Politics and Religion

Trip Start Jan 10, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Religion part...
When I woke up it was still dark outside and the town was silent except for sounds of the river that runs through town.  Not even the cows were mooing yet.  At 3 am I'm not sure if it's really late at night or really early in the morning.  As I crawled out of bed and sleepily put on the clothes I had laid out the night before, I could hear Nena brewing coffee and putting a plate of cream cheese sandwiches on the table.  I had told her that I didn't need her to get up for me, but this is Costa Rica and she even had a bag lunch ready for me by the time I emerged from my room rubbing sleep from my eyes.  Waking up a bit more, I quickly ate my breakfast, added my lunch to the headlamp, sunglasses, and water already in my bag, and saying a quiet ciao to Nena trotted out the door.  As I walked down the hill, the excitement of the day caught up with me a bit.  After all, one's first pilgrimage is a big deal. 
Every year on August 8th people from all over Costa Rica, and even some from Panama and Nicaragua, congregate in Cartago to pay their respects to "La Negrita", a black Virgin who is supposed to have special healing powers.  Some people walk for days, braving the dangers of the interamericana highway, to pray at her feet in the hope that she will cure whatever is ailing them or a loved one unable to make the journey.  They buy little charms in the shape of the ailing body parts and offer these to the Virgin, promising some sacrificial act in return for the restoration of health.  Luckily I didn't have to walk for three days to get there.  Cartago is only bout 20 km away from La Estrella.
My own family wasn't walking so I ended up going with a group including four of my students, one of which was in Kinder, and their families.  There were about ten of us in all and despite the early hour, we were all a little giddy.  David, my kinder student, was especially excited because he was finally deemed old enough to participate in what has become a rite of passage in his family of eight brothers and sisters.  There were two flashlights between ten of us, one of which being mine, so the group ended up splitting into the fast walkers and the slower ones.  Even with the light we were all stumbling our way along our little dirt road leading up to the Interamericana.  It had been raining pretty steadily the past couple of days and there were water-filled potholes everywhere.  However we were just happy that it didn't happen to be raining at that moment.  It was actually a beautiful night/morning.  At one point David looked up and pointed to the moon visible through the clouds, "Look!  The moon's walking to Cartago, too!" 
We reached the highway after an hour of picking our way through the darkness, and the going got a little easier after that.  Ahead and behind we could see other shadows in the half light making their own journeys to visit La Negrita, and we joined the procession.  Last year someone was killed walking along this road, and I could see how easily that could happen.  Even at four in the morning the cars and trucks sped around corners, blinding us with their headlights.  I finally understood why Dad's Boy Scout advice to walk on the opposite side of the road from traffic is so important.  At least we could see to dodge out of control cars if need be.  Thankfully there was no need on this trip.  We all arrived tired, but in good spirits, at the church after four hours of walking, which I'm told is a really good time.
At 7 am the square surrounding the church was already beginning to hum with activity.  Early risers were already in line to crawl on their knees from the church entrance, up to the Virgin for their turn at prayer.  My fellow walkers joined the crowd, while I chose to walk along the side and observe.  There were children no older than three years old and old ladies no younger than 73 years old on their knees, some weeping, others with heads bowed in fervent prayer.  The whole scene, from La Negrita to the smallest child, was beautiful.
Later we sat outside and listened to a church choir who took to a stage nearby and greeted the morning by singing hymns, a nice alarm clock for those just beginning to wake up.  A lot of people had arrived the night before and had spent the night huddled together under blankets on the ground; I imagine trying not to think about their aching bodies.  The square was coming to full life right before our eyes, and now the humming was a full buzz of activity.  One woman sat down next to me and complained that it wasn't fair that she had to wait in such a long line to see La Negrita after coming all this way.  But I only had time to nod in sympathy before I was told, "Hale" by Allan, one of my students.  It was time to make the offering.  I watched as Allan and Hannia dropped their little charms, prayers for their grandmother's bad knees, into the offering box and then admired the walls lined by little hearts, eyes, arms, and legs.  It was really awe-inspiring, all of it.  But after a little while of wandering through the stalls of venders behind the church, we were all ready to make our way to the bus that would take us home. 
It seemed like the whole town was there and the mood was festive.  We joked and shared our walking times, laughing through the fatigue.  A friend of a friend wondered aloud who the "muñeca" was, not knowing that I could understand.  Everyone was hysterical laughing, when I answered back with my name and the friend turned bright red.  And then, one by one, we all sort of drifted off to sleep.  The last thought that ran through my head as I too gave into sleep was how lucky I was to have all of this...
 The politics part...
I don't know how it happened.  One minute I was telling Nago about the American factories in Mexico and why I was against TLC (known in the States as CAFTA) and the next minute I was telling a room full of people at an Anti-TLC meeting.  You see, my host family is very political, and my best Spanish practice is when we talk politics around the dinner table.  It's funny how I come to a place so different from home, but essentially have the same dinner conversations.  Well, after one rather heated conversation Nago told me that I should talk at a meeting.  I smiled and thanked him, taking it as a compliment more than an actual suggestion.  Well, last Saturday I was sitting in my room catching up on some grading when I got a knock on my door.  It was Nago.  Really excited.  He could barely contain himself as he told me it was all arranged, that the woman heading the Anti-TLC movement in our region was thrilled to have a real live American speak at the meeting in La Estrella.  And it was this Wednesday!  How exciting!  I couldn't believe it.  He had actually been serious.  I was actually going to have to get up in front of everyone I knew in town and speak about an issue that I didn't really know all that much about in a language I don't really know all that well.  All this was running through my head as Nago looked at me expectantly.  Quickly I put on a smile and told him that I was looking forward to it.  What else could I do?
By Wednesday I had grown used to the idea of making my speech, I was even getting a little excited.  I imagined how I would blow them all away with my conviction and strength, how their cheers would echo off the mountains, how I would be carried out the doors on their shoulders, the Gringa Hero of La Estrella.  I just knew I would be a big hit!  But then I had to actually write the speech, the reality of which was a little daunting.  After school I sat down on my bed, notebook in one hand, dictionary in the other and proceeded to write about the unfairness of American Globalization.  And I started to get really fired up.  I told them that Costa Rica didn't need American progress, which leaves many of its people without decent health care, but that change should come from within Costa Rica by Costa Ricans!  Yeah!  I was ready to go!
And then I was sitting in Sandra's room watching a video hoping that my hands wouldn't shake and that I wouldn't mess up my Spanish and that I wouldn't make a complete and utter fool of myself.  And then the video was over and I was introduced.  I stood, walked to the front of the room, and started speaking.  And the most amazing thing happened, I was actually really good!  The normal whispers and fidgeting I've come to expect from Costa Rican audiences wasn't there.  It was silent.  They were listening.  And my hands weren't shaking.  And I only stumbled on a couple words.  And though the applause may not have been thundering and no one moved to carry me away on their shoulders (after all, there was still more time left in the meeting), but the applause was strong and it lasted a long time. 
Afterwards I was approached by a woman who wanted to tape my speech so that she could put it on UTube.  The meeting organizer came up and asked me if I wouldn't mind coming to more meetings to give my speech in other towns.  Another man had me talk into his tape recorder so that he could share my words with his co-workers and friends.  Everyone was shaking my hand, introducing themselves, and complementing my Spanish.  Mario was proudly displaying his politically-minded English Teacher, and Nago just couldn't stop smiling. 
So here I am in Costa Rica, miles and miles from my political upbringing and I still manage to find myself a political scene.  I guess I truly am my parents' daughter...
Mi corazón dice no a TLC!
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dadofdivaboots on

two incredibly special experiences! Magnificent!

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