My first day: Friday…page 1 of my journal

Day 1 of my trip to Costa Rica

What was I THINKING?? No one speaks ENGLISH!

Estoy mucho cansada…really really really tired.  Most of the family showed up today for Mother’s Day.  I know they think I can’t speak a word of Espanol, because I couldn’t.  I was too tired to even speak English. I flew in on the red eye, arrived at 7 am.

William phoned and everyone sat around me smiling while we spoke.  It was a bit unnerving, but since they can’t understand English, I went ahead and talked dirty to him—ha ha.

Befuddled…day 2

Confused and befuddled...a mere shell of my former personality

Much of the family visited today, too.  

Hi Patsy (email to one of my sisters), 

Am learning at the speed of mud.  This internet cafe only has Spanish on its pcs, so it is a bit difficult to figure out how to do things.  I didn´t realize I even read the menus anymore, but now that they are all in Spanish I sure can´t remember them. 

Hi Mom (email to my mother), 

I was so exhausted yesterday I could barely speak English, let alone SPANISH!, but somehow I managed to make it through a huge family party.  I was asleep, however, by 7 pm and didn´t wake until this morning at 7 am.  I´m set to jet today, however.  I feel great and my Spanish is improving by the minute.  Or maybe I am just faster with my dictionary. (Is this exactly the opposite of what I just told my sister?)   

Journal: 

Everyone is taking my Spanish lessons very seriously.  They correct me and make me repeat things continually.  If I don´t learn Spanish here then I´m just not going to be able to learn it at all. 

 My every-day life in Costa Rica is going to be way different than my every-day life in San Francisco.  I already appreciate things I had never even considered, like not having to wash my clothes by hand in a big basin of water.  They have just purchased a washing machine (it is kept outside) and are very proud of it, however, they don´t have a dryer.  They have no microwave or toaster or dishwasher or … actually it sounds like my house before William moved in. 

One of the dogs, a diminutive brown brindle named Binky, tried to bite me.  If no one had been watching, I’d have bitten him back but it is only my second day here, so I didn’t think that would be cool. The other dog is blond and white and inexplicably named Blackie.   I feel like I may have entered the pages of some strange Mexican novel. 

Painted pictures with Gilary (6, pronounced Jilary…though they told me it was like Jilary Clinton), Monica (Gilary’s mother) and David (14…son of Patricia, one of William’s 4 younger sisters). They think my drawings are strange, but interesting. 

 Tomorrow I visit my cousin who runs a feminist radio station down here with a friend.

What’s happenin’ Butterfly, what’s happenin’…day 3

Butterfly with human body

I am metamorphosing

Went to a Pentecostal Church with Carmen.  Wow!  Everyone in the church – men and women –was crying including the pastor.  Some people went to the front and kneeled or laid flat on the floor to cry.  It seemed absurd at first, but then I remembered my latest of life’s lessons – the first impression/thought I ever have about anything is usually wrong.  These folks probably have many things to cry about and Jesus Christ was not necessarily one of them. Carmen dragged me to the front row, I guess so we could see better, but maybe because she thought I might want to go to the front and cry, too. The way my communication skills are not happening, I almost did.

Carmen is looking for a German husband…day 4

Post Columbian Artifact

Post Columbian Artifact...a self portrait

Went to the Mercado in San Jose today with Carmen.  She wants to find a German husband, or at least a German-American husband.  I’ve been given the task of finding one for her, which reminds me of Gus’s parents.  His father answered an ad put in the paper by her father.  Well, their marriage lasted over 50 years.  Gus and Carol answered some other call and look at how bad their marriage was.

Back to the Mercado. Carmen bought a huge bag of fish heads which she then told me were for juice, fresh juice.  I was horrified as I pictured her putting the whole mess in a blender and serving it up raw…mmmm, fish head juice.  Turns out that it’s a Panamanian expression for soup—still, I hope I have some other place to be on the day she makes that.

Tomorrow William’s son will come and get me to visit him and his wife and two children, ah, that would be William’s grandchildren.  I have no idea how I am managing to communicate with everyone. My Spanish really sucks.  William’s father keeps correcting the others so they don’t teach me bad Spanish.  David (14 years) took me to the post office today, then I got out the paints and we painted together.  I may not be able to say much, but the kids love me because of my art supplies.

We shook all the ripe guyabas out of the tree today to make something – jams, I think.  Patricia (aged 45+ and wearing a short dress and high heels) climbed a rickety old ladder leaning against a rickety old shed and pulled the fruit off the tree with a long pole, while her father pointed out the ripe ones.  I really love this family.

We gave William’s father several puzzles which he had requested.  He asked me to translate the back of the one he started because he thought it said it should take 20-30 minutes and they take him five days to do.  He was pretty worried.  Turns out there was a recipe for corn muffins on the back of the puzzle for some unknown reason.

 

Dear Charlie (email),

Am having a great, but exhausting time.  My Spanish is worse than even I thought it was.  Williams family is taking this business of teaching me Spanish very seriously and they make me pronounce every word 400 times.  This doesn´t seem to help me remember the word, by the way, so my journey to fluency may be long and arduous for all of us.  However, I have actually improved my ability to understand even if I can´t remember the words to say them myself.  My dictionary is attached to my hand.  I´m thinking of drilling a hole in it so I can wear it around my neck.

Dear Mary (email), 

 All of Williams brothers and sisters have already been over to visit, some of them several times, except one who has an eye infection which is being mysteriously (to me) blamed on Nicaraguans….

The 10-pound Papaya at the funeral…day 5

A vase with the sun and moon as a flower, faces and a body

Self portrait as a vase...pronounced vaahz

What a day.  William’s son arrived around 10 a.m. and we took a taxi to a bus, then another taxi from where the bus dropped us off to his home.  His children, Monserrat, age 2¾ and Bryan Gabriel, age 1+, were adorable.  They served us a wonderful lunch with fish, rice with camarones, pickled vegetables and potato chips.  I think the chips were there in case we hated everything, we could at least eat the chips.

Now for the interesting part:  It turns out that William II’s mother and stepfather treated him really badly.  He was made to wear old worn out clothes and no shoes and she did nasty things like rub Vic’s vapor rub into his eyelids so he couldn’t go anywhere because his eyes hurt.  And he had to work, work, work, work, work.  The rest of his siblings did not get this treatment.  At 14 she told him to get out of the house.  He then lived on the streets in the frontier area near Panama and around Limon until this older woman (whom I met) took him in and became his second mother.  He has an aunt that hadn’t visited her sister (his mother) for years and didn’t know he had been kicked out.  When she found out, she went around Costa Rica for years looking for him and actually found him finally, when he was 17.  She then told him who his real father was (my William) and where my William’s family lived. 

William II had no idea that the man who raised him was not his real father, though he didn’t look anything like the other kids.  [Note from the future: Carmen told me the step father was black, which made it hard for me to believe that William II didn’t suspect something was off, but it turns out he just has dark hair and eyes and darker skin than William…who has green eyes and blond hair.] The mother had told the aunt to never tell her son about his real father, but she named him William Alberto after William.  How weird.

Anyway, the aunt took William II to William’s family’s house [William had been living in the US for many years already], but no one was home, they were all at Patricia’s house.  They asked the neighbors where they were and the neighbors actually knew.  So they went to Patricia’s where they were all having lunch and knocked on the door.  Apparently Alisia (William’s mom) thought she was seeing a young William and fell back into a chair in a faint and everyone else gasped.  [Note from the future: more about this later. William’s mother may have thought William II was someone else totally…stay tuned.] The rest of the family was called and eventually everyone met him. 

I didn´t understand this entire history while they were telling it.  I just thought they were saying that he felt different from the rest of his family and when they got out the photo albums and Carmen started saying how old William II´s mother looked and other equally uncomplimentary things, which of course I DID understand, I was so embarrassed.  I kept saying how I thought she was very pretty.  After all, I got the man, I can be generous.  Later Carmen filled me in on the details in slower Spanish and I wish I had said she looked like an old hag, too.

Carmen and I then took a taxi with the whole family to downtown Heredia where we parted from William II and his family and took another bus to a cemetery where we attended the funeral of a cousin of William.  The lady who had died was an artist who studied in Spain and the USA and was a millionaire.  We met William’s mom and sister Patricia at the funeral and all sat together, along with a 10 lb papaya that William II picked off his tree for us.  (William asked us if we were sure we wanted to take the papaya with us to the funeral and Carmen said, why not? We didn’t steal it.) We were the poor relations.  Everyone on that side of the family is apparently quite wealthy and the only time they see William’s family is at funerals.  Patricia also wore jeans, which was a surprise as she usually wears dresses even when climbing trees – I think she was thumbing her nose at them. 

Three people stood in front of the church and sang songs and Patricia almost blew me off my seat when she joined in with them at the top of her voice…which was quite good by the way.  As far as I could tell, she was the only person in the church who was singing other than the trio in the front.  I was sitting next to her and let me tell you my eyebrows certainly shot up into my hairline when she started belting out the tunes.  Maybe there’s a reason they aren’t invited to many events put on by that side of the family. We did walk in with a 10 lb papaya under our arms, too, remember. Lots of rich looking old ladies all in black attended…looked like they belonged in San Francisco.  The dead woman had two children, the son was killed in a drug deal gone bad, according to Carmen, but the daughter was there with her family. 

After the funeral, Carmen and I took another bus to San Jose to a shoe store where two men made all the shoes.  I’m definitely buying a pair before I go home…I have my eye on a pair of high-heeled, red suede over the ankle boots…just perfect for a woman half my age.  Then we took a bus back to the house.  Whew!  Tomorrow Jose and Mirta pick me up in a car.

It’s 10:10 pm, time to get to sleep.  We get up between 5 a.m. and 6 am. Everyone here goes to bed around 8 pm. There are approximately 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark all year round because CR is near the equator. It varies a little, but not much. William’s mother gets up before everyone else every day. It’s certainly a peaceful time of day. Not a time of day I normally visit.

I also understood my first joke today.  Beto (William’s father) joked that he had started the microwave when he had actually started a fire in the wood stove outside that they use for cooking things that take a while, like the jam they made out of the fruit Patricia jerked out of the tree yesterday—guayaba , I think—absolutely delicious. He let me lick the spoon. Yes, I am over 50, but like my neighbor, Howard, I may be one of the oldest 12 year olds on the planet.

The Papaya Vendor’s Joke…day 6

Self portrait as a coffee up

Self portrait as a coffee cup

The papaya William II gave us is not ripe.  Beto told me about a papaya vendor who was missing a finger. He would hold up a papaya and tell you it was so ripe his finger went right through it, when actually his finger was missing–ha ha ha. I get another joke in Spanish, a chiste. 

I am waiting for Jose and Mirta.  No idea what happened to them, but I seem to remember they ran a bit late.

We did laundry today.  The washing machine is outside under a roof with no walls, but it is kept spotlessly clean and covered with plastic when not in use.  There is no dryer.  We hang everything on a system of clothes lines that crisscross the yard.  We move the clothes along the lines as the sun changes position, then, when it begins to rain, we move like the lightening that streaked across the sky to take everything down. I can’t believe people wear clean clothes all the time. I would wear the same thing for days on end if I had to go to this much work to wash clothes. Before William moved in and forced a washer/dryer into my life, I had someone pick up my laundry, wash it, fold it and deliver it…and it still took me a week to put away. I am very lazy compared to these people.

I’m in big trouble—the operative word here being BIG!…day 7

Colored pencil drawing of woman with big butt, boobs and hair

Future self-portait in my soon-to-be-purchased red boots if I continue to eat like this.

Jose and Mirta arrived and we went for a “typical” meal after picking up Mirta’s daughter, Stephie, from her father’s house.  If this is typical, I’m in big trouble—the operative word here being BIG.  Corn bread, corn tortillas, corn cake, fried bananas, chicken with melted cheese and refried beans. I think I gained more just writing it down.

There is another novella in this compound.  Jose is turning his house into a bed and breakfast and is building 12 apartments in a square around the main house.  There will be a park in the middle.  There are several other apartments already built—4, I think.  He took me through a couple of them.  One houses his ex-wife (the mother of his three children) her boyfriend (novio) and one of Jose’s sons; another houses his daughter.  Working in his plastics factory are his brother, his brother’s wife, his nephew, and his two sons.  Everyone seems to get along well.  Miri, the ex-wife, walks in and out of Jose’s house as she needs to during the day and appears on the best of terms with Mirta…Jose’s current woman. 

Stephie, who is around 18, lives here with Jose and Mirta.  Stephie and I danced for an hour today and we’re getting up tomorrow to do another hour at 7 a.m.  She can really move.  Jose took us all with him to deliver plastic toys for piñatas all over two Costa Rican provinces.  I’m going to write a database for him tomorrow.

The biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen just ran in through the open door—probably pushed it open.  Like it has places to go and people to meet.  I hope I’m not one of them and he’s just passing through.  [Book recommendation: The Roaches Have No King] We keep most of our things off the floor; I have a theory that it’s because the insects are too heavy to climb.

Stephie told me she doesn’t have a tattoo because it says in the Bible – Matthew (though it would have been cool if it had been Mark) – not to mark your body or you won’t go to heaven.  Hmmm. [Note from the future: I have heard this many times in the past few years, probably directly attributable to the popularity of tattoos, but this was the first time I had heard it. What’s the reasoning behind this…need to research. Is it just a rule or is there some specific reason it was banned.]