Man, my patience is tried. I’m fried, wiped out. I surrender. Ok, I almost surrender, but it’s touch and go. When bad things happen here – just everyday bad things – you come up against the culture shock thing big time. Because simple solutions here are not… simple. Mainly because they take way, way, waaaaaay longer. And you can never get the truth about when that solution is going to happen.
Like, the house phone went out two weeks ago. Not that it’s critical, but when you need a phone, nothing else will do.
It seems so silly now, but when we first got here, the telephone was, unexpectedly, a huge hurdle. It became our enemy, a thing of mystery. There to push our buttons. When you call someone who is not there, the voicemail tells you "GRA-see-us poor jah-MAR-may DAY-hay oon men-SAH-hay dayce-PWAYCE del TOE-know." Huh? We’d have to just hang up. Turns out that means "thank you for calling, leave a message after the tone." But at first it sounds like graseeuspoorjahmarmay, dayhayoonmensahhaydaycepwaycedeltoeknow. Say that really fast and record it as your Personal Greeting. See how many messages YOU get.
When you call a doctor or hospital or Pizza Hut and the person who answers says AH-low instead of hello – which happens 99% of the time – right away you know you’re in trouble. Because that person speaks only Spanish, and sign language and facial expression are no help over the phone. And getting phone calls, oh man. We had no idea who was calling, why they were calling, what they wanted. We’d finally say, "Disculpe," [dee-SKULL-pay, sorry] and hang up. How we got around two years ago knowing only COMB-oh s-TAH and OON-oh through dee-ACE is beyond me.
The very first time I called voicemail to get my messages, I was on the phone for an hour. I kept calling back, listening to the initial instruction over and over again, trying to decipher it. In the end, I gave up. I stopped giving people my phone number: "Email me," I said. "I can read."
By the time we moved from the finca [FEEN-kah, farm] in barrio Jesús de Santa Barbara de Heredia [hey-SOOS, a little village outside the slightly bigger town of Santa Barbara in the province of eh-RAY-dee-ah], after only eight months, I could pick up my messages and get a phone number from information. A triumph.
In the Escazú house, there are probably 400 jacks. One worked. A year and three different handymen later, two work. When you call my phone number, half the time you get a fax tone. We don’t have a fax. If you get a fax tone, just hang up, give it a minute and call again. We tried to have that fixed before we knew better. The fiasco went on for days and days with a million phone calls in halting Spanglish on both ends. Oy vey. You learn to let the little stuff ride, because that’s how it’s done here. "Fax tone, schmax tone. You get through half the time, that will do." There are only so many hours in the day. Who wants to spend it on the phone?
Occasionally, the phone would go dead. Usually just for an hour, then back on. We only knew the phone was out because ADT, our alarm company, would call and ask if we were being held hostage at gunpoint. (They monitor the phone lines and assume when there’s no signal, the lines have been cut. High drama.) But after two days with no phone, we called the landlord. She called I.C.E. Still waiting. It wouldn’t have been so bad to be without a phone the last two weeks except that…
Our kitchen gray water backed up – into the kitchen – after Day 6 of the last mighty rain. The plumbing in Costa Rica is something. I have a post written about the time, a couple of months ago, when all the grey (and none of the black, THANK YOU, JÉSUS) water backed up into the house in several assorted rooms and closets. We learned some very unpleasant plumbing truths that day. It was so traumatic I can’t get back to the post. Someday.
So Friday morning, I’m washing dishes when I realize I’m standing in a burgeoning puddle. It is god-awful disgusting. Even though it’s only gray water, it’s horrible. I know I’m only 30′ from where the black water goes, too. There is a tile under our sink that covers the open hole via which the grey water from the upstairs laundry room and the kitchen runs to the septic. Just pick up the tile and watch ‘er flow. When it’s flowing. When it’s not, the gray water bubbles up around the edges. Ugh.
Hal looks up all the words for pipe, clog, drain, kitchen sink and disgusting, and calls Carlos, the plumber, who we’ve used before. Carlos says he will be there soon. He does not show. We call for two more days. He never shows. He’s always lovely on the phone, makes promises, but he never comes around. Fortunately, as long as you don’t overwhelm the sink, the water goes out, so the situation is livable. On Monday, we call the landlord (on the cel phone which gets spotty reception at our house). For some reason she decides it’s time to have the septic pumped. Pablo, the septic guy, comes right away, pumps out the septic and our sink flows fine.
It flows fine ’til just after Pablo, who is also a plumber, and his truck disappear from sight. Then it backs up big time. We call his cell, trying to get him back up the road… no answer. We leave a message, call his other numbers, plead with his wife. We call Carlos again. After many broken promises from both of them and another week, Pablo showed up yesterday and in 30 minutes has us flowing downhill again.
You are so grateful he finally came, you greet him like family, forgetting all the broken promises. Your emergencies are not his emergencies. Ticos don’t need to be heroes. He got here as soon as he could. It’s a different mentality; being the Queen of Huffy is useless to me here.
I am not a wuss. It takes more than two weeks without a phone and 12 days of cleaning up grey water in my kitchen and dining room to wear me down.
It took the radiator busting in the car. That was on Saturday. Hal and I were supposed to leave Sunday for Rancho Mastatal for a night. We found a mechanic and he said bring it in Monday, he would fix it, same day. Late today, Wednesday, we got it back. I think we were actually lucky at that. Not having a car puts me over the edge: the women in my family are car people. Have car, am complete. When her kids took Granny Boo’s car away (because she would drive down the boulevard in Ft. Lauderdale on the wrong side of the median), she never got over it. I understand that.
Still no phone, but the plumbing is fixed and we have the car. Unfortunately, just a few minutes ago, the water heater started leaking from the rusty old bottom. The valve to shut off the water going into the tank is rusted open, so we just have to keep towels on the floor and hope for the best. I shut the door to the laundry room so I can pretend it isn’t happening. Besides, the plumber is coming tomorrow.
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que lastima, Saratica. When it rains it pours. haha.
Maintenance….an unknown concept here, verdad? LOL.
Not laughing at but rather with. It’s all in how we handle these not-so-little daily challenges…and you’re right, often times it’s just frustrating as hell.
Sometimes…i just want to go back to the old life..in the states. But then I awake before sunrise and watch the dawning sky throwing sunlight on green mountains to the south and happy little birds chirpping and think..yeah…this IS better than what was before.
We love CR, we love CR…
I am going to confess to prefer an ‘aloh’ (hola, backwards) than the script I get from Dominoes Pizza
“Thank you for calling, my name is bla………are you calling to order our new superdupper combo with cinnamon sticks ?”
“I would like to order a pizza” (15 secs silence as that answer is obviously not in her script, I imagine she/he has “OH YEAH, thats awesome, I want that” or “how much is that incredible deal” but a simple “I want to order a regular pizza” is not in her script
and then the obvious starts
“may I have your phone number?” DUH!
“yes its xx-yy-zz…..” get interrupted “x1-2z?”
“no, its xx-yy-zz-ww” , “9w?” (at this point I switch into the “you freaking id*** tone?”
“ok mr bla, address blabla?”
“yes thats right, I would like a large pizza with ham and peppers”
“a large? with onions and mushrooms?”
I tell you, listening before speaking is not something we do well down here unfortunately…….everytime I call dominoes ……I end up putting my gun in the safe during the call……..
I know this was a painful experience but I have to admit I was ROTFL (not at your frustration) but at the great way you told the story. Anyone who has lived here in Costa Rica for at least a few years has gone through many similar experiences – serious novels could be written.
One day I’ll have to share a few of my fun experiences with you…scary but funny.
Thank you all… nice to know I’m not alone!!! Ticos and gringos alike. I’m off to the backcountry for a day. Will return with photos. Pura vida!
“Gawd-a Mercy” (God have Mercy) – I KNOW what you mean. You wrote my life, not everyday but it’s like that often. I don’t blog about it because “people” say I’m too negative about CR. I say it’s not negativity, it’s TRUE and PURE LIFE here. Sometimes I feel like my coping skills are always being challenged. I KNOW EXACTLY what you mean about not having a car. That sends me over the edge too. Freedom and all. My phone number used to belong to a private spanish school. It took a long time to figure THAT out but now I know. When I tell them they have the wrong number, in Spanish, and they call again, I just let it ring and the machine takes the call. I LOVE LOVE my answering machine.
THANK YOU for that post. Funny,,, when it happens to me, it’s not all that funny but I sure did laugh when I read what was happening to you. Just PURA VIDA (pure life) Costa Rica style. Gotta laugh!
Crying gets you no where. (Well, tears do work on the Tico men, they will try harder) I’ve only broke down a couple of times and the tears were real whether they worked or not.
Good post! I hesitate, like others have noted, to blog, about the “negative” aspects of life here. It’s just life wherever you are. Here, we just have new challenges that we did not have before moving here and it is important, I think, to write about or share them so the view of life here is not lopsided.
For me, it’s always so nice to see it happening to other people, all the time, because when it happens to me, I feel like the world is against us or we must be missing something to not be together enough, to keep the friggin’ house, car, etc… together… I am especially thrilled when people have these same experiences in the US or in a ‘developed’ country. That said, the language and cultural differences don’t apply the same way AND it’s not the same frequency for them, as it is for us, down here.
For me, if I just remember, ALL THE TIME: “Substandard plumbing and electric and roads and car parts and car repairs, compared to what we are used to.” Add-in major weather challenges to the system and you get the need for these repairs ALL THE TIME. As in, is there anyone with a house or car here that does not have some sort of pending repair you would easily be willing to pay for to be completed, but the money is NOT your obstacle?
The well of patience we have developed to deal with this stuff we did not know we had, before living here. I have to say we are super-fortunate because my husband can repair cars and houses almost all the time by himself, WELL. But he spends tons of time on those things, if you had a job or business here you needed to devote lots of energy to, that would not be a skill you’d always be free to use like he can (we designed our business to be using some of the profits to just have really good employees who can do most of the work and we just supervise).
We also live really far from good resources, sometimes we have to go to San Jose (5 hrs. one-way) to deal with what we can’t accomplish in the boonies on our car or house. I think that in moving here you really have to: (1) learn the language as best you can, and (2) be a Macgyver-type person in as many capacities as you can be… If you can’t or are unwilling to do that, the ensuing level of frustration probably has people leave who once optimistically moved here.
But if you can, I think that most people find that they are smarter, stronger, more patient and resourceful than they EVER thought possible. And that is a true gain in my opinion. Then when we go to a ‘developed’ country on travels, we appreciate things we used to take for granted. Another gain also.