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"It's always Winter and never Christmas..."

Hello friends, welcome back. November has arrived and I feel as though a cruel trick has been played upon me. Ask your typical, uncultured Gringo what they think the climate of Costa Rica might be at any given moment and they’ll probably respond with some paradisiacal forecast in the neighborhood of sunny, breezy and warm with a chance of laziness. Basically, most North Americans assume that Costa Rica is a year-round tropical Elysian Fields; something from the pages of Swiss Family Robinson – of course without the tree-house and ostrich races. I must admit that I was living under this same delusion prior to my arrival here, but in that I have never been accused of being self-critical, I blame the media. It’s the Medias’ fault that I packed too few sweaters and wool socks! That’s right I said sweaters and wool – it’s downright cold here. I realize that nothing is ever good enough for me (wait is that self-criticism?) but honestly, no sooner were the monsoons shut-off then the North Wind came howling out of Siberia and blasted us with an almost icy chill. Most mornings my Mam`a and I hover over our oatmeal and coffee and fondly recall the halcyon days of October when we were blessed with warm weather and flooding. I tried to explain all of this to my father, I told him we had begun burning the furniture to heat the house but he just laughed and called me a dirty liar – the Media have obviously gotten to him as well. Anyway, I want to talk to the joker who duped me into studying language in Narnia – I’m expecting Mr. Tumnus to clip clop down the street any day now – ok maybe it’s not exactly Narnia, we at least are allowed to celebrate Christmas here…
…in all seriousness it just got a little chilly here, it’s winter after all – but when you’re used to sun and warm temperatures, a 10 degree drop in the mercury feels downright cold-frontish. Thankfully the rain has all but ceased, what we do get seems to be a very fine drizzle that Ticos call pelo de gatto (cat hair).
I mentioned in a previous post that my Mam`a shared a Tico maxim with me the other week when she mentioned that on Mondays, the chickens are so tired that they refuse to lay eggs. I can’t help but think that the local fowl might have a tad more energy if they didn’t insist on waking up at 3 a.m. and announcing to the world what early risers they are. I know I have a slight penchant for embellishment but I am not exaggerating when I say that there have been nights when as I was going to bed the local roosters were crowing their little hearts out – proud as peacocks that were up while the rest of the world was trying to sleep. My favorite of course is when I am trying to catch an afternoon siesta and two or more roosters decide to have a crowing competition; as if dueling for 3 hours each morning isn’t good enough. Someone had better teach them the German maxim of “pride goeth before a fall” because if they keep it up they’re gonna lose their lives. What strikes me as so funny about all of this is that it’s not as though I reside in Green Acres. I live in a very vibrant, very crowded city – yet people still insist on raising chickens, turkeys and goats in their tiny yards. As recently as 20 years ago many families in San Jose kept Oxen for heavy transportation and a very few still do. Can you imagine raising a horse in West Philadelphia? I guess I’m not in PA anymore.
So I don’t mind telling you that if you happen to get Telemundo in your cable package you might just see me on the Latin American version of Dancing with the Stars (I realize I am not yet a “star” in any sort of capacity but I’m working on that). Ok, so maybe after 3 weeks my dancing hasn’t progressed that much but I have learned a lot. There’s a group of us Gringos from the language school that go together every Tuesday night to this tiny dance studio in Desamparados. The place is always packed and always roasting (even in wintertime) – at the end of 2 hours we are usually soaked with sweat. Our teacher is a very nice girl who knows a lot about dancing and not a lot about English, so we Gringos are usually a little behind the rest of the class – that and we don’t have the natural rhythm that Ticos and Nicaraguans do. Thus far we’ve learned the basic steps to the Bolero, Salsa, Meringue and Cumbia which is the Colombian version of Swing. I apologize that I don’t have any pictures to accompany this paragraph but it’s awfully difficult to get a good shot off whilst I’m twirling my partner like a top. My mother (the U.S. version), informed me that when I return to the States I am obligated to teach her and my Aunt the dance moves I’ve learned. I am touched by her eagerness to learn and her confidence in my ability to Salsa like a Latin but I do not think she realizes that there is no way I would ever dance these types of dances with my mother. I cannot begin to fathom shaking my hips with Kathy the way I do with Maria. My Tico Mam`a on the other hand gave me a word of caution about this whole dancing business – she’s a Baptist and thus has a natural aversion to all things rhythmic – funny, the same could be said about most Mennonites. She said that dancing can be a beautiful thing but that it can sometimes be too trashy – she looked at me and said “Make sure you dance beautifully”...point taken.
I realize that the content of my more recent posts might lead some to believe that my sole purpose for residing in Costa Rica has been to observe life here and respond with pithy, half-witted blog entries. While that is indeed an enviable life I doubt my friends and family back home would be very pleased to learn that they were supporting me so that I could sit around and write about Benny Hinn, Rain and Chickens. No, no, I am here after all to attend language school… and boy do I have some witty observations and pithy remarks about that place. I’ll start with my grammar teacher, Francisco – this man is a riot. Spanish grammar is no easy affair, the rules can be very confusing and learning them is often very stressful. We were warned during our orientation in August that some students might cry during class, that we might cry during class – ugh, feelings. Anyways, Fran manages his class in such a way that the stress level is almost nonexistent. He has a gift for using humor to convey the meaning of even the most confusing of rules. The other week we were studying intransitive verbs, one of which means that there is an excessive amount of something. Ex. “A Bill Gates le sobra dinero” or “Me sobran las novias” (Bill Gates has an overabundance of money/I have an overabundance of girlfriends…one of those statements is false). The class wasn’t quite getting the concept so he drew a hand with six fingers on it, used the verb in a phrase and drove the concept home. This week we’ve been learning how to conjugate verbs in the past tense, by watching “Merry Christmas Mr. Bean”; very unorthodox I know, but it keeps things light. Actually, I think Francisco was just in the Christmas mood and wanted to watch his favorite movie de Navidad.
Last week was “Spiritual Emphasis Week” at our school. Normally chapel is held twice a week but during our spiritual marathon we had chapel twice a day, every day. Our speakers were a husband and wife team from Doylestown, PA so right away I liked them…then I found out they were Presbyterians so right away I didn’t like them. Just kidding, it was actually a very good series of sermons – it focused on our need for repentance and an ability to experience grace (imagine that, a Calvinist preaching about repentance and grace). Both topics were refreshing though, grace is something that I always need more of. The speakers also gave me new insights into the way I so often ask forgiveness from those that I’ve wronged. Too often I want the situation resolved, so I apologize, admit my responsibility and promise to not repeat the action; I essentially gloss over the feelings of others and the sin in the situation to make myself feel better and to restore relationship between myself and the person I’ve wronged. Rarely do I go to the person and really inquire as to how I harmed them and then try to work with them to discern the root causes of my sin – the latter obviously takes a lot more work and self-examination. I appreciated the speakers’ ability to open my eyes to my method of seeking forgiveness and to point to a more Godly, Christ-centered way. Thank the Lord for Calvinists…did I just say that?
I have one more little tidbit from language school before I wrap this up. Two Fridays ago our school hosted “Culture Day”; no, this was not the same as “Encounter of Cultures Day”. Rather, Culture Day was a chance for the teachers to take a break from listening to our horrendous pronunciation of Spanish and instead teach us about Costa Rican customs. All of the students that didn’t skip out on school were divided into teams and each team had to race from classroom to classroom, listen to brief explanations about the different aspects of Tico culture and then decipher a clue as to the location of their next room. It was a competition of sorts, and I was paired with the only other Mennonite couple at our school. For those of you who know little about Mennonites, know this: if ever you are given the option of playing a game with or against a Menno, choose to play with. By and large we are a kind, passive bunch but when we play games the gloves come off and we can be some of the most competitive and heartless people you’ve ever encountered - games and competitions are for winning. Needless to say, once the whistle blew to start our race the quiet little Mennonites were transformed. The wife was like a house-afire, she barely listened to the cultural presentations. She just found the clue, deciphered it and then gave it to me and made me run with it to the next room so as to secure our team’s place in line. It was a very stressful hour but my team took third place – not entirely satisfactory to the little Mennonite lady, but I was too tired to care. My prize was a very famous, Spanish children’s book – which I cannot yet entirely understand. It was a very fun and much needed diversion from the monotony of school-life.
As mentioned last week, I’m going to start posting a montage of photos from La Carpio in each entry. If you’re clueless as to the significance of La Carpio scroll down and read my prior post. Obviously I won’t always just post photos; hopefully as my Spanish improves I’ll be able to bring you stories from the children as well. Anyways, as promised here are this week’s shots:

Alright, that’s it for this entry – more to come next week. If you return you can be sure to read about my experiences with Public Transportation, my need to flee the country and the Costa Rican gourmet dining that is McDonald’s. Blessings to you. Peace!
- Matt


mikepettengill said…
Hey…I resemble some of those remarks. Great entree. Love your perspective on all things Tico.

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