Im sitting here on the bus returning to nyc from the lovely dc and its the non-stop express. I cant stop thinking about how I wouldn't just love someone to be selling food whether its tajadas with ensalada or cashews or even some other non identifiable street food. I just know I'm hungry and wondering where's the vendor at?
So now I'm thinking, this is where development brings us? The bus is cleaner yes (point), I can not see the street passing beneath through a hole in the floor (point), the seats are both padded and able to recline (quadruple points) and truly the best thing of all is that there is a seat for everyone, myself included (infinity points). But we have lost the camaraderie of it all. Everyone is in their own bubble. Whether it's listening to music, reading, on the computer or sleeping, the space and comfort of it all has allowed us to disconnect from one another. Worst of all the complete absence of some, any easy eats.
In our "world" street vendors or vendors aboard platforms or trains (Ive never witnessed one on bus, certainly not a local one at that) are generally frowned upon or at the very best their goods are considered dubious. I'll admit I used to question the "hygienity" of it all but then I started to think about the restaurants that Ive worked in and then thought about adding the layers of filth that come with nyc dwelling and right then and there I decided to never think about it again. If I allowed myself to be so easily disgusted then I would be forced to stop eating out entirely in which case I would deprive myself of one of nyc living's best assets, the food.
Back on subject of the food vendors on transit. In Nicaragua and nyc Ive often indulged in street food for the sheer novelty of it. There's something so inexplicably alluring about it. I realized though, once in a hot crowded bus in 100+ degree heat and out of drinking water that its not just novelty demand but unequivocal need. I needed that water and soon and would have had to fight a large agitated crowd to exit and subsequently enter the bus to find a vendor selling water. I understand that those circumstances can not be experienced in US what with air-conditioned trains and buses but then again is convenience not a virtue of development? Is it not more convenient to get a bottle of water from a vendor walking down a train aisle than to make an errand of it by going into a store to purchase one?
On another note if not just for the novelty having unrestricted vendors would force us to look up from our seats, converse with another being even if it is just a transaction. They have potential to bring us together and out of an almost stifling daily routine of non- or seriously limited personal interaction. The only conviviality I experienced on that long ride was brought by the driver (the one person who I was sure would lack it) who, with not even the suggestion of jest in his tone, insisted that before he could turn the ignition we must first all say "good afternoon", and announced later that if you slept too loud he would be making fun of you. Finally upon our arrival in nyc he welcomed us to Richmond, VA sending a few of the freshly awoken individuals into minor panic, followed by self-humbling laughter at their foolishness.
When boarding buses it’s first a race to door and then a matter of pushing your way to enter as quickly as possible with the wild thought that you might actually get a seat (ha! Never happens). Lines for cashiers are a total farce. There is no first come first serve it’s a matter of pushing your way to the counter of the farmacia and hoping that you get noticed so that you can buy some immodium before you poo yourself (and some panadol for the headache you accrued while being cut “in line” and ignored). When I stand in lines I like my space, no need to crowd you’ll get there, so I give people the same courtesy, this concept in Nicaragua is as foreign as me. No matter if you are at the pulperia or ATM, personal space doesn’t exist, someone is breathing down your back or leaning on the counter next you anxiously waiting their turn as if it will pass.
If you are walking through the Mercado you are ceaselessly grabbed and told “pasa adelante” or “que buscas chelita, preguntame”. If you are walking in the station to catch a bus headed out of town you will inevitably be grabbed and pushed towards another bus for a city in which you are not going at least twice (which I still cannot make sense of, its as if they believe that you will suddenly change your mind and decide to go to another city). Children begging for money will grab your clothes and hands, pushing chicklets or flowers made of palm fronds on you and then telling you how much you owe them. I have had to harden my reactions. Before I used to keep walking and brush it off, mentally that is. More recently, without a second thought I have taken to seizing the hand that grabs me and in a calm but commanding manner removing it from my person. It seems only fair that if a person feels permitted to touch me than I too am able to touch back.
I boarded a relatively full bus and a very old woman began grabbing at my clothes and hands as I was trying to pass, I removed her hand from me and continued towards the back. Afterwards I felt bad about it, not so bad I wouldn’t do it again but bad. I had had an audience of passengers and I felt that they thought I had crossed a line. I believe the only reason she so aggressively grabbed at me is because due to the fact that I am a “yanqui” and therefore I feel justified in my response. Its difficult to know which things I experience as a result of my “yanqui-ness” and which are cultural. The incessant cat-calls are a combination of both, the grabbing in the Mercado or at the bus station I have witnessed happening to residents. I will never know.
There has been more than one occasion where I have been walking and a stranger passes by and says in an audible tone “gringa”. It’s frustrating, not so much because it hurts but because it’s so alien to me to have someone bark your ethnicity at you. I am not sure if the act is motivated by hostility but I can not think of any other reason a person would cry out such things.
With all of these cultural nuances I try to make sense by searching for the root, for example, directions. Usually you will have to ask at least 3 people who all give you different answers and only through divine intervention/luck do you get where you wanted to go. In cars driving with people they will wait until you have almost passed the intersection to tell you to turn right. This is made more ridiculous because in Nicaragua derecha and derecho both mean right and most other Spanish speaking countries derecho means straight, so you are immediately confused. Its worse if you have more than one person “giving directions” because they will shout opposing statements. Asking “how long” is silly because you will get a wild range of answers from ten minutes to three hours. Driving is not common and therefore it difficult to give driving directions or know your directions in general. Most people take buses, which are without timetables and this contributes to the inability of people to establish a time frame for a trip or to know how to travel to a place without a bus. Another contributing factor is that streets do not have names. Addresses are determined by a point of reference system, example: 1 block north and 75 meters east of the Esso gas station or 3 blocks south of La Unión (a supermarket). It is with this in mind that I am able to laugh rather than become unnerved.
To know your bus and sidewalk etiquette is next to godliness in the book of kara. Allow me to school you. First thing, when you are choosing your seat and you have the option of aisle or window, aisle is the proper choice. Why? Because it speeds up the ride and its generally courteous (do you really want someone falling over you while the drive accelerates?). When the person sitting next you leaves and you are in an aisle seat, please stand up to let them pass or move your legs to the aisle (then scoot to the window seat to abide by rule number 1). If an elderly woman or a woman with a baby is lacking a seat offer yours, yes typically it is the responsibility of a male passenger but we fought for equality (and chivalry is dead). Do not stand or put your stuff in front of the exit. Most importantly, always exit from the back!
Bus etiquette does not exist here, and not one, but all of my “common senses” regarding bus courtesy are foreign. I have never had some move their legs for me pass nor seen someone move to the window to allow another to sit. Rarely are seats offered and I have concluded that do to fear of being run over most prefer to exit from the front. By far this has been one of the hardest things to adjust to. If it wasn’t already such a pique of mine I wonder if I would be this vexed. This vexation is compounded by the fact that the drivers drive as if it is a timed race, hardly even stopping to let people off while the fare collector or other passengers scream ”suave, suave”. And to this consider the fact that these buses are known as “chicken buses”. I am going to attempt to illustrate this phenomenon but you cannot and will never understand until you have experienced the chicken bus en vivo. It is when the bus is so loaded that while standing there is no need to hold on because due to sheer squish factor you will stay in place and there are people standing on the entrance and exit steps and its 99 degrees with 99% humidity so it feels like you are melting and you’ve got 6 strangers sweating on you and you are suffocating because someone’s bag is squeezing the life out of you and as you are fading into delirium you think to yourself “I cant possibly fathom another person fitting on this bus” the driver pulls over to pick up 10 more people, who will all get on without a single passenger deboarding. This is the chicken bus. I understand now more than I have ever wanted to.
As I was walking down the street and saw one of the vendors set up ahead I had a craving for Jocotes, a grape sized mango-ish fruit. I approached and found that there were none so I figured that the next vendor would have them. Again there were none and each one that I passed was without the fruit I craved. I was confused that I unable to procure this fruit that in my recent memory had been so pervasive you couldn’t take step without seeing a discarded pit. Once I reached work I asked the girls where I could go to fulfill my craving and they laughed. “10 months into the future” was their response. I was immediately overcome with a feeling of “duh” which was followed by the feeling of utter American ignorance. In an effort to make myself appear less foolish I tried to explain to them that the seasonality of a fruit or vegetable doesn’t necessarily affect the availability of a product. They were shocked and found it hard to understand that I could eat an avocado or strawberry in the dead of winter or in high summer. Trying to explain how this can be to my Nicaraguan peers only deepened my feelings of foolishness and to it added the feelings of guilt and privilege.
In this country where they produce great coffee, incredible handicrafts, amazing fruits and vegetables, yet they consume Presto instant coffee, Papitas chips and covet all things American. I find it very sad to think that my home country’s overwhelming demands for products that we ourselves are incapable of producing leaves another country unhealthy and to an extent unable to fully indulge in and appreciate what their land provides them. They have resorted to establishing Zonas Francas (Free Trade Zones) throughout the Managua area, which are meant to draw foreign investors into the country to set up shop tax-free. Ideally Nicaragua benefits because it provides work, which raises the standards of living. In reality these zones are not bound by laws and are a notorious for violating workers rights and paying very minimal wages, so Nicaraguans don’t gain much from their presence only a lowered unemployment rate. Two of my family members have worked in the Zona Francas and continue to today.
In the North it’s a different type of exploitation because it is mostly farmland. Workers rights violations compounded by the exposure to toxic pesticides and contaminated drinking water and the many developmental and health issues that result. Demetrio, the security guard who lives at the foundation, grew up in Matagalpa. When he eats he finishes within a minute. My coworker tells me this is response to having worked as a campesino (farm worker) where his boss would give them one minute for all meals and what they didn’t finish was taken from them. Its hard for me remember why I wouldn’t eat a banana with a brown spot not just from hearing the experience of Demetrio but because naturally banana’s are not blemish free. When I go to the markets here I get to see what food really looks like and generally it’s not pretty but this is the market and this food can and will be eaten.
An unintended effect of developing country is their ability to recycle most things. Waste is a luxury of the rich. Here (and I imagine most developing countries) most people cannot afford drinks or products in plastic bottle form so instead most things are sold in bags. For example the majority of liquid cleaning products are not sold in ready to use spray bottles but in plastic bags. In need of a device to dispense the product most people take an old litro de coke, poke 2 holes in the cap and now it’s a spray bottle for your cleaner. When you buy a refresco (fresh juice) to-go from a vendor they serve it to you in plastic bag knotted at the top with straw and not in a plastic cup with a lid. My family ordered a pizza to be consumed at our house (a rarity reserved only for a special occasion) and we received it plastic wrapped on a metal tray that we had to return once we were finished. To a person unfamiliar with this form it may appear less appealing. Why? Most bottles for cleaning products are thrown out upon final use. Having the brand name on your drinking device or being served your food in numerous disposable containers doesn’t change its taste. I can only assume these things are considered less appealing by some because they have the stigma of being a product of the impoverished.
A bottle that once held body spray is now reclaimed to hold kerosene for the grill, used 3 liters (that’s not a typo) of Coke or Fanta are cut and painted to make light shades, ripped stockings or worn cables become clotheslines, old botellas (plastic bottles) my mother reuses to store water in case of a shortage or they are cut to become planters, glass bottles from beers or sodas are sent back to the distributor to be washed and refilled. Here little is wasted and most everything is reused. Recycling programs don’t exist because they don’t need to, it’s an inherent part of the culture. It makes me think about the worth of things and the difference in value systems between cultures. I understand that most things here are recycled due to a necessity directly determined by the wealth of the culture and not out of concern for the ever growing environmental issues caused by the abundance of waste (evidenced by the ubiquitous volume of trash). In the states people recycle not because they cannot afford to waste a product, in fact most products have a “consumer pays” recycling tax added on to the cost at time of purchase. We recycle because we feel that we are doing our part to curb some of those environmental ills. Maybe the more important thing is to change how and what we consume to produce less “things to recycle” and less waste. I don’t say this to discourage people and devalue their efforts to recycle. My concern is with the way things are packaged which is equal parts industry and consumer. As consumers I surmise that if the burden of the actual costs associated with the waste created when we throw out a bottle or box was bound to the consumers and the industry the demand would change. In turn this could cause the industry to find new cost effective and profitable methods of packaging goods that would not have the same toll on our world.
“La basura!” Manuel yells from his rocker stationed next to gated door. Its usually about 7am and everyone is getting ready for work or school. Maria is the kitchen cooking as Manuel hears the approaching bells of the dump truck and yells for the second time “la basura” this time with a bit more urgency. Maria begins to talking to herself reflecting but of course saying it loudly enough that the guilty parties can hear. “Cada dia, cada dia. Nadie, nadie, nadie. Sola yo saco la basura, sola yo (everyday, everyday, nobody, nobody, nobody. takes out the trash, only me). I cant help but laugh at this, thinking that this Nicaraguan family supposedly so removed from the “developed” US having this same fight that I can remember my family having.
Trash a dilemma that has no borders. When I first arrived in my house here, I was sitting with all of the kids who live on my street enjoying popsicles on the curb. Upon finishing every single kid threw stick and wrapper into the street. I was shocked, but I was new and I wasn’t sure yet how to approach the subject without being culturally insensitive. All the time see people throw their trash out the window or on the ground. When riding the crowded buses the “agua, agua, agua” vendors sell their bags of water or juice to the thirsty passengers, who finish and immediately launch it out the window. Walking with Rafa (a scholarship student and farm manager for Fenix) to make copies I purchased some “orange juice” and once she had finished she launched here botello on the ground. I felt that at that point in time we had established a good enough relationship that I could broach the subject of litter. So I stopped walking and stared at the botello and at Rafa. Once she realized what I doing and that I was upset she burst out in laughter. She told me it was okay because it was already dirty with other trash. I requested she pick it up and hold on to it until we get to a public garbage can (a rarity here). Once back at the foundation she told the story to some of the other students, laughing about how silly I was being. This is not the first, nor will it be the last. It is behavioral and it is not exclusive to the street. Countless times Gabriella or Andreita or Dianita throw their trash to the ground in their own homes. Of course this is exclusive to the children but when the act is committed in front of the adult who inevitably will later be the one to sweep it up, nothing is said, the behavior stands unaltered. And thus the litter culture is born.
When living in NYC, I couldn’t stand the amount of trash everywhere. Walking with Alex he would always say to me when I would get upset about the trash that “trash begets trash” meaning that the more trash people see, the more they will add to it. This behavior is exemplified in my recounting my walk with Rafa and it stands true to reason. Most cities from NYC to Ciudad Sandino employ individuals to walk the streets and sweep up the litter. People justify litter and waste through the existence of litter and waste. And being around all of this waste it made me think more on another point Alex would bring up which is that waste is waste and why should it matter if its in the street or in a dump. He surmised that if more trash was in the street the waste accumulation would reach a point where people would realize its negative effects and reduce their personal waste in total. I now have to agree, it’s all waste and its location shouldn’t hold so much weight in my abhorring thoughts (and this is repeatedly reinforced since being here). This doesn’t mean that I now condone littering. I will continue to call out my co-workers and family for littering the streets because I don’t think that anyone should ever have to clean up other peoples waste. I will eternally be disgusted by the site of trash along a highway with what could be a priceless country view. But I now recognize that my problem is less with the litter and more with the waste. If we had to live in our waste wouldn’t we be more likely to repair and reuse rather than throw out and by new?
Food is a tough thing. I recently finished reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer, in which he discusses the linkages between food and culture and family. It wasn’t so much reading the book that got me to thinking about diet in my new life but more living it. From day one (outside the Laguna de Apoyo) I immediately noticed a theme: this culture loves their food either fried or super sweet. Everything is over-sugared or fried and its no wonder most people have diabetes and/or weight issues. Its hard to understand how this can happen in a country with so much fresh and readily available fruits and vegetables, more than enough to meet the demands of the country. Here the major form of hydration is gaseosa’s (pop/soda). In moderation (like with most everything) a gaseosa is not all bad but when it accompanies every meal and it is universally opted for instead of water, this is no way to live. Last week I went to get a refresco (juice) from the mercadito near my work but my coworkers informed that it was not safe to drink the market drinks for fear of e-coli or hepatitis so they suggested I get boxed orange juice from the store. I went, I bought, I drank and yikes, was that thing was sweet. Now, you know me and you know I like my sugar (preferably in cookie form), and you know I am definitely don’t typically read the nutritional facts on anything (because that’s not a box I want to open, I prefer to be blissfully kinda ignorant) but when I read the nutritional facts on this tiny box and saw what I perceived as a ridiculous amount of sugar per serving I was shocked (mostly by being shocked by sugar). So the next time I was feeling thirsty for something other than water I chose Gatorade thinking that “this will be good, I like me some Gatorade every once and again” so without looking at the facts I bought it. Again, I was shocked by the amount of sugar it contained and I didn’t bother to look at the nutritional facts because I could taste it.
I recently had a discussion with Maria, my “mom”, about soda consumption and diet in general. She never serves me gaseosas with my meals and she never even keeps it around which I am pretty happy about. She was upset with Anisa (her daughter who also lives here) because she is always drinking soda as well as giving it to her children. Maria understandably doesn’t agree with this and is frustrated with what she, Maria, perceives as Anisa’s uncaring and thoughtless decisions about the health of her children. However my “mom” will often make refrescos and rather than drink the refresco as is with its delicious fruity sweetness she and the rest of the family cringe at the taste sin (without) sugar. After I pour my glass and hers she will add three to four heaping spoonfuls of sugar. While I think that Maria’s diet is very healthy by comparison to many other individuals how is this better and/or different?
In this country where indisputably the most important result of the Sandinista revolution was the implementation of universal healthcare (that means free) does the government not enforce corporations to practice more social responsibility? These are not the same products found in the US. They may appear the same and have the same brand name but they don’t contain the same ingredients. I understand the principles of marketing and I understand holding focus groups to analyze taste but seriously, its out of control. Why are there not health campaigns to promote exercise, nutrition and better diet especially when health is one of the major tenets of this (and all) political parties? I guess with a imminent threat of a dictatorship this isn’t really on too many peoples agendas. But I have to wonder about the consumption practices here and how much of it is uncaring, how much is cultural norm and how much is strictly taste?
Ill start with a bit of background on Fundacion Fenix. Maria (the executive director) began the foundation after having developed her own “D.A.R.E.” type program here in Nicaragua. She would (and continues to) go to schools and teach teachers how to give the program to their students. While she and the director Karla continue to go do this, their primary focus is direct intervention. With the aid of the police they target gangs and working directly with the parents hold an intervention and invite the youths to come to foundation to learn a trade (currently they offer mechanics and woodworking) at no cost. On Friday we held an intervention in Zona 6 of Ciudad Sandino where we were able to talk to 20 plus youths and got them interested in the foundation. We hope that they will pass the word to their friends bringing more youths to the foundation but its hard to say how many will even show up. Another program offered through the foundation is microenterprise, they (specifically Karla) teach willing students how to farm, organically of course, and allow them their own plot of land on the property. Currently the students are growing pipian, a vegetable that outwardly resembles a white eggplant but on the inside is a similar to a squash.
The foundation is able to sustain itself financially through 40% donations and 60% they earn directly through the sales of produce, some grown directly on the foundations site. The way it works is we go to the Mercado Orientel (the largest market in Central America and easily the most dangerous place in Nicaragua) and buy bulk produce for very cheap. We then clean and package the produce at the foundation and then sell it to the grocery stores. What produce we can grow and sell we do but currently it’s the dry season so not much is growing. We are in the process of building a second better greenhouse, provided by a grant, where we plan to grow pipian. This past week we planted the seeds in rich soil flats so that they should be ready to be transferred into the greenhouse when it is finished.
Part of my work while I am here is to increase the percentage of income generated through produce sales by expanding their market. Currently they have produce stands with signage in 2 supermarkets, one in Managua and one in Leon. We hope to expand into the supermarkets of the neighboring cities of Masaya and Tipitapa. All of the supermarkets are owned by the National Police. This is a weird concept for me but apparently it exists in the US, Miami for example, but I am not familiar with practice. There are not many supermarkets here. There is Pali , which is a Walmart auxiliary and there is La Colonia which is owned by one of the 4 super-rich families, who in essence own Nicaragua. Fenix has opted not to involve themself with Pali, which I completely agree with and as for La Colonia their standards for produce are unrealistic for organically farmed products. We are happy to expand our relationship with the supermarkets of the police because it furthers this healthy system of reciprocity between our organizations and in turn it secures a loyal market.
I am absolutely loving it. I really enjoy packing the products or making the deliveries though this is only a very small part of my work and is not why they wanted a skilled intern. In the very near future I am going to be teaching 2 classes a day of basic English. Prior to my arrival I was really adamant about not wanting to teach English but after discussing it with Karla she made me realize that just being able to say “Hello” will offer these youths more opportunity and pay in the job market. I am a bit nervous but I know it will be good. Other work I will be doing with Fenix includes increased outreach with the police about the Fenix’s work with the intention that it will increase our sales and soliciting donations to expand the types of vocational training we currently offer. The next three months are going to full of a lot of work but Im confident, and most importantly happy.
a.k.a. vacation. Karen, Rachel and I made our plans to venture to the Carribean side of Nicaragua for Semana Santa because we figured we wouldn’t have the time to make the trek at any other point during our internship. Our ultimate destination was the Corn Islands and while there are multiple daily flights between there and Managua we decided to take the super cheap but significantly longer way which also allowed us to see more than just the islands. Our trip began at 9pm from the bus depot where we took a 6 hour ride to El Rama. At 3am we arrived only to have to wait until 6am for the daylight and for the panga (boat) ride down the river to Bluefields. We all fell asleep sitting up watching some dubbed Penelope Cruz roco. Around 5:30ish we ventured over to the docks to make our ride. It was unreal the amount of people waiting. We were some of the last to board, which didn’t seem to be a problem at first. After 2 hours of riding we then arrived in Bluefields only to be told that the panga headed for Pearl Lagoon, our first destination, had left 15 minutes prior. The dock manager said that he could get us on a panga to Kukra Hill and then we could take the bus from there. So we did that ride for another hour. Once we arrived in Kukra Hill we allowed other pushy passengers to take the first 3 waiting taxis. Mistake. The bus to take us to Pearl Lagoon left 15 minutes early (which is totally absurd for this country) and we soon discovered that it was the only bus that day. We sucked it up and got had on an over-priced cab ride, which we tried to barter down but he wasn’t having it (one guy literally drove off).
We reached our hospedaje around 1pm utterly exhausted (15 hours not including the bus ride from home to the bus station) but ready for some sun and food. First we had beers at the hostel were the waitress gave me chicklets for change (throughout the trip this continued to happen, it’s a Caribe thing). We ate lunch at the Queen Lobster under a palapa which had literally been constructed finished that morning (while eating two gentlemen were working on a second). We started chatting with them and they offered us a cheap panga ride to a beach up the way. There we met a very interesting man who spoke English, Spanish, Miskito, Garifuna and Sumo and fought in the revolution for Somoza’s army when he was only 14. Even though Spanish is supposed to be the primary language, everyone on the Caribe speaks creole or Jamican sounding English. Its near impossible to understand at times. Everyone listens/plays to reggae and by the end of the trip we were singing to all of the hits.
In the morning we set out for Orinoco, home to the highest concentration of Garifuna’s in Nicaragua. It is a rich culture and we were excited to go there. However we waited eating Coco Bread and drinking presto coffee then watched as the panga from Bluefields enroute to Orinoco did not stop to pick us up. A guy approached to offer us a ride with him since he was also expecting the panga to stop. So we spent the next two hours on the Puerto de Laguna de Pearla drinking rum and California, a juice drink of pineapple and coconut. Finally arriving around 1pm we spent the day walking around the small town which had no cars but allows their cattle and horses to roam freely. We met some locals who showed us around a bit and played some music for us. The took us to a house of a woman who makes the traditional Garifuna bread made of cassava then later took us to another person who makes moonshine and sold it to us in a used pepsi bottle. We sat outside our hotel with the boys laughing and drinking and listening to the music from the bar until the electricity shut off at midnight (they don’t have power from midnight to noon every day).
The next morning we woke around 6am for our panga at 7am to take us back to Bluefields to catch the ferry to Corn Islands. We arrived around 8:15 to find out that the ferry doesn’t run on Tuesdays and that we must spend the day and night in Bluefields. We too quickly found a hostel called the Lobster Hut (recommended by Lonely Planet but not by us) and set our stuff down. It wasn’t until after we paid that we realized how gross the place was. No running water, backed up toilets, a sink that drained onto your feet and a very creepy owner. It felt like we were in hotel of “the shining” at times. We made sure to spend the day out in Bluefields so we hung at the park, ate some very fresh Pico bread, bought liquor and snacks for the island, played on the internet and finally went to the casino to use what we found to be the only place in the city to have tolerable bathrooms and running water. Since we were in there we figured we might as well play some slots. Finally its time for bed and my room smells like an ashtray and we are next door to a club that plays music until 3am.
8am Wednesday morning. Out of creep hotel, packed, tickets in hand, ready for a leisurely four hour ferry ride to paradise. The boat was packed and somehow we managed to get seats in the air-conditioned room. The first 2 hours we watched “wrong turn” dubbed in Spanish then stopped just inside of the lagoon to get gas or papers signed, we are sure what. Then we hit the high seas. Karen and Rachel left to sit outside because the AC kept going in out. They were drenched within minutes but it was still kind of fun. Then an hour later the sickness started kicking in. I put my head down and took a nap only to awake an hour later thinking we were almost there. Then I talked to the woman next to me who explained that its 4 hours on the high sea making the whole trip 6 hours. Within the next hour I notice a worker (who I named the bolsa-hombre) whose job it was to pass out little black plastic bags for people to yak in and take the full ones to the trash. The boat was being tossed around and when I looked outside I kept expecting to watch someone go overboard. It was hell. Getting to hear Karen and Rachel’s account of outside was marginally worse because people were just yaking on the floor and they had their feet in vomit just about the whole time. Four pm we arrive in Big Corn and must wait for another panga to take us to Little Corn where our hotel is. We immediately started making plans for our return trip to be on a plane because there was no way any one of us was getting back on the vomit boat. I still find it hard to believe.
Little Corn was amazing. The water was beautiful, the sun was bright and we had a great time. It made it worth the torment we went through to get there. It a small island and you can walk the perimeter in about 2 hours. We stayed on the east side but the town and dock is on the west. Our eco-hotel is owned by two former Fort Collins, CO residents who fell in love with the place. We drank Caesar’s, which is a Canadian Bloody Mary that made Karen (a Canadian) very happy and spent lots of time in the sun. On a walk to the north of the island we were able to see a baseball field funded by a “cocaine philanthropist”, this is an individual who finds a bag of cocaine washed ashore, sells it and uses the money for community improvements. We later found out that the paved sidewalks and the dock were also funded by cocaine philanthropists. We stayed until Sunday morning when we took our final panga ride back to Big Corn to catch a 70 minute flight back to Managua.
There is much to report on. I met the other interns and the local FSD staff on last Sunday-ish in Masaya which is the artisan capital of Nicaragua. I hadn’t really expended too many thoughts about the other interns prior to our meeting and didn’t know if I should expect a friendship from them but at most I hoped they would be tolerable. As it turns out Karen and Rachel are both fantastic easy going interesting individuals and we’ve already planned our Semana Santa together. I am grateful that I am so lucky. Or maybe not. So far I can honestly say that I haven’t met one person I didn’t find interesting and perhaps that’s because it takes a similar like-minded individual to work or travel in a place like Nicaragua.
Orientation week (4 days) was filled with many lectures on Nicaragua both in Spanish and English in topics such as history, health, politics, culture, economics and sustainable development. I am not sure if I could pick a favorite lecture but I was amazed at how little I knew about the colorful culture and their infamous history. Politically its divided into the Sandinista’s (FSLN) and the Liberals (PLC), Im not sure yet where I stand or what each party intends to offer the Nicaraguense because every person is biased and both the parties are loaded with corruption.
Mi familia is large but I like it that way. Maria the matriach is strong woman with three living children, 2 died in accidents. One of her daughters, Marta, lives here with us and she has three daughters Anisa (20’s), Rosaura (20) and Gabriella (10) who also live with us. Anisa has 2 children Austin (10), Andrea (2) and Rosaura has one daughter Diana (3). There is also Maria’s husband Manuel (who I cant understand a single thing he says), Marta’s husband Renaldo and Anisa’s husband Walter. The men minus Manuel keep weird hours and I see them rarely. I suspect they might have other families since that’s a cultural norm but I’m not going to ask. I still cant figure out what Maria does for work, something about bartering down and buying products then reselling them but Im not so sure. Anisa I also don’t know much about because she doesn’t leave her house. Marta is a student of something and Rosaura will start school in May to major in Philosophy. We also have a Gallinero (hen house) with hens, ducks, chicks and ducklings. We only eat the eggs from the chickens and they eat both the ducks and chickens. We have 2 Chocoyos (parrots) that never shut-up and one german shephard-ish Oso. Dogs here are nothing like they are in the US. Strictly utilitarian to guard the property at night, never played with and rarely allowed to roam around the property during the day. Its very weird to not be able to pet a dog when they are in your house.
In a family this large there is not much down time. I rarely have a moment to myself but Ive been enjoying it. If I’m not playing with Andrita or Dianita on the patio then Im in the street with Gabriella and Austin and a slew of other neighborhood children (Luisa, Merlin, Nelly, Bernie, Enrique) or Im sitting on the porch in the rocking chairs with Maria, Marta and Rosaura just talking.
That’s the latest. I started work today but I will report on that in my next post. Once again go to facebook for pics.
here I am in nicaragua and its still hard to believe. i arrived at about noon on Sunday expecting a ride. i realized somewhere over missouri that I hadnt clearly finalized the plans with the owner at the language school for the pick up, getting very necessary details such as "who should i expect to pick me up" or "what will they be wearing". After customs I looked around at the mob of sign holders to see if one of them had either a hat or a t-shirt or a sign for the language school but none did, so i took a taxi. knowing very little spanish i negotiated and was able get a similar rate to what i would have paid the school. We take off for the roughly hour car ride (which i had expected) to the Laguna de Apoyo. We get to the entrance and i had expected to see signs but of course there are none, so the driver asks someone for directions and we proceed to drive up and down and around the laguna's unpaved and rock ridden ways searching for the elusive escuela only to discover after about 35 minutes of searching and asking nearly 8 people for directions,in the 90 degree weather that we had passed it 4 separate times (granted it has 2 separate entrances and only one has a sign which faces one direction). I meet Pablo, a resident biologist and school director, who gives me the run down for the week: times we eat, internet, sleeping arrangements, class and activities schedule.
monday i awoke at about 4am to many unusual noises only to spend the next two hours pretending to sleep in the hopes that if i pretend hard enough that i might fall back asleep. no avail. so i got up at around 6 and got myself ready for the first day of classes. i met my profesora for the rest of the week, Gloria, who proceeded to tell me all about the customs and culture of Nicaragua. the most surprising was the wide practice of "amante's" which is essentially taking a lover. its common practice for men around the age of 40, 50 (real surprising, eh) to get themselves an amante and when i asked gloria if it was the same for women she said no. however, after talking with Jeffrey, the owner of school, he informed me that Gloria is a bit rigid and that most women get themselves an amante, its just not sung about. so there. after classes Gloria, another student Cecilia, her profesora Aura and myself went for a hike. needless to say it was hot but totally worth it. first we saw some howler monkeys in the distance, then we found some helicoptero's (which seemed much more fun than the ones we have in u.s.) of which we gathered a bunch for Gloria's 2 sons. we got some nice views of the laguna and talked about some of the native wildlife and plants. after that i went for a dip in the laguna, had dinner and passed out at around 9pm.
tuesday 4am now known noises which are monkeys, dogs, birds and by 6 a bus is honking the entire time is descends into the crater of the laguna, takes a 20 minute break, honks for 5 minutes to let people know its leaving and then some more again as it ascends the crater. so i stopped pretending to sleep and got up, ate some gallo pinto (which i could easily eat for every meal for the rest of my life), drank some fresh juice and got to class. during my class we saw a native squirrel that looked very similar to guiseppie, my sugar glider, but they are a bit bigger and not able to glide. after classes another student colleen and I walked cecilia to another hotel down the road to get a massage from Julio who is blind but learned the trade through an organization that specifically focuses on teaching massage to blind people. how truly amazing is that.
wednesday 4am monkeys, dogs, birds, trucks, people, noise. didnt matter so much because i woke up at 5am to go bird watching. we saw mono's galore and even almost got some poop thrown at us. the greatest thing that we saw was the Guardabarranco which is the national bird of Nicaragua (i attached a picture). the colors are unreal and even though it was far away i could manage to spot it. i was able to see another later in the day in the garden where gloria and i sat for classes but i didnt have a camera.
thursday 4am, need i relive it? you get it. thursday dinner was a real treat. Juana, the cook, first made chicha which is very traditional drink throughout central america. in nicaragua its served cold, unfermented and made of corn, sugar and water with some red food coloring to make it look just like pepto bismol. also she made a mash of quequisque which is similar to a manioc and tastes, well, like spam. i dont think jeffrey appreciated that comment but tasting like spam isnt necessarily an insult at least i didnt mean it as such. after dinner i wanted to watch a movie so pablo set up the tv and a few of us watched a movie called "La Isla de Ninos Perdidos" (the island of lost boys) which is a documentary about a group of inmates who take a special film making course, aimed at rehabilitating the inmates. each were able to make there own films and also help one another make the films. it takes place in 2001 in nicaragua's largest prison "La Modelo " located in Tipitapa and if its on netflix i highly recommend watching it.
friday 3am ants on my legs, lessoned learned: dont eat sweets in bed, no matter how much you think you cleaned up theres still gonna be one little crumb and those creatures are some kinda scavengers. last of day of classes. bitter sweet because as exhausted as i was i really enjoyed getting to know gloria and truly appreciated her patience and talent for teaching. after class a few of us got in the car for the last activity. first we went to Diria and Diriomo, the pueblos of the brujos and brujas. essentially these two towns are the the host to many clarevoyants which Lorenzo (a professor from the school and our tour guide for the afternoon) said are just a bunch of ladrones (robbers). so he didnt even stop the car, just pointed and drove a few blocks then took off. then we went to three miradors (lookouts) to get some great views of the laguna. all of them were incredible and i probably took too many pictures.
friday before bed i realized i had brought earplugs and decided to use them and wait a relief. saturday morning cecilia, colleen and i woke up early to catch that obnoxious 6:30am bus to spend the better part of the day in Granada. we managed to get our transfer and make our way from the drop off point to the city center. by 7am i was already drenched in sweat. we walked past an amazing historic hospital that is supposedly being rehabbed (but i didnt see any construction). had i not thought that cecilia and colleen would've left me i wouldve gone inside because it looked magical. we proceeded to meander our way towards the city center, centro parque (im not making it up) and along the way stumbled into a non-profit hammock weaving organization, that takes at-risk youth and teaches them the trade. i bought a mini-hammock and i have no idea what i will use it for but ill figure something out. after we had breakfast in the centro parque, we went off to find the san francisco convent which had a beautiful view of the volcano, mombacho. under the impression that this was just a beautiful building we discovered that it was also a cultural center, having both contemporary and pre-columbian art work. next was the mercado. imagine chinatown but with cars, moto-taxis, buses, horse-drawn carriages and cyclist barely clearing you if you stepped into the street to walk by somebody. it was insane. alex would love it. i had a good time there but i really wish i could have been able to ask more questions about the local street fare and other mysteries of the market. soon enough. at about 1:30 in the high heat we decided to find a bar and en-route stumbled upon the Monkey Hut, a hostel. colleen had remembered that they brought people to the laguna most days and we were able to secure a ride back to the laguna when the driver returned for the pick up. we rode in the back of the pick-up truck and once we were off the main highway, panamericana, the driver informed us we were allowed to stand up. stupid or stupendous, a little of both we made it back and im exhausted.
tomorrow i leave for masaya for a week of orientation. im nervous but cecilia said to me that "anyone that ever did anything great was just a little scared". i can only hope to be as amazing as she is at 65.
desde la semana proxima, go to facebook for the pictures.
Im here in Cincinnati working on my last 20 or so hours in the U.S. This first post is for those of you who I have not had the opportunity to explain the who, what, where, when and hows to.
Sometime in October I decided that I needed something different. Knowing that I eventually want to go back to school and knowing that I need some other experiences I began researching volunteer and internships abroad. I stumbled on the Foundation for Sustainable Development and immediately felt connected to their mission. So I started studying spanish and applied. They were the only program that I applied to (not my best plan) so with the fear of failure in my right pocket I didn't tell many people about this potential opportunity (the laws of jinxing it was in my left pocket).
Here I am, unjinxed and packed. I will be spending my first week in Laguna De Apoyo getting some intensive spanish language training. Its a nature reserve about 20 miles South of Managua in between Masaya and Granada. From there I will return to Managua to meet up with other FSD interns and spend a week in orientation orienting. After that I will move in with a host family just outside of Managua in Ciudad Sandino and begin working with Fundacion Fenix .
thats my brief. I look forward to yalls comments because at $2.00/minute I probably wont be talking to any of you on the phone. I do have free texting and im on skype user i.d. krluggen.