October 27, 2006

Keep On Rockin´ In The Third(?) World

Back when I was in Argentina in May, something--possibly a gigantic pothole on the freeway--led my friend Andrés to yell something like, "Hijo de mil putas y la puta que te parió!! This sort of shit is why we´re still a third world country!"
Since then, I´ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be in the Third World. From what I understand, the First World was comprised of the countries that were aligned with democracy and "the west" in the Cold War. The Second World was all the Communist countries. And the Third World was made up of the leavings. That may be completely wrong, but I believe I read it somewhere, and if I do find out it´s wrong, I probably won´t change it.
But any case, it would appear that the whole "Worlds" system is now antiquated and doesn´t really apply, yet people still constantly talk about the Third World. So what does it mean to be in the Third World? Is Argentina--or, more immediately useful for me to understand, is Costa Rica--a Third World country?
When I think of the Third World, I basically think of little kids with giant, malnourished stomachs; an over-representation of warlords, druglords, and possibly even gaylords; chaotic and possibly even deadly traffic; random violence; crappy buildings that sometimes don´t have four walls; and, most importantly, potholes in the streets. Where does Costa Rica fit into this rubric, then?
As for the little kid/big belly test, Costa Rica is passing with flying colors, from what I´ve seen. In fact, there seems to be just about as many chubby, over-indulged kids here as in the US or Germany. And if the kids are looking at a future in which they eat as much as Abulea serves us in our house, then they shall likely never lack for nutriton nor sustinence.
Test two: Warlords, druglords, and gaylords. Costa Rica doesn´t even have an army, so there´s little likelyhood of a warlord rebellion. Then again, without an army, I suppose someone with a few big guns and a few even-bigger dreams might be able to take over the country, if he really set his mind to it. As for druglords, I haven´t seen any evidence that there is a major drug problem here. That seems to be located more in the other Central American countries, as well as South America. I have heard that there is an abundance of drugs in Costa Rican tourist locales, but I´ve not really visited any of them. As far as Costa Ricans, the majority that I know seem to have a lower permissiveness than Europeans and even Americans when it comes to matters of sobriety (or lack thereof). And gaylords...I´m not even sure what a gaylord is. I guess just someone who is really, really gay. I mainly put it in the list because lists are more powerful and attention-getting when they´re grouped in threes. But there also seems to be a lower acceptance here of homosexuality than in Europe and the US. Although I´m not sure whether we should chalk this one up to the Catholic Church, the macho culture, or the fact that leather chaps would be too hot in Costa Rica´s climate.
Chaotic and possibly deadly traffic, anyone? Here´s our first real Third World point. There doesn´t seem to be much traffic in terms of congestion, but in terms of chaos, this place can hold it´s own. The roads of Costa Rica combine potholes that often take up a whole lane in a two-lane road, cliff-side roads, high speeds, lack of seatbelts, screaming kids, and blind-corner passing. And that´s just in the microbus I take to and from school! I swear, that bus is a little piece of Mr. Toad´s Wild Ride at times. One day Luís, the wonderfully nice and infinitely-patient driver, will swerve to avoid a person standing in the middle of the highway, and the bus will careen off a small cliff near the school. All that will be left by the charred ruins of the little Toyota will be the gaudy, ostentatious Transformer knock-offs and Strawberry Shortcake backbacks thrown from the wrekage.
Speaking of driving stories, I can segue nicely into the next category: random violence. Most of the houses in the cities here have window bars, gates, spikes, broken glass, barbed wire, or any combination of the above elements to keep out intruders. Cars are similarly protected. A car that Ángela borrowed from her brother or father had a giant lock to secure the shifter to the chassis, a huge metal bracket to bind all the petals together, an electronic-equipment disabler that needed to be activated with a chip on the keychain, and a machete in the backseat. Apparently there´s a breathtaking amount of property crime here. Someone even stole a park bench from Abuela´s porch last year, which they had to lift OVER her metal security fence (with spikes). Needless to say, her new bench is chained to the porch. Still, in general, I feel very safe here for some reason, and I simply found a place to hide my paycheck in my room since I don´t have a bank account. But then again, I´m retarded.
As a quick machete-related aside, I´d like to say that on the bus ride to school this very morning, we saw a guy walking down the highway with a machete. He was even carrying it in his hand, chop-ready, with the case in the opposite hand. If the road hadn´t been paved, one could have perhaps expected that he was going to clear a path on his commute to work. But there was certainly a road. Still, for some reason, a machete doesn´t seem so out of place here, and I´m finding out that pretty much anyone I talk to that´s been here a while seems to own one. It´s like Costa Rica´s answer to America´s battery-powered, talking bullshit trinkets that most houses seem to have (see Ho Ho Ho Santa or Bigmouth Billy the Talking Bass for more information). Nonetheless, here when you see someone with a machete, you think, "He´s going to cut something down." If you see someone in the U.S. with a machete, you think, "He´s going to cut someONE down!"
Anyhow, in terms of crappy buildings, Costa Rican houses and businesses are generally pretty solid, but at times they´re missing a wall. That´s generally not due to neglect, though, but rather to climate. I didn´t really make notice of it until I´d lived in the house for about two weeks, but the hall off Abuela´s kitchen is completely open to the outside world, with no door to keep out the elements (or lizards, cockroaches, and even a random crab, as we found two days ago). The open-ness is generally good, though, as it allows the free circulation of air. Plus, especially compared to Colorado, it doesn´t really get too cold here.
So what about potholes? Hell, yeah, there are potholes. Lots of ´em.
Anyhow, it seems that Costa Rica is only scoring about a 40% on the Ryan Sitzman Third World Index. It´s my conclusion that I´m not in a Third World country, but at the same time, I´m not sure where that leaves me. All I know, though, is that I´m loving the shit out of Coast Tasty! And I also know that it´s coffee time, so I´m gonna get home ASAP for some of that black gold!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

October 22, 2006

Update 3 - The Other Berlin

Recently I´ve been heading up to a wonderful little town in the mountains called Berlin. It´s pretty much diametrically opposed to the Berlin in Germany, but it´s still awesome. The "town" is more of a collection of houses on a little strip of road on the crest of some lush, green mountains. I´ve been going there to visit my girlfriend Ángela, who is simply incredible. She works at the school I work at, teaching Science classes in English. So she speaks English, she´s very smart and sweet, and she´s also beautiful. She´s caring and considerate, and--get this!--her family has a COFFEE FARM! I didn´t even know that there was such a thing as coffee farms! It´s like saying her family owns a Unicorn Ranch or an Enchanted Forest. I mean, obviously coffee has to come from somewhere, but I always assumed that God just made a personal delivery every week to some docks in New Jersey or something. But wow--a coffee farm! Anyhow, Ángela´s probably the Most Amazing Girl In The World, and in my opinion, we make a great couple. The place she lives is great, too. On clear days, you can see both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts! The picture above is of a sunset in Berlin, taken from her driveway. Maybe you can see the Pacific ocean and the Guanacaste peninsula...

Here´s a picture of Ángela posing in front of coffee...coffee as far as the eye can see!

The hills are steep in Berlin, so the all-terrain cows are equipped to deal with the topography.

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

Update 2 - Sissy Stuff Like Butterflies and Flowers

So I also did some interesting stuff in Costa Rica recently. Including going to a butterfly farm. I went with my friend and co-worker Catalina, and it was a day filled with butterflies, flowers, and snack food. We then went to a town called Palmares to visit another friend and co-worker, Melissa. We ate more snack food and watched Saw and Saw II. The two horror movies were a perfect compliment to a butterfly farm, if you ask me.
Here´s also a picture of an orchid I took at the butterfly farm:

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

Update 1

It´s been a bit of time since my last entry, and my "fans" have been knocking down my door, wondering what I´ve been up to. That, of course, is complete crap, but at least it provides a segue into a couple of new entries. I´ve been pretty busy, and I´ve taken a couple of pictures, so this will have to be two or three entries, since Blogger only lets me post three pictures per entry.
First of all, one thing I´ve been up to in general is reading blogs. One of the best ones out there for my money (be they dollars or colones) is by my friend Heidi. She´s in the Peace Corps in Mauritania. That´s in Africa, and there´s no shame in admitting that you didn´t know that (no one does). She´s very funny and erudite, and it would behoove you to visit her site post-haste. It´s called "Sahara Shantytown Surveyor," and the address is: http://heidigehret.blogspot.com/
What else have I been doing? Well, I also went to the US for about five days. I had to renew my Costa Rican visa, and that required me to leave the country for at least 72 hours. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to also visit my friend Tori in Florida, who I´d not seen in about a year. She was doing quite well, and it was very nice to see her.
When I was in Florida I tended towards slothfulness, which meant catching up on sleep and eating lots. Also, I watched around 30 episodes of Scrubs on DVD while Tori was working during the day. Good times. Also, I got to see a few movies and eat some ethnic food, both of which are relatively scarce in Costa Rica.
At the same time, though, even though it was good to be visiting my mother land, I began to miss Costa Rica quite a bit. I´m really liking it here, and I´m planning on staying at least one more year. Let´s hope the school agrees with my plan. Even when I went to dinner with Tori and her boyfriend, I kept bringing up Costa Rican stuff. I even drew an illustrative graph about the Chupacabra.
In any case, here´s a picture of me eating an assload of seafood on the Florida gulf coast:

Yes, I´m allergic to fish and stuff that swims, but when it comes to the cowardly, shell-wearing, despicable crawlies of the sea, I´m all game. But this platter was huge. I ate it (yes, I ate it all) when Tori and I went to Cedar Key one day. It was a nice little drive.

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

October 1, 2006

¿¿Are You Ready For Some Fútbol??

Ah yes, Fútbol. The world sport (in all the world but the US). As many of you know, I used to play "semi-pro" fútbol back in Colorado, with a little equipo I like to call The Unnecessary Umlauts. In fact, everyone liked to call them that. Mainly, The Unnecessary Umlauts was a sort of Capri-Sun-drinking, halftime-cigarette-smoking juggernaut, but occasionally we also played soccer, when the need arose.
Unfortunately, they take their soccer here more seriously. I am not sure how God fanangled it, but I somehow played soccer TWICE last week. Both times I nearly exploded from over-exertion. The first time, on Monday, I played arena soccer with Adrian, a friend who owns an internet café here in San Ramón. The second time, I played "microfútbol" on a cement court at the bottom of the hill that my school is situated on. It was some hot shit. The game was teachers vs. students. A rag-tag group of five of us teachers grouped together to get our asses handed to us on a gilded platter by those little fuckers. Fortunately, two of the five students were in classes that I teach, so at least I can flunk them. Anyhow, here are some "action!" photos from the game, taken by my co-worker Catalina:

This is the train that hit us. In the back row, at far left, is my tenth grader César. Two people to the right of him is Manfred, from my 11th grade. Curiously enough, they will both be getting F´s in English this semester...

Here is me on the court of battle. This picture demonstrates three of my Five Tactical S´s of Fútbol:
1. Standing 2. Squinting 3. Sweating 4. Squinting 5. Swearing in German

I love this photo because even though it´s real, it totally looks like someone Photoshopped me into it. Also, it looks like I´m doing some sort of Kung-Fu shit. Also, the Kung-Fu shit appears to be completely ineffective, as the ball is long behind me.

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook