October 29, 2012 § Leave a comment
I want to tell you about these signs. I want to tell you about where they came from and how they came to be. They look simple, yes? Bright and hopeful. Promises in the process of being fulfilled. We tied two to the fence that guards the school and hung the other in front of the bakery, right around the trunk of the tree. Johan and Enrique and Christopher were each actor and witness to a sign’s installation, brief roles made possible with permission from Don Manuel, the school director, or Panaderia Barrantes; whose respective consent would be useless still if the signs weren’t made ready by Don Alvaro who bore the holes with a wireless drill, a virbiqi, and who donated the wire and chain and the black paint that lays across the back surface of each rotulo; and though vital, his labors would still have been needless if those students from school, Teto and Elizabeth, Daniel and Brandon, Hilary and Alison, Valeria and Felipe, hadn’t painted the landscapes and the messages:
Cuidemos La Naturaleza!
Protejamos El Ambiente!
Reciclemos Por El Ambiente!
And if I hadn’t invited the kids, and if Johan hadn’t helped paint and Nacho hadn’t brought the wood from his father’s farm in Lanas, well perhaps there wouldn’t have been a story at all.
Asi es una comunidad.
October 17, 2012 § 1 Comment
caffeine, that creative agitator that great enhancer of feeling of moment of focus resolute, that glorious stuff is coursing through my veins at a hundred and twenty miles per second right now. in these moments, i need a book to devour, a guitar to play or a photographic puzzle to solve. i need, i need, i need anything right now that will whisk me away from the incredulity of the scene taking place before my eyes. and it’s a sight. it’s all my mind is really focusing on right now, too resolutely, focusing right on that diaper. my god, that is one fucking huge diaper.
i’m cupping my empty coffee mug, sitting in the living room of my neighbors, the Hidalgos, the original family of Cerbatana, the first family of Costa Rica, post-colonization, if you asked me. probably not true but i’m digressing. it’s the home of the patriarch and matriarch of the whole gang, affectionately called papa change (pronounced chan-ge, a wonderful union of “jose angel” which makes perfect sense because of course we all know that “chepe” is commonplace for “jose” and can you tell i’m on my second cup of coffee right now, dammit i’m tangentializing again, i made that up, oh and yes!) and mama lila. the latter is a sweet heart hard at hearing who has come to worry and wonder about me. the former, the illustrious change, the progenitor of this story, and between himself and mama lila, of 14 fully grown sons and daughters with kids of their own who, tambien, have kids of their own. and, and, yes the diaper!
i’m sitting in their living room for cafecito (thus the empty coffee mug in my hand, unsweetened, thank you) and papa change is sitting on his wheelchair. yes, he’s old, 88 this year, and he’s sick, has been for sometime now. whether it is a result of that sickness or his age or his inability to get to the toilet, which i suppose really is a collusion of it all, he simply can’t hold his….you know what i mean. hence the diapers. at present, his granddaughter, deceiving because, again, she’s a fully grown woman with a family of her own, is fanning papa change …..with one of his giant diapers.
a number of thoughts suddenly populate my mind, like lantern bugs lighting up in the night. should i be here right now? should i be laughing or should i be horrified? is magally being insensitive, barbara, as they’d say (of course not, she is magally, jaja)? most likely, she is, but some quick words about magally. she’s a fast talker of the renowned street style, comical witty mischievous and irreverent in the same breath, all the time, every time. and she’s helped care for papa change and mama lila with what appears to be an unwavering devotion and love. so, perhaps insensitive, but completely magally, completely devotion and love. and really completely humane, i decide. if she’d behaved any other way…well, it wouldn’t be the same.
anyway, magally’s flapping away with the diaper, then sets it down on papa change’s lap while she leaves the room to get something. and change, animated in spurts due to sickness and perhaps an ever-present pain, comes to life again, grabbing the diaper and defiantly throwing it to the ground. now, we could interpret this in any number of ways, but all the combinations seem rather meaningless. it becomes crystal and overbearingly clear that papa change is going to die. sure we all will, but in the context of the reason i’m even here at all, if i may continue this solipsistic inquiry, to continue the struggle and thus progress of life, another’s struggle is coming to a close. i didn’t imagine seeing this part of life during volunteer service. it’s touching and sad and magical all at the same time. i’ve heard volunteers speak of their own “only in Costa Rica” moments, things that have happened with members of their community, leaving one amazed and flabbergasted. I can’t help but reject this feeling, that these are unique moments to Costa Rica, less so than they are moments of life in general, with us as privileged members watching life unfold in otherwise foreign settings, touched that the hidalgos, your host family, your community member, would let you into that private moment at all.
some months have passed since, let’s call it, the diaper incident. another anciano, don manuel, father of well-regarded ephraim, also my neighbor, passed away. his was a long, aching deterioration, whose end was marked by a reunion of his enormous family, and of all things a party-like atmosphere. papa change lingers on, clinging to life with the aid of a respiration machine, looking at times grim, then rallying once more. morbidly, one can’t help but imagine what the end will be like, how you’ll react, how you’ll feel, will their be a big party, especially being witness to the build-up. i can’t help but wonder what happens to mama lila, when she’s gone, what happens to the family. i wonder about other costa rican families, much smaller now like most families of the world, the hidalgos a remnant of another time, an older costa rica that is almost extinct. i wonder about my father and his parents who i knew so briefly, about my mother and her parents i’ve only known in stories, and about my own enormous family equal to the hidalgos in number.
i’m scratching at something, no, not physically, but something nonetheless, and i can’t reach it, grasp it, can’t quite fathom plato’s chair. the world is changing just as i assumed i’d come to understand it, that even as seemingly concentrated i am on a single point who’s center is infinitely smaller and smaller to the point it’s not there, yet everywhere, that as i think these thoughts and type this very sentence that it’s already past, swept along time immemorial. that there, right there, there was coffee and community, community in family, community in everything, everything, everything all the time.
June 4, 2012 § 7 Comments
i have longish hair now. it constantly falls across my eyes, obscuring my vision and instilling new hand gestures into my corporal lexicon, you know, the type usually reserved for those most follicle-ly talented of individuals. for whatever reason, sasha vujacic, katie holmes and jay chou come to mind.
que pelo mas largo!
que pelo mas negro! parece casi azul!
the people say.
six months have passed since my last ill-advised self-mutilation of a haircut, a benchmark only slightly eclipsed by another anniversary, that of one year as a volunteer. how it’s crept up on me, like the hair now grazing the back of my neck. if i’m not wary, it’ll drown me yet.
there’s a line in The Odyssey when Odysseus, battered but unbroken by the trials of his journey, reaches the shores of his homeland. his unkempt sea-conditioned hair hangs before his eyes twenty years removed from its last encounter with a razor. my luscious locks (yeah i just wrote that) are a point of pride because i’ve tried on numerous occasions to grow out my hair, failing miserably each time. but more so, it’s one of only a handful of physical indications (the others being my disappearing waste line and my eviscerated not so optical-white chuck taylors) that i’ve undergone any sort of changes during this peace corps odyssey. i’ve had my share of encounters with the proverbial siren and cyclop, caught between that rock and hard place. truly, deep reverberations of self-discovery are not of the physical realm.
i thought a long time about what i would write for this particular post. i listed a number of topics i wanted to cover, ranging from Costa Rica’s international relations with China and Taiwan, the capitalist/socialist character of the government and society, the huge cultural gap between this generation of youth and their predecessors, etc,….in a few words, there are more than a few great similarities to the US. anyway, i couldn’t write it. i also wanted to talk about some of the work i have been doing. i could’t write that either. it’s now clear that i’m far too entrenched in this experience to properly render a well developed thought or opinion. i find myself in the throes of great introspection. though a struggle, it’s been enriching, as has been the relationships i’ve been fortunate to have visited upon me. another year remains, and i wonder how i’ll feel at the end of it. there are points of encouragement in my personal and professional worlds, which i sometimes wish didn’t bleed into each other so. but i am happy.
i’ve learned that a peace corps volunteer is a displaced individual, stranded in the sea, forced to confront moments of great humility. it’s life experienced at your most desperate, at your most earnest. but the trajectory from the point at which i began to where i find myself now suggests to me that though displaced, the peace corps volunter (eventually) emerges the individual discovered.
here’s to another year.
February 21, 2012 § 4 Comments
one month in. i have two plants now, i guess i am more or less settled. life has finally assumed an agreeable routine. no tv, internet nor washing machine, and i couldn´t be happier. and with a motley crue of cookware, i couldn´t be fuller.
i`ve had a number of visitors already. the critter kind, that is. the first notable one, a coal black lizard that scampered through the space underneath the front door, up, then down a few steps and out through the space underneath the back door. it warbled in a most captivating manner, one in which i´d imagine a baby lizard would. the others, a variety of spiders that i would promptly show the door, or that would wonderously disappear through impossible crevices. i didn´t know they could do that. weird. the most prominent visitor appeared to be a young tarantula. despite numerous prongings with my broom, it could only muster a half hearted effort to crawl a few inches from its last position. it`s a terrible love and i`m walking with
spiders tarantulas that no longer have the will to live.
visitors aside, i catch myself, red-handed, drifing off into different thoughts as though i were visiting a room or house for a moment to try out the furniture. my tiled floor is partly reflective and i wonder if my reflection were a parallel universe that moved in mirror to our own, but were actually completely different. i`m sure this movie has been made before.
i`ve only ever lived away from home thrice before, backpacking not included: in the swankily named vista del campo,off-campus housing for uc irvine; in the ice box of an apartment that was northwood place during my final quarter of college; and finally, a year and half in the cozy confines of an oakland apartment by a lake. they were all enjoyable experiences, but the last one particularly impressionable. i seemed to have incorporated my cooky cousin`s (she`s not cooky but she is pretty great) penchant to reuse her plastic bags and to concertedly avoid taking on or purchasing heavily packaged items. thanks cil. it`s a blessing and a curse.
i swear i had some insights that struck me as necessary to share, but sometimes you just get arroz con pollo. it`s good, though it should be better for the amount of preparation that goes into it, yet it`ll do.