WHEN ROMANCE MEETS REALITY


Here I am the day we hired a team of oxen to drag some electric poles through a forested area that we wanted to disturb as little as possible. So romantic, isn't it? Among the definitions of romantic I found in the dictionary are:

2a. Imaginative but impractical, and 2b. Not based on fact; idealized.

Bill has always admired oxen from the romantic viewpoint of big, strong beasts working together with humans to get a job done. When we found out that hiring a team of oxen to walk here from Bejuco, 25 minutes away by car, was the solution to how to drag electric poles through a forested area, we were delighted with the opportunity to participate in so pioneerish an experience.

My son-in-law, Chan, an authentic country tico (Costa Rican), warned me as I happily bubbled down the driveway on my way to check out the team's progress, that I wasn't going to like what I would see. He was quite right.

First of all, oxen are not born with a burning desire to drag heavy things, which is what we might have gathered from Little Golden Books. It requires more than a little encouragement to get oxen to demonstrate their amazing feats of strength. I was appalled to see that the way to get oxen to haul long, heavy poles up a steep incline is to holler commands really, really loudly, while yanking on the beasts and poking them with a very sharp, pointy pole, which you can see sticking out past the ox's left

ear in this picture. I almost cried when I saw the little bloody patches where the poor fellows had been jabbed before I arrived on the scene. While the idea of going back to basics and using animals to help with work sounds so wholesome and crunchy, the reality is that it is not at all nice for the oxen. Just look at what they have to wear on their heads! It's sort of like nostalgia for the '50s, when all the days were happy days, but only for privileged white folks.

This oxen incident occurred several years ago, after we'd been here a while. By that time I was able to accept and get over it. If I'd witnessed this in my first months here, I might have felt compelled to invite all of the area's oxen over to my house to talk about what we could do to improve their lot. As it was, I had by then realized that when you move to someone else's culture it's not cool to tell them how you think things should be done when you haven't been asked for your opinion.

The only thing I could think of doing to let the oxen know I sympathized with their plight was to kiss their horns and apologize for what they were being forced to do. I wish I could have heard what was going on in Carlos's mind (owner of oxen, on right in picture) when Chan's crazy gringa suegra (mother-in-law) started snuggling up with his bovine employees. What I do know is that when Chan came home at the end of the day, he informed me that Carlos was not at all pleased with me. He claimed the oxen were working steadily all morning until I starting spoiling them, and after I left they refused to budge.

I had no intention of disrupting the project. I suggest that disgruntled locals living in tourist destinations try stepping into the role of a stranger in a strange land for a perspective from the other side.