Cafecito with Marielos
*A melodic piano riff crescendos in the background* I went to the moped store, said – My hand lurches forward and slaps at my phone, cutting Macklemore’s lyrics short. The gallinas squawk insistently just outside my window, as if to say “Hey, wake up already… I did the thing! Here’s some eggs for your gallo pinto - ¡Buen provecho!” I glance at the time on my phone… 6:15AM. Time to start my day.
Morning is the second favorite part of my day. I wake up every morning and step out of the door to my room into the brisk, cool air of the open patio that I cross to arrive at the kitchen. I take my self-appointed seat on the stool adjacent to that of my host mother, Marielos, as she works her magic. Within minutes, a piping cup of café negro and a steaming plate of gallo pinto slide in front of me as Marielos hands me the bag of natilla to spread over my morning feast. We clink our cups of coffee and give thanks because as Marielos says, “El café es la gasolina” (Coffee is what fuels my life). We eat breakfast slowly while Spanish words and phrases roll of my tongue, almost effortlessly now, as the rest of the family begins waking up and starting their day. My host father, Enrique, greets me with a firm clasp of the hand and a pat on the shoulder with an exclamation of “¿Todo bien?” (Everything good?) as he drops two heaping spoonfuls of sugar into his coffee. Vanessa, the daughter of my host parents, pops in from her house next door (literally 15 feet away and it shares a roof with the outdoor patio) to pour herself a cup of coffee from the chorreador as she turns to me and smiles with a “¡Buenos días, Henry! “¿Cómo amaneció?” (Did you sleep well?). I suppose it would be more accurate to point out that Marielos and Enrique are more of my host “grandparents” because they are in their 70’s and Vanessa lives next door with her three children, whom I consider to be my host siblings. Isabella, the youngest and who just turned 3, runs up and wraps her arms around my waist while squeaking “-enwry!” (Still working on pronouncing all those individual phonemes). As I sit on my stool, I can’t help but to smile and feel so genuinely thankful to be in such a welcoming home, in una casa abierta.
3:15PM. The small, white car of my cooperating teacher rolls away from my driveway as I raise my hand in farewell. The unrelenting rays of the tropical sun beat down against my collared shirt and cotton pants as I return from another day of student teaching. My tongue involuntarily licks my lips in anticipation of the afternoon rain that will bring the brisk, night air. The rainy season has just begun, which brings a short, torrential downpour for a couple hours every evening. As I open the gate, I am welcomed with a “¡Buenas!” and an open chair in the outdoor patio to take part in one of the most important Costa Rican traditions, and my favorite part of the day: cafecito. The size of my family has doubled since breakfast and I am greeted with un besito from the aunts and cousins and a firm handshake and a “¿Todo bien?” from the uncles. When I first arrived, Marielos told me that they were from a gran familia, but I did not realize to what extent until it had already been two weeks and I was still meeting new cousins, aunts, and uncles every afternoon. Now, 6 weeks into my study abroad experience, I firmly believe that cafecito is a tradition that should take the world by storm. Imagine if you will, my casa abierta, with every chair, stool, and sofa seat filled with family members as we sit drink coffee, eat various types of pan dulce (sweet bread), and catch up on the latest gossip in a giant circle, waiting for the daily rain to quell the afternoon heat. This affair lasts anywhere from a hour to half of the night, depending on the rain and how much we have to catch up on. Some afternoons, like today, people are off running errands, but I can still always count on drinking cafecito with Marielos as she catches me up on the latest town gossip or recounts a comical anecdote.
Throughout my time here in Costa Rica, the importance of making time for your family and friends has been one of the most prevalent cultural values that I have encountered. With it comes a feeling of immense gratitude and belonging. Every respiración leaves me with a calm, content feeling that trickles outward from my lungs, filling my body with utter joy. Pura vida – todo bien, gracias a esta casa abierta.
*Henry Hartzler is a senior at the University of Iowa studying elementary education and ESL. He is completing his ESL student teaching in Costa Rica on the Global Gateways - International Student Teaching program.
Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.