Friday, July 24, 2009

Day 12: (Thursday 23)

Yesterday instead of painting we hid in MK’s room and slept. It was fun, kinda like a sleepover.

But today we couldn’t escape it.

The morning started off bad. It’s been a tough week. When I say that I have to get out of here this weekend, I’m not exaggerating. It hasn’t rained during the day all week which means I’ve spend five hours every. single. morning. hunched over in the burning sun, dripping in sweat, swinging the same machete around in the same way. And it hurts all over.

But you know, that which does not kill you…

So today we started out doing the same thing. And then, miracle of miracles! Plans changed! Apparently the director has been teaching his kids to ride a motorcycle. They’re actually almost as numerous as cars here. It’s a practical thing… dirt bikes just work better on dirt roads.

I’ve become rather accustomed to shying away when he comes bounding up. He has an incredible store of energy and never seems to shut up. He’s rather like a born-again agriculturalist. As in he came to organic agriculture later in life and is so passionate that he believes he can convert EVERYONE! He tends to wear a digital watch and I tend to try to catch a glimpse of the time so as to time him. I’m sure he’s talked for more that 15 minutes straight at a time.

This morning was no different. Shoot, he’s on his way, look busy!

But turns out that all he wanted was to invite us to ride around on the motorcycle.

Oh heaven! Check!

It was every bit as magical as I dreamed it would be, flying around on that little dirt bike. It took me about five minutes to learn how to kick start it, put it in gear and to remember what it’s like controlling something with a manual engine. Then it was pure gravy. The bolder I got, the more amazing it was. I figured out how to put it into second and started to take the turns close and low. I’d make the big square of the soccer field a couple of times, zagging through the hillocks, pulling up and roaring past the goal posts. After just two turns of 5 minutes each it felt so natural, so comfortable that it wasn’t novel anymore.

I cheated on my truck.

We painted again today. We decided not to share less with the children this time, so it was less like finger-painting hour at the local kindergarten. Plus we were using rollers.

But even with that, we must have looked like the Keystone Cops or something. A veritable comedy of errors. Without the comedy part. There’s this lack of communication between the two of us, the director and the head of the development association. I still haven’t figured out if it’s because of a lack of Spanish proficiency, or a perceived lack of Spanish proficiency. I mean first it was the base color. We’d discussed it a couple of times and our plans clearly showed that we were going to use a yellow. There are no yellow buildings in the town so we thought it would round out all the blues and greens. Also it’s a color that doesn’t show dirt much. This was pointed out numerous times. But when the paint arrived there was about a quart of yellow instead of a gallon. When we finally get to talk to someone about we find that we’re supposed to try to use as much of the existing paint (light blue and dark blue) which was left over from two other buildings. Then it was the doors. When we painted on Tuesday, we did the doors and windows a light blue. Turns out we have to re-paint the doors black because they need an anti-corrosive paint. This wasn’t communicated at all after any of the three times that I said that we were going to paint the doors light blue.

So we started out frustrated. We tried to paint the bottom half blue and the top half with the quart of yellow we have, but argued about whether or not it was actually a good idea to use the yellow at all, seeing as there was no way it would go all way round. So we had two splotched of yellow painted and the whole thing taped out before we figured that it wasn’t going to work. At all.

So we’ll just paint the whole thing dark blue?

Turns out the dark blue is really more purply. Whatever. Don’t care now. Let’s just get a color down and deal with the thing later. So we start painting in crazy directions and at crazy intervals. Eventually a couple kids start helping and it’s more haphazard (though admittedly less messy). Finally this guy who’d been watching for a while (in a way less creepy way than the young guys usually watch), took the roller from MK and started to paint. Started to paint with perfect lines and an expert evenness and professional speed.

Who is this masked mystery man?!

Well, a professional painter for one… MK’s host mom’s cousin for another.

Lessee. If we started around 12:45, then he probably started helping us around 1:45 or 2. By that time we’d done about half of one wall.

By 4 we’d finished all four walls, detailing on the bottom and light blue detailing around the doors and on the windows.

Our savior even showed us how to clean off the oil-based paint that had splattered us with smurf freckles.

That’s about when the director showed up and informed us that the head of the development association actually had wanted us to use two different colors. Really? NFW! I had no idea!

But alls well that ends well. We sat ourselves up on a lonely wall with a cold Coke and an ice cream and watched the sun slip down towards the horizon, dreaming of coming weekend adventures.

Day 10: (Tuesday, 21)

MK and I have this joke about the finca being the perfect sight for a horror movie. I mean seriously? It’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s an HOUR bus ride to the nearest city (I was wrong earlier when I said 30 minutes… that was me being optimistic). Every once in a while it storms like there’s literally not going to be a tomorrow. We’re working on this farm with giant man eating bugs and killer plants (you know, more or less), and to top it all off the director who seems to have suspiciously boundless energy and turns up unexpectedly. We’re pretty sure he has a secret laboratory hidden somewhere in the finca. Perhaps under the papaya patch. Perhaps in the large drying house.

And then, as if to confirm this whole horror movie thing, today I was walking around taking pictures of cool things on the farm, you know, frogs, butterflies, pineapples… that kind of thing. And BAM! I fell into water up to my knees. I know that wasn’t there last week because we toured the finca last Monday and I’m almost positive that we came up to the pineapples on their left, exactly where I fell. I mean, if it hadn’t have been me, it would have been really really funny. Tromping along (which apparently tromping is an actual, real word… who knew?) dry and smug in my clever way of slacking, then the next I’m pitched forward flying towards the ground face first, stopped only by the fact that I was knee deep in water.

I squelched back to the entrance to the finca, my left foot making suck-y noises every time I lifted it up. Shlomp shlomp shlomp.

But it was really okay. The rest of the day was filled with puppies, butterflies and sunshine. Literally.

Oh, except when we started to paint the changing rooms today. Our Tom Sawyer bit failed miserably today in the form on roughly a BILLION kids throwing oil-based paint at each other (essentially) and making fun on each other and us in Spanish that they either didn’t think we understood or thought we couldn’t hear. GAH! Now my hands smell of whatever paint-remover They said was okay to use. Whereas yesterday I bowled a kid over by accident, I almost did it on purpose today…

Day 9: (Monday 20)

I opened up Cannery Row today. The very first pre-chapter asks how you can possible put people and characters and feelings down on paper.

And that really struck a chord because I really feel like I haven’t been doing that quite right here.

I mean, in the first place I have to deal with culture shock. Which is a concept which I didn’t really take seriously at first. I mean, come on, I travel all the time. It’s like, culture shock is like jet lag, right? Something that everyone talks about that doesn’t really affect me? Except that it does. And I’ve come to understand that this year more than I ever thought I would.

It’s tough right now because I’m in this double jeopardy place. I’ve long gotten over my Costa Rica culture shock. I’m comfortable and happy and all of the sudden I uproot myself and relocate to a place that is so different than anyplace I’ve ever stayed for a prolonged period of time. PLUS I have to deal with the knowledge of my impending reverse culture-shock.

I spend a lot of time here while I’m working on the farm, daydreaming about stuff I’ll do when I get back. During those long hot nights when I can’t sleep because the heat is just there, not oppressive necessarily, but sneaky in that it’s almost unnoticeable except for the fact that you can’t sleep. During those long hours in the sun where I do repetitive and physically straining farm tasks. I think about the airport and how excited I am to be in an airport again. I can’t remember the last time I went this long without seeing the inside of an airport. The orderliness, the false cleanliness, the giant windows that flood light and the steady feeling of transience. Everyone coming or going, planes leave, tons of planes, hundreds of planes, experience, novelty and excitement just saturates the air. I can’t wait to be back in an airport. I hope my layover is long. I also think about stuff I want to do in The Bay, Giants games, tea in the fog, Coit tower (though I don’t really know why), Ocean Beach in the evening with the windows rolled down, Haight street… just all my favorite things that I’ve already probably hashed out a million times here.

But the problem with that is, while it helps me power through the culture shock, the ticking off of the days, I miss things too.

I mean, I got exactly what I wanted here. I wanted to start living off the grid in an area that’s not like that 2% of the world I’m used to. I wanted to work hard, like really hard. I wanted to work so that at the end of the day, my body would just hurt and I’d have innumerable mysterious scratches, bruises and pains. I wanted to drag myself up everyday, whether or not I want to, because I’m obligated to.

Because I don’t know what that is like.

And honey, I got what I wanted. I signed up for this, and it ain’t day camp.
And as hard as it is, emotionally and physically, I just have to remember that. And I also have to just look up once in a while from my whining and my frustration and things that go bump in the night, because I’ll see the sunset, just like it did today.

This afternoon, after back-breaking work on the farm which made me dizzy and light headed, MK and I washed the outside of the changing rooms that we’re going to start painting tomorrow. Of course, all the 12 year old boys in eyesight, who are still on vacation and thus have little to do, eventually drifted over. I’m not sure if it was horsing around with the hose or the possibility of recruiting us as two more soccer players that enticed them, but either way, we totally pulled a Tom Sawyer. By the time we finished one wall, they had “finished” the other three. Well enough at least.

So then we played soccer, barefoot in the muddy field. The two resident gringas (literally) alternately played with competitive ferocity and collapsed all over each other in laughter at the absolute horror that is our soccer skills and swore loudly. I got a leetle too excited when I realized that I wasn’t spent after about 5 minutes and ran around like a madman. Then I realized, it’s okay to throw elbows around my compatriot, not so much around 12 year old boys. I definitely bowled one over at one point. He was okay.

So to recap:
Farm work: check
Community development project: check
Bonding with the youth: check
Teach English: check. Oops….

Then somehow another group of kids absconded with our ball, so, game over. I got at least 5 goals. Beat that!

We chatted for a while, then I headed home for dinner. I greeted the few people I knew as I walked by, tried not to seem put-off when I was greeted by people I didn’t know. I could smell the smoke of a campfire coming from my house. My new host mom cooked rice on an open flame today and it was every bit as good as she said it would be. Then I turned around. The sun was setting in the distance. It started as a perfect arc that blushed pink in the periwinkle sky. (Bear with me here for a second; this is going to get really… prose-y). Then it grew warmer and warmer until the arc was lit up with the particular yellowy-orange of a mango. The clouds were low in the sky, threading through the mountains off to the left, smoky and thin like a sumi painting. I always thought the phrase “purple mountain’s majesty” was a little corny, but I discovered tonight that it’s no exaggeration. The jagged mountains in the distance were a deep royal purple against the lush greenery that was lit up orange. And then the opposite side of the sky was blushing in response, having caught the reflection of the breathtaking sunset. And I swear, no joke, there was a faint rainbow off to the right. Just one pillar, one side of the rainbow, fainter than and disappearing into the reflected sunset.

And just down the dirt road, picking its way through the rocks and the puddles that I do my best to avoid when biking to and from work, one of the neighborhood mutts with a hangdog look, lopsided pointy coyote ears and pale blue eyes watched me.

Day 8: (Sunday 19)

I sneeze like crazy here. I can’t explain it. I think I sneeze at least twice a day. Well, I mean every time I sneeze, I do it twice, so… But already today I’ve sneezed four times. Yesterday I think I sneezed six times.

And don’t even think about making a joke about how I’m probably allergic to work. Because I’m not working today. So there.

Yesterday it we had something like the storm of the century. (Actually, I’m sure it’s pretty commonplace here, but I think the last thing I experienced that was even close was that hurricane in South Carolina. And I was in this house that was almost all glass and I remember the giant windows bending inward.)

The day went pretty well, I took the hour long bus ride to Guapiles to use the internet café. I had to stand for most of it because by the time the bus gets to Santa Rosa (our pueblo), it’s full. About 40 minutes in, it had cleared out a bit. I was leaning up against a seat with two little boys and the littler one crawled up into the lap of the bigger one so that he could see out of the window and they both looked up at me to signal that I could sit down. I wanted to catch the 3 o’clock bus so I only had an hour to work on the internet.

God it’s hot.

Anyway, so then last night it started to rain. Pounding down on the tin roof and leaking through all of the cracks. And then the lightning started. Blinding light exploding into the house. It’s such a literary cliché to say that the lightning flashed a lit up the entire room, but that’s not true. It’s so powerful and intense that you can’t see anything for those split seconds. And then the thunder comes in, gut wrenching and rumbling down to the tips of the toes. I think it lasted at least until the light of the morning, or somewhere around there. I’d know because I was awake for most of it. At some points I literally thought the tin roof may fall in crushing me under it or something. I mean I know that the cement walls would get in the way of that, but man!

But it was all okay, because today is Sunday so I got to sleep in until 9.

And now the power’s out and I’m working on borrowed time… I wonder what’s gonna happen at 6 when it’s dark, except maybe I’ll just go to sleep.

I can smell a fire outside (either for cooking or burning trash). And the dogs barking down the lane. And the geckos singing. And some cicadas too. It’s funny how quickly one can become accustomed with something.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Day 6: (Friday 17)

My bike broke yesterday. We also discovered that there actually ARE people our age here. They were blasting around last night on motorcycles and big ole trucks.
Gah. I have that ominous feeling that comes with becoming accustomed to a place too fast. Like nothing bad has happened in the past day or two so I’m super on my guard because it’s coming. It probably involves cockroaches. Except today I did have to deal with flying ants. I’ve always hated flying ants. ALWAYS. They’re so gross when they crawl around on the ground and I hate the idea that the can get close to my face without my realizing it.
Yesterday we did more machete weeding. I upset an ants nest at one point and thinking about it gives me hives even now. They all came spilling up from multiple holes in the ground. I refused to work in that particular area for the rest of the day. Then it started to rain and we sorted beans for the rest of the day. Well the rest of the day until lunch at least.
Today, for a change, we sorted beans. All red ones this time. It rained all day practically, on and off. But we got some snacks out of it… Pejibayes (which I hope I’m spelling right and which have the texture of an egg yolk but are oddly reminiscent of an artichoke heart) and guanabana (which is a fiber-y fruit).
MK went back to San Jose today and we said goodbye like a pair of saps. It was like we’d never see her again or something. Lots of “here’s looking at you kid” finger guns and I think I said “well…” about a thousand times.
Talked to my new host mom while America’s Next Top Model in Spanish played in the background. She has 7 kids. 6 boys and a girl, and they’re all out of the house. Her husband died years ago.
Man, this getting up at 5 am thing is really killing me. I napped for three hours today. Three hours. And now it’s only 8:30 and I can’t seem to keep my eye lids open. But five weeks from right now I’ll be back in San Jose, ready to head back home

Day 4: (Wednesday 15) Only 38 more to go!

Got up late. Sore, with a side of foreboding. Yesterday was hard. I don’t think we realized that we’d have to deal with a second culture shock. This stuff is gonna be hard to get used to.
Out the door around 6:05 got to the finca at around 6:30. It was threatening to rain.
The first order of business was to make the “green tea” which is really just green leaves (lettuce, papaya leaves and two other types of leaves) liquidated and then to drink it. While we were collecting the leaves, the nausea started to set in for the both of us. The green tea helped me a bit, but poor MK was having a hard time of it. I guess we looked so pathetic that we got an easy day. We sat around sorting through beans. Like dried beans for cooking. We separated the good ones from the bad one. For a good three hours. Then Don Julio made us this tea called “Big Man” which is supposed to cure any stomach malady. More like kill it. He kept telling us that it was bitter but, boy!, we had no idea. Grossest stuff. And it stayed in your mouth for the next 20 minutes too, even though we took a spoonful of honey afterwards. (P.S. Mary Poppins lied. A spoonful of sugar does NOT make the medicine go down. It just helps a little.)
So it was a simple morning. Which was good. It’s been quite a transition.
Lunch, nap. Around 1 Don Julio shows up and we go for a bike ride to play billiards? But unfortunately the bar was closed. So we headed back to town and he chatted all the while about how now we’re going to find the head of the Community Development and talk about our afternoon projects and then play volleyball with the kids. Some of us were still tired and sore and gently suggested that a few of us may not make it if we try to cram all that in. So it might be better if we got to rest.
So MK and I sat and talked for the next two and a half hours or so and it was good. Much needed. Not like we hadn’t talked for three hours that morning, but we’re still sorting through this new culture shock, so it was good.
Then we played with the kids. It was really fun, actually, and we found some energy hidden somewhere. I suck at volleyball. I mean really. It’s more a game of “keep away from my face” and I laughed practically the entire time. MKs pretty good. Then more kids showed up and it turned into a giant soccer game. We inched out to the edge of the room and spent the rest of the game watching and getting a feel for the community of kids. It was fun to watch.
It’s closing in on 8:30 now and my eyelids are drooping. I’ve gotta get to sleep if I’m gonna get up tomorrow…
Ugh. Daytime is so much easier than night time. Daytime is when I take a liking to the community and reflect on how living with my new host mom is like living with someone’s grandmother and to marvel at how I’m learning to survive the heat…
Nighttime is when I pray that the mosquito net works and start considering heading back to San Jose for the weekend.
I mean I only have five weekends here… After this one, there’ll only be four. I want to take one of those to go visit Ems in Malpaís (I just love that place) and one to go to Bocas del Toro. That leaves two after this weekend is over. MK goes back every weekend and made a very convincing argument today… I am really going to miss San Jose and if I can spend more time there, that’d be nice… plus I’d get to an internet… I guess we’ll see…

Day 3: (Tuesday 14)

Will put UP the mosquito net tonight instead of wrapping myself in it. Enough is enough.
Up at 5:15. Finca at 6. 6 AM. 6.
We spent the day giving the pineapple patch a bikini wax. With machetes. Which is to say, I got attacked by a herd of pineapples. No seriously. Even though I had a machete to protect me, you should see my arms, they’re all sliced up.
But let me tell you, that stuff is HARD. Spending 4 hours hunched over, swinging a machete and trying not to hit yourself? And then to move to the baby rice plants and try desperately not to chop them up or step on them with your giant rubber boots? (Though, I have to say, I feel super savage with those boots. They go half way up my calf and I like to tuck my jeans into them so that they balloon out a bit, like a paratrooper or a member of the rebel army. Plus I wear a bandana which always makes it cooler.
As if that weren’t enough, we then milled sugar cane with this double-sided roller thing that took two to work. We squeezed out six or seven sugar canes. Delicious.
I’m not quite sure how we made it back on those rickety bikes. I mean it’s been a while since I’ve hurt that bad. More lunch, ate even less. The “meat” leaves quite a bit to be desired and honestly? I’m finally tired of rice and beans.
And hour and 20 minutes, lunch and a shower later, we met with Don Julio at the bus stop to go to Guapiles to hit the internet café. Bus costs roughly a dollar and takes about 30 minutes. Add an overwhelming heat and two girls who are sore, emotionally as well as physically, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster. Well, not disaster I guess. It’s just not the recipe for a fun outing.
Plus I had a splitting headache, so I don’t remember much. I do remember that I got to the internet café and realized I’d forgotten the memory stick with the Finca Log on it. Dumbass.
But I got to chat with momala, (glad to know the fam is home safe) and answer a few (though not all) long overdue emails.
Afterwards we got ice cream, I remembered to buy a fan and we headed home.
Where I set myself up with this little fan attached to the edge of the bed, and the mosquito net all up. I feel like a 9 year old princess in her fort. It’s awesome.
Fingers crossed it’ll be a better sleep tonight.

Day 2: (Monday 13)

Didn’t sleep last night. Since when is it allowed to be this HOT and HUMID? MK has a fan. I do not. Hmmm.
MK arrived at around 8am. We rode bikes to the farm and received our boots. Toured the finca, sampling the organic goods at the same time. Quite an operation. Everything from rice plants to papaya trees, yucca trees (the yucca are the roots), hearts or palm, aloe verde, lettuce, tomatoes, bananas, butterflies, basil, oregano, and a whole mess of other things. My favorites are the pineapple plants. They’re ground plants that look like giant spider plants or something with a pineapple sticking up jauntily out of the center. There’s a swamp in the back and a room in which to dry plants out for medicinal value. There is also a giant blue bucket that is upended for an ant house? They are the biggest ants I’d ever seen. They should not be housed, they should be squished. I hate ants. Man, I can’t even remember it all…
Returned for lunch, exhausted. Am slowly finding that it wasn’t so much Costa Rican cuisine that I love, as much as it is the cooking of my host mom in San Jose. Which is to say not so much the food I’m getting here. So I guess I don’t feel bad when I can only eat about 1/4th of the thing. It’s so hot here. I can’t imagine anyone eating.
Fell asleep after lunch. Lovely nap.
Returned to the finca at 4 without MK (who was still sleeping when I got to her house) to chat with Don Julio. Boy is that man ever passionate about organic agriculture. And can he ever TALK! That is to say, he never seems to shut up. After a good hour and a half of nodding, I headed home, stopping at MKs to chat for a few hours. She’s got some fancy anti-mosquito stuff. Pills, this thing that plugs into the wall. All I have is two bottles of carcinogenic liquid. I suppose it’s six to one, half dozen the other.
Found a cockroach in the room and had to have my host mom help me remove it. She went for it with her bare hands, grabbed it and tossed it out the back door. Apparently, they don’t live in the house, because there’s no where to hide, but they do sometimes fly in. (Wait, what? Coming soon, The Fuckers Fly? Part of the Costa Rican Cockroach saga) Will probably wrap myself up in the mosquito net tonight.

I don´t wanna work on Maggie's Farm no more

My parents came to visit Costa Rica almost two weeks ago. A year and a half ago when I came back from two weeks building houses in Honduras, I’d have been willing to bet that my parents would never see Central America. Those would have been great odds. The odds for South America wouldn’t have been so good, but I swear, I’da never thought they’d make it to Central America.
And we had a great time. I finally got to Malpaís which was amazing. All artsy and yoga-y and surf-y with a huge population of Israeli ex-pats. It was a place I just felt like sitting in the sand and drawing designs and arrows and reading talented authors. We probably could have stayed there the whole week, but we moved on. We hit up Monteverde which is kind of an “of course.” Met the host family which was filled with lost-in-translation laughter. Tortuguero and saw tortugas (that is to say, we saw sea turtles giving birth. Which was, well… technically awesome and fascinating, but there’s just something about watching something give birth that always makes me feel like I’m invading privacy). Finally they dropped me off at the next six weeks.
It’s funny watching a woman who has been my friend and cheerleader though all the crazy stuff that I’ve done in the past couple years get a sneak preview instead of the post-game. My mother never gets to see what I do before I do it, she always finds out afterwards. So the mothering kicked in while we bounced around through this one horse town. I sure didn’t help out with my constant brushing off of all her concerns and questions. In traveling I like to take things as they are pitched at me… better chance of hitting one out of the park. But I can understand wanting to know all the basics beforehand.
I mean besides a farm that looks, at least from the entrance, rather ramshackle, and a house that is, how shall I put it, “homey and open,” the town has:
1 soccer field
1 schoolhouse
1 church
1 corner store which is rather not on a corner
1 police house
1 cemetery
1 big community building which is more of a cement floor with a roof.
2 tons of ants
0 pharmacies
0 clinics/hospitals
0 internet cafes

So I’ve started a log. A day-by-day which will be updated roughly weekly when I can find my way to an internet.

Your Sister Wears Botas: One girl’s story of farm life (Part of the “Your Mother Wears Army Boots

Day 1: (Sunday 12)
Family left. Toured village with two 14-year old girls for guides. Tour took, mmm, 15 minutes at most. Not quite what I expected after driving through hours of banana plantations… Not sure why. Dinner was a ridiculous amount of food. Started reading Catcher in the Rye. Cold shower. No surprise there. Careful what you wish for?