Learning about true pura vida
‘Puta vida!” my Dad said proudly, raising his right fist in the air with pride.If you know anything about Spanish, you know that, loosely translated, that means “Whore, life!”If you now anything about Costa Rica, you know “Pura vida” is an expression of the country’s pride for its “pure life,” a greeting as common as “shalom” might be in Israel. It graces many T-shirts, baseball hats, bumper stickers, and beach towels. I guess it’s a slogan of sorts, but – aside from its commercial value for the Americans who want to consume it -its also a heart felt sentiment the Costa Rican people (or “Ticos”) use in everyday language. At first you might think of it as slang, as a casual or even hip expression thrown loosely between surfers at the beach when the waves are good. But when you spend time here, you realize it goes way beyond that.My family had time to spend time here and go way beyond that.In case you haven’t been paying attention, my brother is engaged to a Costa Rican girl, and my family traveled down to meet her. So one night, we were all sitting around the living room of the beachfront house we rented having a little language lesson. Understand there’s not a whole lot to do in the evenings, at least not in the way we Americans are used to wasting time, what, without TV or a way to connect to the Internet. My brother would point at various objects and it was basically a contest, a little game, to see who could come up with the right word first. It was my brother’s fiancé versus my dad. He would point at various body parts, pieces of furniture, food items, and so on. Mayrene did great. It was my dad who, no matter how he tried, would somehow mutilate these beautiful words into dog meat – or worse. Like, when we did the days of the week, Dad went, “Lunes, martes, mierda!” Even my mom, who knows very little Spanish, knew that “mierda” does not mean Wednesday.Needless to say, Mayrene won the contest hands-down.That was only the beginning of what wasn’t so much lost in translation, as gained. There was so much laughter filling our house that night, the kind of laughter that fills your belly the way a delicious meal might, a satisfying, hearty ingestion of good feelings.That’s pretty amazing considering these people couldn’t be from farther ends of the Earth than we are. But like I told my brother, that’s exactly why it works. I can just imagine what it would have been like had he found some dame from say, Maryland, where we had enough in common but were different enough to judge.”Where did she go to school?” my Mom might ask.”Well, what do her parents do? Are they Republicans?” my Dad might say, which is a very loaded question indeed.But when you’re talking about two different languages, cultures and countries, it somehow made it easier. There was something very humbling and humanizing, I think, in such vast social and cultural disparity. Instead of being able to indulge themselves in the usual incessant chatter, my parents had to think about every word they struggled to say, or better yet, draw on other cues to communicate. Outside of the normal American social framework of what constitutes quality, they had to see people as people.When we landed on the tiny, run-down landing strip in Nosara, my brother showed up on his tiny dirt bike with Mayrene riding on the back. As soon as she saw my mom, she hugged her and started to cry, cradling her back and forth in her arms expressing little terms of endearment between sobs.”Mi mama Americana, que precioso, que lindo!” she sobbed. My American mother, how precious, how sweet.I think it even brought tears to my dad’s eyes.My brother was a little wary about bringing us over to Mayrene’s house. While small and lacking in basic amenities, the place had charm and warmth. The food her mother prepared for us was the best I’d eaten since arriving in Costa Rica – rice mixed with roasted chicken, red peppers and onions, fried plantains, black beans and a huge salad chock full of vibrant, fresh vegetables. The six kids, ranging in age from 20 to 3 months, were all playful and affectionate, with each other and with us. They adore my brother, crawling all over him and teasing him with inside jokes. (They say his head is like a crystal ball because it is so round, rubbing it and laughing about how they can see the future.) They were warm and welcoming and loving, and by the time we left we were sad to say goodbye.One of the new words I learned was “vago,” which means lazy. Mayrene explained there is actually a term, “vagansia” which basically means “how lazy it is.” She’s used it in several instances when my brother has indulged himself in some luxury she sees as unnecessary, something as simple as driving out of his way to go to the restaurant of his choice when a perfectly adequate one might be right down the street.”Vagansia,” I repeated, thinking for a moment. “Eso es mi todo vida.” That’s my whole life.It was in that moment that I realized why my brother traveled so far to find someone so different. She may have very little in terms of money, but it became increasingly clear she has everything in terms of value. I know that despite our difference in age, economic and cultural background, I still have a lot to learn from her.The Princess misses you but will be home next week. E-mail your love to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Dear Jeff and Lori —