Monday, June 18, 2012


Come, let us make music together, music which transcends ages and delights centuries.

Le Corbusier, Bogotá

I am continually amazed at the kindness of the Ticos and the music we make together. Here are some stories from the last week:

1.) Adriana and Carlos hosted a student last year for the final two weeks of our studies after said student left an unpleasant situation at her initial host family. They had been wanting to host students for a while and were thus elated to give it a go for an abbreviated period. This year they have full hosting duties, and going to their house every week to deliver payment is my favorite stop on the route. Last weekend on Sunday, I was off in neighboring town Sarchí at an craft market when I bumped into them. Adriana practically made me let them give me a ride back to San Ramón as she crammed herself and three other family members into the back seat of their Saab, leaving me to stare at the empty passenger seat with nothing needing to be spelled out. "Let's go to San Ramón" quickly became, when it was determined that I hadn't met the local family members, "Let's go to grandma's house." A couple hours later I was full of wonderful food and drink and engrossed in a conversation about Carlos's new job, the education system, and how many family members were buried across the street in the cemetery. A day later I was at their house for dinner and found myself asserting my skills as the best tortilla maker in the room (aside from Adriana) in a whir of finely-oiled padding and spinning. Knowing all eyes were on me, I gorged myself to their hearts' content, and still they laughed at how little I had eaten (exactly twice as much as anyone at the table).

2.) Fernando and Mauro were sitting in Bocaditos having themselves a few evening drinks with the Costa Rica national team cruising past lowly Guyana. I went up to the bar for a drink with the thought of possibly distancing myself from the accumulating throng of gringos at our table. As I approached the bar, I found two men sitting alone at the end in front of a smaller TV. Waiting to order, I floated a knowledgeable question their way: "How many more do you think they'll be able to put in tonight?" Costa Rica has been thin on goals lately--especially due to the impotence of their best (read: healthiest) striker, Saborío, who had just tallied the first goal on the night minutes before. It was a question that let them know that I knew, and they bit. We waxed Coaching Geniuses on the formation for that evening's match, threw out some speculations for Costa Rica's World Cup Qualifying chances, and then Fernando made known his prediction for our match: ¡Tres más! It was bold. We bet a beer on it--a beer I never got to pay for after Costa Rica won exactly 0-4, because over the next 3.5 hours my new friends replaced my empties before I could think to order another. Of course, they also got away with paying the entire tab, deaf to my knowingly futile protests. Fernando pulled a fast one on me in the anxious five minutes before the Guatelama-USA match could be put on the TV: "Oh no! It's already 2-0!" I stared back at him as his face rounded into laughter realizing he'd ribbed me good. I punched him in the shoulder a little harder than I intended, but that only added to our jovial mood. They also bought me a lottery ticket that today won me the equivalent of $20. It could have been any two nice guys at the bar; it just happened to be Fernando and Mauro.

3.) The woman behind the window at the Museo de Oro in San José handed me a receipt for the group visit that I charged to my account with a smile and two questions: (1) Are you from Costa Rica? -- a question I've discussed at length here (2) Are you related to Gene Chambers? -- This is Gene Chambers. The answer to both was obviously "no," but I still ended up with her hand-written note underlining Gene Chambers and the title of her favorite song of his. I joked with her later, when I needed her to stamp my ticket so that I could reenter after stepping out to an ATM, that I was on my way to my brother's concert. She didn't catch it, but it dawned across her face a couple seconds later in an eruption of laughter that I'm sure rose to dangerous decible levels in her glass booth. People love laughing.

4.) Today I sent the students out on El Gran Reto, an Amazing Race style competition to find certain prices in stores and places of historical interest. The idea is to ask people on the street where certain things are and then to try to find those places with the clearest Tico directions guiding them.

Example Q: Where is the post office and when does it open on Mondays?
Example A: 300 meters east of the park and 100 meters south. 8am.

I occupied the park shortly after sending them off, sitting down at a bench with a fruit smoothy in hand to cool me from the walking-bath humidity on the day. There was a group of older men sitting around a circular set of benches amicably discussing current social issues. I knew I needed to talk to them. They seemed like they would love an ignorant audience to share their wisdom with. I was also aware that this was the spot in the park where many retired people gather to play dominoes most afternoons and I wanted an in. So I came up with what I thought would be the perfect question that is both sensible to ask someone on the street and also loaded enough to trigger several older men's bickering happily about the answer: Do you know where I can buy a paper around here? They also happened to have several papers out on the benches, so the intricacies of each paper's political leanings, yellow journalism, and fluff was soon the reason for heated finger pointing. Returning from the store they sent me to I heard them say, "Oh, here he is," as if they'd been talking about me for the previous five minutes. I was immediately met with five hands to shake and detailed backstories for all of the day's headlines while I waited for the Amazing Racers to arrive. When they did, the conversations only became more friendly as my students' developing Spanish entered the equation. We looked like some kind of mentoring program for local gringos--each man was explaining to a different group about different elements of the scavenger hunt. They were a bit overwhelmed to have so many eager old men jumping at them, but their anxious smiles soon gave way to actual conversations, hand shakes, and pats on the back. They were Marco, Raymond, José and others, and I've all but officially canceled class on Wednesday to instead play dominoes for three hours in the park.

I saw several of the students walking around town with local Ticos who weren't content with simply giving them directions to the place they were looking for but instead took it upon themselves to actually guide them there. One guy was even waiting outside the post office for two of them to return so he could continue helping them along the way. To be clear, this is just a man on the street that they asked for directions. What's more, every single group shared similar stories from this morning. Statement: the Ticos (at least San Ramonenses) are the kindest people I've ever found.

Meeting People Is (so, so, so) Easy (and fun here).

1 comment:

Katie Foulk said...

Remember the woman who dragged us around that day we were lost trying to find Doña Martha's sister's mothers father's house.. or wherever we were going!!