After the Floods

before the flood

It’s been a wet year, and the recent set of storms delivered the coup de grace, leaving death and devastation in its wake. I had the misfortune to have been involved in a flood a little over 10 years ago, and was forced to stay in a shelter (a nice one due to the fact that the flood was in a remote area and there were only a few homes affected). We stayed in the shelter for a few days and were without power. Fortunately the storm that forced us from our home was a mild one and although it happened on New Years Day, the storm was a warm one (which helped cause the flood because of snow melt) and we didn’t freeze even without heat.

So when I talk about floods, I know the feeling of helplessness and frustration. I even knew a guy who died in the flood. I have plenty of sympathy for the victims. If I were somebody else, perhaps I’d leave it at that. President Laura Chinchilla has sympathy for the victims here. She has called for a national day of mourning. I am reminded of her response to rising crime levels… she called for a day of prayer.

She’s been a busy lady lately, traveling around the country showing sympathy and moral support. She’s good at that. What she doesn’t seem to be quite so good at is getting anything done in the country. I invite my readers to name anything substantive she or the legislature has done in the past year. I suppose letting United States sailors party in Limon is something, but to call it substantive is rather a stretch.

When I started this blog I did the usual stories about tourist attractions, food, wildlife, transportation and tried to avoid the negative. I am grateful that the laws and government of Costa Rica allow me to live here. I love the weather (even the rain), I love my rent, I love being able to live without a car, I love the health care system, for all its faults, and I don’t foresee moving back to the States under any imaginable scenario. But having said that, I am just unable, by nature, to ignore the warts on my adopted country’s face (and other parts). I was/am unable to ignore what was/is wrong in the United States as well, but since this is a blog about Costa Rica, that’s what I talk about.

The mindset is different here, and in some ways it’s nice. The service in bars and restaurants may be slow, but you get a smile and they don’t expect a tip (though one is always appreciated). You eventually learn to ask for you bill 15 minutes before you plan to leave, and usually it comes by then, even if it may not be correct or they may give you somebody else’s bill entirely. But hey! Pura vida.

Still, one thing that hits me again and again are how low expectations are here, and how rarely you find anyone who believes that by working hard and doing a good job, you will advance yourself. What I see (delusional as I may be) is that the Ticos have much more faith in luck (or divine intervention) than in their own ability to change things. There are exceptional Ticos, no question about it, but those I see tend to divide by social class.

Those above the dividing line make their way by being a part of the system, usually by lucky accident of birth. This includes those whom gringos would be inclined to call ‘middle class.’ The middle class have enough resources to put the kids in private schools and keep them there until they can get enough education to go into some profession (lots of lawyers and dentists here, much more than demand would indicate) or get a job at a bank or in some government agency (thanks to the help of Tio Mauricio, or whatnot). Those a bit higher in the pecking order can be found running the country, feeling entitled to by their education (they could afford to go to, say… Georgetown University?) and their good ‘breeding.’ Good breeding might include a father who was a member of some former government, say as comptroller).

Down below the dividing line, life is a bit different. Ambition, when it exists, is more modest. To get a bachelorata (equivalent of a high school diploma) is a goal of many, those who haven’t given up due to the expense. With this magical certificate, they can work even as a cashier in a grocery store! Now THAT is the ticket. But Ticos are not without dreams and aspirations. Walk past a church on a Sunday and the place will be packed, and you can bet that there is some heavy praying going on. Not being a mind reader, I can’t say with certainty, but my guess is that the prayers are split between pleas for health and money.

I walked past a little ‘shrine’ of sorts in a friend’s house a week ago. On the kitchen table was a small picture of Jesus, about the size of a baseball card, and surrounding him were several votive candles and beside him was a letter, in Spanish, asking for divine help in the form of money.

So when the President asks for prayers to stop crime, or her response to the deaths and destruction caused by collapse of infrastructure by rain is for more prayer, it all fits together. It’s not lack of foresight that allowed the roads to crumble and the bridges to wash out. It wasn’t lack of planning that allows people to build in flood zones and beneath sliding hills. It is God’s will, just like it is God’s will that those that run the country are those from the same set of families that have always run the country.

The lottery here is very successful on many fronts. It gives hope to the hopeless, provides jobs to people who have minimal skills, and provides revenue to fund studies on poverty. Success in life is due to luck, no other way to describe how the people in charge are so useless. The only choice that really matters here is one that’s out of anybody’s hands (except God, for the believers), that is, the choice of one’s parents.

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Comments

  1. Jim, hope you did not come back to Us to get away from income inequality, overpaid athletes are the least of our problems. . . . .

  2. Your writing I like. We are small family and children will travel abroad and settle probably in Panama since thats what the grandson wants. Hub and I could be happy anywhere if the sun can warm our bones and we can get bacon.