Friday, June 04, 2010

On guard

I wrote this blog entry a while back and for some reason it didn't get posted. It's a little late in the game, but I'm happy to share it today ...

Gated communities, gun-toting guards, concertina wire, bars on the windows … uncommon for the average US neighborhood, yet very normal for Costa Rica, from the most upscale, exclusive community to humble homes surrounded by chain-link fences.

When it comes to security, Ticos mean business. Theft and street crime are on the rise, especially in San Jose. You’ve gotta watch your stuff here—don’t leave things in the car, don’t walk around with flashy jewelry or a camera around your neck, keep an eye on your purse, always be aware of your surroundings. All especially true for those of us who are obviously norteamericanos. We are targets solely because it’s a common perception that all Americans are rich.

Upon first coming to Costa Rica it’s impossible not to notice the security—it is rampant. Armed guards stand watch in parking lots at restaurants and grocery stores, coiled wire rests atop fences, iron gates keep unwanted visitors from entering condo developments. I’ve found that after living here for a while, I stopped noticing the unsightly wires as much and the ever-present guards don’t faze me; it’s acclimation at its best.

We live in a gated community within a gated community—which I suppose makes us doubly safe. A private security firm controls entry and exit to both gates, while a handful of guards with guns (including a guard at the first gate with his big shotgun) patrol our neighborhood day and night. They’ve whizzed by on an ATV, ridden by on a plethora of bicycles (including some brightly colored beachcombers that nobody was likely to steal), driven by in a tiny electric car (so cute!), scootered past on motos, zipped around in a golf cart, and walked by more times than I can count.

When we first moved into our home, I frequently saw a guard stationed across the street behind our house, standing in the shade of the towering palms and eyeing my backyard and kitchen windows. It bothered me. I felt like I was being watched—and likely, as a new resident and gringa—I was. (I certainly garnered plenty of looks from the construction workers, though they are now used to seeing me walk by their work sites and on rare occasions even offer a curt nod.)

Now, I am happy to see the guards behind our home. When I stir from sleep in the middle of the night and hear a faint crackle of a walkie-talkie from the street out front, I don’t mind. The guards are on duty, and that's a good thing.

Feelin' groovy

When I saw a boxed labeled "Cannabis" at the local grocery store, you know I had to take a closer look. I'd never heard of Cannabis incense, but now that I know it's out there, surely that must explain the scent that used to waft through the vents from my neighbors' apartment on Gilman Street during my junior year at UW. It must have been the incense I smelled! Right?!