Interview Chargé d’affaires Costa Rica Anna María Oduber Elliott
We are delighted that Anna María Oduber Elliott,The Chargé d’affaires at the Embassy of Costa Rica, agreed to an interview with us about beautiful Costa Rica.
Could you please tell us where you’re from and how long you’ve been living in the Netherlands?
I was born and raised in Costa Rica but grew up in a multicultural environment because my mother was Canadian. I have been living in The Hague for the last 2 years. Before that, I lived in Israel, France and the U.S.A.
Have you visited the Embassy Festival previously? If so, what did you take away from it, what surprised you?
Yes, we have taken part in it twice. I never could have imagined the amount of people that visit, from all age groups and cultures; and the wide variety of food, music and traditions it offers. I took my time to see everything. At the Costa Rica stand we gave out coffee and pineapples. We also showed visitors footage of Costa Rica, to show them our beautiful country. My children got involved too and helped out where they could. They love the Embassy Festival and they love Costa Rica. The Embassy Festival is really a unique opportunity to get to know different countries, and also to provide information about our country and to meet and talk to people about all topics of interest. It is a very festive and lively environment.
What do you hope people notice or take away when they visit your country?
I would hope they take away the kindness of our people, and the diversity in such a small territory, not only in terms of ethnicity and culture, but also its microclimates. For example, you can travel from the dry Pacific to the Caribbean coast, or from the cloud forest to a volcano in one day. The people in Costa Rica speak a high level of English and the education system is of a high level too. I hope people notice the spirit of the people. They’re very open and pure; they’ll tell you what they think. I would also hope they recognise the importance of protecting the environment and biodiversity. Visitors will also notice that Costa Rica offers unique opportunities for investments and business, due to the human development, qualified talent, political stability, and strategic location.
At the Embassy festival, we celebrate unique and inspiring traditions and experiences that the participating countries offer. Could you please elaborate on some of your customs and traditions people might not be familiar with, but would you like to share, something that is typical of your country?
Costa Rica has 8 indigenous groups, who live in protected areas. One tradition of the Borucas, which is starting to become well known, is called “fiesta de los diablitos”. The Borucas elaborate costumes and colourful masks of different animals and devils, which were supposed to frighten the evil spirits and invaders away. During the event, they parade and dance around the town wearing the special outfits. Of course, there’s the coffee too. When the coffee industry started in Costa Rica, it was used as a form of payment. Now, coffee has even been declared a symbol for Costa Rica.
‘The Embassy Festival is really a unique opportunity to get to know different countries, and also to provide information about our country and to meet and talk to people about all topics of interest. It is a very festive and lively environment.’
Could you tell us a fun fact about your country or a tradition you have that people might not have heard of before?
Costa Rica has been ranked #1 in the happiest country world index. One other interesting fact about Costa Rica is that in the Nicoya area is one of the top 5 blue zones in the world, which means that many people there live past the age of 100. One tradition is the “Romeria de la Virgen de los Angeles” on August 2. It is a religious tradition of pilgrimage, in which many Costa Ricans from all the country walk to the Province of Cartago to pay tribute to the Virgin Patron.
Cycling, kissing three times on the cheek, having breakfast with bread and cheese or hagelslag are some of the traits in which you could recognise Dutch traditions or customs in day to day life. Are there particular traits that you have, that would be easily recognisable, linked to your culture?
The use of “pura vida” for everything, meaning to say, hello, goodbye, I’m doing fine, nice, etc. literally it means “pure life” and that represents the easy-going nature of the “ticos” and “ticas”, as we are also called.
Following on that question, are there any Dutch customs that you’ve taken on yourself? Do you cycle everywhere, and have you tried hagelslag or stamppot?
Yes, I bike to work and my children have been eager to learn how to bike and obtain their swim diplomas, they love hagelslag, fresh stroopwafels and kibbeling and I’ll have to try stamppot. My kids have already been for two Sinterklaas celebrations and have become very fond for this tradition and living in Scheveningen; it is particularly fun to welcome him at the port and see how people of all ages participate.
If people would like to hear music, typical of your country, what would you recommend they listen?
There are many good bands and singers for all tastes and genre: from Malpais, known for its easy listening jazz that incorporates the sounds of nature, to classic rock bands such as Marfil, and contemporary bands like Gandhi, and Mekatelyu. We also have a singer called Walter Fergusson, who is known worldwide as the father of Calypso music in Costa Rica, and August, which is our month dedicated to afrodescendants was dedicated to him. He’s a legend!
One of the best ways to get to know a different culture is through its food. Could you tell us about a signature dish from your country, that you would recommend people try, to get a sense of your country? And what is it that makes this dish special and typical of your country’s culture?
For Christmas, Costa Ricans make and exchange “tamales”, which consist of a maize based dough with meats and vegetables like carrots and peas, and are wrapped in banana leaves. We also bake Christmas cake with spices and dried fruit, and on special occasions we drink rompope, which is a drink similar to egg nog, with dark rum, flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg.
What were things that surprised you when you moved to the Netherlands, regarding Dutch culture?
I was surprised that everything closes at 6pm, at the beginning this would frustrate me but now I’m thankful for being able to spend more time with my family. I was also surprised that everyone speaks perfect English and how open everyone is to expats. My children go to an international school, but I also wanted to be immersed in the Dutch culture when I started living here. So, we decided to live in Scheveningen. All our neighbours are Dutch, which is great.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, our children got to spend more time with other children in the neighbourhood. They got to learn about Dutch culture quite rapidly that way. They were very proud when they told me they got promoted to a higher level of Dutch when they returned to school. King’s Day was also very amusing. It was basically just one big recycling adventure of stuff the children didn’t need. They would make 20 euros selling their stuff and then buy other peoples unwanted stuff for the same amount. They had a great time!
What makes you proud, what aspects, when you think about Costa Rica?
There are so many aspects, but just the fact that we have no army since 1949, has allowed us to invest in education and health. We had early investment in renewable energy and to date we achieve 99% electric energy throughout the year. The early protection of our natural resources has placed us at the forefront of conservation as well as allowed us to capitalize on ecotourism. Recently, the protection and promotion of Human Rights are at the core of our foreign policy, and marriage equality was recognized in our legal system.
My father, Daniel Oduber Quirós, was the president of Costa Rica from 1974 to 1978. He died when I was 14. Three years ago he was declared a national hero. He initiated the National Park System. And because of that, 27% of our country is now a conserved area. He has also fought to have food in public schools for the children of less fortunate families. My 9-year-old is learning about him now. There’s an airport in Costa Rica named after him, the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport. KLM now offers direct flights to ‘his’ airport, so when we landed there with the children, we were incredibly proud.
Can you tell us a little about the dish your country has added to the recipe book?
Costa Rica is the #1 exporter of golden pineapples in the world and they are exceptional. Our pineapple flambe rescues a perfect sweet-sour experience for all to taste. We are fortunate to find Costa Rican pineapples in the supermarkets here in Holland. The recipe is a new tradition. Pineapple was first used just to make pineapple juice. That’s what people love in Costa Rica. Fresh juice every day. But they started to explore other ways to it. Trying to innovate with fruits they’ve always had.
What other dish, from another country, would you like to try for yourself?
I would like to try all of them because I like to know cultures through their gastronomy and I’m particularly fond of trying new recipes specially deserts that I can try to make myself. So, I am looking forward to the recipe booklet of this year’s festival.
Thank you so much for this wonderful interview!
We would like to commend your efforts and hard work for continuing the tradition of the Embassy Festival, adapted to the new circumstances of the pandemic. We thank you for the opportunity of participating in this interview. With our participation, we would like people to grasp what is essential about Costa Rica. We would like to share with the participants that we are a welcoming country, that offers great opportunities not only for tourism but also for investments.