Saturday, September 09, 2017

If It's Not One Thing It's Another Gringo

My updates have been so sporadic this last month because I'm insanely busy here and I'm stuck in a sort of down mood.

Damn gringos! That's a big part of the bummer for me here.

The Monday night almost two weeks ago that I updated from was the beginning of my 'damn gringos' phase. Remember the last time I updated Jim and I were rushing about like the Keystone Kops, tripping over each other trying to figure out who we could bum a car off of to go fetch Jim's replacement from the airport. His replacement found her way to the person that was supposed to meet her and transport her up to the guesthouse before we could finish contacting folks to get to the airport.

She arrived very late, after 10 pm, in a farming community that goes to bed at 8pm. She showed up, we all welcomed her before the landlord showed her the her bedroom, and we all shuffled off to our beds and piles of warm blankets. She seemed quite nice on first glance.

The next morning Jim and I got up, did our morning routine and went to breakfast. The replacement teacher, Mary, finally came out of her room and we talked over breakfast. Once she opened her white entitled older Southern lady mouth it was pretty much insta-hatred on contact.

The guy that showed up at the same time to take over teacher Ferrari's slot is pretty awesome. We all just clicked, Gary (teacher), Jim, our Peace Corp volunteer Jon and I. Not so much with Mary.

That first morning I was gently prying as to what she'd brought with her just to make sure she had everything she needed. We were also trying to warn her about how to deal with things here, including the fact that her bathroom had no hot water, even offering to let her shower in our room because a month ago they'd installed a new hot water Suicide Showerhead and we had all the warm water you could need. She immediately told Jim and I that we were 'too negative' and she came here with zero expectations. She said she didn't bring a raincoat, umbrella or rain boots because she knew she wold not need them. That the water could not possibly be cold, the food bad, this or that.

We both shrugged and said, 'Well, suit yourself. We're going to the next town over later today and you're welcome to join us to check it out so you know where to get replacements or things you need.

Mary was snippy with us both, insisting she had everything she needed. The impression she gave was that she thought we were entitled ugly gringos. Which is pretty far from the truth. So many volunteers to this program lasted less than a week before going home. We'd been there quite some time. I only reached out to her because no one did to Jim or I and everything we learned was the hard way. Remember that letter I wrote and posted to her here last month? I didn't want her to flip out and get back on the plane. The best way to prevent that is to help her acclimate.

I'd say she's around late 60s, very opinionated and head strong. You do it her way or the highway. She's recently widowed and has 30 plus years experience teaching in the lower grades of elementary school. Which is really needed at the school, the teaching experience, not the attitude0.

Right after breakfast everyone converged on the school, and Mary and Gary went into training with the school head. I've never seen such a gratuitous display of ass-kissery and flattery going on since being involved with my old church. At one point they got the rich American that funds the school on Skype and she took her brown-nosing international.

Most of us there had to speak to the main donor/board president and most had offered a few suggestions on how things might be improved. There's a lot that needs to be improved at the school because it's very unorganized, chaotic and there is zero curriculum. Everything gets made up as they go along.

Turns out that the rich donor is close friends with Mary and asked her to go down to teach and figure out what needs improvement. She was running around bragging about it. She's decided to teach English to the kids by having them read aloud classic books, like 'The Diary of Anne Frank' and 'A Wrinkle In Time'. Good books, but I'm not sure that's the best way to teach the kids Jim has been working with – from 4th grade to young adults. He'd worked up a curriculum based around an English book we'd both studied in college 'Patterns of Exposition'. It's worked well and afforded Jim the opportunity to teach English grammar, critical thinking skills, spelling and vocabulary. His curriculum also allows him to break down what they are doing into chunks of time daily. Like ten minutes for reading, ten for looking at the new vocab words and grammar issues before moving on to discussing the story and the implications of the story. It's pretty interesting the way he keeps the kids moving through small chunks of learning, constantly shifting so that many subjects are covered over the ninety minutes, including writing, current events and impact. At the end he lets the kids do something fun, like DuoLingo on the computers.

When Mary started teaching after she sat in on a few of Jim's classes it's apparent that there are two big issues with her. 1- she's not flexible as she teaches. She expects preteens, elementary school kids and high schoolers to sit there learning by rote without varying the teaching. I saw a lot of kids just mentally checking out during her teaching. 2 – She is very strict and will not interact with the children outside of school. 3 – She's insisted that every student in her classes is going to learn crocheting whither they like it or not.

Yes, one of her three suitcases is filled with yarn that she raised charity funds to buy for a subject/need that no one in the school has ever expressed they wanted. Teaching it those that want to learn might be a good thing, outside of school hours, but not forcing it on these kids.

You'd think we would have bonded over the crochet. She looked at the project I was working (plarn being worked up into a storage basket for my sock yarn) and pronounced it a disaster. I tried not to take her words too seriously because, hey, it's just plastic yarn made from sliced up plastic bags, it's not fancy or important. It's utilitarian. I always crank out things I need with plarn. Right now I'm working on a shallow basket to put on the countertop to hold my fresh fruit - bananas and apples.

In some ways Mary reminds me of my sister in law that has been trying to isolate and control my mother in law while lining her pockets with money. I think it's the idea of her way is the only right way and the rest of us are shit. There are a million different ways to do things. I'm not a big believer of only one right way. I like experimentation too much.

It was interesting she tried to tattle on Jim the second day she was here to her rich American friend. One evening before the high school class started something happened to the village water system. We didn't have water and the landlord said she could not cook without water. Jim and Mary met the kids down at the school and most of them were complaining that they couldn't get a meal, just a few snacks because of the water outrage. For months some of them had been wanting to hold a class at the local pizza place two towns away and the school board said no. They wanted to do something special for Jim's last class with them.

Between that evening's flickering electricity and the lack of water in the town Jim decided to take the entire class to the restaurant at the edge of town, which was the only place to running water (well) and we'd all order and share a bunch of different appetizers and apple juice. We went and had a best time. The kids loved it. Much cutting up, joking and fun happened. Mary sat there as stiff as a ramrod and as silent as the grave in the midst of this and said maybe three whole sentences. Disapproval oozed from every pore. She told the kids not to expect this type of shenanigans in her class. Party pooper.

The next day she ran right to the director and the rich American to tattle on us. Which was funny because we called each parent to get permission to go to the restaurant and we picked up the entire costs.

Jim and I laughed over it because what were they going to do? Fire him? He's already extended his contract by six weeks. Plus he and the younger teacher Ferrari had been the only two teachers ever at the School that had exactly zero student or parent complaints against them.

I bit my tongue again and again and again over that week when things happened like Mary waking into the landlord's bakery just in time to see me sweating over kneading the King Cake dough and crusty French bread I was making for the host family. I was cooking that night, blood, sweat, tears and flour on every surface. Mary walked in, took one look at my dough splattered shirt and made a reference to Charlie Brown's friend Pig-Pen. I shot her a look and replied I was too busy cooking to make like a fashion plate, which is not me in the first place.

Even when Jim and Ferrari weren't good friends, in fact he thought she was pushy and shallow, everyone acted like adults and didn't verbally harass each other. Mary does. It made for a very long week.

By the third day there Mary regularly ending up every day during the daily deluge of monsoon like rain looking like a hen that had tumbled into the creek. Mary did ask how to get down to the nearest town to buy an umbrella. We went with her and Gary and we showed them around, where to buy what and the two most important places in town, the bank and the coffee cooperative coffee bar. She started complaining that there were no nail salons nearby because she never does her own nails. It's just not done! The teenage daughter of our host family and myself had to explain that's something you either have to do yourself there, or you take the bus to the mall in San Jose 90 minutes away.

Mary stayed scornful, sneery and cold until the day we left. Even through the wonderful goodbye party that the school threw for us to our get together with Jon at the restaurant and the copious amount of bourbon and rum shots even our landlord joined in on. She sat there not talking while we laughed and everyone joked and did shots until the very late hour of 9 pm. Late in agricultural areas that is.

I fear for the kids and did tell Jon and the school director that they might need to switch she and Gary because she's terrible with the ages they assigned her but she seems to be great with the 7 year old and younger classes.

I hope against hope that I'm wrong about this. But I think this Southern lady archetype might be problems for the school.

Onward to the future. I guess.

We took a series of buses from the school to the beach resort town Tamarindo, clutching 9 – count 'em 9 suitcases and assorted bags filled with things like local coffee and a plant I'd been given for my new home. We are staying at the cabinas (cabins) of the large estate owned by the German couple. Jim and I had come to an agreement that we were going to spend the week there, and continue to look for houses, but we'd already decided that if we got near Friday and nothing better turned up we'd be renting the smaller of the two homes on the property. There are six buildings here and a swimming pool. A two thousand square foot six sided house with all modern kitchen and unheard of luxuries lik a dryer and a dishwasher.

So this week has been all house hunting. We looked at an apartment within walking distance of the beach. Two bedrooms, very large model kitchen. Modern and clean, attractive. Jim is turned off on the idea of an apartment and there were a few drawbacks. First, the manager gave both of us the creeps. Second, the complex seemed noisy and filled with unsavory types. Third, there are zero parking spaces, meaning you have to park on the street. Fourth, no laundry facilities, only a drop off laundry service next door that would charge a good 30 or 40 dollars a week. There are no, not one, self service laundromats here. Expensive gringo-oriented drop off laundries only. So it's a no. It's on a rutted dirt road does not make it any more attractive.

We looked at a few smaller Tico houses but each had things wrong with it. Usually two or three rooms with a kitchen either outside or along one wall of the house, a big cement double sink outside as your washing machine. Cheap enough, between two and three hundred dollars a month. Again, this is a resort area and there's a huge selection of either very small local houses for little and many fancy houses in the two to five thousand a month range. Not a lot in our price range, right between those two extremes.

Yesterday we looked at three places, any one would be acceptable. The first was a tiny loft cottage, rent half of most everything we've looked at but definitely in the price point we wanted. Small place but well-designed with a bedroom in a loft overlooking the open living room. I like it a lot but it's pretty bare-bones furnished. I'd have to buy a desk, two night stands and a few other things, including one of those tiny washers Ticos use for their clothes. It is doable, but like I said we would have to add a few things to make it work for us. Adorable cottage. It is a maybe.

The same owner has an apartment building that is so close to being finished that if we sign the lease we can move in on Monday morning. Gorgeous, like something out of a dream. Modern design, accent walls painted beautiful shades of blues, turquoise, gray and white. New everything with top of the line washer and dryer plus kitchen. It has a swimming pool and they built exactly four units. It's at the very top of our price point, unlike the cottage which is the real amount we wanted. It's a definite maybe.

As we've been staying here we've looked a couple of times at the German house, and it's still number one pick. The problem is that two days ago, after the house being empty six months, another American couple is looking at it, and yeah, we're in competition with them for this place.

Here's the real rub, we've already gotten a local real estate lawyer to draw up an intent to buy letter, spelling out what needs to happen and giving us a length of time to line up the funds, either from our broker account, or from the big retirement fund we've not touched. The letter gives us time to decide if we like the property enough to buy it while we're renting the house. Having another couple looking at it makes this nerve wracking. I have cried a couple of times in the last few days because I'm worried about being homeless come Monday. We were so so close and now might not get the house. We want to run it as a vacation rental. The entire property is lovely. We would have upgraded all the buildings and rented them out. The people that own this place don't even list it online anywhere, so the cabins are rarely rented. I could have turned all of that around.

I'm mad at Jim over this because we'd decided this is what we wanted to do before leaving the school, yet he, as usual, took his time. It might have cost us this place. I'm going to devastated if it has because I urged him to negotiate as soon as we got here while looking at fall back places.

I absolutely hate living out of a suitcase.

And just as I'm verklempting about this I find out that the German owners have accepted our letter and we move into this big house on Sunday morn. Almost enough to make me go back to church.

We're without internet right at the moment because of the rainy season so I didn't get a chance to update NLQ. Last night we had our nightly thunderstorm and while I was laying in bed read I heard a sonic boom sound of thunder. So deep and resonant I knew it had hit nearby. Hair on my arms standing straight up, every appliance that runs on electricity in the apartment sounded off at once and the electricity blinked. Twice before I've come so close to it so I knew this was close. It hit our new landlord's house, sending a fireball down the drainpipe, but thankfully it was raining so hard that it didn't spark a fire. That house is entirely made of wood.

So today no internet. The lightening strike did fry the modem and router and do some electrical damage to the main house.

I spent my day off-line doing huge piles of laundry in the house we're renting starting Sunday. I schlepped back and forth from the cabina and the house laundry room, that's when I wasn't sulking in the swimming pool surrounded by an iguana, parrots, flocks of chickens and butterflies. See why I was eager to stay? That and the beach daily baby! We are seven minutes from seven beaches.

Jim spent the afternoon at an internet cafe and I didn't want to be anywhere near him because he's dealing with family dysfunction, ranting and angry outbursts while firing off emails. Financial chicanery over my maw in law's money yet again involving the new sister in law. She really is a piece of work. The new broker she picked out after we started moving maw in law's money to another broker is insisting that we fly immediately to Texas for a meeting with him. Like that's possible right now. Jim had to construct a long email to the new broker explaining his position. I'm still staying out of this deal, it's not my decision what needs to happen with the maw in law's money, the same money that the sis in law called 'chicken feed' back in March. I don't know about you but I do not consider a low seven figures balance 'chicken feed' or 'small potatoes' no matter how many times sis in law insists that it is.

In our recent discussions on housing one of the things we wanted badly was a two or three bedroom house so we can host family and friends comfortably. I made it plain to Jim that everyone in both families is welcome here, everyone but the sis in law. She can stay at a hotel.

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