El Blog de San José #7
jueves, el 31 de diciembre 2015
La hora local: Después de medianoche
¡Feliz año! Happy New Year!
Because it’s New Year’s Eve, we had class from 9am-1pm today instead of 2-6pm. I like that set up much better.
Big surprise: We had casados for lunch. We were at this little restaurant that was the only restaurant on the whole street open. As we ate, one of the girls in our group began complaining about the fact that several people in the restaurant appeared to be staring at her. I considered why that might be. She is very blond, but that aside I imagined their interest was sparked more by the fact that she was wearing extremely short shorts, flip flops and a tank top revealing quite a bit of cleavage. The rest of us blended more with the locals, sporting jeans, nondescript t-shirts and sneakers. Costa Ricans are very conservative in the way they dress, so despite the relative warmth of the weather, I prefer to try to blend in with the locals.
We took some time to go Graffiti exploring after lunch. The streets of San Pedro are a labyrinth of vibrant colors and strange scenes.
On the bus home I encountered two American women who were immediately recognizable not by their appearance, but rather by their speech. I thought about asking them where they were from, but decided in the end to let them be. In China, it was so automatic to identify with “westerners” and engage them in conversation regarding where they are from. It was just always so rare to encounter Caucasians in China. However, in Costa Rica, even though most people have black hair, brown eyes and the deeply tanned skin, it’s not uncommon to encounter people with green eyes, people with lighter hair, black skin, or even red hair all of whom are native Ticos. There is relatively little diversity in appearance, but not a complete lack of. So, really the only way to be identified as a foreigner is clothes, social goofs and heavily accented or poor Spanish speaking.
I was welcomed by three strangers in the house in addition to Cari and the baby. The two women were introduced as Cari’s older sisters, Catia and Susana, and the ten year old girl was introduced as the daughter of Susana, which I suppose makes her my host niece.
I convinced my host niece to come on a walk with me and felt rather comfortable speaking with her in Spanish compared to pretty much anyone else except for maybe Christian. Apparently she absolutely loves learning languages and is currently working on English. She seemed a bit nervous about the walk itself and explained that she felt safer in her own neighborhood because Salitrillos is dangerous. I can’t tell if she felt that way because she is young or because it is actually dangerous. She told me I have a bit of a Spanish (from Spain) accent, which I find amusing since I’ve really only been watching Mexican television the past six months for practice.
By the time we’d gone half a dozen blocks down I could tell my overweight niece was getting rather winded so we turned around and went back. We hear all this talk about childhood obesity in America being a problem, but it’s really not any less of a problem here in Costa Rica from what I’ve seen. Many children here appear to be overweight probably from too much TV, too little freedom to roam their barrios because it’s dangerous, the prevalence of sugary juices served with each meal instead of water and the junk food being the cheapest. It seems my host family does nothing to pass time other than watch TV and stay in the house.
Upon return to la casa, I was asked by Papa Tica if I would be going out with my American friends for the evening. Knowing everyone who wasn’t tied up with their host families was planning to slink off to the bars, I explained “No voy a salir porque todos mis amigos van a los bares y no tomo alcohol.” My host niece exclaimed that while we were walking, my response to her “Ya conoce a Dios” do you know God yet question was “Sí” so naturally I don’t drink. Interesting, I didn’t realize that being Christian was somehow associated with not drinking, but apparently in this household, it is. Costa Rican or family specific, I still don’t know.
Because we weren’t slated to eat until late, I was offered snacks. Something was mistranslated in an exchange during which I was asked if I liked tortillas and I somehow gained the impression that the tortillas were meant to serve as the small meal. After all, every Mexican restaurant I’ve ever been to with my family has ended with my siblings fighting over the last tortillas and subsequently chow them down plain. So I grab a tortilla and just go ahead and start pealing pieces off into my mouth. My host sisters and Papa Tica start laughing and one of them says “Supongo que quiere probarlas primero” I guess she wants to try them first. I hadn’t realized they were carving up chicken on the stove to be eaten with the tortillas. My next party foul was eating the chicken wrapped up in the tortilla, which I noticed no one else seemed to do. They ate the two separately. Confusing. I suppose Costa Rica is, in fact, not Mexico. My entire perception of Latin American food as a whole to date has been a preposterous misconception. Thank you, Taco Bell. Oh well, at least the chicken with (not on) tortilla was not more rice and beans.
Cari, the baby and Papa Tica went off to church while the rest of us stayed behind to cook and welcome other guests, two of whom were foreign students like me that managed to get lost along the way. So, off went Susana on a motorcycle with a Tico I’d never seen to retrieve them. When they at long last arrived, I was introduced to Anna and Handi. Anna is an enterprising 18 year old who arrived to Costa Rica with hardly more than second year high school Spanish under her belt. She makes a living teaching English to locals that range from 15-40 years old and teaches all over Costa Rica, at times in Nicaragua and “a veces” in Panama. She’s learned a fair bit of Spanish in the past three or four months and the best part is she learned it straight from the Costa Ricans, so unlike me, she doesn’t have the weird Spanish, Mexican, American accent mix going on. The other foreigner, Handi, is a Chinese student studying in Ohio to be a physical therapist. Though she is fluent in about 6 Chinese dialects and American English, she speaks virtually no Spanish and was brought to Costa Rica for a short study of medicine and volunteer work at a local hospital. She seems to be getting by just fine despite her disability in communicating with the locals. Anna and I were happy to serve as her translators for the evening.
To pass the time awaiting our relatives return from church, Susana decided to introduce us foreigners to her favorite Spanish app. She claimed she did to give us an avenue through which to practice our Spanish. That was certainly a web of lies or in other words, bullcaca. She is just amused by “caca”. The app, which is called Pou, is centered, literally, around a piece of “caca.” Now this “caca” or “cacaito” as Susana called it, must be fed, bathed, played with, etc…. all at an attempt to make it grow and produce other “cacaitos pequeños.” Several mini games must be played to earn money and what not to this end. The whole ordeal was rather amusing and I must say, I could certainly feel my vocab improving. Immature apps everyone, best way to convince your children to practice a foreign language.
When “Tío” Uncle arrived and with him Catia’s boyfriend, they wheeled Mama Tica out of her bedroom in a wheel chair to greet everyone. She is very obviously in very rough shape and a great deal of pain. But none the less she seemed overjoyed to be reunited with her family and to finally meet me. She gave me a big hug, a kiss on the cheek and reminded everyone else that at the end of the day, she and no one else was my Mama Tica. The funny thing about homestays here in Costa Rica is that there seems to be an enormous sense of pride associated with hosting. Susana displays it with Anna and Handi and now Daysi is displaying it with me. I just hope she’ll be recovering soon enough that I can actually spend some time with her. Besides, I feel as though Cari is getting sick of babysitting me especially since she has her own Tasmanian devil of a baby to contend with.
One of the phenomena here that I find amusing is how low expectations of my Spanish listening and speaking skills can augment a situation. For example, once Papa Tica and the rest returned from church and my host sisters were busying themselves with readying dinner, those of us remaining were seated in the living room to watch the Torros (again). Baby Ali was in Papa Tica’s lap and screeching and giggling at the site of the bull charging around the ring. Catia’s boyfriend commented on how charmed Ali seemed to be by the bulls to which Tío responded, “Sí, porque a la gorda le encanta como bistec” yeah, because the kid loves her some steak. I laughed at that and the fact that I understood what was said and the humor made them laugh harder. Tío was virtually knee slapping in disbelief and gave me a high five for my legendary achievement. It’s so amusing to be congratulated for the skill level of a second semester Spanish student.
Dinner was finally ready to be devoured by eleven pm. We began the meal with prayer, but this was not my family’s pre meal BlessedOhLordForTheseThyGiftsWhichWeAreAboutToReceiveFromThyBountyThroughChristOurLordAmen. Nope, this was a ten minute ordeal full of all sorts of Thanksgiving and poetic oration lead by several different people taking turns. Susana even prayed for us three foreigners that we had a blessed stay in Costa Rica and safe journeys home when the time comes to return.
The meal was a delectable combo of juicy pork ribs, garlic potatos, salad, rice & beans (again), tortillas and some other weird root thing I couldn’t identify which seemed reasonably potato like. A glance around the table left me unsurprised to find not a drop of alcohol. I still don’t know how we fit so many people in the tiny house, much less around the kitchen table, but we did and the conversation was light and the humor was plentiful. The “postre de limón” lime pastry was a perfect way to end an excellent meal.
At exactly a minute before medianoche, the TV program switched from bulls to show all of the major ball drops in all of the major cities that had occurred in later time zones. I expected to see New York on the list, having reached the new year an hour previously, but they ended with Rio instead. Costa Rica, unsurprisingly, does not have a televised ball drop. Instead, there was a meager count down from diez to uno. ¡Feliz Año! Everyone screamed. There were hugs and kisses all around and I could hear what I assume to have been the Costa Rican National Anthem playing on TV.
Soon, the my ears were alight with the sound of fire crackers and fireworks. We all rushed outside to see the night sky alight with more than just the twinkling lights of San José and San Pedro scaling the mountains. “Bombitos” fireworks of every shape and color were twirling and cascading in every direction in a spectacle that may put even the fourth of July at the Brevard house to shame. I reckon nearly every other household in the city was putting on their own show and many bars, hotels, restaurants and especially the Torro stadium had invested many a Colon to turn the night into a colorful, new day. I’m surprised with the proximity of all the houses and buildings that nothing got torched. The streets were flooded with people shouting to friends, kissing significant others or running to find third, fourth, or eighth cousins seven times removed. There were children throwing firecrackers at one another, young adults blasting music from their gates and drunkards toasting the infant year. Most notably, a hermoso Tico of maybe 20 years was hitting up every single of age girl on the street for an unconsented kiss on the cheek, including but not limited to myself and Anna (Handi remained inside) throwing in a jolly ¡Feliz Año! with each peck.
When half an hour had passed and the fireworks became less frequent but no less vibrant, we retired to the living room for presents. At first I was confused into thinking it was a Costa Rican tradition to open presents on New Years instead of Christmas, but it was quickly explained that Mama Tica had surgery during Christmas so they put off gift opening until she could be present for the occasion. The gifts for each person weren’t many, but they were well received with excitement. Everyone got something, including, to my surprise, myself. Mama Tica presenting me with a pair of silver hoop earrings with the explanation that every Tica should have her own pair. She also gave me a beautiful soliloquy regarding how happy she was to have me share this special time of year with her family.
These evening, thanks to this New Year Experience, my I’ve finally and officially decided to declare my stay with a host family, “vale la pena” worth it. Would it be nice to have my own space here, yes. But the New Year with a family who has welcomed me so readily and openly despite our differences and my less than perfect Spanish communication has meant quite a bit and enriched my Costa Rica stay in ways I didn’t anticipate.
Ted Talk: Where is Home? By Pico Iyer