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.