Friday, August 5, 2011

When it Rains...

It doesn’t always pour, but when it pours:
·         No one leaves their houses
·         The electricity goes out a few times
·         The quebradas (which supply our water) overflow with mud, meaning our water becomes extremely silty if not completely red
·         Afterward you can hear the rushing of the rio from our house, though it’s probably over half a mile down-mountain
·         We get in a new channel from Panama

Speaking of Panama, the volunteer from San Cayetano and I went to go see Harry Potter (there was no line, though we went to see it the day it came out. I was utterly stunned) a few weeks ago, and while we were waiting in line, I was told that I look very much like a Panamanian. Now, this needs some back-story:

Many Costa Ricans are unaware (let’s put it that way) that people of African heritage (to be utterly PC) live in the United States. On the day we were traveling to our site I went to the grocery store to buy a phone card. After much confusion—the person who sells phone cards was on their breakfast break and no one knew when they would be returning—I sat waiting for the phone card-vendor to return. While we were waiting, one of the cashiers, probably realizing I needed a card to call the States, who had been helping me, asked if I could speak English. I was utterly baffled and took it as a compliment to my Spanish. I realized later, though that this was most definitely not the case. Many (most?) Costa Ricans truly believe that the United States is populated only by Caucasians. Which means that anytime someone inquires where I may be from, their guesses are usually: Nicaragua, Limón (a Costa Rican province on the Caribbean side which is home to many black Costa Ricans who—at some point or another in their ancestry—emigrated from the Caribbean Islands), or Panama, all Central American places home to darker-skinned Spanish speakers. One of our field staff told us a story about how when she was a volunteer, her host family had asked her if there were black people in America. It would appear that they just don’t know. But anyway, back to waiting in line.

We had been speaking with a woman who had gone to a bilingual school in Costa Rica so, though she had never lived in the States, she spoke English fluently. As a result, we were asking her a lot of questions trying to figure out various things that Costa Ricans did that we had yet to understand (as stated in previous posts, asking our host families usually produced the answer: “Es así”: “That’s just the way it is”). One of the things that had been pressing on our minds after being in the country for almost 6 weeks (and after a few more instances of being asked if we could speak English) was how we were believed to be everything but American. “You speak very good Spanish,” she’d told us. “Most of the Americans we encounter here don’t speak Spanish at all.” After thinking for the slightest moment she added, “And, you look just like a Panamanian,” she then turned to the other volunteer who was also black, “and you look just like you could be from Limón.” She then turned to the other woman (who didn’t speak English) who we had also been talking to and asked her if she agreed. As we’d expected, the woman exclaimed her agreement in the usual Costa Rican way.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Despite the overabundance of bananas (works cut down piles of them every day), I was surprised at their lack of incorporation into food. Occasionally they are eaten fried (which don’t taste nearly as good as fried plantains), but other than that, they are pretty much only eaten in their original form. A few weeks ago I figured I would take it upon myself to enlighten my host mom to the deliciousness of pan de banano. When I first explained it to her she was absolutely enthralled. A bread made out of bananas was something she just couldn’t fathom (in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have translated it literally, but called it a cake—or queque as they call it in Costa Rica—instead).  “You have to make that for us before you leave!” she had told me and I readily accepted. Despite the fact that we don’t have an (electric) oven, I figured I’d try to find someone who did but my host mom wouldn’t hear of it. We have a woodstove in the back of the house and that is what I would be using to make my banana bread.

Finally, yesterday I was able to gather all the ingredients (for some unknown reason we didn’t have bananas for a long time) so I made us some banana bread. My host dad struck up the fire in the stove and pretty much did all of the real hard work—all I had to do was make the batter. I had no idea how it would turn out considering I didn’t know if the temperature was at the allotted 375o or if the flames would give it steady heat all the way through, but I figured, people made banana bread before electricity. Long story short, when it looked about ready (much faster than I had anticipated), my host dad removed it from the fire and brought it into the house. After doing the knife test (came out perfectly clean, to my surprise), it was ready—and time to dig in.

Now, I don’t know if it’s just because it’s been 10-weeks of living of rice and beans in small-town Costa Rica, but I’d have to say that that banana bread was probably one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made. Wondering if it was maybe just the shock of having something that reminded me so much of home, I helped myself to a second slice. And I still thought it was the most delicious thing I’ve ever made. My host family thought so, too. By this morning the entire loaf was gone.

There’s currently another batch in the oven.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I'm starting to get really sentimental. Especially because the Nina is sick so I don't get to say goodbye to half of my students because they won't be coming in for the rest of the week. It makes me very sad. :(