Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Comedy of Errands

Every place has its quirks, which if you live there long enough, you barely even notice. When you move somewhere new, however, the quirkiness is magnified and is a great source of confusion (and humor!). For example, I can just imagine the amusement my
Costa Rican friends would find at the Trader Joe’s in DC, where volume is so high that an employee with a whistle directs cart traffic through the check out line.

Here, an afternoon of errands around town offers its own raw material for a comedy routine. The bank is a prime example (no pun intended). Unlike in the U.S. where you simply stand in line for the cashier, here, you take the first empty seat in a line of chairs. When the person in the first chair is called up for his or her turn, everyone else stands up and moves over one seat. It’s like a grown up version of musical chairs or a practice session for the Mad Hatter’s tea party. The worst is in the afternoon when you have a number of large men in front of you, all of whom have eaten a large plate of rice and beans for lunch.…

Next stop is the post office to check if there’s any mail. We have an actual physical address ( “800 meters west of the school in San Gabriel”), but since mail only gets delivered once a week ~ and only if Jésus the Mail Guy’s motorcycle is working ~. we’ve made it a habit to check as often as possible. We’ve learned that if our mail sits too long in the office, it’s given to a friend or neighbor to pass along. The hitch is that some of our friends don’t have phones or cars, so our mail sits at their houses longer than it takes to fix Jésus’ bike.

Finally, it’s on to the pharmacy. We still haven’t quite figured out how the pharmacy works, but it appears that a prescription isn’t always necessary. I’ve gone in looking for a bottle of regular strength Advil, and have been offered a selection 600 mg pain killers. While this surely has its benefits, you have to be very careful about taking what you’re given. When we first arrived, I went to the pharmacy for birth control pills and was given (and took) a month’s supply of hormone replacement therapy. Talk about an estrogen~induced emotional roller coaster!

After our errands are completed, we leave town on the main street, which on Fridays is an experience on its own. Since local radio and television programming are virtually non~existent, businesses hire pickup trucks outfitted with huge speaker systems to drive slowly through the streets announcing their events and promotions. The drivers use a Mr. Microphone contraption to project their best monster truck voices (“It’s HUGE, HUGE, HUGE!”) to try to get the people’s attention. The truck announcements create a circus~like atmosphere which, combined with a sighting of the creepy clown who stands on the corner making balloon animals, always prompts Luc to exclaim, “Mommy, we’re in a parade!” Parade or no, one thing’s for sure ~ we’re certainly not in Kansas anymore :)

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