I won’t pretend to know everything about the places I’ve been. I like to think myself observant, but I’ve definitely been known to miss things (every once in awhile, these missed things include bus departure times, or maybe which way we were supposed to turn to get to that restaurant, leaving me and whoever I’m with disoriented and hungry). But one thing I have begun to make a point to note in every place I visit is the existence of fences.
In the United States, they’re all over the place. High wire ones around prisons, wooden ones around houses, chain-link ones enclosing school playgrounds, or black metal ones like the one around my parents’ backyard. They protect young children as they play in their yards, keep pets within the boundaries set by their owners, and prevent those with bad intentions from causing harm, but perhaps more than anything, fences, above all, are built to keep people out.
This is a quirk, a detail that I have never thought important enough to talk about, or even really notice, until one chilly night at my host family’s kitchen table with half a glass of blackberry juice and a small piece of birthday cake sitting in front of me. It was my host dad’s birthday, and we were celebrating heartily with a few of the family members, myself, and my roommate, a fellow international student. Papá tico, as we called him, was telling stories about a trip he had taken recently to the United States to visit his daughter in Indianapolis. She lives in the suburbs, he said, with many houses that have big yards, lots of land all to themselves. And then he posed a question I couldn’t answer.
“Why do you have so many fences?”
I sat there, puzzled and amused, and laughed a little bit before turning to my roommate to see if she had any thoughtful responses, which she didn’t. What a funny question, I thought. I answered with a simple and unenlightening “I don’t know; I’ve never thought about it before”.
After that night though, I did think about it. I looked for fences everywhere I went in Costa Rica, which due to the small size of the country, was a lot of places. They were nowhere to be seen near the beach houses in Jaco, nor the wood huts in Montezuma. And I remembered that it was near impossible to go anywhere at all in the US without encountering a fence of some kind or another. It turned into a question I tried to answer for the rest of my time there, and one that I was unable to. I suppose you could call it simply a cultural difference between Costa Rica and the United States, but it is a much more profound one than I would have ever thought. Maybe it’s because our ancestors fought for everything they got and wanted to protect it? Maybe it’s a leftover fear of losing land? Maybe we’re just inherently possessive of the things we see as ours?
I won’t pretend to understand why the people of the United States appear to want to keep everyone out, but having lived that way for my entire life, I can better appreciate the openness and freedom in Costa Rica; with a view unobstructed by high fences.
Want to read more about Costa Rica? Check out “5 Scholastic Differences Between Costa Rica and the U.S.“