Did I say a six month sabbatical…?

Ah, well, all this sunshine must have muddled my mind.  Six months is up and I am still here.

Until this morning, I had been reflecting quietly that during that time I had managed to pack in rather a lot, and was feeling rather pleased with myself. Until my 8 year old neighbour, Camilla dropped by, sucking furiously on a fruit popsicle, and disabused me of that notion rather firmly.  The conversation went something like this:

Camilla: ‘Can I help you do the cleaning?’ (I was sweeping the floor)

Me: ‘Well, that’s very kind. OK, why don’t you take this feather duster and go chase away all the scary spiders and their webs out of the corners. I will use that thingy there (gesturing at mop) to clean the floor.’

Camilla: OK. (still sucking on popsicle, but now looking quizzical). How long have you been here now?

Me: Six months. Why?

Camilla: Six whole months and you still don’t know how to say ‘mop’ in spanish! That’s terrible! It’s a ‘trapeador’!

Me: How terrible indeed. Well, the truth is, mops are pretty boring, don’t you think? I just like learning interesting and fun words, like popsicle, and cheeky monkey.’

At which point she laughed, remaining fruit slush ended up on floor, and newly appointed trapeador came to the rescue..

The admonition was not yet over, however. Half an hour later, she turned up again with 2 books for me, her favourites. Greg’s Diary, story of a 12 year old boy (with all the sort of escapades you’d expect of a 12 year old little tike..) ‘I think you should start reading these’ she said. ‘They will be very good practice for your Spanish. And no boring words like mop.’

How thoughtful! No doubt a dose of adolescent musings on ‘Dog Days’ and ‘Crude Reality’ will do my conversational spanish a power of good, and prepare me for the world of adults.

No words like mop innit

My abject linguistic failure in the domestic cleaning appliance department has not, however, deterred me from reflecting on life in Costa Rica at the six month mark…. So here they are, six months, six ruminations..

1.  Potholes in paradise. They multiply secretly at night, and are out to get you. When I first arrived, there were only 2 on my road. Now there are 12.  Just when you think you know where they all are, they spring out of nowhere and bring you to a bone/axel- (axle?) crunching halt. My car hates me. The rainy season naturally accelerates the pothole breeding process, and I have begun obsessively counting the number between my house and campus to keep myself entertained. Currently at 64, of which about 10 are fully-fledged axel-murderers, the rest adolescent axel-grinders, growing daily in depth and menace.

2. Fancy-footed Firemen. In between all the macho Latin nonsense are some delightful acts of originality, flair and thoughtfulness. Witness my neighbour’s flambeed bananas, and the Lady Gaga lookalikes in a local drag show, for starters. More recently, one of my dancing partners, a 20-something volunteer fireman (with all the necessary physical attributes one would expect/hope of a fireman – fine tattoos to boot..) told me that the only reason he came to classes was to learn the Bolero, so that he could surprise his Mum for her birthday and take her dancing ‘just like she did in the old days’…. Now, how sweet is that!  (had he been ten years older, still living with his mum and taking her dancing, I’m not sure I would have found it quite so sweet..)

Bolero vertical

Bolero horizontal - not sure his mum will go for this one












3. Livin’ la vida pura.  A few months of sun on the brain, and it has now become almost natural to stick ‘Pura Vida’ (pure life) at the beginning or end of a sentence, by way of greeting, just like the locals do. And then it dawned to me, maybe this isn’t a sabbatical after all, maybe it really is just pure life! I mean, when does one actually end and the other begin?

Another aspect of ‘la vida pura’ that I have come to appreciate is the regular and spontaneous intrusion of the natural world on the man-made one (insects apart). An iguana on the doorstep for instance. A recent weekend getaway in what can only be described as a tropical neoclassical victorian guesthouse, and it came as no surprise to read a notice in the room that said: ‘Do not leave your room service tray outside your door. Small forest  animals may break the crystal ware.’ Well, naturally!

Small forest animals with penchant for crystal ware

4.  Where the Streets have no Name. I have learned the hard way that giving/getting directions to a fixed location will end in almost-certain failure if you rely on either street numbers or names. Either they don’t exist, or nobody has a clue what they are.  After all, this is a country that’s not long stepped out of village life. So it’s all about describing at least 3 other prominent features in the neighbourhood, and then hoping for the best. A grid reference of a sort, minus grid, map, or compass..

I feel truly sorry for Costa Rican postmen.

My address, therefore, is Casa Atmos (‘Atmospheric House’), Rio Oro (Gold River district), 200 metres south of the blue guard house (that is now red, but best not to confuse people with new information),  100m east of the ‘Quickie Chicken’-with-cool-shades sign, after the tunnel, house on the left with the wooden exterior and palm trees. I sometimes add, for effect, 1km from the President’s house. (Actually, it’s more like 2km, as the parrot flies, but who’s counting..)

The Quickie Chicken sign..getting close!

My street with no name (I'm the one with the palm trees)

5. The Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH) factor. It’s not hard to see why Costa Rica sits at the top of this index still. While JD Sports shops were being looted up and down the British Isles this summer, Costa Ricans were either on the beach, or having a mild grumble about the Nicaraguans. Economic crisis? Oh, that. Never mind, at least the sun is out. The closest we got to a riot here this year so far was a march through the streets of San Jose to protest at comments made by a senior Catholic Bishop that women should dress more modestly, stay at home and make babies.. and that

“The sexual gift that God gave women is wrapped in love and fidelity for its ultimate purpose: fertilization.”

The SlutWalk, as it’s universally known, was a lively event for some  (a veritable stamping of heels against a patriarchal, misogynist culture..) but a disappointing one for others. As a couple of smart, lively female friends informed me recently.. ‘We have plenty of things to complain about, but we’re just not organised enough. We have only ourselves to blame.’

Well heeled protest

Symptomatic of the wider problem perhaps. I mean, when you live in a small, safe-ish, economically sound-ish, geopolitically irrelevant-ish country that slipped gently into independence without barely noticing, hasn’t picked a fight with anyone since, and that doesn’t have oil reserves or diamonds worth coveting, then it’s quite easy to see how people can/do just get on quietly with life.  A daily dose of sunshine and palm-fringed vistas probably helps too. And slightly unstable neighbours only adds to the sense of complacency. (I mean, just take your pick, to the north or south!) A growth in drug trafficking may change all that…but that’s a story for another day.

6. The Ricky Martin factor. I nearly accepted an invite to see Ricky Martin play in the national stadium next week, but pulled myself back from the brink just in time. This is one in a series of recent incidents in which I have found myself attracted to florid, fanciful things that I would normally shun. Like pink flowery rubber boots with heels and sequinned cowboy hats. This is somewhat disconcerting. Maybe I am a 20-something Latina woman trapped inside a 40-something British woman’s body….!  Oh no! What to do, except go out and get that hat, go to a Ricky Martin concert, and hope that I can work through my latent Latina phase before I come back to Blighty and need to find a proper job..

Saddle up, boys!


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Allergictocats on October 3, 2011 at 12:31 am

    You should publish this. Write a blog or something. It’s brilliant.


  2. Posted by Al on October 3, 2011 at 2:12 am

    And there’s me thinking that you had always been into flowery rubber boots and sequinned cowboy hats…


    • Al.. I’ve been rumbled… you’re absolutely right…though I never did find the perfect boots in Blighty…need a bit of Latin ‘sassiness’ for that.. 🙂


      • Posted by 5sensecity on October 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm

        i think you should have brought your orange elevator shoes. if you come back to visit, def. bring them with you. the would go nicely with the hat.

  3. Posted by annafaherty on October 8, 2011 at 6:45 am

    I find it interesting that the translation of ‘Wimpy Kid’ appears to be ‘Greg’. How pathetic all the Gregs in the world must feel…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: