Sometimes, all it takes is one simple thing or gesture to make a lasting impression. Mine came in the form of an empanada.
During my photo walk in San José, Costa Rica, I walked by a little food stand situated in the corner of a parking lot. I stood there for a minute, watching the young woman use her hands to mold the dough into a half moon-shaped pastry. It didn’t take long for me to say, “Una, por favor. Solamente con queso.” Veronica, as I soon learned her name, happily obliged and put my cheese empanada on the grill to fry.
I sat on one of the six stools they had, fighting a hungry urge and patiently waiting at the same time. The aroma of my fried empanada soon filled the air. Before I could imagine how I would savor the first bite in my mouth, a new patron had arrived and seated himself a couple stools away. He was a handsome middle-aged gentleman, warm and sincere in his demeanor. Unfortunately, I don’t remember his name because I waited four months too long to blog this post. Yes, I’m very disappointed in myself.
The nice man ordered his breakfast, and we got to talking. He, in his native Costa Rican Spanish. And me, in my 4-years-of-high-school-plus-1-year-of-college-broken Spanish. Sí, yo hablo poquito español. We talked about life, work, family, and food. Oh, the food ….. by now, my hot off the grill empanada was placed in front of me. I took the first bite, and suddenly, I wished I hadn’t taken off on my own and felt bad that my friends missed out on such a perfectly-savory-and-crispy-on-the-outside-and-gooey-and-cheesey-on-the-inside-yumminess of an empanada. Delicioso!
We ate, we talked, we laughed. When it was time to part ways, my new friend took care of my bill. I gratefully accepted his offer and was reminded why I love meeting locals when I travel. If you show a genuine interest in learning, they are more than willing to share a part of themselves with you. To Veronica and my nice señor, thank you for your gift of an empanada. It’s a gift that represents your kindness in sharing a part of your life, your city, and your culture with a stranger who is curious with the world.
On a closing note, below are photos of some more people I met during my walk. The street vendors selling fresh squeezed orange juice out of the trunk of their car, a man pushing a cart through the streets selling jocote fruits who took the time to spell out jocote for me, a woman selling newspapers and magazines on a sidewalk stand, a parking lot guard proudly wanting me to take his photo, commuters in buses and motorcycles — these are all people who are no different from anyone else. They start each day with work, hoping to earn a decent living to support themselves and their families. Seeing how people live in other parts of the world gives me a feeling of closeness, and oneness, even though the world is so big. These photos are special to me because it’s the people who make up the soul and livelihood of the city. Muchas gracias, San José.