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.


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.

dogs' life

The most difficult practicality in moving was with the beasts. Without a car or a credit card it looked nigh on impossible to cross the country with 2 dogs and a cat. With a combination of truck, bus-taxi and hired car - with thanks to a friend - we managed. We even got to visit a new doctor in san jose on the way. Hoss has allergies, this in itself intrigues me, how can a dog have allergies? His skin is dry, flaky and irritated, he was gnawing on himself all the time suffering hair loss and just looking and feeling awful. The vet in nicoya gave me what I thought was anti-histamines but turned out to be steroids. They worked really well for the days that he took them, but the moment he stopped all symptoms returned. Obviously not working. So we went to Alicia Lopez, a Chinese medicine and Acupuncture vet. She said Hoss was a very typical “hot” dog. It was a step for me to let go of the allergy diagnosis. She looked at his tongue, took his pulse and said he had too much heat. I had to stop with the dog food and only allow him cold foods (in Chinese medicine). He had already stopped dog food a couple of weeks before, but he was basically eating whatever I was. Now he has his own diet. She tried to give him acupuncture, but even with a herbal sedative and 3 adults holding him he managed to jump clear off the table. So he has herbs instead. And delicious smelling shampoo which works wonders on his skin. He has stopped scratching almost entirely and the hair is growing back. He smells good and has energy again. He eats a lot of vegetables and legumes, sardines and has his herbs and vitamin C and the Bs. He gets flaxseed and spirulina. He likes the food and eats a lot more heartily than he ever did with his dry dog food. The cynic in me says he was allergic to Pachamama or Guanacaste trees or bamboo. But everyone believed he would be worse here because of the higher temperature and humidity, and he’s doing well.

Lady J is also doing well. She has also changed diet and is getting her vitamins and supplements (me too). She was always a beautifully placid and sweet dog, but here she has become much more loving and will lie at my feet whenever we are both at home. She used to stay outside through her choice in Guanacaste, but now she stays close and is very free in her affection, both with myself and with Hoss. I wonder if she herself feels freer knowing somehow that she will never be sent back? She has become a much more integral part of this family.

The dogs spend their day playing, eating, sleeping, exploring and marking territory. It seems a very wonderful existence.

Molly is pregnant, the gestation period is around 65 days, I don’t know when she conceived – she showed no signs of being in heat, nor were there any other cats around, that I saw or heard. Yet she is pregnant. I don’t know when she’s due. I would say fairly soon given the size of her nipples. I don’t think she’ll have a big litter, maybe 3 max? given her size. I hope they are healthy, I hear that the survival rate for a first litter isn’t great. She has adapted very nicely from living in a tree and has made herself completely at home with favourite chairs and viewing posts. She has a box in my closet that I hope she will use when the time comes, it’s really the safest place away from prying canine noses. I’m at a loss with this birth business, I’m in awe, and clueless.

been a while . . .

It’s been so long since I wrote a blog entry, I can’t remember the last time. Much has happened in that space, I’ve gone through an emotional education, let’s hope I remember what I’ve learned. I’ve played every female role: mother, sister, understanding friend, lover, caretaker, rescuer, healer. I’ve seen what I don’t want to be and I’ve seen what I never knew existed, and I’m coming out with gratitude for the experience and an understanding that it had to be done. And so it was and with it came a release: I no longer needed to be in Pachamama. This has puzzled me and it took over a month of daily to and froing before I came to peace with the decision. It was intended though as very quickly I came into a new opportunity. So I have moved yet again, to the Caribbean, almost at the end of the road a tiny place and I am teaching at a little school filled with charming and beautiful children