Dense sticky air and hot gray rain pounding into palm tree silhouettes. That was my very first impression of Costa Rica, as I stood outside the airport with my 150 pounds of stuff waiting for my chauffer (yeah, I’m a celeb. Just kidding, it was a Honda Civic.) As I sat in the backseat of the car for the 2 hour drive to my new home, the same hot rain made a soothing drumming noise and promptly lulled me to sleep.
The first few weeks at EARTH, I was as giddy as a schoolgirl watching the rain pour onto campus for hours and hours on end from my office window. I think my Tico co-workers were equal parts amused and baffled by my excitement (we live in the TROPICAL RAINFOREST! What did you expect?)
I tried to explain: that growing up in rural Minnesota, rain was never just a type of precipitation. Rain is life and growth and money and happy smiles at coffee counters all over town. Rain is ever more precious than it’s slutty sister Snow, and even more rare is a good “soaker”. The kind of steady, penetrating rain that disappears into the ground and makes crops grow tall.
For weeks, I battled the rain and won. With my arsenal of an impermeable raincoat, automatic umbrella and well-timed exits from the office in between showers, I managed to go a month without a soggy incident. And then one day, I lost- in the best possible way. I dashed home on my bike and arrived home just as the first rain drops fell. I flopped on my bed and listened to the rain on the tin roof above my head (a completely delicious sound that I’ve wondered about since I was 7 years old when I read it in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book.)
I laid there and thought of the first time I was homesick living abroad in England in 2007. My mom had sent me an email (she didn’t have Facebook then, in those days it was just for cool college kids like me) and in it she wrote “It’s been raining alot these last few days, and me and Emily went out in our pj’s and got soaked. Wish you had been here!” That moment was the first time I really thought I was missing out on something in the life I left, that I had lost the chance to run barefoot in my nightgown on cold slippery grass with the only two people who shared my love of playing in the rain.
Maybe it’s a testament to the 6 years of life experience that have passed since I was that 19 year old girl living in England (or maybe it’s the pharamaceuticals) but this time, my memories didn’t make me sad. Instead, I took off my jewelry and my leather sandals and jumped slowly off the back porch of my little house in the jungle, pale feet landing in a squishy pile of lawn and mud and threw my arms out Shawshank-style and got completely, totally, evenincludingmyunderwear WET. As you can see by my photo, it was a blissfully happy event.
As if my neighbors didn’t already think I was a crazy-ass gringa.
A couple weekends ago, I celebrated my 1 Month Costa Rican Anniversary with a trip to the beach and a mild nervous breakdown (though not necessarily in that order.)
Let me explain. For the past month, apart from a few shopping trips and a less than 24 hour road trip to the coast, I’ve been on campus-where I work, live, play, exercise and sleep. I knew that moving to Costa Rica would be a huge adjustment, not so much for the language (which was obviously a hurdle for me when I left for Spain) but more so for the fact that I would be returning to a rural life, a life I haven’t lived since I was 18. In short, by the time last Friday rolled around, I was so desperate to be ANYWHERE BUT ON CAMPUS that when my plans fell through to leave for the beach, I cried. Hard. Which then resulted in drinking vodka and watching Disney movies by myself on my back porch.
After a tin cup full of Absolut Mango and pineapple flavored pop, I came to the realization that this probably wasn’t the best way to deal with my anxiety/sadness, so I went to volleyball club with disgustingly red swollen eyes and pounded out some serves and felt a lot better.
The next morning, I called a taxi to take me to the bus stop (yes, the bus stop is that flippin’ far away) and waited for the direct bus to Puerto Viejo. Now, waiting on the side of the highway for a bus is never fun, but it is especially LESS fun while obsessively scanning the hundreds the road trying to discern which bus is MY bus out of the hundreds that pass by. After an hour of waiting, a trio of three wheezing tour buses passed by all at once, one after the other….and my bus was in the middle.
This of course, resulted in another swearing cry-fest, and a hysterical call to my co-worker who advised me “Get on the next bus you see and just figure it out. And stop trying to kick a hole in the bus stop.”
5 hours, 3 buses, and many cuss words later, I arrived in Puerto.
This was my face::::::
Still, I had FINALLY arrived and wasted no time in finding a private room in a hostal and taking a well-deserved nap.
My disposition greatly improved, I spent the rest of my weekend wandering aimlessly throughout the Caribbean chillness that is Puerto Viejo. Basically, just imagine Jamaica but with Spanish subtitles. I did a little shopping, including an adorable turtle necklace carved from jade (I named her Manuelita) and a gorgeous Guatemalan style textile purse for my sister–not sure how I’m going to get it to her, but I’m sure that will be another exercise in frustration.
All I can say is, I hope this blog endeavour turns out better than the last one (see previous posts…from 2010! hahaha.) I’m hoping the fact that I now have a job that keeps me at the computer alot will help me actually post some content here. We shall see. For now, I’m off to the beach! Puerto Viejo ya vengoooo
I have skipped a few critical updates since my last post…
1. Magdalena, my only contact, quit working at the ministry without notifying me, and left me high and dry with no documentos.
2. I had a nervous breakdown.
3. THEY FINALLY CAME.
Long story short, I received my documents (from some anonymous Ministry email address) and I successfully applied for my long term student visa at the Spanish Consulate in Chicago on Friday the 10th of September. The trip was absolutely exhausting (I took the megabus from Minneapolis-Chicago from 10:30pm to 6:00am on Friday, had my appointment at 10, then came back on the bus at 3 and arrived back in MN at 11pm.) The woman that received my app told me she hoped it would be done in two weeks flat, but obviously there are no guarantees.
I’m so happy I finally got to apply, even though I’m for sure going to miss my teacher orientation in Madrid (its the 25th of September) but I feel confident in saying I am actually GOING to be in Spain.
I would love to say this process has taught me patience, and made me more appreciative of cultural differences in time sensitivity and communication but….I’d probably be lying. Really, it just made me mad.
It wasn’t so much the waiting that pissed me off, it was the complete lack of acknowledgment that they (Magdalena, specifically) were in the wrong for promising dates, and never delivering faithfully. It would have been much better to say “Hey, the month of August is vacation month here in Espana, and literally every government employee is gonna lay on the beach all month. So forgot about getting what you need until September 1st at the earliest. Have a good summer!” rather than “Your documents will come next week…these things just happen sometimes. Honestly. Be patient ok?”
Next debacle: Buying a plane ticket, finding an apartment in Madrid, learning how to give a four hour presentation on language and culture to a bunch of primary school students. Uhhh…..
I need a mantra. I need to meditate. I need anything besides a frontal lobotomy that is going to GIVE ME THE PATIENCE TO WAIT FOR THIS DOCUMENT.
It’s been a little over 3 weeks and still nada del ministerio. I should not have gotten my hopes up (again) when my contact emailed me and said that my document was finished but due to “electronic processing errors” would be here “the earliest the 21st of August” but, I did. And once again, another week has passed me by in bone-crunching impatience, checking my email at 6 in the morning, only to be crushed by 0 NEW EMAILS.
I understand the cultural differences. I understand that time delays in a bureaucracy are common if not expected, and that when coupled with a culture that places much less importance on timeliness than the U.S. (and from what I’ve heard from others, customer service in general) I have a recipe for tardiness.
Does this give me comfort?
NO. I don’t care! I wanted it YESTERDAY DAMMIT!!!
There is no real reason for the post, other than I need an outlet for my extreme frustration, and hells bells this is my blog and I’ll do what I want. Send good vibes I guess, though at this point I’d rather have a cattle prod.
So, I received an newsletter from my Ministerio de Educacion (a general mass publication of course, they didn’t actually take the time to answer my personal emails from this week) that informed me, among other things, that I would not be penalized for being late to start my school year there if I had “visa related issues.” Considering that so far, my “visa related issues” have been directly related to their tardiness, I’m very happy that this concession will be made.
I’ve set aside my panick attacks and have given myself license to dream about strolling through the sunny metropolitan streets of Madrid, wearing an excellent pair of walking heels and a breezy dress with big shades. The outfit is important because the LAST time I was in Madrid (April 2008) I was by myself, on day 4 of a 5 week-long backpacking excursion through Spain/Morocco/French Riviera/Italy/Greece- and if you’ve ever lived out of a backpack, it’s pretty hard to look cute on a fixed repetoire of 4 shirts, 1 pair of jeans, a skirt, and a cardigan- and everyone wants to look nice in a city where everyone else looks nice.
As I daydream, my list of concerns is growing even faster than my pile of shoes to pack. Some of the most rampant recurring are:
1. What if I can’t understand their accentos?
As an estadounidense, most of my exposure to hispanoblantes has been with Mexican, Ecuadorian and Peruvian dialects, and so my speech and comprehension abilities greatly reflect my ears (and tongues) preference for the clear and rhythmic patterns that I’ve been hearing for the past decade or so. The strong lisp and crazy shorthand contractions that I associate with Spanish Spanish require me to concentrate really hard, I’m talking brows-scrunched-together-lips-soundlessly-mimicking-words kind of concentration, haha. Ah well, if I can acclimate to the Brummies from the Black Country (basically, the scourges of all of Englands many dialects,) I can get used to the Spaniards.
2. Slang, slang, and more slang.
I’ve got the skinny on what NOT for the most part from friends that have spent significant time in Spain (Alicante, Sevilla, etc) but I’m still pretty apprehensive about embarassing myself.
Example: Apparently, in Spain the verb “coger” (to grasp, to catch) is used allll the time, and in a completely innocent sense. Anyone that knows their Spanish from south of the border would probably snicker just a bit to hear somebody say “Voy a coger un taxi.” Were you really that desperate? jaja.
I realize it is a natural part of the learning process but no one likes to look like a jackass.
3. Vos this, vos that.
Plainly put: I have no idea how to use the vosotros form, of anything. Blame me, blame my gringa high school teacher, blame my profesores (except for Maureen, she’d kill me if she saw that) but I just don’t get it.
4. Finding an Apartment
The last time I lived abroad, I did so in student housing, with pre-assigned roommates, 40 other Americans from my home university, and a programme director (or Grandma, as we sometimes called her) to hold our hands through the “trials” of living in a foreign country (ummm…it was England. They speak English there, for the most part.) This trip is going to be significantly different, as I will be responsible for finding my own apartment, living with roommates that most likely will not share my native tongue, and I won’t be blissfully funding my lifestyle on copious amounts of student loans (ohhh, those were the DAYS.) That being said, I’m rather excited about this prospect of hunting for the perfect piso and the possibility of meeting some really interesting people. Spanish cragislist, anyone?
In short, it’s time to hit the books for a little refresher course before I go. And maybe watch a few movies to get myself in the lisp-y mood. Maybe I’ll watch the oh so awesomely creepy Pan’s Labyrinth for the 50th time. Looove it.
This blog probablymaybehopefully has a purpose, a point now. Let’s be honest, I wrote a piddly post or two and then abandoned it for the summer, much too busy slinging walleye and fetching drinks to make some $$ than ACTUALLY do something constructive, like write.
Buuuttt in GOOD news, I have been accepted to teach English in Madrid through a grant from the Ministry of Education of Spain. So, while I’m gone, I plan on regaling tales of my adventures, and hopefully starting to write bilingually (please don’t laugh at mi gramatica en espanol, it needs a lot of work.)
In less-than-good, or f***ing HORRENDOUS news, I’ve been waiting for my document from my employer in Spain for over two weeks, without which I cannot apply for my long-term student visa so that I can leave for Madrid (September 25-ish.) Which wouldn’t be a big deal, if it was a matter of popping my stack of crap in an envelope and zipping it off the the embassy. Oh no. This cat has to apply in PERSON, in Chicago. Graciiiiias Espana. To say that I’m mildly stressed about trying to arrange last-second trip to Chicago, followed by 1 month of packing up my life, tying up loose ends, praying my visa was approved, going BACK to Chicago and picking up my visa and booking a trans-Atlantic flight to Madrid on a handful of days notice is a severe understatement.
I’m so grateful to have gotten accepted into the position, after spending the entire summer on the wait list, but right now I’m having trouble seeing the forest through the trees. Actually, I’m having trouble breathing, and sleeping, and not bursting into panicky tears 5 times a day. I’m pretty sure that’s not socially acceptable in Minnesota or Madrid, so let’s hope that part subsides when I can finally get this shit finished.
Stay tuned. (probably for more bitching. but it gets better.)
I’ve maintained since the advent of blog-dom, that I would never cave to this harmless but unnecessary hobby (more on that thought some other day.) Yet here I am, voluntarily committing myself to writing something, anything, to make this snippet of space of online real-estate a BLOG and not a page with a pretty header. My doubts are still more clear than my motives, but the most base reason is quite simply:
I love to write.
Yeah, I get it. You, me and everyone we know. Writers are a dime a dozen, and people who THINK they can write are even more plentiful. I have no illusions as to which category I belong.
Writing, as a process, is so intensely personal and intimate that I doubt any two people in this world would describe it exactly the same. For me, it has always been painful in varying levels of intensity. To produce a typical collegiate essay on an assigned topic=good hard knock on the funny bone. A creative writing paper about something personal, or a topic I’m passionate about= a tumble down the stairs, no broken bones. Anything written entirely in Spanish=violent high speed car accident.
No amount of coaching by well-meaning teachers or professors has lessened the torturous amount of time and mental energy I waste writing “my way.” No hastily penned first drafts followed by many subsequent improvements for this cat, that would be too easy. I write like a steamroller: crawling along at an obscenely slow pace, angering the operator and everyone else in the area, but leaving a pristine and beautiful finished product in its wake. The flood of relief that gushes from my throbbing head down stiff neck and shoulders immediately following the completion of a piece makes one almost forget how much I hated writing it, and the warm inky smelling paper copies give me warm butterflies…until the next time.
Writing is my dialysis for the mind and soul, it filters out the depressed-bad-raging-heartsick-confused in me and leaves me calmer, clearer and empty of the nasty negativity that now exists solely as Bic ink pressed into flattened wood pulp. And for that, I’ll keep on steamrolling.
How do YOU write, dear reader?
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