Friday, March 2, 2007

Home sweet homestay!

One of the best parts of the entire trip was the two-day homestay with Costa Rican families. We split up in twos and were assigned to a family in the community near Asis. I was quite anxious about this, I confess -- I speak very little Spanish, and the families spoke no English. Luckily, my homestay roomie was Edwenna, who was fearless in speaking Spanish and taking different tacks in order to have meaningful conversations with our family. She was also very kind to me and translated back and forth, so that I could participate in conversations as well. (Thanks, Edwenna!)

Edwenna and I stayed with a lovely couple named Zeila and Joaquin. They operate a small store adjacent to their home -- truly a "mom and pop" business! The store is open from 8am to 8pm every day, and sells basic foodstuffs, snacks, and other miscellaneous things in one would find in a neighborhood corner store.

The view from the backyard was fabuloso -- a wide open valley, with meandering river and grazing cattle, and Arenal looming and lost in cloud.

Joaquin wasn't very talkative, but he was very kind and went out of his way to chop down two coconuts so that Edwenna and I could have fresh pipa juice. He hacked off the top of the coconut with a small machete, then stuck straws in so that we could drink the liquid. It was delicious, and made all the more so by the view we had, sitting in the backyard on a rough-hewn wooden bench and gazing at the volcano as clouds drifted by.

Behind the store and house, there is a lovely open-air pavilion with picnic tables and chairs and benches, clearly the site of many festive dinners and family gatherings. On our first night with our homestay families, we all gathered at Zeila's to help prepare dinner, and then had a fun time eating, drinking and dancing in the pavilion. Edwenna and I worked hard that afternoon, sweeping and mopping and making ready for the evening's festivities, with close supervision from Zeila. I also got some quick Spanish lessons -- how to say chair, table, stool, and mop! And when Francine arrived, we managed to squeeze in a little knitting time.

Once she got over the shock of fifteen women invading her kitchen, Zeila was very patient in teaching us how to make corn tortillas:

Betsey, clever girl that she is, went to the bar up the street to buy a bottle of rum, which we combined with Zeila's fresh pineaple and coconut juices to make tropical "cocktails." That really got the party started!

I was a bit surprised to see an elaborate Nativity scene taking up the corner of Zeila and Joaquin's living room. Zeila explained that they had left it up longer than usual so that Edwenna and I could see it. The women of the community get together in each other's homes to help set up the displays each December, then take them down again after the feast of the Three Kings. I was especially charmed by the small stove in the far right corner of the display, which had a pot of beans "bubbling" away and a wood fire "burning" inside.

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