Saturday, December 20, 2008

Living in the Barrio

While many foreigners who came to San Ramon bought lots in ex-pat communities or land in the country, I bought a house in the barrio. Rather than be apart from the culture, I wanted to live in the center of the life that defines San Ramon, Costa Rica. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and have lived in urban settings most of my life. What seems scary or strange to some has been a wealth of authentic experiences for me.

I’m a 10-minute walk from the central park and the heart of downtown. While many foreigners fantasize about 5 acres separate from others, I had a different plan. By being connected to my neighbors and the flow of life here, I have been changed in ways both profound and simple.

I bought my house in the barrio 3 years ago after renting downtown, near the university for the previous 4 years. How else to learn about my new hometown and become part of it, if I don’t walk the streets and become the newest Ramonense (San Ramon person)?

I was the first foreigner on my street and when I moved in I was quite the curiosity. I felt a bit like an exotic animal at the zoo as my neighbors were happy to have me but perplexed that this guy from the USA bought a house on their block.

Life starts early in Costa Rica. When the sun comes up at 6AM, life begins. Unlike many urban settings, this barrio has the most amazing bird sounds you can imagine. The birds morning songs are followed by kids getting ready for school and family life beginning. A little upbeat Spanish music, the dogs starting their day and then the flow of my neighbors walking down the hill … parents with their kids in their school uniforms, adults heading to work … lots of bicycles, a few cars and motorcycles, but mostly people walking. (It still amazes me how the sexy local women walk in stiletto heels without falling or twisting an ankle. It must be genetic.) There is none of the angst and frenetic pace of North American cities.

Now, 3 years later, I am integrated and known by all. I have always been safe and protected as my neighbors have a sense that their property values will rise by me successfully owning a house on their hill. Most of my neighbors have renovated and upgraded their homes during my time here. Of all my neighbors, I am most grateful to Rosario Vargas who takes care of my house; cleaning and making sure that when I am out of the country my house is looking good, clean and safe.

While the natural world around San Ramon rivals anyplace in the world, it is connecting with my neighbors and friends that has allowed me to discover the true meaning of Pura Vida.