I have changed. After only a few years of living in Samara I am a different person and I like the new me. I recently visited family in the US and as I walked around I looked up and smiled and said hello to people I passed. Some were actually visibly uncomfortable, maybe even afraid. And all the STUFF. OMG there is so much stuff in the US. Ice tea makers really?? – pour water over tea and wait, add ice. You need a special machine for this??
When I walk through Samara it is rare not to be greeted by every Tico I pass and most expats here have picked up the habit. It may seem like a small thing, but it matters. Being connected to people makes you happier and healthier. You become aware of the fact that we are all a part of something larger than ourselves.
When a Tico needs to make or fix something he looks around at what he has on hand and figures out how to use it. Some of the solutions are ingenious. Styrofoam and cardboard are gold here. Tool kit? It’s called a machete. Rags become ropes or nets. A bottle can be a rolling pin. I’ve seen jewelry made with watermelon seeds and there is a broken chair tied to the fence post at the school to provide seating by the taxi stand. Throw away a chair because it is missing a leg? Heck no!
I thought that at my age my personality was pretty much set. But when I recently took a test called Myers Briggs as part of a research project for a former student I learned that personality is not a fixed thing. I first took the test in college, then again a few times as part of job interviews and corporate training programs. I have always been a consistent INTJ, which stands for Introversion, iNtuition, Thinking, Judging. The Myers Briggs Foundation describes my type as “Vision oriented. Quietly innovative. Insightful. Conceptual. Logical. Seeks understanding. Critical. Decisive. Independent. Determined. Pursues competence, improvement.” However the post- living-in -Coast Rica test showed I am now an INFJ. Introversion, iNtuition, Feeling, Judging- “Vision and meaning oriented. Quietly intense. Insightful. Creative. Sensitive. Seeks harmony, growth. Serious. Loves language, symbols. Persevering. Inspiring.” And it’s true, my values have changed, instead of seeking competence, I seek harmony and growth. I’ve traded logical for sensitive. I think these are changes for the better and I think living among Ticos has a lot to do with it.
My only worry is that Costa Ricans will become more and more like Americana Nortes – busier, more efficient at work, and less connected to each other. When I see the easy credit signs I cringe. People up north bought into the “buy now, pay later” nonsense and now they are buried in debt and junk they don’t need. I hope Ticos will see what they have and hang on to it for dear life.
When I volunteered at a local school that has students from all over the world, I asked each child what was most important to them. Those from Europe and North America told me they valued their music, their computers, their games. Every single Tico child said “my family”.
Every day I see people stop work to help a friend or neighbor, or even a complete stranger. A neighbor recently complained about the inefficiency of ICE. All I could think of was the time the ICE guys were working on our street and another neighbor, who had recently had a stroke, could not get down the stairs of his house. The guys in the yellow shirts stopped work and went and carried him down. Shopowners have left their businesses to help me find my way. Municipal employees took my husband, who speaks almost no Spanish, behind the counter to help him complete a form.
When I first moved here a woman told me “Ticos wear their humanity on the outside.” It is true. That is not to say there are no rotten Ticos or frustrations. Of course there are, but this is a culture that values harmony and resourcefulness and kindness. I’m grateful to be surrounded by it.
Note: Readers curious about the Myers Briggs test can visit the foundation’s website, http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/, and there are several versions of the test free on line. Just google “myers briggs type indicator online test”.