Evelio, our dairy manager, awakened me and Liam, my three-year-old son, by calling at our front door. I dressed myself and Liam quickly, then we three walked to the turnout at the side of the gravel road to await the bus arriving from the Central Plateau of Costa Rica.
On Tuesdays and Saturdays, the bus for Sarapiqui climbed the cordillera at dawn. It sounded its horn to awaken anyone who might be asleep on bus stop benches. It lumbered along, stopping at each pueblo to collect vendors and shoppers: old women carrying frayed hemp bags, men hoisting worn boxes packed with freshly picked chayote or cherimoya and barefoot children clutching a peseta for spending later in the day.
A tendril of steam arose from under the hood of the bus as it pulled to a stop alongside us. At one time it was a yellow school bus, now painted over with colorful scrolls of wind and words which read “Zephyr of the Jungle.” A ladder at the rear of the bus reached to large wooden trays on the top.There, sacks and boxes of the passengers already aboard were stored. Inside, the seat benches that once held bouncing school children, were occupied by thin, small-statured campesinos, three to a seat. The foot wells were filled with crates of live chickens and sacks of rice and beans. These were the items which would not do well if stacked on the roof and rained upon, and rain was the seasonal norm this time of year, rain that poured down in buckets and converted roads to streams and hillsides to waterfalls. Except for this, a drought year.
“Le vaya bien, Evelio,” I said. May it go well with you. Then I sat down beside my young son, duffle in hand. The driver released the brake and we were underway. We all would be each other's companions for some hours, as a similar purpose of market day united us and we broke into comfortable chatter and laughter as if we knew each other well. Windows were opened to the fresh morning air while the tan, white and black elbows of Costa Rica’s people rested on the sills.
“We’re going to see Da-Da and Jacob, today, Mommy!”
“Yes, Liam, we’re going to stay with daddy and your brother on a new farm.”
We played a game in which he said a word in English and I would compose a sentence around it. In this way, I thought words would be stored in a particular place in his mind to return to him someday. When our expatriation was over and we could return to the States, then Spanish would no longer be his primary language.
We thought this bus would never come, How slow it climbed the hill.
Like a bird it wheeled and paused, Then gathered speed to plunge.
Now faster than a hawk descending, We are running to the sea.
This old bus is a bird of prey, Through the jungle hunting, sailing. Home again winging, home again.
Home again. Ari and I were married seven years and this would be our fifth home. Jacob, our five-year-old son, was with him in at the borrowed farm where Liam and I were going now. It was a drought year and the grazing pastures were useless on our small farm. Our imported Holsteins were dying from anaplasmosis, a microbe spread by tick and vampire bat bites. Both were plentiful this year, due to the drought.
Each dead animal represented about one thousand dollars lost from our tiny dairy, a loss of our dream to create a homestead together in a land that was affordable and far from war, a dream that mocked us and fulfilled the predictions of those who said it couldn’t be done.
Liam had fallen asleep with his head on my arm and I looked down at him. He was a peaceful, beautiful child. Even in my womb he tumbled gently through the waters of his incubation, then rested for a long period as he was resting now. When he was born, he weighed almost ten pounds, or how would my Anglo ancestors say it? He was a strapping lad! His hair was platinum, eyes gray-blue in contrast to the dark-eyed, auburn-haired family of mine. So I looked at him and was reminded of his father, a big handsome man, son of an immigrant Dutch dairy family from New England.
As for his father and I, it was not going well for us. He was unfaithful during my pregnancy with Jacob and I could not put it behind me. During an argument, I said to him, “It was just so completely unnecessary that the affair was with a friend of mine.” When I flirted with a man at a party, Ari asked, “Are you trying to play catch-up?” Despite another child and our pledge to start over here in Costa Rica, to do something that we could do together in a land far enough away from reminders of our past, our marriage was stalemated.
Ari adored our two sons and they were what kept us together. Walls of blame and disdain between Ari and I were moving us farther apart with each difficulty and loss. I think he was disappointed that I hadn’t the pioneer strengths of his immigrant mother and I was disappointed that he was not a good provider. For one thing, I had no experience farming but he was raised on a dairy farm. I was fifteen years younger than he and things that once made no difference were growing between us like a hedge of thorns. His attitude toward woman and wives belonged to his parents’ generation, while I was hoping to be loved in an equal partnership.
So now, Ari found a farm located on the moist Caribbean side of the cordillera, the volcanic chain that divided east and west in this small country. Just perhaps, if our own farm on the relatively arid Pacific slopes lay fallow for a year and abundant rains came, the pastures would recover and the pests be eradicated. Moving our remaining herd was one more grasping at a straw for our farm and one more try for our marriage.
We were foolish in many ways, but surely importing purebred adult Holsteins from the United States was an error we should have anticipated. They belonged to temperate climates, not the tropics. Holsteins are large and placid animals and quite beautiful when they are well nourished and their coats are washed. We had no right to bring them to so much hardship. They had no immunity to anaplasmosis and their calves suffered terribly from torrents in the rainy season. More than once I bundled a shivering, drenched newborn into our living room to dry by the wood burning Franklin stove and bottle fed it.