I woke this morning in the aptly named Adventure Inn. The country has already been so welcoming. There is an honesty here that flourishes like the tresses of lavender bougainvillea trailing like Rapunzel’s hair, and the wake up call of the yellow chested bird. Outside the door of the hotel alongside the Mayan statutes is a tree with hanging flowers light tangerine trumpets -La Reina de la Noche.
I’ve tormented myself for many weeks about this trip. Endless whys who do you think you are but you need to work and take care of your obligations. Can you cancel.
This morning I’m clear. It comes to me. This trip to Costa Rica is about remembering and naming who I am. I know this because Juan the taxi driver from last night told me so this morning when he picked me up to take me to the bus station for the second day of my journey.
Juan told me that he was in the U.S. military for 6 years. He fueled the Presidential helicopters and Air Force One. I ask if he met the President. He tells me that he met George Bush, Jr. He has great affection for Mr. Bush. I, who felt physically revolted at merely seeing Bush II’s face, was astonished.
Why? I asked incredulously. Because George Bush always remembered his name. At this point, I am holding my breath at this revelation. I have been a yoga instructor for 6 years and fail miserably at remembering anyone’s name. I forgot some clothes in the hotel last night.
I recently set an intention to remember people’s names. My sister in yoga Daly does this remarkably well. I admired this gift of hers even before I understood from a Chitheads podcast about the sacredness in knowing someone’s name. This is the knowledge of their shared humanness. And Juan this morning confirms this for me.
I ask him about Obama. He shakes his head. He did not like Obama, because Obama did not even speak to him. Juan tells me that he once asked Bush how it felt to sit in the President’s chair. Our President George Bush stood and offered Juan his seat. The two switches places. The President announced “Its just a seat. Just a chair.”
Juan recalled how the President brought him a box of chocolates stamped with the Presidential seal “for your son Johan”. Even more astounding, Bush remembered Juan’s son’s name.
Like the homeless man in the movie “Same Kind of Difference as Me,” we all have an innate desire to be seen, to be acknowledged and to be listened to. To know we exist and to be remembered as having existed. Even the most twisted.
I am curious about Juan’s politics. He tells me he is apolitical, although he votes. There is something called the Democratic Christian party here. There is no separation of Church and state here. He did not vote in the U.S., because he was not a citizen. But he would not have voted for Obama because he disdained the common man.
Next, Juan tells me something that calls tears to my eyes. We pass an area on the left, and he points out that it was a German Concentration camp. The Germans in 1942 captured Costa Rica. They interned 15 families of Jews.
After the war, there was one family left. The University here has kept their house intact with dishes and silverware. It is empty. Like Elijah’s chair at the sader, it waits for their return. They clean it daily. Their name was Musmanie. Juan’s grandfather who lived to be over 100 years instructed Juan to never forget the extermination of the Jews here in Costa Rica.
I recall how George in our law office named Sarah Palin Sandra Palin. The worst form of insult was to call her by not her name. I have refused to say our current President’s name since the election. To will him out of existence.
The names of things have always been important to me. How we call things. The words we use. Languages. My sister before she died at 22 asked that she not be forgotten. My Jewish Polish grandfather’s name was changed from Lefkowitz to Bassan when he came through Ellis Island.
I tell Juan my politics is kindness, and suddenly I know what I am doing here – to know kindness in the world and remember. I hear Blanche’s words in A Streetcar Named Desire – “I have come to depend on the kindness of strangers.” That snake skin of dread I have worn throughout my life is coming off. This morning, I am wrapped in the kindness of strangers.
On the bus to Golfito, just when I have roused myself to ask for a bathroom break, we stopped. The smell of breakfast is intoxicating. I buy a crepe like omelet with sweet red peppers and onions and tiny fresh corn tortillas for $1.50 that I eat with my fingers. The bus honks but waits for me while I slowly count colones, and I recognize that all my needs are met. Here in this country that abolished its military and instead educated its citizens, here where the welcoming and the yuccas are supersized, I am nourished in a way that I have not been in a very long time.