All roads lead to Atenas
|Mary Martin Mason was born under a nomadic star, leading her to grow up with several families, to cross many borders, and ultimately, to retire in Costa Rica. Residing there in the small mountain town of Atenas, she delights in letting each day unfold into a variety of adventures and misadventures.
As a contributing writer for the Mango Musings blog, Mason regularly reflects about her experiences as a long-term guest in a foreign land. A sample musing, “Wiping Off and Out in Central America,” appears <opposite> or <page x>.
Some days she feels that at long last she has found sanctuary, but at other times, she finds the experience to be as turbulent as a violent chop on an ocean voyage.
Mason’s recently released ebook, Casa de Doloros pays homage to Costa Rica as a host country that wryly welcomes expats like herself.
The author’s previously published books are The Miracle Seekers, Designing Rituals in Adoption, and Out of the Shadows: Birthfathers’ Stories. She was an award-winning columnist for The Southwest Journal in Minneapolis.
Before retiring, Mason served as the Executive Director of MN ADOPT, a non-profit organization with the mission of finding homes for Minnesota foster children. She was also formerly a high school English teacher in Houston, Japan and Minnesota.
Casa de Doloros
Casa de Doloros is set in a fictitious town in Costa Rica. The characters and plot are also completely fictional, although inspired by a host of personalities who have counterintuitively chosen to retire and reinvent themselves in a foreign land. The story centers around a cast of expats living in a cluster of run-down apartments called Casa de Doloros, named for the voluptuous owner.
Doloros has had myriad husbands of various nationalities, all of whom have added to the construction and upkeep of her modest empire. Her current love is a Venezuelan, who Doloros follows back to his homeland besieged by revolution. She leaves her business in the hands of some of the occupants, but while she’s away, another coup percolates at home to take control of her beloved Casa de Doloros.
Here’s what local readers are saying about Casa de Doloros:
This clever and entertaining read will take you to an imaginary town in Central America that you suspect exists outside the mind of the author. A tour of fantasy, reality with a pinch of snark. Totally enjoyable!
— Jodie Cook
Interested in taking a trip to magical Costa Rica without a passport? Ever thought about or dreamed of moving to Costa Rica? Here’s your chance to read a deftly witty, very irreverent, and delightfully fun tale about the strange sorts of folks who move to this colorful land. Casa de Doloros by Mary Mason poignantly captures the immigration craze of international ex-pats like herself to the very popular Central American nation of Costa Rica. Add in a splash of Venezuelan revolution and a dash of magical realism and you have a story that will captivate you from cover to cover.
— Shannon Farley
Wiping Off and Out in Central America
— by Mary Martin Mason from Mango Musings
Spanning the globe, toilet facilities and customs vary widely. What would seem to be a simple bodily function is elevated to high tech in Japan where toilets can resemble an airplane cockpit. African countries may offer a hole in the ground, and, as I once experienced, include an audience of curious Masai. Many in India rely on a bucket and water. Legions of people on the planet purposefully never eat with their wiping hand.
If I had written this blog during the Victorian era, I could not have mentioned “toilet paper.” The Chinese are credited with the invention in the 6th Century A.D. Eons would pass before T.P. was mass produced, first offered in rolls by the Scott Paper Company. Until then, around the world, folks relied on hay, wool, clay, or whatever was handy including corn cobs. Before indoor plumbing, pages from Sears and Roebuck catalogues had to suffice. Today, brands vie for the softest, the most ecological sound, and the most hygienic.
In most of Africa, parts of Asia, and all of South and Central America, Hamlet would have amended his famous “to be or not to be” to “flush or not to flush.” Except in exclusive hotels and gated communities, one cannot or should not flush toilet paper down the toilet. The reason is that pipes are small, and cleaning out a septic tank can be expensive. Signs, typically in both Spanish and English, announce this in public bathrooms, usually above a trash can that is provided.
Back in the United States, Charmin estimates that each person uses on average 57 sheets of toilet paper a day. That is a lot of profit for this conglomerate, and it’s a lot of T.P. finding itself into Middle Earth.
No matter where one lives, the infrastructure must accommodate whatever goes down the pipes. Before I moved to Costa Rica, in the suburb of Minneapolis where I lived, the water coming out of the tap turned brown and tests showed contamination. Cameras sent down the aging sewer system showed incredible rust build-up in the century-old pipes. My neighbors and I had to testify at our local city hall before any measures were taken to install new plumbing.
Living in Costa Rica requires getting into the habit of tossing instead of flushing. At the risk of being indelicate, there is an etiquette of discarding any shall we say discolored sheets down the toilet, and putting the rest in the trash. After a while, this became automatic for me, but not all react in the same way. I have friends so repulsed that they purposely moved to communities where this is not required.
Some public bathrooms in San Jose require payment, perhaps 100 colones, to use the facility. In return, you get a wad of toilet paper, sometimes more than Charmin’s daily allotment of 57 sheets. The attendant cordially hands you the wad as if you’d won the lottery. In many of these facilities, the toilet appears to date back to Costa Rica’s independence (1821). I recommend you close your eyes, hold your nose, and quickly accomplish your mission.
Meanwhile, back in countries where one does not have to be bothered with all of the above, an argument ensues about which way to hang the toilet paper. There is actually a YouTube video with scientific proof that the “over” rather than “under” method is the most hygienic.
A recent trip to Argentina (a country that imagines itself to be European) provided an introduction to the bidet. In French, bidet means pony, evoking an image of how you use the damned thing. Some research revealed it has multi purposes including foot washing and bathing babies. While I pride myself to adjusting to Costa Rican toilet practices, the bidet is outside my comfort zone. I’m just fine with tossing the T.P. in the wastebasket.