birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

San Ramon de la Virgen

The town we lived in for close to a year in Costa Rica had just received electricity the year before we came. Many of the rural people, or campesinos, who we lived among had no previous interactions with gringos. My husband selected this town, San Ramon de la Virgen, to work on his dissertation topic regarding what people choose to do on their land in the tropics, largely because they had not been asked before. And he was interested to talk to the people because many of them had been displaced as their previous land had been overtaken to be a National Park corridor.

Meanwhile, I was along for the ride. Also, I established a contract to write and illustrate a book for young people explaining through pictures and activities why it was important to protect nature. This book gave me purpose for our days.

Our quarters were free. We lived in a small cinderblock doctor's office, with the understanding when the doctor came to town we would leave temporarily. A doctor never came. Anyway, we pushed three of the waiting room benches together and somehow got a piece of foam and covered it with a mosquito net. That was our bed. We did have an indoor toilet, which was pretty upscale for the town. We didn't have a kitchen. So we took 3 meals a day with a family in town. Everyday at 6 am, noon, and 6 pm we ate rice and beans.

There was an elementary school next to us, and the two male teachers shared a house behind us. They had an outdoor shower attached to their house which we used. By shower, I mean a pipe came out of their wall with cold water that you could turn on and off. For modesty sake, the pipe was surrounded by three walls of cinderblocks, but the weeds would work their way into the shower, along with the mold that grew just about everywhere.

Walking to the shower, or walking outdoors at all, included wearing knee high rubber boots. Boots were required footwear due to the mud (it rained every day), and the snakes. The snakes included the fer-de-lance, a highly venomous viper. But there were many other kinds of snakes, too.

While my bilingual husband was out talking to farmers, riding his bicycle around on the muddy roads (we didn't have a car), I stayed home and wrote and drew at a desk. We always kept the two doors to our home open for ventilation. All day lizards would venture in and dart through. Birds would fly in one door and out the other. It was a daily pleasure to see toucans, scarlet macaws, and all sorts of colorful birds around the town.

The children and young adults felt welcome to come into our house, as well. They enjoyed watching me draw. Nobody spoke English. My Spanish was just okay. I set up a free English class for anyone who wanted to attend. Most of those who came were teenagers who figured it may help them to know some English, and for something to do. This circle of teens and I became friends. Since the school next door to us stopped at the 6th grade, that was as high of an education that most of the folks had. To continue going to school, one had to leave town and live with a relative or pay board, so it made more sense to most to start working after sixth grade and continue living with their family.

There was one general store, in the town; one church, of course Catholic; one bar; and a soccer field- or futbol. These structures and those that I mentioned, including our doctor's office home, were the only public places except for the homes. To get to the nearest telephone or paved road where a bus would go by, you had to walk six kilometers of hilly roads. There was one guy who had a car, most folks walked or rode horses. Kind people would offer me their horse to ride, but they put wooden "saddles" on them that resembled sitting on the edge of a crate, so I mostly preferred walking.

I could write for hours about all the cultural lessons I learned that year, but suffice it to say, that it was mostly all interesting. The people were generous, as many poor cultures are, with their meager belongings, time, and food. The women would sweep out their wood and dirt floor homes and kept coffee cans overflowing with flowers next to their front doors. "A-dios" was what one said to any passerby, meaning, "Go with God".

upon overhearing a griping girlfriend . . .

Love Out Loud