Is lunatic an un-PC word these days? Nobody has said so yet, not to me anyway, and I really feel like I have to use it regarding some of the inhabitants of Cahuita.
Just to clarify, Cahuita, on the Caribbean coastline of Costa Rica and pretty close to the Panama border, is really beautiful. The beach, within its own national park and marine reserve, is beautiful. The colourful houses and thatched roofs are beautiful. The ragged and casual charm of the place is beautiful. Hell, even some of the cocktails are beautiful. But a quick wander down the main street will quickly let you know that some of the people are decidedly not.
To start with, there are the Clearly High As A Kite batch. They flop around on walls or street corners, clothes dirty and barefooted as though they haven’t come down properly in months to at least do some washing. Then there are the slightly more disturbing heroin-addict-thin lot, who stagger around the place, staring at you in suspicion before wandering over and hissing, “Hash? Weed?” at you, wide-eyed. You even get the type who’ll scale buildings in the middle of the night to try and break into rooms.
But the occurrence that surprised me the most was an encounter I had with a fairly young woman as a I headed back to our place to put a few chocolate bars in the fridge (largely so that I wouldn’t be tempted to eat them later in the evening). The woman in question was walking in the opposite direction to me, and our paths crossed. She immediately greeted me; she was clearly Western. She asked where I was from and how long I was staying. I told her, and found out that she was Austrian, from Salzburg.
“And how about you? How long are you staying?” I asked.
“Oh! I live here,” she explained. ”I’ve been here for four months.”
Not uncommon; I made a polite remark about how nice that must be.
“Yes” she agreed, “but right now I don’t have any money; do you have any money for something to drink?”
Yes, seriously. Not even, “I’m very hungry” or “I’m homeless and have nowhere to go tonight”, but “I want something to drink.” And this with an apparently sane, beaming smile on her face, as though this was a totally reasonable request. Wow, the guys on the streets of London have a lot more tact, I can tell you. As it happened, I was carrying nothing but the chocolate, which left me free to act as though I much regretted not having my wallet on me.
“Do you have cigarettes?” she asked, moving on to the next best thing, her eyes fixed on the wrappers in my hand.
“I’m afraid not,” I said – and what is this need for politeness, by the way? ”I’m afraid not”? For heaven’s sake – “All I have is chocolate. I can offer you chocolate, if you like…”
I really thought she’d say no. What could she possibly want with chocolate? But apparently everyone wants chocolate: her eyes lit up, and she eagerly reached for it. I sighed and handed it over.
This woman really didn’t look badly off, you know. I’m fairly good at crossing streets to avoid such confrontations, snobbish as that sounds. But honestly, it’s not snobbery, it’s the lack of knowing how to handle it. My culture’s response-system just isn’t equipped to handle those situations; the only way to help someone save face in that circumstance is to give them precisely what they ask for while pretending that it’s the most normal thing in the world to be asked. Not ideal.
But anyway, my point is that surely Cahuita has enough drug and homelessness problems with its own citizens without ex-pats getting in on the act?