There is so much to do before departing for the United States yet I feel compelled to write about my feelings.

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When I left Russia in 1999 I knew I would only return to visit. I loved my Russian experience and felt a soulful kinship to it – something mystical. Maybe it was my European ancestry. Maybe it was something more.

Costa Rica was a new world for me. I was here in 1998, liked what I saw and returned to live here. The passion of the Spanish heart has always mixed well with my own romanticism. For as long as I remember I have liked Spanish music but that is not the reason to move someplace.

The natural beauty is often breathtaking but physical beauty too can be found worldwide. For me, it has been the people. They are not perfect.I have not met a Tico I have not liked but, then again, I do not live in the capital city. I live in Orosi, a small village far removed from the big city. Sure there are bad people here and there are “malhechores”(evildoers) everywhere in the world. I have read accounts in the newspaper and seen the news about violent crimes but I have never encountered a problem.

When I first arrived the sometimes fierce expression worn on the face of the men combined with their dark features and coal-black eyes was a little intimidating. Mario Pacheco is a good example. His family has maintained my Jeep since I arrived. He was always friendly but never smiled. I had known him for one year before I got him to smile for a photograph.

I asked to take his photograph with his soldering helmet. At first he did not want to lift his helmet to show his face but I persuaded him. Then, I got him to smile. When he smiled, it was a beautiful thing. It was a wonderful transition from a tough looking hombre to a handsome and friendly man.

What I have learned is Ticos are often guarded about their feelings. They are polite. They are also surprisingly formal. Their customs are strongly imbedded. Costa Ricans are a gentle people with great pride. Ticos have strong opinions. Unlike some countries where irrational hatred of the United States is a cult, Ticos have honest differences with American politics based on a culture of peace.

The politics of the U.S. government and American egos have created a relational hole from which we will never emerge. One would be naive to believe it is a language problem – that they don’t understand us because they do not speak our language.

The fact is most of them have knowledge of English and many speak it. I have learned that the problem is not theirs but ours. Most Americans here live in conclaves or at such a high standard that they isolate themselves. I regularly read the letters to the editor in our English speaking newspaper because the writers are hilarious. The things they complain about fail to consider that this AIN’T their country. Yet, Costa Ricans like us…

The term “peon” is used in America as a derogatory expression.To a Tico a “peon”or unskilled worker is said with respect. When I first arrived here I questioned someone about his use of the word “peon” explaining how it was used in the United States. He told me nothing could be further from the truth. “Peones” are respected and admired because Ticos know that the country was built on the backs of the peon.

Costa Rica is an agricultural country and peons work the mountains and the fields. They work hard and are paid a minimum wage but take pride in their work. Ticos never lose touch with the land. Even city dwellers spend time in the country if only to admire it.

Perhaps, when Cortez was sweeping through Central America looking for gold and found none, he did Costa Rica a favor.

The people remained farmers. When the conquistadors left, the gold he did not find was locked in the heart of the people.

Other countries in Central America have been torn apart by civil unrest and war while only Costa Rica has flourished because of its tranquility. But there is something more.

There is an unmistakable feeling that permeates everything. I cannot find a word that is appropriate but can describe the feeling. My senses are more, well – sensitive. It is like scuba diving in warm water. The feeling has been likened to returning to the womb where security is never questioned. I feel buoyant, balanced and serene. I move slower and so appreciate more. Costa Rica does that to you. I think too I was ready to accept the change.

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I like the strong value system and commitment to family. Family is the hardened steel on which the Spanish culture rests. This is not only true of Costa Rica but all Latin American countries. Although I have had my differences with the Catholic Church over the years they were bred more from ignorance than experience.

Silvia and I attend church every week. I am not Catholic and use my time for reflection and learning. The church has its faults but it focuses the people and provides an unwavering value system. When John Paul dies the world will lose a special man. He has stayed the course.

The church has been unwavering in its support of the family. I also believe it has much to do as how people see themselves. Ticos have pride. You see it in the way they walk. It is not boastful or proud but an identifiable confidence.

Even when impoverished there is an unmistakable pride that has nothing to do with ego.I have seen it so often and have wanted to capture the feeling in a photograph. The Talamanca Indian woman is a good example of how people feel about regardless of their station in life.

The famous soliloquy by Polonius to his son Laertes was burned into my brain by my English teacher, “This above all else. To thine own self be true and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not be false to any man“is one of the great truths.

It has taken me over 40 years to understand let alone live his words. Ticos took Shakespeare’s words to heart a long time ago. The dignity given to the word “peon” tells much about the Costa Rican people. They are close to the land and close to God. Sure, life is simpler here than the United States but that does not make it easier. It IS less complicated because Ticos keep their priorities simple – God and family.

Maybe it’s me too. Whatever it is, I have changed and living here, while not the catalyst, certainly has given me the time needed to heal. Maybe pixie dust was secretly pitched on me by some forest elf is responsible for the magic I feel here. For me, it has been a time of learning. I have learned to love. I have learned to live within myself and not be someone I am not. There is still a journey to be finish and the pace has slowed but I am seeing more and feeling my footfalls.

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I will not get much chance to write in the next two weeks while we prepare to move to the United States. Thank you for being my friends. On 31 January, Silvia and I will marry in the shadow of the volcanoes, among the flowering coffee plants by the side of Lake Cachi in the Valle de Orosi. Maybe now I understand that

Love is patient, love is kind.
Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

Love is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered,

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

A former television sales/marketing executive, Ken Beedle is a professional photographer who lived in Valle de Orosi, south of Cartago the old capital. His company Costa Rica Perfecto! Produces screen savers, mouse pads, postcards and slide shows.

He completed a photographic story, “In the Shadow of the Volcanoes”. In Spanish and English it is the story of growing coffee in Costa Rica and available on CD or videotape. Ken has traveled throughout the world, lived in Russia and Costa Rica. Ken has received a job offer outside of Costa Rica that he simply cannot refuse but hopes to return as soon as he can …

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