The luck of the draw

Hallo from Pookaverse. Both hooms have been ill unfortunately which means that we left you on New Years Eve and rejoin you after all the decorations and bunting should be down and back in the attic. So where were we?

We were staying with a family near the town of Santa Barbara while attending the nearby Spanish school. Staying with a Family of four: Manuel, Angela and their son Joan and daughter Angelica. The room that we were staying in was basic and sometimes a little difficult to live in. Too much furniture, nowhere to hang a wet towel etc. Otherwise. OK. Just not comfortable. Shortly after the last post, Manuel and Angelica invited Pookaverse out to spend New Years Eve. With neither of us feeling particularly well, it was a daunting 5 hours to midnight.

However, we had an interesting night.  As through incremental ‘Spanglish’ we learnt that Angela’s family comprising 7 sisters and 5 brothers all live within a few hundred feet of one another. Occupying the same barrio. A contingency implemented by Angela’s grandfather who owned this land long before the town expanded laterally.

Practically speaking this meant that we spent most of the night touring the various houses and meeting Angela’s extended family. We managed to convey in ‘Spanglish’ our gratitude for the generosity of sharing their evening and family with us. Which seemed to go down well.

As we are learning. A smile goes a long way and a pantomime gesture of what you are trying to say is very much appreciated. It shows you are trying and the ‘Ticos” seem to like it.

On Friday 04 January 2012 school was most definitively out for Summer. After 16 hours of tuition at the sprawling Spanish School, Pookaverse has left with a fragmentary understanding of verbs, numbers, asking the time and the masculine and feminine denotations. For both home stays in Costa Rica little to no English is spoken.

It has to be in Spanish. Which really doesn’t convey the awkwardness of arriving at the first families home, going into the bedroom with your bags and being presented with a week to learn a new language and ‘get by’ with the most basic of social practices. Eating together, trying to learn a little bit more about your host(s) while fumbling through the most basic Spanish words possible. Alison has proved adept.

We left Barrio Jesus (Jesus Neighbourhood) on Sunday afternoon to travel the 15km to Alajuela – one of the principal towns in the Long Valley that bisects several of the main provinces where the majority of the 4 million “Tico’s” live.  Alajuela for two reasons. Firstly it is where our project officially begins.

And secondly, it is on the way to San Ramon and the next and final homestay of the time in Costa Rica. Pookaverse was impounded along with the other volunteers in the Alajuela Backpackers Hotel. Not really the best first impression for the Swedes, Germans, English and Australian volunteers who have come here to try and do some good. Most of them are in their late teen’s or early twenties. Another classic case of neglect. No gold-leaf goose with duck hotpot.

Pookaverse declined sharing  a 10-bed dormitory with 7 others and opted to pay an additional $29US for a private room instead. It had space. That’s what could be said for that room.

Impounded is a relative word when viewing the ‘Ticos’ approach to housing and home security. For most private housing in Costa Rica features a heavily barred exterior, razor wire over most exposed walls and a heavy gate on entry. Why? Pookaverse is not sure. It is jarring. It is something that us gentle ‘Hobbits’ in the UK would expect to see in an industrial park. In Birmingham. Next to a smouldering mattress. Along with the unholy marriage of the shitty-split trainer and a fly-blown blouse.

Just as we have posted so few pictures so far (which we will remedy soon) due to the constant warnings from the Project team and ‘Ticos’ we have ‘brokenly spoken to’ about personal security. Wallets, camera’s and the seemingly vicarious sense of self-entitlement of the pickpocket to liberate you of them – because you have them. Perhaps it is this perceived ‘help-yourself’ attitude of the criminally inclined that has give rise to the need for law-abiding ‘Ticos’ to put up the gates, wire and security systems on almost an industrial scale?

Our project meeting took place yesterday morning. Led by a Project Director – herself a Tico. We were taken through the ‘small print’. About conduct. Personal safety. Obligations. All the time at the back of the mind and between Herculean coughing. Thinking about the next family that you are going to stay with. And the fact that you are going to be living in someone else’s house for the next 4 weeks.

Then on to our projects in the back of a beaten-up transit van driven by a fairly beaten-down driver. Three Swedish girls in their late teens got off at Palmares after a 40-minute drive from Alajuela. To be greeted by their individual families.  It was quite a poignant sight. To think that these young people come from all over the world to try and make a difference. Disappear amongst the general population in the wink of an eye. And in this case it was helping to look after a school containing almost 300 under-5’s while their parents work to support themselves.

Then on for another ten minutes to San Ramon. At one of the most easterly points of the long valley conurbation. A sudden stop by a bus stop. And the remaining four hooms in the van all assigned to the construction project.  Jacob (gap-year student from England in his early twenties), Ann (from Sydney again in her early twenties) and Pookaverse, And then comes the lottery. Which one of the 3 ‘Mamas’ will you be assigned to. The one with the two children. The one with a husband. All greet the onboard coordinator in a clatter of Spanish. Is something wrong? It is difficult to tell in the melee. Finally Pookaverse meets Greta – a seamstress in her late forties. With some relief.

Greta lives with one son and one daughter in their twenties in a neat and clean house just 3 minutes from what would be referred to as a Shopping Mall. And in some cases can be viewed as anything but. Despite the halo of stands on the ground floor promising an invigoration/invasion of culture. ‘Taco Bell’, ‘McDonalds’ and the Costa Rican version of ‘Starbucks’. To the colloquial supermarket and 3-screen cinema. All ensconced discretely under a bowed-tin roof.

For the rest. Pookaverse will of course let you know what happens next…


4 Responses to “The luck of the draw”

  1. jose Says:

    Lovely to hear from you again, although you won’t remember, the bungalow where you lived your first year had bars at all the windows and doors.. Are they brick or wooden buildings you’re helping with ?

  2. Rach Says:

    Hey bro, I feel quite humbled by the efforts of all the volunteers from around the globe. There’s definitely still plenty of Good in the world. Shame about being locked in but you can bet that its 100% necessary, possibly from other travellers bitter experience.
    A tip with the Spanish that might help is the phrase “Lo que es la palabra para? ” – what is the word for. You can then frantically mime or draw something.
    Well done for braving the conditions and Im glad your both well again 🙂
    Keep in touch mis amigos del explorador valientes!
    Loads of Love

    • pookaverse Says:

      Hi Rach, Thanks for that phrase, very helpful although you should see Rohan in miming mode, he is excellent and has our house Mama in fits of giggles most nights. Good fun.

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