Keep On Rockin´ In The Third(?) World

Back when I was in Argentina in May, something–possibly a gigantic pothole on the freeway–led my friend Andrés to yell something like, “Hijo de mil putas y la puta que te parió!! This sort of shit is why we´re still a third world country!”
Since then, I´ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be in the Third World. From what I understand, the First World was comprised of the countries that were aligned with democracy and “the west” in the Cold War. The Second World was all the Communist countries. And the Third World was made up of the leavings. That may be completely wrong, but I believe I read it somewhere, and if I do find out it´s wrong, I probably won´t change it.
But any case, it would appear that the whole “Worlds” system is now antiquated and doesn´t really apply, yet people still constantly talk about the Third World. So what does it mean to be in the Third World? Is Argentina–or, more immediately useful for me to understand, is Costa Rica–a Third World country?
When I think of the Third World, I basically think of little kids with giant, malnourished stomachs; an over-representation of warlords, druglords, and possibly even gaylords; chaotic and possibly even deadly traffic; random violence; crappy buildings that sometimes don´t have four walls; and, most importantly, potholes in the streets. Where does Costa Rica fit into this rubric, then?
As for the little kid/big belly test, Costa Rica is passing with flying colors, from what I´ve seen. In fact, there seems to be just about as many chubby, over-indulged kids here as in the US or Germany. And if the kids are looking at a future in which they eat as much as Abulea serves us in our house, then they shall likely never lack for nutriton nor sustinence.
Test two: Warlords, druglords, and gaylords. Costa Rica doesn´t even have an army, so there´s little likelyhood of a warlord rebellion. Then again, without an army, I suppose someone with a few big guns and a few even-bigger dreams might be able to take over the country, if he really set his mind to it. As for druglords, I haven´t seen any evidence that there is a major drug problem here. That seems to be located more in the other Central American countries, as well as South America. I have heard that there is an abundance of drugs in Costa Rican tourist locales, but I´ve not really visited any of them. As far as Costa Ricans, the majority that I know seem to have a lower permissiveness than Europeans and even Americans when it comes to matters of sobriety (or lack thereof). And gaylords…I´m not even sure what a gaylord is. I guess just someone who is really, really gay. I mainly put it in the list because lists are more powerful and attention-getting when they´re grouped in threes. But there also seems to be a lower acceptance here of homosexuality than in Europe and the US. Although I´m not sure whether we should chalk this one up to the Catholic Church, the macho culture, or the fact that leather chaps would be too hot in Costa Rica´s climate.
Chaotic and possibly deadly traffic, anyone? Here´s our first real Third World point. There doesn´t seem to be much traffic in terms of congestion, but in terms of chaos, this place can hold it´s own. The roads of Costa Rica combine potholes that often take up a whole lane in a two-lane road, cliff-side roads, high speeds, lack of seatbelts, screaming kids, and blind-corner passing. And that´s just in the microbus I take to and from school! I swear, that bus is a little piece of Mr. Toad´s Wild Ride at times. One day Luís, the wonderfully nice and infinitely-patient driver, will swerve to avoid a person standing in the middle of the highway, and the bus will careen off a small cliff near the school. All that will be left by the charred ruins of the little Toyota will be the gaudy, ostentatious Transformer knock-offs and Strawberry Shortcake backbacks thrown from the wrekage.
Speaking of driving stories, I can segue nicely into the next category: random violence. Most of the houses in the cities here have window bars, gates, spikes, broken glass, barbed wire, or any combination of the above elements to keep out intruders. Cars are similarly protected. A car that Ángela borrowed from her brother or father had a giant lock to secure the shifter to the chassis, a huge metal bracket to bind all the petals together, an electronic-equipment disabler that needed to be activated with a chip on the keychain, and a machete in the backseat. Apparently there´s a breathtaking amount of property crime here. Someone even stole a park bench from Abuela´s porch last year, which they had to lift OVER her metal security fence (with spikes). Needless to say, her new bench is chained to the porch. Still, in general, I feel very safe here for some reason, and I simply found a place to hide my paycheck in my room since I don´t have a bank account. But then again, I´m retarded.
As a quick machete-related aside, I´d like to say that on the bus ride to school this very morning, we saw a guy walking down the highway with a machete. He was even carrying it in his hand, chop-ready, with the case in the opposite hand. If the road hadn´t been paved, one could have perhaps expected that he was going to clear a path on his commute to work. But there was certainly a road. Still, for some reason, a machete doesn´t seem so out of place here, and I´m finding out that pretty much anyone I talk to that´s been here a while seems to own one. It´s like Costa Rica´s answer to America´s battery-powered, talking bullshit trinkets that most houses seem to have (see Ho Ho Ho Santa or Bigmouth Billy the Talking Bass for more information). Nonetheless, here when you see someone with a machete, you think, “He´s going to cut something down.” If you see someone in the U.S. with a machete, you think, “He´s going to cut someONE down!”
Anyhow, in terms of crappy buildings, Costa Rican houses and businesses are generally pretty solid, but at times they´re missing a wall. That´s generally not due to neglect, though, but rather to climate. I didn´t really make notice of it until I´d lived in the house for about two weeks, but the hall off Abuela´s kitchen is completely open to the outside world, with no door to keep out the elements (or lizards, cockroaches, and even a random crab, as we found two days ago). The open-ness is generally good, though, as it allows the free circulation of air. Plus, especially compared to Colorado, it doesn´t really get too cold here.
So what about potholes? Hell, yeah, there are potholes. Lots of ´em.
Anyhow, it seems that Costa Rica is only scoring about a 40% on the Ryan Sitzman Third World Index. It´s my conclusion that I´m not in a Third World country, but at the same time, I´m not sure where that leaves me. All I know, though, is that I´m loving the shit out of Coast Tasty! And I also know that it´s coffee time, so I´m gonna get home ASAP for some of that black gold!

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Errand-Running Monkey at Sitzblog
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One thought on “Keep On Rockin´ In The Third(?) World

  1. I like all the good insights into costa rican culture. It’s almost like I was there, stealing Abuela’s park bench myself.

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