Tucked away along a dirt road in the San Sebastián district of Costa Rica’s capital San José, this small barrio was my home for most of January (all except the week I spent in Nicaragua). The green door to the left is the church, Iglesia Luterana Sola Fe and behind the view to the camera to the left is the house where I lived. These interconnected shelters constructed of scrap metal were the homes to the Nicaraguan immigrants who extended their welcome to me, sharing their lives and their faith.
What shall I say? In the short time I have been back in the United States, I have been searching for the right words to describe this place (the people, sights, sounds, and smells), a daily reality so far from the hurried and independent culture of my own country. Life in the barrio is beautiful and difficult, simple and complex. I was in Costa Rica for only a month, nevertheless I gained so much from that short duration. Often embarrassed at my lack of spanish language skills, I was limited in effective communication. However, I managed to share life, laugh, play, and gain community among the people who live there.
Every morning I ate gallo pinto (rice and beans fried together), fresh tortillas, cheese, fried plantains, bread, sometimes meat and/or eggs, and always coffee. Costa Rican coffee is strong and earthy yet not bitter like some of the roasts I taste here in the States. I cannot recall a day I did not have rice, beans and coffee at least once a day (sometimes rice and beans for all three meals) throughout the whole month. These are staple foods in Central America, and it is a filling and inexpensive meal.
The door at my host family’s home was open throughout the day as friends, family, and neighborhood children were welcome to drop in. Children, out of school for the summer, ran up and down the alley. Together we kicked a soccer ball, batted around a balloon, and chased each other to pass the time.
The roosters started cock-a-doodle-doo-ing before 5:00am, and the sun consistently rose at 6:00am. Welcome to life near the euqator—near consistent sunrise and sunset times throughout the year. The perpetual sunshine of January is the highlight of the dry season, and the summer break for schools. Popular North American Christian spirituality of seasonal change is ineffective in this land of wet and dry seasons.
Since a sheet of metal separated one neighbor from another, noise was all around. It was an adjustment for this introverted gringa used to an abundance of private space. I heard the neighbors playing their stereo early in the morning, and I heard the soft patter of the hands of my host mother making fresh tortillas downstairs. At night I heard barking dogs, cats mating, and the distant hum of traffic through the open air on the other side of the bookshelves that separated my bed from the rest of the room.
This is but a slice of my life in Costa Rica. I will continue to write in small chunks as I continue to process my memories and what they might mean for my life now. There are so many little details in addition to reflections—so much can happen in 34 days. Stay tuned.