Written by Antonia Bacigalupa Albaum
When the bus dropped Olivia and myself off at our homestay in Mastatal, I walked up to the house feeling apprehensive. Marcos wouldn’t be here to translate, nor would the other students who grew up speaking Spanish, and our home stay mom, Lisbeth, didn’t speak English. It was just Olivia, myself, and my Spanish/English dictionary. We introduced ourselves in Spanish, Lisbeth spoke slowly for us and we were able to understand her as she introduced herself and her eighteen month old son, Isaac. She was finishing up dinner so we hung out in the side yard with her litter of two month old puppies, watching the sunset over the valley.
After dinner, we sat on the couch and chatted with Lisbeth in Spanish, occasionally looking up words. The television was on and I noticed that some commercials had a sign language translator in the bottom corner. Pointing, I asked Lisbeth why the translator was there and she explained that there was a law that mandated all political ads to have ASL translators to provide equal access to the information for Costa Ricans. This information led to a much longer conversation about politics and the electoral system in Costa Rica.
Elections began around November with each of the thirteen political parties putting forward one candidate. In February, the Costa Ricans vote on the thirteen candidates and the candidate with the most votes wins the election and becomes president.
This year, two candidates received twenty five percent of the vote so another round of campaigning was in place, which is why we were seeing campaign ads on the television in March. The two candidates had until the second round of voting on April sixth to convince the Costa Ricans that their view for Costa Rica was best.
This multiparty type of political system was wildly different from that in the United States and I continued asking Lisbeth questions about the candidates and their campaigns. She explained to me that each of the thirteen parties had different stances which made it difficult to choose a candidate. As an avid follower of politics in the U.S., I am very aware of the finance laws that govern U.S. campaigns and I asked her how campaigns were financed in Costa Rica. She explained that there was an organization within the government that handled finances for the campaigns. At the beginning of election season, each campaign was given a set amount of money, paid for by the government. There was no outside funding and all of the candidates were given an equal amount of funding.
Hearing this, I explained how campaigns are funded in the United States. Her first question to me was, “Doesn’t that cause a lot of corruption?” I had to admit that I thought it did.
Staying with Lisbeth and her family was the first time that I had ever been put into a position where the option of communicating comfortably in English wasn’t available. Although I was extremely nervous at first to have to rely on the Spanish I had learned in school, I soon realized that I understood the majority of what she said and she was able to understand my Spanish, even when I used the wrong verb tenses (which happened quite often). Her patience with my Spanish and her kindness in teaching me new words (hormigas—ants, murciélago—bat etc.) gave me the confidence to keep speaking.
Our conversations ranged from the elections in Costa Rica to the protests in Venezuela to her favorite telenovela, Avenida Brasil. I will miss chatting with her and waking up to a soft knock on the door and Lisbeth calling “Buenos días!”