“Mi casa es su casa.” For real this time.
Four hours! The bus ride from Liberia to Heredia was supposed to take four hours, not a minute less! But there we were, a meager three and a half whirls of the watchhand later, and the bus was grinding to a torturous crawl through city traffic. It was not long after midday, and we were about to meet our host families. Before long we came to a stop in front of a superficially calm but no doubt ravenous horde of middle-aged mothers. Tracy (one of our IFSA program leaders) told us to stay in our seats while she went out to talk too them. I knew a better analogy would be the moment of strained but peaceful contact between formerly isolated tribes, but I couldn’t help but think about that part in Hotel Rwanda when the militants hack into the refugee caravan with machetes.
“Alright, chiquillos. Come on out.” (Or something to that effect in Spanish.)
I stood up and was surprised to find my legs still worked. Dammit.
But when I saw my host mom, Doña Marlene, her smile was like Alexander’s sword cutting the Gordian knot I had gotten my panties into. My host dad Don Carlos was there, too, and he exuded a jolliness that made me feel immediately welcome. We got my bags, bade goodbye to the flock of fledgling gringos, and drove home.
Upon arrival I met my host sister María (25, about to finish her thesis in accounting at UNA), and later my host brother José (22, studying architecture at la Universidad Latina). Doña Marlene had prepared a rich lunch of rice and beans, baked chicken and potatoes, avocado with salt, salad, and fresh fruit juice. Initially intimidated, I managed to fit it all in as Doña Marlene explained her rules and expectations. Rules: 1) If you’re going to miss a meal, call or text me to let me know. 2) If you are coming home late, please take a taxi so I know you’re safe. Expectations: 1) Feel free to have friends over. 2) Stay in or go out as you please. 3) Do whatever you want.
I think we can make this work.
But even more valuable than Doña Marlene’s laissez faire policies was the way she somehow made me feel immediately at home. Part of that was how fondly she talked of her past guest students (she said the worst part of hosting students was when they had to leave). While trying to keep in mind that first impressions are not always accurate, I felt pretty sure I was going to have a very special experience.
After lunch she thoughtfully suggested I rest, giving me a few hours of much needed writing-and-relaxing time in my room. My room is small and simple—just how I like it. It is easy to keep clean and orderly, giving me a sense of peace and control. In fact, the whole house is an architectural echo of the intimacy I already felt from my host family. It is very compact, with only a few small rooms on each of the two floors. My room and the bathroom both look out over the enclosed patio, which creates a corridor that allows domestic sounds to connect most parts of the house: Doña Marlene washing clothes, María singing in the shower… With a different family that might be uncomfortable, and with a big noisy family like mine it would be annoying, but here I find the closeness reassuring.