As volunteers we're all expected to somehow "integrate" into our new found Costa Rican neighborhoods. On paper this shouldn't be much of a problem - Costa Rica is the happiest country in the world, people love to spontaneously give you coffee and fruit juice, everyone loves a light-eyed gringo, etc. I often get the feeling however that my town's interpretation of integration seems to involve me participating in unforgiving high speed baseball games (I haven't played since I was 12), teaching 3,000 people English, identifying the subtle beauty of rice and beans cooked over a wood fire instead of gas (this is virtually impossible), fist bumping everyone in town on a daily basis (the Obama's would be so proud), and other not so all that simple tasks. Here's a list of four recent integration moments. To make sure I don't get carried away with this integration thing I'm going to write in English.
1. Last night I was calmly sitting in my chair reading when a massive black and yellow centipede walked across the floor of my room. "Wonder where he's going?" was my initial reaction. Five minutes later an identical centipede, perhaps the novia or even the same one doing his evening exercise runs, elected to take the same route past the fan, around my chair and disappearing under the bed. "They certainly are attractive for centipedes."
2. I have developed a new instinct. When a guy approaches me with his closed fist raised, I no longer revert to the "fight or flight" response - I fist bump. Community development at its finest.
3. Often my stomach and bowels talk to me. They say things like "going a bit heavy on the rice and beans there" or "how about a little more fruit" or "you let a man cook?" They are very inspiring talks. As a result I begin to dream about cereal and fruit in the morning, or simple toast and jam or honey with a banana on the side. Something light, healthy and recommended by 57% of American scientific studies. But somehow the dreams are no match for reality as I walk downstairs every morning with an empty stomach. I can hardly believe it myself, but whenever my host mother asks what I'd like for breakfast, I know but two words: Gallo pinto. Con queso, aguacate y plátano maduro. Beautiful.
4. And lastly: Today I was sitting on the sidewalk adjacent to the gas station in Penshurt, about 25 minutes down the road from my town (La Guaria). Catching the bus in Costa Rica involves a lot of waiting around. Nobody knows the actual bus schedule but everyone is fully confident that some sort of bus will eventually arrive. It may pass by in 5 minutes or an hour - not to worry. So in full faith I plopped my pompis down and craned my neck around the corner to be sure I wouldn't miss the next bus or a passing "pirate" taxi (15-passenger vans that provide the same service semi-illegally at about 8.93 cents cheaper. A deal not to be missed.). True locals don't have to go through this process of waiting and paying for a bus. I'm often left to wonder why passing cars give rides to everyone waiting around me while leaving only the poor gringo and a couple indigenous men to wait it out on the curbside. Annoying to live somewhere where everyone knows everyone. Except when the day comes that they invite you into their club. Yes. Today was that day.
Sitting on hard concrete, scratching my head, cursing buses, watching the rain cloud approaching. A car pulled up in front of me. A grizzled, no-nonsense, he-man sort about 60 years old had his hardened gaze fixed on me. Without blinking he slowly raised his hand and shoved his massive outstretched banana farmer index finger in my direction. Not sure what to do I sort of whimpered, "La Guaria?", to which I received a slight head nod and a somewhat annoyed gesture that I took to mean "for god's sake mae get your nalgas in the car." So I did. When I said "thanks! how's it going?" as I clambered into the car, he replied with a grunt. He didn´t say a word the whole trip. Just stared at the road with a sort of grimace spread across his face. I'd never felt so integrated.