August 07, 2005

Costa Rica, part 2

(Note: Part 1 is here.)

I've recently gotten back in touch with Dr. M. He's since retired and is living out west. We'll definitely keep in touch.

Speaking of Oscar Arias (see my last post), the Nobel Peace Prize winner is virtually a shoe-in to win next year's Costa Rican election. The CR constitution was recently amended so that candidates may be re-elected, either sequentially or not, as is the case with Arias (who served from 1986-1990). CR has dealt with a lot of political scandal over the last few years, and one of Arias' positives is his honesty. I didn't meet one opposition party supporter in the past three weeks that didn't think Arias wouldn't win. That can't be good for the opposition now, can it?

Back to my semester abroad in '86. Many have asked me over the years (especially my students) "How do you become fluent?" (In this case, in case you don't know, in Spanish.) The only real way to become fluent is to spend time abroad in a country that speaks the language you wish to learn, and spend it around people who don't speak English. That's was my situation in '86. I lived with a family consisting of a mom and dad, three daughters, a son and a (male) cousin. Between them, they knew about ten words of English. Some people find speaking the foreign language to be the toughest part. For me, it was the listening. My first two weeks in Costa Rica were mentally exhausting due to the "strain" of listening intently to all that was said to me, and thinking through what I wanted to say to others. It gradually got easier and easier. Then, something really weird happened ...

... I had a dream all in Spanish. At some point in the semester, everyone in our group had this moment. We all considered it a pivotal point in gaining fluency. It meant were we starting to think in Spanish, not merely translating from -- and to -- English.

I also found that the more I was relaxed, the better I spoke. Which seems perfectly logical, after all. If I was out with the guys at a club or bar having a few beers, my Spanish was excellent. On the other hand, the day I got severely ill ...

... showed that when nervous and/or delirious, my Spanish sucked.

I still don't know exactly what happened that caused me to become violently ill that mid-March of 1986. What I do recall is that I was out with a group of American and Costa Rican friends, including my now-wife. We were dancing and drinking, and as the night went on, I was overcome by nausea. Upon arrival home, I took a Pepto Bismol shot and went to bed. Two hours later, I awoke, realized I'd never make it to the bathroom, so I puked my guts up on the small throw rug beside my bed. I grabbed the rug and tossed it outside (since I had no idea what the hell else to do with it!). I went back to sleep, but awoke another couple hours later to repeat the process, but this time I made it to the commode.

Now, severely dehydrated, I ventured to wake my "dad" for assistance. He gave me some pills to pop (I was too weak to inquire as to just what they were), but I quickly vomited them right back up. "Dad" quickly gathered me into his truck and drove me to the hospital.

Thankfully, just about every CR doctor speaks English, so he took note of all that was wrong w/me in my native tongue. He told me my temperature in Celsius, which caused me to freak for a second, but he quickly noted it was 104 in Fahrenheit. Yikes. The first order of business was to get fluids into me, so I was taken to a room where I was to get an IV. Unfortunately, the nurses spoke no English, and they pricked and prodded both my arms and hands until they settled on my left arm. I remained with that IV stuck in my arm for almost 18 hours. When my "dad" came to pick me up the next day, I had to literally carry my arm with me. And that was actually pretty tough, considering how weak I was.

I was in bed for the next week essentially. I had a slew of medications to take, and once a day I had to walk to the nearby pharmacy to get an injection in my posterior. Seriously. The first four days of that were OK as the woman who administered them made it virtually pain-free. However, the last day of injections there was only one person in the pharmacy -- an 80+ year old man who had the shakes! Unreal, man. He jammed the friggin' needle into my hip bone and by the time he actually managed to get the thing into my butt cheek, it was the worst shot I'd ever had. My right cheek was sore for three days.

I'm still a fairly thin guy (6'3", 185 lbs.) but back then I came into CR at around 158 lbs. (same height). Over that week of hell, I managed to lose almost twelve pounds. I figure I got some sort of food poisoning, which sort of makes sense being that my host family didn't exactly care for leftover food very well. Since my final meal before the illness was an omelette, to this day I still cannot eat one.

This tale of sickness, however, actually pales in comparison to that which happened to another exchange group member. Brad, with whom I remain good friends today, traveled with six other group members and Dr. M to neighboring Nicaragua, where the Contra War was raging at the time. (I didn't go mainly because I didn't have the cash to do so.) Nicaragua is still one of the poorest countries in our hemisphere; however, at that time it was really impoverished. On the last day before returning to Costa Rica, buddy Brad did something incredibly thick: he bought a snowcone from a street vendor. Since potable water then was in short supply, what Brad did bordered on the insane. And he paid for it. On the (long) bus ride home, he was unable to control his bowels, and in order to prevent further ... mess, Brad went to the back of the bus, opened the emergency door exit, stuck out his backside, and let it all go. Seriously. The whole tale was told to me by those who went to Niacargua (on my first day back to classes) after my own sickness. I, along with everyone else in attendance, couldn't catch our collective breath we were laughing so hard. Brad just sat there, smiling, eventually uttering, "Hey -- I had to go!" As to why he purchased that snowcone? "I was thirsty," he said. Oh.

The next two-three weeks after I was back on my feet, I was perpetually ravenous. I must have had six meals a day during those weeks in my body's attempt to regain those lost twelve pounds. Being that I returned to the States heavier than when I left, I guess it worked.

(Part 3 coming soon!)

Posted by Hube at August 7, 2005 06:18 PM | TrackBack

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