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.


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.


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”.


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.


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 . . .


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 . . .


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.


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:

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.


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 cafĂ©): 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.


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 :