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First Impression

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It was almost noon and the Costa Rican summer sun was burning down on me. I stood panting in the middle of the canchas watching tico boys zip around. They were everywhere—running in and out from behind houses and jumping down from trees as they played games only they knew the rules to. A couple of boys pulled themselves onto the roof of an outhouse, rocks bulging out of their pockets, ready to be thrown at the beehive dangling from a nearby tree. As I stood hearing the shouts and yelps of kids, the nervousness of my first day washed away. I felt a tug on my sleeve. I lowered my gaze to see one of the smaller boys in a dinosaur t-shirt with outstretched hands. I was led to the foosball table with my fingers interlaced in his. I was fitting in, and that was all I needed to feel content and safe.“¡Eres sucia!” Boys giggled as I passed. For the first time that day I realized that indeed, I was very dirty. I was drenched from head to toe, from a spontaneous water fight that one of the ticos had started. I had scratches and bruises on my knees and elbows, from the falling, running, and playing with the boys.
As I grabbed onto a vine that dangled from a nearby tree, ready to experience the thrill of flying through the air, I glanced down at my watch: 11:45. I paused and reluctantly dropped the vine; I had to change out of my destroyed clothes before having my first lunch with my family. I leaped off of the tree limb, shouted adios to the kids, and headed down the dirt road past the soccer field and pulperia towards my home. I felt very mature. Without being reminded, I had remembered to return home before lunch.
I squeezed through the barbwire fence, sauntered past the grazing cows, and entered into the small, sparkling clean house. “Hopefully,” I thought, “my host mom won’t see me walking through her house like this.” Standing in the entrance of the darkened room, temporarily blinded from the brilliant sun, I silently slipped off my shoes. As I approached the kitchen table, I suddenly felt like I was being watched. My vision adjusted to the shadows, and then I saw them. Not only my father, mother, and two younger siblings, but my entire family (aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins) was crowded around the table, with plates showing signs of leftover rice, beans, and plantains. Their vision was perfectly adjusted to the dim light, but each of them was squinting at me.
A puddle from the water fight was forming around my feet and my blue shirt was streaked with brown mud. Fifteen heads were facing me. Thirty eyes were blinking in disbelief. All mouths were silent. My eyes quickly went to my watch. It was only 11:49—lunch wasn’t until noon, but everyone was here, clearly to meet me, the new American girl—the gringo. I managed to squeak a lo siento, but no one responded to my attempt at an apology. “What are they thinking?” I wondered, still standing rigid with fear in the middle of the cocina. My mind raced as I thought of disastrous future encounters with these people. It was then that I saw my fourteen-year-old primo try to stifle a laugh. My eyes widened, unconvinced that anyone could have uttered a sound. But he was smiling, trying to cover his mouth with his pudgy hand. With that awakening, I let out the gulp of air that I’d been holding in my lungs. I turned my lips into a pathetic smile, murmured another apology, and forced my legs to turn to my room. I shut the door tightly behind me. When I cleaned up and reappeared, ten minutes later, the room was empty.

The incident was never mentioned again, at least in a way that I could understand. But at another lunch with my extended family my aunts, uncles, and grandparents never spoke to me. I sat awkwardly during that meal, wishing that I could join in with their conversations or apologize to them for my appearance on that first day. But the language barrier felt too high. I never again had a chance to eat those rice, beans, and plantains with my extended family.





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