Friday, August 18, 2017

Rashomon

I'm not sure if you've seen the Akira Kurosawa film 'Rashomon', but it fits my memories, recent events in my personal life and the ugliness going on with the White Supremacy riot in Charlottesvill.

Here's how Wikipedia describes the film, "The film is known for a plot device that involves various characters providing subjective, alternative, self-serving and contradictory versions of the same incident."

I've had a great deal of time today to ponder why it is that two or more different people can look at the same thing and come up with vastly different explanations. I made the discovery yesterday that not only am I allergic to hearts of palm and some types of palm oil, I'm also very allergic to palm being burned, the fumes that is. Our landlord decided to make a vast quantity of tamales and her tamale recipe calls for using seared palm leaves. She spent much of yesterday evening waving green palm leaves over the outdoor tile oven in the back of the house very close to the door of our apartment. The fumes were everywhere, but I didn't react very badly until I got up this morning. Sick and straining for every breath. My lungs are fucked right now, so I lay in the bed most of the day madly medicating, which got me started thinking about different interpretations of the same event.

Back well before I met and dated my husband Jim I dated a guy named Tony. Tony was a well to do chemical engineer at one of the big chemical plants in Louisiana. I wasn't interested in Tony when I first met him, but he pursued me relentlessly. We got engaged, but never married, breaking up a time or two before getting back together again. The last time we were together pretty much decisively ended the relationship. Tony had some quirks.

The last day we went to a friend's house to watch LSU football on the big screen. I'd asked my father to sit my young daughter because the party was no place for her. I knew there would be copious drinking. He said he could do it but I would have to pick up my daughter by 6 pm because he had plans. Fine.

As time went on at the party Tony got drunker and drunker. I was not exactly drunk, but I was feeling no pain. Tony started getting meaner and more belligerent as the afternoon wore on. LSU wasn't playing well and Tony started to gripe mightily about having to leave the party before it was over to pick up my daughter.

Eventually we did go out to the car, driving over to my father's home nearby. When we pulled into the driveway Tony jumped out of the car, kicked in the fence gate and the screen on the back door. Once he was inside he started screaming at my father in a drunken fury. My father didn't try to reason with him, he punched Tony. Dad had apparently been drinking too. The two men scuffled, with my dad wrenching off Tony's glasses and breaking them. Then Dad whipped out his gun and tried to shoot at Tony, who ran for his life back to his car, peeling out of the driveway leaving a trail of smoking rubber, abandoning my daughter and I.

Eventually the police showed up, took statements from everyone. No one was arrested, but they wrote a report so my father could sue Tony for damages to his gate and door. They kindly gave me a ride back to my apartment with my daughter after my father refused. I got a gentle lecture from the police, and I decided this was it. No more Tony. I never heard from Tony again.

My father didn't speak to me for six months over this.

But my father sued Tony and Tony counter sued for the destruction of his glasses and both men subpoenaed me. We went to court, Tony got up and told his side of the story, claiming that he walked calmly into the house and my father attacked him.

Dear old Dad told the judge that he'd been sitting on the sofa minding his own business when Tony kicked in the screen door while screaming (true) and proceeded to beat the shit out of my father. My father also claimed he never fired the gun, he just pulled it out to scare off Tony and he never touched Tony's glasses.

When I was called to the stand I told the judge a third story, that both men were drunk, yes Tony did kick in the door and gate before running in yelling at Dad. That Tony hadn't gotten more than two sentences out before Dad punched him, grabbed his glasses and stomped them into shards. That there was a physical fight between the two until the gun was pulled out and fired.

After the responding officer read his report and testified, with much of his report matching what I said the judge went off on both men. He awarded Tony two hundred dollars for his glasses and my father two hundred dollars to replace the kicked in screen on the door and fix the wooden gate. The judge also warned both that if they appeared ever any in his courtroom he would assumed they were guilty as charged and sentence them both to the maximum.

Four narratives, three different stories. What I took away from that shameful incident was that people love to tell their version of the truth that puts them in the best possible light, rather than what is legitimately true.

I have noticed this week that the white supremacists and Nazis from the Charlottesville rally are now doing the exact same thing, contradicting the reporting of CNN and other media outlets and the first person stories coming out of the protesters on the other side. They are now crying victim. I'm sorry, I'm not buying it. Like my father they threw the first punch, and like he and Tony they're going to have to take the consequences of what they've done.

This is one of the things I hate about Christian conservatives, they always spin a tale when things happen that holds only the slightest semblance of truth. We have to hold them to the truth and only say what is true.

During the last few weeks I've been watching lots of drama going down on Patheos blogs between two members of the Secular section. I cannot tell for sure which story is true between the two combatants, but I do know the one that came up with the Truth Pledge seems to be not exactly telling the truth, but a version of it that puts him in the innocent victim light.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

To the Next Volunteer at the CLC

In three short weeks we're going to be leaving this place for the warmer and sunny climes of the Tamarindo area of Costa Rica. The school has already recruited a replacement for Jim, who will have stayed more than a month more than he originally contracted for.

I wish I could contact this person and let them know all the things I had to learn the hard way in the last almost two months here. The school admin is not very good about helping people acclimate to the area, which is a shame. When we lived in Germany I worked for the USO doing just that, helping the wives settle in quickly, and providing information on everything from bus routes and costs to shopping, dealing with the utility company and navigating in a very different society.

The lady replacing my husband is older, recently widowed and leaving the U.S. to teach here just to do something different while dealing with her grief. I'm worried for this unknown woman.

This place is incredibly beautiful, at least in the morning before it rains. She needs to know what I didn't. Pack a raincoat, boots and a sturdy umbrella. You'll use them daily. I stupidly only packed a small folding umbrella after reading through the literature sent to us upon signing up.

I'd tell her that the most useful item I brought with me seems to be a  two dollar and fifty cent fleece blanket/throw I bought at Wal Mart. It works to wrap yourself up in under the copious bed covers you'll be cowering under when the rain makes the temps drop into the low 50s. It can be used as a dirty clothes bag by tying it like a hobos bindle. You can spread it on the beach to lay on instead of a beach towel. It's small and thin enough to fold and use as a makeshift scarf when you travel by bus and the driver is super enthusiastic about the bus air conditioning. On the colder nights I've used it as a quick wrap over my clothes.

Speaking of clothes... bring more than you ever dreamed you might need. I failed at that too, bringing 2 pairs of shorts I have yet to don, 2 pairs of jeans, a pair of capris, a pair of capri leggings, 2 long sleeved shirts, 4 sleeveless or tee shirts, 1 sweater and 4 dresses. Much of this stuff I cannot wear here, it's more suitable for the heat of Tamarindo, not the cool weather that dominates this area. I was advised to bring a sweater for chilly evenings, never dreaming that it would rain every afternoon and tank the temps for the afternoon and evening. Bring warm clothing, or at least more sweaters than I did.

Clothing brings up another point. All of the guesthouses here that host the teachers, while they do wash your clothing, use cold water and no pre-treating of spot. It's not unusual to have your clothing come out of the washer with undissolved detergent and still with the same dirty spots on them. I learned early on in late June that to keep my clothing very clean without spots you really need to buy upon arrival a small box of laundry soap, or a bar of laundry soap, a small scrub brush, a bottle of vinegar and a hanging drying rack to hang off the shower curtain bar. I have learned after ruining two shirts and an expensive new dress that you must spot treat any dirt on your clothing and hang it in the shower to dry before putting it into the laundry basket. There is no Spray n Wash here. You have to fight the spots old school style.

The other problem with the laundry is that pesky rain. If the landlady washes your things and places them under the covered part of the carport to dry they will dry in two days. If she puts it in the morning sun, and toddles off to do something else. Forgetting that hanging laundry it might be a week before she remembers and moves it to a shady spot out of the rain. 

The food. I have spent so much time talking here about the starchy carb-laden food that it's ridiculous and petty. I finally just shut up and went back on Metformin until I leave. It didn't dawn on me that this is a farming community and the 3 to 4 servings of carbs at every meal is how farming families sometimes eat until the last week. Just be prepared for rice and beans as a side at every meal and don't be surprised if you get a meal that is rice and beans, mashed potatoes, potato chips and some sort of pasta and tortillas. You cannot fight it, you cannot make them understand. What I do is keep tuna, cheese, fruits, veggies and whole wheat crackers in my room for those days when the meal is 'Carbs! Carbs! Carbs!'

They're not going to tell you but the bus goes into a bigger nearby city every 5:30 am, 12:30 pm and 5:30 pm. It only costs less than a buck and that you can go to one of the grocery stores to stock up on things in eat in your room. There are also many excellent fruit and vegetable stands, and a few discount stores to pick up things like cutting boards, knifes, etc. if you need to fix your own meals.

The good part of that is this is where some of the best coffee in the world is grown. The coffee shop connected to the local coffee farmers co-op has some of the most delicious coffee (some with delicious adult beverages poured into the coffee. They have pastries to die for at the same place. Try their que-que (pronounced kay-kay - it means 'cake') and the rollos. Just a short walk from the shopping district in the next town over.

The bus is very inexpensive and you can take it just about anywhere you can imagine. We even took a bus into Nicaragua! The bus station is right behind the coffee shop. But a word of caution - a ticket to big cities, like San Jose, or to the tourist areas like the volcano parks, you need to buy your ticket at least a day in advance, or you might find yourself standing the entire way. I stood all the way to San Jose once, several hours and it was no picnic.

The confusing thing about taking the bus is that there are a thousand different bus companies so if you take a bus into San Jose and need to get on another bus headed to Arenal or Quepas, you might have to take a taxi ride to another station. No one tells you that ahead of time. A word of caution about the taxis. Everyone tells you to take the official red taxis, but in the bigger cities I've had the experience of the driver driving around and around and around until I've asked him what the heck he's doing and ended up with a fifty buck taxi fee. Always insist that they turn on the meter when you get in 'Taxi metro'. I no longer use the official taxis unless forced to.  I have learned to look for the 'Piratas' - pirate taxis. They are usually a block or two from the bus station. You haggle with them, agreeing on the price before getting in. I now pay the Tico price from the shopping town to here of 3 thousand colonies - or just under 6 American dollars.

Cellphone service really sucks in this town. The only place besides the school where you can get decent cell tower coverage is down by the village soccer field. The internet is spotty everywhere you do and the speed is not fast. But it is fast enough for Netflix and Hulu, so you do have some entertainment options, which is good, because the nearest movie theater is over an hour away in Cartago.

I do recommend the mall at Cartago for clothing. I found the prices and quality to be very close to what we get in the US. Everywhere you go you see 'Ropa Americana', but I've found that most of those places sell very worn looking second hand clothing mixed with a few newer things.

This is already getting to long so here's a few other quick tips.

The people here are friendly and nice. People actually greet each other on the street. Most folks say 'Buenas' instead of 'Hola' because hola is used when you expect a conversation instead of a quick greeting.

Always, always, always try to speak at least a little Spanish when you can and say 'please' 'thank you' and 'I'm sorry'. People here are much more polite.

Bugs, big bugs are a reality here. Ignore them as much as possible and try not to stress over them.

The showerhead with the crazy electrical wires poking out will give you hot water if you adjust it just so.

You cannot flush toilet paper anywhere.

Washclothes are not a known thing here. Pack as many as you need. Also, you can make your bath and bedroom much more comfortable by the purchase of a few luxuries, like hand towels and bath mat, a rug by the bed, whatever it is you cannot live without.

Some of the guesthouses here do not use top sheets and only change the bedding every few weeks. I deal with this by using what I call the 'Norwegian Bachelor Scheme' - turning the sheet every week until the landlady gives me a new clean bottom sheet and blankets.

There are three things in every house, big or small, rich or poor, you can count on. 1 - there will be a satellite dish on the roof. 2 - Most of the yards will have beautiful flowers growing everything and 3 - there will be a display or alter to Jesus, Mary and God in the home.

But here's the biggest benefit of living here besides the adventure of figuring out how to deal with the culture shock and work arounds - there is virtually NO continual fear mongering news or constant drum beat of the awful shenanigan of our president. It's calm, it's relaxed and a much slower pace of life, at least when the church isn't burning down or you are not dealing with government red tape.

That's it! The kids at the school are wonderful and the community here really wants you here teaching their children English. There are so many fun things to do. Never turn down an opportunity to judge a spelling bee, or to share a holiday with a local family.

I wish you success and happiness here.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

A Long and Strange Night

Tonight the Catholic church in Copey, Costa Rica burned to the ground. Jim and I were sleeping when we started hearing panicked voices, screeching tires and shouts. For once I am very thankful that the walls here are paper thin.

I got up to see what was going on, thinking it might be a drunken fight spilling over from the local bar, the Kamakiri. We've been warned to stay away from the town's sole bar because of the occasional drunken fisticuffs. But the church was on fire, the church right across the street from our host family.

This is what I saw when I got up.

 We grabbed our passports and wallets, plus I grabbed my great grandmother's jewelry and asthma meds and we ran!

It's over now. Took 30 minutes for the fire department to get here and there wasn't much they could do besides wet down the roofs of nearby buildings, like the high school and our house.