When I moved to Costa Rica, I thought I hated the United States. I had some out-there ideals, and my priorities were much different, to say the least. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Living here for three and a half years has been a challenge, with its ups and downs, but before I realized it, I was already adjusted to tico life. I had gotten used to the irregular public transportation, the supermarkets that one week carry something you need and the next they don't, the respect for appearances (don't tell anyone who's not your close friend anything personal), and speaking in spanish 24/7.
I'm reading this great book right now, called Lunch in Paris, a love story, with recipes by Elizabeth Bard. She meets a French guy and gets married to him, and the book is not so much of a love story as it is about her trials and triumphs in France. I can totally relate to her. In one part of the book, she talks to a French girl who is living in Germany, and asks her if she likes living there. The girl replies, "There was a time a few years ago when I thought about coming home. I had this ideal vision of France. You know. Perfect and beautiful. But I'm not really French anymore. I'm different now." And Elizabeth responds, "I know exactly what you mean."
While part of me has left a lot of "American" behind and adapted itself more to Costa Rican culture, that has become ingrained in me, I feel like I'm the opposite. When I left the States, I don't think I had an ideal vision of my country. George Bush was still president and I had very strong opinions on politics, which also influenced my views in general of the States. Now that I've been gone this much time, though, and I feel like I've changed a lot, there are some things I miss. However, those things are mostly blurred, because, to be honest, I don't remember what the States is really like, I mean, I forget what living there is like. There are a lot of things I admire, like people standing up for themselves, not worrying so much about appearances, we are strong people, we don't conform easily. A lot of Costa Rican culture reflects the submission people have been forced into, the repression that comes out in distinct ways, and the bitterness that that has created in them personally.
I sometimes miss the convenience of the US, being able to do so much online, or jetting to the (HUGE) supermarket to pick up any gourmet item you may need, as quick as that. But the bureaucracy is still there, something I witnessed both times I had to do paperwork to be able to study here, and to get my student visa. It's just not as close to home (as opposed to having to wait 5 and a half hours in a line to get my health insurance).
Many people say that once you travel, and your perspective changes, you'll never be the same. That's what happened to me after visiting Costa Rica for the first time when I was 15, during summer vacation to take spanish classes. I went back to the States and felt different, like I couldn't relate to people. That went on through my first semester in American University, when I realized it was time for a big change. That's when I moved first to Guatemala, and then to Costa Rica.
Like in Lunch in Paris, in which Elizabeth talks about how the French have always been told "no" instead of "you can do anything you want to achieve," I feel like it's the same here. Maybe more muted, but if you try to do something, sooner or later you will hit an invisible (or maybe visible) limit that won't allow you to keep growing or achieving. Although it's much a cliché, in the US, we are brought up hearing frequently "you can do whatever you want to do with your life," in a positive way. Yes, this engineers much unhealthy competition in a lot of aspects, but it also enforces our sense of self, and it's empowering.
The difficult part is, this isn't summer camp. I'm not here on vacation with my sleeping bag and teddy bear. I signed up for this for the long haul. I've been through many struggles, which has created roots for me here. In some way, I'm part of Costa Rica. I've made my home here, my life here, I have my entire university education from Costa Rica. Many things I've come to love, as those I have never been able to.
I can relate a lot to Elizabeth, and I think we are more common than I had originally thought. She says sometimes she feels like she has one foot on either side of the Atlantic ocean, and sometimes her knees get wobbly.
This recipe is adapted from her book, which is one of my favorite new genres, cooking novels. It uses couscous instead of the traditional bulgur wheat, which I cannot get here, and I absolutely love tabouleh.
Mamy Simone's tabouleh (Mamy Simone is her husband's grandmother, who lived in Morocco when she was a child)
2.5 cups cooked couscous, prepared according to package instructions
2 cups flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (I used organic normal-leaf. Also, chopping can become tedious, use a food processor if you have one)
1 TBSP fresh mint, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped (may use more if you desire)
1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice (I could only find normal grapefruit but it was still good)
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ tsp salt or sea salt
Scant ½ tsp ground cumin
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, grapefruit and lemon juice, and salt.
When the couscous has cooled a bit, fluff it with a fork and then sift with your hands to separate the grains.
Add the herbs, tomatoes, cucumber and dressing. Toss to combine. Season with cumin and black pepper and stir once more.
Leave in the fridge for a few hours so that the flavors can mingle.
If you desire, squeeze in the juice of half a grapefruit right before serving, for a little more acidity.