Tropical Storm Nate

My fieldwork in Volcán de Buenos Aires, Costa Rica, over 11 years has been marked by the ongoing struggle to understand where the presence of Del Monte’s Pindeco, the region’s pineapple-producing agricultural giant, falls within discourses of ethics, extractivism, and unequal distributions of power within capitalist structures. Such ethical dilemmas have become increasingly puzzling when faced with the everyday realities of Volcanians, as demonstrated in the following excerpt from my field notes. 

By Afshan Golriz

Photo by author

I’m out with some friends and it’s been raining since yesterday. It’s October so heavy rainfall is to be expected. A bit boring, a bit dark, but October in Costa Rica nonetheless. The roof of the house I’m renting has holes in it. Something about avocados from the avocado tree having fallen too hard—or was it that someone tried to get up there and steal avocados? Whatever its history, it left the roof with about two dozen little holes that are enough to flood the kitchen every time it rains. With the amount of rain that has been falling the last few days, getting the water out of the house has been a nearly hourly task—and one that I had to learn, by the way. Take a broom, sweep the water out of the house, put the towel over the broom head and dry the remnants of water. Wash, dry, repeat. 

Tonight we’re drinking at El Rancho, which if the name hasn’t given it away, is a ranch-style resto-bar. No walls, all open air, with only the strong tin roofs sheltering us from the tropical rain that’s falling around us. We’re lost amidst the Cumbia music and Imperials. Several hours later, Juliana and her husband Eduardo drop me back off at home. By this time, Javier, 2 and Samantha, 6 have fallen asleep in the back of Eduardo’s work truck. 

I come home to large puddles of water in the kitchen. This much I expected. What I didn’t expect was to receive a message from Juliana moments after having dropped me off. “Junte bastante agua.” she writes. She is telling me to collect water. I’m not sure I understand why. I’m tired and a little buzzed from the night’s outing. I consider not doing as warned. Soon after, I receive a message from Sara, “Junte agua”. Another warning. Maybe this is serious. I call Juliana and ask her to clarify. “They say we’re going to lose water and power” she explains, “have your candles ready and collect lots of water”. I never know who “they” are when I’m told things like this. News just has a way of travelling around town here. I tell her I don’t know what to collect water in. Cups? Bowls? I’m unprepared for an emergency. She tells me I can fill my washing machine with water. Brilliant. I do as I’m told; I now have four candles, a pack of matches, a washing machine and a big red tin filled with water. Bring it on, storm. I got this. 

I spend the next few days bathing with a cup that I fill with the water from my big red tin. I use the water from the washing machine to do the dishes. Three days in and I’m missing the smell of shampoo in my hair and of Suavitel — my favourite Costa Rican fabric softener on my clothes. Doing laundry and washing my hair are luxuries that I can’t afford. Drinking water is also among those luxuries. I contemplate going for a run because I fear I may be too thirsty when I come back, but I go anyway. On my way I slip and fall; there goes another item into the laundry basket. I finish my run and make my way over to Mama Célia’s house. By the time get there I can feel the dryness in my throat almost unbearably. There are two and a half two-litre bottles of Coca-Cola-filled with water on the kitchen counter. I start doing the math: three bottles, five people, one dog, an unknown amount of days without running water. Dare I ask for a glass? I do, finally, and when I am given water I carefully fill one quarter of my cup: enough for just a few sips. I am very grateful. 

We later go for a walk with Mama Célia and her grandchildren, to see the damage the storm had done to the town. The path-well traveled to Betty’s house is now a small stream — in other words: there is no path to Betty’s house. The ‘posa’ in the river where we’ve swam for the last seven years is unrecognizable. The rocks and trees have all been taken by the river, as has the bridge. We can’t swim there anymore. Nostalgia enthralls us as we make our way back to the house. On our way home, we see dozens of children, mostly young boys, frantically riding their bicycles, all in the same direction. Carmela, 9, explains to me that they are searching for water, likely from a less contaminated part of the river or a nearby ravine. Upon our return, Mama Célia goes outside to begin making lunch over the fire and I stay inside with the kids. We’re calculating how many dishes we would need to dirty if we were to bake cookies when we are interrupted by the sound of the pipes. Carmela screams to her grandmother “YA VIENE EL AGUA!”. Mama Célia comes rushing in as we all gather around the kitchen sink and watch eagerly as the pipes start running. Pindeco has replaced the pipe the river had taken. There is water in the town again. 

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