Saturday, 24 October 2020

The Zen Dog Duke Dialogues: No One Knows Your Name

A compellation of 25 years of off the grid stories by and about expats living in Costa Rica

The broke the broker and the broken. The morally vacuous, the pretentious and the contemptuous all come together neatly in the Central Valley and conveniently mill around public places blending in or sticking out; they are accepted as part of the scenery. They are hiding in plain sight moving slowly between ambiguity and ambivalence. They are recognized and ignored; they operate under the euphemistic title of expat. Travelers at their last stop with no onward ticket, they are foreigners and they are homeless. They are sometimes land rich and cash poor, the corrupt and the flush, the wanted and the unwanted. You know them.

Artwork by No One Knows Your Name

Though wayward by nature, some still have desires and dreams and there are some with hopes and aspirations but most have nothing more than contempt for their own kind compounded by fear and self-loathing. They are mercenaries and they are missionaries come to save you from yourself, heal the heathen while infiltrating their homes in the name of redemption. There is no one easier to fool than a fooler, no one easier to sell than a salesman and no one easier to kid than a kidder. The expat lingua franca is deception. They are the deceived and deceivers.

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They plant tomatoes and cannabis alongside seeds from the old country. They mix concrete and hire the locals to apply porcelain tile to their kitchens and baths. They are coyotes and smugglers, traffickers of anything that anyone anywhere might want. They are scoundrels, pretenders and borrowers. Travellers, they are constantly in motion like insomniacs sleepwalking across a country. They travel east and west across the Central Valley, north and south over the hills and down to the pacific 1,000 m below in search of tourists or something, anything. They find the retired and seek out those just starting a new life. They prey on young people on their honeymoons celebrating, surfers and others of their own kind that recognize their accent, style and the way they talk.

They mingle, cavort, contrive, control, conceal their contempt and coast though the happy hoards. They are cautious and callous as they contemplate and calculate their next con.

These are the expats that can cook, pair wines, play golf and catch fish, they are unrelenting. They come from the Bayou they come from New England. They come from Ottawa, Bavaria, South Africa and they come here from the Cape of Good Hope. They are the lost, the losers that are on the lam they are butterfly collectors and they collect pension checks. They are widows and they are widowers. They are willing and wanton and most of all they are the incurably lonely.

They have cable TV and iPhones. They have safe mail accounts, debit cards tattoos and handguns. Some have Tasers. They have bleached white teeth and suntans. They can seduce you with a smile easily diverting you off course. With the twist of a colloquial expression from back home, or with a seemingly casual catch phrase or buzz word they become your best friend before you know it, before ever asking your name.

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They have swimming pools; espresso machines soufflé pans, vaginal rejuvenations and photographic memories. They say things like: “If you don’t like it here then leave”. And then they say, “Pura Vida”, and some even speak the language. Some speak several languages and for sure they speak your language. They have Bachelor’s Degrees and they have Master’s Degrees. They are MBAs and they are doctors. They are lawyers and Day Traders, they are has-beens and they are wannabes. They will take your bet.

These expats, they rescue dogs and castrate them. They are Tax Evaders.

They are beautiful and they are polite. They wait for you to invite them into your home. They are gentile. They are the ugly Americans. They are Canadians on a budget, they are Russian they are British aristocrats, they are Euro trash French from Marseille and they are Haitians. They are Cubans and they are arrogant Argentines.

You will invite them into your home. You will. They will tell you a story about how they were working on an oil rig off the coast of Venezuela. Tell you that they are an engineer from Norway and they lost their wallet on the bus from Panama to Costa Rica. They give you the details of their lovely ex-wife from Caracas, and she is the mother of their two young kids, and you will believe it. You ask to see photos. You will say with all sincerity, “don’t worry”. Stay the night at my house. You will let them make international calls from your home phone. They assure you that a friend from Panama, or Nicaragua or Colombia will arrive tomorrow with their duplicate ID, Driver’s License, Passport and some cash. You will invite them into your house because that’s what you do. Civilized and sympathetic you too are an expat willing to lend a hand to a kindred soul. You believe you are paying it forward and more than that, you know it, you really do. You will make them coffee in the morning and your maid will slice a pineapple; she will peel a mango for your guest. They will stay in your spare room and in the morning you will offer them spray deodorant and fresh towels, maybe a clean T shirt and you will take them to lunch, a roasted chicken or pizza and a bottle of wine. They will say, “thank you”. You will discover that they speak English very well for someone who is from a Nordic country, an eastern country or maybe Latvia or Bhutan. They also speak Spanish and French.

They have not been in the military, they say, but they have ridden with the Harley Davidson gang in Oslo or Tokyo. They are congenial and they are contemptuous. They listen to every word when you speak. They are spooks.

These are the expats, the pious and pretentious profiteers as round and smooth as river rocks. You invite them in. You can’t help it and you do it and you will do it again, each time with eyes wide open.

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Rafael Stumbo
Rafael Stumbo
Writer at large. MFA in writing from Emerson College, Boston. A Perpetual traveler and serial entrepreneur, he has owned and operated a number of businesses in Costa Rica where he resides and holds citizenship. Italian by heritage, Neoyorquino by birth and Costa Rican by choice.

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