Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Big News of the Day

A hostage drama at the Russian embassy in Costa Rica's capital, San Jose, has ended peacefully with an armed man turning himself over to police....Read more and see the video here.

The Uncanny Ability to Lose Things

And I'm not talking about my uncanny ability here, though I do have one. (For example, we can't find the remote that goes to the DVD/VCR combo, and the television only gets certain channels, so the loss of the remote means that 1) there is no SAP (English) on some of the cable channels and 2) we can't even get certain channels. This meant going out and buying a universal remote, which does not let you set up the SAP on the menu, for some reason, so we still don't have SAP, but we do have all the channels. Therefore, if one wants to use SAP on only SOME of the channels, it means disconnecting the cable from the DVD/VCR and connecting it directly to the back of the t.v., which, quite frankly, is just too much of a pain to bother with. Maybe I should give up on finding the remote and buy a new t.v. that has both SAP and all the channels? But I digress...)

I am speaking of the uncanny ability of Costa Ricans to lose one's paperwork. In one day, I discovered two different organizations (the U.S. Embassy and BAC bank) lost my paperwork. Re: the first: on April 27th (I have the receipt!), I applied for a SSN for my son. I need said SSN to pay my taxes properly. I sat at the embassy all morning that day, wasting several hours, to fill out a form for the SSN. The woman who took the information (who is Costa Rican, by the way -- can someone tell me why the embassy is staffed by mostly Costa Ricans? Call the British Embassy and you get a Brit. Same over at the Canadian Embassy. Argh!) gave me a piece of paper that showed I'd applied for the number and told me to call in a week or so and I could get the number over the phone faster, as it takes about a month for the card to arrive in the mail. I call, a week later, the guy says the number still hasn't shown up, maybe I should call back again in another week. Yesterday, I call again, and the woman there says there is no record that I ever applied for son's SSN and I would have to come back down and reapply all over again. WHAT THE F??? You cannot imagine how livid I was. I let this woman really have it over the phone -- I sort of felt bad later as it probably wasn't her fault, but she ended up taking the brunt of my frustration with the Costa Rican lackadaisical attitude, because damn, does she have any clue what it is like to sit in a waiting room all morning with a three-year-old? Then I sent an e-mail to my friend who is joining the foreign service, outlining all of the above and asking her, specifically, to ensure that whoever gets sent down here to know what the hell they are doing.

Then, later, after my frustration and anger had died down slightly, I realized that I brought this on myself because if I had just gotten the SSN when my son was born or shortly thereafter, this wouldn't be an issue. So goody, I get to go to the freakin' embassy again next week, and since there are only two people who work at the Social Security office, I'm really, really hoping one of them is the Costa Rican girl who screwed up the first time.

Also, on Friday, I went to pick up my debit cards for my new bank account at BAC. You all know my frustration with Banex; about two weeks ago, I was in Escazu waiting for my son at his music class and decided to go down to the BAC office and open a new account. I was missing some paperwork that I needed to open the account (if opening a new bank account in CR, be prepared to jump through hoops, people, including signing over your first born), so I got the info, and came back a few days later to conclude opening the account. Carolina was busy, so I got shuffled over to the accounts manager. Carolina said that the cards would be ready in a few days and I could pick them up at the Santa Ana branch (which is closer to home). Stop by the Santa Ana branch on Friday to pick up the cards (it's actually been about a week and a half since the account was supposed to be opened) and I discover the accounts manager neglected to ever bother submitting the paperwork to actually open the account. Hello? Isn't that your freaking job? Double Argh! As with the previous incident, I may not have been quite so irritated had it not been pouring down flash-flood heavy rains and I ran out in it to get from my car to the bank. But I did, and I was (irritated, that is, and wet).

Costa Ricans have this great way of shrugging their shoulders and passing the buck when something goes wrong. "Sorry, there's really nothing I can do right now," is a common thing you'll hear. I was speaking with a friend's husband the other day about why it is so hard for us Gringos to make good friends with Ticos, and we both came to the conclusion that we are just culturally too different. Basic things like taking responsibility for one's actions (which I feel Gringos do far more than Costa Ricans, who sort of leave everything to "God's will"), telling the truth, stealing, etc. -- we are just too disparate, culturally, to really develop deep and lasting friendships with each other. Ticos have a way of shutting people out, holding them at arm's length, if you will, unless, of course, they are other Ticos. Of course, we can be civil and have great acquaintances, but I really think true friendships between Costa Ricans and Gringos are few and far between (they happen, just not that often -- ask any Gringo or Tico living here). The friendships that do develop do so because, I think, those Ticos are more worldly and open to new ideas and not so stuck in their old ways. I know this sounds very provincial and ethnocentric; I see myself writing the words and am a little shocked at myself for stating what I've thought for a long time. Oh well. Plus I'm a little sad because the first real friend (a Gringa, of course) I've made in living here after almost 7 years is leaving in a few months.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Birthday Cosmetic Surgery

This year I am hitting a near-milestone birthday. I am not going to type it; to do so would bring it closer to home. Use your imagination if so inclined.

When I turned 25, I was (at the same time, yes) getting out of an abusive relationship and also being dumped by the first guy I ever truly fell for. My bad for dating while otherwise occupied! Oops. Oh, and I was also overcoming a daily battle with anorexia and beginning to like myself for what was inside. Anyway, after all that nonsense ended, I gave myself a piercing for my birthday. I thought it sort of symbolized my newfound freedom and a gaining of self-respect for myself. I still have it, and as much pain as it caused me (physically, not emotionally this time!), I plan on having it go to the grave with me.

Fast forward a few (ahem!) years to last Wednesday, when I was wheeled into the outpatient operating room at CIMA for a minor surgery on my leg. No big deal, though I say it's cosmetic surgery because no insurance company in their right mind would pay for it. Without going into great detail, I had a lump removed from my leg. It was ugly. I was sick of it. It had to go. It just felt like I was ready to make the change, to get rid of it, along with all of the reasons why I hadn't done so previously (like my huge fear of needles and operating rooms and scalpels...). So, obviously, I had to pay for it myself.

You may be wondering, What the hell does any of this have to do with Costa Rica? Well, I'll tell you! It was cheap, that's what. I am writing a top-10-things-I-like about-Costa-Rica list for a friend's book, and the excellent medical care at ridiculously low prices is on it (as is veterinary care -- what a bargain). My doctora is a young Korean woman who reminds me a great deal of Sun on Lost (wow, am I addicted to that show, for entirely perverse reasons, but never mind...). She is kind, a great OB/GYN, and wholly funny to boot. How many doctors are going to make you laugh on the operating table? Talk about putting one's patient at ease! Anyway, with my doc's fees and the hospital's outpatient fees, the entirety of my round of cosmetic surgery came to $250. Can you even believe it? And let me tell you, CIMA is more modern and better equipped than most of the hospitals I've been to in the U.S. And EVERY SINGLE ONE of the nurses (about half of whom were men, interestingly enough) was very kind and just wonderful. (They did, however, make me remove my freedom piercing, which I can't re-insert without a mirror.) I can't say enough good things about them. Or my doc.

When I told my mother about all this (she lives in the state that's high in the middle and round on the ends -- OHIO!), she related a story to me about a minor outpatient procedure she had last year that cost her insurance company something like $12,000. J su christo.

I didn't have insurance when I lived in California because I simply couldn't afford it. I can't really afford it now, which is why I don't have it here either, but since the cost of medical care is so cheap, I can usually pay cash for anything I need done. I could never do that back home. Worst case scenario, I can get emergency treatment for free at any of the government-run hospitals (though I prefer the private ones, like CIMA, for what should be obvious reasons).

Tomorrow, on my real birthday day, I get my stitches out. And start to feel good about the way my leg looks again. Thanks, Dr. Kim!