I believe in good karma. I also believe in helping those less fortunate than yourselves. And no, I am not a huge philanthropist. However, I always give anything unwanted to the charity shops and I almost always give to charity boxes, even when those people are at my car window, a common occurrence in Costa Rica. That 50p will probably serve them more than it will serve me.
Looking at my life in Costa Rica, I felt like one of the ‘rich’, despite not having that much money to prove it. I was still living in a gated building and driving around in a 4×4. I often had this feeling of indignation when people presumed that I was well-off and overcharged me for the simplest of things. Why does my haircut cost more than the local girl next to me with longer hair? The answer unfortunately is because I look like a rich American expat. I was none of the above. And in retrospect I don’t blame them for thinking that way. Alongside the frustration of feeling like that came the guilty feeling. Is there any particular reason why I was born into this position and they weren’t? Do not get me wrong, I was not living surrounded by extreme cases of poverty. In fact, Costa Rica does a fine job of using what they have and creating a good income for their people, in comparison to many neighbouring Central American countries. Take Nicaragua for example. Some of the nicest people that I met in Costa Rica were not local. They were in fact the maids, security guards and gardeners around the offices where I worked and the places where I lived. And they were Nicaraguan. And as a general rule, they weren’t well respected by Costa Ricans. There is a lot of history between the two countries, especially when it comes to labour and immigration so I’m not about to wade into a huge political debate. I am merely stating the facts as I saw them.
One particular person that I had a lot of time and respect for was my maid/ domestic helper/ cleaner- call her what you will. She came twice a week to my house so I guess she was my cleaner. This in my eyes is a preferable phrase as it doesn’t denote class difference as strongly as the other options do. I can’t say that I didn’t use the word ‘maid’ a few times though, as that was socially acceptable over there. She had a name however – Graciela – and that seemed to be the best way of referring to and addressing her. Funny that.
Graciela always had a smile on her face and despite working extra hard for fewer hours so as to shorten her day for the same money, I didn’t really care because she did it with such a good character that I could never really find a reason to be truly annoyed at her for very long. So when it came to leaving the country and coming back to England, she was the most helpful for a number of reasons. She willingly took a couple of huge bags of clothes and shoes that I couldn’t pack to bring home. Most were old pieces, things I had barely worn and items I had stopped wearing. I offered them to her and she graciously and gratefully took them to distribute amongst friends and family. Given that there are no charity shops in CR, I would have had to have thrown them out, so this way I feel better to have not wasted so many things and also to have made so many people happy with just a few simple things.
This blog is not meant to be one long toot-my-own-horn post, so please excuse me if it is beginning to sound that way. I suppose you cannot help but sound a little conceited when you say that doing nice things for other people makes you feel good. It is a little unavoidable, yet it should not discourage you from doing those good things in the first place. Very few acts of kindness are selfless in that respect, but that does not make them selfish. Noted to self. On with my story.
There were many more things that needed to be sold/ gotten rid of quickly when we decided to move home. Namely a wide screen plasma, a couple of desks, a computer with various screens, bedding and other soft furnishings as well as a huge mountain of, if I’m honest, barely-used kitchen equipment. Oh, and a car. Where on earth was I going to find somewhere or someone to unload this on to, and hopefully make back something on the gazillions that it had all cost?
Enter Graciela. With cash. She wanted to buy the television and some of the kitchen equipment in order to try and save up to buy her 16 year old daughter her first computer. For school. The makings of a fabulous sob story, but one I believed to be true. I wanted to help her out anyway, given that I was going to be letting her go just before Christmas. Not the best timing. It became a “How much do you want for it?” “Well, how much have you got?” scenario in which we, in an effort to get rid of as much as possible as quickly as possible, sold her the television, most of the kitchen equipment, two desks, a computer chair amongst other things for a measly $600 (about £385). Then we threw in the computer for her daughter for good measure and disguised it as a Christmas bonus. Yes, this made us feel amazing because it’s unlikely that we would have sold all of those things anyway and although we may have had a couple more options, this was what made us feel the best, knowing that everything would be so much more appreciated this way.
I later remembered that the mother of a colleague of mine was involved in a homeless shelter project and so on the day we moved out, we dropped a car full of linen, towels and comforters off at his house on our way to the beach. You can’t get much for selling used linens anyway. And this way, the homeless would have a warm and comfortable Christmas with great quality king size sheets. I also gave another bag of clothes to a pregnant friend so that she would have some tops to grow into… She is much smaller than me normally, so they were perfect for her to throw on over the coming months.
By the time I got on the plane, I felt fabulous despite having no great cash flow. Combine that with some overdue wages, much-needed Christmas shopping and a car in Costa Rica that still hasn’t been sold yet and I’ve gone from the glamorous high life in a tropical country to being a struggling writer living at home in England. With very little or no change to my bank account. That’s why it’s worth recognising what you have, especially how people in different circumstances view it and it’s definitely worth helping those less fortunate than yourselves because they are unlikely to be able to break the cycle of their situation and you probably are. Besides, you never know when karma will come back to help you. I’m hoping mine’s on its way very soon!