I did not think of myself as sheltered when I came to Costa Rica. I do come from Iowa, but I have also struggled my way through Spain, Italy, France, and England. Maybe I did not think I was worldly, but at least, heading in that direction. I have faced some of the most difficult struggles of my life here in Costa Rica. I have had to work 48 hour weeks for little to no pay. I have been sick with rashes and infections that no one could really identify for me. I have no medical insurance, and you only hope that the doctors here actually know what they are talking about. I have jumped from being a cook to a babysitter to a receptionist to a private Spanish teacher to a Home Luxury Manager for a millionaire, who happens to live practically across the street. It's like I have gone backwards in time while at the same time, being forced to open my eyes to a very harsh, modern reality.
The reality that I have awoken to is of people making money through manipulation and imposing fear. The reality that a charming person who seems to have everything he could ask for could fear you because you will not let him control you. To witness someone so consumed by his need to control every last detail of his life that he will try to hurt not only people with money who could give him a real reward but peons like me with barely anything to her name.
Criminals are not just people who break the law of the land. They are also the people who twist and bend principle and ethics to fit their particular cause. The worst criminal is not someone who will break the law outright - the law of principles or the law of the land - but he who is intelligent enough to duck and weave it or bend it to his own selfish will. I have learned that so often we deceive ourselves into categorizing only the thug on the street who will force the passerby to give up his wallet and watch, as a criminal. That thug is nothing. He steals your watch and your wallet. He does not steal your dignity except for the unfortunate moments you have had to encounter him. No, he is a little fish in a pond where the big fish stay low, poised, to eat you alive in the most "professional" appearing manner as possible.
I am talking about businessmen who call themselves "unemotional". I am talking about these "unemotional" persons who can alter their emotions at will, from charming to victim to outright attacker, in order to break down emotionally the human being standing in his way. Human beings are emotional by definition. We love. We feel grief. We feel anger. We feel as a way to express who we are and reflect what we are going through, and thus, we are all designed to respond to each other's emotional expressions in a way appropriate to how we ourselves would expect responses. For example, if I am angry, I expect a certain response. If I am sad, I expect a certain response. We all become disoriented when the response does not fit the emotion we have exuded. For example, how does one feel when she cries and the other person laughs? She feels bad, but she also feels disoriented and confused. She feels like something in the world is not in order because the expression and response to emotions should be something like a cause and effect relationship, just like if you touch fire, you are sure to be burned.
There are powerful individuals out there who have essentially stopped their own heart from beating. They feel nothing on the inside, and as an actor, utilize their knowledge of the cause and effect of emotional expression to push and bend their opponent. Now, imagine if you have become "cold hearted," as people tend to call it. This person can not find fulfillment in relationships. He can not afford to feel love. This person can not even find fulfillment in objects. He has ceased to feel. This person finds fulfillment in the battle because it is the only thing left in his life that illicits an emotional activity with him. In other words, when a person burns his own heart to be able to control his emotions like a person with a remote in his hand, he has disconnected the line running from heart to brain. He can not feel as a normal person feels. Yet, everyone must feel to be alive. Thus, to feel alive, to feel any sense of purpose and fulfillment, this person must repeatedly put himself into the only situations that allow emotional activity. These are business situations, as he would call them. They are situations where it is necessary, or so he would justify it, to pick up the emotional remote and start breaking down his opponents by the responses he knows he will illicit.
This is a sad person. However, this is a powerful person. This is a person outside of the radar of the law. This is a person able to damage anyone in his path through verbal abuse that breaks down the mind, heart, and sometimes even spirit. This is a person thriving off of these battles, a person who can not bear to lose. What does a person trapped in his own "unemotional" business tactics do when he loses a battle?
He makes threats. He uses coercion. He can not just let it go - not this. This is his core way of making himself feel alive and fulfilled. He does not find it in relationships or causes, even if he has them, they are a facade, another mask he uses so that no one will pin him concretely in his game. This is a very intelligent criminal who is used to appearing to be walking the line. He does not threaten when there are valid witnesses. He does not use specific threats but open ones. He plays the game. These kind of people could be anyone, but mostly, they are the powerful in the sense of having or being able to make move lots of money. These are your politicians, your businessmen, your legal workers, and in my case, my neighbor.
As a 22-year-old, recently graduated American in Costa Rica, I was feeling the heat of menial jobs for little pay. I wanted to do anything that took more mind power, more engaging of the skills that I had gained in college. Ideally, I wanted to sharpen those skills and become a better worker, a better person. At an Easter party, I found what I thought was the opportunity for which I had been looking. A very charming millionaire with lots of wine to offer extended a job that involved problem solving, organizational skills, management of Tiko workers, a world that would teach me business tactics, as well as everything to do with construction and maintaining a 10 million dollar estate. It also offered double the pay I was receiving at the time.
The job sounded exciting. It was the topic of our afternoon at the party. My future employer and his wife with a laugh, warned me that he was an abrasive personality. Abrasive? I had no fear. I am a hard worker. I push myself for deadlines. I know how to communicate, and I learn quickly. The term "abrasive" defines so little of the millionaire's personality that you could call it another mask to hide the real control driven, heartless person underneath. I figured if he was abrasive, I could alleviate it by simply being a good worker. I was ever so naive.
First, I learned that a person must, must ask the other neighbors about the employer before making any agreements with him. Secondly, the pay one asks for when she is 22 can not be for "just getting by." It must take into consideration the workload, the financial capacity of the employer, and personal needs outside of just food, shelter, and in my case, loan payments.
Backtracking, even though the job sounded exciting, I had my doubts. I doubted he would be flexible enough, and I did not want another load of stress to add on to the one I was already carrying around. I worried about the stress. Initially, I turned the job down. He asked me to come to his home so that he could have a chance to really explain the job to me. In his most charming mode, he weaved a tale of his success as a businessman, how he was never the most intelligent one but always hard working and completely sincere. He said he worked harder than any of the salesman on his team; thus, motivating them to work harder. He said that even some of his salesman made more money than he did! He said he was not involved in charities. He believed that giving someone a fish instead of teaching to fish was pointless. However, he was on the board at his private boarding school where he said he became himself. At this time, we had said nothing of the job. He painted a lovely picture for me of what "business" could achieve and how it could be used for social service, though that was not what he, personally, was geared toward.
Though it was not readily apparent, I sensed the controlling nature in him. A girl should always trust her senses. I asked him specifically if he would be hovering over me, controlling my every move. He said he does that sometimes with his current assistant because she can be lazy and unmotivated. For his previous assistant, he never did that. I thought that there should be no problem because I am definately not lazy and self-motivation has always been easy for me.
He misinformed me, then made all sorts of justifications for it later. He was not interested in letting me learn in the field. He set out to force what he thought I should learn down my throat. He hovered, and he forced me to translate exactly what he said to people. This would have been fine had not 90% of those conversations demean, degrade, and overall, trap those people into serving him for wages at or less than what Tikos pay each other to do standard work, not luxurious work. He could be cruel and cutthroat with anyone, even me if I, for example, forgot to ask the name of the person I was just talking with.
He forced his workers into a corner believing that this was the way to get the truth out of them. I could only watch as his workers lied fumbling with their words trying to find just what to say so that he would feel like he won and leave them alone. For example, I was having a conversation with his maintenance worker as to how much muriatic acid to put in the pool. He said he did not remember exactly, that he would have to consult the notes he had received from the previous assistant. Later on, the millionaire "investigates" the maintenance worker as to how much of the chemical to put in until the maintenance worker spits out an amount and promises that it was the correct amount. I said "no" this is not what he told me. The millionaire told me to ask him again. I told him I did not need to ask him again. I knew that the maintenance worker was unsure, which was fine. All he needed to do was consult his notes. The maintenance worker, after being pushed by the millionaire, said "no no, Leah, you understood me wrong, I know that this is the amount." He completely changed his story to one that was absolutely untrue because he was pushed. Later on, we find out that the amount the maintenance worker told the millionaire was wrong, like the maintenance worker believed originally. He found out after he consulted his notes. This process of investigation into an issue that has already been resolved is a story that happened over and over again. He said that he forced this process onto everyone because he was extracting the Truth from them. I witnessed this process over and over. I saw painfully often how it was not the Truth he extracted but the truth that he wanted to hear (whether it was correct or not). It was not the truth but the control that he was and still is after. He wants to know that he can pull whatever answer he wants to hear out of the person in front of him.
With Tikos, this is not too difficult to do, given they come from a poor education system and often grow up amongst liars and thieves. They often do not stand up for themselves in a face to face combat. I pity anyone who does because it does not end pretty. They will, however, stand up for themselves in other more indirect ways. They will simply do bad work, bad construction. They will figure out how to explain their work logically to someone who is not completely familiar with what he is doing and leave behind craftsmanship that "forgot" to put that one waterproof layer on, who "forgot" to mention that the clamps holding the millionaire's cables up are all rotting away. They do not answer phone calls. They avoid his assistant when she walks through the door because they know that she is a direct link to him. They pity his assistant for having to put up with a millionaire they are all too familiar with but stuck between the pull of wanting and knowing they should have nothing to do with this man, and on the other hand, not wanting to make the assistant suffer for the sins of the employer.
The way he would trash people behind their backs and ruthlessly manipulate them when he was in front of them; the way he would control even the movies that his wife could watch and how she responded by screaming at him; the way he would yell at me and try to break me down for the smallest of errors all affirmed that quitting my job was necessary but not going to be easy. I was afraid and wanted out. I was at my breaking point.
On a Monday morning,June 7, 2010 the millionaire and his wife left for San Jose in the morning and left me in charge of waking up their 6-year-old son, giving him breakfast, and giving him a ride to school, to the tutor, and finally, to their home. All weekend I had been entertaining the idea of quitting and leaving for Iowa as soon as possible to figure out my life and whether I had bitten off more than I can chew in Costa Rica. Everything ran smoothly in the morning. He called me three or four times to check on me and his son to make sure he was doing exactly what daddy wanted him to do. The son and I got into the truck and started driving to school. I had a huge fear of the narrow, yellow bridge we had to cross in order to take the short cut. In a truck that is not my own, I would have rather went the long way, but we would have been late for school. I took the turn too tight with the truck coming off the bridge and put a dent in the door. My stress level peaked. If a man will freak out because I did not have the electrician count whether there were actually 30 or 32 clamps needed under the bridge, how will he respond when his truck has a dent in it? On top of that, I do not have any money to pay for damages to such a nice truck. I automatically figured they would be outside my price range.
I dropped the son off at school. The teacher there saw the damage from the bridge and she said something like don't worry everyone damages their vehicles on that bridge. She asked me if it was my vehicle and I said no it belonged to the millionaire. Her attitude shifted in the blink of an eye from easygoing to concerned and told me good luck. I was finished. I broke. I did not want the constant pressure, the stress, the pushing over NOTHING. Maybe if I was fighting to save someone's life and the millionaire was the opponent against which I was fighting, I could still be involved with him. Yet, being on his side and pushed to the limit over such trivial aspects of life, I could no longer handle.
I drove home and started packing my bags. I bought a one way plane ticket for home and sent the itinerary to my boyfriend and to my mother. The whole way home I am thinking that I will send the millionaire a check for however much it costs to fix the truck. Instead of becoming a slave to be able to fix it in Costa Rica, I will go home and spend much needed time with my family and work a 9 to 5, 40 hours a week job. Right after I bought my plane ticket, I started looking for the phone numbers for Caleb's school and for his tutor. I was going to find him a safe ride home and have the gardener meet him at the back door of the property. If I could not find him a ride, I was going to give Ryan enough money to do it all in a taxi. Then, the millionaire called.
He called and charmingly told me to not escape my problems. That part, I agreed. This was solid advice. I already knew it anyway. My mother the night before tried to convince me to escape from all of this in Costa Rica, and I had been trying to take it. Though I knew deep inside escaping was not the right way, although I also knew that escaping was the easiest and most painless way of getting out of my job - or, at least, getting away from this man. He convinced me, and I decided to try try again with my job and with him. I was already getting better at not taking the stress home with me and sharing it with those that I loved. Moreover, the job itself I really liked. I was learning everyday, and I enjoyed my co-workers. I also knew that they were dependent on me to be their mediator between the millionaire and their mental and emotional health.
The millionaire returned and as other instances have worked when I confronted him explaining to him he can not act in such a way or talk in such a way to me, he was very kind for a day or two. Then, the cycle started all over again - the pushing, the pressure, the stress, the forcefulness. I could not stand being pushed to a breaking point over absolutely nothing. The cost of learning what he had to offer far outweighed its value. All weekend long, I sought advice and planned how I was to resign from my position.
On Monday morning, June 14, 2010, with a resignation letter, I explained to him that I believed he had broken the agreement between us by misinforming me of what the job actually entailed. I also brought up the backwards way he was training me, and the emotional and mental strain that it all brought into my life, not to mention the lives of others. First, he refused to read the letter. Second, he tried his charming trick on me again addressing everything I brought up with a resolution. He almost convinced me. I almost forgot that this man manipulates and breaks people down not because he has to but because he likes it; he lives for it. I almost forgot the now group of people who have taken pity on me and voiced their worries that this man is aggressive, forceful, and controlling and is that way because he is that way not because of outside circumstances. I forgot that, on principle, I believe that there is absolutely no justification for degrading or breaking someone down - even if that person screwed up the programming in your system so that alarms went off all night. I went home for lunch and remembered. I remembered that I am a slave to no one. No one can keep me in a job if I do not want to be there.
I went back and told him that I will give him two weeks, as originally stated, to assist him with this change. I would come and open and lock his home while he went on the next couple of vacations. Even though I was not working for him, I would actively seek a replacement. I knew craigslist would most likely be my best bet given that everyone in town now seems at least "mas or menos" aware of what working with this man means. He refused. He wanted me to work until I went on my month vacation. Then, when I returned, to work until I could find him a replacement. I refused. I wanted to help with the transition, but I was not going to be trapped any longer. I was not going to be forced to work.
He left the office to look for his wife while I finished and turned in payroll for the following day. He came back with his wife. She gave me a sob story as to how irresponsible I was because they had to find me the day I was ready to get on a plane and leave. She is absolutely convinced I would have left without telling them about the accident and left their son to fend for himself because they called me before I called them. They called me almost fifteen minutes after I arrived home and was packing and already looking for phone numbers to get their son the proper ride. I could understand her thinking had she found me in the airport six hours away ready to leave. Yet, that is not what happened. They called and I answered (did not avoid as I could have) their call. I told them what happened, though it would have been easy to have told them I stopped at home because I forgot something. I told them about the truck and how I was planning to get their son a ride. Yet, she is so afraid of everything and everyone that she slammed me as an irresponsible child who was going to hurt her child and leave without telling her about the damage to the truck. There was no way to reason any differently with her.
Then, she told me that all she wanted me to do was work while they were on vacation. I told her I had already offered to open and lock their door because they do not trust their own cleaner. She said no. She asked me had I been working since they had all been on vacation. She thought I had not but I had multiple times. She wanted me to sit in the main house and make sure all of the Tiko workers were doing their jobs and not stealing anything. Keep in mind all of the Tiko workers live there besides the cleaner. On a regular day, if the cleaner decided to take something home in her purse, I would not know because I finish working (theoretically) before she does. So first, its unlikely the regular workers will steal because they live their too. Secondly, the cleaner could steal any day of the week, and I would have no idea. Thirdly, I have never been instructed to nor was it really viable that I sit in the kitchen and watch the workers work with the way the millionaire has me running all over the place on different projects - barely or not keeping up at all. Honestly, I would have loved just to manage the workers. I like the workers, and I like brainstorming with them as to what needs to be done now, what needs to be done in the future, and how could we do it best. I was learning a lot from the Tikos, although the millionaire told me repeatedly that there was nothing to learn from them at all. She had an incorrect concept of the work I actually did. She was upset with me for being unwilling to do a job that was only five percent of my job, and it was only that much of my job on one of those rare good days.
Thus, he tried to manipulate me by having sympathy for his wife. Yet, I was just astounded at the mistaken image she had of me because of the day I wanted to escape and her misconception of the actual job that I do. I was even more astounded when I tried to explain to her to the contrary, and she only became more upset and started insulting me. He would try to interrupt her until she finally screamed at him using obscene language. Then, she told me to have thick skin. I believed still sitting there without walking out even though they were point blank insulting me over nothing real was thick skin. If thick skin meant willing to lose it and scream and use foul language to have myself heard by her and her husband, I refused on principle. After she left, he still tried to break me down by telling me how I appeared so independent and mature and intelligent at my interview and resume and how I ended up actually being dependent and childish and naive. He was trying to use what I was using against him. I told him he deceived me because of his character, his way of dealing with business. He told me I had deceived him by portraying myself as a good candidate for the job when really I was not. I think he was trying to tell me that I looked good at first, now I look awful, and I still could get that original image back if I worked at it. I realized this, but I thought it was really twisted because he was insulting me for one and for two I knew that how I presented myself at the beginning is how I am and a huge reason why I was no longer willing to work for him. I am not going to give up my principles, my ethics, my independence and personal motivation for someone like him.
When I packed up to leave, he told me to give him my decision in the morning. I very calmly told him that I had already given him my decision. I would work two more weeks; open and lock their home while on vacations; and seek a replacement for him. This is when he finally showed the true colors that are always bubbling beneath the surface. He screamed at me. He called me "a fucking idiot moron." He told me "if you fuck with my family, I will fuck with you."
I walked away. I walked maybe a minute until I found my composure. No one can treat anyone like that no matter their social class or the situation. I walked back, left everything I had of his, and told him I would never work for him again. I left everything except documents he had with my passport and license copied onto them. These documents also carried the agreement we had for me to work for him. He asked me if this all meant I was not coming back the following day and I told him yes. He continued to threaten me. To say I was frightened would be an understatement.
Right after I left, he called my boyfriend. He tried to convince my boyfriend that I should work for him. My boyfriend stood by me, and the millionaire threatened me again with open threats like the ones he made in the office. I later on learned that he is known for giving threats. He is known for giving threats in a way that no valid witnesses are present and that the threats be open instead of specific.
He called the following day. This day is Tuesday, June 15, 2010. He asked for codes and other information that he already knew. I think he was trying to set himself up to look like he needed me when he really did not. For example, he asked for where the codes were located when he himself told me where to put them. He asked for the code to my voicemail, which again he himself had told me what to make it. The millionaire also asked my boyfriend if I had the work agreement we had made. My boyfriend said he did not know. All of this information has come through my boyfriend because I have refused to give him anything else of me after the continued threats and obscene insults. All I had left of the millionaire's was a phone charger. My boyfriend told him that I had it, and the millionaire sent his wife to get it. My boyfriend told me she left saying something like "good luck with her." My boyfriend said that the millionaire had been making comments like that as well. Comments that made it seem like my boyfriend was making a big mistake continuing his relationship with me. Thus, the millionaire was making open threats to me and also trying to threaten my relationship. In addition, he tried to threaten any possibility of working with a potential future employer. He was and still is going out of his way to try and make me suffer.
Wednesday, July 16, 2010 the millionaire called again this time to let my boyfriend know that if I do not give back stolen property of his, that "I would feel his full wrath." He called the agreement that I took "stolen property." The agreement I took from him only after he threatened me was attached to information concerning my personal identity and the address at home to where my family lives. He called these two pieces of paper "stolen property." He said he was going to sue me for them unless I gave them back. I have been afraid and stressed out this whole time. He has not stopped calling, and he has not stopped pushing - over what? Over an assistant that he lost because of his own personal demons.
Thus, my boyfriend and I went to town to speak personally with the judge. I told the judge that I had made an agreement to work with the millionaire for a specified amount of time then took it out of fear of his threats. She asked me if a lawyer had witnessed and signed it to make it an actual "contract." I told her no. She said the agreement was not legal. She also said that taking two pieces of paper is not under the law "stolen property." It is not something he purchased and then I took. It was two pieces of paper. She also said that he can not obligate me to work for him. If he tried to sue me, he has no legal ground. She encouraged me to seriously think about suing him for all the threats he has made to me.
On Thursday, we received no phone calls from the millionaire. However, with pressure from my mother and still keeping in mind the advice I had received to sue him for the threats he made, I called the police to make a report of the threats. I wanted a written and official record of the millionaire's threats in case anything did happen to me. My mom is convinced the millionaire is going to hire a thug to hurt me. She is deathly afraid of the influence and power someone has when he has so much money. Moreover, I am a foreigner in a foreign land with not as many laws to protect me. I do not think her fears are totally ungrounded.
On Friday, June 18, 2010 I was informed that the millionaire was actually talking to important people in my life about suing me for insurance reasons related to those two pieces of paper. I did not know what insurance reasons meant. I did put a dent in his truck. I had already taken steps to have it fixed by a mechanic in town for 125,000 colones or a little over $200. When I left work, I had over 30 hours of overtime. The millionaire had already told me in writing that that overtime would be applied to the amount owed for the truck. My overtime amounted to about $122. Yes, I was working for an American millionaire who expected American results and let him pay me Tiko wages. I was naive. I admit it. Paying time and a half for overtime did not exist in my world. I had also worked ten days out of the eleven days I should have worked for the pay period, which meant he owes me about $295. Altogether, he owes me $417 minus what I owed him for the truck which was about $200 so he still technically owes me $217. I can live without the money if that means he would leave me alone. Yet, he is not leaving me alone, and its noteworthy to say that a millionaire owes me a tiny $217 and has not paid me.
I went to the mechanic to make sure that the millionaire was still using him to fix the truck based on the price that we had set. I was afraid the millionaire would try to hurt me by finding someone else to fix the truck for a higher quote outside my abilities to pay. However, I was surprised when I talked to the mechanic to find out that the truck had already been fixed and paid for with the 125,000 colones. The mechanic said he did some extra work on the interior making the final price 150,000 colones for the work. Thus, the truck and my responsibility concerning the truck is over, and I paid for it.
Today is Saturday, June 19, 2010. I am still under the weight of the threat to be sued by the millionaire. Trust me, I will let you know exactly what happens from here.