Kalamata Olives, Cat Poop, and Learning Spanish

I’m back in Costa Rica and The United States seems more and more like a distant dream.

You know how some people get infestations in their buildings? Sometimes insects, or rodents. Well, I’m happy to say I don’t have either. What I do have, however, is a cat that’s living somewhere within the walls of my apartment.

I heard it yesterday for the first time, purring because it’s too windy outside. I had no idea where it was, I just assumed it was outside like the rest of the animals around here.

Then, just now, while writing this blog, I heard a lot of commotion in the storage room below my bedroom. I’ve never heard anything happen in this decently sized room, but now two men were yelling things like “basta, basta!” and “donde, donde!” (enough, enough and where, where!). In typical New Jersey fashion, I was getting increasingly annoyed by the unnecessary commotion, so I decided to look down into the room.

I saw two men with brooms and a flashlight trying to smack a cat that was jumping from wall to wall.

Too bad I didn’t have my camera ready to go! As of now, they still haven’t caught the animal. I’m actually smelling it a little, so I hope that happens soon. I’m imagining my ceiling crashing on top of me while I’m sleeping tonight and a cat scratching my face up before I have time to react.


My internet just went out. This is the second time this has happened since I’ve been here. A giant truck came down the street and knocked out the wires because they were too high. Everyone came out to see the driver get out of his car, clear away the wires, and drive away like nothing happened. There are still wires in the trees that shouldn’t be there, and there’s a hanging wire in the middle of the street that everyone is avoiding. It’ll be fixed tomorrow, or maybe the next day, or maybe the day after that. Or maybe this week.

Such is my way of life here.

(Update: last time it took three days to fix, today only three hours!)

Yesterday, my landlord dedicated a new room in our place to be a kitchen. Now I have a lot more space to cook, so recently I’ve been shopping for food like crazy. This is a huge change for me because in the past I didn’t have the motivation to cook. I spent all my money eating out, which was honestly ridiculous. This is so much more economical, and it’s interesting too. I’ve already tried to make a giant rice cooker pancake (and failed), and I’ve cooked an extremely healthy Mediterranean-style meal with barley, lentils, and kalamata olives. Getting this stuff is hard! I tried to find farro, too, but that doesn’t even exist in the tourist-centered supermarket here. I also had a hell of a hard time finding both the barley and some fresh parsley, because it didn’t even occur to me that they have different names in Spanish (cebada and perejil, respectively). I’m just amazed that I found the kalamata olives. That’s what working in grocery stores for 6 years gets you.

And now, some thoughts on learning Spanish or any language:

I came here knowing only a tiny bit of Spanish. I could translate some verbs and make some simple sentences. I knew hardly any vocabulary and I had hardly any experience speaking it aside from nearly three years ago when I got my feet wet in Spain with just a little practice for 6 days. Now, a friend of mine tells me “estás volando en español!” (you’re flying in Spanish!). It’s nice to hear, because I really can speak it. Fluent? Maybe not just yet. But I speak almost exclusive Spanish with a few people here, granted it’s mostly online. I know what I want to say and how to say it, but having those words come out of my mouth is probably the hardest part. It’s easy to adjust words on a Facebook message but in real-time conversation, you don’t have that time. That’s what I need to practice.

Which brings me to my next point: I hardly studied Spanish at all in school and I learned how to have a basic conversation here in 5 months. I know people who have been studying for 5 or 6 years that can’t even do that. And they’re not uncommon, either.

That makes me think, how much time are we wasting in our school system when we have people who can’t speak after 5 years and I’ve learned after 5 months?

If you want to learn a language, immersion is definitely the way to go. When you’re in the culture of the language itself, or worse, you need to learn the language to survive, then you bet your ass that you’re going to pick it up pretty damn fast.

Entonces, necesito cenar y preparar mis lecciones ahora. Es poco tarde y es difícil vivir sin internet. Voy a poner esto enlínea mañana en la mañana. Espero que encuentren el gato!! No puedo vivir así, con caca del gato en mi apartamento.

Hasta luego y muchas gracias como siempre.

John DeSarno


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