Loading Praxis Center site...
Open Houses, Open Hearts

Open Houses, Open Hearts

Your first impression when you walk through the barrio (neighborhood) of Santa Rosa might be that people don’t like talking to their neighbors: they prefer to stay shut in their houses and close themselves off to the world outside. This is because almost every house on the street displays bars in the front. The first impression may strike visitors as hostile, but I soon realized that my host family’s house is actually quite open to the outside air. I can feel wind coming in through the garden and the garage when I am sitting in the kitchen, because the house is not fully closed to the outside. Furthermore, the door leading into the living room is never locked. The front gate on the house, then, functions like the front door of a typical house in the States, which is naturally locked most of the time so that people can feel secure inside.

This is a photo of the front of my house. Most houses on the street have bars on the front and a gate.

Just like the houses is Santa Rosa are open to the outside air, the neighbors are open to unexpected conversation. My host mom sells merchandise, such as perfumes and cosmetic goods, to people in our neighborhood. Her job takes her everywhere in Santa Rosa, as she visits clients at their houses to sell. By accompanying her on several trips around the neighborhood, I have been able to see the way that our neighbors tend to interact. I think that the openness that I have observed in this community is beautiful.

The kitchen

Another photo of the kitchen

When we arrive at a client’s house, they sometimes invite us inside, and we can chat for a fair amount of time. My host mom and the client catch up on things that are happening in their lives, taking their time to talk and listen to each other. This aspect of my host mom’s job takes time. But despite the fact that she has about 100 clients to visit each week, she is never rushed. This affirms something that Heidi, our director, told me about Costa Rican culture. The emphasis of daily life is not to get tasks completed, but to have relationships with people. Two specific instances of relationship building really stand out to me.

The first was when I was visiting clients with my host mom, one of the women who invited us inside and invited us to sit down. We stayed there for about 20 minutes, or maybe a little more. The conversation went pretty deep into the women’s lives. They shared personal experiences, encouraged each other, and laughed together. This woman is my mother’s friend, so perhaps the occurrence was not too abnormal. However, I am still impressed that they took time for each other right on the spot. They did not have to schedule a time in advance to talk to each other. Both were open to stop what they were doing and build the relationship.

This is a picture looking down the street from in front of my house.

Other neighbors were open to long conversation with me, as well. Another time there were three gentlemen. I was pleasantly surprised by their openness toward me and their genuine desire to get to know where I am from and to teach me a little bit about Costa Rica. I commented on how colorful Costa Rican currency is, beginning a conversation about the artistic colones. The bills have historical people on them as well as animal and plant species that are important to Costa Rica. The gentleman went inside to get a wide variety of bills to show me. He taught me what he knew about the historical people and the species of plants and animals. In this way, I learned a lot about Costa Rican history and biodiversity.

Colones: Costa Rican Currency

Finally, he showed me a 5 colones bill (which are no longer used in Costa Rica). The bill displays a copy of a mural, and he explained the mural to me and the history behind it. Finally, he gave me a 5 colones bill as a gift! This amount of kindness took me by surprised and made me feel welcome in this community. In short, I have been extremely pleased by the openness of the people that I have met in Santa Rosa and the willingness to share in each other’s lives.

5 colones billete

I am finding that the culture in Santa Rosa is also open to spontaneous interruptions in everyday life. Or, perhaps more accurately, taking time to talk to other people in the neighborhood is just a part of everyday life. People will stop what they are doing to engage in relationships and conversation. Sometimes as we are walking through the neighborhood, my host mom stops at someone’s house just to say hello and chat for a bit. The first time that she did this, I asked her if it was rude to just stop by someone else’s house in the middle of the evening. They could be in the middle of doing something, I thought, maybe they have other things to do. In my past experiences, I usually don’t go to someone else’s house without planning to do so ahead of time. She assured me that it isn’t rude at all. She walks up to the front of the house and calls “Upe,” which is a greeting commonly used in Costa Rica to call on someone at their house. If the neighbor is home, they usually invite us inside and we talk for a while. The same process goes the other way around – sometimes neighbors call on my host family and we invite them inside. It is also very common to simply stop and talk to people that we meet in the street. In general, I think that the people of Santa Rosa are beautifully open to share their lives with their neighbors and to build community. I love the experiences that I have had in this way.


19 March 2018


Katherine Germann