Tuesday, May 5, 2009

La Vida Tica

This past weekend I didn't do much--didn't go to Nicaragua or Cuba as planned--so I've nothing really to report.  It was just a good time to catch up on a little bit of homework and reading and, had there not been workers in the house making al kinds of noise and shutting off the internet,  it might have been a nice time as well to catch up on answering the questions some people have sent me. 

So while I didn't get to do that then, I thought I'd give it a shot now.

At the risk of gossiping a bit, in my father's words, I would like now to tell you a bit about the people studying here this trimester.  They're all so interesting!!!  I say it often, but it's true, studying abroad does attract a certain type of person.  They're very independent and interesting, all with a small streak of what some would call nerdiness but what I consider wonderful, lively passion for the world around them, be it in terms of politics, ecology, or languages.  Together we could write a little encyclopedia.

Of course you've heard a lot about Rebecca Dos, but I don't think I've mentioned she's from the same town where my parents went to grad school in North Carolina and that she's majoring in geography.  I didn't even know you could do that!  She had a Nepali boyfriend for the last 3 years, and she is currently not bothering me too too much.   Sharifa, too, you are familiar with, as the one I went to Panama  with, but she is a very funny and complex person.  Her father is from Ghana and her mother from India, and she gets the most piropos of any girl here.  She is studying biology in Pittsburgh, where she's from, but she's working very hard to learn Spanish here, too.  One morning I woke up, walked out my room and asked her whether she was about to use the shower or could I.  She held up her finger and did a very Sharifa-like head swerve and smile and slowly said "Hoy, solamente hablame en español."  Some days she keeps it up, some days she gets too tired, but she definitely works hard and I hope to see her confidence grow soon.

The people who didn't do the early start but live in our house I believe I've finally gotten to know well enough to write about here as well.  There's Geoff, a tall-ish 20 year old from Boston who goes to school in LA and who studied abroad for a YEAR last year in Australia.  He's helped clear land mines in Cambodia and spent time in Spain, and has a story for absolutely EVERYTHING.  I've still not figured out why he didn't jump off the waterfall because he's been bungee-ing and sky diving and scuba-ing, and it seems if it doesn't cost too much he's down for it all.  He's a photo-journalism major with a nerdy-spot for conspiracy theories and human rights.  Justin is in a lot of ways ALMOST (but never quite!) a stereotype.  He's from California, too, and his entire, moderately wealthy family is in the film industry, some pretty high up.  Add this upbringing to the fact that he's a small, somewhat effeminate guy, and you can see why it's such a disaster when he loses his shoes mid-hike or there are bugs in his bed.  At his school you can build your own major but he's focusing on gender studies type-stuff, and ecology, and he absolutley cracks me up when he's slap happy.  Tristen is the girl I've gotten closest to so far, and I can't help but wonder if it has something to do with the down-to-earth-ness being from the midwest can bring you.  She lived in Chicago till she was 11 and since then in a somewhat small town in Ohio.  She's pretty funny and loves to do the same things I do, including stay IN some nights of the week, and her major is something to do with international relations.  Her best friend is Japanese.  Finally in the house there is Cayla, who is my second roommate in the Poás room at the residencia.  She does yoga and talks loud and is always always happy and easy-going.  Her nerdy bit is city-planning, which is her major, and which she "just looooves!" 

On top of these people there are a few independents (meaning they're not with a program like CEA) I should mention as well.  Dan, or Danimal is 22, to turn 23 while we're here, from Long Island, and a very easy-going, happy, funny guy.  He is majoring in International Relations and loves to watch him some Mets on ESPNdeportes, "BEISBOL DE GRANDES LIGAS!"  Dan's best friend here is probably Josh, a kind of weird guy in my class who lived in France for 8 years.  He loves languages, majoring in French and Spanish, and he's pretty good at soccer as well.  And Jenn is an independent majoring in Spanish who always wears tie-dye shirts and talks about gymnastics.  She's very sarcastic, which I enjoy, and the lastest news with her is that she's considering adopting one of the puppies the woman in charge of our program rescues.  I hope she thinks it out completely, cause I know they're a lot of work, but I'm sure she'd be a good mom to her, who we've dubbed "Poocha" and who weighs not even three pounds at 2 months old.

That was just a little background so you know who I'm talking about, and I hope it didn't bore you!

On to answering some questions.  Many people have been curious about the food here.  It's over all pretty tasty, though the flavors are not all together interesting or strong.  Inoffensive would be a good word for a lot of it.  And relatively healthy.
The key ingredient is culantro, or cilantro, which they put in everything (I've gotten over my hatred of it).  The platos típicos are gallo pinto  and huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs) in the morning and a casado/a for lunch or dinner.  Gallo pinto is a purely Costa Rican concoction of rice and black beans.  When we made it in cooking class it also had egg, cilantro, chile dulce (basically non-bell-shaped bell peppers) and onion in it, so it's a salty, rich breakfast food.  Empanadas, or refried black-beans, cheese, or potatoes folded into deep-fried dough, are common in the mornings, too, though I don't like them as much.  This week in cooking class we will be learning to make dessert versions of them with pineapple in the center.  Hmm...  "Casado" in Spanish actually means "married."  It is because the plate is rice, beans, meat, veggies, pasta, and plantain all joined on one plate.  Cute, right?  The meat is usually either beef, grilled chicken with a slightly salty sauce that has cilantro in it, or fried chicken or fish.  The rice is white, the beans are black, the veggies are either boiled cauliflour, broccoli, carrots, and green beans, or a cold typical Costa Rican cabbage and mayonaise "salad."  The pasta is usually in tiny proportions when it's there and in a vaguely tomato-based sauce that hasn't much flavor at all.  The plantains are fried, with or without honey.  Aside from arroz con pollo, or rice with chicken, which has the same slightly tomato-based salty sauce with cilantro as the pasta mixed with the chicken from before, the only other really common cooked-foods here are Mexican ones, fried chicken, or fried versions of any vegetable.  My favorite is the Costa Rican-style chicken burrito, which is small-ish and fried with not rice but refried black beans inside.  And my favorite place to get it is at Mary's soda where Mary is absolutely the only one who works there.
Non-cooked foods of course are abundant here, too.  There are fruits out the wazoo!  I love it!  Pineapples (piñas), of course are the best, and they're everywhere, never EVER more than a dollar for a whole one.  But there are also the reasonably familiar mango, lemon, lime, papaya, strawberry, banana, grape (the size of plums), plum (the size of grapes), coconut, and avocado (not sure if those last ones are really fruit, but they're RAMPANT in the Rich Coast).  Weird fruits I've tried, if only in juices, are caz, which is somewhat tart and makes a very gross-looking juice, tamarindo, which looks kind of like a bean pod but is delicious enough to have a beach named after it, guava, which works well as jelly in a PBJ, guanábana, the famously delicious and expensive giant spikey pear-looking thing, and chayote, which might be a vegetable, but is really great in sauces or with mayonnaise.  I should also note that the carrots here are HUGE and the ketchup is different (to me, not as good, but others prefer it), the bread is good enough, and the churros are fab.

I want to talk about the diversity of people here, too.  My first trip I took here, the one to Puerto Viejo, I travelled with Rebecca Dos, Sharifa, Bobby, and the girl we met there, Eddie.  The last three were black, and sitting at lunch the two new arrivals talked to Bobby about their initial impressions of Costa Rica.  "Here," they said, "I don't even notice I'm black."  It's not a simple matter of an individual person treating them a certain way, but that in this country, the entire place, there's really (relatively) not racism!  

The language is very frank about things like this, too, the differences between people.  People may be nicknamed by mere acquaintances, "Negrita" ("Little Black Girl"), "Rubia" ("Blondie"),  or even "Gordo" ("Fatty").  There is a girl in a wheelchair in my class this month and my teacher, rather than ignore it as a way of showing she considers her a person first, asks questions of the chair itself, how she gets to class, and how she's travelled.  Honestly it seems the bluntness makes things MORE comfortable.  The difference is awknowledged but clearly not anythign more than a small difference.  Also in my class was a black girl who my teacher told "No, I'm not surprised you wear a size ten," and a boy, Joshua, of whom she questioned his ancestory.  She pulled her eyes on the sides and explained, "Because your eyes are like this!  You LOOOOK Chinese."  Still, it seems to me no one gets offended.  She told me the guys here would not like my curly hair, and another man told me that my skin color would do me well to just get darker, but I didn't take it too badly.  People are allowed to have flaws here.  It's kind of nice.  ...Since we have flaws everywhere.

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