Tuesday, May 11, 2010

THE BARE ESSENTIALS... by Chrissa Pullicino

The day had finally arrived. I had given up my 4th floor walk-up apartment in New York City, left my corporate job with a severance package, severed ties with my boyfriend, and stored my belongings in my mother’s basement in Pennsylvania, waiting for some day in the future, perhaps 5 or 6 months from now, when I would return from my trip to Central America.

I packed a backpack, with the bare essentials and a mini, hand-held recorder so I could do some audio journaling along the way. The plan was to spend a few months in Costa Rica, volunteering at a rainforest retreat center, while I waited for my best friend to meet me in Guatemala, where we would spend a few months doing a Spanish language immersion program.

I had no idea what kind of work I would be doing, just that it had taken me a few months, and several epic emails to convince the owners to let me live there in exchange for room and board. I had found the hotel through Omega, even though I had not ever been to their Rhinebeck campus. But I knew of it, and had been introduced to one of the cofounders, who put me in touch with the hotel, because Omega sometimes rented space there for winter workshops.

During those months leading up to my departure I poured my heart out, across cyber space, trying to paint an accurate picture of who I was, and what I could offer professionally, and how I was standing at a post 9/11 cross road, desperate to get off the corporate ladder, and interested in alternative health and personal growth. I offered to do everything and anything – from marketing and PR, to teaching English, to cutting vegetables, or cleaning guest rooms – whatever was needed I would gladly do, for the opportunity to spend a few months there. I explained that in addition to my professional skills, I was also studying yoga and had recently taken a few introductory massage therapy classes at the Swedish Institute.

After a few months of writing to them, without a response, I logged into email one afternoon, certain today would be the day I’d hear back. Much to my dismay there was still no response. It was then that I surrendered and asked the universe to guide me to something else if this was not meant to be. At that very moment the phone rang! On the other end, a man speaking in broken English, from Sueno Azul Resort in Costa Rica, was thanking me for all my letters, and inviting me to get on the next plane and come down to be a volunteer. Thrilled, I thanked him and assured him I was not expecting money, just room and board, but he reassured me that they would give me something. I remember thinking, perhaps they would reimburse my bus fare, or minor expenses associated with getting to and fro.

And now, here I was leaving for Newark airport, backpack in tow, and a blank slate before me. As I was waiting patiently at the terminal, my ex boyfriend suddenly showed up. He had left work in the middle of the day, jumped on a train, and come to see me off. The romance was long gone, but I was touched, and we shared a tender good bye.

The flight was easy, and I was making my way through customs before I knew it. The hotel owner and his beautiful wife picked me up from the airport, and took me to their home in San Jose, where I would spend the night before making my way to the hotel in the morning. I don’t recall much more about that night, but when I woke up in the morning the 3 of us had breakfast at the kitchen table, which was prepared and served by a live-in housekeeper.

I decided it was a good time to broach the subject of what my work would be. In broken English they told me, “We think it best if you work in the spa. You teach yoga classes to the guests and give massages.” I was a little caught off guard. Sure, I was the one that said I was interested in yoga and massage, but I definitely was not certified or licensed in either modality. Intimidated, I tried to talk my way out of it, playing up all my other skills, but they were convinced this was best, and offered to pay me 20% of the income I earned for them.

Next thing I knew, a driver had arrived. He spoke no English, but I gathered he would be the one taking me 1.5 hours northeast to the hotel. It was a wild ride, me in the backseat of his pick-up, with my Spanish dictionary in hand, trying to express my amazement at the jungle and mountains we were winding through along the way.

Once I had arrived, met the hotel manager and settled into my lovely room, I went to the dining pavilion for lunch. There I joined the owner’s son, who was very gracious, and spoke perfect English. We shared a meal and some conversation, alone in the dining room. I asked him where all the guests were, and he said the hotel was at low occupancy, with just one group that day; a group of equestrians, who had gone riding in the rainforest for the afternoon. Quite happy to have finally arrived, and to have made a friend, and to find little to no work waiting for me, I decided to return to my room and take an afternoon nap.

As soon as I lay down, there was suddenly a frantic knocking on the door. It was Manuel, from the front desk, saying – “Tienes un masaje! Tienes un masaje!” Which I understood immediately. Holy cow, there was someone at the Spa wanting a massage. He asked me if I had white clothes, and if I knew where the Spa was. Luckily I did have a white tank top and slacks, so I changed quickly and then he took me to the Spa.

The whole walk there, through winding pathways, and lush green gardens with bright red ginger, I kept repeating silently to myself, “You ARE a massage therapist. You’ve done this a thousand times, you ARE a massage therapist. You’ve done this a thousand times!” Over and over again, I repeated my mantra, but I already knew playing this role was going to be a trip.