Sembrando Maíz

I rubbed my swollen right hand against my stomach, then gingerly used it to fish the car keys out of my pocket. After some fumbling around with fingers that alternated between pain and numbness, I eventually unlocked my door and plopped down in the driver’s seat. I wiped a river of sweat from my brow and watched as my friend, limping badly, opened the door and fell into the passenger seat.

He too was sweating profusely. He grimaced as he used both hands to reposition his leg, which no longer moved under its own power, then noisily blew out a breath.

I smiled a little, which was much easier to do now that our visit to the saborista was over. “At least we didn’t cry.”

He frowned a little. “I did, you just couldn’t see because I was face down on the mat.”

I was shocked that my friend, a very sturdy Tico that I’m paying to help with a number of construction projects around the house, would admit to crying. He does not suffer from machismo, but he is a tough hombre (far tougher than me). I was fairly certain that the only reason I had not cried was out of a strange sense of duty not to disappoint him. I stared at the egg-sized lump on my knuckle. It still hurt—a lot—but I wore the pain like a badge of honor.

My injury was over a month old at this point, the result of an ill-fated punch of a heavy bag in a martial arts class offered to kids in the community, including Things #1 and #2. With most participants coming in at significantly less than five feet high, the heavy bag was hung such that the top came to my stomach. My ungloved punch skimmed the top of the bag, which was surprisingly empty, and ended at the strap on the far side—the strap and the metal ring supporting it going between the ring and pinkie fingers of my right hand, bringing all momentum to an abrupt stop. I did not cry that day either, though it was tempting.

My friend had watched me nurse my gimpy hand over the prior month. He knew the local clinic had told me that it was not broken, but had also encouraged me to drive down the mountain to a larger town with a clinic that had an x-ray machine. He also agreed with most of the locals I spoke with who said that the state-run clinics were not known for accuracy or expediency in terms of x-rays. In general, he agreed with my plan to go to a private hospital in San Jose to get accurate x-rays and speak with an orthopedic surgeon, but thought that I should first try a proven local remedy: a sobarista.

I was extremely, bigly dubious.

“There is a good sobarista down the mountain. He can rearrange the bones and put everything back in place. He does the same thing for horses and other animals.”

I often, for valid reasons, doubt the accuracy of my Spanish language translation. In this case I was pretty sure that my friend had told me that a local healer, who often works with horses, could rearrange the bones in my hand and fix my problem.

“Rearrange the bones?”

“Exactamente. He will fix your hand, and I can get him to fix my knee while we are there.”

A few days later, after my customary level of due diligence—none—I found myself on the porch of the sobarista. My friend, who bravely offered to go second, used my phone to take pictures as the sobarista, a small, wiry man with unbroken knuckles that rivaled the size of my afflicted one, yanked, twisted and hyper-extended my little finger in directions not normally associated with appendages still attached to bodies.

As the sweat exited my body in waves, and I struggled to avoid screaming, I pondered how a man this small could wield so much strength. I then reminded myself that he normally works with farm animals, which explained quite a few aspects of this experience.

Just when I thought my steely facade would crack he stopped pulling and instead rubbed a nondescript cream on my hand, patting it softly as he assured me that my finger was not broken and would soon heal. Blinking back tears, I nodded and smiled, fairly certain that my pain was over for the moment and, somewhat sadistically, looking forward to seeing how my friend and his knee would fare.

Our sobarista informed my friend that he needed to change out of his jeans (men here in Pura Vida do not wear shorts unless they are playing fútbol). When my friend replied that he had failed to bring shorts, the sobarista went in to his house and then returned with fútbol shorts that were at least two sizes too small. My friend and his ill-fitting shorts were soon face down on an ancient foam mat, the sobarista twisting his leg as if the solution involved unscrewing it from his body.

Upon our return to the top of the mountain my friend limped over to his motorcycle (sembrando maíz as we say around here) and assured me that we would both soon feel better. After he left I realized that he had failed to take any pictures with my phone, which was likely a long-term boon for my pride.

He stopped limping a couple of weeks later after our community emerged on the other side of the Hurricane Nate damage. A few weeks after that my swollen hand and I went down to San Jose and finally got an x-ray, and a visit with an orthopedic surgeon. When I asked if my finger was broken I received a chuckle and the Spanish equivalent of “and then some.” I stared at the x-ray a little harder and saw that the top of the bone underneath the big knuckle of my little finger had broken off and, despite all of the yanking, healed sideways in a T-formation.

I cannot rule out a return to the sobarista, but if and when I do it will be on behalf of a horse, a cow, a freakishly large chicken or some other farm animal that comes into my life. I prefer to do my crying in a small, antiseptic office under the care of a physician as the good lord intended.

My new jewelry. It is still fuzzy as to whether or not all of the is permanent and, if so, how I will make it through airport security.