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Happy Holidays: Parte Tres

Greetings once again from Nepal! Remember how last week I shared with you that an ice-age had suddenly descended upon us so that now when I step out of my house I am bundled up like Nanook of the North? Well, winter is still here and will be for the next two months but a curious thought struck me the other day: In wintertime many Gringos head to Central American beaches to escape snow, ice and pending FBI investigations – here I am hiding out in San Jose, Costa Rica freezing my tail off…maybe I should go to the beach as well. As luck would have it our school saw fit to give us Friday off last week (they seem to give us a lot of Fridays off, not that I’m complaining). Anyways, some friends and I took advantage and gallivanted off to Jaco for a 2-day frolic on the beach. What a difference a little elevation makes! As our bus descended from the mountains the air got that unmistakable beach feel to it, salty, sticky and warm, and I began to wonder why the founders of my school didn’t have the foresight to locate our institution on the beach-front. Poor planning I suspect…or perhaps the media duped them as well. I’m sure we would learn Spanish at much quicker pace if we could hear the breakers pounding the sand all day long. I don’t want to go into too much detail lest I become a stumbling block and cause you all to sin with fits of jealousy, but I will say that the weekend was wonderful. We enjoyed the sun and warm temperatures, two things we haven’t experienced too much of in San Jose, and we stayed in a nice little hostel for $12.00 a night. I couldn’t have asked for more. One quick note of interest before I move on; I am repeatedly impressed with the openness of Latins. A businessman from Chile stayed in the same hostel and decided to befriend us; he chatted with us most of the night and the next day surfed with us at the beach. What really left an impression on me was the interaction that he and Alejandra, my Tica friend, shared. They had no sooner exchanged greetings and they began to banter like old friends – this went on for two days. Their familiarity with each other seemed a little strange but at the same time appealing to a Gringo that’s used to exchanging quiet pleasantries but nothing more with total strangers. When it came time to leave, Ricardo the Chilean businessman had his hired van drive us back into town so that we wouldn’t have to pay for a taxi. For some reason I get the feeling that this type of thing occurs a lot in Latin America – I like it.
!Feliz Accion de Gracias!...that’s Happy Thanksgiving in Tico talk. I hope you all had a lovely holiday – I know I did, you cannot begin to fathom the thanksgiving I felt whilst sitting in Grammar Class and learning the Imperfect Past Tense. This year I’m thankful I didn’t shoot myself trying to learn the difference between perfect and imperfect past action. My Grandmother inquired the other day if Ticos celebrate Thanksgiving; while I wish that were true, it turns out that the scope and force of Abraham Lincoln’s edicts ended at the Texas border. Thus I spent my Thanksgiving morning sitting in school wishing the Puritans had had the wisdom to steer their ship a little farther south – I’ll bet the Narragansett Indians felt the same way. Not to worry though, The Brubakers (the other Mennonite family here at my school), and a few other families invited me over to have a turkey dinner in the afternoon. It couldn’t be beat…we did have a minor mishap when we attempted to dispose of the holiday trash at the bottom of a cliff, but that was quickly cleared up by a seeing-eye dog and Officer Obie….oh wait, that’s Arlo’s story. Seriously though, the food was absolutely delicious; with my steady diet of rice and beans I had forgotten how much I loved turkey, potatoes and pumpkin pie. As all good Americans did, we gorged ourselves, watched the Cowboys/Jets game and played cards over coffee and more pie. It felt strange to be engaging in a tradition that up until now I’ve only ever shared with my family, almost a little forced. At the same time though it felt very natural; we all wanted to be with our families but couldn’t, thus this was an attempt to keep each other company and make the passage of the holiday a little easier. All in all, I must say it was a good first holiday away from home, even if I wasn’t able to listen to Alice’s Restaurant on the radio.
3 quick stories about mi Mam`a:
Florita gave me the finger the other day…it was all I could do to keep from falling out my chair in a fit of laughter. She didn’t intend the finger or its implied message for me, rather she was telling a story and in that my Spanish hasn’t progressed to the level of understanding cuss words, she felt obliged to act out her thoughts – a sort of cursing charade. Try to imagine your grandmother giving you the finger over lunch; that’s what this looked like – very out of place, but very funny.
She also mentioned at lunch the other day that Fidel Castro is now 92 years old…no she wasn’t using the finger in reference to him – although she might like to. I could tell from the way she was trilling her “r’s” extra-long that she feels very strongly about our friend from Cuba. She does not like that man and I think if ever the two were to meet she would give him a piece of her mind and then fix him some arroz con pollo and café. Incidentally, she thinks Hugo Chavez is insane and was quite proud of the King of Spain when he put Chavez in his place.
It seems that the complaints of a wife know no cultural boundaries. My Pap`a had a day off of work the other day and as all good husbands do, he spent the whole day tinkering on his car and touching up the paint job. We were sitting at breakfast and she whispered to me as he walked past, eager to get to work on his ride, that if they could, Costa Rican men would spend all day rubbing their cars down with a cloth. “They just stand there every Saturday morning rubbing away at their cars.”, The look of disgust on her face could have stopped traffic. I tried to lift her spirits a little by assuring her that it isn’t just Ticos that are obsessed with their cars but Gringos too. I told her that for many men in the U.S. their car is like their girlfriend – she pointed out the window at Orlando and said “for him it’s like his 1st wife…wife number 2 does all the work but when was the last he wiped me down with a cloth?” ……I don’t know.
For three months I have been blessed. While people around me at school have been dropping like flies, I haven’t even had a hint of illness. Nada! I’m not sure what I can attribute this to, except for that fact that perhaps Flora’s putting a little something extra in her rice and beans. Who knows? Unfortunately though, I think my OCD and proclivity for self-diagnosis got the better of me the other week – I was convinced I had scabies. I went to bed one Friday night and it felt as though my skin was crawling, I itched all over my body and I barely slept at all that night. I woke up that Saturday without feeling any relief and so I began to consider the possibilities of what might be afflicting me. After contemplating for a good hour I happened upon a memory where a friend mentioned that she got scabies once in Costa Rica and that she itched like crazy. Thus, over the course of the next few days I convinced myself that tiny bugs were burrowing into my skin and delighting themselves in torturing me – never mind the fact that I had none of the tell-tale signs of scabies other than some serious itching. My OCD tendencies didn’t help the situation, I dwelt on it, tried to place where they might have come from, examined my body on an hourly basis to check for burrows and imagined what life might be like for a mite – it basically consumed my weekend. It wasn’t until Tuesday that I was finally able to see our school’s doctor, by which time I had worked myself into a veritable frenzy. He took one look at me and told me that I had a mild allergic reaction to something, nothing more and with a dismissive wave of his hand he told me to stop self-diagnosing….done. Of course I then began to peruse the origins of my allergic reaction; perhaps it was whatever Flora has been adding to her rice and beans to keep me healthy. I walked out of the doctor’s in high spirits; it felt good to know that hundreds of little pets hadn’t found a home in my skin – and that my friends could now stop avoiding me.
Flora lives to serve, she waits on me hand and foot and I feel very undeserving of it all… but not so much so that I’m going to do anything to stop it. However, on Sundays she takes a much needed break and leaves the task of finding and preparing food to us 4 men. It’s kind of an “every person for themselves” situation so I’ve made McDonald’s my Sunday supper tradition. It may strike you as strange that I would be blogging about McDonald’s but I find it to be a very different experience here in Costa Rica. The building itself is a two-story affair and it’s very nicely furnished, nicer than most Mc Donald’s you find in the States. The menu is essentially the same although there are certain items like platanos and The McNifica that aren’t available back home. The clientele though are what fascinate me the most. In the U.S. fast-food is the great leveler, everyone eats there; young, old, rich, poor, the village idiot and Bill Gates. Here however, McDonald’s is dining for the upper crust – meals are a little pricey so only wealthy Ticos can afford to eat a number 2 super-sized. On Sunday nights especially, McDonald’s becomes a hangout for young lovers; they swamp the place, take all the seats and sit there for hours staring into each other’s eyes and feeding the each other fries. I think most kids in the U.S., except for those that live in the boonies of Western PA, would never make McDonalds their restaurant of choice for a hot date. I know this isn’t the hardest hitting of news pieces but I thought you might find it interesting how different an icon like the “Golden Arches” can be when transplanted to a different culture.
La Carpio photos for the week:

Lapiz feigning danger...

...not a candid shot...

...Maycol cooling off...

...the cutest girl in La Carpio!
That about does it for this week, I hope you’re finding this weekly exercise interesting – I know I am. If you think I breeze over certain topics, or if you think I’m not covering something that you’d like to know about, drop me a line and give suggestions. I’d love to have more ideas for blog topics. Come back next week to read about my trip to Talamanca, the end of AMCA and a lesson in Spanish Phonetics. Peace!
- Matt


Anonymous said…
It's good to know that your weekend food binges haven't changed. I'm sure you're ordering a double quarter pounder with chesse meal super sized, and I wouldn't have it any other way!

-El Nayhog

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