When I was in kindergarten living in Hawaii, I remembered May Day as a day in which we dressed up in muumuus to dance to music and played outdoor games. Some 15 years later, the memory of May Day has transformed to a day of parades, protests and violence thanks to my time in Costa Rica.
A friend and I decided to venture into San Jose, the nation’s capital, to explore the National Museum on May 1. Unfortunately, we forgot that government workers had the day off, which included museum employees, and thus we were left with nothing to do.
Walking around the heart of San Jose, the main street was packed with people. The sound of trumpets playing a Latin tune rang through our ears as we weaved our way along the street, stopping to watch the procession of high school bands and protesters.
Along another street was a pick-up truck with five people standing in its bed, one using a bullhorn to scream the injustices of the government. Everyone was dressed in identical white t-shirts and holding blue flags, clearly making my black t-shirt stand out.
After strolling around for an hour, we decided to head home. Upon boarding the bus back to Heredia, my friend received a text from her host dad asking if she was OK. Assuming he was being overprotective, she texted back a short answer and threw her phone in her bag without another glance.
Little did we know at that exact moment protesters had begun throwing rocks and bricks at police officers and using gasoline to set things on fire. The peaceful protest of Latin music had become a war between the people and the police. We managed to avoid this brutal protest within mere minutes, not realizing our luck until hours after when I watched the news.
Our lucky timing made me realize studying abroad in Costa Rica is more dangerous than I expected. Not only was the incident threatening to our health, but it was also threatening to our legal status here. If foreigners are caught protesting with Costa Ricans in their country, they are deported. If we had stayed only a few minutes later, we would have jeopardized everything we have here.
But we lucked out this time. Simply not being in the wrong place and wrong time allowed us to avoid the entire confrontation, something I will not take for granted again.