I have been trying to put my guest bedroom/office in order because my dear friend, Nina, from Norway, is stopping to see me on her way to the other San Jose. Nina was my resident adviser and later my assistant at the International House in that California city, and from the day I met her, my friend. So the least I can do is straighten up my office. However, if I don´t succeed, she will understand because once a week she and Leann, my other assistant, would come into my office, banish me and make order of the chaos on my desk.
Good intentions said, old letters and loose journal entries strewn about beg to be read. I came across a letter dated August 25, 1992, and thought about how things have changed.
I wrote, I have been in Costa Rica only a couple of weeks, attending a language school in San Pedro and living with a host family, an elderly couple, I rarely see. Doña Leona is very religious and a very bad cook. She puts my inedible dinner on the dining room table and she and Claudio eat in the kitchen.
My room is a tiny musty inside room with a window, looking down into the living room which was once the garage. I manage to cope with everything but the black flies in the bathroom and cockroaches everywhere, including the fridge and my bedroom. These are putting me in the basket case category. The director of the school offered to move me to another family but, thinking all home stays would be the same, I decided to look for an apartment.
Thus begins Hell week. After class I rush to various barrios of San José, through rain, and heat, on buses, foot, and occasionally taxis. Anything under $300 is tiny, dark and utterly basic. Everything else has been taken immediately.
Meanwhile I am in Spanish class four hours a day, doing my homework and chatting in bilingual groups. Enter a possible hero in the person of Bill, a tall, thin fellow with round glasses who monopolizes the conversation in class beginning his monologues with en realidad before he enlightens Marta, the teacher, and me on the way things really were.
However, I don’t want to alienate him because he has an apartment in a complex in Sabanilla. Furnished, airy, and near a bus stop. “Please ask her if she has any free ones,” I nearly beg him. She does. One on Sept. 2 and the other the 16th. I want to talk to her, but Bill says, “Why don’t you look at mine first.” Two days later I am looking at the perfect apartment for me. “I love it,” I say. Can I go talk to her now?” Bill says no, it is better if I call her later that evening after we have dinner. Dinner is painfully slow as I listen to how things are en realidad.
I rush home and find Claudio on the phone and a long line waiting at the public phone nearby. I begin to hyperventilate. Finally Claudio is off the phone, I call but the line is busy for the next 45 minutes. I am in a sweat so I take a shower and give it a rest. I try again. It rings and rings, I am sure the landlady has gone out to celebrate renting her two apartments. I am too upset to sleep.
A baby roach is making its long trek up the chenille bedspread towards me. Just a baby. How many babies are there in a litter? And WHERE IS THE MOTHER? I search the room knowing I am a little crazy when I begin to fantasize: I am calling the next morning and am told the apartments were rented at 5:30 yesterday.
My fantasy elevates: I am screaming at Bill, he smirks, I grab him around his skinny neck, throw him down and pelt him to death with roaches. In reality I kill the baby roach and try to sleep.
The next morning I tell Bill I couldn’t reach his landlady. He shrugs, probably too early to call at 8 a.m. I should wait until 10. He has no clue as to how desperate I am, how many hours I have walked and buses I have taken to look at dark inhospitable apartments.
Marta walks in and asks ¿Como Estan? I say, “I am tired of sleeping with roaches.” And burst into tears, copious, awful, embarrassing tears, but it feels so good I put my head down on the table and cry my frustrations away. That is when I have an epiphany, which I can blubber in perfect Spanish. Hombres luchan, mujeres lloran. “Men fight, women cry.”
Then everything changed. The director found me another homestay with a room OVER the garage, with a large window, private bath and a host family with two chatty teenagers and a mother who is a gourmet cook. I managed to put a deposit on the apartment available on the 16th.
Meanwhile, nothing has changed in my guest room. Maybe Nina will put things in order when she gets here.