On Language Learning 1.0

As I sit here writing, the popular Latino musician Ricardo Arjona is pouring himself out in sorrowful-melancholy tunes from the radio boombox in the living room while my host mom unabashedly sings along. The neighbors seem to have the same idea; I can hear them trying to outdo us through the open windows and our attached, gated garages, singing along to some other beloved singer. The effect is a wistful but happy choir of Tico voices and the voices of their Latin musicians spilling verses and choruses over each other in continuous succession of the high-low, fast-slow pattern of Latino music.

And the best part is that its all in emotional, passionate, and eloquent Spanish. But outside of the music the emotions, the passion, and eloquence are still all real but learning and speaking it is a grind; work from the first “Buenos Dias” to the last “Buenos Noches”. Yet at the same time I’m reveling in it. Each day brings a new chance to try and fail, try and fail, try and succeed and the success feels ten times more powerful than any of the failures and gives me the confidence to jump in again. Its about buying a mango just because you want to practice Spanish, or going to the same cafe to have the woman behind the counter ask you how your day is going more than going for the coffee, or asking questions about soccer with answers you already know simply to expand your vocabulary.

Yet it does get tiresome. A lot. Having to stay quiet when I want to speak up but don’t have the words to, hearing peers who are far more advanced than me still struggling, trying to sit through a church service in Spanish when I still sometimes have trouble sitting through one in English! But in all the uncomfortableness and probably because of it there are signs of growth. I’m finding that for myself there is little as effective as learning a language at pushing me past my comfort zone. I’ve had conversations with homeless men I would ashamedly not think to talk to back home. I’ve danced at a wedding when I’d probably keep my dancing shoes hung up back home. And I need to think how far I’ve come. It gets really difficult to find encouragement when looking to the future or stumbling over phrases in the present but to think its barely been five weeks and simple forms of past tense are rolling off my tongue as I tell a story of go-karting that happened yesterday…”Gracias a Dios” as the Ticos would say.

Yet it would be callous to discuss this without speaking of my teachers to whom I owe the biggest thanks for any progress. Four wonderful, constantly smiling Tico teachers laughing us through learning. And its not just Spanish we learn from them. They are teaching us how to learn and live in Costa Rica. “Pura Vida”, “Gracias a Dios”, “Mmmmm jaaa”. These are some of their sayings that are constantly tickling the edges of our conversation which might as well be translated something like “Don’t worry, be happy, one day at a time”. At least, such is their effect on me and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.

I haven’t “arrived” yet and probably won’t while I’m here. But you know that cliche quote we like to toss around up North, “Its the journey not the destination” one? The one that we like to say but often find so hard to live? I haven’t heard it yet down here but my teachers seem to know how to live it and teach it and that I am especially grateful for because if all of this was about being fluent I would have lost before I’d started.

Enjoying "POPS" ice cream with our teacher Dona Rosa on the last day of classes for this segment

Enjoying “POPS” ice cream with our teacher Dona Rosa on the last day of classes for this segment

(Almost) all of us with our teachers at the Institute for Central American Development Studies

(Almost) all of us with our teachers at the Institute for Central American Development Studies

Matthew 6:33

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

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The Food We Eat; The Hands That Provide

This past week has taken the preconceiving, assumption-riddled little world of my mind for a roller-coaster of a ride. Facilitated by the good people at LASP this week was an exercise in connecting my stomach and my taste buds to my mind through my eyes as my legs carried me through the realities and alternatives of food production in Costa Rica. If you saw the pictures you might already know I had the privilege of visiting some perhaps idyllic looking plantations of coffee, pineapple, and banana in the West of the country. Perhaps you, like me connect the sight of a bunch of bananas, or a plump pineapple, or the dark leaves of a coffee plant with almost tangible memories of cream pie, or the shiny juices of that golden fruit running into the sand of a beach, or waking up to the rich aroma of a pot of coffee on a Sunday morning. All delicious, all pleasant, and all easier to stomach when our only frame of reference is between the time when we pick up our groceries until they enter our mouths.

I suppose I could talk about the pesticides and herbicides that go into our precious Del Monte bananas, sprayed by planes indiscriminately over plants, workers, the worker’s homes and schools alike, or the Nicaraguan workers working their 24 hour shifts in the pineapple fields who can’t unionize because they’re technically illegal but SOMEONE has to do the work to feed the mouth of the North American crying for dessert. I could speak of the respiratory problems and cancers I barely know of that the people who live on these plantations suffer from, or the erosion of the soil due to the unnatural mono-crop style farming that equals most profit in littlest time, or the fertile central valley where the coffee fields are getting paved over to build factories to make the software in our phones and laptops. I could talk about how many of the workers are paid piecework, their job to separate the fruits into first, second, and third grade for our perfectionist eyes scouring for any hint of a bruise while the broken, bruised, and “ruined” fourth grade fruits go to the markets in Costa Rica. But this sounds accusatory and I don’t mean to be. In all honesty, I know who many of you are reading this and I know you are very aware people who care about injustice. And you’re probably thinking it’s the same in the clothing factories of Bangladesh, or the cocoa farms of Cote d’Ivoire, or the oil sands and the Indigenous along the Athabasca, or the freeways, pavers, and construction signs encroaching on the fertile land of the small time farmers we know and love in North Edmonton. And you already know that we are the greed that prevents other’s need and you say who are you to tell me anyway, and well, you’re right. So I’ll tell you a different story, of one that happened yesterday.

Roderick is a farmer along a hillside high above San Jose. As a boy he started out conventional farming with his family, working for “The Man” as he put it. At some point he became disillusioned with the realities of conventional food production, its drive to produce more for “The Man” with less in less time and the pressure from “The Man” to use more and more herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. So by the age of 21 he got out of the high-production monoculture style of agriculture and set out on his own with his family. Fifteen or so years later the result is a sloping property with tall trees, banana plants, coffee plants, fruit trees, herbs, vegetables, sheep and wild things all growing interspersed and in their own good time. The birds sing in the trees and a sloth hides overhead. It is an ecosystem that lives and breathes spirit. I tried to write earlier about the spirituality of food and I learned a lot more from Roderick that day. He spoke softly and simply but his words were wise beyond his years. It was powerful to see how grounded his faith is in the care of the soil. And care for the soil he does. He showed us how the soil on his farm has grown up to one meter since he started working it. On his farm he tells us it is not just food that is produced but soil, and “spirit”, and “laughter”. For Roderick, owning a farm isn’t about a profit. He told us himself “I am not rich in money but I’m rich in spirit. In knowledge. I could get more money if I wanted it but I don’t need it. I produce what I need to live, to be happy, to sell. That is enough”. He grows for need while others pillage for greed.

Now, I am not a farmer and many of you know much more about the nature of food production than I do. So with my own beliefs that are fogged in the myopia of my own limited understanding I won’t try to say this is the way to farm or that is the way. I suppose one could say this kind of organic farming just isn’t feasible to fulfill the food demand from everyone to which I suppose I could reply if we would learn to eat what could be grown near us, or if we didn’t demand the luxury fruits, or if we didn’t throw away half of our food maybe we wouldn’t require such an astronomical amount of production anyway. But I really don’t know much of these things in truth. And then the question for me anyway isn’t so much what needs to be produced but how and why it is. And it was Roderick’s connection between the soil and the spirit that sticks with me. I’ll leave you with a quote from him who puts it differently and better than I could:

“Christ is in the soil. Why do we all live in these big cities all so far from nature, you know? The soil and the food it produces connects us spiritually, and through food we are connected to Christ. What we eat so often now isn’t food, it doesn’t have the spirit because it’s not given time to flourish, to be what it is meant to be as it grows. Care for the land, cultivate the spirit. Cultivate the land, care for the spirit. To do the one is to do the other.”

I’m still processing a lot of what I’ve seen and in many ways I feel like I’m moving through life with a turned back at the moment, seeing all these things piling up higher and higher behind me without time to analyze and think about them as is my nature, while I am pushed too swiftly forward by the river of history, so much bigger and faster than my own tiny stream. I’m not sure about everything I have heard of “The Man” or food production and consumption and how we fit into that bigger picture and I’m sure the above thoughts reflect these internal contradictions, but I’ve heard and seen much of the devastation of Creation by greed and what I saw in Roderick and his family’s little organic farm was the opposite: a peace-building, soul-filling, veneration of Creation.

It was a powerfully peaceful place and it was affirming to find out today after writing this that I have been given the exciting privilege to return there for the month of April to fulfill the community immersion portion of the program.

A typical view of the "farm" with coffee plants in the foreground

A typical view of the “farm” with coffee plants in the foreground

Drying coffee beans

Drying coffee beans

Our little group at Rodrigo's farm after being spoiled with food and coffee from the farm

Our little group with Roderick and Evila after being spoiled with food and coffee from the farm

Job 12:7-10

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.

Photos 3.0 – Limon

This past weekend I had the privilege of traveling to Limon province in the West of CR with our LASP group. There we had the pleasure of talking with locals in the main city of Puerto Limon about the problems and realities faced by the province, visiting an Indigenous Bri Bri reserve and speaking with a indigenous leader about the challenges and triumphs she has experienced with her people, exploring the agricultural landscape through plantations of coffee, pineapple, and bananas, attending a Methodist church service that was in a mix of English and Spanish with a congregation of mainly Afro-Caribe descent, and visiting the beach in Cahuita speckled with coconuts, sand dollars, and timid blue crabs. Here are a few, “don’t do it justice” style photos from those three days:

Monocrop coffee fields outside San Jose

Monocrop coffee fields outside San Jose

Monocrop pineapple field in Limon Province

Monocrop pineapple field in Limon Province

Pineapples up close

Pineapples up close

Our ride

Our ride

Banana plantation

Banana plantation

The beach at Cahuita on the Caribbean

The beach at Cahuita on the Caribbean

Drive back to San Jose through the winding roads of the mountains

Drive back to San Jose through the winding roads of the mountains

Dense forests blanket the mountain sides everywhere

Dense forests blanket the mountain sides everywhere

Of things that aren’t so different

I feel that so often when folks like me, young, adventure-seeking, poor students (or anyone for that matter) come to another country or culture it is the things that are different, the “beautiful”, the “gross”, the “exotic”, the “charming” that we notice first and that we bring back with us as stories and photos. The “different” stands out like white on black or a meatball in the fruit-punch (I’ve personally never seen this and hope not too but it suffices for effect). I could go on and on about all the “strangeness” around me everyday, not only in the food, sights, smells, and sounds but even in the behavior and attitudes of people themselves. Now I realize I might be leading you to believe that I think these things are wrong, but to the contrary in fact I think they are a large part of what expands our worldviews and even the capacity to have compassion, resolve, and love especially for the “other”. When I am the “other” in the “other’s” context it is the differences that challenge and break down my own preconceived assumptions and understandings of the world to build a more inclusive and holistic understanding.

Now this is something I have been reflecting on lately and its fairly convoluted in my mind so I apologize if it spills through my fingertips that way too. From my first few days of orientation when absolutely everything felt different and was new and unfamiliar one quote from the director of my program still pierces my thoughts: “Be slow to judge for the strangers and the strange all around you are experiencing your strangeness.” How true that is, and how often it seems to me that the average North American abroad might never realize that it is THEM that is the strange and the different. With the advantage of having been given this insightful hint of advice I have been keenly aware to be aware, though I don’t always make it past the first “aware”, of my own outlandishness in this place. Now I won’t bore you now with all my displaced peculiarities, for you know many of them well within yourself as everyday habits and reactions, but let it be enough to know that they are very real and present everyday even though I might not always perceive it.

Up to this point I realize the title may seem fairly misleading. But it was necessary to talk about the importance of the differences before realizing the contradiction of the title. I have been here in Costa Rica now for almost four weeks and have barely scratched the surface but it has been enough to scratch away some of the veneer that shimmers as a blinding wall of otherness. And underneath all is not different. There are the little things that are the same like breakfast, lunch, and dinner and a universal enjoyment of the three. Or a morning shower, a bakery to treat oneself to doughy goodness, and jaywalking. But when I talk about similarities its not the little things I am thinking of, though those have come to be very important for a sense of groundedness. Its the bigger,often less tangible, but more real similarities I am thinking of.

But allow me a little more background so you understand in part why I have been thinking of such things. The LASP program is about opening students eyes to the realities of Latin America; the problems, the successes, the language, the people, the history, and the relationship with North America among other things. And much of the classes in these subjects have brought on the realization of the terrible things we humans in general (and North America to Latin America specifically) are capable of doing to each other militarily, economically, and socially in the name of democracy, economics, growth, and safety. “Socialism” is not an excuse for Augusto Pinochet, or drugs, “the public enemy number one”, are not an excuse for torture, indiscriminate killing, and war in Colombia, and “neo-liberalism” is not an excuse for the Canadian company Infinito Gold to sue Costa Rica for a billion dollars when its people have chosen carbon-neutrality over foreign investment. And it is not an excuse to do all these things because others are so “different” or “alien” that the civitas, subconsciously or not, assent to it.

Maybe all too often we live and travel and experience with a kind of cultural myopia that only lets us see the little things at are feet that are the same while everything in front of us seems different and unknown. And maybe all too often we think in a way that identifies the similarities in the different rather than the differences in the similar. The first view allows us to visit, enjoy something exotic from our tiny viewpoint, and leave before it inconveniences us keeping the term “responsibility” nicely wrapped up for our little world at home. The second view calls us to realize a global responsibility with all humanity and to realize joy not suspicion at differences. But maybe you already knew that. Its in the Book. And its this second meaning of similarity I mean. Under the veneer are people who also know what it is to laugh with their friends not because something is funny but because they are experiencing the joy of fellowshipping together. Under the veneer are people who also see the sun and the stars and sometimes get the shivers for pausing to think about how tiny they really are. Under the veneer are people who have the same desire to be loved and to love and to live in relationships with others. And under the veneer of all those differences are people who are people too.

Its our differences that should give us the compassion and wonder we need to work toward a better, inclusive global community but so often its the differences that lead to hate, to prejudice, to injustice, to poverty, to violence, to war. But then maybe its not the differences we need but the similarities. So together can we humble ourselves and finally pick up those glasses we’ve been given from Him and see that maybe its really our little things that are different and the big things that are the same.

Matthew 22:37-39

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Photos 2.0

Here are a few photos from my first two weeks in Costa Rica. I have been trying to capture things as they are rather than their idealized, extreme, or “picturesque” versions. These are the things and places I see on a regular basis, the everyday commonness in my life, if you’ll permit me to express my stay here that way.

Outside the house where I live

Outside the house where I live

My street

My street

Sunset over the mountains along the walk from Spanish class to home

Sunset over the mountains along the walk from Spanish class to home

View from my Spanish classroom in the Curridibat district of SJ

View from my Spanish classroom in the Curridibat district of SJ

Gateway to the LASP building where I study during the week.

Gateway to the LASP building where I study during the week.

Rainbow over San Jose seen from near where I live

Rainbow over San Jose seen from near where I live

Tico Wedding

A little over a week ago my host mom took me aside and told me in very slow and pronounced Spanish (the clue that I should be listening very carefully) that a member in their extended family was getting married in a week and that if I wanted to go they could reserve a spot for me. My first inclination was to thank her but respectfully decline, after all I wouldn’t know anyone and it could be all around awkward, but then the realization crossed my mind that I would probably never have the opportunity again so I blurted out some kind of no-yes combination that meant “yes” but didn’t make much sense. In any case, I spent the latter half of the week worrying about all the “ifs” and awkwardness that were lying in wait for me on Sunday, I being the gringo who shows up at a wedding not knowing what the bride and groom even looked like let alone their names.

In any case I need not have worried, though in the end there was a lot of awkwardness but not for want of smiling, welcoming Ticos. The first person I met was a younger man, sharply dressed and cheerful, who asked me about what I was doing in Costa Rica, how I was enjoying it, that I was very much welcome and so on and so forth but I didn’t find out he was the groom until the actual ceremony started about an hour and a half later. Awkward. But the ceremony was pleasant, taking place in a large garden that had been rented for the occasion with oddly familiar North American “wedding/love/promise” kind of tacky soft-rock pop music in the background. I heard Bryan Adams at one point.

However, in my opinion the ceremony didn’t compare with what happened afterward which was about four or five hours of eating and fiesta. In any case it started with Latin music and dancing, though of the seventy-five or so people there never seemed to be more than twelve people dancing at one time. In any case, the amount of spectators combined with the ability of everyone to be able to dance pretty much intimidated me firmly into my chair but I told myself if I was asked to dance I would have to say yes, after all when in Costa Rica do as the Costa Ricans do. However, after the first round of food everyone really got going and part of me really wanted to too but I seriously needed a catalyst, something to push me over the edge. Now for my program we all had to sign a contract to not touch alcohol but the tall glass of champagne that had been sitting in front of me all night that I was dutifully avoiding really started calling my name at this point and a philosophical battle ensued in my mind that I won’t go into details about. In any case this lasted through another round of food and then the main course after which I was thoroughly stuffed and had won out against the devil on my shoulder.

But then something happened that actually did get me up dancing far better than the champagne could have done. Suddenly through the door appeared a troupe of samba-style dancers all in shiny white and blue plumage, headgear, and swirling cloths about five of them with drums which they immediately proceeded to beat rapidly. Somehow I and everyone else ended up wearing masquerade masks and loose flower necklaces and were all being more or less coerced into dancing by the troupe, starting with a conga line, then some sort of limbo circuit, and finally ending with a big group of us on the dance floor. Maybe it had to do with my face being covered up but at this point I was comfortable with trying out my Canadianized salsa dance as I was being more or less forced to do anyways. Moreover, there were a few Ticas I would have gladly danced with but for some reason I had to dance with my host mom and all my “aunts” first and by the time THAT was over so was the party.

I was yet again humbled by the generosity and the welcoming attitude of the people I met. North America as a general term doesn’t seem to have the best reputation around here but that didn’t stop these folks from all going out of there way to make sure I felt welcome at a wedding I really WAS intruding on. The groom’s father and brother were particularly kind as was the groom even (unexpectedly for me) giving me a big hug as I said goodbye. More likely he was just really happy to be married. In any case they seemed to be almost as grateful I was there as I was at being there! But sitting here and thinking about it it seems to me that it may be more of a collective cultural attitude to have a grateful disposition. That is generalizing of course but on the whole the people I’ve met feel more inclined to smile and laugh and invite than to complain and reject. In truth most of these people are not lacking for basic needs but on the flip side none of them are wealthy at least not to the scale we would consider middle class in Canada. They seem to be more or less content with what they have, or if not content at least grateful for it. Maybe gratefulness says something about why Costa Ricans are so often ranked among the happiest people in the world.

Psalm 118:24

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Stepping Out

Some of you have been asking what kind of things I have been doing here besides the everyday activities of schooling and hanging out with my host family so here’s a little anecdote from last weekend. My second weekend here I was burning for an adventure. So on Saturday I set out at 8:30 AM with two friends on my program for downtown San Jose where we were hoping to find some bus for somewhere, in some district, where supposedly there was a mountain we could hike to someplace. So after milling about downtown San Jose for about an hour asking directions and being directed six blocks one way, then four in another, and finally two more another direction we found a bus we could have been looking for (I don’t know if it’s a misunderstanding thing but Costa Ricans seem all to have different ideas of where a place is and how to get to it. No one just tells you they just don’t know nor does anyone seem to understand or use geography according to streets and avenues, which are actually laid out remarkably logically in the city). Anyway, I’m still not clear on if we ended up going to the mountain we’d wanted to get to (we’d kind of just looked around as the city is surrounded by mountains and arbitrarily picked one) but the bus we finally got on took us through the city of Alajuelita and then began ascending steeply as we left San Jose behind us. We got off at the last stop and, after one more wrong turn, were directed up a curving road that wound past a motley assortment of flower festooned villas, simple tin roofed homes, broad-walled and electric wired properties we couldn’t see into, and the deep-green and bright red hues of lush coffee plantations.

Eventually the steep road turned to dirt and after a couple more directions from a kid on a bike and horse-leading farmer we found the first set of faded wooden arrows for La Cruz de Alajuelita, a giant cross on top of the mountain. Promptly afterwards we jumped a fence into a cow pasture, still following the wide dirt path, this time between dense copses of jungle vegetation and lazy bovines. Eventually we got up onto a view point with a smaller but still substantial metal cross from which we could see all of San Jose laid out below us. Getting more directions we learned the main cross lay behind us in the cloud shrouded peak.

Boom. Cloud forest. The air got really moist and the jungle pressed in with birds calling incessantly. Vines hung down from the trees as plants grew up their branches. At one point I saw a seven by four foot fern. Sorry Dr. Peters I didn’t do any identifying or sampling but I did observe and wonder. After about half an hour we reached the top and la cruz. It was an odd and almost oppressive structure. Standing at what must have been around 100 feet tall it was wrought from rough and rusted metal surrounded by a ten foot high metal fence with two layers of razor wire. It was a very violent looking thing in a very peaceful setting. And peaceful it was. Looking down from that height the sides of the mountain looked almost sheer because you couldn’t see far past the heavy layer of clouds. I tried to get closer with nature by climbing one of the jungle trees in bare feet until the word “snake” crossed my consciousness and I hurriedly attempted to get down, got stuck, and had to have my two buddies help me down. Shortly after we ate our lunch and then turned down the mountain again to retrace our steps stopping once to try hang out with a cow by copying its behaviour and “be the cow” (video evidence exists).

All in all the hike got me very excited for what may be yet to come from nature in this biological hotspot. In any case, it was worth it even after we were later told about the danger of the district we had passed through including some nasty crimes that had happened previously along the route up the mountain. Ignorance is bliss they say and in this case I don’t think I would have agreed to hike in this area if I knew the history but I’m glad I did it and the people we met, like so many others I have encountered, were welcoming, helpful, and affable. If other things have gotten me excited for the ensuing months the birds, trees, and coffee fields on the mountain certainly have.

Stay tuned, I had the privilege of experiencing a Tico wedding last night.

Psalm 24:1

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”

On Food 1.0

One of the best ways I can think of to engage a culture (in my tiny span of experiences) is through taste. Maybe this is just because I appreciate food so much (understatement) but I really believe that the sharing that happens through meals, tastes, and aromas accesses something that words cannot always reach, especially when your Spanish vocabulary is about the equivalent of a five year old. But in all seriousness, there is something about eating of the same food together that immediately puts you in a realm of experience that would be difficult to achieve so quickly in any other way. Taste is a universally understood phenomenon and I think that of the senses it is possibly the most intuitive and felt, rather than taught and learned. Take sight for instance. It is said that seeing is believing, but seeing and believing are often wrong. When I see the razor wire on top of the twelve high fences surrounding most of the homes in San Jose, I may draw conclusions from my Canadian context about the uses of that wire and what it says about the people who use it. But these conclusions can be, and are often wrong. My Tico family or friends may “see” something totally different when they look at the mini fortresses down the streets. I won’t try to tell you what that is they see because I just don’t know nor will I try to speak to their nature (the wire and the people) because it would be wrong and pure folly to try give an answer at this point. The same goes for hearing the cries of the many birds, or feeling the alternation of hot sun and drenching rain. A wealth of experience backs up what Costa Ricans hold to be true about things I am only experiencing for the first time and I cannot easily partake in a mutual understanding because of this. Seeing, hearing, and feeling may be believing but it does not mean knowing.

But taste, taste tastes different. There is something deeply emotional, even spiritual about tasting and eating that is sadly lost on so many people. It is a sharing, by its nature, in the passing and sustaining of life and the joy of something truly good that is felt, whether consciously or not, by those who do it together. The times I connect most with people here are over meals, thanking, laughing, praying, and complimenting but mostly just tasting, tasting together and understanding through that shared experience.

I’m sure by now you’re all wondering what it IS I’m eating but if you are that’s good and it means you’ll be back. Nor have I finished reflecting on food and eating; the above was until recently a jumbled mess of thoughts somewhere in my frontal lobe that had to get out and its not yet finished. Later perhaps, I’ll throw a list of foods halfway into another anecdote for you to savor but for now be content with this because its all that’s coming and for me its more important anyway.

Psalm 34:8

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

Baby Steps

My first week in Costa Rica was a whirlwind of new and fatiguing experiences, from trying to figure out the bus routes in San José, to mentally converting Canadian dollars to American and then to Collones to figure out a price, to trying to learn Spanish in a sink or swim kind of fashion. The work doesn’t stop either when I get home from “school”; its crunch time. Conversing with my host family means being focused from the first “Buenos dias” in the morning to the last “Buenas noches” at night. But well I don’t enjoy every learning minute of it, I’m trying to grow every minute of it. The director of our program, Don Antonio, tells us each day “learning is painful”. He’s right about that. Nor is it quick, which can be frustrating for me especially with a language barrier. But the small victories are adding up and quickening. A word here, and a few more here, and I’m catching longer snippets of conversation that were unintelligible five days ago. Its coming slowly, like baby steps.

This weekend was particularly rewarding. There was nothing scheduled for LASP so it meant I was to be with my host family the whole time which was rather a daunting prospect on Friday. However, it turned out to be my best time here yet, both for learning and good ole’ fun. Saturday afternoon/evening I went with my host family to a Rezo Del Niño a Feliz Navidad (Christmas) tradition for practicing Catholic families in Costa Rica (and possibly elsewhere, I’m making a lot of assumptions in this anecdote). Essentially all (at least the ones I’ve seen) houses of practicing families have a nativity scene which is taken down at some point in January (doesn’t seem like a set date) but before this happens the family gathers and recites a kind of liturgy, sings some songs, and has a little celebration. Okay, at this point I realize how this sounds but you have to understand that to my Spanish-deaf ears I really am not entirely sure on ANYTHING going on except when I’m being fed. Anyway, basically the Rezo Del Niño is a prayer of thanksgiving and a goodbye to the Christ child.

So, I went with my host family to a house of their relatives where we participated in the Rezo Del Niño which lasted about fifteen minutes after which there was about a three hour fiesta. There were about twenty other Costa Rican family members there with two great-uncles who took a real liking to me but both talked so fast and over each other all I could do was nod and say “Pura Vida” which seemed to make them like me all the more. In any case, a unique Costa Rican experience became distinctly less foreign when we all ate hamburgers for dinner, and I was given the open-air courtyard TV remote for the music selection, which was purely symbolic because I was forced to pacify the uncles and their calls for more Rolling Stones, Queen, Bee Gees, and “No Beatles!” Any awkwardness I felt about being there was alleviated by my host brother and two muchacha (teenage) ticas who laughed me through my broken Spanish. I went home tired but happy.

Anyway I was going to write too about what happened on Sunday with the Mariachi band at the Catholic Church service with laughing, clapping, and picture taking Ticos, church fathers included, or my first live professional soccer game ever with loco Suprissa fans hollering their home team to victory all around me but those stories can wait. They’re stored in a warm fuzzy place in my memory and aren’t going anywhere.

IMG_0079

The Nativity scene at my house around which the Rezo Del Niño would happen.

Matthew 28:20

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Laughing 1.0

Four days after arriving in Costa Rica I think I have made more embarrassing public blunders than in the last four months but I suppose that depends on how many blunders you have witnessed me commit and for some of you who know me well that’s probably a lot. In any case there have been numerous occasions of it here usually more than once an hour. It is even embarrassing to embarrass myself so many times. Here’s a few carefully selected examples:
1. While shopping with my host family I stated I really needed “sopa” (obviously for washing right? Nope, its soup) and not jabón (soap), insisting to the point that we went home and my host mother made me food so I could eat “sopa”.
2. I brought with me from Canada what I thought was a precious/luxurious and uniquely Canadian gift for my host family. It was a 50 mL glass bottle of maple syrup, about enough for a dozen and a half pancakes. My host mother thanked me sweetly for it but today we used it all up and had left-over pancakes. That’s when she went to the cupboard and grabbed out the 500 mL jug of maple syrup some chap from Vermont who she hosted last semester brought as HIS gift.
3. I was describing in my best Costa Rican Spanish to a Tica the reasons why I was so tired and going to bed at 9 PM. Anyway, long story short the first item on my list was that it was tiring being in a nuevo (new) country but I said that my novio (boyfriend) in Costa Rica was making me tired. Of course she didn’t remember the rest of the reasons on my list…

Hopefully you laughed reading those because that’s how I’ve been trying to react. I figure I had better get used to embarrassment here because it is going to happen a whole lot more. I suppose one reaction could be freezing up and refusing to go out on the limb when you know you’re going to fall off anyway but somehow that seems like a short cut to nowhere. And if I don’t want that I suppose the best alternative is to laugh and so far its worked. From my short time here it seems Ticas love to laugh and laugh to love. So what better way to find grace, correction, and instruction after an awkward moment than to engage this very essential part of Costa Rican culture?

Matthew 6: 25-26

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”