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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Speaking Spanish with the ladies

The other day we were invited to a girl's get together after school. Little girls running around in Disney dress-up with makeup. Meanwhile, mom's could gossip talk.

We went and had a wonderful time. There were six other Mom's there. A few I know pretty well. A few were new. A few speak EXCELLENT English. A few speak none. Of course, this is a Latin country, Spanish is the first language. It is only because these are very well educated women that they speak English at all. So I will play along in Spanish as best as I can.

Lessons learned:
1)Do not sit too far down the table, adding hearing difficulties to the language difference is not helpful.
2)They speak fast.
3)I need to learn more Spanish to be able to keep up.
4)Smile and nod works well in most cases, even if you don't understand 100%.
5)I will probably never understand 100%
6)These are exactly the kind of women I want to hang out with.
7)They are quite funny.
8)Eventually any group of women will start griping about discussing their kids and husbands.
9)Even I can play along with that.

For more details about what good news came out of this visit, go here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Run on Rice

A run on rice? Are you kidding me? I never ate that much rice until I married a Filipino, now most meals have rice. In the states, I used to buy 25 pound bags of Jasmine rice for about $10-$13 depending on what store and what sales. A friend back in CA said the price recently went up for these bags to about $25. So I guess it is real. And I guess we will be switching to potatoes....

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bell's new accent

Some of the reasons that we came here were for the kids. Expose the kids to a new culture. Let them learn Spanish. Bell's has been resistant to that idea and is finally starting to give in a little. When out in public, if someone speaks to her, she frequently asks me what they said.


Her accent is spot-on. She says words in Spanish the way they were meant to be said, not like her Gringa mom. In fact, she is frequently correcting me.


She also has started to speak English with a Spanish accent....


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Teacher versus the Bull dozer

First the scene:

At the kids school, there is a tall wall, and behind it is a construction site. More condos, of course. There is also an empty field next to this construction site. One morning as I arrived to drop the kids off, there was a bulldozer taking dirt from the construction site and dropping it over the wall into the empty field. Some stray dirt was tumbling into the school's driveway.

The players:

The kids have a teacher for what they call Enrichment. It is Catholicism and morals and ethics and all sorts of good stuff. The lady who teaches them is delightful. She is an older woman with hair all fluffy and white, but her vitality shines through.

This lady went out and yelled up to the bulldozer driver that he should not do that - it was getting into the school's driveway.

What do you think will happen next?

Probable US outcome #1: Never would have happened in the first place - all construction sites have meticulous plans for disposing of debris.

Probable US outcome #2: Bulldozer driver would have yelled back at old lady in some colorful language implying that it was none of her business and besides, she wasn't the boss of him.

Actual Costa Rica outcome: Bulldozer driver STOPS. Bulldozer driver brings bulldozer around into empty field to MOVE the pile of dirt further in and away from the school. Probably bulldozer driver apologizes.

I have recently seen some discussion of the machismo here, and it may all be true. However, they do listen to the little old Catholic teacher ladies!

Thursday, April 10, 2008


The other day I was driving in Santa Ana after watching the boy at his swimming lesson and I was held up by a funeral procession. It was a thought provoking incident, for more than one reason.

First, let me explain what I saw. Then I will discuss why there are no pictures.

There was an old station wagon. Not a hearse, not even a black car. Something that looked like my Mom's family mobile from the 70's. It was beige with faux wood paneling. It had a bouquet of flowers on the top. It was driving about 5-10 miles/hour.

Behind were about fifty people walking. Some were very old and walking with a hobble. Some had umbrellas to protect them from the sun. Directly behind the car was a smaller group that must have been immediate family. I don't know how far this group had walked or were going to walk. Again I felt it a little like the Godfather. And I felt like an intruder.

I snapped a couple of photos and then felt like I was violating their experience, their privacy and their grief. I still have the photos, but I am not going to share them. I understand that there is a blur between blogger and journalist. I understand that people in public have very little right to privacy from photographers. But I am not yet ready to cross that line. So instead I will use my words to express myself.

This procession seemed straight from the movies. But it also felt more real and honest than the typical U.S. version. Somehow, it seems to me that walking in this group did many things for the mourners.

It seemed to show a collective grief, each person part of a greater whole. It seemed a testimonial of love to the deceased, that these people, even those somewhat infirm, would make this effort, do this act. It seemed to provide a sense of support and recognition for the immediate family. They were in the front, the closest to the dead, yet they were backed by this group of supporters, who would not let them fall behind. It also seemed very public, look everyone, look at what we have lost. In the US, we all get in cars and drive to the next stop, but these people journeyed with the dead to their last earthly destination. How connected. And this work, this walk, was a physical task to mingle with the emotional aspect of letting go.

I am not sure where the procession went after they passed me. I am not sure what a typical funeral is in Costa Rica. What is universal is the grief. It is always hard. In some ways seeing this procession made me think of my own mortality and my own family. In some ways it reminded me that I need to participate and not just observe the life I see. I feel a better person for this moment of introspection.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Monday, April 7, 2008

Kissing in Costa Rica

I have been living in a Latin country for half a year now. That is long enough to have aquintances and some friends. There is something so different here than my New Englandish upbringing. They kiss hello and goodbye.

You see it everywhere. In the mall when people who know each other run into each other. When parents meet up at the little performance. And when visiting each others houses.

It was a little strange at first, to kiss people I barely knew. And I got to kiss my friend's husband, right in front of her. A little strange from the puritan background. But I have to say that over time I have adjusted and I LIKE IT.

It seems more affectionate than a handshake (in other words, there is not business being conducted). But less personal than a hug. No major body parts touch. Just lips to cheek. One time. Usually with the head turned to the left so right cheeks touch.

What's funny about this, is that I just saw a news clip that it is starting to be more a thing in the U.S. Maybe by the time we go home, it will be the norm.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Haiku Friday - Mops and Guns

Haiku Friday

Costa Rica is
A land where you always see
Many many mops.

The bathrooms are clean
Even the mall, McDonald's
Pristinely spotless

What a shock it was
Off the plane in Miami
Restroom's disgusting!

People here take pride?
Or maybe so many work
for so little pay.

Hire a dozen girls
It doesn't cost much money
To go mop the floors

Hire a bunch of guys
They must own their guns and bikes
to watch parking lot

Gotten used to it
At first it seemed so strange, now
It is very nice.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Family Love

We just had a visit from Barry's sister M and her friend KC. It was a great time. We went out to Manuel Antonio for a few days and they took a trip to Arenal. We also spent some time around the house. Between this visit and my parent's visit earlier in the month, it is so nice to have people around that adore my children. People that will sit and do coloring books. People that will listen to their detailed stories. People that will get down on the floor with them and play. People that are not me.

I love my kids, but it is certainly nice to have a break from being my kids world. While the aunties were here, they could not have cared less if we were in the house, much less the room.

And to see that kind of family love.
It made it so hard to say goodbye.
We miss everybody.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - Nothing but a Hound Dog

We caved (or I finally got Ibarra to cave) and got a dog. This is Willa who was named by Bells after a fairy in some Barbie movie. I think it is fitting, as in Willa Dog Last at our house? Time will tell.

For now, she is sweet. We got her in Atenas at an adoption fair but on by a local organization. She was living at a home with her mother/father and a brother. A couple of other pups supposedly had already been hit by cars. She is about 3 months old. She is supposedly part border collie, part bloodhound. Not sure if I see that, but she definitely has some hound. When we got her, fleas, ticks and worms, oh my. But that has been taken care of. And she hasn't been in the house. She lives out on our nice covered porch (where we spend a lot of time) and has run of the nice sized yard. We'll see how that changes in time.

Here is one of Snoopy's Willa's favorite spots to hang out:

Tell me there isn't hound in her.

Scary Stuff

Did anyone see this? Jenny this is right along the lines of what we were talking about (sophistication versus maturity) except with a touch of evil thrown in.
Totally Scary!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

100 Things We have learned about Costa Rica

In celebration of my 100th post - I thought I would compile a 100 things we have learned list. Here it is:

  1. Costa Rica can be cold.

  2. It does rain a lot during the rainy season, even in suburbia.

  3. There is a windy season.

  4. There is also a hot season.

  5. It is not hot enough in Escazu to really make the pool comfortably warm.

  6. The kids swim anyway.

  7. Cas fruit juice is delicious and easy to make.

  8. The fresh bread is delicious.

  9. Typical coffee is cafe con leche (served with hot milk).

  10. You can still get a Starbucks type fancy coffee.

  11. It will be yummy.

  12. It will be cheaper than Starbucks.

  13. Ground coffee available in the grocery store is inexpensive and delicious.

  14. Food is expensive.

  15. Especially imported brands.

  16. BioLand makes everything.

  17. You can buy almost anything in a smaller, bagged version (rather than plastic bottles): i.e. mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, jelly, condensed milk, bleach, liquid soap, etc.

  18. The dish soap is not liquid, but a compressed powder that you rub a wet sponge/cloth in to suds up.

  19. Christmas time means tamales. These are different than the Mexican version, no spicy pepper and cooked in a banana leaf. Somehow they are less dry and I like 'em.

  20. If you give out Christmas cookies, be prepared for strange looks because they are not tamales.

  21. You should practice Offensive driving here.

  22. Someone flashing their lights mean they will let you through.

  23. There is a general give and take (at least where I live) to let people turn left or merge.

  24. No one ever looks in a hurry.

  25. Stop signs are optional.

  26. Motorcycles are crazy.

  27. You see 13 year old kids still holding Dad's hand in the Multiplaza.

  28. Moms are the same everywhere.

  29. Little girls are the same everywhere.

  30. It is easy to get sick if you eat out.

  31. The safest restaurants are those with a lot of people.

  32. The fried chicken is usually good and pretty safe (high frying temperature?)

  33. You can fried chicken almost anywhere.

  34. Traditional Costa Rican cooking seems to entail a lot of frying.

  35. You will get tired of fried food.

  36. The beef tastes different.

  37. Burgers here are terrible, even at McDonald's - they don't taste like meat.

  38. The cows you see along the road are skinny.

  39. Diet Coke tastes different.

  40. They don't know how to make butter.

  41. Three kids is not typical, more like one kid and later in life.

  42. It seems acceptable to stop your car and get out to pee.

  43. I have seen many people urinating in public, by the side of the road and along buildings, etc.

  44. I have even seen a few people defecating in public. Not a pretty sight.

  45. In the case of a traffic accident, you are not supposed to move the cars. Wait for the police.

  46. I have only seen the police stopping someone for speeding once.

  47. Many of the Gringos here are in real estate.

  48. Many of the U.S. expats here seem to be against the U.S. (at least right now).

  49. For hotels in tourist areas, the price quoted at walk up will likely be less expensive than on the website.

  50. CIMA is great.

  51. Children with broken arms bounce back really fast.

  52. It is possible to enjoy a movie in Spanish, even if you don't understand everything.

  53. I don't need to understand everything, sometimes it is ok to nod and smile politely, even though I have no idea what the other person just said.

  54. The school is teaching my 6-year old Mandarin.

  55. High school musical and Hannah Montanna rule the Costa Rican 6 year old girls too.

  56. I still am not sure it is age appropriate.

  57. When we do touristy things and meet other vacationers, it is weird to tell them we live here.

  58. My husband needs to get out of the house, at least occasionally.

  59. Bananas cost almost nothing.

  60. 2 out of 3 of my kids don't like bananas.

  61. The kid that does like bananas is frequently constipated.

  62. We make a lot of banana bread.

  63. Radio stations are a strange mix. Nothing really for an American my age. Or American country, which I think that Costa Ricans would love.

  64. Discovery kids is pre-school appropriate programming (in English or Spanish) 24 hours a day.

  65. This place is becoming more like the US all the time. At least here.

  66. Hot water heaters are not typical. Usually there is a heater attached to the shower head or a small instantaneous heater that you turn on when you want hot water. It seems to work pretty well.

  67. In Escazu it is not common to have heaters.

  68. In Escazu it is not common to have air conditioners.

  69. You really don't need them.

  70. We have acclimated and now when people make small talk with "boy, it's cold, hot, windy, rainy" I really agree.

  71. The eggs are not cold in the grocery store.

  72. We haven't gotten sick yet.

  73. We wash the dishes with tepid water.

  74. We haven't gotten sick yet.

  75. We have not needed the generator we brought with us.

  76. I wish we brought more stuff (hangers, garbage cans, dressers) with us, rather than getting rid of them before we moved.

  77. I am really glad we didn't buy a house here (at least yet).

  78. I really like our rental place (both the house and the location).

  79. Fedex and UPS delivery here, no problem.

  80. The address is really funny.

  81. Our address references the Chinese Embassy, which was the Taiwanese Embassy. Now that Costa Rica has stopped recognizing Taiwan and the big China is stepping in, it is for sale. Wonder what this will do to our address?

  82. Paying the utilities at the drugstore is kind of cool.

  83. The kids still love McDonalds.

  84. You can find almost anything (or a version of it) if you look hard enough.

  85. If you can't find it, you probably didn't need it anyway.

  86. Sometimes I wonder if too many choices makes people unhappy.

  87. It's not inexpensive to live here.

  88. At least not how we live.

  89. There are sometimes cows along the side of the road.

  90. Most rich people here own their own businesses.

  91. They usually don't have cows.

  92. But maybe roosters.

  93. People here take pride in appearance and you don't see locals out looking unkempt or in old/dirty clothes.

  94. Most of the ladies usually wear long jeans.

  95. With high heels.

  96. I think it is funny considering the condition of the roads that they walk on.

  97. The current style is to have the jeans about 6 inches too long and fold them up in one long piece.

  98. I think it is funny.

  99. We don't look Costa Rican.

  100. And mostly, people are pretty nice.