Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Strandee

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"A new guest will arrive tomorrow," the innkeeper said, sounding perplexed. "He's coming from San Jose," he added. Foreigners still can't enter the country, so we assumed that he's a local craving for a few days of sun, sea, and sand.

We were wrong. He turned out to be like me: a strandee. He's a Pakistani who's been working for an IT company in Costa Rica for several months when the borders closed in mid-March. And like me, he's left without any means to go home. He's now wandering around the country while waiting for the travel restrictions to be lifted. 

It is comforting to know that I'm not the only one; that there are others out there who are stranded, alone, and trying to keep it together as the world goes to shit. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Rhythm of the Neighborhood

Monday, June 15, 2020

Day after day, as I spend untold hours on the balcony of my rented apartment, keeping vigil over nothing in particular, I slowly learned the cadence and rhythm of the neighborhood. Every morning at 5:00 a.m., I wake up to the morning song of the yiguirro (clay-colored robin) heralding the start of another day. Forty-five minutes later, I'd hear the distant rumble of the first bus that comes from the town center. The main road is obscured by trees but I'd catch a glimpse of the bus as it passes by, its colors unmistakable for they always remind me of the Costa Rican flag.

While I'm having breakfast, troops of capuchin monkeys arrive, stomping and swaggering their way across rooftops, climbing trees and balustrades, searching for fruits and nuts to eat. By midmorning, the neighborhood starts to wake up. One of the neighbors would play music loud enough for everyone to hear. For a few hours each day we are treated to traditional Mexican ballads, Bob Marley, and Latin reggaeton interspersed with the squawks, squeals, and squeaks of scarlet macaws. 

Every afternoon, Jim, an American expat who manages the inn, knocks on my door to check on me and ask me what I need. He usually brings fruits and herbs from his own farm: bananas, cherries, guanabana, oranges, mangoes, basil, culantro. We'd chat briefly about the sorry state of the world and swap bits of information about travel restrictions, visa extensions, which restaurant has opened, and which hotels remain closed. He then catches the bus home leaving me in the company of birds and trees—my constant companions in these trying times. At around 4:00 p.m., as certain as the sun rising in the east, the old lady living next door who Jim says has Alzheimer's would start hollering, "Ana! Ana!", the name of one of her five daughters and the name she calls all of them. On certain afternoons, I'd hear megaphoned announcements of "Huevos! Zanahorias, lechuga, sandia, tomate!" from the produce trucks making their rounds in the neighborhood. 

As my days in this temporary home began to turn into weeks and, inevitably, into months, and the country's quedate-en-casa restrictions started to ease, I found myself venturing outside the neighborhood. In the afternoons, while walking to the beach, I come upon local ticos and fellow tourists who, like me, are bent on getting a few hours of exercise outdoors. Most are walking, several are walking their dogs, a few are jogging, and some are riding their bikes. Maintaining the social distance required for everyone's safety, we somehow manage to exchange "hola, buen dia, como esta?" It's been a month since the government re-opened the beaches. Since then, I'd pack my breakfast, leave the house as the sun begins to rise, and spend most mornings at the beach. Lounging under my favorite tree, I watch people, read my book, and take photos of things that I find interesting. Before 8 in the morning, just as the policia arrives to signal the end of beach hours, the sky leadens and starts threatening rain. That's my cue to hurry home and get some work done. 

My days in Costa Rica now has a rhythm of their own, and I had learned to order my life by the pattern of their calm. I sit here on my balcony wanting to go home yet wishing that this soothing rhythm didn't have to end.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Work on Vacation

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

It's now the first of June, travel restrictions remain in force, and I still can't return to the Philippines. While everybody else has gone back to work or are working from home, I've started working remotely from here in Costa Rica. It's like working while on an outrageously long vacation.

Back in March, while packing for my trip, the thought of bringing a laptop or even a tablet never crossed my mind. Why would it when I knew I would only need my phone to take photos? Now I rely on my phone for everything: I use it to work on lengthy, complicated spreadsheets; to make contracts, timetables, project briefs, training designs; to respond to emails and all other messages; to review curriculums and online lessons and assesments. It takes some getting used to, but I think I've adapted well enough. I may not be as efficient as I used to be, yet I still can get things done. 

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Arrival

Saturday, May 2, 2020

My plane landed at Juan Santamaria International Airport in Alajuela, Costa Rica on 8 March 2020. I was anxious to get out of there, but Wilbert, the man who was supposed to pick me up was late. Did he forget? Shall I take a cab? What will I do now? Do I wait? I thought to myself. I decided to wait. I paced back and forth in the arrivals area, looking for Wilbert while dodging cab drivers offering me a ride. Half an hour passed and he appeared holding a sign bearing my name.

The uphill drive from the airport to our villa in Vara Blanca takes an hour, which to me felt like a lifetime. The driver and I exchanged pleasantries but my mind wasn't in it. I couldn't wait to see D who arrived hours ago and was waiting for me in the villa. As I imagined meeting him after a long absence, unbridled joy began to bubble up inside me.

It was cold and dark when we arrived. I knocked on the door and there he was standing in front of me: D, the love of my life, the man of my dreams. We clung to each other; I didn't want to let him go. We've longed for that moment for a very long time, and after what we've been through the past year, I can't believe we've really made it happen.

I entered the living room and saw that the fireplace was lit just like he promised. The entire room felt so warm and comforting, but we took more refuge in us like an armor against the ills of the world. 
 
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