I was really wondering whether to write anything at all about these six months of my life, which seems absurd since they have been so significant; but I have just written so much about this turtle program in the form of reports, articles, grant applications, facebook updates, professional blogs, emails, training presentations, posters and just about every other medium of communication imaginable, that I am unable to face writing more about it. As such you find essentially no description of the program in this blog; but if you would like to know more about it, a wealth of information can be found here: www.facebook.com/playadraketortugas, www.corcovadofoundation.org, and http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/seaturtle-conservation-and-environmental-education/updates/, and in my previous blogs here http://www.offexploring.com/robandsarah/blog/costa-rica/proyecto-de-tortugas-marinas-2010/2010-09-13%2021:20:59 and here http://www.offexploring.com/robandsarah/blog/costa-rica/proyecto-de-conservacion-de-las-tortugas-marinas/2009-09-02+14%3A01%3A41.
I guess I should really use this blog to reflect on my personal experience of the last six months, which has been nothing short of a voyage of personal discovery. Running the program is without doubt the most fulfilling, meaningful and exciting thing I have ever done in my life, and from a professional point of view the role combines so many satisfying and challenging components: like project management, people management, conservation, education and economic development activities; practical stuff like construction, camp craft and managing boats; an original scientific research project studying an endangered species in the field, of which I am the Principal Investigator and have complete responsibility; all bundled together in a wild and rustic paradise full of jaw-dropping natural beauty, living day-to-day with like-minded locals and volunteers, free of all the trappings of Western life, eating organic and free range, and leaving the most indiscernible carbon footprint. It is the complete package, and I enjoy almost complete autonomy and the freedom to make the program my own.
It is, however, also the most difficult job I have ever had. It is extremely exhausting, I bear the weight of the expectations of the community, the volunteers, and the research assistants on my shoulders, and there is no down-time. The errors I make have far-reaching consequences, and negative perceptions and erosions of trust can and do slip through my fingers. As I'm sure someone once said, an error only becomes a mistake if you don't recognise or reconcile it, and I suppose that, despite what I may have previously assumed about my abilities, this has been a skill that I have only really learnt this year. I have realised that what I would consider to be pragmatic behaviour is what others would consider robotic, and with my personality no doubt residing somewhere in the periphery of the autistic spectrum, being 'the boss' has been a learning curve that I have only recently been afforded the time and space to evaluate. I will certainly return this year a bigger person.
In all honesty though, I am very, very happy with how these six months went, in terms of what we delivered. I would go so far as to say I'm proud of myself. But, there is so much credit due to other people, not least to Kira James, the most utterly dependable and responsible assistant I could have hoped for, and an indispensable moderator of my thoughts. Irene Brandts, an assistant and friend from previous years was also instrumental in putting me on the right course. Most of all though, the credit is due to David Melero, the previous coordinator from whom I inherited the fruits of five years of hard labour. I'm not sure that I could have achieved what he did, starting from scratch with the community and succeeding in fomenting such a robust bond of trust between us and them. I regard that bond as deeply precious and guarding it was the single biggest consideration in every decision I made. The greatest fear I had at the beginning was jeopardising this relationship, especially since my Spanish was still so mediocre (it is better now!), but the community were incredible with me. They were patient, understanding, and respectful, they took more control and responsibility of their own destiny, and they helped me to find the right balance to keep the program stable and functional. This all passed whilst certain members of association pursued a course of apparent self-destruction driven by feudal politics between families in the village, from which the program thankfully managed to remain dissociated. The rational majority of the local people ultimately emerged victorious with the association intact, but the outlook for next season is not clear. The association really need to decide which way they wish to proceed. I hope that we can do whatever we can to facilitate the transfer of the program to the hands of responsible people in the community. We will do everything that we can to achieve this.
I have invested so much of my heart and soul (a subjective illusion of human consciousness of course, but a fitting word) in this program that I am not going anywhere for the time being. I am definitely going back to run the 2012 season, but after that I am really not sure what will be my next step. Maybe one more season; maybe not. There are many factors to consider, and many options open to me, and I am extremely lucky and appreciative to have met all of the people over the last few years that have opened these doors for me. All of the options for the future excite me, and I know that I should be happy whichever I choose.