It’s Mother’s Day in the United States. Mother’s Day is celebrated during August in Costa Rica and they do it big, y’all. It’s a national holiday and I hear whole hogs are eaten in even more rural parts of the country. The US may pass on that ritual (although, who knows) but Mother’s Day is still pretty important. Some people may turn their noses up to the Hallmark sentimental side of it but I think it’s vital that our country and the world honors women who fill the role of motherhood.
My Costa Rican dichos video got a fair number of hits and I started thinking about why I love dichos so much (bear with me, I swear this all has to do with Mother’s Day). First of all, it’s a lot easier to throw in a dicho when you’ve got something to say but just can’t quite string a whole sentence together. Secondly, using dichos shows people that you’re familiar with their language and culture, something that generally gets you a little further in this country. But I think my real enthusiasm for them comes from my own upbringing. My mom was the first story-teller I knew as a child. She’d read me stories before bedtime, of course, but I also remember just the magical way she’d recant events—long and slow with peaks and valleys throughout. When I was a prickly teenager, I used to say, “Gah, Mom, just get to point!” I was irritated by what I saw as meandering. Since then I’ve come to realize that the way my mom built up her stories was often more important than the “point,” after all. Some of what made her language so enchanting was her colorful use of expressions. A few were commonplace, sayings you’d heard more times than you could count. Others were more rare, so stirring that you’d feel an involuntary smile stretch across your face as you contemplated its meaning.
Now I use both Costa Rican dichos and Southern sayings interchangeably in my life. I’ve complied a list of some of my favorites taught to me by mother.
10. He/She can’t walk and smoke a cigarette at the same time. This person is dumb, really dumb but more inept than lacking in intelligence.
That girl has no idea what’s going on. She can’t walk and smoke a cigarette at the same time!
9. Cute as a bug’s ear.Someone or something that is just darling. I don’t know too many bugs that have ears or visible ones but that’s what makes this expression so fun.
Well, aren’t you just as cute as a bug’s ear!
8. Water seeks its own level.People like people that are like them (similar idea to “birds of a feather flock together.”) We look for people that are on our “level” or place in life. I always muttered this expression about every ex love interest or boyfriend.
Bill and Amy went out for a while but he left her for a girl he met at the bar. Water seeks its own level.
7. Crazy like a fox.Someone who appears nuts or deranged but knows exactly what he’s doing and often, gets what he wants.
Joe was crazy like a fox. He kept ahold of his mom’s old property and sold it to developers for millions.
6. Mutton dressed as lamb. I don’t think this saying originates from the South but we use it anyway. It describes a middle aged or older woman who dresses very young for her age and not in a good way.
Angela looked very young from behind with her long hair extensions and miniskirt but when she turned around the whole look was mutton dressed as lamb.
5. All the bells and whistles. An item with all the latest features. My new iPhone 5 has all the bells and whistles.
4. There’s no “there” there. A person or place with nothing to it, without substance. Emily is a nice girl but there’s no “there” there. I couldn’t find anything to talk about with her.
3. As sharp as a tack.Someone smart and shrewd. Elizabeth solved the Rubik’s cube in minutes. That girl is as sharp as a tack!
2. Strong enough to tack the top of your head off.What an image, eh? Usually used to describe a coffee or alcoholic drink that is quite potent. That mixed drink may look girly but it’s strong enough to take the top of your head off!
1. Playing possum.Being mischievous usually to get out of doing something. I’ve heard other people use this saying to talk about someone or something feigning sleep/death. I prefer the even more figurative version myself. Madeline said she’s doesn’t have any math homework but I think she’s just playing possum.
There are plenty ore but that was a sampling of my favorites. What expressions do you use frequently? Are any on my list new to you?
*Post dedicated to Ellen S. Rardin, world-class story teller.
Spirogyra Butterfly Garden: A Quaint and Tranquil Oasis in San Jose
Spirogyra Butterfly Garden is located in the Barrio Tournon of San Jose. My boyfriend and I were able to find it using Nokia maps and went a pie, saving ourselves a cab ride. The garden itself is right in the hustle and bustle of city life, a little green oasis right in Chepe. It has a sort of shabby chic feel with overgrowing plants and trees wrapping themselves around the worn down little house that makes up Spirogyra. Fees were reasonable, if a bit high for such a small place, at about $7 for foreigners and $4 for residents/citizens. I did notice a list of fees ranging from $1 to $5 for use of cameras but the staff said nothing of it so I keep my mouth shut. My boyfriend and I were greeted, given a field guide of butterflies and their host plants and sent on our merry way in the garden. Upon entering, you see many plants labeled with numbers that coincide with information on your field guide. I’m not much of a botanist and the fluttering of butterflies was too alluring so I quickly abandoned that part of the guide. My boyfriend and I spent our time admiring the mariposas, attempting to identify them on the guide and checking out some butterfly friends’ like dragon flies and turtles. The flora and fauna were quite enchanting, giving the butterflies places to hide and flit while making their way around the garden.
Turtles waded in a small pool and water flowed from a small waterfall. I found myself a bit disappointed there wasn’t more information on the butterflies themselves. I would have liked to see some information on the varieties and their representation in Costa Rica. I felt like I’d been let loose in a friend’s garden to explore without any real guide. Behind the garden are a few trails into the woods which back up to the zoo but don’t really lead to anywhere. Despite the lack of information and small surroundings, I enjoyed my experience at Spirogyra Butterfly Garden. Any place that gives you a chance to escape San Jose smog and reconnect with nature is to be celebrated. I would love to see the garden offer an audio guide and some interactive displays to illustrate just what a lovely collection of butterflies Costa Rica has!
Spirogyra Butterfly Garden
Barrio Tournon, Opposite El Pueblo
Open Daily 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Home is Other People
I have a tendency to fret over things. Okay, it’s more than a tendency. It’s a strong predisposition to ponder, mull over, scrutinize and ruminate over nearly every facet of life. I’m fairly certain there’s a part of my brain that just won’t work if there’s nothing to contemplate incessantly.
And while, some might see such a fact as a character flaw (at times, I do too) I try use this fixation as a way to carefully evaluate my life and seek out my feelings about my surroundings on a regular basis. During my travels to the States for 2 weeks and arrival back to Costa Rica, I had a lot of time to think and observe. You’d think I would have had enough of pondering with all the quiet time I get as the sole native English speaker in a town of 300 people but apparently not. As I watched people arrive home with relieved sloping shoulders and rounded backs strapped with bags full of new treasures in the airport, I felt a shaky and uncomfortable feeling rise up within me. I pressed it down like trash overflowing a waste basket when it rose again days later. It stirred in my stomach while I ran the same errands and took the same routes I had always taken back home, before moving away. I felt the same but disjointed from my surroundings, like some kind of appendage that couldn’t be snapped back into place. The feeling wasn’t exactly bad. It just was.
It wasn’t until I took the bus back from San Jose to La Violeta this evening that I realized the source of the emotions that had been brewing. Laugh all you want but something about the country music brings out the therapist in me. Shuffling through the music on my iPhone (just can’t quit you, baby—the iPhone lives on in Costa Rica), I quickly passed over Miranda Lambert’s “House That Built Me.” As soon as that song begins, my eyes well up like Niagara Falls and I turn in a weepy fool. For those of you who “don’t do” country or don’t know the song, Miranda writes about going back to her childhood home which is now owned by a new family. She sings in the chorus, “If I could just come in, I swear I’ll leave/ Won’t take nothing but a memory/ From the house that built me.” I didn’t even have to hear the song to realize that I’d been feeling adrift not because I’m far away from my childhood home but because my definition of “home” is changing. For me, and I’d imagine for other people in similar situations, home is no longer a specific place on the map, with exact longitude and latitude. No, home is other people. Home is a skype call with my sister while my little host sister and a student chime in with giggles and questions. Home is the hilarious and memorable conversations I have with Daniel in both Spanish and English. Home is a warm embrace from my host mother after a couple weeks away. Home is knowing that no matter how far I am from my family their love and support gives me the courage to find myself happy and flourishing just about anywhere on the map.
What the First (Full) Week of School Looks Like in Rural Costa Rica:
It looks like 2nd grade sweeties working hard on birthday calendars for the new school year:
Or a messy desk, whose piles of paper grow by day:
Maybe hours spent pouring over grammar books for your adult students, trying to explain the quirks of your native language (and realizing you have a “thing” for polka dots):
It’s a new weather chart complete with sparkly clouds and neon letters:
Or your little host sister playing teacher with a 1st grade student:
Mr. Dino & el Gatito!
You might see a tour bus full of Ticos coming to discover all the great things La Violeta has to offer (and your students shouting, “buuuuus!”):
Or maybe you’ll receive a freshly picked flower from a 1st grade student:
You’ll see a dark sky and green wildlife on your after school walk through the mountains:
It might look like valentine’s day crafts ready to go for hands-on time with my little sponges:
But most of all, it looks like a lot like this: smiles, love and laughter.
When Things Fall Into Place
Sometimes you have a streak of good days where things just seem to fall into place and you wonder how you got so darn lucky. I’m starting to think maybe Costa Rica’s Pura Vida attitude is permanently glued to me.
Friday afternoon, I went with my host father and little host sister to San Jose. They had to run some errands and I needed to do some work for my visa, which is turning out to be a wild ride but tranquila. Luckily, my amazing Field Director, Flynn, was about to run my errands with me and we got our translator fee’s paid as well as dropped off my official documents at the lawyer’s office. Since our trip was big (and fast! in Costa Rica!) success, we celebrated with some insulin spiking treats at Sweet Sensations in San Pedro. Yes, I did eat ALL of this cupcake-brownie-sundae. Thank God for walking everywhere.
Afterwards, I made a run to Mall San Pedro where I discovered 2 adorable new stores thanks to Flynn. My dreams of a fuller wardrobe were inspired but wallet is already crying. That night, Dany came into San Pedro and I made us a salad and spaghetti, which he at least pretended to really enjoy! I got to spend some time chatting with Meggie, Mary, Liz, Flynn and Ramya that evening and we made plans to check out the Feria Verde the following morning.
Little did I know, I’d fall in love at the Feria Verde. We all traveled there as a group and I was seriously impressed by what the market had to offer. From coffee to pesto to clothing, the feria had a little of everything. Even though I said I was also going to get coffee and a snack, I ended buying iced coffee, a rica empanada, a new pair of drop earrings with the evil eye, a lime green wrap sweater and brick red dress. They were all very reasonably priced even for this second year volunteer. I’m definitely planning on going back next month! Here’s a group shot of us at the market (falta-ing Flynnster and Liz).
After the market, Meggie, Liz and Ramya all headed out to begin the school year at their sites. Mary, Flynn and I stuck around. I browsed the LibroMax book sale at the mall (scored nothing but did borrow a copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns from the WT office library). I also bought a long striped blue and white dress from Pague Menos which wasn’t needed but dang, if isn’t cute. I wore it out to Olio, a yummy tapas place, with Mary and Flynn that night. (We were actually a group of Mary’s and machas since Flynn’s first name is Mary.)
I made it back to La Violeta by Sunday afternoon. Now I’m getting myself reading for the first week of teaching. This year has some unexpected changes for me that I’ll blog about once everything gets settled and figured out. Nonetheless, I have a great feeling about this year and looking forward to helping my little English language learners in my newly painted lime green classroom.
World Teach- Summer Programs
On Being Back
I left Memphis Saturday morning and got to San Jose by the late afternoon. No matter how much I travel, it’s always surreal to me how we can go from one place to another in such a short amount of time—from the sprawling landscape of Memphis with the big box stores and naked winter trees to the tightly packed city of Alajuela with the permeating heat and lush, green fauna. It’s no wonder I felt slightly overwhelmed sitting in the taxi on my way to San Jose, watching the familiar yet still foreign landscape pass me by.
There’s been a feeling of deja vu that I can’t shake quite yet. That I’ve seen and done this all before. And I have but it’s different and somehow even better. My appreciation of this wonderful country is enhanced by a year of experiences and memories.
And maybe what I’m trying to say is that I’m home again.
Costa Rica is Fun. It’s a Fact.
You can describe Costa Rica in a lot of ways. You could say it’s beautiful, small, green, confusing, different or a paradise. You could heap praise on the people, the fresh fruits, the natural beauty and pura vida life style. You could complain about the roads, long lines, the passive nature of its inhabitants or the lack of infrastructure. But you can’t say it’s not fun*.
Not when you see a horse roped up outside a bar on a Sunday morning. These people know how to have fun, I tell you. And how to get places in style.
*Well, I guess you could but you’d have to be crazy, misinformed or in one sour mood.
Dichos….Whatchu Talkin’ About?!
We had a little competition during EOS with our favorite dichos from Costa Rica and Graceann, thankfully, was the one who had to recall them all! I couldn’t make all of them in the video but here are some of the ones mentioned and threw in a few extras for your culture-learning-pleasure.
Costa Rican Dichos (Click the link for the video!)
¡Tome pal pinto!- Sort of like the adult version of Tome chichí.
¡Que vergüenza!- How embarrassing, shameful.
¡Tome chichí!- Take that! A saying used to end an argument or to have the last word. Carolina tells me this is a “bad” dicho but I think that just means she knows it’s a pretty good comeback.
¡Pura Vida!- Literally pure life. What Costa Rica is about.
Si Dios quiere- If God wants/God willing. You’ll often here people refer to things in the future (maybe a meeting the next week or plan) with the phrase “Si Dios quiere.”
Gracias a Dios- Thanks to God.
Chunche- Stuff, thing, junk. Good filler word.
¡Que pecado!- What a sin (This one can be used in many different ways. Use your imagination).
Viejo verde- Dirty old man
¡Que vida!- What a life!
Suave un toque- Hold on a minute.
Mae- Dude, bud, man.
¡Al chile!- For real/seriously.
¡Diay!- An interjection. It’s usually used in a situation of surprise. Sometimes used like, “What happened?!”
¡Que dicha!- How nice/lucky
¡Que chiva!- Cool! Awesome!
¿Va a llorar?- Are you going to cry? Translates well, right?
¡Que rico!- How delicious!