Sooner or later, the well-wishing emails run out. The FB comments dry up. The cell phone no longer works (or got stolen). And you are in a foreign country with no income, no friends, a temporary shelter, only feet for transportation, no stores, no A/C, no refrigerator, but plenty of ants. And you realize that the sickness has hit.
At least that’s how it has happened to me. Homesickness. And yet, I have no home “back home.” No place to run back to. I got rid of it. That’s perhaps the hardest part. So, if I have no home waiting for me, what have I been sick for? A sense of permanence. A shelter that is mine and always available when I need it. Regular companions that I can see face-to-face, and touch. Someone by my side who I know I can trust. A routine. Walgreens/CVS. WalMart (and at this point I don’t give a shit if it’s a big-box, local-store killer). Nothing in particular…just the basics would be fine.
I’ve done a good bit of international traveling during my life, mostly when I was younger. But I always had a place to go back to, and homesickness was never really an issue. And I was young, dumb, and full of energy. But now I am re-starting, from scratch, and pushing 40. I no longer have a house. No longer have a wife, nor dogs. No kids. No regular job. Everything has been stripped, and I am in a remote area of Central America, basically alone. Yay. Now what?
Enter Jim, and Melanie and Kim. We’ll get to Jim in a later post. Here I want to mention Melanie and Kim, a couple who are next-door neighbors to Jim’s property here on the Osa peninsula, on which I am currently a rental tenant.
Melanie is a Louisiana Cajun who spent much of her life in Arkansas. She is a real southern belle. Kim, a former construction contractor, was raised in Houston. They’ve lived out here for many years, and they built a home here on their own.
Kim and Melanie asked me to house-sit for a night. So I did, watching over their property and being available for the vacation tenants in their rental house (which is absolutely beautiful, by the way…check out www.CasaDosRios.com). Melanie said I could have some of the food from their fridge and use their kitchen, and sleep in their bed, and basically make myself at home. While cooking myself dinner, I promptly discovered something I certainly did not expect to see in the Costa Rican jungle: Tony Cachere’s seasoning. Tony’s is THE staple seasoning we depend on in southeast Texas and Louisiana….a Cajun thing, and we put it on everything. So that brought a smile to my face — memories of permanence, something that’s always there.
At some point, Melanie and I were talking about food, and I mentioned aside how I was making along great with my peanut butter, black beans, and oatmeal, and said I had been making Eggs in a Basket — my favorite breakfast by far. But alas, I was almost out of bread, (one out of two required ingredients) and it’s a chore to get a ride to the nearest town to stock up on groceries.
Well, Melanie baked me my own personal loaf of homemade bread. And it was such an incredible treat. With little bits of oats sprinkled on top and everything. Ants got to it within an hour, but I didn’t care; I just brushed off the ones I could and left the rest as supplemental protein. And the next morning, with that bread, I had the best Eggs in the Basket ever. With thick slices of soft, homemade whole wheat bread.
Something so simple, and yet so profound. How a loaf of bread can soothe the soul. (It turns out that Melanie also finds soothing comfort, a sense of grounding, in the act of making the bread too.) But it wasn’t just the bread. It was the thought and intention behind it. I think she could sense, with her mother’s intuition or something, my need for a sense of home-like care, or maybe just friendship…or maybe just some carbs.
The next night, Melanie and Kim invited me and Jim over for dinner. We had BBQ short ribs, from-scratch mac and cheese, green beans, slaw, and fruit crisp for dessert (all homemade, of course). And we all sat around the table letting our southern drawls dangle out like crumbs dropping off spicy, extra-greasy Popeye’s chicken.
But again, it wasn’t just the food. It was the soul. The kindness. It was the talk of Louisiana and Arkansas and southeast Texas blending with talk of Costa Rica. It was the memories of Texas humidity embodied in the humid Central American jungle.
It was God, love, the universe — life — embodied in a meal. Speaking through us to each other, and filling us up.
This, to me, is the real incarnation of the Bread of Life we learned about in church. Not a theological statement. But a mouth-watering, belly-filling, actual meal, complete with cuss-filled conversation about guns and fishing and surfing and the idiosyncrasies of southern law officers and any other random thing.
This bread was medicine. It made me feel a little stronger, strong enough to continue this experiment with the sense of adventure I had growing up in the pine forests, swamps and bayous, not the sense of adult-ness and tiredness and money stress and trying to prove success that I had weighing me down.
It was a reminder that life is like a meal. Eat what you like, avoid what you don’t. We all bring something to the table. Just enjoy the conversation.
^ Me and Kim, enjoying the conversation, in his front yard ^
Again, if you’re interested in a vacation rental in remote Costa Rica, check out Kim and Melanie’s at CasaDosRios.com. She often cooks for her guests too.