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.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Meet Deliana Dale

This is Deliana Dale.
The first time I met Deliana she was busy stitching up a patient who’d come in that morning with several gunshot wounds. After the patient was bandaged up and sent on his way, the doctors in the La Carpio clinic sat around during a short break time and discussed their most recent patient, as well as the usual morning news of drug busts, car accidents, midnight robbing and murders. For some reason the local Costa Rica news channels enjoy starting off the day on a rather morbid note. All the gory stories come out bright and early while everyone eats breakfast. In any case, I watched Deliana as she talked, eyes wide with expression, shifting vigorously in her seat, as she declared emphatically that the only murderers who got tracked down were those who killed someone with enough notoriety and money for the police to make it worth their while. Her expressions and gestures were so animated, I hardly even needed to know any Spanish to understand her. A month later, when I began my Spanish class in which I interview people over the course of the trimester about different themes, she was one of the first people I called.

To understand why interviewing Deliana was so important, you have to understand a little bit about the area where she works – La Carpio. The shanty-town area of La Carpio, in the minds of Costa Ricans, is an area synonymous with poverty, crime, marginalization, contamination, and Nicaraguan migration. The people in this area are surrounded on two sides by rivers, and on one side by the city dump, which since the year 2000 has received 700 tons of waste. Daily. Half of the people living in La Carpio are Nicaraguan immigrants, many undocumented and nearly all scraping by on meager salaries. The average salary in this area, as estimated by the Costa Rican Joint Institute of Social Aid (Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social de Costa Rica) is between $130 and $165 dollars per month. The area is also wrought with domestic violence and crime, although some statistics and articles I read challenge that. Even with such dangerous environmental hazards, Deliana explained to me that one of the biggest problems she saw in her patients was their diet. Her patients suffering from obesity, hypertension, and diabetes find it too hard to make a complete lifestyle change to eat healthier. I'll post another blog entry soon about La Carpio for some more information on the area.

Over the course of our interviews, I found out lots of interesting things about Deliana. Deliana grew up in Ecuador, accepted Christ at age 8, and decided to serve God as a missionary doctor at age 16. 9 years ago she came to Costa Rica to work with Christ For the City as a family doctor in La Carpio. She drives a nice rose-pink 2002 Toyota Yaris. It looks practically new. I asked her if she’d had any trouble parking it in La Carpio. None at all, she told me. “Watch where you’re throwing those rocks, you’ll hit the doctor’s car!” she’d heard people on the street yell at each other before they took their target practice somewhere else. However, her car had been broken into in San José and Escazu. Escazu is the rich expat part of town. But it’s never been touched in La Carpio.

Just recently I’ve had to stop meeting with Deliana, and she’s stopped working at the clinic for a few months. Why? She’s carrying her and her husband’s first child, and her belly has grown so large she can’t even drive. I can’t believe she continued working in the clinic as long as she did. I think the final straw was when she began having trouble examining patients because her belly hit the table and prevented her from peering into equipment she used to examine them.

A few weeks into the interviews I met Deliana’s husband, Dan. Dan and Deliana Dale. Absolutely nothing I know about Deliana explains the bizarre story of how she met her husband. She only uses the computer to research medical problems and write an occasional e-mail. But within a month of posting her profile on a Christian dating website (lovenseek.com, if you want to check it out) she got in touch with her future husband, Dan who's Canadian. They began their relationship purely on-line, and got to know each other from a distance. At that point, Dan didn’t speak any Spanish, and Deliana’s English was pretty limited. Over the course of two-and-a-half years they got to know each other better, through personal visits as well, got engaged, and have now been married for 2 years, as of March 24.

In Spanish, you don’t say someone is going to “have” a baby. It doesn’t really make sense in English either – anyone can “have” a baby, as long as they happen to be holding one. Even I can have a baby. Just this week I had a baby, in fact, holding her in my arms. In Spanish, a woman “gives light” to a baby. Deliana will be “giving light” to her first child within the next month (at the time I wrote this).

The photos I posted along with this article depict Deliana’s last appointment with a woman in La Carpio before she started her maternity leave. Some of the shots of La Carpio area I took at other times. The source for the information about La Carpio is from this article (linked), and this article (linked). It also includes some information I gathered in interviews with another person on my route, from the receiving end of the clinical work. Danice, a 26-year-old mom with 5 kids, actually lives deep inside the winding roads of La Carpio, and over the course of several weeks helped me with a number of my questions.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

9 Days 10 nights

View Dios Guia Mi Camino in a larger map

Where has Brendan been the past week?

For Holy Week we had several days off, so a fellow language student and I took the opportunity to work our way as cheaply as possible through Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras, hitting some of the more famous Mayan Ruins. We took a short 1-hour flight from Costa Rica to Honduras, and made our way through the three countries using public buses and a ferry into Belize.

At the end of our first full day it really struck me that we were playing a rather serious hopscotch game across several borders when I realized I had 5 different currencies in my wallet - US dollars, Costa Rican colones, Honduran lempiras, Belizean dollars, and Guatemalan quetzals. At the end of the first 24 hours, we'd traveled by air, land, and sea through 4 countries. After clearing customs in Costa Rica, I had 10 new stamps in my passport.

When we planned this we were disappointed that we'd be missing the Holy Week traditions in Costa Rica... but as it turns out we caught a lot of them in Honduras.

The awesome thing about this is that I get to write two papers about the trip, in Spanish of course, to turn in as a part of my class. That being said, I'll post more details later, but it's late and beginning tomorrow we have our final exams.