Monday, August 16, 2010

They eat Kentucky Fried Chicken in Costa Rica?

Oh blog how I have missed you. I'm sorry that I have been slacking on my updates lately...I've been really busy with my classes and I feel so far behind now that I am not quite sure where to start. I can't retell everything that has happened in "mi pura vida" since my last post, so I apologize in advance for the discontinuity, perhaps, of this post.

I suppose a good place to start is explaining why I haven't written in a while. I can't say that the quantity of school work here is as much as it would be if I were at Miami right now (classes started today without me...kind of sad), but I still keep busy. I have had two group projects in the past couple weeks, one of which I presented on Thursday and the other I am going to present this Wednesday. I'll spare the details of the first project to save energy for more exciting news, but I will tell you a bit about the project that I am still working on right now. It is for my Spanish class and each group has a theme related to Costa Rican culture. Caitlin, Abby, and I "got stuck" with "Ritmos Bailables" (Dance Rhythms) because we were the only people who weren't entirely intimidated by the dancing aspect of the theme. We don't have to dance in front of the class, but given that Caitlin and I are both in a dance class, we have decided to do just that. I interviewed our dance instructor, Argerie, for my part of the project and she has agreed to come to class on Wednesday to give everyone a little lesson :) The project turned out to be more work than we had expected, but I'm having fun with it. Also classes-related, I have gotten back some of my first graded works and have done quite well. I have received over 100% on both of my quizzes for my literature class, thanks to extra credit questions, and I got an A on my first analysis for that class as well. I'm not sure how I did on my first presentation, but the professor seemed to like it. It's hard to tell, however, if other students and professors are just charmed/amused by us gringos or actually think we know what we're talking about. When Callie and I got up in front of the class to give our presentation, everyone paid a lot more attention to us than they did to the other groups and I even made them laugh a few times. I hate to admit it, but we have an automatic advantage as cute American females here in Costa Rica.

Outside of class, I haven't done anything incredibly exciting...I've been in Heredia for the past 3 weekends in a row, so I am definitely ready to travel again. We're planning to go somewhere this weekend...I'll tell you about it once I know exactly where we're going. I actually was quite bored and frustrated last weekend after several attempts to do something other than go to the mall to see a movie failed. This weekend, however, was much more successful. The whole weekend was fun, but I'll just give you the highlights, once again to save my energy. On Saturday night Callie, Abby, Caitlin, and I went to see a Russian ballet (El Ballet de Kiev) in San José. We bought the cheapest seats possible in the gallery, but little did we know that we would have to go down another street outside of the main building through this somewhat shady side door and then climb up a whole bunch of stairs to find benches rather than seats. All we could do was laugh as we awkwardly climbed up to our seats, all wearing dresses. The ballet itself was wonderful. Rather than its own story, it was a selection of pieces from different ballets including Don Quijote, Romeo and Juliet, the Nutcracker, and Swan Lake. It was nice to finally do something a bit out of the ordinary.

Sunday was enjoyable as well. I went to Escazu, the place I had wanted to go for 2 weekends in a row, with Claudia, Silvia, Mariela, and her boyfriend Andrés. In case you were wondering about the kids, they spent the day with their dad on Sunday (it was nice to have a little break). Escazu is known as a wealthy area throughout the whole country...the U.S. Ambassador lives there, no big deal. The entire day was really nice because I was able to talk a lot of Spanish, bond with my family, and learn about a new area of Costa Rica. It was worth getting barely any homework done, even though I am paying for it now.

To go back in time a week (I warned you about the discontinuity), last Sunday was "El Dia de la Madre," a.k.a. Mother's Day. Being a predominantly Catholic country, Costa Rica celebrates Mother's Day on August 15th because it is the same day as the Ascension of the Virgen Mary and Mary is the idyllic mother figure. The way Costa Ricans celebrate the day is similar to how we celebrate it in the U.S. with a few differences. While it is common to go out to eat on Mother's Day in the U.S., I wouldn't say that it is the end all be all, but in Costa Rica, it is the thing to do. Since Costa Rica, like all of Latin America, is such a patriarchal society, I think that it is so popular to go out to restaurants because a) mothers don't want to cook on their day and b) very very few men know how to cook (if there are men in the house). Since I live in a house of all women and none of them wanted to spend their day doing what they do every day, they decided to go out for lunch somewhat at the last minute. Because of the kids, it is difficult to go to a restaurant together and if you're going to go out to eat on Mother's Day, you absolutely have to have a reservation. When my family told me that we were going out to eat on Sunday morning, they had already told me about all the hype and I knew that we didn't have a reservation anywhere so I wasn't sure where we were going to go. It wasn't until we pulled into the parking lot of KFC that I knew where we would celebrate Mother's Day. Yes, that's right - KFC. I have never even eaten at a KFC in the U.S., nor have I ever been tempted to; and yet, here I was at KFC in Costa Rica on Mother's Day. Although I was looking forward to my first eating out experience in Costa Rica, I wasn't so much disappointed as I was uncomfortable and a bit disturbed. First of all, there were men helping people park their cars and escorting people without umbrellas (since it was raining, no surprise there) to the door almost like a vallet service at a fancy restaurant. Once we got inside the restaurant, there were so many people that we had to wait to sit down at a table. Try to imagine the inside of a typical fast food restaurant, packed with people chowing down on buckets of fried chicken, workers running in and out of the kitchen to clean off tables, help people find tables, take people's orders, etc. etc., and then me (the only white person) standing in the middle of all that chaos thinking, "my country created this mess." I can't quite explain my level of discomfort at that moment, but it was quite profound. I found it appalling, in all honesty, that a KFC was so packed with people on Mother's Day in a country other than the U.S. While I'm not a huge fan of fast food restaurants in the U.S., I have never felt this way at home, but here, in my current home, it just did not feel right at all. I had encountered a perfect example of why many people criticize globalization as "Americanization" and I suppose that it scared me a little bit. I suddenly felt as if my country was polluting the rest of the world. During lunch that day, I was not proud of the U.S.

Since then, I have had time to think and calm down a little bit. I've realized that the U.S. can put McDonald's all over the world, but will never be able to transform the cultures of other countries through fast food. The reason why KFC was so crowded, other than the whole Mother's Day thing, is because the concept of "fast" food isn't all that important to ticans. On any given day, the dining rooms of all fast food restaurants are crowded because, whether it's fast food or not, ticans still take time to actually eat sitting down. The concept of eating food in the car on the go isn't all that appealing, nor necessary, to a society that takes the time to eat together with family and friends during every meal. They even take the time to sit down and drink coffee during the late afternoon..."to go" cups are difficult to come by.

While I was a bit annoyed with America on this particular Sunday, living in foreign countries has made me incredibly proud to be an American, and during all of my questioning, analyzing, and rationalizing, I encountered another question: of all the places I could have been born in this world, how did I become an American? Why am I a citizen of the wealthiest and most developed nation in the world? Costa Rica is the most developed country of Central America and one of the most developed in all of Latin America, and yet trash and dog poop lines the streets of Heredia; the bridge near my house that collapsed during the first week I was here has not been touched; stray dogs are everywhere; toilet paper is often not provided in public restrooms; and hot water is a luxury. I, on the other hand, live in a country where Internet is a necessity; 10 year-olds own iPods and cell phones; and there is enough water to take hour long hot showers and to keep our lawns green (the mere fact that we even have lawns). Why am I so privileged? It's no wonder that many people around the world resent many ways, we're spoiled brats. This isn't a criticism, it's just the truth. And it isn't until I stepped outside of what I have recognized as normal my entire life, that I realized that my life in the U.S. is incredibly abnormal compared to the lives of other people all around the world. I'm not sure how to conclude this thought because the concept fascinates me, but it is this fascination that has driven and continues to drive my aspiration to have a career through which I will work with people from other countries who have different cultures and speak different languages. After all, the world extends quite a bit beyond the borders of the U.S.

Sorry if I have lost any of you with my rambling. I will try to have a more thematic update next time. Until then, pura vida!

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