By: Simon Pollock
Buenos dias, Spiderman.
The new nickname hit me after the first burst of frigid mountain water from the showerhead. I gasped, reached up, and gingerly adjusted the flow of the water, letting the electric heater catch up while hoping I didn’t also get shocked.
Spiderman, that was a new one. Mi familia tica loved teasing me. Whether it was for being the only male student on the trip, or for going out too much, they loved to see me turn red. But a superhero?
Que pasó anoche Simón? My host father, Roy, was shuffling out of his bedroom into the kitchen. He had a shit-eating grin on his face. My host mother, Yorlenny, giggled behind me at the table.
Routine governed Roy’s evenings. He would come home, gobble some food, shower, and pass out in front of the TV by 9:30. The living room couch, his evening post, was right next to the door to our small foyer. A sliding glass door led to the driveway. Each door had a lock, but only the inside door opened with a key. Every so often, he would lock the outside sliding door before I had come home, leaving me stranded in the driveway.
I had walked home sometime around one or two (the bars close when the tourists leave in Monteverde). I stood embarrassed outside the house, jingling my keys and not wanting to wake my sleeping host parents. Locked out again.
They needed their sleep. Yorlenny, who is just as tall as Roy and has an even bigger personality, had been particularly stressed the past week. Her children (Maria-Paula 8, Roy Anthony, 5) had been particularly demonic recently. Nighttime was a refuge for her, bed being one of the few moments she could share with her busy husband. Now I had to disturb them.
I tried the doorbell. Nada. Broken. I could hear Roy snoring inside. I gazed back at the porch door. Nadie. I was going to have to be creative.
Roy used to work for the coffee cooperative. He left after a rough interaction with a superior, a decade after his first days. Yorlenny had turned a side room off the house into a studio, supplementing Roy’s income with money from manicures and pedicures (a popular living room business in Monteverde). A similar sliding glass door led into her studio from the driveway. Then one possibly locked door would stand between me and bed.
Fifteen minutes later, a confused Roy found me fumbling with the inner door. Simon? Que está pasando? What’s happening? Usted me cerró I said, feeling guilty for having unnerved him. You locked me out. He smiled, giggled a bit, and flip-flopped back to bed.
Now my host parents were cracking up, sending my rosy cheeks careening for a deep beet red. Pues, que pasa Spiderman? La puerta estaba abierto. My jaw dropped. Roy said he had found the door open. They already thought I was a tad loco, now they thought I was trying to break into my own house. I summoned as much Spanish as I could for 7 a.m. and vehemently denied it. I had tried the door, hadn’t I? Yorlenny was really getting a kick out of this one. I fled to my bedroom.
I was a guest in this house. In Monteverde, we discovered that harmony in homestay was achievable, but difficult. We had to adjust to a new culture, which in turn had to accept us. No one wanted to hurt feelings, but we couldn’t always stay at home when the misty cloud forest beckoned. Spending time with family jockeyed with our senses of adventure constantly.
The greater truths of a culture are defined in the daily lives of its people. We lived in these homes and came to know them. We gathered around the TV for las noticias every night and we celebrated birthdays and reunions. We learned to cook, we learned to speak, we learned to clean, and how to respect. Now, standing fiddling with clothes, I felt as though I had truly disrespected my family.
Finding a una balanza between being a starry-eyed, adventurous tourist, and a conscious member of a family and a community was a challenge to all of us. If you stayed in with the family all the time, you would never see more than the countryside and the relatives. If you spent all your time in the forests and on the zip lines, you would never see your family. Roy and Yorlenny knew me now, after two months. We had struck the right chords in our house, now I had to just take the embarrassment in stride and be myself.
Soy Spiderman ahora, I thought. At least he’s one of my favorite super heroes.
A piping hot plate of gallo pinto was waiting on the table next to a fresh mug of coffee. Roy had abandoned the table for the bathroom, Pau and Roy Anthony were play-fighting on the couch, and Yorlenny looked at me, smiling over her mug of coffee. Esta bien Simón, no te preocupes, venga y come. Don’t worry, all is well, come eat.
It occurs to me now that perhaps this was an essential moment in my experience abroad. We find ourselves in our greatest challenges. Wandering around a capital city looking for a bus station might be difficult, but the toughest moments come when we are exposed to another culture’s opinion of us. We are forced to see our reflections in their eyes and embrace. It is the acceptance of our reflections in these moments that teach us to learn and to understand ourselves as part of a worldlier whole. If they wanted to call me Spiderman, well that was ok. No way to fight it now.