Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Goodbye to Alejandro and Valeria (sniff sniff)

Alejandro was my English student for 2.5 years, and his wife, Valeria, for 2 years. And now they're leaving Costa Rica. I am sad to see them go, and fearful about their setting up a new life in Guatemala.

After a year of traipsing into San Jose at 6am and again at 6pm to teach English at language schools in San Jose, I decided to teach in my home. My first student was Alejandro Martinez, a tall, handsome, smart, funny, guy from Argentina, with a winning personality. Alejandro had been studying English for many years, but there was still room for improvement. Alejandro came to class twice a week at 7:30 in the morning with his friend, Andrés Serpa, who was also from Argentina. They were at about the same level of learning, so it made sense for them to study together and to reinforce each other's learning.

There was something magical about the three of us working together, even though they were in their mid-30s and I was, well, old enough to be their mother. We had so much fun together that it was almost sinful to take their money. For my other students, I provided only a glass of water. But for A&A, I made coffee, and made sure I had Splenda for Alejandro's coffee and honey and Lipton tea bags for Andrés. I also kept their favorite butter cookies on hand, although sometimes Andrés brought us croissants or other breakfast goodies.

We started with an intermediate level book, but we diverged from the book so often that after a year and a half we were still only halfway through the book. We joked that in ten years we would still be working with the same book. We talked about everything in English - cultural differences, travel, investments, life purpose, sex. I taught them swear words, and they returned the favor in Spanish.

Alejandro knows a lot of people because of his work as executive director of the Aden Business School. He was responsible for my entire student load for quite a while, sending me Argentinian friends and even his dentist, Tatiana Arias, who also became my dentist.

Ale's wife, Valeria, became my student, too. She is beautiful, smart and insightful. My students and I talked about much more than English and work issues. We became friends and confided in each other. In all that time of meeting with both Ale and Vale, I always kept their individual confidences. When I look at the two of them together, I think how perfectly suited for each other they are.

Valeria has not been happy living in Costa Rica, and Alejandro has gotten the most from his job at Aden. So they have been looking for a change. That change came in the form of a job offer for Alejandro to manage a cancer radiation clinic in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Last week they came over to tell me the news. He gave his notice and will start his new job July 15. They will make the move to Guatemala by October 1.

As I tearfully write this, I think of all the fun and serious talks we have had, and the barbecues they invited me to at their place. I went to their house this past Sunday, to enjoy probably their last grilled meat and wine party. I saw friends there, Olga and her mother Ana from Venezuela, whom I met through Ale and Vale, and now we'll have to get together on our own.

Guatemala is an unsafe Central American country with considerable poverty. The only relatively safe areas with extra security are in Guatemala City, Antigua City and Tikal, where tourists go. Alejandro and Valeria will be living in the Pink Zone of Guatemala City, which is supposed to have even more security. I hope they will be happy there. I hope they will be safe there.

Ana, Olga, Me, Alejandro, Valeria

More Karaoke, or Too Much of a Bad Thing

Friday nights I usually stay in and rest up for a late night Saturday at Coyunda's where they have a live band for dancing. That means I miss karaoke at Coyunda's, which is held Friday nights. I've always been fine with missing karaoke, which I've never been fond of. But since last Thursday when my ladies lunch group sang karaoke at Corinne's, and I sang into a mike for the first time among my friends who were kind and applauded despite my going off key and missing some of the words, my appetite for making a fool of myself in front of other people has been whetted.

So Friday night I went to Coyunda's with Susan. Several of our friends were there, including my old appliance buddy, Hugo, who has a very nice voice. He sang and a bunch of friends sang. The more people drank, the more they sang. All in Spanish, of course.

After a vodka and tonic or two, I went over to the control board and asked if there were any songs in English. There were, and I picked one. But then I got nervous, and asked around for anyone who would sing with me. Jefferson, who is gorgeous, early 30s, and a fantastic dancer, agreed.

So when I Can't Get No Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones came on, he and I started singing into the mike. Well, that song an international hit, and everyone in the room knew it. Everyone sang with us and we were all rockin' and smokin'! For the refrain (I can't get no satisfaction), I put the mike in front of different people and they belted out the words, too. It was a blast! And no one really noticed that I was off key.

Sundays I usually stay home, too, getting a late start, going to the feria, and mostly vegging/napping in the afternoon. But this past Sunday, after spending the afternoon at my friends' house, I joined a birthday party already in progress for Gerardo at Coyunda's. I selected some rock n roll songs, and a bunch of us got up and danced. Feeling very comfortable at Coyunda's, which is becoming my second home, I sang the words at the top of my lungs.

About 8pm, we moved the party to El Coco, where there was alternating one hour DJ music, and one hour karaoke. Still bitten by the karaoke bug, I picked a song, I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, and Yalile and I sang it together. Then she sang a romantic Spanish ballad by herself.

Then we started dancing. OMG - we were like whirling dervishes! The DJ played rock n roll songs and I could not sit still. A bunch of us got up and started dancing, partners not needed. I must have lost a couple of pounds that night just from dancing.

Gerardo's Birthday Party at Coyunda's

Yalile and Me Singing

Yalile, Mayito and Me Dancing at El Coco


My horn goes off whenever it feels like it, and won't stop until it tires itself out after about five minutes. This has been going on now for about three weeks, since I had some air conditioning work done on the car.

The horn starts all by itself, whether I'm driving the car or the car is parked. The first time it happened, I was driving around Santa Ana. Everyone looked at me as I made my way to Chichi, my newest mechanic. Once there, Chichi took out the fuse to make the beeping stop. He looked at the wires and couldn't find anything out of place. He told me to bring the car back the next day, and he would give it to his cousin who does electrical work.

The next morning, I brought the car to Chichi's and walked home. The following day I picked up the car and paid about $15 for a new horn and a new fuse. I thought the problem was solved. That afternoon, while the car was parked in my garage, the horn started in again. Inside the confines of the garage, that horn just about burst my eardrums. I opened the hood, opened the fuse box, and yanked out the fuse the way I had seen Chichi do it. My body continued to vibrate after the beeping stopped.

Then I called my friend, Moe, a Canadian mechanic two towns over in Cariari. I made an appointment to bring him my car. He tried to open up the steering wheel, but he didn't have the special six-sided wrench with a pinhole in the middle. Meanwhile, I'm riding around in a time bomb, never knowing when the horn is going to go off again.

The car went over a week without beeping. I didn't know if it was done tooting at will or if it would happen some night at 3am, or toot when it was parked somewhere and I didn't hear it and it wore down my battery.

I found out last Sunday at the feria. I parked my car downtown, took my daily walk up and down the hilly streets, shopped at the farmers' market, and returned to my car. The watchee man (guard) who knows me said that my horn was honking for about five minutes then stopped. Arrgh. I got in the car and honked the horn, but it wouldn't honk. Now that was just plain mean. It had beeped itself out.

There's an expat resource I turn to when I need a question answered. It's Costa Rica Living, a Yahoo group. So I posted a query, looking for a car electrical mechanic. I got a response and called the guy on Sunday. He understood and problems and was willing to come to my house the next day. But that Monday morning when I called to confirm, he said he didn't have the tools necessary to work on my car. He recommended that I take it to the Nissan (expensive) dealer in San Jose.

Desperate at this point, I called the Nissan dealership and made an appointment for a week later. They said they would need my car two days, which is probably not true, but I will have to leave it there and take the bus home in the rain, and bus back the next day to pick it up.

In the meantime, I am driving around without a horn in a very horn-friendly city.

Beep beep

Friday, June 26, 2009

Indian Food and Karaoke

Most Thursdays I have lunch with a great group of expats at Robin's Kitchen, where Robin serves up a variety of lunch specials and the best desserts in Costa Rica. Until yesterday my favorite was mocha pie, but that rich and creamy delight has been bested by the tart and sweet key lime pie. Maybe next week I'll pick another favorite, like the orange cake.

I joined this group of brujas (female witches, affectionately named after the mascot of the city where we have lunch, Escazu) in February of this year. We talk about anything and everything, and it has been a lot of fun getting to know each woman.

One of the things I like best about this group is that we celebrate birthdays. In April I received many gifts, and for a single person without much family and certainly none in this foreign country, it is a blessing and a comfort to be shown such love and friendship on my special day.

Yesterday we celebrated Carina's 40th birthday. Carina is from Sweden and is a very good golfer (she broke 80, whatever that means). But instead of going to the restaurant, Corinne invited us to her house way up the mountain of San Antonio de Escazu. Finding Corinne's house was a trip, because we did not have clear directions and no one's cell phone had a good signal. But we finally found the house with all windows overlooking the Central Valley.

This is a wine-drinking group, so we started with reds and whites with our appetizers. Corinne, a Philippino, is married to an Indian and has learned to cook delicious Indian food. I also love that we are somewhat of an ethnically diverse group. Corinne prepared all the food with love and attention to detail. We ate on the semi-enclosed balcony and thoroughly enjoyed each other's company. Jane brought her little angel, Alexis, who will turn one year old on Lisa's birthday in July. Alexis munched on Cheerios while we enjoyed chicken, rice and eggplant dishes and flatbread. I wish I could remember the names of everything.

While Robin wasn't there with us, two of her desserts were. The key lime pie and a chocolate cake. Corinne added a carrot pudding that was also very good. Of course, we sang happy birthday to Carina, and she opened our gifts.

Then we piled into the living room and turned on the karaoke. Oooooweeee! Did we have fun! We have two professional singers in our group, Barbara and Sally, the former and the current lead singers from Harmony Roads, a rock n roll, country, blues band (see my story, La Lunada). And the rest of us did the best we could. I had never sung karaoke before, and was a little hesitant to try, but I felt supported by the group, and after the first song, no one could shut me up. It's like singing hymns in church: it doesn't matter if you can carry a tune or not when you sing with passion and zeal.

Our lunches usually last 2 to 2.5 hours, but we stayed at Corinne's 4 hours. And then she sent us home with doggy bags of her yummy Indian food.

Barbara belting out a song with Alexis on her lap

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sunday at Mayito's, or How to Pour Tequila

Sunday afternoon Susan, Yalile, Toro and I went to Mayito's backyard BBQ hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Mayito only makes two dishes: roast chicken and chicharrones (fried pork). It had been a while since we had devoured Mayito's great chicken, and we missed it. We sat around, talking with folks at other tables, drinking beer, and feeding our faces.

We got there around 4pm and just stayed, passing the time. After the beers and the food were gone, the tequila showed up. First, Mayito brought a shot for Toro and himself. Then Yalile started in on the shots. Then Susan. I was still sucking ice cubes from my one and only watered-down beer.

Someone put on a CD of American oldies but goodies. I remember listening to Creedence Clearwater's Proud Mary while Susan translated the words for our tico friends. Yalile and Toro actually speak and understand English, although it's a fractured English, but I usually understand their meaning.

Yalile started singing another American song. Since she didn't know the words, she made them up. But her words didn't have anything to do with the song. She started singing about Susan and drinking. It was very funny to listen to her because she didn't even try to rhyme her lyrics; she just blurted out whatever came to her, and it wasn't exactly on key.

Around about that time, I decided to have a shot of tequila. I know I can't handle too much of that stuff, but I thought I would have one shot to see how smoothly it would go down. My attention was on picking up the bottle and tipping it over the shot glass so I wasn't listening to what Yalile was singing at that moment. I was looking at the bottle and shaking it, wondering why no tequila was pouring out, when I heard Yalile singing about me and how I didn't drink very much. Suddenly everyone was laughing and I realized that the cap to the tequila bottle was still on. It was one of those hysterically funny moments that couldn't have been planned. It was as though I drank so little that I didn't know how to open the bottle. We laughed until we cried.

I finally took the cap off and poured myself a shot.

At some point I got up and started dancing to the oldies. Toro and Yalile did, too. We made a train and danced around the tables on the dirt floor. Susan snapped some pictures.

We were there so long that it was time to eat again. Without us asking for it, Mayito brought us a plate of roasted garlic that was to die for, and a plate of chicharrones. Ooh, can he cook!

At 7:30pm we finally closed up the place.


Mayito and Toro

Yalile, Toro and Margie dancing