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.