ask me what I did the summer between my first and second year teaching, I will tell you I worked for my friend Tom in his cafe in Costa Rica. If you ask my friend Tom, he will tell you that “worked” is a strong word.
He likes to focus on the fact that I ate as many truffles and bagels as I served (the dios mio truffle and the Mattwhich are to die for!) I like to focus on the fact that I actually did take orders and carry some plates to tables at least a couple times each day. Tom likes to remind me that I took a two week vacation from my eight week post, traveling around to other parts in Costa Rica (the cloud forest in Monteverde, the waterfalls in Montezuma, and rafting in Rio Pacuare are highly recommended). I like to remind Tom that he should be grateful I didn’t put in for a third week to visit Manuel Antonio National Park, or get preggo and put in for Costa Rica’s three month paid maternity leave (nevermind that I wouldn’t have been eligible for it).
Tom was not only an understanding boss, but he was an excellent Spanish teacher as well. If it weren’t for Tom’s invitation to stay with him in Costa Rica that summer when my au pair job in Cannes fell through, and his patience in answering all my vocabulary questions as I sat with a newspaper in one hand, coffee in the other, muffin, truffle, bagel, and brownie in my mouth, es possible que yo nunca hubiera aprendido espanol. Tom also proved to be a surprisingly excellent wingman, helping me navigate through my soft spot for men wid eSpanish accents.
That summer at Bread and Chocolate was my first taste of “working” abroad, and those two weeks of well-deserved vacation from my vacation were the first time I traveled alone. I’m grateful that Tom paved the way, and readily accepted me into his experiment. He dove into the world of international work with no training wheels, then let me ride on the pegs of his bike while I got a feel for it myself.
Tom’s work in Costa Rica has been a model for what I aspire to achieve in my life abroad – he is committed to integrating into the community as well as to giving back to the community. Tom has developed a close network of local friends, and despite his cafe being frequented by tourists, he conscientiously keeps prices affordable for locals. He renovated local basketball courts and organized youth and adult leagues. Tom reminds me to simultaneously challenge myself, help others, have fun, and be content.
Now, though I love Tom, I would feel amiss to give my thanks to Tom without mentioning his parents, Jeff and Lee. They are some of the most interesting, thoughtful, and welcoming people I know. A conversation with a Franklin is guaranteed to make you think, rethink, smile, or laugh. A visit with the Franklins is guaranteed to involve good food and a quirky game, toy, or activity. The Franklins have touched their communities in such a way that I have no idea what color their refrigerator actually is – you can’t see a bare inch of it through the photos of and post cards from their “extended family.” In an alternate universe, I want to be Tom. When I grow up, I want to be Ms. Lee.
Gracias, Franklins, just for being you.