B.A., The Evergreen State College, 1992
Ethan Rogol has lived off and on in Costa Rica for years, during which time he has immersed himself in the culture. He has been married to a Costa Rican for 15 years and has danced at Costa Rican discos and Costa Rican Hare Krishna celebrations alike; has been subjected to many a sobada—the traditional, notorious Costa Rican massage that helps with indigestion. He and his wife bring a bit of sunshine and sabor (Costa Rican soul) to the Pacific Northwest by owning and operating Lengua Rica: Spanish Language Instruction, Interpretation, and Translation Services in Olympia, WA.
Latest Publication Title
Tropical Immersion: A Year in Costa Rica and Beyond
On the Nicaraguan side of the border, I was enchanted by the sight of what looked like swifts or swallows flitting recklessly in great swarms over vast grassy fields. Lake Nicaragua soon came into view to the right, an inland sea, home to the world’s only freshwater sharks (Carcharhinus nicaraguensis). The lake’s island, Ometepe (oh-may-TAY-pay), beckoned with verdant hills, dominated by the active volcanic peak called Momotombo (moh-moh-TOHM-boh). Set back from the road, there were banana trees that stood like windmills, their broad, fanlike leaves shivering in the breeze, skinny papaya trees in rows, and jícaro (HEE-kah-roh) trees (calabash—Crescentia cujete).
The naked earth that stretched away from the road, both cultivated and uncultivated, had an intense and varied character. Sometimes it had the appearance of rosy clay, sometimes of silty gray ash. Impressively large dirt clods looked black and burned or tan. Excavated earth resembled dried blood.
Along one stretch, the electric wire that followed the road was not attached to poles but drooped across tall, crooked sticks. Why was this? The World Bank, The International Monetary Fund, corrupt politicians, neoliberalism, and trickle-down economics? This region is part of what is commonly called the “Third World,” but I call it “Exploitistan.” What irony is offered by the fact that many communities within the U.S. suffer from similar sorts of water quality, infrastructure, and economic problems to those of Exploitistan while the U.S. is seen to be at the top of the heap.
Laundry was hung to dry on barbed wire fences. “People actually live here,” I marveled, in the same way I sometimes marvel that everyone has doubts and fears, everyone defecates and dies. Nicaragua is a symbol, an icon; for its revolution and civil war, it has been so intensely analyzed, so reviled as a socialist threat, so celebrated as socialist paragon, and so heavily photographed that it’s easy to forget that it’s a real place.
Inside the bus, the climate-controlled air was quite comfortable. But when I touched the window, the heat I felt in my hand betrayed the true temperature outside. My eyeballs felt hot just looking at the hot scenery pass by. There were so many dry gullies and riverbeds. Passing the occasional rice plantation, with its succulent green shoots waving in the wind, was visually refreshing.
Even though I say the rice was “visually refreshing,” please do not think that the landscape was otherwise barren, desolate, or unpleasant to look at. Quite the contrary. Southwestern Nicaragua’s landscape was very beautiful and visually nourishing. But every glimpse was loaded with emotion and meaning. Every glance evoked images of a history of ongoing struggle and oppression. It also suggested a feast for the senses: rich, earthy aromas, warm wind on the skin, the bitter taste of dust in the air, the sound of birds, of insects and myriad beasts both far and near, of children laughing, of mothers calling their names, of laborers working the land. The rice field simply cleansed my visual, and emotional, palate.