Sunday, February 22, 2009

Home Sweet Home.

Starting out: that's the front gate to the office/my home. (As viewed from upstairs.) One of the first things you notice about San Jose, Costa Rica is that everything is gated, guarded, barred and barb-wired. (And electric-fenced.)

Next up, that's the back wall, if you look close: currently it is enhanced by a nice line of broken bottles and other sharp glass.

Then, that's the vista from the office conference room - looking S/SW into the hills of Escazu, the neighborhood of San Jose we're in. Finally, that's a second-floor shot of the bamboo stand outside my window. I admit, when it squeaks and whines, I still sometimes think it is a door opening, but I'm getting more relaxed each day.

And now, the story from Friday.

The introduction is important, because many things I took for granted come into play. For one thing, when you rent in CR, you don't get a stove or refrigerator. You don't get a phone line - your landlord owns the phone line and grants you access to it, with a hefty deposit. (S/he doesn't want to lose it and have to wait for another.) In our case, we don't know the voicemail code!! The last tenant changed it and didn't leave it behind.

The security system, too, is owned by the landlord and the responsibility of it is temporarily transferred to you, the tenant.

So, on Friday night, I got two kind but clearly determined visits from the street's night guard, who was concerned because my alarm was going off. (It was? I couldn't hear it.) His English was zero; my Spanish is that of about a three year old. For example, if "gorda" is fat and "gordita" is a cutesy pudgy person, then to me, it followed that if "ahora" is now, ahorrita would be right right right now, please. Uh, not so much.

(For your Spanish reference, ahorrita means in just a few minutes from now.)

Anyway, me and the sweet but concerned Miguel went back and forth twice about my alarm, which I then just disarmed for the night. (I still have locks. And broken glass.)

Miguel's third visit, with escalated concern, had him asking me, Entiendes? (You understand?) and me repeating, no, no, indeed I clearly DO NOT understand what is happening.

So, like so many of my dear friends and family, I hated to do it... but... I decided I had to ask for help. I called a co-worker, who was gracious and wonderful and zipped down the hill from her house, to translate, explain and ... upon seeing a friendly face who I could communicate with after a stressful, dark, foreign evening ... set me off into tears. Isn't it strange how when someone asks, "How are you?" you respond off hand, "Good!" But when someone looks at you, sees you, and asks with genuine concern, "How are you?" it can set you off into tears? Maybe its just me.

The problem was not clearly identified, but with three dogs, four neighbors, my coworker and her husband (who kept being so nice that it made me start crying again and again) plus me and a security guard, it was determined we would let it go till morning, and I would sleep with the system unarmed for the night.

After adding another dog, three more friends, and two more security guards to the mix the next day, we figured it out!!!

That previous tenant... she changed the generic setting of "People in the House but Keep Us Safe" button to mean "Well, Actually, Motion Sensors on the First Floor Are Always Armed and Will Go Off and Cause Emily to Cry and Security Guard to Freak". So NOW I have it figured out! I can set the "I'm Inside" alarm, but only be on the second story. If I want to go downstairs, I disarm for a bit, then re-arm at bedtime.

It is a relief and as United Statesy as it is, I slept better last night knowing the first floor was motion-detector protected. (Please do not send me any news stories about easily foiled motion sensors. Thanks in advance.)

Of course it already seems silly to dissolve into tears over not being able to communicate with the security guard. But that's the power of language. Whether it was god's wrath about the tower of Babel or something a tad more Darwinistic, language sure prevents humans around the planet from perfectly, clearly, effectively collaborating on common goals. And solving this eensy teeny puzzle took sign language (the landlord is deaf!!), English, Spanish and big dose of patience all around.

I'm off to watch the Oscars! Go Slumdog! Go Anne Hathaway!


  1. I SOOOOO get the crying. A perfectly intelligent human being forced into the communication abilities of a toddler. Thanks IndoEuropean language splitting. Thanks a LOT.

    Also, I have no tolerance with English speakers by and large but I am now like Mother Freak'n Theresa* when it comes to people who don't speak english easily. It's my only way of thanking all the people who put up with me and my inability to learn fast enough their mother tongues.

    The fact that you're trying means more than you know. Keep it up. You will wake up one morning astounded at how far you've come.

    (Also, I am not REALLY qualified to compare myself in any way with Mother Theresa. *cough*)

  2. Sorry. For some reason I had the wrong name on that account. The above comment was from Kelly :)