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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Artfully clueless

During my stay at the primary school in Norway I was offered an extension of my contract. It was a fantastic offer - a solid job, and they would pay for my Montessori education to boot. After many long, long discussions, however, it became clear that my girlfriend couldn't come to Norway to stay. The personal price she had had to pay for it was too extensive. I stood between two highly desirable choices and was forced to choose - stay in Norway, or go to Costa Rica. If I stayed, it would put a great relationship in dire straits. It would not automatically be over, but I have a close friend who tried to pull something like that off and it was... ugly. On the other hand, I would have a fantastic job for as long as I wanted it, a free education and the opportunity to pay down my student loan. If I went to Costa Rica, I would give the relationship a much better chance. And I would have the opportunity to really learn Spanish. On the other hand, I would have to pull some pretty intense stunts to keep my student loan payments on track with a Costa Rican salary. Some might even call it impossible, and not without reason. Either choice involved some pretty hefty sacrifices from one or both of us. Agonizingly, I made my choice.

May came around, and two weeks into it my girlfriend returned to Norway. We had run a webcam/chat/phone relationship for many months and I was not apprehensionless as I stood waiting in what passes as the arrival hall in Tromso airport. Neither of us knew what to expect - would we feel the same as we had? Or would there be something different? As the sliding doors opened and she stepped through, I knew I had chosen correctly.

About a month later, there we were again as we had been in January - waiting for her plane to Oslo in the departure hall in Tromso. It was a bittersweet scene. We knew we would see each other again, but under vastly changed circumstances. What I had chosen - what we had chosen - would either make or break our relationship. If it was up for the strain it would be put under only the heavens knew. We kissed each other good-bye and I waved to her as she walked down the glass corridor to the plane. She waved back and stepped into the plane.

Five days later, London, UK

I left Stansted Airport by train, headed towards London proper. A good friend of mine, who we will call Marion, was waiting for me there. That is to say, she would have been waiting for me, but I cleverly selected an obscure side exit from the underground. Fifteen minutes later, she finally found me. I gave her a sheepish grin and a hug, and we went to get a drink and something to eat. It was my first time in London. Marion took me to a pub (hey, it's England), where we had a couple of drinks and I ate sticky toffee pudding (yay!). Our reunion, however, was short - my plane had been delayed from Tromso, and I had a plane to catch from Heathrow. We went back to the underground, where we parted with a hug. En route to the airport, I called to check which terminal I Was supposed to check in at. I arrived with perfect timing at the terminal, spent thirty fruitless minutes looking for my check-in-point, talking to several just as confused staff, before it was finally made clear that I Was in the wrong terminal. There was no way I would be able to switch terminals and do what I needed to do in time. Fortunately, the Continental people were very nice and helpful (I am an expert at the slightly dense, clumsy country boy act - it seems to come to me very naturally), and arranged for me to leave early next morning. Armed with the same sheepish grin as I had worn earlier, I dialled up Marion from a payphone.

An hour later I met Marion and her boyfriend, who were waiting for me at their local underground station. They took me to her apartment, treated me to pizza, gin and vodka, quickly making an annoyance into a very pleasant evening. They even went to the trouble of retiring to his apartment so I could have the place to myself. Wow. Just... wow. Some people. Thanks a lot, Marion and mr. Jordan!

The following day, Newark, US

"Calling mr. Larssen. Mr. Larssen, please come to the check-in at gate 22." These words, which would normally be rather omnious, didn't disturb me particularly. I assumed they wanted to talk to me about my offer to stay behind in case the plane was overbooked, which it turned out to be. I was offered a $400 gift card plus an all-expenses paid overnight stay in Newark. Problem was my onward flight to San Jose, Costa Rica, would be split in two with a stop in Houston. However, when the woman told me I would be flying first class from Houston to San Jose, I couldn't resist. Sure, I said, and got a hug from the girl I had given my seat to. A little while later I unlocked the door to my room in Holiday Inn, Newark. I've travelled as a backpacker for years, so this was the equivalent of a luxury suite as far as I was concerned. I ordered food to my room but botched the math, and overshot my food budget (cupons) by a dollar - and the ATM was out of order. The lady I spoke with interrogated me sternly, apparently found my character worthy, and put in a dollar of her own money. I doubt you will ever read this, kind woman at Holiday Inn, but if you somehow do, know that I haven't forgotten the promise I made in return.

June, San Jose - Costa Rica

My triumphant return to Ticolandia was less than spectacular. Continental had been considerate enough to leave my luggage in Newark, and my girlfriend was at work. No reception commitee, no fireworks. My backpack and I got on a bus downtown and then to the barrio where my girlfriend lives. I walked to her house, rang the bell and was welcomed warmly by my girlfriend's mother. That was my return to Costa Rica.

Job hunt, June/August

The Tico family I lived with offered me a place to stay until I got a job - incredibly generous. This journey has been quite a reminder how kind people can be. I took the offer, and thank God for that - my girlfriend, her brother and mother (the sum total of the family) have treated me with impressive warmth and respect. Especially impressive considering how alien I must appear to them from time to time (well, not to my girlfriend, I hope), with my outlandish (pun intended) ways. It didn't take long before it dawned on me that the job culture on the American continent is something quite different from marginal northern Norway. With a lot of help from a friend in Vancouver, I studied up and produced some semi-decent cover letters and a working resume. I bought a ton of newspapers. I sent a lot of applications. I watched a lot of TV.

One day I found a somewhat odd ad on where a Scandinavian call center was looking for Scandinavians. I mailed an application and forty minutes later I was called in for an interview. I had my doubts. What the hell was a Scandinavian call center doing in Costa Rica? The business idea sounded strange, albeit with some logic to it. The job interview went down in a pub the following day. The two Swedes interviewing me impressed me - there was something about them. The salary was excellent, and what I needed to stay afloat. In addition, it appeared I would be given a lot of freedom and responsiblity. I was offered a job. A week later, I had decided - I accepted the offer.

It's now nearly September and I have finished my first week in the new job. It looks very good so far, and I am happy I was offered a job there. In a couple of days I will move to Rohrmoser in my own apartment, and on Monday I am going to the Little Theatre Group get-together and check it out. Hopefully I will get involved with them. Everything has worked out well, a lot thanks to the kindness of my girlfriend and their family hosting me and helping me with whatever I needed, especially Spanish phone calls. I'm very happy with my choice - it's been challenging, and it's not going to be easy getting things to roll properly economically. But hell - it's another chapter in the life of one who lives by the creed of the artfully clueless. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The End of the Storm

Disclaimer: This blog entry was pieced together from three seperate half-finished entries from the last six months or so. It was commenced in early February and finished today, in mid-May. It's confusing. The tenses switch randomly. Lots of people do strange things and lots of things happen simultaneously. In short, this isn't the best piece I ever wrote. But hey... as I adviced a friend of mine a while ago: Publish anyway.

Northern Norway, early February:

I’m sitting staring, stunned, at the date of the last blog entry. The 31st of October? That can’t be! It’s just a few days away, it seems. Good Lord, but my life’s been a circus these past months.

The most obvious thing is to backtrack to the beginning of November where I stopped last time. But so many of the things that happened in these months are either very hard to explain or of a highly personal nature (or both). Well, I was never a fan of things being easy, I guess, so let’s give it a try and see if it the end result is even slightly readable.

Bread to the People

November passed in a pain of little work and, hence, very little money. I paid my landlady a sum of money in the beginning of November and told her I’d stay until mid-December. My flatmate had moved out by then, because he wanted to live somewhere closer to work. He found a place in Sabana Sur and is living happily there as far as I know. The third week of November I got a little more work, enough that I could stop starving, and enough to shave off at least the sharpest edges of the disaster(s) that followed.

All along this period I was plodding happily along in my relationship, trying hard to be a good boyfriend. We finalized our plans for her to go to Norway with me in mid-December and everything was set to happen.

The Arrival of Mr. Tall

Excerpts from my mail:

Tue, 27 Nov 2007
[Mr Tall] wrote:
> > Hey Ole hows things? I´m contemplating a journey
> to
> C.R with [Mr. Leadership], are you going to be there and if > so
> whats the situation with your apartment? Is it big
> enough to accomodate Mr tall?
> I hope to be travelling with [Mr. Leadership] on Thursday but
> Tica bus have´nt confirmed my ticket yet, we shall
> see....

Wed, 28 Nov 2007
> Ole wrote:

> There's plenty of room and you're more than welcome.


Note that in his first mail he referred to himself as Mr. Tall. And that he’s British, and that his written English is atrocious – worse than mine, even. In his defence, he’s been using Spanish a lot more than English for a while. But even so... tsk!

As you will no doubt remember, my flatmate had moved out and as such, there was tons of room in my apartment. Little did I know about the background of his arrival to Costa Rica...

One week earlier, on the border between Mexico and Guatemala – Mr. Tall. Everything is freely translated from Spanish to English. Note that the woman referred to here is not really Mrs. Tall, but his girlfriend:

“No, I’m sorry, he’s not here,” said the border guard, looking bored.
“Damnit,” said Mrs. Tall. “When will he be here?”
“Don’t know. Couple of days maybe.”
“Couple of days?!”, she screamed.
Mr Tall, after his standard five seconds of lag time between speech and comprehension, sighed.

A few hours later they had returned to the nearby little border town. It had all the charm of a decomposed hyena carcass. The little hotel-ish building they stayed at had far more fleas than guests at the best of days, and the mattress creaked alarmingly if someone even dared approach it closer than a few feet. Here they stayed through the hot, sweltering days waiting for Mrs. Tall’s relative to return to his job, so he could let them through the border without checking their nonexistent visa stamps. He had let them in a few weeks earlier without any visa, so they could stay as long as they pleased, then when they were on their way back to Guatemala he had vanished.

It was a damp, unpleasant evening when Mr. Tall ran into the people who would set the course of everything that happened in his life during the next two months. He never saw them. He never knew they were there – or had been, rather, before he returned to his hotel and found his pockets empty. He had chosen to carry with him everything except his passport and a few pesos, since the hotel was hardly safer than his pockets. His cash and, most devestatingly, his bank cards.

The details of what followed are unclear to me, as they are no doubt to him. He returned, by and by, to where he lived at the time, Xela in Guatemala, with the help of Mrs. Tall. She was on her way home to Honduras, however, and had very limited funds with which to help him. Mr. Leadership, his closest friend in Xela and the only one with the means to help him, was about to go to Costa Rica to see his girlfriend. Decisions were made. Within a few days, Mr. Tall closed up as much as he could of his life in Xela and went to Guatemala City with Mr. Leadership, who funded him all the way to San Josè, Costa Rica, with his limited supply of cash.

Early December, San Josè

He came, all right, broke as a gypsy and carrying everything he owned with him. Piece by piece I got the story from him. He settled into the room where the crazy Canadian had lived until the end of October, and we took stock of what funds we had between us. It wasn’t much. We went to Paseo Colon to look at options for getting him a bank card sent to Costa Rica (normal mail was pretty much out of the question, since it wouldn’t be very safe or reliable). A slick guy at the TNT office – Johnny Ace, we dubbed him, a slight adaptation of his real name, gave us a great deal and said the card would be in his hands in a few days. Mr. Tall and I walked away from the office, congratulating ourselves and making jokes about how Johnny Ace would hop on his personal jet and go to Northern England to get it.

I needed to go to Quepos to give a Christmas present to my host family there, and Mr. Tall wanted to go as well. At that point, I had enough money to float it, so I said yes. He went a day before me and managed to get mugged again, losing everything I had given him (basically our budget for the stay in Quepos). Needless to say, he was pretty upset by the time I got there.

And from here on out things get very fuzzy in my memory. My landlady showed up and told me that there had been no deal made, and she wanted more money. Maybe I would have given it to her if I had it. I didn’t, so I hegded and stalled, and eventually staged a (if I must say it myself) quite devious get-away. I was broke as a rat, and during December (while dodging my landlady), mr. Tall and I lived on creativity and a few colones a day. Things were relatively under control until my girlfriend went to the American embassy and had her visa application flatly refused (apparently they have a lot of Ticas coming around wanting to supposedly visit their Norwegian boyfriends, because they didn’t believe she wouldn’t stay in the US even after she showed them the return ticket to Oslo). Things got hairy. I begged a bunch of money from friends and relatives and we got the ticket changed to passing through Cuba instead of the US. Somewhere around there I taught my last class in my school. And finally...

Northern Norway, December 23rd

We arrived at my parents’ house after much debacle. I had waited for a few days in Oslo for my girlfriend to complete her round-the-world circuit to get to Norway (Cuba-Amsterdam-Hamburg-Oslo). She had had plenty of issues and, having never travelled before, crossing the Atlantic had been very scary. But at long last, we had arrived in Tromsø and gotten in a car with my two brothers to drive the three hours to my parents’ home.

My girlfriend’s itenary:

San Jose-Cuba (24 hours wait in Havana) – Amsterdam (five hours wait in Amsterdam) – Hamburg – Oslo (36 hours wait) – Tromsø then finally to my home town.

This was her first time travelling! And all this because she was denied her US visa to visit her boyfriend in Norway.

Her first week and a half in Norway was rather hectic, since all my family and friends had gathered (as is usual around Christmas in this country), and she had to meet all of them. Right away. Now, all my friends and most my family are above average or fluent in English so communication was no problem. My parents stepped up and polished their rusty skills. Hell, even my rather shy uncles threw all they had at her! She had, all in all, quite a hectic first period here, but as warm a welcome to this incredibly remote part of the world as could possibly be wished for.

We celebrated Christmas in my home town with my entire family (i.e. my parents and my two brothers, plus one uncle). From later talks with her, I understand she was switching between horrified and enthralled in intense waves. Norway is, after all, quite a capitalistic country, and the level of consumerism we have in the country is far cry from most of Costa Rica. A far cry indeed. Because of the nature of the beast during Christmas time, she met my friends in batches of ten (at least). Lots and lots and lots of impressions over a short period of time. We went to Tromsø and celebrated New Year’s there (fireworks! Woo!), and finally, when we returned to my parents’ house (me being broke and all, we needed somewhere we could stay for free), it was 2008 and we could at long last relax somewhat.

I needed a job, but I was already called in for an interview with a small private school in the area. I went there the second day of January and talked to my current boss. She was cool, the job paid well and had a very high challenge rating. How could I refuse?

My girlfriend and I spent three more weeks together, but without any great adventures. We had a lot of fun, though. She left during the third week of January, when I had been two weeks in my teaching job.

And here we are. It’s the fifth of February, and I’m looking back over the past two or three months of my life thinking “Geez”. However I survived (literally) those last weeks in San Josè is anybody’s guess. I distinctly remember sitting on an internet cafe with my girlfriend, planning and getting the tickets she needed in half an hour or so. I guess that my back was against the wall, so I let the bullets fly.

[Long, long interlude]

15th of May, Northern Norway

Well, this only took me a million months to get back to. Not much has happened since last, though. My girlfriend is coming back to Norway in a month, and in mid-July we’re both going to Costa Rica. I’ve worked as a primary school teacher since mid-January, and it’s been a fucking fantastic experience. I’ve learned so much it’s not even funny. Living with my parents have gone suprisingly well – we’re all adults, and that, I guess. I even got a part-time gig as a lifeguard in the local pool, which was nice to complement my very demanding day job. One of my closest friends died tragically in January – you are deeply missed, my friend. I’ve started going to the gym. My brother and I drove to Trondheim to visit our third brother in Easter. We forgot to bring a map to bring us through Sweden, so we found ourselves asking Swedes for directions at 1.30 in the morning. I love travelling like that.

And now it’s May, two days before the Norwegian independence day. I’ve roughly a month left before the school closes. I was offered to continue working there, but it wasn’t possible to get my girlfriend here, so I chose Costa Rica instead.

That should cover it. God damn long overdue update, I’d say.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Guatemala and other things

Well, then. I guess it's time to get back on track.

In the days when July turned to August, I went out on a number of dates with a girl. Later, in the second week of August, we stepped it up and I found myself in a relationship. This effectively ended all my plans - of which there were many and more - to leave Costa Rica. Not that I've any regrets, mind.

It's now closing in on November, incredibly enough. My second birthday outside my native country has passed. The relationship between me and my girlfriend has grown into something very good. The world in general has been relatively quiet. And my teaching schedule changed.

High school

In Spanish, high school would be colegio, in Norwegian it's ungdomsskole, and in English it'd be equivalent to, more or less, secondary school. I can't tell you the exact circumstances that led me to (and out of) teaching there, due to contractual issues, but I'll gladly tell you some of the things I did there. Before I start, though, the basic concept was this: my private English school had a contract with a normal, semi-private colegio. My school would send teachers to the colegio to teach English.
- in the first ten minutes of one particular class, I evicted 16 of the 18 students.
- I regularly evicted between 3 and 10 students in every single class I taught.
- communications from the high school such as "Don't make the students cry" were routed to my private school. If my boss there didn't tell me not to make my students cry, it didn't count.
- I denied dozens of student requests to go the bathroom.
- I made the other (Tica) English teacher on the premises hate my guts, because all the students I evicted came to her to ask her to plea their cases to me (I hardly uttered a word in Spanish in the high school even though I could).
- roared three resisting Ticos into scrambling for their backpacks and nearly running out of the classroom

The two and a half weeks I taught there were quite interesting in their own, obscure way. Thank God I don't have to do that anymore, though - now I'm (hopefully) back to teaching in the private school.


The things I wish to say about her are all captured in the following monologue, delivered by her:
"I liked the shotgun in Doom [the computer game]. I would walk up to the monsters, stick it in their mouths and fire it, and watch as they flew backwards. I liked the 'chi-chic' sound it made when it was being reloaded."



So here we’ve come to the main part of this entry - my recent visa run to Guatemala. I went to the airport with my girlfriend and kissed her goodbye before I entered the departure terminal. I was armed with two telephone numbers and a return ticket to Guatemala City. After an interminable wait (some kind of organizational breakdown in the Taca administration), I got on the plane and landed in Guatemala about one and a half hours later. Entrance into the country was painless, and after some fumbling, I located the taxi stand (such as it was) and got a taxi into the center of Guatemala City:
Taxi driver(s): "¿Taxi, señor?"
Ole: "Um, si."
T: "¿Para donde?"
O: "El centro..."
T: "¿Donde en el centro?"
O: "No se. No importa. Necesito solo un lugar con internet."

I paid the fare and got out of the taxi next to 'Palaco' something, downtown. I found an ATM, got some local currency and went in search of an internet cafe to find the name of the city I was going to, which I had forgotten to write down. I found a cafe and the name, and by that time it was getting late - late enough for me to start thinking about hustling to get the bus to Quetzaltenango. I presumed that Guatemala was like Nicaragua and Costa Rica in that buses would generally not leave after late in the afternoon till next morning. Asking around, I was told that the terminal was a ways off and that I should take a taxi. The taxi driver had no idea where the terminal was, but asking around got us there eventually, just in time for me to jump on a bus to the impossible-to-pronounce-place.

I don't have a watch, so I can only guess that it was about five hours later that the bus arrived, after lots of obstacle-hurdling, including, but not limited to, a herd of cows (or goats?), lots of roadworks (Fim! Fim!) and a pretty radical mud-pit. I got off the bus at a randomly selected spot in Quetzaltenango, slung my sole piece of luggage (a small backpack) over my shoulder and went in search of a taxi. About half an hour later I got a big welcoming hug from my very tall British friend whom I hadn't seen since many a month, on a dark and quiet little town square in the middle of what I later learned was ‘Zona Uno’ in Xela (which is the more common name for Quetzaltenango). He took me to his apartment and introduced a woman there as his girlfriend. We had dinner together and caught up on each others’ lives.

Later that same evening, as I entered the hostel I were to stay at during my three nights in Xela (Shey-la), I was met by a person some of you might remember - mr. Leadership himself, the ultra-charismatic British bloke I first encountered in Quepos. My sparse luggage was stowed in my room and the three of us - me, mr. Leadership and mr. Tall (the one who met me first in Xela) - went out for drinks. At that time, I had been more or less sober for four months due to the fact that my girlfriend doesn’t drink, so getting drunk was easy enough.

Next morning I woke up and realized something: it was cold. Xela is way up in the mountains (2000+ feet) and the temperature difference between there and San Jose was pretty radical. I hadn’t brought a jacket (I don’t even have a jacket to bring), and I was wearing sandals, so I spent the days in Guatemala gracefully wearing socks and sandals, true gringo style. I showered (the hostel was really quite excellent, its name is Don Diego (I think) and is warmly recommended) and hit the streets of Xela, armed with the name and general direction of the local market (La Democracia) plus a camera. I ate breakfast in a dark, smoky room, a version of what we here in Costa Rica would call a soda, located on the outskirts of the market. The room had about five stalls where women (and often their daughters) were selling local food cooked on the spot. I had torta de carne, directly translated cake of meat. In Norway, we call it kjøttkake. And, miracle of miracles, in Guatemala it’s apparently quite normal to have hot chocolate with their breakfasts. Naturally, I asked for a cup, stared at the change the woman gave me to find out what it looked like and what it was worth (much to the amusement of the locals), then went to the market and spent the most of the day there.

The hostel has quite a few people living there semi-long-term (meaning, for a month or more), so the residents arrange dinner daily on a rotational basis. I ate dinner there, and spent the evening over at mr. Tall’s apartment, chilling.

Xela is a nice city. Guatemala is generally not known for its tranquila cities, that is to say, there’s generally a lot of crime about. Not so with Xela, where you can go pretty much anywhere, anytime, unmolested. Zona Uno, where I stayed, has narrow, cobbled streets which make up fairly square blocks of mixed residential/commercial buildings. Vehicles (especially the local buses, eerily similar to the ‘taxis’ in Cape Town) navigate the streets at high speeds, and pedestrians are well advised to stick to the narrow sidewalks. It’s a city of about 200 000 people, and it’s obvious that it’s not alien to the concept of tourism; a fact easily discerned from counting the number of Spanish schools about. Men and women in strange outfits abound: traditional dresses, hats and whatnot - children are often kept in a shawl slung over the shoulders of the women and tied in front. Their features are dissimilar from the average Tico, whose blood and genes are quite thoroughly different from native Central Americans. In Guatemala, native blood is abundant. The staple food, here as elsewhere in this part of the world, has a lot to do with beans and rice, though with some original touches, such as the aforementioned hot chocolate. Their torte de carne is different in texture and appearance from the Norwegian version, but it tastes similar. Groceries and most everyday goods are vended in the markets around the city, and the quality of foodstuffs is very high. I liked Xela a lot - it’s a place I would not hesitate to stay in for a while.

My third and final day in Quetzaltenango (I think it’s something like... kets-alten-ango) was passed in a huge market in a nearby town. I went there with mr. Tall and his girlfriend. Now, I’ve seen a couple of pretty wild markets before, but this was easily up there with the best of them. It was packed, in the sense that you couldn’t walk a single step without either bumping into someone or narrowly avoid bumping into someone. It stretched out over a total of, I think, ten blocks or so (about a square kilometre, though it was located in the streets and there were buildings interspersed between the rows of stalls). All sorts of clothes were for sale - hell, anything related to textiles in one way or another could be gotten there. I spent a delightful day picking through the stalls with mr. Tall’s girlfriend (he went off on his own, for some reason), lamenting the fact that the town didn’t have an ATM so I could buy Christmas presents for everyone and their mothers. There was a guy there who sold what appeared to be crushed Coyote intestines, which, according to him, has enormous healing powers in relation to pretty much any ailment. By the time I came back to his general area, though (I look first, and buy later), he had packed up and left. I would have loved to buy some of that stuff. I can only imagine the joy of convincing the customs officers in Guatemala and Costa Rica to let me keep it. We had dinner in a Guatemalan version of a soda, which I can’t remember their name for. Family-run cafe-ish kind of affair, anyway. Mr. Tall and his girlfriend had to leave to go to their respective jobs in Xela, but I stayed for a little while longer before I returned.

There was some kind of birthday party going on in the hostel and the poor, beleaguered Belgium girl who was stuck on dinner duty seemed to need whatever help she could get, so I gave it. She served a terrific chicken-and-rice-Thai-ish dish, and we spent most of the evening in the hostel eating and drinking - 16 people or so, including me and my British friends. We went out for drinks later and thus passed a fairly uneventful, though extremely pleasant, night.

My fourth and final day in Guatemala was mostly spent travelling. I got on the bus towards Guatemala City and boy was it slow. It broke down about half an hour outside the city and an hour and a half passed before another came to bring us along. I’m a patient man (wasn’t, before, but learned patience after lots of travelling and, lately, teaching English) and don’t get worked up much, especially when travelling in relatively third-world countries, but the row of roadwork queues and general lack of progress that plagued us started getting on my nerves after a while, especially considering I had a plane to catch. When we finally arrived in Guatemala City, the friendly co-bus-driver arranged a taxi to take me to the airport, but I think the taxi driver felt kind of slighted as I stormed past him muttering something about ‘bathroom emergency’ and disappeared into the toilet. I stood peeing for a good five minutes. He was faithful, though - the taxi driver, that is - and waited patiently until I was done. There were two other people in the car (which didn’t look like much of a taxi), but all my instincts told me that this was completely trustworthy, so I got in and remained utterly calm and relaxed as the driver navigated into a part of the city distinct from the airport, let the two passengers off somewhere in there, then took me to the airport. There I was harassed to a totally undeserved degree by a customs officer who seemed to believe I was up to some shady business - a notion that, oddly enough, seemed reinforced when he found one of my presents to my girlfriend, a nice teddy bear holding a heart with ‘I love you’ written on it, which he held up to the light while muttering darkly in Spanish. His attention was diverted by some other pressing business before too long, though, whereupon I was let off the hook and hit the surprisingly well-stocked tax-free stores.

Four days without my girlfriend! It was good to see her again - she met me in the airport holding a sign written in dubious Norwegian, conjured up from the Spanish-Norwegian dictionary I gave her as a present. She told me that work had called (I don’t have a cell phone and the relationship between me and my girlfriend is, for various reasons, one of the most well-known facts in my workplace, so they call her when there’s something I need to know urgently) and that I wasn’t teaching high school anymore. Hooray!

And that’s about it. The longest blog entry I’ve written in a long time. To be honest, not much has happened here - I spend time with my girlfriend and teach, and that’s pretty much it. I did an aborted attempt at joining the Little Theatre Group at some point, a plan I haven’t quite given up yet. I started eating salads at least once a week and I’m trying hard to vary my meals every day. My first private class is starting next week, if everything works out. Looks like I have to go for a couple of weeks with no work because of, well, issues that I can’t really talk about (though it has nothing to do with me personally, just coincidences and contractual stuff, things outside my control). I had a great time in Guatemala, and I’d love to go back there at one point or another. Life is good in San Jose too, what with my relationship soon entering its third month and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere but onward any time soon. I’ve started preparations for my mid-December return to ze Vaterland, to where I won’t be going alone, it seems...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Finding Shelter

I awoke this morning to a complete absence of water and electricity. Earlier this year, around March and April, such outages were common in parts of the Central Valley due to water shortages. But now, in the thick of the rainy season, I assumed that it was because of construction in the neighborhoods. My roommate, however, informed me of the truth: our landlord forgot to pay the utility bills. We've endured other discomforts here as well. We've been waken by early morning, unannounced intrusions by our landlord for various reasons. Recently, he decided the apartment absolutely had to be repainted, despite the fact that it meant weeks of drywall dust and paint fumes for us. He spontaneously replaced a sink one morning, turning off the water, and leaving us unexpectedly without water for morning showers. And let's not forget that he wasn't paying the community security guard, who consequently turned a blind eye to our robbers. The list goes on and on. Why do we remain here? Well, this highlights a problem for expat ESL teachers. Furnished housing is difficult to find and relatively expensive in Costa Rica. It's even more difficult to find in desirable locations. So, because we don't want to buy furniture for our temporary stay here, and because we need a place with a phone line (difficult for non-residents to get), and because we want to be close to our school, we are stuck. Luckily, the water and electricity came back on in the afternoon.