Catching up with Costa Rica: new soccer stadiums and Shakira

Fans gather outside the new Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Gunter)

By Brianna Gunter
Foreign Correspondent

After three months of adventures in a foreign country, I now find myself a little unsure of what to write about. Actually, it took me several hours to think of how to start this column when normally it comes to me in a matter of minutes. Maybe it’s because so much has happened … or perhaps the date of this article just makes me realize how little time I have left. I fly back home in a week (of course, by the time this is published it will only be a couple of days).

My last month here has definitely been an eventful one for Costa Rica. For example, there has been increasing tension with the country’s northern neighbor Nicaragua. For some time now the two countries have been arguing over just where the border is drawn, but from what I’ve learned, Nicaragua owns the entire river to the north whereas Costa Rica’s territory starts immediately where the river hits land on its southern side. I won’t bore you with the details, but Nicaragua and Costa Rica are now in dispute over a tiny piece of land on the southern side of the river.

Beause of this, ISA (my study abroad program) has officially banned students from venturing to Nicaragua, even for a short weekend trip. Furthermore, the dispute has created some awkwardness among Ticos and many “Nicaraguenses” who live and work in Costa Rica. Two of my friends had a Nicaraguan woman as a housekeeper whom they loved, but she recently decided to go back to her native country just in case the border was officially closed off. This was especially sad because my friends haven’t exactly gotten along with their host family, and they actually saw their housekeeper more than they saw them.

On the lighter side of things, the newly built Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica held its inaugural opening a couple weekends ago, with a huge soccer game against China. Although I didn’t manage to get a ticket to the game (way too expensive for a college student) I did walk around the stadium earlier that day and was half-mauled to death by excited Ticos wanting to sell me soccer jerseys and paint the Costa Rican flag on my face. Not that there really needed to be another person dressed in this manner — everywhere I looked there were groups of proud fans chanting and dancing outside the stadium while they waited for it to open.

There are other events going on in the world of sports, however, that have Ticos occupied. Although boxing may not be extremely popular right now in the U.S., all of Costa Rica had their TVs on last night (March 31) to watch history be made in that sport.

I first learned of Hanna Gabriel in my second week here. I walked into the living room, and my host brother and father were yelling at the TV as a tall female boxer with long dreadlocks pummeled her opponent to the ground. On March 31, Gabriel did the same, but this time it resulted in her becoming Costa Rica’s first ever World Boxing Champion. It was quite an event, and even the Costa Rican president was in attendance.

In other news, her royal highness of the Latin pop-rock world, Miss Shakira Mebarak Ripoll, will be performing here very soon. Unfortunately for me (yes, I’m a fan … but only of Spanish-singing Shakira), the date of the concert in the new stadium was just moved to the week after I leave. Anyway, the country has been exploding with excitement — Shakira posters, overplay of Shakira songs on the radio, Shakira-themed commercials, Shakira look-a-likes, etc. The local belly dance studios have also been increasing their enrollment by putting pictures of Shakira in their windows. Basically everything you’ve ever heard about the Latin American world being obsessed with Shakira is entirely true.

It’s weird to think that in less than a week these events won’t seem to matter so much. I realize this because a lot of things that have happened in the U.S. during my stay here have seemed very distant and without much gravity. There were even certain major events (like the horrible January shootings in Arizona) that I didn’t hear about until much later. Hopefully though, I’ll remember to check up on Costa Rica.