Friday, July 31, 2009
Natalie and her brother and sister, Araceli and Dayton showed up at 8:30 anxious to swim. So they were an hour and a half early, but who could imagine that I would have anything better to do than supervise swimming. Mind you these three children showed up at a (foreign) strangers house unaccompanied by a grown-up. I asked them if they were planning on swimming in what they were wearing and they said yes so I sent them in to take a shower before getting in. It's a new rule at my pool. We just changed the filter. Jorge and Fabiola who were supposed to come at 8:30 to do some English and Computer rolled in around 9:00 and were glad to have more playmates. The tortilla kids were fearless in the water and very close to mastering swimming. There was general merriment and hilarity as they jumped and splashed and chased each other around the pool. Some of the flowers might die, but I'm pretty sure everyone had a good time.
I was a little overwhelmed watching 5 kids, so I made them get out after an hour or so. I made everyone hot chocolate and passed out oreos. Araceli wanted some to take home to her mom, and Natalie wanted some for her grandma (the tortilla maker). I gave them the rest of the bag and they went on their way.
They just stopped by with the tortillas and Natalie wants to swim, now, tomorrow if not then, Sunday. I said, sometime next week when I get my energy back!
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Lucia has been raising pigs for several years (while studying to be a lawyer) and she thinks she understands the market for processed pig parts on a small scale and has good connections to sell her products. She did all the research and we sat down and put her numbers into a spread sheet; it looks like it might work. I learned a lot of really useful vocabulary. Who know there were so many different words for different parts of pig skin? She thinks she can provide a better product for less money in her neighborhood where there is little competition. She wants to slaughter 3 pigs a week, sell the pig parts and make nacatamales for sale from her house. Her nephews, Rudy and Jose will help with the work. She has to track down a few more items and then she will be ready to start. She invited me to watch them slaughter the pigs which will be done in the middle of the night. Fortunately, I had just learned how to say, “I faint when I see that.” I had to explain to her (again) that we don’t eat pork and we had a few laughs about Jews in the pig business. She promised to make some chicken nacatamales, too.
We made it to school in 35 minutes which was a great relief, even though there will be more traffic earlier in the day. Maybe the kids will actually be able to sleep until 5:30. The school is surrounded by a giant green fence with guards patrolling the perimeter. There are security cameras and it is one guard's job to watch the televisions. We pass through a big gate with a guard. Angel parked the car and I told him we probably wouldn’t be done until 2:00. He said, don’t worry, whenever you’re done, I’ll be waiting.
We check in with the guard at the school entrance and he sends us toward the orientation room, but I only understand the first two turns. We get lost. I ask some young American teachers, but they don’t know where the orientation is. We find the room and Jules’ new high school counselor comes running over to meet me and discuss his classes. The kids go in and get settled. When I go in the room, I see that Thelma, the one parent I know at the American Nicaraguan School, isn’t there and I panic. Deep breathes and I join the kids. Conchita (Jules’ counselor) starts the welcome spiel with the ANS mission – multiculturalism, rigorous academics, world citizens, blah blah blah. Finally Thelma and Hobbes come in and I can relax a little.
Next, parents are separated from the children. I hate when they do this. Thelma and I schlump over to the library where there are about 100 chairs and 10 parents. Most of them are rather well put together. All of the presentations have been in English and when the parents start to introduce themselves, the First One who is Columbian starts in English so Thelma and I follow suit. Then the next parent speaks in Spanish a little apologetically and all eyes turn to me and I feel like I am the reason everyone has to speak in English. So I explain that I am perfectly capable of understanding Spanish, but nobody believes me because I sound so terrible. Most of the parents sort of simultaneously translate themselves and I feel very monolingual. Although I’m not. There are only few a questions and most of them concern the school uniforms so we are allowed to rejoin our children. Fortunately, we get first crack at the empanadas and coffee before the kids join us. We are supposed to mingle, but I just talk to Thelma about how unsocial our children are.
Next is the school tour. I send Jules with the high schoolers and I go with Noah with the 8th and 9th graders. One mom is saying, Carlito, stand up straight to an impeccably groomed 13 year old. Another mom has just moved back from Miami after 30 years. She is very friendly to me and very interested in the security measures of the school. The tour is in Spanish. Noah and I don’t ask many questions.
After the tour, Noah has to take the Spanish as a Second Language Placement test. I leave him in the library and go to find the head of the middle school to discuss his math placement. Happily, he will be allowed to take Geometry with the high school class because he has already done the curriculum for Eighth Grade Math. The Head of Middle School is a friendly fellow who studied Marine Biology at McGill and he is happy to make this exception. Profuse thanks and I go find Noah in the library.
Jules is there, too, facebooking. He is IMing with Sabina Bloom in Seattle. Noah is still taking his test. The Spanish teacher comes to do the oral part of the test and Noah won’t say a word in Spanish. I try to concentrate on my email.
Jules has heard through the rumor mill that there is an AP English assignment for over the summer. He is very bummed and even though the ever attentive Conchita has found a friendly Nicaraguan girl who is in the same boat to help him figure it out, he is getting more upset. We sit down to do his schedule and he finds out that there is an assignment for AP US History, too. He almost starts to cry and lets us all know that staying in Seattle would have been much better. Conchita wisely suggests pleading ignorance of the assignment and going to get lunch. She tells me exactly where to get the school uniforms and we try to find our way out.
We walk out of the school entrance and I search for my cell phone to call Angel, but before I can take it out, he is meeting us and opening my door. I ask him to take us to the Metro Center shopping mall. He drops us off and I give him some money for lunch and tell him I will call him when we are done. We head straight to the food court. The kids get 2 pieces of Pizza Hut pizza each and I have French fries. We find TricotTextil and buy 6 gray polo shirts with the ANS school insignia and one really awful pair of polyester Kelly green gym shorts. The crotch hangs halfway down Noah’s leg, but it is better than exposed thighs. Jules doesn’t have to do gym. We are done and even though I really want to look for a few things in the shopping center that I can’t get in Granada, I take pity on the kids and head out the door. Angel materializes in front of us when we walk out.
Long ride home and I feel terrible about making the kids make this trip twice a day. I feel guilty about making them move to Nicaragua. I feel so happy it is them and not me that has to read a book, write a report, get up at 5:30 to go to a new school in a foreign country a month before their summer vacation is supposed to be over. I feel like a bad mom.
She suggested swimming tomorrow as it is a teacher work day and the kids don’t have school. I agreed that would be a good time, but how many kids were we talking about. She assured me just the three of them. The tortilla family took a delighted little splash through the shallow part of the pool, discussed how deep the other part was and picked up their baskets to go. Natalie reminded me that I hadn’t paid her yet. I gave her the money for the tortillas and 3 extra cords which she distributed to her siblings. They left promising to return in the morning at 10 o’clock. Natalie held up two hands with fingers spread wide lest there be any confusion. The children never know quite how much I understand.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Honeymoon is over. I have sun poisoning and the age spots are appearing at an alarming rate. La Mama de Hans (poor, unsuspecting house guest) has been puking all night. I didn’t do my homework and I am behind on ReWA work. My blog is neglected.
Challenges of working here – Monday for instance, it was a national holiday, but I had business meetings on the phone. There have been constant brass bands and fireworks going on in the street and I have to sit in my chair and speak with my work colleagues in the US over a somewhat crackly Skype line.
Historic events are happening; I haven’t written about them for the blog. What a wonderful opportunity to be in Cuba for the 50th Anniversary of the Revolution and the 30th Anniversary of the Revolution here. I watched them both on TV.
This is just like being at home, except that things get so much more complicated and messed up due to my lack of understanding, both the language and the culture. There are two decipherings going on whenever I speak. The listener is trying to bring some meaning into my very short and garbled utterances, and they necessarily use their own experience to inform their guessing. But I am using my experience to telegraph my meaning. It is like the game of telephone. I know this is the basics of cross cultural communication, but now I really know who it feels like.
Rodolfo dropped the tables off when I wasn’t here. They were unpainted. Jose showed up a couple days later to paint them. He splashed and dripped paint all over the floor despite no less than 8 requests not to. Jonathan in frustration told him to just stop. Sylvia suggested he take the tables to another place to paint them. Which he did. He said he would be back in the afternoon. He wasn’t. But when we got back from the Masaya night tour at 7:15, Jose was sitting with our tables on our front step waiting for us. I felt awful. He said it wasn’t a problem, he was just relaxing.
The tables are sort of like the ones in the Central Park.
The tables will be made in a day. I have just given Rodolfo (Sylvia's brother) a little drawing and showed him pictures of the ones in the Parque Central that I like. Two tables, 4 chairs and 4 stools should cover all of the additional seating needs we have. Sylvia said, tell him you need them urgently. I told him it really wasn't urgent, but the first one as soon as possible and the next one whenever. Rodolfo said, OK I'll bring the one with the stools tomorrow and the one with the chairs the next day. I told him I was going to paint them, so they could be whatever wood he had around. He said, I'll have them painted, what color? I like the ones in the Parque Central, I said. Sylvia said, You'd better stop by and check it out on the way home.
It will cost about $75.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Jonathan got up at 7:00 to make my coffee and then I decided to go running. We just ran to the lake and back, but it was 8 o'clock before we got started. It was a little hot. The usual wind was blowing the brown water of the lake into little waves. Same guys were cutting the grass with machetes and piling it in their hand carts. A couple streets were lined with kids in their blue and white uniforms waiting for something, I don't know what. School starts at 7 so it must have been an outing or something. Then again, it's still vacation for a week. Except for the Catholic schools. Maybe it was a catholic school outing. But Sylvia said she didn't know anything about it. Who knows.
Anyway, pass lots of people carrying large loads on their heads. We decided to stop by the gym and see if it has enough weights for Jonathan. It is a beautiful little gym with a classroom, a couple machines, tread mill and spa area. Massage is 20/hour. We have a nice chat with the guy behind the desk who turns out to be a computer nerd and whose dream is to work for microsoft. We like the gym, but we decide to talk to the owner later and see if we can get a family discount.
Walking out the door, we see Ben and Peta buying bread from Tignieu the French baker. We go running over there to see if he has some bread for us. He makes whole grain sour dough in his place in the barrio maldito by the market. We've been looking for him, but couldn't find him. He and his wife have been traveling around the world for about 30 years. They just set up a bread oven wherever they are and sell bread. He must be about 60, very thin, long hair loose clothes and a couple of straw bags over his shoulder. Ben introduced us asked which language we wanted to speak. We picked French. The ensuing conversation was hilarious becuase Jonathan was fumbling slowly along in very nicely accented French. I thought I was too, but Spanish only came out of my mouth. Tignieu thought I couldn't speak French so he was talking to me in English while he was talking to Jonathan in French. He didn't have a loaf for us, but he said he would come back later.
We go home and find Riccardo the gardner waiting for us. We were supposed to have planters purchased, but we didn't have time, so Riccardo had to busy himself with cleaning up the garden while I asked very stupid, barely intelligible questions about plants in the garden and what we might grow. He was lukewarm about the lettuce idea. But he did point out that there was cilantro and basil already growing as volunteers. Funny, I was looking for cilantro in the market yesterday and couldn't find it. Didn't know it was in my own yard. It looks different here.
Riccardo the caretaker arrives with his brother-in-law Miguel to take care of various little things. Christina arrives and immediately starts doing the dishes. I ask her if we can have chicken for lunch and she says, did you get chicken. I say, well no, can't you get it? Oh course. Do you need vegetables, too.
Sylvia arrives to start our Spanish lesson. I am still trying to eat my oatmeal so I divide it in two bowls so there is enough for both of us. We are enjoying our oatmeal and writing down the recipe as part of my Spanish lesson when Tignieu arrives with the bread. We speak Spanish this time. He tells me about all the bread and I take a Pain Levain for now, but he says tomorrow he will bring a big brioche familial around 9:30. I give him his money.
Christina needs money for the market. Unfortunately we are pretty much out, so I have to break into the emergency $20 bills. Change it and bring me the change I plead. How many people are eating lunch she asks. I have no idea I say, but there are 8 people in the house at the moment so get enough. She heads out to the store.
Meanwhile, I have made sure that each of these people get a latte. Except for Riccardo the gardner who thankfully was happy with a fanta.
Sylvia proceeds to drill me in verbs. I think I am much more advanced than that but then I keep making mistakes so maybe not.
Every few minutes it seems, someone in the house shouts- someone is looking for you - and either Christina or I go to unlock the gate. Several fruit sellers stop by with huge baskets on their head. Not today, we already have fruit, I shout. The garbage removal man asks for Christina and she hauls the garbage out to him and he throws it in his cart.
Riccardo the care taker and Miguel his brother-in-law keep going in and out on their bikes to fetch things. Riccardo doesn't seem to have his keys. It is determined that the toilet is irrepairable and arrangements are made for Rene to drive Riccardo in our car to get a new one in Managua tomorrow. Miguel is sent to buy varnish and brushes for the now very weathered wood we thought was such an elegant touch to our house. I have to go get more $20's. Please bring me a receipt!
Sylvia and I finish with the verbs and read a short story. Christina comes back and sets to work on lunch. Miguel comes back with 2 receipts and a lot of change. Riccardo the gardner has done all he can do now and heads out to get some fertilizer. He needs some money. I pay him and give him 100 cordovas ($5) for the fertilizer. He comes right back with a receipt and lots of change and scatters fertilizer in the planters.
Sylvia leaves to pick Fabiola up at school and I sit down to do some work. Jonathan has come back from his meeting and is on the phone in the front room with another meeting. At 1:00 Christina says, Doña Tamara, lunch is ready. I come downstairs when Jonathan is done with his call and everybody is gone. Christina, Jonathan, Hans, Noah and I sit down to a delicious meal of chicken, rice, beans and salad. There is so much left over, there is enough for supper, too.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Anyway, Omar has to ride around all over and deliver two 50 Kilo bags of stuff to stores and restaurants. He is a really skinny guy and I afraid it will be hard for him. Oh well, Lucia says, Nicas are used to working hard. She told me how her nephews - 8, 12 and 14 get up at 2:30 in the morning to go with their father to pick up the cheese he sells in the market. Then they help smoke it and take it to the stand on the road to the market where he sells it. After that they attend classes, then in the afternoon they learn how to make shoes at the shoe shop across the street where they work til 6:00. They go to bed around 8. When the cheese business isn't good, usually in the summer when the price of milk drops, the dad works as an assistant on a bus. He is one of those people you see checking tickets, tossing bikes and market baskets up to the top of the (ancient US school) bus and grabbing people by the hand to pull them in through the emergency exit door as they run up to the bus when it is pulling away.
I told them my kids were complaining about getting up at 5:30 to go to school. I told them, I only managed to sit down and work for one hour today. I didn't tell them that I made more in that hour than the average Nica makes in a week working 48 hours.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Woke up to church bells ringing from Guadelupe. Eating oatmeal with pineapple and sugar instead of raspberries and brown sugar. Sitting with La Prensa from yesterday reading the poetry supplement. The front coverage of the G8 meeting features a picture of Obama, Sarkozy and Berlusconi "appreciating the attributes of an attractive young woman during a break." More coverage inside.
Here's my favorite poem, which I picked for Ellen
Laguna de Apoya
Missael Duarte Somoza
inmenso diamante líquido
incrustado entre rocas y árboles
paz de naturaleza total
SOL en plenitud
ÉL y ELLA
desde una mesa
instante más instante
palabras más palabras:
hicieron el día de compañía
cielo de luto después
lo arrastró ahí
mas frente a ellos aún
AVE Y MONTAÑA
entre locura ciega de viento agitado
mientras una voz dijo:
un beso en la frente de ella irrumpió
bajo la incesante brisa
en el nacimiento de la noche
con la compañía de canino fiel
al mundo de la imagen
-- … vasto mundo plástico, supermodelado y vacío--, escribió CMR.
¿Adán y Eva de la posmodernidad?
ÉL y ELLA
vuelven a seguir
la ruta de sus vidas
trazadas hace miles de años
por el Demiurgo o el Nous
pero un día
en un mismo tiempo y espacio
juntas fueron encuentro
de donde renació vínculo
que nos une
de la infinitud
de los números.
Juigalpa, Nicaragua, 1977. Obtuvo el segundo lugar en el concurso de poesía convocado por la Biblioteca del Banco Central de Nicaragua en 2001. Obtuvo el segundo lugar en los V Juegos Florales de Centroamérica, Panamá y Belice de 2006. En 2007 publicó su poemario Líricos instantes. Su poesía también se encuentra reunida en la antología Retrato de poeta con joven errante. En 2007 participó en el VI Festival Internacional de Poesía de El Salvador y en el IV Encuentro Centroamericano de Poetas en Costa Rica.
Friday, July 10, 2009
-You're selling tortillas?
-One cordova (5 cents)
-One cordova each?
-Well, I need 10, do you have enough?
-Oh I've got tons of tortillas!
-Who made the tortillas?
- My abuelita.
-Where do you live?
- Just around the corner and down the street 3 blocks.
-What's your name?
- Ok, I'll have 10 tortillas.
Natalia uncovered her little red bucket and very carefully counted out 10 tortillas. Her nails were a little dirty and she wasn't wearing gloves. She passed them to me through the gate. I gave her 10 cords. We gobbled up the tortillas; they were still warm.
A little while later, I came back down and Natalie was still gazing through the door.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Swine flu seems to have brought a new level of public concern about communicable disease to Nicaragua. There is a new form to fill out about your health in the last few days, no of course my nose has not been running. They have a fancy infrared machine that scans your temperature when you stand on the pad. Not only that, at Kathy's this morning, there were no less than 5 signs posted in the bathroom telling you how to wash your hands.
But last night, our temperatures were all fine and no one asked to see any documentation that it was alright for me to bring an unrelated child into the country without his parents. Going through immigration here I always think about how different the experience is for outsiders coming into our country. It is so easy for us. Doesn't seem fair. Hector was there with Jonathan to pick us up. The night was very quiet and full of wood smoke when we drove in from the airport last night. Full moon and we could see the smoke from Masaya Volcano
So happy to be back in La Perla. It still hasn't sunk in that we will be here for a whole year. Feels like usual, except that I don't feel like I have to rush to do anything. I am completely disoriented. Speaking Spanish like the befuddled gringa that I am. I'm just going to ease into it.
When I walked out to my balcony this morning with my coffee (it was touch and go but the expobar is working!) I could see all of the big volcano Mombacho because our neighbor's cut down their mango tree to build another room in their courtyard. Now we have one of the best views in the city.
I brought too much stuff. Leaving the US I was caught between the impulses to simplify and the impulse to bring everything down that will make me feel comfortable for the year. But this house was planned as a transient place with very little storage. I'm going to have to get someone to make some bamboo shelves pretty quick.
Cristina (the housekeeper) was happy to see us and I am glorying in the luxury of smooth beds and clean floors I didn't have to do myself.
Jonathan has gone to Managua to buy a car from a doctor. Every used car for sale is because people are leaving the country and it makes me alittle worried about the brain drain here. He took a mechanic and a lawyer with him. I bet he comes back with the car and many stories of the bureaucracy when he gets back.
The church bells are ringing and firecrackers are going off at the same time. I have a feeling I am missing a procession. I think we will go get ice cream and see.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
We've had a completely relaxing and rejuvenating vacation in Westhampton, thanks to David and Stephanie's amazing hospitality. Sleeping as late as we want in our cozy beds. I've been running when I feel like it, a few laps in the pool, some stretching. I step out my bedroom door onto the deck and catch up on the news on my computer. The boys get to do whatever they want. The refrigerator seems to magically refill with lots of summer food to eat thanks to David and Stephanie's endless trips to Waldbaums.
Yesterday we went to the beach and took a long walk. The beach here never ends. It is truly one of the best beaches in the world. There was a long wait for the cars - the valets seemed seriously to be in one of the dumb and dumber movies. Things were only resolved when David took things in hand in, started grabbing lexus and BMW keys and very kindly told them exactly what to do.
Adam took Noah under his wing and the two of them bonded parallel play style with their laptops. I supervised baking in the kitchen. Matthew and Daniel were enthusiastic apprentices and Ally and Kate found their inner pastry chefs with zip loc bags filled with red, white and blue frosting.
We lazily got ready for dinner, friends poured in with delicious food. The kitchen is perfect for large gatherings of bossy cooks and willing minions. David and Gary masterfully paced the grilling so that there was a constant flow of meat starting with hot dogs, proceding to pork roast, then shrimp, chicken, fish kebobs. We were all stuffed. The fireworks began and we sat on the steps of the pool to watch them over the trees. Just a few short steps back to the kitchen to devour cupcakes and pie. The boys creations were met with approval on all sides.
Now it is time to leave and I am packing up my bags. I am slightly reluctantly taking the reins of my life back into my own hands. Carrying the memory of the week with me, knowing that we are always welcome here and so well taken care of it is easier to start the next step.
Friday, July 3, 2009
I left my job teaching preschool mostly because the parents were driving me crazy. In short, I felt they were doing it all wrong. I considered writing a book about child rearing, but it occurred to me that books are the problem. I believe I can tell you everything you need to know in a few short sentences.
Be there – be consistent, loving and responsive.
Take them out – expose your children to truth and beauty.
Feed them – but don’t make them eat.
Don’t say mean things to them.
Get them their shots.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Joan and Alan brought 4 pounds of Greenberg's cookies out here and after 12 hours, this was all that was left. I'm sitting in David and Stephanie's kitchen beautiful white kitchen in Westhampton. Adam is playing his guitar. Stephanie just beat David in ping pong and the other boys are on their laptops. Matthew and Daniel just learned how to make chocolate cookies and brownies. We are all impressed with their efforts. We are planning on red, white and blue cupcakes for the week end, but it's supposed to be a surprise.
Yesterday was rainy so we took a road trip. Drove through the Hamptons to the end of the earth as we know it otherwise known as Montauk. Rain was pelting us as we ran up to the lighthouse. Since several vertigious members of the family skipped the climb to the top, but it was rewarding for the those of us who don't look down.
We had lobster rolls at LUNCH. I am getting a real dose of Americana and I think Granada will be a great contrast to Southhampton.
It's so lovely here. After all of the hecticness of packing up and leaving, I am just sitting for a bit.
Danny was the grill meister on their beautiful balcony. Burgers and salsa and pink wine. Zoya was getting ready to fly to San Francisco in the morning (4:30!). We stayed too long, but it was so nice. Emma has promised to come down to Granada in January, and hopefully the whole family in the spring, too.
It was hard to leave Seattle. There was so much work to do. I fell into bed exhausted every night from getting the house ready.
I had such lovely times with all of my friends before I left. Margo had a potluck with all the neighborhood folk with the usual fabulous food, delicious drinks (provided by Ellen as always) and morning after emails. (Did we really corner Bruce in the alcove to set up a date with Jen and then degenerate into Capitol Hill Coop poop stories?)
I had two great running breakfasts, one for Lisa's birthday and the other to say good-bye. Lisa got a bunch of sox and I got two pairs of beautiful gold earrings just when I had decided to branch out into gold jewelry as a better tone for my aging face.
Nancy gave me a whole pint of strawberry jam because I didn't have time to make it myself. It was delicious.
One last round of pitchers of Manny's at Smith with Daniel and Kristina.
One last Shabbat dinner with my parents - ok it was carry-in from Shanghai garden, but there was no pork. One last grand central challah.
And throughout it all, Kerry and Susan and Deb coming by all week for coffee, pink wine, to carry off loose items. Thank you Kerry for taking all that stuff to goodwill and hope you enjoy the frozen vegetables.
Have fun making the quilts this year, Margo.
I hope you all enjoy those hair products and condiments you were fighting over.
I will miss my friends so so much, but we will be keeping in touch.