"Works, Not Words." On the last jungle weekend of Camp Jungle2Jersey, the boys and I visited Barry and Nanci at The Bridge located a hair to the north of Puerto Viejo. I will try to write about The Bridge and our day there without using the words incredible, amazing,
inspiring, beautiful, moving, overwhelming, unbelievable, but it will
be awesomely difficult to do. Interject these words at will while reading… it won’t be too much.

I’d heard of The Bridge from other blogs. And Barry, co-founder along with wife Nanci, is a frequent participant in the Costa Rica Living Group board. He sounded sane (I’m pretty sure I’m wrong on that). I’d visited the website and was inspired by what I read. Visiting their Actual Organization became a top priority on my What To Do In PV Once I Get There list.

From the time I first heard of The Bridge – with its community kitchen, food, school and micro-loan programs – I expected, in my adorable old-fashioned norteamericano way, that it was A Place. A Center. An Organization with A Location. With A Kitchen. I expected Humble. Everything is humble here. But I expected… Bigger. These expectations are killing me.

The Bridge operates out of the Stevens’ adorable airy artsy unassuming home. Which would fit into my house at least four times. I’d say it’s around 800sf MAX. Two bedrooms, one bath, living/dining room, and the tiniest kitchen I think I’ve EVER been in. Ever.

Both kitchen walls are covered with shelves and/or hooks. And every shelf and hook is fully occupied. I volunteered to wash dishes. I love washing dishes. This day, I washed about 4,000 of ’em: bowls, plates, cups and spoons. Standing sideways, I take up 18" of space. With bent elbows, I could touch the counter on both sides. From my memory, I don’t believe either counter was regulation 24" deep. The kitchen extended behind me about 6′ to 8′. It was not big. But like a ship’s galley, it was awesomely efficient!

So efficient, it produced delicious hearty vegetable soup, crackers, cut-up fruit and fresh fruit juice for 40 to 50 people. Out of the guest bedroom appeared several bags of clothes and food to be handed out to the actual needy. The micro-loan program is efficiently managed from Barry’s laptop on a TV table which IS his office, occupying about two square feet of space in the middle of the living room. After lunch, EVERYONE crowded onto the small screened front porch to watch a DVD (G-rated with Spanish subtitles)* on a laptop screen. The audience was rapt.

Barry and Nanci retired to Costa Rica a few short years ago. To retire, actually. They rented their first home, wanting to make sure they liked the area while they kept an eye out for permanent digs. Said rental home happened to be at the foot of the mountains in which the Bribri live. The Bribri are one of the eight** indigenous societies of Costa Rica.

Over time, Barry and Nanci got to know their neighbors. They saw a need and, instead of observing it from the sidelines like most of us do, they opened up their hearts, their wallets, their home. The result is The Bridge. Though it started with the soup kitchen and handing out food, it operates fully on the principle that when you give a man a fish, he eats today. When you teach a man to fish, he eats for life. In reality, teaching a people to fish includes feeding and clothing them during the learning curve.

For now, the community kitchen is open Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9am and Saturday at noon.*** There are three to five Bribri children who show up on soup kitchen mornings to set up tables and prepare for the masses. The boys and I served soup, juice, fruit, coffee, refilled
empty bowls and cups, cleared tables and washed dishes. Barry counted heads and kept up with supplies, monitoring the big picture. Nanci sang along with Ahria’s gospel tunes and kept things moving. Which includes her body, non-stop and seemingly tirelessly. She never really tells you what to do… you are free to see what needs doing and then do that. If I lived in PV, I’d be there a lot just to be around Nanci, sangin’ those gospel tunes…

The soup kitchen is not so much to stave off hunger, although it certainly does that. It’s more to provide community and fellowship for neighbors that for
the most part never see each other. A time and place to open up communications, see what is needed, allow new ideas to occur.

Some of those new ideas are in the works. Like building a bigger space for the soup kitchen. Building a shelter for abused women and children. Between machismo, poverty, isolation and alcohol abuse, a shelter is sorely needed. Although
it may need to be farther away from home then the bottom of the hill…

Homework By Candlelight, Puerto Viejo
Photo by Eric Bellamy, ©2007 Eric Bellamy, bellamye@comcast.netHomework_by_candellight_puerto_viej

Nanci wants to build and operate a not-for-profit private school. Desperately needed. You can’t go to school in Costa Rica unless you have supplies, books, clothes to the tune of about $75 per child. If you read the links about the Bribri above, you know they are isolated and depend on a barter system to get along day to day. How many chickens can you trade for a pair of shiny black school shoes?

For kids who can’t afford to go to public school – and there are so so many throughout Costa Rica – a school here would be a godsend. Education is the key. Yes, it will likely end the isolation of the Bribri which in turn will water down, likely end, their culture. But that is happening anyway and coming to a much unhappier demise.

As soon as the next project is funded, I am looking forward to going back and building it. Hal can build anything, I’m still young enough and strong enough to do plenty. We have two young strong backs to offer, with wit, cheer and willingness attached. We will get more than we give, that is without question.

I didn’t walk away from our day thinking I done a good thing for the poor Bribri. I walked way inspired and moved. It and they done a good thing to me. If you want a lesson on creating something magical from thin air, on making a difference, spend a day with Barry and Nanci at The Bridge.

*Here’s the list of DVDs they now have. If you have ANY G-rated (with Spanish subtitles available) DVDs around that your kids have outgrown, mail to the following address. Write this ALL on the front of the envelope exactly as you see it:

El Puente del Caribe, S. A.
Barry & Nanci Stevens
300 M O Pulperia Violeta, al costado cerca del pozo de AyA
Playa Negra, Puerto Viejo, Puerto Limón, Costa Rica

What else can you bring/send? Look here! They need all sorts of miscellaneous stuff. Anything to run a kitchen. Plastic dishes of all kinds. Wooden spoons. Good quality dish towels are impossible to find here. I just sent a box of good used boy clothes along with teaspoons, tablespoons and dish towels (we have Pricesmart in the central valley… all kinda better quality dish towels!) It’s expensive to mail from outside Costa Rica. But if you can afford it, rest assured all items are put to good use.

**The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica, page 110. Excellent book. Even nine years old, it is the best book written on Costa Rica. (Hinting for an update or addendum!) If you only read one book, forget the guide books. Read this one.

***Volunteers are welcome to arrive up to 1/2 hour early to help out!

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