Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Costa Rica: Part La Carpio

Poverty, crime, marginalization, pollution, and Nicaraguan migration have a name in the imagination of Costa Ricans: La Carpio, a strategic point for understanding the contemporary reality of the Central American country.

I mentioned in a previous blog about the best day of my week - Thursdays, when we go to a shantytown area called La Carpio for after-school kids activities. Recently I've been going twice a week - Thursdays for the children's activities, and Tuesdays to help teach some English classes and spend time with the kids in the computer lab.

Spending time in La Carpio really strikes a chord of compassion in my heart, for the kids, their families, and the environment they grow up in. During my interview classes I asked a lot of questions about Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica, and consequently had a few conversations about La Carpio (half the people living there are Nicarguan immigrants). It's no secret that the general Costa Rican reaction against Nicaraguan immigration is very negative. "Negative" is a pretty positive way of putting it, actually. A lot of bitterness and harsh generalizations came out of my interviews about Nicaraguan immigrants. These feelings are reinforced on a regular basis by the news coverage of crime and instability in the La Carpio area.

When I wrote my report on this particular activity, I went to the Internet to read some articles about the La Carpio area to fill in my knowledge. The quote above sums it up pretty well, but I'll repeat it again here:
Pobresa, criminalización, marginalización, contaminación y migración nicaragüense tienen un nombre en el imaginario social costarricense: La Carpio, punto estratégico para comprender la realidad contemporánea del país centroamericano.
Isabel Soto Mayedo, Agencia PL.
Poverty, crime, marginalization, pollution, and Nicaraguan migration have a name in the imagination of Costa Ricans: La Carpio, a strategic point for understanding the contemporary reality of the Central American country.
The only way in and out of La Carpio is a solitary thin paved road with steep drop-offs on both sides. Throughout the day, garbage trucks run in and out of La Carpio on that road, depositing over 700 tons of garbage, daily, in a landfill at the opposite end of the small isthmus-like area. La Carpio is bordered on two other sides by rivers. More than half of the people living there are below the poverty line, making an estimated $130-$160/month.

Costa Ricans probably have good reason to be a little wary of the area. It does suffer from a great deal of violent crime and domestic abuse. However, some of the reports I read pointed out that the statistics aren't really that much different than other areas.

It was interesting to hear and read the perceptions of people surrounding an area I'd been visiting regularly for several months. The risk involved in working in that area can't be denied, but we'd never felt threatened or in danger. I'd been rather privilaged to have some of the kids invite me to meet their families, who'd welcomed me in for a cup of coffee and some "pico" bread. I interviewed one woman a few times for my class... and in this particular case my interview was driven more by my fascination and curiosity about the culture than my spanish learning.

All this to say, it was difficult for me to put together a "report" drawing from these varied sources. I didn't really know how to go about it and remain true to all the views people had presented to me.

Besides the report, I also assembled a video using photos taken during visits to La Carpio. I was also having difficulty editing this together and writing the subtitles, because it sounded so sterile and impersonal. As I was struggling over the phrases I wanted to use to subtitle the video, I had a sudden revelation as to what the problem was. Because I was writing the subtitles in Spanish, using photos and events from the people's lives I knew, I suddenly realized that I was writing the subtitles in a way I would never connect with the kids in the photos. That is... I realized that I'd probably get the chance to show them this video, and they'd understand all of it because it was in Spanish. The intended audience... was them, the people in the photos. When they actually watched this video, they wouldn't be interested in information "about" themselves or the area they lived in. Who wants to hear information describing oneself as if they're some specimen or "otherness"? This realization caused me to write the subtitles in a completely different way, from "within" La Carpio, in a way that I hoped I could bring the video with me and we could watch it together, without anyone feeling like it was "about" them but rather everyone feeling like it naturally rose "from" within all of us.

Woah, does it sound like I'm preaching? I kind of feel like feel like I'm preaching. That's probably as close as I'll ever get to preaching.

Sources I used for the writing of this article and my report for class are mentioned in the previous post, along with the story about Deliana, the doctor at the clinic in La Carpio.


Laura said...

Great video and post, Brendan.

Kathie said...

The whole approach you have is always wonderful, and no wonder we wanted you as a multimedia guy. Excellent, Brendan, on so many levels.

All That Media said...

I love the eyes of the kids, which capture the inner reflection of the soul. What music is this? Great!

bboy said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it! Yes they are beautiful awesome kids :)

The music is by an Icelandic band called Sigur Ros. They have some pretty awesome "experimental" type music.