Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Day in "Paradise"

Yes, we live in paradise. The weather is mostly warm (it does get chilly from time to time, mostly at night or when it rains, but I'll refrain from trying to convince those of you who've spent an entire winter shoveling out of your driveways from yet another snowfall of this fact). We are surrounded by Palm trees. There are beaches on two sides of the country. And the mountains! Mountains are my personal idea of paradise. Especially ones that remind me of the Smoky Mountains, my favorite place on earth. Not to mention the many scrumptious fruits and vegetables found each week in the local feria (farmer's market), and for a song, too!

Sounds pretty amazing, right? Before you either (1) decide to pack up your stuff and move here, or (2) grumble at our luck, there are some aspects of life in paradise that you need to be aware of.

(1) We have no car. Therefore, we must walk absolutely everywhere we go. Now, I'm aware that there are many of you big city dwellers who might scoff at this as no big deal. So, okay. It's more of an inconvenience, really. Especially when we currently patronize three or four different grocery stores, a pharmacy, a bread store, PLUS the aforementioned feria just to get our monthly groceries. None of which are necessarily close by. We shop weekly for the staples like meat, canned goods, or milk at one of two grocery stores (both of which are about a ten minute walk from our house). For the other items on my monthly grocery list (yes, monthly) Troy and I take a bus or a taxi to the other two stores on the list (on separate days) while the kids are still in school for the day. Bus or taxi fare for two is a WHOLE lot cheaper than it is for six.

We also walk to and from church and school. As we live just up a steep hill from the school, this isn't a big deal. Until you sprain your ankle and have no other way to get to school, that is. And did I mention that the sidewalks aren't of the best construction?

Oh, and the bank! Troy has to walk to the bank each week as well. A simple thing like a trip to the bank can be somewhat dangerous, even in broad daylight, as friends of ours discovered last week when they were robbed at gunpoint. A risk we take.

When Troy must be out late at night (after 7 PM, yes, 7 PM!), he does have a bicycle he can ride.

The flip side is that all of this walking has helped me to lose a bunch of weight. Score!

(2) Due to older plumbing in the homes, at school, and in most places we go, we cannot flush the toilet paper. It must instead be placed in a trashcan kept near the toilet and emptied a couple times each week. Are you thoroughly grossed out yet?

(3) Aside from the fresh produce that is very inexpensive (and soooo good), many things we would consider staples are very expensive. Mainly because they have been imported. A typical Costa Rican diet consists of a lot of rice and beans. A. Lot. So things like peanut butter, sharp cheddar cheese, and American chocolate, as they are naturally not necessities, cost more. You have to ask yourself how badly you want that $10 bag of Reese's peanut butter cups or the $25 bag of pecans for a pie (not badly enough, as it turns out. So thankful for folks who send it to us from home!). We joke here that cheese is more valuable than gold.

In an attempt to keep costs down, we've switched to many Costa Rican brands or try to incorporate more vegetables into our diet to help fill us up. There are times, however, when you just want something familiar from home. I think everyone understands that. In reality, trips out to McDonald's are extremely rare. We've found Costa Rican sodas (small restaurants) that are far less expensive, and far better for us, than the American burger joints.

(4) Housework here takes a lot longer than it did at home. To save electricity, I try not to use our dryer as much as possible. We have four short clotheslines and a rack in our laundry area, so I do about a load or two every day and hang the clothes. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, all of the jeans are washed and hung over our second story balcony railing. We look a little redneck, but why not take advantage of the hot dry-season sun?? We have extremely porous tile floors upstairs and down that take a very long time to scrub and clean. Plus, with the huge gap between our front door and the floor, lots of dirt blows into the living room. It is not unheard of for us to sweep four or even five times a day.

Yes, we have an empleada (maid). She works for us on Wednesdays from 7:30 AM until 2:30 PM. In that amount of time, she tackles laundry, dusting, cleaning, and the floors. Can I just say that what we give her each week wouldn't even feed the six of us at Taco Bell in the States? Yet, our meager amount helps put food on the table for her son and for her. Helps pay her rent. Provide the things she needs. And her hard work enables me to concentrate on my studies while providing a weekly opportunity to practice my Spanish over a shared meal together.

(5) Learning a second language in your mid-late thirties is hard. Very hard. Add in helping your children who have never attended school outside of the home adjust to life in the classroom, life in a new country, and as they learn a new language as well. Imagine sitting in classes taught all in Spanish. Or church services where the sermon and worship service are not in English. Then imagine trying to conduct daily errands and business in a language you are still learning. Stressful, huh? Very! By the time the weekend rolls around, all I want to do is climb under the covers and never leave the house. It's that exhausting. There have been a few times we've been able to get away on day trips around the nearby countryside, even a couple trips to the beach. And they have been so refreshing. Getting out of the urban jungle, even for a day, is sheer bliss! And so necessary to our sanity. But these trips are far less frequent than you'd expect. Maybe once a month. Maybe. And without a car, there's no such thing as just "going for a relaxing drive" in the country.

I hope I haven't painted too bleak a picture of life here. It truly is beautiful, most of the time. As in everywhere you go, there are things that aren't as pleasant. But I'm truly grateful God has led us here to learn Spanish. The classroom setting and the friendships we've made have made even life without a car completely worthwhile.

Even if we do wish we could flush the toilet paper.