“But what does it do?”
It was an excellent question. Unfortunately there was no easy answer, particularly in Spanish. I went with something like, “It make air hotter.”
My answer sounded stupid to me as well but this was my third round of attempting to explain what a portable, propane-powered space heater was and why anyone would want one. I didn’t help that all involved were sweating from the heat during these exchanges, and that it never gets much colder here than 55 degrees (13 celsius). Why was I in this fix? It all started with a word that sounds innocent enough: cachivache.
Spanishdict.com offers a variety of potential translations for cachivache, including: junk, trash, rubbish and, a bit more optimistically, contraption. Here in the land of Pura Vida, cachivache is a term that quickens pulses and makes fingers itchy. The closest translation is probably “garage sale,” but then you have to factor in the fact that many Ticos are not fortunate enough to have a garage. Further, most Ticos, probably for the better, have never had the desire or the ability to gather multiple versions of the same thing — or store expensive gifts that they never really wanted, much less used.
What really amped things up was the fact that our particular cachivache was populated with goods from the United States. Some of what we had to offer truly was lower-end, made in China stuff, but NOT the same China that supplies products to Costa Rica. The general, justifiable feeling is that the Chinese-manufactured goods available in Costa Rica must have fallen short of the lofty quality standards of U.S. chains like Dollar General. So, the ability to buy a lousy toaster that actually works for more than a week and doesn’t catch the house on fire is a big deal.
The buzz around our pending cachivache gathered steam leading up to the big day, and I lost track of the number of times someone pulled me aside to whisper a variation of, “You will, of course, allow me over before the sale for a special preview.”
We did our best to keep the playing field level, and actually paid to have a cattle truck ferry our stuff down to a small, rural town for the actual sale. There were a couple of altruistic ideas behind this approach. First, it gave access to a community that normally doesn’t have the opportunity to spend 75 cents on a used space heater that no one will ever use. Second, we were donating much of the clothing and money to families further north who lost much of what they owned in the recent hurricane (and our friends in this smaller community were already working on that front). And, selfishly, moving things afield also allowed us to avoid a situation where the population of our entire town ended up in our driveway, which is likely what would have happened if we’d kept it local.
By 11:30 a.m. we’d actually sold a fair amount of stuff. Did it leave me feeling that the process of sorting, hauling, pricing and selling everything was really worth the effort? Well… It did, however, give me the opportunity to mistreat the Spanish language in completely new ways.
“This is radar detection. There is alarm for police if you exceed maximum speed. It go in window in front of car.”
Both my explanations and my Spanish drew giggles and confused looks. My own car, like many other local vehicles, is physically unable to exceed any speed limit, and run-ins with the transit police have a lot more to do with being in the wrong place at the wrong time versus an actual speed trap.
The guy that actually bought my top-of-the-line radar detector–for about $4–told me he wanted to see it go off when police were around, or he wanted to impress girls (maybe both). For me the important thing was that he was happy, and that someone else was taking my ski-bib to a local tailor to shrink it down to a size where it will serve as wet-weather gear for motorcycle rides while my bride’s ski pants will be pressed into duty as an extra layer of protection by a local beekeeper.