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Happy Holidays

You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, you’d better not pout I’m telling you why…. Christopher Columbus and his merry band of pillagers are coming to town with a boatload of Small Pox and alcohol. That’s right everyone, it’s your favorite holiday and mine, Columbus Day! Unfortunately here in Costa Rica, that no longer exists; down here October 12th is now celebrated as “The Encounter of Cultures Day”. Furthermore, lest anyone begins to wax poetic about Columbus, Spain or the Santa Maria at one of the many autumnal cultural encounter parties that will invariably occur this holiday season, the government has wisely moved the observance date of this most oppressive of public holidays to Monday the 15th, thereby severing all ties of Columbus from the autumn shopping season. The cultural elite have done their very best to inoculate us from any painful memories we might still be harboring from 1492 – and for that I give thanks….oh wait, wrong holiday. To be sure, I’ve never been a fan of Cristobal or his conquests, but let’s be honest – Columbus Day was never about pondering the virtues of that wayward Italian mariner or about thanking God that he bumped into America on his way to India, and in turn facilitated the obliteration of 5 centuries worth of civilization. It was about having a day off school or work, sipping coffee at a street-side café and enjoying the many sales at the local mall. I tend to think that these showy and empty attempts at political correctness are silly and fruitless – but I tend to be in the minority. !Que Lastima! Anyways, our Language School, being the bulwark of free-thought and tradition that it is, chose not to budge when faced with Orwellian oppression and celebrated “Encounter of Cultures Day” on Friday the 12th – I’m brimming with pride. What this means of course is that we had off on Friday, whilst our Tico friends and family had to work – so much for cultural bonding.
(I apologize for the previous paragraph, it is dripping with sarcasm and historical revisionism, but I just couldn’t resist.)
I spent my holiday weekend guarding a house. Here in Costa Rica, it’s not a wise idea to leave your house unattended for days at a time. The wrong people will eventually notice that no one is home and when you return from your 3-day mini-vacation, you will find your house completely devoid of material possessions – sometimes they’ll be nice and leave the cockroaches. Thus, when 4 of my friends discovered that I was a loser and had no plans for the holiday, they asked me to guard their house while they were at the beach; they lured me with promises of free phone and internet. I readily agreed, but neglected to mention that I’m a Mennonite, so that in the event of a break-in I would likely stand by and do nothing; strike that, I would probably be a good host and set out some shoo-fly pie and coffee. Lucky for my friends, the weekend was theft-free……except for that vacuum I lifted. It was actually very relaxing, a few other friends helped out and kept me company. We thoroughly enjoyed the internet and Vonage phone, drinking coffee at a nearby café, and watching old episodes of The Office. That Friday night, in the middle of watching Season 1, I heard these strange and alluring sounds floating up the street from a neighbor’s house. I roused myself up, went to investigate and captured this: (click play)
I thougt it was pretty cool.
It rained much of the weekend – imagine that; but during the morning it was partly sunny so I did a lot of walking around and photographing interesting sights in the neighborhood. I couldn’t have looked like more of a tourist but I didn’t care. All in all, a lovely little holiday, Happy Encounter of Cultures to me!
Speaking of Mennonites, at our daily gab session over lunch the other day, my mam`a discovered that I was a Mennonite, and almost fell out of her chair. Once she regained her composure she examined me from head to toe and then nodded her approval, almost as though she was making sure I measured up to her standards of Mennonitism. It probably didn’t hurt that I have begun wearing a plain-coat and straw hat around the house. Anyway, as is her nature, she immediately launched into a discourse about the virtues of Mennonites and Amish, how beautiful their lifestyle is, how cute their children are, and how she has always wanted to visit Lancaster County. She also mentioned that in her mind, Mennonites are on par with the characters and lifestyles from Little House on the Prairie; believe me my fellow Anabaptists, coming from her that is quite the compliment – she is in love with the Ingalls Family. She also mentioned that a few years ago she hosted a young Mennonite couple from Lancaster – she loved having them and thought they were some of the sweetest and dearest people she had ever met. I asked their names thinking I might know them; she looked at me kind of funny and said Kendall and Erin. I asked their last name and she said it started with an H, but that she couldn’t pronounce it. That’s right dear readers; here I was playing the Mennonite Game with my Tico mother who can’t speak English. She thought I was thoroughly out-to-lunch for thinking I might know them, and I found it difficult to explain that in the Mennonite world, discovering familial ties and degrees of separation is what we do for fun on the weekends. In the end I figured out their last name – it was Hochstettler (no wonder she couldn’t pronounce it)…and no I didn’t know them. -
So it happened again, I was picked out for a Gringo in less than a minute. The other day I hailed a taxi, something I’ve become very good at. I got in, said I wanted to go to Quesada Duran por favor, and didn’t say another word. The taxi driver looked at me, looked at the radio that was pumping some hot Latin beats that I was really enjoying, and then reached down and turned the radio station to the first English channel that he could find. He was trying to be very hospitable and make me feel right at home in his taxi. I appreciate that, but the station he found was airing an English soap opera that kept repeating the same chapter over and over again – I must of listened to Michael and Harold’s adventure in The Louvre about 5 different times. Honestly, I am being very serious – how was he able to peg me for a Gringo in under a minute, do I look and sound that ridiculous?
In my last post I mentioned that the country voted on TLC this past Sunday the 7th, and that the results were already in. I know that you have all been stricken sick with anticipation; how you got through the week without knowledge of the results is beyond me…next time though, just Google the answer and save yourself the headache. Anyways, despite my valiant efforts to the contrary, Costa Rica passed TLC by the narrowest of margins. I have to admit that I’m a tad shocked; I was convinced that if Ticos saw me wearing a No TLC t-shirt the No vote would win by a landslide. Apparently I don’t have the clout down here that I thought I did. In all seriousness though, I want to reiterate that I think this is bad for Costa Rica. The next phase of the process is going to make the referendum stage that we just finished look like a lesson in togetherness. The referendum didn’t actually put the treaty into effect – its sole purpose was to tell the legislature whether or not it could proceed with enacting TLC provisions. Now with the Yes vote, the government has been charged with enacting 12 separate projects or provisions, all of them stipulations mandated by the United States. Each project must be voted on by the legislature separately, which means that there will be 12 separate public campaigns to either accept or reject the project. If the government fails to enact even one of them, they cannot join CAFTA; this then means that the U.S. will demand repayment of the outstanding debt that Costa Rica owes. If all 12 projects pass, Costa Rica will join CAFTA and thus fully open itself to competition from U.S. companies. Many Ticos, are frightened by the process that awaits them, they’re convinced the political rancor is going to get much worse and that the country will be split for years to come. Furthermore, many fear the competition from U.S. companies; they rightly believe that more U.S. companies will open businesses here. More U.S. fast-food joints will mean fewer neighborhood sodas (tiny restaurants), larger U.S.-style super markets will spell the extinction of neighborhood pulperias (corner markets), more U.S. style malls filled with American fashions will mean fewer Costa Rican specialty clothing stores filled with Latin fashion. In short, Ticos see their way of life slipping away; it’s been happening for years but they’ve managed to hang on to much of what makes them unique in large part because the government has kept a tight rein on the U.S. companies. Now however, the floodgates are 12 projects away from being opened and many Ticos are frightened of what may be coming. Please pray for them.
David Beckham I am not. I was walking down the street the other day when some neighborhood kids stopped me and asked in English if I would like to play soccer with them – that’s right they even translated futbol into soccer thinking I was some stupid American that didn’t understand Spanish – they weren’t too far off the mark. I stood there transfixed for a minute, not knowing which verbs to conjugate and then realized that Brando and Andre could understand English; so I said yes. I’m not going to go into great detail, but I will tell you that these 12 year-olds thoroughly whipped me. As if that wasn’t enough, a small boy about the age of 7 scored on me twice and laughed at me in a very mocking tone every time I made a mistake - he was laughing a lot. I felt like a real winner that day. I noticed though that most kids don’t have full fields to practice on – instead they play on cement basketball courts, which means their ball-handling skills are unbelievable. Mine are not.
Well, with that last little piece of self-deprecation out of the way I think I will end this entry. I do realize that I didn’t get to talk about the local rat-dogs or the verb Estar, don’t worry though neither are going anywhere…much to my chagrin. Come back next week and we’ll talk about all that plus my scuba trip to the beach. Peace!

- Matt

Comments said…
Hey Matt, someone at Frazer referred me to your blog, Lois Huston, my sister-in-law. So, are you in Honduras, or in Costa Rica? I'm in CR on sabbatical leave from my teaching job at Greenville College (Illinois). I attend Frazer every time I visit my brother, Dave.

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