Today’s walking tour of downtown San Jose was made even more interesting by that fact that I experienced the whole of it — beautiful stained glass in cathedrals, multinationals in parks, parrots calling out from trees, exquisite and fastidiously maintained architecture, illegal vendors calling out for anyone/everyone to buy pirated DVDs and everything from “leather” goods to kid’s toys, drug addicts stumbling in the streets, Peruvian musicians, and families enjoying the beautiful day — while carrying five dead chickens.
We went to the mercado as soon as we got off the bus. My host Eliza is making five batches of lasagna for family and friends tomorrow. She knew exactly where the best vegetables were, the freshest cheese, and of course … my five dead friends. We visited with each vendor re-positioning our loads with every purchase and then settled on Eliza carrying the veggies and cheese with me holding on to the “pechuga.”
A short break to enjoy a coffee soon became an exploration of new flavors — a sweetened milk drink that I quickly realized would be great added to said coffee, the empanada that Eliza really wanted to share but I had to refuse after only a bite (too full from lunch), and a ice cream/sorbet that tasted of caramel and I didn’t realize I was getting until it was in front of me. After the cafasita, we were off. The beauty and the beast of the city — positive energy from life lived loudly and fully and the utter devastation in the faces of the women selling themselves and the spaced out emptiness of those on drugs — is universal. But when it is all new — each street, every building, the face of every person passing, the cacophony of vendors, horns, music, and more — the experiential wave easily envelopes you. At least it did me. I wasn’t afraid. I was just incredibly aware.
And at least one of my points of greatest awareness came when I realized how grounded I was with those five dead chickens. No matter what was happening in the 3 miles or so we were covering, I knew that eventually we would be back on the bus, and Eliza would ensure it was the right one, and we would take the groceries inside the casa that has become my sanctuary at the end of each day, and those chickens would soon become tomorrow’s lasagna.
The newly fantastic meets the familiar — such was my Saturday. I’m only one week into the community experience, but I get the feeling that there’s a whole lot of “new” ahead. If today is any kind of omen, I got this … or maybe I should say “we’ve got this.” As per my usual, life just isn’t life without sharing it with friends. I’m so grateful to Eliza, her zest for sharing her country with me, her patience in repeating her already simplified commentary, and her open heart. I will carry her chickens any day she asks!