This “moment” is excerpted from the forthcoming, Evelio’s Garden: Memoir of a Gringa Naturalist in Costa Rica.
The extra-rich biodiversity of Costa Rica includes amoebas, one species of which has been bugging me off and on for several months. Each time, it seems to take a different medicine to rid me of the thing, which means the process drags out over several weeks during which eating is just a plain chore.
As I do every Christmas morning, I visited a few local families to swap out homemade gingerbread for tamales, and at one house I happened to mention my amoeba. Alba, mother of three, said she had cured one of her boys of an amoeba recently with the bark of the olive tree – la cáscara de aceituno. Her husband Mariano volunteered to take me to a nearby farm where he could whack off some more of this bark with his machete.
The farmer came out to greet us and be introduced. He was pleased to offer the bark of his tree if it would make the señora feel better. While Mariano trekked downhill to the tree, I waited at the edge of the pasture in the weak sunlight, observing the make-shift rusty tin-roofed sheds and cheap plastic plumbing fittings around me, smelling the cow manure, realizing that this poor family had been on this land for a long time, cluttering up the farmyard in whatever ways necessary to house and care for their chickens and cows.
There were a few scraggly fruit trees dotting the landscape, just as abandoned as ours at home. Mariano snagged an orange from one as he came back up the hill.
I read in the paper the other day that the cost to produce a tamal has gone up by 30 percent this year. Mariano’s family is indeed poor, so to spare four tamales for me is a stretch. The only additional gift they can give is their time and care, so I was keenly aware, as I waited for Mariano on that poor farm, that this was truly a Christmas moment.
© 2015 Sandra Shaw Homer