Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Proof is in the Poop

When I was in the Second Grade, our teacher asked us to write down what we wanted to do when we grew up. I wrote (and I still have the paper to prove it) that someday I wanted to go to the jungle to study monkeys. More than thirty years later, there I was in the jungle last weekend helping two American researchers gather information on the endangered squirrel monkeys that frequent our property. Coincidence? I think not!

To be completely honest, the Jane Goodall experience I imagined as a child didn’t quite measure up to reality. For starters, the monkeys didn’t cooperate and pulled a complete no~show. The researchers were good~natured and understanding, but I felt like an embarrassed mother being stood up by her truant teenagers. Thankfully, on our search for the little rascals, we came across a fruiting tree where they had recently eaten. Under the tree, we found precisely what the researchers were looking for ~ Monkey Poop!

It turns out that the poop contains ethelial cells from the intestinal lining from which DNA can be extracted. With it, the researchers will be able to tell whether deforestation that occurred in Costa Rica in the 1930’s and 40’s led to increased inbreeding among squirrel monkeys. If such negative consequences of deforestation can be proven, the stronger the case against continued destruction of the squirrel monkey habitat. It may sound hard to believe that so much can be determined by a tiny stool sample, but I shit you not.

In the hours I spent with the researchers staring up at empty trees, I learned some interesting information about our fuzzy cousins. For example, how do you tell a female squirrel monkey from a male? The female is the one with long Elvis sideburns (naturally!). Of all primates, which one has the fastest metabolism for its body size? That would be our little friend the squirrel monkey, of course. With the holidays upon us, feel free to keep these gems up your sleeve to spice up any flagging cocktail conversation.

In all seriousness, Patrick and I feel pretty fortunate to have squirrel monkeys as visitors to our property and will continue to do whatever we can to ensure their continued survival. For myself, I feel fortunate to have been able to fulfill one of my life~long dreams. It just goes to show parents and teachers that even the most outlandish of their children’s aspirations should never be poo~pooed :)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Transported Traditions

Over the course of the past week, we’ve faced the challenge of celebrating two very American traditions ~ Halloween and Election Day ~ as expats in a foreign land. I am happy to report that on both occasions, what we lacked in authenticity, we more than made up for in enthusiasm.

Halloween was a particularly tricky, given the fact that in Costa Ricans perceive it as a day for devil~worshipers. Churches of all denominations preach its evil, and warn their congregations against participating in festivities. Despite attempts to convince my friends that I’ve never seen a baby sacrificed or witnessed any other satanic rituals on Halloween, they would still have no part of it. Thankfully, one of our Gringa friends had more luck with her neighbors. She was able to persuade ten of them to pass out candy to our kids (provided, of course, that she supply the candy!).

Once we had Trick~or~Treat lined up, we had to come up with costumes. What I’ve always loved about Halloween is its creative element, and this year offered a great opportunity for my inner Martha Stewart. With no Target costume aisles for thousands of miles around, I bought some felt, threaded a needle, and started sewing. Thankfully, Luc wanted to be Baby Jaguar from the Diego cartoon, and not something complicated like Chewy the Wookie. In the end, it might not have looked as good as a store~bought costume, but I’m sure I had as much fun making it as he had wearing it.

Election Day for me has always been a day to celebrate, and this year was certainly no exception. The main difference this time was that my election day happened on October 28th, the day my absentee ballot arrived. Given the precariousness of mail delivery here, I nearly hurdled myself over the post office counter when I saw that it had arrived on schedule. It was such a great feeling to vote in this historic election and be counted as an American even though I’m so far from home. Absentee voting is a privilege that Costa Ricans do not have, and it’s one that I will no longer take for granted. The only thing I missed (apart from the long lines) was receiving my “I Voted” sticker to wear proudly throughout the day.

With CNN tuned in non~stop in our house once the polls had closed, November 4th played out for us quite a lot like it might have in the States (thankfully we live in the Central Time Zone). Although we missed celebrating with crowds in the streets upon Obama’s victory, we joined thousands of Americans living abroad in raising our heads up high and feeling genuinely proud again of who we are and where we come from.