Saturday, October 23, 2010

This cow is sick

“This cow is sick,” Carlos says. It is lying on its side. He lassos the cow in one swoop, and directs it to a pasture closer to the barn, keeping the cow in front like he is walking a dog. Something is poking out of its rear, and going back in, and I think it is some sort of internal organ, and I try to maintain my composure and withhold my disgust to feign as if this was ordinary occurrence in my life as a farmer. (Although I’m pretty sure I lost these points from the start, exclaiming excitedly to my host-mom, Ana, that they fed the cows pineapple and papaya cascaras, and she looked back at me, and said, flat-toned but surprised, “You’ve never seen that?”) I try to ask Carlos what the sickness is, but don’t understand the response. Two hours later, we are back with the cow and Christian, one of the owners, is here, using a long plastic glove to stick his hand in the rear of the cow. I watch in horror as a small hoof, then two, start to emerge in Christian’s hand. Now, Carlos is grabbing one leg, and Christian has the other, and they are both pulling full force as if it is tug-of-war against the cow. I feel as if I am watching a magician, fixated on every detail to see how it could possibly be. I feel incredulous still as a tongue lolls out, head, eyes rolled back covered in this yellow mucus. Legs strained stretched straight out, they appear as if they are going to break off. Floop, Christian and Carlos stumble back as the calf crashes onto the ground, collapses head first, in a heap, legs buckled, lolled tongue out, slime fur ball. I let my breathe out, relieved that it all has come out in one piece, and that the mother is okay. The air is heavy and still. “Muerto,” Christian states. It is still.

We are all fixated on this body, though, that has just emerged from another. Just then, its sides waver, hesitate in and out. Christian swoops over to pull the mucus membrane out of its mouth. It shakes its head as if it has just emerged from a deep slumber. “Shit, I thought it was dead,” Carlos states. We stand there, me, Carlos, Christian, mother. It is as if the mother has yet to discover what has happened, and is as surprised and apprehensive as we are in realizing what is lying there in front of us. Her nostrils flare as she approaches slowly, sniffs it cautiously, and then eagerly, dutifully, eyes wide, rushes the last two steps in to bathe the calf in her tongue swaths. We stand there speechless, silent, watching the tiny body. Christian lifts its leg to see what sex it is. Carlos finally kicks the mother’s head away, saying “hijo de puta, she almost ate its tail. I thought it was gonna eat the damn thing’s tail.” We smile and exchange knowing glances, and return our attention to the new creature. The calf is thin. It lies there, head erect, but unresponsive to the warm breathe blows and big rasps of tongue. The mother chews away the remnants of this yellow membrane in addition to licking off the bubbly slime foam. I am too stunned to be grossed out. Its long front limbs stretch in front of it like it is done lying there. It has figured out how to be an object in the outside world, and now it is ready to enter it as a furry subject unsure of what this leg does and that. Oh, strain upwards, lie down, collect oneself, strain upward, lie down, that is too much for it at the moment. Finally, out of the stillness, Christian smiles at my mesmerized face, and says gently, “Vamos, a ordenar” and I follow walking sideways, head turned back to the calf. Will it stand up? What will the mother do next? I want to see it take its first wobbly steps and see its muzzle furs collect too eager froth dribbles of milk.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Forest Mountain Micro-organisms (Continued)

Day 1:
Gabriel sits down with me to eat lunch, and I ask him, “Are you prepared to go to Nicaragua this upcoming week?” “I am busy preparing the projects. It should take eight years to complete, I have five projects to set up there, and three in San Carlos. So Tuesday, or maybe even tomorrow, we will check if the rice will be ready.” Gabriel begins to explain the rest of the formula. I feel like I should be taking notes between my mouthfuls of cabbage. I want to ask how much of everything, and if you have to mix it together in a special way, but I concede with, “Tomorrow or Tuesday, you are going to prepare it? Can I watch?” “Yes, yes, of course. That’s why you’re here.” I breathe a sigh of relief.

He says that he had started teaching this formula to farmers all over Zarcero, that he could have made millions, but he wanted to give them a present, he wanted, to teach. And then, someone took this idea, and started a business, selling small bottles of the microorganisms for 20 dollars when it only cost 2 dollars to make each bottle. He shakes his head. “In Nicaragua, there is no way people can afford that. I want to make it way cheaper for them. But, I know the empresas will get mad at me again.”
“Why did they get angry at you?” I ask.
“Well, after I started teaching this to everyone, I was being interviewed, I was on the radio and the television. Stupid,” he says. “I should have known better. Well, people stopped buying chemical fertilizers from the empresas. Demand went way down, and that’s when I began receiving threats. They called me on the phone, and threatened to kill me. That big greenhouse on the top of the hill,” he points, “he was my friend, but the chemical businesses gave him money to kill me. He put venom in my coffee, and of course, as you know, I drink a lot of coffee, (he does drink a lot of coffee) it is my fuel, and he tried to kill me. So then, I got nervous. I got nervous and I got quiet. That was ten years ago, so that was when I went to Japan. I went to Japan to study and learn. (He is always talking about Japan). Now I am back, and that’s why I’m going to do work in Nicaragua. It is safer for me there, but they could follow me. I have to be careful.”

Day 2: Gabriel shows up at my work using my host-sister’s boyfriend’s car to collect 4-gallon containers for the formula.

Day 3: Finally, we are back. I have escaped the tomato farm early after another day of hanging mercates. (Although, there is one thing out of the ordinary: Carlos’s father’s girlfriend tells me that her sister apparently wants to “conocerme” (get to know me/meet me) and go on a weekend trip with me). It is 2:00 pm and we are heading out before it rains, shuffling quickly, (as is Gabriel’s normal pace.) Gabriel again carries his machete in hand, waving it around like a wand as it serves as an extension of his hand when he talks. I had been wondering last time why he had carried one, and this time he explains: “For wild animals. Here, at this altitude, there aren’t culebras, but just in case. In Nicaragua, also for people, for thieves.” Shuffle, shuffle, stop. Wild mustard, we eat some (spicy arugula taste). Shuffle shuffle stop. A shoot growing off a tree. (also medicinal). Shuffle shuffle stop. Avocado tree. Gabriel explains how to combine two species of avocado. When we arrive at the first rice packet burial, Gabriel sticks the machete in the ground.

We descend. I am like a child awaiting my first Christmas present. Gabriel takes off the rubber bands and uncovers the fabric covering. Sure enough, purple bacteria have colonized a spot along with a faster spreading yellow color, and two small spots of green. Wow. As we uncover the other packets, the yellow bacteria is most prevalent, called celulitica. One of the packets has gone missing, and Gabriel claims it was a thief. “It was a thief, how unlucky. It was a thief,” he repeats. (Upon leaving, we find the empty container. An animal, not a thief, has eaten our rice.) What do you know? It is milking time right as we are leaving, meaning we join the train of cows back up the cow path. It is slow moving, and Gabriel prods the last fat slowpoke cow every so often. She is so large that we hear the “tick” of the electric fence shock her once, twice as her sides bump against the wire. Of course, she stops to pee, and even as we back off hurriedly, the pee splashes up at us from the concrete path.

Gabriel has collected almost all the ingredients he needs, but we stop at the nearest lecheria to fill up the gallon jug of milk so that it hasn’t yet been pasteurized, and has good bacteria brewing. We get warm milk right out of the now-pumping milk tube. Gabriel covers it with his rain jacket (since the company Dos Pinos that buys milk from every farm in Zarcero won’t let you sell milk to anyone else but them), and the owner waives off Gabriel’s attempt to pay him. Gabriel runs off once more to get molasses from a neighbor, and we are ready. In case you want to make some:

Gabriel’s recipe for organic micro-organism fertilizer
450 g bread yeast (Gabriel says the bread yeast addition was his invention, that he did an experiment, one with the yeast, and one without, and his yeast addition had twice the amount of bacteria as the other)
250 cc alcohol (to accelerate fermentation)
200 cc vegetable oil
20 g salt
2 L milk
2 L molasses
4 eggs (or blood)
15 L warm water
dash of soy sauce
6 packets of forest micro-organism rice

The most important part is that once you have combined everything and put it in a large container (it must be plastic with a cap) you have to open the cap of the container every hour for 24 hours or it will explode. After 5 minutes of closing the container, sure enough the sides and top have swelled. Every 45 minutes or so, Gabriel jumps up from watching TV, saying, "Casi me olvide" and then grabbing me to show how much the container had swelled. (I'm not sure how every hour tonight is going to go). Last time, he said he fell asleep at 1 am by accident and it exploded all over the kitchen. In 24 hours, Gabriel says, 48 generations of micro-organisms will have reproduced.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Where I am (Interlude)

La Leguna de Zarcero is up and down. It is 2000 meters above sea level. Translation: on my 3 mile hike to work, I can hear myself breathing heavy up the hills, and feel my lungs large, shrink, large, shrink, large like the air is not filled with much of anything. At the top of the hill, I can see the clouds settle in the valley below me. One-inch moss hanging onto fence posts indicates the heavy fog and mist that engulfs this land. The hills are green and lush and dotted with Holstein and Jersey cattle. Sections of terraced soil rise in soft steps off the road, ready to be filled with cabbage, potatoes, carrots or remolachas. Invernaderos (greenhouses) are scattered about. The owners are white (Spanish) and the workers are brown (Nicaraguan). The houses are barless, doors are open. A car stops as I am walking, and I smile and say “no, thank you, I am close.”

I, I am up and I am down. I am up, up, up, sipping agua dulce at 6 am, walking from the clouds into a pink sky at 6 pm. I am up sneaking my roadside goat friend a guava snack. I love this walk. I am up capturing forest micro-organisms in the bosque.

Other times I am down, trellising tomatoes with mercates, head down, eight hours alone (well, near Ezekiel, who leaves my hello alone or grunts when I ask how, and so I watch, and follow along) and I think and I talk to, and sometimes fight with myself in my head. I like to think, debate, ponder, dream, plan in my head, but there’s a point when thinking gets too heavy and too much, and my thoughts become angry and silent, and they build and I stop thinking and am just counting: one, two, three, four,…fourteen un-winds it takes to hang the mercates so that the thread just touches from the alhambre to the ground. And all I can see is the end of the row, fast, fast, faster, unwinding, wrist, wrist, wrist, and now it is a secret race: can I un-wind, pull, yank, calculate, hook faster than Ezekiel, who works fast, steady, whistling, never stopping to take a drink, always un-winding just enough twine?

But my angry thoughts are still there, and finally the day is over and I am still bitter riding home silently, sullenly, and I walk in the door, home, and Kristen is calling to check in. I don’t have a chance to filter myself. It is all there waiting no longer, automatically, systematically, there. “How are you?” I erupt, voice high, “okay,” I squeak out, already gasping to talk, tears brimming, words stuck, Ana walking up from the road, opening the door, fresh bread loaves in hand, Gabriel right there on the coach. I try to clear my throat, “ahem,” tears spilling, “what sorts of things have you been doing?”  “…tomatoes…--It’s just (gasp) not what I—I’m okay, I don’t know why I’m so—“ “sentimental,” Ana fills in. “It’s just I didn’t think I would be doing the same thing all day with tomatoes.” There, it's out. And Gabriel goes off: “He was supposed to show you…I told him you weren’t just another…" he shakes his head, "You’re going to work in the school and la ganaderia…” We sit, me facing Gabriel and Ana, bread loaves on floor. 

It is better now. Now I work at the lecheria once or twice a week, escaping the tomates. Hi, I am Spencer, can I work with you? I stir a vat of liquid manure that pumps into a giant irrigation sprinkler and I talk with Carlos (the 2nd), about our family, about the breeds of cows, about our homes. We feed the cattle wheelbarrows of pineapple and papaya cascaras. I grip a bucket of milk for the cutest chiquitica calf to slurp and bob and splash. I learn how to milk the 28 cows with machine tubes. I am still in a place of ups and downs, but it is better now. This is where I am.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Forest Mountain Micro-organisms

“You need three things for organic production: organic matter, micro-organisms, and nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, boron),” states Carlos Huertas, my 24 year old boss. In the first day of my internship (semi-organic vegetable (tomato) farm), Gabriel, my 45 year-old host father organic agriculture consultant Danny Devito character, and I follow Carlos around as he walks in circles turning on this irrigation tube, and hand-watering those seedlings. We follow him into the garage where Gabriel explains the barrels of organic chemicals by saying, “If you take a spoonful of this, it won’t kill you. If you take a spoonful of non-organic chemicals, it will kill you.” He gestures towards the EM (effective microorganism) liquid vat. Carlos proceeds to gather some tools and head out as Gabriel continues to explain, you add molasses, which the micro-organisms eat and then reproduce rapidly. It needs an anaerobic environment for bacteria in the production of EM, muy importante, in order to kill off the bad bacteria such as salmonella and E. Coli.

In my first week here, Gabriel has mentioned at least a few times this EM, los microorganismos del bosque, the microorganisms of the forest, this seemingly secret forest formula that he has taught to Carlos and others. I have tried to get more out of him: what exactly are they and how do you capture them and bring them here to this vat of molasses liquid to spread on the tomatoes’ soil? but his only response has been, “sometime I will show you.”

Carlos’s style is a bit less informative, either I am watching him use the gas stove to repair an irrigation tube in silence, and then he is handing me the tube to try it myself, or I am working for eight hours alone in the greenhouse lowering and pruning and trellising the thousand tomato plants there, after which Carlos finally shows up from wherever he has been, grins, and pats me hard twice on the back.

Yes, Gabriel, on the other hand, from the get go, has been intent on speaking to me about agriculture. These opportunities, unfortunately, arise during my time off, during dinner, while watching TV, or brushing my teeth. Nonetheless, I am content to have my mind buzzing with Spanish agricultural terms on Saturday morning, as I follow Gabriel off to the Zarcero farmers’ market and then to the hydroponic lettuce and tomato farm. We have just gotten back, had lunch, and I am sitting down to talk to my mom on the computer, and Gabriel stands in my doorway and says, “Vamos a la Montana, a la bosque para recoger los microorganismos. I want to go before it rains and it might be raining tomorrow so listo? Vamos.” I take off my headphones and pop off my bed, intrigued and amused to finally be capturing the microorganisms from the mountain forest. We set out, and after ten minutes of walking uphill, we are turning off the road onto a cowpath that winds down around the mountain. (Let me first explain that Zarcero is in the mountains, and going any direction either involves going up or down, so going down to get to the mountain was not unusual). Gabriel is carrying a pink bag filled with plastic ribbons and six packets of cooked rice. I should have realized when we set out that Gabriel was wearing tall rubber boots with jeans tucked inside them for a reason. He was also carrying a machete, which he would use to point to things along the way. (After almost getting knicked by it once, I kept myself out of range.) I, on the other hand, felt like a city boy in my special clean weekend outfit: converses, corduroys, and only unstained plain white T-shirt (since unlike yesterday I figure I will not be stirring a cement pond of cowshit water and moving the shitwater tubes and its irrigation pump to different areas of the field). Oh well, the cowpath was muddy with cowshit and occasional full cowpies. It was also narrow with electric, ticking wires marking either side, rendering sidestepping a less appealing option. Now, we were cutting off the path, lowering ourselves well under this electric wire (my hitting-the-rucking-pad-under-the-stick practice coming in handy), and trudging through knee-high grass across the pastures, and under more wire.

The tall (montane humid) forest is finally looming below us, on a steep steep slope leading into a mountain stream. We step downward, sideways, backward, into the forest, into “suelo muy suave,” Gabriel states, a ground that sinks with each step, thick and rich with decomposing leaf matter from the dense foliage. Gabriel starts digging around, perched diagonally on the slope, rummaging through this soil and that, glasses becoming speckled with dirt, holding the soil up to his nose. “Huele, smell this soil,” he says. I let him drop the soil into my cupped hands.

It is the best soil smell I have ever smelt. It is a sweet sweet deep earth pine must. I feel as if I am a mole, smelling only the sweet dank earthy depths below the ground.  Or else, I am standing with my eyes closed in Ilana’s basement cedar closet. I proceed to smell this patch of soil, and that. I can’t stop smelling its sweetness, its fullness, I want to roll in it and plant things in it and I am more than pleased to be sitting sunken in the humus slope getting high on soil with Gabriel. He says that if you have soil that smells like that, you can grow anything. I don’t need more convincing.

We were like goats scampering from level to level. I was careful not to brace onto anything anymore for balance after getting pricked by tens of tiny invisible bamboo hairs like baby porcupine quills. Lower into this forest, “huesos,” Gabriel says. I look and see a cow skull in the soil. Gabriel starts digging around in it, pulls out the jawbone, and sticks the rice packet where the brain might be. “Calcio y fosforo” he says. The bone has calcium and phosphorus that is decomposing into the soil. He makes me smell this soil too, and it is less sweet, but it is the richest soil that I have felt, reminding me even of fresh worm castings. It is not too sandy or clay-ey, but moist and soft and smooth and crumbly. It appears as if it has been sifted like brown sugar and it is a deep deep chocolate brown. Another packet Gabriel tucks in a rock crevice where algae and lichen cling to the rock’s surface. Still another he  buries next to a special leguminous tree. Gabriel buries the remainder of the six rice packets in distinct spots, marking them each with ribbons. “This you can’t learn in books,” he says. Well shit, I think to myself, eyes wide, I better take note. I could use some farming magic. Only I don’t know what microormitizas or armicigas are, nor would I know what they were in English, and I wish that Heather Rose or Kate were here to explain to me these secret science organisms right before my eyes.

This much I got: he was finding areas with different types of micro-organisms, burying the rice packets shallowly and covering them with leaves so that the organisms would enter the rice since it has a lot of proteins and carbohydrates. The leaves would protect the rice from the rain. Apparently, the organisms will also magically turn the rice different colors as they multiply. Then, we will somehow transfer these little guys into water, producing 40 liters of microorganism fertilizer. But, until then, now, we wait. In three days we will collect our rainbow rice packets and capture our micro-organism feast. To be continued…

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Street Vending in San Jose, the Muni, and Sonia’s Immigration Policy

Wrapped umbrellas swing from hips. Limes perch in a cardboard box. A green-eyed guy with a backpack blows out a stream of bubbles onto the Avenida Central. Katie, my classmate, and I keep an eye out for the muni. This is our homework—to interview five street vendors of San Jose. Subsequently, I have begun counting the “muni,” 4,6,…18, evading any eye contact, and if they walk our way, we walk the other. A lookout vendor lets out a low whistle and women carrying hangers of bright shoelaces sweep their products into their big purses; the fruit vendors hoist their boxes onto one shoulder and start walking; an umbrella woman walks briskly ahead of another, looking behind her, as two “muni” officers stroll into this new, vacant scene. Street vending in San Jose is like a covert, creative network that appears and disappears in an instant, hanging tenuously under the noses of navy blue and bright yellow uniformed “muni” police officers. These vendors are part of the informal sector (IS), the unregistered, unregulated, yet legal micro-enterprises that take place outside of state control. The vendors buy small products typically from a store, and sell them for (from what I found) double that amount on the street. More women than men work in this sector, and many immigrants (mostly Nicaraguan) work here, those with less access to capital (Cross 1998). If the “muni” catches them (which they do, but not as often as I would think) they take away all of their products. The only enemy and disadvantage they mentioned was the “muni,” the municipality. They said they make in two days what they would make in a factory in one week. No, they don’t prefer that work. They have social security. They work every day of the week typically from 6 am to 7 pm, they say. Sonia has told me that they all work for “the Colombians,” that they are the ones who gain money to buy drugs from this work. One person did say she bought her products from “the Colombians”…

(Let me explain, though, a little bit about Sonia. She is conservative, and racist when it comes to Nicaraguans and immigration, and more than adamant about her views, always ending a dinner conversation rant with “Am I right? Do you agree with me?” directed forcefully at me, her eyes wide. I have given up trying to defend my position (non-confrontationally, diplomatically,) after Sonia has used my slower pace of Spanish speech to regain control of the conversation. Now I just take a mouthful of food and defer to William (her friend that lives with us). When I told her our class was going to San Sebastian (a Nicaraguan immigrant community outside of San Jose) she said, “Oh, are you going to the jail?” When I tried to explain what we were learning about immigration in class, she went on a rant that included motioning her thumb to her mouth “Nicas…borrachos, (drunks)”… “taking our jobs, violence, violence, violence.” Sonia feeds the guard of our neighborhood every night after we finish dinner, (I think as her way of payment,) bringing a full plate outside, calling out “Guarda” from behind the bars (typical of almost every house outside of San Jose) and saying to me, “I don’t know his name, nor do I want to know his name” (He is Nicaraguan). Yet, Iliana, our neighbor who eats breakfast with Sonia and Julita every morning, is Nicaraguan. Sonia has explained this by saying, “It is isn’t discrimination. I have good friends who are Nicaraguan, but our system cannot support them when we have our own people to feed.” Keep in mind, Sonia and Julita are also immigrants, from Cuba. (But I follow the laws, she would say). (You are also lighter-skinned and middle class, I would say). Anyway, I guess most people have some contradictions in their politics.)

We have begun interviewing the bubble guy… “How long have you been working here? Do you sell other things, besides bubbles? Where are you from?” He pauses in answering our question in order to blow out a long, stream of bubbles. “Sabanilla.” “What hours do you work?” He screws the top on his bubble bottle, and pulls up the straps of his plastic bag, encasing his bubble collection. In the same swoop, his friend comes over and grabs it up and starts walking. “Todo el dia… 6 a las 7, todos los dias.” The bubble guy is steadily looking past us, half-smiling like he is pleased with himself, and I turn to look. The muni have just appeared. He explains that the muni know his face because they have taken his stuff before, so now he works with his friend as a form of protection. As we are walking down la Avenida Central, we start to get frustrated. Where are all the street vendors? It is then that we realize we have been walking in stride with two muni officers across the street. We stop and wait until the “Sombrillas, Sombrillas…” chatter starts up and products appear as if out of nowhere. We talk with a thirteen year old girl selling bra straps; we talk with a woman who has been working on the street for 40 years, her dad trained her when she was four; we are denied by an umbrella woman because she says she is on lookout duty for her group; we talk with a Nicaraguan lime guy who we can’t understand between the car traffic and his rapid slurred speech; we talk with a shoelace woman who we see ten minutes later now selling umbrellas. As the rain starts to pour down, it seems as though everyone is selling sombrillas. I put up the hood of my rainjacket (and yes, Lynne, it is still the one that is too small for me that I took from one of your camp children and sewed up) and tuck my soggy interview paper into my jacket.

The temblor and the scared gringo

The day before my birthday there was an earthquake, a temblor, not a terremoto, but it was strong, nonetheless, not strong enough to knock dishes off the shelves, but strong enough to make me stumble to regain my balance and give me a good scare. I was washing dishes (I know, a rare exception in Sonia’s home) and the floor started shaking. I finished washing my dish and placing it in its dish rack, not knowing what to think, or do in the case of an earthquake, and concluding that I might as well finish what I was doing. Then, there was a stronger rumble, and Sonia and Julita were yelling at me and waving a hand at me to come over to the door. I stood with them in fear, ready for the floor to open up and me to fall into the gaping breach. Well, that was it, and the floor did not open up. I didn’t think I looked that scared, but Sonia and Julita wouldn’t let go of it.

After the earthquake, Sonia called Juanca, her nephew, and then spoke with the neighbors, and then the Guard (the one that is not Nicaraguan), each time chuckling and recounting “y mi hijo no sabia lo que estaba pasando. Tenia mucho miedo, sus ojos muy grandes. Fue la primera vez que lo habia sentido. Pienso que el no sabia que hubiera temblores aqui.” (And my boy didn’t even know what was happening. He was so scared. His eyes were so wide. It was the first time that he had even felt one and I don’t even think he even knew that there were earthquakes here.) So I became the evening chisme, the scared gringo.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Gymnastic playground foam pit playground

This weekend, I decided to decline classmates’ requests that I go with them to the beach or this hiking place, because, well, I have been thinking lately about why it is (or was) that I wanted to come to Costa Rica in the first place, and I remembered that I felt it important to do some stuff on my own and was excited about venturing out in a new place. So that is just what I did. Saturday I informed Sonia and Tia Julita at 7am that I was going out walking to Cartago. “What, mi hijo?” they responded, “you are going to do what?” Cartago is 17 km away along a busy road. “Don’t worry, I am going to take the bus back.” After giving me a look of worry and disapproval, Sonia opened up the door for me, blessed me “Que dios te lo acompana,” and sent me out. I ended up in Tres Rios instead, which could have been the same thing to me, but I was happy just to be out walking, observing things that I can’t observe with other people around. Along the way, only about two miles from my house, is the Gymnastics Club/Parkour. I had passed it once before, but was apprehensive. Now that I was intent on trying new things here, I decided it was time. Luckily, there was a class on Sunday at 9 am.

La hora Tica—I shouldn’t have worried that I was the first one there and the building locked. Upon entering, I knew that this place was my dream of a giant playground for adults come true—a trampoline, springy floor, a vault like a diving board into a foam pit, rings dangling way above my head like I imagine it would feel like to fly, parallel bars (again I imagined flying like a trapeze artist from bar to bar), lots and lots and lots of squishy pad things, perfect for Lynne and my yet to be fulfilled obstacle course.

After coming back from my spell of awe, I observed for cues as to what I should do, filing into a jogging line. Warm-up kicked my ass, (what is the rest going to be like?), but it felt so good to feel my body working, every part of me, pushing it to limits again, something I haven’t really done since high school.

There were about 20 teenage-adult guys, one badass pre-teenage girl, and a few other teenage-adult girls. At first we were all just jogging (bouncing) in a circle on the bouncy gymnast floor, and doing a little sprinting, and then we were doing jumping, and then a break for stretching for literally 30 seconds, and then push-ups and mountain climbers and push-up jumps and more jumps and abs and ab-jumps and at this point I was sweating thoroughly through my shirt and out of breath and that’s just when we got to handstands where we were supposed to walk on our hands forward and backward and side to side, (which consisted of me springing upside down, moving my hands eagerly forward like a toddler trying to run, and tumbling, legs splaying one way or another, and bouncing up to try again) and then we were doing head-stand push-ups and before I could stop to take a drink, people were doing repetitions and routines of back flips and front handsprings across the floor, like you see in the Olympics and stuff and I think this was still warm-up but I must have missed the point when different levels separate off, in my excitement to try everything I could—that, and watching in awe at the others, when finally the instructor guy came over to me and I was like “So, I haven’t done much gymnastics before,” and he was like “You’re just beginning. Go over to the bar with the muchachas.”

Thankfully, I joined two probably 15 year old girls, slender with braces, who were very nice and were like “Yeah, the first time I showed up, I was like oh my god,” jaw dropping, in reference to the warm-up routine. We all laughed nervously and they showed me how to do beginner bar exercises, the three of us side by side on the bar,  jumping up from pad blocks to hold ourselves on the bar in unison, as others did flips and vaults into the pit of big squishy foam blocks, which reminded me of a McDonalds playground’s ball pit. Others ran up padded walls and flipped upside down in order to jump off the wall (parkour). And still others did balance beam work and floor routines. It was like a zoo of a playground. We practiced handstand forward rolls next, and then (as I had been eyeing the trampoline the whole time) the instructor was like you can do beam exercises or the trampoline and I almost interrupted him to state, “I love the trampoline,” and so off we went, spending the last 45 minutes on the trampoline, which afforded us each like a million turns, at least ten times the number of turns we got each day at camp. The two girls hadn’t even done trampoline before, and couldn’t do a seat drop at first, so I got to teach them how to do seat drops and seat to belly and swivel hips, trying to explain it all in Spanish, and then they just started imitating my moves and out of nowhere, (I guess they were sick of the easy stuff) just bounced into a front flip.

It made me so happy to feel like I was at camp again and that I was around girls and not boys and I felt my girls’ camp pride return and I even really liked that the instructor referred to the three of us as “muchachas” (the feminine form) which no one here except for a few people saying ella but then correcting themselves, has done. (Of course, no one has bothered to ask). I was the happiest (and the most tired and exhilarated and thirsty all at the same time).

I watched parkour practice for a bit after class (and stretched necessarily), and then I practically bounced out of the gym, beaming, light-headed, and free, walking a few miles to the farmers’ market where I bought lots of papaya and jocote and pejiballe and I was so happy that I bought a bouquet of flowers for Sonia and Julita and then as I am walking home with my full backpack and really sweaty t-shirt, holding my bright pink and yellow flower bouquet in front of me with both hands, this guy approached me and was like excuse me, do you have 200 colones (40 cents) to spare for the bus, and he just looked so genuine and I was so happy and I was just looking at him, and he was looking at me in the eye and I couldn’t just walk away (despite being chided again and again about tricks people use to take your wallet), so I gave him the change I had, which was not 200 colones, but he thanked me and walked off  and I knew that the situation was going to be fine anyway because how could anything go wrong when you feel like you are all light all over spilling over with happiness and besides, you are carrying bright flowers home for your mom like you have just won them and how could someone steal those because they know and they feel like you have just won them and your energy is so strong that nothing can break it. Next time I am going to ask to play in the foam pit (or I guess I should say vault).