29 December 2011 § Leave a comment
Last night, a friend of my tico family, Ingrid, in whose place we’re staying on our classic family vacation (a great way to0 learn about a local culture, and the people with whom I’ve lived for three months), asked me in Spanish what the differences between Costa Rica and Alaska were. It has long been my most defining fact here – that Sean is from Alaska, or all the places on earth, and when I talk about the little more that I can talk about fluently – work, school, travel – the discussion leads to the show Deadliest Catch,and I’m usually the center of attention until I run out of vocabulary to keep up with the conversation, which is usually about 45 seconds or so. I don’t have the proficiency to be poetic in Spanish yet, so I wrote out my answer to her in English, and later tried to translate it in real time, much to the frustration of everyone present. Anyway, here it is.
I wanted to find a place and a culture that I knew nothing about and to learn about it. And I found this place, where people generally care for each other but fear those they don’t know, so they put up bars and security fences to keep those things at bay. In the street.
This place, like Alaska and everywhere else, depends on the climate to do what it always does. In Alaska, that dependency keeps people inside for most of the year, because of the cold. Everyone wants to be warm and comfortable.
In Costa Rica, the people depend on the climate to be more or less the same throughout the year, and want to be comfortable also, so being outside is just like being inside, and many houses’ construction reflect this. In many places in C.R., though, you can be outside, but still behind bars.
So much goes unsaid in this culture. Perhaps even more than what is said, which is saying a lot because the people here talk a lot. But it also speaks to the great amount of context, complexity, and respect in a culture where even the cokeheads and schizophrenics are listened to, instead of being written off as waste, or worse, ignored entirely.
The mountains, the sea, the sky – these things are important to me in every place that I visit, but can all be more or less compared with one another.People, on the other hand, and what they create, cannot be so easily. It is true, in my experience, that people are generally the same everywhere in that we want the same things – happiness, love, respect, a safe place to live, good food, etc., but we all have very different ways of obtaining them. This pursuit is what creates culture, and in that respect we are dependent on what we have – the environment; people, natural resources, etc. – to obtain these things we need, and then want. And of course because geography determines these resources, some have different levels of needing to meet these requirements.
Using the most obvious example, in the city, relatively few people have massive networks of trustworthy individuals, as opposed to in rural areas where everyone knows everyone else, and the area thrives not necessarily from a stranger-induced economy, but from its relationships.
In Alaska, it’s much the same. Many towns are isolated from one another. The road system, relative to the size of the state, is not very extensive. But somehow, people survive. Why? How?
One answer is that they laugh. That’s something your home and my home have in common. And coffee. Everyone drinks coffee.
Both of our homes are also very beautiful. Sometimes to the point where, in order to keep balance and order, we must ignore the beauty, or feel we must, because it takes so much energy to be in awe all the time. But when someone visits our home, and falls in love with what they see and hear and feel there, it sparks a new love in us for the place that we’re from, the place we call ‘home’, and perhaps that’s why the tourism industry makes everything seem better than it is – because the denizens see the wonder around them and want to emphasize what they themselves love about their home.
After the translation, mamatica, ever vying for the upper hand and last words in the conversation, told me that I’d told her nothing, essentially, and that she wanted to hear about the physical characteristics of Alaska, and how different they were from Costa Rica. I have a feeling that if we spoke the same language, she and I wouldn’t get along as well as we do. But that’s okay.