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What I’d Forgotten about Costa Rican Culture

March 31, 2011

It’s been 17 years since I’ve been to Costa Rica. I’m amazed how quickly I’m readjusting to the culture. I am remembering what I loved about it, and what I didn’t. That is the beauty of any place – the beautiful and the hard.
There is much to love…
I remember thinking at the end of my year in Costa Rica that I should have been born a Latin woman.

I lived with 4 generations of women in the same household, and the other family members lived in houses next door, or just own the street. The way these people view FAMILY just feeds my soul.

It’s hard to explain, but family isn’t just a part of their life, it IS their life, and it is as natural as breathing.

This trip I watched as sisters shared financial and household responsibilities, as daughters took full time care of elderly mothers in the home, as sons provided for entire extended families, as daughters helped their mother cook for us every night, as 19 & 21 year old nephews hung out with their aunts and uncles, and as older cousins took the initiative to care for their younger cousins without a second thought. They eat together, they work together, they play together, and they hang out every weekend.

My host-sister, Elsa, explained to me that her house is always full, and her table is routinely shared by many. Proximity has a lot to do with it. If they didn’t live within a stone’s throw they couldn’t share life quite like they do. What a beautiful and fulfilling part of their culture.

I know this is changing for the people of Costa Rica, though, and it makes me sad. I spoke to many who said they had an uncle, a cousin, or sibling who left for the United States because they couldn’t find work in their country. I pray that this part of their culture is preserved.

They may not have all that we do as far as material resources go, but they have something special… unity and close knit families who weave a tapestry of life day by day, moment by moment. For this girl who would love to live on a family compound, it is a dream.

Being here, here are some other things I am now remembering about their culture.

*just how much family is integrated into every daily task, activity, and aspect of life. Family is not just a part of their lives, it is their lives.
*how hot and humid it is here. We are constantly sweating, but not doing anything. No wonder they siesta often!
*How FUN it is to speak Spanish! I absolutely love hearing and understanding another language around me.
*how lush and beautiful the landscape is everywhere we turn. Even in the dirtiest parts of town, there is vegetation that makes it look beautiful.
*that the women work with such great pride and care for their households. If they work full time, the other women in their family take care of their house for them, and in return, they help support them financially. Their houses are cleaned every day and are spotless, no matter how big or small their space — immaculate! And really, they have to be, or else the bugs take over!
*how DANGEROUS the drivers are in Latin America! Seriously, if we don’t get hit crossing a street it will be a miracle – they are RECKLESS and drive FAST, and my younger boys don’t quite get how careful they have to be.
*How LOVELY and WARM the women are in this country! They have such welcoming arms and quickly endear themselves by hugging, kissing, serving, and saying such kind things. Friendliness is more the rule than the exception. Even my shy ones are totally taken with some of these kind women.
*how comfortable women are with their body image. They are truly OK with how they are, and laugh when they describe themselves as a little “gorda” (which means fat). It’s just an adjective to them.
*that it really bothers me that the men who sit on the benches or on their front porches feel totally free to say whatever they want when a woman walks by, including my daughter! (ahem!) Luckily, she can’t understand them.
*about the food. The beans and rice, the coffee, the fresh fruit juices, the tropical fruit, and the way they show how much they care about you through the meals they provide.
*that garbage is everywhere. I’m always shocked to see people just throw their trash on the ground. Their rivers in town are littered with garbage.
*how the women love little trinkets for their houses.
*that their mode of advertising involves a car with a giant speaker on it driving around town announcing things.
*people take time to sit, converse, and enjoy the journey of life. Life is slower, and people are very connected.
*that they have less space in their houses, yet more room in their hearts. They constantly have people over, eat together, and share small spaces. They truly don’t mind being in close quarters — people sleep on the floor without a thought, and they invite people over for cafe and galletas (cookies or wafers) on a regular basis. Hospitality is a part of their daily life.
What a beautiful culture.  If you haven’t been, you simply must go!
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