It’s time to trade in the old assumptions for some new ones

The people of Costa Rica get generous vacations and numerous long weekends, thanks to national holidays and fiestas. This past Monday was mother’s day, the third most important holiday in this country — which meant another three-day weekend.

There are dance festivals and music festivals and sports festivals that entertain people. And some time ago a program started that made it possible to enjoy musical entertainment during lunch hour and right after work. The Teatro Nacional holds music events at noon on Tuesdays and at 5 p.m. on Thursdays.

I have yet to make it to the noon program, which costs just 500 colons (about $1). But I did attend a recent Thursday program (cost: 1,000 colons) that featured a five-piece jazz group from Julliard. The evening was a pleasure, and my favorite instrument is the saxophone, so I enjoyed the saxophonist, who was very good. But that evening I also noticed the bass player. I spent some time wondering why anyone would take up the bass as the instrument of choice, especially with a group that goes on the road. The instrument is heavy and awkward, and all a bass player does is strum the beat. How monotonous.

That’s what I was thinking and how wrong I was! When it came time for his lick, this bass player made that instrument dance with music. We could have danced to his music. I was delighted that my assumption had been proven wrong so quickly.

That was not the only misconception I had this past week. A.M. Costa Rica celebrated its 10th anniversary of its publication, and being their longest running columnist, I was invited to the party. Jay and Sharon always make it clear that children are welcome. After a horrendously long and expensive taxi ride from downtown in stand-still Friday-before-a holiday weekend traffic to their house, which is just about three miles away, I girded myself for the onslaught of screaming, running, attention-getting children. I have a dear friend who has grandchildren in the States, and I was using her description of child behavior as my model.

There were probably eight children there, all under the age of 10. I am not sure actually how many were there because they didn’t make any noise. Not one cried. No one had a tantrum. When one ran from one room to another, it was carefully and quietly. I fell in love with a year-old tot, Arón, who sat on his haunches for probably half an hour in the middle of the floor (but not in the way), carefully choosing and eating what looked like M&Ms or whatever they’re called, smiling at anyone who caught his attention. So I was wrong again with my assumption.

This past week, thanks to a broken elevator, I got to know one of my downstairs neighbors new to the building. Climbing the stairs, Carolina and I introduced ourselves. She and her husband are Latin Americans, but not Costa Rican, and as yet know almost no one here. The day after we met, Carolina asked if I would help her son prepare for his upcoming test in English, which she does not speak. I was not thrilled at the idea of trying to drill English into a 7 year old who had just spent seven hours at school and probably wanted to do anything but study English with me. But I said yes.

His mother introduced us, Adolfo, shy and tense. Me, doubtful, but trying not to be forbidding. After a short while Carolina left us to ourselves. We worked on the present and past tense of four verbs. He filled out his three workbooks, never complaining or even yawning. He repeated until he got it right, the “t” sound at the end of some past tense verbs. After two intensive hours without a single break except for a glass of water for both of us, I called it quits because, I said, I had something else I had to do (like take a nap). I have taught adults, teenagers and college students, and never have I worked with such a diligent, eager-to-learn cooperative child.

What a week it has been. It’s a brand new world out there.

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