We truly live in the middle of an extended family here in Costa Rica. Our landlady (Lala) with her husband and two sons, our landlady’s daughter with her two kids, and our landlady’s sister-in-law all live within our little gated area. Our apartment sits next to an alley on which several other aunts, cousins, and siblings from the same family live. Often this close proximity makes us want to pull our hair out…when we hear fights between our neighbor and her eighteen-year-old son, when her six-year-old daughter throws a tantrum (which she is doing as I type these words), when Lala comments on how sick I’m going to get because I’m not wearing shoes to walk around the apartment. These are the daily occurrences that make community living annoying and messy.
But then there are times when we see a glimpse of the beauty of sharing walls…when I drop the last egg while making banana bread and walk up to Lala’s window and she gladly gives me another, when the power goes out and we all sit outside around candles and talk, and days like Sunday when we work hard and create something beautiful together.
One big challenge of our living situation has been the lack of nature. The street in front of our apartment is always so loud and there is not much green space, no big trees, and no place for me to sit outside. It is my first time in my whole life not to have that. We have often dreamed of planting the 6’ x 15’ patch of grass next to our apartment, but never have. This weekend, we decided to do it. So we planned out what we want to do with the space and then we went to the garden center to pick up the plants. We got what everyone fondly calls a “Savanna tree” (because it’s my favorite and no one knows the real name) and some lantana and we got to work.
James and I went out and started digging up the grass in the areas where we wanted to plant. Slowly, our tico family started to come out. They stared at me, shocked that I was not wearing shoes 🙂 But then they started to help. Lala brought out her shovel and Lucia (the little girl) helped me dig holes while Felicia (the sister-in-law) sat and talked with us as we worked. I had some moments of frustration when Lucia was in the way or Lala was being super opinionated and I thought to myself, this would be so much better if it was just James and I.
It would have been different, but it wouldn’t necessarily have been better. We wouldn’t have heard beautiful stories of the past from Felicia or gotten to see Lucia’s huge smile when she set the lantana in the hole that took her twenty minutes to dig. We found peace and joy in working with our hands, in nurturing growth, and in sharing old stories and creating new ones with our neighbors. Sharing walls is messy, but it can also be beautiful.
(The garden is a work in progress. We’ll post some picture of it when we finish!)