Waves of reinvention

If you were moved, as I was, by the story of Nicaraguan refugee and law student Elizabeth, featured last year on the blog and last week in YES! Magazine, here’s an update for you.

Elizabeth had to reinvent herself after fleeing Nicaragua in 2018: the former law student found work in the snack bar of a gym, trained herself in entrepreneurial skills at the Transforma Foundation, and became a life-changing coach for women struggling with government bureaucracy. You can read more here.

Well, the COVID-19 crisis has forced her to reinvent herself yet again, because she has no longer been able to work at the gym. Together with other women in her community, Elizabeth is making nacatamales, the Nicaraguan incarnation of the delicious tamal treats enjoyed throughout Latin America. (For more on nacatamales, check out the piece in Nicaragua’s La Prensa from which the featured image was taken.)

A community member prepares nacatamales in San José, Costa Rica.

Those familiar with Costa Rican Christmas tamales will recognize much of the process Elizabeth describes: “We prepare the masa with spices, and cook it. Then, in the [banana] leaves, we put the masa with rice, potato, carrot, onion, sweet peppers, meat and pork.” The women, who carefully prepare the tamales wearing masks, then take orders by phone and send them to hungry customers throughout western and central San José. The growing effort has helped provide for their families during the massive economic crisis overwhelming Costa Rica, with its outsize impact on our immigrant and refugee communities.

If you know someone in San José who would like to become a customer, please contact me for details. For readers out of Elizabeth’s nacatamal territory, I share this story as one more example of tireless reinvention and ingenuity. I say “tireless” because every time I express admiration and astonishment and Elizabeth’s latest endeavor, I am met, without fail, with seemingly unshakeable good cheer and energy. When it comes to resilience, she and her fellow cooks are giving us a master class.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or FacebookIf you want to learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.

2 thoughts on “Waves of reinvention

  1. Wondering if you’d share your own immigration story? Too many North Americans think they can just move wherever they want and live as “tourists” while violating that status. Meanwhile the USA jails and tortures people (including through family separation) those who do the same in the USA. It would be great to hear from someone who seems to have regularized her status.


    1. Oh, absoLUTEly. And I will freely admit that at times I’ve complained about the CR immigration system and then been like, “Oh, wait… I have got it SO EASY here.” I think my own immigration story would probably be mind-crushingly boring since it was just a lot of waiting around and filling out forms, but I will definitely give this some careful thought. I’m in the early stages of applying for citizenship so I plan to write about that, too. Thank you for your comment!


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