You might want to skip this. I’m going to talk about poop.

Every piece of literature you read on Costa Rica makes two claims (some make many more, but these two are on every single list I’ve ever seen):

1. Costa Rica enjoys 95% literacy.
2. The water is safe to drink.

Number one is false. Not true in any way, shape or form. Ask anyone who has lived here more than six months and spends any length of time outside a casino.

If you mean by literate that a person can identify the letters of the alphabet and write their own name, well, ok, that’s true. Although, when I drive by public schools, even here in Gringolandia, I wonder how anyone learns a thing inside buildings in such disrepair. In the campo [KAHM-poh country], the school situation is downright desperate.

If you mean what UNESCO means: "Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society." If you mean that, then we aren’t even close.

In the rush to escape to Costa Rica for a year, we believed what we
read. Why not? It was written everywhere. The truth is discouraging. Let’s face it: the way to a better quality of life is either education or incredible good luck. Neither of which is found in any great supply in Costa Rica’s public school system.

I don’t mean to be an uppity gringa. God knows I’m no poster child for the educated. I went to high school in KY, remember. Just the building was nicer. Half my class quit school to have a baby or work on the farm. I graduated with straight A’s after skipping at least a third of it to be drunk and stoned. Heck, I feel right at home here.

But let’s get back to poop and lie Number 2. (I did not plan that. Honest.) This lie is not such a whopper and may even be 100% true in the strictest sense. I mean, you won’t die if you drink the water. And from everything I know now, you most likely won’t even pick up a traveler. But even though I’ve asked everyone I know here, both personally and on the forums, read everything I can find online, I still can’t seem to get to the bottom of the parasite thing. (Ok, didn’t plan that one either. Serendipity working in my life.)

Since arriving, we’ve been hearing parasite talk. Not a lot of talk – who wants to talk about it? But it’s mentioned here and there, by friends, by expats on the CRL board. Apparently, most of the indigenous kids frequently have parasites. A few expats have had them. "No big deal," they said.

Here’s the interesting thing to me: most everyone I talked to takes preventive measures, a small dose of Albendazole
every six months. Just in case. The complete dose is 6 pills over 3 days, but for preventive measures, most people do only two pills twice a year. I researched the drug as best I could
online and it seems safe enough for a small twice a year dose. If a poison
can be safe.

When I first heard about getting parasites, I was TOTALLY creeped out. I ran right out and got four test kits, one for each of us. I stared at them in my bathroom for about three months (guess I wasn’t that creeped out) before making any attempt.

Checking_for_bugsSee that little tiny plastic container? You have to poop in that. You don’t get it out of the water, it has to go directly into
that little tiny container. Which actually looks big until you are trying to get it into place which is a really fun test of your agility
and exact working knowledge of your anatomy. I guess I’d get more
efficient over time.

You rush your specimen to a lab and get it tested for $8.
I tested negative that first time. Kind of a let down after all the
drama. That’s OK, really. Drama is its own reward.

A couple of friends have suggested more delicate ways of accomplishing the task with Saran Wrap… wish I’d thought of it. Plastic wrap or no, the thought of cajoling Hal, Mo and Ryan
into doing this every six months makes poison look downright

After more recent talk of parasites, after these last two years during which we could’ve cultivated an intestinal friend or two, I thought maybe we should take the meds. Just in case. I got four courses from my angel for $10 each. We each did all six pills. No side effects, didn’t even notice. I think I feel better, but I’m suggestive, so who really knows?

The whole parasite thing is really confusing. Mostly because there’s no consistent information and no clear direction. When I say I talked to and heard from other expats, I mean less than 20 people. That’s hardly scientific.

A couple of people said if you get a parasite, your body will get rid of it. Other people said no way, they are tough little buggers. One guy, a vet, had this to say:

"Way back when I took my veterinary pathology class (in Los Angeles, CA), we all did our own fecals. About half the class had some sort of parasite. For the most part, parasites are harmless. When you think about it, this is a little bug that just wants to live and let live. If they do something that upset the host (us), the host will do something to rid itself of the bug so the bug dies. Parasites in humans are more abundant then most people think. ALL over the world."

All agree that if you get parasites, you get them from tap water or leafy vegetables not washed in clorox. Talk about the cure being worse than the disease. Everyone says don’t eat salad in a restaurant unless you know how they handle their uncooked produce. There are places in the country where you don’t want to drink the water – ask first.

Our tap water at home has a hint of chlorine, so probably no parasites. We drink it. Maybe down the road, we’ll get a filter. The tricky thing is you usually don’t even know if you have them. For
the most part, symptoms are mild; you may feel tired and rundown. You can get more
obvious symptoms, of course, but most people don’t. Nothing like Montezuma’s Revenge…

Even if you get tested,
depending on where the larva are in development, you can test negative, even when you got ’em. To know for sure, you have to get tested three times, a week apart. Right. Like that’s going to happen.

An interesting aside: you are supposed to worm your dogs every three months. Leah told me to give them each one of the same pills we take. Cool. Buying them from the vet is pricey.

Another interesting tidbit: parasites are on the rise in the U.S. and there are
more and more people who do the preventive thing. I had no idea.

Not sure what we’ll do in the future. I can’t imagine feeding
my family poison once every six months anymore than I can imagine
repeating the little tiny container thing. Maybe we’ll eat more cloves and fennel and forget the whole topic. THAT sounds like a plan.


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