Albertina Talking to Jaguars

a poem for a girl who isn’t born yet about a woman who has passed on

Your bis bis abuela
knew about the danger of
jaguars at the quebrada.
She remembered when the
mapmakers came to town and
tried to change its name to
something holy like
Santa Barbara down the road, or
San Lazaro further on.
She said she told them no.

Your mamá was
too little to listen to stories back
when Albertina’s mind
was clear, and then Albertina
started seeing angels.
She walked
barefoot to Santa Cruz with
comales on her head and
sold them each for one colon
to buy sugar and
things she couldn’t grow or grind herself.
Then she walked home.

She knew the old stories
the old ways.
She had seven sons and
no husband to obey.
Me decía “mi nieta”
because she knew I belonged to her
even after she forgot my name, and
sat on the porch talking
to jaguars until
she turned one hundred.

A Lesson on Magic

All of the sudden, I’m looking for a point of reference, a place from which to start, something certain. Not to be melodramatic, but it’s been a rough week.  I don’t generally get all wound up about “politics,” but the election we all just survived was more about American morals than American “politics.”  It pulled the rug out from under me.

When I look for a place to begin, I often come back to something I read in college. I’m not going to name the book or the author because, to be entirely honest, I’m not sure how much of what I’m going to say is actually in the book and how much of it I’ve made up since then. College was a LONG time ago. I’ve lived a lot, drawn on this often, and probably molded it to fit me. In lieu of butchering someone else’s book, I’ll just say that these are not original thoughts–they’re second-hand like my clothes.

I read the book for a Women’s Studies class. The author is a Native American woman who, if I remember correctly, was an anti-nuclear power activist in the 1980s (when I was encountering algebra and learning to drive a car). She’s a witch, too–a Wicca witch, not a Halloween witch. The book is about (among other things) magic.

THIS WOULD BE A FABULOUS TIME FOR SOME MAGIC. I would like a fairy god mother to turn vegetables into vehicles, even for an evening. We could use a benevolent woman with a magic wand, a fair although angry woman with a magic wand.

We don’t have one.

But here’s what I learned from the book about how to do magic yourself:

To work magic is to change the physical manifestation of things. Anyone can do it. It takes strength and imagination, not special powers. The author tells the story of her favorite hiking trail in the forest, which people would litter with trash. Time after time she walked by the trash, disliking it and the people who left it there, until finally she decided to use her witch’s powers of changing the physical manifestation of things to make it disappear. She gathered some friends and some trash bags, and picked up the trash. What was the result? Abracadabra: a clean trail.  Just like that.

A thing like that sticks with a girl. So simple. So true.

I want to live in a world that isn’t covered in trash. I pick up what I can.
I want to live in a world that has clean air. I plant things. I ride my bicycle when I can.
I want to live in a world where people don’t walk around the grocery store with concealed weapons. I don’t own a gun.
I want to live in a world where neighbors are nice to each other. I wave and say hi.
I want to live in a world where people look me in the eyes and take me seriously. I look people in the eyes and am serious.

It doesn’t solve everything. It doesn’t solve anything, maybe. Not-owning a weapon doesn’t keep me safe. Pedaling through the rain doesn’t reverse global warming. (But ask me if suiting up for a rainy ride changes the physical manifestation of getting from place to place, as opposed to sitting in a car.) Me waving at the neighbor ladies is not going to end racism any time soon.

But I have strength. I have imagination. I have time. I can make things be different on the trail I walk on. Doing nothing gives you a feeling of helplessness, even if all you are is lazy. Doing something changes things, and that is magic. Getting the stray cat spayed changes the number of stray cats in the neighborhood, and we all know what a downer the physical manifestation of too many feral cats is.

I don’t live in the States. I’m white, straight and of Christian traditions. I’m not sitting here in fear of becoming a target of bigotry–I look too much like the bigots. Nobody is going to beat me up or insult me because of my clothes or my skin or who I’ve married. I am terrified for others, but it’s different because it’s not me. I recognize that as privilege. My greatest privilege, in my opinion, is that I am living in a country that doesn’t suffer from hate crimes and terror. Bad things happen, but the dynamics are not the same.

I don’t know how to do magic that makes hate or fear go away. I don’t know a spell to make privileges visible to those who hold them with blind eyes.  I know how to turn a dirty bathroom into a clean one, and I have the perfect spell for getting trash off the beach.  But how do I make safety appear?

I don’t know.  But I am looking for the answer.  I am trying.  I might turn some princes into frogs by accident along the way, but it’s important to start.  It’s important to try.  If the only things I can change the physical manifestation of are small and insignificant, I will do it anyway.  What is too small to matter when everything is made up of atoms?


Hold on to your hat.

Acronyms Meet to Discuss Crocodiles in Tamarindo

These are my gleanings from the meeting held at the Barceló with ADI (Association de Desarollo Integral), SINAC (Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservacion), CATURGUA (Camera de Turismo Guanacasteca), and MINAE (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss The Crocodile/s . I mostly went to listen, because that’s always a good start, and I got to ask a few questions. What follows is what I took away from the meeting. This is not intended to be a complete summary—I’m sure ADI will provide that. It is a subjective gleaning and contains editorial commentary and a concerted effort to minimize sarcasm.


MINAE says:

–They carefully observed the crocodiles in the estuary after the July attack. They removed the very big one that exhibited dangerous/unusual behavior, explaining that there was only one exhibiting this behavior and it is certainly the one guilty of the attack. It was taken to Puerto Humo. (I looked it up. It’s where the Tempisque River is born. ) They are still monitoring crocodiles in the Playa Grande/Tamarindo/Langosta area and analyzing their behavior. In the five kilometer marine stretch that they monitor, it is normal for there to be 12-14 crocodiles moving around at any given time.

Laura The Crocodile Expert says:

–It is not true that crocodiles were “seeded” here.

–Salt water crocs are completely natural in the estuaries and oceans of Guanacaste. She says they were depleted in the 40-60s, but that now their populations are becoming “healthy” again.

–It is not true that there is an overpopulation of crocodiles in Tamarindo. Overpopulation occurs when there are so many of a species that there is not enough food for them, and they begin to kill each other. Since crocodiles are not doing this, there is no overpopulation. Lucky for us, crocodiles are of a species that control their own population—as in, crocodiles never have overpopulation because they kill each other first and solve their own problem.

–Swimming in the ocean is normal crocodile behavior. Eating dogs is normal crocodile behavior. (I wanted to ask if eating human preschoolers would be considered normal crocodile behavior, but I was afraid of the answer.)

–Attacking/eating (presumably adult) people is not normal behavior for this species of crocodile. Nile crocodiles, she explained, eat people, but not this kind. She made a big deal about how crocodiles do not hunt people, do not want to eat people and are normally afraid of people.

–The (only) problem in Tamarindo is that crocodiles have been, for so long, fed by humans.

The SINAC guy talked too, but he didn’t say anything that stuck with me. He did take a moment to praise the fact that we have such a wonderful government system that allows us all to participate in decisions, as demonstrated by this meeting.

The meeting, by and large, revolved around how dreadful it is that we have created this dangerous situation for ourselves by feeding the crocodiles. (Which I acknowledge. Our Tamarindo crocs have twisted minds and there’s no one to blame except us.)

But ok. So we’ve corrupted the crocodile population. While we right our wrong, what’s the plan for our safety?
Signs. Signs warning people not to feed crocodiles, and not to swim in the ocean/estuary. (How about a sign asking crocodiles not to eat the people? I didn’t say that, but I thought it.) And crocodile “monitoring.”

That’s when I raised my hand. First, I said why I was there—because I happened to be a first-hand witness of the trauma caused by the attack, and I DO NOT EVER want to see anything like that again. And I don’t want you to, either. The room became very quiet. Then I asked the guy from MINAE: How are you monitoring the crocodiles? And what does a crocodile have to do in order for you to identify it as “malportado? “

They said they are monitoring the crocodiles by observing them. I was imagining chips and tracking devices, but no. That’s way too Animal Planet. “Monitoring” means that MINAE has people watching over the crocodiles. (I haven’t seen these monitors. Maybe you have?) Later in the meeting MINAE stated that they have 7 people in charge of “monitoring” 26,000 hectares. Or maybe I misunderstood that? I hope so. And a naughty crocodile, one who could get itself on the bad-boy list for possible deportation to Puerto Humo, is one that shows abnormal interest in people. Swimming near people. Looking at people. Not humbly slinking away.

MINAE wants us to report to them—that’s the most useful thing I learned at the meeting. If you see a human feeding a crocodile, make a denuncia. If you see a crocodile showing interest in humans, make a denuncia! (I’m not sure it’s called a denuncia if it’s against an animal, but you get what I mean.) MINAE says that for all of the videos on social media and for all the fussing and fuming there is about people feeding crocs, there has not ever been ONE SINGLE denuncia filed against anyone with MINAE. Which is silly. A few denuncias, a long time ago, would have enabled them to act before things turned out the way they did. Or anyway, that’s the story in retrospect. Point being: if you see any funny stuff between people and crocodiles—regardless of which species is the perpetrator—call MINAE. They’ll be right over after they finish observing the other 25,000 hectares they’re in charge of.

Other people asked questions, but I don’t really remember what they were. (I don’t advertise this a lot, but I’m actually quite selfish.) We spent A LOT of time reviewing the evils of people who feed crocs and the wonderful power of signs. Signs in red, to be specific. Red was praised. I’m not kidding. (And all sarcasm aside, red is better than the brown-and-yellow ones originally posted behind the high tide mark.)

I asked my other question to Laura The Crocodile Expert. Because I wanted someone at that table of “experts” to say it to my face. I said, “You’re the crocodile expert. You know these animals better than anyone else in this room. So tell me. Now that the big bad crocodile is gone, but knowing that there are others nearby who were certainly fed by humans, would you , if you were a surfer like I am, put your board in the water and surf in the mouth of the estuary?” Everybody laughed nervously. And Laura said, “No.” Not in the mouth of the estuary, she wouldn’t. No matter how good the waves were. That’s like chilling out on their buffet table.

People surf in the river mouth every day, and so far all of us have been safe. I didn’t say that, because she gave me her honest opinion, which is what I asked for. And she confirmed that my persisting fears are not an irrational.

Now, looking back on it, I feel a small (but futile) twinge of victory. I didn’t mean to set a trap, but if you think about it, I guess the panel of experts admitted that even though they’ve “done something” about the crocodile “problem” in Tamarindo, it still isn’t “safe.” Babies, dogs and surfers, beware: MINAE is working to protect us within the bounds of the law, but the crocodile expert wouldn’t go for a swim.

I took this photo in April 2016, of a crocodile exhibiting "abnormal" behavior--chilling there staring me down. If it ever happens again, I will call MINAE.

I took this photo in April 2016, of a crocodile exhibiting “abnormal” behavior–chilling there staring me down.  If it ever happens again, I will call MINAE.