Sunday, December 16, 2007

sloths

The first time I saw a sloth it frightened me: it was so human and alien like and so utterly different that it sent a momentary pang of fear and distrust through me. The day after I found an arm in the orchard: fur and skin gone just muscles and sinews left and those three long talons. It was as long as my arm, but it took away my feelings of otherness.

They move so slowly, they really do. Watching them is a lesson. A lesson in beauty: they themselves are not ‘beautiful’ creatures, their coats are green with algae and their long limbs, tiny heads and awkwardly smiling mouths and long long talons do not make them pin ups in the animal world. But they are beautiful in their movements: each gesture takes time; the reach for a leaf; the slow process along a branch; the turn of the head, the shift of position. The sloth has eternity and each moment lasts a lifetime, each moment is all there is. I learn from the sloth not only to take my time, but that each moment is worthy of my attention, my consciousness. Closing my eyes to shut out distractions, and moving as a sloth feeling my muscles, the weight of my limbs, the energy around my skin, brings a feeling of deep relaxation and awareness.

no spend days

I’ve been keeping track of days in which I buy nothing, I usually average 3 or 4 per week. I’m thinking this is pointless activity: it would be easier for me to just do all my shopping on one day if I had a way to bring it all home in one go. It’s not how often one spends that’s important, it’s what one spends it on. Maybe that’s not true, maybe it’s the consumerism itself, the daily visit to the shop. Yet the daily visit to the ship is a ritualized social experience, one exchanges pleasantries, one may meet a friend, one participates in one’s community. This is the bigger problem – consumerism is a means to an end, it’s the desire to participate in activity with others that drives people to the stores. How many times have you got home with your purchase and realized you don’t want or need it? It was the act of being in the throng that had the juices flowing.

I was keeping track I think as a way to check my interaction with money. I would like to limit this. Not because I’m against money or think it’s evil, but because I find it becomes consuming. I find myself in a position where I can trade and for me this is liberating and fun. Tutoring for laundry and fresh bread, tutoring for local plant identification and uses, yams for plants, cacao for coconut. I’m still consuming, I’m still getting something. The only difference is that I’m giving something different in exchange, not a promissory note, but something somehow more tangible.

saturday night

What a life I lead. It’s Saturday night, I’ve just finished picking sun dried maggots off my cacao beans, now I’m making soursop jam. Tomorrow I’m excited about picking more cacao and planting out my bean sprouts (yeah, I finally got some to sprout!).

Saturday, November 24, 2007





Yes. Here we are. It’s just gone 6pm, it’s a Wednesday evening. Dark, warm, there is a little haze covering the new moon. I’m tired and sweaty having just returned from a ride. Hoss, Lady J, Molly, Magellan, Tabitha, Baba and I are enjoying a sprouted coconut picked near the beach this afternoon. I’m surprised the cats like it, but it’s such an amazing piece of superfood I shouldn’t be so surprised at all.

This one is just perfect. The sprout is about 4 inches long, it smells good, I think we can cook it. Inside the coconut is filled with what looks like a ball of polysterene or the pith of a grapefruit. This is what happens to the coconut water as the coconut matures and begins to sprout. It tastes like coconut but sweeter and with a slightly alkaline undertaste. The sprout grows directly from this ball of super powerful, super fresh, super sweet goodness. Inside the shell there’s a good ½ inch of coconut meat. The dogs are gnawing on a good size chink of coconut meat and husk each. They love it. They love papaya and banana too.

I had a good ride. I was out on the arab mix who has not yet revealed his name, for now he’s guappo. We went along the beach but the tide was in and the waves were high and he was nervous. The horses come from Guapiles, which is foothill country: this was the second time he’s seen the ocean. So we did a lot of crashing through scrub avoiding palms and almonds and those trees with the big round leaves that burn and have toxic caterpillars dangling from them ready to fall down shirts. To say it was great fun would actually be true. Anytime I’m out on a horse is great fun (except that one time in the dark in torrential rain, but that was an adventure). It was fun. I had 5 dogs with me and we went happily crashing along, coming repeatedly back onto the beach holding him steady so he could watch the water and relax. It was interesting to see him watch the dogs and where they went through the water he followed. Clever boy. There’s something so special about being with horses and dogs. It really must be multiple past life experiences I think. To ride out of the trees and see the expansion of ocean before you, the waves crashing, picking one’s way through driftwood. It’s perfect. Bending over his neck as he goes below branches, rising again and seeing the forest from another perspective, another viewpoint: it’s being lifted literally out of the ordinary into a different experience of community, communication with not only another being but with nature. Suddenly fruit is within easy reach, suddenly a butterfly appears at face level, suddenly one is free from worrying about treading on ants . . .

I decided to come back along the road, thinking that if he was nervous he might make a run through the woods and take my head off on a branch. He was nervous on the road too but seemed fine with the traffic. In his old life he worked herding horse herds – not too much traffic experience. We turned into the driveway and I let him run. He runs so nicely. I should have held him back. He took wind and raced towards the beach – fine until he saw the waves and then he went crashing into the trees. I just kept turning him. They were worked with bits before and their mouths are free now, we’re riding with halters, so stopping him would have been too hard. Let’s just say it was very exciting for a moment. Turning him worked and he stood. I waited for a few minutes just talking and stroking him and then dismounted and we walked very calmly and slowly back to the house. He’s going to take a lot of work.

It’s a funny thing when a horse takes off like that. Everything becomes instinct. Fear says ‘I’m going to fall’, but then another voice comes in and says nothing, just breathes and looks for a way to fix the situation. My feet were out of the stirrups. I don’t know how this happens but I know I feel better when I’m holding with my legs and not relying on the stirrups. I’m sure it’s past life experiences, I feel better riding bareback. Perhaps it’s as simple as survival: if I don’t keep my balance and stay focused I’m going to get hurt. Perhaps, but I much prefer the idea that it’s some distant memory of how to ride through difficult situations. When we stopped I noticed I didn’t feel a lot of adrenalin, the main sensation was feeling the muscles in my legs relax from holding him. I felt good.

Learning differences II

The indigenous boy from the preliterate family leaves the school tomorrow. His mother is having trouble with her health and they are returning to their community so she can be treated traditionally. I wonder what will happen to him, if he’ll ever receive more schooling. I say schooling rather than education, for he’ll certainly receive education. Just different. I have mixed feelings about his leaving: on one hand I think it will be better for him to stop now while he still has his self belief and his curiosity and his joy, yet I wonder about his life and who he will become, whether leaving now will consign him to a life in the forest, whether as a man he will come back again and work as a laborer. I wonder what this experience was like for him, what it brought him. and I think about what he brought to us, this beautiful boy so far out of even our box.

We were told yesterday afternoon tomorrow would be his last day. The news came in a typed letter, obviously dictated by his father, Erling’s name was misspelled.

For me it brings up the question again: what are we doing with this school business?

At the little celebration we had for Erling today, he wept. He cried really hard. I think this was the schooling he’ll get.

What does school mean for a kid? Friendship, play, attention, recognition, being part of something, becoming part of something larger? That’s what we should be focusing on - community, the individual’s strengths in community.

Fallen fruit

Yes. Here we are. It’s just gone 6pm, it’s a Wednesday evening. Dark, warm, there is a little haze covering the new moon. I’m tired and sweaty having just returned from a ride. Hoss, Lady J, Molly, Magellan, Tabitha, Baba and I are enjoying a sprouted coconut picked near the beach this afternoon. I’m surprised the cats like it, but it’s such an amazing piece of superfood I shouldn’t be so surprised at all.

This one is just perfect. The sprout is about 4 inches long, it smells good, I think we can cook it. Inside the coconut is filled with what looks like a ball of polysterene or the pith of a grapefruit. This is what happens to the coconut water as the coconut matures and begins to sprout. It tastes like coconut but sweeter and with a slightly alkaline undertaste. The sprout grows directly from this ball of super powerful, super fresh, super sweet goodness. Inside the shell there’s a good ½ inch of coconut meat. The dogs are gnawing on a good size chink of coconut meat and husk each. They love it. They love papaya and banana too.

I had a good ride. I was out on the arab mix who has not yet revealed his name, for now he’s guappo. We went along the beach but the tide was in and the waves were high and he was nervous. The horses come from Guapiles, which is foothill country: this was the second time he’s seen the ocean. So we did a lot of crashing through scrub avoiding palms and almonds and those trees with the big round leaves that burn and have toxic caterpillars dangling from them ready to fall down shirts. To say it was great fun would actually be true. Anytime I’m out on a horse is great fun (except that one time in the dark in torrential rain, but that was an adventure). It was fun. I had 5 dogs with me and we went happily crashing along, coming repeatedly back onto the beach holding him steady so he could watch the water and relax. It was interesting to see him watch the dogs and where they went through the water he followed. Clever boy. There’s something so special about being with horses and dogs. It really must be multiple past life experiences I think. To ride out of the trees and see the expansion of ocean before you, the waves crashing, picking one’s way through driftwood. It’s perfect. Bending over his neck as he goes below branches, rising again and seeing the forest from another perspective, another viewpoint: it’s being lifted literally out of the ordinary into a different experience of community, communication with not only another being but with nature. Suddenly fruit is within easy reach, suddenly a butterfly appears at face level, suddenly one is free from worrying about treading on ants . . .

I decided to come back along the road, thinking that if he was nervous he might make a run through the woods and take my head off on a branch. He was nervous on the road too but seemed fine with the traffic. In his old life he worked herding horse herds – not too much traffic experience. We turned into the driveway and I let him run. He runs so nicely. I should have held him back. He took wind and raced towards the beach – fine until he saw the waves and then he went crashing into the trees. I just kept turning him. They were worked with bits before and their mouths are free now, we’re riding with halters, so stopping him would have been too hard. Let’s just say it was very exciting for a moment. Turning him worked and he stood. I waited for a few minutes just talking and stroking him and then dismounted and we walked very calmly and slowly back to the house. He’s going to take a lot of work.

It’s a funny thing when a horse takes off like that. Everything becomes instinct. Fear says ‘I’m going to fall’, but then another voice comes in and says nothing, just breathes and looks for a way to fix the situation. My feet were out of the stirrups. I don’t know how this happens but I know I feel better when I’m holding with my legs and not relying on the stirrups. I’m sure it’s past life experiences, I feel better riding bareback. Perhaps it’s as simple as survival: if I don’t keep my balance and stay focused I’m going to get hurt. Perhaps, but I much prefer the idea that it’s some distant memory of how to ride through difficult situations. When we stopped I noticed I didn’t feel a lot of adrenalin, the main sensation was feeling the muscles in my legs relax from holding him. I felt good. The indigenous boy from the preliterate family leaves the school tomorrow. His mother is having trouble with her health and they are returning to their community so she can be treated traditionally. I wonder what will happen to him, if he’ll ever receive more schooling. I say schooling rather than education, for he’ll certainly receive education. Just different. I have mixed feelings about his leaving: on one hand I think it will be better for him to stop now while he still has his self belief and his curiosity and his joy, yet I wonder about his life and who he will become, whether leaving now will consign him to a life in the forest, whether as a man he will come back again and work as a laborer. I wonder what this experience was like for him, what it brought him. and I think about what he brought to us, this beautiful boy so far out of even our box.

We were told yesterday afternoon tomorrow would be his last day. The news came in a typed letter, obviously dictated by his father, Erling’s name was misspelled.

For me it brings up the question again: what are we doing with this school business?

At the little celebration we had for Erling today, he wept. He cried really hard. I think this was the schooling he’ll get.

What does school mean for a kid? Friendship, play, attention, recognition, being part of something, becoming part of something larger? That’s what we should be focusing on - community, the individual’s strengths in community.

In the rains last week a lot of banana trees came down. At the bottom of the hill there was actually considered chasing him off. But last week I had a dream about shooing away a lion which actually wouldn’t be shooed and attacked me instead. So, given he was a pretty big brahma bull and with his herd, I watched. He seemed to enjoy them, sharing them with a very pretty cow. Later I went out to cut some flowers and found another downed tree with unripe bananas. As it lay about 30 feet from the door I figured it was safe to leave the bunch in place. But imagine my surprise yesterday when the ‘gardeners’ (more slash and burners, there’s nothing left), cleared all the trees and the unripe bananas. My lesson? Think like a squirrel, or maybe just some things aren’t meant to be.

Today I gathered a sprouted coconut, 5 oranges and a breadfruit. The breadfruit is cooking, we ate the coconut and I’ll have orange juice tomorrow. Nice.

Bin raker

My flatmate doesn’t recycle, I’m not sure why. Her English is about as good as my Spanish so our communication is fairly light and limited. I go through the bin every other day and pull out all the recyclables and food scraps and put them in their places, which oddly enough is right beside the ‘normal’ trash. She’s away for the weekend. Imagine my surprise, and delight, when I found a third of a chocolate cake in a recyclable wrapper in the trash. Very nice it is too. I wonder if she put it in there deliberately? She knows I go through the trash. Must be one of those things which seem to puzzle her, like why I cook from scratch and why there’s always plastic bags drying from the line. As I sit here enjoying the cake from the bin (okay it had a tiny bit of ash on it), I wonder what she would think. I ask myself what I think – I feel no qualms. My grandmother swore she was part gypsy – harvest where you can.

What???

So I’ve been trying to sprout garbanzo, lentils, black and white beans since I got here. Without luck. I’ve been thinking that it was my method: balance between wet and dry, too much light, too high humidity . . . I had no problem sprouting in the States. I asked many friends, posted the question online . . . I was doing what everyone recommended. I was speaking to a new friend this morning about gardening here, he hasn’t had any luck sprouting either. And then another question came – what the hell am I eating?

Are these Montsano beans? Am I trying to live as simply and as naturally as I can while feeding myself and my dogs GMO pulses? So I’m still supporting those companies? What the hell is going on???

I’m going to try sprouting my rice, it’s not organic, but it’s from an organic producer.

Never ending quest

In my never ending quest to harvest more of my food I just went out to see if the two patches of bamboo in the garden were sprouting. Nope, but I did find a snake lying flat against a bamboo blade. Thank goodness I didn’t see a sprout under it first. Things happen for a reason huh? I saw an eyelash viper a couple of weeks ago, laying on a termite nest on the side of a tree. Beautiful, thin, short bright yellow snake with raised yellow horned ridges where eyebrows would be. Beautiful to look at but not so nice to meet at close range.

Harvest

It looks like I’m slightly obsessed with harvesting. It certainly seems to be a hobby. Today I opened the soursop that’s been ripening on the table since Monday. It’s a big fruit – about 3 pounds in weight and about 10 inches long and maybe 5 inches wide. I picked it hard and now it’s soft to the touch and the insects are beginning to take an interest, so I guess it’s ripe. It’s white and very juicy with dark pretty seeds. It’s sour and sweet together, definitely more sour. The juice is thick and the flesh is really chewy, the seeds are too hard to eat. Hoss likes the taste but not enough to eat a lot, Lady J isn’t so keen. I took out the seeds and threw the rest in the blender with a little water, makes a very thick smoothie. The taste is too strong to eat much straight, but in a juice with papaya it tastes great. It would make a wonderful sorbet. It gives a great jam.

Dengue

We had to evacuate our classroom today – too many dengue mosquitoes. They are easily identified – big, slow and with white striped legs. What does this mean? Do we have dengue days here like snow days in the north?

I’m feeling somewhat plagued by insects this morning. There are dozens of mosquitoes, some of them dengue; I just pulled a tick out of LJ’s nose; black wasps are buzzing the bunch of bananas; a colony of ants is dismembering a big beetle, and there are hundreds of fruit flies on the cacao.

Shopping is a complicated business. Even though I try to have more non-spending days in a week than spending days, and even though I live simply, shopping takes a long time. There are many things to consider:

  • Is it local? I want to support local farmers and the community I live in. The average piece of produce in a US supermarket has traveled 1500 miles from farm to store. That’s a lot of fossil fuels and that’s not taking processing, sorting, cleaning, packaging and distribution into account. I’d rather my food didn’t come with a high carbon bill. Also local equals fresh.
  • Is it native? It just feels better eating food that would grow naturally in my area: my gut feeling is that native foods have a stronger connection to the soil, to the animals and insects in this environment and are therefore healthier for me. (I found a tahini made from Nicaraguan sesame!) Also, is it in season?
  • Is it organic? Obvious, even better Biodynamic. But read ‘Omnivores Dilemma’ for industrial organic versus local farmers.
  • How is it packaged? Can I recycle or reuse the container? While we can recycle plastic bags here, we can’t yet recycle tins. Bioland the only organic producer in Costa Rica uses a lot of packaging that cannot be recycled, and they use a lot of packaging.
  • Can I afford it? This question has to bring in all of the above – do I balance price and recyclable packaging against organic?
  • Do I actually need it?

I sometimes wonder why I’m living here. Why Costa Rica? I came here on the flimsiest premise: that I might meet some friends a year after moving, of course that didn’t happen, yet I came and I’m still here and I love it. I knew nothing about the country, except it was beautiful and didn’t have an army. I knew no Spanish at all. Today I translated my first meeting. This is an achievement for me, and I give myself a pat on the back. It was an all school parent meeting and I translated the Spanish into English. I’m actually proud of myself. I did a good job, not only did I get across all the points, I used humour to enliven the points. Okay so it wasn’t direct word for word translation, but it was good. I had no idea I could do this, and when asked, at the beginning of the meeting, I was very hesitant. But it worked. And then I gave another parent meeting in English afterwards. I’m tired, that was a lot of concentrating at the end of a school day. Hurrah!

Rain

It’s rained straight for the past 4 days. And by straight I mean straight, with maybe 2 hours rest and that at 5 am this morning. The first two days I couldn’t stand it, the noise of the rain drowns out conversation, makes me groggy as I return to the endless rainy weekends of my childhood, stuck in the house or the cabin nothing to do but watch the puddles grow. I’ve been moving away from the rain (so why am I in a rainforest?). Yesterday I finally began to come to peace with it – a little anyway. As I sat in the Mate Latte coffeehouse giving a math tutorial sipping an extremely wonderful latte flavoured with cardamon, it began to feel like November, I began to think how cosy it was indoors with the rain lashing down outside (even though the only thing separating indoors and outdoors is a wooden lattice). Pictures of Christmas trees and toffees kept drifting into my mind, busy shopping streets filled with umbrellas and bulky bags. The momentary annoyance and quick relief of shaking off wet clothes as one enters the steamy, brightly lit shops full of people intent on consuming.

I’ve been thinking about Christmas a lot recently. I didn’t celebrate it last year, I was in a silent retreat, making this my first Christmas away from winter. Maybe I’m homesick? For where? For a season? But it’s not just the season, it’s all that comes with winter: the retreat inwards, the self reflection, the sharing, the preparation, the bundling up and eating extra fats. Ah-ha! Perhaps this is why I’m craving fats so much just now, perhaps my body is trying to prepare for the winter? How does one celebrate Christmas in the tropics? Why do I celebrate Christmas? What is my relationship to this time of year, solstice, christianty, darkness?

It’s cold, this morning I put on socks. I’m sitting with a steaming mug of milky tea and some biscuits wrapped up in cosy sweats and hoodie watching the rain. It’s coming straight down, has been for the last 5 hours. I went out to feed the horses and pick up a sprouting coconut (delicious). There are many banana trees down, they really have no discernible root system and fall over easily when the ground gets waterlogged. Shame, because three of them had bananas which aren’t quite big enough. I picked some, hopefully they’ll ripen. The horses will eat them I’m sure. I cut some flowers to give the deck colour – big orange, red, pink ones, now that I see them sitting in the corner they look like a fire – winter again? Tonight’s lentil stew is beginning to smell good in the kitchen.

I find myself wanting to nest, to surround myself with homey things. This must be a seasonal thing too. This morning I caught myself looking longingly at some white tin IKEA lanterns on Vanessa’s deck, last night I rearranged my room trying to make it look as though someone lives here and isn’t just passing through. On thurday I dreamt I was pregnant. What’s going on?

learning differences II

The indigenous boy from the preliterate family leaves the school tomorrow. His mother is having trouble with her health and they are returning to their community so she can be treated traditionally. I wonder what will happen to him, if he’ll ever receive more schooling. I say schooling rather than education, for he’ll certainly receive education. Just different. I have mixed feelings about his leaving: on one hand I think it will be better for him to stop now while he still has his self belief and his curiosity and his joy, yet I wonder about his life and who he will become, whether leaving now will consign him to a life in the forest, whether as a man he will come back again and work as a laborer. I wonder what this experience was like for him, what it brought him. and I think about what he brought to us, this beautiful boy so far out of even our box.

We were told yesterday afternoon tomorrow would be his last day. The news came in a typed letter, obviously dictated by his father, Erling’s name was misspelled.

For me it brings up the question again: what are we doing with this school business?

Cacao


The cacao is looking kinda horrific, at least to my westernized sense of food hygiene (and I’m fairly lax about that). For cacao to taste like chocolate it has to ferment and then be roasted. The gooey white coating on the beans is a fermenting agent, all one does is take it out the husk and leave it somewhere, turning it occasionally, for 6 days or so and then dry and roast it. Traditionally they are left in a big pile on some banana leaves. I’m keeping mine in a partially covered Tupperware on the deck (I tried it before in a closed container and it just grew fungus). So I have a pile of fermenting fruit in an open container. Fruit flies, wasps and a big beetle have become part of the fermentation process. When I turn the beans clouds of fruit flies engulf me.

So basically chocolate is a fermented food which partially decomposes in its own compost pile in the first step of its process from bean to bar. News to me. I have another day for the first batch of 5 pods. They look almost ready, the white goop has gone and the beans are darker and smell fermented. The second batch is now 3 days old, today I’ll start another one.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

tropical living 3

My clothes are a little moldy today. They’ve been in a clean laundry pile for a week or so and they smell foosty. Not too bad. They don’t have white fungus growing on them like in Monteverde, and they are without the algae-like green covering clothes develop in the rainy season in Guanacaste. Nevertheless they smell of mold. I’ll hang them in the sun again, no problema. Just a reminder I live in the tropics.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

big trucks go fast

Of my conversations, two were with angry men. Ostensibly they were angry for different reasons, but the root was the same – bureaucracy / corruption / ineptitude in Costa Rica. It’s a common thing, especially with non tico males, and at some point everyone experiences it. At some point everyone hates Costa Rica. The conversations happened at different times, and in different locations in the café, but strangely enough both decided to pour all their frustration and despair with nameless, faceless others into a spitting fury at truck drivers. There are a lot of truck drivers here, a new road is being made somewhere east, and there are a lot of big mack trucks ploughing up and down. Not juggernauts but sizeable, dust producing monsters. Both men were furious at the speed of “these 19 year old drivers”, who had “no respect for people”. A lot of venting happened, to which I listened quietly with interest. Because for me the experience is different. I’ve never had a truck speed by me, rather the trucks move so slowly behind and past me that I’m sure I must know the drivers. They creep along, can it be the same trucks? Must be. And then it dawned on me. I’m female. In this macho society where it makes sense to speed by the white guy on the bicycle with your huge, powerful engine spitting dust and smoke in his face, it makes equal sense to drive by the white girl slowly enough that you can watch her body move to push on the pedals, slowly enough that when they pass, one can get a good look at the big brave hombre who can handle such an intensely masculine monster. There’s no blurring of gender roles here.

half in love with easeful life

Yeah, I know I’m misquoting, but so what, aren’t life and death just two sides of the same coin? Who was it anyway, Keats or Shelley? Sounds like Shelley, he was ever the melodramatic melancholic (sorry Jon). But I am, actually I’m more than half in love. It’s been a good weekend. I’ve been cloistering myself away, so determined to selfishly hoard my hours, doing my hermit thang, but this weekend I guess I got outed. Friends from Guanacaste turned up, I literally cycled by them in the street and it’s been wonderful to spend time with them. I taught the kids and it was so nice to have Miel riding on my back and tackling my legs with his scrawny 3 year old arms, his sister is as sweet as ever, and the two fight just as much as they did when I last saw them 2 months ago. Other friends from Guanacaste arrived this afternoon, turns out they’re renting a place on the same street as me, what are the chances? I spent a pleasant afternoon sitting in a café owned by other friends, thinking to do some reading, but it seems I actually know a lot of people. Gallons of coffee later I stumbled home having talked politics, permaculture, the pros and cons of living in a developing nation, how to make proper sushi, developmental needs of 6 year olds, how songs travel around the world, how best to get passports stamped and where one could get organic cabbage. I felt full. It’s never really occurred to me that I could spend the whole afternoon in a café doing nothing other than talking and drinking good organic coffee. What a life! And I don’t actually feel one pang of guilt, even more amazing! Sunday passed just as sweetly, breakfast with visiting friends, the afternoon at the bookstore talking nonsense and hanging signs, and to top it all we finally managed to remove the last tick from Hoss’ right nostril. What a glorious way to pass a weekend.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Toucans – ramphastos sulfuratos, ramphastos swainsonii

In Guanacaste I was blessed to live alongside a troupe of howler monkeys. Here I’m blessed to share space with a flock of toucans. They are such unbelievably beautiful birds: black black black with stunning lemon yellow chests and heads; splotches of red and white under wings and tails and the beaks. The beaks are bizarre. Hollow structures supported by struts, clearly too big to be of any real use. When they fly they spread out their tail feathers, and so look curiously balanced, sometimes it’s hard to tell the head from the tail at a distance, and I swear I saw one flying backwards last week. They eat, in this garden, palm fruits, but their beaks are too big for them to look at what’s directly ahead; they have this slow and very steady gradual tilt of the head – like some elderly dowager nodding sedately off to sleep. They turn their heads and with bright beady eye source their food. Then, just as delicately, they pick it with the very tip of their beak, flick back their head, open their beak and in it goes. Not a terribly satisfying or efficient way to eat I think. There are two distinct types here, different species according to the birdbooks. The keel-billed and the chestnut-mandibled, why would two species evolve in the same place? The chestnut mandibled is bigger with a beautiful truly chestnut colour to their lower beak. The keel-billed has an incredible turquoise blue streak to their otherwise green and yellow bill, inside in the crook of their mouth is a brilliant flash of red. The birdbooks say these species have slightly different habits, eating patterns, nesting spaces and calls. The chestnut lives in flocks of 10-15, the keel in smaller flocks of less than 6. However the flock which eats here is mixed, 2 chestnuts with 8 keel-billed. There’s also a pair of aracaris which seem to stay close to the toucans (the aracaris supposedly flock with 10-15 of their own kind). The calls are loud; crrrik (keel), keeureek kirick kirick (chestnut) and pseek, pisseek, pink (aracari) and penetrating, in their staccato, castanet

like sound. No-one has told these birds they are different and should live apart. It seems normal, and fitting for this part of the world to have this happy little mixed flock.

tarantula

I awoke this morning to find the kittens out of their new high sided crate – their little back legs get stronger by the hour! The crate sits in my closet, but 5 feet off the ground, so it would only be a matter of time before they explore right off the end of the shelf. In moving them I discovered a brown tarantula, about as large as my hand. While pondering the pros and cons of moving him – he’s obviously eating something and that something might be less desirable insects and spiders / I think the brown ones bite and I’d hate to see a playful kitten get hurt – I realized he was too big for all the containers I had. Tarantulas are slow moving so I thought I could maybe just brush him out with the broom. When I touched him he took on this warrior stance – strangely reminiscent of spiderman’s crouching pose. I was amazed at the strength of his body in the yoga like position. I touched the broom to him again and he suddenly became much bigger, spreading himself out flat on the ground. The broom idea obviously wasn’t working and instinctual feelings of danger and horror were beginning to replace my previous calm observation and gratitude at finding such a foreign (to me) creature in my bedroom. I got a pot and laid it over him, and then left the room. I think that might have been a mistake. About 5 minutes later I returned, put a piece of paper under the pot and then dragged it to the edge of the deck, pushing it off. When I put the paper in I didn’t feel any resistance, but figured that the spider could be anywhere inside the pot. When I pushed it off the edge of the deck I

didn’t see him either. Now I might have just missed him, or the paper may have landed on top of him. The other option, one I’m not really wanting to think about is that he could have lifted the pot and found another spot in my room. I don’t mind the thought that he’s in their, after all tarantulas are not terribly social creatures and like small dark places which I have no desire to explore. It’s the idea that he was strong enough to lift the pot that troubles me. Relatively his strength is much greater than mine, and for some reason this always freaks me out a little. Watching ants, really any insect or arachnid, as they go about their daily business with such speed and obvious strength always makes me feel just a little in awe and just a little uncomfortable.

Why do we have this instinctual fear / fascination with exoskeletal creatures? From the alien and extra terrestrial movies to the rows of bug spray and insecticides in the supermarket, to the squealing and hysterical killing I’ve seen on several occasions, what is it that makes them so much ‘the other’? I used to think it was because I couldn’t look such creatures in the eye and therefore could have no idea what they were thinking, whether they could think, there could be no connection, no recognition. This is still part of it, but I think it’s also that they are really just so much stronger than us. Perhaps it’s respect turned sideways. Respect without connection becomes a sort of distrust, a wariness?

kitten update

The kittens are now 24 days old. They are looking less like monkeys and more like cats; ears are sticking up, not quite pointed yet though. Their eyes are still blue but fading into yellow. Magellan, the middle born and the largest is the only one with fair control of his back legs, he can now climb out of the one time fridge drawer they call home. Orinoco, the youngest loves to play and is trying out all his new found limbs on his mum and siblings. Amelia still prefers to sleep, she’s the smallest. The names still change, especially Amelia’s, but I’m getting closer to discovering their true names. Molly the mum is now sleeping outside the drawer, but continues to be completely in love and very doting.

Esta no cancion d’amor, esta cancion de la revolution, part 2

I believe increasingly that this should be the task of education. Current education is nothing but a sentimental attempt at maintaining the status quo, churning out industrial product in the shape of consumers who know how to do, more or less, what they’ve been told, more or less. Education has become fragmented where children fill in the blanks in predrawn paper sheets, imagination chewed and offered up semi digested. In the States public schools follow Houghton Mifflin scripted lessons where the teachers read from books, “Good Morning Class” and the day continues in a prefabricated monologue with no room for autonomy let alone thought. The children sit staring, their systems full of high fructose corn syrup, food colouring, additives and chemicals, or all this plus drugs to keep them focused and docile.

Rather let education be revolution, a circle spiraling forward, revolving, evolving creating new generations of thinking, loving, unique individuals.

Why do we still teach to what was needed 2 centuries ago? I’ve been in the classroom for 12 years and I can see a difference in those now entering school from those children now graduating high school. People are evolving, the world is evolving at a heightened rate. The world in physical ways, the human in social, psychological, psychical ways, in consciousness. Education is not keeping up. The most important things I’ve ‘taught’ in my time have not been reading, writing, arithmetic (children learn these almost always by themselves), but rather social skills; communication; community and trust building; observation and respect for human and natural environments; care of each other, animals, nature; imagination; self expression and self trust, and love. The things that don’t appear much in teacher training establishments, let alone scripted lessons. As family recedes and

the importance of the individual continues, children have to learn how to be part of a community. What was taken for granted 2 centuries ago in social terms no longer exists and it must be taken up elsewhere.

Academics are important, yes of course, but they need to be seen in a larger context. The word education comes from the Greek root ‘educare’ meaning to raise up. This is what education must become again. We must serve the children a diet that will sustain them throughout their lives, not just through college entrance exams. We must feed their souls, their minds, their imagination, their creativity, their self expression, their love as much as their bodies. Not a sentimental love song conferring loss. A song of revolution.

Esta no cancion d’amor, esta cancion de la revolution

The fourth grade teacher, who’s Columbian, is singing a song with her class, a blend of Central and South Americans, Europeans and Africans. She tells them the song is local Caribe-African, she’s singing in English. I hear it from the other room and can’t help but wander to her class. It’s a Scottish song, an old traditional ballad, most definitely Scots. She disagrees, telling me that the immigrating Afro-Caribes brought it from Africa via Jamaica. It’s ‘My Bonny Lies Over The Ocean’, as Scots as haggis and proper whiskey. Later when I have the class I tell them the song really isn’t a love song, the real message is one of revolution. The Bonnie is not a sweetheart, but Bonnie Prince Charlie, the heir to the Scottish throne, raised in France and almost ready for the Jacobean uprising of the 1740s. The song was a way of spreading propaganda and support for the rebellion under the watchful eyes and ears of the bastard English. I look at the faces in front of me, the

incredible diversity in the classroom and I wonder what this can mean to them, how they might relate. In other parts of the world people still die under imperialism, sacrifice themselves in revolutions. But I teach the bilingual children of Romeo and Juliet in a country which abolished its army 60 years ago.

When I was a kid I was fiercely proud of my nationality, my culture, history, country. While I continue to appreciate its beauty and the characteristics and story of its people, I can no longer feel the pull of nationality. For me, the future has to lie in these blended children and their belief that the world is their home, the earth is their land, their blood the blood that flows through all peoples.

Today we celebrated cultures day, each family was invited to share a song, game, play, dance or story from their culture: we had offerings from Nicaragua, Columbia, Argentina, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Jamaica, Italy, Spain, the US, Japan, Costa Rica, Brazil, South Africa and Scotland. Later we shared a cultural feast of traditional dishes. It was rich, heartfelt, beautiful. If we could share our cultural souls, our folk souls without the attachment and fear which bring racism and imperialism, if we could maintain the ‘same but different’ understanding then maybe we would have time to devote to the real issues.

plastic

Amid the books and coffee cups at Shaun’s place, there’s a scattering, a smattering of magazines – special interest magazines. Always well thumbed and losing a bit of their glossy sheen (do you know that magazine gloss comes from corn? Read ‘The Omnivores Dilemma’, Michael Pollan), they lie tantalizingly behind Mother Jones and Adbusters: the People magazines. The women who lounge at Echo Books are nomads, pioneers, escapists, all of us from different places who now find ourselves between the jungle and the ocean. Our skin is soft from the humidity but thick from outdoor exposure, our sinews stand up in the heat, our hair is stiff with dust, we wonder daily at the new bites, scratches and bumps we collect in the night: “yeah, just put noni juice on it”. And we all love People magazine, from cover to cover. Of course it can’t be called reading, it’s basically a picture book, and watching myself and others we do tend to lose interest about half way through as page after page shows similar looking people in similar looking clothing doing similar looking things. People we don’t know, depending on how long we’ve been ‘out’. It’s a bit like fast food: the cover is what grabs you, the first sensory experience - in this case sight, in food’s case smell. We reach for it, all other thoughts subside, but once that initial sensory zing has gone it’s all a bit unsatisfying. Until the next time .

The one lying on the coffee table this month (no, we don’t buy them, tourists leave them), has Anna Nicol on the cover. It seems she’s been having trouble with her plastic surgeon,

“I’ll never be perfect again”

the coverline reads.

“Oh poor thing, she’ll never be perfect again”

Leah sighs in a sympathetic, motherly tone. We look at each other and smile, confusion flutters across faces, “poor thing”.

duh

One of the things I teach in school is gardening. I just realized I’m the gardening teacher. This may seem very obvious to anyone reading this, but it’s taken me a month to see the significance. I’ve been working clearing the small and tropically overgrown garden at school and re-doing the compost area with the 3rd and 4th graders. And I’ve been moaning about the new area of gravel by my new class-space (not what you would call a room). I just realized I’m the one person at school who is in the position to change the gravel and put in more gardens. I can also begin gardening with the other classes I teach, I’m with all of the children every day, and can easily put gardening into our schedule.

There’s a wonderful botanical garden in Puerto Viejo and a great medicinal garden too, oh and a butterfly garden. We have so much room at school. I can meet with the directors of these gardens and get ideas and I’m sure some plants. We could also become carbon neutral by planting some more native trees. Oh my god, where have I been all this time?

death in (of) the family

My beautiful, eccentric, wonderful, damaged, real, grandmother died last month. I miss her. She’s a soulmate and I’m glad to have spent all of my life thus far knowing her, just a call away from her. I’m sure our time together is not complete and we shall meet again. I hope so. She had been abused as a child by an alcoholic father, had not known her mother, run away, put in care, and left to fend for herself. She married my grandfather at 17 and on her wedding night cried when she realized she had to stay with her husband and not return to her sister’s house. She didn’t know how to be a mother. She knew how to lie, how to take, how to survive.

But for me she was a wonderful grandmother: full of stories, laughter, encouragement and bad advise. She didn’t knit, didn’t keep a tidy house, she cursed horribly, cackled like a fishwife and filled me with love and enthusiasm and a genuine interest in what the world is. I love her.

But compassion is in scarce supply in my family which seems wrecked by old grudges and misunderstandings. I learned yesterday that my father does not yet know his mother is dead. When told she was ill he became angry and said he didn’t want to know anymore. And so he walks around in his guilt and his shame and this must be a terrible weight for him to carry. No closure, no release. My father won’t talk to me, he won’t talk to any of us, how can I help him? I know this is his choice, I know this is his path, but it rips me to see him damage himself so thoroughly, so chronically. It seems my family is dead, we are merely ghosts.

big old bubble, toil and trouble

Last week I had a discussion with a friend about bubbles. Actually the discussion wasn’t about bubbles, bubbles came in as an analogy for something else. Yet the bubble is what stuck with me. He said that the inside of a bubble was a vacuum. I disagreed saying that the inside and outside forces pushed equally on each other. I don’t know what’s right. But as an analogy I can’t stop thinking about it.

I have lived in bubbles for almost all my adult life. The education and communities I’m involved with are bubbles outside the mainstream UK and US systems. I’ve lived in beautiful locations, surrounded by nature, close to farms and health food stores or farmers markets, I had CSAs for most of the time I was in the States, I’ve had my own chickens and goats. I haven’t been registered and able to vote for 20 years, I’ve been thankfully healthy and haven’t needed mainstream medical anything for over 20 years. My friends share my beliefs and my lifestyle. Almost everyone I know lives consciously. I’ve been happily living in bubbleville.

Increasingly I’m understanding that I have to leave the bubble. Why? Because the forces aren’t equal. As borders have to fall, bubbles have to burst and we have to make conscious living mainstream. There has to be change and change has to come from the inside, it can’t be brought about from something that exists as parallel or outside. When the bubble bursts and that captured air mingles with its surroundings – that’s power, that’s the way it works, and that’s what must happen.

footprints

I have made certain choices, most consciously, to simplify my life, reduce my footprint. I live in Costa Rica, but am not a citizen: I have no say in the politics, I am outside the system. All my electricity comes from hydro power stations. I have no car - I have a bicycle. If I travel long distance it’s by bus. I prepare my food from the basic ingredients, trying to buy locally as much as possible: but my grains, pulses and coffee don’t grow in my region, and my beloved tahini comes from Israel. The only processed food I buy is cat food, (the dogs have their own diet), but I’d like to change this. I recycle. I have no debts, no savings and little earnings. Most of what I own is clothing and bedding, 98% of which is cotton, silk, linen or hemp. I also own my wonderful laptop, a slow cooker, a kettle, a camera, a blender and speakers for my ipod. Everything I own will fit in 3 bags. I am currently responsible for 2 dogs and 4 cats.

And that’s it. Yet when I check my footprints online – for carbon, fossil fuels, green living, I’m shocked by how big they are. But I’m also grateful they’re not any bigger. I was a teenager in the 80s, I’m of the x-generation, and I guess we were all a little smug at our post yuppie thinking. We’re older and fatter now and have too much stuff. It’s time to wake up and let it go.

living in truth

Am I living in truth? So many layers to this question. I’m sitting under banana trees technically ‘stealing’ wireless from the realtors next door. But I don’t regard this as untruthful – on 2 counts;

- anywhere that my body picks up wireless I feel entitled to use it

- the realtor is not a fair trader, not living in truth, therefore it isn’t stealing

wow, wait a minute, the logic of the second one is perverse. Does that mean that if say someone were to burn fossil fuels to produce electricity – which god knows isn’t true to the planet, and I were to use it, it would be okay because someone else did it first? Okay, scrap that second reason, it sucks.

Yet how many times a day is this kind of logic the default? All those unconscious moments when I do something because that’s the way I’m conditioned, or because it’s the norm or because it’s easier?

How do I ask myself the question: am I living in truth? Through what I eat, what I wear, what I choose to do for a living, where I choose to live, how I choose to vote, what I do for transport, social action, social outlets . . . the list is long, yet the word choose is prevalent. My life is made up of a series of choices, I can choose at any moment to make a difference. I can choose to live in truth.

And what is truth? True to what? To a moral code left over from imperialism and protestant ‘virtues’? True to myself, to the planet, to my friends, to my vocation? Who’s truth? Perhaps which truth is less important than the concept, the effort to live consciously, to question oneself at any and every moment, wait, am I living in truth, and then to make a choice a decision based the answer.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Lady J gets done


I’d never been anywhere with just Lady J before. But she did well, taking Hoss’ place in front of the bike trotting along, tail up, past all the usual canine nuisances that leap from decks or snarl behind fences. She was as happy as a sandboy when we got into town, happy and tired. The clinic had been set up behind a hotel, in a covered over piece of the parking lot immediately beside the caretaker’s place, actually it almost was the caretaker’s place, a low slung half wall separating us from his bed, rice cooker, blender, refrigerator, table, chairs, stove and sink. An old framed picture of two white kittens hung above a poster of the national soccer team, the door to what I presume was his bathroom was plastered with pictures of Marley, women and soccer players. His reggae was the soundtrack for the morning.

I was number 12. I recognized two of the women ahead of me, gringas. I had seen them around town and at shaun’s but had never really had a conversation with them. There were another two gringas and 3 men, all ticos. A young, surly veterinary nurse was calling names and giving shots. Some of the dogs were screaming, behaving even worse than Hoss when confronted with a needle (I thought of his first and last acupuncture treatment). I had never taken Lady J to a vet before but wondered how she would do, she is such a beautiful dog she didn’t mind the needle at all.

The clinic consisted of two folding tables, a fan and an electric shaver. There was another table littered with syringes, latex gloves and gauze. The vet was obese, a huge man with a beard and a rasta hat. This was definitely a Caribbean experience. On top of each table was a pink wooden trough, v-shaped at about an angle of 60 degrees. Into this the female cats and dogs were laid belly up. Their legs were tied to the table legs, they were shaved and wiped with iodine and then, trussed, legs akimbo, tongues lolling with only a local anesthetic waited for the vet. I had been there at Hoss’ neutering. Amazed that I was allowed not only to see the operation, but had to help. Back in the States it was such a delicate affair. Forms were signed in case the inconceivable happened during surgery, owners bid farewell to their pets, the waiting room was hushed and staff whispered assurances,

“She’ll be fine, she’s in good hands you know, come back tomorrow, yes we’ll phone if we need to.”

The anxious night, oh but she’ll wake up alone, and the joyful and careful reunion in the morning when one was always slightly surprised at the continued grogginess of the loved one.

“keep her quiet for 5 days, no outside play, spray her with this every 12 hours, if there’s any questions call us.”

‘Quiet for 5 days’, how was this achieved? But that was then, this is now. The vet sat to operate his massive form lurching over the tiny body below him. His tools were laid out on a bloodstained green cloth over a stainless steel tray. The first one I watched from 10 feet away, not sure if it was okay to look. But by the second I was by the table and chatting to the vet.

“This is the uterus, it’s longer in dogs, you can tell she’s had a litter already, there’s more fat. Here’re the ovaries.”

It was a small incision and then he pulled out the whole apparatus with a blunt hook, clamped it, cut and tied it and pushed it back in. He made the first lengthways stitch – abdominal wall, subcutaneous tissue, skin – and back again and then moved to the next patient. His nurse finished the stitching and moved the client to an area of the floor which had been covered in opened cardboard boxed. It took about 5 minutes maximum. The males were lain on the table and operated on from behind, the incision being made just in front of their sacs, the gonads pulled out, clamped, cut and tied, the stumps pushed back in and everything sewn. The vet said he could do about 60 operations a day. The team of three – the vet’s wife was there to collect money, had come from Limon and were part of a nationwide program to sterilize pets and strays. There are so many street dogs here and some municipalities deal with the issue by putting out poison a couple of days a year. Too bad if you miss that note in the newspaper. I was fascinated by the whole procedure and enamored by the experience. While Lady J was being done the caretaker was frying chicken just over the wall, about 3 feet from us. With only a local anasthetic LJ’s nose was twitching at the smell. I looked at her uterus, it didn’t look so different from a piece of chicken. I caught myself wondering what it would taste like. I asked if mine looked the same,

“No, see all this? you don’t have it, the ovaries look similar but all this uterus is necessary because she has multiple offspring, yours is much smaller than this.”

Lady J had had a litter of 4 pups in the spring, that was before she came to live with me. I knew her pups though, lovely dogs, and her mother, a beautiful even tempered husky. She had felt what it was like to be a mother, had given birth, nursed, weaned and left her pups. She had come into season since I had her and she was a randy thing always sneaking off to get laid. I wondered if she would notice that things were different. To remove the uterus, the ovaries, everything. She would produce no more hormones. How would her temperament change, how would other dogs change their reactions towards her? I knew I was doing the right thing, she couldn’t have more puppies and roaming male dogs are a threat to Hoss and the cats. But it had been part of her. Hoss had been younger, he was inexperienced (though I was surprised to find out that he mated with LJ and Sasha when they were in heat), it didn’t really change anything, just redirected his wiring perhaps. But she had experienced the whole cycle and now I was stopping the it completely. I can’t help draw parallels to my own life: I am still in the cycle, producing the hormones (craving the chocolate), but have had no, nor will have no, motherhood experience. It felt a bit like betrayal.

A taxi came for us 10 minutes after the surgery, we loaded her and the bike onboard and then back home. Now she’s lying on the deck, groggy but awake.

. . . referendum

so CAFTA passed by a slight majority, funny echo that? I'll find out more . . .

hmmm

so a beautiful week. with a lot to digest. and a new mission which is as old, probably, as my soul. visualization, think submersible, nah, better still swimming naked in dark waters with an orb of light to shine into recesses bringing strength, love and brightness. yep. welcome . . .

kittens


Molly had her babies last Tuesday, 2nd of October between 5:20 and 6:20 pm. She has three, all healthy. She is a happy and very attentive mother. At 4 days they can lift their heads and gather their feet under them instead of scrabbling spread-eagled. They can’t yet hiss but they can look like they’re hissing.
The darkest one was the first born, I think also the smallest. I watched her crown, the contractions pulsed through Molly like a wave, like she was caught in a swell. The second was the dark with white, he took a long time coming, I got worried, and the third was out in a moment. I watched him literally splutter into life as she licked the fluids out of his nose and mouth.

referendum

Today is the TLC referendum. TLC is the CAFTA for Costa Rica: Central American Free Trade Agreement. Yesterday a protest against the TLC was held in San Jose, they say 10,000 people marched. All this week Oscar Arias has been speaking in favour of adopting the agreement. Costa Rica is the only Central American country who has put it to referendum. However in a country where few people take interest in politics, and the majority are simple folk who’s major focus is their immediate family and their own community, there have been some advantages taken: people have been encouraged to vote yes by being given gifts and bus rides to voting stations. Folk wearing brand new ‘my heart says yes’ t-shirts have been interviewed but have very little idea what TLC means, rather some town official said yes was the best way to vote, and took them on a bus ride for the day with lunch and a t-shirt thrown in.
In September a memo was leaked which discussed how to lay on free transport and organize the yes vote amongst campesinos (the rural poor). The US embassy have stepped over diplomatic boundaries and have been involved with helping the government to orchestrate the yes vote. People in positions of local responsibility have been encouraged to spread the yes word through promises of increased funding or other perks.
Oscar Arias and his government want the agreement. Oscar Arias has oil interests. It is thought there is oil in the Caribbean, currently it is illegal to even explore for oil or minerals in national parks and protected areas; 27% of the country is protected parkland, almost 50% of the Caribbean coast is protected. The TLC agreement will provide loopholes.
Feelings amongst the no-voters are mixed. Most want TLC, but they want fair free trade and believe many points in the current agreement need changing. Currently, for example, there is a tariff on US corn entering Costa Rica, (so the coke manufactured here is made from cane sugar, not corn syrup as in Mexico and the States). With TLC cheap corn will be available, effecting cane farmers, cheap rice will be available as will cheaper pulses. Rice and beans are the staple foods for almost every tico (many believe that without daily rice and beans one becomes sick – there’s some kernel in there, together rice and beans provide complete protein). In theory this is better for the consumer but worse for the farmer, and therefore the economy. Cheap imports from the US will flood the markets, further americanising life here and damaging the more expensive Central American products. On the other hand labour is very cheap here (the normal pay is 800 colones an hour, about $1.80), which means that US companies will be able to move manufacturing here, more employment for Costa Rica, less in the States. Currently agriculture is the largest employer in the country, then tourism, then manufacturing. With TLC manufacturing could replace agriculture which in the long term would effect the country’s ability to provide its own food and to maintain it’s own self dependence. It seems that all Free Trade agreements are good for business owners and government, not for the people or the environment, certainly not in the long term.
I think the vote will go through, while everyone I know will vote no, and there are by far more no voters in the Limon region than yes, there are too many people who think as this fisherman:
“I’m voting yes, why not? it doesn’t affect me and change is good.”
(interview in Tico Times, September 24th)
The doesn’t affect me attitude of ticos cannot be underestimated, and with the promise of t-shirts and days out, I think it will be enough to swing the referendum.
And if not, well it’ll probably be swung anyway. In the general election Oscar Arias ‘won’ by less than 4000 votes. Certain parts of the country simply didn’t return or count their votes, mysteriously lost. Investigations were started which lasted for months tied up in incredible amounts of bureaucracy and finally petered into nothing, even the investigation results were somehow lost. This seems typical; lack of funds and ultimately lack of interest and the notion that well, we have this now, it’s already done, after all it doesn’t affect me. Not really.
For information on TLC, CAFTA and US-Central American relationships see the WOLA website:

www.wola.org

praying mantis

There’s a praying mantis sitting on my lamp. It looks like she’s washing her face, she has the movements of a feline. Such odd creatures so angular yet they have the poise of a sphinx and somehow cat-like faces: I think if a cat became a plant it would be a praying mantis. I’ve had the privilege of several landing on me and their pincer feet gripped and tickled as they’ve moved across my skin. There’s a moth by the lamp, suddenly she has lost her shape and become two leaves on a twig. The moth is too intrigued by the light, and she has become herself again. She’ll have to move closer if she wants to eat tonight. So much complex beauty in the world.

differences

We have a child in the school who’s the first in his family to ever attend school. He’s a Bribri Indian, a beautiful child: gentle, quick, shy but curious. He’s 8 and in first grade. He has great motor skills, both large and small, good eye hand co-ordination, great balance, is ambidextrous. He’s happy, does his work, is proud of what he does. Yet after 8 months in school can’t count, has no letter recognition, only this week can he copy his name. His copied letters are often upside down and backwards. Clearly, in a western sense he has learning differences. He’s the first in his family to ever attend school, all his family are illiterate, or preliterate might be more appropriate. Are Erling’s challenges natural or are they part of his hereditary experience? In other children whom I’ve worked with who share his challenges, there is often a balance or motor issue: they’ve missed something in their early motor development. This is not his case.
His parents have sent him to school, he’s on a full scholarship, clearly they want his life to be different from theirs.
I’m one of 3 teachers working individually with Erling. We met with his parents this week and told them that if there’s no change in his level by the end of the school year (December), he’ll have to repeat first grade. I don’t know that this is the answer. In a western sense we can’t serve him, he needs more help than we are able or trained to give, and there’s no way his parents can provide this extra support for him. Now his self esteem is great, he sees no differences between himself and the others, but to turn 9 in first grade: what effect will that have? Perhaps none. His parents reacted with simple grace, they accepted what we said in a way I’ve never seen before: no shame, no blame, no denial, just okay, this is life. There’s another Bribri boy in the third grade who’s also struggling, he’ll also repeat, I don’t know his family background.
For me this brings up bigger questions on education. In its current form education came out of the industrial revolution. A large scale, factory operation to turn out people who can perform basic operations as they’re told. Read, write, do math, listen to instruction, nowadays also work as a team, problem solve. But children today are different. The world is different, I think we need a different education. The root of the word means to raise. Modern schools produce.

incoming . . .

There’s a storm coming in. all afternoon I’ve watched the clouds move in slowly from the ocean. Now the wind has picked up, the sky suddenly darkens and the monkeys begin to howl their protests. Ah, strong, strong wind, cold too, slamming doors, lifting papers and towels, hurling leaves everywhere. I hear the crack of branches above the wind and the zubb of electricity somewhere. Time to switch to battery. Rain. Soft, gentle, forgiving. The smell is moist, cool, dark like the forest floor. The dogs are out, soon, soon they’ll appear: hoss doesn’t like the rain. The sky is a uniform grey . Bigger drops now and noisier, the wind is blowing them onto the deck wetting my almost dry laundry. Rain so hard it’s blocking the trees from view. A short legged, stubby tailed lizard sails down the wall away from the water. Time for a cup of tea and a good book.

hey noni noni!!

I’ve also succumbed to god knows what and have started eating noni. This is something I swore I would never do only 3 months ago. I started because there’s a noni tree growing right on the beach and I felt that any fruit that falls on such a beautiful spot must be good for me. HAHAHA. Also I can’t help harvesting wild fruit, and since then I’ve found another tree growing right on my road. Noni must be the most disgusting fruit known to man. I know there’s the durian which I remember David Attenborough gagging at on tv when I was a kid, but then I never saw him with a noni. In some places it’s called a vomit fruit – and with good reason. It stinks horribly. Truly disgusting and retch making. Not only does it smell foul, it feels awful – squishy like a dead rat and bits flake off in your hand. Wet sticky scabby bits. It looks a bit like a potato full of eyes and it’s the slightly harder, paper thin brown eyes that flake off. When it’s ripe it turns white which only adds to the nastiness as it’s sort of a congealed white with the darks seeds showing through from the center and the brown scabs dotted like measles over the skin. I could barely pick the first one up off the sand it was soft and smelly.
In Pachamama people swear on noni, believing it’s the best thing for helping one’s digestion and general health. I know noni juice is the latest health craze in the States. I don’t know how they make the juice, but in Pachamama they allow the fruit to rot – preferably by putting it in a ziplock bag in the sun. It smells through the bag, a mix of feet and vomit, I’m not kidding, and then they strain it and they drink what putrid ooze they make. Totally unable to commit such atrocities – and it’s only possible to commit them because nothing, not even ants (which eat dog vomit) will eat the rotting fruit, - I decided it best to attempt to eat it raw and only ripe. So steeling myself I cut a slice, doused it in salt, pepper and lime juice and chewed it very quickly at the back of my mouth. I got it down, but this is hardly a way to eat. The next day I tried it in a papaya and banana smoothie and it was quite nasty but edible. And I have to say that now I’m used to it I don’t taste it at all, in fact I might even miss it if I left it out the smoothie. After a couple of days I stopped retching every time I opened the fridge and now I can be standing with my nose almost in it before I realize what it is.
And why? Why am I doing this? I did some research and noni has so much vitamin C it’s almost off the scales, it also has almost as much fiber in one serving as one needs per day. It has other beneficial chemicals and compounds too, too numerous and boring to mention here. The seeds one can roast and eat, I haven’t got that far yet, but I will. When I tire of pumpkin seeds I’ll try the noni. It’s amazing what one can do.

addition to tropical living

Ever since moving to Costa Rica I have experienced strange happenings to my skin. This is the hottest and most humid place I’ve lived, it makes sense there would be some strange new development. My right hand, at the base of my fingers and between my thumb and fingers looks burned, like it was dipped in scalding water. There’s no pain, no itching, not really any dryness either, but it looks damaged. I asked about it and the common opinion is that I reacted to something and the sun brought it out in my skin. One sweats a lot here and toxins are released through the skin, it doesn’t always do well with the toxins. This is what has happened. Having lived wheat, dairy and meat free (mas o menos) for the last 9 months, and eating non processed food I think I should be pretty low in toxins. Now all of my food is prepared at home from the basic ingredients, no dairy or wheat (except for the occasional croissant and latte at the internet café): the most processed foodstuff I have is canned sardines. But I have a lifetime of poor eating behind me. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could sweat it all out? I’m drinking about 3 pints of water a day, I think I need to up this to help flush out all the toxins.

cacao!!

I picked my first two cacao pods today. It’s the autumn equinox, not that it makes such a difference here, the sun rises and sets more or less at 5:30 each day. The pods are from the cacao tree closest to the house. They are not quite ready, still turning yellow, but I’m guessing they will ripen like the bananas. I wanted to try them early because the squirrels get to them first otherwise. I’ll leave some for the squirrels of course. They are so beautiful, excited!
After the banana blight this whole area was turned over to cacao and once again a monoculture existed – and once again a blight wiped out the plantations. Ah nature . . .. Much of the land here was once cacao plantation, judging by the number of trees on this hillside this was a plantation.
The cacao was revered by the native Indians as a food of the gods. It was used ceremoniously, as medicine and as money. Is this where the expression ‘money grows on trees’ comes from? In the Mayan culture a porter earned 100 cacao beans a day: the price of a hare; an avocado cost one bean; a fish wrapped in a corn husk cost 3. It was taken or exchanged during both religious and civic ceremonies, for example at a wedding the bride and groom exchanged 5 beans.
The trees look a little like apple trees, fairly short and gnarled. The pods grow from the stems and trunk and are shaped like a rugby ball but ridged and knobbly, they vary in colour from a minty green to a deep dark maroon. Inside the beans hang from a sinewy tough central stem – a bit like the middle of a tangerine but much stronger. The beans are covered with thick white ooze which tastes sweet but makes the whole thing look like the innards of some alien. The beans are almond shaped and sized, but smooth, they’re a creamy coffee colour, inside they are the most royal bright purple. The whole pod from inside out is an experience of colour and texture, shelling the beans has to be a fairly ritualistic practice moving through hard to soft to hard, ridged to slippery to smooth surfaces. The beans taste bitter but they come with a kick: 5 roughly equal an espresso shot. And they are rich. I’ve heard of people eating 30 and getting high, seeing the cacao god himself!
It’s said that cacao is a superfood: very rich in antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, dopamine, seratonin, anandamide, tryptophan and phenylethylamines are amongst the 300 chemical compounds present in cacao. With the seratonin, anandamide, dopamine and phenylethylamine it’s no wonder chocolate lifts one’s mood and why so many people reach for a slab when all else seems to fail. Of course the most healthy way to absorb all this goodness is through the fresh or dried bean, but that’s not so practical. They say that the addition of dairy products blocks the absorption of much of the benefits, so the darker the chocolate - and the least processed - the better for you.
It’s almost a week later and the pods are ripe: the beans are delicious, but 3 is enough at one time. What a gift to have such a fruit in the garden!
Interesting website, also google raw chocolate :

www.naked-chocolate.com/

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

15 de stiembre

The 15th September is Costa Rica’s Independence Day. It commemorates independence from Spain which came for Mexico and all Central America in 1821. Costa Rica was such a backwater colony that the news didn’t reach here until a month after the event. The story goes that a torch was lit and carried all the way down to the Panama border bringing the news of independence and the light of freedom to all. The local story is that light was controlled by the imperialists and with independence came the possibility of light for all. The 15th is a popular fiesta with lots of bands, folkloric dancing and parades, and much flag waving and singing of national songs. The kids spent nearly all week preparing 2 dances from Guanacaste (and hence Nicaraguan in origin) and various patriotic songs. On Saturday we marched along to the local public school for a show of nationalism. The principal of the local school is a remarkable woman: big, bold, caribe-tica with a bright pink hat and high pink platforms. Her opening speech was all about independence and saying no to the United States (TLC referendum, 7th October). Then lots of singing and dancing and then a second speech about the importance of maintaining the forests and how no more trees should be cut to make way for homes. I was so impressed at the power and conviction of her speech and that she was saying this at an assembly. The kids obviously adored her.

After I went into Puerto Viejo for shopping. The high school was parading with much drumming and baton twirling. All schools participate with each team creating their own variation, next month the best will compete in San Jose for big prizes. Last year I saw some groups in Puntarenes, but the Puerto kids were great. The music was a mix of national military style drumming, calypso and reggae, and the baton twirlers were really shaking their stuff. I never knew hips could move so fast, I have to say I was mesmerized. The band was very tight and also looked the part with cornrows, shades and very baggy tropical cream suits. I wish them well in the competition.


I finally feel like I’m living in the tropics. It’s hot and it’s humid, which it seems I like. I say this writing in the shade of the deck, there’s a breeze blowing in off the sea and I have lime water to sip.

The bananas I picked last week have ripened. A couple have been opened by black bees and there is a mini swarm in the corner feasting on soft, sweet creamy flesh. The bees don’t sting and seem to keep away the hordes of fruit flies I was expecting. Occasionally a small brown butterfly or two will join the swarm. There are 3 lizards living in a crack in the deck near the bananas. They watch the bees, taking their chance when they can. They fight over the butterflies. Molly sits on the chair closest to the bananas. She watches the lizards, she hasn’t caught them yet, she has better luck with the bigger ones who seem to live inside the house. Hoss lies near the bananas, he watches everything, but he only eats the bananas, though will snap at the bees who buzz him when he’s choosing his banana. He peels it and eats the fruit, leaving the peel tattered and torn on the deck. The ants who live everywhere clean up the banana peel. This all happens in one corner of the deck, take it and multiply it by every square metre and you’ll have some idea of the life here.

I often feel a tenant in the home of the insects. Ants and cucarachas seem the main occupants. I sweep ants out of my bed, I flick them off my laptop, I brush them outside on a daily, sometimes twice daily basis. My recorder wouldn’t sound until I removed the colony of ants which had taken up residence, in school, it’s the cucarachas which inhabit recorders and the coffee machine. If I get up at night I send cucarachas fleeing with my torch, their sleek impossibly shiny toffee brown bodies cascading over the side of tables, up walls, under fridges, below doors. I learned that cucarachas live in colonies which are democratic, and which work – I don’t know which surprises me more, a democracy which works or that there are whole colonies of these creatures where I live. Beetles of every hue and shape visit or live alongside the larger beasts: yellow, black, blue, red, orange, brown, green – every colour and colour combination, each with their 6 delicately poised claw feet and anthers of varying length and width. A chagas beetle is in an upturned glass on the table. I don’t want to kill it, but I don’t want to let it go nearby. Maybe tomorrow it’ll go for a bike ride with me. The chagas beetle bites, bad enough given it’s a good inch and a half long. But it can carry a parasite which can be passed in the bite. The parasite takes up residence in the heart and begins to grow, but so slowly that it can take 20 years before it causes a heart attack in the host. It’s the little things which are dangerous here. Right now there’s a little bug crossing my computer screen,

he’s in disguise and has built a junkpile on his bag that looks like seed fluff and dust, his legs don’t look long enough to reach his back, how did he do it?

I cut my finger yesterday opening a shutter, it got infected – easily done here – and I’ve doused it with tree tea and alcohol and bandaged it. Wounds take a long time to heal and even the smallest cut can be problematic. I have apple cider vinegar in my medicine chest and some spilt, could only have been last week. The spill was covered in a thick white furry growth of mould I think, which was being harvested by hordes of tiny ants. I won’t mention what happened to the dogs’ bones after they had finished with them. Suffice it to say that life is very very vibrant here.

colones

I need to find a way of making money. Shaun can support herself making chocolate. I must find a way to supplement my income. I can do many things, I have to find one that sells and then sell it. Food seems the obvious choice, everyone needs food and there’s a desire for unusual and healthy alternatives here. There’s a new coffeeshop opened up in town, very health conscious, maybe I can make something for them. My banana jam recipe needs some perfecting – at least my first attempt in the crockpot turned out very sweet and took forever. Forever is okay as long as the finished product is fine and I can make big enough quantities at a time.

Datura: angel or devil's trumpet?


Datura plants line part of my walk to school. Big beautiful sweet smelling pink, yellow and white blooms hanging like bells on ungainly knobbly stalks. Like something from prehistory alongside the giant ferns and alien waxy hanging bracts. Datura is toxic, a hallucinogenic but one which can be easily overdosed with big consequences. Datura grows really easily here, break off a piece and it’ll grow where it drops. I like the plant very much for its beauty and strange presence. Shaun has a huge one growing at the corner of her house, she says it’s there as a guard: the locals are scared of the plant. Over the years people have used it to kill and it holds bad energy in the collective memory. I’ve always wanted one.

Postscript: planted 4 on Sunday

not so comic comedy cops

Returning the hire car I gave a lift to a local cop. Not so local really, he was from the other side of the country. Costa Rica has the bizarre practice of stationing cops in regions other than their own. They live in the police station for 3 weeks at a time then return home for 2. This explains why there is always so much laundry hanging behind the station and why it’s common to see them brushing their teeth at an outside sink in the morning. It also explains why every single local can point out all the thieves, crackheads and dealers in the street but the cops don’t know. I can’t fathom why Costa Rica does this – surely in this very community orientated culture it makes sense for the cops to be part of the community, to know the people. Outside cops have less connection, less interest in the community and must be open to more bribes because of this. Earning the equivalent of $200 a month also encourages the taking of bribes. In Puerto Viejo they have one police car, it broke down and the community had to fundraise to have it fixed. People say it’s because the government has no interest in Limon province: I have heard that if you want a cop to come to your home you have to pay for their gas to reach you. They do have flak jackets and guns: they were wearing them for the high school parade on Independence Day, standing on street corners looking very official and macho. In general they are very high profile, but that seems to be about all they are.

There have been 4 rapes here recently: single tourists cycling alone at night, all the same m.o.. everyone in town knows who’s doing it: the son of Giri, the biggest local dealer. The rapist arrived back in town from an 8 year stint in prison for the same, 2 weeks before the first rape. Seemingly one has to have fingerprints to prove a crime here and getting fingerprints is a 2 month long process in san jose. With no victims pushing the cops there’s seems incredibly to be no hurry. Everyone knows who this guy is, I don’t understand why the locals aren’t doing something. I know that ticos watch rather than do – the machete fight in Las Juntas is proof of that – but why don’t the gringos here take action? Believing in the system?

banana business


Coming down from Limon one passes through acres and acres of banana plantations, crisscrossed with creeks running towards the Caribbean. Each massive hand of bananas is sheathed in blue plastic, the same blue plastic that is clearly visible littering the creeks. Nowadays the plantations are owned mostly by Chiquita and its subsidiaries, in the past it was the giant United Fruit which completely shaped this part of Costa Rica. Back from the coast, plantation workers still live and breath plantation, buying from plantation shops ensuring that they are nothing more than indentured servants. That’s not all they are. A huge amount of pesticides and insecticides are dumped on the crops making the workers part of a general experiment in toxic waste (read ). Birth defects, infertility and an average life expectancy in the 50s also come with the job as workers handle and inhale fertilizers and drink the water polluted by run off from the crops. Fertilizers are ‘necessary’ because of the monoculture: United Fruit pulled out due to a massive banana blight that hit in 1913, bananas have since come back as a crop but at a cost. Meanwhile tourists downstream pay top dollar in shishi restaurants for river shrimp fed by water from the same plantations.

The moral of the story: BUY ORGANIC BANANAS!

In the garden there are many, many bananas that grow totally free of any human intervention. They are the sweetest I’ve ever tasted, sun ripened and spotted in their skins. I have such a glut that tomorrow I begin jam making.