November 17, 2006

By and Buy

Drusilla Lapp is a Mennonite woman living in the rural province of Limon. Her name implies the modest frocks and piercing blue eyes, but she is also a decisive woman who scoots around in chauffeured pickup trucks, an entrepeneur selling homemade honey and ice cream on a major scale, emitting sound laughter at the frustrations of Carribbean life.

The Lapps came to Costa Rica six years ago as a family of ten originally Amish of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The US had gotten too restrictive, in Drusilla´s thinking. Mennonites are workers and pacifists. Maybe they didn´t want to feel on the edge of a community but part of one. They also wanted to be freer and without the baggage of a government at war (Costa Rica has no army, which suited them).

Her adopted daughter Marilene took me through their farm, where they have Norweigian Fjords horses (a docile and ancient race), full dairy operations, organically raised cattle and vegetables. Snakes hide in the tall grasses so workers with machetes accompany us. Imagine your typical farm plus bamboo and chonta palm, wedged in by two mighty rivers, clear and paradisical.

She told me what an exciting prospect it had been. First, they failed. Their macademia crops fell flat, their matriarch passed away and a few members admitted homesickness and went back home.

To see the the farm now is to think nothing of it. Mighty Rivers (the property moniker: has earned an air of humble prosperity. But success means the family getting up at 3:30 to milk, Drusilla fiddling with tractor mechanics (yes, they do use electricity) in her full length skirt, dreaming up ecotourism projects and researching how to start from scratch on the web and with Earth University ( down the street. This is the stuff of dreamers, but also doers. Did I mention that she is getting into real estate?

I never expected a traditionalist to be so, well, modern. But Drusilla worries that surrounding land could be bought by the ubiquitous banana plantations whose practices pollute the rivers and destroy the Carribbean coral reefs. She also sees a potential for community. Not necessarily other Mennonites, but conservation-minded folk who also lay off the mary jane. She may be radical, but there are limits.

What struck me was the gumption. To move the Promised Land to a tiny country in Central America, because yours didn´t live up to the guarantee. Once upon a time--think grade school here--I thought my homeland was a haven. Hadn´t we created something indestructible, fully ours? Could there be something better out there?

The Lapps don´t seem so radical in many ways. I think they´ve found something sensible. But will it lure other tropical pioneers?

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