Saturday, 13 December 2008

Existen Dos Costa Ricas

Last night we attended the "Fiesta Navidad" of the Tai Chi Society here in Costa Rica. There was a good turnout with more than 30 people there to eat some food and sing some Christmas songs (villancicos). There were bocas for starters, turkey, mashed potatoes and salad for the main course, and various tasty cakes for pudding (including one type of cake that must have had an 80% alcohol content). The food was followed by some singing of Christmas songs, first in Spanish (which we did not participate in, if only because we didn't know the words) and then some in English (which we did sing).

Members of the Taoist Tai Chi Society here have been donating various food and essential housekeeping items to give to some local needy families for Christmas. There were also some Christmas presents bought and wrapped up for each member of the families (including a toy car which we bought for one young boy). The families were selected by one of the Society's members who works as a nurse here. Today we accompanied some members of the Society to the see the families and give them their Christmas gifts.

This gave us the opportunity to experience working with Costa Rican addresses (see an earlier blog entry). An address of 300 metres west and 200 metres north of a landmark is not enough to help you find somebody’s house, especially in a densely populated area. So what do you do? Why, you ask of course. Unlike many parts of the UK, folk here do actually know who their neighbours are. So, you can get to the general area and start asking for the family you are looking for and soon enough, you will find them.

Costa Rica is one of the most developed and richest countries in Central America, yet it was clear to see today that poverty, real poverty, still exists here and not just in the slums on the outskirts and riverbanks of San Jose. The families we visited today, all in the San Rafael/Heredia area, were living in "houses" that were smaller than most UK garages. In one case the "house" was essentially part of a ramshackle garage sectioned off, boards had just been placed on the earth to provide a floor; a mum (aged 38 but looking much older) and her two young children lived in this tiny one room space.

One thing that has been noticeable in Costa Rica is that there are often small, almost derelict houses right next to large modern houses, which are right next to shacks, which are next to a 5 bedroom house... and so on. So in many streets you can find the very poor living next door to the well-to-do, separated only by a few feet (and a large wall and barbed electric wire fence). It is something that you don't often see in the UK – both the mixture of housing and the barbed electric wire fences! – where the well-off and poor each have their own, very separate, "estates". However, unless you are homeless, as in really homeless and living on the streets, in the UK you are probably living in better conditions than the very poor here. As one of the Tai Chi members said today "existen dos Costa Ricas".

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