Sorpresas / Surprises

Not surprisingly, life in el extranjero is full of surprises. Like: despite the hundreds of brilliantly plumed pájaros here, the national bird is… the clay colored robin.

And some things that one would never imagine would differ from place to place… do. Corn on the cob, for instance, doesn’t translate well. It is as tough and tasteless as field corn. (Maybe it is intended only for tortilla making?) Also, supermarket pickles. The verduras encurtido en vinagre were thrown into the compost due to overtones of corn syrup and burnt plastic.

On the other hand: before Dr. Oz ever touted it, before trendy athletes swore by it, even before it was a pet…  centroamericanos were suspending chilla (or as we know it: chia) in icy sugar water and drinking the delicious floating seeds on hot afternoons.

Speaking of which, today Gerbacio surprised me by giving the lie to the truism that Costa Ricans will not tell you the straight truth if they think it might be unpleasant to hear. He was talking a break from chapeando (weed whacking) under our sun shade. “Do you want a glass of cold water?” I asked in Spanish. “Do you have a refresco?” he replied. “No, but I could make limeade.” This sounded good to him, so I squeezed the juice of a ripe key lime, melted shavings of cane sugar in hot water, and mixed it with lots of ice in a mug. He took a swig and grimaced as politely as possible. “Whoo, this is sour! I think you put in enough lime for three mugs full. And it needs about twice the sugar. Otherwise it’ll rot my teeth!” (Another surprise: Gerbacio and most of his countryfolk have excellent white teeth, and swear it is from gnawing on raw sugarcane.) So I did as he suggested, handed him the improved limeade, and thanked him for letting me know.

Then later, I was sweeping the kitchen and poked the broom at an errant leaf. The leaf blew under a crate. A series of pursuing broom swipes were met by strange evasions, as if a fluke breeze cooled the floorboards. Then the leaf slowly bent in half, on its own, possessed. OK, so some insects look like leaves or twigs. But this thing was a leaf. And then it was a bug. It flexed to reveal a soft yellow abdomen. Unfortunately, its convincing disguise had proven fatal, and it is now, like certain distasteful pickles, compost.

But the most serious surprise: it is dry. In the rainforest. The stream makes no sound; there is no more water on the farm. Only the contents of a few barrels. I am not sure what the plan is if we don’t get an aguacero soon. It makes me think about how most of us depend on someone else to supply our water, and whether that dependence or trust is wise. For now, the well refills slowly, and we enjoy our cold beverages that much more conscientiously.

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