In front of the window of my bedroom, the land slopes steeply, then levels into a strangely open field before yielding to the bamboo and trees that line the creek. Gloriana tells me that there was once Del Monte pineapple planted in that field; the chemical cocktail used to “prepare ” the earth for receiving their patented hybrid fruit rendered the land toxic – not even grass will grow there now – for 20 years… There are still 16 years left to go…..
The mountains rise on the other side of the valley ; in the dark of last night they were a lightshow of looming human habitation where, when I first came here some 20 years ago, there used to be the sweet silent darkness of the rest of the Farm. This piece of the land belongs to other members of Gloriana’s family. Her farm has a history mirroring that of most families I have met in Costa Rica; it and the family are both struggling to maintain their nobility, as more money is to be made from “developing” the land – turning it into highrises and luxury condos like the ones across the valley – than farming it. The Family has given in bit by bit; educated mostly in the US, they are caught up in Costa Rica’s complicated cultural dependency on the States but also with the desire to make as much money as possible from the foreigners flocking in for a piece of this attractive pie.
“Zona Libres” – Free Zones – exist throughout the country, where foreign companies are allowed to run their factories, tax-free. A couple of years ago, under the governance of the then-Costa Rican President and Nobel Prize-winner Oscar Arias, the US began building an arms factory in one of these zones. The Costa Rican people ( who refer to their President as “Oscar”) made enough of a fuss that plans were halted. Now though, small planes loaded with cocaine fly freely in and out of the country, and the laundering business is thriving. US marines, hovering off the coast of Costa Rica with fast boats, state-of-the-art intelligence-gathering equipment and lots and lots of guns, are being reluctantly welcomed by many Ticos as a necessary evil in the fight against the drug cartels. More suspicious minds than mine might wonder where the drugs are really coming from…..
Not to be outdone, China “gave” Costa Rica a ludicrously huge new National Stadium, built with Chinese labour in a field with no road access because the Costa Rican infrastructure is notoriously inept and corrupt, in exchange for official recognition. The Taiwanese government – and the Dalai Lama, supposedly a friend of “Oscar” – are no longer welcome in the county.
A toucan stares at me from the tree in front of the window. A red squirrel, canaries, hummingbirds, red doves, and dozens of multicoloured birds whose names I don’t know, flap and scamper by. Peacocks, guinea hens, geese, chickens and dogs of varying hue and cry are free and at home here. The morning sun, slipping out for a moment from the cover of winter clouds, turns last night’s rain into pure light, sheathing each blade of grass, each leaf and web.
My friend Gloriana, alone in her room above me, lights incense and prays for strength…prays for peace.
Pray with her, please.