Cooking and eating through a new culture

Sweat Equity

I knew this was going to be a challenging year, on many levels. Currently, we are making plans to leave the apartment and move into Rafa’s parents house. I dare say I heard that collective gasp of dread all the way down here. Not to worry. Rafa’s parents are moving to Arizona to spend time with his sister who is going back to school and help take care of the grand kids. There will be no co-habitation. But the idea is that we are moving there to improve the place and by that I mean, pretty much a gut and redo…including the kitchen.

This is not new to me and I am looking forward to a cooking space larger than a closet. In the meantime, Rafa and I have been hatching out design ideas and running them past his mom. So far so good.

This is Rafa’s childhood home set in the district of Zapote, a middle class, working neighborhood tight with bungalows. The house is the usual concrete construction and the old addition on the back needs to be demolished in favor of a second story. We have our work cut out for us. But I am familiar with re-hab and design and with Rafa’s creativity and drive, we should be able to tackle the task.

The first project was to wall the front and add an extra driveway. A word about Costa Rican homes: they are designed with paranoia in mind. Outsiders would think after driving around some neighborhoods, that they were in Mogadishu. What had probably started as just security for keeping windows open at night somehow morphed into homes being tricked out like Fort Knox. Some of the iron work on the windows can be quite artistic and lovely to down right penal. People adorn their homes here with the lacey cables of razor wire, sometimes up to three levels high! Like one barrier of flesh shredding evil wasn’t enough. There is razor wire around daycare centers. This baffles me. Statistically, crime has continued to drop in San Jose. It is higher here than in the US, but certainly not by much. Sure, there are murders and horrific crimes, like in any large metropolitan area, but the majority are familiar crimes, where individuals knew each other.  It wasn’t like this driving through Guatemala or Honduras, where people actually do vanish for unknown reasons. Plus, you can get ADT or similar security systems here. I just reasoned, that Ticos are far ahead of us all in preparing for the apocalypse and the zombie hordes. I told Rafa we should randomly throw fake human limbs and blood into the razor wire around the city to get people talking. “See! Someone WAS trying to take my cheap Chinese TV!”

As far as I am concerned, this place is full of drama queens. Not that I would admit that to Rafa’s mom, who by the way, loves her new wall.  A wall that Rafa and I spent the day painting. It does look nice. Rafa went to great lengths to keep things traditional. The color is a soft gold that looks fantastic with the dark stain of the wooden doors. It also gives the tiny front yard a cozy feel. I can already see my hammock under the lime tree.

Rafa’s mom lovingly tended to us while we worked. We had two great meals and numerous glasses of chilled fresco, a fresh blend of fruit and water. I was well slathered in an obecenely high SPF but my skin still has a tendency to pink up. Rafa’s mom fluttered around me, offering hats and long sleeve shirts fearing my pale gringa body just may spontaneously combust under the sun. I was no worse for wear. Tired and paint splattered, but extremely happy to offer a service to a family that has been so generous and kind with me.

The sun was just beginning to set when we finished the last of the wall. My hands ached and I longed for a cleansing shower. While we were readying to leave, Rafa’s mom pulls me aside and hands me a homemade spiral bound notebook. The pages are copied from some other book. Some pages have little scribbled notes in the margin. It is her cookbook. It takes a while for it to set in and all I can say is gracias, over and over again. The conversation in the other room pulls her away and I am left alone to absorb the full scope of what just transpired. Alone in the front room, I clutch the book to my chest and bounce up and down, biting my tongue to keep from squealing.

I am so IN!


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2 thoughts on “Sweat Equity

  1. Alicia on said:

    Wow! Now we’re talking 🙂
    Enjoy that cookbook!

  2. savemylifestories on said:

    Hey girl — I agree that the razor wire is crazy and I used to wonder the same thing about why every house here was like Fort Knox. But honestly, they are not totally being drama queens. They are mostly trying to protect their property because theft rates are very high here. But there actually are disappearances here just like in Guatemala and Honduras. I know someone who disappeared last year and the OIJ searched for him for six months and found nothing. That raised my awareness to the fact that disappearances happen here, and now I notice it happens a lot more than I thought. And a lot of people I know have been robbed and assaulted by strangers. Not to scare you or be a downer, but it doesn’t help to be naive here — you gotta keep your wits about you, especially at night.

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