Birthday Impromptu

Costa Rica – August 2008

I’ve been given the chance to visit Costa Rica as part of a visiting party from my college. One of our counselors is trying to resurrect a study abroad program and I’d mentioned an idea I had that could expand the usual offering, so I was added to the team. Along with visiting the center she’s hoping to start up the program with, we’ll also be visiting a local high school, where I’ll pitch an idea of having visiting professors tutoring students in need before college entrance exams, which will lead to a photo of me and the principal shaking hands in his office.

We’ll each be doing a home stay, with visits to sites during the day and free time in the late afternoons and evenings. I’m placed with a family with a young son around eight years old. They don’t speak any English and my Spanish is poor, but we make do. By the end of my time with them, I’m helping the mother study geometry for an exam at the dining room table with the use of a Spanish-English dictionary. When their son comes home from school each day, we head to his bedroom to play video games. I’ve never played any of the games before, but between hand gestures and observation, I catch on.

One night I notice there’s a cake and a two-liter bottle of cola set out on the dining room table. Something’s up as this is the first time I’ve seen soda in the house. I soon realize that it’s the son’s birthday and I feel awful for not knowing. The family has let me stay with them and the mother had been doing my laundry and making up my room, and I have nothing to give their son on his birthday. Think, dammit.

My father is an artist and for the past decade has hosted a public broadcasting television show on cartooning. His belief is that anyone can draw, and he has a trick to get anyone started using the word “go,” which forms the eyes and nose of a face. I used to draw when I was younger but didn’t want to compete with him, which is one reason I took to photography when I discovered it.

I now think of his “go” trick and grab a piece of paper. If I add the son’s spikey hair and a few other features, I’ll have a cartoon of him. My impromptu gift is looking good, so I add “¡Feliz Cumpleaños!” and his name to my sketch and hold the drawing up next to him to try to indicate that it’s meant to be of him and is my gift. The parents catch my drift and the son seems to appreciate it, especially the spikey hair.

Thank you, dad.

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