Monday, August 27, 2007

Sharon: The Bungalow Boys and Why I Love Montezuma

So our trip has entered a new phase. Not surprisingly, the fact that we go home in five days has been coloring our experience for the past week or so. But what really came out of the blue to shake things up here were the Bungalow Boys.

Khalida and Asan have two small guest houses for rent on their property. [Shameless plug for them: One is a two BR, one a 1 BR, both built in gorgeous wood, some from their property, with windows all around and amazing views of the ocean. The 2BR rents for something like $700/month, and the 1BR for $275 a month! A perfect place for a retreat, and what a steal!] Last week, two 18-year-old guys from the States moved into the small house. In passing conversation, it came up that they have BABYSITTING experience, in fact have even taken Red Cross child care classes. It has also come to our attention that they are staying way out of town without a car, and that they seem to be a little bored. So...

Now we suddenly have energetic, English-speaking, live-in babysitters who are willing to do it for the CR rate of $2/hr. Shame this only came to our attention during our last week here, but we've already taken advantage of it by going out a few evenings, and we're going to leave our kids with them today so that Max and I can have one afternoon alone on the beach. They're great; the kids adore them, and they're super easy-going and flexible with us.

On the going-out note: Seems I have to write about Montezuma and our evening outings. Last Wednesday, Khalida and I went out to dinner with an old friend of mine from here, Ginette. Since I had kids, the latest I have been out in the evening is probably 11:00, and I usually go to bed by about 9:00 (the kids have taken to getting up at 4:45am, or so, with the tropical sun). So we assumed we'd go out for a leisurely dinner and be home by 10, maybe 10:30. After dinner we decided to head over to the bar in town, which also doubles as a discoteca now and plays loud music into the wee hours, for a drink. Who could have anticipated that the three married old ladies would have such a grand old time out on the town? Khalida is drop-dead beautiful, and the boys lined up to woo her, having no idea that they were stepping into a Stephen Colbert-like courting process in which she entertained us at their expense and they actually seemed to enjoy the wit. She came right out with the fact that we were married with kids, and led the conversation into such savory topics as breastfeeding without missing a beat. All this, while the random bar guys whisked us out onto the dance floor for some rapid-fire salsa and merengue that had them all asking, "But you're not from here, are you?" Before we knew it, the bar was closing, and we were sneaking into bed at 2:00am.

Which leads me to Why I Love Montezuma. Max and I were discussing this last night, as I was trying to pinpoint why I am so melancholy about leaving. Montezuma is technically a tiny, tiny remote village. There can't be more than 1000 permanent residents. So every day, just in doing errands or stopping into the bar, for example, you see the same friendly, familiar faces. But it's an international town, with a few fantastic restaurants, some interesting shopping, a really fun bar with great dancing, and a true international flavor: Italians and Argentinians predominating, but also with Germans, Canadians, and Gingos. The people-watching is phenomenal. Factor in the incredible natural beauty, and the slow pace of life, and it's pretty ideal already. But add to that a few solid friendships and strong local connections (since I lived with families who had been here for decades), and you can probably see why I feel like a piece of my soul will always live here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sharon: Rain, Rain, Go Away

Rain pounding down on a faux-tin roof in the middle of the jungle…sounds romantic, I know. I harbored romantic illusions about coming to CR in the middle of the rainy season, especially when we scheduled the trip for August. Of course, little did we know we’d be leaving the rainiest year ever (really) in Texas. Actually, it’s been almost the exact same weather here as what we left: unpredictable rain storms—some with dramatic thunder and lightening—almost every day, interspersed with beautiful mornings of sun and warm breezes. Beautiful, plenty of time for being outside.

But today is different. It’s been raining since yesterday afternoon, and in the past few minutes has gone from rain to RAIN, streaming in doors and windows on the wind, flooding the patios, drowning out conversation even from a few feet away. The floors are all tile, and so are precariously slippery, and the communal areas are all completely open to the elements. It’s fine when it’s just raining, but when it’s RAINing (or, more importantly, WINDing) like this, it all blows in and drives us into our own rooms indoors. If you saw a video of the view from our room right now, you’d swear we were those crazy journalists in the middle of a hurricane.

And still, all of this would be fine if Max and I were cuddled up in bed with a good book and a bottle of wine. But with the kids, it’s a whole different story, and, boy, are we missing Ruta Maya or Radijazz right about now. Max got stir-crazy right before this RAIN hit, and headed out for a drive with the boys.

Today was the Mothers’ Day celebration at Liam’s school. What great timing to be able to celebrate MD twice in one year! They had a crazy, complicated production this afternoon: food (provided by the mothers…grr…), followed by games (figure-out-what-drawing-your-kid-did), and songs and skits. Liam's class did the first skit, and to see him get up with them and sing his heart out in Spanish made me weepy. I'm so proud of him and what he's accomplished here!

P.S. It'd be dishonest of me to not include how badly it all ended over at school. Liam had one of his trademark meltdowns, probably inspired by the heat, the crowd, the noise, and his exhaustion by the end of the school day. By "meltdown," I don't mean tantrum, but more like a tantrum on steroids: an out-of-control, complete disconnect from which there is no recovery in public other than to take him away and let him get over it when he is ready. I was willing to offer him ANYTHING in order to make him more comfortable, but he was completely out of it, not able to tell me what he wanted or needed in order to feel better. It was embarrassing, yes, as it always has been when this happens, but people here are so much more forgiving about kids. As I carried him out (with his back arched, his head thrown back, and screaming at the top of his lungs), I heard people saying, "Pobrecito..." poor baby, he's so tired, or he's so little for this, etc. I sure will miss that completely accepting attitude about kids.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Max: High Heels and Pregnant Pigs

A note for future therapy sessions. Here are Jules’ and Liam’s favorite things to do in Costa Rica.

JULES: More than any other toy or activity, Jules loves to wear other people’s shoes. Particularly high-heel dress-up shoes (like silver glittery ones that have Barbie insignias on them) but really anything with a sole. He likes to wear large men’s sandals, small girls’ slippers and everything in between. Watching him parade around in nothing but a diaper and a pair of red rain boots three times his foot size is something the behold. He’s like a go-go dancer for Barney. And once he’s found a pair of shoes he wants on, there’s really nothing stopping him from getting them on his feet. He’ll scream like a banshee if you try to take them off or try to convince him to try on something else, or even if you try and put them on the correct feet.

LIAM: He’s obsessed with pretending. Which is probably normal for his age. But he’s mostly just obsessed with being pregnant. One second he’s a pregnant elephant, then a pregnant giraffe, a pregnant pig, a pregnant mouse, you name it. Is this normal? Perhaps, though I’ve never seen another kid pretend to be pregnant ALL THE TIME. I’m not bothered by the concept of his pretending to be pregnant. It’s really just the all-the-time part. Can’t he shake it up a little now and then? Maybe be a leopard with acne or a pigeon with gout? Or even a salamander with a fabulous smile?

I think what I found particularly odd was the scene he created a few days ago, in which not only was he a pregnant pig, he was a pig who was 108 months pregnant. And here’s the kicker. He was pregnant with me. My 3-year-old was pretending to be almost 9 years pregnant with his own father. Are there any psychologists out there? Should we be concerned?

In Utero in Costa Rica

Max: Crap Bag

Costa Rica, like many other countries, has plumbing which lacks the industrial force we’re blessed with in the United States.

That’s all I have to say. America is great.

Oh wait, that wasn’t what I was going to say. I got carried away by patriotism. So the toilets here can’t handle toilet paper. Instead, you put it in a small garbage can or sack next to the toilet, and throw it away like any other trash. It’s not really so odd once you get used to it.

Only reason I mention it is because of our garbage disposal situation. Because there’s no dump or garbage service around here, we have to leave our garbage in the driveway and remember to take it into town next time we go. Where it is subsequently thrown in a pile and burned (see one of Sharon’s posts below about environmentalism).

Anyway, sometimes this trash—if left out at night—will be ripped apart and eaten by various raccoon-like mongrels. It’s a dumb thing to do (leaving trash out at night) but it continues to happen for some reason. Anyway, how desperate do you have to be ravage a bag which holds nothing but bathroom waste in it? Pretty desperate, I’d think. Anyway, it happened. Maybe those varmints mistook all the balled-up diapers as potatoes. Who knows. But we were left with a disgusting bathroom bag in tatters.


Sharon: Vaqueros

Today Marcos and Emilia and their boys took us out to the finca. We piled in their car (sans seatbelts, Liam begging to be buckled in), and drove out to the middle of nowhere. Arnaldo and Edgardo saddled up two horses, and Liam cautiously let Arnaldo take him up into the saddle and ride away.

Liam LOVED it (of course, I guess!), and spent a lot of time on the horses with both boys and me. Riding with Liam at a gallop down the deserted country road thrilled me, because, really, what could be cooler than sharing an important “first” like that?! We also took a spin through the farm, riding along the ridges, and down into the folds between the hills, looking for the newborn foals. What IS it about horses? Why is it such a thrill, especially, to be off the trail, to ride a horse out in the field, cutting your own path to arrive at a place that’s almost impossible to get to any other way (particularly with the foot or so of mud in places)?

True to form, Jules wouldn’t take the bait with the horses. He did, however, really seem to dig the quick spin on the ATV—the horse of the new millennium, apparently—with Max.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sharon: La Pajarita Se Escapo de la Jaula

That's what my friends here used to say when I'd get a chance to get out of the house and go play in town: the little bird escaped from the cage. So yesterday we escaped again, and how! We went to Amor de Mar in the morning, the hotel where I used to live in 1994, teaching English reading to their little boys. It's an amazing place, absolutely the best place in the world for a vacation, I'm sure. Ori, the German owner, was there, and welcomed us with big smiles and encouragement to come back and spend time on their lawn, hammocks, and tide-pools. Then we spent the afternoon with Emilia, three hours in which Jules ate two bowls of those neon-colored fruit loops things he's fallen so hard for, a few pieces of rum-covered flan, four cookies...hmm...surely there was more, but that's a pretty good summary. Max, for the record, has decided that he's not a fan of chicharones: pork rinds. Couldn't even choke them down to be polite.

Then Khalida and I went to a yoga class with a "special guest teacher" from San Jose. It was so disappointing. His style was Anusara (but such a poor substitute for Christina!), and I was happy for the workout, but he refused to listen to what I was telling him about my back injury. The class flyer had said "all levels," but it was definitely an advanced class, and very athletic, not at all like my usual practice. A few months ago, I would have left that class in agony (and I heard a few people talking about how much they had hurt themselves, which always makes me sad). But I have learned that an effort to follow along with the class in order to be respectful in a class like that ends up in a few days of severe pain for me. Several times during class I had to ask him to please respect my understanding of my injury and not adjust me into poses I wasn't attempting, even though I had approached him before class and described my issue. I couldn't believe his sweeping statements about back alignment, too, some of which were just anatomically wrong. All in all, though, I was glad to practice with a group of people in such an incredible setting, and I learned a few things about some poses I don't practice often. But I miss my teachers from Austin. Ori was there and when she heard that I taught a slower, more internally-focused form of yoga, she seemed disappointed that she hadn't gotten me teaching when I was here. Apparently, most local teachers teach a more athletic style.

FINALLY (still the same day!), Max and I went out for a night on the town. We went first to the one fancy-schmancy restaurant in town. Okay, not exactly fancy, since it's on the beach sand, very dimly lit by candles at a few tables made from driftwood and local hardwoods. But extremely gourmet, even a little outside the reach of our tastes, and pricey even by Austin standards. Didn't much matter, because as we got to the end of the menu we noticed the "NO CC" note, and realized we didn't have enough cash to pay for a full meal. The Italian owner very sweetly told us to go ahead and order a meal, and to come back some other day to pay, but the next day was Sunday and Monday was a bank holiday, and we didn't feel comfortable letting our debt go that long! Still, we had a fantastic evening on the town.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sharon: Jules, and Keeping House

So, Mom asked how Jules was doing with the nanny, saying she assumed that since I hadn’t mentioned it, everything must be going okay. Well…actually, I’d just been holding out, not wanting to complain amidst our otherwise great fortune, and still hoping things might turn around.

Background: Jules is one of the easiest kids I’ve ever met in almost every regard. Never minds a stranger, never minds a babysitter. Loves to socialize with random folks at the pool or in the store. Sleeps well for naps and nighttime, loves to play with other kids. In all of our planning for this trip, we never considered that he might not be amenable to our plans. Never.

Well, he’s not amenable to them. He just didn’t like Lady. In her defense, I think the Spanish was distressing for a kid who is so verbal, who loves to narrate his world to a rapt audience and depends on being able to easily communicate his needs. On the other hand, she wasn’t exactly perky or engaging, and exuded a lack of confidence. After 8 days of trying desperately to get them used to each other, we officially gave up.

It’s not so bad. Max and I can at least take turns having a morning out to relax. Plus, we had a few lovely mornings alone together, more than we have in months at home, so I’m very grateful. We’re saving some bucks. And I’ve also realized that I’m kind of into housework, that I need to be rooted in the care of the place where I live. So.

Jules actually doesn’t seem to like much of anything about our plans for him this trip, come to think of it. He wasn’t going to be “potty-trained” in three days like Liam was at the same age, so we gave up on that, too, for now. He doesn’t want to sleep well anymore, preferring instead to wake up many, many times each night and be up for good around 5:00 a.m. He has started climbing out of the pack-and-play (and toddling out, quite proud of himself), so we put him in a bed, and now he asks for the crib!

The thing is that I needed a guru for this trip. Max and I have both felt a little aimless, unused to all this free time, but also a little greedy. Jules has reminded us that as much we want a vacation from the kiddos, parenting little children is our life right now, even in a tropical paradise. He’s also helped us remember that they know when we’re trying to ditch them, and they don’t like it; as soon as we stopped having Lady come and started making Jules a big part of our day, he got so much happier overall.

But it takes a lot of housework here to keep nature from taking over, and Lady was supposed to be helping with that, too. There’s gecko poop on the living “room” floor in the morning, scorpions to shoe out, dust and leaves everywhere. Our clothes get covered in mud before noon, and there’s salt water on an outfit a day. Today’s my day off and Max has Jules at the beach, but they’ve been gone for two hours and I’ve only just been able to take a break, having swept and mopped the floors, done the dishes, done a load of laundry. I found myself thinking about how in a Buddhist monastery, the most menial chores are given to the most senior monks, and I mopped with care and contentment.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Khalida: Chicken in a Bag

(Here's a Guest-Post from Khalida):

Ring ring.
"What's up?"
"Stop by my mom's house to pick up the chicken."

Sharon and I have escaped from the little monkeys and are running around Cobano unchaperoned, buying groceries, getting milk from Asan's grandmother (from the cow, but though some might say it tastes like grass, others, who shall remain nameless, say it tastes like a rubber glove), and saying hello to yet more of Asan's family in town. (He is related to half of the town. At least.) I finally mention to Sharon that we have to stop by my mother-in-law's on the way out of town to get a chicken. Finally, they have caught one for us of the 100-some-odd chicken running around their yard. Sharon groans, imagining a long drawn out visit, yet again, with Rosa Leda. I promise we will be quick. I imagine popping in, picking up a plastic bag with chicken pieces in it, and jumping back into the car.


I find my mother-in-law at the back of the house talking on the phone. She whispers that the chicken is right over there. I look. I see a wooden crate, upside-down in the yard. I look at her suspiciously. I look back at the crate. Ah, there seems to be a live chicken under the crate. I look back at her horrified. She tells me to just put it in a sac and take it home. Huh? Okay, first of all - it is alive? And second of all, sac? Where? She chuckles at me and tells me to have Millo, their gardener/helper show me what to do. He laughs and tells me to put it in a sac. What is the deal with the sac? Should I have brought one? I shrug apologetically, I'm a gringa, c'mon, they know I don't know what to do with a chicken if it isn't wrapped in plastic wrap, denude of skin and bones in the refrigerated section of the supermarket. Gimme a break! They do, chuckling to themselves at the poor gringa, innocent as a baby. It occurs to me that they have orchestrated this entire scenario to see me squirm. He shows me how to tie the legs and brings me a sac and puts it inside, all the while repeatedly explaining graphically how to kill it though I keep reassuring him that there is no way that I am going to be the one to kill it. That is what my Tico husband is for.

I walk back to the car, barely able to suppress the smile on my face. Sharon looks confused, then horrified as the bag starts to wiggle around. I say, "A trip to Costa Rica wouldn't be complete without a live chicken in a bag."

NOTE FROM SHARON: A few months ago in Austin, we went with friends to visit a farm, and I had a conversation with Misty (and maybe others?) about processed chicken. I remember telling her that I just didn't want to know where my chicken came from, that I could barely bring myself to eat it as it was, from a package. The conversation stuck with me, because I knew as the words came out of my mouth, that that was one of those positions I'd some day evolve out of. Barbara Kingsolver's book, coinciding with this trip, made me look it square in the eye. I decided that I shouldn't be eating meat if I can't reconcile myself to the reality of where it comes from (not just from an ethical standpoint, but also because of the complicated health and political implications of industrial meat farming).

I didn't watch the whole butchering and cleaning process this time, but--I swear!--I'm going to do it before we leave. And I bet I'll be a little more grateful about my food for having seen it.

Sharon: How to Catch a Tarrantula

According to Asan, you chew up a piece of gum really well, and tie it on the end of a string. Then you drop the gum into a tarrantula hole in the ground (looks like a fire ant hole, apparently, but bigger). The little critter bites down into the gum and gets stuck, at which point you can pull him out. Then you and your five-year-old male Tico friends can set them up to fight each other.

Oh...and many thanks to Doug and Debra for initiating us into the world of tarrantulas and scorpions, because Khalida sure didn't warn me to turn on a light and look around before I reached my hand into the laundry bag!!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Max: The Compound

With the long, very bumpy, near-mile driveway that leads to our quarters, I can’t help feeling like we’re in some war movie, driving a jeep through jungle terrain to get to the spot where strategies are sorted and bodies are healed. Once we climb the rockiest part of our driveway in first-gear four-wheel-drive, we finally end up on level ground and the roof comes into view. This feeling is reinforced by the screams and yelps you can suddenly hear coming from the house, with four little monkey kids running around like soldiers on shore leave.

Of course with beaches and coffee and monkeys all around it doesn’t exactly feel like war, but I like to think we’re roughing it out here. Even if that just means we get knocked around inside our car and have to descale our own fish from time to time.

Max: Howler Monkeys

I’ve been to Costa Rica once before, several years ago, and I was introduced to howler monkeys then. They’re all over the trees like squirrels are at home, but they’re named for their large deep growl. From a distance one of these growls can sound like a distant earthquake’s rumble, or like a fierce lion attacking an enemy. Still, you get used to the sound and it’s no more surprising than thunder during a cloudy day.

However, the other morning I was taking an early morning run down the extended driveway from our compound. All was quiet and peaceful until suddenly, just beyond my right shoulder, one of these monkeys let loose one of their trademark howls. It’s one thing to hear them from a hundred yards away, but another to hear them from ten feet. While the monkeys are friendly enough looking (imagine Curious George on a serious diet), up close they can sound like King Kong at his absolutely most ferocious.

Anyway, that was a good wakeup call. No matter how much you know in your mind that these monkeys are small and harmless, a noise that powerful will still send your heart into overdrive.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Since we're getting some errands done in Cobano, I have time to upload photos. This is Khal and Asan's house. Our "wing" is on the left, theirs is on the right, and the living area is in the middle.

Here's the view from my yoga mat (in the living room) at 5:30am:

This is the lightening-fast section of their driveway:

Here are the kids at the dining room table:

Jules surveys the ocean on his first day there. This scene would be impossible to capture now, since he takes off toward the water faster than we can strip the clothes off of him.

Here's my favorite, of Fiona and Liam in their school uniforms on the second day of school:

Monday, August 6, 2007

Sharon: One with the Land

So it’s impossible to ignore here that you are merely another animal on this great, green earth. First of all, the land here is huge and awe-inspiring, and humbling. The lines between inside and out are blurred; our rooms don’t have screens, the living and dining rooms don’t have walls, all manner of insects, geckos, spiders, even bats fly in and out. The noises of nature—cicadas, the waterfall, howler monkeys, the rain--can easily drown out conversation.

So it’s not just a little disconcerting to look out the shower window to see my non-biodegradable, neon-blue shampoo pouring out onto the jungle floor. I know how it happens: there are so few people in such a huge space, that nature will win, at least in the big picture. But for how long? Costa Ricans have never had to care where their waste water goes, but when does the balance tip? I notice that there is a little dead river of mud where our shower drains, and I wish I could run to Whole Foods and buy environmentally respectful bath products. But everything for sale here is as toxic as possible, it seems, because it’s easy to think that you can’t make a mark on a landscape so huge and powerful.

Another fact of life that is completely distressing is the garbage situation. I challenge even the most hardened of you to take your next empty wine bottle and just throw it in the garbage. Imagine throwing every waste product generated by a family of 8 into the garbage: every bottle, can, and plastic tub. And on top of that, every cookie, cracker, anything you buy in a package comes in teeny, single servings wrapped in plastic. There is no recycling, there isn't even a garbage dump. Our garbage gets collected in town, and taken "to the other side of the hill" where it is all burned, every toxic piece of it. Very scary.

Sharon: Montezuma's Revenge

That’s what it’s called, isn’t it? One second you’re happily lounging in a beach-side café, mulling your good fortune while a very nice local woman minds your child back at home, and the next second you’re racing toward the door marked “Womens use mens.”

Jules and I don’t feel so good today. It’s no big deal, more weakness than anything. I know it’ll be over soon, and I’m glad we have almost four weeks left. But I sure am grateful that we had Lady to watch Jules this morning, and that Max took the kids to the beach this afternoon.

This is such an amazing place, and Khalida and Asan are such amazing hosts. They must get so tired of their constant stream of houseguests, but you’d never know it. We feel so at home here, so welcomed and comfortable.

It’s a very large space, and that helps. There are two buildings, sharing a common open-air living area, making a giant U-shape (if I can ever find high-speed wireless, I’ll upload photos for y’all to see). Khal and Asan’s rooms are on one side, and ours are on the other, with the living and dining areas at the middle. For me, it’s an awesome experiment in communal living, the kind of co-housing arrangement that lots of us in Austin fantasize about. And, boy, does it work. Four adults watching four kids is SO much easier that two adults watching two kids, especially when the kids are the same age and play together.

[A little aside: Liam PLAYS with Fiona. It’s insane. You’d never believe it’s the same kid. Fiona is widely regarded as bossy and headstrong, but Liam seems to love her (yes, Freud, go to town). She pesters and pesters until he can’t say no anymore. It’s absolutely delightful to watch, him cornered, Fiona animatedly directing him in some game, or him running around the house in his own world (pretending to be a planet, or singing a song) while Fiona follows behind, playing “with” him without him even knowing.]

Anyway, being here makes me think a lot more seriously about the communal living thing. It’s really as great as you might imagine. We carpool the kids to school. We play with them in pairs, while one person folds laundry or makes dinner. Every meal is so much more festive. The dads can chat over beers while casually watching the kids play. There are kinks to work out, sure but overall, it sure feels good to share family life with such good friends.

Oh yeah…Kristen asked if we have water and electricity, and the answer is yes…and sometimes together! It’s nearly impossible to believe that water pipes come all the way out here, but they do. The electrical cables are just strung through the trees. It’s amazing. As for them being together, it’s the notorious Costa Rican system (and maybe lots of place have it, I don’t know) of heating shower water through electrical boxes. Don’t tell those hair-dryer label people.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Sharon: Food

Here’s a double-post for my pals on Goodreads. I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and there’s no better place to be reading it than here in a rural part of a developing country. If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s her family's account of a year of living off of only local food (they had to know the person who grew or raised it). So far it seems to be about half about their reasons for doing it (the politics, economics, science of it), and half about the methods (how asparagus grows, how they set up their garden). For food fanatics like me, it’s awesome.

It takes on a new significance here. The town and its economies have changed a lot since I first came here, and there are lots of imported items available. But still, people are much more connected to the land and what it offers us. Asan (and now Khalida) are a wealth of information about the plants around us. We take walks down the driveway and scavenge nibbles from the side of the road. There’s a tree (pochote) with large, shiny, dark-green leaves you can eat. It’s got a nice tang to it, and eating it makes me feel better for the complete absence of anything else green in my diet here. Jules loves it. There are a handful of trees on the driveway with berries and seeds we can eat: nances, lenguas de vaca (you should see the leaves), and others. Asan came in yesterday with a fresh coconut, two spoons, and two straws for my kids to drink the milk and scrape out the yummy insides.

I LOVE that the kids are really learning where food comes from. Our eggs come from Asan’s mother’s house, and the kids search for the loot in the garage where the chickens have taken up nesting. Starting today, we’re going to get our milk fresh from Asan’s grandmother’s cows. The honey came from a hive on the property.

On the other hand, I’m learning things that make me see how easy it is for us to lose our food culture, for it to be perverted into the kind of food-comes-from-the-supermarket mentality that we have in the States. A little local geography: The center of Montezuma is at the beach. Khal's house is about a mile inland toward Cobano, the nearest town with facilities like a bank, schools, clinic, etc. Cobano is only 7 km from the ocean, but never, in the entire time I lived here, did I see someone eating fish. I talked to Asan about this yesterday, and he told me that the fish he used to serve in his Cobano restaurant came from Puntarenas, about 4 hours—including a ferry ride!—away! He also bets that it was caught down the road from Montezuma, and shipped to Puntarenas for distribution. There is no fish market in this entire region, despite the fact that we live less than 1 km from the ocean. If we want to eat fish, we have to ask Ana, Khal’s housekeeper who lives among fishermen down the road from Montezuma, to bring us the catch of the day. The other day she brought us a whole red snapper (which Max gallantly descaled, by the way) that had been caught the day before. It easily fed five adults the most delicious fish I have ever tasted, and cost us $4.50 total. But there is no easy way to make it a part of our diet, and the Ticos who don't live or have relatives living specifically ON the beach, have virtually no way to acquire it regularly.

I also learned that the avocados, which are a staple of the diet here, now come from Mexico. Fifteen years ago, Marcos and Emilia used to keep a potato sack full of avocados in the kitchen. They collected them from the tree in Marcos’s mother’s yard. But apparently in the intervening years, an invading, non-local termite snuck in—the local theory is that they came in on the bales of imported telephone wire, but it’s easy to see why locals would blame technology—and ate all of the avocado trees. In fifteen years, they went from having an avocado per person per day for free, to having to import them and pay American prices for them. Such an awesome source of good fats and nutrients…and now the non-wealthy can’t afford them. So sad.

Don't want to end on such a depressing note...Ummm... I am learning to make some Tico foods (gallo pinto, tortillas from scratch) and will be able to take that skill with me back to Texas. Oh, and I'll never be satisfied with HEB-brand dried black beans again. There's got to be a better source in the US of A. The beans they eat here have such full, rich flavor all by themselves, nothing added. It's a good thing, too, since we eat them three times a day, and sometimes for an afternoon snack!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Sharon: Futbol

On Liam’s second day of school (which he LOVES, by the way), they took all the kids in a bus to see a soccer game a few miles away. He came home that afternoon full of enthusiasm:

“Mommy, I want to pretend soccer.”
“Okay,” I said.
He clarified: “But first, we have to make a party.”

How’s that for cultural assimilation?

Sharon: The Bank

So we arrive at the bank in Cobano at 8:30, full of dread, but in desperate need of some cash. We take a number: 16. They’re “Now Serving” number 86. Max watches for an hour, and they’ve only gotten to 97, so we decide to wander around town and stop into the internet café. We check back in at the bank an hour and a half later, and they’re only on 3. That’s seventeen people in two and a half hours, and we have thirteen more people to go before our number is called. We decide to go home for lunch, and come back in an hour, expecting to have to wait about an hour after that.

Of course, you can see where this is headed: we get back to the bank to find them “Now Serving” number 42. And the next ticket? TWENTY-NINE. That would be eighty-seven people in line ahead of us.

I wonder about the lane marked something like “Servicio Rapido.” Max had told me that meant you stood in line for two hours instead of sitting down for four. I ask the security guard for his take, and he says it depends on what number you have for regular service. I roll my eyes, and show him my #29 ticket, and he gives me a sympathetic eye roll.

At this point, I enter into a world that is very familiar. Yes, there’s something about it that I picked up when I lived here, but there’s also something very Texan about it that I’d never thought much about until today. There’s this sense that light-hearted chatting with a perfect stranger over misfortune can bring us together. It’s a kind of small talk that generally annoys Northerners, or makes them pretty uncomfortable…unless it’s about severe weather, right? That’s the only thing I can think of that Northerners just chat with strangers about. Anyway, feeling very southern and certainly very Tica after this brush with bureaucratic inefficiency, I launch into my story about our wait in the morning, and the security guard gives me a “boy-I-can’t-believe-it” shake of the head as I take my chances in the express lane.

I stand there for just a couple of minutes, when my security guard pal sidles up to me, and hands me a ticket that says “47.” Max and I later hypothesize that people got fed up at lunch, or as the afternoon was wearing on, and just threw their tickets on to the floor. I make a mental note to check the litter on the sidewalk outside the bank the next time I go in. Anyway, how he got it, I’ll never know, but dang, he must have saved us hours and hours of waiting.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Sharon: Number 16

That's what we are in line at the bank right now, and they're on 94. In the past hour they've done 8 people, so now we're down the street, waiting in the Internet cafe.

I put all of our money eggs in one basket, knowing that ATM's have spread around the world, figuring that if there are three or four places around Montezuma with Internet access, that an ATM was a sure thing. Well, the ATM apparently is working, but it's not accepting PLUS cards (despite the big PLUS logo on it). So we're cashless, dependent on the bank where we can get cash using our credit cards.

Otherwise, all is well! Leave comments, people, so I know you're out there!