Thirsty for beans
Above: A typical meal in my Liberia host family.
It is hard to overstate the importance of rice and beans to the Costa Rican diet. I have rice (white) and beans (black or deep red) with every meal. I’m not sure why, but for some reason at breakfast it’s called “gallo pinto” (“black-and-white-speckled rooster”), the difference being that the rice and beans are cooked and served together instead of cooked separately and served side by side. They say there’s some added flavoring, but I can’t say I really notice any cracks in the monotony.
Said monotony was the subject of a few lighthearted complaints during orientation week. I held back, afraid of how five and a half months would ever pass if I started complaining after five and a half days. Instead, I’ve set my mind to drinking rice and beans like water. I hope to internalize the monotony until I fail to notice it having any taste, while at the same time yearning for it to quench my hunger.
I am inspired by one of the many stories my mom tells of her time in the Peace Corps in Honduras, which together account for much of attraction to Latin America. In this story, she is at at fancy meal with her friend Chico. The meal is “fancy” because it has meat, a rare treat for poor farmers. But Chico says, “Even with meat, without my rice and beans, it’s like I haven’t eaten.”
So far, so good. I haven’t gotten bored of rice and beans, and I think I’m even learning to love them more. They elicit a sort of contented nostalgia. That’s probably because we used to eat them a lot when we were little, when we had Salvadoran babysitter. But I like to imagine that there’s something in me that is remembering what it is like to coax corn out of the strained slopes of Vivistorio, Honduras, something that won’t be full until he’s had his rice and beans.